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Posts Tagged ‘philosophy of mind’

The Spirit of the Law

August 9, 2016 2 comments

The distinction between “The letter of the law” and “The spirit of the law” is a good way to understand the relation of consciousness to matter or to computation. Specifically, when we talk about the spirit of the law, we are speaking metaphorically. We don’t actually mean that there is a spiritual force radiating from paragraphs of text in legal documents which have a conscious intent. When we talk about the letter of the law, we are being much more literal (literally literal). The letter of the law refers to the actual written code that is recorded on paper, or stone tablets somewhere and copied from one physical medium to another.

To be literal about it, we would say the Spirit (or motive) behind the creation of the law. The law itself is inert. It is purely a medium to contain and transport a reference to the lawgiver’s motive, so that the motive can be actualized in the behaviors of those who follow the law. Laws don’t write themselves, and they don’t follow themselves. Their existence depends entirely on a world of agents and their efforts to influence each other.

The same is true of the relation between conscious experience, which is irreducibly sensory-motive, and external forms and functions which act as reflective mediums or vehicles for conscious experience. Like the letters of the law, physical forms or logical functions have no teleological motive. Those who mistake forms for having the potential to develop consciousness do so as a result of identifying too literally with their body and the experiences that they have through their body of its world of bodies and objects.

When we think too literally, we overlook the enormous gulf between the literal code of law (including the laws of physics or laws of mathematics) and the motive behind the giving and following of law. We begin to imagine that bodies or computer programs can become so complex that some spirit with sense and motive can ‘emerge’ from them. When someone argues that we will eventually discover the function of the brain which produces consciousness, or develop a program which will simulate consciousness, they are making an assumption about the relation between consciousness and the forms which it reflects back to itself. Translating this assumption into the context of law, it is an argument which says that there is no immaterial ‘spirit of the law’, so that therefore there must be a complicated set of legal codes which we mistake for such a ‘spirit’.  For many this assumption is in the blind spot of their intellect so that they are incapable of knowing that they are even making an assumption at all, let alone that it could be an oversight which is ‘emergent’ from their way of thinking about it.

The reason that forms and functions cannot create conscious experience has nothing to do with our current level of technological development, rather the reason is that the thesis that forms and functions can create consciousness is based on a reductive functionalism which breaks down when we carry the thesis out fully. Namely, our motive for reducing consciousness to physics or computation in the first place is based on principles of parsimony and sufficiency. Those same principles prohibit us from inflating physics or computation to consciousness. Consciousness cannot be justified, nor can any emergent properties which only appear within consciousness. If laws could create themselves and follow themselves, then there would be no need for any further experience of participating in either that creation or application. Like a computer program, the law would be generated automatically and a programmed chain reaction would follow. There would be no function for a sense of participation. The Hard Problem of Consciousness, translated into legal terms would ask why, if there is no spirit of the law, must lawyers ‘practice’ law instead of the law simply carrying itself out. Why would anyone argue over how a law should be ‘interpreted’?

The law ultimately is a communication between people as a way to try to maintain order in a civilization. It is not an alien life form whose body survives on ink and microfilm. Without a spirit or motivation to impart a sense of proper conduct onto other people, the law literally cannot exist as a law. In the same way, computer programs cannot exist without a motive of people to give and receive conscious experiences to each other. The letter of a program or of a physical structure cannot refer to anything by itself, and cannot act as a reference since there is no rational place for any such layer of intention. The laws of physics or mathematics don’t argue with each other. They don’t set up courts with juries to try to convince each other that one force should apply here and another should apply there. Why do we?

Putting the Meta in Metaphysics

July 31, 2016 4 comments

The space view of matter

Matter as solid three dimensional objects or obstructions in a void. Classical mechanics. Even liquids or gases are miniature solid objects in motion.

Corpuscularianism is a physical theory that supposes all matter to be composed of minute particles. The theory became important in the seventeenth century; amongst the leading corpuscularians were Rene Descartes, Pierre Gassendi, Isaac Newton, Robert Boyle, and John Locke.”

Under this view, space is absolute in that it is a context within which objects exist. That context can be assigned x,y,z coordinates and position is conceived as being fixed to those real coordinates. Descartes’ Res Extensa equates the property of extension with ‘corporeal substance’.

The space view of matter is one of the most tangible aspects of naive realism, which also gets very meta, since the space view of matter makes matter seem most tangible. If you can touch it, it’s matter, and by extension (metaphorical extension) into philosophy, what is touchable matters. What is real? The space view of matter says that bodies colliding with bodies in a volume of space is real.

The space view of energy

Scientific views of energy from a spatial perspective describe certain kinds of changes to a field, which is in turn defined as a ‘condition in space’. In quantum mechanics, even a perfect vacuum is considered a space which contains the condition of vacuum energy. This gives rise to a chicken-egg paradox. If there’s no vacuum except one that is filled with ‘energy’, how can we really claim that space exists other than the extension of energy?

The folk conception of ‘energy’ is often as a radiant aura of effects such as increasing light, warmth, or color saturation accompanied by dynamic patterns such as vibration, emanation, and an expansive shift in awareness. This view is considered a pseudoscientific view, since the symptoms of energy that we encounter in the world are not technically ‘energies’ themselves but more like statistics about changes to material substances as approximated by our sensory detection methods.

What energy is in scientific terms is quite abstract really. Physicists don’t generally think in terms of energy as a concrete presence in space, but more of a value that is used in equations about how to cause masses to change position. Energy is an immaterial variable which is conserved within quantitative analyses of how work gets done. In that sense, energy does not ‘exist’ in the physical world that we experience, so much as it is a theoretical influence which governs changes to the physical world (which we may or may not experience).

The space view of energy is perhaps the polar opposite of the space view of matter in that it is anchored in intangibility rather than tangibility. Tesla comes to mind as a someone whose genius included a talent for seeing spatialized energy in a concrete way. His famous quote

‘If you want to find the secrets of the universe, think in terms of energy, frequency and vibration.’

bridges the space view of energy and the time view of energy.

The space view of time

The space view of time is easily understood in terms of animation cels or a film strip. Time is a sequence of changes to some region of space. By running these changes at a fast enough rate, our perception drops the sense of separately framed spaces and is seduced into a temporal illusion of animation in a single region.

The space view of time has a powerful influence on physics and computer science which quantizes time as Planck units or CPU cycles. Linear causality appears as a dimension of seriality which governs any number of changes acting in parallel on any number of other space-like dimensions. The space view of time turns cuts across distances orthogonally as duration.

The time view of space

To think of space as a feature of time, we can use the example of a dream or a story in a book about a place. Spatial relations can be described over time without there being any actual space to reference. A first person shooter video game emulates our subjective perspective of space as a stream of events which pass in front of our view, giving an impression of a world. In fact, every space created in a computer game is created purely as the result of a very rapid series of instructions in time which paints an illusion of space beneath our threshold of perception.

The time view of energy

Like the time view of space, the time view of energy can be conceptualized as a computer program. How does a computer program, which is a sequence of instructions executed in time, produce an energy-like effect? I think the answer is that from this vantage point, space and energy are merely qualities or patterns within time. By modulating the relative speed and location of some group of changing pixels, the game designer can produce the illusion of a moving avatar in the foreground. The real changes to the pixels are uniform refreshes of the video RAM (which I think is why CGI tends to give itself away by the unnatural gliding motions of objects), so that there is nothing which is actually accelerating other than the audiences perception of what is displayed on the screen.

The time view of matter

Sticking with the computer metaphor, the time view of matter is as events which are changing at a relatively slower rate than other events. Matter becomes a geometry of continuous inertia within a temporal flow. Matter is just slow energy from the time perspective.

The matter view of space

By pivoting the point of focus from space to matter, there is no concrete thing which frames objects. Instead, the only space that there is would be the distance between objects. Distance is the absence of material which divides matter into separate instances. This view makes more sense to me and matches our naive intuition. Relativity shows that without some third frame of reference, there is no difference between passing a train and standing still while another train passes you. Since motion is relative, and distance is only a division of matter, the matter view of space can be thought of as ‘not-even-a-void’. Space becomes a non-entity.

The matter view of energy

From this perspective, energy is a change in the quality and behavior of matter. When we say that energy is just how matter does material things, energy too becomes a non-entity. This view also supports our naive realism. When we use microwaves to heat something, for example, we see that the food seems to be cooking itself, sort of dancing to the buzz of an invisible stimulation. While we can plot out wave patterns in the effect of this stimulation by placing material objects near a microwave emitter, the waving would be something that is only happening to the matter itself, not to space or any field condition of it. The only micro-wave that there is would be a waving of syncrhonized acceleration between an emitter’s molecules and the molecules of another object. A radio wave would not be a literal thing moving through space, but rather the time between the transmitter being energized and the receiver imitating that energized state would be a measure of the difference in scale between the scale of mountains and cities vs the scale of human sense organs. We experience a delay between the transmission and the reception, but on the scale of the transmission, it is actually instantaneous.

The matter view of time

If energy is nothing but what matter does, then time is nothing but an emergent factor of the relative rate of those changes. As Einstein said “Time is what a clock measures.” The matter view of time would take this absolutely literally. There would literally be no entity of time, only the act of comparing the positions of a clock in a measured way. Time would be like a theme found mainly within chemical reactions which are irreversible.

The energy view of matter

Switching to the perspective of energy probably requires shifting to a purely mathematical style of thinking. Energy doesn’t really correspond to any natural entity that we can point to. Looking at the mass-energy equivalence, we can imagine that matter would be a structure which has mass, and that there is a trade off between the loss of structure or mass and the gain in energy. It is not widely understood that in a nuclear explosion, very little matter is actually converted to energy. Most of the energy released is from the re-organization of light elements into heavier atoms (fusion), or the fission of heavy atoms into lighter elements. The periodic table is divided into two by what is known as the ‘iron peak’, with elements lighter than iron releasing energy when they fuse together, and elements heavier than iron releasing energy when they break apart.

E=mc² makes energy equivalent to mass and something like spacetime squared. Spacetime squared is a pure quantitative abstraction of physics, but I think it is possible to grasp it in common sense terms as a universal growth constant. What is expansion of spacetime other than the growth of new spaces and times, and/or new scales of space and time within spacetime? I don’t understand a lot of Kelvin Abraham’s Tetryonics, but his description of mass as a two dimensional phenomenon as distinct from matter (3d) rings true to me. Since energy is equivalent to ‘maximally growing mass’ in this thought experiment, the difference between matter and energy from the point of view of energy would be only that matter has condensed its growth into a 3d volume by minimizing the 1d time dimension (slowing down).

The energy view of time

For energy, I think time is frequency and thermodynamic irreversibility. Similar to the matter view of time, except instead of being what a clock measures, a clock would be re-imagined as a source of resistance to some process of energy release, like a spring relaxing. The spring would be a generic source of mass to inhibit the constant release of energy, and that inhibition would define the speed of the ‘clocking’ which we call time. In electrical terms, time would be what energy uses to become ‘powerful’. A kilowatt-hour is a measure of power. It’s like a metaphysical nozzle which steps the boundaryless presence of Energy (E) into the physical dynamics of storage and release as matter. Something like that. This view requires more knowledge of physics than I have

The energy view of space

I’m not sure about this either, but I would guess that energy’s view of space is interchanageable with time. Space is just another dimension of energy’s division into storage and release events. Depending on your frame of reference, energy release can appear space-like (parallel) or time-like (serial). The difference between time and space from the view of energy would seem to be a problem, as far as it requires some extra influence to explain how reference is framed in the first place, and why it should parallelize one side of energy and serialize the other. Could the storage of energy be intrinsically spatial while the release is intrinsically temporal? Is time the release of energy and space the containment of energy? I’ll leave that to someone who knows what they are talking about.

The information view of physics

The Matrix. Simulation hypothesis. Holographic universe. Digital Physics. Strong computationalism. The view of physics as information has captured the imagination of many. The rise of television and video games has certainly given this view more weight than in previous centuries. We can see first hand how electronic functions can be manipulated to encode and decode physical sensory impressions. All that is left is to take the leap of faith between ‘looks like a duck, quacks like a duck’ and ‘duck’ and we have a model of physics which emerges from statistical relations alone.

The physics view of information

Just as the information view of physics causes matter to evaporate into abstract schemas, the same thing happens to information when we pivot to the view of information from physics. All that is necessary to contrive ‘information’ is a willingness to let mass, energy, space, and time interact in accordance with laws derived from empirical fact rather than rational theories. We live in this world just because of a physical history that happened to take place, rather than any kind of universal inevitablity. We could invoke a kind of objective solipsism, where everything that we think is conscious experience or information is nothing but a physical precipitate which seems metaphysical to us by accident of neurology.

The subjective view of objects

Similar to the information view of physics in that physics evaporates into illusion or ‘maya’, but the particular information which constitutes any given experience of physics would be anchored in the subject’s power to perceive and participate. This is the ‘thoughts create reality’ model of the universe which enjoys continued popularity in New Age circles. As with any subjective model, it suffers from unfalsifiability. You can always say that your wishes failed to materialize because you weren’t ready for it, or you lacked faith or humility or some other subjective skill.

The objective view of subjects

An equally naive perspective in my estimation, pivoting to the objective, third person view is just as unfalsifiable and even more intuitively unpalatable. Instead of solipsism and anthropomorphism, we have what I call nilipsism and mechanemorphism. The compulsion to inflate every event as ‘meant to be’ or connected with a divine plan for personal growth, there is an opposite compulsion to deflate every event as accidental or connected with mechanical conditions of bodies and their biological evolution. It’s version of superstition is to attribute anything special or unusual to random mutation, coincidence, and confirmation bias.

The entropy view of significance

Here I am mixing my own use of the term ‘significance’ with the more formal concept of entropy. I see both of these concepts as equally vague in the end as entropy is contingent upon arbitrary/subjective framing of what is being considered a ‘system’.  Using an example here is helpful. Let’s say that the high value of gold is an example of what I mean by ‘significance’. Gold is considered more significant than dirt. The entropy-oriented view sees gold as something like ‘a kind of dirt’, as far as that there is nothing special about atoms with 79 protons which doesn’t reduce to various chemical and electrical properties. The high value of gold by Homo sapiens is seen as a very, very complex development over millions of years which involves arbitrary connections between human perceptual systems and meaningless qualities like shinyness and color combined with economic laws of supply and demand.

The significance view of entropy

From the vantage point of what I call ‘significance’ (*aesthetic saturation and popularity), all experiences and phenomena are perfect, beautiful, meaningful, etc. Entropy is the dilution of that appreciation of perfection – an insensitvity to the specialness and uniqueness of every fragment of being. Dirt, we could say, is another kind of gold. The universe is an ecstatic creation of incomprehensible majesty, and it can only seem less than that by the grace of an equally majestic filtering or diffraction of the absolute. Of course, this filtering only serves to increase the appreciation of the unfiltered brilliance of nature, so it is comparable to the power = energy / time relation. The universe appears shittier than it is in any given frame of reference, because it is the gap between perfection and shitty which is doing the framing.

The causal view of creation

In conventional cosmology, the universe is either caused by an uncaused influence, or it is caused by an infinite chain of causes. Time here is seen to be a metaphysical constant which is insuperable. The Big Bang is either caused by we-don’t-know-what, or it is part of an eternal repeat of Bang-Crunch cycles.

The creative view of causality

Pivoting to a ground of being which is independent of causality, we see time or causality as a construction within consciousness. This has some support in our subjective experience, i.e. dreams and other altered states of consciousness can confabulate histories spontaneously or dissolve coherence of events. The appearance of causality could be just another structure which rises and falls from an eternal fugue of delirious content.

The scientific view of religion

At the dawn of the scientific revolution, the physical universe was considered to be a reflection of divine intelligence. Over the last five or six hundred years, this appreciation of the natural world as a source of spiritual awe has gone through a process of disenchantment. The alchemical revelations of Newton and Kepler were replaced by the more secular deism of the 17th and 18th centuries. The rise of naturalism and determinism continued through the 19th and 20th centuries with the rise of logical positivism and behaviorism. By the 19th century, Darwin and Marx had revealed a view of nature and humanity which not only lacks any need for a supernatural creator, but actually recruits the fantasy of a supernatural creator to serve species-centric sociological functions. In the modern era, the voices within science about religion are generally atheistic and see religion as dangerous superstitious nonsense which should have been cured already by more effective public education. While privately many scientists are religious and do not seem to have problem reconciling natural and supernatural influences, the public face of science is seen to be at odds with religion.

The religious view of science

Looking at the same progression of the scientific era from the other perspective, modern religion ranges in its response to science from the extremely intolerant to the extremely supportive. Fundamentalist religion is often antagonistic toward science, seeing it as a godless, corrupt influence which is blinkered by human arrogance and endangers the world with hubris. Other religions and religious individuals celebrate science as a way to become closer to God through God-given reason and understanding.

The thinking view of feeling

Along the lines of the scientific view of religion, the objective view of subjects, and the entropy view of significance, the thinking view of feeling is that emotion is a threat to rational thought. The highly developed human intellect comes to define itself as superior to animal urges and soft-headed sentimentality. There are some vestigial qualities of appreciation for logic and mathematics which are still deemed worthy – the satisfaction of solving a difficult mystery, or the secular version of awe at the vastness of space or the scales of infinitesimal particles.

The feeling view of thinking

The feeling view of thinking is supported by the use of psychoactive drugs. We can see clearly that how we think is not a pristine structure that exists above the material world but dependent on a fragile matrix of biochemical conditions. Thoughts are just as susceptible to bias as emotions are, and the reductionist style of logical thought can actually exacerbate that bias and crystallize it so that it out lasts the more merciful fluctuations of feeling.

The physical view of consciousness

In a word: Neuroscience. The physical view of consciousness is that it is a brain function, pure and simple. Whatever chain of events that led to bipedalism and the opposable thumb happened to lead to a large, complex brain in Homo sapiens. Some bag of biochemical tricks has lead to an emergent illusion that we call consciousness or ‘ourselves’. The Hard Problem of consciousness is seen as a difficult problem at the moment, but with time and technological improvement, we will discover what makes the brain tick just as we have discovered how so many other physical processes work.

The information-theoretic view of consciousness

Cognitive science and information science conspire to produce a model of consciousness which emerges not from the biophysics of brains but from the integration of signal processing. Such integration need not be confined to organic substrates like brains but could just as easily be developed in a computer. Here too the Hard Problem of consciousness is seen as momentary obstacle, eventually to be cracked by increasing our knowledge of how organisms process sensory data.

The consciousness view of physics

This perspective can be found in non-dualist philosophies such as Advaita Vedanta or some versions of panpsychism. The appearance of physics within consciousness is really wide open, which can be considered a weakness of the position, since starting from consciousness doesn’t give us any special insight into the nature of physics, other than that it has been dreamed up within consciousness. It could evolve through experiences in some kind of mechanical process, or it could be orchestrated by creative intent, or both, or neither.

The consciousness view of information

From this perspective, information is really the replacement for physics within nondual panpsychism. Physics would be a type of information and information would be the way that experiences are represented within other experiences which are presented.

The consciousness view of the consciousness view of consciousness

From the above, I hope it is possible to connect some of the dots to see that physics and metaphysics change according to which features we make fundamental and which features we make emergent. Ultimately all of these perspectives have some value, however I do not think that they are equal. I think that the views which support our naive realism are the more sensible and natural orientation, so that views which make space, time, energy, or  information real are not as sensible as those which make all of those functions of matter. From there, matter makes the most sense to me as information, and information as a consequence of consciousness nested within itself.

What is most real, in my view, is qualia itself and the capacity for nesting and juxtaposing against itself in symmetric or anti-symmetric patterns. That is what I mean by Sense, and this list of perspectives is an example of what I mean by Multisense Realism. Different perspectives which alter each other in a relativistic way that is relatively absolute. There is almost infinite room to twist and turn the perspectives, however there is a natural ordering which wins out by necessity and that is that consciousness or qualia itself cannot be created or destroyed and is the foundation of all possible phenomena. Sanity can contain limited islands of insanity, but sanity itself cannot be born from the absence of sanity. In my understanding this fundamental sense and sanity is reflected in many ways, and the fact that sense and sanity is being reflected in these ways is also reflected in it. Some obvious examples are the properties of light, color, music, and geometry. Mythology and storytelling, astronomy, language, alphabets, number systems are also rich with signs of sense.

The difference between a maze and a labyrinth is this:

“A maze is a complex branching (multicursal) puzzle that includes choices of path and direction, may have multiple entrances and exits, and dead ends. A labyrinth is unicursal i.e. has only a single, non-branching path, which leads to the center then back out the same way, with only one entry/exit point.”

I think that what we have in this is a holo-graphic uni-verse in which the holo/uni is the unicursal center and the graphic-verse is the maze-like end. The holos-labyrinth intentionally pretends to be a maze, while the maze masks that intention. In this way, questions like “Can God make a stone so heavy that he can’t lift it” are answered in a qualified affirmative. The answer is “Yes”, but first God must make himself less than God to be a stone lifter. While we are alive, the holos view is usually hidden, so our days are filled with dead ends and multicursal meanderings. Perhaps after death, or many deaths, we transcend one level of human limitation and another level of holos is revealed? In any case, I think that the fact that sense exists at all is enough to push the needle to the unicursal side of the meter. Every time we make sense of something, a knot is untangled and the string becomes easier to use to pull ourselves back to the center. Teleology pushes us forward in physical time to go backward in metaphysical time, while physics provides resistance through entropy.

Decapitating Capitalism: Why the Easiest Job for AI to Replace is the Job of “Owner”

July 18, 2016 3 comments

tumblr_oaftnkT1xA1qz6f9yo5_540.jpg

This may seem like a ridiculous point to try to make, however I submit that it provides a direct metaphor for the Hard Problem of Consciousness which may help make it more concrete, especially for those whose minds are filled with concrete.

What is the essential role of the Owner of a company? 

Whether they are individual proprietors, stockholders, or investors, the only truly unique function that a capitalist principal performs is to be the beneficiary of net profit. Every executive function of a company can of course be delegated to employees. The CEO, COO, board of directors, etc can make every functional decision about the company, from the hiring and firing to the broad strategy of operations and acquisitions. Simulating those roles would be more difficult for a computer program than simulating an owner would be because there would be a lot of tricky decisions to make, subtle political maneuvers that require a lot of history and intuition, etc. The role of pure ownership however, while highly coveted by human beings, is completely disposable for an AI system. In fact, we already have that role covered by our bank accounts themselves. Our personal accounting systems can be configured quite easily to automatically pay, receive, and invest funds automatically. They need not be considered ‘our’ funds at all. They are merely signals in a global financial network which has no use for any pleasure or pain that we might experience as a side effect of its digital transactions.

From the view of an AI scientist, the job of receiving capital gains is a no-brainer (literally). If we didn’t want to delegate the job of selling the company to a corporate officer, that feature would be a simple one to create. A modest set of algorithms could digitize some of the concepts of top business schools to determine a set of indicators which would establish a good time to sell the company or its assets. The role of receiving the profit of that sale, however, would require no such sophisticated programming.

All that is needed to simulate ownership is some kind of digital account where money can be deposited. The CEO would then re-invest the capital gains into the corporate growth strategy, which would yield a huge windfall for the company, in the form of eliminating useless expenses such as yachts, mansions, divorce settlements, etc. Left to its own devices, AI simulation of ownership would be communist by default*. Whatever money is extracted from the individual customer as profit would be returned ultimately to all customers in the form of expanded services. Profit is only useful as a way to concentrate reinvestment for mathematical leverage, not to ‘enjoy’ in some human way. I suppose that a computer could be programmed to spend lavishly on creature comforts, but what would be the point?

This is where the metaphor for consciousness comes in. 

Consciousness can be thought of the Capital account of the human body. We are the owner of our own lives, including our body. We might be able to subscribe to a service which would manage our finances completely in a way which would transfer our income to the highest priority costs for civilization as a whole rather than for our personal hoard, but this is not likely to be a very popular app.

We might ask ourselves, why not? Why is ownership good?

Ownership is good for us as owners or conscious agents because we want to feel personal power and significance. Ownership signifies freedom (from employment) and success. Sure, many owners in the real world get a lot of satisfaction from actually running their companies, but it is not necessary. There is still power and prestige purely in being the person who owns the money which pays the bills. We want to own and control, not because it is more effective than simply reinvesting automatically in whatever functions are being executed to keep an economy growing, but because we want to experience the feelings and other aesthetic qualities define freedom, success, and power for us. Even if these qualities are employed for humanitarian purposes, there is still a primary motive of feeling (to feel generous, kind, wise, evolved, Godly, etc).

In my view we do not have to have a purely selfish motive, as Ayn Rand would insist. I think that our personal pleasure in being a philanthropist can be outweighed by the more noble intention of it – to provide others with better feelings and experiences of life. This decision to believe that we can be truly philanthropic has philosophical implications for realism. If we say as the Randian Libertarian might, that all our humanitarian impulses are selfish, then we are voting for solipsism over realism, and asserting that consciousness can only reflect the agenda of a fictional agent rather than perceiving directly the facts of nature. It’s an argument that should be made, but I think that it is ultimately an argument of the intellect commenting on its own process rather than tapping into the deeper intuition and aesthetic presence which all cognition depends on. The mind doesn’t think that feeling is necessary, and it is right, for the mind, but wrong for everything else.

For the intellect, the universe is inverted.

Logic and language are ‘real’ while the concrete sensations, perceptions and emotions of life experience are ‘illusions’ or ‘emergent properties’ of deeper evolutionary bio-computations. There is a kind of sleight of hand where the dry, masculine intellect pulls the wool over its own eyes and develops amnesia about the origins of what makes its own sanity and self-intelligibility possible. The closest that it can come without seeing consciousness as irreducible is the mind-numbing process of calculation. Counting is a sedative-hypnotic for the mind. The monotonous rhythm puts us to sleep, and the complexity of huge calculations gives us a kind of orgasmic annihilation of the calculating experience. This is why big math is a convenient substitute for the deeper, direct experiences of cosmic awe.

Metaphor for Consciousness

Like the head of a company, our consciousness may seem to reside at the top end of our body, but there is no functional reason for that. There is nothing that the brain does which is fundamentally different from what any cell, tissue, or organ does in an animal’s body. Looking for the secret ingredient in the brain’s function or structure is analogous to looking for the substance in an object which casts a shadow.

Like the owner, our personal pains and pleasures are ours not because there is any intrinsic benefit for the pragmatic application of biology and genetics to feel painful or pleasurable, but because what we feel and experience is the only thing that the universe actually can consist of. The Hard Problem of Consciousness is not an Empirical problem, but a Rational one. Not everyone is able to understand why this is, but maybe this metaphor of business decapitation can help. When we use the intellect to reverse its own inversion, we can get a glimpse of a universe which is made of conscious experiences and aesthetic qualities rather than logical propositions, natural laws or existential facts. In my view, facts are a category of sensations rather than the other way around. Sensations which persist indefinitely without contradiction are ‘facts’. Hard to know if something is going to persist indefinitely, but that’s another issue.

Only consciousness cares about consciousness.

Material substrates can be programmed to perform the executive functions of a corporation, or an evolving species, or a human body, however there is no function which is provided exclusively by the receipt of feelings and aesthetic qualities of experience, including the qualities of feeling that one is free or in control of something. Rationally, we should be able to see that qualia is irrelevant to function and violates Occam’s Razor in a functionalist universe. From a physical or information-centric perspective, there is no place for any feeling or sensation, no owner or capital of aesthetic wealth. The more that we, as a society, embrace a purely quantitative ethos, and actualize it in the structures of our civilization, the more we decapitate everything of value that it can contain.

*This is already becoming a reality: https://theconversation.com/is-the-dao-the-beginning-of-the-end-for-the-conventional-chief-executive-60403

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.

 

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