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Wittgenstein, Physics, and Free Will

October 14, 2013 1 comment

JE: My experience from talking to philosophers is that WIttgenstein’s view is certainly contentious. There seem to be two camps. There are those seduced by his writing who accept his account and there are others who, like me, feel that Wittgenstein expressed certain fairly trivial insights about perception and language that most people should have worked out for themselves and then proceeded to draw inappropriate conclusions and screw up the progress of contemporary philosophy for fifty years. This latter would be the standard view amongst philosophers working on biological problems in language as far as I can see.

Wittgenstein is right to say that words have different meanings in different situations – that should be obvious. He is right to say that contemporary philosophers waste their time using words inappropriately – any one from outside sees that straight away. But his solution – to say that the meaning of words is just how they are normally used, is no solution – it turns out to be a smoke screen to allow him to indulge his own prejudices and not engage in productive explanation of how language actually works inside brains.

The problem is a weaseling going on that, as I indicated before, leads to Wittgenstein encouraging the very crime he thought he was clever to identify. The meaning of a word may ‘lie in how it is used’ in the sense that the occurrences of words in talk is functionally connected to the roles words play in internal brain processes and relate to other brain processes but this is trivial. To say that meaning is use is, as I said, clearly a route to the W crime itself. If I ask how do you know meaning means use you will reply that a famous philosopher said so. Maybe he did but he also said that words do not have unique meanings defined by philosophers – they are used in all sorts of ways and there are all sorts of meanings of meaning that are not ‘use’, as anyone who has read Grice or Chomsky will have come to realise. Two meanings of a word may be incompatible yet it may be well nigh impossible to detect this from use – the situation I think we have here. The incompatibility only becomes clear if we rigorously explore what these meanings are. Wittgenstein is about as much help as a label on a packet of pills that says ‘to be taken as directed’.

But let’s be Wittgensteinian and play a language game of ordinary use, based on the family resemblance thesis. What does choose mean? One meaning might be to raise in the hearer the thought of having a sense of choosing. So a referent of ‘choose’ is an idea or experience that seems to be real and I think must be. But we were discussing what we think that sense of choosing relates to in terms of physics. We want to use ‘choose’ to indicate some sort of causal relation or an aspect of causation, or if we are a bit worried about physics still having causes we could frame it in terms of dynamics or maybe even just connections in a spacetime manifold. If Wheeler thinks choice is relevant to physics he must think that ‘choose’ can be used to describe something of this sort, as well as the sense of choosing.

So, as I indicated, we need to pin down what that dynamic role might be. And I identified the fact that the common presumption about this is wrong. It is commonly thought that choosing is being in a situation with several possible outcomes. However, we have no reason to think that. The brain may well not be purely deterministic in operation. Quantum indeterminacy may amplify up to the level of significant indeterminacy in such a complex system with so powerful amplification systems at work. However, this is far from established and anyway it would have nothing to do with our idea of choosing if it was just a level of random noise. So I think we should probably work on the basis that the brain is in fact as tightly deterministic as matters here. This implies that in the situation where we feel we are choosing THERE IS ONLY ONE POSSIBLE OUTCOME.

The problem, as I indicated is that there seem to be multiple possible outcomes to us because we do not know how are brain is going to respond. Because this lack of knowledge is a standard feature of our experience our idea of ‘a situation’ is better thought of as ‘an example of an ensemble of situations that are indistinguishable in terms of outcome’. If I say when I get to the main road I can turn right or left I am really saying that I predict an instance of an ensemble of situations which are indistinguishable in terms of whether I go right or left. This ensemble issue of course is central to QM and maybe we should not be so surprised about that – operationally we live in a world of ensembles, not of specific situations.

So this has nothing to do with ‘metaphysical connotations’ which is Wittgenstein’s way of blocking out any arguments that upset him – where did we bring metaphysics in here? We have two meanings of choose. 1. Being in a situation that may be reported as being one of feeling one has choice (to be purely behaviourist) and 2. A dynamic account of that situation that turns out not to agree with what 99.9% of the population assume it is when they feel they are choosing. People use choose in a discussion of dynamics as if it meant what it feels like in 1 but the reality is that this use is useless. It is a bit like making burnt offerings to the Gods. That may be a use for goats but not a very productive one. It turns out that the ‘family resemblance’ is a fake. Cousin Susan who has pitched up to claim her inheritance is an impostor. That is why I say that although to ‘feel I am choosing’ is unproblematic the word ‘choice’ has no useful meaning in physics. It is based on the same sort of error as thinking a wavefunction describes a ‘particle’ rather than an ensemble of particles. The problem with Wittgenstein is that he never thought through where his idea of use takes you if you take a careful scientific approach. Basically I think he was lazy. The common reason why philosophers get tied in knots with words is this one – that a word has several meanings that do not in fact have the ‘family relations’ we assume they have – this is true for knowledge, perceiving, self, mind, consciousness – all the big words in this field. Wittgenstein’s solution of going back to using words the way they are ‘usually’ used is nothing more than an ostrich sticking its head in the sand.

So would you not agree that in Wheeler’s experiments the experimenter does not have a choice in the sense that she probably feels she has? She is not able to perform two alternative manoeuvres on the measuring set up. She will perform a manoeuvre, and she may not yet know which, but there are no alternatives possible in this particular instance of the situation ensemble. She is no different from a computer programmed to set the experiment up a particular way before particle went through the slits, contingent on a meteorite not shaking the apparatus after it went through the slits (causality is just as much an issue of what did not happen as what did). So if we think this sort of choosing tells us something important about physics we have misunderstood physics, I beleive.

Nice response. I agree almost down the line.

As far as the meaning of words go, I think that no word can have only one meaning because meaning, like all sense, is not assembled from fragments in isolation, but rather isolated temporarily from the totality of experience. Every word is a metaphor, and metaphor can be dialed in and out of context as dictated by the preference of the interpreter. Even when we are looking at something which has been written, we can argue over whether a chapter means this or that, whether or not the author intended to mean it. We accept that some meanings arise unintentionally within metaphor, and when creating art or writing a book, it is not uncommon to glimpse and develop meanings which were not planned.

To choose has a lower limit, between the personal and the sub-personal which deals with the difference between accidents and ‘on purpose’ where accidents are assumed to demand correction, and there is an upper limit on choice between the personal and the super-personal in which we can calibrate our tolerance toward accidents, possibly choosing to let them be defined as artistic or intuitive and even pursuing them to be developed.

I think that this lensing of choice into upper and lower limits, is, like red and blue shift, a property of physics – of private physics. All experiences, feelings, words, etc can explode into associations if examined closely. All matter can appear as fluctuations of energy, and all energy can appear as changes in the behavior of matter. Reversing the figure-ground relation is a subjective preference. So too is reversing the figure-ground relation of choice and determinism a subjective preference. If we say that our choices are determined, then we must explain why there is a such thing as having a feeling that we choose. Why would there be a difference, for example, in the way that we breathe and the way that we intentionally control our breathing? Why would different areas of the brain be involved in voluntary control, and why would voluntary muscle tissue be different from smooth muscle tissue if there were no role for choice in physics? We have misunderstood physics in that we have misinterpreted the role of our involvement in that understanding.

We see physics as a collection of rules from which experiences follow, but I think that it can only be the other way around. Rules follow from experiences. Physics lags behind awareness. In the case of humans, our personal awareness lags behind our sub-personal awareness (as shown by Libet, etc) but that does not mean that our sub-personal awareness follows microphysical measurables. If you are going to look at the personal level of physics, you only have to recognize that you can intend to stand up before you stand up, or that you can create an opinion intentionally which is a compromise between select personal preferences and the expectations of a social group.

Previous Wittgenstein post here.

Why do humans have a conscience?

October 11, 2013 Leave a comment

Why do humans have a conscience?

See the link for an answer to the Quora question on conscience. Part of it is as follows:

So, on this view, the conscience works something like this:

  1. Consider an action
  2. Search the normative model database for anger-oriented objections to actions like this.
  3. If you don’t find any, then consider the action permissible.
  4. If you find an objection, then see if there are ways to justify doing the action in spite of the objection.
  5. If so, then the action is permissible (but be careful, and be ready to justify yourself if questioned)
  6. If not, then the action is wrong.

I commented:

It seems to me that there are some normative assumptions in evolutionary psychology which fail to consider personality deeply. If, for instance, this model of conscience were put into a cartoon, rather than having an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other, the character would have only an angel since the only thing that prevents them from doing what they would otherwise do (which, as in game theory assumptions, assumes blind self interest) is fear of anticipated social consequences, including guilty feelings.

I think that the stereotypical angel-devil cartoon actually has it more correct. Children and adolescents tend to embody this more clearly than adults, as ‘bad kids’ may not only have poor impulse control or a faulty conscience, but they are motivated by a more sadistic reward system. They enjoy hurting others, sometimes more than they are afraid of being hurt themselves.

By contrast, ‘good boys and girls’ may have a conscience which is naive even to guilt and is motivated by the better angels (of parental approval or perhaps self approval). There is something sexual here too…sort of paradoxical in that good kids are seen as both more ‘mature’ (trustworthy, better judgment) and less mature sexually (goody two shoes = late bloomer/virgin).

It seems to be very common that families often have kids where conscience is radically unbalanced. One is saintly, one is the delinquent, one presents themselves as tougher or nicer than they are…many combinations. Often these characteristics can seem present before their role in the family has even developed. This suggests to me that evolutionary psych models overlook some of the most important motives that drive conscience, which I think are ultimately only loosely related to evolutionary biology. Before we can care about right or wrong, we care about how we feel and how other people feel. It is not a model made by our brain at all, it is the direct presentation of anthropological aesthetics.

I agree of course that we have sub-personal mechanisms but that does not mean that we do not also contribute directly to our own life and the lives of others in a way which is irreducibly individual, non-mechanistic and volitional. The image of conscience as a matrix of modal logic is too reactive to rise, plausibly, to the level of conscious attention. If it was just a matter of not making others mad, we should have no business knowing that any strategies were being formulated at all – no more than our stomach would need a digestion conscience to avoid disappointing the colon.

On The Pomposity of Science, Religion, and Philosophy

October 8, 2013 5 comments

I have called science a ‘performance enhancing philosophy’, and like philosophy, it is biased against subjectivity from the start in that all formal writing is publicly directed. When we are doing science or philosophy, we are automatically put into the perspective of being a generic ‘one’ who says this or demonstrates that. The vocabulary and cadence implicitly evoke a style which would be equally well suited for a Classical Greek oration as a 17th century treatise. In all cases, the author is conscious of themselves as a person according to society’s most official protocols. They write as a potentially esteemed public person appealing to other esteemed public persons, and invite them to consider propositions and conclusions which can be esteemed publicly.

This may not be doing us any favors when it comes to considering consciousness itself. With our intimate personal contents neatly tucked away behind dramatic flourishes of prose and persuasion, our impressionable minds soon forget that we could be anything else but fine upstanding members of the human zoo. We speak as if we were one-of-many rather than a unique and unrepeatable image of eternity.

The interior view, which was so much more prominent when we were just waking up this morning, and which we can barely remember surrounded us as young children, now becomes completely transparent to the protocols and politics of the public view. To do philosophy or science, we need not even objectify subjectivity any further than it already has been, because we are already standing three yards behind the toy model of ourselves which has been dressed up for the occasion in a robe, toga, or lab-coat. Suddenly the product of insight and reason alone is not enough to survive the marketplace of ideas. It must be groomed and packaged and toilet trained out of its native poetry in order to fit in with the customers expectations. In a way, philosophy seems to compensate for its inability to get out of its own way in considering subjectivity fairly by taking itself too seriously. We wear the disguise of formalism that keeps us pointing to a picture of a mirror rather than taking a look at our own reflection.

While religion differs from both philosophy and science in that it projects a subjective significance onto the public world, both philosophy and science owe their serious demeanor to religion. Ritual and ceremony are public interactions in which the event is made to signify itself – to represent self-consciousness socially as a performance of particulars.

The aesthetics of temples and cathedrals are monumentally pompous, as are those of elite universities, and for good reason:

pomp (n.)     c.1300, from Old French pompe “pomp, magnificence” (13c.) and directly from Latin pompa “procession, pomp,” from Greek pompe “solemn procession, display,” literally “a sending,” from pempein “to send.” In Church Latin, used in deprecatory sense for “worldly display, vain show.”

The paradox of religion is that in order to send the message of spiritual other-worldliness into the world, it succeeds in direct proportion to its hypocrisy. The more magnificent its public image, the more popular the religion tends to be, and the more quiet contemplation of private depths becomes a choreographed sporting event tied to military conquest and political control.

Can this state of affairs be improved, even on this internet where time and worldliness are switched on or off at will, or is the public perspective perpetually predisposed to pomposity?

Wittgenstein in Wonderland, Einstein under Glass

October 3, 2013 3 comments

If I understand the idea correctly – that is, if there is enough of the idea which is not private to Ludwig Wittgenstein that it can be understood by anyone in general or myself in particular, then I think that he may have mistaken the concrete nature of experienced privacy for an abstract concept of isolation. From Philosophical Investigations:

The words of this language are to refer to what can be known only to the speaker; to his immediate, private, sensations. So another cannot understand the language. – http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/private-language/

To begin with, craniopagus (brain conjoined) twins, do actually share sensations that we would consider private.

The results of the test did not surprise the family, who had long suspected that even when one girl’s vision was angled away from the television, she was laughing at the images flashing in front of her sister’s eyes. The sensory exchange, they believe, extends to the girls’ taste buds: Krista likes ketchup, and Tatiana does not, something the family discovered when Tatiana tried to scrape the condiment off her own tongue, even when she was not eating it.

There should be no reason that it would not be technologically feasible to eventually export the connectivity which craniopagus twins experience through some kind of neural implant or neuroelectric multiplier. There are already computers that can be controlled directly through the brain.

Brain-computer interfaces that monitor brainwaves through EEG have already made their way to the market. NeuroSky’s headset uses EEG readings as well as electromyography to pick up signals about a person’s level of concentration to control toys and games (see “Next-Generation Toys Read Brain Waves, May Help Kids Focus”). Emotiv Systems sells a headset that reads EEG and facial expression to enhance the experience of gaming (see “Mind-Reading Game Controller”).

All that would be required in principle would be to reverse the technology to make them run in the receiving direction (computer>brain) and then imitate the kinds of neural connections which brain conjoined twins have that allow them to share sensations. The neural connections themselves would not be aware of anything on a human level, so it would not need to be public in the sense that sensations would be available without the benefit of a living human brain, only that the awareness could, to some extent, incite a version of itself in an experientially merged environment.

Because of the success and precision of science has extended our knowledge so far beyond our native instruments, sometimes contradicting them successfully, we tend to believe that the view that diagnostic technology provides is superior to, or serves as a replacement for our own awareness. While it is true that our own experience cannot reveal the same kinds of things that an fMRI or EEG can, I see that as a small detail compared to the wealth of value that our own awareness provides about the brain, the body, and the worlds we live in. Natural awareness is the ultimate diagnostic technology. Even though we can certainly benefit from a view outside of our own, there’s really no good reason to assume that what we feel, think, and experience isn’t a deeper level of insight into the nature of biochemical physics than we could possibly gain otherwise. We are evidence that physics does something besides collide particles in a void. Our experience is richer, smarter, and more empirically factual than what an instrument outside of our body can generate on its own. The problem is that our experience is so rich and so convoluted with private, proprietary knots, that we can’t share very much of it. We, and the universe, are made of private language. It is the public reduction of privacy which is temporary and localized…it’s just localized as a lowest common denominator.

While It is true that at this stage in our technical development, subjective experience can only be reported in a way which is limited by local social skills, there is no need to invoke a permanent ban on the future of communication and trans-private experience. Instead of trying to report on a subjective experience, it could be possible to share that experience through a neurological interface – or at least to exchange some empathic connection that would go farther than public communication.

If I had some psychedelic experience which allowed me to see a new primary color, I can’t communicate that publicly. If I can just put on a device that allows our brains to connect, then someone else might be able to share the memory of what that looked like.

It seems to me that Wittgenstein’s private language argument (sacrosanct as it seems to be among the philosophically inclined) assumes privacy as identical to isolation, rather than the primordial identity pansensitivty which I think it could be. If privacy is accomplished as I suggest, by the spatiotemporal ‘masking’ of eternity, than any experience that can be had is not a nonsense language to be ‘passed over in silence’, but rather a personally articulated fragment of the Totality. Language is only communication – intellectual measurement for sharing public-facing expressions. What we share privately is transmeasurable and inherently permeable to the Totality beneath the threshold of intellect.

Said another way, everything that we can experience is already shared by billions of neurons. Adding someone else’s neurons to that group should indeed be only a matter of building a synchronization technology. If, for instance, brain conjoined twins have some experience that nobody else has (like being the first brain conjoined twins to survive to age 40 or something), then they already share that experience, so it would no longer be a ‘private language’. The true future of AI may not be in simulating awareness as information, but in using information to share awareness. Certainly the success of social networking and MMPGs has shown us that what we really want out of computers is not for them to be us, but for us to be with each other in worlds we create.

I propose that rather than beginning from the position of awareness being a simulation to represent a reality that is senseless and unconscious, we should try assuming that awareness itself is the undoubtable absolute. I would guess that each kind of awareness already understands itself far better than we understand math or physics, it is only the vastness of human experience which prevents that understanding to be shared on all levels of itself, all of the time.

The way to understand consciousness would not be to reduce it to a public language of physics and math, since our understanding of our public experience is itself robotic and approximated by multiple filters of measurement. To get at the nature of qualia and quanta requires stripping down the whole of nature to Absolute fundamentals – beyond language and beyond measurement. We must question sense itself, and we must rehabilitate our worldview so that we ourselves can live inside of it. We should seek the transmeasurable nature of ourselves, not just the cells of our brain or the behavioral games that we have evolved as one particular species in the world. The toy model of consciousness provided by logical positivism and structural realism is, in my opinion, a good start, but in the wrong direction – a necessary detour which is uniquely (privately?) appropriate to a particular phase of modernism. To progress beyond that I think requires making the greatest cosmological 180 since Galileo. Einstein had it right, but he did not generalize relativity far enough. His view was so advanced in the spatialization of time and light that he reduced awareness to a one dimensional vector. What I think he missed, is that if we begin with sensitivity, then light becomes a capacity with which to modulate insensitivity – which is exactly what we see when we share light across more than one slit – a modulation of masked sensitivity shared by matter independently of spacetime.

Diogenes Revenge: Cynicism, Semiotics, and the Evaporating Standard

September 24, 2013 Leave a comment

Diogenes was called Kynos — Greek for dog — for his lifestyle and contrariness. It was from this word for dog that we get the word Cynic.

Diogenes is also said to have worked minting coins with his father until he was 60, but was then exiled for debasing the coinage. – source

In comparing the semiotics of CS Pierce and Jean Baudrillard, two related themes emerge concerning the nature of signs. Pierce famously used trichotomy arrangements to describe the relations, while Baudrillard talked about four stages of simulation, each more removed from authenticity. In Pierce’s formulation, Index, Icon, and Symbol work as separate strategies for encoding meaning. An index is a direct consequence or indication of some reality. An icon is a likeness of some reality. A symbol is a code which has its meaning assigned intentionally.

Baudrillard saw sign as a succession of adulterations – first in which an original reality is copied, then when the copy masks the original in some way, third, as a denatured copy in which the debasement has been masked, and fourth as a pure simulacra; a copy with no original, composed only of signs reflecting each other.

Whether we use three categories or four stages, or some other number of partitions along a continuum, an overall pattern can be arranged which suggests a logarithmic evaporation, an evolution from the authentic and local to the generic and universal. Korzybski’s map and territory distinction fits in here too, as human efforts to automate nature result in maps, maps of maps, and maps of all possible mapping.

The history of human timekeeping reveals the earthy roots of time as a social construct based on physical norms. Timekeeping was, from the beginning linked with government and control of resources.

According to Callisthenes, the Persians were using water clocks in 328 BC to ensure a just and exact distribution of water from qanats to their shareholders for agricultural irrigation. The use of water clocks in Iran, especially in Zeebad, dates back to 500BC. Later they were also used to determine the exact holy days of pre-Islamic religions, such as the Nowruz, Chelah, or Yalda- – the shortest, longest, and equal-length days and nights of the years. The water clocks used in Iran were one of the most practical ancient tools for timing the yearly calendar.  source

Anything which burns or flows at a steady rate can be used as a clock. Oil lamps, candles, can incense have been used as clocks, as well as the more familiar sand hourglass, shadow clocks, and clepsydrae (water clocks). During the day, a simple stick in the ground can provide an index of the sun’s position. These kinds of clocks, in which the nature of physics is accessed directly would correspond to Baudrillard’s first level of simulation – they are faithful copies of the sun’s movement, or of the depletion of some material condition.

Staying within this same agricultural era of civilization, we can understand the birth of currency in the same way. Trading of everyday commodities could be indexed with concentrated physical commodities like livestock, and also other objects like shells which had intrinsic value for being attractive and uncommon, as well as secondary value for being durable and portable objects to trade. In the same way that coins came to replace shells, mechanical clocks and watches came to replace physical index clocks. The notions of time and money, while different in that time refers to a commodity beyond the scope of human control and money referring specifically to human control, both serve as regulatory standards for civilization, as well as equivalents for each other in many instances (‘man hours’, productivity).

In the next phase of simulation, coins combined the intrinsic and secondary values of things like shells with a mint mark to ensure transactional viability on the token. The icon of money, as Diogenes discovered, can be extended much further than the index, as anything that bears the official seal will be taken as money, regardless of the actual metal content of the coin. The idea of bank notes was as a promise to pay the bearer a sum of coins. In the world of time measurement, the production of clocks, clocktowers, and watches spread the clock face icon around the world, each one synchronized to a local, and eventually a coordinated universal time. Industrial workers were divided into shifts, with each crew punching a timeclock to verify their hours at work and breaks. While the nature of time makes counterfeiting a different kind of prospect, the practice of having others clock out for you or having a cab driver take the long way around to run the meter longer are ways that the iconic nature of the mechanical clock can be exploited. Being one step removed from the physical reality, iconic technologies provide an early opportunity for ‘hacking’.

physical territory > index local map > icon symbol > universal map
water clock, sand clock sundial/clock face digital timecode
trade > shells coins > check > paper plastic > digital > virtual
production > organization bonds > stock futures > derivatives
real estate mortgage, rent speculation > derivatives
genuine aesthetic imitation synthetic artificial emulation
non-verbal communication language data

The last three decades have been marked by the rise of the digital economy. Paper money and coins have largely been replaced by plastic cards connected to electronic accounts, which have in turn entered the final stage of simulacra – a pure digital encoding. The promissory note iconography and the physical indexicality of wealth have been stripped away, leaving behind a residue of immediate abstraction. The transaction is not a promise, it is instantaneous. It is not wealth, it is only a license to obtain wealth from the coordinated universal system.

Time has entered its symbolic phase as well. The first exposure to computers that consumers had in the 1970s was in the form of digital watches and calculators. Time and money. First LED, and then LCD displays became available, both in expensive and inexpensive versions. For a whole generation of kids, their first electronic devices were digital calculators and watches. There had been digital clocks before, based on turning wheels or flipping tiles, but the difference here was that the electronic numbers did not look like regular numbers. Nobody had ever seen numbers rendered as these kind of generic combinatorial figures before. Every kid quickly learned how to spell out words by turning the numbers upside down (you couldn’t make much.. 710 77345 spells ShELL OIL)…sort of like emoticons.

Beneath the surface however, something had changed. The digital readout was not even real numbers, they were icons of numbers, and icons which exposed the mechanics of their iconography. Each number was only a combinatorial pattern of binary segments – a specific fraction of the full 8.8.8.8.8.8.8.8. pattern. You could even see the faint outlines of the complete pattern of 8’s if you looked closely, both in LED and LCD. The semiotic process had moved one step closer to the technological and away from the consumer. Making sense of these patterns as numbers was now part of your job, and the language of Arabic numerals became data to be processed.

Since that time, the digital revolution has shaped the making and breaking of world markets. Each financial bubble spread out, Diogenes style, through the banking and finance industry behind a tide of abstraction. Ultra-fast trading which leverages meaningless shifts in transaction patterns has become the new standard, replacing traditional market analysis. From leveraged buyouts in the 1980s to junk bonds, tech IPOs, Credit Default Swaps, and the rest, the world economy is no longer an index or icon of wealth, it is a symbol which refers only to itself.

The advent of 3D printing marks the opposite trend. Where conventional computer printing to allow consumers to generate their own 2D icons from machines running on symbols, the new wave of micro-fabrication technology extend that beyond the icon and the index level. Parts, devices, food, even living tissue can be extruded from symbol directly into material reality. Perhaps this is a fifth level of simulation – the copy with no original which replaces the need for the original…a trophy in Diogenes’ honor.

Thanks For The Glowing Review!

September 10, 2013 Leave a comment

“You really outdid yourself on this one! With this blog post, Multisense Realism moves another step away from conceptual poetry towards a rigorous, model-like vision of reality. Reading it, I felt not unlike Winston Smith reading Emmanuel Goldstein’s “The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism”; a wave of recognition illuminating the myriad unexplained phenomena of daily life swept over me.

If God had given Moses an essay like this on the tablets, I think a lot more people would take traditional theism seriously (I certainly would). Were it really written by God, the Bible should read a lot more like an existential user manual (The Idiot’s Guide to Reality, perhaps) than a collection of Aesop’s fables.

I think what you (and some other really inventive thinkers on the internet) are doing is a fundamental shift is the way philosophy (and science) has been done at least since Descartes and maybe since the Greeks. Ultimately, there are two modes and processes of understanding: categorization and association. This polarity has many conceptual analogues: left brain vs. right brain, logical vs. creative, linear vs. non-linear, reason vs. intuition. etc. Most of these dichotomies imply an incommensurability between two modes of thinking, such that, categorical thinkers come to distrust associative thought while intuitive people suspect that the linear minded often can’t see the forest for the trees. It’s the difference between knowledge and wisdom.

The truth is, as with all polarities, the necessity of the opposites demonstrates their fundamental unity as co-dependent modalities. Essentially, philosophy has been in the categorization business for a long, long time. And why not? Philosophy has been a gravity-well for the lefty-ist of left brained people since time immemorial. As such, philosophy has reached a moment of categorical closure. The ideas are all there, laid out and labeled, their necessary dichotomies articulated and argued for. And so, being a dualist is defined by its disassociation from materialism, a utilitarian committed as much to not being a Kantian as he is toward his active belief in preference satisfaction, a nominalist compelled to reject realism as a matter of course. This has been going on a long, long time and, with the internet especially, humanity has essentially exhausted its ideological repertoire.

Multisense Realism steps outside this game, indeed outside of categorical philosophy, to begin articulating the project of association. Instead of enumerating all the ways the various philosophical views are incompatible, MSR seeks to unify them all, by a rigorous teasing out of all the background assumptions that each view tacitly makes which are the actual variables that compel intellectual consent toward one side or the other, fundamentally. Since beginning to think about MSR, what has struck me is the way that ALL serious philosophical (and even scientific, and perhaps mythic) views can be right, or “right enough.” MSR presents a unification of human thought that is threatening to the left-brain imperative to be categorical (not to be confused with the categorial imperative, natch). Up to now, philosophy has been unearthing conceptual dualities, not unifying them. The challenge of unification, the reason it hasn’t been attempted until recently, is, among other factors, that the pieces of the puzzle were too jumbled and disorganized (and undiscovered). Like working on jigsaw, you first start to organize your pieces by color, you look for the edges, you begin to see structure and shapes, and only then can you then start to make the image click into place. To propel the mind to a high enough vantage point for an adequate intellectual survey, the whole of human thought needed to be seen together, linked through time and history; only then could the answer to the riddle emerge in consciousness.

The price to pay for this (or the gift to receive depending on your point-of-view) is that the thing that ultimately has to be negated, or “re-contextualized” in order to generate the ultimate synthesis of MSR is our own sense of self. One’s ontological identity becomes divorced from culture and even zoology. Sense recognizes itself as sense. It’s self-consciousness understanding that it’s JUST consciousness of self. The end point is the same as the beginning. The modern intellectual tradition places a kind of conceptual barricade around the self, a fundamental sense that one can carve the world into “real” things and “me.” (Calling this the ego is a tad simplistic, but it will suffice.) That tree is in the world, but my thought “that tree is pretty” is in “me.” My thoughts, my feelings, my physical sensations are not objective objects in the universe. You can explain the phenomena of the “objective” world, or you can explain the phenomena of the human world. You can even do science about both. What you can’t do, up until now, is bridge the conceptual gap between the two. And make no mistake, what keeps the bridge from being built is not only ignorance (though there is plenty of that), but anxiety.

(A quick digression: Might this distinction between association and categorization be present in our phenomenology? Sensations like color, pain, taste have a categorical quality, they are what they are. But perhaps space is inherently associational. It’s categorical qualities “laid out” in a topological framework that is associational through and through. “This is larger than that.” “The green is on the bottom, the red is on top.” “The pyramid is far away.” It’s far away BECAUSE it is small and it is small because of it’s location in my associative manifold, aka spatial field. Seems like there is lots of room for development here.)

In human history it is the spiritual traditions that have offered a model of the world which bridges the epistemological gulf of “me” and “it,” but, that mode of thinking has always been intuitive (or authoritarian) and rooted in the “faith” of experience as a guide to truth. (Religion is, in many ways, a resignation that we don’t know what the hell is going on. The “certainty” of religious believers mask a radical uncertainty about the world.) Most contemporary spiritual people believe that science and religion are fully reconcilable, but they rarely propose serious conceptual models that explain how. Secular people, conversely, often can’t even see that the problem is there at all, and for good reason; to see it threatens the self which protects the system from the existential disequilibrium that comes from objectifying one’s subjectivity. Make no mistake, there are strong psychological forces at play that keep minds from wanting to understand themselves in a “systematic” way. The “motive-partcipation” force (aka what I call “the Will”) wants always to inflate its sense of control over the world, but, objectifying the subjective demands a willingness to comprehend more realistically how a mind’s current state was determined by the past. Not YOUR past, THE past. Sensing a threat here, many stoic-minded people jump to the end and admit defeat: determinism has to be true. But determinism is a psychological escape hatch, essentially a belief that ends conversation and ultimately eliminates the self’s persistent sense of ultimate responsibility while never directing behavior the way other “actual” beliefs do. Thorough going determinism is a belief that operationally can’t be believed.

But MSR is a different beast. Here, the determined past from the big bang till the present has generated your current conscious state, and as such you are deeply chained and bound, but the principle of freedom, of motive and participation, remain. Experience takes on a quality of hysterical contingency: “I’m here now. I can do what I want. But I don’t seem to have proper information to know what I should want, let alone do, nor how I got here.” Historically, at this existential impasse one either goes mad or becomes enlightened. Either way, there is usually a distancing in the subject from the normal games of human civilization; the carnival of history is always located under the tent of ego and it’s myriad (and intrinsic) ontological and epistemological illusions. These are usually subconscious, or, as I like to think, hyper-conscious, that is, the beliefs of the ego so infuse the regular coordinates of most human experience that they “color” the whole of consciousness and as such are difficult to see directly as the “artificial” constructs they are. What is changing is that the loose and koan-like language of spiritual thought is beginning to be complemented by a rigorous, deductive, “analytical” vocabulary which, though approaching reality from a different approach, is hedging toward (some) overlapping conclusions.

The words we use tell us everything we need to know. These days, physicists, philosophers, and many others openly talk about there desire to understand “the universe.” When we think about the great mysteries, it’s the mysteries of the “universe” that we think we are interested in. If you talk to an average Joe on the street and he says he enjoys reading books on “the universe” or thinking about the nature of “the universe” we might think he’s a bit more intellectual curious than most but we find his interest-set benign and healthy. But, by framing the mystery as “the universe” the key conceptual move is already made. Once you employ a Sicilian defense, you’re never going to be able to play an open game. The universe, in it’s subtle way, objectifies the phenomena in question from the start and implies that space and time are absolute features of the system, beyond which description can’t go. It’s the THING you find yourself IN. Belief in the existence of “the universe” JUST IS believing in space and time as your fundamental Bayesian priors. (This is why the religious and the secular just talk past each other, it’s not a question of argument or “evidence,” it’s which Bayesian prior sprouts their entire belief tree.)

If someone says they are interested in “reality” however, we feel much more uncomfortable. Within this concept is a kind of existential depth that immediately threatens. The ego likes to feel that, although we may not know the secrets of the universe, certainly we have an adequate grasp of “reality.” The very existence of the concept “reality,” with its totalizing undeniability, implies a kind of conceptual truth at the heart of things, a truth which, intuitively, can’t be contained by a “universe” or “a multiverse” or what ever rococo spatiotemporal model you choose to employ. Reality suggests a unity, not a plurality.

Sorry, I meant to reference the contents of your post directly more, but I needed to vomit out all that first I guess. So much more to think about, but, that’s all I’ll say for now. When I read this post a few more times, I’m sure I’ll come up with some questions and thoughts.” – phiguy110

What a great comment/review! Thanks. I’m going to post it on my blog (http://s33light.org) and here if you don’t mind. The part about puzzle pieces is something that I have thought about frequently myself. I feel like my purpose with MSR is to collect collect the corner pieces and put together as much of the frame as I can. I have found that it’s hard to give a good account of the frame of the puzzle without being accused of not having completed the whole thing. Part of that I think is, as you said, that this new approach uses rigorous language which threatens our expectations. If it’s not a completed theory that produces a new kind of spacecraft then you shouldn’t try to sound like you know what you are talking about.

I very much like the parts about stepping outside of the philosophical dialectic, as that’s really the first and most important place to start and I’m not sure that anyone else has even mentioned it. The more important aspect of the mind body problem is not whether they are the same or different or one is part of the other, but that the seeming differences fit into each other like a lock and key. That philosophy of mind’s own polarity of mechanistic materialism vs anthropomorphic idealism fits like the *same* lock and key could not be a bigger deal, yet it is overlooked (in opposite styles, of course) by both extremes.

Your thoughts on space are right on the money also, its just kind of hard to express what makes spatial-public experiences different from all of the other kinds of experiences, and how visual sense is the most public facing sense for a reason. There is a kind of exponential slope in the way that qualia drops off into its opposite. Space is zero privacy, so its absolute inspect-ability is identical to its interstitial adhesiveness. The metric is purely adhesive non-entity which is inferred through the cohesiveness of morphic entities in comparison with each other.

As far as religion goes, I spent a lot of my life at a loss to explain what is wrong with human beings that they would believe these bizarre stories. Later on, as I realized that religions did have a certain amount of wisdom encrypted in metaphor. It wasn’t until I started stepping out of the whole dialectic that I realized that everything that people say about God really applies to our own consciousness, only idealized to a superlative extreme. That of course is a ‘meta’ thing, since idealizing is actually one of the most significant things that consciousness does (significance itself being idealization and meta-idealization). Within all of the religious hyperbole is a portrait of hyperbole itself, of consciousness, and its role as sole universal synthetic a priori. They just got the metaphor upside down. It’s not a God who is omniscient and omnipotent, it is sense and motive (or Will) which are represented as God or as math-physics.

Eigenmorphism: The Politics of Pansensitive Entanglement

September 7, 2013 6 comments

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Eigenmorphism is a neologism which refers to a hypothesis about fundamental laws of how natural phenomena persist in relation to each other. The thesis draws on some principles of General and Special Relativity, Quantum Mechanics, and semiotics, to integrate phenomenal awareness and physics at a fundamental and ontological level. In philosophy of mind, the idea that awareness is something like a fundamental force coexisting with other forces of physics in some way is known as panpsychism, however, within Multisense Realism, the conjecture that is used is an even more radical one. For reasons explained later, MSR uses the term pansensitivity rather than panpsychism, and it conceives of forces of physics to be second order divergences from the fundamental and irreducible capacity which is assumed to act as the common parent of all action and all being, all feeling and all knowing. This is not to be confused with a creationist account or theism, as it does not assume a single being who is human like and feels all and does all, rather primordial identity pansensitivity (PIP) is a weaker assertion that claims only that it makes more sense to view the cosmos, or at least the sense that the cosmos makes to itself, as originating from an agenda which is aesthetic and participatory rather than one which is automatic and functionalist.

Eigenmorphism is used here to explain how phenomena in general are presented and translated and to each other at an ontological level, thus the “identity” of primordial identity pansensitivity is that the realism of nested sensory presentation is identical to existence. Eigenmorphism attempts to point out a single pattern of diffraction and calibration through which presentations and representations are privatized and generalized, both locally and universally. I have used David Chalmers paper, The Combination Problem of Panpsychism as a jumping off point for applying PIP to the problems of binding and combining of subjective experience. The linked article provides an excellent discussion of the issues surrounding panpsychism, and how it is that physical and phenomenal states might coexist at a fundamental level. The central focus of his paper is to clarify the various schools of thought on how microphysical and or microphenomenal states might combine and relate to so called macrophysical and macrophenomenal states. He writes:

“The combination problem for panpsychism is: how can microphenomenal properties combine to yield macrophenomenal properties? […] The combination problem can be broken down into at least three subproblems, […] These three aspects yield what we might call the subject combination problem , the quality combination problem, and the structure combination problem.

[…]The subject combination problem is roughly: how do microsubjects combine to yield macro-subjects? Here microsubjects are microphysical subjects of experience, and macrosubjects are macroscopic subjects of experience such as ourselves.  […] An especially pressing aspect of the subject combination problem is the subject-summing problem [in principle it seems that a macrosubject would not necessarily emerge from microsubjects].

[…]The quality combination problem is roughly: how do microqualities combine to yield macroqualities? Here macroqualities are specific phenomenal qualities such as phenomenal redness (what it is like to see red), phenomenal greenness, and so on. It is natural to suppose that microexperience involves microqualities, which might be primitive analogs of macroqualities. How do these combine? An especially pressing aspect of the quality combination problem is what we might call the palette problem [..] How can this limited palette of microqualities combine to yield the vast array of macroqualities?

[…]The structure combination problem is roughly: how does microexperiential structure (and microphysical structure) combine to yield macroexperiential structure? Our macroexperience has a rich structure, involving the complex spatial structure of visual and auditory fields, a division into many different modalities, and so on. How can the structure in microexperience and microstructure yield this rich structure? An especially pressing aspect of the structure combination problem is the structural mismatch problem. Microphysical structure (in the brain, say) seems entirely different from the macrophenomenal structure we experience. “

Panpsychism has already suffered from a somewhat dubious reputation in the past, perhaps because it is often conceived of in simplistic terms by those unfamiliar with it. In many minds, panpsychism is presumed to imply a cartoonish idea of nature which imbues every speck of dust or atom with a human-like mind. While there may be no philosophical justification to rule out such a view, I think that all of the common forms of panpsychism offer far more sophisticated ideas. I would consider any view which disregards the primitive nature of microphysical systems relative to macrophenomenal states to be more of an anthropomorphic panpsychism; what I call pananthropism,  There are weaker forms of panpsychism, such as panexperientialism or panprotoexperientialism which do honor the difference in complexity between micro and macro scale phenomena, but these forms also dilute the effectiveness in resolving the Hard Problem of Consciousness. If we say that microphenomenal states aren’t really phenomenal or subjective, then we still are faced with having to explain why and how they become that way on the macro, human scale.

In between the two extremes, I introduce the word ‘pansensitivity‘, which posits a universal minimal capacity for sense in naturally presented phenomena (not phenomenal representations). This sensitivity operates within its own scale and inertial frame of reference, and need not be very similar to human consciousness. Inertial frame is intended literally as well, as part of the hypothesis includes the idea that experiences themselves accumulate and take on a kind of gravitation-like tropism, similar to Rupert Sheldrake’s Morphic Resonance and David Bohm’s Implicate Order, which I refer to within MSR as Solitrophy, If solitrophy is the world builder, then significance (the nesting of representation within sensed presence) is its bricks and mortar.

Pansensitivity need not have a subjective or self-like quality, only a univeral commonality of being and doing which is rooted in sensory-motor participation.  By emphasizing the primacy of perception and participation as the heart of all possible experience, pansensitivity lays the foundation for a full scale integration with physical conjugates such as mass-energy, space-time, electro-magnetism. Additional conjugates from information science and mathematics integrate smoothly as well, such as form-function, signal-noise, geometry-algebra, and ordinality-cardinality. The consequence of moving ‘down’ from panpsychism to pansensitivity would be the loss of the anthropomorphic baggage imposed on primitive phenomena, and the consequence of moving ‘up’ from panprotoexperientialism would be to un-ask the Hard Problem on the micro-level.

Primordial Pansensitivity

Starting from the hypothesis that all phenomena are sensed or sensing phenomena*, and that nothing can said to be exist beyond the scope of sense, the entire Combination Problem is turned on its head to become one of breaking apart rather than merging together. Because all distinctions of micro and macro, phenomenal and physical are subsumed within the absolute primordialism of pansensitivity, we must employ a different way of thinking about the Combination Problem entirely. This revision of thought extends to a re-imagining of some of the underpinnings of mathematics and cosmology. In all respects, where recent Western views assumes a universe from nothing, or an arithmetic beginning with zero, primordial pansensitivity supposes the opposite perspective; a multiplicity carved out of unity, a near infinity of quantities diffracted as ratios within the number one. Separation becomes the derived local condition, while singularity is the absolute fundamental condition. It is not ‘a singularity’, or ‘a universe’, it is The singularity, and The universe.

Because the orientation of this model flips the traditional ranking of physics and phenomenology, and awareness is the sole defining principle, Professor Chalmers three subproblems would have to be restated to assume divergence rather than emergence. Emergence would be the local appearance of diffraction of the single whole rather than combination of isolated parts. At this level, PIP can be considered a form of idealism, in that the head end of the Ouroboros is phenomenal presence and the tail end is diffracted by time (subjective self), space (objective matter), and sense itself (represented information), however the very categorization of sense as ‘ideal’ is a materialistic bias which draws on Platonic notions of information supremacy rather than the sensory supremacy envisioned by PIP/MSR. Sense is not an ideal, it is concrete. It moves bodies and births galaxies. The sense of the human intellect is idealizing. Our mental life is a special case as far as we know. The rest of the universe does not seem to strive for perfection, it simply presents itself as perfect or imperfect by default. The human mindscape, by contrast, is often fixated on perfecting forms and functions, removing entropy from signal.

The Genius of Palette

When we consider the relation of the colors of the visible spectrum to white light, we can get a sense of how singularity and multiplicity coexist qualitatively, and how that coexistence differs from quantitative-logical structures. The difference between projected light and reflected color is instructive. As we know, converging three spotlights of competing colors gets us closer to white in the overlap, while mixing three paints of different colors gets us closer to grey or black. Similar displays of order can be found in the other senses as well, with harmonic progressions and white noise within sound, and other symmetric patterns which circumscribe the palette of olfactory sense. The palette of the color wheel, however, is uniquely suited to modeling aspects of sense combination. We might as why that is. What makes vision seem more fully exposed to us than something like smell? How does the neurological emphasis on visual sensitivity translate into this ‘seeing is believing’ sense of trust?

In particular, the color wheel or visible spectrum presents two themes within palette formulation. The first I will call the prospectively sensible theme. If we had never seen color before, and were presented for the first time with green and blue paint, it seems plausible that we could imagine a color in between green and blue as being turquoise or cyan. If we were presented with red and green paint instead, it seems completely implausible that anyone could imagine the existence of the color yellow. Yellow is not ‘prospectively’ sensible. Once we see yellow however, and see the flow of the visible spectrum as it progresses smoothly from red to orange to yellow to green, the quality of yellow seems to fit in perfectly, so it is retrospectively sensible,  In this example, cyan has both prospective and retrospective sensibility, but yellow only has retrospective sensibility. This gives the origin of yellow an unprecedented quality. I call this idiopathic property, which is common to all sense palettes, the ‘genius’ of the palette. The genius provides tentpoles, primary differences in kind from which secondary and tertiary differences of kind blend seamlessly into a multiplicity of differences in degree. There is a view of the territory of the pansensitivity’s version of the Combination Problem (or primary Divergence Problem).

The problem of the origin of palette genius is still an issue, but it is an issue which is diffused somewhat by the totality and unity of primordial sense, and the inversion of our expectation of nothingness rather than primordial everythingness. These genius qualia are manifestations of sense which may be more primitive than spacetime itself, so that the ingression of spacetime leaves certain critical pieces to the puzzle missing. Simply stated, the whole idea of causality and origin depends on time and sequence, so that these primary colors and sensations are as fundamental as sequence itself, and as any question that we can ask about it. Questions themselves are presumably no more fundamental than these elemental experiences.

Combinatory Eigenmorphism

Once a palette of sense has diverged and multiplied into spacetime availibility, it is proposed that the role of subjective participants is to recover unity and simultaneity, completing a kind of sensory-semantic conservation cycle (which is also a palette of sense).  The hypothesis of combinatory eigenmorphism is that the relation between any and all phenomenal experiences, whether they are cognitive, perceptual, or physical, can be characterized by specific categorical differences which are themselves ordered in a sensible schema.

Borrowing the eigen- prefix, used in terms such as eigenstate and eigenvector, and the root ‘morph’ as it is used in isomorphism and homomorphism, eigenmorphism is intended to describe an ordered set of elementary mappings within a closed continuum of possible mappings. Comparing two compasses, for example, the closed continuum of possible mappings would be the 360 x 360 degree matrix of possible needle direction combinations. Only one type of combination (a group of 360 out of the total 129,600 combinations) would be isomorphic, with both needles facing the same direction. Another group of 360 would be anti-isomorphic (one compass needle points North and the other points South). In between these two poles would be various shades and angles of disagreement. The right angles would be in perpendicular disagreement to both the isomorphic and anti-isomorphic combinations.

eigenchart

The use of eigenmorphism here is not intended as a mathematical abstraction, however. There may be more precise terms within algebra or geometry to describe such a rotating cycle of polarization stages, but the point of using morphism here is not to limit the combinations to one dimensional differences. Unlike a geometric degree or radian, this usage of morphism must apply to every kind of difference between any phenomena, not just to differences in shapes or orientation.  This is potentially possible because of the holism of primordial pansensitivity. The divergence of every singularity into multiplicity can be described as tectonic – every diffracted palette and diffraction within a palette is like Pangea, breaking into continents which fit each other like puzzle pieces. Adages like ‘as above, so below’, and ‘opposites attract’ can be grounded in this foundational continuity.

Eigenmorphism must, therefore, apply not just to mathematical transformations, but to fully realized sense experiences, complete with personal participation and felt content. If we extend the compass metaphor and imagine that on the top of each compass is a tiny video screen which shows the other, and that the position of the needle determines the composition of that video image (not just brightness and contrast, but focus, size, realism, etc), we can begin to get a sense of what is meant by eigenmorphism. It is intended as a common schema to unite quality and quantity, or in Deleuzian-Bergsonian terms, differences in kind and differences in degree.

The full conjecture of eigenmorphism is that differences in kind are orthogonal to differences in degree, but that they are both part of the same cycle of sense which discerns all difference and through that experienced discernment, effects a reproduction of order which is expressed through all phenomena. To be clear, the scope of the juxtaposition of this schema is absolute. We are comparing poetry to baseballs, and deja vu to carbide steel. The goal is to recognize a subtle framework which weaves together all phenomena, whether physical, phenomenal, or semiotic, and on the scale of the microcosmic, macrocosmic, or cosmic. Eigenmorphism can help organize, in one conceptual framework, the relation between micro and macro scales or across physical and phenomenal lines, where similarities may be found only in the extremity of their incommensurable difference. Eigenmorphism is a response to Einstein’s famous quote “God does not play dice with the universe” in disbelief of Quantum Mechanical probability,  God plays dice, dice plays God but only sense can make a difference.

Eigenlinguistics

Language provides a good example of how physical objects and experience can coexist seamlessly within a single schema. Onomatopoetic words like bang! or pow! rely on high degree of isomorphism between 1) sounds that we hear, 2) sensible generalizations of those sounds, and 3) sounds that can be spoken. Such sound-alike words are more universal than other kinds of words, as they require no translation from language to language. People of all ages and backgrounds intuitively understand that these words refer directly to events associated with those sounds. It seems likely that language itself must have originated with this kind of imitative behavior – the recording and replaying of sounds and gestures. The combination of literal imitation (bottom-up) and figurative association (top-down) yielded more abstract metaphors with more eigenmorphic combinations. Complex communications extended the step of sensible generalization (2) and, perhaps surprisingly, made communication and representation more difficult to separate from that which is represented.

With each extension from the literal to the figurative, the poetic and the abstract, we effect certain translations, each of which stand on their own as sensible connections, and which take their own most sensible places in the universal context. Again, going back to the color wheel. Each hue and shade makes sense as its own unique individual experience, and as a mathematical vector within any number of sensible topologies (wheels, cylinders, cubes, parabolas, triangles, etc). It makes sense in many different ways, including the intuitively idiopathic sense of its palette genius.

Within language we find a vast context of meanings which have developed accidentally and intentionally, intuitively and counter-intuitively. Conventions of grammar and spelling reflect similar mixtures of logic, intuition, spontaneity, and inherited formalism. Beneath all of these is a semiotic foundation. To communicate is to represent, and to represent is to infer comparisons among subjects, objects, other subjects, and other comparisons. To discern differences between ‘things’ implies first a capacity to sense ‘things’, and to experience sensibility itself – an expectation of presence and participation.

Semiosis is a particular cognitive version of what I suggest is this fundamental sensibility; the capacity to mentally record and generalize or iconicize perceptions, and to record those essentialized perceptions to be abstracted further. If information is a perceived difference that makes a difference, then information itself depends on a more primitive capacity to discern difference from indifference, to care about that discernment, and the power to do something about it. The polarization of afferent sensory receptivity is the power of efferent motive projection; to participate intentionally in some way which promises to have an effect on what has been sensed. This, to me, is the ultimate firmament of all metaphysics. The universe is an eigenmorphic-relativistic singularity of all experience, and experience is a nested multiplicity of sensory-motives.

Eigenmorphism assumes this universal continuum of sense in which the degrees and kinds of nestings deform the context of perception itself. As mass deforms spacetime in General Relativity, experiential qualities warp experiential perspectives under Multisense Realism. Rather than assuming a one-to-one, isomorphic relation, in which, for instance, a particular neurotransmitter’s binding in the brain equals a particular particle of a subjective experience, there is a lattice of translation which shifts in direct proportion to the scale and nature of the pairing (micro to macro, private to public, familiar to foreign, etc). As macro scale entities, our human scope is dictated not only by size and frequency of our conscious frame-rate relative to other experiential entities, but by the character and history of our intentional participation. If we want to put a Buddhist twist on it, it could be said that karma is the gravity of consciousness, and eigenmorphism is the warping of consciousness that mirrors back its own warped condition as well as the phenomenal translation of all external conditions through that lensing.

From Relativity to Improbability

As Relativity uses the concept of inertial frames, eigenmorphism describes the holistic constitution of experience. As a prism can be seen to split a beam of white light or combine beams of colored light into one, our human experience unites the spectrum of zoological, biological, chemical, and physical experience. We can choose to see ourselves as animals, or meta-animals, or temporarily embarrassed deities.  Our personal experience is proprietary and unique not just to the fingerprint or genome, but to the irreducibly absolute. The primordial pansensitivity hypothesis predicts that every experience, while seemingly composed of reducible, recombinant elements, is actually its own solitary universe – a vector of sense which cannot be reproduced completely. It is proposed that appearances of generality and duplication are a local effect, an artifact of eigenmorphic translation from plurality to singlularity in which the discernment of differences is necessarily truncated at an appropriate level. We can see this, for example, in how we look at sand on the beach, and generalize the grains of sand in our mind. Under a microscope, we can see more of the unique character of each grain. Because we assume that sense is primordial, we can predict that the microscope too has its limit, beyond which discernment falls to zero and that which we are measuring becomes indiscernible from the instrument being used to measure.

The pansensitive conjecture equalizes unlikelihood and inevitability in the totality, since it is not within the entropic displacement of spacetime. Within spacetime, probability is a mechanistic absolute, but that conditionality is, under eigenmorphism, a local inversion of the larger conditions of non-probability. Like the yellow and the cyan, the expectation of predictable order is itself emergent from utter unpredictability. Probability is a palette genius. Because the assumption of the improbable is taken as an anthropic necessity of all possible universes, the unlikelihood of life in the universe is nullified. It is not certain physical conditions which give rise to life, it is life experience which is expressed through certain physical conditions. By analogy, Shakespeare did not arise from the combination of certain words, vast groups of words were employed by Shakespeare to express human stories.

Bodies and Experience, Scale and Frequencies

As a rule of thumb, the closer the scale of forms, the greater the range of possible eigenmorphic relations. Bodies which are of similar size and private experiences which share similar histories and qualities have more potential kinds of relations and more degrees of relation than phenomena of disparate scale or history.  From our perspective, it appears that entities which are on the extreme range of scale in the universe like subatomic particles and galactic superclusters seem equally unlikely to host any kind of awareness. It could be that this is objectively** true, even beyond the prejudiced relativity of our human scale eigenmorphism, but it is not clear that there can ever be a difference between human truth and objective truth as long as we are human. For us, even if stars are bits of the Gods as ancient astronomers imagined, their experience is on such a remote scale to ours that our phenomenal states are inaccessible to each other.

More likely it seems that the great and infinitesimal entities do have objectively limited palettes compared with our own, but that those limitations are exaggerated because the eigenmorphic range of our own extended human sensitivity projects its own envelope of significance. Try as we might, the significance of an ant’s life is not on par with a human life, and even if ants looked like human beings, their tiny size relative to our body would make it hard for us to take them seriously. This is all part of the natural intuitive ordering by scale in the universe. Eigenmorphism describes the character of that ordering.

There are many fanciful ways to imagine microphenomenal or astrophenomenal states. Maybe all such entities are one collective experience just as ours is a collective experience of neurons, maybe there is only one proton-star experience and only appears to replay within the stories of younger, more mid-sized entities. It’s just as likely that microphenomenal states are unknowable, alien, and not worth thinking about.

The Pathetic Constant and Pathetic Fallacy

The degree to which we feel that another entity is capable of feeling could be called its pathetic constant, as it remains constant according to form/scale.  The more familiar something is to us, the more we ‘like it’ and it is ‘like’ us, the higher the level of empathy we can sustain for it.  The pathetic constant which we have to ourselves, ironically may not be as high as that which we reserve for those we admire. That kind of super-significance is a whole other story, but for the purposes of this consideration, it can be said that the pathetic constant toward the idealized self would be the maximum. While bigotry may allow some humans to feel that other humans are less worthy than other members of human society, this prejudice manifests as hatred and fear rather than a low pathetic constant. A true low pathetic constant would be associated with impersonal insignificance rather than personal malice.

Human history points to instances in which certain animals or objects or bodies of dead nobility were revered with high pathetic values, but human societies in general tend to support a general pecking order of pathetic values which place humans before most animals, most animals before most insects, most insects before mold, and mold before minerals. We seem to have an idea about what is ‘like us’ which is relatively free of cultural variation, even if we choose to intentionally prefer one entity into a higher caste.

This may seem a trivial observation, or that this folk hierarchy is derived from mechanical measures of complexity and familiarity, and on one level that might be true, however it becomes necessary, when considering the sentience of technologies like artificial intelligence, to have a place to start. The pathetic fallacy is one where human experiential qualities are attributed to an inanimate object or machine, i.e. ‘the camera loves you’. Even the most ardent supporter of Strong AI must admit that at some level, say, the level of a trash can lid which flaps down to “say THANK YOU” every time a tray is removed, there is a gap between the appearance of the behavior to a human audience and the subjective intent behind that behavior. We can understand that the trash can lid is in fact motivated by tension of physical materials, not politeness. Since we assign to the trash can a pathetic constant which is absolutely minimal, we do not read into its behavior personally, and the eigenmorphic relation between any proposed internal state of the trash can and the polite behavior we might interpret is null; any attribution of meaning between what we experience and what the trash can experiences is purely one-sided and non-coincidental, or else super-signified as part of a manic or psychotic episode.

Should the polite words ‘Thank you!’ come from a human being instead, there is a much more rich field of eigenmorphic mappings to use for interpretation. The meaning of the exchange can range from the trivial and impersonal, as in the case of a consumer transaction with a public-facing employee of a corporation. or it could be heartfelt and genuine, even life changing under some circumstance. The aperture of possibilities is open where the pathetic constant is maximized, as it is those who you most resemble or would like to resemble can hurt you or heal you most.

Artificial Intelligence

In the case of the trash can lid, the intent is for the exchange not to be examined very deeply. For the operators of such restaurants,  superficial gestures of politeness support an impression of ‘good service’, particularly in a mechanized and personally impoverished environment of a fast food outlet which some might find unpleasant if the impersonality of the operation were fully disclosed. This ‘polite face’ is functionally similar to the GUI which modern computer systems employ, which dresses up a command line interface which the general public may find difficult. Of course, even the command lines are a polite face superimposed on the more mechanistic levels of hexadecimal or binary code, and finally microelectronic switch configurations. The phrase user-friendly refers to enhancements which are intended to increase the pathetic constant in public facing systems, promoting psychological ease, as well as more intuitive functionality. It’s interesting to note the role that scale and frequency plays in this.  A cell phone would not be very user-friendly if you could on use it the same distance away that your computer screen sits from your face.

The binary code is roughly isomorphic to microelectronic switch configurations, or any Turing machine’s configurations. So much so, that there is a branch of computing devoted to developing programs from languages based on bit geometry rather than conventional number representations. The future of nanocomputing or quantum computing may use code that looks very much like what it is and what it does. For now though, the relation between digital bits, and between binary 1’s and 0’s remains slightly more abstracted than the nearly absolute isomorphism of embodied computation. It is important to realize that on the microelectronic level, where the pathetic constant approaches zero for most of us, our commands and programs are not understood by the electronics (or gears or punch cards). Like vast collections of trash can lids, the physical components of any machine are involuntarily moved and changed intentionally, by us, from the outside. The hammer hits the bell, the bell jiggles the float, and so on in Rube Goldberg  fashions of mechanical interaction among objects in space.

What is the difference between outside-in  and inside-out interaction? Some have argued nothing. Philosophical arguments from Leibniz to Searle notwithstanding, the appearance of the brain as a physical machine is so persuasive and complete that for many, the prospect of empathy emerging from mechanical complexity alone seems to be the only possibility, and a possibility which, from their perspective, is undeniable. We see neurons firing, and it reminds us of a computer. We see software running and it reminds us of our mental experience. Case closed. The pathetic constant is pushed to the maximum, organic and inorganic process become identical, and all eigenmorphism is collapsed to isomorphism…the trash can lid becomes, at least to some small degree, polite. This is the kind of panpsychism that we should avoid. Not only for the sake of poor computer scientists who would automatically become guilty of  atrocities in developing experimental beings, and not for the sake of human supremacy, but for the sake of understanding the whole truth about presentation and representation.

Conclusion

Eigenmorphism is a difficult to conceive of properly without fully comprehending the implications of panpsychism, pansensitivity, primordial identity, and perceptual relativity. The idea that both General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics both expose opposite poles of what is ultimately identical with ordinary perception can be used as a basis for modeling a translation lattice. This envelope or matrix of perception which unites the microcosmic and the astrophysical, acts as a lens through which all subjective and objective appearances are presented. Like the eigenstates of QM, the relation of experience to itself has selective positions, settled inertial frames which evolve and recapitulate their own evolution. Participatory sense provides a richer context than mathematical spaces, so that forms and functions are only the publicly measurable tip of an immeasurable iceberg of private appreciation and participation which is unbounded by spacetime.

*that there are no proto-phenomenal or non-experienced properties possible, since ontology itself is treated as supervening on sense.

**true objectivity would require that we discard eigenmorphism, as only the absolute frame of reference would be without relativistic distortion, but objectivity requires that some sensory translation is objectifying another sense experience. Having no other sense experience to translate, the absolute frame can only diagonalize its own diffraction within itself.

Hypostitious Minds

August 19, 2013 8 comments

Once upon a time, the belief in witchcraft was about as common as the belief in using soap.

…how pervasive was belief in witchcraft in early modern England? Did most people find it necessary to use talismans to ward off the evil attacks of witches? Was witchcraft seen as a serious problem that needed to be addressed? The short answer is that belief in witchcraft survived well into the modern era, and both ecclesiastical and secular authorities saw it as an issue that needed to be addressed.

In 1486, the first significant treatise on witchcraft, evil, and bewitchment, Malleus Malificarum , appeared in continental Europe. A long 98 years later, the text was translated into English and quickly ran through numerous editions. It was the first time that religious and secular authorities admitted that magic, witchcraft, and superstition were, indeed, real; it was also a simple means of defining and identifying people who performed actions seen as anti-social or deviant.

Few doubted that witches existed, and none doubted that being a witch was a punishable offense. But through the early modern era,  witchcraft was considered a normal, natural aspect of daily life, an easy way for people, especially the less educated, to events in the confusing world around them. – (source)

In many parts of the world, the belief in witchcraft is still very common.

image
(source)

“As might be expected, the older and less educated respondents reported higher belief in witchcraft, but interestingly such belief was inversely linked to happiness. Those who believe in witchcraft rated their lives significantly less satisfying than those who did not.

One likely explanation is that those who believe in witchcraft feel they have less control over their own lives. People who believe in witchcraft often feel victimized by supernatural forces, for example, attributing accidents or disease to evil sorcery instead of randomness or naturalistic causes.” (source)

another poll on beliefs in the U.S:

What People Do and Do Not Believe in

Many more people believe in miracles, angels, hell and the devil than in Darwin’s theory of evolution; almost a quarter of adults believe in witches

New York, N Y . — December 15 , 2009 —

A new Harris Poll finds that the great majority (82%) of American adults believe in God, exactly the same number as in two earlier Harris Polls in 2005 and 2007. Large majorit ies also believe in miracles (76 %), heaven (75%), that Jesus is God or the Son of God (73%) , in angels (72%), th e survival of the soul after death (71%), and in the resurrection of Jesus (70%). Less than half (45%) of adults believe in Darwin’s theory of evolution but this is more than the 40% who believe in creationism. These are some of the results of The Harris Poll of 2,303 adults surveyed online between November 2 and 11, 2009 by Harris Interactive . The survey also finds that: 61 % of adults believe in hell; 61% believe in the virgin birth (Jesus born of Mary); 60% believe in the devil; 42% believe in ghosts; 32% believe in UFOs; 26% believe in astrology; 23% believe in witches 20% believe in reincarnation (source)

Because there are so many benefits associated with freedom from superstition, it is not much of a tradeoff emotionally to go from a world of mystical phantoms to one of scientific clarity. It may be too intellectually challenging or difficult for a lot of people to get the opportunity to be exposed to scientific knowledge in the right way, at the right time in their life, but it seems that if they do seize that opportunity, they are happy with their decision. Of course, not everyone makes a decision to block out all religious or spiritual beliefs when they accept scientific truths, and even though there are probably more people alive today who believe in sorcery than there were in 1600, there are more people now who also believe in germs, powered flight, and heliocentric astronomy.

There is little argument that scientific knowledge and its use as a prophylactic against the rampant spread of superstition is a ‘good thing’. Is it possible though, to have too much of a good thing? Is there a limit to how much we should insist upon determinism and probability to explain everything?

The Over-Enlightenment
The City Dark is a recent documentary about the subtle and not-so-subtle effects of light pollution. Besides new and unacknowledged health dangers from changed sleeping habits in people and ecological upheaval in other species, the show makes the case that the inescapable blur of light which obscures our view of the night sky is quietly changing our view of our own lives. The quiet importance of the vast heavens in setting our expectations and limiting the scale of our ego has been increasingly dissolved into a haze of metal halide. In just over a century, night-time illumination has gone from a simple extension of visibility into the evening, into a 24 hour saturation coverage of uninhabited parking lots, residential neighborhoods, and office buildings. The connection between the power to see, do, and know, is embodied literally in our history as the Enlightenment, Industrial Age, and Information Age.

The 20th century was cusp of the Industrial and Information ages, beginning with Edison and Einstein redefining electricity, light, and energy, peaking with the midcentury Atomic age when radiation became a household word and microwave ovens began to cook with invisible light rather than heat. Television became an artificial light source which we used not only as silent companions with which to see the world, but as a kind of hypnotic signal emitter which we stare directly into – the home version of that earlier invention which came into its own in the 20th century, the motion picture. The century which tracked the spread of electricity and light from urban centers to the suburbs ended with the internet and mobile phones bringing CRT, LED, and LCD light into our personal space. Where once electronic devices were confined to living rooms and cars, we are now surrounded by tiny illuminated dots and numbers, and a satellite connection is hardly ever out of arms reach.

A Life Sentence
In Foucault’s Discipline and Punish, he details the history of prison and the rise of disciplinary culture in Europe as it spread from monasteries through the hospitals, military, police, schools, and industry. He discusses how the concept of justice evolved from the whim of the king to torture and publicly execute whoever he pleased, to kangaroo courts of simulated justice, to the modern expectation of impartiality and evidence in determining guilt.

The shift of punishment style from dismemberment to imprisonment reflected the change in focus from the body to the mind. The Reformation gave Western Europe a taste of irreverence and self-determination, at the same time, the monastic lifestyle was adopted throughout pre-Modernity. To be a hospital patient, student, soldier, prisoner, or factory laborer was to enter a world of strict regulation, immaculate uniforms, and constant inspection. Inspection is a central theme which Foucalt examines. He describes how an obsessive regimen of meticulous inspection and monitoring, and standardized testing reached an ultimate expression in the panopticon architecture. Through this central-eye floor plan, the population is exposed and personally vulnerable while the administration retains the option to remain concealed and anonymous.

Circumstantial Evidence

Tying these themes of inspection, enlightenment, and illumination together with witchcraft is the concept of evidence. What could be more scientific than evidence.

evident (adj.)
late 14c., from Old French evident and directly from Latin evidentem (nominative evidens) “perceptible, clear, obvious, apparent” from ex- “fully, out of” (see ex-) + videntem (nominative videns), present participle of videre “to see” (see vision)

The Salem Witch Trials famously victimized those who were targeted as witches by subjecting them to what seem to us now as ludicrous tests. This gives us a good picture of the transition from pre-scientific to scientific practices in society. This adolescent point between the two reveals a budding need to rationalize harsh punishments intellectually, but not enough to prevent childish impatience and blame from running the show.

The idea of circumstantial evidence – evidence which is only coincidentally related to a crime, marks a shift in thinking which is echoed in the rise of the scientific method. As the mindset of those in power became more modern, the validity of all forms of intuition and supernatural sources came into question. Where once witchcraft and spirits were taken seriously, now there was a radical correction. It was belief in the supernatural which was revealed to be obsolete and suspicious. The default position had changed from one which assumed spirits and omens to one which assumed coincidence, exaggeration, and mistaken impressions. Beyond even the notion of innocent until proven guilty, it was the notion that proof mattered in the first place which was the Enlightenment’s gift to the cause of human liberation.

Few would argue that this new dis-belief system which brought us out of savagery is a good thing, but also, as Foucault intimates, we cannot assume that it is all good. Is incarceration really the human and effective way of discouraging crime that we would like to think, or is it a largely hypocritical enactment of a fetish for control? Does the desire to predict and control lead to an insatiable desire to dictate and invade others?

Cold Readings

There have been many exposes on psychics and mediums over the years where stage magicians and others have run down the kinds of tricks that can be used to gather unexpected intelligence from an audience and use it to fool them. The cold reading is a way of cheating a mark into thinking that the psychic has supernatural powers, when in fact they have had an assistant look through their purse earlier.

Ironically, these techniques are the same techniques used in science, except that they are intended to reveal the truth rather than instigate a fraud. Statistical analyses and reductive elimination are key aspects of the scientific method, giving illumination to hidden processes. In neuroscience, for instance, an fMRI is not really telling us about how a person thinks or feels, rather they physiological changes that we can measure are used to produce a kind of cold reading of the subject’s experience, based on our own familiarity with our personal experience.

This is all fantastic stuff, of course, but there seems to be a point where the methods of logical inference from evidence crosses over into its own kind of pathology. The etymology of superstition talks about “prophecy, soothsaying, excessive fear of the gods”. The suffix ‘-stition’ is from the same root as ‘-standing’ in understanding. There is a sense of the mind compulsively over-reaching for explanations, jumping to conclusions, and rendered stupid by naivete.

The converse pathology does not have a popular name like that, although people use the word pseudoskeptical to emphasize a passionately prejudiced attitude toward the unproved rather than a scientifically impartial stance. The neologism I am using here, hypostition, puts the emphasis on the technical malfunction of the scientific impulse run amok. Where superstition is naive, hypostition is cynical. Where superstition jumps to conclusions, hypostition resists any conclusion, no matter how clear and compelling, in which the expectations of the status quo are called into question.

Tests in Life

Much of what is meant by witchcraft can be boiled down to an effort to access secret knowledge and power. The witch uses divination to receive guidance and prophecy intuitively, often by studying patterns of coincidence and invoking a private intention to find its way to a public expression. Superstition swims in the same waters, reading into coincidence and projecting their own furtive impulses outwardly. Beyond that, we talking about herbal medicine, folk psychology, and rituals mythologizing nature.

The goal of the science and technology is similarly an effort to extract knowledge and power from nature, but to do so without falling into the trap of magical thinking. Instead of making a pact with occult forces, the scientist openly experiments to expose nature. Along the way, there are often lucky coincidences which lead to breakthroughs, and challenges which seem tailor made to derail the work. These trials and tribulations, however, are not supported by science. If we adopt the hypostitious frame of mind, there can be no narrative to our experience, no fortunate people, places, or times, beyond the allowable margins of chance.

We have come full circle on coincidence, where we obliged to doubt even the most life-altering synchronicity as mere statistical inevitability.
In place of superstition we have neuroses. Our triumph over the fear of the unknown has become an insidious phobia of the known. Even to recognize this would be to admit some kind of narrative pattern in human history. Recognition of such a pattern is discouraged. The tests which we face are not allowed to make that kind of sense, unless it can be justified by the presence of a chemical in the body, or a behavior in another species.

A Way Out
For me, the recognition of the two poles of superstition and hypostition are enough to realize that the way forward is to avoid the extremes most of the time. Intuition and engineering both have their place, and the key is not to always try to squeeze one into the other. At this point, the world seems to be nightmarishly extreme in both directions at the same time, but maybe it has always seemed that way?

The challenge I suppose is to try to find a way to escape each other’s insanity, or to contribute in some way toward improving what we can’t escape from. With some effort and luck, our fear of the dark and insensitivity to the light might be transformed into a full range of perception. Nah, probably not.

Qui? Que

August 15, 2013 1 comment

quiqueoui

Consciousness, in Black and White

July 2, 2013 14 comments

It occurs to me that it might be easier to explain my view of consciousness and its relation to physics if I begin at the beginning. In this case, I think that the beginning was in asking ‘What if the fundamental principle in the universe were a simple form of awareness rather than something else?’

Our choices in tracing the lineage of consciousness back seem to be limited. Either it ’emerged’ from complexity, at some arbitrary stage of biological evolution, or its complexity evolved without emergence, as elaboration of a simple foundational panpsychic property.

In considering which of these two is more likely, I suggest that we first consider the odd, unfamiliar option. The phenomenon of contrast as a good place to start to characterize the theme of awareness. Absolute contrasts are especially compelling. Full and empty, black and white, hot and cold, etc. Our language is replete with evidence of this binary hyperbole. Not only does it seem necessary for communication, but there seems also to be an artistic satisfaction in making opposites as robust as possible. Famously this tendency for exaggeration clouds our thinking with prejudice, but it also clarifies and makes distinction more understandable. In politics, mathematics, science, philosophy, and theology, concepts of a balance of opposites can be found as the embodiment of its essential concepts.

For this reason alone, I think that we can say with certainty that consciousness has to do with a discernment of contrasts. Beneath the linguistic and conceptual embodiments of absolute contrasts are the more zoological contrasting pairs – hungry and full, alive and dead, tired and alert, sick and healthy, etc. At this point we should ask, is consciousness complex or is it simple? Is the difference between pain and pleasure something that should require billions of cellular interactions over billions of years of evolution to arrive at accidentally, or does that seem like something which is so simple and primordial that nothing could ever ‘arrive’ at it?

Repetition is a special form of contrast, because whether it is an event which repeats cyclically through a sequence or a form which repeats spatially across a pattern, the underlying nature of what repeats is that it is in some sense identical or similar, and in another sense not precisely identical as it can be located in memory or position as a separate instance.

I use the phrase “repeats cyclically through a sequence” instead of “repeats sequentially through time” because if we take our beginning premise of simple qualities and capacities of awareness as preceding even physics, then the idea of time should be grounded in experience rather than an abstract metric. Instead of conceiving of time as a dimension in which events are contained, we must begin with the capacity of events to ‘know’ each other or in some way retain their continuity while allowing discontinuity. An event which repeats, such as a heartbeat or the circadian rhythms of sunlight, is fundamentally a rhythm or cycle. That is the actual sense experience. Regular, frequent, variation. Modulation of regularity.

Likewise, I use the phrase “repeats spatially across a pattern” instead of “repeats as a pattern across space” because again, we must flip the expectation of physics if we are to remain consistent to the premise of sense-first. What we see is not objects in space, it is shapes separated by contrasting negative shapes. What we can touch are solids, liquids, and gases separated from each other by contrasting sense of their densities. Here too, the sense of opposites dominates, separating the substantial from the insubstantial, heavy from light, hard from soft.

An important point to make here is that we are adapted, as human beings with bodies of a particular density and size, to feel the world that relates appropriately to our body. It is only through the hard lessons like plague and radiation that we have learned that indeed things which are too small for us to see or feel can destroy our bodies and kill us. The terror of this fact has inspired science to pursue knowledge with an aggressive urgency, and justifiably so. Scientists are heroes, informing medicine, transportation, public safety, etc as never before in the history of the world and inspiring a fantastic curiosity for knowledge about reality rather than ideas about God or songs about love. The trauma of that shattering of naive realism haunts our culture as whole, and has echoes in the lives of each generation, family, and individual. Innocence lost. The response to this trauma varies, but it is hard to remain neutral about. People either adapt to the cold hard world beyond themselves with fear or with anger. It’s an extension of self-consciousness which seems uniquely human and often associated with mortality. I think that it’s more than confronting their own death that freaks out the humans, it’s the chasm of unknowable impotence which frames our entire experience on all sides. We know that we don’t really know.

The human agenda becomes not merely survival and reproduction, but also to fill the existential chasm with answers, or failing answers, to at least feel fulfilled with dramatic feelings – with entertainments, achievements, and discoveries. We want something thrilling and significant to compensate for our now unforgettable discovery of our own insignificance. With modernism came a kind of Stockholm syndrome turn. We learned how to embrace the chasm, or at least to behave that way.

At the same time that Einstein began to call the entire foundation of our assumptions about physics into question, the philosophy of Neitzsche, along with the science of Darwin and Freud had begun to sink in politically. Revolutions from both the Left and Right rocked the world, followed in some nations by totalitarianism and total war. The arts were transformed by an unprecedented radicalism as well, from Duchamp, Picasso, and Malevich to Stravinsky and Le Corbusier. After all of the pageantry and tradition, all of the stifling politeness and patriarchy, suddenly Westerners stopped giving a shit about the past. All at once, the azimuth of the collective psyche pitched Westward all the way, toward annihilation in a glorious future. If humans could not live forever, then we will become part of whatever does live forever. The human agenda went transhuman, and everyone became their own philosophical free agent. God was indeed dead. For a while. But the body lives on.

The point of this detour was to underscore the importance of what we are in the world – the size and density of our body, to what we think that the world is. Not only do we only perceive a narrow range of frequencies of light and sound, but also of events. Events which are too slow or too fast for us to perceive as events are perceived as permanent conditions. What we experience exists as a perceptual relativity between these two absolutes. Like the speed of light, c, perception has aesthetic boundaries. Realism is personal, but it is more than personal also. We find agreement in other people and in other creatures which we can relate to. Anything which has a face earns a certain empathy and esteem. Anything that we can eat has a significance to us. Sometimes the two overlap, which gives us something to think about. Consciousness, at least the consciousness which is directed outwardly from our body, is all about these kinds of judgment calls or bets. We are betting that animals that we eat are not as significant as we are, so we enjoy eating them, or we are betting that such a thought is immoral so we abstain. Society reflects back these judgments and amplifies them through language, customs, belief systems, and laws. Since the modernist revolution, the media has blanketed the social landscape with mass production of cliches and dramatizations, which seems to have wound up leaking a mixture of vanity and schadenfreude, with endless reenactments, sequels, and series.

It is out of this bubble of reflected self-deflection that the current philosophies rooted in both reductionism and emergentism find their appeal. Beginning with the assumption of mechanism or functionalism as the universal principle, the task of understanding our own consciousness becomes a strictly empirical occupation. Though the daunting complexity of neuroscience cannot be overstated, the idea is that it is inevitable that we eventually uncover the methods and means by which data takes on its fancy experiential forms. The psyche can only be a kind of evolutionary bag of tricks which has developed to serve the agenda of biological repetition. Color, flavor, sound, as well as philosophy and science are all social peacock displays and data-compressing virtual appendages. The show of significance is an illusion, an Eloi veneer of aesthetics over the Morlock machinations of pure function.

To see oneself as a community of insignificance in which an illusion of significance is invested is a win-win for the postmodern ego. We get to claim arbitrary superiority over all previous incarnations, while at the same time claiming absolute humility. It’s a calculated position, and like a game theory simulation, it aims to minimize vulnerability. Facts are immutable and real, experiences are irrelevant. From this voyeuristic vantage point, the holder of mechanist views about free will is free to deny that he has it without noticing the contradiction. The emergent consciousness can speak glowingly out of both sides of its mouth of its great knowledge and understanding in which all knowledge and understanding is rendered void by statistical mechanics. Indeed the position offers no choice, having backed itself into a corner, but to saw off its own limbs with one hand and reattach them with another when it is not looking.

What is gained from this exercise in futility beyond the comfort that comes with conformity to academic consensus is the sense that whatever happens, it can be justified with randomness or determinism. The chasm has been tamed, not by filling it in or denying it, but by deciding that we are simply not present in the way that we think. DNA acts, neurons fire, therefore we are not thinking. Death is no different than life which has paused indefinitely. An interesting side effect is that as people are reduced to emergent machines, machines are elevated to sentient beings, and the circle is complete. We are not, but our products are. It seems to me the very embodiment of suburban neuroses. The vicarious society of invisible drones.

Just as 20th century physics exploded the atom, I would like to see 21st century physics explode the machine. Instead of releasing raw energy and fragmentation, I see that the blasting open of mathematical assumptions will yield an implosion into meaning. Pattern recognition, not information, is the true source of authenticity and significance. They are the same thing ultimately. The authenticity of significance and the significance of authenticity speak to origination and individuation over repetition. Not contrast and dialectic, not forces and fields, but the sense  in which all of these facets are yoked together. Sense is the meta-syzygy. It is the capacity to focus multiplicity into unity (as in perception or afference) and the capacity for unity to project into multiplicity (participation or efference).

These are only metaphorical descriptions of function however. What sense really is and what it does can only be experienced directly. You make sense because everything makes sense…in some sense. That doesn’t happen by accident. It doesn’t mean there has to be a human-like deity presiding over all of it, to the contrary, only half of what we can experience makes sense intentionally, the other half (or slightly less) makes sense unintentionally, as a consequence of larger and smaller sequences which have been set in motion intentionally. We are the evidence. Sense is evident to us and there is nothing which can be evident except through sense and sense making.

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