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Mind, body and ME

Discussion in 'Neurological/Cognitive: Brain Fog, Concentration' started by boolybooly, Feb 20, 2019.

  1. BruceInOz

    BruceInOz Senior Member (Voting Rights)

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    Sorry, I think most (if not all) of metaphysics is bullshit. Philosophy based on reason alone without evidence gets us nowhere. By adding a connection to reality through the importance of evidence, science actually achieves things.

    The success of artificial neural networks for information processing probably give a strong hint at what is happening in the brain.
     
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  2. alex3619

    alex3619 Senior Member (Voting Rights)

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    I think this is probably incorrect. I think there are indeed lots of different points of view, but a centralising tendency, which includes consciousness, makes a view dominant. We see these views in some kinds of psychosis, as well as people who are conflicted. Minsky's Society of Mnids, which I used to own, was built around this concept, though was hardly definitive.
     
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  3. alex3619

    alex3619 Senior Member (Voting Rights)

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    An entities perception, and probably consciousness, will be constrained by their brain (and possibly entire sensory and other system) architecture (modified by experience). What a frog experiences from an event is vastly different from what a human will. An organism's brain will be refined by evolution to respond to salient points of its particular historical environment. When the environment shifts the organism will be less well adapted until the species evolves to match, if it can. You see this in their sensory feature detectors. They see what they are evolved to see.
     
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  4. alex3619

    alex3619 Senior Member (Voting Rights)

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    I would argue that all you do if nobody is around is get rid of the observer. Nobody is aware of the universe because there is nobody to be aware.
     
  5. alex3619

    alex3619 Senior Member (Voting Rights)

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    I'm with Wonko on this.

    ... and with @BruceInOz
     
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  6. Jonathan Edwards

    Jonathan Edwards Senior Member (Voting Rights)

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    Biocentrism looks like a mish mash of old popular ideas. Even Berkeley did not hold that nothing was there without us - because it would exist in the mind of God even without us. But some of what Lanza seems to say is just ordinary physics. Nothing is absolute in physics because physics can only ever deal with dynamic relations. To exist is to relate. But there is no need to relate only to living things. Like Leibniz I don't see any interesting distinction between living and non-living. Life involves certain molecules like DNA and proteins and is complicated, but other systems of chemicals can be complicated too.

    It has been understood at least since Greek times that the sense of space, or spaciousness, and the sense of time, or time passing, are illusions create din our brains but as Leibniz said, they are well founded illusions - they reliably tell us about real relations between us and the world and between other modes of action and the world. to say there is no real existence of anything outside us makes no sense even on the theory's terms. Young's double slit experiment does not itself support anything. The quantum field theory that explains the slit experiment requires that there is a real universe for every action to relate to - the equations say so.

    What is true about modern physics is that all 'existence' is described in terms of a relation between a single indivisible action and the entire universe. The universe is also the entirety of the actions relating back to the whole.

    If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there it definitely does not make a sound. But it causes vibrations in the air. Sounds are concocted in our brains. Acoustic waves in the air trigger sounds in our heads if we are their. Again that is standard science and has been for at least 500 years.
     
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  7. Jonathan Edwards

    Jonathan Edwards Senior Member (Voting Rights)

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    My definition of consciousness is the biomedical one and the one used by most philosophers - in line with Chalmers's famous definition: X is conscious if there is something that the world 'is like' to X.

    I appreciate that 'self-awareness' is a popular definition of consciousness for some people in neuropsychology and also in the arts but I see it as problematic. We have no way of knowing that our sense of 'self-awareness' (I don't actually have that sense but perhaps was brought up that way) is actually awareness of the same thing that is aware. Neurobiology strongly suggests it isn't. Physics indicates pretty strongly that it cannot be. So it is another illusion about a rather local part of the world. I tend to think that the difference between the human subject and animal subjects is that our sort has a much more sophisticated misconception of its own nature.

    I am not actually talking about information processing at all. As I see it consciousness is having an input, or being informed, or influenced by information. Whether or what whatever is informed computes over those data is irrelevant - it is the next step. So if a computer integrator receives 0 and 1 we can think of it as experiencing 0 and 1. Whether it compute 0 or 1 does not come in to it.

    You refer to panpsychist philosophy saying consciousness is everywhere. Yes, I am a panpsychist. It seems to be returning to the dominant thread in philosophy of mind since the millennium, although I have been panpsychist all my life. It is simpler than a theory that makes consciousness limited to certain systems because it does not require any special pleading for those systems. There is no difference to explain.

    I think panpsychism is the natural default because, as Descartes says, the one thing we can be sure about is experience (consciousness) here. Everything else we call physics is whatever determines the patterns of experience here, however indirectly. We can never access anywhere except here in terms of experience but if we assume we are a usual part of the world then the simplest theory is that every here has a corresponding experience. That requires individuating experiences and since all physics is relation between actions and universe I think we have to go with Leibniz's conclusion that an instance of 'an experience here' must go with an action rather than just a point in space. Points in space have no dynamic relations.

    And of course there is no need to postulate an extra element of nature in the way that Chalmers did. Experience is just what the known elements of nature (field potentials) are like to the action here. That requires that elements of nature are 'like something to something' but we have to allow that because that is our starting point in physics - the experience of the observer here.
     
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  8. Jonathan Edwards

    Jonathan Edwards Senior Member (Voting Rights)

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    But we understand brains without reference to their consciousness. The whole point about science and philosophy is that they consist in discovering that our intuitions tend to be muddled and unworkable when analysed in detail. Positing consciousness of a sort everywhere is not designed to explain our consciousness. It is just assuming things are simple and symmetrical.
     
  9. Jonathan Edwards

    Jonathan Edwards Senior Member (Voting Rights)

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    Yes, that is exactly what modern field theory says. A diamond is a composite of a wide range of types of Planck's quanta of action.
     
  10. Jonathan Edwards

    Jonathan Edwards Senior Member (Voting Rights)

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    I agree that a high proportion of metaphysics is bullshit. Although Leibniz was 'critiqued' by Kant as too fond of 'pure reason' he was in fact a practical engineer and the Russell even chides him for being 'unduly practical' in his philosophy. The idea of a world entirely consisting of relations of action to universe is totally based on evidence - the evidence of observations testing theories with predictions.

    The problem that I see in much of the philosophy of mind discussion is the assumption that somehow experience or consciousness or observation is outside physics or more than physics, when in fact it is the starting point of all physics.
     
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  11. Jonathan Edwards

    Jonathan Edwards Senior Member (Voting Rights)

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    Actually Minsky does not attribute any consciousness or point of view to any of the members of his 'society'. The title is 'Society of Mind' singular. Minsky seemed to think that experience somehow emerges singly from the totality but never says anything about why or how.

    We certainly have different points of view, in the sense of opinions, passing through our consciousness and we can ponder several at once. But that is not what I was referring to. I am referring to a point of view in the simpler perceptual sense - or if you like in the sense of the point of view from which these various opinions are being pondered. That point of view is in itself hard to pin down. Visually and aurally it seems to be somewhere in the head but it does not have a specific place in the head. Our illusions are set in a sense-of-space framework but the language of the illusion does not seem to require a precise definition of its own origin.
     
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  12. Michiel Tack

    Michiel Tack Senior Member (Voting Rights)

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    Just to be clear: does that mean you think consciousness is unrelated to having a brain? That the computer I write on has consciousness and the plants I see outside have consciousness? If one rock bumps into another, is it "conscious" of that interaction?

    To be honest that doesn't sound like simple and symmetrical to me, more like anthropocentrism.

    Also: doesn't the fact that we sometimes have and at other times haven't got consciousness in the same actions, speak against the idea that it's the starting point of physics. I see my laptop doing fine without consciousness, much like I can tie my shoes without consciousness of such action. That sort of gives me the impression that consciousness is the exception rather than the rule in the universe.
     
  13. Jonathan Edwards

    Jonathan Edwards Senior Member (Voting Rights)

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    OK, so there are lots of layers to this that need teasing out for a detailed analysis. Chalmers's definition of consciousness says nothing about the richness or qualities or self-reference of 'there being something that it is like'. Descartes required more than that but Descartes's view on this point probably just confuses things. A lot of people would say that Chalmers was defining something more general that could be called sentience or experiencing. I have often taken that view. Consciousness would then require in addition that the conscious X was equipped with a supply chain that used a computing or inference machine to ensure that the content of the consciousness co-varied reliably with much more distal events. That would mean that when an experiencing subject in my head is aware of an oak tree it is getting an input of a sort it reliably gets when near oak trees and not rabbits. The subject would get a sense of anger when some rather nearer, but still distal, events in the brain inferred that something was going on to be angry about.

    Rocks would not have this sort of 'lensing' input. On the other hand, in terms of sheer richness of experience there is no reason to think ours is richer than that of a photon, for instance. Richard Feynman pointed out that in informational terms the simpler the unit of action the more information it encounters 'there's plenty of room at the bottom'.

    The position only seems anthropocentric if you start with the anthropocentric assumption that somehow man, and perhaps animals, has some superior property. If one takes the humble position that we are no different from anything else it is not. I agree that if by consciousness we imply having an input that varies with, or is 'about' distal events then we differ from rocks and we know why, because of our understanding of neural processing (and lenses).

    But there is an important point that we have not touched on, which is that it looks to be a mistake to talk of a 'person' being conscious or sentient, or a computer being conscious. If X is to have a point of view from which the world is like something it cannot be an agglomeration of dynamic units, each relating to the rest in a different way. It is completely incompatible with all the stuff from Shannon and Bateson about information. The weird thing is that the neuroscience community has not noticed.

    As far back as the Romans it was appreciated that the human subject that has experiences must be part of the brain, not a whole person. Descartes got the pineal wrong but since then very few people have been brave enough to say what the right answer is. My working understanding is that there must be lots os subjects, because the main criticism of Descartes, that there is no one unique place in the brain where everything comes together is likely right. But the mistake is to think that means there aren't lots of places where everything comes together.

    The broader relevance of this is that we are not expecting a computer to be conscious. The question is whether there are modes of action in a computer that experience the world in some way akin to the way human subjects do. We then hit the problem that there are no places in a computer where a pattern of input occurs that co-varies usefully with distal events and which is rich enough encode more the four event options. So my assumption is that no unit in a computer can have the more sophisticated form of consciousness to more than a very trivial degree.
     
  14. Jonathan Edwards

    Jonathan Edwards Senior Member (Voting Rights)

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    So this is where it matters which event in the brain is a conscious X of a sort that is connected up to our discussions in a way that its content is discussed. This all gets very complicated but then neurobiology is complicated.

    Put another way, consciousness is absolutely the exception rather than the rule in physics for the reason that it is only ever manifest for an event here, now. Any consciousness of any distal event is by definition inaccessible. But every example of a chain of physical relations has a here and now (even if hypothetical) at the end of it.

    It seems likely that we are genetically programmed to attribute consciousness to clusters of events that resemble those we perceive in our own bodies. Te use of language to discuss certain experiences has probably led to the religious view that only animals that can talk have experiences. But, to quote a popular phrase on this web forum, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. We have no basis for thinking that our here, now events are fundamentally different from any others. It is the anthropocentrism that makes that the popular view. That may be largely genetic, but it is interesting that Eastern peoples do not necessarily share the view. Moreover, I never had the view that only people or animals were aware, probably because I was brought up in a biomedical science family that had abandoned religion completely.
     
  15. Michiel Tack

    Michiel Tack Senior Member (Voting Rights)

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    My arguments against panpsychist philosophy haven't got much to do with evidence. It's mostly about the complexity and extravagant claims it makes, without offering anything of insight in return. You seem to mostly make the argument that it is possible, that it hasn't been ruled out, without saying what it would help explain if we were to make a panpsychist assumption.

    Animals have all sorts of properties that all the other things in the universe haven't. Birds can fly, rocks can't, in that sense, the bird somehow has a "superior" property. In my view, consciousness isn't all that extraordinary. It's mostly a consequence of applying mentalist schemes of feelings and intentions to better navigate one's surroundings. An owl might need these for example to hunt prey but I I don't think an owl experiences anger or sadness, while I think dolphins, elephants or monkeys do. That's probably a consequence of being a social creature and having a greater need for applying such mentalist schemes.

    EDIT: thought experiment: what about persons with very severe dementia or other brain diseases who can only talk gibberish, do not recognize their loved ones and who can't remember what happened only a few hours ago. Would you agree that these persons have less consciousness compared to when they were well? I get the feeling that in your panpsychist view such brain damage doesn't matter much with regard to being conscious or not.
     
    Last edited: Feb 23, 2019
  16. roller*

    roller* Senior Member (Voting Rights)

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    a property seems only superior at a certain moment, in a certain environment.

    in a fire, the stone is superior. it can keep its shape and substance.

    no owls, no humans on mars. plenty of stones.
    in some contexts, the stones properties seem superior.
    in total, they made it much further than us.

    perhaps, we cant rule out that stones have a consciousness. we may be just unable to recognize/perceive it.
     
  17. boolybooly

    boolybooly Established Member (Voting Rights)

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    I agree with this as I think this converges with the kind of concept I was trying to express in my blog in talking about the development of coordination and the perception of location.

    One of the first things any new born human baby will try to do is find out how to move objects towards their mouth. At first it requires a prodigious effort to coordinate hand and eye but after a time it becomes second nature and is one of the first steps at the beginning of a learning process by experience regarding how to use the body to satisfy appetites like hunger etc. This is how our genes set us up to learn what it takes to survive in the environment our species is adapted to.

    It seems to be stating the obvious, but it is the obvious we need to understand. Our consciousness takes cues on location using feedback from sensory and motor nerves and it is only through scientific insight that we can deduce these are coordinated in the brain. To us it feels like we are our body.

    The innervation of the body creates a strong sense of location informed by visual, auditory and olfactory senses granting awareness of remote but real phenomena, especially those relevant for our survival and this results in the formation of a map like memory of the environment and its topography and our location within it which informs the use of motor capability.

    The truth is we are brains in vats, the vat being our skull. While social evolution is not necessary for the evolution of this kind of consciousness, social evolution occurs in this context as individual organisms need to have the powers of locomotion and recognition for social evolution to proceed.

    It seems likely to me social evolution results in the ability to empathise as a means of predicting the behaviour of other organisms and devising strategies which extend the ability to satisfy our internally generated appetites.

    Empathy requires a way to model other human beings and the best way to do that based on the dependability of genetic similarity is to use our own brain as the template for understanding other brains and the behaviour they are likely to generate. This facillitates learning by immitation which is an important evolved survival method for many species but does not require empathy.

    The usefulness of empathy as a means of prediction necessitates a detailed modifiable model based on our own neurological process which must nevertheless be isolated from our own motor functions.

    I believe it is the process of modelling other minds within our own mind yet in isolation from our own processes of motor coordination (& volition) which govern our own behaviour and pertain to the sense of location, which creates the predisposition to conceiving of a mind as discontinuous with the body. The latter being conceived of in relation to our map of corporeal location which informs motor coordination and the former being conceived of thanks to a faculty preadapted for reflecting abstractly on the minds of others, even when contemplating our own mind.

    I also think this ability to isolate contemplation from motor coordination is the basis of abstract thought and it is useful for other applications beside social awareness, like tool use and mechanistic puzzling etc, but in the context of social cognition is responsible for prejudices pertaining to mind body dualism. FWIW :laugh:

    Also @Diane O'Leary in case you find it interesting.
     
    Last edited: Feb 23, 2019
  18. Jonathan Edwards

    Jonathan Edwards Senior Member (Voting Rights)

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    It is not intended to explain anything. It just does away with the need to explain why human subjects should have experiences and rock subjects might not. Experience is the one thing we know exists. I cannot see what it would mean to 'explain' its presence, although I think it is interesting to see if we can explain why the content varies the way it does. Granted that it exists, it seems unparsimonious to try to develop a theory of why it is one place and not another when there is no need for such a complicated theory.
     
  19. Jonathan Edwards

    Jonathan Edwards Senior Member (Voting Rights)

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    I don't really follow how consciousness in a child could be the result of applying 'mentalist schemes'? Even I have never applied a mentalist scheme as far as I know! I think I know what you mean but why deny that of owls? The owl that tore out the eye of the great naturalist photography Eric Hosking was pretty obviously very angry at his intrusion near her nest. And the genetic programme that allows us to talk about our consciousness did not come about through social interaction. It came about through random modification of DNA and persisted because that arrangement allowed successful social interaction. So it must be built into the biophysics of each newborn infant.

    I have never really got this idea of consciousness being social. Lots of birds are social and lots of others not, even within genera. I don't see much reason to think one lot are conscious and another not.
     
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  20. Jonathan Edwards

    Jonathan Edwards Senior Member (Voting Rights)

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    Correct. My mother is in that situation. Except that rather than taking gibberish in the sense of incoherence she talks in the most wonderful irrelevant riddles and fantasies. She does not recognise anyone much but she puts each of us into a confabulated role. I don't see her as any less conscious. She will still point out the unusual colour of a particular bumble bee on a flower the other side of the path. I don't think it makes a lot of sense to measure consciousness the way that Giulio Tononi has tried to do.
     
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