Why an Atom is More Like a Person Than a Doll Is

December 8, 2013 Leave a comment Go to comments

Another thing that really puzzles me is the way that you agree with me that nothing is inanimate, and yet you repeatedly use arguments that are based on the premise that some things are inanimate. Is this just an *apparent* contradiction because we use the term ‘inanimate’ in fundamentally different ways, or is it a contradiction in your thinking? Could you perhaps explain this?

It makes sense that it would seem contradictory, as this issue is really a more advanced concept that goes beyond accepting the initial premises which we agree on. Lets say that we want to create a whole other Everything from scratch. In my view, as long as we keep things relatively simple, as in no complex organic life, our views are pretty much interchangeable. It doesn’t matter whether information processes are irreducibly animate as you say, or whether information processes are actually the self-diffracted gaps in the primordial identity pansensitivity, as I suggest. The effect is indistinguishable and we have cool stuff going on, with physics, aesthetics, entropy all naturally falling out as parameters.

The question of primordial identity begins to seem more important as multicellular life begins and we have to choose to bet on whether the body of any dividing cell is type identical to the experience associated with the organism as a whole, or whether there are multiple layers of experience going on. If there are multiple layers of awareness going on, does one of the layers act as an umbrella for the others, and if so, is it a summary/identity layer as the color white would be to the visible spectrum of colors, or is it an emergent layer which is produced by transfers of quantitative results, so that the cellular experiences are a priori ‘real’ and the macrophenomenal experiences are generated as a kind of projection which is less than primitively real.

What I do with MSR is to assume that the primary relation is perceptual relativity. This means that spacetime is scaled to the significance of experiences rather than fixed to a scalar index. By this I mean that the cell level microphenomenal experience is simultaneous with the organism level macrophenomenal experience, but that their simultaneity is asymmetric, as the macro appears smeared across time from the micro perspective. When we use microscopic scales to poke around in the body and brain, we are essentially driving a wedge between the macro and micro, but without recognizing that microphysical effects refer only to microphenomenal affects and not macrophenomenal affects.

At the level of the cell or molecule, the organism as a whole, if it is a complex organism, does not exist. Literally. There is no {your name here} to your DNA. Its a completely different level of description in which the public side relates mechanically (molecules must functionally produce cells and be produced by cells), and the private side relates *metaphorically*. It’s a complete divergence which does not appear prominently in pre-biotic phenomena. Each organism is evolving separately on the inside than it is on the outside, and that dimorphism is getting exponentially more pronounced as it evolves. The public body side appears to be physically recapitulating itself as a growing, multiplying, dividing structure in space, while the private experiential side has no appearance and is felt as the invariant nexus of a story about the world which appears to be repeating in nested cycles and progressing in a linear narrative.

The two stories are different. The microphenomenal story appears to relate to physical events, which we can observe in everything from a viral infection to changes in temperature or pressure in the environment. The macrophenomenal story, at least for us, is consumed by history and teleology. We respond to the environment based on our accumulated experience and intention. This so-called mind-body split is actually worse than that. Coming from a time where we had no understanding of microphysics, the simplistic mind-body mapping flattens human awareness into a single horizontal dualism. What I suggest is that dualism is actually an orthogonal monism, but that each horizontal dualism is part of a vertical stack. The cell that is seen by the organism in the organisms world is only a snapshot that it can see during one if its moments. To look at one of your blood cells under a microscope is for the cell to see itself from two different evolutionary times, with the newer, larger experience looking at a moment of the older, smaller experience and seeing it from the outside, as an object or machine. This is how the aesthetics of distance works for us – when we outgrow an experience, the here and now associated with us is recontextualized aesthetically as a there and then which is associated with “it”.

I don’t know if that makes it seem even more confusing, but what I am trying to get at is that the more the universe recapitulates itself as increasingly nested experiences, the more important it is that we see that which is nesting itself as primary and the overall nest as ‘inanimate’. Pragmatically, we can’t walk around the house worried about how the carpet fibers feel, or whether we have underestimated the feelings of the avatar we have created in a computer game. If it is the nesting instead which is primary rather than what is being nested, then we have no justification at all for our intuitions about life and death or organic vs artificial processes and we can only turn to a kind of gradient of probable intelligence based on complexity.

There are a lot of problems with that, not the least of which is that we are required to take the word of any sufficiently sophisticated machine over our own understanding. We become unable to justify any significant difference between an interactive cartoon character that acts like a person, and a fellow human being. A successful stock market trading program would be entitled to staff companies entirely with copies of itself and reduce the entire human population to an unemployed resource liability. I’m just throwing out a few wild examples, but there are many less extreme but undesirable consequences to personifying information processes, as we are starting to see with the rise of corporate personhood in the US. A corporation is an information process, as is a city, but we have to decide whether the employees and citizens ultimately serve the motives of the process or whether the processes are to extend from their motives. If process is primary, then we are mere spectators to the process of our own irrelevance. If sense and motive are primary, then the process is ours to do with it as we wish. Nothing short of the future of the universe hangs in the balance. It is more convenient to work with measurable processes and theories than messy emotions and sensations, yet the universe has found a way to do that, and I think so should we.

If we think of the world that we see through our eyes as an experience in the moment rather than the whole truth of existence, it is no longer a given that configurations and complexity are creators of life. The cellular machinery only relates to extra-cellular machinery on far micro and far macro levels of description. The most dynamic range is the fertile middle. Humans have, as far as we know, the broadest range between the mechanistic ‘out there’ and animistic ‘in here’. This is what makes us human. Any theory which does not clearly understand why that is important is not a complete theory, and is therefore ultimately a theory of the destruction of humanity. I’m not a huge fan of humanity myself, so I say this not as some Cassandra-esque wolf crying, but as a consequence of what seems to be the case when I add up everything to get a big picture. Information cannot feel. These words are not generic patterns produced by inevitable process alone. They are my words, and I am instantiating them directly on my own irreducibly macrophenomenal level.

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  1. December 11, 2013 at 3:52 pm

    Amazing post. And epic: “the future of the universe hangs in the balance.” Extreme but true. In terms of conceptual modeling, sense has reached a key transitional point.

    It’s going to take a lot of really good language games to unite the mechanistic world we erected for ourselves with a coherent vision of sense, consciousness and motive/participation. Mostly you just get arguing about “religion.” Personally, I think MSR will only be understandable after the metaphor of “information” has played out its dialectical usefulness as a transitional concept. There’s a lot more cream to be milked from that cow.

    This kind of conceptualization, the kind offered by MSR, forces a person to self-reflect in a way that feels “unscientific” to the empirical fundamentalists; the whole game of physical science has been based on denying the self, so much so that we’ve started to come to believe it doesn’t exist. The reality is that a coherent metaphysic can re-enchant the world with sense, aesthetics, and meaning as irreducible features of reality. It’s something we all know, even the most materialist of scientists, but it’s quite another thing to think about consciously. One has to “rewire” a lot of their Bayesian belief tree in a grand process of “re-modeling” the world to oneself, and that is threatening.

    Sad to hear you don’t care much for humanity though…we’re not so bad, trust me.

    • December 11, 2013 at 4:28 pm

      “I think MSR will only be understandable after the metaphor of “information” has played out its dialectical usefulness as a transitional concept.”

      I think you’re probably right. It seems like information-theoretic models are still only starting to become the mainstream, so that anything newer than that will seem like it must be from the previous paradigm (I run into this a lot).

      As far as the humans go, it’s tough because almost everything that makes life worth living is really due to other people also. I have to remember not to take that for granted when I’m seeing only the horror and stupidity of it all. Humans: Can’t live with em, can’t dehydrate ’em in a foil pouch.

  2. December 11, 2013 at 3:55 pm

    Oh, question: Do the scaling laws of aesthetic presentation imply that we are, in fact, the only intelligent life in this universe? Perhaps the notion of seeing space as objectively real, with each solar system an equally likely locus of life, is wrong? Maybe we really see what’s really out there…nothing but rocks and gas and the past?

    • December 11, 2013 at 4:32 pm

      It’s really hard to speculate on just how anthropic the universe might really be. There are enough weird things about being in the position that people are in on Earth that it can really support a crazy degree of solipsism if we want to see it that way. Even if it were just us chickens though, if the narrowness of time is a human-centric quality, then our future hyper-intelligent selves would be living lives parallel to our own.

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