Critique of A Good Idea

Here are my (unfortunately critical but well-intentioned) comments on “Electromagnetism’s Bridge Across the Explanatory Gap: How a Neuroscience/Physics Collaboration Delivers Explanation Into All Theories of Consciousness“, in response to some tweets.

I think that the paper does come up with good plans of action for experimentation, and I take no issue with those. I agree that we should make artificial neurons. I agree that we do experiments that will tease out the most primitive signs of electromagetism emerging from more fundamental physics, and I agree we should think of them as hints about how consciousness provides typical human modes of awareness. My disagreements are with the assumptions made in getting there.

I fully acknowledge that my disagreements are made from my own conjectures and I expect most audiences to consider those conjectures ‘crackpot’ ideas prior to even attempting to understand them fully. That doesn’t bother me in the slightest. My only hope is that there might be some trace left of my ideas on the internet in future decades that could help theorists close improve on or disprove my many hypotheses.

From the start, the issue of consciousness is framed in relation to both First Person qualities of experience and to the sense of their being “inside” of what is being observed as brain and body behaviors.

“Observational correlates are demonstrated to be intrinsically very unlikely to explain or lead to a fundamental principle underlying the strongly emergent 1st-person-perspective (1PP) invisibly stowed away inside them. “

I submit that this is already a rhetorically loaded framing that does not consider the possibility that the sense of privacy and interiority we commonly (but not always) experience is not any more fundamental than the sense of publicity and exteriority, even though those distinctions are widely reported to be transcended in certain states of consciousness.

Nobody has ever seen a first-person (1PP) experience ’emerge’ from a brain in any way. What we have observed is a correlation appearance between experiences with intangible or trans-tangible qualities and experiences of tangible appearances of changes in the brain.

I think that I should break that awkward sentence down further.

What we have observed (scientists, doctors, patients with brain injuries, etc)

is a correlation appearance (meaning we see a brain doing something and we hear reports of something else, but they appear to happen at the same time). There is no evidence of causation, no mechanism by which a brain activity transforms into another quality like color, flavor, or privacy. There is only a (veridical) appearance of temporal synchronization.

between experiences with intangible or trans-tangible qualities (I’m trying here to refer to the qualitative phenomena of nature that we tend to associate with and assume arise only within “1PP” privacy, but to explicitly avoid jumping to that logically unnecessary conclusion. I think the relevant thing about feelings, thoughts, flavors, etc is not that they are private but that they are NOT tangible. They are not touchable presences with geometric shape. They can be intangible concepts or phenomena that I call percepts (sensations, feelings, colors, etc) that are not completely intangible or conceptual but cannot be reduced non-destructively to geometric coordinates.)

and experiences of tangible appearances of changes in the brain. (I’m trying to emphasize here that regardless of how real and objective the brain appears, its appearance does depend on the modalities of sight and touch used to detect it. Those appearances cannot be said to be more fundamental than any other appearances that tend to appear to be ‘1PP’).

In consideration of that, I think that it is just as likely that the seemingly third person and seemingly first person qualities of experience ’emerge’, or perhaps better ‘diverge’ from a larger holarchy of conscious experience.

“The brain’s specialized complexity in EM field expression distinguishes it from other organs (such as the liver and the heart) that are also EM field entities from the atomic level up. The consequence is that there is only one natural, fundamental physics correlate of P-Consciousness: EM fields as “electromagnetic correlates of consciousness””

This seems to contradict itself. It is saying that it is the complexity of EM that makes the brain more special than, say the EM object that is the large intestine, or the body as a whole…but then the assertion points to EM fields rather than the specific property of complexity as being correlates of consciousness. I point to single-celled organisms that seem to be no less conscious than human bodies do, but which have no neurons. As the paper goes on to say:

 “…for all practical purposes in the science of P-Consciousness, we are electromagnetic field objects in our entirety. As is a car, a computer, lunch, a pile of dirt, a tree, your dog, steam, and the air we breathe.” 

So which is it? If everything is electromagnetism then is everything conscious to some degree (what I call promiscuous panpsychism)?, or is the brain conscious because it is so electromagnetically complex? If the latter then the EM aspect seems all but irrelevant.

“For example, atoms form molecules and they jointly aggregate to form cellular organelles. These jointly form whole cells, and so forth.”

Here again, the position of smallism is assumed and the top-down influence is disqualified without consideration. In reality, when we observe how organisms reproduce, they divide as whole cells. We can infer that the first cells were the result of molecules accidentally persisting in more complex collections that would lead to lipid membranes and prokaryotes but our efforts to synthesize cells from ‘scratch’ have thus far been somewhat suspiciously unsuccessful. Our inferences of small-to-large evolution by natural selection may be a huge mistake.

We have not even attempted to factor in the lensing effect of the bubble of our own perceptual limits, and its role in perpetuating an anthropocentric worldview. We have not attempted to estimate the possible consequences to our thinking of a universe in terms that assume our apprehension of human consciousness as the apex form of awareness or sole form of super-awareness. We have not factored in the possibility of timescale relativity and taken five minutes to imagine how much more conscious something like the atmosphere of a planet would assume if we viewed centuries of it in time lapse equivalent to an nMRI video.

In reality, the evolution of forms may proceed not from small to large and young to old, but may at the very minimum, progress from both top and bottom, past and “future”. We may be living in a Natural Containment Hierarchy that is not merely scaled by physical sizes of bodies, but by lensings of perceived causality, aka ‘time’. I have made some efforts to diagram this:

We should not assume that our typical, 21st century, Western conditioned, mid-life, waking consciousness is the universal authority on the ontology of time/causality. The smallest and largest scales of the hierarchy/holarchy may be more unified with each other than with the holons at the center of the hierarchy.

Our willingness to ignore our self-centering view of the containment hierarchy seems to suggest to me that the possibility of an intrinsic lensing property in the way that conscious experiences are diffracted from the totality. The sense of being in the center of the containment hierarchy may be like other types of relativistic frames of reference rather than an objective reflection of the cosmos as it is without our lensing of it, and of ourselves.

I propose that the anthropocentric positioning of ourselves in the containment hierarchy should be considered as a superposition of *both* the self-centered and the self-negating perspectives. In other words, we see ourselves and our lives as midway between Planck scales and cosmological scales both because it is actually true, and because it must always seem true.

By analogy, we find that both the geocentric/flat Earth perspective and the heliocentric round Earth perspective are equally significant to understanding human history, but neither could be predicted as emerging from the other. In the same kind of way, the uncanny similarity in the apparent size of the solar disc and lunar disk in the sky, combined with the happenstance of Earth having only one such natural satellite, makes for a rather fine-tuned condition that made millennia of religious worldviews possible and dominant still for some even in the face of the obvious evidence of the post-Copernican perspective.

What I see is a universe where such fine-tuned superpositions are themselves fine-tuned superpositions in between coincidence and teleology. The coincidences are both coincidental and more than coincidental, and picking one perspective or the other can seem to have cascading ‘choose your own adventure’ or ambiguous image flip consequences. The universe seems to support delusions and solipsism for an unreasonable number of people for an unreasonable amount of time. In my understanding, this property of the universe and consciousness is profoundly important, although that estimation of significance is itself tantamount to choosing the teleological-aesthetic (solipsistic at the extreme) side of the superposition of the absolute over the mechanistic-coincidental (“nilipsistic” at the extreme) side.

“If you deleted (in the sense of “de-organized”) any layer below M, for example, the entire hierarchy disappears from that layer upwards. For example, deleting all atomic particles deletes atoms, molecules, cells, and so forth, all the way to the containing environment. In these cases, none of the deletions eliminate the lower levels, including sub-atomic particles, space, and so forth. This fact reveals the existence of a powerful vertically acting system of constraints that is not within the ambit of any individual scientific discipline.”

Not necessarily. By analogy, if we deleted all characters used in written language, and all phonemes used in verbal language, that does not mean that all human thought and communication would be deleted. All that would happen is that humans would immediately begin inventing new language using those same two sense modalities or other sense modalities if they were also deleted. In our theories, I think that we should not be blinded by the bias known as “smallism” and “big” cosmopsychic theories should be considered equally viable.

“Contemporary philosophers tend to assume that fundamental things exist at the micro-level. Coleman (2006) calls this “smallism”: the view that facts about big things are grounded in facts about little things, e.g., the table exists and is the way it is because the particles making it up are related in certain extremely complicated ways. However, the work of Jonathan Schaffer (2010) has brought to prominence an alternative picture of reality. According to the view Schaffer calls “priority monism”, facts about little things are grounded in facts about big things. The table’s atoms exist and are the way they are because the table exists and is the way it is; and all things ultimately exist and are the way they are because of certain facts about the universe as a whole. For the priority monist there is one and only one fundamental thing: the universe.

If we combine priority monism with constitutive panpsychism we get:
Constitutive cosmopsychism—The view that all facts are grounded in/realized by/constituted of consciousness-involving facts at the cosmic-level.

We can also envisage non-constitutive forms of cosmopsychism. On a standard form of layered emergentism (discussed above), human and animal minds are causally dependent on consciousness-involving micro-level facts whilst being fundamental entities in their own right; on the cosmopsychist analogue, human and animal minds are causally dependent on the conscious cosmos whilst being fundamental entities in their own right.”

https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/panpsychism/

continuing…

“Layer [M+1] is where the EM field system impressed on space by brain tissue acquires its fully detailed form, including all properties inherited by the constraints, drives, and properties of the deeper layers”

Here I propose that EM fields may not in fact be ‘impressed on space’ at all, and are not even ‘fields’ in an ontological sense. My understanding suggests that electromagnetic activity is irreducibly sensorimotive, and that the inference of fields is based on early methods of detection, measurement, and logical deduction which have become obsolete with the advent of Relativity, Quantum Mechanics, and familiarity with psi and other exotic states of consciousness.

The universe may be a conscious experience ‘all the way down’ and all the way up, with experiences on any given timescale lensing experiences on distant timescales in objectivized (“nilipsistic“) terms (as fundamental forces, mathematical logic, and tangible topologies, for example). Having read some of Maxwell and Faraday’s original papers defining EM in terms of fields, I am struck with the distinct impression that the conclusions they made would not have been that way if they had access to QM observations like entanglement and contextuality. I think that the field metaphor was a 19th century heuristic that continues to be indispensable, but not because it is an ontological fact. 

We now note that the transition from strong to weak emergence is a fundamental feature of the process that science experienced when deconstructing the natural biosphere into the layered descriptions shown in Figure 2B. In Figure 2B this process has been labeled as “reduction.” Before the science was completed, every progression in scientific understanding started as a mystery: a question unanswered. Molecules were mysteriously related to atoms. Atoms were mysteriously emergent from what turned out to be their subatomic constituents. Higher up, we find the mystery of the strongly emergent flight of bumblebees, which turned out to be a weakly-emergent property of turbulence. 

I see this as a popular, but nonetheless dangerous and seductive fallacy. It may be true that the history of science can be seen to have repeatedly corralled seemingly strongly emergent phenomena and tamed them into weakly emergent complications, this cannot be presumed to extend from the tangible to the intangible or trans-tangible under that same logic.

This is due to the fact that atoms, molecules, bumblebee bodies, and turbulence are *uncontroversially tangible*. There was never any question but that these phenomena are observed as tangible forms moving in public space. There is in all cases an infinitely wide explanatory gap between all such tangible objects and any such intangible or trans-tangible phenomena as sensations, feelings, perceptions, awareness, colors, flavors, sounds, ideas, symbols, references, interpretations, themes, archetypes, caring, valuing, and on and on.

No amount of moving particles can ‘add up’ to anything other than other groupings or shapes of moving particles without appealing to strong emergence or promissory materialism. There is no comparable problem with particles adding up to shapes such as molecules, surfaces, cells, bodies, planets, etc. They are all 3d topological presences that can be comfortably assigned causal closure that is limited to other 3d topological phenomena (forces, fields, laws of geometry). Things like forces and fields, while superficially ‘intangible’ (and therefore must be imagined to be somehow “imprinted” on the vacuum of space or inevitable consequences of statistics on cosmological constants or standard model, etc) are nonetheless exhaustively describable in tangible terms. They are spatial regions within which some effect is observed to occur.

This kind of in silico empirical approach is simply missing from the science. No instances of in silico-equivalent EM field replication can be found. Artificial neurons created this way could help in understanding EM field expression by excitable cell tissue.

I agree with this. In order to proceed with understanding the Easy Problem of our own neurology, we should be creating artificial neurons.

As the science has unfolded, a single, dominant and promising theory of this kind has emerged. It is the “Information Integration Theory (IIT) of Consciousness” by Tononi (20042008)Balduzzi and Tononi (2008)Oizumi et al. (2014), and Tononi et al. (2016).

That may be true in the sense that there has not been a single competing theory that has been discussed as much in the media coverage of academic discussion in recent years, but I have not encountered many who see IIT as especially promising in reality. At best, some future descendant of IIT might provide some useful indications for determining whether someone is likely to come out of a coma or something, but even that utility may be completely misguided. There are many good critiques of IIT that can be found online:

“In summary, IIT fails to consistently assign consciousness to a system, because the definition is based on hypotheticals, which by definition are not instantiated by the system. Deep down, the troubles arise from the circularity of the definition of information as reduction of uncertainty. Uncertainty refers to a prior state of knowledge, but the notion of knowledge for the subject is never defined. In practice, the knowledge underlying the reduction of uncertainty is the knowledge of the observer who formalizes scenarios and quantifies probabilities of events that the system itself has never lived.”

 http://romainbrette.fr/notes-on-consciousness-ix-why-integrated-information-theory-fails

continuing…

From a C1 perspective, this position is rather hard to understand, because C1 tells us there is only one substrate that we know delivers P-Consciousness: EM fields organized in the form of a brain made of atoms.

By this reasoning, only our own personal brain is known to deliver P-Consciousness also. Because we know from our own conscious experience how limited our empathy and theory of mind can be even for members of our own species, there is no reason to assume that P-Consciousness has any more connection to humans or brains or electromagnetism than it does to ‘complexity’ in general, or to biology, or to certain scales of material accumulation.

I see these assertions of brains as critical to understanding consciousness as based on uncritical anthropocentrism. I expect that our own brain is especially suited to our own kind of conscious experience, but really the brain of any species would seem equally appropriate if we did not have the human brain as an example. The intestines or the immune system, cell nucleus, cytoskeleton, nucleic acids, and many other complicated structures and processes would seem equally hospitable.

GRT focuses on the Oscillatory Correlates of Consciousness (OCC), where the particular “oscillations” most relevant to P-Consciousness are those arising from the brain’s endogenous EM field system 

What we need to know though is what is doing the ‘correlating’? There might be all kinds of correlates of consciousness we can find – maybe high dimensional analysis of gross physiological indicators like skin resistance and blood pressure could be used to plot out some correlation too. Good stuff for the Easy Problem and medicine, but does nothing for the Hard Problem or disproving cosmopsychism.

The abovementioned EM account offered by JohnJoe McFadden is the wave-mechanical approach in his “Conscious Electromagnetic Information” (CEMI) field theory (McFadden, 2002a,b2006200720132020). “I therefore examine the proposition that the brain’s EM field is consciousness and that information held in distributed neurons is integrated into a single conscious EM field: the CEMI field” (McFadden, 2002a).

We have the same interaction problem here, with the theory that information can be somehow ‘held’ in physical topologies we call neurons begs the question of physicalism. As far as I can see, all physical effects can be explained as statistically inevitable recombinatory variations on geometric *formations* and require no such things as information, signals, signs, etc to do what they appear to do. The correlation is smuggled in retrospectively from conscious experience rather than arrived at prospectively from physics.

Our proposition is that the standard model’s scope of scientific deliverables, and the scientific behavior that produces them, is to be expanded to include (ii). We now know that EM field, as depicted by the particular (i) 3PP “laws of appearances”

Sure, I agree with that and have proposed the same kind of thing. EM should be understood to be a single Sensory-Motive-Electro-Magnetic phenomenon. That isn’t the whole story though, but it’s an important start. I have tried to diagram it early on in my Multisense Realism efforts:

let us assume that (ii) involves abstractions describing a universe made of a large collection of a single kind of primitive structural element, say X. This “X” could be perhaps regarded as an “event” or “information mote” or “energy quantum” or all these simultaneously. Its true identity is not our job to specify here. 

A seemingly pragmatic approach, but unfortunately I think that there is no way to work from X without understanding what X is in this case. I think that it is our primary job to specify it. In my view, I propose X as a scale-independent (equally micro-unit as cosmo-unity) holos of nested/diffracted aesthetic-participatory (sensory-motive) phenomena. I have elaborate diagrams and explications of how that goes.

The solution to the hard problem, we suggest, has been hard because it must be discovered (not invented) in a completely different realm of descriptions of nature of kind (ii). In effect, the very meaning of what it is that a scientist does to explain nature has itself had to change.

What scientific evidence do we have that it is possible or practical to describe the natural world U in (ii) form? When we look for it, we easily find that we have already been doing it (X descriptions) for decades, but in physics and outside the science of consciousness. They are familiar to all of us. Some examples: X = “string theory” e.g. (Sen, 1998), “loops” e.g. (Rovelli, 2006), “branes” e.g. (Ne’eman and Eizenberg, 1995), “dynamic hierarchies of structured noise” e.g. (Cahill and Klinger, 19982000Cahill, 20032005), “cellular automata” e.g. (Mitchell et al., 1994Hordijk et al., 1996Wolfram, 2002), and “quantum froth” e.g. (Swarup, 2006

This is hard to parse for me. Is it saying that things like branes, strings, loops, etc can just be considered identical to conscious experiences? 

The moment a (ii) collection of abstracted X can be found to express EM fields as an emergent behavior of the collection, the physicists involved, by directly comparing the (i) and (ii) depictions of the same nature, would then be able to see, within (ii), that part of the underlying structure of (i) that may be responsible for the 1PP. 

That sounds like a perfectly reasonable approach to me, as far as identifying some crucially important features of the origins of our own experience as human individuals, but I still see it as an Easy Problem path that assumes

1) consciousness = “1PP” and

2) 1PP is not closer the underlying phenomenon from which X arises than anything else we could imagine.

 It is based on the empirical fact that it is EM fields that ultimately deliver P-Consciousness.

I see this as a problem. First of all, the statement that EM fields deliver P-Consciousness is NOT an empirical fact. It could just as easily be the case that EM fields are P-Consciousness appearances of the nesting of P-Consciousness on particular timescales. Secondly, the paper has already committed to the *complexity* of the EM field complex-that-appears-to-itself-as-a-brain being more important than the ubiquitous presence of EM as every-appearance-in-the-universe.

The correlates of P-Consciousness paradigm must ultimately face the fundamental physics of EM fields if a fully explanatory account of P-Consciousness is to be constructed. 

That is an assumption also. A theory based on assuming smallism and anthropocentric identifications with consciousness. I am encouraged by the intentions and directions that are behind the paper, but I see it as still a step before Step One, and that in many ways, the true Step One can be arrived at by considering the diametric opposite of many of the ideas above that are assumed to be true.

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