## Keith Frankish on the consciousness illusion

Along the lines of last night’s post, Keith Frankish has an article at Aeon describing and defending the illusionist viewpoint, that phenomenal consciousness is an illusion.  It’s an excellent introduction for anyone who isn’t familiar with the basic argument.

As noted before, I think the illusionists are right about the reality, but I’m not sure using the word “illusion” is productive. We could just as easily say that yes, phenomenal consciousness exists *subjectively* but not objectively, and this is how that subjective experience is constructed. There is some value in using stark language to get people’s attention, but it also frequently gets their summary dismissal.

I’m also not entirely sure it’s all in the introspection mechanisms.  Phenomenal qualities seem useful in discriminating between different objects, and the affect lacing the brain weaves in also clues the deliberation engine on how to regard those objects.  It seems likely that our introspective representations of these perceptual representations are value added rather than entirely constructive.  Thinking the latter implies a lot of processing overload for introspection, which doesn’t necessarily feel adaptive to me.

What I definitely think is an illusion, however, is the notion that qualia exist as something above and beyond the neural processing in the brain, that it “arises” in some fashion from that processing.  A physicalist might talk in those terms in a metaphorical manner, but what they usually mean is that it is the processing.

Anyway, Frankish’s piece is worth checking out, particularly if you think illusionism is prima facie false.

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### 188 Responses to Keith Frankish on the consciousness illusion

1. James Cross says:

Still remains the question of what phenomenal consciousness is for?

There are plenty of processes in the body that do not require or display consciousness. Digestion, heart beating, probably most neurological processes. Yet some portion of neurological processes do display the property. Why? Why do some particular set of processes display the property whereas others do not.

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• Stephen Wysong says:

James, it’s possible to render consciousness inoperative and, in fact, it’s done by anesthesiologists multiple times every day. Most philosophers who have asked your question “What is consciousness for?” don’t seem to have observed the considerable differences in the behavior of a normally conscious organism and the same organism rendered unconscious by whatever means. In fact, a normally conscious organism deprived of consciousness does not do much of anything and unquestionably will not thrive, i.e., will die, without consciousness being restored.

So I suggest that consciousness—the felt simulation of being an organism centered in a world—is critical to the organism’s survival as a creature that moves around in it’s environment. The alternative is a stationary existence supported by thrusting roots into the ground and thriving through tropisms. I suggest we talk to our plants and learn their opinion of the issue … 😉

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• James Cross says:

I hope you realize my question was directed to anybody who does think consciousness is an illusion.

However, your argument about anesthesia has a problem because it also inhibits the neurological processes which are associated with consciousness. So it still leaves the question of what is the value-add of consciousness beyond the neurological processes even if they are completely the subjective aspect of those processes.

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• Stephen Wysong says:

James,

No I didn’t realize that you were directing your question to the illusionists. Since you started it with, “Still remains the question …” it’s unclear, to me at least, what the context is. I was registering my opinion on the question itself, which appears to be significant to a large group of consciousness philosophers.

Regarding the “problem” with anesthesia, if you’re aware of the “neurological processes which are associated with consciousness,” which you say are inhibited by anesthesia, perhaps you should publish immediately. My understanding is that no one has identified any Neural Correlates of Consciousness (probably because that’s a cortical concept) and, if that’s not what you’re referring to by “neurological processes” then I would appreciate your further specification.

My phrase “rendered unconscious by whatever means” certainly includes non-anesthetic causes of unconsciousness. From Damásio again (“Consciousness and the Brainstem”):

The terms consciousness and brainstem have long been associated on the basis of two lines of evidence. The first is the fact that damage to the upper brainstem is a known cause of coma and persistent vegetative state, the disease states in which consciousness is most severely impaired. The second line of evidence originates from classical experiments which suggested, either through lesions or electrical stimulation, that a part of the brainstem, known as the reticular formation, is associated with the electrophysiological pattern commonly found in wakeful and attentive states.

So, whether anesthesia or lesion, I’ll stay with my explanation that the “value-add of consciousness,” as you put it, is staying alive, which I consider non-trivial … at least in my own case … 😉

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• My answer: for using sensory information to make predictions, short term cause and effect predictions in simpler creatures, and more complex deliberation in others.

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• James Cross says:

So not an illusion. Because it can’t be used for anything if it is an illusion.

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• As I noted elsewhere, I tend to agree, but I think an illusionist might simply say that they don’t agree that an illusion can’t be useful.

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• Stephen Wysong says:

Mike those predictions aren’t conscious, whether you call them predictions or expectations, which is my preference. Using sight, for example, it’s well established that we don’t see what’s in the world, we see what we expect to see which, in the preponderance of cases, is an accurate-enough simulation of the world based on sensory information. So you might say that expectation is what unconscious processing is for, but the “what-it’s-for” (thankfully not related to “what-it’s like) of consciousness must be something else. And it seems reasonable to say that unconscious expectation yields the contents of consciousness which, in and of itself, is critical to staying alive while moving freely in a hazardous world.

Your “complex deliberations” in non-simple creatures are overwhelmingly likely to be unconscious too since only a paltry few percent of our brain’s cognitive operations are conscious … there’s Philosophy in the Flesh again … 😉 Perhaps you would post a book report?

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• Stephen, if you mean the lower level mechanisms of the predictions, I agree. I can even agree that not all of the results of the predictions may be conscious. But can you point to any examples of activity involving deliberation that we’re not conscious of?

Strangely enough, when I looked up Philosophy in the Flesh, Amazon informed me that I bought it back in 2014, but I have no recollection of ever reading it. In general, while I think the embodied cognition people make an important point, that cognition is tightly and vitally focused on the body, many of them make a lot of dubious claims from it, such as thinking being impossible without input from the body, ignoring all the conscious patients with severed spinal cords, vagotomies, and other contradictory evidence.

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• BeingQuest says:

Stephen has a sense of humor and likes to poke fun, which lends charm to his dalliances here. Great topic, guys. A nice treatment of very complicated matters (excuse the pun). Cheers*

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• Stephen Wysong says:

My, what a wonderfully active post! You ask about “activity involving deliberation that we’re not conscious of” … I’m not sure what you mean by “involving deliberation” but perhaps you’re referring to that 2% or so of cognitive operations that are conscious. BTW, Philosophy in the Flesh is a 1999 book that I think I got as an introductory offer with the defunct Library of Science Book Club. I’ll let Johnson and Lakoff (hopefully) answer your question (longish quote follows):

“The term cognitive has two very different meanings, which can sometimes create confusion. In cognitive science, the term ‘cognitive’ is used for any kind of mental operation or structure that can be studied in precise terms. Most of these structures and operations have been found to be unconscious. Thus, visual processing falls under the cognitive, as does auditory processing. Obviously, neither of these is conscious, since we are not and could not possibly be aware of each of the neural processes involved in the vastly complicated total process that gives rise to conscious visual and auditory experience. Memory and attention fall under the cognitive. All aspects of thought and language, conscious or unconscious are thus cognitive. This includes phonology, grammar, conceptual systems, the mental lexicon, and all unconscious inferences of any sort. Mental imagery, emotions, and the conception of motor operations have also been studied from such a cognitive perspective.

As is the practice in cognitive science, we will use the term cognitive in the richest possible sense, to describe any mental operations and structures that are involved in language, meaning, perception, conceptual system and reason. Because our conceptual systems and our reason arise from our bodies, we will also use the term cognitive for aspects of our sensorimotor system that contribute to our abilities to conceptualize and to reason. Since cognitive operations are largely unconscious, the term cognitive unconscious accurately describes all unconscious mental operations concerned with conceptual systems, meaning, inference, and language.

Conscious thought is the tip of an enormous Iceberg. It is the rule of thumb among cognitive scientists that unconscious thought is 95 percent of all thought—and that may be a serious underestimate. Moreover, the 95 percent below the surface of conscious awareness shapes and structures all conscious thought. If the cognitive unconscious were not there doing this shaping, there could be no conscious thought.

The cognitive unconscious is vast and intricately structured. It includes not only all our automatic cognitive operations, but also all our implicit knowledge. All of our knowledge and beliefs are framed in terms of a conceptual system that resides mostly in the cognitive unconscious.

Our unconscious conceptual system functions like a ‘hidden hand’ that shapes how we conceptualize all aspects of our experience. This hidden hand gives form to the metaphysics that is built into our ordinary conceptual systems. It creates the entities that inhabit the cognitive unconscious—abstract entities like friendships, bargains, failures, and lies—that we use in ordinary unconscious reasoning. It thus shapes how we automatically and unconsciously comprehend what we experience. It constitutes our unreflective common sense.”

Mike, I consider this book to be very important so I hope you can track down your lost copy.

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• “I’m not sure what you mean by “involving deliberation” but perhaps you’re referring to that 2% or so of cognitive operations that are conscious.”

I meant something like learning a new task, solving a complex puzzle, or composing an essay. In human subjects, these kinds of tasks seem to require the subject being explicitly aware of them, as opposed to things repetitive or habitual tasks which allow the subject to think about something else while they’re doing them.

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• Stephen Wysong says:

Yo! BeingQuest,

BWAHAHAHAHA! 😉

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• My answer: because “phenomenal consciousness” is a description of a necessary ingredient of any process involving representation (specifically, mutual information, but that’s a long story). Any system which also inspects those representations for purposes such as memorization, conceptualization (combining with other representations to form a combined-concept representation), and/or prediction will reference that original representation with respect to the “object” represented. The illusion is that the “object” of that representation is somehow an existent thing in itself.

*

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• BeingQuest says:

Wow* Turn on a dime thought, right there. What “phenomenal consciousness” IS here depends wholly upon the illusion of an ‘object’ (its representations sensually, intuitively or imaginally?), but NOT as “an existent thing in itself.”

Lot’s of Materialism here, as to the Philosophy of Mind, as ‘matter’. Meanwhile, the Idea of Survival and Thriving rule the day wherever Consciousness is present…across ANY Kingdom of Life, call those determinations: of necessity and telic (purpose (of life?)) what we will.

May I lightly weigh-in on that Question: What IS the “purpose of life” then? To LIVE, comes the simple retort. Which would mean to Thrive, which Efficient End is no accident of ‘mechanism’ unconsciously wrought…but a determination of a very punctuated Will to Live, in the end and for any Kingdom and its parental inhabitants. My gods…we’re a word salad clique of creatures, aren’t we?

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• PJMartin says:

On “what phenomenal consciousness is for” how about this: to communicate part of the content of our mind to or from another mind, or to our own mind in the future. Communication makes necessary an actionable representation of what we know.

If we want to check if someone is conscious we poke them and ask ‘can you hear me?’

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2. Lee Roetcisoender says:

Keith Frankish wrote:

“However, introspection doesn’t represent phenomenal properties as properties of us but as powers in objects to create that impact. Redness is represented as a power of surfaces to affect us in a certain way, a rose smell as a power of airborne substances to affect us in another way, a stabbing pain as a power of a body part to affect us in yet another way, and so on. In each case, the character of the represented property corresponds to the nature of the impact on us.”

To clarify this statement I would add: the intrinsic power which is inherent within the character of the represented property corresponds to the nature of that power and how the nature of that power has an impact on us. I’ve stated it before folks, power is the wild-card of consciousness.

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• James Cross says:

I saw that quote and it seems like a feeble attempt to answer my question about the why of phenomenal consciousness. To me it seems to contain a contradiction. If consciousness is an illusion, then how does it “impact on us” or affect us.

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• Lee Roetcisoender says:

I agree. Framing consciousness as an illusion is a misrepresentation of the phenomenality of the experience itself, a context which by its own characterization is not equipped to even address your question, let alone deal with it. To add credence to the illusionist’s perspective, it would be better to frame their argument in the context of the phenomenal experience of consciousness being a condition rather than an illusion.

As a condition, one can then address your initial question: Just like everything else we observe within the universe, the objective first person experience of consciousness is just another condition, and that condition then becomes a possibility of another condition. That in a nutshell describes the entire evolutionary process.

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• This is another reason I’m uneasy with the “illusion” label. Frankish is clear that the mechanism is adaptive and useful. The label does seem like it would imply otherwise.

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• But what do you think of the computer screen icon analogy? The garbage can icon on the screen is an illusion (there’s no real garbage can anywhere in the computer), but it’s clearly useful.

*

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• I can see the point of the analogy, but again, “illusion” seems like a strange word to use here. I’ve been in IT for decades, and learned how to program graphical user interfaces a long time ago. I’m pretty versed in the terminology, and no one ever found it useful to call UI elements “illusions.” An abstraction, a simplification, an interface with low level functionality, but “illusion”? Never shows up in API or operating system manuals.

Given that analogy, maybe a better word is to describe phenomenalality as a user interface. But given the goals of the illusionists, it doesn’t have the sharp impact they’re looking for. From Keith Frankish’s reply to my comment on his article:

I’ve thought a lot about the presentational issue. It’s true that an illusionist can hold on to many of our everyday realist ways of talking, reconstruing them as claims about representational subjectivity. But first you have to get people to give up their commitment to irreducible subjectivity. That requires a big change of perspective, and I think it would be wrong to pretend otherwise. So I state it bluntly and take the reaction on the chin!

https://aeon.co/essays/what-if-your-consciousness-is-an-illusion-created-by-your-brain?comment_id=31869

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• My reading on the “power” remark is that it’s about the object’s predicted causal effects on our interests. Does that match your understanding Lee?

If so, then I see the whole thing as part of a prediction framework. Consciousness is prediction. Of course, so is intelligence. But then, I see consciousness as a type of intelligence.

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• Lee Roetcisoender says:

“Does that match your understanding Lee?”

No. I’m a metaphysician not an instrumentalist. I just found it intriguing that Frankish would be audacious enough to introduce the notion of power into a discussion of consciousness when nobody has the slightest clue about what power actually is, unless he was referring to the joule?

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• Actually, I understood it like Mike, I think. Power refers to causal power. When we say the apple is red, we are attributing to the apple the causal power to produce what we end up interpreting as redness. In fact, the apple has that causal power, namely the power to take white light as input and scatter mostly red light. But the “redness” we are associating with that power is the “what we do with it”, the “impact it has on us”, the output of the mechanism which interprets the representation of the sensory information.

And when I say we attribute that power to the apple, we are not conscious of that attribution, it just happens. And it just appears/seems/feels to us as if it’s “painted” on.

*

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• Lee Roetcisoender says:

I appreciate your explanation James, but I still need a literal definition of power in order to understand the mystery of causality. Physics doesn’t recognize your use of the term power. Physics recognizes power as a derivative of energy or mass. According to the defintion of physics, it would be inappropriate to use the term power in the context that you and Frankish have chosen. Unless I’m missing something?

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• Lee Roetcisoender says:

To sum up my last comment: I would suggest that Keith Frankish’s introduction of the notion of power into a discussion about consciousness is “unscientific” since science does not recognize power as one of the four forces of nature.

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• Wyrd Smythe says:

By “power” he surely means “ability” — just substitute that word for “power” and the quote still carries the same sense intended.

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• What Wyrd said. The key word, which is the one Mike used, is causal. And you can ask what is the mystery of causality. That boils down to why does the wave function evolve the way it does and not some other way. But we don’t need to answer that to explain representation and its consequences. Regardless of why the wave function evolves the way it does, as long as it evolves according to the equations, representation is going work the way it does and produce the illusion of phenomenal consciousness.

*

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• Lee Roetcisoender says:

Answered like a true tautologist James.

Power: the ability to do something… especially as a faculty or quality
Ability: possession of the means… to do something

Tautologies make my head spin because I was under the impression there were only four forces of nature. Unless: the four forces are a derivative of power? Just thinking out loud here…

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• Wyrd Smythe says:

Force and power are different things. As you say, power is a derived term. For example, electricians are familiar with P=IE — Power (in watts) = Current (I) × Voltage (E). The Wiki page for Power offers other formulas.

And it has other meanings not related to the physics definitions. Social power. The power of love. The power of a stench. Etc.

(FWIW: As an aside, I only believe in three forces: EM, Weak, Strong. I don’t consider gravity a force. We know about the bosons for the first three, but I don’t believe gravitons exist. Gravity is due to warped spacetime. I further believe it’s not quantized.)

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• Stephen Wysong says:

I agree with you on the three forces and gravity as an artifact of curved spacetime. I had an interesting thought the other day that the block universe, aka, spacetime, is filled with point events distributed throughout it’s entirety at what I imagined as a “Planck granularity” … events separated by a Planck length.

Planck, of course, is the father of energy quanta.

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• Wyrd Smythe says:

If spacetime is quantized (which I believe it’s not), the Planck Length would be the scale at which it likely is quantized. Loop Quantum Gravity is one theory along those lines.

My hope-wish is that spacetime is smooth. Matter/energy is certainly quantized, but the jury is out on space/time. if gravity isn’t quantized, it could be because spacetime isn’t. (Unfortunately, smooth spacetime is a whole other can of slimy wriggly things. 😦 )

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• Stephen Wysong says:

I don’t think that spacetime is quantized either but, rather, the events distributed throughout spacetime are quantized.

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• Wyrd Smythe says:

Formally, a spacetime event is just a coordinate in spacetime, so if spacetime is smooth, events are just arbitrary points much like real numbers on the number line.

What do you mean by “events” that can be quantized?

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• paultorek says:

Wyrd, mechanical engineers are familiar with the equation
Power = Force X Philosophy
Sorry, er, I meant Velocity. 😉

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• Stephen Wysong says:

Wyrd, since all of my understanding about everything is sourced from Wikipedia, the Event (relativity) page says:

“In physics, and in particular relativity, an event is the instantaneous physical situation or occurrence associated with a point in spacetime (that is, a specific place and time).”

… while the Event (particle physics) page says:

“Because of the uncertainty principle, an event in particle physics does not have quite the same meaning as it does in the theory of relativity, in which an “event” is a point in spacetime which can be known exactly, i.e. a spacetime coordinate.”

My Planck musing was just a passing idea Wyrd, but what I really had imagined was that for worldpoint (x0, y0, z0, t0), a nearest adjacent worldpoint (x1, y1, z1, t1) would be such that the distances x1 minus x0, y1 minus y0 and z1 minus z0 would be of Planck length and the time differential would be the Planck time interval t1 – t0, although I don’t believe that simple arithmetic is how math is done with time coordinates.

I’ll let you know for sure in a few decades since I’ve applied to be a physicist in my next incarnation … 😉

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• Wyrd Smythe says:

Compare the last phrases from your Wiki quotes:

… (that is, a specific place and time).

And:

… i.e. a spacetime coordinate.

With what I said:

Formally, a spacetime event is just a coordinate in spacetime,…

Yep. Exactly. 😉

“My Planck musing was just a passing idea Wyrd,”

Of course! Understood, and as I mentioned there are similar theories. In fact, the general consensus is that spacetime is quantized and, assuming so, probably somewhere at the Planck scale. I was pretty clear that a smooth spacetime is considered, for a number of reasons, the less likely possibility, but it’s one that cannot be discounted just yet.

[As an aside, the Planck Length is seriously small. I recently did the math myself, and what Jim Baggott said in a presentation at the Royal Institute is exactly right: If you enlarge a hydrogen atom to the size of the Milky Way Galaxy, then the Planck Length would be roughly the size of a large amoebae. That’s small beyond comprehension!]

“…although I don’t believe that simple arithmetic is how math is done with time coordinates.”

True. What’s called the spacetime interval is:

d)^2 = (Δx)^2 + (Δy)^2 + (Δz)^2 – (Δt)^2

And, indeed, a quantized spacetime might be what you get if you plug the Planck Length into the space coordinates (x, y, z) and the Planck Time into the time coordinate (t).

One problem with a smooth spacetime is that we get Zeno’s Paradox-like issues. But I sometimes wonder if that matter/energy being quantized might get around them. (One can dream! 🙂 )

Now, back to the question I asked. If, in your view, spacetime is smooth, what do you mean by “the events distributed throughout spacetime are quantized.”

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• Stephen Wysong says:

Let it be known that the WordPress comment parser cannot handle subscripts … t-sub-zero renders as t0. Amateur programmers I suppose … 😉

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• Wyrd Smythe says:

They exclude certain HTML tags, which is a real PITA. One can use the LaTeX forms of t_0 for subscripts and x^2 for superscripts.

WordPress does handle LaTeX in posts, and some ways of entering comments. I’ve never tried it in the Reader. Let’s see if it works:

$\frac{-b\pm\sqrt{b^2-4ac}}{2a}$

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• Wyrd Smythe says:

Heh! Yep!

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• Stephen Wysong says:

I kid … t0 is simply plain text, i.e., no attributes.

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• WordPress comment functionality does have a history of eating subscripts and superscripts. It’s uglier, but I recommend using plan text protocols.
https://pages.uoregon.edu/ncp/Courses/MathInPlainTextEmail.html
Even with the html tags that do work, it’s very easy to get it wrong in a comment, and lamentably you don’t get a preview to debug.

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• Mike, you still require more for consciousness than just prediction, right? Because reflexes are predictions in this sense.

*

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• Remember, I’m talking about prediction from the system itself. Reflexes could be considered “predictions” emerging from natural selection, or in the case of a robot, predictions of its engineers.

But the predictions in goal directed behavior are cause and effect predictions of the organism itself. So, in terms of my usual hierarchy.
1. Reflexes (“predictions” from outside the system).
2. Perception: predictions of the environment and body.
3. Goal directed behavior: prediction of cause and effect, along with prediction of the reflexive response.
4. Deliberation: predictive simulations of various possible actions
5. Introspection: predictions about the system itself

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3. Stephen Wysong says:

I’ve recently mentioned Hacker’s thoughts about the morass created by consciousness philosophers and the confusions they’ve introduced into the very definition of the word ‘consciousness.’

So here’s my suggestion: let’s return to the word ‘sentient’, meaning feeling. The word ‘sentient’ is being employed lately in weighty considerations of what’s termed “animal sentience” as in the paper “The changing concept of animal sentience” by Ian J. H. Duncan. From his opening section:

The concept of animals being sentient, or capable of experiencing positive and negative affective states, has suddenly become, in the last 30 years, a topic of great interest to biologists. However, a more detailed examination of history reveals that the change has actually not been so sudden; some acceptance of sentience, at least in the mammals, has been present for hundreds of years. By the time of the Renaissance, there is good evidence from the writings of Leonardo da Vinci, Erasmus, Thomas More, Montaigne, Shakespeare, Francis Bacon and others, that animal sentience was accepted as part of secular knowledge. Many of the great artistic works of this age also portray people treating animals as if they were sentient. But of course, philosophers did not follow the views of the masses and there is a clear line of philosophic argument for non-sentience from Aristotle through Thomas Aquinas and René Descartes to Immanuel Kant.

Note that phrase “But of course, philosophers …”—always gumming up the works … 😉

I don’t believe that it’s controversial to say that acceptance of sentience “at least in the mammals” includes ourselves as mammals. The clarity brought to the issue by simply equating consciousness with sentience—with feeling—as Damásio does is immensely helpful in thinking clearly about the entire subject of what we still, perhaps unfortunately, must refer to as ‘consciousness.’

Our friend Wikipedia has a “Sentience” page that begins:

“Sentience is the capacity to feel, perceive, or experience subjectively. Eighteenth-century philosophers used the concept to distinguish the ability to think (reason) from the ability to feel (sentience). In modern Western philosophy, sentience is the ability to experience sensations (known in philosophy of mind as ‘qualia’). In Eastern philosophy, sentience is a metaphysical quality of all things that require respect and care. The concept is central to the philosophy of animal rights because sentience is necessary for the ability to suffer, and thus is held to confer certain rights.”

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• Stephen,
So would you say then that it’s not possible to have a non-conscious feeling? If so, what would you say about notions such as people being in love without realizing it? Or perceiving the sudden lifting of a tension or worry they didn’t know they had? Or other similar situations?

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• Stephen Wysong says:

Mike, since I define consciousness as a feeling and a feeling is, by definition, felt I can’t imagine a non-conscious feeling. Per my NTC hypothesis, a specific Neural Tissue Configuration IS a feeling and that configuration being formed would imply that all is well with the neurobiological system that precedes its formation, and so the configuration/feeling would be felt (conscious).

Your examples are complex emotions—affect consciousness—which I would characterize as proprioceptive sensations like love and anxiety that we might call ‘hormonal’ or something similar owing to their diffuse nature.

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• A lot seems to hinge on “felt”. How do you define this term?

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• Wyrd Smythe says:

“Felt is a textile material that is produced by matting, condensing and pressing fibers together.” Per Wikipedia. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

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• It’s good to have these things nailed down.

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• Stephen Wysong says:

“A lot seems to hinge on ‘felt’. How do you define this term?”

Although the rich red color of the felt on my pool table is attractive, I’m instead referring the past tense of the word ‘feel’ which itself can be directly perceived in lieu of a definition: place your left hand on a flat hard surface and grasp a heavy hammer in your right hand. Then, …

I’m pretty sure you don’t have to carry this experiment through to realize that, after the crushing blow, you would have felt the impact to your left hand and the resulting pain which, as soon as you consider them as past events, can be properly referred to as ‘felt’.

Is that a sufficient substitute for the definition you requested Mike? 😉

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• Stephen, sorry, I don’t think it is. You gave an example of feeling (specifically a nociceptic feeling), but you didn’t really define it. You haven’t relayed what you think a feeling is. (I’m asking from a functional perspective, not an identity one, since I know you already identify it with an NTC.)

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• paultorek says:

You can’t define everything. To misquote a recent Aeon article on philosophy of language, a dictionary is merely an overprecise and gussied-up thesaurus. Ostention is the beginning of the Way. (The Way that can be algorithmized is not the Way.)

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• I think the distinction between a thesaurus and a dictionary is that the dictionary usually takes a shot at a reductive definition. But all language ultimately reduces to conscious experience. Once we reach that point, further reduction of the term is difficult and typically controversial.

And yet, in a discussion about consciousness, I think we have to try, otherwise I’m not sure we’re talking about real explanations.

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• Stephen Wysong says:

Mike, speaking of bodily feelings (which I was) the definition for ‘feeling’ would be sensation and the definition for ‘sensation’ would be feeling. To feel is to be sentient and to be sentient is to feel and we can surely throw in perception somewhere. But I believe Paul’s correct and defining by example is perfectly acceptable, perhaps even preferable in many cases to defining words with other words, where circularity and other hazards to clarity invite Wittgenstein’s wrath.

So place the tip of your tongue to the roof of your mouth—your palate—and you will have an example of the bodily feeling called ‘touch’. Although you mention only the nociceptive (pain) feeling, multiple bodily feelings would occur in the example I gave: you would feel your left arm and hand moving and you would feel your left palm on a flat surface; you would feel your right arm and hand moving to grasp the hammer and, if you were nuts, you would finally be overwhelmed with the pain in your hand. And all the while, you would feel your visual representation of the scene.

So I again submit my example as a definition of feeling. The past tense of feeling is ‘felt’, the word in question. On the way to the emergency room you could reflect on all of the feelings you felt doing the experiment and realize that having felt any one of them meant that you were conscious.

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• Stephen, what separates the information my laptop is getting from its keyboard as type this, or a self driving car is getting from its environment, or an autonomous Mars rover from its internal and external sensors, from the sensations and feelings coming in from my sense organs? If you say “biology”, what about biology in particular?

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• Stephen Wysong says:

Mike, your comment “… from the sensations and feelings coming in from my sense organs” is saying that sense organs are transmitting feelings, which you must realize is not the case. Rather, sense organs are transmitting nervous system activity representative of the input. Feelings are physical states of the brain, the conscious end product that results from the brain’s processing of the totality of sensory input.

The events that impinge on our sensory system, both internal and external are just that—events. The events impinging on the various sensors in the laptop, self-driving car and rover cases are also—events. Information if you will. As you suggest, the sensors in organisms are biological as opposed to mechanical in the cases you cite, laptop, etc. This odd question has me feeling a bit Socratized, meaning that you appear to want to direct my answers towards some “Aha!” moment. If that’s what you had in mind, I think you can eliminate the back-and-forth by simply making your substantiated point and seeing if I respond with an “Aha!” of affirmation.

I believe the definition by example I offered for ‘feeling’ and ‘felt’ was quite clear. Can we now assume your concurrence with that definition?

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• I am being somewhat Socratic, but not to drive you to any particular answer. You base a lot of your understanding of consciousness on feelings. What I’m trying to get you to do is either explain what your specific conception of them are, or realize that you have some work to do in fleshing out that conception.

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• Stephen Wysong says:

I thought I had just offered my specific conception of what a feeling is, specifically a bodily feeling, in the definition by example. Rather than basing my understanding of consciousness on feelings, I actually concur with Damasio that consciousness is a feeling as I described at length in the Damasio-BRASH proposal. I extend Damasio’s definition of feelings as corresponding to every sensory track by noting that contents of consciousness that are usually (and incorrectly) viewed as non-bodily, like visual, audio and thought contents are also feelings—feelings just as thoroughly anchored in embodiment as, for instance, touch.

If you believe Damasio-BRASH needs further fleshing out, I’d appreciate your identifying specific unexplained functionality.

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• I did ask specific questions above, which haven’t been answered. Feel free to see them as identifications if that helps.

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• Stephen Wysong says:

Mike, I’m not sure what specific yet unanswered questions you’re referring to. The laptop/car/rover question? Perhaps you could repeat the question you believe needs answering.

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• Stephen, that’s the one to focus on. It’s really just a continuation of the earlier one.

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• Stephen Wysong says:

So the question you believe needs answering is your “… what separates the information [devices are] getting … from the sensations … coming in from my sense organs?”

But I thought I did provide an answer:

“The events that impinge on our sensory system, both internal and external are just that—events. The events impinging on the various sensors in the laptop, self-driving car and rover cases are also—events. Information if you will. As you suggest, the sensors in organisms are biological as opposed to mechanical in the cases you cite, laptop, etc.”
If a) I misinterpreted the question or b) my answer that “nothing separates the two other than the nature of the sensory equipment” is incorrect, please let me know which and why and I’ll do my best to respond in a more satisfactory way.

If, instead, you’re talking about what happens after the information impinges on the sensory equipment then I’d say, in the biological case, the nerve impulses are transmitted to the brain, usually via the spinal cord, for processing, possible physiochemical biological responses and possible, but not guaranteed “display” as conscious images. Of course the engineered devices all do what they’re designed and constructed to do.

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• Well, it seems Eric is happy.

Stephen, up above, you noted consciousness was about feeling. I asked for a definition of feeling, which eventually led to this answer, which makes it sound like feeling it’s just a precursor to actual consciousness. So then, what about consciousness has been explained? Or did I misunderstand your answer?

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• Well if it’s any consolation to you Stephen, I believe that I understand exactly what you’re referring to here, or a punishment/ reward dynamic. It’s subjective experience, or something which is commonly expressed in long form as “what it’s likeness”. A Mars rover shouldn’t have any, though I most certainly do. I consider this to be reality’s strangest dynamic. Perhaps it occurs by means of generic computer processing alone, though I suspect that only a computer which is outfitted with the proper mechanisms will suffice to produce it.

Given at least my own such understanding, would you tell me what it is that you’d like to say here? (And it’s possible that Mike will also understand.)

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• Stephen Wysong says:

I imagine you must have misunderstood my answer.

Consciousness is not “about” feeling—it IS feeling, as in Damasio’s “Consciousness IS the feeling of what happens.” I don’t believe I wrote anything that “… makes it sound like feeling [is] just a precursor to actual consciousness.”

I wrote that “… nerve impulses are transmitted to the brain … for processing … and possible, but not guaranteed ‘display’ as conscious images.”

It should be obvious from all that I’ve written that the nerve impulses are not themselves “displayed” as conscious images but are inputs incorporated into the brain’s processing, which processing ultimately resolves conscious images which are the feelings. The sensory inputs (nerve impulses) are precursor signals to the brain’s processing which is a precursor process, if you will, that produces feelings, i.e., consciousness. A feeling IS consciousness, not something that precedes it.

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• Stephen Wysong says:

The above comment in response to Mike …

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• So Stephen, in all that I didn’t catch whether or not you think the laptop or the rover have feelings. I’m going to guess not, but why not? The rover doesn’t have a palate to press a tongue against, but it could have an arm that could reach out and touch a rock and produce feedback that means it is touching the rock. This information could be used to instigate other activities, like measuring temperature. It could also be recorded. Do you have some reason to think the rover is not having a feeling?

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• Stephen Wysong says:

James, I don’t believe that the laptop and rover have feelings—are conscious—and here’s why:

Because consciousness is subjective, we can only be completely confident that our own consciousness exists. All other instances of consciousness must be inferred and the strength of that inference can range anywhere on a scale from zero—impossible—to 100—true. Our own consciousness rates an inference strength score of 100.

The strength of inference depends on how closely the other object resembles ourselves, which is quantifiable. We can consider brain structure, nervous system organization, the presence of neurochemical cycles, the activities of neurotransmitters, DNA etc.—in a word, biosimilarity—and always lastly, behavior. For other humans we can confidently assign a score of 100 based on these factors. Humans apparently even have built-in social expectations, like the theory of mind—attributing mental states like beliefs, intents, desires, emotions, etc. to others—that incline us to assign an inference strength of 100 to other humans.

Primates and, in fact, all mammals might be placed slightly lower on the inference strength scale, but very high, perhaps 99.99 to 99.9999. As we move further away from mammals to birds and reptiles, we might assign somewhat lower inference scores, but still very high because of a large degree of biosimilarity. For octopuses (octopodes, or, if you insist, octopi) we see considerable but not identical biosimilarity, a sophisticated neural organization and, lastly, behavior that is extremely suggestive of consciousness, so I would score them high on the scale as well. YMMV.

Of course you’ll notice that all of these “other objects” are biological, owing to the fact that all instances of consciousness with a convincing inference strength in all of human history have been biological. Unsurprisingly, too, consciousness is a biological function like digestion. As such, the laptop and self-driving car must be given an inference strength score of zero. Sophisticated objects exhibiting sophisticated, even human-like behavior—Commander Data of Star Trek—must also be assigned an inference strength score of zero. Data is actually an easy case who repeatedly reports that it cannot feel anything.

Should we manage to liberate the outer space aliens held captive in Area 51, we could study their biology for organization similar to our own in terms of nervous system and brain structure and so on. Their case would be similar to the octopuses I expect, with bonus points given for their interstellar travel accomplishments. 😉

In the rover example you ask about we find nothing that would raise the consciousness inference strength above zero, although I’m sure many rovers are fine fellows.

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• If Consciousness is subjective, what do these objective measures (behavior, biosimilarity) have to do with anything?

Let’s assume that Consciousness has an objective aspect and a subjective aspect, and you are basing your decisions on the objective aspect. So far I see two objective aspects: behavior and biosimilarity. You rate octopodesesi high on the scale because their behavior is more similar in certain regards than say, iguanas, despite being significantly less biosimilar than iguanas. This raises the question of exactly how much bio similarity makes a difference. If there was minimal biosimilarity, say, like algae, but behavior comparable to an octopus, would that register on your scale? What if there was zero bio similarity, but lots of behavioral similarity?

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• Stephen Wysong says:

James, you’re free to assign the inference strength you prefer for anything. “These objective measures (behavior, biosimilarity)” are the observations we use to evaluate (quantify) the inference strength.

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• Stephen Wysong says:

… and behavioral similarity is the very last consideration because it’s possible to create a 100% behavioral equivalent in, for instance, a somewhat less odd-behaving Commander Data.

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• Stephen, yes, I get that. I’m hoping you will get around to answering the questions, though.

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• Stephen Wysong says:

I hope I just did with my comment about the unreliability of behavior as a consciousness indicator.

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• Stephen Wysong says:

James, you haven’t acknowledged my belief that I did answer the questions. If you don’t believe I provided answers, just restate the question(s) and I’ll try again.

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• Stephen,
I’m going to ask that you not badger people. If someone wants to continue the conversation, they’ll respond. If they don’t, please respect that.

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• Stephen Wysong says:

James, I was simply looking through the comments this morning and thought you might still feel the answers I provided were incomplete so that you might be awaiting additional clarification. Just checking in with you for that reason.

As to your choice of verb, I am not a short-legged omnivore in either the family Mustelidae or Mephitidae and I do not have a squat body, being 6’2″ tall. … 😉

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• Stephen Wysong says:

Oops, I meant Mike … too much coffee this morning?

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• Stephen, my request applies to your threads with both James and Wyrd.

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• Stephen Wysong says:

Mike, I explained that I was just following up with James to see if I had satisfied his request, since he had last written: “I’m hoping you will get around to answering the questions.” I fail to see how you or anyone would misinterpret that as an aggressive ‘badgering’ comment.

My comment of yesterday to Wyrd was an explanation of how I evaluate my own proposals, particularly scientifically rooted proposals as in physics and neuroscience. I had hoped that information making my guidelines explicit might clarify for him the rationale behind my requests to him for domain specialist references. And, as well, I wanted to explain the purpose behind the specific challenges I had expressed concerning the Possibilism theory that Wyrd supports.

In sum, you’ve characterized both a friendly request about closure and a new substantive comment about a physics issue as ‘badgering’ when neither my intentions nor my words were emotional or threatening in either case. I believe the actual wording of my comments lacks any negative emotional thrust whatsoever, but please correct me if that’s not the case.

Your accusation, now approved by Wyrd, might leave me feeling badgered but for my belief, expressed yesterday, that “it’s a waste of precious time to take offense in all but the most physically perilous rebukes.”

Unless, that is, I’m missing something. … 😉

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• [To Mike: I didn’t feel badgered. I took it as I think Stephen meant it, an offer to continue the conversation. That said: your blog, your rules]

Stephen, I did not think you answered the questions. Let’s see if I can recreate the context:

I asked if an automated rover could have feelings.

You said feelings are subjective, so the only way we can know if something else has feelings is by inferring it. Furthermore, there are two ways to infer feelings: 1. Biosimilarity, and 2. Behavior.

I pointed out that octopuses seem to have more human-like consciousness than iguanas, and so asked if something with very little biosimilarity but very much conscious-like behavior would be conscious.

You said “behavioral similarity is the very last consideration”.

This does not answer my question. Does this answer mean that an iguana’s Consciousness is higher on the scale than the octopus’ Consciousness, because the iguana is more biosimilar to humans?

Also, based on your comments and given the specific question of something with very little biosimilarity (algae) but very similar behavior, you would say the algae have at least some amount of consciousness, whereas something with approximately no biosimilarity but perfect behavioral similarity would have no consciousness. But that would mean behavior plays no part in determining consciousness, and Consciousness is just synonymous with biosimilarity.

If I mis-characterized something you posted, let me know.

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• Stephen Wysong says:

James, I first mentioned the idea of “strength of inference” on Eric Schwitzgebel’s The Splintered Mind blog. Any definitions about conferring inference strength and any numerical values used on the proposed 0-100 scale are not set in concrete but are themselves personal interpretations. I suggested the Inference Strength Scale (Oh boy! ISS! Another acronym!) because its use can contribute to clarifying understandings and guiding discussions, as we’re doing here. But the rules for placing anything in any place on the scale are opinions and not fixed in concrete.

As such, biological/DNA/biosimilarity are my own criteria for the highest inference scores and non-biological is doomed to a zero without a very compelling argument for an increase.

Because the behavior of a conscious organism can be convincingly simulated, behavior cannot, in and of itself, raise the score but must be supplemented by other considerations, like the autopsy results of an area 51 alien corpse. In Greg Bear’s Forge of God, for instance, where (per Wikipedia), “The novel features scenes and events, including the discovery of a nearly-dead alien in the desert, who clearly says in English, ‘I’m sorry, but there is bad news.’” As I recall, an autopsy later reveals that the alien has no recognizable internal organs or nervous system or brain, so it’s assumed to have been some advanced, non-conscious simulacrum.

So you can put an octopus and an iguana wherever you like on the ISS (both the scale and the space platform, I suppose) although they’re likely to be rated close to each other because all earthly organisms share a great deal of DNA. I would score algae at zero unless a nervous system or a structure that’s functionally similar were to be identified, which means that my criteria for biosimilarity includes a nervous system, not necessarily ‘central’. For instance, it’s conceivable that the octopus has some sort of distributed or multiple consciousness, based on this Google-able description:

“The giant Pacific octopus has three hearts, nine brains and blue blood, making reality stranger than fiction. A central brain controls the nervous system. In addition, there is a small brain in each of their eight arms—a cluster of nerve cells that biologists say controls movement.”

In summing up, anyone can place anything anywhere on the Inference Strength Scale but should be prepared to explain their placement criteria and any unique influential factors. Sorry to take so long in replying to your original question.

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• BeingQuest says:

Excellent. Thanks.

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4. Stephen Wysong says:

I think I get it.

I suggest that the ‘illusionists’ have a vocabulary problem. From the Frankish article:

“… your own consciousness is a sort of illusion, a fiction created by your brain to help you keep track of its activities. This view—which I call illusionism …”

The word they want is simulation! They are ‘simulationists’ but that’s not as eye-catchingly freaky as ‘illusionists’. I’ve commented about consciousness being a simulation on SelfAwarePatterns before but, so we won’t have to go chasing around, here’s the scoop, in a paragraph from my “Einstein’s Breadcrumbs paper:

“… the world of our consciousness is dramatically different from the external world, which in the dynamic-view is composed of matter and energy in particles and fields, electromagnetism, photons, waves, vibrations, and so on. The world of experience, on the other hand, such as vision and sound, colors, shapes, and bodily feelings, indeed all qualia (introspectively available mental phenomena such as the feeling of the color red) is composed of feelings that are the contents of consciousness. Take vision, for example. The external world contains an ocean of energetic photons, some of which enter our eyeballs and are absorbed by molecules which then change in shape and ultimately create signals transmitted by neurons. But we don’t see photons—photons don’t look like anything. Instead, the brain’s processing creates and “displays” the familiar visual world. Sound, too, doesn’t exist in the world. The external world contains waves of pressure propagating through gases, liquids and solids, some of which enter the ear, vibrating the eardrum and other structures that ultimately create neuron-transmitted signals sent to the brain. But, as with vision and photons, we don’t hear sound waves. The external world, including that room you believe is pulsating with the sound of your favorite music, is completely silent. Once again, the brain’s processing creates and “displays” your favorite Vivaldi concerto. In philosophical terminology, the external world contains “primary qualities”, like, for example, mean kinetic energy, and our experiences of the world are “secondary qualities,” in this case the corresponding feeling of heat. The totality of these feelings, these secondary qualities, are a model—a simulation—of our embodied selves centered in the world, so that we all live in the simulation created by our brains.”

Someone should let the illusionists know that they’re simulationists.

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• BeingQuest says:

Excellent. I’m growing more eager to examine your papers. Do send!

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• PJMartin says:

Yes, simulation comes closer than illusion. The nuance I would want to provide, is that this is a special sort of simulation, one that enables the brain to do the right things with sensory inputs to create motor outputs as quickly as rather slow neural processing permits. So it’s a sort of mentally actionable, predictive representation not just a facsimile…and it is what we are conscious of when it in turn ‘simulates’ itself.

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• Stephen Wysong says:

It’s interesting to note that we commenters haven’t yet examined the actual definition of the word ‘illusion’—so lets give Frankish a hand:

Google Definition: “A thing that is or is likely to be wrongly perceived or interpreted by the senses.”

Per this definition, Frankish is saying that consciousness is likely to be wrongly perceived or interpreted by the senses. Uhhhh … nope!

Wikipedia: illusion (psychology): “An illusion is a distortion of the senses, which can reveal how the human brain normally organizes and interprets sensory stimulation. Though illusions distort our perception of reality, they are generally shared by most people.”

Per this definition, Frankish is saying that consciousness is a distortion of the senses which distorts our perception of reality. Uhhhh … yeah, right Keith! 😉

As regards my point about Frankish needing (and probably meaning) the word ‘simulation’, note that his article upfront refers to The Matrix as an illusion when, as all scifi VR nutballs like myself know, the Matrix is a simulation, an ultimate nerdish VR.

Although, to be precise, the Matrix is The Massive Sensory Data fed into the brains of the encased DURACELL® humans, as the green-fonted coredumps raining down the screens should make obvious—it’s actually the consciousness of each sleeping battery person that’s creating the simulation corresponding to the Matrix Data, in place of the usual “world of our consciousness” simulation driven by normal sensory input.

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• Stephen Wysong says:

… which implies, by the way, that human babies would need to be continuously produced by the Machines and raised in some more-or-less normal fashion for some number of years so that their brains would have sufficient stored experience to properly produce the conscious simulation in response to The Matrix Data. At, say, age 5 or 6 the children could be introduced into the sleeping capsules. Fascinating!

Does anyone recall seeing any children in living their simulated lives in The Matrix?

Also, each DURACELL® human would probably be fed simulation data that is effectively a simulated solipsism—all the other people are just each person’s responses to sensory data, in a personally tailored simulation for Eric. 😉 That seems a much easier computational problem to solve than integrating everyone into a single complex simulation. Probably written in C++, perhaps Python. 😉

I realize this is off-topic but Frankish was the one who mentioned The Matrix. This entire page of comments is his fault!

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• Wyrd Smythe says:

I’m not sure I agree it would be easier to provide a VR for each human, since that requires generating a distinct reality for each one. I think, as with online games, it’s probably easier to create a reality and allow the participants to interact with it. We’re talking massive computational resources either way. (In fact, the whole premise is absolutely ridiculous… humans as batteries is just stupid.)

Been a lot of years since I saw it, but I think I recall children. (Isn’t there a scene in a deserted underground train station where Neo meets a family with a kid?)

At work, I had a screensaver that did that raining green characters business, and I had a guy ask me if it actually meant something to programmers like me. (I was so tempted to claim, oh, sure, you betcha! 😀 )

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• Stephen Wysong says:

Wyrd, my thinking was that the simulation sensory data provided to each human would be limited to what’s “in scope” for that single person, whereas providing coordinated sensory data for everyone at once represents a level of complexity that, for me at least, is almost inconceivable. Unless, that is, instead of a real-time “flowing time” type of scenario we consider a fixed and unchanging block universe of Data in which everyone’s consciousness is a fixed and unchanging part of that Data, a scenario in which massive ongoing computation isn’t necessary, having occurred prior to the instantiation—the “going online”—of the block universe. That’s actually the universe we inhabit and, as such, is already demonstrated to be an existing simulation architecture.

Yes, humans as batteries is absurd, although humans do come in the bodypod-convenient AAAAAAAAAA size. 😉

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• Wyrd Smythe says:

“Wyrd, my thinking was that the simulation sensory data provided to each human would be limited to what’s ‘in scope’ for that single person,…”

Okay, sure, that would reduce the computational requirements for rendering the reality (and most VR systems do only render what’s being experienced), but in order for there to be a consistent reality, that reality must exist as a model in the system.

Consider the consistency of the waking world compared to the dream one. The former persists, even when not experienced for a long time (e.g. the annual visit to the family cabin, or to Disney World). But the latter can shift from moment to moment.

The system you’re proposing would be much more akin to dream world.

“…whereas providing coordinated sensory data for everyone at once represents a level of complexity that, for me at least, is almost inconceivable.”

Yet MMORPGs do it with increasing resolution and fidelity all the time.

The model of reality isn’t as computationally intensive as one might think. It mainly consists of data (which can be generated ahead of time). Rendering portions of that data for individual players is actually less computationally intense than rendering and also generating that data.

“[The block universe is] actually the universe we inhabit and, as such, is already demonstrated to be an existing simulation architecture.”

Sorry, I don’t buy the block universe idea. I don’t believe the future already exists.

I’m not sure what you mean by “an existing simulation architecture” — all the simulations I’ve worked on are what you call “flowing time” scenarios. The only block scenarios I know of are called “movies” (or videos or simulations that have completed their run and been recorded).

“…humans do come in the bodypod-convenient AAAAAAAAAA size.”

😀 😀 I’ve always thought of myself more as a 9-volt battery. The inconvenient old-fashioned boxy size. 😉

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• Stephen Wysong says:

Your phrase “… that reality must exist as a model in the system …” applies to today’s primitive VR which are essentially movies that are given their ‘reality’ by consciousness in same sort of way as we experience the world. We see and hear the ‘movie’ of the VR world instead of seeing and hearing the world itself. Consciousness is creating the experience from visual and auditory input that is seen and heard. “Rendering portions of that data …” as you put it is essentially playing the ‘movie’.

But in the Matrix, no one is looking at or listening to anything. Instead, there’s a plug delivering the neuronal input to (presumably) the spinal cord and/or brainstem. That neuronal input is not a “movie” but is the neuronal sensory input that normally would be generated by the senses in the Matrix world and transmitted to the brain. But in this case the sense organs are inoperative. So The Matrix is not a model of the world, it’s a massive collection of nerve signals representing complete sensory input, and generating all of those in some real-time fashion is what I view as inconceivably complex.

The dream world shifts from moment to moment because dream state consciousness production is not constrained by sensory input.

Sorry, I don’t buy the block universe idea. I don’t believe the future already exists.

If you’re offering us a replacement physics for relativity physics that you’re certain will be repeatedly confirmed, please let us read your paper. As I’ve mentioned previously to you and Mike, if you wish to invalidate relativity physics, here are your alternatives:

First among them is to invalidate the repeatedly performed and confirmed Michelson-Morley speed of light experiment that conclusively rules out the existence of the aether and putting the kibosh on Lorentz aEther Theory (LET). If you have trouble doing that, you might cast doubt on the speed of light in some other way that no one is currently aware of, or you might join Lee Smolin in his efforts or, as I’ve mentioned previously, you could experimentally demonstrate the existence of flowing time.

Yet you do not lay claim to any of these achievements so what you are saying is that the universe is constituted according to your personal preferences, a disturbingly anti-science position. If you don’t believe that all future events exist then you are disagreeing with modern physics and, in the best Frankish spirit, you are believing in an illusion that was specifically called out by Einstein:

People like us, who believe in physics, know that the distinction between past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.

I’m quite surprised to discover that you’re not a people like us … 😉

Consciousness in the block universe is the existing simulation architecture.

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• Wyrd Smythe says:

“Your phrase ‘… that reality must exist as a model in the system …’ applies to today’s primitive VR which are essentially movies that are given their ‘reality’ by consciousness in same sort of way as we experience the world.”

I’m not sure here if you mean VR movies (which are just playbacks like any movie) or if you mean VR environments (which are interactive). I was speaking of the latter.

“So The Matrix is not a model of the world, it’s a massive collection of nerve signals representing complete sensory input, and generating all of those in some real-time fashion is what I view as inconceivably complex.”

That’s just an implementation detail. (One those working in VR would love to accomplish!) Have you seen Black Mirror on Netflix?

The point is, feeding a virtual reality to a person currently requires using visual and auditory (and smell and hapatics) inputs because that’s all we know how to do. These things, as I’m sure you’ll agree, generate inputs to the brain just like real reality does.

Plugging directly into the nervous system just skips those front-end stages, but ultimately accomplished exactly the same thing.

Everything I said about modeling a reality still stands.

Oh, don’t be like that. We’re just talking.

Firstly, the block universe is a hypothesis, not established fact.

Secondly, the way SR affects simultaneity doesn’t require a block universe. It just means spacetime doesn’t match the intuitions that we have from existing at speeds far below relativistic ones. It is simply the case that moving observers see events differently than observers in the same frame see them.

Imagine a set of three posts set in a line. If you view them end-on, they appear to line up. If you step to the left of that line, you see the most distant one on the left and the closest one on the right (with the middle one in the middle). But if you step to the right of the line, you see the closest one on the left and the distant one on the right.

Something very similar happens in SR, and it’s really just a case of different perspectives.

Einstein was just a guy, and he didn’t get everything right.

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• Wyrd Smythe says:

I knew I’d seen that Einstein quote before. Here’s the full version:
“Now he has departed from this strange world a little ahead of me. That means nothing. People like us, who believe in physics, know that the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.”
It’s from a letter to Besso’s family following the death of Michele Besso. Most believe he was being poetic.

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• Stephen Wysong says:

So a massive collection of nerve signal information that’s conditioned to a precise sensory input is “just an implementation detail”? I was trying to convey the unimaginable difficulty in creating such a thing, real-time no less, and feeding it into the top of the spinal column and brainstem. As you say, it accomplishes the same thing as direct sensory input from the world, but I doubt that it’s possible in any but a far flung science fictional world.

The block universe is not hypothetical, it’s a direct implication of relativity physics, specifically the RoS. Almost all physicists believe our universe is a block universe. Your disbelief is exactly like not believing the 97% of climate scientists (highly trained specialists) who believe that human caused climate change is real. I suspect you believe them and it’s difficult for me to understand why you would disbelieve the physicists about the block universe. Even physicist Lee Smolin, who wants his free will back, concurs with the reality of the block universe until he can replace relativity physics. In his fairly recent Time Reborn he wrote:

… Einstein’s theories of relativity are the strongest arguments we have for time being an illusion masking a truer, timeless universe.”

Smolin is like you (I imagine) in wanting free will to exist but, unlike you, until he can develop the replacement physics that restores presentism to the universe, he continues to adhere to established and repeatedly confirmed physics. If you can explain why you stand opposed to almost all physicists then perhaps you’ll have also explained why Pres T-Rump believes that climate change is a Chinese hoax. If you’d like a long list of physicists who disagree with you so that you can read their block universe related work, let me know and I’ll supply it. Start with:

Brian Greene, The Fabric of the Universe, Chapter 3, “Relativity and the Absolute”
Paul Davies, About Time, Chapter 2, “Time for a Change”
Lee Smolin, Time Reborn, Chapter 6, “Relativity and Timelessness”

… and everyone at the Minkowski Institute.

That Einstein quote is from his letter of condolence to Besso’s son, Vero, and sister Bice Rusconi, of March 21, 1955, a month before Einstein’s own death. Most actually believe he was talking about the timeless block universe, hardly a poetic viewpoint. Kurt Gödel, who spent years with Einstein at the Institute for Advanced Study, is quoted as saying twenty years later that Einstein was “joking”—in a condolence letter to dear lifelong friends? Not credible. I have a JPG of the letter if you’d like a copy to translate—my German is limited to a few swearwords.

Note that in that second sentence, “That means nothing,” Einstein is saying that “Death means nothing.” After Einstein died, his obituary in the New York Times reiterated his belief in that sentiment by closing with this quote:

Neither can I believe that the individual survives the death of his body, although feeble souls harbor such thoughts through fear or ridiculous egotism. It is enough for me to contemplate the mystery of conscious life perpetuating itself through all eternity, to reflect upon the marvelous structure of the universe which we can dimly perceive, and to try humbly to comprehend even an infinitesimal part of the intelligence manifested in nature.

That quotation was taken from Living Philosophies published in 1931, I suspect from Einstein’s recommendation to the Times. From my paper “Einstein’s Breadcrumbs” about consciousness in the block universe:

“In a most sincere message of consolation to Besso’s son and sister, and shortly before his own death, Albert Einstein is claiming that death is essentially meaningless, that a person’s death is not a tragedy because our lives—our complete lifetimes—are part of the everything- all-at-once that’s encoded in the block universe. Every moment of our bodies’ lifetime persists in spacetime and, critical to understanding Einstein’s meaning, every moment of our lifetime’s conscious experience persists in spacetime as well.”

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• Wyrd Smythe says:

“So a massive collection of nerve signal information that’s conditioned to a precise sensory input is ‘just an implementation detail’?”

Yes. Whether sensory input is provided by the senses or as direct input is a matter of implementation. I’m sure you’re familiar with the “brain in a jar” scenario.

“I was trying to convey the unimaginable difficulty in creating such a thing, real-time no less, and feeding it into the top of the spinal column and brainstem.”

Versus what? We were talking in the context of The Matrix which assumes direct neural input. (And yes, that would be an extremely difficult thing to accomplish, but we’re talking about a theoretical situation.) I was responding to your idea that each person had their own VR:

…all the other people are just each person’s responses to sensory data, in a personally tailored simulation… That seems a much easier computational problem to solve than integrating everyone into a single complex simulation.

(Bolding mine to emphasize what I was replying to.)

I offered:

I think, as with online games, it’s probably easier to create a reality and allow the participants to interact with it.

To which you replied:

…my thinking was that the simulation sensory data provided to each human would be limited to what’s ‘in scope’ for that single person, whereas providing coordinated sensory data for everyone at once represents a level of complexity that, for me at least, is almost inconceivable.

(Which seems a slight shift from original assumption.)

I replied:

Okay, sure, that would reduce the computational requirements for rendering the reality (and most VR systems do only render what’s being experienced), but in order for there to be a consistent reality, that reality must exist as a model in the system.

In case that wasn’t clear, I’m saying the system doesn’t render (provide input) for what’s behind me, but the system’s common model always exists. (Somewhat like how, in the real world, the Moon exists regardless of whether anyone is looking at it.)

The point being we seem to be discussing whether people in the Matrix share a common reality or have a person one all their own.

The movie does make it pretty clear it’s a shared reality, and given then need to generate nerve signal data either way, a shared model is, as I said, less computationally intensive.

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• Wyrd Smythe says:

“The block universe is not hypothetical, it’s a direct implication of relativity physics, specifically the RoS. Almost all physicists believe our universe is a block universe.”

Implications are hypothetical, and, as I explained, I don’t see how the relativity of simultaneity forces the kind of block universe where the future already has happened. (There are variations on the idea. One is that “block” just means 4D spacetime. Another is that the block is growing in time.)

Regardless, these are philosophical views, not physical fact.

From there on you seem to get pretty disdainful and insulting, so you’ll have to find someone else to play with. I’m out.

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• Stephen Wysong says:

The point being we seem to be discussing whether people in the Matrix share a common reality or have a person one all their own.

If each individual simulation included all of the “real-time” simulated behaviors/actions of the other people and scene activity “in scope” then there would be no effective difference in outcome for anyone from a totally shared simulation and the individual simulations would, in fact, completely implement that shared simulation.

My major point (I thought) was the unimaginable computational complexity of the simulation. Take visual simulation, for example, in which the minutely detailed data model of the city under specific momentary light conditions from an individual vantage point (an unmoving set of eyeballs) would then be processed to yield frequencies and intensities of photons hitting the eyeball followed by a computation equivalent to that provided by light rays being lensed onto the retina and activating the retina’s light-sensitive chemistry, then generating nerve impulses processed by the cortical-like neuronal structure at the back of the eyeball. The resultant nerve impulses—those normally sent to the brain via the optic nerve structure—are the ones that would be sent via the plug in the back of the battery person’s neck. Now imagine dealing with moving eyeballs and changing focus. And that’s just vision! How about simulating all of the proprioceptive processes that ultimately yield spinal cord input about the position, motion and internal state of the body? Yes, “just implementation detail” but “unimaginably complex” begins to seem like an understatement.

I believe all of this processing was being contrasted with our current VR implementations, which are essentially showing somebody an audio-visual movie in a helmet-shaped headgear.

I believe Mike mentioned being an IT guy and perhaps you mentioned a computer background too. I’m retired from a 30-year career as a computer programmer—the weird guy with a tools focus dedicated to creating software that supports the programming effort, like SQL generators and database schema diffs and intelligent revision control, all focused on simplicity and ease-of-use. I wonder how many commenters here have similar backgrounds and perspectives?

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• Stephen Wysong says:

Another problem with the simulation technology of providing nervous system input to the spinal cord and relying on the usual biological processing of the brain to create an experience of the simulation is that influences like memories and neurotransmitters cannot be accounted for. In fact, a person in the simulation would feel like a trapped and constrained puppet because conscious feedback, even inhibitory, wouldn’t happen. Just another thought that, in concert with all of the other implementation difficulties already noted, would seem to leave the Matrix firmly science fictional.

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• Wyrd Smythe says:

“My major point (I thought) was the unimaginable computational complexity of the simulation.”

Maybe I misunderstood your earlier statements. Do we then agree the Matrix is a single shared model? That, for example, a group of people could share a simulated ballgame? (As I mentioned, this is how all MMORPGs do work.)

“Take visual simulation, for example,…”

The long description that follows this is exactly how ray-tracing works as far as generating an image from any given POV. Lighting, surface textures and behavior, moving viewpoint, atmospheric effects, focus, they’re are all part of that.

The idea of ray-tracing goes back centuries, and computers have done it pretty much as long as we’ve had computers. (One of my hobby toys is an application, called POV-Ray, that lets me create 3D scenes and then render them through ray tracing. (Here’s a recent example.)

The only trick is the direct neural feed…

“I believe all of this processing was being contrasted with our current VR implementations, which are essentially showing somebody an audio-visual movie in a helmet-shaped headgear.”

No, I’ve been talking Matrix-style interactive VR modeling all along.

The idea of a direct neural feed is a pretty old one in science fiction (it’s not at all new to The Matrix). As I mentioned, the Netflix Black Mirror series assumes the capability, as do many others. It can be traced all the way back to Descartes “evil demon” argument, and has lived on in “brain in a vat” arguments.

Is it difficult? Yes, obviously, but maybe not as much as you might think.

If we start by recording all the neural inputs to a brain under different stimuli, we can map what does what. Given a sufficient amount of data, that map can be increasingly accurate.

The next step might involve just playing back recordings of neural inputs to see if the direct feed works as it should.

Finally, given the mapping, it’s just a matter of calculating new inputs for whatever given situation. A little beyond our technology now (but not all that much), perhaps, but certainly possible.

“In fact, a person in the simulation would feel like a trapped and constrained puppet because conscious feedback, even inhibitory, wouldn’t happen.”

That’s not any more true than it is for us interacting in the real world. (Again: “brain in a vat” is a well-accepted idea.)

These systems are not movies being played back. They provide the same signals as would the real world, and they respond to signals from the brain. That’s what makes them interactive.

They are, as I’ve said, very much like modern MMORPGs. The only difference is they skip the physical senses and plug directly into the brain. (Which is exactly why I called it an implementation detail.)

“I believe Mike mentioned being an IT guy and perhaps you mentioned a computer background too.”

I’m a retired software designer. I started working with computers in the 1970s. I started as a “hardware guy” back in the mid-1960s. I’ve worked on everything from assembly-level network drivers to 4GL databases, and I’ve taught machine repair and programming. Been around the block a few times. 😉

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• Stephen Wysong says:

… disdainful and insulting”? Moi? 😉 Perhaps you might have taken the comic reference to our elected leader as such but that was not at all what I intended. While I’ve managed over the decades to restrain most of the negatively received social expressions that I characterize as “Ass Burgers,” I realize some unintended emotional connotation can always make its way into my written and spoken expression. If I’ve offended Wyrd, I apologize.

I disagree with your view that “implications are hypothetical” because the implications of relativity physics are logically deduced from its premises. [It’s a convention that we continue to use the terminology “Special/General Theory of Relativity because both theories have been repeatedly confirmed and reconfirmed since being proposed in 1905 and 1916, well over a century ago. I’m sure that the phrase “relativity physics” is accurate and appropriate.] None of the published explanations by physicists that I listed explain the block universe as a hypothesis but they all explain that it’s a consequence—a logically valid deductive outcome—of the Relativity of Simultaneity.

My central question is about your approach to belief vis-a-vis the beliefs of professional domain experts. My own approach is to accept the beliefs of the specialists that are overwhelmingly accepted, providing that there are no obvious flaws in the evidence set cited to support their conclusions. As such I accept the belief that 97% of climatologists support about the existence and hazards of human-created climate change and I also accept the belief that nearly 100% of physicists support about ours being a block universe.

How do you accept the conclusion of an overwhelming number of specialists in one case but reject the conclusion of an overwhelming number of specialists in the other, preferring a scientifically insupportable personal belief instead?

I’m interested in understanding your thinking. If that question itself is offensive, then I’m left speechless … which might well be an outcome that is welcomed by some. 😉

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• Wyrd Smythe says:

“If I’ve offended Wyrd, I apologize.”

I appreciate that; apologies go a long way with me. So once more unto the breach…

“Perhaps you might have taken the comic reference to our elected leader…”

Not hardly! I loath Twitler with every fiber of my being. (I can just barely wrap my head around a segment of our society being so angry and vengeful as to make the mistake of electing him, but I cannot fathom continuing to support him given his behavior and performance in office. It says a lot about what’s happened to our culture.)

I do object to being lumped in with climate change deniers. The comparison is specious. Climate change is backed by considerable evidence — hard facts covering eons. (As usual, xkcd has a cartoon that nails this.)

“I disagree with your view that ‘implications are hypothetical’ because the implications of relativity physics are logically deduced from its premises.”

Okay, but note that all talk of this uses terms like “suggests” or “implies” or some similar qualifier. The Block Universe is a hypothesis not proven in fact. It’s currently metaphysics and philosophy.

“As such I accept the belief that 97% of climatologists support about the existence and hazards of human-created climate change…”

I think this hints at a key difference in our approach. I’m not moved by the 97% — I’m moved by the data. I’ve never been one to go along with “what experts say” because experts are so often wrong.

At one point all the experts agreed the Earth was the center of the universe. Or that epicycles were a thing. Or that the universe was steady state (aka Einstein’s greatest blunder). Or that the Milky Way Galaxy was all there way. Or that supersymmetry was a thing (or that String Theory is a thing).

I am simply not swayed by “experts” (cutely defined as X-spurt, i.e. the unknown factor and a drip).

“I also accept the belief that nearly 100% of physicists support about ours being a block universe.”

What survey are you referencing to come up with such a number? (And which definition of “block universe” do they believe in?)

“How do you accept the conclusion of an overwhelming number of specialists in one case but reject the conclusion of an overwhelming number of specialists in the other, preferring a scientifically insupportable personal belief instead?”

I don’t accept either group just because they say so. And given the block universe is not fact, but supposition, “scientifically insupportable personal belief” is just wrong (and a bit insulting).

“I’m interested in understanding your thinking.”

The belief in a block universe seems to stem from a perception that SR, in particular what it does with simultaneity, implies the future has to already exist. But if you really understand what’s going on regarding simultaneity, that’s actually a hard argument to make.

You cited Brian Greene’s The Fabric of the Cosmos, chapter three, in which he uses the metaphor of slicing a loaf. But it’s not really until chapter five, The Frozen River, that he talks about time. And while he does talk about how SR implies eternalism, he’s clear this is a hypothesis.

Much of his reasoning (in chapter 5) turns on how a very distant observer, merely by moving at walking speed, radically shifts their surface of simultaneity such that, from their perspective, our distant past is “simultaneous” with them or, if walking the other direction, our distant future is “simultaneous.”

But such a distant observer can’t know either our past or our future until the light from those events reaches them. It’s only after they observe that they can establish that such-and-such an event was “simultaneous” with them.

As such, the relativity of simultaneity is entirely a matter of perspective. I can claim that during my walk earlier today, events in the distant future of the Andromeda galaxy were “simultaneous” with me, but that’s just a perspective. All I can really know about that galaxy is what has already happened 2.5 million years ago.

Nowhere is there any requirement that the future actually already exist. “Simultaneity” is an artifact of inertial frames of reference.

FWIW, back in 2015, to celebrate Einstein’s birthday, I wrote a 25-post series about SR. In particular I explored simultaneity in great detail, explaining what we really mean by “simultaneous” under SR.

The short form is: It’s a matter of perspective. What’s going on is very similar to the analogy of the three posts I gave you above.

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• Wyrd Smythe says:

Let me turn it around and ask you, can you, in your own words, say exactly why you believe SR leads to a block universe?

Also, while I’m asking questions, vis-à-vis smooth spacetime, I’m still not clear what you mean by events being quantized but spacetime is not.

If you hold that the spacetime interval is quantized by Planck limits, then you do believe in quantized spacetime. A smooth spacetime allows arbitrarily small deltas in the spacetime interval formula.

My belief (and it is just a metaphysical belief) in smooth spacetime absolutely allows for infinitely small deltas. No Planck limits. In my view, the saving grace is the Planck limits, and quantization, of matter-energy.

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• Stephen Wysong says:

Okay, but note that all talk of this uses terms like ‘suggests’ or ‘implies’ or some similar qualifier.

Nowhere in the following explanation do we find “suggests” or “implies” but, rather “as a consequence”—as a result. From Stuckey, Silberstein and Cifone in “Reversing the Arrow of Explanation in the Relational Blockworld”:

As a consequence of RoS, consider an observer Alice in A passing an observer Bob in B. Except for one another, Alice and Bob will disagree on who exists simultaneously with them at that instant of time (call it ‘to-day’); people at rest with respect to Alice will exist simultaneously with her ‘today,’ while those at rest with respect to Bob will exist simultaneously with him ‘today.’ According to SR, the people in Bob’s plane of simultaneity will exist with people in Alice’s past and future, and vice-versa. So, Bob and Alice exist together ‘today’ and people in Bob’s ‘today’ exist together with people in Alice’s ‘tomorrow’ and ‘yesterday.’ Likewise, people in Alice’s ‘today’ exist together with people in Bob’s ‘tomorrow’ and ‘yesterday.’ If there is no empirical means of discrimination, then both Alice and Bob are justified in their designations of who exists with them ‘today,’ so their pasts and futures are as real as their presents.

If you take nothing else from the explanation, you can agree with me that Bob and Alice are seriously overworked observers. 😉 The explanation is about what in the universe is “co-real” or “exists together” as in Greene’s “now slice” associated with his loaf of bread metaphor. What is co-real has nothing to do with what you or a distant observer can or cannot know and nothing to do with light cones and causal relationships or anything else. And, as such, it’s not a matter of any observer’s perspective.

I fully understand what you’re saying about going along with the experts as you can see from my adherence to the brainstem consciousness hypothesis supported by Damasio and a few others. Damasio clearly acknowledges it’s a minority position. The majority belief (mostly by philosophers I think) in the very popular cortical consciousness hypothesis, which remains completely evidence-free, is correctly termed a “scientifically insupportable personal belief” but I don’t consider the phrase to be pejorative—it’s simply descriptive. SInce ‘faith’ is belief without evidence, you might even call it a faith-based belief, which is denotatively correct but might trouble some folks connotatively.

In the climate change case, you write that you’re moved by the data, but I suspect you haven’t actually examined the data and run the models and studied the correlations with what we can infer of historical climate data. I certainly haven’t. That’s why we rely on the expertise and integrity of the climate scientists—the domain experts. Similarly, I haven’t measured the speed of light or observed the stellar displacements during a solar eclipse that demonstrates the curvature of spacetime or done the tensor math of relativity physics. That’s why I rely on the expertise and integrity of the physicists—the domain experts.

Because it is an implication and not a hypothesis, the number of physicists who believe that ours is a block universe is equal to the number of physicists who support relativity physics. A couple of decades ago, Paul Davies wrote:

In their professional lives, most physicists accept without question the concept of the timescape, but away from work they act like everybody else, basing their thoughts and actions on the assumption of a moving present moment.”

And by ‘timescape’ he’s referring to our 4-dimensional spacetime, aka block universe.

Liked by 1 person

• Wyrd Smythe says:

“‘According to SR, the people in Bob’s plane of simultaneity will exist with people in Alice’s past and future, and vice-versa.'”

In terms of their respective surfaces of simultaneity, it seems that way, but there is no way they can access that simultaneity until light from it reaches them. Until after the “future” events actually happen.

I’ll again refer to you the series I wrote, because I went into it in great detail with diagrams that may help make it more clear. What’s really important to understand exactly what we mean by simultaneity and how it is established. My series goes into this in detail.

BTW: in 4D spacetime, it’s a 3D surface of simultaneity. In the usual 2D spacetime diagrams, with just x and t, it’s a line of simultaneity. If one were to make a 3D rendering (x, y, and t), then it would be a plane of simultaneity.

For example, here is such a 3D rendering showing the plane of simultaneity of the inertial frame (the dotted vertical blue line is the worldline of the observer in that frame):

And here is a rendering showing the plane of simultaneity of a passing frame (the steep dotted green line is the worldline of the passing observer):

In both diagrams, the red lines show the lightpaths used to establish simultaneity.

“And, as such, it’s not a matter of any observer’s perspective.”

Sorry, I don’t agree. All any observer can know is what they observe, and they cannot observe the future until after it happens.

Read my series, and you’ll (maybe) understand why I say this.

“In the climate change case, you write that you’re moved by the data, but I suspect you haven’t actually examined the data and run the models and studied the correlations with what we can infer of historical climate data.”

I have examined the data. I don’t need to run the models; I only need to know the methodology used and the results.

More to the point, that a bunch of people say something means little to me. It’s what they say that matters.

“Because it is an implication…”

It’s still not a fact no matter how much you want it to be. It’s metaphysics.

Look, we’re not going to get anywhere on this. We disagree. I’m done discussing it.

“And by ‘timescape’ he’s referring to our 4-dimensional spacetime, aka block universe.”

I accept 4D spacetime, but I believe worldlines evolve — i.e. time passes.

One problem I have with a block universe is that it requires an explanation of why worldlines move through it at the constant rate of proper time. I believe time is fundamental (more fundamental even than space). This is why, in any worldline, proper time always passes at exactly the same rate.

Another problem I have is that it assumes the entire universe, all of space, all of time, sprang into existence at the same moment. If the block includes the big bang, then something else brought it all into existence at once. If the big bang starts the block (as Greene suggests), then the universe as we know it (and beyond our horizon) sprang into existence at once.

OTOH, if time evolves, and the universe expands, there is far less that needs to be accounted for.

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• Stephen Wysong says:

By the way Wyrd, my Planckety-planck granularity notion was just a passing thought, perhaps a phrase that could be used in a science fiction story. It’s not a description of reality that I’m committed to.

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• Wyrd Smythe says:

The question I keep asking you regards the apparent contradiction in your stated beliefs. You say you believe spacetime is smooth, but you also believe spacetime intervals are quantized at the Planck level. That’s a contradiction.

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• Stephen Wysong says:

Like I say … not a committed belief but just a passing thought.

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• Wyrd Smythe says:

One that reveals to me how poorly you understand spacetime.

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• Stephen Wysong says:

Chill dude! I explained it was just a notion tossed up bu my underbrain. I don’t give a rat’s ass about Planck granularity.

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• Wyrd Smythe says:

My point is that to even have that notion tells me about your understanding of the underlying fundamentals here.

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• Stephen Wysong says:

I don’t recall your citing any physicists that commit to Possibilism. Sources please?

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• Wyrd Smythe says:

As I’ve explained, I don’t care about the metaphysical beliefs of others (or else I might be forced to believe in angels). I do the math, examine the data, read the papers. My beliefs are a distillation of all that.

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• Stephen Wysong says:

Excuse me … I thought your comment was in the block universe thread. I haven’t considered the granularity question of the composition of spactime itself because I’m not interested.

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• Wyrd Smythe says:

Fine, but (A) what I just said stands, and (B) you’re the one who started this thread by agreeing with me that spacetime is smooth but “events” are quantized. I’ve just been trying to find out what you meant by that.

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• Within the premise of the movies, the people are hooked in to a shared reality. Those who unplug share related memories of it.

Also, definitely children in at least the second movie. Pretty sure that was the one with the school for children learning to manipulate the reality. Maybe it was the third.

*
[“there is no spoon”]

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• paultorek says:

I don’t think there’s ever been a primary/secondary distinction formulated that is clear and consistent and doesn’t leave one of the categories empty. Usually “primary qualities” being the empty one.

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• Stephen Wysong says:

Paul, I was just rephrasing the distinction of events in the world (primary) and the world of our experience (secondary) in philosophical terminology, a terminology that I thought might resonate with the philosophically inclined, although, as a comedian might say, that’s a tough crowd. 😉

I just quickly clicked over to your blog to discover you’re discussing free will. Because we live in a block universe where everything we consider past and future exists “all-at-once”, free will is simply impossible. In fact, there’s no radical freedom of any kind in the universe—no motion and no change. Everything in the block universe is a fact and facts cannot change.

See my recent comment for Wyrd that ends “Consciousness in the block universe is the existing simulation architecture.”

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• paultorek says:

It seems like your world-events/experience-events distinction is quite different from what philosophers have usually pushed as the primary/secondary quality distinction. Which is good news for your distinction.

Actually, it turns out that the block universe rules out the usual “solution” to the free will “problem”, but since it rules out the “problem” as well, that’s perfectly OK! So stay tuned.

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• BeingQuest says:

Aha*!

But if the Universe is a Block Chain construct, every possible Event of any derivation and whatever multiple consequences to the timeline, must happen, and be happening…as if: All at Once. This is the only way to extinguish Linear Time for the Individual, without demolishing Existence. We forget to distinguish Essential from Accidental in the end, and plunge upon irrelevance to the whole scheme of Things alone, when we could live together with All forever, again and again without terminus, NOW.

Shamans and Night Walkers withal. Here alone does Death mean Nothing.

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• Stephen Wysong says:

Durandus, if you’re following the ‘breadcrumbs’ I sent you, you’ll note that nothing happens in the block universe. Everything past-and-future “just is”. No motion, no change. Death is simply an event near the terminus of a worldtube.

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• BeingQuest says:

I’ll get to the ‘breadcrumbs’ today…been anticipating the fun for days. You’d be good to unpack the jargon at some point, which is always a form of specialization, not accessible to the General reader. 🙂

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5. Wyrd Smythe says:

“Anyway, Frankish’s piece is worth checking out, particularly if you think illusionism is prima facie false.”

I don’t find it prima facie false so much as prima facie silly. As is so often said, “the illusion is the thing.”

Obviously, there is “something it is like” to be me, and I assume you and everyone else (although I do like that fanciful notion that maybe illusionists are b-zombies… that would explain a lot 😀 ).

I do understand the point is that a complex analytical machine, such as a brain, might have “something it is like” to do its thing, and I’d like that explained, but I have no time for anyone who slaps an “illusion” label on that. I don’t find that helpful in the least, and it kind of outrages me on some vague level. (Kind of the way clickbait does.)

But I’ll read the link when I get a chance. Right now I’m going to open a bottle of champagne and toast my Minnesota Twins for winning the American League Central last night! (And spending a bucket load on getting my electrical power situation fixed.)

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• I think it’s important for us to engage with intellectual propositions that outrage us, so I hope you do read it. My version will probably be reading Christof Koch’s new book, which I suspect I will want to hurl across the room numerous times. But he’s a serious scientist, and I need to read his arguments to make sure I’m not overlooking something, even though I’m not expecting to be convinced.

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• BeingQuest says:

A fellow Minnesotan. Cheers*

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• I think the point of the term “illusion” is not to say that the thing does not exist. It’s to say that the thing is not what you intuit it to be.

*

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• Wyrd Smythe says:

Well, they really need a better marketing department, because “illusion” casually means something that isn’t really there — i.e. that doesn’t exist.

But more to the point, what exactly do they think my illusionary intuition is?

(I’m about to pop that champagne… probably be offline until tomorrow-ish.)

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• Lee Roetcisoender says:

I read Bernardo’s rebuttal. I would title the battle of words: “The illusionist verses the delusionist”. And the winner is… It’s a tie. I nominate Frankish and Bernardo to share in the highly coveted prize of REDUCTIO AD ABSURDUM.

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6. Liam Uber says:

Hi Mike, I agree with you that the words we use can be problematic. You write:

“What I definitely think is an illusion, however, is the notion that qualia exist as something above and beyond the neural processing in the brain”

Actually, the belief that qualia exist would be a delusion. But I agree with you. This stark terminology just adds to the confusion. The real problem is that ordinary language is not yet up to the task of accurately describing our inner and outer worlds. Hence our difficulties of understanding and communication.

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• Thanks Liam.

On qualia, a lot depends on what we mean by that word. If we just mean the individual instances of subjective experience in a theory neutral manner, then I think we can say they exist, but only subjectively. The problem is that philosophers can’t resist adding theoretical assumptions into their description of it, which often presumes an existence outside of what is involved in generating that subjective impression.

It might be, as Daniel Dennett concludes, that the concept has simply become too polluted with those theoretical assumptions. It might be like the word “soul”, which can be used to refer to a physical mind, but only with clarifications that the non-physical variety isn’t being referred to.

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7. Callan says:

I agree on the issue of hyperbole in order to try to garner some traction. Short term benefits in attention grabbing. Long term dismissal issues.

But much like Anton Babinski syndrome where the blind person is adamant they can see, who on the qualia and phenominal consciousness side of the argument have a problem at all? Can’t they see it all – I mean it’s all around them and through and through, right?

That seems to be the greatest trick of qualia and phenominal consciousness – no matter how much mental illness is clearly in the world, the q and the pc are always flawless.

Almost conveniently so, one might say. Like, we’re mortal – wouldn’t you expect people to detect cracks in q and pc sometimes? Particularly after brain injuries – shouldn’t the man who mistook his wife for a hat kind of see a flaw there? Shouldn’t flaws show up? Isn’t the lack of flaws…and indicator of a larger flaw? An indication of an inability to actually see properly and that’s why no flaws show up even though they should?

Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. The wizard of consciousness commands it.

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• PJMartin says:

Callan, on ‘wouldn’t you expect people to detect cracks in qualia and phenomenal consciousness sometimes’, I think the reason why not is that what we are conscious of is the way our brain has actually wired itself up to deal with the world from moment to moment. That’s also one reason why there is a unity to consciousness and its content. It is what it is, and it is a single thing – our current wiring diagram, or simulation to use the language or earlier replies.

For example, when we see a dog, what we are conscious of is not the dog as such, it is the way our brain has wired itself up to deal with the presence of the dog; the things we can pay attention to, the actions we can take relative to it, the way we expect to feel as a result.

Of course we do find cases in which we are not modelling the world well enough and we cast around to improve our understanding (like in these blog discussions). But then we improve our understanding by shifting our representation of the world, which is then still all we can be conscious of.

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• Callan says:

The question really is if you are an advocate of qualia, why are qualia always appear perfect when clearly people are not?

It would suggest an inability to perceive flaws where there are flaws.

People only become interested in a topic if they can actually see flaws. The closest that can be gotten here is seeing that a 100% absence of flaws suggests a really big flaw is in play.

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• One thing I always like to remind people is, we’re not conscious of what we’re not conscious of. That seems tautological, but it’s a tautology we frequently forget. Often we can infer gaps in consciousness, such as by the clock changing suddenly, but not in all cases. In particular, we’re not conscious of gaps between the fragments of our consciousness, which gives an impression of unity that is mostly illusory.

All of this is hard to recognize in healthy people. It only becomes disturbingly evident in brain injury cases, where the inability to perceive something, like the fact that one is blind, simply is missing.

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• Stephen Wysong says:

One thing I always like to remind people is, we’re not conscious of what we’re not conscious of. That seems tautological, but it’s a tautology we frequently forget. Often we can infer gaps in consciousness, such as by the clock changing suddenly, but not in all cases. In particular, we’re not conscious of gaps between the fragments of our consciousness, which gives an impression of unity that is mostly illusory.

Mike, that’s a familiar reminder but I’ve never inferred a gap in my consciousness. I submit that your “gaps in consciousness” are actually gaps in memory, not provably gaps in consciousness. To keep everyone from switching to other blog postings, I’ll repeat my previous response here:

“… consider driving home along a route that’s been repeated so many times that it’s well-established in memory. The predominant belief is that attentive consciousness is not involved, or minimally involved in the driving, allowing for the daydreaming you mention, and I’m sure we’ve all arrived home without a detailed memory of making that sort of a drive.

But notice that we are concluding an absence of consciousness from an absence of memory which I believe is not a valid inference. For that inference to be valid, we must have already established that ALL consciously performed activities are retained in memory which I don’t believe has been experimentally demonstrated. That being the case, the only valid conclusion from such an incident is that the drive home didn’t make it to the memory store, which seems an efficient way for the brain to deal with habitual behaviors—since they’re already firmly established stories in memory there’s nothing to gain from storing them again and then reinforcing them once again during the sleep-time cortical review of the day’s accumulated stories. If, indeed, credible research has shown that all consciously performed activities are retained in memory, I’d appreciate a reference, because I’m unable to find it.”

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• On inferring gaps, you never noticed in the morning that time had passed since you were last conscious? Or when waking up from anesthesia that circumstances had changed since your last previous conscious moment?

On driving home, the problem with your hypothesis is that I can have no memory of the drive, but still remember a lot of what I was thinking about during the drive. And we’ve all had events on the road suddenly snap our attention back to driving. It’s a noticeable change. One minute I’m thinking about my next blog post, the next I’m focused on dealing with someone who just swerved into my lane.

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• Stephen Wysong says:

Sorry for the time it’s taken to get back to you on this Mike (and one other of yours about the cognitive unconscious that’s still in my queue), but I got sucked into the Matrix discussing simulations and block universes with Neo … 😉

In the morning I don’t notice that “time had passed” but, like everyone (or so I had thought) I reorient myself with the time I see on the clock and returning vague memories from when I was last awake or a dream I was having. But I don’t infer a gap because I’ve never considered sleeping to be a “gap in consciousness” or a case of “not being conscious of what we’re not conscious of”, as you put it.

I don’t see a conflict in having “… no memory of the drive, but still remember[ing] a lot of what I was thinking about during the drive.” As I wrote, repetitive tasks like that drive don’t need to be reinforced, once again, in memory. It would be an inefficient use of brain resources to do so. I think we multitask our attention in such cases, perhaps switching rapidly from the drive to the conversation, possibly unequally in terms of time spent on each. So when “events on the road suddenly snap our attention back to driving” I believe what happens is that the event registers on our minimal attention (reduced but nonetheless operative consciousness) and we instantly return to single-tasking so as to be fully attentive to the “someone who just swerved into my lane.” If we weren’t at all conscious of our driving, we wouldn’t be able to notice, and be freaked out by the swerver.

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• BeingQuest says:

Habit allows for a Scaling Down of Attention where the Rote of already established protocols of engagement have largely insured the autonomic transmission of available (and recurrent) data streams with which we are (perhaps all too) familiar. We become Clock Works where the Attention is more or less freed to Attend other matters of interests, while at the same time engaging a minimal ‘attention’ to the things immediately at hand: Day Dreaming, for instance, while yet active in an objectively driven Task.

How many times have I forced myself awake when at the end of a good rest, or in the middle of a nap, where my mind is engaged in the Fantasy of brain activity but the Essential Function of self-awareness lays relatively dormant, then on the sudden force myself awake knowing that I am sleeping and it’s time to shuffle-off the mortal coil and “get on with it”? Many times, if one is conversant with the imaginal realm of Projection enough that even a subconscious affection can tell the difference between dreaming and waking ‘reality’ such that one holds less currency with Consciousness, and thus can easily elide with Objective awareness, even while in a Dream State.

How much of our Memory of the most recent, waking engagement lays as a residue through which the spontaneous and imaginal realms of perception actually are grounded for the Mind as self-referential, granting a form of Experience, albeit fabricated from the milieu of residual experience (Memory) that may lend credence or contradiction to our already established, and historical, Consciousness? Some essential bit, at least.

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• BeingQuest says:

“Shuffle-off” may be appropriately termed: Shuffle-on, in THIS instance. Chuckle*

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• BeingQuest says:

We’ve all had people in our lives who sneak-up on us to give us a good Snap* of Surprise to our Attention, being concentrated somewhere Other than the environ in which we presently sit. They spook us, and get a little chuckle out of the Surprise. But what’s happening when they DON’T spook us, and we remain locked in our Awareness but not absent minded to the sudden interruption?

I’d say that one’s Conscious Presence is more generally dispersed (expansive?), rather than concentrated…that the Awareness is at rest in a broader Existential Field that INCLUDES the possibility of Surprise, such that the ‘surprise’ is emptied of its shock value, though Attention is not focused on any ‘threat’ of outside interruption. “Expect the unexpected,” even while attending a variant form of Experience in the Existential Field, may be the rule here.

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8. PJM says:

Interesting article by Graziano on consciousness in New Scientist magazine of 21 Sep 2019, which all makes good sense to me.

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9. Lee Roetcisoender says:

Mike said: “And yet, in a discussion about consciousness, I think we have to try, otherwise I’m not sure we’re talking about real explanations.”

You originally touched upon definitions in this short post. Without agreed upon definitions for the words we use in a discussion about consciousness, it’s an excercise in futility. One thing these forums have taught me is how limited in meaning and diverse the definitions are which individuals hold.

I do not believe there is much confusion surrounding the meaning of words like illusion and/or delusion. Nevertheless, people are very closed and bigoted when it comes to words which are circular in meaning and are obvious tautologies, words such as: reason and justification is one example, power and ability is another.

The entire physicalist’s ontology is predicated upon an original act of magic, and then a materialist builds intellectual construction from there. This ontology relegates power as a derivative of energy. Next the physicalist enacts a “slight of hand” technique to expand the definition of power outside the realm of the physicists’ definition. It is a definition which is contradictory and misleading to say the least. Defining power as “the ability to make something happen” transcend it’s original meaning and places “the ability to make something happen” first in hierarchy. Either power itself is a derivative of energy or it is the ability to make something happen. If power is the ability to make something happen, then power comes first in hierarchy and that power, whatever “it” is, is at the center of motion, form and change within our universe. And that power, whatever it is, is responsible for the so called big bang.

That’s my short take on problematic definitions and bigotry….

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• BeingQuest says:

Not sure I can agree with your characterization of power, but I like what you have to say here. I”ll have to revisit the whole stream of exposition to get a better grasp of the ‘drift’ your qualifications imply. Thanks.

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10. paultorek says:

We could just as easily say that yes, phenomenal consciousness exists *subjectively* but not objectively,

Seems to me we have a term for that view: “property dualism”.

It seems likely that our introspective representations of these perceptual representations are value added rather than entirely constructive.

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• “Seems to me we have a term for that view: “property dualism”.”

As I understand property dualism, it includes the commitment that there are non-physical mental properties. That’s not a commitment I see in my description above. Remember “not objectively.”

That’s what I get for composing a post during the day, when time is limited. By “value added”, I meant that the entire experience isn’t in the introspection, but that introspection is a light on that experience, rather than the experience itself, in other words, it’s not “constructing” the experience. (Although experience is definitely a construction, a word that I think works better than “illusion.”)

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• paultorek says:

Thanks, I agree on “value added”.

As long as the property dualist doesn’t think mental properties are “objective” – and I don’t see why they have to think that – I think they can welcome you as their own.

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• I doubt it. Most property dualists see consciousness as fundamental, a fifth force or something, that is ontologically irreducible. I don’t.

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• paultorek says:

Couldn’t there be epiphenomenalist varieties of property dualism? https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/dualism/#ProDua

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• From what I can see, the only way for an ontological dualist of any type to avoid epiphenomenalism is to posit that, despite all appearances, the physics aren’t closed. The problem with epiphenomenalism is it assumes that our discussion of the redness of red or the painfulness of pain has nothing to do with actual redness or painfulness, which seems bizarre.

I think that’s why so many people hope quantum physics has something do to with consciousness. Maybe if we just throw enough mystery and confusion into the mix, there will be room for interactionist dualism after all.

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• BeingQuest says:

“ontologically irreducible.” A nice phrase, with an impossible criteria, if objectively determined. You’re on the way to making Clock Works of us all, methinks.

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11. Stephen Wysong says:

Top o’ the morning Wyrd! Well, in California it is … [Coffee cup emoji here] … 😉 I’m posting this comment at the root level to provide us more text width than the level of indentation we’re currently at. So this is the “Shared Simulation” Matrix discussion.

Do we then agree the Matrix is a single shared model?

I just pointed out that “… each individual simulation included all of the “real-time” simulated behaviors/actions of the other people and scene activity “in scope” then there would be no effective difference in outcome for anyone from a totally shared simulation and the individual simulations would, in fact, completely implement the shared simulation.”

Put another way, I’m saying that, viewed as a group, the individual simulations that include all of the other people in scope effectively results in a shared simulation, or:

Total of individual sims = Shared sim

… this is exactly how ray-tracing works as far as generating an image from any given POV.

Agreed, but my point is that the ray tracing is just the beginning of the required processing. The “unimaginably complex” part (which is what I’m talking about) is the conversion of that data into neural data that can be directly received by the brain. BTW, that small amount of unchanging visual data is a vanishingly small bit of the totality of the simulation world and, since the simulation is “real-time” that data must immediately be followed by the next fractional second’s worth of data.

If we start by recording all the neural inputs to a brain under different stimuli, we can map what does what. Given a sufficient amount of data, that map can be increasingly accurate.

True, but that “sufficient amount” is an unimaginable gadzillabytes of data (GZB’s) including visually, all possible colors and textures under all possible lighting conditions. How about touch? Just fingertip touching would require all of the temperature ranges and textures that it’s possible to feel as well as a body part discriminate to allow the resultant feelings to be localized to a particular finger. How about internal bodily actions, like a cough or a sneeze? Again, my only point here is to point out the unimaginable complexity involved. “All the neural inputs to a brain under different stimuli” is perhaps much more than you realize and that’s why I say it’s likely to never be anything but science fiction.

My remark that “a person in the simulation would feel like a trapped and constrained puppet” reveals the central problem with using the brain to effect the simulation experience from the neural data provided. For instance, imagine the simulated nerve inputs for a bodily movement that results in the brain perceiving and feeling the bodily movement (which is the whole point, eh?). Now suppose that the person’s memory (which is not simulated) contains a story that associates that particular movement with a painful experience of some sort. In that case, the brain will likely generate a withdrawal movement to be executed for the body part, but the neural impulses to effect that outgoing muscular command will conflict with the simulation’s story for that body part. And that’s just a minuscule example of the brain’s ongoing evaluation of and response to the simulated nervous system input. I can’t imagine how that problem is to be solved without somehow inhibiting enormous amounts of normal brain functionality.

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• Wyrd Smythe says:

I think you need to do some research into how MMORPGs are implemented as well as technologies and ideas about direct neural connections (“brain in a vat”).

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• Stephen Wysong says:

But Wyrd, we’re discussing Matrix battery people with plugs in the lower back of their heads, not Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game implementations. There are no MMORPG players with neural plugs. There are no brains in vats either so it’s not possible to discuss their consciousness or how it is sustained in an insanity-free way..

To repeat, I’m simply emphasizing the inconceivable difficulty in actually implementing a Matrix-like simulation. The issues I’ve raised seem substantial and convincing and haven’t yet been logically and convincingly dismissed.

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• Wyrd Smythe says:

“There are no MMORPG players with neural plugs.”

Obviously. My point was about simulations — specifically wrt to a shared simulation, which is where I entered this conversation.

“To repeat, I’m simply emphasizing the inconceivable difficulty in actually implementing a Matrix-like simulation.”

I understand. I’m telling you the technology is within reach.

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12. Stephen Wysong says:

Wyrd, this is my latest comment in our block universe thread, posted at the main level to preserve our indentational freedom … 😉 I truly appreciate learning your perspective because it’s likely to be representative of reactions to my “Einstein’s Breadcrumbs” paper. As such, thanks for helping me out. Nifty graphics, by the way …

I really would like to encourage you to not be “done discussing this” because it’s a very important topic and it’s possible you might have overlooked or been unaware of something that I’m able to bring to your attention.

I’m familiar with the descriptions you’ve provided but, for simplicity’s sake, perhaps we can move forward with the Stuckey explanation I quoted. I notice that you haven’t commented on the critical word I used, that the RoS is about what is co-real. Stuckey’s explanation:

“…the people in Bob’s plane of simultaneity will exist with people in Alice’s past and future.”

… is about what exists in the universe, not what an observer can access, as in your “All any observer can know is what they observe”. Light cones are not involved in any way. Agreed that we’re discussing a plane of simultaneity—Green’s “now slice” is a plane.

One problem I have with a block universe is that it requires an explanation of why worldlines move through it at the constant rate of proper time.

Worldlines don’t ‘move through” anything. Your “proper time,” (flowing time?) doesn’t pass in worldlines and doesn’t exist. Nothing moves or changes in the block universe. The only time that exists is the temporal dimension of spacetime which is measured by clocks, while the spatial dimensions are measured by rulers.

(Our lives are called ‘worldtubes’ but I prefer Tegmark’s “braid in spacetime” to the clunky ‘tube’ imagery. The ‘worldxxxx’ terminology is Minkowski’s, starting with ‘worldpoint’.)

That “… the entire universe, all of space, all of time, sprang into existence at the same moment” is an obvious implication of the block universe and it’s interesting that you mention it. Contrast that with your explanation for the origin of the Big Bang and the instantiation of a “flowing time” … both situations refer to an unknowable origin.

And, to your closing remark: “if time evolves, and the universe expands, there is far less that needs to be accounted for.” I’d appreciate anyone’s accounting for the assumption that is Newtonian flowing time: “Absolute, true, and mathematical time, of itself, and from its own nature, flows equably without relation to anything external.” I believe that the first requirement for an “accounting” should be a valid demonstration that Newtonian time exists, since no experiment has ever been proposed, let alone run, to establish its existence. After that I’d like to read the explanation of the mechanism that creates the entire universe from nothing in a modified state from the universe of the current “present moment” while transitioning the entire used-to-be-present universe into non-existence. I’ve never encountered any such explanations, so you’ll be treading very new ground in your proposal.

Should it turn out that the Newtonian time you believe in is scientifically inadmissible, would you then consider the explanation offered by relativity physics?

Just a tidbit, that doesn’t merit further discussion, but in regards to climate change data, I have read articles written for the general public discussing characteristics of that data, but I haven’t examined the data itself. Perhaps that’s what you meant as well.

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• Wyrd Smythe says:

“…the Newtonian time you believe in…”

[sigh] If you think that, you haven’t understood what I’ve been saying at all.

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• Stephen Wysong says:

Wyrd, haven’t you been describing Presentism and its flowing present time? That’s exactly what Newton was describing and what he assumed was the ontology of Time.

If you’re discussing something else entirely I’d appreciate a specification of some sort. Presentism, Possibilism (Growing-Block Universe) and Eternalism are the only three choices.I’m aware of so if you have devised another then, in all fairness, you need to let us know.

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• Wyrd Smythe says:

“Wyrd, haven’t you been describing Presentism…”

No. Got to Wiki and look up “proper time.”

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• Stephen Wysong says:

I just updated the footnote about the RoS in “Einstein’s Breadcrumbs” to explain that the block universe is not a hypothesis. Thanks for the thoughtful input.

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• Wyrd Smythe says:

Whatever.

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• BeingQuest says:

Truly. I can see how that qualification is helpful to your Piece on “breadcrumbs”. Thanks, indeed! (Wyrd…’whatever’)

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• Stephen Wysong says:

I don’t understand why you didn’t just explain your preference for one of the three Time choices—but, having read the Wikipedia reference you referenced, perhaps I dounderstand. But what I understand is that you might not understand—please understand that not understanding is not a flaw, it’s a learning opportunity. Per the Wikipedia “Proper time” article (and others):

In relativity, proper time along a timelike world line is defined as the time as measured by a clock following that line. … The concept of proper time was introduced by Hermann Minkowski in 1908, and is a feature of Minkowski diagrams.

The time that is measured by clocks is the only time there is, as demonstrated by relativity physics. In other words, a flowing present time and its non-existent future do not exist. Minkowski diagrams, “… also known as spacetime diagrams” are, as one would expect, used to graphically illustrate properties of spacetime. However, spacetime IS the block universe—the universe of Eternalism.

So you aren’t at all a Presentist, which, viewed in terms of relativity physics is incoherent and contrary to STR, and you aren’t at all a Possibilist (the Growing Block Universe), which is also contrary to STR and you subscribe to Minkowski’s Proper Time, or Eternalism, which is the very definition of the block universe, which you repeatedly say you don’t accept. Wyrd, there’s a clear contradiction here in your beliefs about Time—I don’t think you can have your non-existent future and eat it too … 😉

Nearly everyone in Western culture believes in an open future as you do. That, and the related beliefs that each of us is in control of our life and freely decide our own futures are cultural understandings instilled in each of us from toddlerhood. Consequently, most people emotionally reject the block universe of relativity physics as an offensive restriction of their freedom and a denial of their free will. However, as a supporter of the scientific approach to understanding reality, I believe it’s necessary to set those emotions aside and try to understand what living in the block universe means. I believe that’s what Einstein did and that’s why he wrote in the Besso condolence letter that, essentially, “Death doesn’t matter.”

That’s the quotation that started me on my investigation of Consciousness in the Block Universe, which has been a lonely journey to date. To quote “Einstein’s Breadcrumbs” again:

The major conundrum and most significant challenge posed by the block universe of Eternalism is this:

How do we explain our own experience of our lives, our feeling of ‘now’ and a flowing present time and our perceptions of dynamic and ongoing change and motion wherever we look in a universe where nothing happens, indeed, where nothing has ever happened?

In other words, how do we resolve our personal experience—the dynamic-view—with the unchanging reality of the universe—the block-view?

And that’s a truly engaging question. I welcome any contemplative assistance.

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• Wyrd Smythe says:

My view basically matches the growing block view.

I’ve tried repeatedly to explain to you that the simultaneity of relativity does not require a fixed future, but you apparently can’t understand it, and I’m not wasting any more time on it.

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• Stephen Wysong says:

Wyrd, a fixed future is a consequence of the RoS. It’s a direct implication: if p then q. We know that ‘p’ (the RoS) has been confirmed, therefore ‘q’ (the block universe) is true.

The Growing Block view, aka Possibilism, is incompatible with the RoS and STR because it lacks all future moments. Additionally, because the block universe “left behind” is EXACTLY what was once “the present,” including your own exactly-the-same personal experience, it’s not remotely possible that, against overwhelming odds, what you are currently experiencing is the brand new cutting-edge present. Instead, the overwhelming likelihood is that you are re-experiencing the original lifetime that’s frozen in the block left behind.

Perhaps that makes you feel better but because it is non-conformant with STR, Possibilism is as false as Presentism.

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• Wyrd Smythe says:

“Wyrd, a fixed future is a consequence of the RoS.”

I know you believe that, but it’s not true.

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• Stephen Wysong says:

Perhaps you could take it up with Dr. Stuckey, a real honest-to-god professional physicist, unlike either of us. His exact words: “A consequence of …”

You think he’s lying? You seem to be kinda bent outta shape over relativity physics. Take a chill pill?

Relax, Wyrd … we’re discussing and evaluating ideas. Or so I thought.

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• Wyrd Smythe says:

“You think he’s lying?”

No, just mistaken.

“Relax, Wyrd … we’re discussing and evaluating ideas.”

But you’re not evaluating what I’m telling you about simultaneity. You’re just standing pat on what others have said.

One more time: That something can be said (after the fact) to be simultaneous in a given frame of reference does not speak to its reality in the future. Understanding this turns on truly understanding what is mean by a surface of simultaneity in SR.

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• Stephen Wysong says:

So … correctly placed:

I don’t recall your citing any physicists that commit to Possibilism. Sources please?

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• Stephen Wysong says:

Re your: “As I’ve explained, I don’t care about the metaphysical beliefs of others …”

As concerns relativity physics, professional physicists are the domain experts. You and I are domain dilettantes with irrelevant computer backgrounds, presumably doing our best to understand what the experts say. I repeat that you should be able to supply credible references from professional physicists to support your contention that Possibilism is scientifically based and correct. I await your list …

Lacking professional concurrence of any kind, you might consider that it’s your belief that is indefensible metaphysics Wyrd.

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• Wyrd Smythe says:

You might be a dilettante, but I’m not. I’ve been studying this stuff since before quarks were discovered. Does it help if I explain, were it not for discovering and getting into the arts in high school, I likely would have been a physicist? I take this stuff very seriously.

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• Stephen Wysong says:

Additionally, the Presentism-identical flowing present time of Possibilism shares the fatal deficiency I’ve already mentioned: no one has ever devised, let alone attempted, an experiment to detect it.

So, Wyrd, your scientifically valid proposed experiment is?

I hope you won’t propose that we look at a clock … 😉

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• Wyrd Smythe says:

It’s all metaphysics. There is no test possible. That’s exactly why I’m free to believe the version that makes the most sense to me.

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• Stephen Wysong says:

… and the Proper Time of spacetime that you profess to believe in only exists in your past, which Minkowski might find insupportable. I believe this concludes my remarks about Possibilism, which is simply not scientifically credible. Prove me wrong Wyrd … citations please.

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• Wyrd Smythe says:

What would be the point? I’ve wasted enough time here. I’m done.

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13. Stephen Wysong says:

It’s ALL metaphysics Wyrd? No test possible for relativity? For the RoS? For curved spaceTIME?

If you had pursued physics professionally perhaps your beliefs would be more rigorously constructed. I agree you’re free to believe what “makes sense” to you but your proposal—your belief—is simply not credible, even if you were to submit a comment filled with tensor mathematics and graphics up the wazoo. You are believing in something that relativity physics tells us doesn’t exist.

With all the time you feel you’ve wasted, Wyrd, you still are unable to provide a single credible professional reference from a physicist that agrees with you. That Physics PhD you would have needed might have been very elusive: “Einstein was just a guy …” might not have played well on your thesis.

Running away from a reasoned discussion about relativity physics is certainly your prerogative Wyrd. So, now, about consciousness … 😉

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• Wyrd Smythe says:

“It’s ALL metaphysics Wyrd? No test possible for relativity? For the RoS? For curved spaceTIME?”

See, this is why talking to you is a waste of time. I clearly was referring to the metaphysics of belief in a block universe versus other options. You really have no interest in what I’m telling you, and you get snide when challenged, so what’s the point?

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• Stephen Wysong says:

Yo Wyrd! (If you’re still there) … As a compassionate Canadian friend said to me more than once in my impetuous youth, “Don’t get your knickers in a twist!” … Snide? Moi? Hopefully not in the “counterfeit, devious and underhanded” senses of the word but I am inclined to view “slyly disparaging” as subtly commendable—who doesn’t want to be ‘sly’ in the “crafty, cunning, tricky, and wily” sense, just like my favorite cartoon coyote … 😉

I’ve neglected to mention that I’m a compulsive sit-down comedian and I can’t resist the occasional brief, good-natured roast—’good-natured’ meaning “kind and friendly,” so I hope you’ll try in the future to guffaw first and then forgive my gently-intended onslaughts. Laughter is my very most favorite thing! And, in my opinion, it’s a waste of precious time to take offense at all but the most physically perilous rebukes.

Here’s where I’m coming from ‘intellectually’ and even ‘philosophically’:

In developing and evaluating my own ideas for the kinds of subjects we discuss here, I prize clear logic, simplicity, elegance and, for scientific topics, conformance with credible evidence, which is essential. I take the opinions and beliefs of reputable domain experts into account, always mindful that, being as human as myself, they’re fallible. So it’s important to verify their respect for quality evidence and credible propositions which must usually be done indirectly, of course, while reading their proposals, citations, opinions and critiques. It’s unnecessary to attend to a ‘majority’ support for a hypothesis because history is replete with majority positions that were thrown over for whatever insufficiencies. That being said, however, it’s perilous to be the first and/or only proponent of an idea, but that can be overcome by making a flawless and convincing case which, over time, convinces others. Such was the situation with Einstein and STR in 1905, although precedent from Hendrik Lorentz with his transformations lent considerable credibility.

But here’s the thing: I want and welcome challenges to my ideas and proposals. Without the critical input from others, I will continue supporting illicit logic and downright absurd premises and I’ll be convinced of the correctness of ideas that are possibly so bizarre that they’re “not even wrong.” Without help from others in eliminating error and from those who might contribute helpful insights, I’m just a solipsist thinker whistling to myself in a Cartesian oven, a situation I would find most unsociable and unsatisfactory.

From time to time I come to understand that others believe a proposition without employing the critical safeguards I prize and, quite often, others believe in notions that are comforting or emotionally meaningful. It’s immaterial to me if that’s the case—everyone is free to believe what they will unless causing harm—but I think it’s better all around if those emotional influences are made explicit.

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• BeingQuest says:

“I am inclined to view “slyly disparaging” as subtly commendable—who doesn’t want to be ‘sly’ in the “crafty, cunning, tricky, and wily” sense, just like my favorite cartoon coyote … 😉”

I quite agree…and frankly, it seems to me that you are being treated somewhat unfairly by Wyrd on the point of your mutual (seeming) philosophical departures, which I think are several, but none damning.

I like a good laugh as much as a good gaff, being subject to innumerable qualifications on most topics myself, which I deign admit must be a compulsory initiation to my species’ claim of Sapience, all told…worthy of some eye-rolling amusement, if not pointed self-undermining irony.

Carry on, my friends.

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• Stephen Wysong says:

A bit more food for thought, Wyrd. Way back on the 29th of September, you wrote about the block universe:

In terms of their respective surfaces of simultaneity, it seems that way, but there is no way they can access that simultaneity until light from it reaches them. Until after the “future” events actually happen.

Which you repeated later as:

One more time: That something can be said (after the fact) to be simultaneous in a given frame of reference does not speak to its reality in the future.

Wyrd, it’s possible your belief that future events are not real is tied to your correct understanding that, from any observers POV, those future events cannot be confirmed to be real. In other words, you’re saying that, in principle, only future events that fall within an observers light cone are verifiable.

If that’s the case, or part of the case, note that 1) Considering events within an observers light cone to be real and everything outside of that light cone to be unreal is incorrect and, 2) With the RoS the entire infinite collection of all light cones in the universe is considered.

Also, you wrote on 10/1:

It’s all metaphysics. There is no test possible. That’s exactly why I’m free to believe the version that makes the most sense to me.

Please note that your claim that the block universe is a metaphysical hypothesis and not a consequence and implication of RoS doesn’t follow the language used in the case of truly metaphysical theories about QM. Note that the word ‘interpretation’ is part of the name of those metaphysical theories, which are not part of QM but are hypothetical add-ons to QM: Copenhagen Interpretation, Many Worlds Interpretation—both metaphysics with no test possible to validate either one. (I’ve read that someone thinks there’s a way to detect universe-on-universe interference in the MWI case, but that’s some kind of Wild-Ass Guess—a WAG—and as metaphysical as MWI itself.)

The block universe is, in contrast, a consequence of RoS in SRT. No one has ever used the terminology “The Block Universe Interpretation.”

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• BeingQuest says:

Acronyms. I dislike acronyms, without good definition convincingly provided; though not an obstacle to “suspended belief” in the Speculation. I just have nothing better to do, I guess.

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• Stephen Wysong says:

POV – Point of View, QM – Quantum Mechanics, MWI – Many Worlds Interpretation, WAG – Wild Ass Guess, RoS – Relativity of Simultaneity, SRT – a typo, STR – Special Theory of Relativity.

I’ve often wished for a Webster’s Unabridged Acronymary but Google will have to do … usually the acronym and domain will suffice, as in “STR physics”.

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• BeingQuest says:

Ouch. Touche*

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14. BeingQuest says:

Poor Wyrd…I feel ya. This guy is relentless…comical, forward, sometimes assertive, defensive and as near to spitting as a viper caught to service of another’s will. I happen to like that about him…you, for Other reasons. I hope a day comes that All may be friends of Understanding and not Contestants of misunderstandings. Selah*

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