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Why do people believe in the mind body problem?

July 28, 2014 Leave a comment
“Why do people believe in the mind body problem?

I thought this was solved long ago”

My answer on Quora:

Here are a few reasons I can think of:

  1. Our imagination seems immaterial.
    There is no imaginary stone, for example that is too heavy for us to lift. We can imagine ice cubes melting the sun or a new state of matter that is liquid gravity. Dreams are surreal, and provide evidence that fully realistic worlds can be rendered without there being the expected physics presented. If dreams were not realistic, it would be easier to swallow materialism. As it is, it is very tough to justify how it would be that brains would be able to instantly conjure up fantasy worlds without having access to the same creative resources that physics itself has.
  2. Mental representation is not physical.
    Our thoughts do not appear to break down into chemical compounds which can be transferred from brain to brain in an eyedropper. Instead, they can be communicated through representational signs across many different material substrates. Right now my thoughts are becoming part of your thoughts by means of electronic devices, but it could instead be communicated by voice, gesture, pen and paper, etc. Physical substances and forces cannot be transmitted as signs. We cannot send a text to someone dying of thirst which they can drink.
  3. We cannot access the brain through introspection.
    The greatest minds in history have never, through meditation alone discovered the details of neurology, biochemistry, etc. Common sense might suggest that since, for example, we can touch our body with our body, and see our eyes with our eyes, that we should be able to think of our brain with our brain, but that is not the case. It also goes the other way, where we can correlate data that we find in brain imaging to *known* ‘neural correlates’ like feelings or tasting flavors, but there is nothing in the brain images themselves which would or could ever suggest any such thing as a flavor or feeling.
  4. There is no logical connection between physical phenomena and subjective experience.
    Physics involves measurable forms which can be described using geometry and whose functions can be described through logical, arithmetic steps. Physics is intended to be done without any subjective experience (other than a zero dimensional ‘observer’). Subjectivity is the opposite kind of phenomena on every count from physics. It involves immeasurable qualities of aesthetic appreciation and participation which do not owe their significance to complex universal processes. Instead, subjectivity is comprised of a personalized richness of presentation which eliminates the need for complexity. There is no logical way that a certain wavelength of light could become ‘blue’, and no mathematical transformation which would make it more logical, yet blue is a quality which we cannot deny exists in the universe.
  5. Life is weirder than it seems like it should be.
    The fact that we have never come across any culture that does not have a concept of spirits and the afterlife does not have to mean that there are spirits and an afterlife, but it is certainly an odd thing to have as an anthropological universal if there were nothing funny going on between mind and body. Physics and mathematics in the 20th century only adds to the weirdness, since, after all, if there were nothing but bodies colliding into each other, then we would have no need for concepts like uncertainty, and if logic were nothing but objective facts, then we would have no need for the idea of incompleteness. Also there are so many fishy things that people report all of the time…Near Death Experiences, Out of Body Experiences, psychedelic revelations, paranormal capabilities, synchronicity, etc. If you think that these can be easily swept aside by insisting that they are just anomalies and fraud then you have not looked at the research fairly.
  6. It is the default/naive truth of human experience.
    The sense of being ‘in’ our body, looking out of our eyes is something that we take for granted, but has no basis in physics. Your screen doesn’t have to feel like it is sitting in front of a computer to work, so the fact that there is any sense of being ‘inside’ of ‘our’ body is already a hint at our relation to space and time. Our body is more like a window or a filter than it is a robot. We can say that the Earth is not flat, but if that were literally and completely true, it would be hard to explain why carpenters use a level. Indeed, the roundness of the Earth is not especially useful most of the time for those of us who actually live on the surface of it and experience it as flat. Any description of the universe which fails to mention that planets seem flat when you walk on them and only seem round from a distance is not complete.
  7. Because they have considered the issue deeply.
    While the last few centuries have seen the rise of scientific worldviews which describe our experience from the outside in, some people have noticed that there is a problem with this. Since subjective experience is private to begin with, there is no reason to expect that a worldview which is bound exclusively to public inspection would not be grossly misleading. In fact, the failure of behaviorism in psychology and artificial intelligence in computer science to demonstrate satisfying results should have steered us away from these kinds of approaches already. Fortunately some of the leading scientists and philosophers in the field of consciousness, like Tononi, Koch, and Chalmers have been pointing in a new direction, one which involves consciousness rather than matter as a fundamental property. There is a long tradition within philosophy, particularly in Eastern thought which holds that awareness is the fundamental reality and that matter, bodies, and brains are borrowed from a universal pool of ideas and experiences. The universe may be made of stories rather than things, and things are just part of the story.
  8. Because they have natural insight into the issue
    A recent study suggest to me that not everyone has an equal chance at understanding the mind/body problem. For people whose minds are very logical, they may identify exclusively with the process of their own intellect rather than the qualities of experience from which the intellect arises. I wrote a post about this: Asperger’s, Autism, and the Hard Problem of Consciousness For others, the fact of subjectivity is quite plain and ordinary. We move our hand by moving it directly out of our own intention. Whatever biochemical description accompanies that movement is not enough to even define why it is occurring in the first place.
  9. Because simulation theories and emergence are misguided.
    Most theories which collapse subjectivity into physics rely on the kind of GUI model. We look at the computer screen and see pictures and words, and it is natural to think that this relationship would be part of a physical mechanism. A brain would simply produce computations that look like something or taste a certain way because looks and tastes are a way of labeling information and organizing it. What this view fails to recognize is that labeling information would only mean that it would be processed differently, not that those differences would suddenly become a flavor or a sound. Emergence is a way of chasing our tail and fooling ourselves that we have explained consciousness, but in reality, emergence itself cannot be explained without awareness. The parts of an airplane can be individually thrown in the air, so that even though to our understanding the property of a plane flying by itself seems new, it is not at all surprising to the universe. Consciousness is not like that, since there is no configuration of physical objects that would result in a subjective experience, even as an extension of some physical force or field to become self-sustaining or consolidated, etc. The raw ontology of privacy isn’t there to begin with in our model of physics or information.

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.

Q: In theory, could we predict future behavior if we knew enough about the brain?

February 5, 2012 Leave a comment
Quora question:

In theory, could we predict future behavior if we knew enough about the brain?

The theory that we could predict future behavior if we knew enough about the brain is logically sound, but I think that the underlying assumptions are flawed. The relation between behavior and the brain may in fact *not* be linked by cause and effect but by simultaneous integration. Even the best imaginable auto mechanic cannot predict where the car will be driven (although they can predict things about the car’s ability to function on the road).

What I suggest is that human behavior is driven by semantic conditions within the context of the individual’s experience as a whole as well as physiological-neurolgogical-biochemical conditions of the body’s existence. My hypothesis is that interior experience is a concretely real sensorimotive phenomenology rather than a ‘simulation’, ‘interpretation’, or ’emergent property’ of neurological ‘data’ or ‘information’. As such, our perceptions intensify or diminish, consolidate, branch, negate, etc according to the logic of their significance within the biographical narrative rather than exclusively in the activity that we currently know how to measure in the brain from the ‘outside’.

Knowing everything about a brain would certainly enable many predictions, but without understanding the life of the subject from the inside, it is probably not possible to predict what they are going to think and do for the rest of their lives, even if you could know every possible future of the entire universe. If the universe could do that, it probably wouldn’t go through the formality of actually presenting the universe as the ‘live show’ that it appears to us to be.

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