Home > consciousness, philosophy, physics > Biocentrism Demystified: A Response to Deepak Chopra and Robert Lanza’s Notion of a Conscious Universe.

Biocentrism Demystified: A Response to Deepak Chopra and Robert Lanza’s Notion of a Conscious Universe.

Biocentrism Demystified: A Response to Deepak Chopra and Robert Lanza’s Notion of a Conscious Universe.

Responding to this comment by VW
1. I hope we all agree that our information about facts is incomplete, and will always remain so, at least in the foreseeable future.2. The only reality that makes sense to me is what Stephen Hawking calls ‘model-dependent reality’ (MDR).3. Other uses of the word ‘reality’ (other than MDR) imply ‘absolute reality’. If you disagree with this statement, please try defining ‘absolute reality’ in a logical way, using words which mean the same thing to everybody. My belief is that you will not be able to do that, and that means that MDR is all you have for discussion purposes.4. Naturally, there can be many models of reality. So which of the MDRs is the right one, and who will decide that? In view of (1) above, this is a hopeless situation, and that is why I avoid getting into philosophical discussions.

5. At any time in human history, there are more humans favouring a particular MDR over other MDRs. Let us call it the majority MDR (MMDR).

6. An MMDR may well prove to be wrong when we humans acquire more information; from then we have a new MMDR, till even that gets demolished.

7. I believe that materialism is a better MDR than its opposite (called idealism, subjectivism, or whatever). For more on this, please read my article at http://nirmukta.com/2011/06/19/stephen-hawkings-grand-design-for-us/. Here is an excerpt from that article:

‘ There are several umbrella words like ‘consciousness’, ‘reality’, etc., which have never been defined rigorously and unambiguously. H&M argue that we can only have ‘model-dependent reality’, and that any other notion of reality is meaningless.

Does an object exist when we are not viewing it? Suppose there are two opposite models or theories for answering this question (and indeed there are!). Which model of ‘reality’ is better? Naturally the one which is simpler and more successful in terms of its predicted consequences. If a model makes my head spin and entangles me in a web of crazy complications and contradictory conclusions, I would rather stay away from it. This is where materialism wins hands down. The materialistic model is that the object exists even when nobody is observing it. This model is far more successful in explaining ‘reality’ than the opposite model. And we can do no better than build models of whatever there is understand and explain.

In fact, we adopt this approach in science all the time. There is no point in going into the question of what is absolute and unique ‘reality’. There can only be a model-dependent reality. We can only build models and theories, and we accept those which are most successful in explaining what we humans observe collectively. I said ‘most successful’. Quantum mechanics is an example of what that means. In spite of being so crazily counter-intuitive, it is the most successful and the most repeatedly tested theory ever propounded. I challenge the creationists and their ilk to come with an alternative and more successful model of ‘reality’ than that provided by quantum mechanics. (I mention quantum mechanics here because the origin of the universe, like every other natural phenomenon, was/is governed by the laws of quantum mechanics. The origin of the universe was a quantum event.)

A model is a good model if: it is elegant; it contains few arbitrary or adjustable parameters; it agrees with and explains all the existing observations; and it makes detailed and falsifiable predictions.’

>”Other uses of the word ‘reality’ (other than MDR) imply ‘absolute reality’. If you disagree with this statement, please try defining ‘absolute reality’ in a logical way,”

Absolute reality is the capacity for perceptual participation, aka, sensory-motor presentation, aka qua(lia-nta). That is the bare-metal prerequisite for all forms of order or matter, subject or object. Not only metaphysics but meta-ontology. The cosmos is not something which is, the cosmos actually invents “is” by “seeming not to merely seem”.

Please try defining ‘model’ in a way that does not assume some form of sensory presentation and participation. What is a model except a sensory experience which seems to refer our minds to another?

While I agree that no participant within a given experience has an absolute perspective of that experience, I disagree that the MDR is a solipsistic ‘model’ which is generated locally. The fact that we recognize the relativism of perceptual inertial frames (PIF = my term for MDR) is itself a clue that the deeper reality is this very capacity for relativism of perspective. Although the relativism itself may be the only final commonality among all perspectives, that commonality is not a tabula rasa. We can say things about this ‘common sense’ – things which have to do with contrasts and inverted symmetry, with proximity and intensity, relationship, identity, and division. These principles are beneath all forms and functions, all sensations and ideas, substances and patterns, and through them, we can infer more elusive fundamentals. Pattern recognition which is beyond pattern. Gestalt habits which are beyond mereology or cardinality…higher octaves of simplicity. Trans-rational, non-quantitative properties.

All mechanisms and all physics rely on a root expectation of sanity and continuity – of causality and memory, position, recursive enumeration, input/output, etc. If you are going to get rid of absolute reality, then you have to explain the emergence of the first MDR – what is modeling? Why does the universe model itself rather than simply ‘be’ what it is?

My solution is to accept that this assumed ‘modeling’ is physics itself, and that physics is experienced-embodied relativity. In the absolute sense, matter a special case of a more general (non-human) perception or sense. Not a continuum or a ZPE vacuum flux, but ordinary readiness to experience private sensory affects and produce (intentionally or not) public facing motor effects. What the universe uses to model is not a mathematical abstraction floating in a vacuum, but a concrete participatory phenomena, which we know as human beings to be sensory-motor participation. Not everything is alive biologically, but everything that seems to us to exist naturally as matter probably has a panexperiential interaction associated with it on some level of description. It’s about turning the field-force model inside out, turning away from the de-personalized objectivity of the last few centuries and toward a realization of personal involvement in genuine presentations (customized and filtered though they may be) rather than assembled representations.

The MMDR should not embrace materialism or idealism by default because one seems simpler than the other. We should accept only a solution which honors the full spectrum of possible experiences in the cosmos, from the most empirically public to the most esoterically private. This does not mean weighting the ravings of one lunatic the same as a law of gravity, but rather acknowledging that if there is a lunatic, then the universe is in some sense potentially crazy also, and within that crazy is something even more interesting and universal than gravity…an agenda for aesthetic proliferation… a Multisense Realism.

Illusion is a meaningless term in science as far as I can see. Illusion is about an experience failing to meet expectations of consistency across perceptual frames (models)…except that we know that inconsistency is likely the only such consistency, beyond the root common sense. Whatever illusions we experience as people are not necessarily absent on other levels of inspection. Quantum illusions, classical illusions, biological illusions, etc. Every instrument relies on conditions which create their own confirmation bias, including the human mind. We should not, however, make the mistake of allowing non-human, inanimate instruments tell us what our reality is. They can’t see our consciousness in the first place, remember? Our human equipment is not as sensitive in detecting public phenomena, we cannot see more than a small range of E-M, etc, but neither is a gas spectrometer sensitive in detecting human privacy.

We see that when we adopt the frame of mechanism, idealism seems pathologically naive and if we adopt the frame of  idealism, mechanism seems pathologically cynical. This should be regarded along the lines of the double-slit test: evidence that our assumptions are not the whole story, and to seek a deeper unity than mechanistic or idealistic appearances.

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  1. May 7, 2013 at 3:40 pm

    “We see that when we adopt the frame of mechanism, idealism seems pathologically naive and if we adopt the frame of mechanism, idealism seems pathologically cynical.”

    You probably meant to say:

    “We see that when we adopt the frame of mechanism, idealism seems pathologically naive and if we adopt the frame of idealism, mechanism seems pathologically cynical.”

  2. SigLNY
    May 9, 2013 at 5:29 pm

    I agree with the panexperientialism point but do not just lard it on to “everything that exists.” My blender exists but that doesn’t mean that the world is carved out with blenders as unique experiential units. What are the real units that delineate where one true subjectivity starts and ends? Causation can be a guide here as can the handy example of life and living nervous systems. The atoms in my blender probably generate a percolating, alive “mist” of unimaginably simple experience coming into being at all times. But, the blender as whole…don’t think so. But my cat, now that’s a different story. My cat probably does have a large macroscopic subjectivity associated with it…as well as mist of atomic/chemical consciousness as well.

    I’ve been thinking about your arguments against machine consciousness and I must say, you’ve really got me rethinking my POV on the issue. While I always used to believe that computers could one day be conscious, due to your reasoning I’m no longer as confident. I keep thinking of the metaphor of a sourdough bacteria that’s been kept alive for centuries. In order to keep making the sourdough you have to keep some of the base dough alive and growing. Maybe consciousness is like that. It has to begin at the beginning and simply move itself down one line, branching out into one great tree, always connected to it’s original seed. This is a poetic more than a reasoned argument, but given the darkness in which we are stumbling here sometimes metaphorical thinking can be a better light than the illusion of coherent, deductive reasoning when all the facts are not known. We can’t move the flame into the inanimate machine because it doesn’t develop from that original source, a source which is connected to and connects all conscious life. It requires the whole PROCESS of real physical evolution to generate complex consciousness like ours. Computers may seem smarter than ever before, but without the connection to the embryogenesis which grounds all life, the flame of consciousness will not burn. The bread will not bake. The ghost will be absent from the machine.

    Of course, I think, if this is right, computers won’t just not be conscious, but they won’t be able to BEHAVE sufficiently conscious either, a point which I think you disagree with me about. It may become obvious that silicon just cannot DO what carbon can, functionally. (In this case some variety of functionalist property dualism could be true and yet consciousness could still be substrate dependent, not a priori but contingently, based on the reality of how chemicals can and must behave in the real world). I hope this is the case of course (assuming my basic intuition against machine consciousness is right). Why? I can’t think of many things more existentially troubling than interacting with something that seems as sufficiently conscious and intelligent as myself (or more so) and yet in actuality has no internal experience. Our very bearings of relation to the outside world would be totally disrupted.

    (FWIW, I think the best test of machine consciousness is the test developed by Tononi and Koch, not the “Turing Test.” If silicon can do THIS, then I’ll be appropriately freaked out: http://spectrum.ieee.org/biomedical/imaging/can-machines-be-conscious)

  3. May 9, 2013 at 6:36 pm

    I agree pretty much down the line with everything that you’ve said here, even with “they won’t be able to BEHAVE sufficiently conscious either”. My suspicion is that there will always be some aesthetic differences between a genuine participant and a counterfeit. I try to give it a lot of latitude though, especially with people who are vert invested in Strong AI being inevitable – because I don’t know for sure that there isn’t a threshold beyond which a simulation would be nearly undetectable. In practice, my guess is that even in that case, people will always be one step ahead, either by knowing what telltale signs to look for or by using a recently updated testing device.

    Like any imitation, how convincing it is depends on how much time, attention, and expertise one has to devote to it. Also, don’t forget that if we are comparing a live person to a simulation through some communications medium, then we are already comparing two simulations. Ultimately I don’t know that we can judge with all of our human faculties unless the simulation is bodily present with us in the room. It would have to be an android really to rule out all of our subtle awarenesses which may themselves be beyond our knowledge. With a simulation I generally feel something is off intuitively before I begin to suspect intellectually what the odd blankness is.

    As far as panexperientialism is concerned, yes, that’s exactly my position. The blender isn’t conscious, but the substances which make up the blender may represent some experience which it too slow, too fast, and too simple for us to care about. The twist is to recognize the possibility that it may not be the matter which dictates the chain of custody, but the history itself. For instance, if you were able to counterfeit cash absolutely perfectly to human inspection, it is still not genuine in the sense that it could conceivably be tracked by bad serial numbers, or residues in the paper, etc. Ultimately it could be traced with surveillance equipment…the money could be followed back to an originating event in the universe rather than just the matter that it is made of. It seems weird for us to think of experience itself as a real causal agent without reifying it as some kind of essence or substance, but it the fabric of the cosmos is actually experiential, then it may make perfect sense that we should see it that way from our perspective within nested experiences.

    To a universe that has no way to forget, the difference between carbon and silicon may not be in the material configuration itself, but in the significant events in history which those configurations point to. We see them as matter, but we are seeing only a public footprint from a human perspective, so it may be misleading to think of the experience associated with them as ‘theirs’ in the sense that our experience is not exactly our body’s or our brain’s experience.

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