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.
Jesse Prinz gives a well developed perspective on neuronal synchronization as the correlate to attention and explores the question of binding. As always, neuroscience offers important details and clues for us to guide our understanding, however, knowledge alone may not be the pure and unbiased resource that we presume it to be. The assumptions that we make about a world in which we have already defined consciousness to be the behavior of neurons are not neutral. They direct and some cases self-validate the approach as much as any cognitive bias could. For those who watch the video, here are my comments:
To begin with, aren’t unity and disunity qualitative discernments within consciousness? To me, the binding problem is most likely generated from the assumption that consciousness arises a posteriori of distinctions like part-whole, when in fact, awareness may be identical to the capacity for any distinction at all, and is therefore outside of any notion of ‘it-ness’, ‘unity’, or multiplicity. To me, it is clear that consciousness is unified, not-unified, both unified and not unified, and neither unified nor not unified. If we call consciousness ‘attention’, what should we call our awareness of the periphery of our awareness – of memories and intuitions?
The assumption that needs to be questioned is that sub-conscious awareness is different from consciousness in some material way. Our awareness of our awareness is of course limited, but that doesn’t mean that low level ‘processing’ is not also private experience in its own right.
Pointing to synchronization of neuronal activity as causing attention just pushes the hard problem down to a microphenomenal level. In order to synchronize with each other, neurons themselves would ostensibly have to be aware and pay attention to each other in some way.
Synchrony may not be the cause, but the symptom. Experience is stepped down from the top and up from the bottom in the same way that I am using codes of letters to make words which together communicate my top-down ideas. Neurons are the brain’s ‘alphabet’, they are not the author of consciousness, they are not sufficient for consciousness, but they are necessary for a human quality of consciousness. (In my opinion).
Later on, when he covers the idea of Primitive Unity, he dismisses holistic awareness on the basis of separate areas of the brain contribute separate information, but that is based on an expectation that the brain is the cause of awareness rather than the event horizon of privacy as it becomes public (and vice versa) on many levels and scales. The whole idea of ‘building whole experiences’ from atomistic parts assumes holism as a possibility, even as it seeks to deny that possibility. How can a whole experience be built without an expectation of wholes?
Attention is not what consciousness is, it is what consciousness does. In order for attention to exist, there must first be the capacity to receive sensation and to appreciate that sensation qualitatively. Only then, when we have something to pay attention to, can be find our capacity to participate actively in what we perceive.
As far as the refrigerator light idea goes, I think that is a good line of thought to explore with consciousness as I think it should lead to a questioning not only of the constancy of the light, but of the darkness as well. We cannot assume that either the naive state of light on or the sophisticated state of light on with door open/off when closed is more real than the other. Instead, each view only reflects the perspective which is getting the attention. When we look at consciousness from the point of view of a brain, we can only find explanations which break consciousness apart into subconscious and impersonal operations. It is a confirmation bias of a different sort which is never considered.
A very good, concise presentation. I disagree with his ultimate conclusions, not because of faulty reasoning, but because of the same overlooked assumptions which most contemporary thinkers miss. Despite the appeal to transparency of modeling to explain the existence of subjective qualities, there really is no connection offered at all. A model is a cognitive index through which one instance of experience or presentation can be encapsulated within another. This is a re-presentation. Data which moves from one table to another, which is concatenated or compressed, is not a model unless a conscious entity interprets it that way. A DVD full of laser pits is not a color and sound recording unless it is decoded to a video screen by a DVD player. The DVD player is not playing a movie unless a movie-literate audience is available to watch it.
The problem with the idea of the phenomenal self model, as I see it, is that there is no computational benefit or physical resource which could account for the extra-physical, extra-informational presentation of the ‘model’ to the unmodeled system. In Raymond Tallis’ book ‘Aping Mankind’, he talks about the obvious disadvantages to such an introduction of conscious presentation into unconscious systems, which, after all, have successfully driven the rest of the universe, from the synthesis of nucleic acids to the neutralization of countless pathogens in our immune system. For something as important as executive control of the organism as a whole, an error ridden, self-deluded agent is the last thing that you would want sitting in the cockpit. Imagine if your digestive system relied on such a volitional dreamer to assimilate your nutrients or remember to regulate the pH of your blood.
No, I’m afraid that no information-based architecture can be used to thoroughly explain subjective experience, although it can explain how the particular human quality of subjective experience can be repaired, augmented, manipulated, etc. With information, we can’t even emulate human consciousness, but we can emulate some important products of it, IMO.
I think that I have found a better way to approach phenomenal facts. Rather than assuming that the experience of seeing red is indirect and non-physical I propose instead that physics has a private and a public range (which themselves have overlapping and underlapping regions).
I suggest that experience of seeing red is not synonymous with factual knowledge, but rather all factual knowledge is a category of direct sensory-motor experience. Experience or sense is primary, beneath matter, energy, spacetime, quantum, information, and arithmetic. Not human sense, but sense as universal fundamental.
As human beings, we are staggeringly complex, multilevel organisms. Our direct experience encompasses nested sub-personal experiences and super-personal signifiers as a recapitulation or compound direct experience. The experience of seeing red is a simpler experience, not because it is an illusion or functionally expedient representation, but because it is, on the native level of a whole person, a direct and ‘pre-factual’ physically real presence. Physical reality referring specifically to that which has both privately and publicly ranged presentation.
It’s a complete reworking of physics, I admit, but I humbly say that I think that it reconciles physics, philosophy, subjectivity, and information theory.
In this TED Video, about two thirds of the way through, he mentions something I didn’t know about the brain stem which I think supports both the idea of a sense-motive primitive in consciousness, and the idea that consciousness scales relativistically from being to being. He says:
“This is so specific that, for example, if you look at the part that is covered in red in the upper part of the brain stem, if you damage that as a result of a stroke, for example, what you get is coma or vegetative state, which is a state, of course, in which your mind disappears, your consciousness disappears. What happens then actually is that you lose the grounding of the self, you have no longer access to any feeling of your own existence, and, in fact, there can be images going on, being formed in the cerebral cortex, except you don’t know they’re there. You have, in effect, lost consciousness when you have damage to that red section of the brain stem.
But if you consider the green part of the brain stem, nothing like that happens. It is that specific. So in that green component of the brain stem, if you damage it, and often it happens, what you get is complete paralysis, but your conscious mind is maintained.”
I had previously posted this image which correlates the brain-spine morphology with head-tail morphology and implies an underlying isomorphism of concentric-polar or radial symmetry being related to afferent (inbound) perception and linear-projective or Cartesian x,y,z+t sequential relations being associated with outbound, efferent motives.
Even though we are so much larger and more sophisticated than mammalian gametes, this pattern of an active emitter and a passive collector remains surprisingly simple. The upper part of your brain stem gives you access to sense, the lower part lets your motives access your body (and by extension, the world).
As good as Damasio is at revealing the consequences of brain architecture, I think that he, and really everyone else that I have been paying attention to, are still unintentionally sweeping the hard problem under the carpet. In every case, possibility of awareness itself is taken for granted. Patterns have only to be present in the brain for us to assume that there would be some sort of ‘awareness’ of them as patterns and a capacity to ground that awareness somewhere else besides within the tissue of the brain. Sure, once you have a such thing as experience, we can understand how the brain can modulate, suppress, and organize that experience, but there is still no sign of anything that converts such quantitative neurological functions into anything other than what they seem to be in an MRI – groups of cells signalling each other. No different really than any organ except perhaps in sophistication.
To think about consciousness clearly, it is important to recognize the difference between the afferent-efferent (inbound-outbound) form of the communication and the sense-motive (qualia of afferent-efferent) content of experience. It is difficult to break the habit we have been acculturated to of seeing the world outside of our body as being the container of the self rather than the other way around, but with practice, we can begin to see how perception and experience have produced not just one world, but many worlds within worlds.