The OP then, asking how human consciousness works, should be broken down into two separate parts:
1) How does awareness in general work?
2) How does human consciousness differ from awareness in general?
1) In consideration of the above, the ‘how’ of awareness becomes a metaphysical issue – it could be said even a meta-ontological issue. If awareness-in-general (or use my term pansensitivity) is the most primitive prerequisite for all phenomena in all possible universes, then we must retrain ourselves to stop looking for more primitive phenomena which compose awareness.
I think that we can say awareness is sensory-motive in nature. That is, there is a quality of passive perceiving and active participating which cannot be rationally done without. Even an atom or subatomic particle requires a context where its identity is made coherent in some way, where its presence is detected or can be inferred from some detection of its effects. In the absence of such a detection, again, there is no difference between such a particle and nothing at all. There is no context from which to derive that difference.
That doesn’t mean solipsism – it doesn’t mean that particles don’t exist unless we see them, but it does mean that the concept of ‘existence’ is incompatible with the existence of our own consciousness unless it is identical to detection/participation in some modality or context.
We need not posit a universal mind or God (although there is nothing that I am proposing which rules that out), only that existence itself in the absence of all perception is fantastically implausible given that 100% of what we know of the universe comes to us exclusively through perception. If the universe doesn’t need perception, then there would be no rational explanation for why some parts of the universe could evolve such a redundant and irrational feature to depend upon exclusively.
From this sensory-motive awareness-in-general, we can develop a hypothesis about how it divides and multiplies itself into different perceived forms and participatory functions. This entails performing a kind of Copernican inversion on our early 21st century* worldview, turning the outside (<matter>mass>energy>entropy>space) in, and the inside (pansense>sense<motive>significance>time) out. I don’t expect anyone to really understand that right away…it has taken me several years to put it together in those terms, but hopefully the general idea of the role that symmetry plays comes through. Suffice it to say, I think that how awareness works is that it plays with variations on itself using separation and reconnection on many levels at once. It’s very much like the view that has been a part of Eastern philosophy and Western mysticism for centuries, but with the important difference of plugging directly into modern models of physics and information.
As far as information goes, the sensory-motive primitive can be plugged into the medium-signal relation. Physics gives us a lot of these kinds of conjugates: surface-depth, electro-magnetism, space-time, mass-energy, etc, but when we are working with information and semiotics, we lose the concrete reality of sensation and substitute automatic, ideal abstractions of theoretical mechanics. Computer science and math do not concern themselves with how one number is able to add itself to another, only that there is a reliable result. Physics does focus on how phenomena interact, but not what those interactions actually are or what it is that is actually doing the interacting.
The Medium-Signal Relation
In a simple case of communication, two people might hold a string tight on opposite sides of a room and pull on the string once to indicate ‘yes/true/1’ and twice for ‘no/false/0’. In this case the string pulling, along with the tactile sensitivity of each person to detect the state of the string with their hands would be the medium. We can argue that behind that sensitivity is a lot of other cellular and molecular interaction, but that only pushes the medium down into the microphysical level of description. Even at the bottom, we still need some quantum-atomic sensitivity for any kind of basis of interaction to emerge (or diverge).
The combination of string pulling and any schema which is applied to the interpretation of those pulls would be the signal or sign. Many if not most people confuse ‘signals’ with the physical conditions (string pulling, neurons ‘firing’, semiconductors polarizing, etc), but a better understanding is that the signal is a semiotic interpretation; a conscious consideration of changing conditions within a sensory-motive medium.
Another metaphor that I like is brightness vs contrast. Brightness is the medium – if you have zero brightness there is nothing to see. Light, brightness, and the ability to see are, in the absolute sense, the same thing: a condition of awareness. Contrast stands in here for information or signal, which is a second-order relation of brightness and darkness. If you have no brightness, contrast doesn’t help, but if you do have brightness, then contrast allows many degrees of brightness and frequencies of its absorption to be presented simultaneously.
2) The difference between awareness in general and human consciousness is the incredible degree of elaboration, and the specific experiences which have shaped Homo sapiens. The degree of elaboration I’m referring to would be the number of steps from raw pansensitivity to particular subjective sense vs objectively distanced sense (matter-space), to organic molecules, to cells, to tissues, organs, animals, and vertebrates. The corresponding consciousness of such an elaborate chain of continuous world-crafting seems likely to be be appropriately rich and deep aesthetically. The base level sense and motive is enhanced by orders of magnitude to a heart wrenching, visceral level of participation.
I propose that the specific experiences which have shaped us individually and as a species lend our human consciousness its particular qualities. We share many qualities with other species – perhaps tender emotions with mammals, coarse emotions with reptiles, playful trickery with primates, etc. It’s all sourced in real experience over hundreds of millions of years. It is, in my view, very much like our individual psychology is shaped by our experience, and our families and societies are shaped by their histories. This is what makes human consciousness human, and this is why an AI cannot simulate who we are. A computer may copy the signals from the medium of our communications, or from the medium of neuroscience, but without the medium of the totality of human experience going all the way back to before the first life form, it will only be a kind of doll – an imitation of who we are cobbled together from what our brains are and how they behave.
*really legacy 20th century
Perhaps our “level of understanding” can only attain to certain depths (or heights, depending how we perceive it) because of limitations we have not yet learned how to effectively overcome for purposes of studying and evaluating?
Perhaps there IS a ‘spirit world’ all around is…a ‘quantum-shifted-world’ that we’re just not ‘tuned into’ because our brains cannot yet deal with such things?
What do YOU think?
Yes, I do think that consciousness can be described in terms of a fundamental spectrum from which all other physical and functional phenomena are derived. I call it the multisense continuum and unlike other phenomena with fixed relation, the continuum of sense is interactively relativistic as well as relativistically absolute. This sounds confusing, but think of it like an ambiguous image:
If we model the spectrum of consciousness, I would give this polarization of ambiguity in which either the inner or outer frame of reference is assumed to be the fundamental anchor and the opposing frame is assumed to be ‘illusory’ to some extent the role of ‘frequency’. To keep it simple, we could talk about the frequency as the X axis, so that high frequency is more ‘outer’, inclusive of more bodies in public space and the low frequency is more interior, describing amplitudes of private feeling and meaning. The high frequency range can be thought of as an Intelligence space (which I label as ‘Western’ public knowledge) and the low frequency range can be thought of as an orienting hierarchy of private wisdom (the ‘Oriental’ range).
I suggest that there is an inverse relation between the two ranges, so that the higher the frequency, the lower the amplitude. This means that the more distant two perspectives are, the more they are limited to a reduced, mechanized picture of each other. When we fly over a city, for example, we see people and cars from a more detached perspective. It seems possible to me that this relativity of perception through which personal identification is framed, is part of the deepest fabric of the universe, and is in fact responsible for the appearance of the difference between matter and ‘mind’ (subjectivity).
In this way, objectivity itself becomes a relativistic parameter, something like a Lorentz transformation. Adding distance to your perspective increases the frequency and lowers the amplitude of mutual perception so that consciousness is ‘objectified’. Matter is not created, but filtered from nested layers of perception. Within any local inertial frame, there is no matter or objects. We, as human beings, are a very elaborate case, in that our selfhood is a vast window of many frequency bands, so that we have tiered sensation. Visual imagination is more object-like than verbal-cognitive thought, and thought is more object like than emotions and intuition. In the core of our subjectivity however, is that which occupies no dimension, as it observes both spaces and times from a fixed inner ‘eye’.
This eye, having the lowest local frequency can be understood to be the proxy for the absolute lowest frequency, which would I would describe somewhat mystically as one in which eternity must pass before even a single wave cycle can by completed. I suggest that this low frequency range offers the highest amplitude possibilities. Amplitude can be used to distinguish the inner from the outer frequencies as well. On the Western side, high and low amplitude are embodied literally as cosmic and microcosmic scale ranges, and as directions of spin. Amplitude in this sense is associated with magnetic permeability and gravity. On the Oriental side, amplitude is associated with hierarchies of aesthetic prestige. By that I mean the difference between a pawn and a King, and between bad and good, better and best.
The low frequency amplitudes are ‘moving’ from the inside out. The model of chakras used in yogic practice is one of many tree-of-life models of what I am calling here the amplitude of human consciousness. With consciousness, we are talking about sensory-motive capacity, so that a high amplitude consciousness implies both a high quality of sensory affect and a highly effective motivation. Higher positive amplitudes motivate from acceptance and inspiration, while high negative amplitudes motivate from urgent compulsion. There is a connection here with mortality as well, as the highly ‘negative’ states are rooted in the desires of the body and of the selfish ego. The ‘positive’ states are supposed to be motivated by gentle, patient influences which waft upward toward the eternal.
Even though the kind of Lorentz frame relation that I described earlier makes it harder to know whether a snail’s awareness just seems low compared to ours because of our ‘distance’ from them, I prefer to think that there is also an absolute dimension to consciousness in addition to the relativistic effect which makes human life more aesthetically rich and significant than that of a snail. The alternative would be more radically anthropic, in which every species enjoys a universe that features them at center stage. That view could conceivably be possible, but it has implications that seem likely to be very dangerous.
If the high/low frequency divide determines whether phenomena are encountered directly as inner sensations or sensed through the body as separate bodies, the high/low amplitude divide determines whether phenomena are valued highly or rejected. For human beings, we tend to place ourselves above other species of animals, and animals above insects and plants. High end states of being are considered ‘high class’ or ‘high and mighty’; celebrities, heroes, monarchs, spiritual entities etc. Even the self (itself) transforms along with the amplitude which it conveys, so that low amplitude version is like an animal ‘eye’, the mid-range is a human ‘I’, and the high end is third eye or ‘aye’ – a connection with transcendent or divine states of awareness and acceptance.
This layout is just a rough speculation of course. I find parallels with electromagnetism here that make me think that a more formal connection with physics could be made. In that case, I would not insist that frequency or amplitude be applied literally – they could be reversed, or even set liminocentrically so that high-low frequencies or high-low amplitudes could serve as the contrast to mid-range frequency-amplitudes instead.
How would you define it?
I propose a new way of describing time, which I find clearer and more explanatory than others.
Time is an abstraction which refers to a general property of experiences which are remembered or recorded as having occurred in a either an irreversible linear sequence, or a repeating sequence (cycle). In my view, time is inherently phenomenal (private, experiential) rather than physical (public, structural), not just because of time dilation under Relativity, but for the more axiomatic reason that time requires memory. Without memory, there can logically be only one eternal moment. It could be repeating forever or be following a pattern or have no pattern and nothing could tell the difference. Time…is experience, or a quality of experience through which private memory can map to public structure. I suggest that time can be understood as taking on three different modal scopes:
I. Micro-phenomenal: This is clock time. Physics. Looking at the development of time keeping, we can see that early devices exploited natural processes which were either continuous and invariant, such as the flow of water or sand into a container, or which cycled reliably, such as a shadow on a sundial. Mechanical clocks offered a marriage of the two, whereby an underlying linear or oscillating effect such as an unwinding spring’s tension or a pendulum’s swing would advance the teeth of a system of gears, one by one.
Each tick/tock is an precisely measured event which is, as much as possible, uniform and generic. As technology has improved, we have refined the clock to a pinnacle of pure abstraction. Both the indivisible and divisible power of nature has been abstracted electronically. A perpetual electrical current drives generic switches to compute a digitally coded readout. Satellite networks deliver synchronized atomic time. Each microsecond like the last, and even though global adjustments to clock or calendar can be made arbitrarily by central authorities, we feel that this kind of time is the ‘real time’.
II. Phenomenal Time: This is natural time. Idioms like ‘time flies when you’re having fun’ or ‘it was the longest night of my life’ reflect that our ordinary sense of time also dilates and contracts through emotional states. Significant events and experiences seem to stand out in our autobiographical memory as not only more timely, but more timeless as well. We claim them, intentionally or unintentionally, as our own. This kind of time is narrative. “I woke up, I ate breakfast, I went to the store”, etc.. There is a story which has a shape – beginnings, middles and ends. It is not just generic oscillation or monotonous duration or arrow of increasing entropy, but a proprietary sequence of participation. This is the kind of time that we might say ‘seems like’ it is real.
If you think of how a story works, the more of the story is told, the more the information entropy decreases. By the middle of the story, we know the characters, the setting, the plot, etc. The number of possible ways the story can continue is relatively limited (even if it is still potentially unlimited in an absolute sense). The significance, however, of the remaining bit of the story is increasingly augmented. If the story is good, you want to hear the end of it, even if you are pretty sure that you know how it will turn out.
After the story ends, it would seem that there is no entropy left. The story has been told in its entirety. In reality, however, the meta-story has just begun. The memory of it survives, creating new opportunities to be applied figuratively in one’s life, as well as sharing it socially and seeing it retold, dramatized, and celebrated in culture as myth.
III. Metaphenomenal Time: Carl Jung famously wrote about the Collective Unconscious, and synchronicity. Experiences which some consider delusional or paranormal. Meaningful coincidences, prophetic dreams, a symbolic language of recurring characters and sagas called archetypes. This is eternal time. Time wound around itself in such a way that some essential, iconic reduction of all that has happened or might happen is in some sense ‘always still here’ and in another sense ‘never really anywhere’.
This is not mystical babbling to me, it is literally the physical reality of what the universe is and what (or who) it does. We have no trouble thinking of eternity in the Platonic sense, as ideal geometric forms or mathematical relations, but because we ourselves are immersed in human phenomena we do not see ourselves as being composed of similarly eternal recurrences.
Because there is no hard line between I, II, and III, all time is actually nested within all three contexts. This can help explain how intuition could work to allow people to sometimes pick up on feelings from a larger scope of time. Events that have great significance especially could theoretically cast a shadow from the III range to the II, so that from the II perspective, it is precognitive.
My answer to the Quora “What is your Theory of Everything?”
Explain your own Theory of Everything or mention your favorite Theory of Everything and JUSTIFY it if you can?
I call my Theory of Everything Multisense Realism. The name is intended to convey the idea that the whole of what we call reality is sourced entirely to a single unifying principle, which is the multiplicity of sense. Matter is that which feels like matter, which is seen to act like matter, and which seems to imply certain sensibilities. All phenomena are similarly known to us through chains of nested experiences which all ultimately begin and end in expectations which seem self-evident. Blue simply looks blue, and pain simply feels painful, regardless of any mechanical processes associated with them. It is not necessary to learn how to feel pain, nor could any such learning help us discover pain if we could not feel it to begin with. No equation resolves to equal the feeling of pain.
Since sense is both the capacity to discern difference from indifference as well as to discern unity across multiplicity, the term multisense refers to the nesting of sense within multiple levels of itself. It is important to understand that by discernment, what is meant is a participatory experience in which the fact of difference or unity is not only detected, but appreciated as an aesthetic quality. Even without the appearance of Homo sapiens or blue green algae on planet Earth, the universe would still be made entirely of aesthetic conditions of some kind or another. It’s not necessary to speculate on non-human awareness, but suffice it to say that our own consciousness can only realistically be composed of letters from an alphabet of possible experiential qualities which is older than the stars. While our particular sense of a physical event is a human version of that event, there can be no doubt that the sense we make of a star overlaps in some important ways with the sense that the star makes without us looking at it. The universe must, it seems, make sense before we can make sense of it.
However abstract or sentimental, concrete or direct, the one thing that all phenomena have in common is that they can be detected through sense or inferred through ‘sense-making’. By the same token, nothing can be real if it can never be detected or inferred in any way by anything. That which cannot be sensed by anything in any way or make sense any way cannot be considered to ‘exist’ or to have any connection to anything that does exist. Sense cannot arise from non-nonsense, just as order cannot arise from dis-chaos. Being that we are made out of sense experience that makes sense, it is not natural for us to see sense itself as the foreground. What we see in the foreground as human beings is opportunities for sense. We are often preoccupied with battling against the reverse side of sense – entropy, disorder, stagnation.
Where MSR excels is to identify the difference between the local realism which frames our human experience and an understanding the absolute frame of all experience. In the former, we experience being a person in a physical world, both of which appear bound by nothingness. In the latter, nothingness is not an option, since nothingness can only be an expectation of something about the hypothetical absence of everything. Time and space too are dissolved without a particular locus of participation and perception. Scale and duration are meaningless without being anchored in a comparison to some particular scope of ‘here’ and ‘now’. From the absolute perspective then, we must begin with the assumption not of a universe from the augmentation of nothingness, but a universe of everythingness diffracted. While this idea was not consciously modeled after any religion or philosophy, it does coincide with several traditional conceptualizations of the ultimate. Singularity producing multiplicity as the color white produces the spectrum – not as a mechanical process, but as an aesthetic revelation of unity deferred. Rather than the creation myth inspired by the Big Bang in which an explosive device appears in null-spacetime to detonate spacetime using mass as an accelerant, MSR begins from the absolute frame of reference. From this vantage point, with no relativistic measure to make the first instants of the Big Bang seem any longer or shorter than all of the rest of history put together, the Big Bang is reoriented within matter and eternity rather than an event within spacetime. The Big Bang becomes the Big Diffraction, an experiential masking and dividing of the Absolute. This is, again, a familiar theme in Eastern philosophy and Western mysticism. The difference is that MSR has rehabilitated this notion, grounding it in basic principles of modern physics and information theory.
The result has been a prodigious amount of writing over the past few years, connecting the dots between matter-energy, space-time and sense-motive (affect-effect), entropy-significance. It has provided what I think are radical insights into the nature of information, mathematics and energy as well as resolving the most stubborn mysteries of philosophy relating to consciousness, meaning, morality, and free will. Each of these requires a lot of explanation even to impart the glimpse that my TOE can offer, but for the purposes of this Quora, I’ll offer these teasers.
1. The nature of information: Not, as Bateson famously said ‘a difference that makes a difference’ but ‘a perception of a perception’. This clarifies the status of information as entirely dependent upon sense and sense-making, not as an independent entity which spawns realism in a vacuum (memes, simulations, computations, etc).
2. The nature of mathematics and AI: Mathematics refers to the common sense which relates to two distinctly different (opposite) things:
- A private experience of imagined sensory symbol-figures which accompany a motive of quantitative reasoning.
- A collection of public objects interacting in a logical, causal way, without any private representations, as a consequence of the shapes of multiple rigid bodies.
Because mathematics bridges the gap between 1 and 2 (private and public) it is considered profound and absolute – and it is, but only in a one dimensional sense. Mathematics represents relations but cannot appreciate them or initiate them. Math doesn’t think or feel, math is an internal appreciation of the sense of the external. Because mathematics is grounded in the abstraction of generality rather than the concrete and proprietary uniqueness of undiffracted sense, it is a rootless imposter – the antithesis of authenticity and feeling. The realization of the absolute difference between genuine participation as a being in the ongoing story of the universe and the imitation of being by a set of a-signifying programmatic functions helps substantiate human intuitions about the emptiness of machine intelligence. While many strong AI enthusiasts will react with hostility to this idea, I think that rather than just suggesting that there will never be a conscious computer, it opens the door to a future of services which extend our intelligence and serve our interests. The MSR view frees us from any ethical concern for laboratory abuses of accidentally sentient programs, as well as insures that no technology will ever learn how to want to take over the world.
3. The nature of energy. In perhaps my most crackpot conjecture, I have proposed that with sense as the universal primitive, quirky effects which have been attributed to photons and other subatomic particles may suggest that our assumption of energy as something which is independent of matter is false. Photons, like ‘profits’ do not literally exist. Through MSR, “energy” is interpreted as simply motives which are not our own. We have private feelings which inspire us to act publicly, and so does everything else. Because of the kind of perceptual relativity that I propose, the more that the feelings and motives of other participants in the universe differ from our own in terms of scale and history, the more those dispositions seem impersonal and involuntary to us. MSR suggests that voluntary and involuntary are relativistic terms – two sides to the same coin which flips between private and public perspectives. Energy is conceived of not a pseudosubstance propagating literally across a vacuum of space as wave-particles but as felt expressions which define power relations of public interaction. What light does in the microcosm does is the same kind of thing that it does for us – it illuminates public experiences – it is ‘the news’. Space is fundamentally a pantomime projected as perceptual gaps between public facing surfaces of matter. Those gaps, while real in the local frame, are absent on the absolute frame of sense. From the perspective of the Absolute and of light, space has not yet been invented. It is the oscillation and modulation of feeling which gives rise to the second order fabric of public spacetime.
4. The Hard Problem of Consciousness: Is understood as part of the larger Presentation Problem, which includes –
- Hard Problem = Why is X presented as an experience? (X = “information”, logical or physical functions, calcium waves, action potentials, Bayesian integrations, etc.)
- Explanatory Gap = How and where is presentation accomplished with respect to X?
- Binding Problem = How are presented experiences segregated and combined with each other? How do presentations cohere?
- Symbol Grounding = How are experiences associated with each other on multiple levels of presentation? How do presentations adhere?
- Mind Body Problem = Why do public facing presences and private facing presences seem ontologically exclusive and aesthetically opposite to each other?
MSR solves the Presentation Problem by recognizing the connection between aesthetic participation, significance, authenticity, and the justaposition of spatial extension, temporal attenuation, and insignificance. In short, the universe in which any sense can possibly exist can only originate in sense itself. The appearance of aesthetic qualities can only arise from a universe which is grounded in an aesthetic agenda, even though those agendas are necessarily masked and combined semi-indifferently on any particular local level. Is there meaning in the universe? Yes, there is nothing but meaning, but meaning in one local context cannot have exactly the same meaning outside of its context.
5. Free Will: As with the existence of aesthetic presentation, the presence of free will, even as an “illusion” is impossible under strict determinism. The whole point of determinism is to ground all phenomena in a firmament of strict parsimony. The idea is that things just don’t happen willy-nilly, they are the consequences of physical or mathematical laws. Such a universe has no room for machines with parts which present themselves to other parts as an illusion of effectiveness. Certainly in the real world, our personal estimation of the effectiveness of our will and of our opportunities to exercise its freedom may not be all they are cracked up to be, however, the very consideration of whether or not to ‘believe in free will’ is predicated on the implicit expectation that in fact our belief supervenes upon our voluntary participation in some materially important way. All arguments against free will are ultimately arguments against the possibility of participating in any kind of argumentation in the first place.
All of these facets of the theory stem from reversing the core assumption of the Western worldview, that consciousness is a product of an animal’s brain rather than that the entire universe is a staggeringly elaborate nesting of participatory sense experiences. This is not an anthropomorphic concept, as it does not elevate human experience, biological experience, or even the sense of a self as being fundamental. Instead, sense itself is seen as the producer of its own augmentation, via spacetime diffraction, which yields private significance and public entropy.