Shell Cosmogony

January 30, 2015 Leave a comment

How to Tell if Your p-Zombie has Blindsight, Falling in a Chinese Forest

January 26, 2015 Leave a comment

In order to make the question of philosophical zombiehood more palatable, it is a good idea to first reduce the scope of the question from consciousness in general to a particular kind of awareness, such as visual awareness or sight.

consciousness (general awareness)     |    particular awareness (sight)

Building on this analogy, we can now say that an equivalent of a philosophical zombie (p-Zombie) as far as sight is concerned might be a person who is blind, but uses a seeing eye dog to ‘see’.

As with blindsight, there seeing eye dog provides a case where a person is informed about optical conditions in the world, but without the benefit of first person phenomenal experience of seeing. The blind person sees no visual qualia – no colors, no shapes, no brightness or contrast, yet from all appearances they may be indistinguishable from a sighted person who is walking their dog.

Staying with the analogy to consciousness in general:

(a p-Zombie) is to (a Blind person w/ guide dog)
as a
(Conscious subject) is to (a person walking dog)

Some might object to this analogy, saying that because a p-Zombie is defined as appearing and behaving in every way like a conscious subject, and a sighted person walking their dog might not always act the same as a blind person with a guide dog. It’s true, in the dark, the sighted person would be at a disadvantage avoiding obstacles in their path, while the blind person might not be affected.

This, however, is a red herring that arises from the hasty definition of philosophical zombie as one who appears identical in every way to a conscious subject, rather than one who can appear identical in many ways. Realistically, there may not even be a way to know whether there is any such thing as a set of ways that a conscious being behaves. A conscious being can pretend to be unconscious, so right away this is a problem that may not resolvable.

Each conscious being is different at different times, so that presuming that consciousness in general has a unique signature that can be verified is begging the question. Even if two simple things seemed to be identical for some period of time, there might be a chance that their behavior will diverge eventually, either by itself, or in response to some condition that brings out a latent difference.

So let’s forget about the strong formulation of p-Zombie and look instead at the more sensible weak formulation of w-Zombie as an unconscious object which can be reliably mistaken for a conscious subject under some set of conditions, for some audience, for some period of time.

By this w-Zombie standard, the guide dog’s owner makes a good example of how one system (blind person + sighted dog) can be functionally identical to another (sighted person + sighted dog), without any phenomenal property (blind person gaining sight) emerging. As with the Chinese Room, the resulting output of the room does not reflect an internal experience, and the separate functions which produce the output do not transfer their experience to the ‘system’ as a whole.

From the guide dog analogy, we can think about bringing the functionality of the dog ‘in house’. The dog can be a robot dog, which can then be miniaturized as a brain implant. In this way a blind person could have the functionality of a guide dog’s sight without seeing anything. It would be interesting to see how the recipient of such an implant’s brain would integrate the input from it. From neuroscientific studies that have been conducted so far, which shows that in blind people’s brains, tactile stimulation such as reading Braille, shows up in the visual cortex. I would expect that the on-board seeing-eye dog would similarly show up, at least in part, in the regions of the brain normally associated with vision, so that we have a proof of concept of a w-Zombie. If we had separate digitized animals to handle each of our senses, we could theoretically create an object which behaves enough like a human subject, even within the brain, that it would qualify as a weak p-Zombie.

As a final note, we can apply this understanding to the oft misquoted philosophical saw ‘If a tree falls in a forest…’. Instead of asking whether a sound exists without anyone to hear it, we can reverse it and ask whether someone who is awakened from a dream of a tree falling in the forest which nobody else heard, was there a sound?

The answer has to be yes. The subjective experience of a sound was still experienced even though there is no other evidence of it.  In the same way, we can dream of seeing sunlight without our eyes receiving photons from the sun. We can say that seeing light or hearing sound does not require a concurrent physical stimulation but we cannot say that physics requires any such qualia as seeing light or hearing sound. To the contrary, we have shown above that there is no empirical support for the idea that physical functions could or would automatically generate qualia.Thus, the case for materialism and functionalism is proved in the negative, and the fallacy of the systems reply to Searle is revealed.

And if the cloud bursts, thunder in your ear
You shout and no one seems to hear.
And if the band you’re in starts playing different tunes
I’ll see you on the dark side of the moon. – Pink Floyd

Envisioning the General and Local Aesthetic

January 24, 2015 2 comments

Aesthetics: late 18th century (in the sense ‘relating to perception by the senses’): from Greek aisthētikos, from aisthēta ‘perceptible things,’ from aisthesthai ‘perceive.’ The sense ‘concerned with beauty’ was coined in German in the mid 18th century and adopted into English in the early 19th century, but its use was controversial until late in the century. (Source: Google)

The term ‘aesthetic’ may put some people off. It’s a pretentious word, has a funny spelling, and contains vague meanings that range from what you might hear in a philosophy class to what someone on TV might say about a fashion designer’s garbage bag frock. My interest in the term comes from a different sensibility – the medical sensibility that defines agents which suspend consciousness as “general anesthetics” and substances which numb sensitivity as “local anesthetics”. This is closer to the original Greek sense of the word. By dropping the an- prefix, we can turn the meaning of the word around so that there is a concept of consciousness as “general aesthetic”, or perhaps even aesthesis, and individual sensations as “local aesthetics”.

The goal here is to make sense of all phenomena as part of a single continuum or spectrum, so that for example, the seer, the seeing, the seen, light, and sight can be understood in relation to each other and as aspects of one common thing. This is also reminiscent of the relation between General Relativity and Special Relativity, especially since the function of relation is arguably one which is synonymous with perception. In order for one thing to relate to another, there has to be a context in which that relation is presented or accessed. Rather than speculating on what such a metaphysical context would be, Einstein used terms such as ‘frame of reference’ and ‘observer’ to map the when and where relations of physical effects, without discussing the what and how of relation or measurement itself. As he labored to find a unified field theory, it probably never occurred to him that qualities such as significance and questions of who and why could enter into it. Even though relativity is conceptually inseparable from the subjective act of perception, the notion of perception itself as a physical phenomenon is neglected entirely, and relegated to a one dimensional concept of detection.

A quick survey of our own senses reveals that the fundamental mechanism seems not to report on actual or absolute properties of the outside world, but rather their relevance to each other, to us, and to our interest in them. We know of many examples in perception where colors or shades look different when they are seen adjacent to each other, or shapes flip depending on how we are relating them to foreground or background. We know that ordinary light looks too bright if we have been sitting in the dark, and that cool water feels warm when our hands are cold. Every sensory palette works this way as far as I know. We say that they are perceptual ‘illusions’ because they reveal that what we perceive is not what our mind expects, however we should understand that our minds too can only make a particular, mental kind of sense. Thought is unlike seeing, tasting, or hearing in that thinking is stripped of tangible aesthetics and reborn as abstract thoughts.

Thoughts have their own aesthetic, to be sure, and language plays both midwife and policeman to those semiotic qualities, but the killer app of thinking is of course, its transparency and reflectivity – the capacity to represent without getting in its own way. Thinking provides us with a way to re-experience our tangible sensations of X as intangible sensations of ‘thinking about X’. Thought is to representation as perceiving is to presence, and the brain is to the body. They are all the ‘same thing’, only nested onto different levels. Part of human cognition is the ability to compare representations and evaluate them. We can decide which thoughts are to be trusted or doubted, but even that thought process is subject to its own evaluations, doubts, and censoring.

We now know a lot about cognitive bias and how preconceptions shape what we believe. From logical fallacies to subliminal advertising, our minds are riddled with blind spots considered to be weaknesses or illusions of human psychology. The project of scientific literacy is to single out only those thoughts which have been tempered through experiment into reliability and offering us the least amount of illusion. By refining relationships of our shared subjective fictions we can infer or deduce another kind of story that we like to think of as ‘fact’ or ‘knowledge’. From this vantage point of distilled purity, the story that our naive sense tells us about the world can be replaced by one which is thought to be universal and reliable. Logical Positivism made a lot of sense. Maybe too much. By assuming a pristine epistemology or noumenal science, the utility of the phenomenal world became hard to justify at all. Existentialists and postmodern philosophers questioned how we could really know to what extent we are fooling ourselves about anything. The challenge of escaping the bias of unscientific beliefs could be seen as even extending to science, and to knowing, and to consciousness itself. The Cartesian Cogito of ‘I think therefore I am’ was seen to be reversible as ‘I may have no choice but to think that I am, but it may not be true’.

At the same time that 20th century philosophy, art, and politics were attacking our sense of reality – physics and mathematics were disproving the reality of the world. Einstein’s 1905 discovery of the special nature of light’s constant speed in defining mass and energy was followed in 1916 by the general theory of relativity that displaced classical, Newtonian models of the entire universe. We had moved from a common sense view of the world as a vast place filled with mechanical objects to an evolving, elastic world-ish-ness which changes with one’s perspective.

Heisenberg and Gödel followed in 1927 and 1931 respectively, introducing uncertainty into quantum physics and incompleteness into formal logic. 1931 was also the year that Salvador Dali painted The Persistence of Memory, and the world slid into the Great Depression. In a few short years, the Western world that had worshiped an aesthetic of certain realities became transfixed by uncertain surreality. Physics had become metaphysical.

Taking the next step in philosophy and science has become something of a problem. As the 20th century marked an explosive shift into a new world, the 21st century seems to be both frozen in a polarized deadlock, and splintering off into esoteric factions. We have become unable to generalize our specialties or specialize in generality, so that there is no longer a coherent aesthetic of progress. This may be an entirely appropriate state of affairs in the wake of so much radical transformation in the last century, but when and if we find our way out of the current confusion, I suggest that we seek to unite physical science with metaphysical philosophy in the same way that space-time and mass-energy were united. The 21st century’s Hard Problem of Consciousness is an invitation to develop a cartography of aesthetics to match our current model of physical reality.

To begin to develop such a mapping technique, we should become familiar with what has been called the Spectrum of Consciousness, which is reflected in many mystical traditions and psychological frameworks. It is not necessary to believe in this spectrum, only to understand that such a spectrum model can be constructed and that it is potentially useful. The theme of a hierarchy of conscious qualities and states is hard to avoid, and its similarity to the electromagnetic spectrum is hard to overlook as well. Both the EM spectrum and the spectrum of consciousness offer a smooth continuum which is vaguely divided into sections related to frequency, intensity and scale. In addition to what has already been covered here and elsewhere, I offer this way of conceptualizing how it is that something like seeing, light, and images can actually be different descriptions of the same thing.


In the diagram above, four figures are shown:

  1. Sight (Phenomenal Vision)
  2. Seen (Phenomenal Image)
  3. Visible (Phenomenal Light)
  4. Unseen (Optical Physics)

The use of these prism-like figures are to represent the facets of the total phenomenon, so that in the first, top right figure, sight or seeing is represented as one facet of a block. The other facets in this block would be the other sense modalities that we have (touch, smell, sound, etc), as well as the interior facing modalities of awareness (emotion, cognition, intuition, etc). The #1 block is the subjective view of subjectivity, known as phenomenal consciousness or what I would call general aesthetics (GA). In its largest sense, GA would be the container of all qualia and is reflexive, in the sense that as far as I can tell, consciousness it is a quale itself. ‘What it is like’ to be conscious (“I am, I feel”) is itself part of the total spectrum of ‘what experiences are like’. Consciousness is an experience.

It doesn’t seem to work as well the other way, since if we have a container of consciousness which has no quality at all, then we fall into an explanatory gap. If consciousness can exist in the absence of all qualities, then what would qualities add to consciousness? For example, while it is clear that seeing is a container of sight that cannot be seen itself, it is not as clear that just because we personally define ourselves as ‘ourselves’ doesn’t mean that consciousness in general would have any good reason to define itself that way. We feel like we are a seer who is seeing images, but this may be due to the fact that we are a different type of sensation than what we are seeing or seeing itself. It may be all one continuum of ‘phoria’ which waxes and wanes in its subjectivity. Applying this principle to this example above, we have a natural metaphor in light for how the receiver of awareness, the object of awareness, and awareness itself can all ultimately be the same thing, and be accessible within itself as a reflection of that thing.

In the top left figure, the #2 block is flipped horizontally to imply that the #1 view of subjectivity is not available here in this second context. When we look out at the world, even at the reflection of the pupil of our own eye, we do not see our own seeing. The entire world of phenomenal consciousness is hidden and inverted by a kind of theater of appearances. What is seen is still phenomenal because we are seeing images (real or imagined) within a subjective medium of two dimensional shapes. Image is what allows the local aesthetic (LA) of sight to relate to the GA (consciousness) through the mask of physics.

The bottom left figure which is labeled “3. Visible” corresponds not to the experience of being a seer, or the experience of seeing an image, but of the experience of seeing light’s specific qualities. Like a director making a cameo in their own movie, light presents itself not only as the fact of seeing what is visible, but as the presence of the source of visibility as a visible experience. Phenomenal light exists both within the image that we and transcends it, addressing the seer directly. We can take a picture of a sunset and see that it looks like light radiating from the Sun onto the Earth, but we understand that the picture cannot produce light itself.

This is an astonishing feature, really. Light has a look of its own, and its look explains, in visual terms exactly what visual terms are made of. Strange loop. Blown mind. Move on. Suffice it to say that what light looks like is spectacular. It is practically synonymous with grabbing our attention. Glowing, flashing, lighting up a room, putting a spotlight on something. Within our visual field, light shows us what there is to see, and then shows us what to look at in particular. The dynamics of color harmonizing and clashing, the rotational symmetry of the color wheel, etc, are all part of light’s story about itself. The visible qualia of visibility meeting the physical mechanisms of optics.

With these three contexts, we have still not even touched the physics of light. Seeing light can be used like a trail of breadcrumbs to find Classical optics, but to understand the physics of light we must depart from the world of seeing altogether. There’s a couple of equations there in the fourth block representing how to calculate the energy of a photon and spectral radiance. With a nod to Gödel, the fourth block depicts the final category, where the unseen circumscribes the incompleteness of the seen, and wraps around from the LA of the seen to the GA of sight.

Russellian Monism

January 18, 2015 Leave a comment

We shall seek to construct a metaphysics of matter which shall make the gulf between physics and perception as small, and the inferences involved in the causal theory of perception as little dubious, as possible. We do not want the percept to appear mysteriously at the end of a causal chain composed of events of a totally different nature; if we can construct a theory of the physical world which makes its events continuous with perception, we have improved the metaphysical status of physics, even if we cannot prove more than that our theory is possible. (Russell 1927a, 275)

Sun, Earth, and Understanding Idealism

January 16, 2015 Leave a comment

No description of the relation between the Sun and Earth is complete without including the geocentric view as well as the heliocentric view. This is not to suggest that the archaic views of astronomy should be considered the equal of the modern view, but that there was ever an alternative to the modern view in the first place makes the universe impossible to describe accurately by leaving it out.

Even without suggesting that we might someday find a third alternative to both geocentric and heliocentric astronomy which we can scarcely imagine now, we can still appreciate that the fact that it took thousands of years for heliocentricism to be widely accepted is a testament to how relative relativity really is. Physics makes us feel brilliant for understanding that the relation between Sun and Earth is conserved regardless of which way we choose to interpret it locally, but that brilliant feeling distracts us from the mystery of why there could be or should be any interpretation at all. What is a frame of reference, and what is doing the framing?

Another thought experiment to consider, in the vein of ‘What is it like to be a bat?’…what is it like to be the Sun? The world from a star’s point of view would be one in which everything that could be detected would already be illuminated – but without any apparent connection that you are the source of the illumination. So it is with consciousness. Everything that we see is reflecting the capacity that we have to see. It cannot be seen on its own, or else we would not need eyes (holes in our head would suffice).

The novice philosopher will say that it is a case of “If a tree falls in a forest…does it make a sound?”, but this is not about epistemology, it’s about ontology. The epistemological realm is concerned with verification. “Does it make a sound or not?”. The ontological question is much deeper…it asks, what is a sound and is it even true to assume that a tree falling ‘makes’ one.

In light of the many clues that we have, from Heisenberg’s uncertainty, to relativity, to incompleteness, we can begin to see how perception is not only a passive receiving of objective truth, but a participation across multiple frames of perceptual reference. In an ironic twist, the scientific project that has brought us to a weltanschauung which values only objective facts has found only facts with no objects and objects with no facts. Meanwhile, the one incontestable fact, our own perception, has been overlooked completely, like the Sun losing touch with it’s light completely and accepting that it is part of the empty space and surrounded by planets that must light themselves.

Notes on Rorty

January 1, 2015 2 comments

A friend wanted me to take a look at Philosophy as a Kind of Writing: An Essay on Derrida, so here’s what I think:

On the first page, Rorty introduces two options for thinking about physics, 1) The search for an accurate description of invisible things that cause the invisible world  and 2) A tradition of writers making commentaries on the writings of earlier interpreters of the Book of Nature. These are both undesirable in my view, but the second option is philosophically incompetent. If it were true, as he writes that physicists may not all be talking about the same thing, but rather only dialoguing with the history of physics, then he is asserting that it would be impossible for someone who had never heard of Newton to discover gravity, and/or that it would be possible for separate people to discover mutually exclusive conflicting laws of nature that were both true. One tradition in one part of the world could develop a physics which concludes that gravity exists and the other concludes that gravity cannot exist. I’m not seeing anything appealing about that, and I submit that it is the type of assertion that gives postmodern philosophy a bad name. The first option he gave is merely vague in that it seems to assume that physics cannot be made visible. Physics doesn’t have to refer to invisible forces, it can just be an instrumental method of managing what is visible.

Next, in discussing a similarly constructed fork in ways to understand philiosophy, Rorty writes

The first tradition thinks of truth as a vertical relationship between representations and what is represented. The second tradition thinks of truth horizontally-as the culminating reinterpretation of our predecessors’ reinterpretation of their predecessors’ reinterpretation. . . .

My response to this, as with his view of physics, is ‘bad’ and ‘worse’. To clarify his first tradition, Rorty says:

We can see philosophy as a field which has its center in a series of questions about the relations between words and the world.

I disagree here also. To say that philosophy is about words relating to the world is a sleight of hand maneuver. He is making a claim that philosophical ideas *are* words, rather than words being a way of communicating and thinking about ideas. We can have a philosophical discussion about words and ideas about the world, but words can have no philosophical discussion about the world. Words are signs. They don’t relate to the world unless we want them to.

Soon, Rorty gets to his would-be provocative thesis:

The reason why the notion of “philosophy of language” is an illusion is the same reason why philosophy-Kantian philosophy, philosophy as more than a kind of writing-is an illusion.

It makes perfect sense to me that someone who would mistake ideas about the world for mere words would also mistake philosophy for just so much page-filling ‘content’. When we mistake the map for the territory, the next step is to decide that the territory must be an illusion. Echoing Baudrillard’s next stage of the simulacrum, is the masking of the false assertion of philosophy as merely written words by pointing to the other inversion of the truth that philosophy may really be a tradition of philosophers talking about each other. Once you can convince the audience that philosophy is a something of a scam, then the fact that your assertion is nonsense can be made to seem to validate that. Rorty pretends to prove that philosophy could be fiction by arbitrarily placing his own fiction above philosophy.  This postmodern Liar’s paradox is, ironically logically consistent. “Philosophers are full of shit, and I am a philosopher.”

In his deconstruction of Derrida’s deconstruction of Heidegger’s deconstruction of Hegel, Rorty talks about Derrida’s distrust of Heidegger’s ‘fatal taint of Kantianism, of the Platonic “metaphysics of presence.” This ties back to what I have tried to do with multisense realism, which is to affirm the metaphysics of sense as the progenitor of presence, including the presence of re-presentation through language. While the postmodernist tradition admirably pokes holes in the Platonic-Kantian notion of ideal-noumena as a presence beyond all phenomena, it failed to identify its own hole-poking as an ideal phenomenon with pretensions to the noumenal. Yes, there is a problem with thinking of presence as an objective fact, but the problem goes away when we consider subjectivity and objectivity as dual aspects of the deeper aesthetic foundation which gives an expectation of sensibility to symmetric opposites. Rorty and Derrida are right for thinking that Plato and Kant were wrong about their objectivity being objective, but they are wrong for failing to consider that the power of consideration itself transcends all objects of consideration, including ontology and existence. I would invert Derrida’s observation that ‘There is nothing outside of the text’, since it is only consciousness which lends text a synthetic interior. In truth, nothing is inside the text, as nothing is inside the structures of the body…they are all surfaces exposed to public view.

Moving on a few pages (which I will sum up as yadda yadda), there is an interesting quote by Wittgenstein. “Sometimes, in doing philosophy, one just wants to utter an inarticulate sound.”. This gives me another hook into multisense realism, as it presents the differences between sense modalities as absolute. To utter an inarticulate sound is to try to make a cross-modal sensory conversion across modalities which are defined a priori as incommensurable. From the MSR perspective, this rather Zen idea of a one-hand-clapping sound is still missing the mark. There is one more level of understanding beyond the mystery of ineffability, and that is the realization that ineffability itself points to the common ground that all experiences share…the partitioning of aesthetic qualities and their reconciliation in the common sense intuition of expecting such partitions to be permeable somehow. By expecting to bridge the unbridgeable, we are pointing to the intrinsic commonality of all sensation and meaning in sense itself. If reality were only physics or information processes, there would be no unbridgeable signs as all signs would reduce to the same universal laws of mechanism. Synesthesia is too easy for a computer. Want to see music? Just push the voltage fluctuation through a video screen instead of a speaker. For a computer, there is no such thing as an inarticulate sound as all sound can only be the articulation of information.

I don’t have much to say about the rest of the paper. He’s talking about philosophy of language and the observation that there can be no final philosophical position. He has a point, but I think that the point is not worth the cost of sliding into the possibility of pluralism and relativism. Just because Newton was succeeded by Einstein doesn’t mean that they are equally complete descriptions of nature. Einstein picks up where Newton leaves off, not just because Einstein is having a conversation with Newton but because nature can be understood in progressively more powerful ways.

Consciousness can be mindless, but Mind cannot be unconscious

January 1, 2015 Leave a comment

The mind is the cognitive range of consciousness. Consciousness includes many more aesthetic forms than just mind.

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