Brains create consciousness?


by pftest
Tags: brains, consciousness
pftest
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#19
Mar21-11, 02:20 PM
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Quote Quote by Q_Goest View Post
I wouldn't say the forest example is a good one, but perhaps it would help if we extended that example. Saying something supervenes on something else is to say that there is some sort of dependence of one thing (generally a higher order property or description) on the things that make it up. A good example might be that the pressure of the air in a balloon supervenes on the action or motion of the molecules of nitrogen, oxygen, argon and other gases in the balloon. In the case of the forest, you might say the forest depends on there being trees of a certain density per square mile or a certain species or genus of tree, so the forest supervenes on the trees, but generally we like to express there being some kind of definable property such as pressure. However, if we were to define a forest as being supervenient on trees somehow, then any two forests would be identical if they had identical trees with identical limbs, roots, leaves, etc... The two forests couldn't be differentiated without there being some difference in one of the forests, such as an extra leaf on one of the trees that was in one forest but not the other. We could still say the property of being a forest is supervenient on there being a certain density or type of tree or some other tree like description, but I think that gets a bit hazy. Perhaps this would help:

Ref: http://www.iep.utm.edu/superven/
So is gas just a label given to a bunch of molecules in motion? If we describe fully the behaviour of the molecules in the balloon, then:

1) there is no physical property of "pressure" left to describe
2) there is still some physical property of "pressure" left to describe (this would mean pressure is irreducible)

If (1) then supervenience is psychological (this is what i think) and this means there is nothing physicalist about the idea that C supervenes on the brain. I think it would fall in the same category as the idea that C is an illusion of the brain.

So to get back to the question in the OP, "Does the brain create consciousness (C)? Does C originate in brains?" we generally say that C is supervenient on the brain. One could also argue whether it is really the brain as a whole that C is supervenient on. There are other theories that suggest that C is supervenient on the neurons themselves, not their interactions or the brain as a whole, but those theories still suggest that C is supervenient on something physical. There are still other theories that suggest C is supervenient on the EM field created by the neuron interactions. But again, those theories suggest there is some physical basis on which C supervenes.
Ive seen McFadden's CEMI field around here before and it made me wonder... why the just the neuron EM field and not the rest.
apeiron
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Mar21-11, 04:49 PM
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Quote Quote by Ferris_bg View Post
Check for example the theory of G. Tononi.
I don't see seeking the "atoms of synergy" as panpsychic. Rather it is asking what is the simplest level of systemshood.

Panpsychism is based on a material or substance ontology. Substance is material existence which possess (locally, inherently) a set of properties.

But the systems view is a process ontology - one in which substance and form are in interaction. And Koch/Tononi would be seeking the minimum notion of a process. They talk about the process being differentiation~integration, and the fact it is synergistic.

Differentiation~integration is a standard systems dichotomy. It is making the local~global, construction~constraint, distinction in talking about "the production of local variety" vs "the production of global cohesion".

The systems view does have a version of panpsychism I guess in pansemiosis. This makes the claim that everything that exists - no matter how small or minimally formed - is a bootstrapping process. So even atoms of matter would really be a minute scrap of synergistic process.

I'm not sure why Koch calls Tononi's approach panpsychic. He often makes philosophical statements that seem at odds with his neuroscientific insights. But I think there is an obvious distinction to be made between the idea of "properties of atoms" and "atoms of process". One reduces properties to local substance. The other treats the interaction between substance and form as an irreducible property!
apeiron
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Mar21-11, 05:13 PM
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Quote Quote by ConradDJ View Post
I think a useful definition of the kind of “consciousness” humans have is – a point of view that talks to itself. By learning to talk about the world, we learn to pay attention to it in ways that other animals aren’t able to do. We articulate to ourselves a remarkable internal mental world that parallels the objective world in which we live. But to mistake this for some kind of objective “psychic” property that we should attribute to atoms in addition to their “materiality” is just the persistence of a category error left over from the 18th-century.
Nicely put. We start off with everything just being subjective (our general impressions of reality). Then we learn to be objective - making a sharp distinction between ourselves as observers and the world we observe. And it is not a dualistic break, just a dynamical distinction (what Pattee is arguing with his epistemic cut). We have to be making it, pencilling in some boundary between self and other, for it to exist. So we are still subjective creatures. And creating objectivity is a mental process.

Then we decide to turn it round and objectify ourselves as well. The modeller also wants to be modelled, the observer also to be the observed.

For as long as the observer tries to maintain the fiction that observables have objective existence, the exercise does not go very well. Because the notion of objective existence is based on the "view from nowhere" and what we are trying to observe is precisely "a point of view".

If instead we take a different approach, one that sees "point of view" as a dynamic process, an act of epistemic cut forming, then we can start to make models that include both the modeller and the modelled in some properly objective way.

So reductionism reduces subjectivity (POV) to the objective view from nowhere - a realm without observers. Then finds it cannot model POVs in a causal language that has been rendered observerless - where observerhood has been made a paradox as observers no longer seem causally essential to "what exists".

To get out of that bind, we have to instead start with a model of the modelling relation - the dynamical connection between observer and observed. Then reduce that relationship to its essence. We would then have a theory of how POVs form their "mental" worlds.

Heidegger: "The stone is worldless, the animal is poor in world, man is world-forming."
Q_Goest
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Mar21-11, 05:49 PM
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I’d agree with Ferris in quoting Chalmers where Chalmers states that (weak) emergence is a “psychological” property. I think that might be a bit confusing though....
Quote Quote by pftest View Post
So is gas just a label given to a bunch of molecules in motion?
Yes, basically. So is pressure.
If we describe fully the behaviour of the molecules in the balloon, then:

1) there is no physical property of "pressure" left to describe
2) there is still some physical property of "pressure" left to describe (this would mean pressure is irreducible)

If (1) then supervenience is psychological (this is what i think) and this means there is nothing physicalist about the idea that C supervenes on the brain. I think it would fall in the same category as the idea that C is an illusion of the brain.
Yes, the property of “pressure” is weakly emergent on the motion of the gas molecules, so there is nothing left to describe if you describe everything about the molecules as you state in 1) above. Chalmers would call this psychological, meaning that we perceive the pressure having some emergent property that is somehow autonomous from the underlying processes. But all that is really meant by saying a weakly emergent property is autonomous is that we can describe the process at different levels. For example, what makes any gas (or any liquid for that matter) behave the way it does has to do with the Van Der Waals forces, conservation of momentum and energy, gravitational and electrical fields, and various vibrational, translational and rotational forms of energy intrinsic to molecules. Regardless of how complex a fluid’s behavior is, these forces are what make fluids (both liquids and gasses) do what they do, including creating convection currents such as found in Benard cells for example. What we find is that these very low level forces can be represented at a larger scale by the Navier Stokes equations and various other equations that take into account the agregate movement of the molecules that is created by those other, lower level forces. But the lower level forces always work the same, regardless of what other phenomena might arise at the higher level. The lower level forces don’t magically fail to operate as they always do just because they are part of a highly complex system. So pressure (and all fluid motion) is reducible to the local interactions between the molecules that make up the fluid.

The punch line is exactly as you say then. If C is supervenient on the interaction of neurons, our theory of mind falls into the same category as the idea that C is an illusion, C is irrelevant, and C is not knowable. But very few people really accept that. Most, including Chalmers and Bedau, will then step back and say C must be strongly emergent.
Ive seen McFadden's CEMI field around here before and it made me wonder... why the just the neuron EM field and not the rest.
McFadden pointed out in our discussions that the primary driver of his theory was that the EM field in the brain is non-separable because of entangled photons. Unfortunately, I don’t think that really holds up. However, the fact that you need a physical system that is non-separable for C to supervene on seems pretty obvious, at least to some folks.
mugaliens
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#23
Mar22-11, 03:38 AM
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I think therefore I am?

Sounds familiar...
ConradDJ
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Mar22-11, 08:00 AM
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Quote Quote by Ferris_bg View Post
You have different possible states, and depending of which is present or how many are present, you can have different degree of consciousness. Check for example the theory of G. Tononi.

I took a look at this article about Tononi. It’s a good illustration of the confusion I was talking about above, in that it treats “consciousness” as an objective characteristic of certain very complex systems, and attempts to quantify it. Okay, if we can do that, then of course somewhat less complex systems will have somewhat less “consciousness”, and there could be a very small amount of it in quite simple systems too.

The only objection I have to this is that the article pretends that it’s addressing the nature of subjectivity. Referring to robotic vacuum cleaners, bees and newborn babies, it says –

“The truth is that we really do not know which of these organisms is or is not conscious. We have strong feelings about the matter... But we have no objective, rational method, no step-by-step procedure, to determine whether a given organism has subjective states, has feelings.”

So on the one hand we’re talking about objective properties of systems, and on the other hand whether the system “sees from inside”, so to speak. And I think this is the reason there’s such a “hard problem” with “consciousness” – that we talk as though "its own viewpoint" were some mysterious characteristic that a system might or might not have.

A baby or a bee or a vacuum cleaner certainly “has” its own point of view on the world. If that’s all “panpsychism” means, then it doesn’t mean much. A tree or a rock or an atom surely “sees” the world around it, in that it receives and responds to information in its physical environment. Does anyone question that?

But what do these different kinds of systems do with the information they receive? So far as I know, only humans do this thing of building a world in their heads that they talk to themselves about, and compare with how others see the world. So only humans are in a position to say, “Yow, that hurts!” or “I really like that.”

If you want to ask whether a rock or a robot or an insect “has feelings” – well, of course they don’t have feelings like ours, and they don’t have the capacity for noticing and relating to their own feelings that we humans have. But this difference is clearly not mainly about sensory systems or brain complexity, since our brains aren’t that different from those of other animals. It’s mainly about being able to talk to ourselves and with others.

Now as a matter of fact – to digress for a minute – I think it would be a very good thing for physicists to ask what the world looks like from the point of view of an atom. I think the main reason why combining Relativity and Quantum theory presents such a deep problem for physicists is that they don’t take “the viewpoint of the observer” seriously enough. In contrast to the objective reality we imagine is out there, the physical world we all actually experience is made of real-time interactions that communicate information between different points of view. And we don’t yet have the language to conceptualize this kind of system of relationships.

I think both Relativity and QM, in different ways, are talking about the structure of the kind of system that we (and atoms) see “from inside.” These theories seem so “counter-intuitive” because of our very strong tendency to conceive the world as made of things-in-themselves with intrinsic properties that are independent of any interaction... and that objective view just doesn’t work, at a fundamental level.

But I would never describe this as “panpsychism”. An atom “has a point of view” only in the sense of being in this particular place at this particular moment, interacting with the world. To that extent, it’s just like each of us. But there’s no big mystery about “subjectivity” in this sense, and it has nothing to do with what goes on in the brain.
Pythagorean
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Mar22-11, 08:15 AM
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panpsychism doesn't really bother me, much like I'm not concerned about free will.

The question of subjective experience though... I don't think we really have a clue how that arises. Not even an inkling. The more we probe the brain and gene expression, the more evidence we find that our behavior is part of the causal chain of determinism, that free will isn't really necessary to explain behavior. I'm fascinated with weak emergence as a general property of the universe, but I'm still dumbfounded as to how you'd manifest a subjective experience from our known laws. And even more dumbfounded as to how you'd inject free will into a deterministic system. What is free will? The ability to choose? But choices aren't arbitrary, they're based on a compressed collection of stimuli from our ancients (genetics) and the history of stimuli on our own receptors. So what is free will then?
ConradDJ
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Mar23-11, 05:21 AM
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Quote Quote by Pythagorean View Post
The question of subjective experience though... I don't think we really have a clue how that arises... The more we probe the brain and gene expression, the more evidence we find that our behavior is part of the causal chain of determinism, that free will isn't really necessary to explain behavior. I’m fascinated with weak emergence as a general property of the universe, but I'm still dumbfounded as to how you'd manifest a subjective experience from our known laws. And even more dumbfounded as to how you'd inject free will into a deterministic system. What is free will? The ability to choose? But choices aren't arbitrary, they're based on a compressed collection of stimuli from our ancients (genetics) and the history of stimuli on our own receptors.

I’m going to try to respond to this in terms of what I tried to say above, that subjectivity is purely an issue of viewpoint. Here you are taking a purely objective view of the world, and then asking where “experience” and “free will” fit into that picture. But they don’t fit into it – because you’re imagining the world as if you could stand “outside” of it and inspect it the way you view an object. Subjective experience and free will only exist from the point of view of whomever or whatever is doing the existing. And this is never done independently of the rest of the world.

To try to unpack that – first of all, the issue of “determinism” is irrelevant. My own view is that it’s hardly sensible to talk about “causal chains of determinism” as a basic feature of the world, when we know this is not a good description of submicroscopic processes. But let’s go ahead and assume everything is rigorously determined and nothing ever happens by chance.

So I'm sitting here thinking about something and trying to make a decision. A cosmic particle flies in from a distant star and gets absorbed by a neuron in my brain, causing it to fire... and this results in my deciding a certain way. That’s the objective viewpoint. My subjective experience is that I made the decision. I don’t understand why these two descriptions of the situation are in any way contradictory.

Would I be more “free” in my decision if all the physical events involved in it had occurred inside my head? Or if there were no external circumstances whatever involved in it? I don’t think I ever make any such decisions. When I say “I” made the decision, I’m not referring to some mysterious psychic entity that’s somehow independent of the physical world. I mean me, including my brain and my body and all the relevant influences of all kinds that go into my being who I am, right now. What else could I mean?

From the point of view of the person doing the deciding, it’s “free” only in the sense that the decision is up to them – including all the relevant influences and “determining causes” that make up who they are. It makes no difference whatever whether we assume there’s some degree of chance involved in those “causal factors”.

So now, as to the question of “how you'd manifest a subjective experience from our known laws.” Evidently the laws support all kinds of more and less complex systems, each of which has its own point of view on the world, to the extent that it exists at a certain place and time in the web of ongoing interaction. Some of these systems do a lot more internal processing than others, and can interact with their environments more autonomously. Whether or not this processing is perceived as “subjective experience” is not a question that can be meaningfully asked “from the outside”, objectively.

So far as we know, only humans have the ability to ask or answer questions about their own experience. Our brains have become bigger and more complex in response to the many new possibilities language opens up. But there’s no reason to think there’s anything else going on that objectively distinguishes our internal processing from that of other systems.

To ask whether subjectivity exists, objectively, in a given system, is the “category error” I discussed above. We would be making the same mistake if we said that subjectivity – along with its sense of being free or being constrained – is merely an “illusion”, merely “imaginary”, as though it were supposed to be something else.
ConradDJ
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Mar23-11, 06:12 AM
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Quote Quote by apeiron View Post
If instead we take a different approach, one that sees point of view as a dynamic process, an act of epistemic cut forming, then we can start to make models that include both the modeller and the modelled in some properly objective way.

... we have to instead start with a model of the modelling relation - the dynamical connection between observer and observed. Then reduce that relationship to its essence. We would then have a theory of how POVs form their mental worlds.

Apeiron – once again, we’re clearly wrestling with similar issues. And I don’t disagree with what you say... but you seem to be trying to make an objective model that can adequately include “points of view”, by describing them in process-language rather than thing-language.

That kind of description may or may not prove useful in some way – but I don’t think we need an objective model that includes subjectivity. What we need is to grasp the basic difference between an objective description and a description from a point of view in the world.

That is, we need to free ourselves from the assumption that a view “from outside” should be able to include everything important about the world.

My goal is not a view “from outside” that includes everything, even our mental experience, as “objectively real”. My thought is closer to Fra’s in the “Beyond” forum – that we need to develop ways of describing the world “from inside”, not to replace the objective description but to complement it.

There’s a lot about the world that’s well described objectively, often even “deterministically”. But there’s another aspect of the world’s structure that’s only visible “from inside” the web of communicative connections between different points of view. This is basically a structure that lets each interaction be meaningful in the context of other kinds of interactions – that lets interactions be “measurements”, in the language of QM. This is certainly a dynamic structure, but I don’t think it’s one that can be succesfully “modeled” from a standpoint outside the system.

I don’t think we will understand either QM or the nature of “consciousness” until we have better ways of thinking about what Heidegger called “being here” (Dasein) – existence from the standpoint of things “doing the existing” within this web of real-time connection.
pftest
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#28
Mar23-11, 01:08 PM
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Quote Quote by Q_Goest View Post
The punch line is exactly as you say then. If C is supervenient on the interaction of neurons, our theory of mind falls into the same category as the idea that C is an illusion, C is irrelevant, and C is not knowable. But very few people really accept that. Most, including Chalmers and Bedau, will then step back and say C must be strongly emergent.
Im not sure i follow the bit about C being irrelevant and unknowable. What i meant with my statement "it falls into the same category as the idea that C is an illusion", is that it leaves the status of consciousness intact, since it describes consciousness in terms of conscious activities (such as having illusions, dreaming, seeing, smelling, (and supervenience)etc.). So i would say it ends up with the conclusion that "consciousness = consciousness", and so there is nothing physicalist to it. Because supervenience is a conscious activity, when one says that "consciousness supervenes on the brain" it translates to "consciousness is a conscious activity of the brain". A brain must already be conscious in the first place to imagine the supervenience relationship.
apeiron
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Mar23-11, 09:11 PM
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Quote Quote by ConradDJ View Post
There’s a lot about the world that’s well described objectively, often even “deterministically”. But there’s another aspect of the world’s structure that’s only visible “from inside” the web of communicative connections between different points of view. This is basically a structure that lets each interaction be meaningful in the context of other kinds of interactions – that lets interactions be “measurements”, in the language of QM. This is certainly a dynamic structure, but I don’t think it’s one that can be succesfully “modeled” from a standpoint outside the system.

I don’t think we will understand either QM or the nature of “consciousness” until we have better ways of thinking about what Heidegger called “being here” (Dasein) – existence from the standpoint of things “doing the existing” within this web of real-time connection.
Yes, but that would still seem to me to be modelling and so an "objective" description.

But then you may just mean that "objective" is a mistaken term for what we do when we model. And I would agree to that.

I see the task as generalising. So we have a very particular and subjective POV. And to move out of that, we seek the most general and hence objective POV - the god's eye view in some sense. Nozick called it seeking the invariances of nature. The maximal symmetries.

Reductionism has been about the search for the fundamental substance - the atoms, the matter, the general physical stuff of which a material world is made.

But you are talking about generalising something else - the notion of relationships. And that is really the systems approach. It is certainly exactly the Peircean semiotic approach.

So I don't think you are doing something different when it comes to the modelling, just focusing on something different as the central thing to objectify or generalise.

Our subjective POV is based on a hierarchical interaction between general ideas and particular impressions. Our ideas are the longrun context that frames our moment to moment impressions (just as these impressions accumulate over time to become generalised as ideas).

So all we are talking about in "objectifying" our understanding of reality is forming ever more general ideas about the world. And these ideas in return lead to ever more particular impressions.

If I learn for example that reality is fundamentally composed of material particles, then this general idea will shape my impressions - it will be the expectation that drives even what I look to find.

And the same if instead I have a general idea that the world is composed of relationships. Now that leaps out at me at every turn.

So all understanding remains subjective. But generalisation is a way of structuring our subjective experience so it seems more universal, more objective.

And that would not change if our ideas are based on notions of atoms or notions of relationships.

I know there is a debate concerning internalism vs externalism in philosophy. There is a difference between the two in that one sees the boundaries of a system as something that "exists" (if you can stand outside looking at it, then it exists), while the other sees boundaries in terms of limits - the limits of a process. So from the inside, there is only the limit where things cease to be. And so the boundaries themselves "don't exist".

I would take the internalist position here.

Yet still, internalism does not equal subjective (and externalism = objective). Both are general ideas framed within out minds (in an attempt to go beyond our particular physically local and emboddied POV). Although the internalist view of boundaries is probably more in keeping with the view that, after all, our understanding is from "inside the system".
pftest
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Mar24-11, 01:57 AM
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Quote Quote by nismaratwork View Post
That's not at all what I meant; there is also the issue of emergent properties such as sending signals through chemical or electrical means that are absent in a rock. I was trying to draw the comparison that just because say, we have Hydrogen in us, doesn't mean we're ever going to fuse it into helium. We lack major elements of MORE Hydrogen, the effects that as as a result of gravity, and heat.

Panpsychism strikes me as the ultimate in reductionism; much as the assumption was once made that a protein was a protein... well look, how it encodes/folds is rather more the issue!
Ok lets focus on the absence of signals in rocks. My position is that you wont be able to point out any emergent physical property in the signal or rock, because anything you point at will consist of, and be describable in terms of, the basic physical ingredients (such as elementary particles, the four forces).

What you really mean with "emergence" here is better illustrated with the protein example. A protein may fold in many different ways, just like a molecule may move up, down, left, right, follow a circular or figure 8 pattern, etc. However, no matter how complex the motion gets, there is a simpler version. Motion has been around at least since the big bang.

You will find that the same is true for the "signal" and anything else physical you can find in the universe.

It's not always a matter of complexity, it can just be a matter of potential within the bounds our complexity provides. A rock is not a stupid human, and a human is not a thinking rock, anymore than some vast intelligence beyond humanity would be a "really bright" human.
It is arbitrary(subjective) how we define "bright", "stupid", and even "brain". Look at sorites paradox, where we have a pile of sand and keep taking grains away from it. It is arbitrary when we stop calling it "pile". The same goes for the brain. Imagine the simplest brain there is, then take one molecule away from it. Is it still a brain? The answer is arbitrary. "brains" are arbitrary labels and as such have only an arbitrary starting point.

If we drop all those arbitrary (higher level)descriptions, we end up with the lower level descriptions of the basic physical ingredients (as identified by physics). We may arbitrarily feel that "stupid" is not a suitable description for a rock, but we can indeed say (at least if one is a physicalist) that a rock really just consists of a collection of basic physical ingredients, as do humans.
nismaratwork
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#31
Mar24-11, 07:51 AM
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Quote Quote by pftest View Post
Ok lets focus on the absence of signals in rocks. My position is that you wont be able to point out any emergent physical property in the signal or rock, because anything you point at will consist of, and be describable in terms of, the basic physical ingredients (such as elementary particles, the four forces).

What you really mean with "emergence" here is better illustrated with the protein example. A protein may fold in many different ways, just like a molecule may move up, down, left, right, follow a circular or figure 8 pattern, etc. However, no matter how complex the motion gets, there is a simpler version. Motion has been around at least since the big bang.

You will find that the same is true for the "signal" and anything else physical you can find in the universe.

It is arbitrary(subjective) how we define "bright", "stupid", and even "brain". Look at sorites paradox, where we have a pile of sand and keep taking grains away from it. It is arbitrary when we stop calling it "pile". The same goes for the brain. Imagine the simplest brain there is, then take one molecule away from it. Is it still a brain? The answer is arbitrary. "brains" are arbitrary labels and as such have only an arbitrary starting point.

If we drop all those arbitrary (higher level)descriptions, we end up with the lower level descriptions of the basic physical ingredients (as identified by physics). We may arbitrarily feel that "stupid" is not a suitable description for a rock, but we can indeed say (at least if one is a physicalist) that a rock really just consists of a collection of basic physical ingredients, as do humans.
My response is that there is nothing arbitrary about it, rather it's a matter of a limited set of possible thermodynamic processes that can be supported. We can only assign appellation like "pile" based on conventions borne of our experiences, but that changes nothing about reality. Of course, your sand example is telling in a world of silicon... it's just clear that silicon alone isn't enough, anymore than we're JUST carbon, or hydrogen.

Whether or not we can call it as humans, there is a threshold of complexity AND the action of those complex ingredients that forms the line between living and inert, never mind conscious. A simple way to look at this would be that unlike your pile of sand, you can pick out neurons from a brain one by one, and whether you like it or not, it will cease to be a brain. When exactly you reduce it to the point of being dead or inert is something you'll discover, but it doesn't depend on how we view it, or define it.

You can't look at a rock and call it stupid, because stupidity is a function of non-inert, thinking matter. A rock isn't even a definition that means much... a rock of what exactly?... granite? Sandstone? Cocaine?! In the same way, I'm not touching "conscious", because we only have ourselves at the "top" example, and can only compare ourselves to other animals, fungi, rocks... etc.

You can get a rock we call a planet, which is incredibly complex and dynamic, but it's still not thinking; two neurons do more thinking than Jupiter ever will. There is plenty of physical "noise" in a rock, but no signal, and I'd say it's the capacity to produce signals that is the big difference, the yardstick we can use.
ConradDJ
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Mar24-11, 08:18 AM
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Quote Quote by apeiron View Post
I see the task as generalising. So we have a very particular and subjective POV. And to move out of that, we seek the most general and hence objective POV - the god's eye view in some sense...

Reductionism has been about the search for the fundamental substance - the atoms, the matter, the general physical stuff of which a material world is made.

But you are talking about generalising something else - the notion of relationships. And that is really the systems approach...

So all understanding remains subjective. But generalisation is a way of structuring our subjective experience so it seems more universal, more objective.

And that would not change if our ideas are based on notions of atoms or notions of relationships.

Thanks for putting this so clearly. There’s a fundamental issue here that’s difficult even to state, because we have such excellent conceptual tools for dealing with the world of things (including “systems” of all kinds), and few attempts have even been made to deal with the relationships between things.

So for example, we refer to “consciousness” as a characteristic of certain kinds of things, as maybe “emerging” in certain types of complex systems. I think it would be better to think of consciousness (in the human sense) as an aspect of the talking-relationships people learn to have with each other (and then later with themselves), as they grow up.

The issue is that the modeling / generalizing mode of thought that we’re so good at is inherently “objectifying”. To think this way is to step out of our connections with things and imagine them “in themselves” – even if when we’re imagining is a “system of relationships” or a “web of real-time interaction”.

This is why I don’t identify with “systems thinking” or the kind of “internalism” that you refer to above... even though I recognize that they’re genuine attempts to find language for the “relational” aspect of existence. Even when what they’re trying to model is the “observer / observed relationship” itself, to my mind this kind of thinking remains within the traditional paradigm, of the disengaged thinker building models of reality in his head and checking if they correspond to the appearances.

This paradigm is excellent, but limited. It does not work for clarifying what’s at the basis of the physical world, or for clarifying what we mean by “consciousness”.

There’s another paradigm – I’m thinking of Phenomenology – that tries to describe the world of subjective consciousness itself. But to my mind this doesn’t get at what’s fundamental either, because the self-enclosed world of the self-observing consciousness also tends to miss the deeper dimension of communicative connection with other people. We don’t yet have a paradigm adequate to “the between” out of which I think our conscious selves emerge.

Heidegger is one of the few philosophers who understood this. You can’t “generalize” about existence, because there is never more than one’s own existence to deal with. Nor are relationships like things, that have properties and can be described “from outside”. Relationships (in the sense I think is fundamental) only exist for the two who are in the relationship – and even they have opposite viewpoints on it.

Heidegger saw that we need a different kind of category-system to deal with the aspect of the world that we “see from inside”, only from this unique perspective each of us has, and that goes deeper than our own self-hood. Instead of “generalizing” – which abstracts from the uniqueness of existence rooted in real-time connection. In Being and Time he called this kind of category “existentials” – attempts to articulate the structure of “being-in-the-world” from one’s own point of view.

It’s relatively easy to explain why the traditional model-building paradigm is limited, and Heidegger was good at that. It’s not easy at all to see what a different paradigm would look like. Being and Time made a remarkable start at this, but Heidegger was unable even to complete that work as he’d originally projected it. And neither his later writing nor that of his “followers” got much further, in my view. So while I’m sure many philosophers see this as a closed chapter in our story... for me, it’s still the basic unresolved issue, if we're trying to understand the basis of our own existence.
Ken G
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Mar24-11, 08:22 AM
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I think pftest is making a basic point about language, which is actually very important to recognize because language is all we have here. Language involves hanging labels on things, but what are these "things"? They are the only things we are in any position to hang labels on: shared experiences. Period, that's what language is, hanging labels on experiences that we (assume we) share. So we cannot actually label the object "table", all we can label are the shared experiences we have around that object. This is quite important when we come to physicalism, and the OP question of whether or not a brain "creates" consciousness.

Both brain, consciousness, and create, are words, so can be nothing but hanging labels on shared experiences. We are looking for connections between these shared experiences, to make sense of them. Just like with cause and effect, we are looking for basic relationships, and also just like with cause and effect, we cannot actually demonstrate that the cause "creates" the effect, all we can say is the former gives us a way to make sense of the appearance of the latter, given that we experience things in temporal order. Using precise language like that saves us from making wrong terms based on assumptions we have made that we cannot actually demonstrate are true, and the same holds for claims that brains create consciousness, or are the "source" of consciousness, whatever we imagine a "source" is.
Ken G
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Mar24-11, 08:23 AM
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Quote Quote by hello121 View Post
Consciousness is a term that has been used to refer to a variety of aspects of the relationship between the mind and the world with which it interacts
Yes, this seems like a much safer statement than the claim that brains create consciousness.
apeiron
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Mar24-11, 03:38 PM
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Quote Quote by ConradDJ View Post
The issue is that the modeling / generalizing mode of thought that we’re so good at is inherently “objectifying”. To think this way is to step out of our connections with things and imagine them “in themselves” – even if when we’re imagining is a “system of relationships” or a “web of real-time interaction”.
I see it differently because generalisation should produce two things - two halves of a dichotomy, two poles of a spectrum, two levels of a hierarchy. And so we can remain "within" what we produce. If we only imagine monistic options, then we are putting ourselves "outside" looking on.

Subjectively, for instance, the world seems patchily both broken and smooth. We then generalise from this experience to create the metaphysical dichotomy of discrete~continuous to represent the two limiting extremes of what could be the case. Just imagining all reality to be fundamentally discrete would be monistic and leaving us standing outside. But imagining reality instead to be bounded in these two opposed directions means that we can remain inside, living in a reality that is still just a patchy mix and suspended between two limiting cases.

It should be no surprise this is our actual situation when it comes to physical theory. We have to one side (the local scale) a theory of reality as a discrete grain of events (QM), and to the other side (the global scale), a theory of reality as a continuous dynamical fabric (GR). And attempts to collapse one extreme into the other (QG) is a project that keeps floundering in paradox.

So the internalist approach says the apparent dualism of QM~GR is what we should expect to find - reality crisply differentiated in the most general way possible, and then ourselves inside it. To collapse the crisply differentiated into a single monistic generalisation (QG) would put us outside reality, and it doesn't really work.

Now I believe that you can collapse QM~GR back into some prior "monistic" state, but it would be a vague state, a perfect symmetry. Not a crisp monistic generalisation. You would have to collapse, in effect, both the local and the global, both the notions of the discrete and the continuous. So the primal QG state is neither discrete nor continuous, merely the potential to become divided towards these opposing crisp limits.

Sorry, getting a little off track here. But the point is that internalism in systems science/hierarchy theory/Peircean semiotics is motivated by this idea that limits always come in complementary pairs and so we always have something definite to either side when we generalise and objectify our ideas.

Now your goal is to have a relational view of reality. So you say instead of focusing on the point like actors, you will build a model around their point-to-point interactions.

But this is monistic as you are still outside looking down at these individual events or histories. You stand in the (undefined) larger space or void in which there is a play of atomistic relating. Because you want to deal with events isolated at an instant, you don't account for the generally passing time within which all these events are located.

A more complete Peircean approach would be properly hierarchical. First you have the something that can happen (the local fluctation). Then you have the interactions that fluctuations make possible (the dyadic interaction you want to focus on). But then you have over time the generalised organisation that results from a free play of localised relating. You have a global system that has developed definite habits that constrain the relating.

So internalism is not imagining the view of actors interacting with each other - that is still an atomistic or local scale of analysis. It is about local actors interacting with global constraints - the systems view in which you are generalising the opposing extremes of scale and so placing yourself, as the observer, in the middle of things.

This paradigm is excellent, but limited. It does not work for clarifying what’s at the basis of the physical world, or for clarifying what we mean by “consciousness”.
I think it definitely clarifies physics - it makes more sense of QM~GR and QG for a start. It is a more suitable ontology than monistic atomism.

Hierarchy theory is also the best model for making sense of brains and minds that I have come across. It really works in my experience.

Heidegger is one of the few philosophers who understood this. You can’t “generalize” about existence, because there is never more than one’s own existence to deal with. Nor are relationships like things, that have properties and can be described “from outside”. Relationships (in the sense I think is fundamental) only exist for the two who are in the relationship – and even they have opposite viewpoints on it.
Systems thinking grew out of Naturphilosophie, Schelling and Hegel.
pftest
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Mar24-11, 04:05 PM
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Quote Quote by nismaratwork View Post
Whether or not we can call it as humans, there is a threshold of complexity AND the action of those complex ingredients that forms the line between living and inert, never mind conscious. A simple way to look at this would be that unlike your pile of sand, you can pick out neurons from a brain one by one, and whether you like it or not, it will cease to be a brain. When exactly you reduce it to the point of being dead or inert is something you'll discover, but it doesn't depend on how we view it, or define it.
The only types of thresholds you will find are those where process undergoes a 'dramatic' increase. For example, a single drop of water might cause a filled bucket to tip over. It may seem dramatic, but its still just water in motion, just like the single drop that caused it.

There isnt really a boundary between life and inanimate matter either, its just that when we compare an organism with a rock, we place them on opposite extremes of the spectrum and label them as such. But a spectrum it is, just like with the pile of sand. "Pileness" isnt a physical property that pops into existence at some point, its just label we attach to some configuration of physical ingredients. Labelling things is very useful socially (to communicate), but it isnt an indicator of the emergence of new physical properties. If it were, then a rock would get all kinds of new properties when a japanese person observes it.

This is why many people say that life is just chemistry, that it doesnt contain any extra properties, while others say that the whole universe is alive. In the OP paper Strawson also mentions that life is reducible.

You can't look at a rock and call it stupid, because stupidity is a function of non-inert, thinking matter. A rock isn't even a definition that means much... a rock of what exactly?... granite? Sandstone? Cocaine?! In the same way, I'm not touching "conscious", because we only have ourselves at the "top" example, and can only compare ourselves to other animals, fungi, rocks... etc.

You can get a rock we call a planet, which is incredibly complex and dynamic, but it's still not thinking; two neurons do more thinking than Jupiter ever will. There is plenty of physical "noise" in a rock, but no signal, and I'd say it's the capacity to produce signals that is the big difference, the yardstick we can use.
A signal is only a signal when it means something to an observer. Someone might flash a light at you with certain intervals and you may receive a message this way, but otherwise it is just a bunch of photons. Talking about rocks and signals, have a look at this article:

Take that rock over there. It doesn’t seem to be doing much of anything, at least to our gross perception. But at the microlevel it consists of an unimaginable number of atoms connected by springy chemical bonds, all jiggling around at a rate that even our fastest supercomputer might envy. And they are not jiggling at random. The rock’s innards “see” the entire universe by means of the gravitational and electromagnetic signals it is continuously receiving. Such a system can be viewed as an all-purpose information processor, one whose inner dynamics mirror any sequence of mental states that our brains might run through. And where there is information, says panpsychism, there is consciousness. In David Chalmers’s slogan, “Experience is information from the inside; physics is information from the outside.”
http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/18/ma...in&oref=slogin


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