Cosmology, Quantum Mechanics & Consciousness Message Board › Consciousness, by Andrew

Consciousness, by Andrew

A former member
Post #: 86
I too think the problem is indeed to do with terminology.

It is simple.


People unintentionally build their own WorldViews into the definition of terms that they propose.

This forces anybody with a divergent WorldView to question the definition, or propose an alternative.

Either way, the discussion than fragments because we haaave no means of communication.

Defined Terms should be just that - terms with defined meanings we can all subscribe to, that are entirely neutral, and which we can all use as an aid to communication.

Any term that that contains embedded, implicit assertions about precisely those issues we wish to discuss and where we don't have universal agreement is a fifth columnist, and should be taken out and shot, along with its perpetrator.


I know this is hard. But... it is necessary.



Peter
A former member
Post #: 93
Getting back to the point of this discussion, somewhere recently there was a bit of a challenge on me to say why quantum physics has anything useful to add to the problem of explaining the conscious experience. So I looked up 'Quantum Mind' in Wikipedia and found that the Penrose and Hameroff proposal is not the only one, that Tegmark's calculations on decoherence in organic matter do not seem to have deterred other researchers who have come up with other possible quantum mechanisms within the brain. Indeed the most recent relevant research is the very item that I previously unearthed from elsewhere, the evidence of prolonged quantum coherence in bird navigation. And who is to say that there will not be more ideas forthcoming and that not one of these ideas, past and future, can be true? It would be unscientific to exclude that possibility.

Peter, you reckon that a deterministic universe built of atoms with no smaller quantum structure would be capable, with suitable laws of physics, of self-organising and evolving to ever higher levels of complexity such that consciousness would eventually emerge in the most complex information processors. (My words not yours, but that was the gist from memory.) I cannot disagree with you because I have no basis on which to do so (just as you have no basis to prove the correctness of your assertion). However I do admit that I have always felt that your scenario (which I have previously considered myself) cannot be true. I am reluctant to go into detail on my proposals and reasons now, as this whole debate is getting a bit tired (or I am getting tired of it).

All I will say now is this. Your universe would not spawn life as we know it. It would spawn John Conway's game of life but his game will never develop conscious minds. Your universe will not even spawn the stars and matter as we know it, because it takes quantum physics to do that and I bet that a non-quantum universe could not reproduce our non-quantum physics. So we have an essentially mysterious fundamental physics called quantum theory, not yet properly completed with the inclusion of gravity, giving rise to our universe of incredible complexity, so complex that organic life was formed and evolved into us, and our brains have a most amazing capacity for the conscious rendition of the reality around us that is so subtle and intangible that we have trouble even defining it. And then you say: if we remove the quantum basis which is indeed the foundation of all that structure then the consciousness phenomenon can still remain.

Well, you may be right but I don't think you've justified that and frankly it does not feel right to me. Not at all. I also feel quite strongly that consciousness does not exist without free will and that free will does ultimately rest on quantum indeterminacy. I have indeed mentioned the result in mathematical physics to that very effect. That's why I am hedging my bets, neither disagreeing with you nor closing my mind to the possibility that 'strange physics' lies behind it all. As I have made excessively clear, no philosophical argument about this matter will work for me. Philosophy is about asking the right questions. I look to science for the answers. And that's all I want to say on this subject.
A former member
Post #: 89
Hi Andrew,

You are absolutely right that I cannot prove my view is correct, any more than you can disprove it, not least because it takes place in a hypothetical universe.

You also correctly observe that if QM where not present, the Universe on a gross scale would look very different, and it may well be that stars would not even get created, and no beings with the potential to evolve sufficiently powerful brains to become conscious would live.

All Granted.

The question is not whether the broad preconditions for life could exist is such a Universe, but rather, to try to identify the necessary conditions for consciousness et. al. to emerge once we have assured the evolution of potentially suitable life forms. My hypothesis address that question.

I will however briefly deal with the first, broader, question. As far as we can see, life takes time (rather a lot of it, in fact) to emerge, and it also needs a huge flow of energy through the system that hosts life that acts to drive down the entropy of the host system (which is not closed, of course). So we require a long-lived Universe with low initial entropy, for sure. We may also need (but this need may only be apparent, caused by my lack of imagination) supplies of elemts with rich chemical behaviour.

Whether or not that's possible without QM is, I agree, a meaningless question.


In order to investigate the phenomena of consciousness et. al. we need far less. We need a host environment with energy flowing through it to reduce entropy, and capable of supporting systems with total processing power broadly similar to ours. We are addressing a philosophical question. It seems entirely reasonable to hypothesize an "earth" essentially as the Victorians conceived it in terms of physics - i.e starting at atoms - and ask if such an environment can support consciousness et. al.

Unless I have misunderstood, there are then three views on offer.
1. Andrew's position: Consciousness et. al. cannot emerge.
2. Peter's position: Consciousness et.al can emerge provided Strong Emargences is possible
3. Ian's position: Consciousness can always emerge.

I can offer only one specific objection to Ian's position, namely that his Universe is entirely predictable. This really does seem to me to prevent FreeWill. Ian regards FreeWill (again as I understand it) as an irrelevant illusion, so my objection has not impact on him, but it would impact anybody else who held FreeWill to be important.

By contrast, if Strong Emergence is possible, the Universe, while still deterministic, with the result that Randomness cannot exist, is Unpredictable. Unpredictability replaces Randomness where it occurs in the laws of physics, and no change in the macro-behaviour of the Universe will be observable as far as I can see. If, as I do, you think that consciousness arises as Strong Emergent bahaviour for broadly the reasons Andrew has proposed, then, since nothing relevant has changed, I can see no reason to expect any change in whether or not consciousness et. al. emerge.

In Andrew's position, what happens depends entirely on the physics that do give rise to consciousness et.al. and on exactly how they work. I lack this information, so I can offer no comment.



Peter
lan B.
user 10895495
London, GB
Post #: 141
(From Peter):

>"I too think the problem is indeed to do with terminology.

It is simple.

People unintentionally build their own WorldViews into the definition of terms that they propose.

This forces anybody with a divergent WorldView to question the definition, or propose an alternative.

Either way, the discussion than fragments because we haaave no means of communication."

Yes that's precisely it. Just when -- at Camilla and Andrew's kindly encouraging suggestion -- I began the original What IS "Consciousness"? thread I stated in a reply to one of Andrew's earlier comments when he politely castigated me for distinguishing between the Strong and the Weak varieities of Emergence (saying that on a scientific topic discussion board I ought to have known that he intended us to interpret his use of the word "emergence" in the weak sense) it is the case that our experience conditions our expectations, and -- not being sarcastic here either -- that is indeed not just grist for the mill of subtle professional philosophical misinterpretation, but sadly also the basis (IMV) for the tragedy of the human condition in general. In pursuit of some subjectively perceived morally perfect goal -- or at its most cosmopolitan, usually in terms of the perception of such a goal according to the traditional prejudices of the tribal/religious grouping into which one just happens to have been born -- leaders have advocated the killing of other "outgroup" personnel -- whether extreme "leftist" political rivals or simply "heretics" or "heathen" -- and soldiers have been repeatedly and fully prepared throughout the entire course of human history to carry out such instructions to the letter (and no doubt will continue to do so, but in increasingly subtly-concealed and propagandistically massaged ways in our era of worldwide, near-instantaneous mass mis-communication!).

The morally motivated killing would seem to be an inevitable consequence of the proliferation of intelligent systems driven by competing absolutist aims, but, more generally, IMV is in turn a subset of the famous Frame Problem within AI, articulated by John McCarthy in the 1960s:


To most AI researchers, the frame problem is the challenge of representing the effects of action in logic without having to represent explicitly a large number of intuitively obvious non-effects. But to many philosophers, the AI researchers' frame problem is suggestive of wider epistemological issues. Is it possible, in principle, to limit the scope of the reasoning required to derive the consequences of an action? And, more generally, how do we account for our apparent ability to make decisions on the basis only of what is relevant to an ongoing situation without having explicitly to consider all that is not relevant?

(Still, others might be inclined to disagree, and .. er .. which thread is this one? I've lost count!)





lan B.
user 10895495
London, GB
Post #: 143

IMV this is a very good mail in achieving the twin goal of summarising and integrating quite a few of the major salient issues which still divide the 4 of us on the various spin-off threads (from Peter; well expressed, that man!):

Hi Andrew,

You are absolutely right that I cannot prove my view is correct, any more than you can disprove it, not least because it takes place in a hypothetical universe.

You also correctly observe that if QM where not present, the Universe on a gross scale would look very different, and it may well be that stars would not even get created, and no beings with the potential to evolve sufficiently powerful brains to become conscious would live.

All Granted.

Just to nitpick at the technical detail: of course stars would form (under the Newtonian concept of gravitation) but the Victorians of course knew no nuclear physics and so would have been unable to conjecture accurately as to the source of the Sun’s “power”, hence the earlier-referenced dispute between venerable mathematical physicist Lord Kelvin (William Thomson) who believed that the Sun is gradually, continually cooling from an initially higher temperature reached as the result of the relatively rapid contraction of the precursor gas and dust cloud which would not have taken longer than a few tens of millions of years in order to achieve thermal equilibrium with interstellar space. The geologist John Perry pointed to the even-then considerable evidence for mantle convection within the Earth – the first person to do so, in 1895! – and was “beaten” because no-one knew any nuclear physics!

In fact, it was not until good old Einstein published the famous Brownian Motion paper amongst his great hat-trick suite of fundamental advances within physics in 1905 that physicists were prepared to declare “beyond reasonable doubt” that atoms actually exist! Quite how one might have developed a theory of stellar nucleosynthesis along Newtonian lines is anyone’s guess(!), but just for now I suspect that any believer in the continuum theory of matter would simply have lacked the resources in principle to conceive of “nucleosynthesis”. Even granted that assumption and the plum-pudding model of atomic nuclei comprising unequal numbers of opposed point-charges it would have been quite difficult to calculate the magnitude of the Coulombic point-to-point repulsion which would tend to an infinite value at infinitesimal separations: no quantum tunneling to save the day in such circumstances, I’m afraid!


The question is not whether the broad preconditions for life could exist is such a Universe, but rather, to try to identify the necessary conditions for consciousness et. al. to emerge once we have assured the evolution of potentially suitable life forms.

Quite.

My hypothesis address that question.

I will however briefly deal with the first, broader, question. As far as we can see, life takes time (rather a lot of it, in fact) to emerge, and it also needs a huge flow of energy through the system that hosts life that acts to drive down the entropy of the host system (which is not closed, of course). So we require a long-lived Universe with low initial entropy, for sure. We may also need (but this need may only be apparent, caused by my lack of imagination) supplies of elemts with rich chemical behaviour.

Yes to the latter, but only contingently so. One could envisage a Newtonian-rules-only cosmos in which there is a “chemistry” comprising the behaviour of only one element, but it would need to have tremendously variable valency, depending on the conditions.

In regard to the former claim, it seems (principally as the result of studying stromatolites) that life did get off the ground relatively quickly – at most, less than one hundred million years after the conclusion of the Late Heavy Bombardment which concluded the Hadean Era – but that it was then hindered for a further 3.2 billion years – roughly, until the late-Precambrian Ediacaran Era – by the paucity of atmospheric oxygen, and perhaps only by that!


Whether or not that's possible without QM is, I agree, a meaningless question.

(Due to the classical point-charge repulsion issue, almost certainly not.)

[ Continued .. ]
lan B.
user 10895495
London, GB
Post #: 144

[ Continued .. ]

In order to investigate the phenomena of consciousness et. al. we need far less. We need a host environment with energy flowing through it to reduce entropy, and capable of supporting systems with total processing power broadly similar to ours. We are addressing a philosophical question. It seems entirely reasonable to hypothesize an "earth" essentially as the Victorians conceived it in terms of physics - i.e starting at atoms - and ask if such an environment can support consciousness et. al.

.. Not forgetting as said that at that time the physics “establishment” was pretty uniformly opposed to the atomic theory of matter. Due largely to Mach and Ostwald.)

Unless I have misunderstood, there are then three views on offer.

1. Andrew's position: Consciousness et. al. cannot emerge.
2. Peter's position: Consciousness et.al can emerge provided Strong Emargences is possible
3. Ian's position: Consciousness can always emerge.

Correct as far as I am able to judge.

I can offer only one specific objection to Ian's position, namely that his Universe is entirely predictable. This really does seem to me to prevent FreeWill. Ian regards FreeWill (again as I understand it) as an irrelevant illusion, so my objection has not impact on him, but it would impact anybody else who held FreeWill to be important.

Agreed on all counts, apart from the predictability. It is my view that chaotic (=non-analytic) systems are physically uninteresting, but mathematically interesting. Thus no new physics arises, but an entirely Newtonian, deterministic physics would still face the iterative chunk-size and initial conditions-estimation problems, and so in that respect at least our hypothetical Victorian physics would produce results such as meteorological unpredictability very like those which we still encounter today. (Don’t forget that in response to the King of Norway’s 1893 invitation to the world of physics to solve the n-body problem posed by the solar system’s long-term dynamics, Henri Poincaré actually discovered chaos – a discovery which was to languish for a further 70 years!

By contrast, if Strong Emergence is possible, the Universe, while still deterministic, with the result that Randomness cannot exist, is Unpredictable. Unpredictability replaces Randomness where it occurs in the laws of physics, and no change in the macro-behaviour of the Universe will be observable as far as I can see. If, as I do, you think that consciousness arises as Strong Emergent bahaviour for broadly the reasons Andrew has proposed, then, since nothing relevant has changed, I can see no reason to expect any change in whether or not consciousness et. al. emerge.

In Andrew's position, what happens depends entirely on the physics that do give rise to consciousness et.al. and on exactly how they work. I lack this information, so I can offer no comment.

I agree that yet another methodological plank which is utterly indispensable to scientific researchers is always to keep one’s assumptions as conservative as possible unless the problem cannot be cracked that way, no matter how ingenious the effort expended. Only in extremis should we adopt Conan Doyle’s Holmesian maxim.


Peter
A former member
Post #: 91
(From Peter):

>"I too think the problem is indeed to do with terminology.

It is simple.

People unintentionally build their own WorldViews into the definition of terms that they propose.

This forces anybody with a divergent WorldView to question the definition, or propose an alternative.

Either way, the discussion than fragments because we have no means of communication."

Yes that's precisely it. Just when I began the original What IS "Consciousness"? thread I stated in a reply to one of Andrew's earlier comments when he politely castigated me for distinguishing between the Strong and the Weak varieities of Emergence (saying that on a scientific topic discussion board I ought to have known that he intended us to interpret his use of the word "emergence" in the weak sense).

This is the sort of problem that must always arise, unless we go through the tedious process of defining and denoting our terms.

It is the case that our experience conditions our expectations,.

Absolutely.

and -- not being sarcastic here either -- that is indeed not just grist for the mill of subtle professional philosophical misinterpretation, but sadly also the basis (IMV) for the tragedy of the human condition in general. In pursuit of some subjectively perceived morally perfect goal -- or at its most cosmopolitan, usually in terms of the perception of such a goal according to the traditional prejudices of the tribal/religious grouping into which one just happens to have been born -- leaders have advocated the killing of other "outgroup" personnel -- whether extreme "leftist" political rivals or simply "heretics" or "heathen" -- and soldiers have been repeatedly and fully prepared throughout the entire course of human history to carry out such instructions to the letter (and no doubt will continue to do so, but in increasingly subtly-concealed and propagandistically massaged ways in our era of worldwide, near-instantaneous mass mis-communication!).
­
Forgive me, but I think you may be stretching the point a trifle here. I think we are dealing with mis-guided self-interest (aka crass selfishness) in this example, not subtle philosophical distinctions. lol.


The morally motivated killing would seem to be an inevitable consequence of the proliferation of intelligent systems driven by competing absolutist aims, but, more generally, IMV is in turn a subset of the famous Frame Problem within AI, articulated by John McCarthy in the 1960s:

Sorry.. I don't follow how you get here...

To most AI researchers, the frame problem is the challenge of representing the effects of action in logic without having to represent explicitly a large number of intuitively obvious non-effects. But to many philosophers, the AI researchers' frame problem is suggestive of wider epistemological issues. Is it possible, in principle, to limit the scope of the reasoning required to derive the consequences of an action? And, more generally, how do we account for our apparent ability to make decisions on the basis only of what is relevant to an ongoing situation without having explicitly to consider all that is not relevant?

Of course if you adopt my view that it's all down to Strong Emergence, then the mind will simply select ways of working on an entirely opportunistic "whatever works" basis. Then your mind can find its own solution to the frame problem, and our ability to to make decision only on the basis of relevant data drops out for free.

Notice please, that I suggest only that you adopt this view - you don't need to agree with it (heaven forbid, lol).

(Still, others might be inclined to disagree, and .. er .. which thread is this one? I've lost count!)

This is Andrew's thread. The one where we can only use English words in their normal meaning or Andrew's defined terms with the slightly unfortunate result (though some will view this as a major benefit, of course) that I cannot even express my views properly, far less advance arguments to promote them.

lol


Peter






lan B.
user 10895495
London, GB
Post #: 145
(From Peter):

>Sorry .. I don't follow how you get here...

To most AI researchers, the frame problem is the challenge of representing the effects of action in logic without having to represent explicitly a large number of intuitively obvious non-effects. But to many philosophers, the AI researchers' frame problem is suggestive of wider epistemological issues. Is it possible, in principle, to limit the scope of the reasoning required to derive the consequences of an action? And, more generally, how do we account for our apparent ability to make decisions on the basis only of what is relevant to an ongoing situation without having explicitly to consider all that is not relevant?

As I interpret it from an epistemological perspective -- and of course it's the (non-trivial )epistemological issues which interest me most, because they illustrate starkly why AI won't work, outside highly specialised and over-simplified contexts that is -- the frame problem is a metaphor for us or rather the scientific community, using the hypothetico-deductive method, trying to work out how reality works, and what (at different "levels") it's composed of.

AI systems are, notoriously, utterly devoid of common sense, which is precisely why every action is obliged to be symbol-driven, the symbols not appealing to any "understanding" which the AI system might have -- of course, they haven't got a clue -- but being, rather, formalised translations ultimately of concatenated sequences of logic gate openings and shuttings.

Arguably, our own neuronal firing rates are the analogue of the operation of these electronic logic gates, but the difference is that they are "programmed" by the experiences of the organism who owns them. Why then are AI systems so uniquely stupid? Arguably it's because they inhabit an absolute contextual vacuum. Don't forget that almost always it takes human beings considerably more than a decade to "get things in working order", and, believe me, I've met enough human specimens ..

(particularly bureaucrats, police and "psychotherapeutic professionals", who are typically so unbelievably stupid that they are utterly incapable of learning anything, and indeed totally refractory toward the possibility of being corrected, because they invariably "disconnect" and develop suspicious-seeming amnesia-like symptoms whenever any effort is made to correct them in the throes of their challenging intellectual quandaries, but I digress; sorry, Andrew in particular! ..)

.. Back on-topic, you'll recall my brief introduction and discussion of the logical positivists' verification principle, and my own particular slant on it to the effect that overlapping sets of experiences (varying within specifiable bounds) can be compiled-in-principle into a finite list of personally experienced observational snapshots -- not necessarily confined to the visual sense -- which in the occurrence of each such instance verifies (contextual ceteris paribus clauses notwithstanding) the coming to pass of some distinctive episode or at least some member of a continuous and inferred-on-inductive-grounds universal regularity in that, without such sensed situational exemplars there could in principle simply be no context of reference (or rather, catalogue of reference-exemplars) and, hence, no possibility of true understanding. (I.e. understanding as she typically occurs within sophisticated multicellular animals such as ourselves.)

One does not (of course) easily expect scientifically illiterate biological systems -- indeed, the majority of humans, let alone individuals belonging to other species -- to become reflectively able to employ the hypothetico-deductive method, but it seems not too severe a theoretical challenge to envisage that during the period roughly from birth to maturation the higher, cognitively flexible animals including ourselves develop an extremely rich, multiply and idiosyncratically connected network of associations between such episodes of distinct co-occurrence of specific types of sense-impression, and as long as the experiential learning set has not been too chaotic and lacking in roughly predictable regularities then this experience-derived "associative platform" acts as the natural biological analogue of a scientific hypothesis, and as such enables the organism to anticipate in simple, non-abstract, non-formulaic deductive terms which species of event are likely to crop up in stereotypical types of situation, and which species of either learnt or intuitively-grasped-upon-the-basis-of-ex­perience responses would be most appropriate, given the organism's goals.

(In this connection, it's interesting that spontaneously-learning neural nets can develop "intellectual skills" which far surpass the recognitional abilities of long-experienced human experts, such as radar operators! should the stae of the art eventually become such that such abilities become manifest in terms of "abstract" intellectual skills as well as such specific concrete abilities, (rather than simply running some programmed, expert mathematical or Grandmaster chess software, for instance) then the door will have become thrown open for the development of true artificial intelligence. The frame problem will have been solved, and we will become obliged to treat such machines as partners, rather than as "simple automata".

finally, my reference to the "moral" dimension was simply to outline the undeniable fact that, typically, our moral leaders are appalling examples of some set of mechanisms falling foul of the frame problem. (I.e. they typically either, firstly, fail to understand, or even fail to wish to understand, whether or not there is some substantive "problem" to be "solved"; secondly, they fail to understand the problem's nature, even when it is not some fictitious artefact of their own ideologies(!), and, thirdly, they fail to understand any way of dealing with the problem other than by simple, mechanical negation, that is, by if possible physically destroying the perceived source of the problem. That's all that I was getting at! Sorry it took so incredibly long to unpack!


>Of course if you adopt my view that it's all down to Strong Emergence, then the mind will simply select ways of working on an entirely opportunistic "whatever works" basis. Then your mind can find its own solution to the frame problem, and our ability to to make decision only on the basis of relevant data drops out for free.

When selected for in terms of environmental stress, I'm quite sure that that is exactly how evolution has "designed" into the cognitively sophisticated animals the "onboard epistemology" which enables to deal effectively with the world as they in fact do manage to achieve.

>Notice please, that I suggest only that you adopt this view - you don't need to agree with it (heaven forbid, lol).
lan B.
user 10895495
London, GB
Post #: 148



ARISTOTELIAN SOCIETY




Incidentally anyone who as a result of our occasionally heated exchanges has acquired an interest in the "freewill" non-issue could do worse than to attend the following philosophical talk (with ensuing debate). I would strongly advise downloading and reading the text first, otherwise you will almost certainly find the discussion to be completely incomprehensible! You can find "Aristotelain Society on Google and when at the site click on Current Programme in order to download:

30 April 2012 | 16.15 - 18.00

Choice and Voluntary Action

Maria Alvarez
(Kings College London)

The Woburn Suite
Senate House
University of London


Malet Street, London WC1 (5 mins walk from Goodge Street Underground station on the Northern Line, Tottenham Court Road)


lan B.
user 10895495
London, GB
Post #: 163


Next Monday's Aristotelian Society talk has been cancelled:



Issue No. 3
The 133rd Session



30 April 2012 | 16.15 - 18.00

Choice and Voluntary Action

Maria Alvarez
Kings College London

The Woburn Suite
Senate House
University of London

TALK CANCELLED


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