Here’s a problem I’ve been stewing over for several hours now inspired by Raymond Tallis.
Say you have a device called an autoencephelograph. This device will project whatever you are subjectively experiencing onto a display of some kind– TV screen, projector screen etc.
Now lets say you look at the display with the autoencephelograph nearby within view. Will this display be your subjective experiences, objectively out there in the public arena? Or will the autoencephelograph and the display itself still be within your own subjective experience, creating a sort of fractal, nested self- similar experience? Or both-and?
I think that it can be modeled this way:
c = d (Q – Q’)
I’m setting the variable c (which I’m not-unintentionally using to reference the speed of light, but that’s a whole other sidebar) to be the distance or difference between the raw qualia Q and the projected qualia Q prime.
fc = ‘ ^2
fc is the Feedback (or function) of c, and I’m saying that it is the square of the primeness, that is, the inauthenticity of the projection is squared. The inauthenticity here is the degree to which the projection is an imperfect imitation of the original. This might also be called simulacra translation, which is different from mere signal degradation, because each copy is not only losing fidelity with the original and thus becoming more generic, but it is also gaining the qualities of M (the medium).
In the case of visual Q, the Q’ is optical if it is seen through our eyes (rather than if the autoencephalograph is projecting into our brain directly), and it is technological relative to whatever devices are being used to collect and project the brain measurements. So the in addition to the simulacra translation fc = ‘^2, you add +M, as the quality of the medium (say optics + video) increases its presence in Q’.
– extra credit:
fc = ‘ ^2 +M
This +M is part of what I call disimmediation.
“If we pay attention to the aesthetic particulars of the glitch – the scratches on the record, the pixelation of a digitally compressed video, we can see that they contain clues as to the mechanisms behind the media. Disimmediation is a window into other Perceptual Inertial Frames (PIF), to optics or computation, analog or digital recording, screenwriting and theatrical production, etc.”
This +M qualia can be modeled as well, but this gets even more esoteric. The medium’s qualia is being seen from the public facing side, so it’s compressing the whole history of that medium and its context as a kind of fisheye lens from eternity. It’s the hole in the cookie dough of eternity, rather than the cookie…which makes it a different kind of simulacra…an impersonal kind which is not only noise but truth-telling, and therefore orienting in a scientific-artistic way (metatheoretical and metaphenomenal).
Think of it this way: The color orange intrinsically references red and yellow, which intrinsically references the warm end of the visual spectrum, then color in general, then seeing in general, and in our frame of reference optics, lenses, prisms, etc. Seeing references sense modalities, which references sense itself, and through that nesting, implicit coherence is preserved from outside of spacetime.
In music, timbre also known as tone color or tone quality from psychoacoustics, is the quality of a musical note or sound or tone that distinguishes different types of sound production, such as voices and musical instruments, string instruments, wind instruments, and percussion instruments. The physical characteristics of sound that determine the perception of timbre include spectrum and envelope.
a signal with its envelope marked in red
What I remember from my 7th grade general music class about timbre is that it is what made modern pop and rock different from other forms of music. All of those sound effects that become possible with electric amplification allow us to transform the same kinds of melodies that have always been a part of music into new kinds of sonic textures. Any song can be made into a heavy metal or punk song by cranking up the amplitude and distortion and manipulating the tempo.
The Wiki gives a list of subjective experiences and objective acoustic properties, such as:
Vibrato Frequency modulation
Tremolo Amplitude modulation
I think that this a clue that timbre can be used meaningfully as a jumping off point for understanding subjectivity and consciousness. If we think of the red signal envelope as a cross section of a 3D prismatic glacier behind it, the axis of that figurative third dimension would be where private significance (aesthetic quality) intersects public spacetime.
I’m not saying that qualia can literally be reduced to a kind of perpendicular meta-spacetime, but that it can be figuratively thought to cast a shadow which is measurable in those terms. The public universe is flat in comparison to the private universe, even though any particular private experience of eternity is of course orders of magnitude narrower than the totality of all experience. The full extent of our own lives and the lives of others is hidden by the constraint of our insensitivity. Our attention is directed to public facing events, to places and times outside of our private here and now.
Timbre at least recognizes the dipole of subjective and objective dimensions of phenomena and the sensible link between them. Our Western approach of psychoacoustics still reduces the subjective psycho- qualities to a mechanical model which is presumed to be driven by the acoustics only, but what I suggest is that acoustic mechanics are themselves micro-aesthetic experiences which are shared on all phenomenal levels (sub-personal, personal, and super-personal).
Timbre is a word which has been called “the psychoacoustician’s multidimensional waste-basket category for everything that cannot be labeled pitch or loudness”. The difference between a recording of a flute and a recording of a guitar playing the same song could be described in terms of timbre. Each instrument has its own idiosyncratic mixture of tonal and extra-tonal noise-like qualities. When we talk about playing a song on the piano, we are treating the melody as the object. What is being played is an abstract concept of sequenced notes, but what is bringing that abstraction into a concretely realized experience is the acoustic and artistic qualities of the instrument and the performance.
A font or typeface can be seen in a similar way. The invention of customizable fonts was one of the favorite features of early word processors. Instead of being locked into a particular typewriters look, the consumer could now make their printed output look more like published text. Font designers had to painstakingly build the look of each letter in the character set (since a computer would not be much good at guessing what a Helvetica style might be). Soon the entire typographic palette of styles and sizes were available, bringing into sharp distinction the difference between the alphanumeric data (ASCII text), and the font (character set). We can understand, that just as the melody of a song sounds different when it is played on a flute than when it is blasting out of a distorted electric guitar, a phrase written in Times New Roman carries a different meaning when it is written in Comic Sans. The computer, however, does not have any need to differentiate. It doesn’t care what font you write a program in, just as sheet music doesn’t carry instructions for a flute to sound like a flute.
If we use timbre and typeface as metaphors for qualia, we can see how it describes a difference in kind from the skeletal underpinnings of quanta. It’s true that we can use quantitative mechanisms to communicate qualia, but only if the receiver has the right kind of sensory range to match the sender’s intent. The mechanism has no way to appreciate the aesthetic content though, as all such qualities, whether they are fonts, timbre, image, or meaning, are reduced to the same binary digits. Compare this with what we hear, for example, when dragging a stick along the ground. There is the sound of the foot of the stick scraping the ground itself, and then there is the amplified, woody resonance which describes the length, mass, and density of the stick. Both can be felt as well as heard. The effect overall is a unified gestalt. Unlike a computation in which data must be explicitly separated and handled differently (some bits belong to the font, some to the text), natural sound is a feeling for our body and a knowing for our mind that is bound together metaphorically.
There is no mechanical process through which feelings and thoughts are bound. Instead, they are divided, like the spectrum of visible light is divided from white light, from the common sense of all experience. There is no way to simulate that coherence mechanically, but given enough artificial cues, our naturally poetic psyche will confabulate animation into it. We look at the words typed in a romantic script font and get a sense of a voice which might make the words seem pretentious or anachronistic. We hear the distorted guitar strings and feel that the song has become massively and explosively energetic. The ‘information’ which describes the underlying structure of the music or the typeface is non-poetic. It is only pixels and mathematical relations which relate to themselves and to mathematics in general, not to the experience of being alive. For being alive and aware, we need extra-mathematical qualities – the same qualities from which math itself emerges.
Here is an example to help illustrate what I think is the relationship between information and qualia that makes the most sense.
Here I am using the delta (Δ) to denote “difference”, n to mean “numbers” or information, kappa for aesthetic “kind” or qualia, and delta n degree (Δn°) for “difference in degree”.
The formula on top means “The difference between numbers and aesthetic qualities is not a difference in degree. This means that there is no known method by which a functional output of a computation can acquire an aesthetic quality, such as a color, flavor, or feeling.
Reversing the order in the bottom formula, I am asserting that the difference between qualia and numbers actually is only a difference in degree, not a difference in kind. That means that we can make numbers out of qualia, by counting them, but numbers can’t make qualia no matter what we do with them. This is to say also that subjects can reduce each other to objects, but objects cannot become subjects.
Let’s use playing cards as an example.
Each card has a quantitative value, A-K. The four suits, their colors and shapes, the portraits on the royal cards…none of them add anything at all to the functionality of the game. Every card game ever conceived can be played just as well with only four sets of 13 number values.
The view which is generally offered by scientific or mathematical accounts, would be that the nature of hearts, clubs, diamonds, kings, etc can differ only in degree from the numbers, and not in kind. Our thinking about the nature of consciousness puts the brain ahead of subjective experience, so that all feelings and qualities of experience are presumed to be representations of more complicated microphysical functions. This is mind-brain identity theory. The mind is the functioning of the brain, so that the pictures and colors on the cards would, by extension, be representations of the purely logical values.
To me, that’s obviously bending over backward to accommodate a prejudice toward the quantitative. The functionalist view prefers to preserve the gap between numbers and suits and fill it with faith, rather than consider the alternative that now seems obvious to me: You can turn the suit qualities into numbers easily – just enumerate them. The four suits can be reduced to 00,01,10, and 11. A King can be #0D, an Ace can be 01, etc. There is no problem with this, and indeed it is the natural way that all counting has developed: The minimalist characterization of things which are actually experienced qualitatively.
The functionalist view requires the opposite transformation, that the existence of hearts and clubs, red and black, is only possible through a hypothetical brute emergence by which computations suddenly appear heart shaped or wearing a crown, because… well because of complexity, or because we can’t prove that it isn’t happening. The logical fallacy being invoked is Affirming the Consequent:
If Bill Gates owns Fort Knox, then he is rich.
Bill Gates is rich.
Therefore, Bill Gates owns Fort Knox.
If the brain is physical, then it can be reduced to a computation.
We are associated with the activity of a brain.
Therefore, we can be reduced to a computation.
To correct this, we should invert our assumption, and look to a model of the universe in which differences in kind can be quantified, but differences in degree cannot be qualified. Qualia reduce to quanta (by degree), but quanta does not enrich to qualia (at all).
To take this to the limit, I would add the players of the card game to the pictures, suits, and colors of the cards, as well as their intention and enthusiasm for winning the game. The qualia of the cards is more “like them” and helps bridge the gap to the quanta of the cards, which is more like the cards themselves – digital units in a spatio-temporal mosaic.