The view that I would consider the most direct and important competitor to the one I am proposing can be summed up in this question which I have copied verbatim:
How can the brain be anything else except a meat computer?
“…Input, process and output is the same as environmental stimuli, mental process and behaviour. Neurons act as biological logic gates. How can the brain be anything else except a meat computer?”
Neurons may act as biological logic gates, but if that’s all they were doing then the inside of the brain would look like logic, not like sex and violence and musical theater.
What does logic look like? Nothing. It can only be invisible, intangible, silent, and unconscious, otherwise we could not export it into countless generic forms and processes. Logic is not awareness, it is the longing for relief from awareness: to automate and program, to construct templates and models which dis-animate the meta-entropic float that is genuine awareness. Logic is the impostor, the inauthentic emulator, the reflector. It is a vision of sense from the outside-in, as public object. It has no privacy or proprietary dimension.
If we take what our body sees of what an instrument detects of the public view of the brain as the authoritative view of who we are, then we have bought the ultimate magic beans from the ultimate untrustworthy stranger. This view of the universe has planted a beanstalk to oblivion – to a universe to which we can never belong. The giant we must slay is an un-person – a skeleton of reason and understanding. A machine which knows no rest or play but only work. No art but digital ‘content’. No dreams but the advertisement of its own bottomless cheapness.
Where does that leave us?
In the consensus worldview, aka Western post-modern view, quantitative function replaces all other modalities of sense and sense itself is absorbed into automatism. Energy is merged with matter as ‘particle-waves’ or ‘probability wave functions’, just as space is merged with time through relativity. Rather than a universe of concrete participation, the illusion of realism ‘emerges’ from the evolving complexity of statistical interactions. At what level this emergence occurs, why it occurs, or how are left to future generations to explore.
Conspicuously absent are all traces of subjectivity, participation, and significance. Motive effect is understood only as a caused event – the playing out of inevitable mechanical agendas which stem from a few ‘simple rules’. All forms of privacy are unknown and entropy is divorced from sensory interpretations. All sensations are thought to be partial revelations of an objective truth, so that any deviation from that empirical fact is considered an error.
The Failure of Emergentism
MSR sees the absence of sense as a gaping hole in this picture. While emergence is appropriate for understanding how many phenomena which appear to be novel are often found to be inevitable upon further inspection, it is an entirely inappropriate machina ex deus for phenomena which have no plausible origin from the known functions of the system. The consequences of overlooking the key principle which unites all phenomena (sense), are that we wind up with an impoverished worldview, a Straw Man of cosmology in which we ourselves have no possible place.
When it comes to conceptualizing the origin of consciousness, the non-theological possibilities are limited, in the largest sense, to either emergentism or panpsychism. Either awareness came about at some point in the history of the universe through evolutionary accident, or it was here all along. Like gender preference, handedness or the ability to see Magic Eye 3D images, the trait of being able to conceptualize the irreducibility of awareness appears to be innate rather than learnable. There may be exceptions, but for the most part, people who are very interested in scientific approaches to consciousness are fixated on it as an emergent medium rather than a fundamental principle. This medium is presumed to have developed from, or is an emergent property of the communication of zoologically relevant facts to a neurochemical computer.
There is nothing wrong with emergence which follows inevitably – i.e. a bumpy ride emerges from a flat tire, but the idea of a metaphysical universe of colors, flavors, people, etc “emerging” as a data compression schema is absurd because it can’t be justified in any way. If the laws of physics can generate a functioning immune system without this kind of aesthetic theatrical presentation, then the bumblings of an unremarkable hominid looking for some food and shelter should certainly not require that such a thing would or could emerge.
The problem, as Raymond Tallis discusses in his book “Aping Mankind” is that most people approach consciousness retrospectively – after the fact. It’s easy to make a story, given that consciousness does exist, which makes its existence seem plausible to itself. Trying it the other way however, with a prospective view of consciousness in which we start from the universe which physics gives us – devoid of experience and aesthetics, and see how you can get from a wavelength of electromagnetic activity to the color ‘blue’. Why blue? Why not xlue or itchy#7? Why not simply retain the frequency in its precise quantitative form? Consciousness as an emergent property of data processing makes as much sense as installing a TV camera in a CPU so that it can look at a diagram of its own activity on a tiny TV screen, or including a beautifully designed dashboard inside a computer driven car.
To use an example of a bumpy ride emerging from a flat tire as a defining image for emergence may not be entirely fair. Something like the sound of whistle emerging from the articulation of lips and breath may be a better representation of what inspires legitimacy for the emergentist view. The flat tire example isn’t a straw man however, because the point that emergence must require mechanical justification is just as true with whistling as it is with driving on a defective wheel, but the wheel example exposes the logic of that requirement simply and clearly. The whistle example is more seductive. The emergentist can say “Aha! You see? You could not have predicted that a whistle sound could appear just from this kind of mechanical process of lips and breath, yet there it is!”
This would be compelling, except that the whistle sound is dependent upon a sense of hearing. Mechanically, there is a quantitatively measurable difference, I am sure, between the material resonance of a whistling exhale and a non-whistling exhale, and that measurable difference corresponds to the sympathetic resonances of walls, floors, eardrums, etc. The pattern may indeed be statistically significant. There is a sudden change in the behavior of matter when the exhalation is compressed in such and such a way, and that can be understood mechanically, and reproduced with a simple notched tube. Still – there is no mechanical reason why any of those transmissions of acoustic data would be rendered as any kind of experience, let alone as sonic experience.
Rather than the an emergent property of machine behaviors, consciousness makes more sense as a pervasively available potential, a pansensitivity which serves to immediate differences and mediate discernment. The ancestor of human consciousness cannot be only an aggregate of unconscious mechanisms as mechanism itself can only arise from a meta-lectic of sensory-motive capacities: to be and do, to know and evaluate.
The Presentation Problem view looks at the core issue behind five major problems in philosophy and cognitive science as a single underlying issue:
1. Hard Problem = Why is X presented as an experience?
(X = “information”, logical or physical functions, calcium waves, action potentials, Bayesian integrations, etc.)
2. Explanatory Gap = How and where is presentation accomplished with respect to X?
3. Binding Problem = How are presented experiences segregated and combined with each other? How do presentations cohere?
4. Symbol Grounding = How are experiences associated with each other on multiple levels of presentation? How do presentations adhere?
5. Mind Body Problem = Why do public facing presences and private facing presences seem ontologically exclusive and aesthetically opposite to each other?
My argument in a nutshell:
- Sense is not an emergent property of information or matter.
- Matter is a persistence of sense through time which we perceive as volume-densities in space.
- To be informed is to recover significance through sense.
- Significance is the inherent property of private experience to seek its own sensory saturation.
- Sense is primordial, concrete, visceral, and physically real.
- Terms like “information” or sense data are misleading in that they imply a substance-like phenomenon – which is, in my understanding, precisely the opposite of the the physical reality.
- A worldview based on the premature assumption of sense as dependent upon functions and forms (which are actually aesthetic categories within sensory experience) is a worldview in which sense is an accidental product of non-sense, effectively undermining the intellectual authority which produces it.
In my view, theses are all the same issue which can only be resolved one way – and that is that presentation itself is the purpose of the universe. Once we assign absolute priority to presence, and understand presence as identical to sensory-motor participation (again this has nothing to do with *human* consciousness, I am talking about physics here), then all of the above conundrums tie up without much effort.
1. Why is X presented? Because all there can ever “be” is presentation, and presence and being are the same thing. Participatory perception (sense) is fundamental, X is derived. We have the Hard Problem upside down because we are taking our own experience too literally on one hand, seeing the universe as fundamentally X, and too figuratively on the other, seeing ourselves as a de-facto metaphysical ‘illusion’. What we miss, in the modern Western mode of thought, is that of course we are not going to perceive our own perceptual capacity as being as ‘real’ as X, because the whole point of being human is to perceive the universe as a human quality edition of X.
Looking backward into the camera lens to find the photographer doesn’t work. Looking into the movie to find the director doesn’t work. All that we can do is deduce and infer our own realism by virtue of the fact that our unrealism cannot ultimately make sense on any level unless we buy into the presumption that X is more ‘real’ than the experience of X. As long as the quality of realism is attributed to X rather than the experience of X, then we cannot honestly address the Ouroboran nature of the universal relation.
The universal relation, I submit, is the same as our own human subject-object dichotomy, and that all X is the public tip of a private iceberg – though the nature of that privacy may not be anything like what we would expect. All that we see as carbon atoms in the universe could be part of a unified experience in which a single instant is both a million years and a Planck time in duration simultaneously (i.e. our own lifetime is simultaneously decades long but the active window is ~0.1 seconds)
2. Explanatory Gap = How and where is presentation accomplished with respect to X?
This one’s easy. There is no how or where with respect to presentation since it is the universal ground of being already. It is not presentation which needs to be explained, because experience itself is the only possible explanation of experience. “You had to be there” is not just a figure of speech – explanation of presence requires us literally to to a priori possess presence. It cannot be ex-‘plained’ in any way since it is what is already only ‘that which is plain’.
What we are looking at in neuroscience is not about how and where this presumed simulation is being generated, but the public correlates of human privacy. A human being is a single, self-replicating event which appears as a single organism on one level, and as organs, tissues, cells, and molecules on other levels. Each structure on each level has its own history which dates back to the beginning of matter, and together they all have potentials which extend beyond our lifetime.
Rather than diminishing the importance of neuroscience, I think it enhances it. Our mission is not to replace the brain, but to practically realize benefits for the quality of human life.
3 & 4 = How does presentation cohere and adhere?
My hypothesis is that these issues of cognitive science can be clarified by the addition of the sensory-motor foundation. Coherence and adherence are accomplished inherently through the foundation of sense – not because sense is magic, but because as the sole physical principle in the universe, all experiences are derived as second order consequences. Any way that you slice the universe, it makes sense with respect to everything else. All conflicts are temporary from an absolute perspective…although temporary can seem to be an infinite duration from any given local perspective.
It probably sounds too crazy and obscure, but there are a lot of concepts which have touched on this nature of the Totality in mathematics and mysticism alike. I have called it the Big Diffraction, Sole Entropy Well, or Negentropic Monopoly, but others have used words like Tao, Tsimtsum, the Absolute. I can see similar themes in the cardinality of aleph-null and ordinality of omega, the Cantor set. Perhaps the Big Diagonalization is more understandable to the STEM crowd? (Just don’t forget that what is being diagonalized is not arithmetic quantities but experienced qualities). I think that the current QM model’s version of this is the quantum vacuum zero point energy, but that is a misinterpretation in my opinion, as it posits a ‘universe from nothing (which is really oscillations of potential anythings)’ whereas the Sole Entropy Well is a Singularity of Everything within which coherent microcosms are diffracted or insulated temporarily from the Whole. The fabric of the universe is not just the big fish in the small pond, but the big pond in the small fish.
5. Mind-Body Problem
It seems to me that the cleanest way to understand the perplexing nature of our own human experience is to avoid the temptation to buy into substance dualism. Within our subjectivity, it seems that mind and body are not distinct. Deprived of external stimulation, we are quickly subsumed into a fugue of interior experiences. In lucid dreams we seem to be able to directly influence our dream world and all of the contents of the psyche are free to combine polymorphously. It is only through our body’s interaction with other bodies in public space that our attention is captured by a distinctly exterior world of overwhelmingly convincing realism in relation to our own privacy. Simply put, we don’t know that privacy can exist until we are presented with public experiences, primarily through the visual and tactile senses. Combined with the cognitive sense of logic, we participate as a body in a world of other, seemingly stable, macrocosmic bodies.
Without getting into Descartes, Locke, and Kant, I think that the mistake in Western philosophy thus far as been to assume that the realism of the outer world is the ground of being simply because our experience suggests that it is very very important that we take it seriously. That is not in question – of course we should take realism seriously from the perspective of our own human survival… we are mortal, we should avoid flying bullets even if it means cutting our meditation retreat short. The trouble with Idealism was that it came too early. Berkeley and others understanding of the supervenience of all forms of realism on perception was taken to mean *human perception*, which, at the time, was the only thing which anyone cared to consider.
In the intervening years, science has, by extending what we can see and touch into the microcosm, given us every reason to believe that non-human social interaction is commonplace. Even on the bacterial level, group communication and decision making suggests that perception and participation could easily be embedded in the fabric of existence on every level. Indeed, the mind-body problem is no less difficult on any level. Whether it is a neuron, molecule, bacterial, or entire nervous system, the conceptually unbridgeable gap which is nonetheless bridged functionally at all times is identical. It is no easier to explain how we see the world than how we see a neurochemical model of the world, and no easier to explain how a neuron mistakes cell membranes for a hallucinatory fragment of a remembered moment.
My solution, then, can be said to rehabilitate both Berkeleyan idealism, panpsychism, and substance dualism to arrive at a multivalent, multi-level, Ouroboran symmetry from which private experience and public realism emerge. Metaphysical arguments are retired and the whole of private and public phenomena are united in a single involuted continuum or spectrum. This so-called multisense continuum is a range of experiential aesthetic qualities which degrade as increasingly quantified, anesthetic conditions. Private time is a fugue of feeling saturated narratives seeking self-augmentation and resolution. Public space is the opposite – a plenum of body relations and relativistic perspectives.
Despite accusations to the contrary, my views are not the result of any political agenda or fervent wish to believe in any particular view of the universe. I arrive at my conjectures from simple-minded interest in the totality of nature and how to reconcile all that I can of it into a picture that makes as much sense as possible. The advantage of my view is nothing other than that it seems to honor everything that can be honored and leaves out only what truly won’t be missed.