Home > consciousness, philosophy > Leibniz and Life Thread

Leibniz and Life Thread

November 18, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

I agree with what you say, but there’s no need to humanizethe coffee filters nor humanize intelligence or consciousness.I’m not talking here about IQ. My point (speaking here as Leibniz)  is thatnature down to the lowliest beings (a grain of sand) has intelligenceof some sort. Nature is alive, and life is intelligence.

My point though is just because we put fibers into a mold or dots on a page into a form we can recognize doesn’t mean that we have created new life and intelligence. There is a difference between assembling something from tiny spatial-object parts and something reproducing itself from teleological-experiential wholes. A mannequin is not a person. The plaster and steel the mannequin is made of may certainly have a quality of experience, and although it is hard to speculate on exactly what kinds of experiences those are or what level of microcosm or macrocosm they are associated with, one thing that I am quite certain of is that the plaster and steel mannequin is not having the experience of a human person, no matter how convincing of a mannequin it looks to us to be. The same goes for cartoons, drawings, photos, movies..those things aren’t alive or intelligent, but they are made of things which, on some level, are capable of sense participation. Computers are just a more pronounced example. As they improve they may be more convincing imitations of our human intelligence, but that quality of awareness is only a recorded reflection of our own, it is not being generated by nature directly and it is neither alive nor intelligent.

You hit on a weak point. There is no agreed-upon version of Leibniz’s definition of substance.

Leibniz [snip] considers substance as “a being gifted with the power of action”.

visit this group at http://groups.google.com/group/everything-list?hl=en.

I think it’s circular to define a monad as a being gifted with the power of action if we are using the monad hypothesis to try to explain consciousness, which can be considered the power of action in the sense that L intends here. I don’t think that in that sentence he is suggesting that the mechanical automatons which were built in his lifetime would be beings gifted with the power of action. Machines don’t exactly have a ‘power’ of action, but their operation results in the effect of the action of their parts.

In the 17th century, it was easier to say that rather than having the power of actions, machines are simply subject to reaction, and as such are not beings and not monads. However, it can be said that since that time the gap has closed, because

1. Genetics and evolution reveal mechanistic sub-personal and super-personal levels which paint our power of action as dual mechanisms of reaction. Scripted from below and selected naturally from above, we are functionally indistinct from a machine, or so it would seem logically.

2. Nuclear physics reveals a microcosm replete with action-reaction dynamism. If they are monads, then the question of why some of their configurations are gifted beings and others are reactive non-beings becomes the more relevant question.

3. Fully automatic mechanisms; everything from automatic transmissions to Google computer driven cars show that mechanical reactions seem to be a fair substitute in many cases for the functions and behaviors of gifted beings. We now have interactive machines and the promise of robots and even nanobots which can seek out their own energy sources and reproduce.

Those three add up to a pretty strong case for functionalism ruling out any meaningful difference between man, monad, and machine. Most people who understand that case are understandably persuaded that it must be the case, especially with what seems to be a strengthening of the case continuously with studies which seem to undermine the authenticity of free will and the veracity of our personal perception. At the same time, AI would seem to be making gains in the application of mechanically-intelligent systems, at least to a wider and wider range of technologies.

Why I think that this is actually not the whole truth is that because of

1. The Hard Problem and Explanatory Gap. Logically, and with automatic mechanism, there is no reason for any such thing as experience to exist in the universe and no justification for strong emergence. Not only is there no reason for an eyeball to open the brain up to a world of color and images, and nothing for color and images to be made of, and nowhere for them to exist in the universe, even the idea of something like geometric logic to exist in the universe is ultimately as superfluous as consciousness. There is simply no plausible function for any kind of aesthetic richness. There is no material support for any more than a single channel of information transfer, as is revealed by the lack of utility within computers for anything other than invisible, intangible execution of binary coded voltage manipulations. The computer doesn’t need to experience anything visual, you do. But why?

2. The Brain as Reducing Valve. Studies such as the recent one on psilocybin (http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2012/01/17/1119598109), the 1995 Crick & Koch study showing that the visual cortex doesn’t contain visual experience (http://papers.klab.caltech.edu/26/1/69.pdf), and now this study on neuroimaging trance states (http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0049360) are part of a body of evidence suggesting that activity in the brain is not correlated with what we might expect. Complex, aesthetic experiences like a psychedelic trip or composing an intricately worded message seem to coincide with lower activity in the relevant areas of the brain rather than higher levels. The Koch study tells me that the visual cortex is about using our brain to pay attention to visual patterns, but not about actually seeing. The images are not there in the brain, despite those blurry blobs (http://us.gizmodo.com/5843117/scientists-reconstruct-video-clips-from-brain-activity) which are being extracted by analyzing the neural evidence of that attention. I think that we are painting digital pictures based on where we are looking, not what we are seeing, and that these blurry images, rather than heralding an age of better and better images lifted from fMRIs of brain activity, should be understood to be the end of the line for phrenological assumptions about the brain where images literally reside inside the brain. This ultimately is no different from looking for small kitchens in the brain where the smells of remembered aromas are cooked up. It’s a category error. Stop it.

3. The Fundamental Wonder of Consciousness. Awareness is not remotely like anything else from our perspective. The visceral depth of realism cannot be easily accounted for by mere arithmetic equivalences. For a computer, ‘trying harder’ simply means allocating more resources to a job. If you want your human robot to lose weight, you simply instruct the robot to do so programmatically, and it will consume less calories and exercise more. What we face as conscious beings is much different. We may logically understand that it is critical to our survival and well being to lose weight, yet in practice, we are loathe to actually do the simple tasks which we know will cause that to happen.

What stops us is a feeling which, like pain or blue, has to be experienced to be understood. We are compelled by a subjective, semantic experience which we not only find unpleasant and therefore modifies our behavior mechanically, but it has qualities that somehow compel the interpretation of the experience as being unpleasant in the first place. The qualities can even be separated out so that we can learn to like the unpleasant sensations and addicted to them as in anorexia or bulimia. Besides the Hard Problem question of ‘Why does experience exist in the universe?’ and the Explanatory Gap of ‘How is qualia appearing from my brain?’, the nature of qualia itself is orders of magnitude more subtle and interesting than any underlying information-theoretic function behind it. It’s like creating a symphony orchestra to play every time a traffic signal turns red, or a thousand traffic signals turn red in a row. Where are these qualities coming from? Why are they so wonderful and awful?

4. Multisense Realism. I have put together what I think is a better explanation which makes sense of all of the above. By placing sense or experience itself as the fabric of the cosmos (not matter, not information, not quantum), then it makes sense that aesthetic richness rather than pure function would be the primary product of the cosmos. This product, which I call significance is accomplished through the juxtaposition of one kind of presentation (of private sequential experiences of a highly plastic, dynamic, and multivalent nature) with its opposite (a public spatial relativity of objects in discrete, static, literal positions and scales).

This juxtaposition of presentations and nested meta-presentation levels give rise to analytic geometry vs algebra on one ‘side’, and synthetic metaphor and gestalt on the other. The interplay not only created significance in the form of more meaningful subjective experiences for evolved living organisms, but a more magnificent collection of objects on the exterior side. The felt ordinality of our superior interiority (we’re number one!) is matched in some ways by the known cardinality of our place in an increasingly vast exteriority.

The quantitative and qualitative sides both make their own aesthetic contribution, but ultimately it is the aesthetics of the thing and not the computable function of the thing which is worthwhile. Without the subjective experience, the vastness of stars in the universe or molecules in a grain of sand on a beach is indistinguishable from nothing at all. Without either the sense of a universe within us or a universe without us, there would be no possibility of what we know as ‘realism’. Significance alone can create a beautiful experience, but without the appearance of entropy and loss, that significance can gain no traction, grounding. I suspect that it’s not the Higgs Boson or any other particle, but external realism itself which ‘causes’, or rather embodies gravity.

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