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Science of Consciousness 2019

July 2, 2019 Leave a comment


Full PDF of poster

It was great to be in Interlaken Switzerland for my fifth Science of Consciousness conference. I met some great friends, old and new, and had some great conversations while sightseeing one of the most beautiful places on Earth. Thanks to everyone there and hope to see many of you soon at the next convention(s?).

Can Effort Be Simulated?

January 12, 2019 Leave a comment

This may seem like an odd question, but I think that it is a great one if you’re thinking about AI and the hard problem of consciousness.

Let’s say I want my dishwasher to feel the sense of effort that I feel when I wash dishes. How would I do it? It could make groaning noises or seem to procrastinate by refusing to turn on for days on end, but this would be completely pointless from a practical perspective and it would only seem like effort in my imagination. In reality, any machine can be made to perform any function that it is able to do for as long as the physical parts hold up without any effort on anyone’s part. That’s why they are machines. That’s why we replace human labor with robot labor…because it’s not really labor at all.

It is very popular to think of human beings as a kind of machine and the brain as a kind of computer, but imagine if that were really true. You could wash dishes for your entire lifetime and do nothing else. If someone wanted a house, you could simply build it for them. Machines are useful precisely because they don’t have to try to do anything. They have no sense of effort. They don’t care what they do or don’t do.

You might say, “There’s nothing special about that. Biological organisms just evolved to have this sense of effort to model physiological limits.” Ok, but what possible value would that have to survival? Under what circumstances would it serve an organism to work less than the maximum that it could physiologically? Any consideration such as conserving energy for the Winter would naturally be rolled into the maximum allowed by the regulatory systems of the body.

So, I say no. Effort cannot be simulated. Effort is not equal to energy or time. It is a feeling which is so powerful that it dictates everything that we are able to do and unable to do. Effort is a telltale sign of consciousness. If we could sleep while we do the dishes, we would, because we would not have to feel the discomfort of expending effort to do it.

Any computer, AI, or robot that would be useful to us could not possibly have a sense of its own efforts as being difficult. Once we understand how a sense of effort is truly antithetical to machine behaviors, perhaps we can then begin to see why consciousness in general cannot be simulated. How would an AI that has no sense of not wanting to do the dishes every be able to truly understand what activities are pleasurable and what are painful?

Aesthetic Universe

August 12, 2017 1 comment

I use the word ‘aesthetic‘ in a universal way. Local anesthetic numbs sensation and general anesthetic suspends consciousness, so to me, existence itself is an irreducibly aesthetic phenomenon.

The Failure of Positivism And It’s Relevance Today

May 16, 2016 Leave a comment

In evaluating 20th century philosophy, a few names regularly crop up into most conversations. Gottlob Frege, Bertrand Russell, Ludwig Wittgenstein, many of them are Austrian or British, many are lo…

Source: The Failure of Positivism And It’s Relevance Today

New to MSR?

May 1, 2016 Leave a comment

It might help to start with  my other writings on Quora:

This site is more of a place for recording ideas before I forget them.


“Existence” = Availability

April 27, 2016 7 comments

“Reality” =  Maximum availability within any given frame of reference.
“Information” = An effective reference.

To be more precise, Availability = afferent/aesthetic availability. If a tree falls in a forest in a universe where hearing was impossible, sound is not available and therefore does not exist.

Maximum availability can refer to both the density of aesthetic saturation (i.e. extreme pain is extremely real) and the particular aesthetic qualities of duration, constancy, and publicity. The dream that you never wake up from is your reality. The dream that all people share and never wake up from is human realty.

Information is afferent signaling with efferent potential. The more potential for producing intentional effects, the more ‘informative’ the signal is. Information is not ‘really real’ as it only requires enough aesthetic saturation for the power to arrest attention (to be noticed or detected) and be made available to attention (focus and coherent interpretation). Informative data therefore are cohesive units of perturbation within a medium or channel of adhesive or affective sensitivity.

TSC 2016 Materials

April 25, 2016 1 comment




Slide show (PDF): v4.92-diffractivity.pdf



Does consciousness emerge from the brain?

March 18, 2016 11 comments
My response to this answer on Quora:
An excellent answer which sums up the current neuroscientific perspective, and which I intend to demolish 🙂
What if we set consciousness aside for a moment and use some other examples?
A conventional camera exposes film to visible light, yet the image is not visible. The visibility of the image depends on a process of chemical development, however that process is not changing the image-related information that is constituted by the microphysical states of the photographic emulsion. We can see therefore, that the image is not emergent from film. The film is perfectly capable of recording optical information without providing any visible image. This is a huge problem of eliminativism, computationalism, functionalism, and physicalism.
A similar example: Binary math vs geometry. For instance:
This image does not exist within your computer’s RAM or CPU. There is nothing shaped like a triangle or a face that is present in the physical hardware or its logical function which has color, shape, or faces. What is present is nothing but generic microelectronic switches which are capable of receiving and sending each other’s state. This arrangement handles all of our information processing needs, but it does not get us any closer to the image that you see above. For that we need a video screen, eyes, a sense of optical conditions, and a visual presentation. The computer of course needs none of these things to compute every detail of the .png file. It does not need to see anything, nor does it need to have any familiarity with geometry. The binary math works just as well with or without visibility or tangiblity. Logic does not need geometry.
By connecting the dots, I can easily see why emergence is false, and why when we use the term ’emergence’ we are actually referring to nothing more than appearances within consciousness, such that it can never apply to physics or logic in any way. Nothing can ’emerge’ within physicalism because physics can have no preferred frame or reference. The existence of a frame of reference in the absence of perception should also be understood to be a fairly obvious violation of parsimony, i.e., Occam’s Razor would shave off the possibility of sense perception if unsensed frames of reference were already performing every physical function in the brain. In theory, there is no reason why a brain could not perform every operation of our conscious mind unconsciously, just as we assume that a single zygote unconsciously performs every function of dividing into a living brain.
What is harder to understand is why some people, especially those in the hard sciences, completely fail to see this. After several years of consideration, however, I have arrived at what I think is a viable hypothesis: The skill set which tends toward expertise in physical systems and logical functions tends to be incompatible with the opposite skill set which is required to develop a robust theory of mind. Neuroscience is mind blind, so it (along with Dennett, Blackmore, etc) promotes a view of the mind without having the correct lens to gain objectivity on their own objectivity. Nobody is to blame, it’s just part of how the Continuum of Sense works. Color and flavor has no more business being undetectable in the brain than specific gravity or temperature are. Emergence is a post hoc contrivance to cover for the (huge, and critically important) blind spot of the brain-minded mind.

Are Ideas Physically Manifested in the Brain?

January 31, 2016 Leave a comment

My answer to on Quora.

I don’t think that ideas can be said to be physically manifested, unless we extend physics to include phenomenology. Neurons, brains, and bodies* can all be reduced to the behavior of three dimensional structures in space. In this context, behavior is really the function of those 3D structures over time, and function is a chronological sequence (so a fourth dimension or 3D+1D) of changes in those structures. All such changes can be described in terms of movements of structural units, typically atoms or molecules, as they are rearranged according to deterministic and random-seeming chain reactions. The existence of ‘ideas’ or consciousness within such a system is, to paraphrase William James, “an illegitimate birth in any philosophy that starts without it, and yet professes to explain all facts by continuous evolution.

This is to say that there is no logical entailment which can explain how we get from a phenomenon which can be imagined to be composed of countless particle collisions that look like like this:


to something else. This gap, known in Philosophy of Mind as the Explanatory Gap, and the existence of that something else in the first place (known as the Hard Problem of Consciousness) are the two insurmountable obstacles for anti-idealistic worldviews**.

What many computer scientists may not appreciate is that while the theoretical underpinnings of information science point to brains being reducible to simple arithmetic functions, this reduction cuts both ways. If we can reduce everything that a brain does to a computation which can be embodied on any material substrate, that also means that no semantic content is required, other than low level digital logic. Just as all of the content of the internet can be routed by dumb devices which have no appreciation of images or dialogue, so too can the entire content of the brain be reproduced without any thoughts, feelings, or ideas.

Once we have used a mathematical or physical schema to encode our communication, there is no functional benefit to be gained by decoding it into any form other than computation. The computation alone – invisible, intangible, silent facts about the parts of a calculating machine in relation to each other (3D+1) is all that is necessary or sufficient to execute whatever behaviors will allow an animal’s body to survive and reproduce. Once we have converted conscious experience to localized machine signals, the signals alone are enough to generate any physical effect, without signifying any non-local content. This is what Searle was talking about with the Chinese Room, and is known as the symbol grounding problem.

In consideration of the above, the answer to the question is “no”. What is present in the brain can only be a-signifying material relations, not ideas. The connection between matter and ideas cannot be accessed in terms of physics or information, but only in the direct aesthetic participation which we call ‘consciousness’. In my view, it is not consciousness which is emergent from information or mechanisms, but information and mechanisms which are ‘diffracted’ or alienated from consciousness.

*not to mention windmills, computers, and rooms with people translating messages that they don’t understand from a book.

**These would include materialism, eliminativism, logical positivism, behaviorism, empiricism, verificationism, functionalism, computationalism, and emergentism.


Inflection Point

July 2, 2015 Leave a comment


An illustration based on the finer points of multisense realism. The combination of monochrome, spectral color, multiple scales of halftone, and the nested lensing of scales suggest the primacy of sense. It’s about the relation between different features of consciousness and how they diverge rather than emerge from the totality. The totality is masked into personal and impersonal levels of description, instead of assembled from simple parts.


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