Is matter conscious?

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  • #251
Pythagorean
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Except the conference you cited is largely the usual quantum consciousness crew. Believe me, I know. I've been to their conferences before.

I'll easily take your word for since their keynote speaker is Penrose.

Can you define what you actually understand by holism? I don't recognise it from your usage so far.

Holism:

the theory that the parts of any whole cannot exist and cannot be understood except in their relation to the whole; "holism holds that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts"; "holistic theory has been applied to ecology and language and mental states"
wordnetweb.princeton.edu/perl/webwn

Holism (from ὅλος holos, a Greek word meaning all, entire, total) is the idea that all the properties of a given system (physical, biological, chemical, social, economic, mental, linguistic, etc.) cannot be determined or explained by its component parts alone. ...
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holism


Varela (a sad loss) is definitely the kind of approach that I am talking about.

I just recently used that reference in the motivation of a research proposal! This is another reason why I don't think we are stuck in reductionism!

I mentioned Pattee's key distinction between rate dependent and rate independent information in describing the "level 3 transition" from simple SO to SO under biotic control.

Pattee (a student of von Neumann) is generally the sharpest thinker on these issues in my experience.

Ok, still working through it. I have a question already though from the introduction. Since the thread topic is about consciousness and this paper is about life, the implicit assumption is that all life (even single celled organisms) are conscious.

Or possibly (and this was an idea proposed at the conference) that consciousness was already prevalent (as a "boundary condition") in the universe and life is only one of the ways it manifested?
 
  • #252
apeiron
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Holism:

the theory that the parts of any whole cannot exist and cannot be understood except in their relation to the whole; "holism holds that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts"; "holistic theory has been applied to ecology and language and mental states"
wordnetweb.princeton.edu/perl/webwn

Holism (from ὅλος holos, a Greek word meaning all, entire, total) is the idea that all the properties of a given system (physical, biological, chemical, social, economic, mental, linguistic, etc.) cannot be determined or explained by its component parts alone. ...
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holism

The problem with this definition is that it is framed negatively - holism says the whole is not explicable in terms of its parts. That is a stance rather than a model.

(And you yourself also appear to believe that SO "just is emergence from the parts" and so this definition of holism is wrong? Hence your comments about Newtonian mechanics being a sufficient basis for non-linear modelling.)

I frequently cite actual concrete approaches to how parts and wholes relate to produce functioning systems. For example Peircean semiotics, hierarchy theory, adaptive neural nets, dissipative structure theory. This is holism as actual scientific modelling rather than an anti-reductionist slogan.

The problem with holism (and this is where the quantum consciousness crew have to be watched) is that the "more" that reductionism does not explain is often taken to be either a spiritual aspect, or some kind of magical new physical field.

It is very important to understand the difference between holism which is about the natural interaction between bottom-up and top-down hierarchical causality, and the woo-woo nonsense which wants to make a supernatural or panpsychic connection to a "higher realm".

Ok, still working through it. I have a question already though from the introduction. Since the thread topic is about consciousness and this paper is about life, the implicit assumption is that all life (even single celled organisms) are conscious.

I have no problem seeing life and mind as essentially the same deal. It is all about how living things adapt to their environment and serve the general aim of dissipating entropy gradients.

Or possibly (and this was an idea proposed at the conference) that consciousness was already prevalent (as a "boundary condition") in the universe and life is only one of the ways it manifested?

Now you risk shooting right over the woo-woo cliff unless you have a clear demarcation between bios and a-bios - which why I was labouring the point about level 3 complexity.

Thinkers like Pattee are saying everything can be viewed as dissipative structure, even the universe. So all systems have that in common - they exist because there is a entropy gradient to run down.

But life and mind also do something qualitatively different that makes them alive. And this is what Pattee and others have attempted to pin down (with considerable success).
 
  • #253
apeiron
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Varela (a sad loss) is definitely the kind of approach that I am talking about.

It is worth noting that Varela does take the general "baysean brain" approach of Friston, and indeed cites Friston extensively in that Nature Neuroscience review.

This is all exactly the approach I agree with - Walter Freeman, Stephen Grossberg, Robert Rosen, and many others also would be standard cites here.

Varela et al say....

Bottom-up and top-down activity

With only few exceptions, the brain is organized on the basis of what we can call the
principle of reciprocity: if area A connects to area B, then there are reciprocal
connections from B to A11,12.

Traditionally, the sensory end is taken as the starting
point, so that perception is described as a feedforward or bottom-up hierarchy from
‘lower’ to ‘higher’ stages of processing.Vision has become a paradigmatic example of
this approach, and the successive stages of elaboration of the visual stimuli from retina
to the various visual areas have been extensively studied98.

However, an alternative
starting point can also be found in the endogenous activity that is provided by the
states of preparation, expectation, emotional tone and attention (among others),which
are necessarily active at the same time as the sensory inflow. Endogenous activity
concerns activity typically from the frontal lobes or the limbic system, or in the middle
of the whole network as temporal and associative cortices, but far removed from the
sensors.

This activity is referred to as top-down or feedback, and there is
psychophysical and physiological evidence for their active participation even in early
stages of sensory perception.

So Varela not only takes the basic systems approach (interaction between bottom-up and top-down) but also takes the anticipatory processing approach (which is what the Baysean brain is all about).

A central issue
is the solution to the apparently opposing needs of local
specificity of activity versus the constraints imposed by
other areas, which has been highlighted as the hallmark
of brain complexity. Under this vision, the brain
appears as a resourceful complex system that satisfies
simultaneously the exogenous and endogenous constraints
that arise at each moment by transiently settling
in a globally consistent state.

These novel views on the
brain might throw light on the emergent principles that
link neuron and mind, as the large-scale integration of
brain activity can be considered as the basis for the
unity of mind familiar to us in everyday experience.

What is there to argue with?
 
  • #254
Pythagorean
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The problem with this definition is that it is framed negatively - holism says the whole is not explicable in terms of its parts. That is a stance rather than a model.

(And you yourself also appear to believe that SO "just is emergence from the parts" and so this definition of holism is wrong? Hence your comments about Newtonian mechanics being a sufficient basis for non-linear modelling.)

I believe that emergent properties are inherent in any successful model (and the success of the model often must be tested and formulated with reductionism, which often destroys the holistic "feel", the explicit appearance of holism. In Newtonian mechanics, it was mass and force. (Force, for instance, is meaningless with just one particle... and so, Mach presumes, is inertial mass.)

To develop the point with force, even two particles sitting next to each other are not the whole Newtonian two-particle system. You must also include the coupling between them (the gravitational force) which is not representative of either of the particles alone.

The problem with holism (and this is where the quantum consciousness crew have to be watched) is that the "more" that reductionism does not explain is often taken to be either a spiritual aspect, or some kind of magical new physical field.

It is very important to understand the difference between holism which is about the natural interaction between bottom-up and top-down hierarchical causality, and the woo-woo nonsense which wants to make a supernatural or panpsychic connection to a "higher realm".

That's exactly my caveat about what did appear to be an "anti-reductionist slogan". And I know it's not representative of you , but I felt that it could still be interpreted that way by a board that has a large anti-reductionist following.

I have no problem seeing life and mind as essentially the same deal. It is all about how living things adapt to their environment and serve the general aim of dissipating entropy gradients.

I read an interesting paper about associate learning mechanisms in single-celled organisms:
http://rsif.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/6/34/463.full

And of course, genetics have an integral role in life as a sort of very long-term memory.

Now you risk shooting right over the woo-woo cliff unless you have a clear demarcation between bios and a-bios - which why I was labouring the point about level 3 complexity.

Understood, but we've somehow made the demarcation along our discussion, or at least assumed that it somehow exists, so that we can go forward with discussion.

The consideration comes from the idea that, say we can find a description of the dynamics and hierarchy that all bios has.

What if we can find the same dynamics and heirarchy in a global weather pattern? Would we then assert that the weather is conscious? (The assumption being that we can't find anything that makes weather different from bios without excluding members of the bios)
 
  • #255
apeiron
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What if we can find the same dynamics and heirarchy in a global weather pattern? Would we then assert that the weather is conscious? (The assumption being that we can't find anything that makes weather different from bios without excluding members of the bios)

If you read what Stan Salthe has to say about dust-devils, then you will see that biologists do take the question that far.

http://books.google.co.nz/books?id=...&resnum=1&ved=0CBUQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q&f=false

Which is why it is critical to be able to specify what is actually the demarcation (even if it is a soft boundary).
 
  • #256
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This would have been true if a human body wasn't comprised of approximately 100 trillion cells. That's way out of the ordinary for such a small region of space to contain such low level of entropy in a universe of ever-increasing entropy.


The broken egg example is a good one and illustrates the direction of entropy. On this background, the processes of life are more evidently emergent(non-linear).
The phrases that you use here point exactly to what im suggesting. The entropy is "low" and "increases". Same with a car that moves slow and goes faster. Those are examples of quantitative differences. They merely support the idea that consciousness starts slow and then becomes faster, or starts simple and becomes more complex, etc., and they do not support the idea that consciousness is completely absent and then comes into existence.
 
  • #257
what is the difference between philosophy, philosophy of the mind, conscious studies and the philosophy of consciousness?
 
  • #258
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Ok,

I have not read the whole thread but this important point needs making.

There are 3 realistic ontologically distinct ways in which consciousness can be addressed.

These are :
Physicalism (materialism)
Dualism
Panexperiantialsm (or panpsychism)


Most of us will be familair with the first two. Physicalism as a monistic view states that there is only matter (and energy). When we use the term consciousness in relation to this concept we are only talking about the chemistry and molecular interactions that go on inside the brain. It is deterministic. We talk of it being an emergent feature but since there is only matter then the mental states we talk of as being emergent have no effect on the physical. Therefore we are still left with all that there is is physical. This is epiphenomialism. We are lead to believe that what we experience is not really there or at least has no impact on how we act.

I don't really have a problem with epiphenomalism when it describes mental events (consciousness experience) as occurring but unable to influence the physical goings on of the brain and thus how we act. But when most talk of it they deny that the mental events are really produced at all. Rather we just think they are! It is all just an (here comes the dreaded word) illusion! And I often think it madness when people deny the reality of experience of qualia (maybe they are philosophical zombies!). But of course you could not keep your physicalist stance unless you thought this way. That is, it is a monistic view. There is only the physical and not the mental. Saying even that mental events are created even though they have no influence would take us into the dualist realm. And that as we will see is a BAD thing.

Dualism
Dating back to descarte (in the modern form) dualism is the notion that there is matter AND mind as two very distinct things. It is not the brain that gives rise to experience but rather the interaction of the brain with this mysterious mental attribute (a soul perhaps?). The problem being that these two distinct ontological substances need to interact to create our experience and there is no way for them to do so. Also none of us likes a theory that posists such an ethereal thing as a soul that needs to magically interact with our physical bodies. It gets us nowhere.

Panexperiantialsm

The third option or the middle ground. As discussed this is still a monistic view as mind and matter are two sides of the same coin. In otherwords the same thing viewed from different angles. Or even that matter is a derivative of mind. So of course they can comfortably interact without resorting to magic as dualism does. But if they are both the same thing then whenever we encounter matter we must also be encountering mind. This does not mean that rocks can think though!. Of course only a brain can think. And a brain is extremely well set up to experience various qualia.
If this theory were true, then there would be no point in time when a creature suddenly became "conscious" or rather able to experience the sum of it's inputs and outputs. This is where definitions get tricky. I do not mean the term as a type of "self awareness" of course many creature are not and cannot have detailed thoughts or feelings. Rather there is an "experience" generated at every level of interaction. But these experiences may only become tangible or non negligible when there are significantly complex inputs and processing ability such as in a mammalian brain. So consciousness is not emergent. It is there at every level and does not pop into existence once a sufficiently complexity entitiy is present. Does it make sense to talk of a bacteria having an experience? It's own mental event? Well not so much as it has no brain after all, but the point isn't that is has none at all. It does have a complex interaction with its environment across it's cells wall. It's just that any experience it does have (or rather generate) is so small compared to ours it would be impossible to comprehend. A rock even less so. A rock has no unity at all so the effective unit is an atom. An atom does interact but this "proto" consciousness is barley worth considering. The crucial point is the atom has the potential to contribute towards a more meaningful experience when part of a complex arrangement like a human.
Note the key to all of this is defining mental states (as opposed to physical), as not the ability to think like a cat or a human, but rather much more simply the ability to experience qualia. It is this that allows us to perceive our thoughts rather than just be a machine that calculates (all be it in a very complex way).



I love the idea of panexperiantialsm. I think it could potentially help us solve or at least view some issues in physics in a different way. Namely the measurement problem. The Copenhagen interpretation would make much more sense when you view all matter as a conscious observer. But maybe this is just because I hate the MWI. A far larger amount of philosophical baggage if you ask me. The problem is that to approach it in a scientific matter may be impossible. It relies on the subjective rather than the objective

"I regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matter as derivative from consciousness. We cannot get behind consciousness. Everything that we talk about, everything that we regard as existing, postulates consciousness"
Max Plank 1931
 
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  • #259
apeiron
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Ok, I have not read the whole thread....

Always a great start :smile:.

...but this important point needs making. There are 3 realistic ontologically distinct ways in which consciousness can be addressed.

You are then neglecting the fourth approach that would be the one taken by most neuroscientists, the one that deals with consciousness within the framework of complex adaptive systems.

I guess you might want to bin that with materialism, but it isn't really.

Panpsychism is a crank approach that leads you eventually to take seriously questions about whether atoms of iron could secretly be just a little bit conscious. If only we knew then how to define consciousness and so do the measurements.

Panpsychism argues that consciousness is a universal property of all substance. Complexity-based approach argues that it is a particular form of organisation.

One approach is supported by abundant theory and data (examples of which have been cited - the papers by Friston, Varela, etc). The other has neither a theory nor evidence. Even if it has a heck of a lot of enthusiasts.
 
  • #260
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I guess you might want to bin that with materialism, but it isn't really.
Yes , yes I would and I thought most scientists would do too.
Panpsychism is a crank approach that leads you eventually to take seriously questions about whether atoms of iron could secretly be just a little bit conscious.
Not so much that are they conscious. More that they have the potential to be so when in a complex system (they have the potential because the substance of mind is synonymous with matter). Which we know for a fact that they do when part of a brain. And this is the key point. The ability to really experience things rather than operate as a complex machine stems not from emergence of a novel feature but that the potential is inbuilt into our universe.


One approach is supported by abundant theory and data (examples of which have been cited - the papers by Friston, Varela, etc). The other has neither a theory nor evidence. Even if it has a heck of a lot of enthusiasts.

I am sure that no one has ever explained why we experience the workings of our brains. Even if we knew every molecular action and connection in the brain I cannot see a point where we would remark "and this is what causes awareness". We would just understand how the machine works.

Whenever I discuss this I feel I am often talking at cross purposes. If I am not very clear how I define consciousness then it all leads to one big mess and accusations that I am unclear of how the brain works and of course it is responsible for all our actions thoughts etc, duh. Again I refer to the philosophical zombie. Even though you act like a human in every way, there is no way for me to know if their is any inner awareness. The lights are on but no one is home sorta thing. I am sure you do of course. But it is this "added" extra that I am referring too. One that is not needed for evolution to occur. I simply propose that we have this extra as it is impossible not to. It is impossible not to because it is a property of matter, and not a novel feature. If it were a novel feature we could argue our ancestors were not complex enough to have it. In a round about way you do by saying simple creatures cannot. You treat consciousness as if it were an on off switch . I say it is gradient with no "off".
 
  • #261
apeiron
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Yes , yes I would and I thought most scientists would do too.

Well, you would be overlooking the distinction between substance and form. There are materialists perhaps that believe reality is only about substances and their properties. There are others who believe reality involves the interaction of substance and form.

Loosely that would make them both anti-idealism, or mind-body dualism, or other such positions. But that does not make them both the same.

Not so much that are they conscious. More that they have the potential to be so when in a complex system (they have the potential because the substance of mind is synonymous with matter).

This is why I say panpsychism has no theory. This way of thinking is now mixing up panpsychism with its opposite, emergentism.

Of course substance has a known potential to be arranged into forms that are conscious. But why should we then credit that outcome to some already existing property in the substance (no matter how low-grade, how dilute) rather than assigning the causal load to the form which is does the organising?

The ability to really experience things rather than operate as a complex machine stems not from emergence of a novel feature but that the potential is inbuilt into our universe.

Yes, you can suggest that emergentism does not explain consciousness. But then how can you at the same time invoke it?

And while we have abundant evidence for material emergence (although as I have tried to stress so often, there are many levels of understanding about how material emergence actually works), we have zilch theory and zilch evidence for panpsychism.

There is no model for how an atom can have "real mental experience" in the way that there are models for how it can have charge, or gravity, or inertia. And without a theory, you can't make measurements to test the theory.

You then want to run the argument that it is obvious we have no understanding of consciousness at all, therefore all current material emergence approaches can be rejected without further ado.

But that is commonly the stance of those who have not studied social psychology, neuroscience and complex systems theory.

The zombie argument works if you can believe that you can imagine that you know everything about what makes an organism alive and aware, and that they could then be doing exactly all the same "material" things without the inner glow of subjective experience.

It was only a century or so back when people said the same thing about just being alive - some kind of vitalistic soul-stuff must be necessary to animate the body. And how we laugh about such naive statements now. Even though we are continuing to discover more about the vast complexity of living organisation every year.

So you are saying you favour panexperientialism - a position which has no definition of consciousness, no theory of its mechanism, and no idea of what might constitute data in light of that theory.

And when pushed to say something more concrete, panexperientialists have to resort to process philosophy, slyly shifting the burden of explanation to the foe, emergent materialism.

"Oh, I don't know how it really works. But jam enough stuff together in a complicated enough arrangement and it gets kind of concentrated enough to catch alight and have this state that I basically find ineffable - so ineffable that I don't even have a way of measuring if any other similar arrangement of matter shares it."

Sorry to caricature panpsychism. But in fact most of the academics pushing it really do think with this level of woolliness.
 
  • #262
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Sorry to caricature panpsychism. But in fact most of the academics pushing it really do think with this level of woolliness.


But I have a really strong feeling that its true! Just Kidding!!! (kinda!)

You are right. It is not scientific. I even say it may never come under the scientific method as we know it. It is trying to observe, describe and catalogue the subjective objectively. Not possible. That is why I resort to philosophical terms. It is a debate that can only be had in these terms as I offer no evidence of any kind. Maybe there will be some in the future, but I am fresh out!
 
  • #263
apeiron
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But I have a really strong feeling that its true! Just Kidding!!! (kinda!)

You are right. It is not scientific. I even say it may never come under the scientific method as we know it. It is trying to observe, describe and catalogue the subjective objectively. Not possible. That is why I resort to philosophical terms. It is a debate that can only be had in these terms as I offer no evidence of any kind. Maybe there will be some in the future, but I am fresh out!

Hey, there is no harm in running through an appealing idea to discover it has no real foundation. A lot can be learnt from seeing the wrong path people take.

By the way, I am not arguing that there is no hard problem of consciousness at all. My position on that is that we can only expect so much from scientific modelling. We can get a of understanding of how things work. But not then a feeling of "what it is like".

So we can explain the charge of an atom perhaps. But does that give us a feeling of what it is like to be charged?

So we can now write books about colour perception as a process, but answering the question of why red is reddish, rather than greenish, is quite probably a place we will never satisfactorily reach (though we do have good neural explanations for why you can have the sensation of blackish blue but not blackish yellow (low-intensity yellow wavelength mixtures are experienced as brown).

The basic question here is whether science is winning or losing. The hard problem, zombies, panpsychism, quantum consciousness, etc, are all part of the chatter that goes under the name of "consciousness studies". The presumption is that science cannot deliver unless it jumps to some radically different explanatory paradigm.

But it could be that there are a bunch of people with the right training who are moving towards quite reasonable models which just happen to be very complex. They get very little publicity because it is hard work and not much fun to read their papers.
 
  • #264
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There is nothing really so special about panpsychism. It is just a possible consequence (like emergence) from a theory of mind.
[PLAIN]http://www.iep.utm.edu/panpsych/ said:
Panpsychism,[/PLAIN] [Broken] in itself, is not a theory of mind per se, because it does not in general give an account of the precise nature of mind, nor of how it relates to material things. Rather, it is a meta-theory; it is a theory about theories, a framework which says: However mind is to be conceived, it applies, in some sense, to all things.

Thus panpsychism can apply, in principle, to virtually any conventional theory of mind. There could exist, for example, a panpsychist substance dualism in which some Supreme Being grants a soul/mind to all things. There could be a panpsychist functionalism that interprets the functional role of every object as mind, even if such a role is only “to gravitate,” “to resist pressure,” and so forth. One could argue for a panpsychist identism in which mind is identical to matter; or a panpsychist reductive materialism in which the mind of each thing is reducible to its physical states. The only theories not amenable to panpsychism are those that (a) explicitly argue that only a certain restricted class of beings can possess mind (such as living things or Homo sapiens), or (b) deny the existence of mind altogether (that is, eliminativism).


Actually, if you somehow prove that consciousness is not switched on/off, but rather has some degree value (it's always "on"), than it's very possible that panpsychism is true. But again this will tell you nothing about which theory of mind (materialism, dualism, neutral monism, idealism) prevails or what is the ultimate substance.
 
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  • #265
apeiron
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There is nothing really so special about panpsychism. It is just a possible consequence (like emergence) from a theory of mind.

So you are agreed it is not a theory :wink:. But is it actually a meta-theory?

If all it says is "However mind is to be conceived, it applies, in some sense, to all things." then that is a statement through which you can drive anyone's coach and horses. Even I am now a panpsychic perhaps.

I conceive of mind as form (a form of material organisation, bios, that serves the purpose of accelerating entropification). And I believe that in some sense it applies to all things. Well, I think that in fact the ability to control/speed up the Universe's general rate of entropification is a distinguishing feature of life and mind, so perhaps I am saved from going right down the slippery slope.

But other accounts of panpsychism do see it as being more restrictive as an idea.
Second, panpsychism needs to be distinguished from some closely related concepts: animism, hylozoism, pantheism, panentheism, and panexperientialism:
http://www.iep.utm.edu/panpsych/
 

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