doorknob‘…stupid as a doorknob…’ Just part of Luboš Motl’s vigorous attack on Scott Aaronson’s critique of IIT, the Integrated Information Theory of Giulio Tononi.

To begin at the beginning. IIT says that consciousness arises from integrated information, and proposes a mathematical approach to quantifying the level of integrated information in a system, a quantity it names Phi (actually there are several variant ways to define Phi that differ in various details, which is perhaps unfortunate). Aaronson and Motl both describe this idea as a worthy effort but both have various reservations about it – though Aaronson thinks the problems are fatal while Motl thinks IIT offers a promising direction for further work.

Both pieces contain a lot of interesting side discussion, including Aaronson’s speculation that approximating phi for a real brain might be an NP-hard problem. This is the digression that prompted the doorknob comment: so what if it were NP-hard, demands Motl; you think nature is barred from containing NP-hard problems?

The real crux as I understand it is Aaronson’s argument that we can give examples of systems with high scores for Phi that we know intuitively could not be conscious. Eric Schwitzgebel has given a somewhat similar argument but cast in more approachable terms; Aaronson uses a Vandermonde matrix for his example of a high-phi but intuitively non-conscious entity, whereas Schwitzgebel uses the United States.

Motl takes exception to Aaronson’s use of intuition here. How does he know that his matrix lacks consciousness? If Aaronson’s intuition is the test, what’s the point of having a theory? The whole point of a theory is to improve on and correct our intuitive judgements, isn’t it? If we’re going to fall back on our intuitions argument is pointless.

I think appeals to intuition are rare in physics, where it is probably natural to regard them as illegitimate, but they’re not that unusual in philosophy, especially in ethics. You could argue that G.E. Moore’s approach was essentially to give up on ethical theory and rely on intuition instead. Often intuition limits what we regard as acceptable theorising, but our theories can also ‘tutor’ and change our intuitions. My impression is that real world beliefs about death, for example, have changed substantially in recent decades under the influence of utilitarian reasoning; we’re now much less likely to think that death is simply forbidden and more likely to accept calculations about the value of lives. We still, however, rule out as unintuitive (‘just obviously wrong’) such utilitarian conclusions as the propriety of sometimes punishing the innocent.

There’s an interesting question as to whether there actually is, in itself, such a thing as intuition. Myself I’d suggest the word covers any appealing pre-rational thought; we use it in several ways. One is indeed to test our conclusions where no other means is available; it’s interesting that Motl actually remarks that the absence of a reliable objective test of consciousness is one of IIT’s problems; he obviously does not accept that intuition could be a fall-back, so he is presumably left with the gap (which must surely affect all theories of consciousness). Philosophers also use an appeal to intuition to help cut to the chase, by implicitly invoking shared axioms and assumptions; and often enough ‘thought experiments’ which are not really experiments at all but in the Dennettian phrase ‘intuition pumps’ are used for persuasive effect; they’re not proofs but they may help to get people to agree.

Now as a matter of fact I think in Aaronson’s case we can actually supply a partial argument to replace pure intuition. In this discussion we are mainly talking about subjective consciousness, the ‘something it is like’ to experience things. But I think many people would argue that that Hard Problem consciousness requires the Easy Problem kind to be in place first as a basis. Subjective experience, we might argue, requires the less mysterious apparatus of normal sensory or cognitive experience; and Aaronson (or Schwitzgebel) could argue that their example structures definitely don’t have the sort of structure needed for that, a conclusion we can reach through functional argument without the need for intuition,

Not everybody would agree, though; some, especially those who lean towards panpsychism and related theories of ‘consciousness everywhere’ might see nothing wrong with the idea of subjective consciousness without the ‘mechanical’ kind. The standard philosophical zombie has Easy Problem consciousness without qualia; these people would accept an inverted zombie who has qualia with no brain function. It seems a bit odd to me to pair such a view with IIT (if you don’t think functional properties are required I’d have thought you would think that integrating information was also dispensable) but there’s nothing strictly illogical about it. Perhaps the dispute over intuition really masks a different disagreement, over the plausibility of such inverted zombies, obviously impossible in  Aaronson’s eyes, but potentially viable in Motl’s?

Motl goes on to offer what I think is a rather good objection to IIT as it stands; ie that it seems to award consciousness to ‘frozen’ or static structures if they have a high enough Phi score. He thinks it’s necessary to reformulate the idea to capture the point that consciousness is a process. I agree – but how does Motl know consciousness requires a process? Could it be that it’s just…  intuitively obvious?

33 Comments

  1. 1. SelfAwarePatterns says:

    My issue with IIT is that, while I think it describes one of the requirements of consciousness (information integration), it’s not complete. Integration seems crucially necessary but not sufficient. It’s like the gasoline-air integration theory of automobile movement; it is definitely part of the truth but woefully incomplete. If we’re going to go panpsychic and start claiming that structures that show no signs of consciousness are in fact conscious, then the interesting question, at least to me, becomes what separates systems that do seem intuitively conscious from these other structures.

    When it comes to consciousness, I’m not sure we can escape intuition. It’s easy for us to intuit that other humans are conscious, since we’re so similar to each other, but the further you move away from adult humans, the less intuitive it seems. Are newborns conscious? They don’t appear to be self aware. What about animals? A chimp seems a lot more conscious than a c-elegans worm, but the chimp would appear so to a human since they’re much more similar to us than the worm. Yet molluscs are radically different from us but seem to have some form of intelligent consciousness.

    Ultimately, I fear Alan Turing was right, what is conscious might be that which can convince us of its consciousness. We might be able to add a layer of objectivity by looking for the collection of common properties in systems that do trigger our intuition of consciousness, but ultimately calling that collection of properties “conscious” may always be an intuitive decision.

  2. 2. And his name should be forgotten says:

    I’ve been reading this blog with much pleasure for the last couple of years and I almost never comment, because I don’t have much to add, but I can’t let this one pass. What the linked post shows is just the tip of the iceberg. Lubos Motl is someone who insults, slanders and attacks anyone that disagrees with him, or that he disagrees with, no matter what their arguments. He wouldn’t know what the ‘principle of charity’ was if it hit him in the face and everything he has ever written is shortsighted because of it. See e.g. https://www.facebook.com/ericweinstein/posts/10208132882377229 for a broader illustration. He is such an asshole that he should be shunned, his words lost on the wind and his name should be forgotten.

  3. 3. Sergio Graziosi says:

    Peter, as you perhaps suggest in the very last lines, Motl’s criticism of Aaronson, looks incoherent to me. I’ll elaborate below. I also agree that he is probably 100% right in pointing out that consciousness is likely to be a process, something that certain structures can make happen, not something that statically exists.

    SelfAwarePatterns: I completely agree with your criticism of IIT. Information Integration is most likely required, but not sufficient for generating the what it’s like property of consciousness (or phenomenal experience/consciousness, PE in short). IIT as it is does nothing to address the hard problem and it looks like it’s going down a dangerous slope: the latest installation introduces the exclusion “System of mechanism” which has all the signs of an “ad-hoc” measure to patch-up the conceptual inconsistencies of the previous versions. I.e., instead of improving the theory by fixing its main flaw, they are already busy adding metaphorical epicycles. Since the theory hasn’t been verified in substantial ways (there are interesting and promising clinical applications, though), anyone with some understanding of science epistemology should be very worried.
    Re intuition, please see below.

    “And his name…”: I both agree and disagree. You’ll be glad to hear that I didn’t know who Motl was before reading this post. Since his colourful language is so unusual, I did a search on his blog for Aaronson (I like Aaronson’s arguments a lot, BTW). Turns out Motl is virulently right-wing, and prone to personally attacking whoever isn’t; not the best way to signal his scientific rigour – self-disqualifying, if you ask me. Thus, I do agree! I also disagree, because in general arguments should be evaluated on their own merit, even if their author is 100% despicable.
    In this case, Motl does highlight that consciousness should be understood as a process, something that happens, not something that just is, and I do agree with that part (adding to the criticism of IIT). All/most of the rest looks asinine, though.

    Minor point, Motl writes a list of problems to be solved, naturally starting with:

    The hard problem: the explanation why consciousness exists at all, where it comes from, why we “feel” the bitter taste of fernet, why our world differs from a structurally similar world of formulae where no one is aware of anything (or is the consciousness inseparable from the mathematical structures?)

    Am I the only one thinking that this should win the prize for the most obscure, unhelpful and partisan way to describe the hard problem? (His own problem #3 does seem to be worth considering, I have no idea what problem #4 is about!)

    Given the above, the temptation to just stop reading was high, but because of my esteem for Aaronson, I persevered. Turns out that Motl misses the mark quite spectacularly. I’ll summarise my understanding of Aaronson’s position, with the warning that I haven’t re-read his posts, so I’m sure I will be injecting some of my own understanding in what follows (with apologies!).
    The starting point is that we don’t know what consciousness is. We don’t have precise enough definitions, we don’t have a theory of what may be generating it, we know bugger all. But we do have the subjective phenomena to explain, we surely do know that we want to explain them.
    Aaronson tells us that in such a pre-theoretical phase, we simply have no choice than latching on the intuitively clear prototypical examples, and use them as early signposts to evaluate proto-theories. In other words, we have a very strong intuitive grasp of what it is that we want to theorise about. Since this is pretty much all we’ve got, to figure out whether a proto-theory does indeed address the thing we’re willing to theorise, we simply have to use our intuitive prototypical examples. We can expect our theory to somewhat interfere with some of our intuitions, modifying our pre-theoretical understanding, but if it goes as far as completely redefining them, then we are allowed to say “OK, this theory addresses something else, not what we wanted to theorise about”. In the case of IIT, this is precisely what is happening: at best IIT addresses a requirement for PE, information integration, and explores the implications (which is genuinely great). It would be 100% fine it IIT didn’t claim to address PE: despite its ambitions it does not even get close to PE, we know it doesn’t because of the mismatch with the prototypical examples (and many other objections, to be honest).

    So, do we have to always rely on intuition? Shouldn’t proper scientific theories have the role of correcting our flawed pre-theoretical assumptions? In short, answers are “Yes and No” and “Yes”.
    Elaboration: to identify our aims, what we want to theorise about, we can only use intuition – there simply isn’t any other starting point. Before theory, we only have pre-theoretical understanding to build upon.
    See Peter with: “Could it be that it’s just… intuitively obvious?”
    Once we do make progress, intuition can and (probably) should be left behind, as fundamental physics demonstrates in very clear ways. Thus, we have to rely on intuition to “start the engine”, but once we’re steaming ahead, we do hope/expect to find things which will force us to revise our intuitions. IIT is almost locked on step zero, awaiting to start going somewhere, so Aaronson’s main worry is entirely on-target. Motl ignores these facts, presumably because he enjoys dissing Aaronson for his own reasons.

  4. 4. SelfAwarePatterns says:

    Hi Sergio,
    I’m not sure I’d agree that we’re completely in the pre-theoretical stage for consciousness. There are lots of theories out there. Personally, I think the ones that hold the most promise are the metacognitive ones, the ones that posit that awareness is built on internal models of the self, which we experience similar to sensory input and thus derive the feel of experience. Two of my current favorites are Michael Graziano’s Attention Schema Theory and Antonio Damasio’s stages of self theory. None of them are probably completely right, but they seem like steps in the right direction, at least to me.

    On intuition, I agree. I think we’re saying more or less the same thing. What we choose to regard as conscious is largely an intuition. But once we have our collection of intuitively conscious systems, then the question becomes what the commonalities are between those systems, and I don’t see any reason why that can’t be an objective undertaking, one whose success will probably require leaving behind our intuitions specifically about the internals of consciousness. Indeed, the theories I mentioned above violate many people’s intuitions about what consciousness is supposed to be, as I suspect the theory that ultimately prevails will do.

  5. 5. Sci says:

    Seems to me it all comes down to intuition, along with jiggering what “information” means.

    That said, some empirical successes based on a particular theory would be a good way to promote one’s ideas. Wasn’t IIT supposed to do something for coma patients?

  6. 6. John Davey says:

    Sergio

    “The starting point is that we don’t know what consciousness is. We don’t have precise enough definitions”

    Honestly ? You have no idea ? What about “time” – do you know what that is, despite never having had a “definition” ?

    JBVD

  7. 7. John Davey says:

    SelfAware


    What we choose to regard as conscious is largely an intuition

    Thankfully anaesthetists don’t take this view ! What a nightmare hospitals would be if that were ever true.

    J

  8. 8. SelfAwarePatterns says:

    John,
    Anesthesiologists track signs that usually correlate to being awake and aware, but disturbingly, sometimes they get it wrong. There are many cases where the patient ends up being aware (although paralyzed) throughout the procedure. Thankfully those cases are rare overall, but they do happen. From what I’ve read, we don’t really understand how anesthetics work.

  9. 9. Sergio Graziosi says:

    SelfAwarePatterns:
    On whether we are in a pre-theoretical phase. I was using a Kuhn-like classification here (should have probably signalled the move!): we’re in the phase where theories are being proposed, all the time (I’m guilty as well, as most of our regulars ;-)) while no single theory has accumulated enough consensus to produce an established paradigm and enter in a normal-science phase. In other words, people are largely shooting in the dark, hoping to hit a target, while our understanding of what the target may be is still blurry (at best). Or, to use the approach we are sharing in this comments section, our idea of what the target may be is necessarily informed by subjective-something, perhaps we can call it intuition.
    You can praise Graziano as much as you like and I’ll likely agree, but it’s still the case that his position isn’t aggregating a considerable proportion of specialists (it’s also incomplete, but that’s hardly a shortcoming, at this stage). (Can’t remember much of Damasio’s position, damn my faulty memory!)

    Sci: I think tying (syntactic) information down to structures that make a (measurable) difference is as far as we can go. Would you accept the definition?
    On IIT, yes, because information integration is (presumably) required for consciousness, coma patients who show highly integrated patterns of neural activity are more likely to be locked-in (conscious, but unable to move), this is one very promising application of IIT, and one I fully support. We should be grateful to Tononi, at least for this, it’s an extraordinary achievement, with very important real-world implications.

    John (6 and 7): I fear we may be sliding in sophistry here. But that’s OK, I’ll play one round (at least).

    Honestly ? You have no idea? What about “time” – do you know what that is, despite never having had a “definition”?

    Well, in the case of time, we have no idea of what it is, collectively, or, if you prefer, in “objective”, thid-party, fundamental-physics terms. However, we do have clarified a lot of how it relates with other stuff: as mentioned in a previous thread, that’s what we can investigate (causal relations, the effects of Xs on Ys) and have relatively little problems to do so with time. In the case of PE, we are at the stage where it is still (absurdly, if you ask me) respectable to claim that perhaps PE has no effect on any Y (strong Epiphenomenalism). Thus, no, we really don’t (collectively) have the slightest clue [that is: we don’t know if or how it relates to other stuff, the causal pathways are in significant parts entirely unknown]. Some people have proposals, of course.

    On anaesthetics: are we sure that all the available techniques work as advertised? We aren’t really, albeit (taking SelfAwarePatterns on his word – I haven’t checked!) it seems that we know they sometimes don’t. As an extreme example, it’s entirely possible that a given anaesthetic paralyses the patient and concurrently prevents all memory formations. Being operated under such conditions will mean you’ll feel all the pain, as if entirely awake, but you wouldn’t know it afterwards – scary thought, eh?
    Of course we can use secondary evidence (what pathways are affected by drug X, and so forth) to minimise the chances that drug X doesn’t imply we’ll feel all the pain, but in the current state of affairs we can’t get close to 100% certainty.

    Overall, I’ll stick to my position: we are in a phase where differing intuitions are used to generate competing theories, and none is currently prevailing. (IIT being among the highly regarded, mostly because of its prohibitive maths component, I fear.)

  10. 10. SelfAwarePatterns says:

    Sergio,
    Thanks for the clarification. On theories, I agree. We’re a ways off from having any consensus.

    Damasio’s theory is the one with the various levels of models of self: proto-self, core self, and autobiographical self. I don’t know if his or Graziano’s are right, but they both seem grounded in neuroscience and to me are more comprehensive attempts at an explanation than IIT.

    It would be interesting to see a survey about support for various consciousness theories broken down by neuroscientists, psychologists, and philosophers. IIT gets a lot of attention in the popular press, but I wonder how much support it has among those professions.

  11. 11. Callan S. says:

    Thankfully anaesthetists don’t take this view ! What a nightmare hospitals would be if that were ever true.

    Does it being a nightmare actually count for anything, though, in terms of what is the case?

  12. 12. John Davey says:

    SelfAware

    Anesthesiologists track signs that usually correlate to being awake and aware, but disturbingly, sometimes they get it wrong. There are many cases where the patient ends up being aware (although paralyzed) throughout the procedure. Thankfully those cases are rare overall, but they do happen. From what I’ve read, we don’t really understand how anesthetics work.

    .. so there are accuracy issues with the objective, scientific measurement of consciousness as used by anaesthetists – but it’s surely a lot better than “intuition” !

  13. 13. John Davey says:

    Callan


    Does it being a nightmare actually count for anything, though, in terms of what is the case?

    Can you clarify ?

    J

  14. 14. John Davey says:

    Sergio


    Well, in the case of time, we have no idea of what it is, collectively, or, if you prefer, in “objective”, thid-party, fundamental-physics terms.

    You would make a great politician Sergio, talk about avoiding the question ! You claimed that lack of a working “definition” of consciousness meant we didn’t know what it is. Now you say we don’t know what time is in “physics” terms.

    Well, alas, physics assumes we know what time is before it even puts a foot forward, so waiting for physics to tell you what time is will be the longest wait you’ll ever have. The reality is everybody human knows what time is – totally – but cannot reduce it to anything else. That’s because it’s ‘irreducible’ – as indeed some fundamental ideas must be, or we’d just be lumps of mathematics, incapable of interacting with the stuff of the universe.

    So the correct answer is – you know what time is but you can’t reduce it. That is the lexical equivalent of saying you can’t “define” it. You can do the same for space, matter and consciousness. You know what they “are” (inasmuch as that ever has a meaning), but you can’t reduce them. If you really claim you don’t what time, space and matter “are” it sounds to me like you don’t know what physics is either. I don’t think you really belive that, do you

    JBD

  15. 15. Sergio Graziosi says:

    John,
    you made me giggle, but you are also cranking up the sophistry knob even more. You do raise a relevant point, but unfortunately I disagree with your proposed solution in a fundamental way. I also maintain that I was trying to answer: subject here is scientific theories of Consciousness, that’s the domain I’ve addressed in my first comment (implicitly, I concede) and didn’t change it in my answer.
    Let’s see if I can clarify.

    I believe we agree that science can only explore causal relations between different entities. Thus, a scientific explanation is to some extent inherently reductive: you “explain” X by looking inside it, figure out how its components interact. You can keep going, and eventually hit the current bottom, something that you can’t reduce further.
    With me?

    Interesting things to note is that the current bottom could (and does) drop: if once we had atoms to account for mass, we know have subatomic particles, including stuff I can’t even begin to comprehend. Similarly, via relativity, we have uncovered weird relations between space, time, gravity and speed. Since one affects the other, the bottom allowed by our current theoretical understanding has dropped, and people are still busy trying to reach it. By induction, we can conjecture that once we’ll reach it, new ways to drop it even further may start to emerge.

    Therefore, physics did take time for granted, to some extent still does, but does not and will not dogmatically assume that time is irreducible. Why? Because it’s the nature of the beast (science): if you assume a given entity/variable is irreducible, you assume you can’t learn anything about it (there are no internal relations to be uncovered). Since science tries to push the boundaries of knowledge as much as it’s humanly possible, assuming something is forever irreducible is by definition anti-scientific. That’s not to say that one isn’t allowed to take some things [Xs] for granted when exploring something else [Y] (i.e. treat [Xs] as irreducible for the purpose of figuring how they interact with [Y]).

    Other thing to note is that although we do hope to push the bottom further down, at any given time, there always are two bottoms.
    The first one is pragmatic: at the current combination of technology and theory, certain stuff is currently irreducible.
    The second is theoretical: given our best current theories, something therein must be treated as irreducible. That’s something we can take for granted, because otherwise our theories would be able to describe infinite reductions, and therefore would require infinite bits to write them down. Since this isn’t going to happen, a theoretical bottom of some irreducible stuff is simply necessary. That’s one thing that winds me up about physicists: whenever one comes around waving the hope of “a theory of everything” I can’t avoid sneering and wonder whether that person has the slightest clue or not (with the temptation of concluding “not”, which would be unwarranted, no matter how tempting).

    So, going back to Consciousness, treating it as irreducible is entirely legitimate, but is not a way to explore consciousness scientifically. It’s a way to explore how consciousness interacts with whatever Y you are interested in – you are explicitly treating consciousness as a black box.
    In here, my (perhaps unwarranted) assumption is that we all exchange ideas in the hope of finding a viable way of not treating consciousness as a black box. Which is equivalent to say that we are trying to make it epistemologically reducible.

    To finish up, answering your last question: in standard terms of (supposedly) objective science – no, I have no idea of what space, time and mass are. I know clever people know a little more, but not that much. I also know we have definitions for them, definitions which are good enough to measure (within limits) all three qualities even if they are currently more or less irreducible.
    As for measuring consciousness, the methods derived from IIT are the only credible ones I know of, I do think they work (in all their necessary bluntness), but I also think they work for reasons which would falsify IIT (wild guess alert). I also know that I’m in good company. Thus, again, sticking to the subject of science: I feel entitled to say that we know bugger all about consciousness.

    The above has nothing to say about the fact that I can tell when I’m (somewhat) conscious: that’s when I can tell anything at all. So yes, subjectively, I do “know” stuff about consciousness, time, space and matter. That’s what allows my wish to explore consciousness scientifically. Me personally, I tend to equate “knowing” to the more explicit/communicable form, so I can say I “know” what red is (based on wavelengths), but (ignoring my own theorising for a second) I’d say I don’t know what pain is. Moreover, because I can’t “reduce it” (same caveat) I have to say that I don’t know what PE is, nor time, or space.
    I can still arrive on time if needed, of course.

  16. 16. SelfAwarePatterns says:

    John (12),
    If you google “surgery awake patient” and read some of the articles, you’ll see that part of the problem is that “objective, scientific measurement of consciousness” has proven to be elusive.

    But even if it wasn’t, this is a tangent about whether a system that intuitively has already convinced us of its capacity for consciousness, is currently conscious. I’ll grant that these are related topics, but different enough that we should be cautious in taking any conclusions from one and applying it to the other.

  17. 17. Michael Murden says:

    When I read people like Lubos Motl I wonder if they are brave enough to be such jerks in real life. I think he does have a point about whether scientific theories about consciousness should validate our philosophical preconceptions. To my mind the very fact that we are still philosophizing about consciousness suggests we don’t know enough about it to claim that any of what we have to say about it deserves to be called scientific.

    It may turn out that any real understanding of consciousness, or of neurological activity in general, might require far more powerful brain observation techniques then we have available to us now. When we compare what we know about the mechanics of how brains work to our known unknowns we should not be surprised that our best theories of consciousness are superstitions. And that’s before we stumble into the unknown unknowns.

  18. 18. Tom Clark says:

    Peter in the OP:

    “Motl goes on to offer what I think is a rather good objection to IIT as it stands; ie that it seems to award consciousness to ‘frozen’ or static structures if they have a high enough Phi score. He thinks it’s necessary to reformulate the idea to capture the point that consciousness is a process. I agree – but how does Motl know consciousness requires a process? Could it be that it’s just… intuitively obvious?”

    This is one of Aaronson’s objections too:

    “In my view, IIT fails to solve the Pretty-Hard Problem [of which systems are conscious] because it unavoidably predicts vast amounts of consciousness in physical systems that no sane person would regard as particularly ‘conscious’ at all: indeed, systems that do nothing but apply a low-density parity-check code, or other simple transformations of their input data.” – from http://www.scottaaronson.com/blog/?p=1799

    That is, we intuitively reject very simple, static systems as conscious because paradigm cases of being conscious involve complex behavior controlling systems such as ourselves.

    Tononi posits 5 essential properties of consciousness as constraints on any explanation:

    “1. Each experience exists intrinsically, independent of external observers (existence); 2. It is composed of many aspects (composition); 3. It is the specific way it is, differing in its own way from countless others (information); 4. It is unified, because it cannot be decomposed into independent components (integration); 5. It is singular, because there is no superposition of multiple experiences with more or less content, flowing at faster or lower speeds. Crucially, each of us can be quite certain of the essential properties of his own experience – I know directly what it is like to be me.” – from http://www.scottaaronson.com/tononi.docx

    What’s missing here is that conscious states are dynamic, that is, constantly transforming from one moment to the next (albeit at varying rates), and that they are ordinarily associated with behavior control (in dreams and locked in states our motor effectors are taken offline). If we added dynamicity and cybernecity as evidence-based (not merely intuitive) constraints on a theory of consciousness, then we wouldn’t end up having to claim, as does Tononi, that inactive two-dimensional grids with high phi are conscious.

  19. 19. VicP says:

    For any other body organ like a heart or lungs we can say we have reduced it down to the cellular level. But have we reductively explained the organs down to the subcellular and molecular level? I would NO, but this gap does not bother us for explaining other organs except the brain, so we think neuroscience lacks the proper depth of biological explanation, except this gap exists for all microbiology. Chalmers Zombie Argument is really based in treating brain explanation in the same domain as all microbiology. It also explains why the gap does not bother all philosophers and scientists.

    Of course we can loop the argument and say there is a gap in the conscious mind trying to do science to explain the conscious mind. But all scientific explanations including physics have this gap.

  20. 20. Callan S. says:

    John,

    Well, I can’t really clarify it much more – why would pain matter to what is the case?

    If one felt great pain every time 2+2=4 was heard but not when 2+2=5 is heard, does that make 2+2=5 true?

    So I’m not really seeing an issue in regards to what SelfAware says about consciousness and intuition. Regardless of pain, if it is the fact of the case it’s an intuition, then it’s the fact of the case.

  21. 21. John Davey says:

    Sergio


    Therefore, physics did take time for granted, to some extent still does, but does not and will not dogmatically assume that time is irreducible.

    This is all very specious. There is no basis in experiment for assuming that time is reducible – so to follow the results of available scientific knowledge is “anti-scientific”. Are you being serious ?

    Science makes assumptions all the time. Physics cannot work unless space,time and matter have continuous mathematical properties for instance. If that’s “dogma” then so be it. Physics is – by definition – dogma par excellence as it seeks to contain all the world’s events within a few mathematical statements. “Dogma” is indeed the goal of physics.

    There is no ‘extent’ to which physics assumes that time is time. It still does, totally. In fact, it cannot function unless it does. No doubt if it hits an experimental result that suggests the contrary it will take steps, as all the mathematics will have to be looked at again, and the dogma “redefined”


    Interesting things to note is that the current bottom could (and does) drop: if once we had atoms to account for mass, we know have subatomic particles, including stuff I can’t even begin to comprehend. etc

    yes, but the hierarchy of particles has to end somewhere. It used to be quarks that were the “end point” in terms of constitiuency. In which case, quarks were irreducible and the question “what is matter” remains as insoluble as ever.

    On your other points I think I agree.

    why should reduction go on for ever and ever ? It has to stop somewhere. Computationalists, living in their fantasy dream-world, think that reduction will result in an alchemical substance shift from semantic to syntax. Ultimately they assume that “stuff” will equal 72, or some other scalar which they can label “pure information”. Not going to happen ! That’s something for the priests and wizards of fantasy books.


    So, going back to Consciousness, treating it as irreducible is entirely legitimate, but is not a way to explore consciousness scientifically

    A bit more sophistry here I think Sergio ? You said we didn’t know what consciousness was because we couldn’t define it. You appear to have moved on that .. and now it’s a question of identifying the causes of consciousness. That would be not be a reduction of consciousness but, I agree, it is the way to go. At least you don’t seem to be suggesting you don’t know what consciousness is any more.

    There is no contradiction, at all, between acknowledging that consciousness is an irreducible mental phenomena, and looking into the causes of that consciousness in a scientific way. Such a causal analysis would not be reductive but would possibly be fruitful.


    I have no idea of what space, time and mass are. I know clever people know a little more, but not that much.

    Not at all, in fact. They are all irreducible. We are all as ignorant. Physicists of note have a grasp of relationships between all three, but nothing else.


    “As for measuring consciousness, the methods derived from IIT are the only credible ones I know of”

    when you see a man snoring do you take it he’s asleep ? That’s a measurement of consciousness. It has accuracy issues, but it’s a measurement. Its ridiculous that consciousness measurement has a disproportionately high standard to live up to. There is no measurement that I can think of that is “direct”. Measurement is a process (of varying formality) based upon a theoretical framework (of varying formality). Even using a ruler to measure a desk is indirect – it assumes that space has identical properties between parallel points on the ruler and the desk. I once heard a laughable claim that “photographs of atoms” were direct knowledge of atoms. Preposterous. Such images are theoretical and derived constructs, results of processes that produce outputs. Like watching a man snoring.

    JBD

  22. 22. John Davey says:

    SelfAware


    If you google “surgery awake patient” and read some of the articles, you’ll see that part of the problem is that “objective, scientific measurement of consciousness” has proven to be elusive

    It hasn’t proved to be elusive. It has proved to be inaccurate

  23. 23. John Davey says:

    Callan


    “If one felt great pain every time 2+2=4 was heard but not when 2+2=5 is heard, does that make 2+2=5 true?”

    You have lost me.

    J

  24. 24. John Davey says:

    Sergio

    Sorry, I missed this.


    I’d say I don’t know what pain is

    My advice is : get a large hammer, and hit yourself on the thumb. Then you’d know what it is.

    You might not know the cycle of events that brought it about it about, to be sure (or at least an explanation, which is different) – but please, let’s not pretend, for the sake of justifying obfuscation, that just because you don’t know the cause of ‘x’ means you don’t know what ‘x’ actually is. That is bunkum. I know it’s a not-too-subtle technique of the Dennett school but it really is drivel, like trying to equate the “red” wavelength of light with the experience of red. Really ! Is a pain caused by a hammer the same thing as a hammer ? Of course it isn’t. The experience of red is not the same thing as the radiation which causes it, so to speak as one thing (microwave radiation) as the “objective” description of red experiences makes about as much sense as talking about a hammer as the “objective” description of pain.

    J

  25. 25. Sergio Graziosi says:

    John,
    I’ve advertised the fact that we are wilfully engaging in a game of Chmess, or better, I’ve stated that I see it like this, wouldn’t want to presume you agree. Thus, yes, I’m being serious, in as much as the situation allows. I’ll clarify:
    I’m not a physicist, wouldn’t claim any expertise on the current cutting edge. I’m not a trained philosopher either. Thus, if/when I venture into philosophising on what “knowing X” means, especially if X belongs to the deeper end of fundamental physics, I do this fully aware that I may be making little sense. Life is boring if you don’t take risks, so I’ve allowed myself to play, for now. That’s what my caveats about sophistry were supposed to communicate.
    Second: I’ve tried my best to explain when and how I am addressing different kinds of knowing. There is the third-party, scientific as in “striving to be objective”, entirely communicable, knowledge on one side, and the subjective counterpart on the other. Your last comment tells me that I’ve either failed miserably to flag up when I was referring to what, or that you are trying to bend the rules of Chmess and pretend that you didn’t notice. Again, I’ll assume the former for the sake of the argument.

    Or, in embarrassingly explicit terms: I know lots of things about pain, and enough to discriminate between my own painful and not painful sensations (most of the times). So, subjectively, you can say I have good enough knowledge of what pain is. I am not in the least trying to negate this. I am even less trying to propose that light wavelengths are one an the same as the sensation of seeing red. We don’t need to fight over these points as we do agree.
    However, when we move (actually: if we manage to “remain”) into the domain of scientific theories, I do know something about what makes us see colours. I can claim some knowledge about it, but it stops (still ignoring my delusions of having a meaningful theory to offer) when trying to explain why nervous activity generates a feeling of anything. I’m just acknowledging the hard problem, which is usually OK around here, although I know it’s not OK with you.

    Next up: our little diversion into space/mass/time reduction. I do not claim that any one of them is certainly reducible to smaller parts. I’m just claiming that we can only remain agnostic. Sure, within a given theory (99.99% of the ones that have practical implications right now, as far as I know), it’s necessary to treat them as irreducible. This doesn’t mean that we can pretend the remaining 0.01% isn’t there. It’s there, and it’s usually where new interesting stuff comes from. So yes, any theory rests on assumptions; yes, current popular ones treat space/mass/time as irreducible. Still, we do know space, mass and time interact, they may be currently irreducible, but they are not independent. That’s significant: we might eventually uncover the mechanisms that drive their inter-dependency, and doing so will count as having reduced one of the three (because everything else is already expressed in terms of these three fundamentals). Can I say for sure that is is going to happen? No. Can I be sure it’s not going to happen? Neither. Is this idle speculation that helps nobody? Sure it is: just a game of chmess.

    Another thing I don’t follow:

    Physics is – by definition – dogma par excellence as it seeks to contain all the world’s events within a few mathematical statements. “Dogma” is indeed the goal of physics.

    There is no ‘extent’ to which physics assumes that time is time. It still does, totally. In fact, it cannot function unless it does. No doubt if it hits an experimental result that suggests the contrary it will take steps, as all the mathematics will have to be looked at again, and the dogma “redefined”

    Pretty sure I don’t agree with your definition of dogma here. If new evidence can generate new theories and redefine the dogma, what makes dogma dogmatic?

    why should reduction go on for ever and ever ? It has to stop somewhere.

    On your question, answer is “for no reason”, but if you ask “can we ever be sure that we’ve reached the absolute bottom?” my answer would be “of course not, ever”. So: agnosticism is required if you look across theories. Within a theory (which appears to be what you are doing: it seems to me that you assume there only is one theory of fundamental physics), you can make all the assumptions you want, the validity of a theory depends on how useful it is (according to the high authority of myself 😉 ) so, as far as I’m concerned (as if anybody cared 😉 ), “anything goes”, if it works.

    Computationalists, living in their fantasy dream-world, think that reduction will result in an alchemical substance shift from semantic to syntax. Ultimately they assume that “stuff” will equal 72, or some other scalar which they can label “pure information”. Not going to happen !

    And this is relevant because … [?]

    when you see a man snoring do you take it he’s asleep ?

    Ah! you got me there. You are right. We have methods which work most of the time. For tricky cases like deception, possibly locked-in patients, other animals (are octopuses conscious? what about fruit flies?) and many more, we’re pretty much on square zero.

    (I like your remarks on the indirectness of measurement, by the way. Totally agree)

    Overall, I still can’t move from my original stance. Considering (somewhat validated) scientific theory only, we know almost nothing about PE.
    Moreover, PE could be irreducible (do I need to remark that according to many PE is already a part of what we refer as consciousness itself?), or maybe not; we can’t put all our money on either assumption. However, accepting this case (that while looking across theory candidates we have to remain officially agnostic) isn’t informative: it applies to everything we’re currently unable to reduce. [Not to mention that any X could be easily reducible in theory Z while irreducible in theory Y…]

  26. 26. John Davey says:

    Sergio

    I’ve been thinking and on a general point I think I was wrong. I fail to see what time could actually be reduced to, or how it could be composite, other than into a scheme of “mini-time” units (which, like particle theories, does not constitute a semantic reduction of matter either). So I think time is (semantically) terminally irreducible, a consequence of the basic structure of human cognitive scope. The limitation arises prior to the point at which we start to pen physics. Physics is incapable of reducing time as it’s a human creation. As cognitively we can’t reduce time, neither can physics which is restricted to human cognition and our semantic base of time, space and matter.

    We are beasts, after all, and physics is a beast-made, human creation, borne of human genetics and cognitive limitation.

    So the “dogma” question you asked I think doesn’t arise. If there was reason to treat time as “composite” in physics – maybe for some ethereal point about time have a granularity as probably required by quantum mechanics – it would not alter the basic rules of physics – time is time is time. It would remain semantically irreducible.

    Physics seeks to dogmatize the universe : it seeks to put everything in its place. It seeks to make every event describable in terms of a monolithic equation set. That is the goal : to put everything in a box. If that’s not dogmatic, I don’t know what is.

    J

  27. 27. Sergio Graziosi says:

    John,
    you’re making me happy that I’ve decided to play along, thanks!

    I fail to see what time could actually be reduced to, or how it could be composite, other than into a scheme of “mini-time” units

    Me too. I also fail to see how we can even conceive plenty of concepts we use all the time (well, stuff that is used all the time). Think of a fourth dimension, or a “hyperplane” in a multi-dimensional space. Moreover, from science itself we have gazillions of examples of concepts that were impossible to grasp before science and technology advances sort-of forced us to recognise them as valid. So, as I’ve been repeating in the comments here for a few years now, our failure to imagine something doesn’t tell us much. However, the interesting point you are making is the following:

    So I think time is (semantically) terminally irreducible, a consequence of the basic structure of human cognitive scope.

    This gets my full attention, because a part of me wants to agree. Cognition has its own structure which would necessarily imply certain limitations. I keep saying (I won’t add the same link for the Nth time, ask for it if you want it) that we are hardwired for separating the world into discrete entities, and that cognition (including its limitations) stems from this. In a similar way, our conversation suggests me (only now!) that time, as we intuitively (very much pre-theoretically) understand it, is tied to how we perceive it (epiphany of the obvious!). Within this subjective domain, I am entirely with you, reducing time is inconceivable. This is where I guess our agreement ends: from here, I’m forced to accept the possibility that time, or mass, or space, or any combination thereof may be further reduced in ways I cannot imagine, in scientific terms. We may eventually have a theory that reduces time-space into some more fundamental entities, who knows? I do know people are trying!

    Physics is incapable of reducing time as it’s a human creation. As cognitively we can’t reduce time, neither can physics which is restricted to human cognition and our semantic base of time, space and matter.

    Well, but then how did we manage to conceive theories (mathematical, physical or otherwise) which contain stuff that we can’t even begin to imagine? So this is indeed where I depart, I must admit that the failures of my imagination carry little predictive weight.
    Science, not just physics, does seek to put everything in its neat box. But we also have those nasty philosophers who started asking annoying questions on how science gets to do it, and how knowledge evolves. The result is that people like me are happy to accept that the boxing work is likely to never end, we embrace the fact, and happily keep boxing stuff in whichever way appears to be useful (or, in my case, cheer and encourage those who do). I don’t see it as dogmatic, dogmatic would be passively receiving some pre-packaged wisdom on what boxes we are supposed to use, including how to use them, and accepting this wisdom without questioning it. That’s my vanilla understanding of what dogmatic means, doesn’t apply to science as a whole, but of course applies to many scientists, including prominent ones ;-).

    Anyway, I’m about to take a short vacation, I’ll be mostly offline for a full week starting tomorrow (at last!). I’m afraid I am not planning to continue this exchange before coming back, sorry!

  28. 28. john davey says:

    Sergio


    “This is where I guess our agreement ends: from here,
    I’m forced to accept the possibility that time, or mass, or space,
    or any combination thereof may be further reduced in ways I cannot imagine, in scientific terms.”

    It hasn’t happened yet, certainly not in physics. Nor will it.
    You may have noticed there is no past history of reducibility of the above three : therefore no reason to assume that – 350 years after the invention of physics – it’s suddenly going to start.


    Well, but then how did we manage to conceive theories (mathematical, physical or otherwise) which contain stuff that we can’t even begin to imagine?

    Ah. The simple answer is we didn’t. And this is where we get to the point : we mustn’t ever mix up unimaginable with inconceivable.

    There are lots of things that physics has achieved that warrant a folk-description of “unimaginable”. But there is nothing that physics has predicted that is inconceivable – by definition. Nuclear explosions for instance – big “wow” factor, but certainly not inconceivable.

    Physics is not in the intelligibility/understanding/visualisation business and never has been, so we won’t go into the relevance of physics to understanding things or cognition. Physics – like the witch doctors and soothsayers of old – gets it prestige from its preeminence in the prediction business. And nothing it has predicted has been inconceivable. All of relativity’s predictions: time dilatation, length contraction etc are “wild” but perfectly conceivable. Just like quantum mechnics.They wouldn’t be much use if they weren’t conceivable : they wouldn’t be conceivable so they wouldn’t function too well as “predictions”.

    More importantly, since physics was created by Newton 350 years ago, it’s semantic superstructure of time,space and matter hasn’t altered one iota. The content of physics – relationships – has altered dramatically. But your suggestion that something has happened in the last 350 years of physics that has altered the semantic superstructure just isn’t true. Nobody’s looked into “reducing” time because it’s not possible nor meaningful in a physics context. It is inconceivable that time can be reduced to another semantic entity, and physics just isn’t capable of doing that. It doesn’t have the toolkit and never has had.

    There was an old game we used to play in my physics class called ‘dimensional analysis’. A prof would give you a suggestion .. eg “we think that the rate of expansion of a spherial solid is proprtional to the third power of a temperature difference between its two outer layers” and we’d have to suggest an equation. The key point was that the dimensions of both sides of the equation must “equate”. Apples on one side means apples on the other. The aim was to make sure you remembered this. Thus the constants of proportionality you had must be quoted correctly : “Kilogram Meters per second per degree” , or “Joules Kg per degree” etc. It was an important game because it was an expression one of the founding principles of the discipline of physics : both sides of an equation must have the same dimensionality. They both must be expressions of the same kind of stuff : and that ‘stuff’ was always the same : space, time, and matter. Meters, seconds and kilograms (.. you can ignore temperature, but if you don’t want to, then ‘T’).

    You cannot have any founding axiom in physics that doesn’t contain an expression involving Kg,metres or seconds. If you wanted an unofficial technical definition of physics, that is it. Any fundamental axiom of physics must be an equation with units including Kg,meters and seconds. They are not reducible in physics as a matter of necessity. Without these three dimensions, physics is just maths.

    J

  29. 29. Callan S. says:

    John,

    Thankfully anaesthetists don’t take this view ! What a nightmare hospitals would be if that were ever true.

    You seemed to be saying ‘consciousness is an intuition’ couldn’t be true because of the nightmare. Or otherwise you lost me as to why you raised it if it’s not related to what you say is true.

  30. 30. Sergio Graziosi says:

    John, apologies for the late reply!
    The distinction between unimaginable and inconceivable is certainly meaningful, but in this context, while we discuss where physics/science may go next, aren’t we obliged to neglect it? After all, one can only make the distinction with the benefit of hindsight, as whatever is unimaginable for me right now is also inconceivable and vice-versa. As far as I can tell, the distinction is that learning new things, or somehow expanding my cognitive abilities, can reduce the size of my own “unimaginable” set, what is absolutely inconceivable (for me) is not going to change, no matter what. However, at a given time, I can only distinguish between the two for concepts that were unimaginable in the past, until someone imagined/conceived them. In contrast, looking at the future the two sets are indistinguishable: by definition, we know nothing about what they contain.
    Thus, the fact that neither you nor I can begin to imagine how to reduce time, space or matter in terms of the other two, or in terms of something even more “fundamental”, does not tell us that it can’t or won’t happen. Thanks to Einstein we know that time, space and matter are not independent variables, and it is precisely this that makes the prospect of reducing one to the other “conceivable” (in pure theory, of course).
    Also: what kind of (bona fide) knowledge isn’t in the business of producing predictions? It’s a genuine question: I’ve been trying to answer this one for a long time, always drew a blank.
    The dimensional analysis is cute, back when I had to please my professors I used it regularly to reduce the amount of stuff I had to learn by heart. However, it does not demonstrate that we won’t ever find how to remove grams, meters or seconds. We did remove energy, having learned how to express it in terms of matter, remember?
    It seems to me that your own understanding of physics is more dogmatic than needed, sorry!
    Anyway, this is all my fault: IANAP(hysicist) and even least an historian of science, so I’ll concede pre-emptively that I might be talking rubbish!

  31. 31. john davey says:

    Sergio

    “Thanks to Einstein we know that time, space and matter are not independent variables”

    Hmm .. I don’t think this is true. I think he established that the pre-existing relationship between all three was not as we had come to assume. But that’s the relationship. He never assumed/established that one of time, space and matter could be sematically/conceptually reduced to a description of the other. There are certain circumstances that could be described as convertions, yes – but that’s the opposite of reduction.

    For instance : let’s say that from a block of empty space there suddenly emerges a lepton. That is a natural phenomenon, not an analytic concept, not a reduction. The physics model of such a transition would be thermodynamic and aggregate, not a nuts and bolts engine description.

    Leptons are not considered reducible to space in such circumstances : it’s a conversion of form, not a reduction. Just the universe doing it’s thing. Matter remains matter and space remains space.

    Science is incapable of endowing itself with more than the cognitive capacity of the humans who create it. There is no cognitive process that can ever reduce space to time, or time to matter. Therefore no science can ever do it. If you insist on waiting for it, you’ll be waiting for ever !


    “However, it does not demonstrate that we won’t ever find how to remove grams, meters or seconds.”

    It does. It demonstrates that without them what you are dealing with is not physics : it is just mathematics. And thanks for that too : the universe is made of stuff, not mathematics.


    We did remove energy, having learned how to express it in terms of matter, remember?

    They are convertible – one is not “reducible” to the other. Matter (expressed as “m”) can be “converted” to Energy (expressed as mv^2) at rate of mc^2. That is most emphatically not a reduction – ask the citizens of Hiroshima !


    It seems to me that your own understanding of physics is more dogmatic than needed, sorry!

    It doesn’t matter what you “need”, physics is physics ! Personally I’d like the sun to shine every day and never to have to work again, but reality alas doesn’t permit it to be so.

    J

  32. 32. Sergio Graziosi says:

    John,
    don’t get me wrong. Of course we need to retain “some” dimensionality in our physics. All I’m saying is that if meters, seconds and grams are not independent (mass curves space, etc) there is scope for digging even deeper. Doesn’t mean we can take out all of them and still do physics, we agree on this.
    I don’t need anything, just pointing out that, if I’m right, your idea of physics is more rigid than what modern physics looks to my somewhat naive eyes.
    We still clearly disagree on what we mean with “reduction”, but I reckon I should move to the discussion on “architectonics” (I’m still playing catch-up, sorry!): it’s much more interesting and potentially productive. Might “see” you there, or on some other future post, no doubt.

  33. 33. john davey says:

    Sergio


    All I’m saying is that if meters, seconds and grams are not independent (mass curves space, etc) there is scope

    The physics dimensions have relationships. These relationships are the only thing physics is concerned with. Mass curves space – yes. You don’t need to refer to Einstein or quantum mechanics to notice interaction. Matter always sits in time and in space. Newtonian inertial objects traverse space at the same rate. Gravity causes objects to move. So what ? The existence of a relationship – at no point – implies that they are different species of the same thing. In fact the very notion of ‘relationship’ is based upon a clear ability to differentiate them.

    Is “reduction” that vague in this context ? How do your ideas differ from mine ?

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