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Cosmology, Quantum Mechanics & Consciousness Message Board › What IS "consciousness"?

What IS "consciousness"?

A former member
Post #: 80
Peter: confirmed, your version of consciousness appears to be closer to my defined term awareness and it misses the extra ingredient of an illuminated conscious mentality which Ian and I have tried to describe.
Camilla M.
user 7151822
London, GB
Post #: 15
Peter, since you request that we operate with tightened definitions, please be careful yourself about conflating positions any one of us gives here and also try not to slide your own adherences around.

You said:

I think my definition of consciousness here corresponds to your definition of awareness in your thread. Do you concur?

You clearly see consciousness as in some way different: and here, I think we disagree.

I should be clearer here, you are agreeing that there is a first take difference between awareness and although I'm not mentioned my, Ian's and Andrew's description of consciousness at this stage.
But then you want to offer a continuum hypothesis to massage the identities of the two properties together, quantity with quality.
How you can hope to slip this presumption past us is simply astonishing!
Reports of (Hume's) the fact / value distinction's demise are premature.
Look, I saw this coming in your approach ten miles off but it won't do.

You said:

My underlying perception can be summed up by this saying:

A quantitative change of sufficient magnitude is a qualitative change

My view is that consciousness is what you get when you have awareness in a sufficiently powerful brain. This view has the advantage that no sudden qualitative change need occur. The phenomenon is a continuum, with no watershed. This view has the advantage that it fully explains why we find it so hard to define the difference.

It may seem like the perfect solution, however, there is no evidence that qualitative sampling does arise from some notional magnitude/complexity threshold of quantitative measurement. Is the internet conscious? Deep Blue? Any artefact? Furthermore, what existing component criteria changes at your threshold?
This IS what the consciousness problem is, restated; getting first-personal quality as experience from objective physics which by definition does not deal in value.

If we had swallowed this simple routine none of us would have had any problem with the phenomenalogical subjective concept of consciousness in the first place. No, but you've now talked yourself into the mistaken impression that each emergent behaviour in aggregates of matter (described in averaged statistical terms so that the different description can be accounted for in that there's a slight loss of information) is a whole new law of physics!
You said this:

Nevertheless you have taken a massively complex description (one involving the mass and velocity of every molecule of gas in some container, not to mention the molecular description of the container walls itself) allowed a small amount of uncertainty (by doing the necessary statistics) and ended up with a massively simpler, massively more useful, description of the system, which involves a new law of physics - Boyle's law.

Despite the nomenclature Boyle's law is not what I would call one of the fundamental laws of physics it's more of a rough proportionate relation. What science is really engaged in is after the fact explaining phenomena by the most fundamental reductive laws and standard relations. So we should not make higher level supervenient organisations & behavours (a better word than weasely 'emergence' as it maintains the necessary dependence relations,) into top down causes in themselves.

Accordingly, I did not claim the following to be an á priori deduction claim:

You say:

So long as you deny the existence of Strong Emergence, I can go on pushing more and more extreme examples at you. Eventually, you will either have to admit to the existence of Strong Emergence or claim that you can deduce all science from first principles starting at (say) the elements and single atoms.

Camilla clearly believes you can deduce all science in this way:

I said that it's part of the scientific method that in principle after the fact it is almost always possible to see how the usual laws of physics can lead to such and such a phenomena. Reverse engineering by way of explaining. There are exceptions to date like superconductivity apparently, not quite sussed out. But working out the necessary deduction afterwards is not the same as being able to predict or deduce ahead of time, using those same principles. Some systems will be analytic and thus so ahead of time, some are non analytic which I claim amounts to just not being able to predict the sufficient causes but not that we cannot inspect these afterwards where a record exists. Nothing turns on prior non analysis, no in principle radically different behaviours, sudden changes to the qualitative for instance, just because something was unpredictable (in principle.) I know you think it does; I believe the history of science bears against that.

(Fn) predicts = world structure
What you seem to be doing is miss applying the word unpredictable.
You have teased out 4 meanings for the word predictable.

1. In practise predictable. Analytic (fn).
2. In principle predictable yet actually not in practise. Non analytic (fn).
3. In principle predictable AND in practise. Analytic (fn).
4. In principle not predictable, therefore also in practise. Non a (fn).

You can see that 3 and 4 are redundant logically but you consider a practical difference between 2 and 4.
Whereas, I claim that 4 tells us nothing further about how the actual world proceeds.
This mistake can be explained by considering the difference between knowledge and actuality, epistemology and ontology.
The lefthand side of the equation deals in logic, the righthand side reflects causal sufficiency's looser rules.
We can at times know less in advance about the righthand side.
After the fact, we are more likely to see the causal sufficiency structure of that particular run (when it does indeed relate to a real word structure.)
This relates to the lefthand side by translating into more general logical necessity rules, where tightening up is possible. I believe you are claiming that is never possible.

I think you are leaning on the non computable as unpredictable, considered as the same thing as the causal structure described. Saying yah-boo-sucks science, new laws and new processes appear here at composite level! There has been a conflation of description with actuality.

That mathematical functionalist stance does not separate them, you expect the scientific method also will agree that unpredictable is forever unknowable as a dictum, even after the fact. Actuality isn't knowledge based logical unpredictability.

On your account, higher level processes at the same time, as I pointed out last week, require necessary logical relations to hold in the same manner as they have hitherto been doing at the lower level. I think you genuinely cannot see this, that you want unpredictability to take the load for 'surprising great behavioural changes' whilst preserving predictable in principle causal flow. If taken together they undermine your radical newness stance since this is really to say that the same old physics actually pertains.

It will be interesting to see how Andrew handles his indeterminist thesis on the same causal point. [/colour
lan B.
user 10895495
London, GB
Post #: 108

Hello, l'm back!

Apologies for the long absence. l'm one of these dinosaurs who aren't on-line at home. Usually, who needs it? -- given that at my "workplace" l can (most of the time) devote a sizeable fraction of my working day to surfing, reading and composing emails -- and our IT man needed to install a batch of new computers into our network and so we've been o/l for a further 2 days.

Peter, l'm answering this mail first because it's easily answerable in virtue of the overwhelming likelihood that all readers will not only understand but actually agree on the definitions of the terms that you've used. (Without you even having gone to the trouble of needing to define them in the first instance!)

l now realise glumly that l have a solid week of stuff to digest and respond to, and as Peter points out the software makes that a hugely difficuilt task, because l'll almost certainly be obliged to paste into Word just about everything beginning with Camilla's polite onslaught in light blue form page 8 or 9, then come up tp the present slowly.

lt should take me -- oooh -- all day tomorrow!

Anyway, what's been happening? (Rubs hands with glee.)

I'd just like to support Ian's overly moderatelaughing criticism of this message board software.

He mentioned the length limit which is utterly stupid and counter-productive.
He also mentioned the automatic effect of the quote command, and the fact that you cannot control or moderate it.

Let me add some more, in case anybody from meetup ever asks their customers what they want.

1. "Add Reply" operates in the same window/page as the original discussion, so you can't browse (and cut and paste bits from) the preceding discussion in composing your reply. Every half way decent message board I have used in the last 10 years opens a new window to post/edit a reply

2. The automatic spell check speaks only American (not English) and has a pitifully small vocabulary to boot. My posts are full of words with funny red lines under them, even though Goggle and several on-line dictionaries recognize those words. You can't even extend the spell checkers vocabulary to include terms defined in the conversation

3. There is no way to reference a post within a thread; and in fact we need to be able to reference a specific sentence, within a specific post, within a thread to have any hope of conducting this conversation properly. For lack of this we have to keep quoting each other's posts verbatim, and in full; and even that often loses some aspect of the context, leading to mis-understandings.

4. Formatting is a joke. As Ian and I have mentioned, the quote command forces the quoted post into italics, and changes colours, riding roughshod over typographical or colour conventions that may have been agreed as part of the discussion. It also tries to process white space in a very simplistic way, thus destroying layout, and as there is no WYSIWYG editor, this makes it impossible (in general) to lay out a post in the way you want to make it easy to read and understand.

5. We need full control and multiple fonts - Good old MS Write would do, but no....

and I'm sure I missed a few....


lan B.
user 10895495
London, GB
Post #: 109
Peter: confirmed, your version of consciousness appears to be closer to my defined term awareness and it misses the extra ingredient of an illuminated conscious mentality which Ian and I have tried to describe.

Andrew. thanks! Like it! .. Even the clearly literary yet effectively communicative phrase "illuminated conscious mentality". (Not too sure about the "mentality" part, though! crying )

The phrase doesn't really need defining in any case does it? It's what's known in logical and philosophical circles as the explanandum -- i.e. the subject of original complete bafflement which in the first place starts one's puzzled contremplation. (One couches the terms of explanation as the explanans. I think that "technical terms" sometimes do help, because once understood they -- like mathematical terms -- say a lot whilst actually speaking or typing very little!)

Sorry, I'm being cowardly once more. I still haven't begun yet to address anything substantive!

A former member
Post #: 81
There I was, worrying about whether you had cycled under a lorry or something, and it turns out that you had an IT situation at your 'workplace'. I have to say that I fell about laughing at the quotes you installed around that word, suggesting as it does that you do little or no work there at all. Instead your main job, apparently, is to respond to every posting, every sentence and sometimes almost every word on this message board.

I should now warn you that if you attempt to speak Latin or philosophy-speak on my new thread, over which I claim dictatorial powers, you will be at best asked to translate every time and at worst you will be ignored or even expelled - such are my powers there.

With all due respect, couldn't you do some real work for a day or two instead of chasing down every point over the last 24 hours? Peter and I got on famously when you and Camilla were silent and it would be nice if the two of us could finish both conversations without interruption and without the implication that two people who think they understand each other are not using the correct words. We are nearly done anyway. Peter said he would think more about the definitions of consciousness and (correct me Peter if I am wrong) I am expecting him to come back on that. This is an interesting juncture in the discussion,worthy of a moment's silent contemplation!
Camilla M.
user 7151822
London, GB
Post #: 16
Peter you said:
The definition of predictability that I originally supplied puts requirements on the error (i.e. divergence from reality) between the Functions output and reality. Specifically, for any given required accuracy, you must be able to choose a suitable causitive network and its associated Function(s) that guarantee the error cannot exceed the required limit.

Which is PRECISELY what you CANNOT do.

Look, I know you're a Platonist, i.e. taking the numbers more seriously than causal networks but what then is REALITY?
It seems a redundant term.

Of course at other times you are claiming that there simply just ARE strange, rare and peculiar behaviours actually appearing all around us. How could these 'appear' objectively but be non causal?

But we know that non-analytic systems exist... QED

Nothing's been QED'd, you haven't even proved they exist, in any meaningful way.
When I describe non-analytic systems as maybe not predictable but post hoc causally reducible, having existence in that manner, you demur.

Well, you can't help yourself to both knowledge based unpredictability AND non causality whilst claiming that there is something in the real world it is possible for unpredictability of either stripe to be about. (Fn)s are not non referring terms.

Andrew is liable to fall into the same bracket if her takes probability, Everettian Many Worlds etc. as primary. I think we get less precision from these outlooks, about our world here in the branch of reality we meantime actually find ourselves in. And that is what I want explanations to account for consistently, in each instance. I do hope consciousness isn't going to be posited as some panprotean property flitting about (or leaking gravity style) between either 'realist' membranes or intermittently turning up across number based probability branches that simply cover every eigenstate possibility? Please, no.

A former member
Post #: 82
Following my message to Ian I am now unsure whether you have more to say or not. Camilla leapt upon your comment about increasing degrees of complexity explaining consciousness, but I thought you were still referring to your definition at that point, ie awareness.

I also gained the impression that, because individuals have been using the word consciousness with possibly different meanings known to some but not all of us, there has been a confusion in the discussion that you and I had identified.

To recap, I think we four are all agreed that awareness can emerge from silicon chip computers in future, when we create sufficiently autonomous robots. There are probably some already. That extra ingredient that I have called the mental picture as distinct from a mere computerised representation of the environment: that is what we are debating here - the 'hard problem' of how an automaton (my definition) can experience the colour red as opposed to merely identify it by its spectrum. My question for you to clarify now is whether or not you think this can be an emergent feature of silicon chip processes. I don't know whether you have actually expressed your view on that precise point. (but to repeat my own position, I don't know but I am going to make an argument that the answer is no, that mental picture will not appear in any silicon chip computer, ever.)
lan B.
user 10895495
London, GB
Post #: 110

(I'm not taking these in either chronological or thematic order at the moment, just seizing a few minutes' spare time in order to deal with the not-too-conceptually-evocative-and-comba­tive replies for now. Meatier stuff tomorrow! Peter quoted in white.)

Hi Andrew,

I'll review the definitions of consciousness then.

I chose that one because it facilitates the explanation.

Whether my views survive the transition to a different definition of consciousness is indeed an interesting question.

Just to reiterate both as a reminder and for the sake of any newcomers to this thread, essentially -- as Camilla obviously affirms and by now I'm pretty sure Andrew, judging by his recent (postdated to this!) response indicates -- the salient distinction, drawn by solidly materialist philosopher Ned Block -- is that between phenomenal consciousness (p-consciousness, as Peter neatly labelled it; i.e. "true" consciousness, the subject of Chalmers' Hard Problem; note the technical capitals!) and access consciousness (a-consciousness).

Currently existing computers -- instantiations, that is, of Turing machines -- are and always have been , trivially, "access-conscious", in the sense that they can "report that" (some state of affairs or other whether abstract or concrete) and this is no mean feat, since arguably modern culture would founder without their operation.

.. But biology as Andrew I'm pretty sure also agrees "did it differently".

We still don't know how.

That is "the problem" ..

.. as both Camilla and myself see it. Interestingly when Camilla and myself first got to know each other she wasn't aware of the technical/philosophical way of defining the distinction, but she just "didn't like" the notion of current essentially-the-same-as-always architecture somehow "becoming conscious" around (say) 2040 or so as the alleged "singularity" would be surpassed.

Good instincts, that woman!

I think my definition of consciousness here corresponds to your definition of awareness in your thread. Do you concur?

You clearly see consciousness as in some way different: and here, I think we disagree.

My underlying perception can be summed up by this saying:
A quantitative change of sufficient magnitude is a qualitative change

Kinda Marxist/Hegelian (shudder!) or "false materialism" (my own term; sorry). "The transformation of quantity into quality" (Friedrich Engels.) In the sense defined within catastrophe theory, that's demonstrably true. If I continue walking slowly and horizontally in a straight line until after passing the cliff edge, I will instantaneously acquire a linear-incrementally increasing velocity component orthogonal to my original direction of travel!

Unfortunately for that analogy, this additional, mysterious oomph is expressible within the dimensional language of physics!

P-consciousness simply isn't so expressible.

That, again, is the Hard Problem as I see it. After speaking to Chalmers face-to-face a couple of weeks ago I now realise that my Hard Problem is a proper subset of his Hard Problem!/color]

My view is that consciousness is what you get when you have awareness in a sufficiently powerful brain. This view has the advantage that no sudden qualitative change need occur. The phenomenon is a continuum, with no watershed. This view has the advantage that it fully explains why we find it so hard to define the difference.

That alone does not prove it correct, of course.

Right. It's good to clarify. The other 3 of us are in complete disagreement!

I need to think more about this.

At the risk of being perceived as tedious, I feel compelled to stress the claim that the crucial difference is objectively expressible -- indeed it must be, for the purposes of debate -- and the clue is to think dimensionally. It turns out on reflection that the only subject matter with which we're ever acquainted -- indeed, we're bathed perpetually in it from late gestation until death, apart from brief periods of anaeasthesia and vwery deep non-REM sleep -- which turns out to be not dimensionally expressible is p-consciousness.

It's very odd IMV that hardly anyone seems to notice that. Not, as said, the overwhelming majority of professional philosophers-of-mind, and, oddly, very few scientists. ( .. And definitely never IT people, .. although Chalmers began his career as a software writer!)

Any conversation with a physicist will, of course, show you that s/he immediately grasps what you're getting at, and they seldom seem to regard it as important but they tend to assume that "neuroscience" -- undirected! -- will somehow be able to magic up the right conditions (because it's not their subject speciality, you see; there's too much credence IMV nowadays to respect others' "experise" without even first examining their cardinal assumptions!)

I'm saying: "Neuroscience, yes, but we need a road map first! .. Exactly as in the beginning stages of any other science. Why should thisd field of virgin enquiry prove in a logical sense to turn out any differently?


lan B.
user 10895495
London, GB
Post #: 111

Keen followers of this debate will have been unable to avoid noticing that my reply just above has miraculously de-formatted ( or just "deformed", would be more accurate) due to the agency of this simply mahvellous Meetup Software, written no doubt in Cobol sometime during the early '60s.) Hopefully they will be able to work out who typed what. (For instance, I didn't type !Peter" at the conclusion.)
lan B.
user 10895495
London, GB
Post #: 112
Hi Ian,

I just like to confirm that I have no trouble with your "materialist" and I don't in any way associate it with "materialistic".

Bizarrely, many people do -- even those with sufficient background knowledge to know better, and some I fear deliberately elide the distinction because of their oen pet ideologies kurking sinisterly below the water line (like most of the iceberg; it seldom declares itself overtly!)

My only quibble would be that I don't think your explanation is (or should be ) necessary.

Well then, in the light ofmy statement above: "stet".

Would anybody here really imagine that your "materialst" positions wrt the philosophy of science might be confused with Madonna - Material Girl - (just look at her, she sure is) or Marilyn Monroe - Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend - (here's looking at you babe, your assets are quite definitely not remotely abstract).

True, but along with Andrew I'm more of a Tina Turner fan myself. Let's face it, with infrequent exceptions like the 2 honkies whom you've instanced above, Peter, female black singers are in general not just almost always much better singers -- and even thogh I'm an atheist I'd put money on the hypothesis that it's that Ole Gospel singing right from cradlehood that imbues them with such powerful larynxes -- but invariably much curvier as well, but I certainly don't wish to create a base impression amongst our more sophisticated female readership. (Hopefully Camilla isn't the only one.)

Ahem. Where were we? Too many digressions already! Any offended mature white females "out there" should please feel free to counter-attack, although let's maintain a strenuous effort not to wander too far off-subject. (Who am I addressing anyway? As if! In fact, males and females of any race, creed, gender, age, and/or disability seem somewhat thin on the ground within this group. Do you think it's my style, or what?



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