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De-Simulating Natural Intelligence

May 24, 2019 Leave a comment

Hi friends! I’m getting ready for my poster presentation at the Science of Consciousness conference in Interlaken:

Abstract In recent years, scientific and popular imagination has been captured by the idea that what we experience directly is a neuro-computational simulation. At the same time, there is a contradictory idea that some things that we experience, such as the existence of brains and computers, are real enough to allow us to create fully conscious and intelligent devices. This presentation will try to explain where this logic breaks down, why true intelligence may never be generated artificially, and why that is good news. Recent studies have suggested that human perception is not as limited as previously thought and that while machines can do many things better than we can, becoming conscious may not be one of them. The approach taken here can be described as a Variable Aspect Monism or Multisense Realism, and it seeks to clarify the relationship between physical form, logical function, and aesthetic participation.

In Natural Intelligence, intelligence is abstracted from within a full spectrum of aesthetically rich experience that developed over billions of years of evolving sensation and participation.

In Artificial “Intelligence”, intelligence is abstracted from outside the natural, presumably narrow range of barely aesthetic experience that has remained relatively unchanged over human timescales (but has changed over geological timescales, evolving, presumably, very different aesthetics).

In Natural Intelligence, intelligence is abstracted from within a full spectrum of aesthetically rich experience that developed over billions of years of evolving sensation and participation.

In Artificial “Intelligence”, intelligence is abstracted from outside the natural, presumably narrow range of barely aesthetic experience that has remained relatively unchanged over human timescales (but has changed over geological timescales, evolving, presumably, very different aesthetics).

What Multisense Realism proposes is more pansensitivity than panpsychism.

The standard notion of panpsychism is what I would call ‘promiscuous panpsychism’, meaning that every atom has to be ‘conscious’ in a kind of thinking, understanding way. I think that this promiscuity is what makes panpsychism unappealing to many/most people.

Under pansensitivity, intelligence 𝒅𝒊𝒗𝒆𝒓𝒈𝒆𝒔 from a totalistic absolute, diffracting through calibrated degrees of added insensitivity. It’s like in school when kids draw a colorful picture and then cover it with black crayon (the pre-big bang) and then begin to scratch it off to reveal the colors underneath. The black crayon is entropy, the scratching is negentropy, and the size of the revealed image is the degree of aesthetic saturation.

So yes, the physical substances that we use to build machines are forms of conscious experience, but they are very low level, low aesthetics which don’t necessarily scale up on their own (since they have not evolved over billions of years of natural experience by themselves).

I think that despite our success in putting our own high level aesthetic experience into code that we use to manipulate hardware, it is still only reflecting of our own natural ‘psychism’ back to us, rather than truly exporting it into the machine hardware.

Three-Phase Model of Will

June 24, 2017 1 comment

Within the Multisense Realism (MSR) model, all of nature is conceived of as a continuum of experiential or aesthetic phenomena. This ‘spectrum of perceivability’ can be divided, like the visible light spectrum, into two, three, four, or millions of qualitative hues, each with their own particular properties, and each which contribute to the overall sense of the spectrum.

For this post, I’ll focus on a three-level view of the spectrum: Sub-personal, Personal, and Transpersonal. Use of the MSR neologisms ‘Semaphoric, Phoric, and Metaphoric’ may be annoying to some readers, but I think that it adds some important connections and properly places the spectrum of perceivability in a cosmological context rather than in an anthropocentric or biocentric one.

In my view, nature is composed of experiences, and the primary difference between the experiences of biological organisms (which appear as synonymous with cellular-organic bodies to each other) and experiences which appear to us as inorganic chemistry, atoms, planets, stars, etc is the scale of time and space which are involved and the effect of that scale difference on what I call perceptual lensing or eigenmorphism.

In other words, I am saying that the universe is made of experiences-within-experiences, and that the relation of any given experience to the totality of experience is a defining feature of the properties of the universe which appear most real or significant. If you are an animal, you have certain kind of experiences in which other animals are perceived as members of one’s own family, or as friends, pets, food, or pests. These categories are normally rather firm, and we do not want to eat our friends or pets, we understand that what constitutes a pet or pest in some cultures may be desirable as food in others. We understand that the palette can shift, for example, many with a vegan diet sooner or later find meat eating in general to be repulsive. This kind of shift can be expressed within the MSR model as a change in the lensing of personal gustatory awareness so that the entire class of zoological life is identified with more directly. The scope of empathy has expanded so that the all creatures with ‘two eyes and a mother’ are seen in a context of kinship rather than predation.

Enslavement is another example of how the lens of human awareness has changed. For millennia slavery was practiced in various cultures much like eating meat is practiced now. It was a fact of life that people of a different social class or race, women or children could be treated as slaves by the dominant group, or by men or adults. The scope of empathy was so contracted* by default that even members of the same human species were identified somewhere between pet and food rather than friends or family. As this scope of awareness (which is ultimately identical with empathy) expanded those who were on the leading edge of the expansion and those who were on the trailing edge began to see each other in polarized terms. There is a psychological mechanism at work which fosters the projection of negative qualities on the opposing group. In the case of 19th century American slavery, this opposition manifested in the Civil War.

Possibly all of the most divisive issues in society are about perception and how empathy is scoped. Is it an embryo or an unborn child? Are the poor part of the human family or are they pests? Should employees have rights as equals with employers or does wealth confer a right of employers to treat employees more like domesticated animals? All of these questions are contested within the lives of individuals, families, and societies and would fall under the middle range of the three tiered view of the MSR spectrum: The Phoric scope of awareness.

Phoric range: Consciousness is personal and interpersonal narrative with a clearly delineated first person subject, second person social, and third person object division. Subjective experience is intangible and difficult to categorize in a linear hierarchy. Social experience is intangible but semiotically grounded in gestures and expressions of the body. Consider the difference between the human ‘voice’ and the ‘sounds’ that we hear other animals make. The further apart the participants are from each other, the more their participation is de-personalized. Objective experience (more accurately objective-facing or public-facing experience) is totally depersonalized and presented as tangible objects rather than bodies. Tangible objects are fairly easy to stratify by time/space scale: Roughly human sized or larger animals are studied in a context of zoology. Smaller organisms and cells comprise the field of biology. As the ‘bodies’ get smaller and lives get shorter/faster relative to our own, the scope of our empathy contracts (unless perhaps if you’re a microbiologist), so that we tend to consider the physical presence of microorganisms and viruses somewhere in between bodies and objects.

Even though we see more and more evidence of objects on these sub-cellular scales behaving with seeming intelligence or responsiveness, it is difficult to think of them as beings rather than mechanical structures. Plants, even though their size can vary even more than animals, are so alien to our aesthetic sense of ourselves that they tend to be categorized in the lower empathy ranges: Food rather than friends, fiber rather than flesh. This again is all pertaining to the boundary beteween the personal or phoric range of the MSR spectrum and the semaphoric range, sub-personal. The personal view of an external sempahore is an object (morphic phenomenon). The morphic scope is a reflection within the phoric range of experiences which are perceptually qualified as impersonal but tangible. It is a range populated by solid bodies, liquids, and gas which are animated by intangible ‘forces’ or ‘energies’**. Depending on who is judging those energies and the scale and aesthetics of the object perceived, the force or energy behind the behavior of the body is presumed to be somewhere along an axis which extends from ‘person’, where full fledged subjective intent governs the body’s behavior to ‘mechanism’ where behaviors are governed by impersonal physical forces which are automatic and unintentional.

Zooming in on this boundary between sentience and automaticity, we can isolate a guiding principle in which ‘signals’ embody the translation between mechanical-morphic forms and metric-dynamic functions which are supposed to operate without sensation, and those events which are perceived with participatory qualities such as feeling, thinking, seeing, etc. While this sub-personal level is very distant from our personal scope of empathy, it is no less controversial as far as the acrimony between those who perceive no special difference between sensation and mechanical events, and those who perceive a clear dichotomy which cannot be bridged from the bottom up. To the former group, the difference between signal (semaphore) and physical function (let’s call it ‘metamorph’) is purely a semantic convention, and those who are on the far end of the latter group appear as technophobes or religious fanatics. To the latter group, the difference between feelings and functions is of the utmost significance – even to divine vs diabolical extremes. For the creationist and the anti-abortionist, human life is not divisible to mere operations of genetic objects or evolving animal species. Their perception of the animating force of human behavior is not mere stochastic computation and thermodynamics, but ‘free will’ and perhaps the sacred ‘soul’. What is going on here? Where are these ideas of supernatural influences coming from and why do they remain popular in spite of centuries of scientific enlightenment?

This is where the third level of the spectrum comes in, the metaphoric or holophoric range.

To review: Semaphoric: Consciousness on this level is seen as limited to signal-based interactions. The expectation of a capacity to send and receive ‘signs’ or ‘messages’ is an interesting place to spend some time on because it is so poorly defined within science. Electromagnetic signals are described in terms of charge or attraction/repulsion but it is at the same time presumed to be unexperienced. Computer science takes signal for granted. It is a body of knowledge which begins with an assumption that there already is hardware which has some capacity for input, output, storage, and comparison of ‘data’. Again, the phenomenal content of this process of data processing is poorly understood, and it is easy to grant proto-experiential qualities to programs when we want them to seem intelligent, or to withdraw those qualities when we want them to see them as completely controllable or programmable. Data is the semaphoric equivalent of body on the phoric level. The data side of the semaphore is the generic, syntactic, outside view of the signal. Data is a fictional ‘packet’ or ‘digit’ abstractly ‘moving’ through a series of concrete mechanical states of the physical hardware. There is widespread confusion over this, and people disagree what the relation between data, information, and experience is. MSR allows us to see the entire unit as semaphore; sensory-motive phenomena which is maximally contracted from transpersonal unity and minimally presented as sub-personal unit.

Like the vegan who no longer sees meat as food, the software developer or cognitive scientist may not see data as a fictional abstraction overlaid on top of the material conditions of electronic components, but instead as carriers of a kind of proto-phenomenal currency which can learn and understand. Data for the programmer may seem intrinsically semantic – units whose logical constraints make them building blocks of thought and knowledge that add up to more than the sum of their parts. There is a sense that data is in and of itself informative, and through additional processing can be enhanced to the status of ‘information’.

In my view, this blurring of the lines between sensation, signal, data, and information reflects the psychology of this moment in the history of human consciousness. It is the Post-Enlightenment version of superstition (if we want to be pejorative) or re-enchantment (if we want to be supportive). Where the pre-Enlightenment mind was comfortable blurring the lines between physical events and supernatural influences, the sophisticated thinker of the 21st century has no qualms about seeing human experience as a vast collection of data signals in a biochemical computer network. Where it was once popular among the most enlightened to see the work of God in our everyday life, it is now the image of the machine which has captured the imagination of professional thinkers and amateur enthusiasts alike. Everything is a ‘system’. Every human experience traces back to a cause in the body, its cells and molecules, and to the blind mechanism of their aggregate statistical evolutions.

To recap: The MSR model proposes that all of nature can be modeled meaningfully within a ‘spectrum of perceivability’ framework. This spectrum can be divided into any number of qualitative ranges, but the number of partitions used has a defining effect on the character of the spectrum as a whole. The ‘lower’, semaphoric or ‘signal’ end of the spectrum presents a world of sub-personal sensations or impulses which relate to each other as impersonal data processes. Whether this perception is valid in an objective sense, or whether it is the result of the contraction of empathy that characterizes the relation between the personal scope of awareness and its objectification of the sub-personal is a question which itself is subject to the same question. If you don’t believe that consciousness is more fundamental than matter, then you aren’t going to believe that your sensitivity has an effect on how objective phenomena are defined. If you already see personal consciousness as a function of data processing organic chemistry, then you’re not going to want to take seriously the idea that chemical bonding is driven by sensory-empathic instincts rather than mathematical law. If you’re on the other end of the psychological spectrum however, it may be difficult to imagine why anyone would even want to deny the possibility that our own consciousness is composed of authentic and irreducible of feelings.

In either case, we can probably all agree that activity on the microscopic scale seems less willful and more automatic than the activity which we participate in as human beings. Those who favor the bottom-up view see this ‘emergence’ of willful appearance as a kind of illusion, and that actually all choices we make are predetermined by the mechanics of physical conditions. Those who favor the top-down view may also see the appearance of human will as an illusion, but driven by supernatural influences and entities rather than mathematical ones. Thus, the personal range of awareness is bounded on the bottom by semaphore (sensation <> signal < || > data <> information) and on the top by what I call metaphor (fate <> synchronicity < || > intuition <> divinity).

As we move above the personal level, with its personal-subject, social groups and impersonal objects, to the transpersonal level, the significance of our personal will increases. Even though religiosity tends to impose limits on human will in the face of overwhelming influence from divine will, there is an equally powerful tendency to elevate individual human will to a super-significant role. The conscience or superego is mediator between personal self and the transpersonal. It even appears as a metaphor in cartoons as angel and devil on the shoulder.  Most religious practices stress the responsibility of the individual to align their personal will to the will of God by finding and following the better angels of conscience or suffer the consequences. The consequences range from the mild forms of disappointing reincarnation or being stuck in repeating cycles of karma to Earth shaking consequences for the entire universe (as in Scientology). From the most extreme transpersonal perspective, the personal level of will is either inflated so that every action a person takes, including what they choose to think and feel is a tribute or affront to God, and gets us closer to paradise or damnation. Simultaneously personal or it is deflated or degraded so that the entirety of human effort is pathetic and futile in the face of Higher Power.

Notice the symmetry between the quantum (extreme semaphoric or ‘hemi-morphic’) concept of ‘superposition’ and the transpersonal concept of ‘synchronicity’.  Superposition is brought in to tame the paradox of simultaneous randomness and determinism of subatomic phenomena, while synchronicity is brought into psychology as a kind of metaphoric, poetic, or acausal intrusion from the transpersonal scope of awareness to the personal. This allows a bridge natural determinism of time and transpersonal from beyond our limited awareness of time. Superposition and synchronicity are ways of describing the gateways between spacetime and the nonlocal absolute. If these gateways form the opposite extremes of the continuum of personal awareness, then the sense of free will would be the very center of that continuum. At any given moment, even though we are presented with conditions and inertial patterns which influence our will, we are also presented with opportunities to condition our will itself. We can feel within ourselves a power to oppose inertia and change conditions in the world, or we can feel completely powerless to change anything that we are experiencing.

There’s a paradox here, in that how we feel about our own willpower factors in to the feeling of how powerful our will is or can be. There is a chicken-egg relation between mood and will which tends to polarize people psychologically. Feeling that we are destined to feel depressed corresponds to a set of truths about life which are difficult to accept in the sense that they lead to nihilism and despair. Feeling that it is up to us to change how we feel so that we can improve our lives or the world corresponds to a difference set of truths about our lives which can be equally difficult to accept but in the opposite sense that they lead to risk taking and the possibility that our effort can end up causing more harm than good to ourselves and others. To be or not to be each have their strengths and weakness.

As with the other social-psychological dichotomies mentioned earlier, each side sees the other in a scope of diminished empathy; The downbeat introvert sees themselves as facing the bitter facts of mortality and the human condition with courage and honesty, while their positive-thinking counterparts are seen as deluded ninnies…intellectual lightweights who don’t have the stomach to face the existential abyss. The upbeat idealist sees themselves as heroically facing the challenge of rescuing their own life from the abyss while the realist appears to be willfully blind to their own power, and consciously or unconsciously wallow in a prison of their own making. This polarity of the phoric range of consciousness can be understood as its euphoric and dysphoric orientations. Those who have ‘mood disorders’ are familiar with these extremes and how inadequate the term ‘mood’ is to describe the totality of change in how the universe and one’s own life is presented. It is not simply that these opposing phoric ‘charges’ feel very good or bad, it is that the individual find themselves in a universe which is very good – (maybe too ‘good’), or very bad. In the current time of political transformation, we find ourselves to be drawn to align with one social polarity or another, each with its own euphoric-dysphoric signifiers and each with a separate narrative of history and the possible future. More than any time in the US since the 1960s, the questions of our personal agency and the possibilities for our future freedoms have become important. How important may be up to us individually, or we may find that fate and coincidence conspire to make them more important.

*This is not to say that slavery is not still going on, or that everyone has evolved the same level of conscience about race, gender, and age.

**I have issues with the concept of energy, but I use it here as a popular way to make the reference.

Are We Wrong About The Universe?

December 7, 2016 4 comments

wrongtoday

Are we today as wrong about any scientific fact that is widely accepted as the belief that the earth was the center of the universe and the like?

It’s not so much a particular scientific fact that we are currently wrong about, but rather the interpretation of those facts which is ultimately incomplete and inverted. In my view, the cosmological picture that we have inherited is as wrong as geocentric astronomy was, in that we presume a physical universe of forces, fields, particles, and mechanisms; forms and functions which act in the complete absence of any kind of experience or awareness. I expect that we will eventually come to understand that unconscious forms and functions cannot generate any such thing as a sensation or feeling, and that it is actually forms and functions which are presentations within a deeper context of universal perceivability.

Because we have made great use of the tools of science to objectify the universe by factoring out our own subjectivity, we have fallen under a kind of spell of amnesia in which we exclude the process of objectification itself from our picture of the universe. In the effort to dispel the ghost-in-the-machine legacy of Cartesian Dualism, we have succumbed to a more insidious dualism, which is that of “illusion” vs reality, or “emergent properties” vs physical systems. From this vantage point, we are susceptible to any kind of theory which satisfies our empirical measurements, regardless of how incompatible they are with our direct experience. As long as a legitimate scientific authority stands behind it, the educated public happily swallows up anti-realisms in the service of realism…multi world interpretations, superposition, vacuums filled with energy. There is nothing wrong with entertaining these very legitimate possibilities, but there is a deep irony which is being overlooked.

The problem is that we have taken ourselves out of the picture of the universe, but we haven’t gone far enough. We have over-estimated our objectivity in one sense and under-estimated it in another so that the universe we imagine as objectively present looks, sounds, tastes, and feels just as it would to a highly culturally conditioned Homo sapien of the early 21st century. We have failed to appreciate the profound truths revealed by Relativity, quantum uncertainty, incompleteness, the placebo effect, and the vast pool of insight provided by centuries of direct consciousness exploration. Had we been willing to connect the dots, I think that we would see the common denominator is that nature is subject to perceptual participation for its fundamental definitions. In other words, what both the empirical and rational methods of inquiry have shown is that nature is inseparable from perceivability. It is a multitude of changing types of awareness which produces and preserves all forms.

We are used to thinking that consciousness is a special ability of Homo sapiens, and perhaps a few other species, but this is as naive and egocentric as Ptolemaic astronomy now seems. Just as biology has found no hard line separating living cells from genetic machinery, the study of consciousness has revealed signs of sensation and awareness in everything from ants, single celled plants, even a ball of dough. There seems to be no good reason to automatically consider the activities performed by any natural structure strictly unconscious. Indeed, we may be projecting our own complex human experience of layers of consciousness, semi-consciousness, and seeming unconsciousness onto nature at large.

The reality may be that every frame of reference is actually a frame of afference… a trans-spatial, trans-temporal platform for developing temporalizing and spatializing aesthetic experiences. Afference is a neologism adapted from the function of afferent nerves. In this case I am generalizing that function of bringing signals in from the outside. Afference is conceived as a fundamental receptivity to experience which allows for the appearance of all phenomena including space (a sense of distance between tangible or visual presentations) and time (a sense of memory and evaluation of causality) within any given frame. Afference is a hypothetical sub-set or diffraction from the overall Perceivability Spectrum (pansensitivity, pan-afference, or even ‘ference’).

This doesn’t mean that every ‘thing’ is conscious. That sort of ‘promiscuous’ panpsychism is only the first step away from the pseudo-dualism of contemporary science. It can help us to begin to break through our anthropocentrism and consider other scales of time and body size, however it can also lead to misguided expectations about inanimate objects ‘having’ experiences rather than their objecthood ‘being’ an experience within our body’s perceptual scales and limits. The experience of a computer for example, may be limited to the hardware level where natural sensory acquaintance and motor engagement is felt on the microphysical scale and has no emergence to genuine high level humanlike intelligence.

By considering consciousness (not human consciousness, but universal perceivability) to be the source of all qualities and properties of nature, the Hard Problem of materialism solves itself. Physical forces and fields need not be sought out to explain the creation of bodies-with-awareness, which are impossible by definition in my view. In my view there is no room for any kind of sensation or participation as a mechanical product of geometry or computation. Instead, we should recognize that it is experiential phenomena alone which present themselves as bodies, images, thoughts, feelings, etc. Every appearance of mechanical or random force in our frame of perception is ultimately a feeling of participation and sense in a distant and alienated frame of perception.

Every appearance of a ‘field’ (gravitational, electromagnetic, or otherwise) is in the same way only a range of sensitivity projected into another range of sensitivity that uses spatial terms (rather than non-spatial or trans-spatial like olfactory or emotional sense). It is the sense modality of tangibility which deals in spaces and geometries: visible and/or touchable forms. With the ‘field’ model, we are presuming regions of space as domains within which effects simply found to be present by definition. By using the afference model instead, locality is understood to be a symptom of how extra-local phenomena are translated into locality-constrained sensory modes. Afference opens the door to understanding how not to take presence for granted and to see it as a relativistic, aesthetically driven universal phenomenon (or the absolute meta-phenomenon).

Supporting articles

Compact Guide to Multisense Realism Cosmology

September 11, 2016 Leave a comment

2msrlook ference

A compact guide to Multisense Realism.

On the top, we have the fundamental elements:

Ference: aka the Absolute, Fundamental awareness, Pansensitivity
The totality of all experience. Universal qualia. Simultaneous, eternal, and meta-ontological.

Afference: The division of ference into locally/sequentially felt qualities or affects. Sensations, feelings, perceptions, experiences, intuitions, local qualia, all fall into this category.

  • Efference: The affect of motivation which causes effects to afferent frames of reference. Efference is reflected within externalized reference frames as mass-energy/space-time.
  • Reference: Upon receipt of an effect by a frame of afference, attention is focused and informed by a reverberation of afferent associations that partially re-connect the local frame to the absolute.

Through many iterations of Afference – Efference – Afference – Reference, there is an accumulation of Significance. This is reflected in the bottom half of the image as the hierarchically stacked levels of phenomenal and physical contexts of experience.

Significance is the saturation of afference, such that significant affects are super-aesthetic and more directly revealing or reflecting aspects of the Absolute. Significance is afference returning to ference with interest.

The right hand side shows a hierarchy of typical human levels of significance. With the saturation of local qualia into subjectivity, there is an increasing complementary de-saturation as objectivity. This is shown on the left hand side. Note that the sense of causality proposed in MSR is multivalent. Unlike the top-down theistic models or bottom-up deterministic models, causality reverberates across reference frames horizontally as well as vertically.

Human consciousness is not caused by the human brain, rather human consciousness is a spectrum of active re-experience on biochemical, zoological, anthropological, and psychological levels. The brain is not caused by neurons or molecular structures, nor is it caused by the division of the single zygote into a body of organs. All physical structures are caused simultaneously by unseen consequences of re-experiences on multiple levels of description and scale. The key is timescale relativity. Every frame of reference is defined by its own scale of time relative to other frames.

What we see as molecular activity is taking place on a much faster and much slower scale than our own personal experience is. Cosmological events take place on the same scale of very fast and very slow relative to our scale. Human experience emerges* from the middle – cleaving the spectrum of scale into a larger-smaller polarities, again and again in a branching fractal pattern. Each branching creates new opportunities for significance, but also creates entropy which objectifies and distances other frames of afference.

Glossary of other Neologisms:

  1. Metaphoric = Transpersonal psychology, myth, intuition, timeless wisdom.
  2. Apophoric = “Away from” phoric. Thinking and analysis leverage a small amount of personal effort into communicable forms. The transpersonal and personal layers of experience are synthesized here as impersonal concepts and ideas.
  3. Phoric = The personal world of the self, ego, and autobiographical narrative,
  4. Emphoric = Personal feelings and emotions, instincts.
  5. Semaphoric = Sub-personal qualities of experience – sensations.

These levels constitute the hierarchy/spectrum of human subjectivity. In reality this is more of a dynamic fugue, with events on different levels taking on more or less significance than this static scale would suggest.

*actually human experience (thinking, feeling, perceiving, sensing) diverges or diffracts from the previous eras of simpler experience (anthro-, zoo-, bio-, organic, chemo-, fundamental)

What’s the Biological Use of Consciousness?

June 25, 2016 4 comments

My answer to a Quora question.

This question sounds reasonable only when we have first assumed that consciousness evolved from biology. I would argue that while it certainly seems that consciousness has become richer and more complex through biological forms and functions, there can be no biological use for consciousness itself.

Consider the practical function of the human body. What does it need to do that other bodies don’t? Everything from a mosquito to a mountain lion has similar biological imperatives and evolutionary pressures to contend with. For that matter, every one celled organism or even DNA molecule functions in the same way – it survives and reproduces. Whether these structures feel like they are trying to survive and reproduce is irrelevant. I’ll say that again, because it is that important:

It cannot matter biologically whether a given structure feels, thinks, senses, or has any experience at all, and to assume it does would be a logical fallacy:

petitio principii, which actually translates as ‘assuming the initial point’”.

The initial point here is the existence of consciousness itself. When we assume that it exists, we are compelled to fill in our explanation with a “Just-so story”; an ad hoc, unfalsifiable hypothesis which will give rationalize a connection between our initial assumptions of biology without consciousness and consciousness arising out of utility to biology.

We might speculate that consciousness was bestowed upon Homo sapiens (gradually of course) as a cause or effect of the success of the species in adapting to more ecological niches than others. We might say that there was a feedback loop between consciousness, self-awareness, intelligence and the accumulation of knowledge and technology to better ensure survival in almost any climate and against almost any predator. This is a good story, and it makes sense if we make the mistake of equating intelligence with consciousness. It is easy to make that mistake, since we are conscious and find it difficult to separate our experience of knowing and surviving from the actual behaviors which our body is performing to accomplish that.

This logical error was articulated very nicely by Dr. Raymond Tallis, in his book Aping Mankind. He talks about the difference between the ‘retrospective’ view of consciousness, which I was just describing, where we assume that consciousness exists and then try to justify its origin in pre-conscious phenomena and the correct ‘prospective’ view of consciousness which requires us to adhere to our hypothesis of pre-consciousness from the start. Without the appearances that we are accustomed from our own consciousness, we find the universe which physics and biology give to us is devoid of any appearance at all. Blind mechanisms are literally that – chain reactions of cause and effect which occur by physical law and statistical probability: Nothing more.

From here, we are compelled to negate our previous story which links intelligence with consciousness and see that the whole notion of ‘intelligence’ is a conceit of consciousness, and that any intelligence which hypothetically developed in the absence of consciousness would be just another sophisticated-looking chain reaction of nature. The appearance of sophistication is, again, purely subjective and dependent upon some conscious framing of the appearance. To us, a large organic molecule seems impressive, but since physics can have no preferred frame of reference, there is no appearance of a molecule, only one generic atom and then another one, and another. Each one unaware of anything, and nothing aware of an overall ‘grouping’ of atoms.

As long as we begin from any structure which functions in the total absence of sensory experience, there can be no logical justification for the possibility of sensory experience as a physical function. If a human zygote can already build a living brain, not to mention an immune system, digestive system, circulatory system, etc, all without any conscious experience at all, then what sense does it make to expect that ordinary tasks of animal survival and reproduction should benefit functionally from the addition of some kind of unexplainable metaphysical hallucination?

This is not an argument for Creationism*. Far from it. To me the idea of a single conscious creator has the same problem that Materialism has, only seen from the other way around. God has to be conscious, and God cannot create his own consciousness, so unless consciousness automatically comes with the sense of self, it seems more plausible to me that God, gods, people, and things are all dependent on a phenomenal substrate which transcends all others – beyond space and time, beyond order and entropy, beyond probability or improbability there must be sense experience…a phenomenon in which all phenomena perceive and participate directly.

It may not seem that way to us, from our limited scope of human consciousness, because our lifetimes are so short and our instants of perception are so long relative to biology and physics, but I think that it is the case that on some frame of reference, all phenomena is purely experiential. Consciousness is using biology, not the other way around. Biology is like physics squared, with each living organism its own recapitulation of the big bang, standing in absolute contrast to its inorganic origins, connected to the totality of experience by food, water, light, and each other. This is not to say that “a rock is conscious” but rather that we perceive a rock from a biased set of reports from our human body. We are seeing a fragment of mineral residue from what would be, on a geological or astrophysical scale of time and space, a musical fireworks show of stellar-planetary animation. It’s all about frames of reference, but taken in a new way which sees reference and relativity not as framed by mathematical relations, but of perceptual gymnastics on a scale which extends well beyond biology or even ‘reality’.

*If people do prefer to think of Consciousness as intrinsically God-like, I can’t rule it out. Maybe consciousness-with-self-hood simply is the empirical fact, like the color red, without precedent or logic. That could just be the way that it is in all possible universes, that consciousness is personality who thinks and acts.

Relying on logic instead, my conclusion would be that while God or gods could be real to human experience (by way of higher consciousness that is more deeply connected with the cosmological scales of time, using metaphor to communicate with its time-spliced version of itself), they are more likely to have evolved as a reflection of zoology. In a universe made of conscious experience, the experience of the organism which moves itself around the world of other organisms and non-organisms would have a good reason to conceive of itself as a self, and of its deepest connection to eternal experience as a super-self, hero, polytheistic god or monotheistic God.

For those who prefer to think of nature as Godless, the sense-first view can be understood to introduce a third cosmological form of expression, a fundamental one from which the other two cosmological platforms of physical forms and logical functions diverge as experienced time, rather than emerge in a pre-existing context of space-time. It’s a flipping over of the foundations of our cosmology, so that quantum theory and relativity, neuroscience, and evolutionary biology all represent incomplete views of nature that we have developed out of fragmentation of our understanding into extremely specialized sciences.

The one common denominator of all of our modern approaches is that they share the same blind spot for our own native human frame of awareness. We have stenciled an outline of our own image out of the conspicuous absence of it in the stars, the neurons, and the laws of information and physics. In my view, the way forward is to perform a Copernican inversion on our worldview…not returning to a pre-scientific anthropomorphism, but to explain both anthropomorphism and its now dominant opposite (I call it mechanemorphism) in a deeper context of sense and sense-making. Once we engage in this symmetry objectively, i.e., to see the intrinsic subjectivity in objectivity and objectivity in subjectivity, then a lot of things fall into place, including this perilously transformative time in human history.

Dreams, Reality, and the True North of Consciousness

June 24, 2015 Leave a comment
In the perpetual feud between materialists and idealists, there is one issue which seems to be under-represented in the debate but is at its very core: Dreams.

For the materialist, dreams are nonsense. While the body rests, the brain performs housekeeping tasks which have the side effect of giving us hallucinations, and that’s it. If we want to know about consciousness, the materialist will say, we should study biology and evolution, not dreams.matter_v_ideal

The materialist’s view of consciousness is that is a marvelously complex way for an animal’s body to adapt its behavior and control its environment. Consciousness is about what we do to the world and what it does to us. Things like optical illusions and the placebo effect tell us that the brain’s mental products are flawed since they fail to render reality as it is, but often wished or feared to be. To understand anything about nature as it really is, we can only use empirical, formal, consensus-building methods to tease out golden flecks of truth from the raw ore of our personal guesses and opinions.

For the idealist* consciousness need not inhere to a context of physical survival. Consciousness is not only about what we’re trying to do in the world, but is instead the very fabric of all possible worlds. I personally suspect that this means that consciousness of all sorts is not only pervasive in the universe, but that the universe is actually nothing but the collection of all conscious experiences. If there is anything beyond all forms of conscious experience, it is by definition, indistinguishable from nothing at all (since awareness of some kind is required to make and appreciate distinctions).

In this view, consciousness is not only about the survival of certain special animals, but is the necessary feature of nature to present itself and to participate in that presentation. Just as we do not expect a dead body to have experiences, neither should we expect physics to be able to define itself or function in the absence of all experience.

In idealism, dreams present at least the possibility of a purer sample of human awareness than waking consciousness. Because the psyche is free from contamination of the outside world, dreams would be a kind of control for our thought experiments about consciousness. For the idealist, dreaming should be the true North of consciousness. As Freud and then Jung found, dreams are overflowing with deep symbols and information which transcend personal experience.

In practice, dreams may have contamination of their own, and materialists may be appalled at the idea of treating consciousness most useless and bizarre extremities as the foundation for understanding, but the idealist understands that facts are facts, and the fact is that when we close our eyes and relax, consciousness reveals itself as a spontaneous world-maker, and that is an important fact to begin with. When we withdraw from the physical world, the psyche does not just disappear, it also creates new worlds, and it seems to create them on the fly, instantaneously, without optical illusions or placebo effects.

From here, in the dreamworld, we can see that color need not be wavelengths, and images need not be representations of something physical in the world. In the context of the dream, idealism is the physical reality. Qualia is matter. Any argument about this is a misunderstanding about what the word qualia means (which is common for materialists who may not be able to conceive of images and sounds independently of neurology and physics). If you never wake up from the dream, you will never encounter any part of your own brain or body as it exists in physical reality.

Once we accept that, as Bernardo Kastrup has said, “Materialism is baloney.”, we can move on to the deeper questions of what the universe of qualia is really all about, and whether our own place in it as humans is central or not. This is actually the more interesting level of metaphysics than the perennial argument at the gate between materialists and idealists. I’m using the terms subjective idealist and transcendental idealist here, but there may already be philosophical terms that are used academically.

s_ideal_v_t_ideal

As a transcendental idealist (aka multisense realist), I’m pretty much on my own. The materialists hate my view because they see it as vile woo, and the traditional idealists think I’m confused because I don’t accept the primacy of subjectivity in generating qualia as a necessary truth (although it may be an empirical fact). The picture that I’m looking at is a scientific one, but larger than science. It is a quasi-theistic or ambi-theistic one, but larger than theism. I do not see this as strictly philosophy, but a potentially actionable view of nature, complete with applications for the future of technology and for the rehabilitation of (what remains of) society.

*and here I’m presenting my own view as the example, not necessarily the most common views…likewise, the materialism column applies to non-material reductionism like computational mind theories.

Consciousness and Evolution

December 1, 2014 Leave a comment

My answer to Quora question

While human consciousness has certainly been shaped by evolution, that does not mean that consciousness itself could have evolved from non-consciousness. Whether we are talking about other species of animals or cells or organic molecules, the same issues which we run into in explaining human consciousness are still present at any scale. The issues of the hard problem of consciousness, explanatory gap, binding problem, and symbol grounding problem make the mind-body split just as relevant wither the ‘body’ is a brain, neuron, or subatomic particle. No matter what, you have to explain how an ‘interior world’ can ‘exist’ in a physical structure whose behavior is causally closed.

Whatever way you slice it, if we accept that T-cells can be effective in detecting and neutralizing threats on a cellular level without having consciousness, or that DNA can create cellular machines which build a brain without consciousness, then we are admitting that consciousness doesn’t make sense as a functional adaptation. The rest of the universe already works too well without it. There is nothing especially interesting about a hominid’s need for food and shelter which would demand rich awareness to develop out of blind reflex. Single celled organisms chase food, avoid danger, etc also.

We are then left with considering that either consciousness could somehow be an accident of evolution, or that consciousness may be intrinsic to all physical phenomena in some sense (panpsychism, panexperientialism) or even that consciousness is the universal substrate upon which all phenomena depends (idealism, idealist monism).

If consciousness is a mutation that has no functional role (a spandrel), we have to ask why it would even be a possibility. Remember that if consciousness is a mutation, we are assuming that there is a whole universe already in place which is overflowing with processes, biological and otherwise, which are perfectly capable of directing themselves effectively while being unconscious. It’s actually a radically anthropocentric cosmology since we are privileging our tiny piece of history in the universe as the only piece which is not devoid of experience. We are saying that everything that existed before humans was unconscious, therefore an invisible, intangible, silent void with no memory etc. If we are not intending that, and prefer to think that the universe looked, sounded, felt, and tasted just like it does for Homo sapiens since the dawn of time, then we would have to ask exactly what we think consciousness is adding to that kind of eternal-universal ‘unconsciousness’.

If consciousness is intrinsic to physical phenomena (as in Penrose-Hameroff’s microtubule-based Quantum Consciousness) or is intrinsic to information integration (as in Tononi-Koch’s IIT), we still have the same kind of mind-body problem. A ‘body’ which is a statistical function rather than a literal form in space is still falls short of explaining why and how there is any such thing as consciousness. In my view, only the idealist monist view, or what I call pansensitivity makes sense ultimately as the parent of both physics and information. Just as we learn to count on our fingers, all forms of information are representations of experiences which have an aesthetic foundation – a seeing, feeling, touching, thinking, etc. Without that sensory-motive context from the start, there would nothing to evolve; only abstractions in the dark (or not even dark). Once we can get over ourselves as a species and recognize that consciousness doesn’t begin and end with us, I think that awareness will be seen as the container of relativity itself, with quantum mechanics and evolutionary biology as a consequence of deeper stories rather than their originator.

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