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

What IS "consciousness"?

A former member
Post #: 27
Response to Reply 3

If you apply the approach based on my definition of predictable, you will (I hope) clearly see that you cannot "trace back" a chaotic system through time other than by observing that actual states (at the times in question) of the system itself.

Not in practice, but l don't understand ...

Please stop trying to modify what I say into something I did not say and do not agree with. No: not in practice, and not in theory or in principal either.

but l don't understand the relevance of that observation. l mean, we have every reason to believe that, say, the Andromeda galaxy actually exists, but since it's 2.2 million light years away we can't directly verify the existence and varying conditions of even a single planet orbiting a single star, yet denial of their existence would border on absurdity. (Analogy!)

The relevance is that I keep pointing out that you cannot "trace back" a chaotic system through time, and that this goes to the heart of predictability. You and Camilla keep trying to refute points I make with statements that imply you can in fact do things like that, while never confronting my views and discussing them directly. It feels like punching an air bag: if you disagree with my reasoning please bring your own arguments forward.

Some of my dearest friends are Andromedans, but even so they are a total non-sequitor. My assertion, which you argue against, so I presume you disagree with it, is that you cannot use any causal network running on a PC on planet Earth, even in principle, to determine what those lovely little Andromedans are having for breakfast.

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. ...

No. There is no confusion. Or if there is it is in your mind, not mine. Please cease these homilies on "epistemic" vs "ontological", and please stop assuming that whenever I say something you disagree with, that I MEAN something quite different from what I say, and something, moreover that I would agree is rubbish.

I have to say that this line of argument, e.g:

You said X
You meant Y
Y is clearly untrue
You are obviously confused
Therefore you are wrong
Therefore X is untrue

is beginning to irk me.

Please desist.

The definition you have supplied for deterministic establishes that everything is deterministic. We have (all) agreed this. Can we stop discussing it please?

Prediction is another matter entirely, and quite disconnected from deterministic.

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.

No. we have agreed on a definition for predictable and I have shown that:
1. The fact that something is deterministic tells us nothing about whether it is predictable
2. Non-analytic systems are NOT predictable
3. This is nothing to do with "current resources": it is an issue of principle. How many times do I have to say this?

Nobody has seen fit to dispute this view or challenge my reasoning, or offer any alternate definition. Until someone does, I will assume my definitions and arguments stand. If Russell (I assume you mean Bertrand Russell) does not agree please bring him here to present his views or at least present them yourself. I cannot find his definition of predictable nor whatever reasoning he proposed to support the view that the weak definition of deterministic that we have adopted necessarily gives rise to a predictable universe.

Just saying "Bertrand Russel" is not, in fact, a complete or even a partial argument. Indeed, I'm sure he would have been the first to point out that is isn't in fact a meaningful statement at all.


l completely agree!

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.

I am unable to determine what this means. The Universe itself cannot be a set, of course; and I'm struggling to figure out what the "set of the universe" might be. As far as I know any object within the event horizon of another object can have some effect on it (however miniscule) and hence form part of its complete causal network. I don't think this has anything to do with Physics. The sort of systems we are interested in are not predictable anyway, so this entire sub-discussion may be void.


End of Response to Reply 3
A former member
Post #: 28
Response to Reply 4

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.

I'm not sure what "at the reductive level once the results are called in" means in this (or indeed any) context;

Camilla is speaking as a parsimonious "reductive physicalist". l'm sure that the parsimony appeals to all, and particularly to Peter. "Reduction" is the aspiration that any physical phenomenon no matter how complex can be understood in terms of the interactions of as few fundamental laws of physics -- or at least as few descriptively relevant, even if not fundamental, laws of physics -- as can be "got away with", and so Camilla's admirably concise expression is merely an alternative stament of what l've just said. "Weak emergence" then refers trivially to the recognition that once we're satisfied that we've harvested the important data abstracted from some system of interest then we should be able to account for the entirety of the system's behaviour, without invoking spooky, new, voodoo physics (which if true would constitute the first-ever verified encounter with some "strongly emergent" properties!)

Hmmmmmm, not much the wiser frankly. I know perfectly well what "Reduction" is, of course: it's "reductive level" and results being "called in" that is giving me difficulty.

However, moving on... I am quite certain that this:

once we're satisfied that we've harvested the important data abstracted from some system of interest then we should be able to account for the entirety of the system's behaviour,

is untrue.

It depends what you mean by "account for" of course. If it means something sufficiently fuzzy like "wave your hands about and suggest the behaviour is reasonable" then "sure, we can do that". If you meant something rigorous, then "no".


but I do know that as I walk down the street I am surrounded by chaotic systems that exhibit properties that are unpredictable and unpredictable.

(Yes, but .. ?)

I am happy that you agree. You ask: "but ... ?"

Well now: If you really agree, as I see it, that means that strong emergence exists and can be used to explain all the phenomena like like intelligence and consciousness we wish to discuss.

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'd be more comfortable if I understood what you meant by "efficacy" here,

(X marks the spot)

and actually I was thinking of an unpredictable non-analytic system, rather than an indeterminisitic chaotic system, but I'm pretty certain these are semantic technicalities, and your broad view of where I am headed is correct.

What matters is you unsubstantiated assertion that:

Unfortunately, that cannot go through.

I can imagine quite a few arguments to that effect, but all of them depend on the ideas (which I hold to be manifestly false) that non-analytic systems are predictable, or that the emergent phenomena they evince are necessarily predictable.

I am still waiting for ANY reason why "that cannot go through". The longer I wait the more skeptical I shall become. Blanket assertions without discussion or substantiation ill become this debate.

However, where I added:
(X marks the spot)
Ian inserted a reply that was extremely interesting and directly relevant to the issue of consciousness, but a total non-sequitor (as far as I could make out) in the context of this Reply and Response.

So: I have removed it, and will give it the (undivided) attention it deserves in my next Response.

I do understand that computer use of the term determinism tends to conflate it with prediction.

I would call it a pragmatic view of determinism, rather than a specifically computer one, but as you and Ian have now supplied a definition it no longer matters.

And you were heading for combining this with intelligence as a rational learning manoeuvre, to naturalise it?

We need to agree a number of definitions before I can state my views with any precision, and your use of the terms "manouvre" and "naturalise" baffles me, but I think you are broadly correct is you supposition of what I am thinking here.

"Manoeuvre" simply = "a made move". "natursalise" means to cash out completely in terms of physical, chemical, biological or cybernetic processes.

Hmmmmmm... Not much the wiser. The definitions you supply accord with what I think those words normally mean, but still make no sense to me in the context of Camilla's original question.


End of Response to Reply 4
A former member
Post #: 29
Extra Response to Reply 4

Ian wrote:


Ah now this is a tough -- and this time completely different! -- can of worms. l do not believe that we make "conscious decisions". Rather, lMV we discover decisions which the brain has already made. We sense them just as we sense colours, sounds and all the rest. ln fact, we sense everything "mental". (lMV!) We sense, indeed, our "thoughts". We discover what we've been thinking, and this (lMV!) is what consciousness "is for".

The corollary is that we do not make conscious decisions! Consciousness is (lMV!) concerned with sensation only. Thus said, it's clear that it cannot be in any sense efficacious. However, we are able to refer to it, and reference is unequivocally reducible to physical talk about information processing systems. That being so, consciousness does exert a causal influence, because l'm assuming as does just about everyone else that it is perfectly legitimate to invoke a causal theory of reference.

None of this leads inexorably to any inference that "there is an unconscious mind". What it does show is that consciousness is distinct from its "mental" contents! (All of which -- lMV! -- can indeed be simulated simply by writing the right software!

Hi Ian,


This is far more constructive and in quite a different class to anything I've observed before in the entire discussion.

I disagree profoundly; but that is really quite irrelevant, because what matters is that this explains your viewpoint; and, right or wrong, it is tenable and self consistent.

What comes though loud and clear is that you really do not like emergence or emergent phenomena. If you view all mental activity at the level of neurons firing and interacting (or analogous activity in a non-human AI) then all that you say is trivially true: i.e.
. conscious decisions would not exist
. we would indeed simply sense everything mental

I have no wish to attack this view: rather, I seek to understand it, and "compare and contrast" it with my own. I order to do that I have to put what I take to be your views, Ian, and recast them in my words. I may get this wrong, in which case I apologize. However... as I'm looking for "understanding", not "reductio ad absurdum" here, I'm sure you will forgive me.

You had previously said some somewhat negative things about emergence, and you and Camilla insist that there is a fierce scientific debate as to whether strong emergence really exists (though how anybody can doubt the existence of things that surround us in our daily lives defeats me), and when I read your post (as quoted above) the scales fell from my eyes.

That does not man I am converted, though, lol.

So, I start from my clear (and I hope not erroneous) perception that:
. Ian does not like emergence or emergent phenomena.

We then sneak an idea from special relativity - namely the equivalence of all inertial observers - and then pervert it beyond all measure to apply to philosophical viewpoints, and use that idea to assert that you are completely entitled to view all mental activity at the level of neurons interacting in the brain, or any other level you choose, secure in the knowledge that Einstein agrees your viewpoint is at least as valid as any other.

The analogy and the logic are rubbish, of course: the conclusion is nevertheless correct, lol. The history of thought, and of mathematics, is replete with invalid proofs of true statements; so I am only following a long honored (though deplorable) tradition in this regard.

But I digress...

It seems the viewpoint you have selected is not necessarily that of neurons firing and interacting, but still (what I would call) "fairly low level", and rooted in the physical reality of the brain - an actual biological organ.

Based on that, everything you say is trivially true (i.e. the proof is trivial, and the truth beyond dispute) until we reach this point:
That being so, consciousness does exert a causal influence, because l'm assuming as does just about everyone else that it is perfectly legitimate to invoke a causal theory of reference.
The problem is... I looked up "causal theory of reference" on Google, and came up with a plethora of different meanings. However, NONE of them made any sense in the context of what you said.

So I have to guess what you meant by looking for meanings that make it true. I come up with this:

If you refer to anything you must be aware of it. If you are aware of it, it must have some effect on you , since even awareness is an effect. So "consciousness" must have some causal influence on the mind that somehow exhibits consciousness.

A bit of a leap in the dark there. Have I landed in the mud and covered myself in foolishness? or ... got it more or less right? lol

If you meant something like that, I agree entirely.

So we reach this:
None of this leads inexorably to any inference that "there is an unconscious mind". What it does show is that consciousness is distinct from its "mental" contents! (All of which -- lMV! -- can indeed be simulated simply by writing the right software!

"No inference that there is an unconscious mind". Absolutely... indeed at the level of the viewpoint you have chosen I'm not even certain that the mind exists at all!

Moving on ... I'm not sure EXACTLY what "all of which" refers to, nor what expectations you have of "simulated". If you mean you can write software to simulate the working of a brain at the level of your viewpoint, then I agree completely. If you believe that simulation is able to prove things such as the non-existence of the unconscious mind, then I am somewhat skeptical. If you think that the simulation can accurately simulate a specific person (i.e predict what that person will do, in the formal meaning of predict that I have proposed), then "no way".

In fact, I suspect you mean that the sort of brain you have in mind can be simulated by software and that, once we have written it correctly, the simulation will show behavior and characteristics similar to the original.

I have no trouble with that.

So, where do we differ? ...

Perversely, I start at precisely the same point

"All viewpoints are equally valid"

But take it in the opposite direction to say that other levels - the levels at which consciousness (which I believe to be a strong emergent phenomena) emeges, the level at which we DO make conscious decisions, have identities and personalities, experience sensations that we can report on but not report on (note italics - formal definition as previously discussed) - that ALL these levels correspond to equally valid viewpoints.

If you accept this (I suspect you don't, lol, but just suppose) I think you will find that intelligence, consciousness, identity, self consciousness, and all the other things we seek to discuss and understand fall out as the simple and elegant results of viewing things at the right level.

A former member
Post #: 65
I join with you Peter in totally rejecting the dismal notion that our consciousness acts merely as an observer to our decisions. I am aware of the evidence behind this idea but from what I have gathered it is far from conclusive. I also think that consideration of the evolutionary basis of consciousness points to a different view from yours, Ian. Here we are , discussing a fantastic invention of Nature called consciousness, so incredible that we have no idea how to program it into the most powerful computer, and the suggestion is made that this ability evolved in order that we could 'discover what we've been thinking'. No, I think not!

I won't elaborate until later. Right now it is interesting to see how this debate about chaos and determinism pans out. When we can move on from the philosophy and get back to a more scientific kind of discussion then I would like to chip in a few more ideas for consideration. But not until then!
A former member
Post #: 1
Hi guys I am new to this board but thought I might contribute to this conversation. My description is brief...

My spiritual belief on consciousness? - acute awareness of ones own existence or sentience.

On a clinical level? I define consciousness as a mechanism. A mechanism that bridges the divide between mind and universe and allows the two to interact ie. the way in which the mind interacts with what it perceives.
I also feel consciousness exists somehow independently of ourselves.
A former member
Post #: 66
Hi Darren, thanks for that input. I expect there are others who feel the same about consciousness, but I bet you can't produce any good evidence! There are some very analytical people on this message board and they are having a bit of a debate about abstruse technical theory. I suggest we let them work through their current issue before other aspects are discussed. Or you could start a separate thread if you wish. But be prepared for the inevitable questioning about where is your justification!
A former member
Post #: 30
I think I feel suitably analised and admonished, Andew.


A former member
Post #: 67
My remark was not directed at you in any way and no criticism was implied of you, Ian or Camilla. Having pondered Ian's challenge some more I have things to say but, as already indicated, I prefer to wait until you complete your line of this discussion. Actually I think yours is a most interesting line of enquiry into the boundaries between the competence of philosophical reasoning and the domains of mathematics and science. I expect that this discussion leaves most members of this group cold but I am happy to say:
Keep going!
A former member
Post #: 31
Hi Andrew,

The "lol" (= laugh out loud) in my post indicated I wasn't sure if your comment applied to me, but even if it did, I took no offense.

However, I recognized myself in what you said, laughed at myself (always healthy - thank you) and resolved yet again to try NOT to analyze out of existence useful contributions that I can easily understand, but which may not have been been expressed in the most rigorous or technically correct terms.

It's a deeply divisive technique - and hence extremely effective. If you really don't like some suggestion or idea, use semantics and subtle definitions to prove the suggestion trivial and meaningless; then quietly ignore the fact that your original dislike motivating this attack establishes beyond doubt that the suggestion was in fact important and utterly meaningful.

A deeply dishonest tactic, but soooooooo effective. We all use it, me not least. Thank you again for reminding me to try to do better.

I find it ironic that your failure to direct your original criticism at me (as well as others) is exactly matched by my recognition of myself in your criticism. I think this proves that -1 x 1 = 2 which should give the people whose job it is to indoctrinate children with false certainties (aka teachers) something to think about.


A former member
Post #: 68
You seem to credit me with some skill that I do not possess!

Personally, I am not going to discuss whether machines will be capable of conscious thought like us because that is a scientific hypothesis that will probably be settled one way or the other by future science and technology. Sorry I mentioned the Chinese room as a throw-away early on! Technology is not there yet so it is not worth debating or getting into entrenched positions. Easy then, nothing to argue about! The philosophy community seems to be full of entrenched positions based on not-yet settled hypotheses about this and that. It's stuck between the worlds of science (don't trust beliefs, test them to destruction) and religion (faith that science cannot shake). Ok, that over-simplifies, but I suspect that the philosophy world is in an awkward place with unclear boundaries.
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