Picture: correspondent. One of the nice things about doing Conscious Entities is that from time to time people send me links to interesting things; new papers,  lectures, or ideas of their own.  I regret that I have generally kept this stuff to myself in the past, although it often deserves a mention, so I’ve been thinking about how best to deal with it. I would welcome suggestions, but as an experiment I’ve decided to try occasional round-up posts: so here goes.

Jesús Olmo, to whom many thanks, recently drew my attention to this review of  The Ego Tunnel; to PRISMs, Gom Jabbars, and Consciousness, and to the site Conscious Robots.

M.E. Tson has a Brief Explanation of Consciousness.

Mark Muhlestein has a thought experiment Consciousness and 2D Computation: a Curious Conundrum, and has been corresponding with David Chalmers. My own view is as follows.

I think causal relations are the crux of the matter. A computation essentially consists of a series of states of a Turing machine, doesn’t it? Normally each state is caused by the preceding state. Is that an essential feature? I think in the final analysis we’d say no, because the existence of a computation is really a matter of interpretation on the part of the observer. If the different states in the sequence are just written down on sheets of paper, we’d probably still be willing to call it a computation, or at least, we would in one sense. There’s another sense in which I personally wouldn’t: if we read ‘computation’ as meaning an actual run of a given algorithm, or an instantiation of the computation, I think the causal relationships have to be in place.

Now this would be even truer in the case of mental operations leading to consciousness. The causal relations in a Turing machine are to some degree artificial: the fact that we can program them in is really the point. In the human brain, by contrast, the causal relations are direct and arise from the physical constitution of the brain. To exhibit the relevant series of states (even if we assume consciousness in the brain is a matter of discrete states, which actually seems rather unlikely)would not be enough – they have to have caused each other directly in the right way for this to be an actual ‘run’ of the consciousness faculty.

It follows that your projected lights don’t give rise to a consciousness, or perhaps even to a computation. Does this mean I think zombies of some kind are possible? No, because the interesting kind of zombie is physically identical with a real person, and the projected lights are significantly different from the occurrence of the actual run of the computation. Real zombies remain impossible, and all we’re left with is a kind of puppet.

Readers of my post earlier this year about Sam Coleman’s views may be interested to see the nice comments he has provided.

You can send me links to interesting stuff at:



  1. 1. Allen says:

    It seems very plausible that the contents of my conscious experience can be represented by various physical systems (for example, electrons moving through silicon and copper in a computer, or some implementation of a cellular automaton). And by developing an algorithm that adjusts these representations in the right way it seems reasonable to say that can ALSO represent how the contents of my experience changes over time.

    But I don’t see WHY doing so would produce first person conscious experience. So to me computationalism doesn’t seem like a reasonable explanation for conscious experience.

    You mention causal relations between computational states as being the “cause” of consciousness, but what is there in the concepts of causal relations or computational states that leads you to this conclusion?

    What exactly IS a causal relation? What is causality? It seems to just consist of two events being close together in space-time? From their proximity, we infer a causal relationship between the two events, but no connection is ever directly observed.

    So, you seem to have used one mystery to explain another mystery. Causal connections explain consciousness. But what explains causal connections?

    As Hume said: “When we look about us towards external objects, and consider the operation of causes, we are never able, in a single instance, to discover any power or necessary connexion; any quality, which binds the effect to the cause, and renders the one an infallible consequence of the other. There is required a medium, which may enable the mind to draw such an inference, if indeed it be drawn by reasoning and argument. What that medium is, I must confess, passes my comprehension; and it is incumbent on those to produce it, who assert that it really exists, and is the origin of all our conclusions concerning matter of fact.”

    Thinking about things in terms of a timeless Einstein-style “Block Universe” I think makes it easier to see that causality isn’t much of a solution.

  2. 2. Vicente says:

    Allen: regarding your comment on the causal relation, it is not the proximity in space-time that make two events have a cause-effect relation. It is the concept of interaction in physical terms.

    Event-1: Dialing in a number in a phone is the cause of Event-2: another phone ringing, because there is a chain of well studied electromechanical interactions that link both events.

    Of course, if you analyse the chain of physical interactions at a fundamental level, eventually you need a physical theory that explains all interactions in the Universe. Unfortunately I presume that such a unification theory (GUT), if ever produced, will be rather descriptive, as others, and the mistery will probably remain.

    Independently, I agree that computationalism sheds no light at all in the hard problem of consciousness or the binding problem.

  3. 3. Peter says:

    you seem to have used one mystery to explain another mystery

    Yes, that’s right, I’m afraid. So far as causal relations are concerned, all I can say is that being held together by the right kind of causal relations seems to be part of being a thing which is (somehow)real in its own right, as opposed to being a thing which exists by courtesy of interpretation or presentation. So I think the right kind of causal relations distinguish real consciousness from simulated consciousness. By way of further detail I can’t do much more than wave my hands a lot.

  4. 4. Allen says:

    Vicente: I think you missed Hume’s point. No matter how closely you examine an event, you will never observe the relationship between the cause and the effect. You only infer this relationship.

    So, two pool balls collide. You watch very closely at the point where the impact takes place. What you see is that the first billiard ball touches the second and then begins to move away. What caused it to move away? You don’t observe that. Also, the second billiard ball simultaneously begins to move away at a different angle.

    You INFER that the cause of the change of direction and speed in the two billiard balls was some force imparted to each by their collision…but you didn’t directly observe this force. You infer it’s existence from how the billiard balls act.

    Even if you could watch the atoms of the two billiard balls, you would be in the same situation. You would see the atoms of the billiard balls come into close proximity and then move away. Why? You infer it was due to the collision. Same for electrons or whatever.

    Causal forces aren’t seen. They’re inferred from observations of the way thing “act”.

  5. 5. Allen says:

    Peter: So I think the root of the difficulty in explaining conscious experience is in the assumption that consciousness is *caused* by something else. But it seems plausible to me that consciousness is fundamental and uncaused.

    This fits well with the Kantian view of causality as an aspect of human experience and “cognition”, rather than something that exists “out there” in the world, independent of us.

    Going further in this Kantian vein, it seems most accurate to say that science is about constructing plausible narratives that are consistent with our observations. Science is not about determining what exists, or even learning about what exists. It is solely about our observations.

    This doesn’t invalidate any scientific results, or scientific methodology, or the value of science. It’s just a statement of the way things are, which sometimes people lose sight of.

  6. 6. Vicente says:

    Allen: yes, I know Hume’s point (opinion) which is embedded in a very biased philosophical family. Despite Hume’s genial thinking, his physics knowledge was according to his time.

    Physical interaction laws are not inferred from one single observation or event, but from many, in many different experimental arrangements, and you come to a conclusion when you can say something coherent and consistent that applies to all of them, from pool balls collisions to galaxies collisions, then you might formulate, gravitation forces or electrostatics etc

    So unless everything happens by chance (extremely unlikely), there must be some laws behind, and that means that there must be defined interactions. Whether we understand them or not is a different problem . Still, I agree that when you come to the very fundamental subatomic level the problem to say “what it is”, in addition to “how it behaves” becomes more evident. You might be right, the very nature of reality could be out of range for us.
    So that is the binding problem, interaction between brain states and conscious states (assuming they were different stuff), and since just defining counscious states is quite difficult, even less can be said about the interactions, if any.

    My point was more to do with two events being close in terms of space-time coordinates and any causal relation between them.

  7. 7. Vicente says:

    just one more remark: Karl Popper’s “falsability theory” seems to me the most solid approach when constructing scientific theories.

  8. 8. Alex says:


    Causality is certainly a philosophical difficulty, as Hume pointed out. However, it seems that the only way to explain the success of predictive theories is by accepting that causality is as we percieve it. Even though we don’t directly percieve A causing B, if their relationship in time and space is just so, and it makes sense that one should cause the other based on what we believe about the world, we can devise testable predictions, which when supported by experimental observations can provide a strong basis for belief in a causal relationship. If I go put water in an oven that’s at 100c, and am sea level atmospheric pressure, I bet you it will boil. If I can’t count on causality how else can I be justified in making this claim? In some frustrating philosophical sense I am not justified, but I still don’t think you would bet against me.


    P.S. You could bet me that the moon will rise after the sun sets, and you would be right, but because none of the variables are controllable this does not make for a good experiment. Also, given what we know about the world, it mechanics of the sun setting causing the moon to rise don’t make sense.

  9. 9. makvan says:

    hi, I’m working on my dissertation on consciousness, recently I saw your blog, it is great! wish you luck!!!

  10. 10. Allen says:


    – “A very biased philosophical family”…? I’m not sure what that means.

    – “So unless everything happens by chance (extremely unlikely)”…Given enough time, even extremely unlikely events are inevitable. Or, if the universe is infinite in size, then every “possible” combination of events, even extremely unlikely ones, are happening somewhere. OR taking the “many worlds” interpretation of quantum mechanics, there’s a branch of the universal wavefunction in which every possible outcome of every quantum event occurs…which leads to some branches where extremely unlikely events happen everyday…and thus are not judged extremely unlikely in those branches. Maybe OUR branch is such a branch. I think you take too much for granted.

    -“So that is the binding problem”…The binding problem goes away if you assume that consciousness is fundamental, rather than matter. Again, what we know are our observations. Everything else is inferred…including the existence of matter.

    The only catch being, “how can something as complex as a conscious experience be irreducibly fundamental?”

    But I think this is confusing two things: conscious experience vs. the contents of conscious experience.

    The fact of my conscious experience itself seems quite simple and irreducible. However, what I am conscious of (the content of my experiences) can seem quite complex.

    As an analogy, it seems reasonable to me to say: Content is to consciousness as an electron is to the universe.

    In a physicalist ontology, an electron is something that exists within the universe. An electron can’t be “liberated” or taken outside of the universe, or considered independently of the universe of which it is a part.

    Similarly the things that I am conscious of exist only within the context of my conscious experience. Again, I’m taking a Kantian view here, though minus the noumena.

    Which is not to say that only my conscious experience exists (solipsism), but rather that only conscious experiences exist. If physicalists can have multiverses, why not multiconsciousnesses?

    Why do our conscious experiences exist? Well, why would a physicalist say that the universe exists? It just does, and there’s no explanation for that (at least none that doesn’t depend on some other unexplained event).

  11. 11. Allen says:

    Vicente: As for Popperian Falsifiability, I think that in the context of scientific methodology it makes as much sense as anything. There’s no better alternative than to assume that things will continue to happen in the future in a way that is similar to how we have observed them to happen in the past.

    So we take the record of our past observations and try to fit “narratives” to them that are consistent with what has been observed. Since we now have a large body of very precise observations, the narratives must also be extremely precise, which means that a lot of mathematics is involved in these stories.

    But the stories aren’t true of anything that exists…these narratives are just tools for understanding that give us a better comprehension of the past record of observations, and assist us in making predictions that extrapolate that past into the future. Scientific theories are shorthand for the observations that they were developed against…a kind of compressed version, a mnemonic.

    But it doesn’t make sense to interpret them as a model of what is *real*…science doesn’t explain anything, all it does is describe what is observed. It offers no explanation for the act of observation itself…just more descriptions.

  12. 12. Allen says:


    Okay. Causality. So, what has *caused* me to decide to reply to your comment? What explains this event? Well, assuming physicalism, probably there are many things that led to this decision – and each of those things has it’s own set of causes. And each of those causes was ALSO caused, and so on. So there is a tree of causes that branches backwards in time with it’s root at this single event…me deciding to reply to your comment. BUT eventually all of those causal chains reach back to a single point in time…the beginning of our universe, 13.7 billion years ago.

    But, what caused the beginning of our universe? Well, possibly it was an uncaused event…it just happened, with no explanation. But this would mean that everything that followed also has no explanation and is ultimately uncaused as well. The universe came into being, for no reason, with a specific set of physical laws and an initial state with respect to the distribution of matter and energy, and everything else followed from that.

    So in that view, there is no answer to the question of “why did I decide to reply to your comment” except to say, “because that’s just the way the universe is”.

    Of course, the first instant of the universe COULD have been caused by something outside and prior to it…but then what caused that external event? And what caused that cause’s cause? And so on? Here we have no explanation either, just an infinite chain of prior causes that we never get to the beginning of. So in this view too, the only answer to the question of “why did I decide to reply to your comment” is to say, “because that’s just the way the universe is”.

    It is not possible to explain something in terms of something else which is itself unexplained.

    So, predictions. The first thing is to place you and your predictions inside of your physicalist world view. So your predictions are *caused* by past events, which were themselves caused, and so on – back to either a first “uncaused cause”, or back along an infinite chain of prior causes.

    In this view, what “explains” the success of your predictions? Well…there is no explanation, right? Your prediction was correct because that’s just the way the universe is. Both your prediction AND it’s success were completely determined by the initial state of the universe 13.7 billion years ago, plus the laws of physics that we have (which may have a probabilistic quantum aspect).

    And since the universe’s initial state has no explanation, neither does anything that follows from it, since they can only be explained in terms of something which is itself unexplained. Ultimately, things just are the way they are.

    The real question is, why do you have the conscious EXPERIENCE of making predictions, and the *feeling* of understanding or vindication when your predictions are successful? How do you account for qualia in your physicalist ontology?

  13. 13. Mark Muhlestein says:

    I’ve enjoyed all the comments here. Thanks, Peter, for posting a link to my write-up, and for running a great site. Some specific responses:

    Allen: I like the way you expressed one of the main concerns I have about computationalism: it may well be that the content of conscious experience can be represented in a computational system, but why that representation would feel conscious is left unexplained. This is also true for neurons, of course, but assuming physicalism, the notion of feeling as something that arises from a certain type of interaction of specific physical components sounds a lot more plausible than imagining feeling as arising from a logical relationship among symbols whose meaning is observer defined and observer relative. (And of course, as you point out, the feeling of consciousness could be fundamental.)

    Peter: if one accepts computationalism but not panpsychism, it does indeed seem that the right sort of causal structure would be important. But what is the right sort? For example, I could run the whole brain emulation (WBE) and instead of filming the computation, I could create a lookup table where the key is the last state, and the result is the next state, then just re-run the “computation” by starting with the initial pattern then looking up each state instead of computing it using the CA. Will this result in subjective feeling? And do I need to bother with actually displaying the pattern using real lights, or will the feeling of subjective consciousness arise just by looking up the sequence of states in a computer’s memory? If your intuition is that table lookup is not a valid method of generating the states, consider that the implementation of each cell’s logic unit could easily be a lookup table that sets the LED based on looking up that cell’s next on/off state using the current on/off states of the neighbors as the key. If that is valid as a computational method, why not a lookup of the entire state?

    On the question of zombies, Peter: unless you’re a panpsychist, surely you’d agree that in the Ray and Woody scenario, Ray is being fooled into believing an entity is conscious which is in fact as wooden as it gets: a recording. But because that recording behaves in every way exactly as a conscious being would, and because poor Ray has no way of knowing that this is not the first time around, in that system wouldn’t you want to say that Woody is something very much like a zombie? We have a thing with no inner experience but which acts in every way indistinguishable from a conscious human. Ergo, zombies are not impossible in a world where full knowledge about the true nature of that world is missing.

    A question for anyone who accepts computationalism but not panpsychism: I’ve run this thought experiment past quite a few people who would call the free-running WBE conscious, but who would not accept that just projecting the pattern is conscious. But no one (so far) has been able to explain what happens in the partial projection cases, other than to express a vague notion that the feeling of consciousness would somehow be degraded. Question: what does it mean to say that conscious feeling would be degraded if there is no way for the putative conscious entity to detect and report on the difference?

    There are many, many more questions raised by this and other related thought experiments. I sure hope my many friends in the transhumanist community who are looking forward to uploading their consciousness into a computer will have thought this through very carefully before pushing the button to start a destructive scan of their brain!

    Mark Muhlestein

  14. 14. Vicente says:

    Allen: “biased philosophy”, sorry, the statatement is definitely very unclear. I just meant that pure empiricism taken too stringently seems a very biased approach to me. I “believe” knowledge can be obtained from theoretical reasoning too.

  15. 15. Allen says:

    Mark: “And of course, as you point out, the feeling of consciousness could be fundamental.”

    Are there any specific reasons that you find consciousness to be a less appealing candidate for fundamental status than, say, Matter?

    So aside from the obvious question of how unconscious matter gives rise to conscious experience, and all of the related issues that you pointed out in your thought experiment, there’s also the question of Kant’s First Antinomy. To quote Roger Scruton on this:

    “Suppose we were to accept the big bang hypothesis concerning the origin of the universe. Only a short-sighted person would think that we have then answered the question of how the world began. For what caused the bang? Any answer will suppose that something already existed. So the hypothesis cannot explain the origin of things. The quest for an origin leads us forever backwards into the past. But either it is unsatisfiable- in which case, how does cosmology explain the existence of the world? – or it comes to rest in the postulation of a causa sui – in which case, we have left the scientific question unanswered and taking refuge in theology. Science itself pushes us towards the antinomy, by forcing us always to the limits of nature.”

    And still further, the question of how to interpret what quantum mechanics says about matter, with respect to quantum fields, wave-particle duality, entanglement, the nature of the Born probabilities, the measurement problem, and so on.

    Physicalism seems to have just as many problems, if not more, than just taking consciousness to be fundamental.

  16. 16. Allen says:

    Vicente: Theoretical reasoning can provide knowledge about the contents of our conscious experience, but not of what exists.

    So, taking your view, we have our observations and we want to explain them. To do this, we need some context to place our observations in. So we postulate the existence of an external universe that “causes” our observations. But then we want to explain what caused this external universe…and the only option is to postulate the existence of a much larger multiverse. But then what explains the multiverse?

    So this leads to the need for an infinite series of ever larger contexts against which to explain the previous context that we used to explain the previous context that we used to explain the fact of our initial observations.

    So nothing can be explained in terms of only itself. To explain it, you have to place it in the context of something larger. Otherwise, no explanation is possible, and you just have to say, “this is the way it is because that’s the way it is.”


    Basically there’s only two way the process can end. Two possible answers to the question of “Why do I observe the things that I observe?”:

    1) Because things just are the way they are, and there’s no further explanation possible.

    2) Because EVERYTHING happens, and so your observations were inevitable in this larger (largest!) context of “everything”.

    Which of these are you proposing? Is there some other option?

  17. 17. Vicente says:

    Allen: Well, you can structure your knowledge on certain a topic in different layers of deepness and complexity. So theoretical reasoning could discover general laws behind the behaviour of what you observe. Laws that in principle would be hidden to direct observation. That is what I mention two big questions: How does it behave? and What is it?; Then you produce concepts like energy and force and momemtum and particles, to be able to create “theoretical models” = theories, that describe the world around. eg: You could incorporate the particle concept to your model, without the need asking yourself “What is the real nature of the particle?”, or you can elaborate a model for the particle structure and transfer the prior question to the particle components, and so on.

    And here is where Popper comes in telling us that all you can assure is that your model fits in up to a certain extent in certain observations, you can never proof it right, but you could proof it wrong through the right experiment.

    If you want to achieve the ultimate knowledge on everything, and in particular on what is the very nature of mind and consciousness, then, I agree we are immerse in a big mistery.

  18. 18. Mark Muhlestein says:

    Allen said: Are there any specific reasons that you find consciousness to be a less appealing candidate for fundamental status than, say, Matter?

    I say “assuming physicalism” above because otherwise it makes little sense to compare one physical system (a computer) to another (neurons). I’m so far uncommitted as to the fundamental nature of reality.

    One thing I would say though: there is clearly some kind of close, bi-directional relationship between the physical world (whatever that is) and consciousness. Anyone who has been knocked unconscious or taken a mind-altering drug can attest to that. I think our best clues to the nature of reality come from examining this relationship.

    And still further, the question of how to interpret what quantum mechanics says about matter, with respect to quantum fields, wave-particle duality, entanglement, the nature of the Born probabilities, the measurement problem, and so on.

    Physicalism seems to have just as many problems, if not more, than just taking consciousness to be fundamental.

    Yes, there are many unsolved problems with physicalism. But though it may not yield ultimate explanations, I don’t think pursuing understanding of the world through science is by any means a worthless enterprise. (Not that I think you are saying that it is.) We have to try as many approaches as we can. As I said at the end of my piece, “Given how little we know, the proper attitude is humility, always with a searching, open mind”.

    Mark Muhlestein

  19. 19. Allen says:

    So my point can be summarized as: “If consciousness is caused, what causes the causes?”

    And this question is important for ANY causal “explanation” of consciousness, not just physicalism.

    If you haven’t explained the entire causal stack “below” consciousness, then you haven’t explained anything. Positing an unexplained universe to explain our conscious observations is clearly a dodge, right?

    Kant’s position was that observation plus reason aren’t enough to determine what really exists, because we can’t pierce the veil of perception to see what lies beneath.

    In this he anticipated functionalism/computationalism, right? If you are in a computer simulation, like The Matrix for example, there’s no scientific experiment you could perform that would allow you to discover this, UNLESS the simulation had flaws. Your experiments would only tell you about the rules of the simulation. The experiments would never reveal anything about the hardware the simulation ran on, OR the physical laws of the universe that contained the hardware.

    So any set of observations that matched the observations we have, would lead one to derive the laws of physics that we have, EVEN if you are in a simulation running on an alien supercomputer in an alternate universe with completely different physical laws (laws which still allow for implementations of Turing machines!).

    Or if the computations were carried out by a cellular automaton. OR even stranger implementations that were functionally isomorphic to your cellular automaton. Or could be Putnam mapped to the state of your automaton.

    SO…coming back to my original point…postulating causes of consciousness gets you nowhere. You can have your preferred theories and beliefs, but you can’t justify those beliefs. As Kant pointed out about 230 years ago.

  20. 20. Peter says:


    I wouldn’t say I accept computationalism, it’s more that I’m half-convinced that something more or less like some kind of functionalism may well be near the truth…

    What is the right sort of causal relation? I wave my hands. The best I can say is that perhaps a certain kind of function is necessary for consciousness, and that where we have look-up tables and programs what we tend to have is a description of the function and a (puppet-like) simulation of the function, but not the function itself. To say more would be wasting your time with my confused intuitions.

    On zombies, yes there are all sorts, and something that’s externally indistinguishable from a human being is one kind. But if you stick with that kind, I don’t think you can derive the most interesting consequences.

  21. 21. Shankar says:

    Computer states are as much causal as whatever happens in the brain. Every new state of the computer is a function of the preceding state. We can certainly program the computer to follow the fundamental differential equations of physics, so causality should not be an issue.

    Admitted that computer states are discrete, but analog computers do exist, although fairly simpler and built to solve a particular kind of problem. But there is no theoretical reason as to why they cannot be made as complex as existing digital computers.

    I don’t think there is a sound reason to believe that analog computers are more ‘conscious’ than digital ones.

  22. 22. Lloyd Rice says:

    Peter: It seems like nit-picking old grapes to point out that the Turing machine state comparison is not applicable because it assumes that the input tape is fixed; there is no real-world input. This train of thought seems to precipitate the whole discussion of causality and billiard balls, etc. Mark indeed addresses this question at great length, but then inexplicably abandons that discussion when he turns to the story of the projected WBEs. Let me drastically simplify the scenario to make my point.

    Consider real-life Woody and Ray sitting, having their discussion about qualia, WBEs, etc. Now suppose you record the conversation. Can real Ray ask recorded Woody what he feels? Of course not. The fact that recorded Ray asked recorded Woody the same question misleads us into somehow thinking that the recording might somehow be interactive in the world. It clearly is not. Even though this is an extremely elaborate recorder that can record every detail of the operation of Woody’s brain, it is still a recording, a chunk of reality frozen, petrified forever. You can examine the recording to whatever level of detail you like, but you can never interrogate it and get real-world answers. The only way you can make the projected WBE scenario work is with recorded material. It cannot run live.

    Mark presages this conundrum in an early section when he says you can stop the simulation and back it up, and ask the same question over again, and get the same answer. Whoa! Is it live or is it Memorex? (with apologies to Ella Fitzgerald).

    Suppose that during the live conversation, you had a real-time interactive WBE connected into Woody’s brain and it gradually takes over Woody’s function. Do the qualia fade? I think not. If we have a real WBE playing the role of the projector, then it can take over Woody’s thoughts without interruption. As the “take-over” proceeds, the qualia in the WBE gradually replace Woody’s own qualia. This situation is distinct from the recorded take-over situation in that here, a fully functioning WBE is running the projector.

    In the “p-zombies” section of Mark’s paper, a paragraph that begins, “A second case arises”, almost deals with this issue. But then he drops it. Let’s consider the extreme case. Suppose you could stop time and turn it back and replay the universe. Was Woody conscious during the replay? I’m sure he was. I’m certain that Woody could convince his companion that he was conscious. But again, recorded Woody can never interact with live Ray. Real-time Ray is effectively in a different universe.

    Introduced in later sections, Mark’s “Inert Projected Computation” appears to deal with this distinction as does all of Mark’s later discussion of contrafactual sensitivity. But I believe that throughout, he confuses interactions taking place within the recording with interactions between the recording and the observer in the live universe. The latter must always be limited to one-way inspection. This is the essence of my argument: I claim that interactions within the recording and interactions in the live universe are distinct. I do not accept Mark’s premise that he has “[blurred] the distinction between a computation and the recording of a computation”.

    On a rather different point, consider this: Mark assumes thoughout that we have an ideal WBE capable of emulating Woody in all detail. Suppose that is not quite the case. Is a sprinter with a steel foot really running? Most of us would probably say “yes”, although the olympic awards committee might want to debate the question. I would argue that as long as the WBE is capable of human-like behavior, then we would have to say that it does have “human-like” qualia (but see the next paragraph). It may well be that one day we will have to face just this question and ask whether a steel brain is capable of “human-like” qualia. We will no doubt have the equivalent of olympic committees who will demand that the WBEs be excluded from human events.

    I must admit that I have not (yet, or at least recently) pursued all of the references cited in Mark’s late section, “Some Background”. I will continue to explore these issues. At this point, I do agree that a pattern-playback (Eliza-like) program will never be conscious unless it includes a world model with which it can evaluate itself in the world. I do not accept the claim that “the Inert Projected Computation is either a p-zombie or conscious”.

    As I have said elsewhere, I am fully convinced that if we have a computational device capable of building a detailed internal representation of the world it is in, including a representation of itself in that represented world, and if the device can store and recall memories of the world representation and of itself, then the universe is such that the device will experience qualia to some degree, depending upon the degree of elaboration of the internal world representation. For me, this is not unlike the billiard balls bouncing as they reliably trace out observable and repeatable physical relationships. To ask why this happens is to ask why the universe exists. I agree with Allen (if that is indeed what he said) that you cannot ask that question from a point inside that universe. On the other hand, I believe that to understand how this happens in the brain or could happen in a computational device is fully within our capabilities and that one day we will understand how it happens in the same sense that we understand the billiard balls’ trajectories.

  23. 23. Mark Muhlestein says:

    Lloyd: Thanks for thinking about this. You’ve made a lot interesting of points, but there is one that I’m confused about: you seem to be saying that a computation will only be conscious the first time it is run. Or maybe that it is not conscious unless it is interacting with the “real world”. Do I have that right?

    I would contend that if a computation is conscious the first time, it ought to be conscious any time it is performed. In every run, the initial state is the same, and all inputs are the same. After all, it’s a computation. How does it distinguish between the first run and subsequent runs? And how can consciousness depend on whether it’s interacting with the “real” world? All it has are its inputs, and in my scenario they are the same each time, regardless of when or how they were initially constructed. The rose smell, for example, would be a specific pattern of data going into the simulated olfactory system. We wouldn’t be waving a real rose in front of the computer.

    In your simplified Ray and Woody scenario, you seem to be saying that the second time through both Ray and Woody are recordings, but in my scenario it’s not like that. Only Woody is a recording. Ray’s behavior and internal states are being computed, and the WBE running Ray has complete counterfactual sensitivity and the expected causal structure. It just happens to be running the same computation as it did before. So any feeling of consciousness that was present the first time should still be there.

    One unrelated question, Lloyd. Since you seem to accept computationalism, I would be interested to get your reaction to my question above in comment 13, regarding the conscious state of a partial projection.

    Mark Muhlestein

  24. 24. Lloyd Rice says:

    If I were sprawled out on a Matrix couch, it would not seem to matter whether the neural stimulations came from some sort of rehash of the “real world”, or some kind of simulator, or from a recording. I have to think this through some more.

    As for the recorded Ray, I wanted one case where both were recorded just to establish that side of the scenario. It is analogous to the case of stopping time and having the guys chatting during the replay of the universe. But it is true that the real issue is the access that the real Ray has to the recorded Woody data.

    By “partial projection”, I assume you are referring to the case where the projector is playing back recorded data, not the case of a WBE running the projector (those are my words, not quite the way you said it). So if Woody and the projector are reproducing a recorded case, I would think the recording could go on as if there were no change as the cells were changed over. I do have a problem with saying that
    Woody would not notice anything, because he is just a recording. It’s sort of like copying a tape. You just get a second copy of the dead stuff. You could run two originals at the same time and gradually turn a volume control from one source to the other, making a single copy. The copy should come out fine.

    For similar reasons, I hesitate to talk about a recording being conscious, although I do agree that Woody would be conscious with time turned back. Hmmmm?

    Your notion of contrafactual sensitivity seems to come into play here. I am still not entirely clear on when that can work and when not.

    So much to think about.

  25. 25. Lloyd Rice says:

    OK. Partial projection.

    First, some preliminaries.
    In order to make any of this work at all, we will require that three conditions be met. We must agree (for now) that consciousness does not depend on any quantum effects. We must agree to keep the random number generator far away. And, most difficult, we must agree that there is no random thermal noise in the system. Some might claim that creative decision-making depends on random noise, but for now, we will have to forgo that possibility.

    Given these, I see no problem in being able to restart the WBE program and expect that the same behavior will result with each run.

    Now what we are doing in partial projection is that we start out with WBE Ray talking to his WBE friend Woody. Gradually, we substitute a recording for Woody’s functioning brain. Since the whole thing is running in a noiseless computational environment, there is no reason to think WBE Ray will catch on to the substitution. So he is convinced he is still talking to his WBE friend when, in fact, he is now talking to a recording. I think we can forgive him if he wrongly claims that Woody is still conscious. I do not see this as refuting Ray’s ability to judge consciousness when he sees it. He has been duped, after all.

    What does WBE Woody experience? He, too, is duped in a similar way. In fact, if I have the scenario correct, Woody gets gradually turned off. His brain has been disconnected and a recording substituted. Does he sense that this is happening? As long as the noiseless conditions are in effect, we can assume that the recording that takes over is a correct copy of the evolving state of Woody’s brain. We must assume that the WBE computer will continue to operate just as if it was actually still connected. But the scenario did not include an interlude during which Woody stopped to contemplate his state of affairs. So he must just go on as if it was really him doing it. But, in fact, it is really a recording running the show, not Woody. I don’t think it makes a lot of sense to ask whether Woody is conscious toward the end of the scenario. Mainly, that is because you cannot in any way alter the process to inquire. I suppose that if you had a debugging port attached to Woody so you could examine the internal state without altering the program flow, you would get readings indicating that Woody is conscious. Still, I think that result is somehow unreal because we have been duped, much as Ray and Woody were.

  26. 26. Lloyd Rice says:

    Some final thoughts on partial projection …

    Woody is dead — Dead as a block of wood.

    He died sometime early in the take-over process. According to the description, he appears to continue to function, alive and well. In fact, he is in the middle of a conversation, convincing Ray that he is a living, conscious being. But it’s all a sham. It’s really a recording fooling Ray and us. Any reasonable debugging port will tell us that the computational units are no longer working — that they are simply being driven by the external light source. And — this is the crux of the matter — there is no way we can check to see what’s really going on. The whole show is merely being driven by the recording, any interference will bring the whole charade crumbling to dust; Woody turns to sawdust.

    What actually happened at a detailed level? The “spec” is intentionally vague as to how a computational unit actually works. It only says that “each unit cell sets its own light on or off depending on how the neighbors were set in the previous time step”. But in a Conway-type computer, the light show, including sensing neighboring cells, is only the “input” side of the computation. Each cell must also have an “output” side that performs the logic, such as detecting and signaling the arrival of a glider. It is presumably this aspect that we disable to accomplish the switch-over. Whatever we did, the logic detected the failure as surely as did the debugging port. The “spec” could be beefed up to fix this, but that would defeat the purpose of the scenario.

    So Woody is dead. In fact, it may well be a contradiction in the “spec” that Woody appears to live on. His function surely depends on whatever logic aspect of the units it was that we disabled. The fact that the light show continues may fool Ray, but it does not assure Woody’s well-being.

  27. 27. Mark Muhlestein says:

    Again, thanks for thinking about this Lloyd. Let me clarify some things, if I can.

    The Matrix scenario is very different from what I am talking about here. In The Matrix, a real human brain is fooled by supplying computer-generated sensory inputs. In my scenario, there is no brain, just a computational system that by hypothesis emulates a brain accurately enough that it behaves in a manner indistinguishable from a real brain. The inputs can come from “real” sensors, or they could be computer generated.
    You want to distance the emulation from quantum effects, randomness, and thermal noise. That is entirely unnecessary. As I explain in the piece, any randomness can come from a table of random numbers generated by any random process you like, such as a quantum source. The only thing needed to make it work is that the same random numbers must be used again for the subsequent runs. Of course, if it turns out that quantum effects must be emulated before human-identical behavior arises, that means the amount of computation required for the emulation is exponentially larger, but in terms of the thought experiment, quantum effects should make no difference.
    The “spec” I give for each cell is complete, in the sense that the complete behavior for Conway’s Life is captured by saying that for each cell, the input is the optically-detected on/off state of the neighbors, and the output is turning off or on that cell’s LED in the next time step, following Conway’s rules. That’s all there is to it. Gliders and such are higher-order constructs that may be used to implement the emulation, but such details are immaterial to the discussion. (For the most part; I do discuss this briefly in the section “Are all parts of the computation equally critical for consciousness?”)
    You say, “Woody is dead.” I’d tend to agree. Not only is Woody dead, but in order to fool Ray, the only parts you really need to project are the outputs from Woody that are fed into the translator that converts them into inputs for Ray. So we don’t strictly even need any of “Woody”. But again, the Ray and Woody scenario deals with the possible existence of zombies. It isn’t necessarily related to the question of consciousness under partial projection. You also say, “… fooling Ray and us.” Well, no, we are not fooled. We know what is happening, since we set it up. Ray is the one that is missing a critical piece of the picture.

    By partial projection I mean the case where some portion of the cells in the original thought experiment (nothing to do with Ray and Woody) are disabled, and instead of computing the pattern we instead project the results of what the computation would have been onto the array. This could be just one disabled cell for one time step, or maybe all cells in the top half of the array, or maybe every second cell gets disabled and projected every third time step, etc. etc. Whatever pattern you like.

    Certainly counterfactual sensitivity comes into play here, since when part of the computation is projected, the pattern would likely be completely disrupted by any inputs that were different from those of the computation that we recorded previously. And of course, proper causality seems violated if any part of the pattern is not computed, but is instead just projected. These are the factors that might lead one to conclude that consciousness would be impaired or obliterated under a partial projection.

    One salient question regarding partial projection is: what is it like to be the putatively conscious WBE when not all of the computation is free running (i.e. counterfactual sensitivity and appropriate causality are completely or partially missing)? If it indeed feels different somehow, yet that difference is not detectable or reportable afterward, what does that mean? As I say in the piece, it’s no good enabling all the cells and turning off the projector (thereby presumably restoring full consciousness) then asking the WBE if there was any difference, because the states are always identical, regardless of whether part or all of the computation was projected. So what does it even mean to say that consciousness was degraded?

    One important take home to me for both the original thought experiment and the Ray and Woody scenario is that we cannot just automatically believe what a putatively conscious entity says with regards to its own consciousness. It’s entirely possible for it to be wrong. If I write a program that prints out “I am conscious”, I have little reason to believe it. If it were to turn out that the feeling of consciousness cannot be realized on a discrete state machine, we would likewise be forced to disbelieve a WBE when it tells us it is conscious, Ray Kurzweil notwithstanding. Again, the critical question is: what is consciousness?

    Mark Muhlestein

  28. 28. Lloyd Rice says:

    Forgive me that I somewhat glibly slip between the WBE and my own brain. It helps me to think that they are somehow equivalent. And I agree that a resettable random number generator can fill in for any but thermal noise effects. And for most digital computers, we can disregard those effects.

    However, I disagree that your logic description of each cell is complete. The Life sequence will continue without any further interaction from us, but in that form, we cannot “read out” what it is doing. What I called the “output” layer is somewhat analogous to the motor system, except that it is distributed throughout the logic system. It is the way the state of the Life pattern is made accessible so the rest of the WBE can make use of it. It’s not enough that gliders zoom around. Rather, it’s the arrival of a glider at one spot that triggers whatever action we want to be contingent upon the state of the Life grid. It is exactly the readout of such higher-order constructs that makes the grid computationally useful. Otherwise, it just goes on its own merry way. It seems that you acknowledge this when you say “gliders and such are higher-order constructs that may be used to implement the emulation.”

    And next, you agree that Woody is dead. I must be missing something here. So the Life emulation that implements Woody is not the issue at all. You are asking only about Ray and his reaction to the whole affair. If that is what you are asking, then my response that Ray was duped was unsatisfactory. You still wanted to say that Ray had been rendered incapable of judging Woody’s true condition. OK. In a way that is true, but that is where my claim about the problem with recordings comes into play. The fact that we were giving Ray a recording to work with and not a real-life situation is …. pause …. different. Gulp.

    Now wait a minute. What is the difference between asking whether Woody is a zombie vs. the partial projection consciousness question? Is that not the same question? Let me try to answer my own question.

    You disable part of the array, the Life pattern continues, and you want to know whether the WBE still acts the same. I certainly agree that the light projection onto the grid has to exactly duplicate what the Life pattern would have produced (and we have thus ruled out any counterfactuals). But I assume that we’re now asking what the WBE does that previously depended on the Life grid. That seems to be what your “One salient question” paragraph is about. If I agree for now to drop my “higher-order construct readout” objection, then I think we’re talking about the same thing in asking about the feelings of the WBE which is based on the Life grid. And the other question is, “what difference does it make to Ray, who has to judge the validity of the whole business?”

    I have to say that I still have a deep feeling that it makes a major difference somehow that a recording is involved. I acknowledge your paragraph in the “conundrum” piece where you discuss whether or not it should matter that this is the first time through or a later rerun. And similarly, whether live real-world inputs should matter. This answer must be different for humans and for WBEs. For a human it is basically impossible to ever duplicate the input conditions; everything is real-time, live, on-line, forever. For the WBE, I don’t know whether it is a blessing or a curse that the universe can be stopped and rewound. But personally, I just can’t get into the philosophical discussions of causality, etc, that took up most of the first dozen or so comments to this topic.

    It’s certainly true that we need to have Ray think carefully about his decision before he reports his conclusions. I’ve been struggling for more than a year now to decide whether I think insects and lizards have any slight spark of consciousness. I have basically decided that all mammals and probably birds do have it. Of course, none of these creatures can tell me what they feel, any more than my neighbor’s dog can.

    I am not planning to go in any time soon for an upload. My guess is that Ray (Kurzweil, that is) is off by a decade or so, but that eventually we will get to most of what he talks about. In any case, I will almost certainly be dead before any of it happens.

    My conclusion would be that before I could believe an entity’s claim of consciousness, I would need to know something about the internal construction. With entities I believe to be human, I’m willing to accept the construction, but certainly not any random WBE. And what if we discover life on another planet? I come back to my short list of components needed to implement consciousness, which includes at least a world model with memory. I’m open on how much of motor ability might be required. My thought on that is that motor abilities are almost certainly required to develop consciousness from a neonate condition, but may not be required if the rest of it can just be constructed full blown and turned on.

  29. 29. Anonymous says:

    Why would memory be needed for consciousness? Maybe for “understanding” and “reasonging” but for pure consciousness I don’t see the need.

    Eg: when a baby perceives the world “for the first time”, unless there is a genetically built-in memory to be used, you have a conscious being with almost no memories… and meditators claim to achieve pure “present” states with no past and no future projections, which I believe true.

  30. 30. Vicente says:

    previous comment: 29, is mine. “for the first time” means at the beginning, before memory recording mechanisms are mature enough.

  31. 31. Shankar says:

    I think the only way to differentiate between passive (replay) and active computer execution has to occur in the setting of ‘many worlds’ universe.

    In active execution, there would be alternative paths to the inputs and the program will respond accordingly. This will not happen in the case of replaying (recorded Woody in the above example) one path of the wave function. Maybe consciousness has to do with the ability of a computer to branch-off at each and every time according to each alternate scenario, even though we human observers will observe only one branch (the one we putatively live in).

    I feel that the standard AI paradigm of running deterministic programs is a dead end in understanding consciousness and will lead us to nowhere.

    It is high time philosophers started taking quantum computing seriously and try to grasp the philosophical ramifications of the ‘many world’s theory’ as well as the basic tenets of QM. I think that this step will be necessary in understanding consciousness if epiphenomenalism is indeed true.

    All in all, I think a strong foundation in QM is necessary for philosophers dabbling in the field of consciousness.

  32. 32. Lloyd Rice says:

    Vicente: Memory? Here are my thoughts.

    When a baby first perceives the world, it also, in the very process, begins to form memories of what it has perceived. I suspect, in fact, that the mechanisms for storing memories are indeed part and parcel of the perception process. Writings, such as Hofstadter’s “I am a Strange Loop” deal with this in some depth. I might add here that there is significant evidence that that initial moment comes some time before birth. Babies do respond to various events in mother’s environment. But my comments still apply.

    As for what a meditator experiences, I cannot comment. I have personally not achieved a level of meditation that would qualify as ‘pure “present” states with no past and no future projections’, so I cannot comment from my own experience. I have read some on the subject, particularly a largish work exploring the science of meditation, but at the moment, I cannot find the book.

  33. 33. Lloyd Rice says:

    Memory — continued: I would add that I believe consciousness begins at just about that first moment when perception (with memory) begins. I do not believe there would be any consciousness prior to that moment.

  34. 34. Lloyd Rice says:

    Consider, for example, all that the Libet work says about the interaction of memory with consciousness.

  35. 35. Vicente says:

    Lloyd: OK, of course I agree memory plays a crucial role in our experience of being, no doubt. But for the pure fact of consciousness I am not so sure. Look at your own remark (34) “…interaction of memory with consciousness…”, means two entities: consciousness and memory.

    For me, the point is that it is very difficult to picture a counscious experience without the “observer” interpreting or understanding somehow the experience, and for that you need some kind of prior knowledge that enables the understanding, and for that you need memory. It puzzles me. Otherwise it would be like a picture reflected on a mirror with no intelligence involved, if I may use this analogy. But maybe that is a pure conscious experience. I don’t know, although I see your point.

  36. 36. Lloyd Rice says:

    Vicente, Let me first say how much I appreciate the chance to bounce some of these thoughts off of minds more penetrating than my own. That goes for you, too, Mark. And Peter …, I can’t say enough.

    I my opinion, things have taken a wild turn in the last year or so. I have been especially influenced by four books. First I will mention Pentti Haikonen’s “Conscious Machines”. More stimulating is “Artificial Consciousness”, a collection of papers generally inspired by symposia in Italy and Argentina, edited by Chella and Manzotti. Most influential of the four is a pair of books by Igor Aleksander, “How to Build a Mind” and “The World in my Mind”. One other book which I have just started, Jeffrey Gray’s “Consciousness” looks very interesting. I wish my website was up to date instead of the dead lump of thoughts it is.

    I believe that consciousness has its beginnings in the cooperation of some number of senses, which collaborate to construct an internal representation of the world. I suspect that the cooperation is an essential element in filling in details that would not be available to any one sense. Just how to go about combining the details from multiple senses is not well understood, although engineers have been struggling for years with what they call sensor fusion. Aleksander has some fairly specific ideas on how this could be done in a neural architecture. There is some variation among authors on just how much of this process should come under the heading of “perception”. I tend to lump the whole world-model building process under that term. I also think of this model fusion process as the core of what has been called the “binding problem”, although some have use that term in other ways.

    So what to do with this world model? Clearly, the next step is to be able to make immediate use of it to assure the well-being of the organism. So we seem to have a very elaborate and well developed collection of evaluation mechansisms that test this world model for conditions relevant for survival. The most studied is probably the amygdala, which tests for a variety of dangerous situations and stands ready to send signals to the motor system to initiate alarms, avoidance, or whatever other responses might be appropriate. Initially, this all happens preconsciously.

    At the same time, however, there is a more general evaluation system which has the ability to make more thorough analyses of the input and compare it with old and new memories of situations which have been experienced, learned, studied, or otherwise have left their trace in the organism’s background. This is the attention system. From what I know about this, it probably originates in the thalamus and is mediated by the brainstem reticular system. I have not studied these systems as much as I would like. But it is this interaction between incoming stimuli and the evaluations of the attention system that constitute the primary signals to the organism of what aspects of the input need to be processed more thoroughly.

    Some, but not all, world events which come into the purview of (I want to say “come to the attention of”) this attention mechanism come into the awareness of the organism. Exactly how that happens, I do not know any better than anybody else. It is my view that it is simply a property of the way things work in this universe that if you put together all these pieces working together in this way, the result is consciousness. That conviction comes, more than anywhere else, from the philosophy of Ken Wilber. I have used the phrase, “the view from inside the box”. Later, I learned of Varela’s phrase, “The View from Within”. But I must admit, I have little to base my beliefs on other than the obvious fact that I do not see any other reason it would happen the way it does.

    In the above description, I have not used the term, “cartesian theater” or any other phrases that suggest an internal observer to the world model construction. I agree with Dennett and others who would do away with any such platform. In fact, there is a tendency to think of “the world model” as a single mental feature. I suspect that its various details are distributed across many areas of the brain, probably closely related to the constructions of the various sensory modalities. Edelman and others have done much work on how such distributed representations could be combined into a single “view of the world”, keeping in mind that such a “view” does no more than activate whatever emotions or memories it does in the process of keeping the organism alive and well. Yet, it is that “view” that leads to our awareness of the process and, in turn, the world around us.

  37. 37. Vicente says:

    Lloyd, the feeling is mutual. This blog is a great place, and I congatualute and thank its creator and keeper.

    I would like to say that one of the nicest features of this field is that no mind is better than other, and once we are aware of the deep issue we try to tackle we can all exchange views, from the most knowledgeable professional to amateurs like me, since at the end of the of the day we all know the same, which is almost nothing in real terms. After many years studying the mind-body topic I have not even slightly scratch it, and I believe nobody has in scientific and objective terms. Of course I acknowdlege the great progress achieved in neuroscience foundations, in physiological and functional terms, but very unsatisfactory from the “big question” point of view.

    May I take the opportunity to wish all “conscious entities” mates a great 2010.

  38. 38. Kar Lee says:

    Hi Allen,
    Many comments ago, you asked Mark “Are there any specific reasons that you find consciousness to be a less appealing candidate for fundamental status than, say, Matter?” I think the answer lies in our tendency to accept something that is unchanging as more fundamental than something that is constantly changing.

    For example, why are some fundamental laws in physics consider fundamental? I think it is because they stay the same (or believed to stay the same) over time. So, we have law of conservation of mass. Since mass cannot be destroyed, mass is considered fundamental. Same goes for F=m*a, gravitational constant, etc etc. If there is a “fundamental” law that is ever-changing, we will definitely not call it fundamental. We will look for something deeper that is non-changing.

    But consciousness is ever-changing. As Mark pointed out, one can pass out. So, from a third person point of view, other people’s consciousness cannot be considered fundamental. And if you turn that around and apply it to yourself, you may also infer that your own consciousness is not fundamental as well. However, people who introspect a lot, or more from the “internalist” side of the spectrum, including myself, tends to give more weight to our own consciousness because it is the only thing that is not inferred. It is a direct knowledge. If it is direct knowledge, how can it be not fundamental? (some people may actually object to this line of reasoning…) So, it is very difficult to reconcile these two views.

  39. 39. Vicente says:

    The conservation law is for “mass + energy”, which can transformed one into the other, but preserving total amount.

    Consciousness is ever-changing?? what is ever-changing? the conscious experience? when the image reflected on a mirror changes, does that mean that the mirror changes. In that sense the mirror could be consider the fundamental part.

    Fundamental element in science means it cannot be decomposed in subelements, or substructures.

    can information “itself” be destroyed? or is there a conservation law for information? (I am not refering in entropy terms) that I believe is deeply involved in the nature of consciousness, and its fundamental nature.

  40. 40. Doru says:

    To me the computational view implies some sort of Top-Down Assumption Driven Process. It means the consciousness is being derived from a phenomenological prospective outside of itself.
    A better angle of understanding would be a Ground-Up Knowledge Driven Evolution, which means that instead of thinking of brain modular instances as hardwired and autonomous, we have to adopt a new view and think about the brain as being in a state of dynamic equilibrium with each other and with the environment including the body. By dynamic equilibrium I mean that new connections are being constantly re-made in response to environment changes.

  41. 41. Vicente says:

    Doru: interesting view, but instead of dynamic “equilibrium” wouldn’t it be dynamic adaptation. Dynamic equilibrium means that certain parameters or variables that define the system don’t change with time although there is a flow of other variables. Eg: A human being can be in dynamic equilibrium with the environment, ie: it exchanges mass, energy, entropy with the surroundings but its body constants are stable (for certain time periods), temperature, blood pressure, weight, electrolite concentration etc, for that purpose it has feedback and control systems. The purpose of this equilibrium is to preserve the neccessary inner conditions for the organism to live.

    In the case of the brain that you mention, what are the parameters that the new connections remaking try to keep constant and for what purpose. Could it be to keep the “self” feeling constant, when exposed to environment changes? could that be the driver of a continuos equilibrium-adaptation of the brain for you to remain you for yourself throughout time.

  42. 42. Doru says:

    Hi Vicente,
    From my electronic circuit design experience, I found some distinction between adaptation and equilibrium. The adaptation portion is typically a lot of memory and data where all the values/parameters of the outside world are stored. I guess in “brain translation” that would be the neuro-cortex with all these mirror neurons, etc. I would further venture and call it the “projection screen of the outside world”, that also has “you and yourself” in it.
    Then is the hardwired internal system, which according to the connections it makes to the adaptive memory, it automatically settles itself at an equilibrium. Is where decisions are made. It is also part of a feedback mechanism. It only can turn up or down so it will reach equilibrium with the parameter in its dynamically changing feedback loop.
    In “brain translation” that would be the mammal/emotional brain. The two parameters that is constantly evaluating/adjusting are attraction/fear. I discover that all other emotions that drive us are just flavors of the two.
    Thanks for your feed back

  43. 43. Kar Lee says:

    I like your image/mirror analogy.
    However, just to play the other side’s advocate, if all the images have disappeared, if there is no image to reflect upon, we don’t know if the mirror is still there. What makes a mirror a mirror is its property of reflecting images. With the images gone, this becomes a property that isn’t. It may well be just a smooth piece of wood and it won’t make any practical difference.

    The point is, people can die, and consciousness can disappear, if you are coming from a materialist’s point of view. That’s why it is, in this sense, not fundamental. On the contrary, mass cannot be destroyed or created (by the way, for a discussion of common misconceptions about mass energy conversion, please see http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/equivME/#2.1 or
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conservation_of_energy), that’s why “mass” is more likely to be viewed as fundamental.

    So, to argue that perhaps consciousness is fundamental, one has to show that it is impossible to associate matter to qualia, the content of consciousness, then consciousness has a chance of gaining the fundamental status.

  44. 44. Allen says:

    Kar Lee,

    Well, I think you are starting with a bias towards matter as fundamental, instead of starting with a clean slate and working forward from first principles.

    So we start with our observations, and then we construct narratives that are consistent with what we have observed. These narratives may be useful in analyzing recurring patterns in the records of our past observations, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are true of anything that exists outside of our observations.

    The possible existence of matter in the form of quarks and electrons (or strings, or quantum fields, or whatever) is consistent with our observations, but obviously we have no direct knowledge of quarks and electrons or the rest. Their existence, and the conservation laws associated with them, are inferred from our observations.

    Even something right in front of me, like my chair, I still only know through my conscious experience. I see a chair here, but I don’t know that the chair actually exists. I could be dreaming, for instance, in which case the chair exists entirely within my mind.

    Now, the world that I perceive is pretty stable and orderly. What could explain all of that order? Well…ultimately, nothing can explain it. Ultimately you have to conclude that my perceptions just ARE THAT WAY.

    For instance, let’s say that I explain the order that I perceive by postulating that a world of matter and energy with governing laws exists independently of me. Okay, now we just need to explain this external world. Where did the matter and energy come from? What causes the governing laws? Why this kind of matter and energy and physical laws as opposed to some other?

    In other words, what caused the cause of my orderly perceptions? And what caused that cause? And so on.

    As I said in an earlier post, you either have to postulate an infinite chain of causes, or a first cause.

    If go with a first cause that is itself uncaused, then you are saying that it just was the way that it was, and so everything that followed from it just is the way it was. And so there is no explanation for the order of the world we perceive…it just is that way.

    If you go with an infinite chain of causes, then why that infinite chain of events, as opposed to some other? In fact, why any chain of events at all, why not nothingness?

    I’ll tell you why: Because that’s just the way it is.

    SO, if postulating an independently existing external world doesn’t actually explain anything, and in fact only raises new questions (e.g., how does unconscious matter give rise to conscious experience? what is matter anyway…quantum fields? but then what are quantum fields? and what causes “causality”? what started the whole damn thing, and then what started what started it?)…then why go that direction?

    Ultimately, my perceptions, caused or uncaused, just are what they are. There is no explanation for this that isn’t itself unexplained…and this inexplicableness of it seems to be necessary, not contingent.

    It seems to me that nothing is lost in concluding that consciousness is fundamental, and that science is only about constructing plausible narratives that are consistent with past observations…not about an unexplained and inexplicable independently existing world made of mysterious substances referred to as “matter” and “energy”.

  45. 45. Vicente says:

    Hi Kar Lee,

    Yes, that is buddhist understanging the mirror and the image only make sense as a whole.

    In your reference they go even further hinting that mass and energy are one single manifestion of a unique underlying entity. Anyway, I suggest to check in classical whole academia accepted texts like “Feynman’s lectures on physics”: http://www.feynmanlectures.info/ The point is to agree in what we understand by fundamental. As I said, I understand something as fundamental when it cannot be decomposed into more “basic” elements.

    The problem with consciousness it that we cannot even describe in objective terms what we are talking about. Qualia are subjective by nature. And then as Allen point out, if we assume matter has no some kind of fundamental consciousness itself, it is very difficult to device how qualia can emerge from the brain. See Theilhard de Chardin work.

    Then how to know that consciosness dissapears when we pass out. That was my question on a conservation law for information. It seems that in the universe nothing is ever destroyed, things just evolve. So I find hard to take, that the experience and knowledge of conscious or sentient beings just vanishes to void when they pass away.

    I see Allen’s point, fundamental physics have become as misterious as alchemy. What is really a fundamental particle, or how to interprete “quantum entanglement”, not to say that light travels at speed c, irrespective of the reference system, amazing and beyond human logic.

    For me consciousness could be as fundamental as physical entities, I just don’t know.

    Allen, still for me, there is an asymmetry in matter-consciousness approach. Why can I put mass on a balance, and exchange some objective comments and ideas about it with you and others, but I can’t do that with consciousness….

  46. 46. Allen says:


    As to the asymmetry you mention: So communication depends on common experiences. All fundamental concepts are ineffable, and unless both parties in the conversation have the same set of fundamental concepts, then nothing that derives from those building blocks can be discussed.

    So it’s not the case that there’s something special about the ineffability of qualia. What makes them ineffable is the fact that they are fundamental. They can’t be expressed in terms of anything else. So, if you don’t already have knowledge of them, gained from experience, then I can’t communicate with you about them.

    For instance, my brother and I can use the fundamental concept of red in our conversations because we both know what red is. We both have experience of red. So when he talks about red sunsets, and red apples, and red cars, I have a good idea of what he means. We have yet to encounter difficulties due to a difference of understanding about red.

    However, I cannot communicate clearly with my color-blind cousin about red, because he has no experience of red. So I know that when we discuss red sunsets, we are not communicating with perfect mutual understanding.

    The limits of language has nothing to do with the nature of experience, or consciousness. The problem is that fundamental concepts can’t be described in terms of other things…if they could be, then by definition they wouldn’t be fundamental. Fundamental things can only be pointed at…and if you can’t see what I’m pointing at, then we can’t really talk about it.

    Probably the most common fundamental concepts that share with others are those of space and time. But if you were trying to communicate with some being that had no concept of space and had no spatial experiences to refer to, how far do you think you would get? Probably you could try to use distance between numbers as an analogy to distance between spatial points…but you could do this when discussing colors with a blind person too…RGB encoding for instance.

    We take our shared concepts of space and time for granted I think, but they are in the same boat as qualia…fundamental and in essence uncommunicable.

  47. 47. Kar Lee says:

    Hi Allen,
    I am with you all the way through your argument. In fact, it is the line of thinking I am following myself. As someone who has been promoting the idea of a Universal Mind (see my comments in http://www.consciousentities.com/?p=218), if I am biased, I am biased in your direction.

    But one does have to reconcile with the fact that this phenomenal world shows up for us the way it shows up, so orderly and so knowable (predictable). At the end, no explanation can be fundamental if one keep asking why, just take your billiard ball collision as an example. At the end, you are going to end up with Pauli’s exclusion principle. But then, why the exclusion principle at all? It will be nice if we can come up with a deeper level explanation. But it appears it is the way it is. Does it mean we just stop there? NO. With each deeper level of questions, a deeper level of understanding is achieved. For example, one may take apple falling downward as a fundamental law. I have had an interesting experience debating a person on why we need the concept of gravity to explain apples falling downward, without success. This person took falling downward as so fundamental that the concept of gravity is seemed to be just an unnecessary complication. Then, there are people who takes gravity as so fundamental that the concept of curved space is an unnecessary. But I see the value in keep asking why, because at each deeper level, the answer often lead you into a new direction and understanding. It is a worthwhile endeavor.

    May I point out that even if we are inside a Matrix, totally unaware of a higher reality, it is still worthwhile to poke around in this Matrix reality, hoping that somehow at some point, a defect in the design of the fake reality will reveal itself, and lead us into the next level of the higher reality.

    If one stops too early, and resort to the ultimate answer of “it is the way it is”, then philosophy becomes a religion, which sometimes tends to explain everything in terms of the will of a supreme being. That certainly does not get us very far.

    My hope is, somewhere along the path of investigating fundamental laws of nature, it may be revealed that the laws of physics are not causally closed after all, and we may make some breakthrough.

    To me, the most likely place is the advancement of the “now” pointer in time. It is possible that consciousness is a necessary player in the flow of time because within physics itself, there seems to be no mechanism to cause the “now” moment to keep advancing. What makes “now” now? Which now is the real now? If you live in yesterday, the now moment for you at that point will be yesterday. So, clearly, it makes no sense to talk about the flow of time without discussing consciousness. But without the flow of time, the physical world is not the physical world we know. I believe the philosophy of mind is intrinsically intertwined with the philosophy of time, and consciousness has to be a major player in the formation of this phenomenal world.

    Vicente, I love Feynman’s lectures. Feynman did not get confused though. But it is true, even within the rank of professional physicists, there are still people talking about “converting mass into energy” as if you can destroy mass to get energy, like you can convert Pounds into Dollars. The fact is, “energy” has mass. So, the mass is still there no matter what form you convert matter into. Mass alone is a conserved quantity in a closed system. Since this is not a physics forum. I will not elaborate further. But I agree with you, I also don’t see how materials moving around can result in qualia; thus the Hard Problem. By the way, the Hard Problem is a unique problem for materialists (except for those who deny even qualia). Idealists don’t have Hard Problem. Idealists have a reversed problem: Why does the phenomenal world shows up at all?

  48. 48. Allen says:

    Kar Lee:

    What difference does it make if the laws of physics are causally closed or not? If there are “non-physical” causal influences, the same questions apply: what causes the non-physical causal influences? And what causes the causes? And why those particular non-physical causal influences instead of some other ones? And so on. The exact same points apply.

    Whether the causes are physical or not is completely irrelevant.

    The only reality that we will ever know is the reality of our conscious experiences. It doesn’t matter whether this reality is “caused” by a physical world, a non-physical world, OR is completely uncaused.

    In all three cases, the “ultimate” answer is the same: our experiences just are what they are.

    As for time: what difference does it make if time actually flows OR if space-time is a static block and instead our consciousness flows along one of it’s dimensions? It seems to me that the two are completely equivalent…there’s no reason to choose one over the other. Is there?

    Though, thinking of the universe in terms of a static 4-D space-time block does make my point about “things just are what they are” are little more clear. It’s a block. It just exists. That’s it.

    But the point of “things just are what they are” still holds even if time flows: the present instant was caused by the previous instant and will cause the next instant. Time “flows”. That’s it.

    Right? If not, what am I missing?

    As for “stopping too early” and philosophy becoming a religion: there is no better strategy than to look for patterns in the records of our past observations and act as if those patterns will continue to hold true in the future. Regardless of what really exists, or how things really are, this is the most rational approach.

    EVEN IF reality is totally random, and we’ve just been on a lucky streak, there is STILL no better strategy than to continue to bet as though that lucky streak will hold, right?

    And, the scientific method is probably the best way (or at least as good as any other) to go about pursuing this strategy of finding patterns and using them as a guide for anticipating future events.

    So I’m not proposing that we drop the scientific method, or do anything different. (not that we have any choice – we’re going to do whatever we’re going to do)

    All that I’m saying is that none of this means what people generally assume that it means. It’s just a matter of interpretation.

    Two Wittgenstein quotes:

    “The sense of the world must lie outside the world. In the world everything is as it is, and everything happens as it does happen: IN it no value exists – and if it did exist, it would have no value. If there is any value that does have value, it must lie outside the whole sphere of what happens and is the case. For all that happens and is the case is accidental. What makes it non-accidental cannot lie within the world, since if it did it would itself be accidental. It must lie outside the world.” – Proposition 6.41

    “It’s not HOW things are in the world that is mystical, but THAT it exists.” – Proposition 6.44

  49. 49. Vicente says:

    Allen, you can share with your brother the experience of red, but you cannot measure it, you cannot discuss with your brother about the intensity of the redness of the experience with precission. But if you had an spectrometer you can both agree in the spectrum of red light emitted by the source. That is an asymmetry, physical world can be measured (with certain precision of course) and qualia cannot.

    Even simpler, you have five apples in front of you, you and your blind colour brother cannot share the colour experience because it is subjective, but you can both agree in the number of apples in front of you, because it is an objective characteristic of the scene. So between qualia and matter there is an asymmetry for human beings, which is that qualia are absolutey subjective.

  50. 50. Vicente says:

    Allen, having said that I agree with your view in general terms, being honest the five apples are a subjective experience made of qualia. But it seems to be that within our experiences when we refer to matter we can share some characteristics in “objective” terms, while others are purely subjective, and that causes de assymetry. Do you agree that somebody can understand you better if you state than two is more than one, that if you state that today you feel gloomy with a flavour of bitterness.

  51. 51. Kar Lee says:

    “What difference does it make if the laws of physics are causally closed or not?”
    The answer is:
    “The sense of the world must lie outside the world.”
    I am trying to get “outside the world”, and it provides a path out from within this “world” if physical laws are not causally closed.
    But I know where you are coming from, completely.

  52. 52. Allen says:


    There is no essential difference in communicating information about numbers versus about your emotional state.

    For instance, for someone with severe dyscalculia, the idea of two being greater than one might be much LESS understandable than the idea of feeling gloomy with a touch of bitterness. I can’t communicate with someone who suffers from severe dyscalculia about mathematics, because their subjective understanding of numbers is impaired. They lack the necessary concepts.

    Further, the number “two” might mean something somewhat different to someone with synesthesia than it means to you. To a synesthete, you are lacking the ability to perceive all of the properties of numbers. For instance, for some synesthetes numbers have associated colors or spatial locations…

    SO, let’s just think about what we mean by “communicating information”. When we use a word, it just picks out an idea or a thought that exists in your mind. For instance, out of all of the concepts that humans are capable of thinking, the word “Red” uniquely picks out one of them. But nothing of the experience of redness that is conveyed by the word “Red”. Just like there is nothing of the idea of two-ness conveyed by the word “two”. You already have to know about “two” to correctly interpret the word.

    The information that is conveyed by verbal communication is just a series of unique identifiers for concepts which both parties must both already possess. No *actual* fundamental concepts are EVER communicated in this way.

    Let’s say I tell you, “I have a red cube that is 2 inches on a side.” To understand that message, you must already have the fundamental concepts of redness and of spatial distance and dimension and be able to map the words I’m using to those concepts.

    Note however, that the concept of a “cube” is obviously NOT fundamental…but fully grasping it’s meaning requires possession of the fundamental concepts of spatial distance and dimension.

    So, I can communicate the meaning of “cube” to you because it isn’t a fundamental concept…it’s defined in terms of spatial dimensions. However, I cannot communicate the meaning of “space” or “color” or “emotion” to someone who has no subjective experience of those concepts, because they ARE fundamental.


  53. 53. Vicente says:

    Allen, you are making equivalent redness to two-ness, and I cannot accept that at all. Redness only exists in the observer, it is not a property of the object, that is why I refered to the spectrum of the light which is independent of the observer, then you can call a particular spectrum shape red, if you want to, or we can all agree that certain wave-length is call yellow.

    Of course if somebody has severe brain disorders you cannot communicate at all.

    I am not saying that emotions, qualia and subjective experience are not fundamental. I am saying that some “concepts” are objective, meaning they belong to the object independendently of the observer (healthy and sane observer), eg: the number of items in a scene, or the mass of an apple, and generally can be measured. And others belong to the observer and are subjective and cannot be measured, for example each person’s qualia, which could be as fundamental as anything, I agree.

    You can communicate “cube” because you can describe it in precise geometrical terms, vortex coordinates, angles, lengths etc. You can send me the data and I can build a cube the “size” you want. But you cannot send me the data to build an emotion. Space and time can be subjective or objective depending on the case.

    So, my point is: assuming and accepting that objective and subjective concepts can both be fundamental, emotions and space can be fundamental, there is an assymmetry, I can measure and describe space zones precisely, but I cannot measure or describe emotions precisely.

    There is a paradox stated by Schrödinger, Sherrington and others, called the multiplicity of minds, also known as the arithmetical paradox. Basically it states that mind has to be unique to exchange information, and that each brain just holds an instance of the unicity of mind, in that case the subjective could become objective, but only then. Otherwise, you and I can agree with great accuracy on the mass of planet Earth, but not in the redness of the sunset, unless you translate that redness into a set of objective data that define the properties of the light of the scene. So red light is not the qualia of reddish colours, despite photons could be as fundamental as reddish qualia.

  54. 54. Allen says:


    There is no difference *in kind* between your subjective experience of red and your subjective experience of space. Both are just ways that things seem to you.

    I’m looking at a pencil. It seems light blue to me. If you want to be precise, I’d say it’s RGB color is about (91, 95, 227). To me it also looks about 5 inches long and maybe 3/8th of an inch in diameter.

    Now, if you use a color palette program, you can convert the RGB value I gave you and get an idea of the approximate color of the pencil. If you use a RULER, you can take the spatial values I gave you and get the approximate shape of the pencil.

    There is no difference between color and shape in this example. I send you information that REPRESENTS how the pencil looks to me. But you have to take this information and RE-PRESENT these values to your own subjective experience to get any meaning from the data.

    For this to work – for you to get an idea of what this pencil looks like to me – your subjective experience of space must be about the same as mine, and your subjective experience of color must be about the same as mine.

    If you are color blind, the RGB value is useless to you. If you are “spatial-blind”, or your perception of space is distorted in some way, then the length and diameter information is useless to you.

    The information is about how things SEEM TO ME. You use the information to recreate the experience for yourself. If you can’t have the experience represented by the information, then the information is useless to you.

    It makes no difference whether we are discussing color or space. Though some aspects of experience are more amenable to measurement than others.

    Do I know for certain that blue looks the same to you as it does to me? Or that your experience of space is the same as mine? No. But I will assume that our experiences are similar until I have a reason to suspect otherwise.

    The same holds for mood. I don’t know that your experience of “gloomy” is the same as mine, but I will assume that it is until I have reason to suspect otherwise. I can assign numbers to the intensity my gloomy moods…with 0 being not gloomy at all, and 10000 being extremely depressed. Practically speaking, it is a bit difficult to be extremely precise about gloom level, but this is because my memory of past episodes of gloominess is a bit vague, which makes it difficult to compare different occurrences of gloom perfectly. BUT if I had perfect mood memory recall, then I could indeed be extremely precise. But, again, this is a practical limit on precision, not a theoretical limit.

    Given sufficiently accurate memories, if we wanted to calibrate our “gloom” scales we could compare common experiences of gloominess and come up with some “objective” unit of measure. For instance if we both had dogs we loved that died and we both agreed that this was a pretty gloomy experience, we could use this experience as our common yardstick that we both would then compare all other gloomy experiences to when assigning numeric values. Adjustments could be made as necessary.

    As for counting apples…so what? We can count how many gloomy experiences we’ve had just as well.

    You make a big deal out of internal versus external events. But what really matters is subjective experience. Subjective experience of internal events, subjective experience of external events. When we communicate we are communicating about our subjective experiences…about how the events seemed to us.

    Communication is only about subjective experience.

    Everything that you KNOW, you know subjectively. All of your concepts are things that you have subjective experience of. There is nothing else.

    So, you don’t like the dyscalculia/synesthesia example. Dyscalculia being someone who lacks certain concepts that you have. Synesthesia being someone who HAS concepts that you lack. Relative to an average human, they are not “normal”. But in an absolute sense, they are what they are…conscious entities. Conscious entities whose experience of the world is definitively different than your experience of it.

  55. 55. Vicente says:

    Allen: Taking the pencil example, the dimensions refer to the pencil, while the colour RGB refers to the light reflected by the pencil, not to the pencil. Colors are not properties of matter, they only exist in our minds. So you and I agree in the three RGB parameters, which are objective measures of the incoming lights, we don’t share the blueness, at least we cannot be sure of that as you said. So again there are some objective parameters we can talk about with precision: dimensions, RGB, and other “blueness” that we cannot, assymmetry in the experience.

    Regarding the gloominess , even I accept that you could build the glominess scale (in principle I don’t) then you can only use it to measure your own emotion, but not others, because emotions are subjective. Of course you could measure some brain parameters that you could consider related to gloominess, I don’t know like EEG patterns, or PET images of certain activated areas, whatever, but that is equivalent to the RGB example, you are measuring objective parameters that you think related to the qualia, not the qualia.

    I don’t think all I know is subjective. If you accept there is a world independent from our minds, which can be questioned by the way, and you accept we hace access to that world through our senses and our reasonig then some things are objective as long as they are independent from the observers, for example the dimensions of the pencil are objective, the RGB parameters of the reflected light are objective, the blueness in our minds is subjective.

    I like the example of people with dyscalculia, very interesting, but it doesn’t change anything to me. They have a different subjective perception of the world around, and maybe I cannot discuss a mathematical theorem with them, but the fact they lack some concepts doesn’t mean that those concepts don’t exist.

    On the side of qualia, some creatures (i think pumas, I am not sure) can see a bit into the infrarred spectrum, and some musicians, or animals, can hear very low frequencies like elphants, o very high ones like dogs, so we don’t share with them the qualia related to those stimuli, still they have them, I don’t deny it.

    Synesthesia…seems more like qualia connected to the wrong input channel (or the other way round), rather than different qualia, I don’t know. In evolutive terms, to smell or taste a colour, or to see in colour a flavour, or other combinations, makes little sense. You are right, probably I will never be able to understand or imagine their sensations, because they are subjective, but that underpins my point.

    Allen, to me the main thing is to agree on the existence of a world outside our minds, independent from us, and agree that we can access it through our senses and our intelligence, and if that is the case, to see what we can all say and agree on about the world.

  56. 56. Allen says:


    Hmmmm. We’re not making much progress I think.

    Okay, a quote from Douglas Adams, to set the mood:

    “We live in strange times. We also live in strange places: each in a universe of our own. The people with whom we populate our universes are the shadows of whole other universes intersecting with our own.”

    And now, a quote from your last post:

    “I don’t think all I know is subjective. If you accept there is a world independent from our minds…”

    How do you KNOW that there is a world independent of your mind? Do you know this, or do you just believe it? Why should I accept this?

    Your perception of space, color, emotion, heat, whatever – this is all subjective. These things are all qualia. Even your experience of reasoning is a form of qualia. There’s something that it’s like to ponder the nature of existence. There’s something that it’s like to have the thought: “I don’t think all I know is subjective.”

    These subjective experiences are what you know. From these you INFER other things, things which you merely believe to be true…for example, the existence of a world independent of your mind.

    So, you are positing the existence of an independently existing world to explain your subjective experiences. But then what explains the existence of this independently existing world? And if you come up with an explanation, what explains that?

    Further, how does this independently existing world’s unconscious matter give rise to conscious experience?

    You haven’t explained anything!

    So, I believe that the existence of photons is consistent with what I observe. Given my subjective experiences, it is AS THOUGH photons exist. Do they actually exist? I don’t know. If I were in a computer simulation, like The Matrix, I would also have subjective experiences that would be consistent with the possible existence of photons, but presumably there would be no actual photons in that case, and not necessarily even “simulated photons”…there are many shortcuts that could be taken to still give a realistic appearance. Further, I’ve “seen” things in my dreams, where my experience of seeing also presumably didn’t rely on photons.

    As for the objective “view from nowhere”, this is something you’ve made up. All measurements are subjective, because all experience is subjective, and our subjective experiences are all that we have to work from.

    Let me just through this passage about Kant out there, to see if it gets any traction with you:

    “According to Kant, it is vital always to distinguish between the distinct realms of phenomena and noumena. Phenomena are the appearances, which constitute the our experience; noumena are the (presumed) things themselves, which constitute reality. All of our synthetic a priori judgments apply only to the phenomenal realm, not the noumenal. (It is only at this level, with respect to what we can experience, that we are justified in imposing the structure of our concepts onto the objects of our knowledge.) Since the thing in itself (Ding an sich) would by definition be entirely independent of our experience of it, we are utterly ignorant of the noumenal realm.

    Thus, on Kant’s view, the most fundamental laws of nature, like the truths of mathematics, are knowable precisely because they make no effort to describe the world as it really is but rather prescribe the structure of the world as we experience it. By applying the pure forms of sensible intuition and the pure concepts of the understanding, we achieve a systematic view of the phenomenal realm but learn nothing of the noumenal realm. Math and science are certainly true of the phenomena; only metaphysics claims to instruct us about the noumena.

    By the nature of reason itself, we are required to suppose our own existence as substantial beings and the possibility of our free action in a world of causal regularity. The absence of any formal justification for these notions makes it impossible for us to claim that we know them to be true, but it can in no way diminish the depth of our belief that they are.”

  57. 57. Vicente says:


    Yes, I have absolutely not explained anything, I thought it was more a descriptive exercise.

    In my previous comment I also said that the existence of an independent world can be questioned, and that unless consciousness is a fundamental part of that world it is very difficult to see how qualia emerge from the brain. I believe (I don’t know) there is an independent world. In that point I agree with you.

    Yes, Kant approach is quite solid, but he makes no analysis on the relation/interaction between the phenomena and the noumena, and this brings us to the prior discussion on the causal relations. Then as I said on previous comments, maybe we cannot know the very nature of noumena, I think we cannot, but we can describe it up to a certain extent, and find some laws that “seem” to rule the world.

    All measuremens are NOT subjective, because they can be reproduced and compared by different observers, and that makes them objective. It is a fundamental part of the scientific method.

    The fundamental aspect of the discussion is to accept or not (it is a choice, I agree) the existence of an independent world. Otherwise, subjective and objective categories are not needed any more.

    The big problem for scientists as painters of an scene, is that they cannot paint themselves within the scene (like some painters used to introduce themselves as secondary characters in the pictures, like Velazquez in the “Meninas”). Being consciousness a fundamental part of our reality, we cannot fit it in the model, there is no place for it in the equations, and that is the dramatic breach between phenomena and noumena.

  58. 58. Shankar says:

    Vicente-“All measuremens are NOT subjective, because they can be reproduced and compared by different observers, and that makes them objective. It is a fundamental part of the scientific method.”

    Well, I think from Kant’s point of view, even the different measurements/observers are a product of one’s mind. In the end, what is concrete is only one’s own subjective experience, so we go back to the starting point.

    I think this is the point Allen is trying to make.

  59. 59. Vicente says:

    Shankar- well I should go through Kant again, I confess it’s been a long since the last time I read his work. But I believe Kant accepts the existence of an independent world. Very different is the knowledge about it.

    Even in a world that is a complete product of my mind, with peers and matter created by myself, still then in that world, there would be an asymmetry when considering the qualia of the other conscious dwellers of that world, not accessible to me at all, and matter accessible to everybody.

    You can only break the conclusion if the only consciouss being is yourself, and what you think are other conscious mates, are just dummies, zombies created by yourself, or the matrix, to fool you in the operations theatre you are inmsersed. Could be.

    I find funny the idea of me creating my whole world experince, and not having a clue of what it is or how I did it.

  60. 60. Allen says:

    Shankar: You are correct, that is the point I was trying to make. Your experience of other observers is just as subjective as your experience of what is being measured.


    “Being consciousness a fundamental part of our reality, we cannot fit it in the model, there is no place for it in the equations…”

    1) We can take the equations as being true of some INEXPLICABLY independently existing world.


    2) We can take the equations as being true of the contents of our conscious experience. Experience which itself is fundamental and uncaused…and thus also inexplicable.

    Ultimately, there’s no way to choose between these two options.

    BUT, option #2 has the benefit of greater simplicity.

    Option #1 has the problem of explaining the existence and structure of an independently existing universe/multiverse, PLUS also the problem of explaining how this unconscious material world gives rise to conscious experience…by which I mean qualia.

    Option #2 has the problem of explaining the existence and structure of experience. But that’s it.

    Note, however, that both options yield the same “ultimate explanation”: Things just are the way they are.

    The ultimate explanation for both is that there IS NO EXPLANATION.

    Again, I’m not saying that the equations found in physics are wrong. I’m just suggesting that they don’t mean what you think they mean.

  61. 61. Allen says:


    I didn’t see comment #59 at first. My previous reply was to comment #57.

    “You can only break the conclusion if the only consciouss being is yourself”


    Okay, so my proposal is that only conscious experience exists, uncaused and fundamental. However, in no way does this limit things to a single consciousness.

    My conscious experience of the world exists, and includes my perception of my seemingly conscious neighbor, Bob.

    There is nothing in my proposal that precludes the existence of Bob’s conscious experience of the world, which includes HIS perceptions of his seemingly conscious neighbor, Allen.

    Why does my conscious experience of the world (including my experience of this “Bob” person) exist? There is no reason. It just does.

    Why would Bob’s experience of a nearly identical world (though from a different point of view, including his experiences of an “Allen” person) exist? There would be no reason for that either. It just would.

    My central point is that this is also true of your proposal of an independently existing world: Why does this world exist, with its particular distribution of matter and causal laws of physics, and contain two conscious entities who think of themselves as Bob and Allen who each have the particular experiences that they have? THERE IS NO REASON. It just does! Right?

    This is no more extravagant than the idea of a multiverse (in any of the concept’s many forms), or really even of a single universe that is infinite in time and/or space.

    “I find funny the idea of me creating my whole world experince, and not having a clue of what it is or how I did it.”

    *You* didn’t create the world or your experiences. Your experiences just exist, uncaused and fundamental. In the same way that you claim that the “independent world” exists.

    Or at least this seems as plausible to me as anything else, though there’s no way to know for sure what is *actually* the case.

  62. 62. Shankar says:

    Vicente-“I find funny the idea of me creating my whole world experince, and not having a clue of what it is or how I did it.”

    Even if we consider the materialist viewpoint, this is exactly what happens almost on a daily basis when I have a dream.

  63. 63. Vicente says:

    Allen- OK, so

    “Why would Bob’s experience of a nearly identical world (though from a different point of view, including his experiences of an “Allen” person) exist? There would be no reason for that either. It just would.”

    I would like to draw your attention on “nearly identical”. Why nearly, why not fully identical. Is it just a coincidence? wouldn’t it be needed something that “synchronises and adjusts” both universe experiences? despite the points of view are diverse. Couldn’t it be that both experiences, Bob’s and Allen’s, are adjusted and synchronised by the external independent world machinery? so that their own phenomena are at least partially driven by the same noumena.

    Then: “*You* didn’t create the world or your experiences. Your experiences just exist, uncaused and fundamental. In the same way that you claim that the “independent world” exists.”

    So, *me* and my experiences are different entities? or me and the experiences are one single thing, and for some reason the self feeling is an illusion. If you differentiate between the experiences and the experiencer, there you have the independent world.

    Shankar -yes, the thing is funny no matter how you look at it. Regarding the dreams experience, I don’t think it is equivalent to creating your universe, it is more as if qualia can be the result of: 1. Sensorial input in awareness and alert states, or 2. internal brain feedback, during dreaming or imagination states. It is possible to make a difference. Most times I am able to detect that I am dreaming, and choose to awake or carry on sleeping.

    Let me finish saying that I don’t claim that an independent world exists. I really don’t know. My intuition tells me it does, but that’s all: intuition. My intuition also tells me that probably physics’ equations refer to concepts far beyond a naive materialist approach to the universe, I agree in that point with you both.

  64. 64. Allen says:


    As to “you” vs. “your experiences”, I’d say that only your experiences exist. You (and I) don’t exist outside of our experiences. Nothing exists except as part of, as an aspect of, some experience.

    THOUGH, obviously there’s no way to prove this. But it seems to me that this belief requires the fewest number of assumptions, and thus should be the default.

    As to my use of the phrase, “a nearly identical world”, there’s no particular reason I put that “nearly” in there.

    So at first glance, positing an independently existing universe seems to be the way to go to explain our conscious experiences…why they’re orderly, why the apparent existence of other conscious entities, why our experiences SEEM to be in sync with the experiences of these other apparently conscious entities, etc.

    However, as I’ve pointed out several times, we then need an explanation for the existence and orderliness of this external universe. So we haven’t answered ANY questions…we’ve just pushed the exact same questions back one layer from us. And logically, that’s the best we can do…to keep pushing the questions back without ever answering them. Any explanation we offer must itself be explained, leading to an infinite series of larger explanatory contexts.

    Plus we’ve introduced a new question about how this external universe “causes” our qualia.

    Further, even assuming physicalism, we still can’t be sure that our “caused perceptions” accurately reflect the way things *really* are. Dream scenarios, Brain-in-a-vat scenarios, computer-simulated brain/virtual reality scenarios, Putnam/Searle style “strange instantiation” arguments (e.g., the thermal vibrations of the atoms in a wall or a rock can be interpreted, with the right mapping, as implementing any conceivable computation), Tim Maudlin’s Klara/Olympia thought experiement, and Kantian phenomena-noumena arguments all highlight this problem.

    Also, the strangeness of quantum mechanics and modern physics further shows that even if there is an independently existing universe, it’s “true” nature is vastly different than the way it *seems* to us. There is no “intuitive” physical interpretation of quantum mechanics.

    So, with all of that, your intuition that there is an independently existing external world seems somewhat less appealing. It is *superficially* intuitive, until you think through all of the implications, I think. Then it leads to very very strange conclusions.

    And ultimately, even assuming physicalism, things just are they way they are. Why is the universe this way? It just is. Why are my experiences this way? They just are. End of story.

    Given that this is the case, I don’t see that positing an independently existing universe adds any value. We can just say that the equations of physics are true of our perceptions, and leave it at that. In this view, photons don’t actually exist, but instead are a useful way of thinking about the recurring patterns that occur in our experiences.

    Why do we observe recurring patterns in what we experience? There is no reason for that. It’s just the way things are.


  65. 65. Shankar says:

    Allen -“Why do we observe recurring patterns in what we experience? There is no reason for that. It’s just the way things are”

    Isn’t it kind of odd that believers have essentially the same viewpoint but attribute it to something called ‘God’?

    Professional philosophers who battle materialism essentially give up at a certain point in trying to explain why things are the way they are, but will at the same time consider the belief that God is the source as contemptuous.

    I am wondering why theology is not more than a footnote in these kinds of discussions. To me, subjectivism seems to be on almost a parallel track.

    PS- Personally, I am an atheist and don’t believe in a *personal* God. But if we are part of a Matrix, would it be fair to consider the creator of the Matrix as God?

  66. 66. Allen says:


    Well, if someone wants to use God as an explanation, that’s fine I guess. Though, my next question will of course be, “But what explains God? And what explains what explains God? And so on.”

    All explanations (scientific, theological, Kantian, or whatever) are on the same track: Ultimately there is no explanation for the way things are. At some point they are all forced to conclude “Why? Because that’s just the way it is”.

    All that we can know are our perceptions, what we consciously experience. From this we can derive all sorts of beliefs about the way things *really* are. But these beliefs inevitably involve unproved assumptions.

    It seems to me that the fewer unproved assumptions, the better. And it seems to me that the theory with the fewest of these is that conscious experience is fundamental. Conscious experience is what *really* exists and everything else is just an aspect of it.

    Religious people believe that God is what *really* exists, fundamental and uncaused.

    Physicalists believe that the material world is what *really* exists, fundamental and uncaused.

    I believe that our experiences are what *really* exist, fundamental an uncaused.

    In all three cases, the question to “Why?” has the same answer: “Because that’s just the way it is.”

    Physicalists devote their efforts to describing how things are within the world, but accept it’s existence and nature as a brute fact with no explanation. Science is the process of developing plausible narratives that fit with how this world appears to us. As it turns out, the world is a pretty consistent place, so the way that things appear to us today is pretty similar to the way they appeared yesterday, and so it seems reasonable to extend these descriptive narratives to predict how things will appear to us tomorrow.

    But why this consistency over time in the world? Well, there is no reason for this crucial quality, that’s just the way things are.

    Scientific Methodology is a fine way to go about examining the data from our observations and constructing theories that are consistent with that data. So we don’t need to assume the existence of an independently existing external world in order to make use of it.

    Our observations certainly exist, even if they are uncaused and fundamental. They certainly seem to have a certain order and consistency, even if there is no real reason for this. The scientific method can still be applied to look for and analyze recurring patterns in our observations, and it makes as much sense to do this as not.

    So, why is theology a mere footnote in these discussions? Well, mainly because no one here seems to want to argue that point of view I think! But, my position against theology would be the same as my position against physicalism. It assumes too much, it ultimately doesn’t explain anything, and it just introduces new questions without answering any of the original questions.

  67. 67. Kar Lee says:

    Just one more observation before we move on:
    Before we (human) became philosophers, we were survivors (still are, I guess). The best way to survive is to assume that things are really what they seem to be. So, a tiger charging towards you is a real tiger that is charging towards you. The air the we breathe in is really air that we need. If we deny that, we probably won’t survive too long. This is not to prove that the external world exists, but just trying to explain why many people made this assumption in the first place. Of course, it is possible that after we deny the existence of the tiger, and got “eaten” by it, we just find ourselves waking up from a really bad dream. But I bet even an extreme idealist will still hide when he/she sees a charging tiger, or will not voluntarily stop breathing….. So, even though science, and the set of assumptions that go with it, may not provide any ultimate answer, it is extremely useful in making life perceivably less painful at a very practical level. But philosophically speaking, all these assumptions can be all wrong. Even if they are right, there are lot of paradox, and will not give us the ultimate answer. You are right about that.

  68. 68. Shankar says:

    Although this thread has digressed a bit from the subject of the post, it is one of the best I have come across on this site so far.

    66 and 67 have made good points.

    Regarding 66, I find it a bit ironical that the mainstream debate between believers and non-believers happen to ignore subjectivism for the most part. Either you believe in God or you are a materialist. Even agnostics and skeptics have varying allegiances to these two viewpoints. The third angle of qualia and subjectivism don’t come into the picture at all.

    I’m afraid that even those who battle creationism in schools (which I think is a good thing they do) treat subjectivism and any discussions on qualia with the same contempt they have for theology.

    It looks like subjectivism can never reach mainstream status, although for every individual, the only thing that is concrete is their own subjective experience. Even though most people have had dreams, it never leads them to question the premise of an independent reality. Even believers believe in a reality (although a dualist viewpoint of matter and soul).

  69. 69. Allen says:

    Kar Lee:

    Actually, the theory of evolution doesn’t explain anything either, even assuming physicalism.

    Okay, stay with me here, while I go through my reasoning:

    If deterministic physicalism is true, then the initial configuration of matter at the universe’s first instant, plus the causal laws that govern the subsequent behavior of this matter as applied over 13.7 billion years FULLY determines the current state of the universe today.

    There is nothing for evolution to do. It is purely a description of what we observe, not an explanation of it. The way the world is today was fixed by the initial conditions plus the causal laws of physics.

    There IS NO “competition” for survival. There is no “selection”. Instead, events involving fundamental particles unfold as they must…in the only way that they can.

    When you say “competition among creatures”, what you really mean is “it is as though there were competition among creatures”. Because what really exists are fundamental particles (quantum fields, strings, whatever), not “creatures”. It is only in our minds that we take collections of quarks and electrons and form them into creatures.

    Evolution and natural selection have no causal power, we just speak of them as if they did.

    Further, even allowing for some kind of quantum randomness still doesn’t give “evolution” anything to do. Though it does muddy the water a bit.

  70. 70. Allen says:


    I agree, it has been a pretty good thread! I wonder how many people are still following it?

    As to subjectivism being left out of the battle between creationism and materialism, indeed. I guess that in high school and college most people are exposed to a basic form of physicalism, while in most churches they are exposed to some form of theism and biblical literalism. On the other hand, really there’s no place that people get an equivalent exposure to anything like subjectivism.

    But, I think that the concept may grow more popular in the future. I don’t expect the mind-body problem and questions about consciousness to go away anytime soon. Given pure physicalism, the only real option would seem to be eliminative materialism…that qualia are an illusion. And I don’t really see this view getting very much traction. People can barely swallow the idea that there is no free will, which is an obvious consequence of physicalism…but the even stranger idea that even their feelings are also an illusion? I don’t even see it as a meaningful proposal.

    Further, if fully immersive computer-generated “virtual reality” (again, something like the Matrix) becomes a widely available experience (perhaps in games and other forms of entertainment) then this will definitely make the case that what is perceived is NOT a reliable guide to what really exists. Which I think reasonably leads to a Kantian view of reality, where our experience of phenomena doesn’t reveal anything about the true nature of the underlying noumenal world.

    And then I think it is a fairly small step from accepting that the nature of the underlying noumenal world is completely unknowable to deciding that maybe it can be discarded altogether, or at least set aside as irrelevant.

  71. 71. Vicente says:

    Allen, what does it mean “discarding altogether” the underlying noumenal world? what are the new practical implications of that?

    Isn’t it what humankind has already been doing in practice right from the beginning, in the same way a writer can use a word processor not having any idea about how a computer works, or a driver can drive a car being mechanics iliterate, or ancient people built boats not knowing Archimedes principle, so what. For most human beings the very nature of reality is already irrelevant, and has been discarded and ignored beforehand. I think this is in line with Kar Lee’s point.

    You don’t need advanced virtual reality to prove that senses can be fooled, just watch a good magic show, or any optical illusion, or see the effect of psychotropics. But that doesn’t demonstrate that senses can work properly, and most physicalists (all physicists) already accept that things are not what they look, and there is a complex structure behind, and that probably the fundamental components nature is beyond human understanding.

    Yes, education is a major topic, its main goal should be to make people free (discarding free will problem, I mean robust against manipulation), and capaple to reason on their own devices, and to show respect for others. But in most cases, education is either neglected or used as a masses control media. So sad and frustrating. Luckyly I have seen that those that are really worth educating are quite self-inmunised against educational vices (if they have the opportunity, the problem is there are so many with no options).

    After all, the main problem is not to understand the experience, but to make it happy.

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