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Wednesday, May 15, 2024

nullius in verba;

nonetheless, strive hard to maintain an attitude of curiosity and humility—what Zen Buddhism refers to as a “beginner’s mind.”
...We are not just helpless victims of fate but are the agents in charge of our own narrative, for better or worse, victorious or defeatist. This forceful shaping of our attitudes to events beyond our control has profound consequences for well-being and sickness…

How experience comes into the world has been an abiding mystery since the earliest days of recorded thought. Aristotle warned his readers more than two thousand years ago that “to attain any assured knowledge about the soul is one of the most difficult things in the world.” Mind is radically different from the stuff that makes up the brain and everything else. Quantum mechanics and general relativity, the periodic table of chemical elements, the endless strings of ATGC nucleotides that make up our genes—these appear to describe the physical, not the mental (I write “appear to” as quantum mechanics demonstrates that there are no observer-independent events, opening the door for consciousness to enter, at the ground level of reality). Yet we awaken every day to our subjective world of experiences.

The intellectual position that has garnered the most respect in contemporary Anglo-American philosophy departments is the ever more strident denigration or even outright denial of subjectivity. What is real is people talking obsessively about their experiences and acting on them; there is nothing above and beyond these speech acts and other intended or actual behaviors. The feeling part of consciousness, called phenomenal consciousness, is a big illusion. Philosophers in the know dispense with the “awful painfulness of my toothache” in the manner that Ebenezer Scrooge dealt with Christmas: “Bah! Humbug!” Furthermore, free will, our ability to deliberate about an upcoming fork in the road and to decide which path to take, is also thrown under this “illusion” bus. This rejection of the reality of lived experience constitutes a mind-boggling repudiation of what is immediately and indubitably given to us. It is also profoundly antihumanist, depriving us of those attributes that make us different from machines—indeed, equating us with machines.

It’s an absurd adjuration, akin to Cotard’s delusion, a rare psychiatric disorder in which able-bodied patients, often severely depressed, vehemently insist that some of their limbs are missing, that their bodies are rotting from the inside, or even that they are dead. When confronted with the fact that they are having a conversation, right now, with their doctor, they do admit that the situation is a bit baffling, but the fact is that they are dead, and that’s all there is to it. So it is with some contemporary thinkers who insist, against the evidence of their own senses, that experiences don’t exist. Truly astounding—gaslighting all of us into believing that our experiences are fake!

Fortunately, consciousness can’t be cancelled forever. The mental, having refused to yield, is returning with a vengeance. Indeed, the wheel is turning back to much more ancient understandings of experience, including idealism, the proposition that ultimately even matter and energy are mental manifestations, and panpsychism, the school of thought that all creatures, and perhaps even matter itself, are ensouled, that it feels-like-something to be anything, not just a human or even a bat. Modern science is supporting aspects of this remarkable turn of events…

What about nonhuman, artificial minds, rivaling or even exceeding ours? This topic is treated last. Sentient machines have been a recurring theme in science fiction. In 2022, this topic burst into public view with the startling claim by a Google software engineer that the company’s “large language model” was sentient and had to be considered a person with associated legal rights. The linguistic skills and knowledge of these models and their competitors, most famously ChatGPT and GPT-4 by OpenAI, trained on a vast trove of books and online documents far beyond what any human can read in a lifetime, are astonishing by the standards of even a few of years ago. They write summaries, emails, jokes, (bad) poetry, computer code, letters of recommendation, and dialogue indistinguishable from human-generated material, including plausible-sounding fabrications. They are evolving at an astounding pace and will transform society in fundamental ways.

These chatbots seemingly constitute living proof of the dominant narrative of liquid modernity: the mind is software that can be as readily embodied within silicon wafers as it is within flesh, echoing a pernicious Cartesian dualism. Smart money in Silicon Valley thinks so, most engineers and many philosophers think so, and popular movies and TV shows reinforce this belief.

Against the grain, integrated information theory radically disagrees with this functionalist view. It argues from first principles that digital computers can (in principle) do everything that humans can do, eventually even faster and better. But they can never be what humans are. Intelligence is computable, but consciousness is not. This is not because the brain possesses any supernatural properties. The critical difference between brains and digital computers is at the hardware level, where the rubber meets the road—that is, where action potentials are relayed to tens of thousands of recipient neurons versus packets of electrons shuttled back and forth among a handful of transistors. As we’ll see, the integrated information of digital computers is negligible. And that makes all the difference.

It means that these machines will never be sentient, no matter how intelligent they become. Furthermore, that they will never possess what we have: the ability to deliberate over an upcoming choice and freely decide.

The brain is the most complex piece of self-organized, active matter in the known universe. By no coincidence, it is also the organ of consciousness. Unlike scientific advances in genomics or astrophysics, progress in understanding the brain and the mind directly relates to who we are, our strengths and infirmities, how we can live a contented life, and whether we partake of some larger, ultimate reality. Humanity is not condemned to walk around forever in an epistemological fog—we can know, and we will know.

Koch, Christof. Then I Am Myself the World (pp. 14-21). Basic Books. Kindle Edition. 
—Bernardo Kastrup, Executive Director, Essentia Foundation
 Click link, read on. Christof Koch is involved with this Foundation.
Christof's book is a gold mine of illuminating quotes.

 Coheres wonderfully in many ways with Brian Klaas's Flukes.

Also apropos, "Sentience," anyone?

I can see that Dr. Christof's book themes may require several posts to do all of the implications justice. Toward that end see also


It's a metaphor. Who is Elizabeth Koch?
You buyin' this?

OK. Unequivocal declarative sentence "truth claim" (assertion of fact). Perception is an Illusion.
Well, what of the sensory inputs and outputs converging and culminating in that claim? Bit of a quibble perhaps wafts up.

Whatever. Also relevant in line with factors adverse to clear, logical thinking: Claude Steiner's "Script Theory."
All of this stuff goes to my chronic Jones going to so-called "Deliberation Science."
Also, I am reminded of my episodic David J. Linden riffs. 

Didn't see this coming. But, oddly, it resonates broadly with the current topic.
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened.
—T. S. Eliot, Burnt Norton

I ran across this disarming mind-bender "SciFi" miniseries on Apple TV+. Hmmm... Perception Box, Quantum Superposition Cube? Stay with me here...
Another book comes to mindm re: "Dark Matter."
An ordinary family man, geologist, and Mormon, Soren Johansson has always believed he’ll be reunited with his loved ones after death in an eternal hereafter. Then, he dies. Soren wakes to find himself cast by a God he has never heard of into a Hell whose dimensions he can barely grasp: a vast library he can only escape from by finding the book that contains the story of his life...
A fun read.
"...We are not just helpless victims of fate but are the agents in charge of our own narrative, for better or worse, victorious or defeatist. This forceful shaping of our attitudes to events beyond our control has profound consequences for well-being and sickness…"
Agents in charge? What would Sapolsky say? 
"Two Cheers for Uncertainty?"
More to come...

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