Could the Internet come to life?

December 20, 2014 Leave a comment

Could the Internet come to life?

It sounds like a silly proposition and it is a little tongue in cheek, but trying to come up with an answer could have ramifications for the sciences of consciousness and sentience.

Years ago cosmologist Paul Davies talked about a theory that organic matter and therefore life was intrinsically no different from inorganic matter – the only difference was the amount of complexity.

So when a system gets sufficiently complex enough, the property we know (but still can’t define) as ‘life’ might emerge spontaneously like it did from amino acids and proteins three billion years ago.

We have such a system today in the internet. As far back as 2005 Kevin Kelly talked about how the internet would soon have as many ‘nodes’ as a human brain. It’s even been written about in fiction in Robert J Sawyer’s Wake series (Page on

And since human consciousness and all the deep abstract knowledge, creativity, love, etc it gives us arises from a staggering number of deceptively simple parts, couldn’t the same thing happen to the internet (or another sufficiently large and complex system)?

I’m trying to crowdsource a series of articles on the topic (Could the Internet come to life? by Drew Turney – Beacon) and I know this isn’t the place to advertise, but even though I’d love everyone who reads this to back me I’m more interested in getting more food for thought from any responses should I get the project off the ground

I think that the responses here are going to tend toward supporting one of two worldviews. In the first worldview, the facts of physics and information science lead us inevitably to conclude that consciousness and life are purely a matter of particular configurations of forms and functions. Whether those forms and functions are strictly tied to specific materials or they are substrate independent and therefore purely logical entities is another tier of the debate, but all those who subscribe to the first worldview are in agreement: If a particular set of functions are instantiated, the result will be life and conscious experience.

The second worldview would include all of those who suspect that there is something more than that which is required…that information or physics may be necessary for life, but not sufficient. That worldview can be divided further into those who think that the other factor is spiritual or supernatural, and those who think that it is an as-yet-undiscovered factor. Those in the first worldview camp might assert that the second worldview is unlikely or impossible because of

1) Causal Closure eliminates non-physical causes of physical phenomena
2) Bell’s Theorem eliminates hidden variables (including vital essences)
3) Church-Turing Thesis supports the universality of computation

1) Causal Closure – The idea that all physical effects have physical causes can either be seen as an iron clad law of the universe, or as a tautological fallacy that begs the question of materialism. On the one hand, adherents to the first worldview can say that if there were any non-physical cause to a physical effect, we would by definition see the effect of that cause as physical. There is simply no room in the laws of physics for magical, non-local forces as the tiniest deviation in experimental data would show up for us as a paradigm shifting event in the history of physics.

On the other hand, adherents of the second view can either point to a theological transcendence of physics which is miraculous and is beyond physical explanation, or they can question the suppositions of causal closure as biased from the start. Since all physical measurements are made using physical instruments, any metaphysical contact might be minimized or eliminated.

It could be argued that physics is like wearing colored glasses, so that rather than proving that all phenomena can be reduced to ‘red images’, all that it proves is that working with the public-facing exteriors of nature yields a predictably public-facing exterior logic. Rather than diminishing the significance of private-facing phenomenal experience, it may be physics which is the diminished ‘tip of the iceberg’, with the remaining bulk of the iceberg being a transphysical, transpersonal firmament. Just as we observe the ability of our own senses to ‘fill-in’ gaps in perceptual continuity, it could be that physics has a similar plasticity. Relativity may extend beyond physics, such that physics itself is a curvature of deeper conscious/metaphysical attractors.

Another alternative to assuming causal closure is to see the different levels of description of physics as semi-permeable to causality. Our bodies are made of living cells, but on that layer of description ‘we’ don’t exist. A TV show doesn’t ‘exist’ on the level of illuminated pixels or digital data in a TV set. Each level of description is defined by a scope and scale of perception which is only meaningful on that scale. If we apply strong causal closure, there would be no room for any such thing as a level of description or conscious perspective. Physics has no observers, unless we smuggle them in as unacknowledged voyeurs from our own non-physically-accounted-for experience.

To my mind, it’s difficult to defend causal closure in light of recent changes in astrophysics where the vast bulk of the universe’s mass has been suddenly re-categorized as dark energy and dark matter. Not only could these newly minted phenomena be ‘dark’ because they are metaphysical, but they show that physics cannot be counted on to limit itself to any particular definition of what counts as physics.

2) Here’s a passage about Bell’s Theorem which says it better than I could:

“Bell’s Theorem, expressed in a simple equation called an ‘inequality’, could  be put to a direct test. It is a reflection of the fact that no signal containing any information can travel faster than the speed of light. This means that if hidden-variables theory exists to make quantum mechanics a  deterministic theory, the information contained in these ‘variables’ cannot be transmitted faster than light. This is what physicists call a  ‘local’ theory. John Bell discovered that, in order for Bohm’s hidden-variable theory to work, it would have to be very badly ‘non-local’ meaning that it would have to allow for information to travel faster then the speed of light. This means that, if we accept hidden-variable theory to clean up quantum  mechanics because we have decided that we no longer like the idea of assigning probabilities to events at the atomic scale,  we would have to give up special relativity. This is an unsatisfactory bargain.” Archive of Astronomy Questions and Answers

From an other article ( Physics: Bell’s theorem still reverberates )

As Bell proved in 1964, this leaves two options for the nature of reality. The first is that reality is irreducibly random, meaning that there are no hidden variables that “determine the results of individual measurements”. The second option is that reality is ‘non-local’, meaning that “the setting of one measuring device can influence the reading of another instrument, however remote”.

Bell’s inequality could go either way then. Nature could be random and local, non-local and physical, or non-local and metaphysical…or perhaps all of the above. We don’t have to conceive of ‘vital essences’ in the sense of dark physics that connects our private will to public matter and energy, but we can see instead that physics is a masked or spatiotemporally diffracted reflection of a nature that is not only trans-physical, but perhaps trans-dimensional and trans-ontological. It may be that beneath every fact is a kind of fiction.

If particles are, as Fritjof Capra said “tendencies to exist”, then the ground of being may be conceived of as a ‘pretend’-ency to exist. This makes sense to me, since we experience with our own imagination a constant stream of interior rehearsals for futures that might never be and histories that probably didn’t happen the way that we think. Rather than thinking of our own intellect as purely a vastly complex system on a biochemical scale, we may also think of it as a vastly simple non-system, like a monad, of awareness which is primordial and fundamentally inseparable from the universe as a whole.

3) Church-Turing Thesis has to do with computability and whether all functions of mathematics can be broken down to simple arithmetic operations. If we accept it as true, then it can be reasoned through the first worldview that since the brain is physical, and physics can be modeled mathematically, then there should be no reason why a brain cannot be simulated as a computer program.

There are some possible problems with this:

a) The brain and its behavior may not be physically complete. There are a lot of theories about consciousness and the brain. Penrose and Hameroff’s quantum consciousness postulates that consciousness depends on quantum computations within cytoskeletal structures called microtubules. In that case, what the brain does may not be entirely physically accessible. According to Orch OR, the brain’s behavior can be caused ultimately by quantum wavefunction collapse through large scale Orchestrated Objective Reductions. Quantum events of this sort could not be reproduced or measured before they happen, so there is no reason to expect that a computer modeling of a brain would work.

b) Consciousness may not be computable. Like Bell’s work in quantum mechanics, mathematics took an enigmatic turn with Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem. Long story short, Gödel showed that there are truths within any axiomatic system which cannot be proved without reaching outside of that system. Formal logic is incomplete. Like Bell’s inequality, incompleteness can take us into a world where either epistemology breaks down completely and we have no way of ever knowing whether what we know is true, or we are compelled to consider that logic itself is dependent upon a more transcendent, Platonic realm of arithmetic truth.

This leads to another question about whether even this kind of super-logical truth is the generator of consciousness or whether consciousness of some sort is required a priori to any formulation of ‘truth’. To me, it makes no sense for there to be truths which are undetectable, and it makes no sense for an undetectable truth to develop sensation to detect itself, so I’m convinced that arithmetic truth is a reduction of the deeper ground of being, which is not only logical and generic, but aesthetic and proprietary. Thinking is a form of feeling, rather than the other way around. No arithmetic code can produce a feeling on its own.

c) Computation may not support awareness. Those who are used to the first worldview may find this prospect to be objectionable, even offensive to their sensibilities. This in itself is an interesting response to something which is supposed to be scientific and unsentimental, but that is another topic. Sort of. What is at stake here is the sanctity of simulation. The idea that anything which can be substituted with sufficiently high resolution is functionally identical to the original is at the heart of the modern technological worldview. If you have a good enough cochlear implant, it is thought, of course it would be ‘the same as’ a biological ear. By extension, however, that reasoning would imply that a good enough simulation of glass of water would be drinkable.

It seems obvious that no computer generated image of water would be drinkable, but some would say that it would be drinkable if you yourself also existed in that simulation. Of course, if that were the case, anything could be drinkable, including the sky, the alphabet, etc, whatever was programmed to be drinkable in that sim-world.

We should ask then, since computational physics is so loose and ‘real’ physics is so rigidly constrained, does that mean that physics and computation are a substance dualism where they cannot directly interact, or does it mean that physics is subsumed within computation, so that our world is only one of a set of many others, or every other possible world (as in some MWI theories).

d) Computation may rely on ungrounded symbols. Another topic that gets a lot of people very irritated is the line of philosophical questioning that includes Searle’s Chinese Room and Leibniz Mill Argument. If you’ve read this far, you’re probably already familiar with these, but the upshot is that parsimony compels us to question that any such thing as subjective experience could be plausible in a mechanical system. Causal closure is seen not only to prohibit metaphysics, but also any chance of something like consciousness emerging through mechanical chain reactions alone.

Church-Turing works in the opposite way here, since all mechanisms can be reduced to computation and all computation can be reduced to arithmetic steps, there is no way to justify extra-arithmetic levels of description. If we say that the brain boils down to assembly language type transactions, then we need a completely superfluous and unsupportable injection of brute emergence to inflate computation to phenomenal awareness.

The symbol grounding problem shows how symbols can be manipulated ‘apathetically’ to an arbitrary degree of sophistication. The passing of the Turing test is meaningless ultimately since it depends on a subjective appraisal of a distant subjectivity. There isn’t any logical reason why a computer program to simulate a brain or human communication would not be a ‘zombie’, relying on purely quantitative-syntactic manipulations rather than empathetic investment. Since we ourselves can pretend to care, without really caring, we can deduce that there may be no way to separate out a public-facing effect from a private-facing affect. We can lie and pretend and say words that we don’t mean, so we cannot naively assume that just because we build a mouth which parrots speech that meaning will spontaneously arise in the mouth, or the speech, or the ‘system’ as a whole.

In the end, I think that we can’t have it both ways. Either we say that consciousness is intrinsic and irreducible, or we admit that it makes no sense as a product of unconscious mechanisms.

The question of whether the internet could come to life is, to me, only different from the question of whether Pinocchio could become a real boy in that there is a difference in degree. Pinocchio is a three dimensional puppet which is animated through a fourth dimension of time. The puppeteer would add a fifth dimension to that animation, lending their own conscious symbol-grounding to the puppet’s body intentionally. The puppet has no awareness of its own. What is different about an AI is that it would take the fifth dimensional control in-house as it were.

It gets very tricky here, since our human experience has always been with other beings that are self-directed to be living beings which are conscious or aware to some extent. We have no precedent in our evolution to relate to a synthetic entity which is designed explicitly to simulate the responses of a living creature. So far, what we have seen does not support, in my opinion, any fundamental progress. Pinocchio has many voices and outfits now, but he is still wooden. The uncanny valley effect gives us a glimpse in how we are intuitively and aesthetically repulsed by that which pretends to be alive. At this point, my conclusion is that we have nothing to fear from technology developing its own consciousness, no more than we have of books beginning to write their own stories. There is, however, a danger of humans abdicating their responsibility to AI systems, and thereby endangering the quality of human life. Putting ‘unpersons’ in charge of the affairs of real people may have dire consequences over time.

December 9, 2014 Leave a comment

The Lips of Wisdom Are Closed Except To The Ears of Understanding

Consciousness and Evolution

December 1, 2014 Leave a comment

My answer to Quora question

While human consciousness has certainly been shaped by evolution, that does not mean that consciousness itself could have evolved from non-consciousness. Whether we are talking about other species of animals or cells or organic molecules, the same issues which we run into in explaining human consciousness are still present at any scale. The issues of the hard problem of consciousness, explanatory gap, binding problem, and symbol grounding problem make the mind-body split just as relevant wither the ‘body’ is a brain, neuron, or subatomic particle. No matter what, you have to explain how an ‘interior world’ can ‘exist’ in a physical structure whose behavior is causally closed.

Whatever way you slice it, if we accept that T-cells can be effective in detecting and neutralizing threats on a cellular level without having consciousness, or that DNA can create cellular machines which build a brain without consciousness, then we are admitting that consciousness doesn’t make sense as a functional adaptation. The rest of the universe already works too well without it. There is nothing especially interesting about a hominid’s need for food and shelter which would demand rich awareness to develop out of blind reflex. Single celled organisms chase food, avoid danger, etc also.

We are then left with considering that either consciousness could somehow be an accident of evolution, or that consciousness may be intrinsic to all physical phenomena in some sense (panpsychism, panexperientialism) or even that consciousness is the universal substrate upon which all phenomena depends (idealism, idealist monism).

If consciousness is a mutation that has no functional role (a spandrel), we have to ask why it would even be a possibility. Remember that if consciousness is a mutation, we are assuming that there is a whole universe already in place which is overflowing with processes, biological and otherwise, which are perfectly capable of directing themselves effectively while being unconscious. It’s actually a radically anthropocentric cosmology since we are privileging our tiny piece of history in the universe as the only piece which is not devoid of experience. We are saying that everything that existed before humans was unconscious, therefore an invisible, intangible, silent void with no memory etc. If we are not intending that, and prefer to think that the universe looked, sounded, felt, and tasted just like it does for Homo sapiens since the dawn of time, then we would have to ask exactly what we think consciousness is adding to that kind of eternal-universal ‘unconsciousness’.

If consciousness is intrinsic to physical phenomena (as in Penrose-Hameroff’s microtubule-based Quantum Consciousness) or is intrinsic to information integration (as in Tononi-Koch’s IIT), we still have the same kind of mind-body problem. A ‘body’ which is a statistical function rather than a literal form in space is still falls short of explaining why and how there is any such thing as consciousness. In my view, only the idealist monist view, or what I call pansensitivity makes sense ultimately as the parent of both physics and information. Just as we learn to count on our fingers, all forms of information are representations of experiences which have an aesthetic foundation – a seeing, feeling, touching, thinking, etc. Without that sensory-motive context from the start, there would nothing to evolve; only abstractions in the dark (or not even dark). Once we can get over ourselves as a species and recognize that consciousness doesn’t begin and end with us, I think that awareness will be seen as the container of relativity itself, with quantum mechanics and evolutionary biology as a consequence of deeper stories rather than their originator.

The Autistic-Psychotic Spectrum of Metaphysical Ontology

August 31, 2014 3 comments

My recent interest in the autism theories of Simon Baron-Cohen, Crespi and Badcock has given me a new way of describing what I call the Multisense Continuum. My interest in the autism work is not so much in the literal interpretation of these theories, but in the themes that the theories tie into. Whether or not autism is caused by high fetal testosterone or selection pressure for ‘maternal resources’ is not my interest personally, and my instinct is that these are ultimately regressive approaches that can be too easily politicized.

What I am interested in, however, is the continuum itself. The concept of autism, not as it really is; a complex set of possible traits related to social development, language, interests, etc, but as a stereotype. The themes of autism and the way those themes can be juxtaposed against the themes of psychosis diametrically are, in my view, the keys to understanding consciousness, and by extension, all of nature. This may sound like an idea which is both psychotic and autistic…and that would make perfect sense.

What I am saying is that the entire universe and the fabric of every part of the universe are fundamentally rooted in the same thematic spectrum as these theories. Physics is the autistic spectrum of the universe, and subjectivity is its psychotic spectrum.

Here are some other ways to look at it:

Unnatural > Natural < Supernatural

In this simple version, the left side would be the autistic side, called ‘unnatural’ to reflect the atomized, mechanical aesthetic of the cosmos. Repetition and isolation are highlighted. Each part a discrete object connected to other objects through highly systemized, literal links.

The right side (and I always put the subjective side on the right or “East” side as it is the “orienting” side) would be the psychotic side, called ‘supernatural’ to reflect the irrational, mystical, and divine connotations of delusional and psychedelic states. I think that people who have experienced bipolar shifts from mania to depression might agree that they correspond to a transition from personal identification with the divine to a divine disillusionment or abandonment. Psychedelic trips also famously follow this supernatural ‘Heaven and Hell’ amplification of what would ordinarily be the simple highs and lows of mood. Moods swing up and down, but they also swing left and right, from saturated, floridly supernatural hallucinations to flat, utilitarian execution on the left.
This is not to say that all supernatural experiences are ‘hallucinations’ or that all unnatural influences are devoid of empathy, only that this is what the universe is doing with itself…oscillating and tessellating through this spectrum, expanding it in ever more elaborate ways.

A semiotic way of expressing it might be:

Semaphoric > Morphic || Phoric < Metaphoric

On the left*, I am using a neologism “semaphoric” to make the connection with deflating the broad, poetic sensibility of loose metaphorical association to the precisely defined, mathematical sensibility of codes and logic. Semaphores are flags, like digits or cards** which are used for making compressing information and making it unambiguous. Semaphoric sensibility is bottom up, building complex communication from binary or quantized alphabets.

The center (Natural) section is bifurcated here into the Morphic and Phoric, referring to form and feeling respectively. Form could be geometric objects in space or functional steps in time while feeling would be the appreciation of and participation in sensory experience which may or may not be attached to logical objects/functions. The double pipe (“||”) emphasizes a fold in the continuum, since the inflection point at which the morphological counter-aesthetic of bodies in spacetime and the native, ‘phoric’ aesthetic of experiences-qualia within itself is one of diametric opposition. The flavor of apple pie is not only nothing like the structure of organic chemistry, it is the opposite ontological expression

On the right, ‘metaphoric’ refers to the sensibility which is anchored in the firmament of collective experience. Just as the semaphoric bumps up against a minimum limit of binary logic, the metaphoric branches out into a kind of unification of infinity…a maximum holism. Here, the logic of space and quantity breaks down entirely, as all of history is fused into pool of potential inspiration and meaning. Fantasy is intrinsic to all experience, including the fantasy of escaping fantasy entirely.

Autism > Systemizing || Empathizing < Psychosis

So yeah, this is the human personal version of the Multisense continuum in my view. The extremes of autism would map to my category of OMMM (Only Material Matters Matter) and ACME (Anything Can Mean Everything) would map to the Bipolar/Schizophrenia category. There are endless other ways of expressing this, and I did not even get into how the spectrum ‘wraps around’ so that left and right ends can be seen as the center, but that works also (instead of a diametric “||” there would be an evanescent …… linkage for the ‘Ouroboran’ wrap around).

My hunch is that this spectrum can be formalized for scientific purposes, and that the systemizing and empathizing functions can be understood in ontological terms. The pound sign # and the asterisk * can even be a clue, or perhaps :-)  < *

* left is also Western-Occidental, counter to default orientation.

**Descartes, interestingly, was so named because of ‘cartes’, or charts that he used to explain his theories, theories which ushered in the Enlightenment era of Cartesian coordinates, through which space and time were digitally quantified.

Zooming in on Reductionism and Extremely Gendered Brains

August 30, 2014 2 comments


istock_connecting-the-dots functional_view

One of the greatest obstacles to understanding the hard problem of consciousness and the explanatory gap between function and qualia is that we are psychologically conditioned to overlook the destructive compression of reductionism.

Only a person who is familiar with the shape of the State of Texas can fully understand the connect the dots image shown above. I have included an intermediate image between ‘potential Texas’ and the Functional View to show how even a shift in perspective can make identification impossible. In the end, no identification at all is necessary fro a machine to logically connect one dot to the next in an n+1 sequence. No matter how many dots are connected, it is just the same mechanical action. No geometry or memory is required, just a machine that logically associate one point of data with the next.

When we build computations out of that, we can step back and look at all of the dots and say “yes, the computer is drawing Texas, therefore it might know what Texas is.” or “surely the more complex the arrangement of dots, the more likely it is that a computer could develop geometry and visual experiences of shape”, but there is no logical support for that. Each process of the machine can continue on as it has, completing one mindless task after another, including mindless meta-tasks of associating many groups of data points with many other.

When we reduce the reds, blues, and yellows of light to ‘simply’ electromagnetic wavelengths, we are suggesting that some agent is converting a set of colorless data points into a a color. This is the explanatory gap. A surprisingly high percentage of the population has no trouble with outright denying that there is a gap at all, and will insist that color simply “is” the brain’s reaction to processing data about light. They do not see that processing of data need only be an invisible, functional interpretation of logical points, compressible to any kind of labeling scheme we like.

A brain could easily use biochemical, epigenetic, or quantum computation to label its vast oceans of data at high speed without having to invent flavors, colors, or feelings. Colors are not even the best example because visual qualia maps relatively isomorphically to optical measurements. The same is not true for flavors and emotions, which bear almost no resemblance to physics. If we allowed the brain to produce a single dimension of sense, there is no plausible reason to have to produce a second, any more than there would be a reason for a car’s dashboard to make a musical playlist to accompany itself. If for some reason a computer needed to see its own data, and it could somehow magically conjure that into existence out of its ‘complexity’, seeing would be more than enough to fulfill all data compression needs forever.

An interesting explanation for the inability of so many people to recognize the gap between function and qualia may be hinted at in Simon Baron-Cohen’s Empathizing–Systemizing (E-S) theory of brain types, and Crespi and Badcock’s paper Psychosis and autism as diametrical disorders of the social brain. I have already caught shit for proposing this, as it may sound like I am saying that autism is bad, or that people who favor functionalism are autistic, but that is actually the almost the opposite of what I am saying. What I think the truth is, or might be, is that everyone carries these diametrical potentials (which map to my ACME-OMMM dichotomy, btw) to some extent, and they reflect the continuum of human consciousness, philosophy of mind, and nature itself. This article had this to say about it:

In their forthcoming article in the premier journal Behavioral and Brain Sciences, Crespi and Badcock present a very convincing case for paranoid schizophrenia as an extreme female brain. Now the whole picture appears to be complete. When your brain is “too male,” too systemizing, too mechanistic, you become autistic. When your brain is “too female,” too empathizing, too mentalistic, you become paranoid schizophrenic. If the extreme male brain of an autistic is “mindblind,” then you might suggest that the extreme female brain of a paranoid schizophrenia is “logicblind.”

Again, to be clear, I am not advocating a clinical reductionism in psychology. I’m not advocating the labeling of autism this or male-female that. This is not about neuroscience or biology for me*, it is about metaphysics and ontology. The difference between representation and presentation, and how they are flipped again and again within nature, and how they are both lenses which define each other.

Part II of this post here.

*I don’t blame people for having a negative reaction to this kind of science, as far as using terms like ‘extreme male brain’ in itself sounds like the product of ‘extreme male’ thinking. It seems crass and inaccurate to go down that road of categorizing people and pathologizing psychological differences as disorders, but I will take what I can get. I think that this research is on to something, regardless of how it may sound.

Why do people believe in the mind body problem?

July 28, 2014 Leave a comment
“Why do people believe in the mind body problem?

I thought this was solved long ago”

My answer on Quora:

Here are a few reasons I can think of:

  1. Our imagination seems immaterial.
    There is no imaginary stone, for example that is too heavy for us to lift. We can imagine ice cubes melting the sun or a new state of matter that is liquid gravity. Dreams are surreal, and provide evidence that fully realistic worlds can be rendered without there being the expected physics presented. If dreams were not realistic, it would be easier to swallow materialism. As it is, it is very tough to justify how it would be that brains would be able to instantly conjure up fantasy worlds without having access to the same creative resources that physics itself has.
  2. Mental representation is not physical.
    Our thoughts do not appear to break down into chemical compounds which can be transferred from brain to brain in an eyedropper. Instead, they can be communicated through representational signs across many different material substrates. Right now my thoughts are becoming part of your thoughts by means of electronic devices, but it could instead be communicated by voice, gesture, pen and paper, etc. Physical substances and forces cannot be transmitted as signs. We cannot send a text to someone dying of thirst which they can drink.
  3. We cannot access the brain through introspection.
    The greatest minds in history have never, through meditation alone discovered the details of neurology, biochemistry, etc. Common sense might suggest that since, for example, we can touch our body with our body, and see our eyes with our eyes, that we should be able to think of our brain with our brain, but that is not the case. It also goes the other way, where we can correlate data that we find in brain imaging to *known* ‘neural correlates’ like feelings or tasting flavors, but there is nothing in the brain images themselves which would or could ever suggest any such thing as a flavor or feeling.
  4. There is no logical connection between physical phenomena and subjective experience.
    Physics involves measurable forms which can be described using geometry and whose functions can be described through logical, arithmetic steps. Physics is intended to be done without any subjective experience (other than a zero dimensional ‘observer’). Subjectivity is the opposite kind of phenomena on every count from physics. It involves immeasurable qualities of aesthetic appreciation and participation which do not owe their significance to complex universal processes. Instead, subjectivity is comprised of a personalized richness of presentation which eliminates the need for complexity. There is no logical way that a certain wavelength of light could become ‘blue’, and no mathematical transformation which would make it more logical, yet blue is a quality which we cannot deny exists in the universe.
  5. Life is weirder than it seems like it should be.
    The fact that we have never come across any culture that does not have a concept of spirits and the afterlife does not have to mean that there are spirits and an afterlife, but it is certainly an odd thing to have as an anthropological universal if there were nothing funny going on between mind and body. Physics and mathematics in the 20th century only adds to the weirdness, since, after all, if there were nothing but bodies colliding into each other, then we would have no need for concepts like uncertainty, and if logic were nothing but objective facts, then we would have no need for the idea of incompleteness. Also there are so many fishy things that people report all of the time…Near Death Experiences, Out of Body Experiences, psychedelic revelations, paranormal capabilities, synchronicity, etc. If you think that these can be easily swept aside by insisting that they are just anomalies and fraud then you have not looked at the research fairly.
  6. It is the default/naive truth of human experience.
    The sense of being ‘in’ our body, looking out of our eyes is something that we take for granted, but has no basis in physics. Your screen doesn’t have to feel like it is sitting in front of a computer to work, so the fact that there is any sense of being ‘inside’ of ‘our’ body is already a hint at our relation to space and time. Our body is more like a window or a filter than it is a robot. We can say that the Earth is not flat, but if that were literally and completely true, it would be hard to explain why carpenters use a level. Indeed, the roundness of the Earth is not especially useful most of the time for those of us who actually live on the surface of it and experience it as flat. Any description of the universe which fails to mention that planets seem flat when you walk on them and only seem round from a distance is not complete.
  7. Because they have considered the issue deeply.
    While the last few centuries have seen the rise of scientific worldviews which describe our experience from the outside in, some people have noticed that there is a problem with this. Since subjective experience is private to begin with, there is no reason to expect that a worldview which is bound exclusively to public inspection would not be grossly misleading. In fact, the failure of behaviorism in psychology and artificial intelligence in computer science to demonstrate satisfying results should have steered us away from these kinds of approaches already. Fortunately some of the leading scientists and philosophers in the field of consciousness, like Tononi, Koch, and Chalmers have been pointing in a new direction, one which involves consciousness rather than matter as a fundamental property. There is a long tradition within philosophy, particularly in Eastern thought which holds that awareness is the fundamental reality and that matter, bodies, and brains are borrowed from a universal pool of ideas and experiences. The universe may be made of stories rather than things, and things are just part of the story.
  8. Because they have natural insight into the issue
    A recent study suggest to me that not everyone has an equal chance at understanding the mind/body problem. For people whose minds are very logical, they may identify exclusively with the process of their own intellect rather than the qualities of experience from which the intellect arises. I wrote a post about this: Asperger’s, Autism, and the Hard Problem of Consciousness For others, the fact of subjectivity is quite plain and ordinary. We move our hand by moving it directly out of our own intention. Whatever biochemical description accompanies that movement is not enough to even define why it is occurring in the first place.
  9. Because simulation theories and emergence are misguided.
    Most theories which collapse subjectivity into physics rely on the kind of GUI model. We look at the computer screen and see pictures and words, and it is natural to think that this relationship would be part of a physical mechanism. A brain would simply produce computations that look like something or taste a certain way because looks and tastes are a way of labeling information and organizing it. What this view fails to recognize is that labeling information would only mean that it would be processed differently, not that those differences would suddenly become a flavor or a sound. Emergence is a way of chasing our tail and fooling ourselves that we have explained consciousness, but in reality, emergence itself cannot be explained without awareness. The parts of an airplane can be individually thrown in the air, so that even though to our understanding the property of a plane flying by itself seems new, it is not at all surprising to the universe. Consciousness is not like that, since there is no configuration of physical objects that would result in a subjective experience, even as an extension of some physical force or field to become self-sustaining or consolidated, etc. The raw ontology of privacy isn’t there to begin with in our model of physics or information.

Signs and Consciousness

July 25, 2014 Leave a comment

Consciousness or awareness or sense is the concrete and direct aesthetic encounter which defines all possible phenomena. Data or information is an accumulation and communication of signs, which intellectually represent the facade of experiences that relate to the function of their significance to the experiencer

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