Posts Tagged ‘qualia’

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

July 18, 2016 3 comments


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:

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:
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


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.


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

Autistic-Psychotic Spectrum     (PDF)


‘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.

Does Neuroscience Crush Dualism?

March 11, 2016 3 comments

Is dualism no more than philosophical debris given the advances in neuroscience?

Dualism perhaps, but so too are Physicalism and Positivism obsolete philosophies given advances in neuroscience, physics, and psychology. Idealism, Panpsychism, and Non-Dualism are, in my view, still far ahead of neuroscience and cognitive science as far as being on the right track philosophically.It is very common for people who have a Physicalist view to confuse Non-Physicalist views with Dualism, Solipsism, Anthropocentrism, Theism and Naive Realism. In some cases there is cause for this confusion, but it is more common in my experience that it is a psychological projection or Straw Man argument against the view which is diametrically opposed to their own.There is a psychological dimension to this which is important. Jung’s identification of the Shadow projection, “the thing a person has no wish to be” provides a model for how hostility and prejudice can arise, even in the most scientific mind. Other very useful concepts include the Empathizing-Systemizing Continuum or Psychotic-Autistic Spectrum.

In short, the mind which is extremely Systemizing by default tends to suppress its potentials for Empathizing, resulting in a rigid, combative cynicism against anything which is perceive as anti-scientific (really Anti-Systemizing). Extremely Empathizing minds have identical response to what they perceive as Anti-Empathizing so that neither side can actually listen to the other’s perspective and both parties argue past each other. I call these reactionary and radical extremes OMMM and ACME respectively (Only Material Mechanisms Matter and Anything Can Mean Everything)  War of the Worldviews.


Even neuroscience itself can be used to understand the limits of the current Neuroscientific approach. Brain lateralization, though held in disfavor after being overly hyped for several years, still has profound neuroscientific value (as explained in the video The divided brain). Animals with brains seem to split their consciousness between narrow, logical focus on the most immediate details of perception and broad environmental sensitivity.William James talked about ‘Tough-Minded’ vs ‘Tender-Minded’ philosophies.

[…]he 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. Tough-Minded vs. Tender-Minded: William James’ Pragmatism and the Empiricist-Rationalist Divide

More recently Ernest Hartmann expanded it to a more general notion of ‘thin-boundares” and “thick-boundaries” in his book Boundaries: A New Way to Look at the World.

In my own understanding, I reconcile both ends of the spectrum to try to understand the underlying unity, which I identify as ordinary ‘Sense’. The qualities of thick/tough and thin/tender are seen as a consequence of direct Sensing and indirect Sense-Making modes of Sense which have evolved, and continue to evolve novelty and self-enrichment on many levels simultaneously.

This turns out to be along the lines of what many schools of Western Mysticism and Eastern Philosophy have taught, except  where they used Spiritual terms, my approach draws on semiotics and general systems theory. What many traditions identify as God or Spirit, I see as an Aesthetic Foundation or Pansensitivity which accounts for both Theistic and Atheistic appearances without collapsing into relativism. Sense is Absolute, and Relative-but-not-Absolutely Relative.For those Systemizing readers whose blood pressure is already climbing at reading this, you might want to stop while you’re ahead, before I add more fuel to the fire. Warning, silly sounding neologisms ahead…

Materialist Monism is actually Crypto-Cartesianism.

In other words, the conventional scientific worldview treats consciousness as an ’emergent property’ or ‘information processing’ without grounding those terms in physics itself. Since Physicalism and Functionalism reduce nature to unconscious, automatic interaction of forces and probabilities, all appeals to emergence or integration are really metaphysical appeals to panpsychism. The OMMM answer to Dualism, Solipsism, Anthropocentrism, Theism and Naive Realism are the diametrically pathological exaggerations: Nihilism, Nilipsism, Mechanemorphism, Anti-Theism, and Anti-Realist Sophism.

In the perpetual argument between the two extremes, the Superstitious Charlatan archetype is projected by its antagonist, the Substitutious Inquisitor. For every ACME appeal to God or Spirit, the OMMM counter-appeals to a mechanical substitute. Nothing can be considered ‘special’ except the negation of the ‘special’ through compulsive debunking. Words like ‘merely’, and ‘simply’ are thrown around liberally, as are epithets of ‘nonsense’, ‘rubbish’, ‘postmodernism’, and ‘word-salad’. Feelings and thoughts are merely electrochemical patterns in a brain. For everything imaginative or mysterious there is condescension and venomous hostility. For everything personal or subjective there is an impersonal object to substitute.

The final irony of course is that in seeking to nullify the personal self*, the denier of human specialness paints a mental picture of a universe of radical anthropocentrism. In this universe where all phenomena, even evanescent neutrinos and dark matter are absolutely real, there is only one phenomenon, one delusion conjured** by the brain function of Homo sapiens, which is absolutely unreal, and which contains all of the direct experience of Reality we can ever have. Instead of perception, we have deception† and instead of a phenomenal, sensible universe, we have a dualism consisting of two nihilverses – one devoid of life and consciousness, the other devoid of reality and truth.

*or Science forbid, “Soul”!

**Emergently, and Naturally of course

†with one ‘scientific’ exception

Abstruse Ideas about Qualia and Feedback

April 10, 2015 Leave a comment

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.

The Sound and Style of Consciousness

February 19, 2014 3 comments

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:

Subjective     Objective
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.

Playing Cards With Qualia

January 8, 2014 2 comments

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

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

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

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

Let’s use playing cards as an example.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Gray Matters

Traversing the blood-brain-barrier.

Writings By Ender

The Writer's Adventure


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