Archive for the ‘society’ Category

Joscha Bach: We need to understand the nature of AI to understand who we are – Part 2

December 17, 2018 1 comment

This is the second part of my comments on Nikola Danaylov’s interview of Joscha Bach:

My commentary on the first hour is here. Please watch or listen to the podcast as there is a lot that is omitted and paraphrased in this post. It’s a very fast paced, high-density conversation, and I would recommend listening to the interview in chunks and following along here for my comments if you’re interested.


1:00:00 – 1:10:00

JB – Conscious attention in a sense is the ability to make indexed memories that I can later recall. I also store the expected result and the triggering condition. When do I expect the result to be visible? Later I have feedback about whether the decision was good or not. I compare result I expected with the result that I got and I can undo the decision that I made back then. I can change the model or reinforce it. I think that this is the primary mode of learning that we use, beyond just associative learning.

JB – 1:01:00 Consciousness means that you will remember what you had attended to. You have this protocol of ‘attention’. The memory of the binding state itself, the memory of being in that binding state where you have this observation that combines as many perceptual features as possible into a single function. The memory of that is phenomenal experience. The act of recalling this from the protocol is Access Consciousness. You need to train the attentional system so it knows where you store your backend cognitive architecture. This is recursive access to the attentional protocol, you remember when you make the recall. You don’t do this all the time, only when you want to train this. This is reflexive consciousness. It’s the memory of the access.

CW – By that definition, I would ask if consciousness couldn’t exist just as well without any phenomenal qualities at all. It is easy to justify consciousness as a function after the fact, but I think that this seduces us into thinking that something impossible can become possible just because it could provide some functionality. To say that phenomenal experience is a memory of a function that combines perceptual features is to presume that there would be some way for a computer program to access its RAM as perceptual features rather than as the (invisible, unperceived) states of the RAM hardware itself.

JB – Then there is another thing, the self. The self is a model of what it would be like to be a person. The brain is not a person. The brain cannot feel anything, it’s a physical system. Neurons cannot feel anything, they’re just little molecular machines with a Turing machine inside of them. They cannot even approximate arbitrary function, except by evolution, which takes a very long time. What do we do if you are a brain that figures out that it would be very useful to know what it is like to be a person? It makes one. It makes a simulation of a person, a simulacrum to be more clear. A simulation basically is isomorphic in the behavior of a person, and that thing is pretending to be a person, it’s a story about a person. You and me are persons, we are selves. We are stories in a movie that the brain is creating. We are characters in that movie. The movie is a complete simulation, a VR that is running in the neocortex.

You and me are characters in this VR. In that character, the brain writes our experiences, so we *feel* what it’s like to be exposed to the reward function. We feel what it’s like to be in our universe. We don’t feel that we are a story because that is not very useful knowledge to have. Some people figure it out and they depersonalize. They start identifying with the mind itself or lose all identification. That doesn’t seem to be a useful condition. The brain is normally set up so that the self thinks that its real, and gets access to the language center, and we can talk to each other, and here we are. The self is the thing that thinks that it remembers the contents of its attention. This is why we are conscious. Some people think that a simulation cannot be conscious, only a physical system can, but they’ve got it completely backwards. A physical system cannot be conscious, only a simulation can be conscious. Consciousness is a simulated property of a simulated self.

CW – To say “The self is a model of what it would be like to be a person” seems to be circular reasoning. The self is already what it is like to be a person. If it were a model, then it would be a model of what it’s like to be a computer program with recursively binding (binding) states. Then the question becomes, why would such a model have any “what it’s like to be” properties at all? Until we can explain exactly how and why a phenomenal property is an improvement over the absence of a phenomenal property for a machine, there’s a big problem with assuming the role of consciousness or self as ‘model’ for unconscious mechanisms and conditions. Biological machines don’t need to model, they just need to behave in the ways that tend toward survival and reproduction.

(JB) “The brain is not a person. The brain cannot feel anything, it’s a physical system. Neurons cannot feel anything, they’re just little molecular machines with a Turing machine inside of them”.

CW – I agree with this, to the extent that I agree that if there were any such thing as *purely* physical structures, they would not feel anything, and they would just be tangible geometric objects in public space. I think that rather than physical activity somehow leading to emergent non-physical ‘feelings’ it makes more sense to me that physics is made of “feelings” which are so distant and different from our own that they are rendered tangible geometric objects. It could be that physical structures appear in these limited modes of touch perception rather than in their own native spectrum of experience because that are much slower/faster and older than our own.

To say that neurons or brains feel would be, in my view, a category error since feeling is not something that a shape can logically do, just by Occam’s Razor, and if we are being literal, neurons and brains are nothing but three-dimensional shapes. The only powers that a shape could logically have are geometric powers. We know from analyzing our dreams that a feeling can be symbolized as a seemingly solid object or a place, but a purely geometric cell or organ would have no way to access symbols unless consciousness and symbols are assumed in the first place.

If a brain has the power to symbolize things, then we shouldn’t call it physical. The brain does a lot of physical things but if we can’t look into the tissue of the brain and see some physical site of translation from organic chemistry into something else, then we should not assume that such a transduction is physical. The same goes for computation. If we don’t find a logical function that changes algorithms into phenomenal presentations then we should not assume that such a transduction is computational.

(JB) “What do we do if you are a brain that figures out that it would be very useful to know what it is like to be a person? It makes one. It makes a simulation of a person, a simulacrum to be more clear.”

CW – Here also the reasoning seems circular. Useful to know what? “What it is like” doesn’t have to mean anything to a machine or program. To me this is like saying that a self-driving car would find it useful to create a dashboard and pretend that it is driven by a person using that dashboard rather than being driven directly by the algorithms that would be used to produce the dashboard.

(JB) “A simulation basically is isomorphic in the behavior of a person, and that thing is pretending to be a person, it’s a story about a person. You and me are persons, we are selves. We are stories in a movie that the brain is creating.”

CW – I have thought of it that way, but now I think that it makes more sense if we see both the brain and the person as parts of a movie that is branching off from a larger movie. I propose that timescale differentiation is the primary mechanism of this branching, although timescale differentiation is only one sort of perceptual lensing that allows experiences to include and exclude each other.

I think that we might be experiential fragments of an eternal experience, and a brain is a kind of icon that represents part of the story of that fragmentation. The brain is a process made of other processes, which are all experiences that have been perceptually lensed by the senses of touch and sight to appear as tangible and visible shapes.

The brain has no mechanical reason to make movies, it just has to control the behavior of a body in such a way that repeats behaviors which have happened to coincide with bodies surviving and reproducing. I can think of some good reasons why a universe which is an eternal experience would want to dream up bodies and brains, but once I plug up all of the philosophical leaks of circular reasoning and begging the question, I can think of no plausible reason why an unconscious body or brain would or could dream.

All of the reasons that I have ever heard arise as post hoc justifications that betray an unscientific bias toward mechanism. In a way, the idea of mechanism as omnipotent is even more bizarre than the idea of an omnipotent deity, since the whole point of a mechanistic view of nature is to replace undefined omnipotence with robustly defined, rationally explained parts and powers. If we are just going to say that emergent phenomenal magic happens once the number of shapes or data relations is so large that we don’t want to deny any power to it, we are really just reinventing religious faith in an inverted form. It is to say that sufficiently complex computations transcend computation for reasons that transcend computation.

(JB) “The movie is a complete simulation, a VR that is running in the neocortex.”

CW – We have the experience of playing computer games using a video screen, so we conflate a computer program with a video screen’s ability to render visible shapes. In fact, it is our perceptual relationship with a video screen that doing the most critical part of the simulating. The computer by itself, without any device that can produce visible color and contrast, would not fool anyone. There’s no parsimonious or plausible way to justify giving the physical states of a computing machine aesthetic qualities unless we are expecting aesthetic qualities from the start. In that case, there is no honest way to call them mere computers.

(JB) “In that character, the brain writes our experiences, so we *feel* what it’s like to be exposed to the reward function. We feel what it’s like to be in our universe.”

Computer programs don’t need desires or rewards though. Programs are simply executed by physical force. Algorithms don’t need to serve a purpose, nor do they need to be enticed to serve a purpose. There’s no plausible, parsimonious reason for the brain to write its predictive algorithms or meta-algorithms as anything like a ‘feeling’ or sensation. All that is needed for a brain is to store some algorithmically compressed copy of its own brain state history. It wouldn’t need to “feel” or feel “what it’s like”, or feel what it’s like to “be in a universe”. These are all concepts that we’re smuggling in, post hoc, from our personal experience of feeling what it’s like to be in a universe.

(JB)” We don’t feel that we are a story because that is not very useful knowledge to have. Some people figure it out and they depersonalize. They start identifying with the mind itself or lose all identification.”

It’s easy to say that it’s not very useful knowledge if it doesn’t fit our theory, but we need to test for that bias scientifically. It might just be that people depersonalize or have negative results to the idea that they don’t really exist because it is false, and false in a way that is profoundly important. We may be as real as anything ever could be, and there may be no ‘simulation’ except via the power of imagination to make believe.

(JB) “The self is the thing that thinks that it remembers the contents of its attention. This is why we are conscious.”

CW – I don’t see a logical need for that. Attention need not logically facilitate any phenomenal properties. Attention can just as easily be purely behavioral, as can ‘memory’, or ‘models’. A mechanism can be triggered by groups of mechanisms acting simultaneously without any kind of semantic link defining one mechanism as a model for something else. Think of it this way: What if we wanted to build an AI without ANY phenomenal experience? We could build a social chameleon machine, a sociopath with no model of self at all, but instead a set of reflex behaviors that mimic those of others which are deemed to be useful for a given social transaction.

(JB) “A physical system cannot be conscious, only a simulation can be conscious.”

CW – I agree this is an improvement over the idea that physical systems are conscious. What would it mean for a ‘simulation’ to exist in the absence of consciousness though? A simulation implies some conscious audience which participates in believing or suspending disbelief in the reality of what is being presented. How would it be possible for a program to simulate part of itself as something other than another (invisible, unconscious) program?

(JB) “Consciousness is a simulated property of a simulated self.”

I turn that around 180 degrees. Consciousness is the sole absolutely authentic property. It is the base level sanity and sense that is required for all sense-making to function on top of. The self is the ‘skin in the game’ – the amplification of consciousness via the almost-absolutely realistic presentation of mortality.

KD – So in a way, Daniel Dennett is correct?

JB – Yes,[…] but the problem is that the things that he says are not wrong, but they are also not non-obvious. It’s valuable because there are no good or bad ideas. It’s a good idea if you comprehend it and it elevates your current understanding. In a way, ideas come in tiers. The value of an idea for the audience is if it’s a half tier above the audience. You and me have an illusion that we find objectively good ideas, because we work at the edge of our own understanding, but we cannot really appreciate ideas that are a couple of tiers above our own ideas. One tier is a new audience, two tiers means that we don’t understand the relevance of these ideas because we don’t have the ideas that we need to appreciate the new ideas. An idea appears to be great to us when we can stand right in its foothills and look at it. It doesn’t look great anymore when we stand on the peak of another idea and look down and realize the previous idea was just the foothills to that idea.

KD – Discusses the problems with the commercialization of academia and the negative effects it has on philosophy.

JB – Most of us never learn what it really means to understand, largely because our teachers don’t. There are two types of learning. One is you generalize over past examples, and we call that stereotyping if we’re in a bad mood. The other tells us how to generalize, and this is indoctrination. The problem with indoctrination is that it might break the chain of trust. If someone doesn’t check the epistemology of the people that came before them, and take their word as authority, that’s a big difficulty.

CW – I like the ideas of tiers because it confirms my suspicion that my ideas are two or three tiers above everyone else’s. That’s why y’all don’t get my stuff…I’m too far ahead of where you’re coming from. 🙂

1:07:00 Discussion about Ray Kurzweil, the difficulty in predicting timeline for AI, confidence, evidence, outdated claims and beliefs etc.

1:19        JB – The first stage of AI: Finding things that require intelligence to do, like playing chess and then implementing it as an algorithm. Manually engineering strategies for being intelligent in different domains. Didn’t scale up to General Intelligence

We’re now in the second phase of AI, building algorithms to discover algorithms. We build learning systems that approximate functions. He thinks deep learning should be called compositional function approximation. Using networks of many functions instead of tuning single regressions.

There could be a third phase of AI where we build meta-learning algorithms. Maybe our brains are meta-learning machines, not just learning stuff but learning ways of discovering how to learn stuff (for a new domain). At some point there will be no more phases and science will effectively end because there will be a general theory for global optimization with finite resources and all science will use that algorithm.

CW – I think that the more experience we gain with AI, the more we will see that it is limited in ways that we have not anticipated, and also that it is powerful in ways that we have not anticipated. I think that we will learn that intelligence as we know it cannot be simulated, however, in trying to simulate it, we will have developed something powerful, new, and interesting in its impersonal orthogonality to personal consciousness. The revolution may not be about the rise of computers becoming like people but of a rise in appreciation for the quality and richness of personal conscious experience in contrast to the impersonal services and simulations that AI delivers.

1:23        KD – Where does ethics fit, or does it?

JB – Ethics is often misunderstood. It’s not about being good or emulating a good person. Ethics emerges when you conceptualize the world as different agents, and yourself as one of them, and you share purposes with the other agents but you have conflicts of interest. If you think that you don’t share purposes with the other agents, if you’re just a lone wolf, and the others are your prey, there’s no reason for ethics – you only look for the consequences of your actions for yourself with respect for your own reward functions. It’s not ethics though – not a shared system of negotiation because only you matter, because you don’t share a purpose with the others.

KD – It’s not shared but it’s your personal ethical framework, isn’t it?

JB – It has to be personal. I decided not to eat meat because I felt that I shared a purpose with animal; the avoidance of suffering. I also realized that it is not mutual. Cows don’t care about my suffering. They don’t think about it a lot. I had to think about the suffering of cows so I decided to stop eating meat. That was an ethical decision. It’s a decision about how to resolve conflicts of interest under conditions of shared purpose. I think this is what ethics is about. It’s a rational process in which you negotiate with yourself and with others, the resolution of conflicts of interest under contexts of shared purpose. I can make decisions about what purposes we share. Some of them are sustainable and others are not – they lead to different outcomes. In a sense, ethics requires that you conceptualize yourself as something above the organism; that you identify with the systems of meanings above yourself so that you can share a purpose. Love is the discovery of shared purpose. There needs to be somebody you can love that you can be ethical with. At some level you need to love them. You need to share a purpose with them. Then you negotiate, you don’t want them all to fail in all regards, and yourself. This is what ethics is about. It’s computational too. Machines can be ethical if they share a purpose with us.

KD – Other considerations: Perhaps ethics can be a framework within which two entities that do not share interests can negotiate in and peacefully coexist, while still not sharing interests.

JB – Not interests but purposes. If you don’t share purposes then you are defecting against your own interests when you don’t act on your own interest. It doesn’t have integrity. You don’t share a purpose with your food, other than that you want it to be nice and edible. You don’t fall in love with your food, it doesn’t end well.

CW – I see this as a kind of game-theoretic view of ethics…which I think is itself (unintentionally) unethical  I think it is true as far as it goes, but it makes assumptions about reality that are ultimately inaccurate as they begin by defining reality in the terms of a game. I think this automatically elevates the intellectual function and its objectivizing/controlling agendas at the expense of the aesthetic/empathetic priorities. What if reality is not a game? What if the goal is not to win by being a winner but to improve the quality of experience for everyone and to discover and create new ways of doing that?

Going back to JB’s initial comment that ethics are not about being good or emulating a good person, I’m not sure about that. I suspect that many people, especially children will be ethically shaped by encounters with someone, perhaps in the family or a character in a movie who appeals to them and who inspires imitation. Whether their appeal is as a saint or a sinner, something about their style, the way they communicate or demonstrate courage may align the personal consciousness with transpersonal ‘systems of meanings above’ themselves. It could be a negative example which someone encounters also. Someone that you hate who inspires you to embody the diametrically opposite aesthetics and ideals.

I don’t think that machines can be ethical or unethical, not because I think humans are special or better than machines, but out of simple parsimony. Machines don’t need ethics. They perform tasks, not for their own purposes, or for any purpose, but because we have used natural forces and properties to perform actions that satisfy our purposes. Try as we might (and I’m not even sure why we would want to try), I do not think that we will succeed in changing matter or computation into something which both can be controlled by us and which can generate its own purposes. I could be wrong, but I think this is a better reason to be skeptical of AI than any reason that computation gives us to be skeptical of consciousness. It also seems to me that the aesthetic power of a special person who exemplifies a particular set of ethics can be taken to be a symptom of a larger, absolute aesthetic power in divinity or in something like absolute truth. This doesn’t seem to fit the model of ethics as a game-theoretic strategy.

JB – Discussion about eating meat, offers example pro-argument that it could be said that a pasture raised cow could have a net positive life experience since they would not exist but for being raised as food. Their lives are good for them except for the last day, which is horrible, but usually horrible for everyone. Should we change ourselves or change cattle to make the situation more bearable? We don’t want to look at it because it is un-aesthetic. Ethics in a way is difficult.

KD – That’s the key point of ethics. It requires sometimes we make choices that are not in our own best interests perhaps.

JB – Depends what we define ourself. We could say that self is identical to the well being of the organism, but this is a very short-sighted perspective. I don’t actually identify all the way with my organism. There are other things – I identify with society, my kids, my relationships, my friends, their well being. I am all the things that I identify with and want to regulate in a particular way. My children are objectively more important than me. If I have to make a choice whether my kids survive or myself, my kids should survive. This is as it should be if nature has wired me up correctly. You can change the wiring, but this is also the weird thing about ethics. Ethics becomes very tricky to discuss once the reward function becomes mutable. When you are able to change what is important to you, what you care about, how do you define ethics?

CW – And yet, the reward function is mutable in many ways. Our experience in growing up seems to be marked by a changing appreciation for different kinds of things, even in deriving reward from controlling one’s own appetite for reward. The only constant that I see is in phenomenal experience itself. No matter how hedonistic or ascetic, how eternalist or existential, reward is defined by an expectation for a desired experience. If there is no experience that is promised, then there is no function for the concept of reward. Even in acts of self-sacrifice, we imagine that our action is justified by some improved experience for those who will survive after us.

KD – I think you can call it a code of conduct or a set of principles and rules that guide my behavior to accomplish certain kinds of outcomes.

JB – There are no beliefs without priors. What are the priors that you base your code of conduct on?

KD – The priors or axioms are things like diminishing suffering or taking an outside/universal view. When it comes to (me not eating meat), I take a view that is hopefully outside of me and the cows. I’m able to look at the suffering of eating a cow and their suffering of being eaten. If my prior is ‘minimize suffering’, because my test criteria of a sentient being is ‘can it suffer?’ , then minimizing suffering must be my guiding principle in how I relate to another entity. Basically, everything builds up from there.

JB – The most important part of becoming an adult is taking charge of your own emotions – realize that your emotions are generated by your own brain/organism, and that they are here to serve you. You’re not here to serve your emotions. They are here to help you do the things that you consider to be the right things. That means that you need to be able to control them, to have integrity. If you are just a victim of your emotions, and not do the things that you know are the right things, you don’t have integrity. What is suffering? Pain is the result of some part of your brain sending a teaching signal to another part of your brain to improve its performance. If the regulation is not correct, because you cannot actually regulate that particular thing, the pain signal will usually endure and increase until your brain figures it out and turns off the brain signaling center, because it’s not helping. In a sense suffering is a lack of integrity. The difficulty is only that many beings cannot get to the degree of integrity that they can control the application of learning signals in their brain…control the way that their reward function is computed and distributed.

CW – My criticism is the same as in the other examples. There’s no logical need for a program or machine to invent ‘pain’ or any other signal to train or teach. If there is a program to run an animal’s body, the program need only execute those functions which meet the criteria of the program. There’s no way for a machine to be punished or rewarded because there’s no reason for it to care about what it is doing. If anything, caring would impede optimal function. If a brain doesn’t need to feel to learn, then why would a brain’s simulation need to feel to learn?

KD – According to your view, suffering is a simulation or part of a simulation.

JB – Everything that we experience is a simulation. We are a simulation. To us it feels real. There is no getting around this. I have learned in my life that all of my suffering is a result of not being awake. Once I wake up, I realize what’s going on. I realize that I am a mind. The relevance of the signals that I perceive is completely up to the mind. The universe does not give me objectively good or bad things. The universe gives me a bunch of electrical impulses that manifest in my thalamus, and my brain makes sense of them by creating a simulated world. The valence in that simulated world is completely internal – it’s completely part of that world, it’s not objective…and I can control this.

KD – So you are saying suffering is subjective?
JB – Suffering is real to the self with respect to ethics, but it is not immutable. You can change the definition of your self, the things that you identify with. We don’t have to suffer about things, political situations for example, if we recognize them to be mechanical processes that happen regardless of how we feel about them.

CW – The problem with the idea of simulation is that we are picking and choosing which features of our experience are more isomorphic to what we assume is an unsimulated reality. Such an assumption is invariably a product of our biases. If we say that the world we experience is a simulation running on a brain, why not also say that the brain is also a simulation running on something else? Why not say that our experiences of success with manipulating our own experience of suffering is as much of a simulation as the original suffering was? At some point, something has to genuinely sense something. We should not assume that just because our perception can be manipulated we have used manipulation to escape from perception. We may perceive that we have escaped one level of perception, or objectified it, but this too must be presumed to be part of the simulation as well. Perception can only seem to have been escaped in another perception. The primacy of experience is always conserved.

I think that it is the intellect that is over-valuing the significance of ‘real’ because of its role in protecting the ego and the physical body from harm, but outside of this evolutionary warping, there is no reason to suspect that the universe distinguishes in an absolute sense between ‘real’ and ‘unreal’. There are presentations – sights, sounds, thoughts, feelings, objects, concepts, etc, but the realism of those presentations can only be made of the same types of perceptions. We see this in dreams, with false awakenings etc. Our dream has no problem with spontaneously confabulating experiences of waking up into ‘reality’. This is not to discount the authenticity of waking up in ‘actual reality’, only to say that if we can tell that it authentic, then it necessarily means that our experience is not detached from reality completely and is not meaningfully described as a simulation. There are some recent studies that suggest that our perception may be much closer to ‘reality’ than we thought, i.e. that we can train ourselves to perceive quantum level changes.

If that holds up, we need to re-think the idea that it would make sense for a bio-computer to model or simulate a phenomenal reality that is so isomorphic and redundant to the unperceived reality. There’s not much point in a 1 to 1 scale model. Why not just put the visible photons inside the visual cortex in exactly the field that we see? I think that something else is going on. There may not be a simulation, only a perceptual lensing between many different concurrent layers of experience – not a dualism or dual-aspect monism, but a variable aspect monism. We happen to be a very, very complex experience which includes the capacity to perceive aspects of its own perception in an indirect or involuted rendering.

KD – Stoic philosophy says that we suffer not from events or things that happen in our lives, but from the stories that we attach to them. If you change the story, you can change the way you feel about them and reduce suffering. Let go of things we can’t really control, body, health, etc. The only thing you can completely control is your thoughts. That’s where your freedom and power come to be. In that mind, in that simulation, you’re the God.

JB – This ability to make your thoughts more truthful, this is Western enlightenment in a way is aufklärung in German. There is also this other sense of enlightenment, erleuchtung that you have in a spiritual context. So aufklärung fixes your rationality and erleuchtung fixes your motivation. It fixes what’s relevant to you and your relationship between self and the universe.  Often they are seen as mutually exclusive, in the sense thataufklärung leads to nihilism, because you don’t give up your need for meaning, you just prove that it cannot be satisfied. God does not exist in any way that can set you free. In this other sense, you give up your understanding of how the world actually works so that you can be happy. You go down to a state where all people share the same cosmic consciousness, which is complete bullshit, right? But it’s something that removes the illusion of separation and the suffering that comes with the separation. It’s unsustainable.

CW – This duality of aufklärung and erleuchtung I see as another expression of the polarity of the universal continuum of consciousness. Consciousness vs machine, East vs West, Wisdom vs Intelligence. I see both extremes as having pathological tendencies. The Western extreme is cynical, nihilistic, and rigid. The Eastern extreme is naïve, impractical, and delusional. Cosmic consciousness or God does not have to be complete bullshit, but it can be a hint of ways to align ourselves and bring about more positive future experiences, both personally and or transpersonally.

Basically, I think that both the brain and the dreamer of the brain are themselves part of a larger dream that may or may not be like a dreamer. It may be that these possibilities are in participatory superposition, like an ambiguous image, so that what we choose to invest our attention in can actually bias experienced outcomes toward a teleological or non-teleological absolute. Maybe our efforts to could result in the opposite effect also, or some combination of the two. If the universe consists of dreams and dreamed dreamers, then it is possible for our personal experience to include a destiny where we believe one thing about the final dream and find out we were wrong, or right, or wrong then right then wrong again, etc. forever.

KD – Where does that leave us with respect to ethics though? Did you dismantle my ethics, the suffering test?

JB – Yeah, it’s not good. The ethic of eliminating suffering leads us to eliminating all life eventually. Anti-natalism – stop bringing organisms into the world to eliminate suffering, end the lives of those organisms that are already here as painlessly as possible, is this what you want?

KD – (No) So what’s your ethics?

JB – Existence is basically neutral. Why are there so few stoics around? It seems so obvious – only worry about things to the extent that worrying helps you change them…so why is almost nobody a Stoic?

KD – There are some Stoics and they are very inspirational.

JB – I suspect that Stoicism is maladaptive. Most cats I have known are Stoics. If you leave them alone, they’re fine. Their baseline state is ok, they are ok with themselves and their place in the universe, and they just stay in that place. If they are hungry or want to play, they will do the minimum that they have to do to get back into their equilibrium. Human beings are different. When they get up in the morning they’re not completely fine. They need to be busy during the day, but in the evening they feel fine. In the evening they have done enough to make peace with their existence again. They can have a beer and be with their friends and everything is good. Then there are some individuals which have so much discontent within themselves that they can’t take care of it in a single day. From an evolutionary perspective, you can see how this would be adaptive for a group oriented species. Cats are not group oriented. For them, it’s rational to be a Stoic. If you are a group animal, it makes sense for individuals to overextend themselves for the good of the group – to generate a surplus of resources for the group.

CW – I don’t know if we can generalize about humans that way. Some people are more like cats. I will say that I think it is possible to become attached to non-attachment. The stoic may learn to disassociate from the suffering of life, but this too can become a crutch or ‘spiritual bypass’.

 KD – But evolution also diversifies things. Evolution hedges its bets by creating diversity, so some individuals will be more adaptive to some situations than others.

JB – That may not be true. In larger habitats we don’t find more species in them. Competition is more fierce. We reduce the number of species dramatically. We are probably eventually going to look like a meteor as far as obliterating species on this planet.

KD – So what does that mean for ethics in technology? What’s the solution? Is there room for ethics in technology?

JB – Of course. It’s about discovering the long game. You have to look at the long term influences and you also have to question why you think it’s the right thing to do, what the results of that are, which gets tricky.

CW – I think that all that we can do is to experiment and be open to the possibilities that our experiments themselves may be right or wrong. There may be no way of letting ourselves off the hook here. We have to play the game as players with skin in the game, not as safe observers studying only those rules that we have invested in already.

KD – We can agree on that, but how do you define ethics yourself?

JB – There are some people in AI who think that ethics are a way for politically savvy people to get power over STEM people…and with considerable success. It’s largely a protection racket. Ethical studies are relatable and so make a big splash, but it would rarely happen that a self-driving car would have to make those decisions. My best answer of how I define ethics myself is that it is the principled negotiation of conflicts of interest under conditions of shared purpose. When I look at other people, I mostly imagine myself as being them in a different timeline. Everyone is in a way me on a different timeline, but in order to understand them I need to flip a number of bits. These bits are the conditions of negotiation that I have with you.

KD – Where to cows fit in? We don’t have a shared purpose with them. Can you have shared purpose with respect to the cows then?

JB – The shared purpose doesn’t objectively exist. You basically project a shared meaning above the level of the ego. The ego is the function that integrates expected rewards over the next fifty years.

KD – That’s what Peter Singer calls the Universe point of view, perhaps.

JB – If you can go to this Eternalist perspective where you integrate expected reward from here to infinity, most of that being outside of the universe, this leads to very weird things. Most of my friends are Eternalists. All these Romantic Russian Jews, they are like that, in a way. This Eastern European shape of the soul. It creates something like a conspiracy, it creates a tribe, and its very useful for corporations. Shared meaning is a very important thing for a corporation that is not transactional. But there is a certain kind of illusion in it. To me, meaning is like the Ring of Mordor.  If you drop the ring, you will lose the brotherhood of the ring and you will lose your mission. You have to carry it, but very lightly. If you put it on, you will get super powers but you get corrupted because there is no meaning. You get drawn into a cult that you create…and I don’t want to do that…because it’s going to shackle my mind in ways that I don’t want it to be bound.

CW – I agree it is important not to get drawn into a cult that we create, however, what I have found is that the drive to negate superstition tends toward its own cult of ‘substitution’. Rather than the universe being a divine conspiracy, the physical universe is completely innocent of any deception, except somehow for our conscious experience, which is completely deceptive, even to the point of pretending to exist. How can there be a thing which is so unreal that it is not even a thing, and yet come from a universe that is completely real and only does real things?

 KD – I really like that way of seeing but I’m trying to extrapolate from your definition of ethics a guide of how we can treat the cows and hopefully how the AIs can treat us.

JB – I think that some people have this idea that is similar to Asimov, that at some point the Roombas will become larger and more powerful so that we can make them washing machines, or let them do our shopping, or nursing…that we will still enslave them but negotiate conditions of co-existence. I think that what is going to happen instead is that corporations, which are already intelligent agents that just happen to borrow human intelligence, automate their decision making. At the moment, a human being can often outsmart a corporation, because the corporation has so much time in between updating its Excel spreadsheets and the next weekly meetings. Imagine it automates and weekly meetings take place every millisecond, and the thing becomes sentient and understands its role in the world, and the nature of physics and everything else. We will not be able to outsmart that anymore, and well will not live next to it, we will live inside of it. AI will come from top down on us. We will be its gut flora. The question is how we can negotiate that it doesn’t get the idea to use antibiotics, because we’re actually not good for anything.

KD – Exactly. And why wouldn’t they do that?

JB – I don’t see why.

CW – The other possibility is that AI will not develop its own agendas or true intelligence. That doesn’t mean our AI won’t be dangerous, I just suspect that the danger will come from our misinterpreting the authority of a simulated intelligence rather than from a genuine mechanical sentience.

KD – Is there an ethics that could guide them to treat us just like you decided to treat the cows when you decided not to eat meat?

JB – Probably no way to guarantee all AIs would treat us kindly. If we used the axiom of reducing suffering to build an AI that will be around for 10,000 years and keep us around too, it will probably kill 90% of the people painlessly and breed the rest into some kind of harmless yeast. This is not what you want, even though it would be consistent with your stated axioms. It would also open a Pandora’s Box to wake up as many people as possible so that they will be able to learn how to stop their suffering.

KD – Wrapping up

JB – Discusses book he’s writing about how AI has discovered ways of understanding the self and consciousness which we did not have 100 years ago. The nature of meaning, how we actually work, etc. The field of AI is largely misunderstood. It is different from the hype, largely is in a way, statistics on steroids. It’s identifying new functions to model reality. It’s largely experimental and has not gotten to the state where it can offer proofs of optimality.  It can do things in ways that are much better than the established rules of statisticians. There is also going to be a convergence between econometrics, causal dependency analysis, and AI, and statistics.  It’s all going to be the same in a particular way, because there’s only so many ways that you can make mathematics about reality. We confuse this with the idea of what a mind is. They’re closely related. I think that our brain contains an AI that is making a model of reality and a model of a person in reality, and this particular solution of what a particular AI can do in the modeling space is what we are. So in a way we need to understand the nature of AI, which I think is the nature of sufficiently general function approximation, maybe all the truth that can be found by an embedded observer, in particular kinds of universes that have the power to create it. This could be the question of what AI is about, how modeling works in general. For us the relevance of AI is how does it explain who we are. I don’t think there is anything else that can.

CW – I agree that AI development is the next necessary step to understanding ourselves, but I think that we will be surprised to find that General Intelligence cannot be simulated and that this will lead us to ask the deeper questions about authenticity and irreducibly aesthetic properties.

KD – So by creating AI, we can perhaps understand the AI that is already in our brain.

JB – We already do. Minsky and many others who have contributed to this field are already better ideas than anything that we had 200 years ago. We could only develop many of these ideas because we began to understand the nature of modeling – the status of reality.

The nature of our relationship to the outside world. We started out with this dualistic intuition in our culture, that there is a thinking substance (Res Cogitans) and an extended substance (Res Extensa)…stuff in space universe and a universe of ideas. We now realize that they both exist, but they both exist within the mind. We understand that everything perceptual gets mapped to a region in three space, but we also understand that physics is not a three space, it’s something else entirely. The three space exists only as a potential of electromagnetic interactions at a certain order of magnitude above the Planck length where we are entangled with the universe. This is what we model, and this looks three dimensional to us.

CW – I am sympathetic to this view, however, I suggest an entirely different possibility. Rather than invoking a dualism of existing in the universe and existing ‘in the mind’, I see that existence itself is an irreducibly perceptual-participatory phenomenon. Our sense of dualism may actually reveal more insights into our deeper reality than those insights which assume that tangible objects and information exist beyond all perception. The more we understand about things like quantum contextuality and relativity, I think the more we have to let go of the compulsion to label things that are inconvenient to explain as illusions. I see Res Cogitans and Res Extensa as opposite poles of a Res Aesthetica continuum which is absolute and eternal. It is through the modulation of aesthetic lensing that the continuum is diffracted into various modalities of sense experience. The cogitans of software and the extensa of hardware can never meet except through the mid-range spectrum of perception. It is from that fertile center, I suspect, that most of the novelty and richness of the universe is generated, not from sterile algorithms or game-theoretic statistics on the continuum’s lensed peripheries.

Everything else we come up with that cannot be mapped to three space is Res Cogitans. If we transfer this dualism into a single mind then we have the idealistic monism that we have in various spiritual teachings – this idea that there is no physical reality, that we live in a dream. We are characters dreamed by a mind on a higher plane of existence and that’s why miracles are possible. Then there is this Western perspective of a mechanical universe. It’s entirely mechanical, there’s no conspiracy going on. Now we understand that these things are not in opposition, they’re complements. We actually do live in a dream but the dream is generated by our neocortex. Our brain is not a machine that can give us access to reality as it is, because that’s not possible for a system that is only measuring a few bits at a systemic interface. There are no colors and sounds on Earth. We already know that.

CW – Why stop at colors and sounds though? How can we arbitrarily say that there is an Earth or a brain when we know that it is only a world simulated by some kind of code. If we unravel ourselves into evolution, why not keep going and unravel evolution as well? Maybe colors and sounds are a more insightful and true reflection of what nature is made of than the blind measurements that we take second hand through physical instruments? It seems clear to me that this is a bias which has not yet properly appreciated the hints of relativity and quantum contextuality. If we say that physics has no frame of reference, then we have to understand that we may be making up an artificial frame of reference that seems to us like no frame of reference. If we live in a dream, then so does the neocortex. Maybe they are different dreams, but there is no sound scientific reason to privilege every dream in the universe except our own as real.

The sounds and colors are generated as a dream inside your brain. The same circuits that make dreams during the night make dreams during the day. This is in a way our inner reality that’s being created on a brain. The mind on a higher plane of existence exists, it’s a brain of a primate that’s made of cells and lives in a mechanical physical universe. Magic is possible because you can edit your memories. You can make that simulation anything that you want it to be. Many of these changes are not sustainable, which is why the sages warn against using magic(k), because if down the line, if you change your reward function, bad things may happen. You cannot break the bank.

KD – To simplify all of this, we need to understand the nature of AI to understand ourselves.

JB – Yeah, well, I would say that AI is the field that took up the slack after psychology failed as a science. Psychology got terrified of overfitting, so it stopped making theories of the mind as a whole, it restricted itself to theories with very few free parameters so it could test them. Even those didn’t replicate, as we know now. After Piaget, psychology largely didn’t go anywhere, in my perspective. It might be too harsh because I see it from the outside, and outsiders of AI might argue that AI didn’t go very far, and as an insider I’m more partial here.

CW – It seems to me that psychology ran up against a barrier that is analogous to Gödel’s incompleteness. To go on trying to objectify subjectivity necessarily brings into question the tools of formalism themselves. I think that it may have been that transpersonal psychology had come too far too fast, and that there is still more to be done for the rest of our scientific establishment to catch up. Popular society is literally not yet sane enough to handle a deep understanding of sanity.

KD – I have this metaphor that I use every once in a while, saying that technology is a magnifying mirror. It doesn’t have an essence of its own but it reflects the essences that we put in it. It’s not a perfect image because it magnifies and amplifies things. That seems to go well with the idea that we have to understand the nature of AI to understand who we are.

JB – The practice of AI is 90% automation of statistics and making better statistics that run automatically on machines. It just so happens that this is largely co-extensional with what minds do. It also so happens that AI was founded by people like Minsky who had fundamental questions about reality.

KD – And what’s the last 10%?

JB – The rest is people come up with dreams about our relationship to reality, using our concepts that we develop in AI. We identify models that we can apply in other fields. It’s the deeper insights. It’s why we do it – to understand. It’s to make philosophy better. Society still needs a few of us to think about the deep questions, and we are still here, and the coffee is good.

CW – Thanks for taking the time to put out quality discussions like this. I agree that technology is a neutral reflector/magnifier of what we put into it, but I think that part of what we have to confront as individuals and as a society is that neutrality may not be enough. We may now have to decide whether we will make a stand for authentic feeling and significance or to rely on technology which does not feel or understand significance to make that decision for us.

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.

Continuum of Sense

March 18, 2016 3 comments

I have been writing for a long time now about what I call the Multisense Continuum, or the ACME-OMMM duality. In the course of developing this hypothesis, I have learned about other such efforts, detailed below, including a recent paper:

Rigidity-chaos semantic continuum


Drawing on network models, this is a promising approach, however the irony was apparent to me in the choice of terms. To see the opposite of psychological rigidity as chaos may be trivially true, however, it may also be that the chaos is a projection of the rigid, systemizing approach.

The model that I propose sees chaos as only one aspect, and not the most important aspect of the opposite of rigidity. This continuum is so universal, that I think it extends beyond ‘reality’ to embrace all of nature.


Here are some other variations:

Tough-Minded vs. Tender-Minded (William James)

interpreted the European divide between empiricists/positivists on the
one hand and German idealists/rationalist on the other hand in a
psychological way. He talked of the “tender-minded” and the
“tough-minded.” The tender-minded are the German idealists and
rationalists. (this linked source is gone, see new link for James’ original work)

The Divided Brain (Iain McGilchrist)

Psychiatrist Iain McGilchrist describes the real differences between the
left and right halves of the human brain. It’s not simply “emotion on
the right, reason on the left,” but something far more complex and

Autistic-Psychotic Spectrum     (PDF)


‘Thin-boundares” and “Thick-boundaries”

Significantly thinner boundaries compared to control groups have been
found in art students (Beal, 1989, Hartmann, 1991), music students, and
mixed groups of creative persons (Beal, 1989), frequent dream recallers
(Hartmann, 1991, Hartmann Elkin, & Garg 1991), adults with
nightmares (Hartmann, 1991, Levin, Galin, & Zywiak 1991; Galvin,
1993), adolescents with nightmares (Cowen and Levin, 1995), “lucid
dreamers” (Galvin, 1993), male as well as female fashion models (Ryan
2000), persons with unusual mystical experiences (Krippner,,
Wickramasekera, Wickramasekera, & Winstead, 1998), and persons with a
diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder, Schizoid Personality
Disorder or Schizotypal Personality Disorder (Hartmann, 1991).
Interestingly, although art students have much thinner boundaries than
average, this is not true of established artists, who have boundary
scores in the normal range (Beal, 1989).

Groups that score significantly “thicker” than average
on the BQ include naval officers, salespersons, lawyers, patients with a
diagnosis of Obsessive-compulsive Personality Disorder, persons
suffering from “Alexythymia” (Hartmann, 1991), and patients (from two
different sleep disorders centers) with a diagnosis of Sleep Apnea
(Hartmann, 1992).

Empathizing-Systemizing Continuum

Empathizing and systemizing traits were independent in women, but
largely dependent in men. In men, level of systemizing skill required by
field of study was directly related to social interactive and
mindreading deficits; men’s social impairments correlated with prolonged
go/no-go response times, and men tended to apply systemizing strategies
to solve problems of empathizing or global processing: rapid perceptual
disembedding predicted heightened sensitivity to facial emotion. In
women, level of systemizing in field was related to male-typical digit
ratios and autistic superiorities in detail orientation, but not to
autistic social and communicative impairments; and perceptual
disembedding was related to social interactive skills but independent of
facial emotion and visual motion perception.

…and my own bloggings:

Zooming in on Reductionism and Extremely Gendered Brains

War of the Worldviews

Multisense Continuum

Ironically, but unsurprisingly, the idea of the continuum of sense itself may only be coherent when approached from the ‘East side’ of the spectrum. This has to do with what is known as Theory of Mind.


January 18, 2014 Leave a comment


Simpler Format

December 29, 2013 Leave a comment


This latest chart improves on previous versions, hopefully simplifying and clarifying without losing anything important.

Note the comments in parentheses are critical for those who do not understand the basic premise of Pansensitvity, which is that sense* is the Primordial Identity and therefore cannot be truly absent**.

Logic is listed as Indirect Sense, emphasizing that in fact logic relies on local sensation and sense-making but is mediated through distance; rationally or empirically + rationally, experience can be conditioned and refined by observation, deduction, measurement etc. Rationality, like ratio, is always a comparison between known features – a reading between the lines of fact to arrive at a more universal and conclusive truth.

Logic then is sense making which is theoretically independent of sense. It reaches for evidence and what is evidence through the evidence, but it can never be manifested directly without being clothed in some sensible aesthetic. The great mistake of our era, in my opinion, is the failure to recognize and accept this, preferring, as people have done since Plato and beyond, to conceive of a perfect nature beyond sense. A landless land of formless forms, working its magic from behind the scenes. In my view, the key to understanding why this is unlikely is to understand that the possibility of pattern recognition must precede the constellation of the first pattern. That capacity for recognition, that sense, can in theory be other things, feel other ways than as a pattern. It doesn’t need to be coherent, or rational, or subjective or objective, it only needs to participate in making and appreciating aesthetic phenomena. From there, order and forms can follow, but order and forms can’t in and of themselves, invent the sense that they are composed of.

The numbers seem like a good addition also. The 1 row is the the basic unit, so the physical unit is Electro-Magnetic Dynamism and the phenomenal unit is Sensory-Motive Presence. The E-M unit is the Logical equivalent, i.e., it is dependent on Sensory Motive presence and does not exist independently. There was matter around even before biology evolved, but I think only because what we call molecules are, within their own inertial frame, nothing but sensations. The repetition and significance of sensations gave rise to time, not the other way around. There can be no such thing as unconscious particles in a void. That is mistaking the inferences of logic about structure for concrete sensory presentations. Voids in a void unseen by a void-seer is a failed cosmology in my view.

The 0 row is such a void. The digital underpinnings of inference technologies like statistical analysis and computation, allow us to construct artificial aesthetics and prosthetic powers to amplify our motives. My conjecture that the entire subatomic substrate may be in some sense theoretical, or gradually evanescent into inference can seem like a huge red flag for crackpottery, and it could be, but my hunch is that everyone is wrong and I’m right :).

By this I mean that literally atoms are slightly less real than molecules, and sub-atomic particles are perhaps exponentially less real. Because we are pushing the envelope of our own range of participation in the cosmos, our measurements increasingly feed back on themselves, and we are actually doing surgery on the scalpel that we forgot we are using. Ok, that sounds insane, but if you add up everything that we have observed about quantum mechanics – the uncertainty, the entanglement, the particle-wave ambiguity…it is not out of the question that what we are looking at is that the nature of light is actually seeing itself. Again, not human seeing, but molecular seeing, astrophysical seeing…light is sensitivity. That’s why it has an absolute speed in every frame of reference, and why there are reference frames in the first place.

The Row 2 level is where we live most of the time. We feel like a private person in a body which is a form in a world of forms. Can we all agree that most of us feel like that most of the time when we are awake? Waking up, gaining consciousness (or more consciousness) seems to bring us back to where we left off in our world – our public world. The private “world” is ok as a metaphor, but does it really seem like a world, or does it seem more like a fugue of intentions and distractions – of performances and rehearsals. It’s not a world so much as it is a story that you are co-writing with a partner who might not exist. Maybe that’s just me?

Row 3 is not only higher on the scale, in the sense of a higher frequency, but higher in the sense of being logarithmic to Row 2. Unlike the Row 0 logic of computation, the Geometric-Algebraic level is equivalent to poetry – it has deep and austere mathematical elegance. Topological forms tie out to Algebraic functions. Perfection is revealed conceptually and with purity that can be demonstrated visibly. You can see the sacredness of sacred geometry, and you can prove the significance of algebra factually. On the ‘East side’ of Row 3 is the equal but opposite aesthetic channel of the mytho-poetic. The counterpoint to masculine mathematical ideal space/world is the floridly eidetic, feminine story. The collective unconscious is a cast of characters, ever changing, but, like strange attractors, chaotically repeating themselves…or else they remain fixed as archetypes and repeat the universe around them chaotically, depending on your frame of reference.

The top row contrasts the West side’s ultimate faith in meaningless knowledge with the East side’s faith in unknown meaning. The supreme irony here is that for all of science’s focus on certainty and skepticism, it’s roots emerge directly from the void. Quantum mechanics represents the ultimate triumph of certainty about uncertainty – a final gasp of human reason before sinking into its own self-negation. QM is the reverse of machina ex deus, or a savior of senselessness, ensuring that the futility of all feelings and even ideas and understanding is a fact, and that mathematical fact is all that there can ever be. The irony on the Spiritual side is that for all the praising of God or Spirit, the identity is a question mark. All of the deep meanings that can be derived from worshiping and communing with the divine gives us almost nothing that we can count on other than faith itself. All of the worlds holy scriptures and prophecies have nothing to say about refrigeration or radio broadcasting. If the spirit is eternally full, it is mainly full of advertisements for itself…which turns out to be the bootstrap that science needs to plug in to its cosmology instead of the ‘fertile void’ concept it has fixated on at the moment.

*sense is the full spectrum of sensation, emotion, participation, appreciation, meaning, but not limited to humans, living organisms, minds, or selves. Pansensitivity is the capacity to present and be present, to experience, project, and represent experience.

**Nothingness can only be an abstraction conceived a posteriori of the existence of something which can conceive of absence. There cannot be a priori nothingness, because the potential to change into something else is not nothing. Nothing at all can come from absolutely nothing, so even if such a nothing were to non-exist, we could never contact it in any way.

Why Likeness is Not, Like, the Same as Sameness

December 26, 2013 2 comments


Why do we like to like the same things, until the thing we liked becomes the same old thing?

Why is there “Good as New” and “Like New”, but not “Same as New”?

I think that the difference between like and same are especially related to consciousness and support the idea of awareness (and therefore attention) as more ‘like’ novelty and ‘like-ness’ than it is ‘the same as’ the integration or processing of information.

Machines are characterized by their ability to do the same thing, over and over. The idea behind digital technology is really to be able to do the exact same thing, over and over and over, forever. Does this kind of behavior wake us up or does it lull us into a stupor? What kinds of things put us to sleep and what kinds of experiences wake us up?

Waking up is not an abstract theory. Waking up instantiates us into the directly and concretely sensed now, into public time. The now and the new are unrepeatable and unique, thus there can be nothing which is ‘the same as’ new without actually being new. When we say that something is ‘the same’ as something else, we are often speaking metaphorically. What we mean is that the difference is not important, and that one thing is functionally equivalent to another.


Within the world of mathematics, ‘the same’ or “=” is a metaphor for that which is literally identical or interchangeable in all circumstances. Unlike physical reality, the whole of mathematics is a symbolic abstraction – a metaphor for anti-metaphor:

Where metaphors are ‘like’ conceptual rhymes or semantic likeness which cut across the whole of human intuition poetically and aesthetically, mathematical metaphors are aiming for the opposite effect in which meaning is frozen into position, clear, defined, and unambiguous. This is meaning which has been reflected in the looking glass of thermodynamic irreversibility. It is the privatized essence of publicity.

When we look out of ourselves, we see only that which can be decomposed and measured. Feeling is presented as figures, and figuring them out literally gives us a feeling of transcending the ambiguity, fluidity, and obscurity our own subjective awareness.

I see the opportunity that lies before us is to recover the authenticity of awareness without sacrificing the reliability of its substitute. The worldview that is driven by quantitative formula alone cannot locate the now, other than as a promise that it will eventually be found – under a heap of accidents. Accidents and probability are the inverted image of intention and likeness. They are what you get when sameness is assumed to be primitive. The universe is failed sameness and broken symmetry – serial mutation.

To overcome the prejudices inherent in this worldview, an important step is to understand the irony that the intention behind measurement leads to its own perfect illogical fallacy. To count and codify is to try to escape from personal bias and fuzzy ‘likeness’ which is not the ‘exact same thing’ as truth, but what we have found increasingly, is that we cannot be immune from an equally toxic bias toward the impersonal. As much as we want to be ‘certainly in the right’, and to put ‘everything under the sun’ in tune, the enlightenment of the Western mind is eclipsed by its own insensitivity and denial. The more that we seek out the next product or service to make us feel ‘like new’, the faster it becomes the same old crap.

Residential Proprietors and Commercial Pirates

December 21, 2013 Leave a comment

Another metaphor to add to the list of private vs public, experience vs structure, etc. It’s a stretch, but has interesting implications as far as the Westernization of society. Referring generally to categories of real estate, residential and commercial also reflect a broad dialectic of civilization. Early cities were often walled, but even after walls became obsolete, the social context of insiders and outsiders continues under the cosmopolitan aesthetic vs rural aesthetic. Rural inhabitants have long been considered inferior by urbanites. With the exception of projection of their own lost innocence into a noble savage/salt of the Earth archetype, people who live outside of cities or inside of nature are considered rubes and recluses by those who live inside of cities and outside of ‘nature’.

It’s notable that to live or work ‘inside’ of a city is to be immersed in a world of commercial exteriors. The word commerce denotes a coming together (com-) to trade; market; merchant; merchandise. Commerce is inter-national and inter-cultural. To conduct trade is to travel to a location which is well regulated and protected, yet free from undue political influence. The neutrality and publicity of the milieu makes it a kind of anti-residence. The towering structures which define the skylines of modern cities are largely devoid of personal contents. Even during the hours which they are occupied, the residing (etymologically re-siding is like re-sedentary, a reference to sitting-again (and again)) in an office building is by contract. Sitting around when you are contracted to work standing, or standing around when you are contracted to work sitting, is not permitted. By and large, what happens in an office building is comings and goings. The office building itself is a structure, a monument to the generic and unnatural state of the industry that it unintentionally represents.

The word industry contains the same root as structure, which ties back to the realization of public-facing private agendas rather than private or experiential values. Similarly, the word enterprise contains the prefix enter for within or between, and prise is about taking and reaching (prehensile, apprehend, comprehend). Industry, commerce, and trade are all active motivations. The word trade shares etymology with tread, as in to tread a path. They are literally outgoing and extroverted. It is unsurprising then, that the conquest of the New World and rise of mercantilism are tied together with the dawn of the Enlightenment Era and explosive progress in physics and the physical sciences.

What has happened since the latter half of the 20th century, is that the wheel of progress has turned so as to eclipse the residential values entirely with the commercial. In the last 30 years in particular, we have seen a trend away from public spaces which are hospitable to individual people and toward public facing real estate as a hardened asset. Office ‘parks’ leverage landscaping and architectural techniques to minimize loitering or curious visitors. Pleasant looking bushes and flowers are manicured to disguise as well as subtly amplify the artless emptiness of the place. James Howard Kuntsler has called them ‘nature band-aids‘:

the little juniper shrubs in the universal bark-mulch bed deployed in front of a building so depressing and inept that it would dismay even the criminal class of great-granddads’ day. I call these little landscape fantasias nature band-aids.

Everywhere that we look, change seems to come in the form of increasing inconvenience. Packaging that requires special tools to open. Homes built with features that require industrial equipment to perform basic maintenance. Technology which has no user serviceable parts. Where the 19th and 20th century oversaw the obsolescence of hand made and hand repairable objects, the 21st century has brought a level of commercialization which is mandatory and impenetrable. The future of social interaction suggests a menu-driven, pre-fabricated extension of commercial enterprise into the private ‘space’. Ontologically, it is privacy itself which is been spatialized, auctioned off like the broadband spectrum and privatized like the DNA of designer organisms.

The choices being offered thus far have been to either join in a futile resistance, or to embrace the Borg of commercial domination. Some try to effect a Bartleby-like passive protest, hoping that perhaps their preferences in consuming or slacking will contribute to a wave of imitation. It’s probably not going to be that easy. Unlike the revolutionary crucibles of the past, the Western colonization of mind is so thorough that people no longer recognize their own significance. We have accepted the evidence of our own irrelevance, and of the cheap currency of our lives in exchange for the magic beans of structured realism. Any call to progress beyond commercialism are rejected out of hand as both politically naive and unscientific.

While religious fundamentalism thrives, perhaps the popularity of Pope Francis signals the possibility of a future cavalry to the rescue in the form of rehabilitated spiritual traditions? If the Western Imperial drive can yang so far that it has eaten the yin, maybe the yin can flow into the public mind through the back door? Sit-ins and occupations were one way of reclaiming the Residential, but with a deeper understanding of the physics of privacy, it may be that a revolution of enlightened non-doing is already underway within us.

On Human Specialness

November 30, 2013 4 comments

Often, it comes up in arguments that the idealistic position stems from a mental weakness – a sentimental attachment to all things human and familiar and a deep-seated fear of losing self-worth. When the term ‘special’ is brought up, it has a pejorative connotation*. The disdain for specialness makes sense to me as the mechanistic ideology is founded (under Multisense Realism) in the supremacy of the generic and impersonal. The fundamentals of the cosmos are spoken in terms of units of measure, not unique and unrepeatable aesthetic experiences. Underneath this scientific impartiality however, I maintain that there is another level of unacknowledged specialness. To see the universe as it is rather than as we wish it to be is a romantic idea of the anti-romantic. To become purely logical and reasonable is ultimately a kind of ethnic cleansing of the psyche. Transhumanist specialness is even more special because we think that we have outgrown trying to be special.

I think there’s more to the idea of human specialness than it might seem.

I see an important differences between:

  • “Specialness” as a measure of aesthetic prestige.
  • Human superiority as a function of ego projection.
  • Human exceptionalism as a function of species comparison.

The quality of specialness is not limited to human beings. I think that significance in the sense of aesthetic prestige is a universal property, from the subatomic level to the cosmological level. The particular content and intensity of significance varies widely, but the fact of significance is not a fictional invention of Homo sapiens. The problem with machines is that they lack any aesthetic awareness at all. What may seem to some to be a pure, unselfish quality which falls out of mathematics is actually, in my view, merely pre-selfish.

This admiration for the unseflish qualities of pristine objects is, I think, ultimately a romantic simplification. It is like dreaming a blind world as a better world, since so many terrible things are rooted in valuing appearances over realities. The impulse to move beyond selfish forms of human awareness is indeed noble, necessary, and inevitable, but I think that part of that involves a deeper consideration of self. We cannot transcend the self by amputating it.

As far as human exceptionalism goes, I completely agree with transhumanists – humans are not so great, and not so different from other species. The extent to which we are objectively ‘better’ than other organisms, even if it could be ascertained, is dwarfed by our exaggeration of it. That’s not what the issue that I’m bringing up at all though. What I’m talking about is true even if Homo sapiens had never existed.

I sometimes use inflammatory language to describe machines as stupid not because I don’t like them, but to make clear that my position is that what a machine does for us is precisely the opposite of what our own awareness is. It’s about the ontology of unity, multiplicity, and spacetime positions vs experiential dispositions.

The machine does not serve WalMart any more than they do a disservice to the displaced worker. It serves whatever agenda that it is being employed by. It is only because of our profound lack of compassion that we allow what should be a celebration of freedom from work to become a liability. Losing a job, ontologically means gaining freedom. It is only we who equate that with being undeserving of the benefits of civilization, and we who back that up with real deprivations. Machines are stupid because they don’t care. They don’t care whether they are burning baby kittens or diesel fuel to run.

WalMart is stupid for the same reason (and it is no less a machine than any computer). WalMart does not think that it is special, it simply executes a program which privatizes profits and socializes costs. The program can’t wake up though. It can’t fix itself. We are the only ones who can recover the positive side of our exceptional sensitivity…a sensitivity which just happens to be human in this particular case, but which in all cases is the polar opposite of mechanism/insensitivity.

*”special pleading” is a logical fallacy which gets thrown around a lot too, with the same sort of condescension.

How do evolutionary psychology and neuroscience compare as popular theories to “explain everything” about human nature?

November 3, 2013 4 comments

“These two theories are the biggest explanatory frameworks at the current time, with neuroscience rising and evolutionary psychology looking a bit threadbare.  And they are quite different.

I don’t mean, are these valid theories scientifically, but how good are they as a way for people to tell meaningful stories to each other about human nature?  What do we become through that telling?  What gets left out?”

Answer by Craig Weinberg:

In Raymond Tallis’ book Aping Mankind, he describes the over-reaching of neuroscience and evolutionary psychology and names them “Neuromania” and “Darwinitis”. While this assessment is likely seen as inflammatory or offensive to the many dedicated and brilliant professionals who have devoted their lives in pursuit of understanding human nature scientifically, his criticisms are quite defensible. Tallis, a neuroscientist himself, argues that both disciplines contribute to what I call de-presentation, and he calls ‘the disappearance of appearance’.

When neuroscience looks at human nature, it does so from the outside – as the behavior of cellular and molecular bodies, of organs and networks of ‘connections’. Evolutionary biology also looks at human nature from the outside, as the behavior of zoological ecosystems, species, and inherited bodies. Taken together, these super-personal systems and sub-personal systems can be de-ranged to completely subsume the personal, the private, and most significantly human aspects of human nature.

It is a bit like looking at human nature under a blacklight. With most of the frequencies in the dark, neuroscience and evolutionary psychology have done a fantastic job of illuminating some hidden aspects of ourselves – how and where we fade into subconscious and unconscious mechanisms. We have glimpsed some of our own biases and seen behind the curtain of many misperceptions. We have not yet, however dared to turn this critical lens on itself. We have not seen how neuroscience and evolutionary biology themselves are excluded from the general distrust and marginalization of awareness. Somehow, the totality of our human experience can be written off as a solipsistic simulation or ’emergent property’ of ‘information’ processing, yet the mechanisms of science are presumed immune from the politics of our species and the unreality of the brain’s twitchings in the dark. Sam Harris actually said something to the effect of “certain kinds of thinking” extend outside of the bubble of human delusion (but without saying how).

What gets left out, according to Tallis, is humanity. Arts, literature, civilization. While he goes on in the second half of his book, to argue the profound difference between human beings and other species, I would argue that does make human beings more special than others on Earth, I would not say that it makes us an exception to zoology, or physics. Instead, I would argue for a radical reinterpretation of physics in which privacy and aesthetic appreciation are seen as more fundamental cosmological influences than public, functional mechanisms.


View Answer on Quora

If human beings are nothing more than matter, why are you conscious as yourself?

October 30, 2013 Leave a comment

If human beings are nothing more than matter, why are you conscious as yourself?

Quora question:

Philosophy: If human beings are nothing more than matter, why are you conscious as yourself?
The implication of materialism is that we are in essence wet robots, without free will, just chemical reactions. But if this is true and we are conscious, then does it logically follow that all chemical reactions have “consciousness” to some degree? If the human mind is just an extremely advanced computer, then at what point does “consciousness” occur?

We don’t know that chemical reactions are unconscious, but if they were, then it makes sense that the entire universe would also be unconscious. It is very tricky to examine the issue of consciousness and to draw parallels within common experience without unintentionally smuggling in our own expectations from consciousness itself. This is the Petito principii or circular reasoning which derails most fair considerations of consciousness before they even begin in earnest.

Unlike a clock which is made up of gears, or a particular sized pile of hay, the addition of consciousness has no conceivable consequence to the physical function of a body. While we can observe a haystack burst into flames because it has grown too hot, we cannot look at the behavior of a human body see any special difference from the behavior of any other physical body. There is complexity, but complexity alone need not point to anything beyond an adjacency of simple parts and isolated chains of effects.

Just as no degree of complication within a clock’s mechanism would suddenly turn into a Shakespearean sonnet, the assumption of universal substitution is not necessarily appropriate for all phenomena, and for consciousness in particular. To get a color image, for instance, we need to print in colored dots, not black and white. Color TV programs cannot be broadcast over a monochrome display without losing their color.

Unlike chemical or mechanical transformation, the nature of awareness is not implicated in the shuffling of material particles from one place or another. Any natural force can be used to do that. We have no scientific reason to insist that conscious participation and aesthetic appreciation is derived from some simpler functioning of complex systems. To the contrary, ‘complexity’, and ‘system’ can only make sense in the context of a window of perception and attention. Without some teleological intent to see one part as part of a whole, and to compare remembered events with current perceptions, there is no such thing as ‘function’ at all.

There are several important points wrapped up in this question, which I will try to sum up.

1. The failure to consider consciousness metaphysically.

This is the most important and most intractable issue, for three reasons:

  • because it is difficult for anyone to try to put their mind outside of mind. It’s annoying, and winds up feeling foolish and disoriented.
  • because it is difficult in particular for the very people who need most to get past the difficulty. I have found that most people who are good with logic and scientific reasoning are not necessarily capable of doing what others can. The skillset appears to be neurological, like handedness or gender orientation.
  • because those who do have difficulty with thinking this way are often not used to intellectual challenges that escape their grasp, their reaction is so defensive that they react with intolerance. It’s not their fault, but it cannot be cured it seems. Some people cannot see 3-D Magic Eye art. Some cannot program their way out of a paper bag. In this case it is the ability to consider consciousness from a prospective rather than a retrospective view which can prove so inaccessible to so many people, that frothing at the mouth and babbling about unicorns, magic, and the supernatural is considered a reasonable and scientific, skeptical response. Of course, it is none of those things, but it takes a lot of patience and courage to be able to recognize one’s own prejudices, especially when we are used to being the ones telling others about their biases.

2. The taboo against metaphysics, panpsychism, and transrationality

Long after Einstein, Gödel, and Heisenberg shattered the Humpty Dumpty certainties of classical math and physics, we are still trying to piece him back together. Regardless of how much we learn about the strange properties of matter, time, energy, biology, and neurology, there are a huge number of very intelligent people who are convinced that we will only know the truth about the universe when it all looks like a vast deterministic mechanism.

The compulsion to reduce awareness to passive mathematical or physical states is ironic, given that the defense of automaticity is often accompanied by very hands on personal intention. Even when it is pointed out that arguing against free will is futile (since someone without free will could not change their own opinion about it even if they wanted to, let alone someone else’s opinion), the mind of the determined determinist will always find a way of insist upon being in the right, even when they are ultimately sawing of the limb that they are sitting on.

When it comes to anything that suggests the possibility of non-human awareness, many people not only become personally uncomfortable, but they become socially uncomfortable as well. The taboo against unconventional views on science (even when backed by anthropological universality) is so pervasive and xenophobic that it is career suicide for a working scientist to publicly acknowledge them in any but the most condescending tones.

3. The pathetic fallacy

The pathetic fallacy is to take a metaphor in which some inanimate object is given a human quality (“The camera loves you”), and take it literally. While I count myself among those who once saw computation and pattern as being the only ingredient necessary for awareness or life, my understanding now is that no pattern can exist without a capacity for pattern recognition. The ability to receive and make sense of the real world is not a matter of generic relations of disembodied bits of “information”, but is in fact the concrete reality of the cosmos. The universe does not exist for us humans, but it cannot exist as silent, unconscious, intangible physics for billions of years and then suddenly invent the whole of sensation, emotion, intuition, cognition, etc, just for some hominids on this backwater planet. It now strikes me as profoundly anthropocentric to imagine that the entire universe could be devoid of perceptual content until life evolved.

In my view, the universe itself is nothing but a continuum of qualities of consciousness. These qualities, however, relate to experienced contexts. We cannot take the human-ness out of a human and put it into a machine. Biology has mechanisms and performs computation, but if that’s all it was doing then the inside of the brain would look like logic, not like sex and violence and musical theater.

Shé Art

The Art of Shé D'Montford

Transform your life with Astrology

Be Inspired..!!

Listen to your inner has all the answers..

Rain Coast Review

Thoughts on life... by Donald B. Wilson

Perfect Chaos

The Blog of Author Steven Colborne


Multimedia Project: Mettā Programming DNA


Astral Lucid Music - Philosophy On Life, The Universe And Everything...

I can't believe it!

Problems of today, Ideas for tomorrow

Rationalising The Universe

one post at a time

Conscience and Consciousness

Academic Philosophy for a General Audience

Exploring the Origins and Nature of Awareness


BRAINSTORM- An Evolving and propitious Synergy Mode~!

Paul's Bench

Ruminations on philosophy, psychology, life

This is not Yet-Another-Paradox, This is just How-Things-Really-Are...

For all dangerous minds, your own, or ours, but not the tv shows'... ... ... ... ... ... ... How to hack human consciousness, How to defend against human-hackers, and anything in between... ... ... ... ... ...this may be regarded as a sort of dialogue for peace and plenty for a hungry planet, with no one left behind, ever... ... ... ... please note: It may behoove you more to try to prove to yourselves how we may really be a time-traveler, than to try to disprove it... ... ... ... ... ... ...Enjoy!


“Don’t try to be different. Just be Creative. To be creative is different enough.”

Political Joint

A political blog centralized on current events


Zumwalt Poems Online

dhamma footsteps

postcards from the present moment