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What’s the Biological Use of Consciousness?

June 25, 2016 4 comments

My answer to a Quora question.

This question sounds reasonable only when we have first assumed that consciousness evolved from biology. I would argue that while it certainly seems that consciousness has become richer and more complex through biological forms and functions, there can be no biological use for consciousness itself.

Consider the practical function of the human body. What does it need to do that other bodies don’t? Everything from a mosquito to a mountain lion has similar biological imperatives and evolutionary pressures to contend with. For that matter, every one celled organism or even DNA molecule functions in the same way – it survives and reproduces. Whether these structures feel like they are trying to survive and reproduce is irrelevant. I’ll say that again, because it is that important:

It cannot matter biologically whether a given structure feels, thinks, senses, or has any experience at all, and to assume it does would be a logical fallacy:

petitio principii, which actually translates as ‘assuming the initial point’”.

The initial point here is the existence of consciousness itself. When we assume that it exists, we are compelled to fill in our explanation with a “Just-so story”; an ad hoc, unfalsifiable hypothesis which will give rationalize a connection between our initial assumptions of biology without consciousness and consciousness arising out of utility to biology.

We might speculate that consciousness was bestowed upon Homo sapiens (gradually of course) as a cause or effect of the success of the species in adapting to more ecological niches than others. We might say that there was a feedback loop between consciousness, self-awareness, intelligence and the accumulation of knowledge and technology to better ensure survival in almost any climate and against almost any predator. This is a good story, and it makes sense if we make the mistake of equating intelligence with consciousness. It is easy to make that mistake, since we are conscious and find it difficult to separate our experience of knowing and surviving from the actual behaviors which our body is performing to accomplish that.

This logical error was articulated very nicely by Dr. Raymond Tallis, in his book Aping Mankind. He talks about the difference between the ‘retrospective’ view of consciousness, which I was just describing, where we assume that consciousness exists and then try to justify its origin in pre-conscious phenomena and the correct ‘prospective’ view of consciousness which requires us to adhere to our hypothesis of pre-consciousness from the start. Without the appearances that we are accustomed from our own consciousness, we find the universe which physics and biology give to us is devoid of any appearance at all. Blind mechanisms are literally that – chain reactions of cause and effect which occur by physical law and statistical probability: Nothing more.

From here, we are compelled to negate our previous story which links intelligence with consciousness and see that the whole notion of ‘intelligence’ is a conceit of consciousness, and that any intelligence which hypothetically developed in the absence of consciousness would be just another sophisticated-looking chain reaction of nature. The appearance of sophistication is, again, purely subjective and dependent upon some conscious framing of the appearance. To us, a large organic molecule seems impressive, but since physics can have no preferred frame of reference, there is no appearance of a molecule, only one generic atom and then another one, and another. Each one unaware of anything, and nothing aware of an overall ‘grouping’ of atoms.

As long as we begin from any structure which functions in the total absence of sensory experience, there can be no logical justification for the possibility of sensory experience as a physical function. If a human zygote can already build a living brain, not to mention an immune system, digestive system, circulatory system, etc, all without any conscious experience at all, then what sense does it make to expect that ordinary tasks of animal survival and reproduction should benefit functionally from the addition of some kind of unexplainable metaphysical hallucination?

This is not an argument for Creationism*. Far from it. To me the idea of a single conscious creator has the same problem that Materialism has, only seen from the other way around. God has to be conscious, and God cannot create his own consciousness, so unless consciousness automatically comes with the sense of self, it seems more plausible to me that God, gods, people, and things are all dependent on a phenomenal substrate which transcends all others – beyond space and time, beyond order and entropy, beyond probability or improbability there must be sense experience…a phenomenon in which all phenomena perceive and participate directly.

It may not seem that way to us, from our limited scope of human consciousness, because our lifetimes are so short and our instants of perception are so long relative to biology and physics, but I think that it is the case that on some frame of reference, all phenomena is purely experiential. Consciousness is using biology, not the other way around. Biology is like physics squared, with each living organism its own recapitulation of the big bang, standing in absolute contrast to its inorganic origins, connected to the totality of experience by food, water, light, and each other. This is not to say that “a rock is conscious” but rather that we perceive a rock from a biased set of reports from our human body. We are seeing a fragment of mineral residue from what would be, on a geological or astrophysical scale of time and space, a musical fireworks show of stellar-planetary animation. It’s all about frames of reference, but taken in a new way which sees reference and relativity not as framed by mathematical relations, but of perceptual gymnastics on a scale which extends well beyond biology or even ‘reality’.

*If people do prefer to think of Consciousness as intrinsically God-like, I can’t rule it out. Maybe consciousness-with-self-hood simply is the empirical fact, like the color red, without precedent or logic. That could just be the way that it is in all possible universes, that consciousness is personality who thinks and acts.

Relying on logic instead, my conclusion would be that while God or gods could be real to human experience (by way of higher consciousness that is more deeply connected with the cosmological scales of time, using metaphor to communicate with its time-spliced version of itself), they are more likely to have evolved as a reflection of zoology. In a universe made of conscious experience, the experience of the organism which moves itself around the world of other organisms and non-organisms would have a good reason to conceive of itself as a self, and of its deepest connection to eternal experience as a super-self, hero, polytheistic god or monotheistic God.

For those who prefer to think of nature as Godless, the sense-first view can be understood to introduce a third cosmological form of expression, a fundamental one from which the other two cosmological platforms of physical forms and logical functions diverge as experienced time, rather than emerge in a pre-existing context of space-time. It’s a flipping over of the foundations of our cosmology, so that quantum theory and relativity, neuroscience, and evolutionary biology all represent incomplete views of nature that we have developed out of fragmentation of our understanding into extremely specialized sciences.

The one common denominator of all of our modern approaches is that they share the same blind spot for our own native human frame of awareness. We have stenciled an outline of our own image out of the conspicuous absence of it in the stars, the neurons, and the laws of information and physics. In my view, the way forward is to perform a Copernican inversion on our worldview…not returning to a pre-scientific anthropomorphism, but to explain both anthropomorphism and its now dominant opposite (I call it mechanemorphism) in a deeper context of sense and sense-making. Once we engage in this symmetry objectively, i.e., to see the intrinsic subjectivity in objectivity and objectivity in subjectivity, then a lot of things fall into place, including this perilously transformative time in human history.

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:
pcoae9gri
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.

Continuum of Sense

March 18, 2016 1 comment

I have been writing for a long time now about what I call the Multisense Continuum, or the ACME-OMMM duality. In the course of developing this hypothesis, I have learned about other such efforts, detailed below, including a recent paper:

Rigidity-chaos semantic continuum

image

Drawing on network models, this is a promising approach, however the irony was apparent to me in the choice of terms. To see the opposite of psychological rigidity as chaos may be trivially true, however, it may also be that the chaos is a projection of the rigid, systemizing approach.

The model that I propose sees chaos as only one aspect, and not the most important aspect of the opposite of rigidity. This continuum is so universal, that I think it extends beyond ‘reality’ to embrace all of nature.

image

Here are some other variations:

Tough-Minded vs. Tender-Minded (William James)

interpreted the European divide between empiricists/positivists on the
one hand and German idealists/rationalist on the other hand in a
psychological way. He talked of the “tender-minded” and the
“tough-minded.” The tender-minded are the German idealists and
rationalists. (this linked source is gone, see new link for James’ original work)

The Divided Brain (Iain McGilchrist)

Psychiatrist Iain McGilchrist describes the real differences between the
left and right halves of the human brain. It’s not simply “emotion on
the right, reason on the left,” but something far more complex and
interesting.

Autistic-Psychotic Spectrum     (PDF)

image

‘Thin-boundares” and “Thick-boundaries”

Significantly thinner boundaries compared to control groups have been
found in art students (Beal, 1989, Hartmann, 1991), music students, and
mixed groups of creative persons (Beal, 1989), frequent dream recallers
(Hartmann, 1991, Hartmann Elkin, & Garg 1991), adults with
nightmares (Hartmann, 1991, Levin, Galin, & Zywiak 1991; Galvin,
1993), adolescents with nightmares (Cowen and Levin, 1995), “lucid
dreamers” (Galvin, 1993), male as well as female fashion models (Ryan
2000), persons with unusual mystical experiences (Krippner,,
Wickramasekera, Wickramasekera, & Winstead, 1998), and persons with a
diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder, Schizoid Personality
Disorder or Schizotypal Personality Disorder (Hartmann, 1991).
Interestingly, although art students have much thinner boundaries than
average, this is not true of established artists, who have boundary
scores in the normal range (Beal, 1989).

Groups that score significantly “thicker” than average
on the BQ include naval officers, salespersons, lawyers, patients with a
diagnosis of Obsessive-compulsive Personality Disorder, persons
suffering from “Alexythymia” (Hartmann, 1991), and patients (from two
different sleep disorders centers) with a diagnosis of Sleep Apnea
(Hartmann, 1992).

Empathizing-Systemizing Continuum

Empathizing and systemizing traits were independent in women, but
largely dependent in men. In men, level of systemizing skill required by
field of study was directly related to social interactive and
mindreading deficits; men’s social impairments correlated with prolonged
go/no-go response times, and men tended to apply systemizing strategies
to solve problems of empathizing or global processing: rapid perceptual
disembedding predicted heightened sensitivity to facial emotion. In
women, level of systemizing in field was related to male-typical digit
ratios and autistic superiorities in detail orientation, but not to
autistic social and communicative impairments; and perceptual
disembedding was related to social interactive skills but independent of
facial emotion and visual motion perception.

…and my own bloggings:

Zooming in on Reductionism and Extremely Gendered Brains

War of the Worldviews

Multisense Continuum

Ironically, but unsurprisingly, the idea of the continuum of sense itself may only be coherent when approached from the ‘East side’ of the spectrum. This has to do with what is known as Theory of Mind.

What Is Really Real?

March 12, 2016 Leave a comment

If everything we hear, touch, smell, see are electrical impulses interpreted by our brain, then what is real out there?

 

In my view, to really answer that question we must forget everything that we think that we know about electrical impulses and brains and look at the phenomena again with fresh eyes. We must also ask questions about sensation and what is meant when we use the world “real”. Most importantly we must ask what our own capacities and biases are and what we can guess is true about reality and sensation vs what is true about our perspective as a human.
I think that I have answers to these questions, but they may not make sense unless you have asked them yourself. I would suggest that you first try to answer them yourself, even write out the answers, before consulting external sources, including this answer. Also write down what sources you think that your beliefs come from.
Question one: Why do most dreams seem real until you wake up?
Most people have probably had the experience of waking up and thinking, ‘Why would I not suspect that Mother Theresa falling asleep in my lap is impossible? She’s not even alive anymore.’ From this can we not conclude that our sense of realism is infinitely plastic? Even though some people may have lucid dreams where they do know that they are dreaming, or who do wake up after realizing that they are dreaming, it still does not explain why we can ever experience surreal, impossible, or nonsensical dreaming without questioning it. There is nothing that we can dream of which is so weird that it would cause us to question the reality of it. From this we must conclude that either our sense of realism is as much of an electrical hallucination as anything else we could sense. Is realism actually nothing more than failing to question one’s experience, or is there more to it than that?
Question two: How can you tell when you actually do wake up?
Many people have probably had the experience of false awakening, or a dream within a dream (even within a dream, within a dream, within a dream, etc). Each time you experience waking up in a dream, you have the feeling that you are awake but you are not, yet when you really do wake up, there seems to be an authenticity which is experienced directly and unmistakably. This sets up a curiously intransitive relation between false awakening and true awakening, namely, when we are dreaming, we can experience being awake, and we can doubt that we are awake, but when we really are awake, sane, and sober, we cannot fully doubt that we are awake. We can doubt it intellectually, and philosophically*, but this to me seems a very superficial kind of doubt which evaporates the moment that we are confronted with the sights, sounds, and feelings of our waking life. This suggests a contradiction to the first answer that I have give, bringing a third question:
Question three: How can we both know that all of our perception could be deception, but nevertheless feel that this knowledge is somehow insufficient to doubt the real world?
For this question, I think that the key is to realize that we have not taken skepticism far enough. If we consider that all perception is potentially deception, then we must also consider that this proposition itself is potentially deception. In other words, since we cannot know what is real, we cannot know that we cannot in some sense know what is real and in another sense not know. How do we know that nature doesn’t contradict itself?
At some point**, we have to admit that something is ‘given’ which cannot be doubted. Further we can conclude that what is given is not ‘knowledge’ but direct experience. However weak the veracity of our perception, knowledge is an even weaker proposition. Sellars attack on the myth of the given†, therefore, is itself deriving its own authority to attack from a myth of authority to attack which is itself under attack by his argument. His reasoning seems to exclude itself from criticism – assuming that scientific theories have access to a level of sanity about themselves which dreams could not simulate.
Question four: What do we really mean when we talk about ‘electrical impulses in the brain’?
When we talk about electricity, I think that we tend to have in mind something like sparks or lightning bolt. A bright, crackling appearance of a natural power or force which is independent of material objects but jumps between them at the speed of light. Further, theories developed by scientists such as Faraday and Maxwell explain this electric force in terms of perturbations or waves in an electromagnetic field. The electromagnetic field itself is invisible and intangible, so when we see lighting, hear thunder, or feel a shock, we are actually experiencing a second hand effect of matter rather than electricity itself.
To clarify:
This is not a picture of electricity, it is a picture of ionized air molecules colliding violently and releasing photons.
In a vacuum, there are no sparks and there is no sound. Sparks require a material medium which refracts light. Sound is always the collision of matter and is interrupted by a vacuum. While light is transmitted through a vacuum, there is no way to know for sure whether light is actually present in a vacuum, or whether photons are something else which can jump non-locally from place to place.
This is my own speculation, but it is not unprecedented. The Wheeler-Feynman absorber theory postulates that “every bit of radiation must be completely absorbed somewhere” (see Landon Carter’s answer to Can you explain Wheeler–Feynman absorber theory in layman’s terms?). If this is true, then it opens the door to radiation being an entanglement-disentanglement between ‘radiators’, even to the point of seeing space-time as emergent from it. Photons, electrons, even atoms themselves may not be true particles or wave in a vacuum, or fields or forces, but are more like examples of the ability to signal perceivability on the microphysical scale.
What I am suggesting is that absorber theory is on the right track, but does not go far enough. Not only is time meaningless for a photon (because of the constancy and insuperability of c) but even the assumption that some thing is emitted or absorbed could also be unfounded. Indeed, if my view is right, every equation and observation that we have about subatomic particles could be explained in terms of directly perceived micro-phenomenology.
This is not to say that “photons can see“, but that photons have no existence whatsoever other than as visibility (and thermodynamic tangibility) itself. Quantum fields and wave-functions mus then be considered purely abstract statistical entities which do not point to a deeper layer of inference beyond detection, but to the phenomenon of detection itself – to sensory-motor presentation. This uproots the entire foundation of both physicalism and functionalism to suggest the primacy of aesthetic participation behind any possibility of physical forms or logical functions. Sense is what the universe is made of, not stuff that makes sense, or that makes illusions of sense.
Rolling this back to ‘electrical impulses in the brain’, what we are really seeing when we look at an MRI is not electrical impulses, but electrical changes in the MRI instrument itself which are synchronized with the electrical changes of water molecules in brain tissue. This synchronization is not a collision of photons but a low level perceptual entanglement (which, in my hypothesis should be understood as a re-acquaintence or re-entanglement of spatiotemporally disentangled perceptual unity).
This is how I think that the brain works – we live our lives not as bodies or brains or electricity, but as the synchronization of changes which are diffracted across those various scales (Planck, atomic, organic, cellular, neurological, anthropological). These should not be thought of as scales primarily of space or distance but first of perceptual-partcipation, then time, then space. We are not bodies, or patterns of electrochemical information, or even pattern itself, but the capacity to perceive and participate which must rationally precede all appearance of ‘patterns’. Our brain activity is a 3+1 dimensional tip of an iceberg which transcends dimension itself, and which appears as a brain only because of the way that the limits of our human perception is even further limited by the sub-human bandwidth of our sensory organs.
From this, I conclude that what we perceive as the natural world, including brains, as well as everything that we infer from our perceptions, such as electromagnetism, are neither myth nor given but ‘myth-giving’ experiences. These experiences are, like our ordinary experiences, both concretely real within their own frame of reference and unreal from a ‘perceptually distanced’ or diffracted perceptual frame. A dream is a real dream, and only becomes unreal upon awakening into another dream which is more substantial and shared by more frames of reference. Reality should be understood as the real density of phenomenal overlap, such that there is not Reality so much as “Real Realism” – a quality of significance and coherence within a particular frame of perception in which the significance of the weight of perceptual experience accumulated through the entire history of experienced time (which would include all clock/calendar time, as well as all psychological time) is felt intuitively or instinctively.
Reality is real alright, but it is only the density of the constraints imposed by our condition as a human lifetime defining itself in the context of all other lives and times. I cannot prove what I am proposing to the satisfaction of reactionary skepticism (see Craig Weinberg’s answer to Is dualism no more than philosophical debris given the advances in neuroscience?) however I think that it is possible to reinterpret all of physics, mathematics, and information science successfully in this sense-first framework. Language and etymology are a valuable tool, since we can look at common-sense associations across cultures. Metaphors link literal, public facing phenomena such as weight or gravity with private facing phenomena such as importance or seriousness. There is, in my estimation, a whole other universe of connection between the sense of what is ‘out there’ and the sense of what is ‘in here’, which I try to scratch the surface of in my writing.
*Pyrrho, the founder of Skepticism is worth mentioning here, he
“founded a new school in which he taught fallibilism, namely that every object of human knowledge involves uncertainty. Thus, he argued, it is impossible ever to arrive at the knowledge of truth. It is related that he acted on his own principles, and carried his skepticism to such an extreme, that his friends were obliged to accompany him wherever he went, so he might not be run over by carriages or fall down precipices. It is likely, though, that these reports were invented by the Dogmatists whom he opposed. ” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
** Descartes famously arrived at his cogito “I think therefore I am” as a result of taking his Cartesian doubt to its limit. Doubt, after all, cannot itself be doubted, and a belief in disbelief is still a belief.
† Another philosopher living in the 20th century, Wilfrid Sellars, was influential for his “Attack on the Myth of the Given”. Where Descartes skepticism led him to view himself as unquestionable, Sellars saw perception as inseparable from conception, so that just as an ambiguous image can appear to be a duck or a rabbit, our theory about what we are looking at cannot be subtracted from the experience of looking at it. Because of this, his view is that scientific theory can supersede the empirical reports of our senses. In my terms, he is saying that sense-making is more fundamental than sense experience.

 

Lucid Thinking Video Notes

December 20, 2015 2 comments

 

I like this video from Lucid Thinking, “What is Consciousness?” and I think that he mostly gets it right. The video does a great job of illustrating how we get to the Explanatory Gap and Hard Problem by examining the absence of experiences in material forms and logical functions.

Here are some suggestions to go farther and deeper in explaining consciousness, and/or for a more complete explanation:

  1. A minor note about the storage of information in computer systems as binary code (“a long number consisting of the digits 0 and 1”). If we are being completely literal about it, and I think that we must be, there are no numbers inside a computer either. “Codes” are also not objective phenomena but rather ordinary positions of off/on or stop/go switches. The enumeration of those switches is our semantic projection on them, and the decoding of codes is a communication between one who intends to send an encoded message and one who intends to receive it.
  2. There is a point made that ‘experience requires an experiencer’. I would challenge that. Even though human experience typically includes the sense of being an experiencer, it is not clear that all types of experience require this kind of bifurcated relation. An experiencer is after all, like a body or a number, only another experience…maybe only a key part of zoological kinds of experience.
  3. There is a point made that consciousness cannot see itself in the sense that we cannot see our own eyes. I suggest that this is an intellectual perspective which may conflate two very different levels of experience. Just as we can see our own eyes in a mirror, we may be able to see our own seeing, and we call that mirroring of visual sense “light” or “brightness”. The eye is only a conduit for our visual sense to localize itself in public facing optical conditions, not necessarily the only source of sight. It’s true that human seeing must be initialized by seeing through eyes (unless we consider NDEs where congenitally blind people report seeing), however that may also be a prejudiced expectation of animal life rather than awareness itself.
  4. “Consciousness is nothing that can become everything” is proposed as a way to understand what consciousness is. I propose the opposite. Consciousness need not be assumed to manifest as a phenomenon in isolation which transforms itself – not a blank, empty void upon which non-voids are projected. Instead I would say that consciousness is everything that can become almost nothing. Consciousness may look like nothing from our perspective, but that may be due to the nature of the typical range of consciousness within a human lifetime. Our waking consciousness is constrained to an ‘almost nothing’ scope, so that scope’s idea of consciousness is approximated by the intellect as ‘nothing’. In fact, I think that self-transparency is a necessary property of consciousness, as is self-opacity, and the capacity to oscillate between those extremes. Think of it like a meta-semiconductor…modulating or permitting permeability between more and less ranges of permeability. In this way, human consciousness is not only constructed from meaningless biochemical codes, but subtracted from a totality of experience beyond personal subjectivities. This is the transpersonal range of archetypal or ‘mytho-poetic’ awareness referred to by Jung as the collective unconscious, and it is experienced by ‘time’ itself rather than an individual subject. Time in this sense is not a dimension of timing on clocks, or a memory of the past combined with an anticipation of the future, but rather the collection of all experiences. Terms like the Absolute, totality, Akashic Records, and Morphic Resonance may be helpful in conceptualizing this.
  5. The point is made that we don’t directly experience other people’s thoughts, and that our experience is limited to our own inner world. Again I think that seems true under ordinary conditions of human consciousness, but there is no need to jump to the conclusion that it is always true in all experience. Indeed there are many experiments in remote viewing and telepathy, as well as ordinary empathy (twins complete each others’ thoughts and brain conjoined twins may share some thinking). We should assume that our true ‘body’ is a human lifetime rather than physical structures and functions, and we share our experience with all other experiences to the extent that our lifetime overlaps with them.

 

Abstract Submission

December 10, 2015 Leave a comment

For the Science of Consciousness Conference 2016

Abstract Title: Diffractivity and Multisense Continuum
Primary Topic Area: [01.03]……..Panpsychism, neutral monism, and idealism
Secondary Topic Area: [01.08]……..The “hard problem” and the explanatory gap
Abstract: In the science of consciousness, one question that we must eventually ask is, What is the event horizon of consciousness? Where does the rubber hit the road? Are all sensations, feelings and thoughts derived from a common source? Many theories offer ways to correlate consciousness with formal systems such as neurology or information processing, but the accomplishment of correlation itself is taken for granted from the start. I think that this is a problem which turns out to be identical to the Hard Problem. Without an explanation of precisely what is doing the actual relating in Relativity or the actual integrating in IIT, we have not solved the problem, only hidden it from ourselves. The hypothesis of Diffractivity begins by rejecting emergence-based theories on the grounds that they provide no explanation for their own origin. Diffractivity inverts the assumption of an unconscious universe which produces consciousness so that it is the appearance of unconsciousness which is proportional to dissociation by insensitivity. Diffractivity is intended as a philosophical conjugate to Relativity, but it can be adapted to any theory which reduces to a formal system. In Hameroff and Penrose’s Orch OR, the Diffractivistic conjugate to the Objective Reduction would be a Subjective Inflation. In Tononi & Koch’s IIT, Information Integration would be preceded an Aesthetic Disintegration. Bohm’s Implicate and Explicate Order would be diffracted from the order-transcending Multisense Continuum.

Any system based on structures, including mathematics and logic, would find new roots beyond formality and extend to fusion with the Continuum. This is not intended as an appeal to supernatural metaphysics but a logical extension of the proposition of ordinary sense as fundamental. By grounding all substances and conditions into a foundation which is purely aesthetic, we gain insight into the philosophical and technological issues of the 21st century. The empirical observations of science and math remain the same, only their interpretation changes. Diffractivity proposes that objects, dreamed or real, are produced by the same filtering, but with a different scale of experiential density or significance. Time and space emerge as limits on awareness rather than axioms of existence. We can see and understand white light as a colorless brightness which reveals color through diffraction of light itself. Diffractivity proposes that all phenomena are fragments of a universal experience, and that the maximum degree of fragmentation within any given frame of perception constitutes its math and physics. Electromagnetic effects would be affects of effectiveness, in the same way that light is a seeing of seen-ness. What we experience as physics, chemistry, and biology is suggested to emerge from fundamental levels of diffraction. Our sense of subjectivity provides a limited unveiling, or re-acquaintance with that which has been alienated by time, space, and entropy, giving the brain a new identity as an aesthetic diffraction engine.
Other Authors:
Key words: consciousness;metaphysics;panpsychism;philosophy of mind;semiotics;sensation;perception;qualia;hard problem;multisense realism;instrinsic consciousness
Publishing Organization: multisenserealism.com

A Theory of Aesthetic Diffraction

November 22, 2015 Leave a comment

aesthetic_diffraction

“If we split the atom cloud into two parts and recombine them after some time, a wave pattern forms” – source article

Yesterday I was looking at the sun on the water and thinking about how it is an analogy for consciousness and the brain and quantum entanglement. Each point of light reflects an image of the same sun, even though it appears disconnected and changing chaotically on the surface waves. At the same time, we can see a larger group coherence and intermediate scale, waves-of-waves coherence.

In the top image we understand that the coherence reflects a single light source onto a changing surface, in the brain we speculate on biochemical mechanisms within the surfaces which are connecting to each other. In the bottom image, we conflate the wave pattern with the surface itself, but then eliminate the surface altogether. What is being reflected or experienced is obscured altogether in the bottom up QM model.

By thinking of the sunlight as a metaphor for the mind-body problem, we can see how the explanatory gap can be closed. Using physics to look for consciousness is the same as looking at the surface of the water to look for the sun. In this case, the ‘sun’ isn’t a distant star, but the immediately present aesthetic experience of conscious.

Ready for some neologisms? Okay, this gets ugly.

A Theory of Aesthetic Diffraction

In my Multisense Realism project, I have tried to piece together some ideas about consciousness and physics. These include:

  • Light as sight. Photons are reflected incidents of ‘seeing’ or some other aesthetic acquaintance on the micro-level.
  • Aesthetic participation or sense as the root of consciousness, rather than an evolution of survival based intellect, information integration, or biophysics.
  • Local aesthetic phenomena (sense modalities as well as sense content) are like puzzle pieces of universal Pansense or Multisense Continuum which includes physics.
  • Sense as the absolute frame of reference or ‘Sole Entropy Well’.*
  • Space time are the mulitplication/diffraction of sense.
  • Sense is aesthetic content, like universal qualia, rather than a subject-object relation.
  • Significance is the saturation of sense, and its teleological function.

To these I would now add:

The brain is a Polysynchronizing Aesthetic Diffraction Engine.

(Composed of smaller, neuronal PADEs, which are in turn composed of smaller molecular PADEs.)

If we really wanted to see if this is true, I think that there might be a way to begin to find out. A couple of clues:

On the physics side, try turning Permittivity (ε) and Permeability (μ) ‘inside out’, so that we are thinking in terms of electromagnetic effects as reflections of sensory-motive affects rather than causal “fields”. The affect is not itself a field but a spatio-temporal or quantized diffraction…a temporalized, and then spatially dislocated disentanglement from the otherwise boundaryless, absolute context of Pansense.

Looking at the etymology of permit and permeate, we can get another clue in the original sense of the Latin root mittere ‘to send, let go.’ By contrast, permeate is to ‘go through’, from the root meare ‘pass, go’. The expectation of electric and magnetic fields is that they are different ways of looking at the same thing, but the difference is hard to define other than mathematically. I think that as long as we are take the concepts of force and field literally, we will be missing a critical opportunity for understanding nature.

When we turn permittivity and permeability inside out, we go from a Western concept of isolated material objects separated by a vacuum, to an Eastern-like concept of trans-material experiences which are temporarily fragmented from the totality of experience. This fragmentation or diffraction looks like distance or scale and the disappearance of the past, when viewed through the brain.

The Western model conceives of matter as complex nested fields which permit and are permeated by radiant forces. Inverting that takes us from a world of external waves oscillating meaninglessly to a world of felt affects and semi-intentional effects. Behind electromagnetic effects observed within local body frames of reference are phenomenal experiences of ‘going’ and ‘letting go’** in relation to the eternal and trans-local.

The per-mitting of ‘electricity’ translates to the fracturing or branching (think of lightning or a spark) of chaotic motive impulses to release across external frames of reference. The per-meating of ‘magnetism’ translates to a re-cycling or reabsorbing of motive impulses into what Leibniz might have called pre-established harmonies and Sheldrake might call morphic resonance. The difference in what I’m talking about is that what is resonating is not a vacuum or an aether – not a physicalized medium, but ordinary feelings, sensations, and experiences. In this way, relativistic models can be reconciled with quantum models through aesthetic participation as the final transceiving/transducting hyposurface†. This is literally ‘emergence’…the inflection point between these two extremes:

1. The information-based electrodynamic microcosm, which is reflected back to sense as its shadow. The shadow appears to its originator as polarized in terms of automaticity vs chaos-probability. The appearance of the originator can be inferred by inverting the qualities of the shadow, so that rather than crests and troughs of determinism, we can understand ourselves as that which appreciates and creatively determines the shadow.

2. The anchoring frame-based (gravitostatic?) astrocosm derived from the constancy of light speed and gravity. This is the sense of holarchy of scale as well as a hierarchy of importance. Physics can have no preferred frame of reference, so the preferring has to come from:

3. The participation-based mesocosm. Between the two extremes of mindless subatomic computation and mindless block space-time geometry is perception itself. An angle or ray of participation, illuminating and isolating ‘attentions’ while presenting the opportunity to create ‘intentions’.

For us, the mesocosm is reflected back to itself as an elaborate organic chemical hypersurface, nested within another zoological hypersurface. I think that the appearance of neurochemistry as we encounter it objectively is only a single surface or layer of aesthetic presentation which anchors the representation of the larger history of our particular experience as it grew from the physical to the chemical, genetic, biological, zoological, and anthropological frames.

On the perception side, I think that there are clues to be found in researching cross-modal perception and what I might call trans-modal perception. Cross-modal perception is an innate sense of isomorphism across sense modalities such as visual to verbal (Kiki-Bobo effect), onomatopoeia (phonetic to verbal). Trans-modal perception is a term that I propose could be used to talk about such phenomena as sounds which can be felt tangibly (i.e. high pitch sounds are highly localized and penetrating to the ear, while low, booming sounds envelope the entire room, drawing attention to the micro-personal or the oceanic shared transpersonal respectively.)

Conditions such as tinnitis, vertigo, epileptic halos, and synesthesia also seem to promise deeper understanding of sense as they point to the possibility of sense modalities as divergent categories of pansense rather than emergent properties of the functioning of sense organs. Just as physics requires instruments to push the limits of speed and detection into super-human ranges, a true study of consciousness requires examples or methods which transcend normal ranges of human experience. Autistic and psychotic spectrum conditions are especially important as a guide for the underlying axis of human sense-making, and I suspect that they can be meaningfully defined in terms of high and low permeability/permittivity (branching out of electricalimpulses, and recycling back to magnetic ground-state).

*This could be thought of as the sole/absolute ‘surface’ of aesthetic diffraction.

**This maps back to a language theme that I come back to frequently from the PIE root words ‘wag’ and ‘wegh’, like yin and yang…a universal oscillation or tessellation between push-pull (electric or sense-mitting phase) and relax-reflect (magnetic or sense-mearing phase) qualities of experience. Magnetic effects can be thought of as in between electric flux and gravitational grounding. Gravity shows us the orientation of mass toward massive frames of reference, while magnetism shows how local disorientation of mass can be accomplished through electric fluctuation (effort or kinetic energy).

† I say hyposurface to say that sense is both the larger context which contains all levels or planes of description as well as transcendent to the idea of planes and surfaces themselves. Sense is trans-spatiotemporal. Space, time, planes, frames, etc are carved out of the totality as a diffraction rather than as an emanation from fore-fields in a vacuum.

AI is Inside Out

November 18, 2015 2 comments

The subjective world is an arena of sense which is surrounded by an unseen sensor. Unlike a computer, which finds its own data stored in precise and irreducibly knowable bits, we find our own introspection to be confoundingly mysterious. Both the interior and exterior world are presented to us as a natural given to be explored, but the methods of exploration are diametrically opposite. Penetrating the psyche leads to an examination of symbols which are both intensely personal as well as anthropologically universal.

Whether we explore the objective world or the subjective world, we do so from the inside out, as visitors in a universe that matters to us whether we like it or not. To understand how machine intelligence differs from natural consciousness, it is important to see that a machine’s world is taken rather than given. The machine’s world is assembled from the bottom up, through disconnected, instrumental samplings.

It can be argued that our sense of the world is also nothing more than a collection of readings taken by our sense organs, but if that were the case, we should not experience the outside world as a complete environment, but rather as a probabilistic blur that is punctuated by islands of known data. A machine’s view of the outside world should (and would) look like this or this.

image
image

This showed that even when shown millions of photos, the computer couldn’t come up with a perfect Platonic form of an object. For instance, when asked to create a dumbbell, the computer depicted long, stringy arm-things stretching from the dumbbell shapes. Arms were often found in pictures of dumbbells, so the computer thought that sometimes dumbbells had arms.

Similarly, images that have been probabilistically ‘reconstructed’ from fMRI data show the same incoherence:

mqdefault

These are images which have been simulated from the outside in – a mosaic of meaningless elements spread out over a canvas seen by no one. These are not the kinds of visions that we have when we encounter the depths of our own psyche, which are invariably spectacular, if surreal, dreamscapes. By contrast, these early machine models of visual encoding show us a soulless sub-realism made of digital gas; a Bayesian partlessness gliding arbitrarily toward programmed compartments.

Although a machine’s introspection need not have any visual appearance at all, it makes sense that if it did, what would be seen might look something like a debugger interface, full of detailed, unambiguous data about the state of the machine.

image

It would be bizarre to have a layer of all-but-incomprehensible fiction in between the machine and its own functions. Even if the dashboard of such a complex machine used a lot of compression techniques, surely that compression would not be a mystery to the machine itself.

The point that I’m trying to get across here is that what we are developing in machines is actually an anti-subjectivity. Its world is fuzzy and delirious on the outside, and clearly circumscribed on the inside – exactly the reverse of our natural awareness. Machine psychology is a matter of compiling the appropriate reports and submitting them for error correction auditing, while machine perception is a tenuous process of probing and guessing in the dark. Our own inner depths seem to defy all machine expectations, containing neither useful reports on the state of our brain nor unnatural chaos. Our view of the world outside of ourselves is not one which seems to be manufactured on the fly but one which imparts a profound, pervasive sense of orientation and clarity.

Edit: 7/23/16, another example: http://www.fastcodesign.com/3062016/this-neural-network-makes-human-faces-from-scratch-and-theyre-terrifying

computerfaces

Edit 12/19/16, see also https://multisenserealism.com/2016/12/19/fooling-computer-image-recognition-is-easier-than-it-should-be/

Edit 5/19/17 https://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2017/05/an-ai-invented-a-bunch-of-new-paint-colors-that-are-hilariously-wrong/

image_recognition

Edit: 6/29/17 – https://wordpress.com/post/multisenserealism.com/5161

artmonstern

7/22/17 – https://blog.keras.io/the-limitations-of-deep-learning.html

“One very real risk with contemporary AI is that of misinterpreting what deep learning models do, and overestimating their abilities. A fundamental feature of the human mind is our “theory of mind”, our tendency to project intentions, beliefs and knowledge on the things around us. Drawing a smiley face on a rock suddenly makes it “happy”—in our minds. Applied to deep learning, this means that when we are able to somewhat successfully train a model to generate captions to describe pictures, for instance, we are led to believe that the model “understands” the contents of the pictures, as well as the captions it generates. We then proceed to be very surprised when any slight departure from the sort of images present in the training data causes the model to start generating completely absurd captions.”

1/6/18 – https://gizmodo.com/this-simple-sticker-can-trick-neural-networks-into-thin-1821735479/amp

banana

5/2/2019 – heatlantic.com/science/archive/2019/05/ai-evolved-these-trippy-images-to-please-a-monkeys-neurons/588517

ageofAI

I Think Therefore I Am?

September 22, 2015 6 comments

The only thing that can be verified 100% to exist is your own consciousness (“I think, therefore I am”) does this effect/change your own beliefs in any way and how so?

In a way it is true that our consciousness is the only thing that we can verify 100%, however, that way of looking at it may itself not be 100% verifiable. Since cognition is only one aspect of our consciousness, we don’t know if the way that ‘our’ consciousness seems to that part of ‘us’ is truly limited to personal experience or whether it is only the tip of the iceberg of consciousness.

The nature of consciousness may be such that it supplies a sense of limitation and personhood which is itself permeable under different states of consciousness. We may be able to use our consciousness to verify conditions beyond its own self-represented limits, and to do so without knowing how we are able to do it. If we imagine that our consciousness when we are awake is like one finger on a hand, there may be other ‘fingers’ parallel to our own which we might call our intuition or subconscious mind. All of the fingers could have different ways of relating to each other as separate pieces while at the same time all being part of the same ‘hand’ (or hand > arm >body).

With this in mind,  Descartes’ cogito “I think therefore I am” could be re-phrased in the negative to some extent. The thought that it is only “I” who is thinking may not be quite true, and all of our thoughts may be pieces to a larger puzzle which the “I” cannot recognize ordinarily. It still cannot be denied that there is a thought, or an experience of thinking, but it is not as undeniable that we are the “I” that “we” think we are.

The modern world view is, in many ways, the legacy of Cartesian doubt. Descartes has gotten a bad rap, ironically due in part to the success of his opening the door to purely materialistic science. Now, after 400 years of transforming the world with technology, it seems prehistoric to many to think in terms of a separate realm of thoughts which is not physical. Descartes does not have the opportunity to defend himself, so his view is an easy target – a straw man even. When we update the information that Descartes had, however, we might see that Cartesian skepticism can still be effective.

Some things which Descartes didn’t have to draw upon in constructing his view include:

1) Quantum Mechanics – QM shifted microphysics from a corpuscular model of atoms to one of quantitative abstractions. Philosophically, quantum theory is ambiguous in both its realism/anti-realism and nominalism/anti-nominalism. Realism starts from the assumption that there are things which exist independently of our awareness of them, while nominalism considers abstract entities to be unreal.

  • Because quantum theory is the base of our physics, and physics precedes our biology, quantum mechanics can be thought of as a realist view. Nature existed long before human consciousness did, and nature is composed of quantum functions. Quantum goes on within us and without us.
  • Because quantum has been interpreted as being at least partially dependent on acts of detection (e.g. “Experiment confirms quantum theory weirdness”), it can be considered an anti-realist view. Unlike classical objects, quantum phenomena are subject to states like entanglement and superposition, making them more like sensory events than projectiles. Many physicists have emphatically stated that the fabric of the universe is intrinsically participatory rather than strictly ‘real’.
  • Quantum theory is nominalist in the sense that it removes the expectation of purpose or meaning in arithmetic. “Shut up and calculate.” is a phrase* which illustrates the nominalist aspects of QM to me; the view is that it doesn’t matter whether these abstract entities are real or not, just so long as they work.
  • Quantum theory is anti-nominalist because it shares the Platonic view of a world which is made up of perfect essences – phenomena which are ideal rather than grossly material. The quantum realm is one which can be considered closer to Kant’s ‘noumena’ – the unexperienced truth behind all phenomenal experience. The twist in our modern view is that our fundamental abstractions have become anti-teleogical. Because quantum theory relies on probability to make up the world, instead of a soul as a ghost in the material machine, we have a machine of ghostly appearances without any ghost.

To some, these characteristics when taken together seem contradictory or incomprehensible…mindless mind-stuff or matterless matter. To others, the philosophical content of QM is irrelevant or merely counter-intuitive. What matters is that it makes accurate predictions, which makes makes it a pragmatic, empirical view of nature.

2) Information Theory and Computers

The advent of information processing would have given Descartes something to think about. Being neither mind nor matter, or both, the concept of ‘information’ is often considered a third substance or ‘neutral monism’. Is information real though, or is it the mind treating itself like matter?

Hardware/software relation
This metaphor gets used so often that it is now a cliche, but the underlying analogy has some truth. Hardware exists independently of all software, but the same software can be used to manipulate many different kinds of hardware. We could say that software is merely our use of hardware functions, or we could say that hardware is just nature’s software. Either way there is still no connection to sensory participation. Neither hardware nor software has any plausible support for qualia.

Absent qualia
Information, by virtue of its universality, has no sensory qualities or conscious intentions. It makes no difference whether a program is executed on an electronic computer or a mechanical computer of gears and springs, or a room full of people doing math with pencil and paper. Information reduces all descriptions of forms and functions to interchangeable bits, so the same information processes would have to be the same regardless of whether there were any emergent qualities associated with them. There is no place in math for emergent properties which are not mathematical. Instead of a ‘res cogitans’ grounded in mental experience, information theory amounts to a ‘res machina’…a realm of abstract causes and effects which is both unextended and uninhabited.

The receding horizon of strong AI
If Descartes were around today, he might notice that computer systems which have been developed to work like minds lack the aesthetic qualities of natural people. They make bizarre mistakes in communication which remind us that there is nobody there to understand or care about what is being communicated. Even though there have been improvements in the sophistication of ‘intelligent’ programs, we still seem to be no closer to producing a program which feels anything. To the contrary, when we engage with AI systems or even CGI games, there is an uncanny quality which indicates a sterile and unnatural emptiness.

Incompleteness, fractals, and entropy
Gödel’s incompleteness theorem formalized a paradox which underlies all formal systems – that there are always true statements which cannot be proved within that system. This introduces a kind of nominalism into logic – a reason to doubt that logical propositions can be complete and whole entities. Douglas Hofstadter wrote about strange loops as a possible source of consciousness, citing complexity of self-reference as a key to the self. Fractal mathematics were used to graphically illustrate some aspects of self-similarity or self-reference and some, like Wai H Tsang have proposed that the brain is a fractal.

The work of Turing, Boltzmann, and Shannon treat information in an anti-nominalist way. Abstract data units are considered to be real, with potentially measurable effects in physics via statistical mechanics and through the concept of entropy. The ‘It from Bit’ view described by Wheeler is an immaterialist view that might be summed up as “It computes, therefore it is.”

3) Simulation Triumphalism

Disneyland
When Walt Disney produced full length animated features, he employed the techniques of fine art realism to bring completely simulated worlds to life in movie theaters. For the first time, audiences experienced immersive fantasy which featured no ‘real’ actors or sets. Disney later extended his imaginary worlds across the Cartesian divide to become “real” places, physical parks which are constructed around imaginary themes, turning the tables on realism. In Disneyland, nature is made artificial and artifice is made natural. Audioanimatronic robots populate indoor ‘dark rides’ where time can seem to stop at midnight even in the middle of a Summer day.

Video games
The next step in the development of simulacra culture took us beyond Hollywood theatrics and naturalistic fantasy. Arcade games featured simulated environments which were graphically minimalist. The simulation was freed from having to be grounded in the real world at all and players could identify with avatars that were little more than a group of pixels.

Video, holographic, and VR technologies have set the stage for acceptance of two previously far-fetched possibilities.  The first possibility is that of building artificial worlds which are constructed of nothing but electronically rendered data. The second possibility is that the natural world is itself such an illusion or simulation. This echoes Eastern philosophical views of the world as illusion (maya) as well as being a self-reflexive pattern (Jeweled Net of Indra). Both of these are suggested by the title of the movie The Matrix, which asks whether being able to control someone’s experience of the world means that they can be controlled completely.

The Eastern and Western religious concepts overlap in their view of the world as a Matrix-like deception against a backdrop of eternal life. The Eastern view identifies self-awareness as the way to control our experience and transcend illusion, while the Abrahamic religions promise that remaining devoted to the principles laid down by God will reveal the true kingdom in the afterlife. The ancients saw the world as unreal because the true reality can only be God or universal consciousness. In modern simulation theories, everything is unreal except for the logic of the programs which are running to generate it all.

4) Relativity

Einstein’s Theory of Relativity went a long way toward mending the Cartesian split by showing how the description of the world changes depending upon the frame of reference. Previously fixed notions of space, time, mass, and energy were replaced by dynamic interactions between perspectives. The straight, uniform axes of x,y,z, and t  were traded for a ‘reference-mollusk’ with new constants, such as the spacetime interval and the speed of light (c). The familiar constants of Newtonian mechanics, and Cartesian coordinates were warped and animated against a tenseless, Non-Euclidean space with no preferred frame of reference.

Even before quantum mechanics introduced a universe built on participation, Relativity had punched a hole in the ”view from nowhere’ sense of objectivity which had been at the heart of the scientific method since the 17th century. Now the universe required us to pick a point within spacetime and a context of physical states to determine the appearance of ‘objective’ conditions. Descartes extended substance had become transparent in some sense, mimicking the plasticity and multiplicity of the subjective ‘thinking substance’.

5) Neuroscience

Descartes would have been interested to know that his hypothesis of the seat of consciousness being the pineal gland had been disproved. People have had their pineal glands surgically removed without losing consciousness or becoming zombies. The advent of MRI technology and other imaging also has given us a view of the brain as having no central place which acts as a miniature version of ourselves. There’s no homunculus in a theater looking out on a complete image stored within the brain. There is also no hint of dualism in the brain as far as a separation between how and where fantasy is processed. To the contrary, all of our waking experiences seamlessly fuse internal expectations with external stimuli.

Neuroscience has conclusively shattered our naive realism about how much control we have over our own mind. Benjamin Libet’s showed that by the time we think that we are making a decision, prior brain activity could be used to predict what the decision would be. With perceptual tests we have shown that our experience of the real world not only contains glaring blind spots and distortions but that those distortions are masked from our direct inspection. Perception is incomplete, however that is no reason to conclude that it is an illusion. We still cannot doubt the fact of perception, only that in a complex kind of perception that a human being has, there are opportunities for conflicts between levels.

Neuroscientific knowledge has also opened up new appreciation for the mystery of consciousness. Some doctors have studied Near Death Experiences and Reincarnation reports. Others have talked about their own experiences in terms which suggest a more mystical presence of universal consciousness than we have imagined. Slowly the old certainties about consciousness in medicine are being challenged.

6) Psychology

Psychology has developed a model of mental illness which is natural rather than supernatural. Conditions such as schizophrenia and even depression are diagnosed and treated as neurological disorders. The use of brain-change drugs, both medically and recreationally has given us new insights into the specificity of brain function. Modern psychology has questioned earlier ideas such as Freud’s Id, Ego, and Superego, and the monolithic “I” before that so that there are many neurochemical roles and systems which contribute to making “us”.

To Decartes’ Cogito, the contemporary psychologist might ask whether the I refers to the sense of an inner voice who is verbalizing the statement, or to the sense of identification with the meaning of the concept behind the words, etc.

In all of the excitement of mapping mental symptoms to brain states, some of the most interesting work in psychology have languished. William James, Carl Jung, Piaget, and others presented models of the psyche which were more sympathetic to views of consciousness as a continuum or spectrum of conscious states. By shifting the focus away from first hand accounts and toward medical observation, some have criticized the neuroscientific influence on psychology as a pseudoscience like phrenology. The most important part of the psyche is overlooked, and patients are reduced to sets of correctable symptoms.

7) Semiotics

Perhaps the most underappreciated contribution on this list is that of semioticians such as C.S. Peirce and de Saussure. Before electronic computing was even imagined, they had begun to formalize ideas about the relation between signs and what is signified. Instead of a substance dualism of mind and matter, semiotic theories introduced triadic formulations such as between signs, objects, and concepts.


Baudrillard wrote about levels of simulation or simulacra, in which a basic reality is first altered or degraded, then that alteration is masked, then finally separated from any reality whatsoever. Together, these notions of semiotic triads and levels of simulation can help guide us away from the insolubility of substance dualism. Reality can be understood as a signifying medium which spans mind-like media and matter-like media. Sense and sense-making can be reconciled without inverting it as disconnected ‘information’.

8) Positivism & Post-Modernism

The certainty which Descartes expressed as a thinker of thoughts can be seen to dissolve when considered in the light of 20th century critics. Heavily criticized by some, philosophers such as Wittgenstein, Derrida, and Rorty continue to be relevant to undermining the incorrigibility of consciousness. The Cogito can be deconstructed linguistically until it is meaningless or nothing but the product of the bias of language or culture. Under Wittgenstein’s Tractatus, the Cogito can be seen as a failure of philosophy’s purpose in clarifying facts, thereby deflating it to an empty affirmation of the unknowable. Since, in his words “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.” we may be compelled to eliminate it altogether.

What logical positivism and deconstructivism does with language to our idea of consciousness is like what neuroscience does through medicine; it demands that we question even the most basic identities and undermines our confidence in the impartiality of our thoughts. In a sense, it is an invitation for a cross-examination of ourselves as our own prosecution witness.

Wilfrid Sellars attack on the Myth of the Given sees statements such as the Cogito as forcing us to accept a contradiction where sense-datum (such as “I think”) are accepted as a priori facts, but justified beliefs (“therefore I am”) have to be acquired. How can consciousness be ‘given’ if understanding is not? This would seem to point to consciousness as a process rather than a state or property. This however, fails to account for lower levels of consciousness which might be responsible for even the micro level processing.

In my view , logic and language based arguments against the incorrigibility fail because they overlook their own false ‘given’, which is that symbols can literally signify reality. In fact, symbols have no authority or power to provide meaning, but instead act as a record for those who intend to preserve or communicate meaning.

An updated Cogito

“I think, therefore I am at least what a thinker thinks is a thinker.”

Rather than seeing Cartesian doubt as only a primitive beginning to science, I think it makes sense to try to pick up where he left off. By adding the puzzle pieces which have been acquired since then, we might find new respect for the approach. Relativism itself may be relative, so that we need not be compelled to deconstruct everything. We can consider that our sense of deconstruction and solipsism as absurd may be well founded, and that just because our personal intuition is often flawed does not mean that kneejerk counter-intuition is any better.

With that in mind, is the existence of the “I” really any more dubious than a quark or a rainbow? Does it serve us to insist upon rigid designations of ‘real’ vs ‘illusion’ in a universe which has demonstrated that its reality is more like illusion? At the same time, does it serve us to deny that all experiences are in some sense ‘real’, regardless of their being ineffable to us now?

*attributed to David Mermin, Richard Feynman, or Paul Dirac (depending on who you ask)

How Does Human Consciousness Work?

August 13, 2015 4 comments

How Does Human Consciousness Work? (Quora)

I have given up trying to explain why consciousness is not an emergent property and why emergence is incoherent when applied to consciousness, so this answer is only for readers who already understand that the eliminativist/materialist account of consciousness fails. This means that you understand that awareness cannot be something that physical objects do, or a quality that they have (panpsychism), or even that mind and matter are two parts of the same coin (dual aspect monism), but that all forms and functions, physical or logical, can only exist within a context of what might be called pansensitivity, or sensation-that-makes-sense. This is not to say that human consciousness is the center of the universe and that all phenomena must make sense to us, but that all phenomena must be present in some modality of detection and interaction. This can be understood rationally with no need of any empirical testing. All that is required is for us to play out the null hypothesis: If there is no possibility of any detection or interaction with phenomenon X, then phenomenon X is indiscernible from nothing at all.

The OP then, asking how human consciousness works, should be broken down into two separate parts:

1) How does awareness in general work?
2) How does human consciousness differ from awareness in general?

1) In consideration of the above, the ‘how’ of awareness becomes a metaphysical issue – it could be said even a meta-ontological issue. If awareness-in-general (or use my term pansensitivity) is the most primitive prerequisite for all phenomena in all possible universes, then we must retrain ourselves to stop looking for more primitive phenomena which compose awareness.

I think that we can say awareness is sensory-motive in nature. That is, there is a quality of passive perceiving and active participating which cannot be rationally done without. Even an atom or subatomic particle requires a context where its identity is made coherent in some way, where its presence is detected or can be inferred from some detection of its effects. In the absence of such a detection, again, there is no difference between such a particle and nothing at all. There is no context from which to derive that difference.

That doesn’t mean solipsism – it doesn’t mean that particles don’t exist unless we see them, but it does mean that the concept of ‘existence’ is incompatible with the existence of our own consciousness unless it is identical to detection/participation in some modality or context.

We need not posit a universal mind or God (although there is nothing that I am proposing which rules that out), only that existence itself in the absence of all perception is fantastically implausible given that 100% of what we know of the universe comes to us exclusively through perception. If the universe doesn’t need perception, then there would be no rational explanation for why some parts of the universe could evolve such a redundant and irrational feature to depend upon exclusively.

From this sensory-motive awareness-in-general, we can develop a hypothesis about how it divides and multiplies itself into different perceived forms and participatory functions. This entails performing a kind of Copernican inversion on our early 21st century* worldview, turning the outside (<matter>mass>energy>entropy>space) in, and the inside (pansense>sense<motive>significance>time) out. I don’t expect anyone to really understand that right away…it has taken me several years to put it together in those terms, but hopefully the general idea of the role that symmetry plays comes through. Suffice it to say, I think that how awareness works is that it plays with variations on itself using separation and reconnection on many levels at once. It’s very much like the view that has been a part of Eastern philosophy and Western mysticism for centuries, but with the important difference of plugging directly into modern models of physics and information.

As far as information goes, the sensory-motive primitive can be plugged into the medium-signal relation. Physics gives us a lot of these kinds of conjugates: surface-depth, electro-magnetism, space-time, mass-energy, etc, but when we are working with information and semiotics, we lose the concrete reality of sensation and substitute automatic, ideal abstractions of theoretical mechanics. Computer science and math do not concern themselves with how one number is able to add itself to another, only that there is a reliable result. Physics does focus on how phenomena interact, but not what those interactions actually are or what it is that is actually doing the interacting.

The Medium-Signal Relation
In a simple case of communication, two people might hold a string tight on opposite sides of a room and pull on the string once to indicate ‘yes/true/1’ and twice for ‘no/false/0’. In this case the string pulling, along with the tactile sensitivity of each person to detect the state of the string with their hands would be the medium. We can argue that behind that sensitivity is a lot of other cellular and molecular interaction, but that only pushes the medium down into the microphysical level of description. Even at the bottom, we still need some quantum-atomic sensitivity for any kind of basis of interaction to emerge (or diverge).

The combination of string pulling and any schema which is applied to the interpretation of those pulls would be the signal or sign. Many if not most people confuse ‘signals’ with the physical conditions (string pulling, neurons ‘firing’, semiconductors polarizing, etc), but a better understanding is that the signal is a semiotic interpretation; a conscious consideration of changing conditions within a sensory-motive medium.

Another metaphor that I like is brightness vs contrast. Brightness is the medium – if you have zero brightness there is nothing to see. Light, brightness, and the ability to see are, in the absolute sense, the same thing: a condition of awareness. Contrast stands in here for information or signal, which is a second-order relation of brightness and darkness. If you have no brightness, contrast doesn’t help, but if you do have brightness, then contrast allows many degrees of brightness and frequencies of its absorption to be presented simultaneously.

2) The difference between awareness in general and human consciousness is the incredible degree of elaboration, and the specific experiences which have shaped Homo sapiens. The degree of elaboration I’m referring to would be the number of steps from raw pansensitivity to particular subjective sense vs objectively distanced sense (matter-space), to organic molecules, to cells, to tissues, organs, animals, and vertebrates. The corresponding consciousness of such an elaborate chain of continuous world-crafting seems likely to be be appropriately rich and deep aesthetically. The base level sense and motive is enhanced by orders of magnitude to a heart wrenching, visceral level of participation.

I propose that the specific experiences which have shaped us individually and as a species lend our human consciousness its particular qualities. We share many qualities with other species – perhaps tender emotions with mammals, coarse emotions with reptiles, playful trickery with primates, etc. It’s all sourced in real experience over hundreds of millions of years. It is, in my view, very much like our individual psychology is shaped by our experience, and our families and societies are shaped by their histories. This is what makes human consciousness human, and this is why an AI cannot simulate who we are. A computer may copy the signals from the medium of our communications, or from the medium of neuroscience, but without the medium of the totality of human experience going all the way back to before the first life form, it will only be a kind of doll – an imitation of who we are cobbled together from what our brains are and how they behave.

*really legacy 20th century

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