Is there a Hard Problem of physics that explains the Hard Problem of consciousness?

Hedda Hassel Mørch has a thoughtful piece in Nautilus’s interesting Consciousness issue (well worth a look generally) that raises this idea. What is the alleged Hard Problem of physics? She say it goes like this…

What is physical matter in and of itself, behind the mathematical structure described by physics?

To cut to the chase, Mørch proposes that things in themselves have a nature not touched by physics, and that nature is consciousness. This explains the original Hard Problem – we, like other things, just are by nature conscious; but because that consciousness is our inward essence rather than one of our physical properties, it is missed out in the scientific account.

I’m sympathetic to the idea that the original Hard Problem is about an aspect of the world that physics misses out, but according to me that aspect is just the reality of things. There may not, according to me, be much more that can usefully be said about it. Mørch, I think, takes two wrong turns. The first is to think that there are such things as things in themselves, apart from observable properties. The second is to think that if this were so, it would justify panpsychism, which is where she ends up.

Let’s start by looking at that Hard problem of physics.  Mørch suggests that physics is about the mathematical structure of reality, which is true enough, but the point here is that physics is also about observable properties; it’s nothing if not empirical. If things have a nature in themselves that cannot be detected directly or indirectly from observable properties, physics simply isn’t interested, because those things-in-themselves make no difference to any possible observation. No doubt some physicists would be inclined to denounce such unobservable items as absurd or vacuous, but properly speaking they are just outside the scope of physics, neither to be affirmed nor denied. It follows, I think, that this can’t be a Hard Problem of physics; it’s actually a Hard Problem of metaphysics.

This is awkward because we know that human consciousness does have physical manifestations that are readily amenable to physical investigation; all of our conscious behaviour, our speech and writing, for example. Our new Hard Problem (let’s call it the NHP) can’t help us with those; it is completely irrelevant to our physical behaviour and cannot give us any account of those manifestations of consciousness. That is puzzling and deeply problematic – but only in the same way as the old Hard Problem (OHP) – so perhaps we are on the right track after all?

The problem is that I don’t think the NHP helps us even on a metaphysical level. Since we can’t investigate the essential nature of things empirically, we can only know about it by pure reasoning; and I don’t know of any purely rational laws of metaphysics that tell us about it. Can the inward nature of things change? If so, what are the (pseudo-causal?) laws of intrinsic change that govern that process? If the inward nature doesn’t change, must we take everything to be essentially constant and eternal in itself? That Parmenidean changelessness would be particularly odd in entities we are relying on to explain the fleeting, evanescent business of subjective experience.

Of course Mørch and others who make a similar case don’t claim to present a set of a priori conclusions about their own nature; rather they suggest that the way we know about the essence of things is through direct experience. The inner nature of things is unknowable except in that one case where the thing whose inner nature is to be known is us. We know our own nature, at least. It’s intuitively appealing – but how do we know our own real nature? Why should being a thing bring knowledge of that thing? Just because we have an essential nature here’s no reason to suppose we are acquainted with that inner nature; again we seem to need some hefty metaphysics to explain this, which is actually lacking. All the other examples of knowledge I can think of are constructed, won through experience, not inherent. If we have to invent a new kind of knowledge to support the theory the foundations may be weak.

At the end of the day, the simplest and most parsimonious view, I think, is to say that things just are made up of their properties, with no essential nub besides. Leibniz’s Law tells us that that’s the nature of identity. To be sure, the list will include abstract properties as well as purely physical ones, but abstract properties that are amenable to empirical test, not ones that stand apart from any possible observation. Mørch disagrees:

Some have argued that there is nothing more to particles than their relations, but  intuition rebels at this claim. For there to be a relation, there must be two things being related. Otherwise, the relation is empty—a show that goes on without performers, or a castle constructed out of thin air.

I think the argument is rather that the properties of a particle relate to each other, while these groups of related properties relate in turn to other such groups. Groups don’t require a definitive member, and particles don’t require a single definitive essence. Indeed, since the particle’s essential self cannot determine any of its properties (or it could be brought within the pale of physics) it’s hard to see how it can have a defined relation to any of them and what role the particle-in-itself can play in Mørch’s relational show.

The second point where I think Mørch goes wrong is in the leap to panpsychism. The argument seems to be that the NHP requires non-structural stuff (which she likens to the hardware on which the software of the laws of physics runs – though I myself wouldn’t buy unstructured hardware); the OHP gives us the non-structural essence of conscious experience (of course conscious experience does have structure, but Mørch takes it that down there somewhere is the structureless ineffable something-it-is-like); why not assume that the latter is universal and fills the gap exposed by the NHP?

Well, because other matter exhibits no signs of consciousness, and because the fact that our essence is a conscious essence just wouldn’t warrant the assumption that all essences are conscious ones. Wouldn’t it be simpler to think that only the essences of outwardly conscious beings are conscious essences? This is quite apart from the many problems of panpsychism, which we’ve discussed before, and which Mørch fairly acknowledges.

So I’m not convinced, but the case is a bold and stimulating one and more persuasively argued than it may seem from my account. I applaud the aims and spirit of the expedition even though I may regret the direction it took.

59 Comments

  1. 1. Tom says:

    I agree with Ms Morch that reality consists in things and relations between them and that things must be something (as opposed to nothing) in themselves so that there is something those relations can hold between. Every thing is thus constituted by both its inner (intrinsic) nature and its outer nature, that is, by its relations to other things. These two natures, or identities, of the thing are inseparable because they constitute the same thing. If relations of the thing to other things change, so does the thing’s inner identity.

    Every thing instantiates some properties, but those properties too are things in themselves (unless they are relations) and they are related to the thing that instantiates them by the relation of instantiation. The thing that instantiates them is not identical to any of its properties; it is another thing in itself.

    Many things also have parts, but those parts too are things in themselves and they are related to the thing they compose by the relation of composition. The thing they compose is not identical to any of its parts; it is another thing in itself (a collection of the parts).

    The things in themselves are a natural candidate for the qualia of consciousness because they have an indescribable nature (their intrinsic identity) and simultaneously they have relations to other things (which can be the correlates of consciousness). However, the intrinsic identities of the things are not the same, and it seems that only some of them “deserve” to be called the qualia of consciousness – namely those that have a certain level of “intensity” (another indescribable property), which apparently results from the right kind of combination of properties that the thing instantiates or the right kind of combination of parts that compose the thing. This is the combination problem. Giulio Tononi suggested that the right kind of combination is such that it results in high “integrated information” of the whole. Being such a thing also entails the thing’s knowledge of itself, because that’s what the qualia are: the consciousness of themselves.

  2. 2. Brain Molecule Marketing says:

    The only hard problem is why any animal brain would allow so much magical and nonsensical “beliefs” like gods, ghost, consciousness, feelings, free will, etc. By definition, must be some reproductive value to this cultural lying.

  3. 3. Tom Clark says:

    Peter: “At the end of the day, the simplest and most parsimonious view, I think, is to say that things just are made up of their properties, with no essential nub besides.”

    Thanks Peter, I’m with you on this and the rest of your analysis (“the two wrong turns”). Mørch supposes there have to be intrinsic natures, some sort of concrete “stuff” to reality, and that consciousness reveals it or *is* it, ala Russellian dual aspect monism. But we only know the world under a description using representations (qualitative, quantitative, conceptual), so the idea that we could contact and know unrepresented intrinsic natures – things in themselves – is suspect. The idea of stuff is I think a hold over from folk physicalism (I call it being stuffy): since everyday objects are made of concrete tangible stuff, so must their ultimate constituents, we pretheoretically imagine. But there’s no reason to think our best models of reality can or must end up in irreducible, intrinsic, knowable bits of stuff. Rather, as you say, it’s observed properties all the way down. And besides, any final stuff would only be identifiable by having specific properties that we attribute to it.

    Supposing that qualia are intrinsic natures ignores the widely acknowledged evidence that they only come into being when systems like us instantiate certain sorts of complex representational functions. It also ignores the fact that they only exist for the instantiating system, not objectively. So qualia are best conceived of as representations – how the world qualitatively appears to us as conscious subjects – not the intrinsic nature of the material brain that we somehow inwardly observe when conscious. Basic qualia (e.g., red, sweetness) aren’t decomposable, thus might seem intrinsic, but this is because there has to be a base level of representation to avoid a representational regress.

    All told, it seems to me the claims that ”all physical things are associated with some form of consciousness of their own, as their own intrinsic realizer” and “consciousness is the real concrete stuff of reality” have little going for them empirically or metaphysically, even if they avoid the problem of explaining why experience only accompanies certain sorts of physically instantiated functions.

  4. 4. howard says:

    So is it right to restate the argument that Morch is trying to discern what it feels like to be a say rock, ie. some inanmiate object, perhaps reverting by way of essentialism to some kind of Aristotelian/animism under the hood of modern physics- to put the matter in layman’s terms, I being a layman

  5. 5. zarzuelazen says:

    You’ll see I commented on the essay over there.

    Basically I think trying to apply the attempted distinction (intrinsic vs. relational) to (consciousness vs. physics) is just meaningless word salad. As I pointed out, philosophy/science is all about integrating diffent properties into a unified framework (monism) whereas what is proposed is the opposite of that (just another form of dualism).

    That said, I think panpsychism is a good idea, just not for the reasons given in the essay. What I like about it is that it can potentially dissolve the mind/matter divide – the simplest logical possibility is that there just isn’t any matter/mind divide, and it follows that consciousness must be ubiquitous.

    I pointed out that there are several other ubiquitous properties in science – ‘Information’ (from computer science) and ‘Fields’ (from physics). Why not put ‘consciousness’ in the same class as these other 2 things? Just as ‘information’ and ‘fields’ are all around us, why not ‘consciousness’ as well?

    Of course we still have to define what consciosuness actually is. And I take a real stab it, making the radical suggestion that consciousness is ‘an extension in the time dimension’. In other words, my theory is that consciousness is the arrow of time. No mysticism needed, just a generalization of thermodynamics.

    Time is the one big physical property that we don’t properly understand. So why not say that consciousness IS time in some sense?

    If I’m right, physics is indeed in store for a revolution.

    Forgive the pun…it’s about TIME … 😉

  6. 6. Tom says:

    #3 Tom Clark

    “But we only know the world under a description using representations (qualitative, quantitative, conceptual), so the idea that we could contact and know unrepresented intrinsic natures – things in themselves – is suspect.”

    The idea of a thing in itself seems to follow from the logical requirement that a thing – if it exists at all – should be identical to itself. But if there is nothing it is identical to, then it is nothing and there is no thing. Whether we can know things in themselves is another matter; I think we can’t, unless we are that thing ourselves. But we may at least know something that is in some way similar to the external thing in itself, namely our internal representation of that external thing, because we ARE that representation.

  7. 7. Jochen says:

    Peter, thanks for posting this; after my participation in the FQXi-contest, it seemed as if I were surrounded on all sides by people for whom it appears settled that the world is really just a great big piece of mathematics that became self-aware somehow. It’s encouraging to see that there is still some thoughtful opposition to this naive information-age idealism.

    Like Tom Clark above, I immediately thought about Russell’s writings, in particular the following passage:

    It is not always realised how exceedingly abstract is the information
    that theoretical physics has to give. It lays down certain fundamental
    equations which enable it to deal with the logical structure of events,
    while leaving it completely unknown what is the intrinsic character of
    the events that have the structure. We only know the intrinsic charac-
    ter of events when they happen to us. Nothing whatever in theoretical
    physics enables us to say anything about the intrinsic character of
    events elsewhere. They may be just like the events that happen to us,
    or they may be totally different in strictly unimaginable ways. All that
    physics gives us is certain equations giving abstract properties of their
    changes. But as to what it is that changes, and what it changes from
    and to – as to this, physics is silent.

    These days, it’s often portrayed as being almost unimaginable that not everything within the world might fall within the purview of physics—it’s presented as akin to belief in spirits, wood nymphs and unicorns. But physics, as pointed out long ago by one of its greatest luminaries, Niels Bohr, concerns what we can say about nature, not what nature is.

  8. 8. Hunt says:

    Interesting theory, and I’m in favor of leaving no stone unturned, but ultimately IMO it will prove false. There are a lot of things in science that don’t seem possible, or that it it’s easy to convince even intelligent, educated people are not possible. All life evolved by gradual random change and selection, among other evolutionary processes. It’s easy to think this is not possible, yet the evidences says it did indeed happen. Consciousness arises from the structural properties of neurons in the brains of animals. Everything else has no consciousness at all. This is going to remain the single best operating hypothesis until something better comes along.

  9. 9. zarzuelazen says:

    Jochen,

    This ideas of ‘essences’ or ‘intrinsic characters’ is totally meaningless unless it can do some actual explanatory work and connect to things we can observe. You can see this simply by replacing ‘intrinsic’ with any meaningless concept you like…200 dancing angels on a pinhead, a zilbot, green gnomes from Mars…etc. It makes absolutely no difference.

    There’s no basis whatsoever for thinking consciousness is outside physics. It’s no more and no less mysterious than ‘information’ (computation) and ‘fields’ (matter). We don’t tie ourselves in knots over the hard problems of ‘information’ and ‘fields’ – while abstract,these things can be precisely defined and are clearly part of the natural physical world – why on earth should ‘consciousness’ be any different?

    Indeed, as I pointed out above, there is clearly one big physical property that we don’t fully understand – ‘time’, so our immediate suspicion should be that consciousness is closely connected to this physical property, or even identical to it somehow.

  10. 10. Hunt says:

    I’ll also add that the same reasoning can be applied to the concept of energy as can apply to material basis, so are we to conclude that consciousness also forms the ultimate intrinsic nature of energy as well? Granted this is starting to sound very similar to any given talk by Deepak Chopra 🙂

  11. 11. VicP says:

    Interesting article so far. One of her master statements: “There is something that it’s like to be you, and no one else can ever know that as directly as you do.”

    Honestly, I would find the contrary to be more disturbing: if I were walking around with my own and every one else’s consciousness and first person experience in my head.

  12. 12. Jochen says:

    Zarzuelazen:

    This ideas of ‘essences’ or ‘intrinsic characters’ is totally meaningless unless it can do some actual explanatory work and connect to things we can observe.

    That’s getting things backwards, really. Ultimately, physics can be explicated in terms of relations—causal relations, correlations, and so on. Now, are relations all there is? Well, I don’t know—but surely, if somebody comes around claiming that that’s the case, you’d want to see some reason for believing them. Think back to Thales, claiming that everything is water—you’d want some damn good arguments before you believe him.

    But the problem is, such arguments aren’t forthcoming. And furthermore, the view, if followed consequently (which, admittedly, few ever do) leads to some pretty strange consequences: chief among them Newman’s objection (raised against a proposal of Russell) that all that relations really imply is cardinality—that, in other words, if everything is relation, then all that can ever be settled is how many things there are. If that’s how the world works, then the complete metaphysics would be ‘there are n things’, with n to be determined as of yet. If you think that there are different kinds of things, different kinds of properties, then you already disagree with such relationalism. (Of course, there are controversies regarding this issue—when aren’t there—but to my mind, nobody has yet really brought up a convincing defense against Newman.)

    In the end, physics is the art of map making. Now, it may entirely be the case that maps are all there is; that it’s just maps all the way down—although I personally can’t really envision how such a metaphysics might work out consistently. But surely, just because one (thinks one) has a good handle on the physics, one shouldn’t dismiss the possibility that there’s a territory there out of hand.

    We don’t tie ourselves in knots over the hard problems of ‘information’ and ‘fields’

    Actually, a great number of philosophers do exactly that—neither the concept of ‘information’, nor that of ‘fields’, is all that clear. How syntactic or Shannon information becomes meaningful information is the topic of the problem of intentionality—the other great problem in the philosophy of mind. How fields—by which I presume you mean quantum fields—underlie reality and give rise to the macroscopic world we experience runs right into the problem of interpreting quantum mechanics. Indeed, it’s not at all clear what sorts of entities these fields are even supposed to be: where the classical electromagnetic field is just a nice quantity with a certain fixed magnitude and direction, its quantum analogue is operator-valued—i.e. an association of mathematical transformations with space-time points! How the hell should we make sense of that?

    Of course, that doesn’t entail any commitment to something nonphysical, supernatural, or otherwise ‘spooky’. As (I think) Colin McGinn phrased this, there’s a difference between ‘physicalism’ and ‘physics-alism’: the former essentially being a form of materialist monism, the latter being the (much stronger, and IMHO unsubstantiated) claim that everything that exists falls within the purview of the science of physics, with everything else just kind of amounting to sophisticated stamp collecting.

  13. 13. James of Seattle says:

    First, I think it is important that we stop coming up with explanations of the form: X is very mysterious, and consciousness is very mysterious, so maybe X is consciousness (or X is responsible for consciousness). I think that is what Mørch is doing. Talking about physical things “in themselves” is simply talking about drilling down (via physics) until we reach the limits of current technology, and then everything below that is “mysterious”. We may or may not be able to go lower in the future, but if we do, then going even lower than that is the new “mysterious”. BTW, zarzuelazen, I think you know where this is going, re: time.

    Second, there is no reason not to assume that there are things (physical stuff) and relations between those things. It’s true that the only thing we can know about is the relations. To know more about the “things” we would have to identify sub-parts or processes in those things, and then we could know about the relations of those parts. But then we’re back where we were. Because the only things we can know about are the relations, some people say that’s all that exists. They should stop saying that because it just starts pointless arguments.

    Third, what if the basis of consciousness is the relations? More specifically, what if the basis of consciousness is responses to the relations? Plato (I think) said that to exist is to have causal powers. Another way to say this is that to exist is to be able to interact with an environment. Interaction with the environment can be expressed as a process such that an agent, when presented with a set of physical variables (relations) produces a different set of physical variables (relations) and retains the ability to do so again. Another way to write this would be:

    Input relations –[agent]–> output relations

    I have given this basic process a name: “psychule”.

    So I’m pretty sure that any physical “thing” could be an agent and thus have some repertoire of psychules that it could perform. But the psychules of, say, electrons, are not necessarily interesting, and they definitely are not what most people consider consciousness. Nevertheless, such psychules may be the basis of what we call consciousness, because psychules can be combined in series and in parallel to give higher order psychules. By combining and recombining simple psychules we can get emergent features and processes like information, communication, memory, semantics, experience, knowledge, creativity, etc.

    Just sayin’.

    *

  14. 14. Tom says:

    #13

    “Third, what if the basis of consciousness is the relations? More specifically, what if the basis of consciousness is responses to the relations? Plato (I think) said that to exist is to have causal powers.”

    I think there are three fundamental relations that all other relations can be reduced to. They are similarity, composition and instantiation. Mathematical and logical relations can be reduced to these three, and causal relations are a special kind of mathematical and logical relations, in the context of the arrow of time, which is the entropic gradient of mathematical structures in a special kind of order. I elaborated it in section 2 of my paper An Outline of Reality: https://philpapers.org/rec/TOMAOO

    The relations of similarity, composition and instantiation in themselves don’t seem to have a quality or intrinsic identity; they just seem to be the fact that two things are similar two each other, or that one thing is a part of another thing (collection), or that one thing instantiates another thing (property). So I wouldn’t identify the qualia of consciousness with relations but with things. It seems plausible however that the qualia of consciousness (as we know them) are things that stand in causal relations. Causal relations, specifically attractive and repulsive forces, or processes of integration and differentiation, seem important for consciousness as we know it.

  15. 15. James of Seattle says:

    #14, Tom, you said

    ” I wouldn’t identify the qualia of consciousness with relations but with things.”

    Are you saying qualia are made of stuff? Like atoms and stuff?

    *

  16. 16. Hunt says:

    First, I think it is important that we stop coming up with explanations of the form: X is very mysterious, and consciousness is very mysterious, so maybe X is consciousness (or X is responsible for consciousness)

    I agree this is a “shot in the dark” approach and indicative of a certain amount of desperation. The counterpart is “we will add more complexity to our solution.” Like we can’t imagine explaining consciousness by the work of neurons, but so let’s describe it as massive parallel operation of neurons and “emergent” consciousness. A non-explanation. There is tendency to want to match the “power” of our explanation to the scope of our problem, which becomes an excuse to obfuscate.

    Another objection I have to this article in particular is that qualia as “stuff” actually fits the bill better than consciousness in general. As Peter points out, consciousness is structured, but qualia appear generally to not be. So “the taste of bacon” is actually a better candidate for the basis of reality than consciousness (as I’ve always suspected). Realizations like this should give one pause.

  17. 17. Callan S. says:

    How do you even describe consciousness?

    Suppose matter was configured in a way where its physical interactions match what we call logic and conducting logical functions and this matter was also configured that it’s detection methods and logic response was to report the same description of consciousness. Not just a rote repeating, like a tape recorder would, but derived from a series of logic functions, themselves derived from detection sensors.

    Apart from othering it, it’s reporting the same notion of consciousness.

    Or would it be forced, because of it just being matter, to report that it is not conscious?

    Is there something that makes all reports of consciousness honest reports?

  18. 18. zarzuelazen says:

    Jochen,

    I think you are really getting hung up on this idea of ‘essences’ or essential ‘things’ in themselves. We can never know them, so they have exactly zero relevance for our rational understanding of the world.

    As several people in the thread point out, there’s no basis at all for thinking that these mysterious intrinsic things are related to consciousness…why wouldn’t consciousness just be another ‘relational’ property, like everything else we can know about? The intrinsic things are ‘green gnomes’ I’m telling you 😉

    I want to suggest that ‘consciousness’ is exactly analogous to the concepts of ‘information’ and ‘fields’ – there are mathematical equations we can write down that provide *some* rational understanding.

    You did make a good point about the matter of ‘interpretation’ – even if we did have such equations, you’re right that we still have to interpret them, so presumably some philosophical debate would still continue.

    Actually John Horgan (Scientic American columnist) just posted an interview with David Chalmers where Chalmers makes the same interesting point – a scientific theory of consciousness might be something like quantum mechanics where even after we have a good mathematical theory, a debate about how we should interpret it continues.

    Look, I think you’re bright enough to get the math of consciousness. Just get a piece of paper and make 3 columns.

    First column ‘Information’, write down Shannon’s theory under that. Move your pen to the right.

    Second column ‘Fields’, write down the operators for quantum mechanics. Move your pen to right.

    Third column ‘Consciousness. Write down the equations for consciousness…. 😀

  19. 19. Peter says:

    To flesh out the argument a bit more; the claim seems to be that things need a kind of core as an anchor so that relations can hold between the anchors, or we end up with nothing but a network of relations.
    But the anchor can just as well be the conjunction of the object’s properties. A football team doesn’t need an extra person who doesn’t play but merely embodies the team. I don’t accept that denying the thing in itself involves denial of anything but relations; it’s just a different view of thinghood.
    And the core idea is problematic. The nature of the core cannot be determined by the observable properties, nor vice versa, or the core would reduce to the properties. But that means it is untethered from the thing it is supposed to embody; in itself it has no spatial or temporal co-ordinates or any other features. It relates to the thing it serves only by fiat, it seems, and feeding the thing’s relations with other things through this noumenal whatnot makes them harder to understand, not easier.

  20. 20. Peter says:

    On Twitter, Mørch says:

    I agree things are just made up of properties, but some of the properties must be nonstructural. Otherwise no essence required!

  21. 21. Tom says:

    #15 James of Seattle

    “Are you saying qualia are made of stuff? Like atoms and stuff?”

    I am saying that qualia are something (as opposed to nothing) that is non-relational. So yes, a quale is an unstructured “stuff”.

  22. 22. Tom says:

    #16 Hunt

    “As Peter points out, consciousness is structured, but qualia appear generally to not be.”

    Although qualia are unstructured, when you put a number of different qualia together you get a composite and therefore structured system, no? Our consciousness is not just a single quale; it consists of many qualia.

  23. 23. Tom says:

    #19 Peter

    “But the anchor can just as well be the conjunction of the object’s properties.”

    And what are the properties?

    “A football team doesn’t need an extra person who doesn’t play but merely embodies the team.”

    A football team is not a person but it is a thing – a collection of football players (and the individual football players are collections of things too).

    “But that means it (the core) is untethered from the thing it is supposed to embody; in itself it has no spatial or temporal co-ordinates or any other features.”

    The core is tethered to other cores through relations.

  24. 24. zarzuelazen says:

    Tom,

    You might like to consider the possibility that qualia is a unit of time (like the ‘second’) rather than a ‘stuff’.

    I really think viewing consciousness as a ‘stuff’ located in space is a major part of the huge confusion that surrounds the topic of consciousness.

    If on the other hand, we postulate that qualia have zero spatial extension, but rather a TEMPORAL extension, than the mist of confusion starts to clear…

  25. 25. Tom says:

    Zarzuelazen,

    time seems to be necessary for qualia as we know them. But I view time as a special kind of space (that’s how it is viewed in the theory of relativity too). So I imagine that qualia are the intrinsic identities of things that are extended in spacetime. Spacetime and things embedded in it are themselves timeless, that is, not “flowing”, but the feeling of a “time flow” is a quale.

  26. 26. Hunt says:

    Tom, 22, But when you’re looking for the hardware of physics you want something as irreducible as possible, in fact utterly irreducible. “the taste of bacon” is of course a joke and bad example, but what about color quales? This even has a kind of New Agey ring to it. The world is made of colors.

    The problem with consciousness is that it’s structured therefore reducible, a bad basic building block material. As Peter mentions, perhaps what is meant is a fundamental “feeling that is it is like to exist”, kind of a Buddhist consciousness without self or thought. That’s a better candidate.

    Personally, taking phenomenal things as fundamental essences of things is a little weird. I’m open minded enough to give anything a shot, but I’m definitely going to need more drugs.

  27. 27. zarzuelazen says:

    Tom #25,

    Well according to science as we know it, there is no ‘time flow’, as you point out, just the block universe of spacetime. But then you agree that ‘time flow is a quale’. So how do you reconcile this with the block universe picture?

    The natural question that then arises is this: Is the current scientific conception of ‘time’ correct, or is something major missing from the picture?

    I would suggest that conscious awareness (quale) is ALL about time perception. Because without *some* degree of memory (past awareness) and imagination (future awareness) how can you be conscious of anything?

  28. 28. Tom says:

    #26 Hunt

    although every thing has an irreducible intrinsic identity, many things also have an extrinsic compositional identity, that is, they are collections of other things. If you are looking for a thing that has (in addition to irreducible intrinsic identity) an irreducible compositional identity then such a thing is an empty set – it has no parts. Its intrinsic identity is probably nothing we would bother to call consciousness though.

  29. 29. Tom says:

    Zarzuelazen,

    like all qualia, the quale of time flow is ineffable, a feeling that is an intrinsic aspect of some things embedded in the block spacetime. At least that’s how I imagine it.

  30. 30. Jochen says:

    Zarzuelazen:

    I think you are really getting hung up on this idea of ‘essences’ or essential ‘things’ in themselves.

    I don’t actually believe in such things, really (well, depending to some extent on how you want to define them). But neither do I believe in the complete mathematizability of nature. Our ability to model certain systems using mathematics ultimately rides on our ability to take some physical token (a symbol, e.g.) as standing for something else, itself derived from the intentional nature of our minds.

    So, in order to model, say, the solar system, I can go and build an orrery, with little metal beads standing to each other in the same relationships as the planets do, or some simple function of those relationships. This is something that manifestly needs an intentional agent in order to interpret, say, the third little bead as standing for the Earth—it’s effectively a symbol, if not one of the ink-on-paper kind we’re perhaps more used to. So, in order to take system A as standing for system B, we need an intentional agent to realize the modeling relationship between those.

    Mathematics is just the same kind of thing, played a little more abstractly. Perhaps it helps thinking about computers first, instead: a computer is, in a sense, nothing but a universal modeling system—think of it as a kind of clay that can be sculpted every which way, given the right form—the right program. Math, then, is just the science of the kind of relationships that models stand to the systems they model—to take a simple example, take the set of your paternal ancestors, and a stack of books of varying thickness. There’s an order of books according to thickness; likewise, there’s an order of ancestors in terms of paternity, such that if your father is mapped to book A, and book B is the next thicker book, then book B is mapped to your father’s father.

    Using the stack of books as a model of your paternal ancestry, given any two names from that list, we can just pull out the requisite books, compare their thickness, and determine which is whose ancestor; and by counting the books of intermediate thickness, we can even determine how many generations they are apart. Again, note that this needs an interpretation of a book as a given person; without that, you just don’t get any meaningful information out.

    Mathematics, now, is simply the science that takes account of these relationships, of the structures underlying them—in this simple case, the ordering structure. In a sense, we abstract away from the model, and instead look at classes of possible models, which are then just sort of left unexamined in the background. So, when we say things like, ‘the natural numbers are ordered’, we’re really talking about abstract properties of modelling relationships—that whenever systems can be brought in a modelling correspondence with some reference system (some arbitrary, possibly abstract, collection of infinitely many things things that we take to embody ‘the natural numbers’), then that system is ordered.

    What this highlights is that mathematics is something that’s secondary to our ability of model-building, or, more broadly, as using certain things as symbolic for others—which is derived from intentionality. Consequently, starting with mathematics as trying to explain the whole of our experience runs the danger of circularity.

    Instead, I think that only a subset of the world—or rather, a collection of subsets, that themselves can’t be brought into a unified whole—can be modeled using mathematics, and that the failure to account for conscious experience, subjectivity, and so on, essentially simply highlights the failure of the assumption that everything ought to be accountable for within a mathematical model.

    Another way to put this—which is how I usually frame it—is that while our explanatory faculties, our modeling abilities, are essentially computational—computers being nothing but universal modelling machines—, the world as such may not be; thus, we’re left with a collection of computational models, each accounting for part of the world, and each failing to cover the whole.

    This has the advantage of doing away with most of the arguments proposed against physicalism in an immediate way—Mary learns something new because no computational model can derive phenomenal qualities; zombies are imaginable because we can’t derive phenomenal qualities from base physical facts, since that’s not possible computationally—and also of avoiding the problems a relational view of the world has (like Newman’s objection, which to me still seems to immediately trivialize the endeavor).

    So we give up an assumption that was really just unsubstantiated in the first place—that the world is in toto amenable to mathematical/physical/computational description, that relations are all there is, or something like that—, and you get out a metaphysics that’s easily able to accommodate consciousness within a natural world, without running into the usual problems of physicalism, and while avoiding the problems or relational/structuralist accounts. So what’s not to like?

    You did make a good point about the matter of ‘interpretation’ – even if we did have such equations, you’re right that we still have to interpret them, so presumably some philosophical debate would still continue.

    That’s actually an important point: ultimately, mathematics doesn’t explain, it merely describes, or models. When seeking to understand why something happens, pointing to the way the math works out is as misguided as pointing to the way the orrery revolves as an explanation as to why the planets move the way they do. The planets don’t move that way because the orrery moves that way; both move in analogous ways because otherwise, the orrery would simply be a bad model, which we then would replace with a better one.

  31. 31. Hedda says:

    Hi Peter,
    Thanks for this thoughtful post!

    You say:
    “the anchor can just as well be the conjunction of the object’s properties… don’t accept that denying the thing in itself involves denial of anything but relations;”

    I agree the anchor can be the object’s properties, but if so it must be its non-structural properties. What are the non-structural properties that could anchor relations besides phenomenal (concious) properties?

    It’s fine with me to deny the thing-in-itself insofar as it implies something like an enduring essence or other special metaphysical roles. I use the term just to refer to the non-structural/intrinsic properties of things (this may or may not be the true Kantian sense, but at least the Langtonian sense)

  32. 32. Peter says:

    Hedda,

    Many thanks for responding. You want non-structural properties I think, because you want, as it were, to get below the maths and other merely relational stuff. To be honest I’m not sure I understand the argument here thoroughly enough for my objections to carry much weight, but here goes.

    Even with conscious experience you have to burrow down a bit to get beyond the superficial structure and find the required thing in itself (quite properly, no problem with that). To me it seems that a similar burrowing would eventually find a something even in relational properties, where they are instantiated. It sounds now as if I’m the one who believes in essences after all, but I’m really just saying you would discover the simple reality of the thing, even a structured thing. I do think this simple reality is the source of our worries about the OHP and at this basic level I think your intuitions and mine are actually perhaps rather similar.

    The idea of resting on structured items without any in-themselves therefore just doesn’t worry me that much. Physics may reduce to relational stuff completely but the physical world doesn’t.

    Does that make sense? I’m straining my metaphysical muscles a bit here, but no pain no gain 🙂

  33. 33. Hedda says:

    Hi Peter,

    That absolutely makes sense 🙂 Yet it seems to me that purely relational properties will never constitute a “something” no matter what kind of relations they are or at what level we find them. There is no way of distinguishing concrete and physical from abstract and purely mathematical objects in relational terms.

    It may be that one day we will discover non-relational (or otherwise concreteness-bestowing) properties besides phenomenal (conscious) properties. This could enable a positive account of the intrinsic nature of matter that does not imply panpsychism. But it seems very unlikely, especially since physics has so successfully been focusing on relational structure alone for such a long time, so I make an inductive leap to panpsychism.

  34. 34. Scott Bakker says:

    Hedda wrote: “It may be that one day we will discover non-relational (or otherwise concreteness-bestowing) properties besides phenomenal (conscious) properties. This could enable a positive account of the intrinsic nature of matter that does not imply panpsychism. But it seems very unlikely, especially since physics has so successfully been focusing on relational structure alone for such a long time, so I make an inductive leap to panpsychism.”

    Hi Hedda. I thought the article was fascinating, but I have difficulty with your premise. Andrew Cimpian has proposed we understand intuitions of intrinsic essences as applications of ‘inherence heuristics’: humans are pretty good at fetishizing their environments in useful ways (as we do with money, for instance).

    So when we’re offered a choice between explaining apparently inexplicable intrinsic properties, or explaining these away via our penchant to heuristically simplify our environments, what warrants the former?

  35. 35. Peter says:

    Thanks, Hedda.

    I agree that theoretical physics is not likely to come up with anything of that kind; and we don’t have the inside view, as we (apparently) do for phenomenal stuff. But real relations in the real world still don’t seem that obscure to me. Certainly not like the ineffable inward reality of things, where mystic contemplation seems like the best exploratory strategy on offer.

    Panpsychism is always going to be a leap too far for me, but I understand why it looks good to you!

  36. 36. Sci says:

    Hard Problem seems unsolvable to me simply because the answer relies on intuition. One person’s ridiculous assertion is another’s obvious conclusion.

    Then again we haven’t solved the easy part of the Hard Problem yet, which is to understand the structures/relations of the human brain directly responsible for enabling experience of this shared reality.

    But I suppose “wait & see” doesn’t sell books/articles/TedX/etc.

  37. 37. Hedda says:

    Peter,
    Could it be that the reason why the notion of purely physical relations with no intrinsic character doesn’t seem obscure is because we implicitly and habitually think of it as involving secondary qualities? On reflection (along Galilean/Lockean lines) these qualities actually belong in the mind.

    Why does hypothesizing about particle consciousness involve mystical contemplation? Making inferences about human and animal consciousess does not seem very mystical, and I would say there is no difference in kind here. Given the problem of other minds and the problem of mental causation in view of the principle of physical causal closure we can’t really say there are any definite signs of consciousness in other humans and animals either.

  38. 38. Hedda says:

    Scott Bakker,
    I would say that without intrinsic properties, we cannot distinguish between concrete/physical and merely abstract/mathematical structure. For this reason we can’t explain them away in the way you suggest.

  39. 39. Peter says:

    Hedda,

    Well, it’s an interesting thought, but I’m not keen on secondary qualities. I think the important distinction is roughly that between the genuinely abstract structural nature of physics as a theory and the real nature of the actual physical things. Teamhood is an abstract, structural matter (maybe even partly reducible to set theory!) but Man Utd is a real thing.

    I don’t know any way to access the thing in itself except (maybe!) mysticism. Granting the possible exception of oneself, which still seems pretty ineffable if we’re still talking the phenomenal, qualic variety.

  40. 40. Callan S. says:

    Perhaps its worth asking why the question is so easy the other way – why, if Siri were to say she is conscious, it’s so easy to dismiss?

  41. 41. zarzuelazen says:

    Hedda, if I take a pair of binoculars ,turn the magnification level to low and look into the distance , only big ‘topological properties’ will be visible (for example ‘a mountain’). If I now turn the magnification level to high, ‘geological properties’ will appear (rocks, ridges, crevices etc.).

    This doesn’t mean there’s a ‘dual-aspect geology’ with a mysterious topological/geological divide and a ‘hard problem of geology’ 😀

    All that’s happening here is that I’m viewing the landscape at different levels of magnification.

    It’s exactly the same thing with consciousness/physics, only now I’m looking at events in time, instead of objects in space.

    If I view events in time at ‘low-magnification’ (i.e over long time-scales), mental properties appear. If I now increase the magnification level (‘high magnification’), looking at events over shorter time-scales, physical properties appear.

    It’s exactly analagous to the toplogical/geological divide example. All that’s happened is that I’ve adjusted the level of magnification at which I’m viewing reality, so of course new features appear.

  42. 42. Jayarava says:

    Many comments, so this will likely be lost in the noise. However, whenever I see “physics” discussed as a monolithic entity I’m already deeply sceptical. Physics is not one discipline; but multiple disciplines. For a start there are quantum-, classical-, and astro- all describing the world on vastly different scales covering 60-100 orders of magnitude, using entirely different types of mathematics!

    As with what #41 zarzuelazen says, the assumption seems to be that scale does not matter, that there are no emergent properties. But this is wrong. The scale that we view the universe at, and try to describe (whether with mathematics or narrative) *matters* because when we look at different scales we see different entities with different behaviours!

    So the question then is, what assumptions are being made about “physics” apart from it being a monolithic scale-independent entity. And once you unravel all of these assumptions nothing sensible is said about “physics” and its utility.

    The hard problem of physics is getting philosophers to take it seriously enough not to turn it into a straw man.

  43. 43. zarzuelazen says:

    Spot on Jayarava!

    We never see ‘reality’ in itself, all we can ever know (at least in the rational sense) are *models* of reality. There are no grounds for thinking that the human mind can grasp ‘reality’ as a single monolithic entity – indeed all we will likely ever have are multiple over-lapping *models* of reality, each with it’s own particular vocabulary and limitations.

    For instance, look at the wiki-books I made breaking physics into the 3 levels Jay mentions, and notice how each has a radically different set of concerns and vocabularities.

    Here’s the ‘quantum level’:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Zarzuelazen/Books/Reality_Theory:_Quantum_Mechanics

    Here’s the ‘classical level’:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Zarzuelazen/Books/Reality_Theory:_Classical_Mechanics

    And the ‘astro level’:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Zarzuelazen/Books/Reality_Theory:_Cosmology%26Astrophysics

    Along how many different dimensions can you divide reality into different levels of abstraction?

    Could the matter/mind divide simply arise from viewing reality at different scales along some particular dimension (for instance a ‘time’ dimension, as I suggested above)?

  44. 44. Paul Torek says:

    Jochen (#30),

    Brilliant commentary. I just want to insert a caveat about “the problems a relational view of the world has”. It depends on which version of relational view you’re talking about.

  45. 45. zarzuelazen says:

    Jochen #30,

    Erudite comment, sounds appealing , well argued, but the problem is with this statement:

    “So we give up an assumption that was really just unsubstantiated in the first place—that the world is in toto amenable to mathematical/physical/computational description”

    This is not “an assumption” that’s “unsubstantiated”, it’s an observed empirical fact with a huge amount of supporting evidence.

    The empirical fact is that computers have never run into any problems modeling anything in reality, successfully providing simulations that make accurate predictions across a huge range of phenomenon, from the atomic level all the way up to galaxy formation and even the evolution of the whole evolution.

    We know computers are ‘computational’, since we can trace every single step of their oprations all the way down the logic gates at the atomic scale.

    I agree there’s a puzzle with the computational picture, because as you correctly point out, a symbol needs “an intentional agent in order to interpret.

    But I can see a possible computational solution to the puzzle, using a bootstrap procedure involving 3 different algorithms working together.

    Take 3 different algorithms, call them A1, A2, A3.

    Put them in pairs, and there are 3 different pairings:

    (A1, A2), (A1, A3), (A2, A3)

    Now for each pairing, one member of the pair can act as the interpreter (subject), and the other one can act as the object. Each algorithm deploys a slightly different coding system, and thus each can then ‘interpret’ the others in a circular loop.

    In this way, an entirely computational system could bootstrap itself.

  46. 46. Scott Bakker says:

    Hedda: “I would say that without intrinsic properties, we cannot distinguish between concrete/physical and merely abstract/mathematical structure. For this reason we can’t explain them away in the way you suggest.”

    This pretty clearly begs the question, though, you realize. If we can distinguish between applications of inherence heuristics, we can distinguish between our tasks and our tools with no problem. Why would an organism need possess any capacity over and above this? All survival demands is that we stand in happy relations to our environments. All ‘hard problem’ type questions reveal is that this is the case.

    Abductively speaking, this provides everything we need (if not what we want).

  47. 47. Jochen says:

    Paul:

    I just want to insert a caveat about “the problems a relational view of the world has”. It depends on which version of relational view you’re talking about.

    Yes, there are, of course, many different ways to cash out the intuition that ‘everything is relation’ in practice; but there are also deep problems with each, and in the end, I think it’s very well possible that those problems have a common root.

    zarzuelazen:

    This is not “an assumption” that’s “unsubstantiated”, it’s an observed empirical fact with a huge amount of supporting evidence.

    First of all, I would deny that statement, taken at face value: there is, in fact, a huge amount of empirical evidence that the problems of consciousness don’t have a solution in these terms—just witness all of the attempts of the past 400 years that really didn’t get us any traction.

    But more importantly, claiming that this is an empirical matter is already to subscribe to the assumption that I’m criticizing—namely, that the hypothetico-deductive method enjoys some form of universal validity, some capacity of rooting out every truth there is to find. But that’s exactly what I don’t think is the case.

    So I entirely agree with you when you say:

    We never see ‘reality’ in itself, all we can ever know (at least in the rational sense) are *models* of reality. There are no grounds for thinking that the human mind can grasp ‘reality’ as a single monolithic entity […]

    In addition, there’s just as little grounds for thinking that there is some ‘sum total’ of models that suffices to cover all of reality; or even, that each aspect of reality can be modeled.

    The empirical fact is that computers have never run into any problems modeling anything in reality

    This I would also say isn’t right. Reality, it seems, can produce genuine random numbers, thanks to quantum mechanics; computers are constitutively incapable of doing so. And in fact, such randomness is sufficient to implement hypercomputation: each non-computable function can be decomposed into a finite algorithm equipped with a source of random numbers. So we ought to, in fact, expect for there to be non-computable aspects to the world.

    Now for each pairing, one member of the pair can act as the interpreter (subject), and the other one can act as the object. Each algorithm deploys a slightly different coding system, and thus each can then ‘interpret’ the others in a circular loop.

    In this way, an entirely computational system could bootstrap itself.

    This doesn’t do anything at all, unfortunately. A2 can only interpret A1, if it is already interpreted; A3 can only interpret A2, if it is already interpreted; and A1 can only interpret A3, if it is already interpreted. Hence, before A1 is interpreted, it must already be interpreted.

    Or, to take a slightly different example, think of A1-3 as texts in different languages unknown to you. A2 is a translation of the text of A1; A3 is a translation of A2; and A1 is a translation of A3. What does this tell you about the content of the text? Nothing at all, obviously: the relational structure necessarily underdetermines the content. Adding more loops and texts won’t help any.

    Even simpler, let A1-3 be variables. A2 is set to the value of A1, A3 is set to the value of A2, and A1 is set to the value of A3. What’s the value all of these variable store? It could be absolutely anything—the mere relational structure doesn’t put any constraint on it. Again, even though the argument is often made in this context, adding more structure doesn’t help.

  48. 48. zarzuelazen says:

    Jochen:

    Nothing about quantum mechanics is uncomputable. We can build quantum *computers* after all 😉 Just use qubits instead of ordinary bits. QM random numbers are easy to generate.

    Quantum computers don’t do anything over and above what ordinary computers do. They just give a big speed-up for some problems (all quantum processes can in principle be simulated on an ordinary classical computer).

  49. 49. Jochen says:

    zarzuelazen:

    QM random numbers are easy to generate.

    Yes, but we do need a quantum mechanical device to generate random numbers; no classical computer can do so. The difficulty is in how you interpret what kinds of function a computer can ‘compute’.

    So, for instance, the usual argument that a classical probabilistic device and a deterministic one are equivalent is that you can just ‘branch’ the computation at each point where a probabilistic input occurs, then simulate every branch independently, and in the end, take a majority vote of the outputs; so that if a probabilistic device comes up with the right answer with more than 50% probability (which has to be the case for it to be useful), the deterministic one will match this answer, incurring at most a slowdown (which I think is even conjectured to be constant-factor at best, in contrast with QM, where we believe a systematic slowdown occurs at least for some cases).

    That’s all well and good, as far as computing functions goes. And in this sense, classical computers and quantum mechanics are indeed equivalent. But they’re not equivalent with respect to single tasks: produce a single random real number, for example. A quantum device can easily do so; a classical one can’t—the best it can do is to produce all real numbers in a certain interval, digit by digit, which will contain the number produced by the quantum system, thus again ‘matching’ its performance in the sort of ‘aggregate’ sense used above. So the difference is, while a classical computer could come up with the answer that a certain measurement outcome has 50% probability to occur, it can’t ever match the quantum system’s output of a string of random bits.

    Indeed, it was Feynman who first realized that if reality is quantum, then it’s not computable; the argument has since been refined—a proof for the uncomputable nature of quantum measurement outcomes can be found, e.g., here.

  50. 50. arnold says:

    The issue of measurement lies at the heart of the problem of the interpretation of quantum mechanics…(wikipedia)
    …What is the Place for measurement: to establish a computation or to establish observation…

    Re: Origin of Measurement

  51. 51. Howard Berman says:

    You forgot all about Prospero on Shakespeare’s island. Ariel is the slaving spirit behind the veil of nature. Ariel, or Dr. Faustus

  52. 52. zarzuelazen says:

    Jochen,

    These are all highly debateable points, your arguments aginst computationalism have a certain aura of clutching at straws…

    QM random numbers are well…random, so even if that qualifies as ‘uncomputable’ in some narrow technical sense, it’s a useless form of uncomputability, in the sense that it’s of no practical relevance.

    As to the issue of a computational system being unable to interpret itself, were you aware that there are now machine learning programs that are capable of writing rudimentary computer programs?

    It ain’t magic. The only way that they can possibly be doing this is if indeed, there are loop structures that enable one part of the code to successfully interpret other parts.

    Methinks there are flaws in your arguments…;)

  53. 53. Jochen says:

    zarzuelazen:

    QM random numbers are well…random, so even if that qualifies as ‘uncomputable’ in some narrow technical sense, it’s a useless form of uncomputability, in the sense that it’s of no practical relevance.

    The practical relevance is just that if there is such uncomputability, then the world, as such, doesn’t follow some algorithm, isn’t itself computable. There’s no need for the uncomputability to be ‘useful’ in any sense for the argument. (Of course, you can always introduce further ad-hoc hypotheses to rescue the thesis of computability—you can claim that all randomness is, in fact, only pseudo-random—although there are some stringent constraints on this possibility—, or point to the fact that while a computer can’t produce a single random number, it can, in some sense, produce all of them, but we ‘see’ only one thread, or whatever.)

    And it’s only a tangent, but of course, randomness is a highly useful resource for many different tasks—shared randomness is essential for the security of several cryptographic protocols, for instance. But there are more immediate examples: take a cop-and-robber game where the robber can be in either of two houses, and the cop’s task is to be in the same house to catch him. In every round, both the cop and the robber can decide to stay, or switch.

    Now, for every algorithm the cop follows, there is a robber that will always elude her—that robber using the same algorithm to predict where the cop will be in the next turn. Thus, in an algorithmic world, there are robbers any given cop will never catch. However, upon being given access to a source of genuine randomness, the cop will catch every robber eventually with probability 1—thus, in a world with randomness, the game is transformed from being always winnable for the robber, to being always winnable for the cop. Thus, justice is served thanks to randomness—surely a useful application!

    As to the issue of a computational system being unable to interpret itself, were you aware that there are now machine learning programs that are capable of writing rudimentary computer programs?

    Yes, of course. That’s not a counterargument to my position: what’s happening here is that one system is interpreted as something that produces something that can be interpreted as a computer program. Without the interpretation, again, there is nothing definite there—the computer would just produce a certain sequence of symbols, be in a certain sequence of physical states; which then may be used to put another physical system through a certain sequence of states, which then can be interpreted as some particular computation.

    It’s really not any more complicated than a machine fabricating the metal beads, wires, gears and wheels for an orrery, which it then puts together, thus ‘modeling’ our capacity for model building—it still only becomes a model of the solar system when interpreted in the right way.

    Methinks there are flaws in your arguments…;)

    Then you’d be doing me a favour if you point them out!

  54. 54. zarzuelazen says:

    Jochen,

    Here’s another explanation of the way I look at the computation-matter-mind distinction:

    I want you to imagine that you can adjust the ‘resolution’ at which you perceive events happening in time. You could do this by either accelerating or slowing down your thought processes.

    Imagine a drug that vastly accelerated your thought speed – by packing many more perceptions into a given time interval, you could increase the ‘resolution’ at which you witnessed events happening – you could perceive events over a shorter and shorter time scale (for instance you can track a speeding bullet). And the rate at which time was passing in the external world would appear to slow right down to a glacial pace.

    And the opposite is true. Imagine a drug that really slowed down your thought processes (fewer and fewer perceptions in a given time interval). In this case you would be ‘lowering’ the resolution at which you could see events happening…the world would seem to you to turn into a time-lapse video – everything would seem to running really fast.

    I put it to you that the ‘essence’ of reality (whether reality appears as computation, matter or mind) is actually relative to an observer – namely it’s relative to the speed of the observer’s thoughts as discussed above.

    You look at a person, and you see what appears to you to be a mind (intentionality/interpreter). But I put it to you that this ‘person’ you see is simply a feature of the way you are perceiving the world – namely, the ‘resolution’ at which you are perceiving time is set to low – many many events are happening very fast in the brain of the person you are looking at , and you can’t possibly track all of the details (the ‘time lapse video’ scenario). So you call this state of affairs of a ‘person’.

    But what happens when you adjust the resolution at which you are perceiving events as discussed earlier? Imagine taking that drug to vastly accelerate your thoughts and then peering into the brain of the person you’re looking at (perhaps using a brain scanner).

    Now you’re running at super-speed, the whole world appears to slow right down and you can track all the details of the events happening in the brain – you see all the gears and cogs as it were.

    Something has happened here..the ‘person’ has gone, and now you see ‘physics’.

    Increase the resolution to accelerate your thoughts even more and the same trick happens.

    Physics disappears and turns into…computation!

    This proves that there is no actual difference between computation, matter and mind – it’s simply a label you use to describe the speed at which events are happening relative to the time resolution of your perceptions.

    By adjusting the ‘time resolution’ you can shift back and forth between mere symbols (computation) and an interpreter (mind).

  55. 55. Jochen says:

    zarzuelazen,

    I’m sorry to say, but nothing about that makes a great deal of sense to me. Whether I describe something as implementing a computation is completely independent of the time-scale—both a blazingly fast and an agonizingly slow system may, for instance, compute pi, and even follow identical algorithms; their speed, or the speed at which I perceive them, simply doesn’t factor into it. I’d just have to wait longer for the output, perhaps.

    Likewise, I always only see physics when I look into somebody’s head, regardless of the time-scale at which I see it operating; that’s what makes the problem so difficult. The only conscious experience I ever am in touch with is my own; and as you yourself point out, that’s the same no matter what speed I operate at—I experience the world faster or slower, but I experience it, and the quality of that experience does not seem to change; how that experience connects to the substance of my brain remains as obscure as ever. I mean, it’s not that, with increasing speed, I suddenly experience myself as a pattern of neuron firings; I’ll experience myself as ever, as a self in the world, which albeit may seem slower than usual.

  56. 56. zarzuelazen says:

    Jochen,

    It’s true that ‘speed’ alone isn’t enough to get a meaningful distinction. If you look at the other thread, I needed to postulate an additional radical element to make this work… a *second* time dimension.

    With a 2-d measure of time, I believe what I said can make sense. But I’m still in the process of working out the details at the moment.

  57. 57. zarzuelazen says:

    Jochen,

    Have a watch of this wonderful YouTube video ‘Seasons of Norway: A TimeLapse Adventure’:

    The environment of Norway viewed at normal human time perception is physics. But when you adjust the time resolution at which you view it , suddenly the landscape appears to start to grow a mind of its own…

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pqEGCQq1m9s

    You’re certainly correct that adjusting ordinary time-scale alone isn’t enough to close the mind-matter gap, but it does go *some* of the way towards closing that gap.

    You could imagine that with a more sophicated measure of the concept of ‘time resolution’, it *could* close the gap altogether.

  58. 58. john davey says:

    I don’t think that physics is interested in ‘observables’. It’s interested in measurable processes that produce scalars. There are far more ‘observables’ than ‘measurables that yield scalars’ – all the qualitative things for instance. That includes (but is not limited to) mental phenomena. It includes for instance, the nature of time and the nature of space and the related human-theoretical idea of matter.

    Physics is a toolkit : a limited one at that. There aren’t many fundamental philosophical conclusions that can be drawn from it about the fundamental facts of existence or the nature of reality. Good at predicting rain though, which the is historical yardstick of success. We haven’t got beyond the witch doctors in a lot of ways.

    JBD

  59. 59. arnold says:

    “David Hartley’s theory helped give birth to the study of the connection between the physiology of the brain and the mind”. …That today, thoughts are sensations/emotions toward feeling/minding one’s own life; maybe for transformation too…

    “”Wikipedia: Observations on Man

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