Talking across the boundary of the epiphany

When learning a new idea or concept, often it doesn’t make a lot of sense at first. The various descriptions may seem dubious, and we might fail to see the structural similarities that bind them. Then, at some point, if we keep at it and are lucky, we “get it”, it “clicks”, we have an epiphany, a sudden insight into how the idea works. It suddenly crystallizes in our mind, gels in a way it didn’t before, and the various descriptions (at least the good ones) suddenly make sense.

I still remember when I first understood how evolution could be true, and how natural selection worked. That was an idea where the earliest descriptions I’d seen as a boy simply hadn’t made a lot of sense. They made the concept easy to criticize and dismiss. Until an episode of the original Cosmos with Carl Sagan, where he discussed it in a manner in which I started having glimmers of how it could work, and then finished with a visual sequence that finally made it click into place.

Afterward, the vast majority of the criticisms of natural selection, which had seemed so potent before, started seeming misguided, clueless, attacks of an idea the critic didn’t seem to truly understand. At first it was easy to remember my own pre-epiphany state, and to understand where the critics were coming from.

But then, as the years went by, another common effect started to kick in. Once we’ve had the epiphany, once we do understand something, it becomes increasingly difficult to remember our previous state of mind. Once we understand something, and become used to understanding it, it increasingly looks self evident and obvious, and the people who don’t get it seem almost willful in their lack of understanding. It becomes harder and harder to talk with them about the idea.

Even if we do grasp that they’re simply on the other side of the epiphany, our way of talking about the idea has become hopelessly contaminated by our perch on the other side. What now seems like the most crystal clear way to discuss it, often seems like gobbledygook to them, or worse, obfuscated double talk. This is known as the curse of knowledge.

Pondering it all raises three questions in my mind.

The first is, if we suspect we’re on the pre-epiphany side of understanding an idea, how do we cross that boundary? This is difficult, because it often means unlearning one or more things we think we know. The only solution I’ve ever found is to keep studying the idea from various perspectives and sources and hope for that breakthrough.

This recently happened for me with David Deutsch’s way of describing the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, which I discussed in a post a few months ago. Very recently I got it and realized that Deutsch truly is in fact just talking about the same theory (Everett’s universal wave function) in a different manner. This particular epiphany came by thinking about how energy works in each version, and realizing they were the same dynamics. Despite some of you making the case to me that this was a difference in perspective, it still took from September until now to climb over the barrier.

The second question is, for those of us on the post-epiphany side, taking into account the curse of knowledge, how do we help pre-epiphany people make the crossing? It doesn’t seem like we can carry or drag them across. Each person has to do it for themselves. Crucially, they have to be willing to do it. I learned long ago that on many topics (evolution being a prime example), some people truly don’t want to understand it, often unconsciously. Sometimes they view those on the other side as brainwashed, or have other negative associations, and so want nothing to do with it.

But for those who seem willing, all I know to do is describe the idea as best we can, perhaps in many different ways, and support their journey. One thing I’ve learned with this is that often the most accurate way of describing something is not the best for someone attempting to grasp it. Brian Greene, who has a powerful gift for science communication, noted that sometimes you need to explain something in an overly simplistic manner, then do cleanup. (I really wish more Wikipedia editors understood this principle.)

The final question is a difficult one. Is there really an epiphany to be had here? Maybe those on the post “epiphany” side really are brainwashed or indoctrinated. Maybe the concept isn’t as solid as they claim. But here an important clarification needs to be made. Grasping a particular idea doesn’t necessarily mean accepting it as reality.

For example, I’m not a panpsychist. However, I find much of the criticism of it to be from people who don’t seem to grasp the fundamental idea, who are in the pre-epiphany stage for it. I think I do grasp the idea, or at least many common variants of it, and have noted before that if I thought consciousness could not be explained by physical processes, panpsychism would be a tempting proposition. But while I understand it, I don’t take it as reality.

That said, there are times when an idea actually is just not that coherent. Anyone who looks through the archives of this blog will see cases where I’ve reached that conclusion. But I think we should be cautious about jumping to it for any proposition that large numbers of intelligent people accept. It’s far too easy to fall into the trap of summarily dismissing a concept just because we’re struggling to get it.

It’s worth noting that failure for an idea to click often has little to do with intelligence. There are many extremely intelligent people who struggle with particular concepts and never seem able to get there. Many scientific and philosophical debates happen across these boundaries.

Of course, many times people think they’re on the post-epiphany side while their debate opponents aren’t. How can we be sure which side we’re really on? There may be no way to be certain, but it seems like there’s a lot to be said for making sure we understand our opponent’s view, to the extent of being able to try it on and imagine seeing the world from their eyes, or at least be able to describe it in a manner they agree is fair and unbiased. (I know I need to work harder on this myself.)

What do you think? Are there better answers to these questions? Or am I in the pre-epiphany stage of something here?

42 thoughts on “Talking across the boundary of the epiphany

  1. Re “How do we help pre-epiphany people make the crossing? It doesn’t seem like we can carry or drag them across. Each person has to do it for themselves.” This seems to be in play in our politics. Unfortunately there is money to be made reinforcing pre-epiphany knowledge and attitudes and people are more locked into their mind sets that ever.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. An addendum to my previous comment … in my first book on the topic of coaching archery, I ended with ten principles about the process of becoming a good coach. The first item on the list is “you gotta wanna.” This item is crucial to any acquisition of skill or knowledge it seems. Much can be learned passively and without our participation, but high volume learning only takes place when you are actively pursuing it. (When I was a teacher I spoke often enough about those who thought that education was something that happened or was done to someone as opposed to something that one did.)

    This seems attached to the free will question.

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    1. In the case of politics, I think the big understanding there is that most of political rhetoric is just that, rhetoric, a rationalization for particular interests, or a coalition of interests. And what seems most self evident to us is often irretrievably entangled with our broad inclusive self interests.

      Definitely, learning is something someone has to want to do, whether when they’re being taught, or self teaching themselves.

      “Free will” is one of those terms with different meanings. But I think it’s definitely tied to motivation.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Your take on epiphanies seem about right.

    I inclined to connect this with Wittgenstein’s argument on the impossibility of following a rule.

    Roughly speaking, Wittgenstein argues that you cannot follow a rule because you cannot know what the rule actually says. There are infinitely many possible rules that fit the evidence, and you cannot be sure you have the right one.

    My take on that, is that we can make up our own rules and follow those — often this happens at a level below consciousness. Since we made up the rule ourselves, there isn’t a problem following it. But maybe the rule doesn’t quite do what we intended. So we change it a little and try again. It’s an iterative procedure of trying to get closer and closer to what we wanted. And sometimes, after one of our changes, everything seems to click into place. And that’s the epiphany moment.

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    1. That’s a good way to think about. When we first start learning about something, we come up with simple rules on how it’s supposed to work. Those rules might be somewhat predictive, but they’ll probably have a lot of errors. So we revise the rules, gradually evolving them until our predictions are right most of the time. At that point, we have a pretty good handle on how it works.

      Then someone comes up and asks us to explain it to them. So we give them our rules. But our rules were worked out through many stages that the person hasn’t been through. So they don’t click for the person. If the person doesn’t give up, they concoct their own rules and begin their own fine tuning of them.

      And the cycle continues.

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  4. “It’s worth noting that failure for an idea to click often has little to do with intelligence.”

    In direct contrast to your position Mile; failure for an idea to click has everything to do with intelligence. Intelligence is pure structure, free from the influences of qualia, the very valences which make up our world of feelings, sensations, emotions and the associated intuitive biases that go along with those valences. As pure structure, intelligence should supersede the more primordial valences that dominate our experience and directly influence our structured decision making process; but it doesn’t. Intelligence takes a back seat to the qualia of experience because pure structure is void of valences. Instead of relying first on the emotionless structure of intellect, the structure of intelligence is used to justify the first experience of our own valence charged biases. Your so-called intelligent people are subordinate to the valences of qualia ladened experience.

    In a physical material universe, structure (quantity) and qualia (quality) are two sides of the same coin. And unless or until homo sapiens evolve to the point where the pure structure of intelligence supersedes the dominant qualia of valences, our experience as a species will remain in the quagmire of subjective experience. Like any animal, homo sapiens intellect is finely tuned and well suited for survival, but beyond that, our intelligence has not evolved enough to move beyond that primary dynamic. Homo sapiens are a very, very, very clever “dumb” animal.


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    1. Lee,
      Do you think an intelligence completely divorced from any valences is actually possible? Consider the device you’re using right now to read this. It has some intelligence in it. But it also has preferences. To be sure, these are engineered preferences rather than evolved ones, but they’re preferences just the same. I’m not sure what it would mean to have an intelligent system without any preferences at all. It seems like it would be potential capabilities that just lay dormant without the motivating component. Or am I missing your point?

      In any case, I do agree that our own intelligence is suborn to our affective reactions. We are indeed clever animals, but animals nonetheless, and our motivations are those of an animal’s.

      On intelligence and getting an idea though, I did consider making a point in the post, but didn’t want to make it any longer, that sometimes a lot of intelligence can actually be a hindrance, if the person is very intelligent about how things are “supposed” to work. It’s intelligence in service of justifying ideals they don’t want to let go of. That’s the unlearning aspect I did mention. Many times people are simply unwilling to unlearn certain concepts. But I guess that’s really another case of being suborn to affects.

      One thing I’ve definitely learned though. It’s never persuasive to point out to someone that they’re view is grounded in emotion. It almost always shuts down any chance we have of getting our point across.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. “Do you think an intelligence completely divorced from any valences is actually possible?”

      Intelligence is never completely divorced from valences because valences are intrinsically non-conceptual representations of value. Valences always come first in hierarchy; it is only after representations of value are conceptualized and systematically structured through intellect that the experience of valences is complete. Feelings, sensations and emotions are powerful and the qualia of those valence experiences overwhelm and subsequently override the emotionless, heartless, inert and benign structure of intellect.

      Take the experience of dreaming while asleep as an example. What I’ve come to realize about dreams is not so much the content or the structure of the dream itself that is striking, but how the dream makes one feel. It is the valences of the dream that permeates the dream state and lingers long after wakefulness.

      “Many times people are simply unwilling to unlearn certain concepts.”

      What makes our deeply held concepts so hard to overcome is that those ideas and/or ideals are true, there are no false ideas or truths. Homo sapiens do not believe falsehoods nor lies, they believe the truth. But herein lies the problem: true-ness and real-ness is a context. If one wants to understand someone else’s take on reality, one must understand the context in which the “truth” that one believes is understood. But that exercise takes a great deal of effort and most individuals are not interested in understanding someone else’s ideas. In order for someone to put in that type of effort, there has to be a payoff of some kind.


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      1. I agree that context is crucial. And seeing someone else’s view can mean getting into that context, and it definitely takes effort. Aside from often just not wanting to see things from the other person’s view, the effort involved is certainly an obstacle. The other person can lighten the burden by clearly communicating, but they can’t make it effortless.

        The payoff is basically convincing the other person you really understand their view. It increases the probability they’ll listen to you. But it only increases the probability. Nothing is guaranteed. And certainly doing it for everyone is probably not in the cards.

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  5. Nicely composed and presented.

    A few thoughts.

    1) Many complex topics require their own lexicon in order to understand them. Until you grasp the parts you may not be able to comprehend the whole. Software is like this. I’m learning Rust, which is vastly different from any other language I’ve learned. I just can’t think in this language, yet. But I know if I continued to learn the specific syntax, keywords, phrasing and atomic parts, that soon, I’ll be able (hopefully) to “think” in Rust.

    2) Crossing your epiphany boundary requires the actual destruction of old and creation of new neural pathways. “Changing” your mind actually entails changing one’s physical representation of mind. I hold that this process may actually “hurt”. I’ve never been able to substantiate this theory but I’ll swear that my own learning and breakthrough moments have resulted in odd physical sensations within my skull.

    3) What we know is who we are. To have our knowledge challenged it so have our own persons confronted. To be told “you’re wrong” says that, not only is my understanding flawed, but I, myself, am somehow lesser than. Divorcing one’s understanding of the world from one’s concept of self is one of the hardest feats many folks can neither entertain nor accomplish. (Plus, remember, 1/2 of all folks have an IQ < 100, they come pre-challenged to the task.)

    Cool topic and I look forward to future pre/post epiphanic moments.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks Anonymole!

      1) I’ve heard that about Rust. My coding days are increasingly farther back in the rear view mirror, but it sounds like a language I would have loved when I was in the pit. Good luck with it!

      2) I don’t know about hurting, particularly since there aren’t any sensory neurons in the brain. Although it might lead to hormone releases that might reverberate back as interoceptive signals, leading to that perception.

      But I think you’re definitely right that rewiring those pathways takes a lot of effort. It probably requires lots of recurrent signaling to alter synaptic strength, meaning lots of metabolic energy consumption. It’s work. And I think when we metacognitively realized we’ve had a breakthrough, it does lead to a dopamine release, which we do feel through that interoceptive loop.

      3) I totally agree.

      Happy epiphanizing!

      Liked by 3 people

  6. Hello, Mike.
    I think that your first point on the idea of a pre-epiphany and epiphany state of mind distinction can be clarified by reading about Piaget’s stages of cognitive development and the way we organize and assimilate schemas in our mind to reach ‘equilibrium’.
    We basically have a way to understand the world, a set of schemas organized in a definite way that, wen attacked by new contradicting schemas (in a pre-epiphany state as you say), enters a point where there is no cognitive equilibrium. ‘Equilibrium’ can only be reached again when an individual has enough information that can be assimilated and adapted to its own schemas so that new ideas seem to ‘click’. It is a matter of properly organizing what you know with what is true and of disposing of what is contradicting new evidence. Control executive processes such as imaging, rehearsal, organization, elaboration, etc. are more or less ways we organize information (or knowledge) in working memory and long term memory.

    In order to help somoene to cross that pre-epiphany state and reach the epiphany one, we have to handle them with the proper information in the form of sense-data (obviously), organize it and elaborate on it so these people can actually grasp the concepts. This is the way that learning is understood in cognitive terms, having memory models and control executive processes in mind. It’s all about the information you already have, the way that you organize it, the new information that you are receiving (it must be enough to assimilate the idea), and the way that this information is being handled to you by elaborating on what you know already so you can properly comprehend the concepts.

    Sorry if I didn’t properly organize all this information. If you want to, I can prepare an article about Piaget and cognitive views of learning.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Fred. Piaget’s stages sound like a plausible underlying model for what I’m talking about. I definitely wouldn’t mind reading a post on it if you’re so inclined!

      Your final point about relaying the concept in a way that fits with what someone already knows makes sense to me. It’s a more detailed way of saying we have to know our audience. Of course, unless we’re providing private tutoring, it can never be perfectly customized for someone. But knowing we have to handle things differently for people with different backgrounds resonates with stuff I’ve learned from a lot of different perspective.

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      1. Well, that is how constructivist approaches to teaching generally work. First you have students talk about what they know about the topic you are teaching and then you build upon that knowledge so they can realize what they got right and wrong. It’s generally a matter of elaboration and organization.

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  7. I think you (and Brian Greene) have hit on some important truths. It does get harder to explain an idea once you are thoroughly steeped in it. That’s why I wanted to post my free will series this year, while I still barely understand something. Namely, how entropy explains the everyday experience of the arrow of time, including asymmetric causality. That’s the hardest part of making a conceptual revolution that reveals the traditional “free will problem” to be imaginary. There are more aspects that are moderately hard, too, but not as hard as that.

    I think too much intelligence can also be a barrier to good explanations. Partly because you may combine multiple logic steps or use equivalencies that an audience doesn’t know. And partly because it accelerates the rate at which you become steeped in the new knowledge. I think the latter may have happened to Sean Carroll in his explanations of causality and the arrow of time. He’s usually a great explainer, but I suspect even his followers mostly don’t follow those explanations.

    I agree with Brian Greene that you have to explain fast and simplistically, then go back over and fix it At least for hard problems, most of the time. It’s just easier, usually, to approach a subject by successive approximations.

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    1. Thanks Paul.

      I think posting when we’ve just learned a concept can have a lot of value. But I think we have to be clear where we are in that process. I know I just learned that some of the stuff I wrote about quantum mechanics is wrong, a result of writing earlier rather than later in the process. (And will likely necessitate a mea culpa post soon.)

      Your point about too much intelligence reminds me of Karl Friston and his free energy principle, which no one but him seems to completely understand. Friston has a serious track record, so most people are giving him the benefit of the doubt. But he seems unable to explain it in straightforward language, or at least language straightforward from the perspective of someone who doesn’t already understand what he’s talking about.

      I have to admit I haven’t tried to follow Carroll’s arguments about time. I know he wrote a whole book on it. I just haven’t been bitten by that bug yet. But I definitely have seen Carroll present a concept at too high a level, often in blog posts, which is always a balancing act in how much you can assume your audience already know.

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      1. I don’t really get Friston either, but I think I got a lot closer when someone pointed out that Friston problematizes the fact-value distinction. I’ve lost that reference, but here’s Friston himself:

        However, the free energy account does not invoke reward or cost-functions from reinforcement-learning and optimal control theory. … This paper tries to connect the two formulations and concludes that optimal policies correspond to empirical priors on the trajectories of hidden environmental states, which compel agents to seek out the (valuable) states they expect to encounter.

        In Friston’s framework, there’s fundamentally no distinction between “I will do this” – what most philosophers consider a “factual” prediction – and “I value this”. I think. Not only that, but everything the agent believes is value-laden too, insofar as it’s tied into a Bayesian network that’s tuned into encountering valuable states.

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        1. The biggest issue I have with Friston is it always seems like there are multiple interpretations of what he says. When I boil it all down, he seems to be saying organisms act on the most accurate predictions they can make in service of what they value. Well, yes. But I see a lot of other people saying the same thing. Maybe Friston was just the first?


          1. Wait, I think the way you phrased it is potentially misleading. “What they value” for Friston disappears into the black box of prediction. It’s only “from outside” of Friston’s analysis, if you will, comparing it to other theorists like Skinner, that you can talk about “what agents value” as a separable entity. My feeling is that if Friston’s view is actually accurate, then “what agents value” is only an approximately-useful way of talking. All that’s really happening is what-agents-predict (but this includes the real-world phenomena that psychologists poorly-describe as two separate “value realm” and “fact realm” attitude sets).

            That’s my take. I could be all wet.

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  8. Wow, great post Mike! This gets to all sorts of pertinent issues between us. I never knew there was a formal name for a teacher understanding something so well that he/she thus can’t grasp associated student difficulties, and so can’t gain that critical vantage from which to teach. I suppose it’s not widely known because it’s not something that teachers should like to acknowledge in general — such acknowledgement would seem to conflict with standard teacher desire for personal validation versus their students’.

    I’ve lately been reading more about the life and ideas of professor Eric Schwitzgebel, who I’m sure you know as a ridiculously humble and dedicated teacher. Our ideas line up quite well in many ways. For example he’s done various studies which plainly illustrate that we’re all self interested products of our circumstances, and mainly by showing that people more educated in “morality” do not thus behave extra morally. Nevertheless (sigh…) he continues to nurse a moral realist stance. So I’ve been trying to figure out a palatable way to potentially help him replace that perception for what might instead be referred to as “welfare realism”. We shouldn’t expect to take someone’s existing beliefs away without at least providing a good substitute.

    Then as for you Mike, I’ve long held out hope for you to gain a working rather than simply lecture level grasp of my dual computers model of brain function and associated psychology. Thus you could test this model out for yourself (which is not to say “believe it”). Unfortunately it would seem that I’ve got “the curse of knowledge” in this regard however, and so we talk across a boundary of epiphany here. Furthermore this seems compounded both by your long held belief that qualia can arise when generic information is properly processed into more such information (like the right inscribed paper to inscribed paper conversion), and now your insistence that the “many worlds” QM interpretation is not supernatural. So does hope exist?

    I’d love to learn that I’ve gotten the premise behind “many worlds” wrong, and so it isn’t a technical formulation which essentially reduces back to the position that endless universes spring from essentially nothing and so help account for associated human ignorance. I don’t see how I could ever refer to something like that as “natural”.

    As for the other issue, I can see how you might be swayed to delve into a model such as mine if the ideas of a person like Johnjoe McFadden were to gain experimental validation. Effectively testing such ideas empirically however is well beyond anything that I personally might provide.

    In truth however my model works even under your “informationism” premise. All that matters here is the production of qualia / consciousness in some manner, and thus even straight Cartesian dualism could do the trick. So perhaps the main issue is that I grasp my ideas too well to practically teach them? If so then I’ll need to find someone with a more tenuous grasp who might thus show me where it is that my instruction fails. Obviously it does me no good to have ideas which others fail to grasp.

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    1. Glad you found it useful Eric!

      I think I do understand your ideas fairly well: the nonconscious brain generates the conscious computer, which takes sensory input, memory, and valence as inputs and produces motor outputs through the nonconscious computer. Over the years, you seemed to oscillate between that being a type of emergence or an actual physical generation, veering decisively toward the latter once you discovered McFadden’s theories.

      You’ve had me describe your consciousness model back to you a few times, and even gave me a test once, which I recall doing pretty well on. As I noted in the post, just because we understand an idea doesn’t mean we accept it.

      Based on your remarks here, I don’t think you understand the MWI. Unfortunately in a previous conversation, you were pretty explicit that you’d pre-decided you’ll never accept it. There has to be a willingness to at least entertain an idea in order to understand it.

      On my view of the mind, all I’m going to say is your description, as usual, doesn’t describe it. With both this and the MWI, I fear you’re in the pre-epiphany stage.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Well yes Mike, you do understand my ideas better than anyone else I know. And I can’t fault the basic account that you gave of my “dual computers” model or say that you didn’t do well on that quiz. It’s just that I don’t think you’ve yet reached what I’d call a “working level” rather than simply “lecture level” grasp. For that various free form rather than structured answers should be needed.

        You’ve read a great number of assessments that I’ve written about various topics over the years. But has this given you more of an active or merely passive grasp of my ideas? Could you read an article on some relevant topic and then predict the sorts of things that I’d say about it? Here you could tell me which article and then I’d send you my actual response for your private assessment. Hopefully you’d do pretty well and then would try some other topics as well. As I see it that’s how complex models in general become practically grasped.

        On the physical generation of mind, I’ve been resolute about that from the beginning. I merely had no idea what the brain might do to produce it until I learned of McFadden’s electromagnetic radiation theory. Do you remember asking me where and how this “second computer” might exist, to which I’d say I had no clue, but could tell you that I knew it existed far more certainly than brains do? So nothing has changed on the physical generation front, though I do now have a clue about what the brain does to produce it.

        Actually I was hoping that my MWI reduction wasn’t right. So if you wouldn’t assess it as “a technical formulation which essentially reduces back to the position that endless universes spring from essentially nothing and so help account for associated human ignorance”, then what improvements would you make? Beyond the technicals surely an effective reduction of MWI could be constructed, and if mine isn’t effective, then what?

        More importantly however I’m happy to hear you suggest that you don’t believe “that qualia can arise when generic information is properly processed into more such information (like the right inscribed paper to inscribed paper conversion)”. Excellent! So are there merely some technical nuances which I’ve failed to include (and indeed are then needed for my “thumb pain” thought experiment), or are we in relative agreement that in a natural world qualia should not arise by means of a generic information to generic information conversion alone?

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Eric,
          On reading articles and relating them to your ideas, you’re actually trying to assign a lot of homework to me. Consider how little enthusiasm you’d have if I asked you to do the same thing with HOTT or IIT.

          I actually have a better suggestion. When you see a story and can relate it to your ideas, do a blog post on it. I and others who follow your blog will see the synthesis you put together in each case. That follows the prescription I made to explain the idea in many different ways. Just something to consider. An idea is best sold by someone who buys it. And you yourself may learn a great deal from it. (I know I always learn from the act of explaining things.)

          On physical generation vs emergence, it might have been my attempts to strongman your arguments for myself that led to my perception of those changes. So McFadden’s theory resonates with your views. Again, you might consider posts exploring that connection more deeply.

          On the MWI, no, no universes or anything else are created from nothing. The starting point is to remember that the part of QM theory everyone agrees on is its mathematical structure, the raw formalism. Everett’s only postulate is that this describes something real. Given the interference effects and their successful utilization in quantum computing, this seems like a very modest assumption. He also points out that if we just take that raw formalism and follow where it leads, it predicts the world we observe, with no Copenhagen collapse postulate necessary.

          But without the collapse, it would mean we live in a quantum universe. So it’s not just particles, or groups of particles that can be in a superposition of multiple states, but macroscopic objects, including measuring devices, labs, scientists, and us and our surroundings. Crucially, energy is always conserved, so nothing is springing from nothing. To my point in the post, you can think of the energy being divvied up as a single state evolves into multiple states, or as the states always having been there with their own energy and just diverging from each other. Both ways of thinking amount to the same ontology.

          On my view of the mind and computation, I think the thing you seem to downplay is that information processing is completely physical. And you always omit the interface between the system and the rest of the world, the I/O mechanisms, the sensory and motor systems. It’s these mechanisms which turn any form of information processing into something meaningful. Considering the system without them is focusing on a fragment and criticizing it for missing the rest.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Mike,
            It seems to me that what you’re suggesting for me to do is essentially what I already do, though not generally from my own blog but rather from the blogs of yours and others. I could spend more of my time creating content for my blog, which would essentially be taken from the time I spend writing at the blogs of others. But my point is that it all gets to the same end. As you know I do frequently discuss my own conception of consciousness at the blogs of others. I have finally started getting a few things in shape at my blog, just in case some people would like to check over there to see what it is that I believe. And there’s plenty more to do whenever I feel the urge. Not all of us are as talented as you at quickly writing things that others find interesting, and thus at creating successful blogs. Some people who write here don’t even have their own blogs.

            Anyway I will continue, but understand that this is merely “lecturing” rather than “teaching”. Does a student “learn physics” through lectures? I never did. The only way I was ever able to learn physics was to privately refine my lecture level grasp against the practical problems provided at the end of each chapter. That’s where I’d be shown what a given lecture idea both does and does not effectively mean, and so that’s where my epiphanies would come.

            I don’t mean to assign you with a lot of homework. It could be as little as you perhaps occasionally saying, “Hey Eric, given your conception of consciousness would you say [this] about [this]?” To which I would of course answer your question and expand. But the point is that you’d then be an “active” rather than “passive” student regarding my ideas, and so should be able to attain more of a working level grasp. If you had a consciousness model (which of course is not your hierarchy from which to classify various consciousness models), then I’m pretty sure that I’d actively try to understand it rather than just grasp your statements themselves. And if so then I’d probably reduce the hell out of it to see what it effectively amounts to.

            I don’t know that I’d be entirely displeased about relating HOTT or IIT to various standard articles on the web, though probably because I’d tend to make fun of them. That’s my perception of the approach of Eric Schwitzgebel and John Searle. What sells regarding consciousness proposals in academia? How about “pompous intellectuals decreeing complex formulas that effectively spellbind ordinary people by means of that complexity”? Perhaps that’s why such theorists tend to hate thought experiments and reductions of their ideas. Here the Wizard of Oz may be demonstrated as some mortal operating a fire, smoke, and sound machine.

            I definitely have been thinking about McFadden, and did a post on him that you and James Cross stopped by for not that long ago as I recall. Then over at James’ site I mentioned a nice emailed response he sent me from an inquiry of mine about why he was “playing nice” with the establishment rather than going full “Chinese room” on them. McFadden came to his position by means of neuroscience rather than psychology, so it’s fitting that he hasn’t attained my own associated model. I’d love for him to learn how it effectively works but must remain patient while looking for potential opportunities. He does know of me a bit and my strong support, which is fine for now.

            On the MWI, I didn’t quite say that it says universes are created from nothing. I said essentially nothing. Or I could have said relatively nothing. I realize that they’re saying something creates these universes. What they’re proposing however might be more show than substance.

            Just as superpositions exist in quantum mechanics, from the MWI you seem to be framing our entire universe this way, and thus “many worlds”? Is that right? If that’s your position then I will consider it further. Off the top of my head it at least sounds better than my current reduction, or that each non fulfilled quantum state exists in essentially another universe that’s otherwise like ours. Furthermore whatever non-fulfilled quantum states exist here would thus branch into new universes, and on and on for infinite recursion. So not just one layer of our universe and virtually infinite extra universes spawned, but fully infinite layers! I see nothing natural about any of that. In the end I’ll need an effective reduction of these “many worlds” to effectively assess whether or not something supernatural is being proposed.

            On me downplaying the physical nature of “information” regarding your position, I don’t consider there to be anything non-physical about your conception of information. What I specifically dispute is what any given set of physical information can potentially do on the basis of it existing as such. As I see it the brain will not only need to produce the right information, but that information will need to animate associated qualia producing mechanisms in order for there to be any qualia. So maybe certain EM waves are needed, or maybe something else, but I think naturalism at least requires something beyond physical information alone. So I’d say that many theorists seem to have taken a supernatural shortcut here, and even though they might simply remain agnostic about qualia producing mechanisms beyond their theories.

            As far as me not adding in various input and output mechanism as well in my portrayal of the informationism perspective, the point is to provide a reduction back to the fundamentals. It goes like this: There is an input mechanism of an enormous stack of information inscribed paper to a vast scanning an printing computer. This information correlates with what nerves send the brain when a thumb gets whacked. The vast computer processes this scanned information into the very information which the brain processes given whacked thumb information in the form of output encoded on another huge stack of information laden paper. So the question here is, does this paper to paper conversion create anything that feels “thumb pain”?

            I say “no” because even if the proper information were produced, to be natural the brain should need that information to animate qualia producing mechanisms. This is to say that the second set of paper should need to be fed into a corresponding machine which thus produces the right EM waves or whatever in order for anything to feel the sort of thing that we know of as “thumb pain”. So what’s wrong with that demand?

            Liked by 1 person

          2. Eric,
            I suppose when you comment on a post, if I don’t see the clear relation to your ideas, I can prod you to go into more detail. We’ll see.

            On your assessment of the MWI, I’d say forget about the many-worlds part. Those are logical consequences, but they’re untestable. Focus on the core, the required assumptions and testable predictions. Taking the mathematics of QM at face value and following where they lead. Does that predict our observations? Does it do so with fewer assumptions than other approaches? Is the result fully deterministic?

            “As I see it the brain will not only need to produce the right information, but that information will need to animate associated qualia producing mechanisms in order for there to be any qualia.”

            So, this is you simply asserting your theory into your attempted understanding of mine. The logic seems to be, my view isn’t your view, therefore it must involve magic. If you can’t describe my view without inserting your own view, then you don’t understand it.

            Liked by 1 person

          3. Mike,
            Yes you could prod me to go into more detail about my models, but that still would essentially involve me lecturing you about them. Beyond that I’d hope for you to tell me what you think it is that my models suggest, which is to say, convert your lecture level grasp into a working level grasp. That’s where I’d say true epiphanies become realized.

            For example there is this “many world” QM interpretation. I can’t simply check to see if everything beyond the resulting extra universes work out right, because it might very well be that the extra universes provide a magic which makes everything else work out right. So I’ll need an effective reduction regarding the “many worlds” part of this QM interpretation to assess whether or not something supernatural is being proposed.

            Reductions are only bad for theorists who have something to hide. That’s not me as far as I know. I’d love for you to reduce the crap out of any of my models. You might find problems which would need to be fixed in order for them to remain viable. Great! Furthermore here you should gain more of a working level grasp of their nature.

            Then as for the last thing, I think it’s effective to define “information” as stuff which must animate associated mechanisms in order to exist as “information” in that specific regard. Choose any example that you like, such as a book, or concerning computer function, or genetic material, and I think you’ll find that “information” is only effective to consider as such in terms of associated mechanisms. As I recall you once did a post with that very theme.

            What about qualia / consciousness however? We’d of course have to at least raise an eyebrow if it were theorized to be different from the rest of reality in an informational capacity. We know that a brain can at times create something which experiences qualia, but brain science remains quite primitive here. Shall we presume that there must be information activated qualia mechanisms in the head to thus remain aligned with the rest of the natural world, or shall we decide that something different happens here?

            Liked by 1 person

  9. Insightful post. Like some others here, I recently find myself in the position of post epiphany, but to ideas no one seems to have had before, as opposed to ideas put forth and held by demonstrably smarter, accomplished people. So I spend my time looking around to find either confirmation or contradiction. And it turns out that most of those ideas *have* been had before, but not synthesized in the way that I see them, and also usually with something erroneous thrown in. So my task is to put it into a reasonable package. It could happen.

    As for trying to talk people into your epiphany, I think Dennett’s recommendations on how to persuade may be the best. Essentially, first describe the other’s theory/understanding in the best light that you can, hopefully to the point where they say “exactly, I wish I had put it like that”. Only then do you begin to point out the problems, and how those problems are solved in your new understanding. [something like that]


    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks James.

      I know where you’re at. I sometimes have epihanies like that and then spend a lot of time (years in some cases) trying to figure out the best way to explain them, while constantly looking around to see what might validate or falsify it. Interestingly enough, some actually whither away in the repeated attempts to explain them, as I realize the issues in the idea. There’s a lot to be said for actually trying to put words to an idea.

      Dennett’s standard is a high one, one I’m not sure he himself actually meets all that often. Strangely enough, while I agree with Dennett’s conclusions much more than Chalmers’, I think Chalmers actually meets the standard more often. I can see my position in his descriptions of it, even if I disagree with his subsequent stance about it. It’s probably why his labels for those positions tend to proliferate more.


  10. Like many other terms, the term “epiphany” is not a clear cut. I think the closest to the current discussion definition of it is “a usually sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something” per Merriam-Webster.

    There are two different options here even with that very limited sense. First, is an epiphany when you are learning something already known to other people. The second one is an epiphany when you are creating something new, like a new invention.

    The latter type of epiphany seems to be even rare. All of us had the first type of epiphanies.

    I had an epiphany of a second type also. I have 17 patents in several different areas of technology.

    My limited personal experience tells me that those two kinds of epiphanies are different.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well, they definitely seem different at a societal level. But I wonder how different they really are for the individual. Maybe the rush is bigger when you think you might have an insight no one else has had before. And the difficulty level might be far higher for attaining them. I know I felt really good when I used to come up with novel coding solutions or system designs. But I also had a feeling of satisfaction in understanding the standard solutions too.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. “studying the idea from various perspectives and sources ” Yes, essential. I have to do that all the time and am just doing so on how to code a trading robot. So glad you read Deutsch. I return to his books again and again. I like his way of explaining the world, although of course whether his interpretations have any validity is another matter. To understand “everything” was his aim as a child, but not where every sparrow fell. As you can imagine, I loved his discussions on Frank Tipler and the Omega Point.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have to admit I’ve only read bits and pieces of Deutsch. But I bought both his popular books and need to swing back and read them. Too many people have described them as mind expanding for me not to. The earlier one in particular gets a lot of praise.


  12. Re “Once we’ve had the epiphany, once we do understand something, it becomes increasingly difficult to remember our previous state of mind.” This does not just affect individuals. It applies to communities, too. It is a meme in scientific circles that scientific attitudes go through stages with regard to, say, a new theory. The First stage is “It is poppycock, totally wrong.” The second stage is “There is an outside possibility that some small part of it might be true.” and the third stage is “I knew it all the time.” Once the theory has become accepted, no one can remember opposing it. (This might be a manifestation of “success has a hundred fathers, failures but one.”)

    For me the process is almost instantaneous. When I cannot see something and then I see it, I then cannot figure out how it could not be that way. Poof, in an instant.

    Liked by 1 person

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