Consciousness and emergence

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« on: April 24, 2013, 05:55:27 pm »
Quote from: Abalieno
If the forum survives the day I'll eventually try to go through Scott and mine discussion in the past months and rebuild it on the forums so that it makes some sense (to me). I've lost behind too many interesting points and the forum is a better place than a myriad of comments on a myriad of different posts along the months.

In the meantime I'm still reading "The Wayward Mind" (that Scott briefly mentioned), and feeling satisfied about how it answers a number of core questions, while also at least "framing" the more problematic ones.

That feels like seeing "the Truth" from as close as possible.

One aspect that I wasn't able to resolve in the discussion with Scott is about "emergence". There are many complex aspects embedded with this, but in particular his theory of consciousness is built around the premise that we're deeply deceived about consciousness and "intent".

How big is this gap?

My position (which is simply a way to express an idea, not a belief since I'm simply very confused) is that I can accept everything in Scott's theory, but the problem of emergence is not as easy to accept and there not seem to be enough evidence to sustain Scott's theory.

The problem of emergence isn't so much about physical properties and realities of the world, but in a capability that we have to simplify problems by "drawing" different levels, consolidating certain rules together. It's a process about seeing patterns into chaos, larger trends that can be observed and that emerge from the infinite myriad of details.

I don't think these patterns are delusions. There are rules that you can verify and that are "true" in the measure they predict what is going to happen. So they become laws. Without this step we couldn't make sense of the world, even if we are persuaded that there aren't different "emergent levels" in the world. Because the world is continuous and there should be laws at the "bottom level" that can regulate everything that happens "above".

This whole problem applied to consciousness isn't all that different.

In The Wayward Mind there's the example of "reading". Consciously, when you read your conscious attention and focus is on the "meaning", what you understand. In a story you imagine and see characters and places. Yet this is merely an "emergent" level since, in order to generate it, you actually need to coordinate your eyes, recognize the letters, order them, understand grammar and so on.

So we take an emergent action that we call "reading", and can see it being disassembled, down the process, in a myriad of smaller actions. Most of these non-conscious.

This also, imho, simplifies the HUGE quantitative unbalance between the slight conscious activity and the rest that is "hidden", the whole unconscious activity of the brain. And by doing this we also impart a hierarchy on the process, because we say that everything that happens below (and unseen) exists solely to make the upper level emerge (into reading, in this example).

The problem is: how can you demonstrate that this process is "an illusion". That it is a deceit of perception. How can you determine that the emergent level you see in consciousness is not an "appropriate" and "valid" and "pragmatically just" in respect to everything happening below? Because, even before intent, we see "finality" in what we do. We know the reason why we're reading and what it achieves. And this finality is understood in consciousness, in plain sight and light.

What I was saying is that our models are certainly simplified and limited, but how can we say that they are so completely deceived to the point that WE KNOW NOTHING about ourselves? What is this immense dark side doing, if not supporting "us" in the way we actually perceive ourselves? In that finality that we build or have it delivered in consciousness?

Why you say that this upper conscious level is completely offbeat with the rest when it normally appears as coordinate?

This is the problem.

Also consider that there are two different alternatives depending on "free will", both that still give consciousness a certain priority. You can erase the idea of "free will", and say that the greater brain does all the work, that choices arrive into consciousness when they already happened. YET, even if true, this still makes the picture into consciousness as the real one. It would be seen "after" it was made, while being perceived "in the making", but it would still be THE SAME picture.

So the delusion would be about intent and choice, but not about seeing what is really going on.

What Came Before

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« Reply #1 on: April 24, 2013, 05:55:36 pm »
Quote from: Madness
Have you read Bakker's paper[/u]?

I have some thoughts but I can offer no solutions as I'm not entirely clear as to your confusion.

One aspect of this conversation is the way that many cognitive biases are actually defined by their physiological components and their relations or lack thereof. That is, cognitive biases, in many cases, can simply be the result of the brain structures which process the pertinent informational aspects and the imperfect access conscious experience has to these processings.

Another is that in proposing that "the problem of emergence ... [manifests] in a capability that we have to simplify problems by "drawing" different levels, consolidating certain rules together. It's [then] a process about seeing patterns into chaos, larger trends that can be observed and that emerge from the infinite myriad of details," I feel like you're actually misappropriating a cosmological definition for a neurological one.

Emergence as it relates to consciousness and the brain might be better described as a singularity in processing. Bakker describes the issue of recursive neurological correlates of consciousness, a fancy way of saying that to reflect on our processing we need structures to processing the processing in order to reflect on our processing. By that framework, it suggests that the increased demand for actively attending to our complexifying control of our physical bodies - as in the evolution tool use or language - or our environment might exist as physical recursive structures.

Now, essentially, Bakker has the issue distilled to the thalamocortical structures, which mediate almost every signal between the cerebral cortex and the rest of the brain. So by this logic, it seems to suggest that a certain threshold of cumulative ability marked the emergence of consciousness - that is the accumulation of structures in the cortex above the thalamus - and, immediately thereafter, the Blind Brain Hypothesis - as the most proprietary goal for conscious brain would be to mediate the Blind Brain Effect as much as possible, by attentively experiencing to the fullest extent of our physiological information horizons.

Everything we need to account for in our sensational experience is, arguably, represented by a physicality within the brain. It might have been the new cortex necessary for processing complexifying social cues, control of our thumbs, a new phoneme, a single instance of abstraction might have tipped the scales.

Perhaps brain injury can also offer some understanding of consciousness' emergence. Clearly the selective damage that occurs with neurological damage and disorder suggests that consciousness is an amalgamation of all these very specialized structural functions. There are, I believe, thirty three coordinated structures necessary for our conscious experience of vision. Any one of these malfunction and suddenly perception is skewed, depending on structural proximities. Check out the subtypes of visual agnosia, though that is not a complete list of identified visual agnosia nor is agnosia the only type of sensual dysfunction.

Lastly, there's the issue of informatic horizons to consider. Without exception, your perceptional experience is lacking the actual breadth of your brain's processing. At the very least, our conscious sensation is the result of informational horizons, let alone the temporal considerations Bakker suggests.

Sorry, Abalieno, really not sure I offered anything that might actually facilitate the understanding you sought.

Also, any suggestions you have about reducing the subforums, or anything else, don't hesitate to ask. I wish to facilitate a communally shaped forum as much as I can. The only consideration I can offer you is that, despite the fact that I hope they are all discussed in their own right, those subforums expose visitors to Bakker titles they might not have otherwise known existed. I'm trying to help the guy sell books as much as possible and if I think I can do that positively affect that a little bit by having an empty subforum for each of his novels, I will.

But we won't leave them empty, will we ;)?

Well met, Abalieno.

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« Reply #2 on: April 24, 2013, 05:55:44 pm »
Quote from: Abalieno
Quote from: Madness
Have you read Bakker's paper[/u]?

Yep, the first version of it. I'll eventually go through that one too...

Quote
Another is that in proposing that "the problem of emergence ... [manifests] in a capability that we have to simplify problems by "drawing" different levels, consolidating certain rules together. It's [then] a process about seeing patterns into chaos, larger trends that can be observed and that emerge from the infinite myriad of details," I feel like you're actually misappropriating a cosmological definition for a neurological one.

"Emergence" is a theoretical idea. It does not exist in nature. I said this:

Quote
the world is continuous and there should be laws at the "bottom level" that can regulate everything that happens "above".

That's the scientific belief. It negates the possibility of emergence and it's essentially the deal with reductionism.

But I'm not interested in the problem of reductionism. I take for granted that emergence is simply a tool used to simplify things. It's just a kind of lens. My problem is whether or not this tool "works", or if it is completely fraudulent as Scott seems to think.

A reductionist model of the brain still doesn't negate the validity of the picture we get in consciousness. Scott thinks this picture is completely wrong and fantastic. Not only consciousness could be a "spandrel", but what (the image) we get into it is also alien to what's actually going on.

I guess without Scott it's hard to have this kind of debate, I actually thought he himself was on this forum.

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« Reply #3 on: April 24, 2013, 05:55:51 pm »
Quote from: Madness
Emergence is a theoretical idea. However, cosmologically - its longest pedigree of use - it definitionally satisfies more of its criterion than we can get using it in the cognitive sciences at this point. On a gradient, it's a more secure theoretical distinction when discussing the universe rather than minds and brains.

You were asking how someone might apply it to consciousness and I offered an explanation, one of any number of interpretations.

I'm also not sure Bakker thinks the "tool" is fraudulent. I'm sure he'd say that mental abstraction suffers from the constraints and limitations of not being able to fully process our environments past the informational horizons of our perceptions.

Quote from: Abalieno
A reductionist model of the brain still doesn't negate the validity of the picture we get in consciousness.

I'm not sure how these two ideas relate. You seem to be saying that by describing the brain in reductionist terms, or having a reductionist explanatory style, should somehow collapse our perceptual experience. Is that right?

How does Bakker think "this picture is wrong and fantastical"?

I'm sorry you didn't find Bakker here, Abalieno. I suspect he will likely not be joining us, most certainly not in the capacity we once experienced on the Three-Seas.

I'm enjoying the exercise though. Cheers.

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« Reply #4 on: April 24, 2013, 05:55:57 pm »
Quote from: Abalieno
Quote from: Madness
Emergence is a theoretical idea. However, cosmologically - its longest pedigree of use - it definitionally satisfies more of its criterion than we can get using it in the cognitive sciences at this point. On a gradient, it's a more secure theoretical distinction when discussing the universe rather than minds and brains.

Emergence is simply the way consciousness works, or appears to work. Without emergence there's no consciousness.

So it's a theoretical idea that sustains logic and perception. It's the premise that makes everything work on our level.

If the brain has a breadth of activity, of which only a small part "surfaces" into consciousness, then what surfaces and generates consciousness is "emergent".

I don't know what kind of use of it you have cosmologically.

Quote
I'm also not sure Bakker thinks the "tool" is fraudulent. I'm sure he'd say that mental abstraction suffers from the constraints and limitations of not being able to fully process our environments past the informational horizons of our perceptions.

Nope, when I was discussing with him I was conceding the possibility of constraints and limitations. That consciousness is a "small" part of the brain process is kind of obvious, that's not the part being argued (the part that was argued: whether or not consciousness is authoritative, coming on top of the order of command, and whether or not its "cartoon" is relevant). But Bakker isn't simply stating about those limits. He says consciousness is (could be revealed to be) entirely obsolete, and that what we get into it is COMPLETELY in the dark. Not partially.

In fact my attempt was about trying to find some handhold, so that from there you could argue the rest. But Bakker isn't for an adjustment of consciousness. He's for rewriting the whole thing as radically as you may think.

Quote
I'm not sure how these two ideas relate. You seem to be saying that by describing the brain in reductionist terms, or having a reductionist explanatory style, should somehow collapse our perceptual experience. Is that right?

I have no idea what you mean with "collapse our perceptual experience". If you can describe the brain in reductionist terms you not only have mastered the brain, but reality itself. If Bakker's right, at that point we're way past consciousness, and so past any worthwhile attempt writing things down.

We simply assume that the brain COULD be described in reductionist terms. But it's so enormously complicated that we only grasp an infinitesimal part. Science tells you that, eventually, the reductionist model will be achieved and mastered. If this is not possible or not going to happen, then we're out of science and into occultism, magic, religion and all those fun and consolatory things. Into anthropomorphic fantasy. The kind that Bakker writes.

The problem we have now, and assuming we're grounded in science, is whether or not the emergent level we're at is somewhat "coherent" with everything below we don't understand yet (essentially: a cartoon preserving all the important aspects, instead of a completely delusional one), or if getting to know that part would completely rewrite what we have now (instead of merely augment or reframe it).

If you believe that our "cartoon" contains something worthwhile, that the bottom of your heart must be good and right, THEN you're on a position that is at the opposite of Bakker's. Bakker believes this story doesn't have an happy end. He doesn't have "faith" that the human being is on the right path and "good". He believes instead we are utterly deceived, always following false gods and abusing each other while we weave self-flattering stories. And that it gets worse from here.

It's all about "faith".

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« Reply #5 on: April 24, 2013, 05:56:10 pm »
Quote from: Abalieno
Just found on Bakker's blog, from a few days ago, and proof that Bakker really needs to come here.

Jorge:
Causality cannot go top down. It doesn’t work. Causality flows upwards from the small to the large. If there can be no reductive explanation of consciousness, then it is intractable to science and that’s that.

Bakker:
My own guess – the one that horrifies me to no end – is that once we finally get rid of all the ghosts, bracket all our intentional intuitions and traditional theoretical commitments to things like truth, representation, and normativity, the ‘irreducibility of the intentional’ will be shown to be an artifact of the informatic bottleneck that constrains attentional awareness (BBT).

Jorge repeats the same things I was saying here. That reductionism belongs to science and without it you're into magic. So the assumption is that there is going to be a reductionist model of the brain, eventually.

Bakker confirms again the idea against "free will" and consciousness as the center and priority of the brain activity. That's the first step, but it was not the part I was arguing.

Elsewhere he says:
the primary problem posed by the science: the ever growing gap between our scientifically derived knowledge of human nature and our intuitive understanding of the human condition. This is literally the primary thematic hinge of Neuropath: the more we gain of the former, the more we discover the latter is skewed, deceptive, or outright hallucinatory.

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« Reply #6 on: April 24, 2013, 05:56:16 pm »
Quote from: Callan S.
I think I really must have a different concept of free will than he uses.

The information bottle neck is kind of disturbing in the idea that the identification of self is simply like a line in the sand, drawn to evaluate survival techniques as pass or fail.

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« Reply #7 on: April 24, 2013, 05:56:21 pm »
Quote from: Madness
I feel like we're missing each other on the communicative passes here, Abalieno. I've often read your posts on TPB, as well as Jorge's, and I feel I could learn much by internalizing your perspective here. I'm, obviously, not engaged in your conception at issue - I couldn't possibly start a discussion already "getting" the communication of those trying to impart it to me. But I do want to understand. I realize I'm a poor substitute for Bakker.

Quote from: Madness
Emergence is a theoretical idea. However, cosmologically - its longest pedigree of use - it definitionally satisfies more of its criterion than we can get using it in the cognitive sciences at this point. On a gradient, it's a more secure theoretical distinction when discussing the universe rather than minds and brains.

Firstly, I was simply paraphrasing your post above.

Quote from: Abalieno
"Emergence" is a theoretical idea. It does not exist in nature. I said this:

Quote
the world is continuous and there should be laws at the "bottom level" that can regulate everything that happens "above".

That's the scientific belief. It negates the possibility of emergence and it's essentially the deal with reductionism.

Which I have to suggest seems at odds with:

Quote
Emergence is simply the way consciousness works, or appears to work. Without emergence there's no consciousness.

So it's a theoretical idea that sustains logic and perception. It's the premise that makes everything work on our level.

If the brain has a breadth of activity, of which only a small part "surfaces" into consciousness, then what surfaces and generates consciousness is "emergent".

I don't know what kind of use of it you have cosmologically.

Though you seem to say two contradictory propositions, I think we might balance our perspectives with some understanding of the term emergent. History defines words, neh? Nothing has shaped my own use of the word so much as this: Big History: The Big Bang, Life on Earth, and the Rise of Humanity.

In that lecture series, Professor. Christian uses the term emergence, with its philosophic and biological connotations, to mark distinctive leaps in complexity in the Universe. In this case, I think he'd suggest that the real emergent phenomena of Consciousness, represented now as an embodied human society and culture, would emerge from human brains but like Neil's wet dream of all the brains on Earth interacting and rewiring through that interaction into some Super-Brain or, perhaps, the neurological analog of the TTT.

Again you have me on the fence now as to how I should internalize your use of the word emergent here.

Quote from: Abalieno
Nope, when I was discussing with him I was conceding the possibility of constraints and limitations. That consciousness is a "small" part of the brain process is kind of obvious, that's not the part being argued (the part that was argued: whether or not consciousness is authoritative, coming on top of the order of command, and whether or not its "cartoon" is relevant). But Bakker isn't simply stating about those limits. He says consciousness is (could be revealed to be) entirely obsolete, and that what we get into it is COMPLETELY in the dark. Not partially.

In fact my attempt was about trying to find some handhold, so that from there you could argue the rest. But Bakker isn't for an adjustment of consciousness. He's for rewriting the whole thing as radically as you may think.

I feel again that what you're writing might be ambiguous.

I'm pretty familiar with much of the research Bakker is basing BBH and Encapsulation on. In one frame, I might read this and suggest that consciousness and non-conscious aspects of the brain are completely interactive. This certainly is an enduring academic thought within the cognitive sciences. In another frame, I might read this as you taking Bakker to suggest that conscious isn't experienced.

Quote from: Abalieno
I have no idea what you mean with "collapse our perceptual experience". If you can describe the brain in reductionist terms you not only have mastered the brain, but reality itself. If Bakker's right, at that point we're way past consciousness, and so past any worthwhile attempt writing things down.

You seem to be suggest that your perceptual experience would change or disappear, if we only internalized the proper reductionist nomenclature. I was using that quote to try and communicate that this is what I thought you meant.

This thread is called consciousness and emergence? I'm simply curious.

Quote from: Abalieno
We simply assume that the brain COULD be described in reductionist terms. But it's so enormously complicated that we only grasp an infinitesimal part. Science tells you that, eventually, the reductionist model will be achieved and mastered. If this is not possible or not going to happen, then we're out of science and into occultism, magic, religion and all those fun and consolatory things. Into anthropomorphic fantasy. The kind that Bakker writes.

The problem we have now, and assuming we're grounded in science, is whether or not the emergent level we're at is somewhat "coherent" with everything below we don't understand yet (essentially: a cartoon preserving all the important aspects, instead of a completely delusional one), or if getting to know that part would completely rewrite what we have now (instead of merely augment or reframe it).

Perhaps this is the clearest to me so far.

I'll avoid taking issue with you skewering my passion.

I attempted in my very first post to highlight the way that brain sciences are, in the past ten years, using the term emergence - from its fields of origin and utility, philosophy and cosmology - and coopting it to describe the brain as much as possible. And big surprise - the conscious experience is an amalgamation of innumeral subsystems, which give rise to our the coherency we experience. Which is where Bakker starts philosophizing in the Last Magic Show. How within that framework, not only is our conscious experience constructed of these subsystems but that our experience of them at all passes through informational horizons.

As to the bolded specifically, I'm not sure Bakker is even commenting on this but I'll read your Jorge/Bakker quotes below.

Quote from: Abalieno
If you believe that our "cartoon" contains something worthwhile, that the bottom of your heart must be good and right, THEN you're on a position that is at the opposite of Bakker's. Bakker believes this story doesn't have an happy end. He doesn't have "faith" that the human being is on the right path and "good". He believes instead we are utterly deceived, always following false gods and abusing each other while we weave self-flattering stories. And that it gets worse from here.

It's all about "faith".

I'm not sure how much of this actually reflects Bakker's opinion, excepting that it gets worse from here.

And that "worse from here," as it always has, largely depends on the actions of human beings alive now.

Quote
Jorge:
Causality cannot go top down. It doesn’t work. Causality flows upwards from the small to the large. If there can be no reductive explanation of consciousness, then it is intractable to science and that’s that.

Bakker:
My own guess – the one that horrifies me to no end – is that once we finally get rid of all the ghosts, bracket all our intentional intuitions and traditional theoretical commitments to things like truth, representation, and normativity, the ‘irreducibility of the intentional’ will be shown to be an artifact of the informatic bottleneck that constrains attentional awareness (BBT).

Quote from: Abalieno
Bakker confirms again the idea against "free will" and consciousness as the center and priority of the brain activity. That's the first step, but it was not the part I was arguing.

Well, I'm not entirely convinced that reductionism/science are one and the same - I feel very much like that is a carry over topic from the Vox Invasion. Jorge is here though, we should ask him.

Also, I read Bakker's quote as suggesting that once we stop actively deceiving ourselves intentionality won't even be a word used in relation to people or brains because of how old questions stop mattering and new ones surface as we reframe our perspectives - in this case, within the BBT.

Quote from: Abalieno
Elsewhere he says:
the primary problem posed by the science: the ever growing gap between our scientifically derived knowledge of human nature and our intuitive understanding of the human condition. This is literally the primary thematic hinge of Neuropath: the more we gain of the former, the more we discover the latter is skewed, deceptive, or outright hallucinatory.

Again, we're reading the ambiguity differently, Abalieno. The problem here, in my understanding, is not science itself but about how science forces us against difficult perspectives of ourselves and the world around us and how we react in internalizing these revelations.

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« Reply #8 on: April 24, 2013, 05:56:35 pm »
Quote from: dharmakirti
I'm curious if anyone here is familiar with Terrence W. Deacon and his book "Incomplete Nature: How Mind Emerged From Matter."  I received a copy of the book for Christmas and I'm both equaly intrigued and intimidated by it (intimidated because I have no formal training in philosophy and only a high school level science education...well I did take a college level theoretical physics class in high school but had to drop out 'cos I couldn't handle the math (except for vectors)).