Asperger’s, Autism, and the Hard Problem of Consciousness

July 22, 2014 Leave a comment

This test was also originally devised by Wellman and Estes, and involves asking the child what the brain is for. They found that normal 3-4 year olds already know that the brain has a set of mental functions, such as dreaming, wanting, thinking, keeping secrets, etc., Some also knew it had physical functions (such as making you move, or helping you stay alive, etc.). In contrast , children with autism (but who again had a mental age above a 4 year old level) appear to know about the physical functions, but typically fail to mention any mental function of the brain (Baron-Cohen, 1989a)

This paper on autism and theory of mind really shines a light on the most intractable problem within philosophy of mind. In particular

…children from about the age of 4 years old normally are able to distinguish between appearance and reality, that is, they can talk about objects which have misleading appearances. For example, they may say, when presented with a candle fashioned in the shape of an apple, that it looks like an apple but is really a candle. Children with autism, presented with the 5 same sorts of tests, tend to commit errors of realism, saying the object really is an apple, or really is a candle, but do not capture the object’s dual identity in their spontaneous descriptions (Baron-Cohen, 1989a).

This cartoon from a Psychology Today article illustrates the kinds of tests that show whether children have developed what is called a theory of mind; an understanding of the contents of other people’s experience:

“Children with autism are virtually at chance on this test, as likely to indicate one character as the other when asked “Which one knows what’s in the box?””

So often it becomes clear to me in debating the issues of consciousness that they are missing something which cannot be replaced by logic. The way that many people think, especially those who are very intelligent in math and physics, only includes a kind of toy model of experience – one which fails to fully realize the difference between the map and the territory. It makes a lot of sense to be that having a very low-res, two dimensional theory of mind would correlate with having a philosophy of mind which undersignifies privacy and oversignifies mechanistic influences. The low res theory of mind comes with a built in bias toward behaviorism, where all events are caused by public conditions rather than private feelings and experiences.

There are several other interesting findings in the (brief) paper. Autistic children find it difficult to tell the difference between what they meant to do and what they actually did, so that when they shoot at a target and miss, they don’t understand that they intended to hit it but ended up missing it and say that they meant to miss. Overall, the list of deficits in imagination, pragmatics, social mindreading, etc has been called mindblindness. This is not to say that everyone who doesn’t understand the hard problem has mindblindness, but I would say it is very likely that having mindreading-empathy deficits on the autistic spectrum would tend to result in a strong bias against idealism, panpsychism, free will, or the hard problem of consciousness.

Part II

When Kant wrote:

‘Being’ is obviously not a real predicate; that is, it is not a concept of something which could be added to the concept of a thing. It is merely the positing of a thing, or of certain determinations, as existing in themselves.

he brings up a point of distinction which I think can be resolved when we consider consciousness to absolutely primitive in the universe. When we say that something exists or that it simply is, we are invoking an unacknowledged sense of omnipotence. When we say for example that a circle exists, we are really exporting our own experiences of seeing circular patterns, or of participating in circular motions, repeating processes, etc into a hypothetical experience which hypothetically does not belong to us.

To say that the circle exists does not add anything to the description of a circle. We cannot imagine that there is a ‘circle which does not exist’ and expect it to be meaningful, since there is nothing that it means not to exist other than to be absent from consideration in the first place. It is upon this minor slip of epistemology into pseudo-ontology that the entire criticism of idealism hinges. George Berkeley’s phrase Esse est percipi (“To be is to be perceived”) encapsulates this recognition that the notion of being is a fallacy when it is separated from perception. Unfortunately, Berkeley was in my opinion too far ahead of his time to escape being misunderstood, and he himself had a conception of human psychology which was too simplistic to recover the principle without appeal to religion. He did not consider separating out perception from a perceiver or distinguishing human perception from non-human perception. The famous garbling of Berkeley’s ideas which we know as ‘If a tree falls in a forest and there is nobody around to here it, does it make a sound?’.

This of course was not very close to the philosophy that Berkeley had in mind since it opens a huge loophole that we find to be silly on the face of it. Of course a tree falling in a forest makes a sound – animals hear it, the ground shakes, etc. To say that none of that exists just because no human being is around would be insane. When we consider, however, that the nature of hearing is such that the event of the tree falling is part of a chain reaction that includes compression waves in the air, and our ears, and isomorphic waves of biochemical activity in the nervous system and brain, it is difficult to say what it is that is a ‘sound’ and how much a sound can really be separated from the experience of hearing.

Even if we can’t hear, the vibration of a tree falling is something that we can feel throughout our body. Informally we might say that we felt the vibration, or that we could feel the that the tree fell, but ultimately it is our own feeling of our body which is vibrating. We feel the world through our body, but the body, world, feeling, and vibration are different levels of description of the same thing. There is no vibration, tree, or body which exists independently of a sensory experience in which those things are presented. It is my suspicion that our conception of electromagnetism as a sort of vibration in a vacuum is mistaken because of the failure to consider the kinds of ideas that Kant and Berkeley were talking about.

In part I, I made the connection between poor theory of mind skills and the denial of the hard problem of consciousness. The cartoon about Ann and Sally can give some important insight as to fundamental differences in how people understand perception and reality. In the autism cases, children tend not to be able to understand that Sally will not know that Ann has put the ball in the box since they, the reader of the cartoon, knows that Ann put it there. This ‘mindblindness’ is exactly what Berkeley and Kant were each trying to overcome in their own way. Kant pointed out that the concept of existence or being without perceptual essences is purely conceptual, while Berkeley saw that perceptual essences are in fact identical with being. Our seeing Ann put the ball in the box does not give Sally access to that experience. Writing a program which displays the cartoon does not give the computer an experience of seeing it.

The interesting thing about awareness is that it is a real predicate. Unlike the idea of ‘being’ or existence, awareness isn’t merely the idea that X is a “thing” but that X is a concrete perceptual encounter. It has aesthetic qualities like hot or cold, loud or quiet, etc. Even the feeling of being a perceiver of X can be understood as a kind of feeling, so that we need not think of the entire universe as miniature souls as Leibniz thought (monads), but a vast exchange and development of perceptions. Beginning from there, we can see how quantitative structures could emerge from variations in aesthetic qualities and how those structures could be used as mechanical shortcuts for prediction and control, yet without ever developing additional qualities of experience on the machine level.

Searle’s Chinese Room and the other Symbol Grounding arguments are attempts to bring Kant and Berkeley’s insights into artificial intelligence. They show how a computer can function on a syntactic level, passing recorded relations of data back and forth, without having any higher level understanding. There doesn’t appear to be any special level of sophistication at which a machine that is built to imitate functions of the mind becomes a genuine experience of its own. As long as we look for a magic formula to create a ‘being’, we are making the mistake of confusing a ‘dozen’ with a thing that can be built out of eggs.

Gödel of the Gaps

July 15, 2014 Leave a comment

So much of our attention in logic and math is focused on using processes to turn specific inputs into even more specific binary outputs. Very little attention is paid to what inputs and outputs are or to the understanding of what truth is in theoretical terms. The possibility of inputs is assumed from the start, since no program can exist without being ‘input’ into some kind of material substrate which has been selected or engineered for that purpose. You can’t program a device to be programmable if it isn’t already. Overlooking this is part of the gap between mathematics and reality which is overlooked by all forms of simulation theory and emergentism. Without some initial connection between sensitive agents which are concretely real and non-theoretical, there can be no storage or processing of information. Before we can input any definitions of logical functions, we have to find something which behaves logically and responds reliably to our manipulations of it.

The implications of binary logic, of making distinctions between true/go and false/stop are more far reaching than we might assume. I suggest that if a machine’s operations can be boiled down to true and false bits, then it can have no capacity to exercise intentionality. It has no freedom of action because freedom is a creative act, and creativity in turn entails questioning what is true and what is not. The creative impulse can drive us to attack the truth until it cracks and reveals how it is also false. Creativity also entails redeeming what has been seen as false so that it reveals a new truth. These capabilities and appreciation of them are well beyond the functional description of what a machine would do. Machine logic is, by contrast, the death of choice. To compute is to automate and reduce sense into an abstract sense-of-motion. Leibniz called his early computer a “Stepped Reckoner”, and that it very apt. The word reckon derives from etymological roots that are shared with ‘reg’, as in regal, ruler, and moving straight ahead. It is a straightener or comb of physically embodied rules. A computer functionalizes and conditions reality into rules, step by step, in a mindless imitation of mind. A program or a script is a frozen record of sense-making in retrospect. It is built of propositions defined in isolation rather than sensations which share the common history of all sensation.

The computing machine itself does not exist in the natural world, but rather is distilled from the world’s most mechanistic tendencies. All that does not fit into true or false is discarded. Although Gödel is famous for discovering the incompleteness of formal systems, that discovery itself exists within a formal context. The ideal machine, for example, which cannot prove anything that is false, subscribes to the view that truth and falsehood are categories which are true rather than truth and falsehood being possible qualities within a continuum of sense making. There is a Platonic metaphysics at work here, which conjures a block universe of forms which are eternally true and good. In fact, a casual inspection of our own experience reveals no such clear-cut categories, and the goodness and truth of the situations we encounter are often inseparable from their opposite. We seek sensory experiences for the sake of appreciating them directly, rather than only for their truth or functional benefits. Truth is only one of the qualities of sense which matters.

The way that a computer processes information is fundamentally different than the way that conscious thought works. Where a consistent machine cannot give a formal proof of its own consistency, a person can be certain of their own certainty without proof. That doesn’t always mean that the person’s feeling turns out to match what they or others will understand to be true later on, but unlike a computer, we have available to us an experience of a sense of certainty (especially a ‘common sense’) that is an informal feeling rather than a formal logical proof. A computer has neither certainty nor uncertainty, so it makes no difference to it whether a proof exists or not. The calculation procedure is run and the output is generated. It can be compared against the results of other calculators or to employ more calculations itself to assess a probability, but it has no sense of whether the results are certain or not. Our common sense is a feeling which can be proved wrong, but can also be proved right informally by other people. We can come to a consensus beyond rationality with trust and intuition, which is grounded the possibility of the real rather than the realization of the hypothetical. When we use computation and logic, we are extending our sense of certainty by consulting a neutral third party, but what Gödel shows is that there is a problem with measurement itself. It is not just the ruler that is incomplete, or the book of rules, but the expectation of regularity which is intrinsically unexpected.

One of the trickiest problems with the gap between the theoretical and the concrete us that the gap itself is real rather than theoretical. There can be no theory of why reality is not just information, since theory itself cannot access reality directly. Reality is not only formal. Formality is not real. There is a bias within formal logic which favors certainty. This is at the heart of the utility of logic. In mathematician Bruno Marchal’s book “The Amoeba’s Secret”, his view on dreams hints at what is beneath the surface of the psychology of mathematics. He writes

“What struck me was the asymmetry existing between the states of dreaming and of being awake: when you are awake, you can never be truly sure that you are. By contrast, when dreaming, you can sometimes perceive it as such.”

Surely most of us have no meaningful doubt that we are awake when we are awake. The addition of the qualification of being “truly sure” that we are awake seems to assume that there is a deeper epistemology which is possible – as if being awake required a true certainty on top of the mere fact of being awake. To set the feeling of certainty above the content of experience itself is an inversion; a mistake of privileging the expectations of the intellect over the very ground of being from which those expectations arise.

Likewise, to say that we can sometimes perceive our dreaming in a lucid dream is to hold the dream state to a different epistemological standard than we do of being awake. If we could be awake and not really be sure that we are, then certainly we could think that we are having a lucid dream, but could be similarly misinformed. We could be dead and living in an afterlife from which we will never return or some such goofy possibility. Mathematical views of reality seem to welcome a kind of escapist sophism which gives too much credence to rabbit holes and not enough to the whole rabbit.

That we sometimes tell when we are dreaming means only that we are more awake within our dream than usual – not that our usual awareness is any more true or sure than it ever is. If we are uncertain in waking life and certain in dreams, it is because our capacity to tell the difference is real and not a dream or theory. There is no way to prove that we are awake, but neither is there any need to prove it since it is self-evident. Any proof that we could have could theoretically be duplicated in a dream also, but that does not mean that there is no difference between dream and reality. The difference is more than can be learned by ‘proof’ alone.

IIT 3.0 Central Axioms

July 7, 2014 Leave a comment

From the Phenomenology to the Mechanisms of Consciousness: Integrated Information Theory 3.0

The recent publication of new details for Tononi & Koch’s Integrated Information Theory includes the following central axioms, which are “taken to be immediately evident,”:

  • Existence: Consciousness exists – it is an undeniable aspect of reality. Paraphrasing Descartes, “I experience therefore I am”.
  • Composition: Consciousness is compositional (structured): each experience consists of multiple aspects in various combinations. Within the same experience, one can see, for example, left and right, red and blue, a triangle and a square, a red triangle on the left, a blue square on the right, and so on.
  • Information: Consciousness is informative: each experience differs in its particular way from other possible experiences. Thus, an experience of pure darkness is what it is by differing, in its particular way, from an immense number of other possible experiences. A small subset of these possible experiences includes, for example, all the frames of all possible movies.
  • Integration: Consciousness is integrated: each experience is (strongly) irreducible to non-interdependent components. Thus, experiencing the word “SONO” written in the middle of a blank page is irreducible to an experience of the word “SO” at the right border of a half-page, plus an experience of the word “NO” on the left border of another half page – the experience is whole. Similarly, seeing a red triangle is irreducible to seeing a triangle but no red color, plus a red patch but no triangle.
  • Exclusion: Consciousness is exclusive: each experience excludes all others – at any given time there is only one experience having its full content, rather than a superposition of multiple partial experiences; each experience has definite borders – certain things can be experienced and others cannot; each experience has a particular spatial and temporal grain – it flows at a particular speed, and it has a certain resolution such that some distinctions are possible and finer or coarser distinctions are not.

In looking at each of them, I can’t help but want to point out that the opposite of each axiom is also true in a sense. Consider:

Existence: Consciousness is a spectrum of qualities which appear to come in and out of existence. Some qualities of consciousness are ‘barely there’ or arguably resist being defined as existing. We can, for example, dream of a book in which there are sentences which appear to be made out of words and letters, but cannot be read. We might remember someone’s face in a way that seems specific, but when we reach for concrete details, we find that they do not ‘exist’.

Composition: Here too, if we look at other kinds of conscious experience, such as the flavor of a wine, it is not clear that there is an objective structure. We will not necessarily agree that there are earthy notes followed by floral notes, etc. The wine can be experienced as a gestalt which, while containing the potential for nuanced composition to be drawn out, does not necessitate any such formal realization in structure. We need not presume only a combination of discrete units, but we can also model a diffraction from top level simplicities downward.

Information: Conscious contents range from being highly informative to highly repetitious without materially altering their significance. Many addictive behaviors rely on the pure pleasure of the experience without any analytical dimension of uniqueness or learning behind them. Information may only pertain to communication and representation of conscious experience, not to the experience itself.

Integration: I agree fundamentally that in one sense, each experience stands on its own, however, in another sense, every experience is associated with ranges of other experiences to different degrees. If anything, it the modulation between qualities of being integrated, informing, composed, etc and their opposite qualities of disintegration, ignorance, decomposition, etc which are implicated in consciousness.

Exclusion: Here I fundamentally disagree. While any given experience can be isolated intellectually, that partitioning appears to me to be superficial. Experience builds on itself, and every waking moment implicitly contains the presence of all past experiences and hints at future possibilities. Experience can be read on many different levels, so that even though exclusion is a large part of the function of the intellect, that aspect of experience itself is floating on a sea of metaphorical, intuitive, and universal influences. Exclusion is easy to assume in a figurative sense, as far as our typical human attention seems to find a quality of focus whenever it focuses on itself, but I think that in a literal sense, exclusion is impossible.




Speculating on Time as Nested Experience

June 27, 2014 Leave a comment

If we compare two sense modalities, such as seeing vs hearing, we can get a hint of what it might mean for spacetime to be orthogonal to experiential time. Think of the primordial nature of time not as a coherent parameter to be measured, but instead we can see the possibility of time as emerging from experience. A temporal sense which is driven by tempo. Fugues of dream-like, non-orientable perceptual gestalts, with sequential qualities emerging from semantic intensities. If this kind of time were a tent, the tent poles would be significant moments – aesthetically saturated occurrences which resonate into re-occurrence through their cosmological nobility.

For human beings, with a relatively huge psychological bandwidth, we we would experience this prototype to spatialized-time as chronologically ambiguous. Call it a mytho-poetic Dreamtime, collective unconscious, or primordial qualia; a condition where characters and their stories are fused together. The hero makes the journey, and the journey makes the hero. Splitting this atavistic tempo into space and time is the mirroring of unseen perspectives. The hero and journey are polarized into subjects and objects. I would imagine on a pre-biological level, this would be more like position and momentum – less metaphor and more semaphore.

Once the primitive experience takes on a divided perspective there would be opportunities for a sense of hierarchy. Simpler, semaphoric ‘times’ and more developed, metaphorical times are residuated within a densely realized middle ‘place’ as repeating cliches or themes. To broker between these experiential threads, an intermediary sense is used to define boundaries and relations in simple, literal terms. Spacetime, or spatialized time serves to reign in a worldly epoch, and segregate it from the quasi-timeless and quasi-spaceless epoch. The division of fact from fantasy recapitulates the division of space and time, object and subject, body and mind. The reality of space, body and mind is, in the absolute sense, the child of pansensitivity or transrealism. In the local sense, that relation is flipped, and the body is presented as the parent of the subjective mind.

With spacetime, the tent of pansensitive experience is normalized on one end, so that even though the ‘tent poles’ of significance and memory remain as defining the contours of the tent on top, all are now evened out on the bottom. The more primitive, ‘physical’ types of experience have lower amplitudes of significance compared to our experiences, so their variations are collapsed into mere statistical anomalies from our perspective. Our view of their physical time is a mechanical average, generic and lacking any tent-pole significance. Reducing experience to a single quantitative dimension of repetition and duration is the ultimate spatialization of time. With all privacy flattened to be available for public inspection, subjectivity is disenchanted and nomenalized. The figurative and the literal switch roles and the heroes journey is reduced to mere coordinates in a phase space.

The mistake we make is to import this bottom-level generic time into our own high-level proprietary frame. In the most ‘objective’, absolute sense, time radiates from experiential significance as memory and foreshadowing. Time circulates within experience like rhyme does through a poem. Substituting that raw animation for the expectation of rigorous clock-time is not a neutral act. It is an assumption about the universe which cascades through the psyche and civilization, improving and automating our exteriors while our interiority languishes in perpetual angst. Liberation from spacetime literalism might help us find a new way of tapping into larger, more intuitive senses of place and time.

How does our brain recognize the difference between real world and hyper realistic animation world? – Quora

June 12, 2014 Leave a comment

(my answer on Quora)

We may not know as much about perception as we think that we do. While  we have become comfortable with the scientific explanations of the  processing of sensory signals and how to simulate them, there may be  much more to it than that. Of course we understand that there is much  more to reality than we can perceive, and that our perception can be  more easily manipulated than we would have thought possible, but that  does not mean that there are not also other ways of knowing and seeing  which we are not consciously aware of.

The phenomenon of the Uncanny valley is the statistical ‘valley’ or region of

“negative emotional response towards robots that seem “almost human”.

There is a sense of creepiness which relates to the animation of inanimate bodies. The depiction of zombies or ventriloquist puppets that come to life are part of the horror genre because we have a deep revulsion to something which is not alive but is imbued with agency and the power to move by itself. The concept of the ‘undead’ is a supernatural theme, which is similar to, but not identical to the unnatural quality that we find in computer animation. Compare the following:

Impressive for its time, but to me, these characters look unnatural, eerie, fake, etc. It is an aesthetic shock, along the lines of unexpectedly realizing that someone has a prosthetic limb.

Looking at a claymation analog like Gumby, there is a similar doll-like emptiness, but it seems to be partially compensated by the honesty of the materials. There is concretely real stuff there, it’s not an abstract imitation of material bodies. The contrast of the odd, synthetic quality with the lo-fi childish content comes out quirky and somewhat charming.

Here it can be seen how adding dimension and realism can detract from the character rather than improve it. As a 2-D cartoon, Homer Simpson has no uncanny qualities – it is a direct expression of a genuine cartoon artist. In the 3-D version, there is some of that surprise of confronting an imposter or alien.

There may be no way, in fact, to simulate reality in such a way that all people will be fooled all of the time. I propose that this may not only be true because no simulation can be sophisticated enough, but also because reality may have within it a kind of breadcrumb trail which connects back to the total set of true and real conditions of the universe. We may only be aware of some of that breadcrumb trail at some times, and some people may be more or less tuned into that intuitive capacity than others, but if that is true, then there is no reason to presume that it is emergent from the function of the brain alone.

Just as we use eyeballs to condition our sensitivity to light, to focus and see outside of our brain and into the world, our entire body, may contribute to our consciousness in ways which we do not yet understand. It may go further than that, if we believe the accounts of people who claim to see auras…perhaps there is an electromagnetic or chemo-hormonal sensitivity which extends beyond the skin. The universality of idioms such as ‘gut feeling’, ‘feel it in my bones’, and ‘touched my heart’ may not be entirely fictional, particularly since the gut has a nervous system of its own, and the heart produces its own magnetic field.

Because a cartoon or photograph is only a visual experience, we already are very limited in how many sense modalities we can use to perceive it. While we might argue over whether an AI can pass a Turing Test on the basis of text interaction, few would argue that simulating the physical presence of a live human being in real time and real space, whom you could touch and look in the eyes is something that will be possible any time soon.

Authenticity may be more than the sum of its measurable parts. Authenticity may not be an emergent phenomenon which can be constructed through mass imitation on a sub-threshold level from the bottom up. Instead, authenticity may be a vital and intrinsic property of the whole, which can only be pointed to by a model. The entire assumption that reality can be substituted with total sensory satisfaction, even with perfect technology, may be false. The brain does not have to recognize the difference between the fake and the real, it just has to feel what all of the different senses it uses are feeling and compare them to its expectations, both local expectations, and perhaps non-local or absolute truths.

Is the brain the receiver of mind and consciousness, or their generator?

June 8, 2014 1 comment

My answer on Quora

The receiver model of consciousness need not be taken so literally as to presume that mind is exactly like an electromagnetic broadcast. Arguing for a receiver-like role for the brain does not require that we have a good theory of what is being received and how, only that there are other possibilities for the origin of consciousness besides being somehow generated within the tissue of the brain itself.

In a way, philosophy and science can be understood as the academic extensions of mind and body, respectively. Because this concept directly addresses some of the deepest mysteries in both philosophy and science, we should begin, in my view, from a position of Cartesian skepticism…assume nothing except what we cannot doubt, and proceed from there.

What do we really know about the brain? I think that we should all be able to agree that the brain is something which we see and touch with our body, and with technological extensions of our body. Why make a big deal out of that? Because although we can imagine many things in our mind that are true, the details of our own brain is not one of them. Everyone can see a brain with their eyes, but nobody can correctly imagine precise details of their own neurochemical functioning. By the same token, no brain imaging technology can show things like flavors, emotions, and colors being generated in the brain.

If we take our body’s word for what consciousness is, all that we can see is that the brain is the organ which can cause changes to behavior. If we image our own brain, we can learn that it is the organ through which we cause changes in our body.  It is through the activity of the brain that the mind can cause changes in the world. It should be noted that this world is the world that we ordinarily perceive to be outside of our mind, however even the advance of science has not prevented significant portions of the population from continuing to report various sorts of out of body experiences and experiences in which the world is not separated from the self.

In light of these conditions of uncertainty about mind and body, it may be premature to pronounce that 1) it is the body alone which produces mind and 2) the body is produced by something which is not like consciousness. If we dig down into the latter, I think that we find the most important possibility. When we think about the vast undertaking that is entailed in the division of a single zygote into a living human body, complete with central nervous system, brain, immune system, etc, the complexity is arguably far greater than what has been technologically achieved in human history thus far. Within the body, for example, there are countless critical processes which are maintained under dynamically changing conditions. It begs the question – if this fantastic orchestration of physiology can take place without minds or some kind of awareness, then why would the humble hominid develop this elaborate, metaphysical quality of ‘conscious’ experience just to keep up with the daily demands of food foraging and mate selection? What is it that would be so special about a human life that it would be the sole being which is capable of experiencing the universe?

Surely we don’t mean to say that no other animal experiences the universe, and as time goes on, we are finding fewer and fewer ways that human beings are different from other species in an unqualified way. It seems that at best, Homo sapiens recapitulates the features of a lot of different species, and has developed some of those feature to an elaborate degree. If what we see of other creatures is so limited by our own perception, so too might our scientific instruments amplify our limitations as well as our understanding. The more that we study our body, the less we remember that the body is only the exterior of our mind. The more we study other bodies in the world, the more that we define them by their behaviors. Cells and especially molecules and atoms are seen increasingly as mechanistic puppets, behaving according to principles which are also mechanical. What we have failed to see is the role that perceptual relativity plays in how our world is portrayed. We have learned to disregard our own direct view of the universe, trusting instead the view of the universe which is given to us when we look through microscopes and telescopes. The problem with that is that we define the significance of our own subjectivity from a perspective which has been filtered by our subjectivity to negate itself. When we construct this relatively objective worldview, subjectivity is zeroed out by necessity. Our enlightenment has literally blinded us to the ontologically ‘nocturnal’ phenomena in the universe.

In Steve Harris‘ answer, he says ‘You can’t damage a mere receiver to a normal intelligent mind in a way that mimics all common symptoms of dementia.’

A very good point. I agree that the brain is not like a receiver in the sense of being passive. To the contrary, the brain is more like a transceiver, and in my view, it is made of cellular transceivers, and molecular transceivers.
The internet is not contained in my computer, but if my local computer is damaged, I might not be able to get into certain websites. That, in turn, might affect my ability to effectively use other online services, and that in turn might affect my desire to continue using the internet at all (and then its lights out).

I propose that actually what we see as molecules, cells, and bodies are more like obstructions or standing waves within a primordial context of perception and participation that is very different from our own. Matter is not a separate substance, but rather a phenomenal presence which is encountered from a particular sensory perspective. Just as we can see different reflections with polarized filters, or a rainbow appears from one vantage point but not another, matter, cells, brains, and bodies are a way of looking at the collective history of our history as an organism from an ‘edge-on’ view, as it were. All that we are and all that we are not are distorted as through a fisheye lens before our eyes and behind them.

Philosophy and science, like mind and brain offer us two perspectives, each of which is unique in some sense and which together make a deeper kind of sense. Both philosophy and science formalize methods of inquiry into nature, but whereas science emerged as a kind of ‘performance enhancing’ philosophy specializing in nature, philosophy itself extends into metaphysics, ethics, politics, mathematics, etc. Following science back to philosophy is like following the brain back to the mind, and the mind itself as the accumulation of discipline and learning on an even more primordial animism of emotion and sensation.

I no longer see any reason to be afraid of a model of the universe in which brains and not minds physically exist, or in which science and not philosophy is allowed to contribute to the progress of human civilization. In light especially of the revelations of people like Einstein, Godel, and Heisenberg, we no longer need to think of the fabric of the universe as body-like. From pioneers like Jung and Leary and Ken Wilber, we no longer need to see the nature of consciousness as only mind-like. The inner universe and the outer universe seem to overlap, to share, and to diverge wildly, however ultimately, to me, it is brain-like structures which seem more plausible to ‘materialize’ within a sensory context than the other way around. There is no likelihood, as far as I can imagine, of unconscious matter to build bodies and brains, but then for brains to suddenly develop a need for something that is not physics to explain itself to itself.

What is the basis of reality: matter or consciousness? Why?

June 8, 2014 Leave a comment

My answer on Quora

I. What is the basis of reality?

A. Is it Matter?

1. Matter is thought to emerge from fundamental physical forces.

a. The strong force, the weak force, electromagnetism, and gravity are considered to be the as-yet-irreducible ingredients of matter. We do not really understand what forces themselves are made of, or could be made of, so they are considered axiomatic. Known forces, fields, and the particle-wave effects which are produced by them can explain all of the scientific observations that we have, or so it would seem.

b. Not included in these physical fundamentals are ideal influences, such as geometry. How does a wave become wavy? Where does waving come from? Why are there geometric shapes when information processing of geometric problems can more easily be solved using binary math? This is a good way of showing that the hard problem of consciousness extends beyond biology and into metaphysics, since a universe which arose purely out of unconscious function would not be indicated by the symptom of being filled with figures and forms that require conscious sense modalities and perspectives to define.

If the universe were blind and intangible, and needs conscious beings to compose it into visible and tangible phenomena, then how can we say that what we think of as reality is composed by matter? Reality, as we have ever known it, is tangible (touchable) substance, with forms that often reveal characteristics of those substances. Certainly human consciousness is not what defines the universe, but how can we say what a universe would be without any definition from any consciousness? If such a ‘reality’ could exist, what would be the difference between that and nothingness, except that it is a nothingness which somehow leads to the birth of consciousness of an experienced reality?

B. Is it Consciousness?

1. What is beneath consciousness is debatable.

a. Some say that consciousness is information processing which is substrate independent. Subjective qualities like color and flavor are emergent from the complexity of arithmetic relations and exist for functional purposes (labeling or compressing data). If we recreate the complex interactions in silico, or even in a large network of pipes and mechanical valves, experiences such as the flavor of pineapple would emerge, just because that is what must happen.

b. Some say that it is the product of neurochemical functions, which could either be a computation which is substrate dependent for an unknown reason, or it could be a non-computational biological product such as digestion. A computer program could simulate digestion, but it can’t digest physically real food.

These both take the modus ponens approach to logic, where a proposition that is the same as something true is also true: Since we can taste pineapple, and we are made of a brain process, anything that performs the same process well enough must yield the same result.

If we take the modus tollens approach to logic, which is equally viable, we would say that since there is no logical justification for the flavor of pineapple to exist in either a computer program or a neurochemical function, and since a computer program or neurochemical function could conceivably be created that matches our brain to an arbitrary degree of precision, then it is false that consciousness can be defined purely in terms of biology and computation.

c. Some say that consciousness is of divine origin, or unexplained, or unexplainable. Others say that consciousness could have no origin. In my view, this makes the most sense, since the idea of an origin does not seem native to mathematics or physics, and originality appears to be a quality within consciousness rather than the other way around. In fact, every quality that we experience seems to emerge from beyond the rational limits of arithmetic or pure functions. In a universe of only material process, the idea of emergent flavors or colors, feelings, etc.seems no more plausible than divine Creation. The deeper that I have looked into the physics of perception, the more it is clear to me that our current models lack a deep understanding of the reality of consciousness, and rather assume a linear, toy model made of black boxes and behaviorism.

C. What is reality?

Typically this question takes a detour into what I consider a philosophical dead end, of trying to prove that illusions are real or reality is an illusion. The fact that we can tell the difference between illusion and reality, or that we can even conceive of a difference suggests to me that reality is category of sensory qualities – enduring sensations which are harder, heavier, more complex and filled with interrelated truths than we could have imagined. The universe that we experience, however, includes much more than that. Besides the qualities of realism, we have surreal fantasies, dreams, fiction, etc. We have fiction intended as fiction, and fiction intended as reality (like money). If we have spun for ourselves a cocoon of ‘emergent’ human illusions, we must either acknowledge that such an emergence is either metaphysical, or we must expand our definition of physics to include these private and social phenomena. Looking at it objectively, something like the idea of money is causing more changes on this planet than any function of matter alone.

Isn’t it really a human bias to think that physics only includes what came before humans? If the basis of reality were matter, there seems to be no good argument for why it wouldn’t stay that way. Appealing to ‘complexity’, emergence, and randomness is to me very clearly circular thinking, as it assumes that such things are both physical yet free from the requirement of physical explanation. They indicate instead that the materialistic view has focused on the nature of physical surfaces and functional skeletons…spaces and dimensions composed of purely abstract measurement or purely concrete objects, with nothing in between. Consider that a universe of matter is one which exists from the outside in – a place ‘out there’ which only recently developed a sense of ‘in here’. Without some kind of experience which makes sense, all of the functions of nature become abstractions; un-realities which have no good excuse for ever becoming ‘realized’.

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