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

What IS "consciousness"?

lan B.
user 10895495
London, GB
Post #: 85

Me (Ian) in this colour. Peter in white, Camilla in olive.

Other than the desperate need to tighten up the discussion. No.


But to my mind this snippet encapsulates the problem:

2. The concept of emergent phenomena is perfectly cable of explaining all this

Which is an alternative way of saying that:

"as things get complicated as a result of the causal interactions both of the components of the system with each other and with elements of the system's environment, phenomena become apparent in the system's behaviour which may well not have been anticipated at the outset".



But mine is 1/4 the length, and I don’t accept that yours says anything more.

OK so I'm a windbag, but mine does qualify the claim more precisely. Specifically, I've just defined weak -- i.e. scientifically acceptable -- emergence. Since there (perhaps unfortunately) is an extant and acknowledged named dichotomy between the weak and strong varieties -- and since there seems to have been a consensual swing in favour of discussing emergence -- then I think that a little disambiguation isn't a bad idea.

I concede that we need a more rigorous definition of “emergent phenomena”.

I thoroughly dislike the term, just as I do the hopelessly muddled not-even-concepts "mind" and "consciousness"!

I’m also seriously concerned that Camilla’s assertion that there are two types or emergence - weak and strong – and the there is a dispute as to whether strong emergence exists, plus her apparent belief that chaotic systems can be reverse engineered to arbitrary high precision, making them predictable.

“Emergent phenomenon: There's a scientific debate as to whether strong emergence exists. In it's weak expression, the phenomenon is merely a new description for entirely predictable properties of simpler constituents. Strong emergence requires that in principle unpredictable states turn up, this is what science would want to refute for it is in contravention of the reductionist paradigm.

Impeccably analysed!

Now you're probably going to lay chaotic systems at our door - but these produce analyzable, i.e. reverse engineerable from top down, properties, even as they are not precisely transcribed. Think iterative processes, strange attractors etc.”

By contrast, I am absolutely certain that that “the phenomenon is merely a new description for entirely predictable properties of simpler constituents” cannot be true because the properties of a chaotic system are not predictable. We are surrounded by strong emergent systems in which unpredictable states turn up – the weather, the Mandlebrot set, the three body Newtonian gravitational problem, Ohm’s and Boyle’s laws... I have never met a scientist who wants to refute “strong emergence” – scientists are seekers after objective truth, they would change the paradigm, not try to adjust reality. Chaotic systems DO NOT produce analyzable, i.e reverse engineerable from top down, properties. Indeed that fact that you CAN’T, in principle, do that is one of their key features.

I think -- correct me if I am wrong, Camilla -- that she is saying that chaotic systems are well understood in terms of their axiomatic specification. That is, "there's nothing left out". The system does exactly what it says on the tin. The mere fact that successive iterations based on infintesimally different initial data sets will diverge rapidly, producing sometimes strikingly divergent and irreproducible results from one supposedly identically configured run to the next does not stand in contradiction to the fact that chaotic systems are deterministic.

So emergence is certainly a topic for discussion....

Well it could be, but what about the (substantive!) question of the Hard Problem/"consciousness" itself .. as repeatedly stressed?!


Peter
A former member
Post #: 12
depends what deterministic means

The mere fact that successive iterations based on infintesimally different initial data sets will diverge rapidly, producing sometimes strikingly divergent and irreproducible results from one supposedly identically configured run to the next does not stand in contradiction to the fact that chaotic systems are deterministic.

It is certainly not predictable and future states cannot be determined by any process or causal network unless it includes the original chaotic system.

A chaotic system is certainly NOT deterministic in the normal meaning of the word. Whether or not it is deterministic depends on the definition you choose.
lan B.
user 10895495
London, GB
Post #: 86
Agreed. Completely.

You can see that, like a persistent doggie, I keep returning time after time to the spot where the Hard Problem lies buried, and if, whenever by some mischance some foolhardy truth-seeker -- such as that stupid idiot Galileo, who only began physics as a subject -- has from time to time chanced upon this skilfully concealed item, you can be damned sure that the embarrassment will soon get buried again!

Unpredictability poses no fundamental conceptual problems, because as you point out there are chaotic systems all over the place, some well understood, some not so well understood, because the relevant causal pathways have not yet all been mapped. (E.g. one of my oft-quoted favourites, the thundercloud.)

Nosir. We can easily understand unpredictable systems, and here I can see that try as I might the focus of interest keeps drifting irrevocably back to "choice", or "freewill", which are really just piously misleading phrases describing the capacities of binary-state information-processing systems.

.. And I fully agree with Peter at this point: If there's a problem here, can someone please remind me what it is? Why all the continual hand-wringing about choice? Choosing is simply something that many systems -- human, animal, and transistorised silicon-based -- do (a lot of the time)! It's explicit! We can see it happening! Choosing poses no problems in regard to our understanding of the fundamental nature of reality ..

.. Whereas -- and I am repeating myself here -- the task of explaining/describing colour, sound, sight, smell, taste ..

.. (etc., and one might even add compassion in the case of "psychopaths", although I sincerely doubt that this curiously convenient psychiatric notion has ever been seriously, rigorously or indeed honestly examined, since we'd rapidly discover that most of our politicians, senior Whitehall civil servants, senior police officers, and the judiciary would be obliged not only to resign, but actually to submit to being "Sectioned Off" under the provisions of some Mental Health Act or other!) ..

.. to anyone who is congenitally deprived of the relevant sensory capacity is impossible! Doesn't this fact ring alarm bells for anyone? .. That something ostensibly so simple and "everyday" as a patch of seen red isn't understood at all? .. Whereas we do have a pretty good understanding of e.g. the cores of white dwarf stars!

.. And (to repeat; I'm so, so sorry!) there is also the not insignificant fact that as said physics is "simply" geometry-plus-dynamical-variables­, i.e. time-dependent, auxiliary, non-geometrical properties such as mass, "spin" (QM variety), charge, strangeness, charm, and isospin. (I think that list of general possible properties is complete, but somebody please correct me if I'm wrong.)

Geology, astronomy, chemistry, biology and all their numerously incestuous cross-disciplines are, perforce, obliged to follow physics! They can't invent "new stuff" just because physics is too inconveniently restrictive. In fact, thinking casually about the matter just now, offhand I can't think of any challenge to fundamental physics other than the conundra which manifested toward the end of the 19th century in regard to the generally accepted ages of the Earth and the Sun. Geology wanted and needed "deep time". Lord Kelvin/Willam Thomson's solidly thermodynamics-based calculations showed that the then-fundamental physics was simply too niggardly. He won, and the mathematically able geologist John Perry lost, although posterity now shows him to have had the superior argument. (The progress of scientific enquiry is perhaps only seldom "logical", whenever it comes to a clash of egos.)

So to return to the important thesis of the para preceding the one that I've just typed, given that physics is simply 3 x 1 variable (length/distance/position) plus 6 other so-far fundamental variables, will someone please tell me how it is possible for the physical brain to magic up colours; sounds; smells; tastes and touches out of, respectively, electromagnetic wavelengths; (predominantly longitudinal) pressure waves; small molecules atomised into the vapour phase and inhaled; water-soluble molecules and ionic substances; and force-per-unit-area ..


????


This being the case, and at this point:

DOES ANYONE DISAGREE WITH ANYTHING THAT I HAVE JUST SAID? (Sorry; I don't normally "shout". Italicisation doesn't count!)

If so, please communicate so that I can try to understand you. (Although it won't be easy, I know!) Continued silence will serve only to continue the disastrous practice of correspondents "talking completely past each other".

Feel free to mention "psychology" or "the mind". I don't care. I have a liberal disposition! Then I in turn can helpfully mention witchcraft and demonci possession in response. (You might even be lucky enough for me to throw in a little Flat-Earthery as well.)

It's just that, personally, I can see no utility in devolving back down to Reader's Digest-style, utterly futile handwaving when there's nothing to say. Surely the recognition that one has, unfortunately, "nothing to say" regarding some subject of central interest is the only point at which progress in understanding can in principle ever become possible. Continued complacency in the naive trust of a bunch of socially accepted "experts" who alas have absolutely no idea of what it would take to attempt to prove what they believe to be "scientific" credentials simply means that we've all "chosen" to walk around wearing the Emperor's new clothes as well!

I find the question of consciousness a fascinating conundrum and challenge to the entire scientific outlook. (With which I am in total agreement. Hence my dismay at and fascination with the substantive question, i.e. the so-called Hard Problem, after Chalmers.) The "question" of decision-making -- or, perish the thought: "thought" -- is to my "mind" orders of magnitude drier than sawdust, and belongs to the dull world of wide-sleeved, crisply-starched, white shirt-wearing, flipchart-scribbling boardroom executives bullshitting around with other people's money. (Sorry. Some things need to be said, although strictly speaking I'm straying off-subject. It won't happen again I promise, etc.)

lan B.
user 10895495
London, GB
Post #: 87

At the beginning of the previous mail I said: "I agree. Completely". Actually that was with your penultimate para, Peter. Chaotic systems certainly are deterministic!

(Damn! Now I've started an exchange in which -- having valiantly gone to all the trouble in the course of the previous mail to open up unknown but crucially salient territory -- I now throw it all away and we're now going to forget altogether about consciousness and start discussing dynamical systems instead!0

Oh well: this is after all ostensibly a physics website!

A former member
Post #: 13
2. The concept of emergent phenomena is perfectly cable of explaining all this

Which is an alternative way of saying that:

"as things get complicated as a result of the causal interactions both of the components of the system with each other and with elements of the system's environment, phenomena become apparent in the system's behavior which may well not have been anticipated at the outset".


But mine is 1/4 the length, and I don’t accept that yours says anything more.


OK so I'm a windbag, but mine does qualify the claim more precisely. Specifically, I've just defined weak -- i.e. scientifically acceptable -- emergence. Since there (perhaps unfortunately) is an extant and acknowledged named dichotomy between the weak and strong varieties -- and since there seems to have been a consensual swing in favour of discussing emergence -- then I think that a little disambiguation isn't a bad idea.


Then create it as a definition.


"phenomena become apparent in the system's behavior which may well not have been anticipated at the outset"... "specifically, I've just defined weak -- i.e. scientifically acceptable -- emergence"

The key point here is that even weak emergence allows for behaviour that was was not anticipated and cannot be predicted, implying that the system is is not deterministic.

The world I inhabit is stuffed full of chaotic systems which exhibit emergent phenomena and which are not deterministic.

It's not possible to discuss AI, consciousness etc. unless we have words and definitions that describe these ideas.



Camilla M.
user 7151822
London, GB
Post #: 7
Peter, it reads is if you're referring to determinacy rather than determinism, in chaotic systems.

The latter is in principle and is not affected by our state of knowledge.
We may not know the precise initial conditions for the Big Bang (if it happened) but the results nevertheless unfolded as they always would have done deterministically, some sub systems stabily whilst others unstabily, chaotically but still deterministically.

It is the case that chaotic systems are indeterminate to a fine degree whilst still being deterministic i.e. necessarily moving from state to state through time in a manner that can be traced back afterward in principle.

The confusion is between the epistemic matter of our prediction and the ontological grounding as to whether a system is determined as a process in itself. That means that although unstable in outcome it progresses through time apparently dependent upon the previous state, hence would be predictable in principle. Russell's definition. Though agreed perhaps not to us, with current resources.
The issue there is for physics, that predictability ought not to rest solely on those within the set of the universe as it unfolds, despite this being Popper's fervent wish.

Hope this helps for clarity.

BTW, I notice that your specified italics for contrasted definitions, eg. for prediction vs prediction did not come out in the pasted in messages on this board, which will puzzle everbody. Also, some coloured responses are misattributed, to general confusion. Maybe slight editing could be done by Ian, I can't recall if it's possible after the fact once submitted.

On emergence: I am going to stick with weak emergence meaning unstable system outcomes, different macro effects but not new unpredictable properties at the reductive level once the results are called in.






Camilla M.
user 7151822
London, GB
Post #: 8
To save a huge waste of time, I meant classically, post the BB.

Of course it's an open issue as to whether the universe is finally deterministic or indeterministic in virtue of one indeterministic process such as fissile radioactive decay.
lan B.
user 10895495
London, GB
Post #: 88

Good distinctions as usual, Camilla! It's strange that we -- in fact I think it was Peter -- have already distinguished on this thread between determinism (i.e. as Camilla effectively said: "retrodictable in principle, all the way back to the Big Bang") on the one hand, and predictability on the other. Any in-principle indeterministic system -- and that includes all QM systems apart from those in "stationary states" in which strictly periodic phase shifts occur -- is also in-principle unpredictable. (Concerning individual outcomes, that is, not the statistics-in-the-large of distributions of such outcomes.) However, even deterministic systems need not be predictable either, and the cases in which they're not we call "chaotic". So here is a suitable opportunity to illustrate the force of Camilla's economic philosophical jargon by illustrating the situation using concrete examples. The ontology of some physical situation -- and of course as far as philosophers are concerned the "ontology of reality" may also include non-physical states of affairs such as God -- is how it actually is: its fundamental properties and constitution. Whether or not we -- or any other technically able culture -- could be in a position to know all that is another matter entirely, and that's the epistemic angle rather than the ontological one. The adjective "epistemic" refers to the constraints upon our capacity to know the truth. (Or otherwise formulated: the conditions of knowledge.)

Thus the issue of determinism vs indeterminism is an ontological one. The issue of predictabilty vs unpredictability is an epistemic one.

(Right. We seem to have got some definitions up and running at last, Peter!)

Just one cavil, Camilla. I was not certain what you were getting at in saying this:


>The issue there is for physics, that predictability ought not to rest solely on those within the set of the universe as it unfolds, despite this being Popper's fervent wish.

Hope this helps for clarity.


What was Popper specifically saying, and what was the context?

Otherwise, there are still no comments re the Hard Problem as I have outlined it during the course of my previous 2 or 3 postings here.

Does anyone disagree with my statement of the problem? Does anyone consider it misconceived, and if so why? If not, does anyone think that there is some related substantive problem which would best be formulated alternatively?

Thanks in hopeful anticipation!

(Incidentally I take Camilla's point that a distinction which Peter drew in private communication between the 4 of us about a week ago advocating the use of italics to indicate the technical appropriation of some word or other in common usage has been lost due to the fact that material pasted from elsewhere onto this Message Board unavoidably de-formats any Rich Text (or equivalent). We could trawl through the relevant bits and re-emphasise them. Also, there's a ferocious backlog of stuff exchanged between Camilla, Andrew, Peter and myself, but I'd need Andrew's persmission for that.)


Camilla M.
user 7151822
London, GB
Post #: 9
The Popper quote - you are not going to like it.
It was a way station along the way to getting definitions tightened up to their most useful.

Following LaPlace's: "We ought to consider the present state of the universe as the result of its antecedent state and as the cause of any resultant state to follow. An intelligence knowing all the forces acting in nature at a given instant...... would be able to comprehend the motions of the largest bodies as well as the lightest atoms ... provided that its intellect were sufficiently powerful to subject all data to analysis; to it nothing would be uncertain, the future as well as the past would be present to its eyes." [The intelligence is often called a demon for its all knowing powers in this reference.] Popper wanted to do away with LaPlace's demon to more closely define what type of theorising would be in keeping with the physically possible.

Note that LaPlace's definition invokes both causality which makes it tautological and prediction that the best defintions ought to avoid lest the implications be confused with the doctrine.
The worst outcome here occurs when people conclude that since certain unstable systems are unpredictable due to incomplete knowledge about initial conditions, the system itself is indeterministic.
It is conflating epistemic approaches with the overridingly ontological.
Popper in trying to straighten out the human possibility account, fell into this trap, in scientific determinism:

"the doctrine that the state of any closed physcial system can be predicted at any given future instant, even within the system, with any specified degree of precision, by deducing the precision from theories, in conjunction with initial conditions can always be calculated, (in accordance with the principle of accountability,) if the task is given." 1982

The added clause "principle of accountability" is his key segment.
The required degree of precision for the initial conditions must be agreed in advance.
And the work must be able to be carried out by a human scientist within the system rather than an ethereal demon. Thus he had rendered the definition in finite calculation terms.
Nevertheless, he incorrectly thought indeterministic systems appeared to result from the strong form of instability where the intial conditions are tightly bound to outcomes.
His interest in this effect was due to his horror in Clouds and Cuckoos of the nightmare of biological determinism. The whole world with everything in it would be a huge automata and "we would be little cogwheels or at best sub-automata within it."

The correct conclusion to be drawn from this exercise is not that determinism fails in strongly instable systems but that prediction and determinism need not work in tandem, as said; the evolution just may be such that future states are unpredictable from our imprecise knowledge of starting conditions.

Russell Ei = f(e1,t1, e2,t2,....en,tn,) but this is trivially mathematically true, it tells us no new information.
Yet prediction which does, can fail.
So they are not the same, determinism the doctrine and prediction the episteme.

I take it Peter you were aiming for an in your view 'indeterministic' account of consciousness as a chaotic system, thus somehow preserving its efficacy? Unfortunately, that cannot go through.
I do understand that computer use of the term determinism tends to conflate it with prediction.
And you were heading for combining this with intelligence as a rational learning manoeuvre, to naturalise it?
So, straightening out determinism has been useful to the debate Ian.

I would not advise adding earlier somewhat opinionated email exchanges which did not manage to progress the discussion, merely repeating entrenched postions. And you could cut some of that sometimes here. This should be about clarifying and moving on in my book.

BTW, I apologise for misspelling stably in my last message - had a mental block(head).








lan B.
user 10895495
London, GB
Post #: 89

[Camilla]: Popper's definition of determinism:

"the doctrine that the state of any closed physcial system can be predicted at any given future instant, even within the system, with any specified degree of precision, by deducing the precision from theories, in conjunction with initial conditions can always be calculated, (in accordance with the principle of accountability,) if the task is given." 1982

The added clause "principle of accountability" is his key segment.
The required degree of precision for the initial conditions must be agreed in advance.
And the work must be able to be carried out by a human scientist within the system rather than an ethereal demon. Thus he had rendered the definition in finite calculation terms.
Nevertheless, he incorrectly thought indeterministic systems appeared to result from the strong form of instability where the intial conditions are tightly bound to outcomes.
His interest in this effect was due to his horror in Clouds and Cuckoos of the nightmare of biological determinism. The whole world with everything in it would be a huge automata and "we would be little cogwheels or at best sub-automata within it."

The correct conclusion to be drawn from this exercise is not that determinism fails in strongly instable systems but that prediction and determinism need not work in tandem, as said; the evolution just may be such that future states are unpredictable from our imprecise knowledge of starting conditions.

Good. Well hopefully any remaining disagreement about the appropriate use of terminology has now vanished. It is a good idea to give definitions rather than blandly assume as I have been doing that all discussants are equally familiar with them.

it is interesting that even supposedly objective figures such as Popper -- surely the most famous philosopher of science, and whose view of scientific methodology is, unquestionably, predominantly entrenched within the scientific research community -- can contribute such lucid understanding to the scientific process itself whilst upholding such an unreflectively antipathetic view of the consequences of determinism, for to hold that the condition of being an automaton is, somehow, to be deplored simply begs the question in favour of some vaguely intuitive and in-turn logically incoherent sentiment as to how "freewill" should be construed. I diagnose, as expressed earlier, underlying qualms whose origin in turn lies with preconceived views about the nature of morality and in particular of "personal responsibility". Just observe how a clear perception of the truth can be clouded by off-topic concerns which undeniably have no place in the scientific decision-making process! Clearly the antipathy is "psychological" in origin, or to abandon the use of pseudo-scientific babble for the moment, it is simply a deep-seated and indeed chauvinistically defended gut feeling. Well, gut feelings are well and good, and hunches are the very first step in the construction of any scientific theory, but at least within science, they must be defended against rival contenders or perish. Popper himself pointed out that the advance of science is a thoroughly Darwinian process, in which bold ideas are exhibited publicly, only to be shot down should either logical flaws be spotted by others who are less emotionally committed to their success, or should the research program which follows on the heels of some successfully financed proposal turn up evidence which is contrary to the program's expectations.

In one of our earlier off-Board exchanges, I was upbraided by one of the correspondents for examining common -- and logically speaking unreflected-upon -- reasons -- for the adherence even of well-educated commentators to untenable positions and views, but let's face it, the various cultures comprising Homo sapiens do harbour a lot of extremely bizarre beliefs, and viewed in ecological terms, we can better understand how such a priori-considered constellations of absurd claims can nevertheless gain what might seem precipitously unlikely purchase on the reins of community decision-making, whether bureaucratically entrenched and Government-backed, or "spontaneous" in the misleading sense that some ancient but still numerically strong sub-group can beat its collective breast and monopolise the exercise of power and the direction of expenditure.

So what I am saying is, yes, stick to the primary issues involved in understanding science and how the wisest course in making decisions can be steered through the morass of competing suggestions (and I think I can fairly claim that we've been quite conscientious toward this end within just about all the threads that have appeared on this Message Board so far) but, once that adherence has borne fruit, then patterns of thinking -- and habits of mistake-making -- become apparent as the mistakes that they are simply in virtue of the inevitable comparison with what one has already learnt about "the shape of the science". Since the science itself has resulted from the keenest and most rigorous concentration on any issue whatsoever of which our species is capable -- and only mathematics can rival it in this respect -- then it, having been tested and subjected to the most stringent potentially falsifying tests, is much less likely to be wrong than are those competing, non-scientific (and as seen usually antipathetic) gut feelings.

Just to address one specific issue though: Popper's claim (rendered by Camilla):


"the doctrine that the state of any closed physical system can be predicted at any given future instant, even within the system .. "

" .. even within the system .. "! Consider some evolving state of affairs about which we desire accurate foreknowledge. Unfortunately, we intend to intervene in "the natural course of events". Thus our predictions are obliged not only to keep track of the changing state of our let's-suppose-deterministic system, but also of our intervention. "Aha", we think, "we have the computational resources to do that. No problem!" But, you see, consequences of the interaction will change our initial perspective, and thus our desire to intervene, because lessons learnt as a result of previous observations of the system's behaviour have more finely-tuned our appreciation of when, where and how to tweak its performance to optimum effect. What in practice we will end up doing is performing a series of iterated exchanges with the system, and both it and ourselves become progressively modified because of this series of interactions, and this process of building ourselves into the resulting composite model is, I suggest, unpredictable, even though classically deterministic!



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