Posts Tagged ‘hard problem’

Modality Independence

March 20, 2014 7 comments

A striking feature of language is that it is modality-independent. Should an impaired child be prevented from hearing or producing sound, its innate capacity to master a language may equally find expression in signing […]

This feature is extraordinary. Animal communication systems routinely combine visible with audible properties and effects, but not one is modality independent. No vocally impaired whale, dolphin or songbird, for example, could express its song repertoire equally in visual display. “

This would be hard to explain if consciousness were due to information processing, as we would expect all communication to share a common logical basis. The fact that only human language is modality invariant suggests that communication, as an expression of consciousness is local to aesthetic textures rather than information-theoretic configurations.

Since only humans have evolved to create an abstraction layer that cuts across aesthetic modalities, it would appear that between aesthetic modality and information content, aesthetic modality is the more fundamental and natural phenomenon. Information is derived from conscious presentation, not the other way around.

Playing Cards With Qualia

January 8, 2014 2 comments

Here is an example to help illustrate what I think is the relationship between information and qualia that makes the most sense.

Here I am using the delta (Δ) to denote “difference”, n to mean “numbers” or information, kappa for aesthetic “kind” or qualia, and delta n degree (Δn°) for “difference in degree”.

The formula on top means “The difference between numbers and aesthetic qualities is not a difference in degree. This means that there is no known method by which a functional output of a computation can acquire an aesthetic quality, such as a color, flavor, or feeling.

Reversing the order in the bottom formula, I am asserting that the difference between qualia and numbers actually is only a difference in degree, not a difference in kind. That means that we can make numbers out of qualia, by counting them, but numbers can’t make qualia no matter what we do with them. This is to say also that subjects can reduce each other to objects, but objects cannot become subjects.

Let’s use playing cards as an example.

Each card has a quantitative value, A-K. The four suits, their colors and shapes, the portraits on the royal cards…none of them add anything at all to the functionality of the game. Every card game ever conceived can be played just as well with only four sets of 13 number values.

The view which is generally offered by scientific or mathematical accounts, would be that the nature of hearts, clubs, diamonds, kings, etc can differ only in degree from the numbers, and not in kind. Our thinking about the nature of consciousness puts the brain ahead of subjective experience, so that all feelings and qualities of experience are presumed to be representations of more complicated microphysical functions. This is mind-brain identity theory. The mind is the functioning of the brain, so that the pictures and colors on the cards would, by extension, be representations of the purely logical values.

To me, that’s obviously bending over backward to accommodate a prejudice toward the quantitative. The functionalist view prefers to preserve the gap between numbers and suits and fill it with faith, rather than consider the alternative that now seems obvious to me: You can turn the suit qualities into numbers easily – just enumerate them. The four suits can be reduced to 00,01,10, and 11. A King can be #0D, an Ace can be 01, etc. There is no problem with this, and indeed it is the natural way that all counting has developed: The minimalist characterization of things which are actually experienced qualitatively.

The functionalist view requires the opposite transformation, that the existence of hearts and clubs, red and black, is only possible through a hypothetical brute emergence by which computations suddenly appear heart shaped or wearing a crown, because… well because of complexity, or because we can’t prove that it isn’t happening. The logical fallacy being invoked is Affirming the Consequent:

If Bill Gates owns Fort Knox, then he is rich.
Bill Gates is rich.
Therefore, Bill Gates owns Fort Knox.

If the brain is physical, then it can be reduced to a computation.
We are associated with the activity of a brain.
Therefore, we can be reduced to a computation.

To correct this, we should invert our assumption, and look to a model of the universe in which differences in kind can be quantified, but differences in degree cannot be qualified. Qualia reduce to quanta (by degree), but quanta does not enrich to qualia (at all).

To take this to the limit, I would add the players of the card game to the pictures, suits, and colors of the cards, as well as their intention and enthusiasm for winning the game. The qualia of the cards is more “like them” and helps bridge the gap to the quanta of the cards, which is more like the cards themselves – digital units in a spatio-temporal mosaic.

A Formula for Qualia

January 2, 2014 Leave a comment

To derive the formula for qualia or sensory affect, solve the Hard Problem of Consciousness, and bridge the Explanatory gap, I suggest that we try converting the mass-energy equivalence E=mc² from the public orientation and transpose it inward to the private orientation.

Energy (E) becomes which is “was and will be” (w = was or will be)
The Speed of light (c) becomes t = time = (still or never) = now or realism
Light* () becomes “still and never again” or “stereo realism of now”
Mass (M) becomes æ = qualia = “like it”

Qualia = “like it was and will be, still and never again” =

another wording

Qualia = “Eternally signifies its past and future now”

This is about what Milan Kundera called The Unbearable Lightness of Being. That our experience of the universe is either perpetually suspended above the paradox of an existence which is both perpetually vanishing forever in some sense and repeating forever in another. If c is the still ‘speed’ of here and now, then is the acceleration of here and now, the enrichment of the local now through the collective presence and absence of eternity

  • Motive effect or will:

To derive will or motive: 

If qualia is “like it”, then square root of æ is what joins and divides the ‘like’ and the ‘it’. It is the dipole charge of ‘liking’ and ‘it-ing’ which we call desire or preference. The greater the liking, the more significance is projected onto the object, which is the imagined realization of a goal in time. Intention projects into the future, builds, and guides qualia.

Will = “(Maybe, or maybe not)(now or never)” = w = √æ t

Turning the private translation outward to Public/Western psychology so that interiority is undersignified as emergent epiphenomena, we get:

= Experience is simply what may and may not be happening for some time.


= Choosing = Right or wrong this time

The public-facing view of privacy reduces it to information processing. To those who have a private-facing view this is a flat and inadequate characterization. The former view is optimized for realizing spatial intelligence while the latter is optimized for appreciating timeless wisdom.

  • Quality and Equality

Since qualia is about likeness and local equivalents, it can be said that qualia equals the differential between equality and all inequalities... æ = ‘d=’.

The kicker is that since equality is itself a quale (the spelling of e-quality is a clue), we can conceive of ‘=’ as quality which is externalized**, i.e. the differential is collapsed and the entire range of what it “is like” is interpreted as what “it actually is”. The Western-facing mind naturally prefers that which only tells it ‘like it is‘, so that public physics and information science will filter out as noise all that tries to tell ‘what it is like‘ (paging Ludwig Wittgenstein…). This commercialization of residential qualities has had many benefits, but it is a philosophy which has blinded itself, and intimidated many into ignoring the true nature of consciousness. It’s not anyone’s fault, it’s how private physics works. It’s how sense is made.

*The speed of light is c, but , if taken literally, can be understood as light itself, reality, or making sense: producing stereo (solid) realism.

**Physically publicized, cropped, framed, stereotyped, commercialized, hardened to endure against the changing feelings that make up private time.

The Keys to Sensitivity

December 13, 2013 4 comments




Chroma key compositing typically uses a green or blue screen to key a particular color to be recorded as transparent. In the example above, I have placed green keys on a cosmic (astrophysical + microphysical) background to give an idea of how to conceive of the relation between publicized and privatized experience.

The green of the keys represents the intrinsically singular sensitivity which is ‘behind’ the key silhouettes, just as wearing a green shirt on camera in front of a green screen chroma key will, in a sense, portray your shirt as a ‘receiver’ of the composite image.

This metaphor is closer to what I propose for psychophysical unity – not so much a Receiver theory of consciousness where the brain acts as an antenna for metaphysical signals, or an Emergent theory of consciousness where brain functions accumulate as a representation of signals, but as a Divergent theory in which sensitivity is whole within its private frame of reference, but fragmented across what appears to be space and time from the perspective of a similarly keyed sensitivity*.

Consider that if you are far enough away from a mosaic, it looks like an image, but if you are very close, you see only colored tiles. The difference in spatial ratios on our visual sense influences whether we see the artist private-personal intentions to express the picture’s content, or their public-impersonal technique in placing tiles. If instead of a static mosaic tiles, we think of it as a dynamic television screen of pixels, the metaphor can be extended through narrative time. The pixels do not tell a story, but the image does…over time…to a human audience.

The pixels are not “producing” the story, nor are they “receiving” it, although there is both receiving and projecting of electromagnetic sensations on the public-impersonal level. The complexity of the sequence of patterns on the screen also does not produce the story either, and no amount of complication within the hardware will cause stories to be experienced, just as no degree in the complication of a plot will cause the story itself to become sensitive. Patterns are representations within experience, not experiences themselves. Consciousness is not the green of the key, it is the transparent sensitivity that the green represents. If there is receiving or emerging, it is sensitivity receiving sensitivity, and sensitivity emerging from sensitivity.

*Sensitivity here could mean ‘person’ or ‘observer’ but I want to make it clear that what I propose does not depend on human like experience. I see all forms of observation as participation, and I want to break the automatic association that we have between experience and Homo sapiens personal subjectivity. For pansensitivity to replace energy or information as the primordial identity, it must be understood that all objects, forms, and physical conditions diverge from the totality of sense (not just primitive sub-personal sense, but the whole band of sub-personal, personal, super-personal, and impersonal sense).

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

October 30, 2013 Leave a comment

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

Quora question:

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. The failure to consider consciousness metaphysically.

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

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

2. The taboo against metaphysics, panpsychism, and transrationality

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

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

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

3. The pathetic fallacy

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

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

Strong AI Position

August 17, 2013 Leave a comment

Strong AI Position

It may not be possible to imitate a human mind computationally, because awareness may be driven by aesthetic qualities rather than mathematical logic alone. The problem, which I call the Presentation Problem, is what several outstanding issues in science and philosophy have in common, namely the Explanatory Gap, the Hard Problem, the Symbol Grounding problem, the Binding problem, and the symmetries of mind-body dualism. Underlying all of these is the map-territory distinction; the need to recognize the difference between presentation and representation.

Because human minds are unusual phenomena in that they are presentations which specialize in representation, they have a blind spot when it comes to examining themselves. The mind is blind to the non-representational. It does not see that it feels, and does not know how it sees. Since its thinking is engineered to strip out most direct sensory presentation in favor of abstract sense-making representations, it fails to grasp the role of presence and aesthetics in what it does. It tends toward overconfidence in the theoretical.The mind takes worldly realism for granted on one hand, but conflates it with its own experiences as a logic processor on the other. It’s a case of the fallacy of the instrument, where the mind’s hammer of symbolism sees symbolic nails everywhere it looks. Through this intellectual filter, the notion of disembodied algorithms which somehow generate subjective experiences and objective bodies, (even though experiences or bodies would serve no plausible function for purely mathematical entities) becomes an almost unavoidably seductive solution.

So appealing is this quantitative underpinning for the Western mind’s cosmology, that many people (especially Strong AI enthusiasts) find it easy to ignore that the character of mathematics and computation reflect precisely the opposite qualities from those which characterize consciousness. To act like a machine, robot, or automaton, is not merely an alternative personal lifestyle, it is the common style of all unpersons and all that is evacuated of feeling. Mathematics is inherently amoral, unreal, and intractably self-interested – a windowless universality of representation.

A computer has no aesthetic preference. It makes no difference to a program whether its output is displayed on a monitor with millions of colors, or buzzing out of speaker, or streaming as electronic pulses over a wire. This is the primary utility of computation. This is why digital is not locked into physical constraints of location. Since programs don’t deal with aesthetics, we can only use the program to format values in such a way that corresponds with the expectations of our sense organs. That format of course, is alien and arbitrary to the program. It is semantically ungrounded data, fictional variables.

Something like the Mandelbrot set may look profoundly appealing to us when it is presented optically as plotted as colorful graphics, but the same data set has no interesting qualities when played as audio tones. The program generating the data has no desire to see it realized in one form or another, no curiosity to see it as pixels or voxels. The program is absolutely content with a purely quantitative functionality – with algorithms that correspond to nothing except themselves.

In order for the generic values of a program to be interpreted experientially, they must first be re-enacted through controllable physical functions. It must be perfectly clear that this re-enactment is not a ‘translation’ or a ‘porting’ of data to a machine, rather it is more like a theatrical adaptation from a script. The program works because the physical mechanisms have been carefully selected and manufactured to match the specifications of the program. The program itself is utterly impotent as far as manifesting itself in any physical or experiential way. The program is a menu, not a meal. Physics provides the restaurant and food, subjectivity provides the patrons, chef, and hunger. It is the physical interactions which are interpreted by the user of the machine, and it is the user alone who cares what it looks like, sounds like, tastes like etc. An algorithm can comment on what is defined as being liked, but it cannot like anything itself, nor can it understand what anything is like.

If I’m right, all natural phenomena have a public-facing mechanistic range and a private-facing animistic range. An algorithm bridges the gap between public-facing, space-time extended mechanisms, but it has no access to the private-facing aesthetic experiences which vary from subject to subject. By definition, an algorithm represents a process generically, but how that process is interpreted is inherently proprietary.

Updated Statement on Sense

May 28, 2013 Leave a comment

It is my conjecture that ‘Nature’ can be defined as ordinary sense. Sense as in sensation, in cognitive orientation, in intuition, and in categorization (in which sense?). The word sense is just a word, so it is not exactly what I mean, but the ‘sense’ which is conveyed through all of those ‘senses’ gives a good hint of what is behind it. The capacity to feel and to do and to discern the difference between them. That fundamental physical capacity is beneath all form, all function – it is being itself; perception and participation. Without perception (sense, detection), there can be no possibility of participation, and therefore no matter, energy, or time.

Right now, largely because of the success of computers, it is popular to believe that information (‘data’) is the underlying reality behind physics. In my view, this is almost true, but in this case, being almost true means being exactly false. Data is not sense, it is not presentation, not aesthetic nor participatory. To the contrary, information without the presence of a sensory-motor experience is anesthetic, theoretical, and re-presentational. Information is a conceptual entity which we derive by projecting our own experience of being informed onto disembodied functions. It is not real. No byte of data has ever done anything, felt anything, known anything, or been anything on its own.

Math requires a host, as it is the orthogonal reflection of all of sense. Where sense is proprietary and signifying, math is universal and generic. Sense takes place ‘here’ and ‘now’, while math can only be used by sense to address ‘then’ and ‘there, there, and there’. Math is position without disposition – a skeletal inference abstracted from logical vectors. It is this anesthetic universality which makes it so powerful for science – it is the essence of mechanism, of impersonality – pure extension with no intention. It is nature’s perfect imposter.

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