Does consciousness arise from quantum processes in the brain? | io9

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Stuart Hameroff is a Professor of Anesthesiology and Psychology at the University of Arizona — but he's a pariah as far as most neuroscientists are concerned. The reason? Consciousness, he dares say, is far more than just a computational process — it's actually quantum.


Along with the esteemed mathematician Sir Roger Penrose, Hameroff is the co-author of the highly controversial Orch OR model of consciousness (Orchestrated Objective Reduction ) — the suggestion that quantum phenomenon, rather than classical mechanics, can explain conscious awareness.

The theory presents a new kind of wave function collapse that occurs in isolation, called objective reduction. This wave function collapse, they argue, is the only possible non-physical thing that can account for a non-computable process, namely consciousness. They speculate that this could happen inside the brain's microtubules.

Recently, Nikola Danaylov of the Singularity 1 on 1 podcast caught up with Hameroff to learn more. The result is a fascinating one hour interview in which the two discuss a number of topics, including various theories of mind, how anesthesia can inform the debate, the Orch OR model, and why the vast majority of scientists are disdainful of it.

Written By: George Dvorsky
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  1. far more than just a computational process — it’s actually quantum.

    That is a very inauspicious lede.

    The word “quantum” does not bestow magical properties upon the concepts to which it is applied. A computation using quantum mechanics is no more powerful than the classical model of computation (quantum version of Savitch’s theorem), and is no less a computation, nor is it more than a computation. This makes at least this introductory sentence completely nonsensical.

    This gross misunderstanding appears here as well:

    This wave function collapse, they argue, is the only possible non-physical thing that can account for a non-computable process

    As for the contents of the article, it is indeed pseudo-science, of the “quantum woo” garden variety, in turn stemming — I think — from bad historical choices in the first interpretation and terminology of quantum mechanics — the notion of “observer” and all that jazz. Victor Stenger is among the physicists very vocal in debunking the new-age nonsense this spawned.

    For instance this, and many other articles and videos.

  2. Dear Prof Hameroff. The great American physicist Richard Feynman, once wrote, “All science starts with a guess.” My guess is your ‘quantum mind’ theory is complete bollocks. Regards and respect, m.

  3. This is false. There are many reasons why. One is that the brain is just not a place where quantum effects can happen on large enough scales to have any influence. For example, if the time of a typical quantum event was stretched to a second, then a single thought would take tens of thousands of years. The brain has evolved for robust information storage and processing, quantum effects are anything but robust. The main reason, however, is epistemological – related to how we get knowledge and beliefs. ‘Consciousness’ is a concept that refers to something, and if what it refers to is real, it’s about states of our physical brains. For our beliefs about consciousness to be justified, then we have to arrive at these beliefs because of the evidence of what consciousness is like for us. However, there isn’t such a thing as having an experience of the quantum nature of consciousness: there is nothing about our conscious awareness that ‘feels quantumy’. If this sounds a bit odd, think of this – is there anything about being conscious that feels like it’s to do with brain cells? There isn’t – we can’t access the physical nature of consciousness from what consciousness feels like, if if we can’t feel that it involves brain cells, then we certainly can’t feel the vastly smaller nature of quantum effects. Quantum mechanical effects aren’t directly relevant to anything that happens in our mind. ‘Quantum’ today is, for some people, the equivalent of what ‘vibrations’ were to Victorians – a term fuzzy enough and strange enough to feed the desire for ‘something more’ when it comes to mind and consciousness.

  4. Consciousness, he dares say, is far more than just a computational process — it’s actually quantum.

    If the brain uses non-trivial quantum phenomena as part of its operation, wouldn’t that make it a quantum computer?

    Agreed with most everyone else on this thread: these people seem to be onto a loser. I think Dennett put it best when he said Penrose’s rejection of the computational theory of mind turned out to be a backhanded compliment: it fit the facts so much better that he had to systematically remove everything from physics to evolutionary biology to neuroscience before he could make his point.

    • In reply to #8 by Peter Grant:

      Yes, but but only in the same way that everything else arises from quantum processes…

      This is an appropriate response. You’d have to show a large degree of entanglement to make anything meaningful from it. No one believes consciousness arises or is directly linked to a single microtubule. From all indications consciousness is a macro process.

  5. Tough crowd here today for Orchestrated Objective Reduction, doing about as well as irreducible complexity in its heyday.
    Just as Deepak “quantum” Chopra thought he was finally out of the woods.

    • In reply to #9 by godsbuster:

      Tough crowd here today for Orchestrated Objective Reduction, doing about as well as irreducible complexity in its heyday.
      Just as Deepak “quantum” Chopra thought he was finally out of the woods.

      Spot on.

      Just like Giorgio “the-aliens-guy” Tsoukalos has his “Aliens!’ response to anything, this (not so new) trend of sticking ‘quantum’ to anything is just as hilarious and oh-pass-the-spliff once more.

      I’m gonna wait until my boyfriend ovulates on a blue moon and we’ll conceive an Indigo Child whose consciousness is going to obliterate us all.

      facepalm

  6. This is the comment I left on the Singularity website:

    “Thank you for a fascinating interview. You have a new subscriber from today.

    I came to this as a sceptic, as my opinion has always been that to have consciousness you have to have a brain and I have a prejudice against quantum explanations because so many new age charlatans invoke the quantum, despite their clear lack of understanding of it.

    Doctor Hameroff has however, given me plenty of food for thought and I will be listening to this interview again at least once to clarify issues.

    It does seem to me though, that even if there is an underlaying process, you still need a brain and computation to have a consciousness that involves awareness of qualia. That every interesting question about consciousness involves brain function on some level, so why is it unreasonable to work on the assumption that the brain is enough?

    Whatever else you say about brain/consciousness studies, no one has the complete model, so the fact that conventional neurology hasn’t got a complete explanation doesn’t strengthen Dr Hameroff’s case at all.

    Nevertheless, I will follow his and many other people’s opinions with interest.”

    It would seem I’m somewhat more gullible in that I found the forceful presentation of Dr Hameroff quite persuasive, especially once he addressed the issue of temperature. Though I can’t opine that his and Roger Penrose’s ideas are right, I can’t dismiss them as quantum woo, because this person understands Quantum phenomena better than I do. So I will continue to monitor this approach, though my money is still on the conventional neurological approaches.

    • In reply to #10 by Ian:

      This is the comment I left on the Singularity website:

      “Thank you for a fascinating interview. You have a new subscriber from today.

      I came to this as a sceptic, as my opinion has always been that to have consciousness you have to have a brain and I have a prejudice against quantum explanations be…

      There have been some suggestions that quantum mechanics best explains some aspects of how the mind works. For instance, I remember reading an article provided by a fellow disputant (this was several weeks ago, I think) suggesting that the nasal cavity lining relies on some kind of quantum phenomenon to detect smells, though I can’t remember what phenomenon it was specifically. I’m not opposed to the idea that quantum mechanics play some role in the brain other than simply being the foundation of its basic physics, but I’m not convinced that this is the case. The smallest components needed to explain nerve impulses are the ions involved in the depolarization-repolarization cycle. Subatomic particles play no independent role, as far as I can tell.

  7. All we have here is a possible explanation for processing speed, and perhaps creativity (mutations in the mind). There are algorithms in quantum computing which solve certain problems much more quickly than digital computing does. However speed as well as the creativity advantage could also be explained by a combination of digital and analogue computing power.

  8. @Red Dog: “Religion” would be more accurate description than “pseudoscience”.

    @most of you others: Consciousness does not “emerge” from the brain, it is not epiphenomenal; Dennett’s “heterophenomenology” is frankly risible – it is self-evident to everyone who reads this that “third persons” are dispensable, but first persons are undeniable. It isn’t possible to finesse away your own existence: even if everything you have ever believed is false, the fact of something having been perceived is undeniable. Consciousness is not a concept: consciousness is primary. The evidence for the existence of matter, energy, other minds, etc., is utterly negligible compared with the certainty with which you know your own subjective reality.

    [Slightly edited by moderator to remove abuse and bring with Terms of Use]

      • In reply to #16 by Peter Grant:

        In reply to #15 by DhyanVijen:

        Bullshit, it is entirely possible to be deceived about ones own subjectivity.

        What does that mean? I could understand if you meant I, in my parochial perspective, can always make mistakes, but it reads more like you’re saying I’m deceived in believing that I am conscious… so you can imagine my utter confusion. Care to clarify?

          • In reply to #22 by Peter Grant:

            In reply to #20 by Zeuglodon:

            Care to clarify?

            It has to do with memory and our sensitivity to pain. Think I first encountered this concept when researching rectal exams

            You mean our memories of our past subjective experiences can be distorted? Agreed, considering that I learned about this stuff from Daniel Kahneman’s writings, but I think it’s a bit tangential to the point… whatever it was… that Comment 15 was about, which I think was about the experiencing self right now. You can misremember how you felt a few moments ago, but by definition, you can’t be wrong about what you’re experiencing right now because it’s really there.

          • In reply to #25 by Peter Grant:

            In reply to #23 by Zeuglodon:

            Which you is you?

            Definitely me now. Maybe me in the past, but Bertrand Russell says I popped into existence five seconds ago complete with memories, so there’s always the infinitesimally small chance of doubt. But that’s academic.

            However, Sam Harris also points out that Kahneman’s distinction between the experiencing self and the remembering self is essentially two forms of experiencing self in different modes. The mere fact that memories can be distorted shows that they’re a part of the permanently-now experiencing self rather than some timeless self.

            Come on, are we really going in this direction? I thought we’d agree on most of this, and it’s feeling a bit tangential.

          • In reply to #27 by Peter Grant:

            In reply to #26 by Zeuglodon:

            Definitely me now.

            Well then consciousness is illusory, but still real.

            Aren’t those mutually exclusive categories? If the emotion I feel now is real, then in what sense is it illusionary? A memory of having an emotion in the past might be an illusion – or more accurately, a delusion – but how can an emotion I’m feeling now be the same thing? Are you suggesting some kind of antirealism stance on experiences?

            Sorry for the barrage of questions, but I’m really having a tough time understanding what you’re saying.

          • In reply to #31 by Peter Grant:

            In reply to #30 by Zeuglodon:

            Illusions are real.

            I’m not denying that illusions exist, but I think even you know your comment there is being disingenuous. So, if you don’t mind, I’d like a straight answer to my questions.

          • The EXPERIENCE of illusions may be real, it does not make illusions real. That’s why they are called illusions. We are that smart to have words to define things, even those that do not exist. Illusions.

            In reply to #31 by Peter Grant:

            In reply to #30 by Zeuglodon:

            Illusions are real.

          • In reply to #34 by dom d. miller:

            The EXPERIENCE of illusions may be real, it does not make illusions real. That’s why they are called illusions. We are that smart to have words to define things, even those that do not exist. Illusions.

            Then what do we call illusory illusions like “free will”?

          • In reply to #45 by Peter Grant:

            Then what do we call illusory illusions like “free will”?

            Illusory illusions, whatever you apply it to is like both vaseline and KY jelly.
            What do we call an illusory illusion? We simply call it illusion.
            Less is more and “coloured lights are for christmas trees” (dixit friend Dave J. Haskins).

          • In reply to #45 by Peter Grant:

            In reply to #34 by dom d. miller:

            Then what do we call illusory illusions like “free will”?

            Your answer actually lies in my previous message. The answer is illusion. It’s not very complicated, really.

            “Illusory illusions”? Really? How about ‘orgasmic orgasms’? See what I did here?.. Only reflecting.

          • In reply to #118 by dom d. miller:

            “Illusory illusions”? Really? How about ‘orgasmic orgasms’? See what I did here?.. Only reflecting.

            Trust me, I know an orgasmic orgasm when I see it. I have even been responsible for a few, to the extent that I am actually responsible for anything…

          • In reply to #119 by Peter Grant:

            In reply to #118 by dom d. miller:

            Trust me, I know an orgasmic orgasm when I see it. I have even been responsible for a few, to the extent that I am actually responsible for anything…

            I never said you didn’t. I do not necessarily doubt people by default…

            Don’t play with words here though. Make no mistake, I am no enemy. I am just trying to wrap my mind around what you say. That’s all.

            You must recognize that “Illusory illusions” in regards to (supposedly) ‘free will’ was hilarious.
            Never lose sight of one thing: I am all for debating, discussing and all. I am also that tweaked that I have a lot of fun not taking things so seriously (especially our selves).

            But back to subject: okay, so what? You are talking a lot of bollocks that would grant you a whole new realm of friends in a gay bar.

            ps. No, there is nothing even remotely strange about this: I am gay as a goose, for your information. LOL :D

          • In reply to #120 by dom d. miller:

            You must recognize that “Illusory illusions” in regards to (supposedly) ‘free will’ was hilarious.

            It’s just a sort of a quote from Sam Harris.

            You are talking a lot of bollocks that would grant you a whole new realm of friends in a gay bar.

            I like gay bars, mainly for the drugs, but the people are pretty cool too.

          • In reply to #121 by Peter Grant:

            In reply to #120 by dom d. miller:
            It’s just a sort of a quote from Sam Harris.

            REALLY..? I think you need to put your mind some Sam Harris. You’re not doing it right.

            I like gay bars, mainly for the drugs, but the people are pretty cool too.

            Should you put drugs before people: you have a problem, dude. Wow, whoa, don’t get me wrong here: some drugs are pretty awesome.
            The ‘idea’ you have about anything won’t neither change and ever-evoving truth, neither reality. The only thing that can change is your self-perception in it all.

            Once you step into a gay bar and don’ feel anything, don’t think anything but being in a bar, call me. I’ll kiss you then. Friendly, that is.

          • In reply to #122 by dom d. miller:

            REALLY..? I think you need to put your mind some Sam Harris. You’re not doing it right.

            “The illusion of free will is itself an illusion” – Sam Harris

            Should you put drugs before people: you have a problem, dude.

            Yes, generally I prefer drugs. I don’t blame drugs, I blame people, but the sad part is that it’s not really their fault either.

          • In reply to #26 by Zeuglodon:

            In reply to #25 by Peter Grant:

            In reply to #23 by Zeuglodon:

            Which you is you?

            Definitely me now. Maybe me in the past, but Bertrand Russell says I popped into existence five seconds ago complete with memories, so there’s always the infinitesimally small chance of doubt. But that’s academic.

            However, Sam Harris also points out that Kahneman’s distinction between the experiencing self and the remembering self is essentially two forms of experiencing self in different modes. The mere fact that memories can be distorted shows that they’re a part of the permanently-now experiencing self rather than some timeless self.

            I think that ‘consciousness’ is more than conscious experience. When we say that we have ‘consciousness’, we mean that we have a conscious self. The conscious self emerges from the complex interactions of our conscious experiences and long term memory and learning. Without a conscious self our conscious experiences would have no context and meaning. That’s what an emergent property is– a mutually created environment that gives context and meaning to its parts. The conscious self is an environment in which a conscious experience has meaning. When we speak of different levels of ‘consciousness’ in various animals, we are talking about the increasing complexity of the conscious self. The development of language and culture in humans has led to an extremely complex conscious self.

          • In reply to #47 by jimblake:

            In reply to #26 by Zeuglodon:

            In reply to #25 by Peter Grant:

            In reply to #23 by Zeuglodon:

            Which you is you?

            Definitely me now. Maybe me in the past, but Bertrand Russell says I popped into existence five seconds ago complete with memories, so there’s always the infinitesimally small chance of…

            No, you’re confusing consciousness with self-consciousness, or self-awareness. The concept of self – such that one can be self-aware – is not what’s being referred to when discussing the hard problem of consciousness. For the sake of clarification, I’ll divide the problems so you can see the difference:

            1. The problem of sentience, or raw subjective experience and qualia, is the question of what such qualia actually are and how they fit with what we know about the rest of the universe. This is the problem Dennett referred to when he dismissed the hard problem.

            2. The problem of self-awareness, or how we can know and recognize ourselves, is the question of what self-awareness actually is and how it makes us different from at least some of the other animals with brains (which are aware but not self-aware). I agree with Steven Pinker and Steve Zara on this one and say it’s definitely an issue of what neural network system the brain uses when analyzing itself, and therefore within the reach of modern neuroscience. While it does overlap with 3, it is mostly about the awareness part.

            3. The problem of the self, a distinct and cohesive entity, is the question of how a coherent self emerges such that we can discuss it. This, I think, is just another neuroscience puzzle of how the brain is organized into a coherent whole and how it feels like a singular entity. As a complement to 2, it is mostly about the self part.

            Fascinating in and of themselves, but it’s best not to confuse the three.

          • In reply to #51 by Zeuglodon:

            In reply to #47 by jimblake:

            No, you’re confusing consciousness with self-consciousness, or self-awareness. The concept of self – such that one can be self-aware – is not what’s being referred to when discussing the hard problem of consciousness. For the sake of clarification, I’ll divide the problems so you can see the difference…

            I think the concept of consciousness is incoherent without a self, which emerges from complex interactions between experiences and long term memories of those experiences. Without those memories, conscious experience would have no context or meaning and there would be no knowledge of the experience beyond a few seconds. It would only be useful as a stimulus for a programmed response. The experience itself is the result of a virtual model in the brain made possible by an interconnection and integration of the individual sensory modules in the brain.

            Without a memory of conscious experiences, they are effectively no different than unconscious experiences and actions. That is why I say that ‘consciousness’ is actually the result of having a conscious self. And the difference between human self-awareness and other animal self-awareness is not a matter of having it or not having it, but a matter of the degree of complexity of the conscious self. The other animals may not have self-awareness by our standards, but they have a much simpler self-awareness.

          • In reply to #78 by jimblake:

            I think the concept of consciousness is incoherent without a self, which emerges from complex interactions between experiences and long term memories of those experiences. Without those memories, conscious experience would have no context or meaning and there would be no knowledge of the experience beyond a few seconds.

            We’re not talking about how it all fits together into a self at all. We’re talking about raw feels, the hard problem of consciousness, sentience, subjective experience, everything. I really don’t think deliberately throwing the two concepts together is getting you anywhere because, as your two sentences above indicate, you’re still confusing the distinction between consciousness in the sense of raw experience and consciousness in the sense of being self-aware. They’re two different philosophical issues.

            Consciousness in the sense of raw experience, and the self, are still two totally different concepts. Memory might be crucial to our sense of self, but it’s just a subset of sentient and subjective experience/qualia that needs to be explained. You even later confuse “conscious” in the sense of self-awareness (as opposed to, say, unconscious thoughts and desires), with “conscious” in the sense of having raw sentience (that is, including those unconscious thoughts and desires, and really everything) when discussing animal’s “unconscious experience”, which is precisely the confusion I warned you not to fall for!

            Let me make it simple for the purposes of this discussion. We’re not talking about the self or about self-awareness or about consciousness in the sense of those sentient experiences that we are aware are in our psyches. Everything we experience – memories, colours, unconscious urges, etc. – is what we are discussing. Not self-awareness. The very raw sentience that anything with a brain presumably experiences by default. We are not discussing the issue of self here. Do not get confused.

            Look, I didn’t want to labour the point, but I think you need it to be made utterly clear. Also, it’s bizarre when, having made three distinctions for the sake of clarification, I then immediately afterwards watched you fall headfirst into the exact same confusion I was warning against.

          • In reply to #79 by Zeuglodon:

            In reply to #78 by jimblake:

            I think the concept of consciousness is incoherent without a self, which emerges from complex interactions between experiences and long term memories of those experiences. Without those memories, conscious experience would have no context or meaning and there would be n…

            In the first place, I was responding to YOUR comments about the experiencing self and the remembering self, and then you tell me I can’t talk about the conscious self. Secondly, you tell me there are two kinds of consciousness and I am confusing them, but what I’m trying to say is that there is ONE kind of consciousness and it requires a conscious self to exist.

            Apparently, I don’t have the ability to explain it well enough for you to understand what I am trying to say, but I certainly appreciate all your guidance in trying to set my thinking straight.

          • In reply to #83 by jimblake:

            In the first place, I was responding to YOUR comments about the experiencing self and the remembering self, and then you tell me I can’t talk about the conscious self. Secondly, you tell me there are two kinds of consciousness and I am confusing them, but what I’m trying to say is that there is ONE kind of consciousness and it requires a conscious self to exist.

            By conflating consciousness with “the self” you are either giving subjectivity causal power outside and over objective reality or denying that subjectivity exists. The former implies some sort of “free will” the latter that we are all philosophical zombies.

          • In reply to #84 by Peter Grant:

            In reply to #83 by jimblake:

            By conflating consciousness with “the self” you are either giving subjectivity causal power outside and over objective reality or denying that subjectivity exists. The former implies some sort of “free will” the latter that we are all philosophical zombies.

            Can you separate consciousness from the self? The self is essentially memory. Current experience is short term memory, and past experience is long term memory. Without memory, experience is nothing more than a stimulus for a pre-programmed response. Is that consciousness? When all memory is shut off, as when you are under anesthesia, you are not conscious.

            I don’t think there can be any consciousness without memory, and memory is essentially the self. So, I don’t think you can separate consciousness from the self.

          • In reply to #85 by jimblake:

            If you torture someone it is still torture even if they cannot remember it? I agree that overall remembering is worse, but at the time it makes no difference.

          • In reply to #86 by Peter Grant:

            In reply to #85 by jimblake:

            If you torture someone it is still torture even if they cannot remember it? I agree that overall remembering is worse, but at the time it makes no difference.

            The self is composed of both short term and long term memory.(The experiencing self and the remembering self). If all memory is shut off, there would be no knowledge of experience now or later. Experience would only be a stimulus to a programmed response. This could not be counted as consciousness.

            In your thought experiment with torture, you left short term memory on so that events could still be experienced for brief periods. This leads to a self very different than the self we know, if it could be called a self at all. It would experience the torture for it’s entire short life of a few seconds, and it would not even know it was being tortured since it would have no knowledge of any experiences for comparison. It would then die and a new self would be born with no knowledge of the previous self. I don’t think that would really count as consciousness either.

            I think consciousness requires a complete self composed of experience (short term memory) together with long term memory of those experiences.

          • In reply to #87 by jimblake:

            I think consciousness requires a complete self composed of experience (short term memory) together with long term memory of those experiences.

            There are people who lack the ability to form new long term memories. Is it OK to torture them then because they’re “not conscious”?

          • In reply to #88 by Peter Grant:

            In reply to #87 by jimblake:

            I think consciousness requires a complete self composed of experience (short term memory) together with long term memory of those experiences.

            There are people who lack the ability to form new long term memories. Is it OK to torture them then because they’re “not conscious”?

            The people who have lost their ability to form new long term memories still have a self but it is frozen; no longer growing. I was refering to someone who never had long term memory, but I still wouldn’t say it would be OK to torture them. There would be no need because they would have no information to give us.

          • In reply to #113 by jimblake:

            The people who have lost their ability to form new long term memories still have a self but it is frozen; no longer growing. I was refering to someone who never had long term memory, but I still wouldn’t say it would be OK to torture them. There would be no need because they would have no information to give us.

            Some people are just sadists.

          • In reply to #83 by jimblake:

            In the first place, I was responding to YOUR comments about the experiencing self and the remembering self

            The wording is unfortunate, granted, but it was taken from Kahneman’s and Harris’ writings, not mine, and the point I was making – as was clear in context – was that we can’t absolutely guarantee that our memories are accurate, which is why I focused on the sentient “self” in the here and now. The general point was that the “me” we are interested in is the me doing the actual sentient experiencing, as opposed to some memory of me in the past who may, as far as the philosophy of consciousness can say, be a figment of present me’s imagination. This was in the service of the broader issue of isolating where and when the consciousness of, say, me actually is. Even if I was memoryless and stimulus-driven, the hard problem of consciousness, No. 1 on my list, would need explaining. If it helps, refer to it as the question of raw sentience as opposed to one of consciousness, since the meaning confusion still seems to remain.

            and then you tell me I can’t talk about the conscious self.

            I’m telling you that you are missing the point of our discussion. We’re not talking about the self, but about raw sentience.

            Secondly, you tell me there are two kinds of consciousness

            I listed three. They’re not “kinds of consciousness”; they’re three distinct concepts which are easily confused because the word “consciousness” itself has more than one meaning and is used when describing all three.

            and I am confusing them, but what I’m trying to say is that there is ONE kind of consciousness

            See my list again. They’re fundamentally different problems. One of them genuinely does hinge on making memory a crux of the conversation, but the one we are discussing does not.

            and it requires a conscious self to exist.

            Let me see if I can clarify it this way. Imagine I had an accident that destroyed my higher brain functions and made me incapable of appreciating anything in the past or in the future. I have no idea who I was, and am barely aware of anything other than what grabs my immediate attention. For want of a better word, I am animal-like. However, I can still see in colour, my other senses (e.g. of smell and taste) are intact, and I can just about figure out what to do when faced with, say, an obstacle or another animal without being remotely capable of thinking “This is me, dealing with the world”. What I am aware of in this situation is what we call raw sentience. The fact that I see blue and yellow, for instance. The experiences of blue/yellow are qualia that need to be explained, and that is the unfortunately named hard problem of consciousness. That is what we are discussing.

            At the risk of sowing confusion, I might add that this doesn’t mean memories et al. are not qualia in and of themselves. Remembering things is still an experience the present me has to do, which is the point Harris was getting at. I just separated it for the sake of the thought experiment in order to avoid further confusion with the self issue.

            Apparently, I don’t have the ability to explain it well enough for you to understand what I am trying to say, but I certainly appreciate all your guidance in trying to set my thinking straight.

            Assuming that is not sarcastic for the moment, thank you.

          • In reply to #89 by Zeuglodon:

            Even if I was memoryless and stimulus-driven, the hard problem of consciousness, No. 1 on my list, would need explaining.

            That is where we differ. I don’t think the hard problem is hard, I don’t even think it’s a problem. We can study subjectivity objectively without objectifying subjectivity.

          • In reply to #89 by Zeuglodon:

            In reply to #83 by jimblake:

            Let me see if I can clarify it this way. Imagine I had an accident that destroyed my higher brain functions and made me incapable of appreciating anything in the past or in the future. I have no idea who I was, and am barely aware of anything other than what grabs my immediate attention. For want of a better word, I am animal-like. However, I can still see in colour, my other senses (e.g. of smell and taste) are intact, and I can just about figure out what to do when faced with, say, an obstacle or another animal without being remotely capable of thinking “This is me, dealing with the world”. What I am aware of in this situation is what we call raw sentience. The fact that I see blue and yellow, for instance. The experiences of blue/yellow are qualia that need to be explained, and that is the unfortunately named hard problem of consciousness. That is what we are discussing.

            What is it exactly that can still see, smell and taste anyway? Is it the short term self? And how can that short self figure out what to do without any long term self for reference?
            What I am saying is that if you also eliminate the short term memory to completely remove the self, there would be no experience of the sensory information. The information would only serve as a stimulus for instinctive behavior, there would be no experience. I think it is the emergence of the self that gives rise to the experience of sensory information, and if you want to explain that experience you need to explain how the self works.

          • In reply to #114 by jimblake:

            You seem to be conflating objective informational content with subjective emotion. The words I type have objective informational content, how they make you feel is purely subjective (though it is probably objectively predictable).

          • In reply to #117 by Peter Grant:

            In reply to #114 by jimblake:

            You seem to be conflating objective informational content with subjective emotion. The words I type have objective informational content, how they make you feel is purely subjective (though it is probably objectively predictable).

            In the sense that the subjective perspective is created by the self by giving context and meaning to experience and memories.

          • In reply to #130 by jimblake:

            In the sense that the subjective perspective is created by the self by giving context and meaning to experience and memories.

            I suppose your causa sui “self” creates these experiences ex nihilo then…

          • In reply to #131 by Peter Grant:

            In reply to #130 by jimblake:

            In the sense that the subjective perspective is created by the self by giving context and meaning to experience and memories.

            I suppose your causa sui “self” creates these experiences ex nihilo then…

            The ability to experience probably emerges from the development of what we call short term memory through the cross-connection and integration of the individual sensory modules in the brain, leading to a virtual model of reality, and the eventual emergence of the self by adding a long term memory system.

          • In reply to #133 by jimblake:

            So you are basically saying subjective experience equals memory. This completely misses the point! Compare simply remembering a melody (a tape recorder can do that) with how remembering a melody makes you feel.

          • In reply to #134 by Peter Grant:

            In reply to #133 by jimblake:

            So you are basically saying subjective experience equals memory. This completely misses the point! Compare simply remembering a melody (a tape recorder can do that) with how remembering a melody makes you feel.

            You’re referring to recalling long term memory. So called ‘short term memory’ can’t be recalled; it is the experience which is produced by the integration of the senses into a virtual supersense. Recalling a stored memory of the experience into ‘short term memory’ can trigger the associated feelings.

          • In reply to #135 by jimblake:

            You’re referring to recalling long term memory.

            No, I’m not. I’m not even referring to the short short-term memory called echoic memory. I’m not directly referring to anything objective at all. I’m referring to the raw subjective experience you and only you feel when either listening to or remembering a beautiful melody, this is not something which can be recorded objectively. Perhaps I am speaking to a philosophical zombie, but I was willing to give you the benefit of the doubt.

          • In reply to #114 by jimblake:

            What is it exactly that can still see, smell and taste anyway? Is it the short term self?

            No. Short-term and long-term selves are constructs to model both past experiences for analysis and future experiences so that one can plan for contingencies. Whatever is doing the experiencing lives only in the present in any case. If I imagined my future self seeing the ocean, for instance, the existence of a future self doesn’t somehow make me exist in the present, nor does the absence of a future self or a conception of such make me cease to exist in the present.

            And how can that short self figure out what to do without any long term self for reference?

            Instincts do that easily, with no memory required. “If you see X, do Y” doesn’t need a memory so much as just a set of conditional instructions. You can call that a memory if you like, but it strikes me as using the term way too loosely.

            What I am saying is that if you also eliminate the short term memory to completely remove the self, there would be no experience of the sensory information. The information would only serve as a stimulus for instinctive behavior, there would be no experience.

            This doesn’t follow; as I explained above, merely lacking memory doesn’t somehow wipe the present self out of existence. Even if the present self/present me is doing nothing more meaningful than seeing colours, that minimum qualifies as qualia, and it therefore qualifies as sentient (sensing) experience. The very etymology of the word “sentience” is based on the same root as the verb “to sense” things. The fact that our higher functions do most of the experiential work for us humans doesn’t mean they have a monopoly on it.

            I think it is the emergence of the self that gives rise to the experience of sensory information, and if you want to explain that experience you need to explain how the self works.

            The problem is I see two ways to define a self: the first is simply the totality of the experiences of the self-contained and structurally coherent brain, however it’s set up; the second is the construct it builds to model itself and to forge its identity. The former would admit any animal species that did more with its neurons than simply shock muscles, whereas the latter is likely restricted to humans and a few other big-brained species.

            The minimum would be a self-contained and computationally coherent set-up of those parts of the nervous system that process this kind of information. While I have been using the term “self” loosely to describe this entity (perhaps “present me” will suffice), it isn’t the same as a self that relies on memory and self-awareness to construct some kind of identity for itself. That’s what I mean when I say they are two different problems. I would agree with the sentence I quoted here, but your other sentences I quoted seem to be saying something different, and so I can’t be sure you mean what I think you mean. Yes, the self emerges from the memory of the brain and so forth, but long before that, sentient (sensing) experience emerges from nearly everything the nervous system does, from reflex to instinct to higher brain function.

            In reply to #129 by jimblake:

            Now that I can get behind.

          • In reply to #137 by Zeuglodon:

            In reply to #114 by jimblake:

            What is it exactly that can still see, smell and taste anyway? Is it the short term self?

            No. Short-term and long-term selves are constructs to model both past experiences for analysis and future experiences so that one can plan for contingencies. Whatever is doing th…

            Well, if you want to separate ‘present me’ from short term memory, we can do that. I had just lumped them together. But I don’t think ‘present me’ is that much different than short term memory–they both function as memory that is being continuously updated. It’s kind of analogous to the memory stack in a computer. Information is input into register 1 and when new information is input, the old information is pushed up the stack into register 2, and then into register 3 and so on until the stack is filled. Then, if the information is not stored in another memory area, it is lost.

            I think the ‘present me’ area is the result of the cross-connection and integration of the various sensory and motor areas in the brain. The individual senses probably originally evolved separately for specific purposes and were connected to instinctive response areas in the brain. There would have been no experience of sensory information until these senses were cross-connected and integrated into the ‘present me’ memory area. This sensory information would most likely be a flood of different colored pixels and a cacophony of sounds and other sensations that would make no sense until a library of reference material could be built up in long term memory.

            If there was no long term or short term memory, but ‘present me’ memory existed, ‘present me’ and the experience would only last a fraction of a second and then there would be a new ‘present me’ and a new instantanious experience with no awareness of the previous experience. I don’t see how that could qualify as sentience. I still think that the emergence of the self gave context and meaning to the sensory information and memories and gave us the ability to experience sensory information.

            The difference between various animals and humans would be the complexity of the self.

          • In reply to #138 by jimblake:

            In reply to #137 by Zeuglodon:

            In reply to #114 by jimblake:

            What is it exactly that can still see, smell and taste anyway? Is it the short term self?

            No. Short-term and long-term selves are constructs to model both past experiences for analysis and future experiences so that one can plan for con…

            Hm. I could yet be convinced, but I do suspect that sentience is based on the brain simply being “on”, and structures such as the short-term memory bank would simply be a part of the brain’s infrastructure, on par with any other submodule in the brain such as the temporal lobe or the maxillary body. But this relies on brain sentience being founded upon simple neuron impulses, and that’s not much different from the cause and effect of anything physical, which raises the question of whether a nerve impulse is no more relevant than the existence of the atoms that make up the nerve. After all, it’s not the carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen particles that sense things, but the brain that is built out of them. This might be the case for nerve impulses too; they might simply be components for the basis of sentience rather than being the basis themselves. It might be that some higher form of processing is necessary before sentience emerges, and I don’t see why short-term memory couldn’t be a candidate.

          • In reply to #139 by PERSON:

            In reply to #23 by Zeuglodon:

            You can’t be wrong about what you’re experiencing right now

            Yes you can.

            I meant it in the spirit of cogito ergo sum, not in the spirit of naive realism.

          • You obviously weren’t doing it right.

            [humour off]

            In reply to #22 by Peter Grant:

            In reply to #20 by Zeuglodon:

            [...] Think I first encountered this concept when researching rectal exams

    • In reply to #15 by DhyanVijen:

      Did you read anything on this thread before posting that? I honestly have to ask: what are you talking about?

      We’re not trying to prove that consciousness does or doesn’t exist, which is what you seem to be saying (why?). We know about Cogito Ergo Sum, and so on. We also know that the vast majority of scientific study shows that consciousness is located in the brain and deeply connected to the workings of the brain. What we are trying to do is explain how it works. Totally different thing. Now that it is here, we ask ourselves why it is here.

      So let’s try again. What exactly were you trying to say when you somehow confused “consciousness emerges from brains” with “consciousness certainly exists”?

      EDIT: Actually, scratch that. I’ve just seen the other comments you’ve posted on this site, and I think I see where this is going, vis-a-vis your views on consciousness.

    • In reply to #15 by DhyanVijen:

      Hi Dhyan,

      Consciousness is not a concept: consciousness is primary.

      • I don’t understand why consciousness cannot be both?

      • On what evidence is consciousness primary (I’m assuming you’re using the typical philosophical meaning of primary)?

      The evidence for the existence of matter, energy, other minds, etc., is utterly negligible compared with the certainty with which you know your own subjective reality.

      My studies of my own experience of reality have convinced me that Plato was wrong about forms. Descartes and Hume are closer to the truth.

      We experience a World through our senses, and a senseless World is a World that simply has less truth in it, and is, like Plato, more prone to fantasy. My conscious conclusion is therefore that experience, however flawed it may be, is an essential element of conscious thought.

      Our minds do not hand us the experiences of the senses, they model it and present us with a ‘picture’ of reality that has been interpreted. Our evolved minds make assumptions, and our senses may thus be deceived. My consciousness is therefore prone to subjective interpretations – but it is not beyond objectivity. I simply have to question my mind’s models of interpretation, my viewpoint and its limitations and seek additional inputs for confirmation or rejection of my intuitions.

      The evidence for other things, from matter to minds, is therefore vital to understanding my conscious self.

      My model of other minds – seeking evidence by which to question my consciousness – finds surgeons demonstrating the direct link between the physical brain and consciousness, moving an arm, expressing thoughts, replying to questions and so on with conscious patients.

      Ergo: Consciouness is not primary.

      Peace.

    • In reply to #15 by DhyanVijen:

      The evidence for the existence of matter, energy, other minds, etc., is utterly negligible compared with the certainty with which you know your own subjective reality.

      That’s a blatant solipsism. Yes, the immortal human consciousness/soul at the very center of the universe. This kind of anthropocentric wishful thinking is exactly what leads to superstitious beliefs like religion and new-age woo-woo. The notion that “the certainty with which you know your own subjective reality.” could very well be a mental construct, a simulation entirely fabricated by one’s brain. The words subjective and reality don’t even belong together. In fact, that is a gross misuse of the word “reality”.

      The only really appropriate term here is “subjective EXPERIENCE”.

    • In reply to #15 by DhyanVijen:

      @Red Dog: “Religion” would be more accurate description than “pseudoscience”.

      I disagree. My definition of religion is the same as Scott Atran’s:

      (1) a community’s costly and hard-to-fake commitment (2) to a counterfactual and counterintuitive world of supernatural agents (3) who master people’s existential anxieties, such as death and deception. In Gods We Trust:The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion (Evolution and Cognition) (p. 4). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.

      So this satisfies the 3rd criterion but not the second or first. It is more appropriate to call it Pseudoscience because it presents itself as science. The guys putting forth the theory seem to think its scientific and they even have good credentials working on other scientific problems. But its pseudoscience because (at least from everything I have seen) there is no actual data to support it and more importantly I have never heard anyone put forward an actual experiment that could demonstrate evidence for it. As the critics of String Theory say this idea is “not even wrong”. I’ve never seen any evidence that the human nervous system can interact in a meaningful way at the quantum level and until and unless there is such evidence this is just pointless speculation.

    • In reply to #15 by DhyanVijen:

      @most of you others: Consciousness does not “emerge” from the brain,

      Sorry to have to tell you this, but bodies without brains are not conscious. This conclusion requires objective observation and cannot be concluded from introspective navel gazing!

      Conscious responses emerge from brains, as any sober person who has tried to have a conversation with a brick can tell you!

      Consciousness is not a concept: consciousness is primary.

      Nope! You got it backwards! Consciousness is a concept, and an ill-defined one at that! Your assertion is particularly ridiculous as it denies the emergent nature of thought.

      Definition – Primary/secondary quality distinction – Primary qualities are thought to be properties of objects that are independent of any observer, such as solidity, extension, motion, number and figure. These characteristics convey facts. They exist in the thing itself, can be determined with certainty, and do not rely on subjective judgments. For example, if a ball is round, no one can reasonably argue that it is a triangle. – Primary qualities are measurable aspects of physical reality.

      The evidence for the existence of matter, energy, other minds, etc.,
      is utterly negligible compared with the certainty with which you know your own subjective reality.

      Matter energy etc ARE PHYSICAL REALITY!

      Definition – Secondary qualities are thought to be properties that produce sensations in observers, such as color, taste, smell, and sound. They can be described as the effect things have on certain people. Knowledge that comes from secondary qualities does not provide objective facts about things. – Secondary qualities are subjective

      The evidence for the existence of matter, energy, other minds, etc., is utterly negligible compared with the certainty with which you know your own subjective reality.

      This is nonsense!

      “Subjective reality”, is an oxymoron!

      Subjective delusions or notions, are only reality in the form of the analysis of internal brain chemistry of the subject.

      Their thought out-puts emerging from the brain, are purely disconnected, sensation, illusion or delusion, with no connections to primary qualities which are measurable aspects of external physical reality.

      You are simply asserting backwards thinking, attributing the opposite meanings to the regular definitions of words in some sort of strange attempt to deny physical reality.

      BTW: There are some interesting quotes on the link!

      “I think that tastes, odors, colors, and so on are no more than mere names so far as the object in which we locate them are concerned, and that they reside in consciousness. Hence if the living creature were removed, all these qualities would be wiped away and annihilated”

      —Galileo Galilei, The Assayer (published 1623).

  9. They are almost certainly wrong as most of the important processes happening in the bran are being done by macro objects. Quantum effects in macro objects are fairly deterministic due to averaging.

    Quantum effects are important, but important to interactions between atoms, not comparatively huge things like neurons. Some circuits in integrated chips have to take quantum effects into account, but these are very, very small structures. The main part of neurons are 4 to 100 micrometers while these computer circuits are about 22nm. So that is 22 billionths of a metre compared to 100 millionths of a metre. Neurons are small, but too large for quantum effects to play a large role.

  10. I thought I had deleted my original comment that this is pseudoscience but I see that it is still there. I thought I deleted it shortly after posting because I hadn’t actually read the whole article and decided I should at least do so before commenting. So anyway, I’ve read the article now and I’m glad the original comment didn’t get deleted because I think it still stands. There is a simple question for these guys: is there any evidence that the brain or the human nervous system can interact at the quantum level? I have never seen any and until someone provides some this theory is just pointless speculation.

    In The Devil’s Chaplain Dawkins had a good essay about pseudoscience. I’m paraphrasing from memory but essentially he said every once in a while some new theory will come along that captures people’s imagination but is hard to understand. Chaos theory was the big thing previously and now its quantum consciousness. The argument (when all the BS is stripped away) comes down to “quantum (or chaos) theory is weird and hard to understand. Human consciousness is weird and hard to understand. Therefor maybe they are the same thing” What is worse the almost inevitable extrapolation of all the speculation is usually that things like souls and life after death actually have some meaning after all. So in this paper they briefly mention that the theories authors: “discuss quantum souls, the afterlife, reincarnation, and Hinduism and Buddhism.” It is just one more attempt to save the same old nonsense in some new pseudoscience disguise.

  11. I wrote about this in 2002 in Swedish “Kvantdatorer och singularitetsscenariot”. But I thought that the brain was a quantum computer from 1987. I did study optics and wave mechanichs then and in 1989 i studied Quantum Mechanics. I read Penrose book when it came out. I still need to learn the General Theory of Relativity to understand this better. (BTW I also read Dawkins’ and Dennet’s books when they came out but I side with Penrose.)

  12. Stuart Hameroff (MD) is an anesthesiologist and some anesthesiologists are involved in electroshocks (ECT) of the brain. It would be interesting to know Hameroff’s opinion on ECT and whether it could damage the microtubules in the neurons. Obviously ECT does some damage to the brain because many people complain about permanent memory problems following ECT.

    • In reply to #39 by MOB:

      Stuart Hameroff (MD) is an anesthesiologist and some anesthesiologists are involved in electroshocks (ECT) of the brain. It would be interesting to know Hameroff’s opinion on ECT and whether it could damage the microtubules in the neurons. Obviously ECT does some damage to the brain because many p…

      I believe Dennet has an anecdote in ‘Intuition Pumps’ where he describes arguing with an anesthesiologist about this. Maybe it was this guy. He used Reductio ad absurdum to ask if these microtubules are conscious if you remove them from the body.

  13. I applaud Dr. Hameroff for pursuing an alternative hypothesis for the nature of consciousness and I disagree with the comments that his hypothesis is pseudoscience. Although I do not completely understand the role of microtubules as he explains, he does propose tests consistent with the scientific method to determine the validity of his hypothesis. He also states that if anesthesia does not affect the quantum states in the microtubules during his proposed experiments, then he may retract his entire proposal. He further states that a greater understanding of the role of microtubules could help in treating mental disorders, dementia and other brain diseases. He may be absolutely wrong, partially right and partially wrong or completely correct but it sounds like a scientific endeavor employing the scientific method.

    giggity

  14. A laser is not a “quantum” device, although the physics involved is explained by quantum mechanics, in the same way that the operation of the simple diode or NPN transistor can be described in terms of quantum effects, that does not make your laptop a quantum computer, nor photosynthesis any more mysterious than the photovoltaic cell, thankfully electronic circuits are still described and designed perfectly adequately using the classic atomic model.

    The point I make is that the depletion area in semiconductors can be described in terms of quantum mechanics, but those effects operate at the quantum level, the device itself can still be described by the classical model, these devices manifest no quantum behaviour at the macro level, the humble transistor is not in two places at once, will go through a single slit and fail two months outside of the warranty period.

    Using our simple transistor and computer as an example, if we describe the operation of the transistor in terms of quantum effects, we are describing its operation at the lowest level, we are describing the physics and nothing else, the higher level of operation or function of a computer is not defined by the physics of its elementary components, it may be that you can describe the operation of the most elementary element of the brain with exquisite detail and in reference to collapsing quantum fields, but after that, you will look up and see a monolithic structure many orders of magnitude more complex and a system entirely indifferent to quantum effects…

    Even if the good professor is absolutely correct, it will not actually help in explaining consciousness.

  15. It seems to me consciousness is not going to be explained by any combination of ordinary things like chemistry. It is is subjectively something entirely else. Our first goal should be developing a way to measure it.

  16. The talk was very informative, but I didn’t quite get some of it ?? what’s the problem if its quantum or not ?

    I did like the bit about Buddhist monks ability to reach a higher frequency of consciousness amounting to double that of everyday people…wow ! nirvana……I’ve experienced a few altered states of consciousness myself – one was…in a car accident where time slowed down around me – or rather my thoughts speeded up greatly – another time I was fully aware and thinking but couldn’t speak or even make my mouth move…after a seizure… that was scary…there’s a few more mind expanding experiences that I wont go into….Different levels of consciousness suggest a hierarchy or maybe an architecture of what consciousness is…like a spirit level with multi purpose speed regulated electrical fluid streams within ?

  17. @Stephen of Wimbledon #24
    Here is Francis Lucille’s definition of consciousness: “Consciousness is that which is hearing these words now.”

    @NearlyNakedApe #29
    Among the entities for which you have dubitable evidence is your own mind. So no, it isn’t solipsist. You have confused consciousness with mind.

    @Alan4discussion #40
    All of the “primary” and “secondary” quantities you list are derivative. Seek out that which is truly primary: you will find that you are already intimately familiar with it, that it is available now, and that it has never not been available.

    • In reply to #48 by DhyanVijen:

      Hi Dhyan,

      @Stephen of Wimbledon #24
      Here is Francis Lucille’s definition of consciousness: “Consciousness is that which is hearing these words now.”

      Why Lucille’s definition?

      A definition is appropriate if it is useful – if it is explanatory or descriptive. In what way does Lucille’s definition advance our understanding? In what way is this definition superior to other definitions of consciousness?

      Why have I heard of Descartes, Locke, Hume and others – but not Lucille?

      A definition is only a start, a point of departure. Where are the developers of Lucille’s thoughts?

      You explain nothing, you make nothing clearer, you teach us nothing.

      Peace.

    • In reply to #49 by Peter Grant:

      I’ve heard it said that pain is an illusion… Doesn’t make it any less real.

      The electro-biochemistry behind it is real, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Excitatory-synapse – so as with Gallileo’s perceptions @40 it only exists as sensations of the organism during the functional life of the organism.
      (Psychoactive drugs substitute for the normal neurotransmitters at the synapses – causing illusions for shaman etc.)

      Pain can be an illusion http://www.livescience.com/28694-non-amputees-feel-phantom-limb.html, but it is evolved as a warning message of damage being done. Illusionary pain is a psychological or neurological malfunction.

      • In reply to #52 by Alan4discussion:

        In reply to #49 by Peter Grant:

        I’ve heard it said that pain is an illusion… Doesn’t make it any less real.

        The electro-biochemistry behind it is real, so as with Gallileo’s perceptions @40 it only exists as sensations of the organism during the functional life of the organism.

        Pain can be an i…

        Yes, but while the association of the pain with the missing limb is an illusion, the pain itself is not. Illusions are about detecting things that aren’t really there, like hallucinations. The experience of having an illusion can’t be an illusion itself, because it’s really happening, even if the one having the experience misunderstands its cause and thinks that what he or she is experiencing is a real event going on and not merely his or her mind playing tricks.

        • In reply to #53 by Zeuglodon:

          Yes, but while the association of the pain with the missing limb is an illusion, the pain itself is not. Illusions are about detecting things that aren’t really there, like hallucinations.

          The electrical or chemical triggering of synapses is real, but it is a malfunction, so the perception is illusory. The reaction to the pain is also real as a false alarm is activating normal responses!

          Similarly in an illusory vision, the image in the brain is operated by real physics, but it is only an imaginary image of objects which do not exist in the material world.

          The experience of having an illusion can’t be an illusion itself, because it’s really happening, even if the one having the experience misunderstands its cause and thinks that what he or she is experiencing is a real event going on and not merely his or her mind playing tricks.

          The tricks may well be in the activation of the severed nerves from the severed limb, but a false copy of a signal, should not be confused with the original.

          That is the nature of delusions and illusions. They appear real to the subject of them, but are recognised as simulations by independent observers.

          For example there will be illusory images in the brains of those whose synapses are clogged with psychedelic drugs, but independent observers will be able to contrast the tripper’s descriptions, with the reality of the physical world. Similarly a computer image can be created using real hardware and software, but the imaged object its self is imaginary.

          PS: I added a Wiki link as a late edit to 52 which you may have missed.

          • In reply to #56 by Alan4discussion:

            In reply to #53 by Zeuglodon:

            Yes, but while the association of the pain with the missing limb is an illusion, the pain itself is not. Illusions are about detecting things that aren’t really there, like hallucinations.

            The electrical or chemical triggering of synapses is real, but it is a malfunct…

            I think we’re agreeing but not realizing it. I’m not disputing the stuff that goes on in the neurons is why we have the experiences we do – even stuff like phantom limb pain is accounted for by the neuroscience. My point was just in response to Peter Grant’s position that consciousness is somehow an illusion and real at the same time; unless he’s making the banal point that the illusion itself is real and not what you having an illusion of, I frankly don’t understand him.

            I mean, a smoke detector might go off even when there’s no smoke present, but the fact that it’s active at all can’t really be disputed. The neural networks might be malfunctioning by detecting something that isn’t even there and fooling itself, but there’s still an experience going on, whatever the heck it is.

          • In reply to #61 by Zeuglodon:

            I think we’re agreeing but not realizing it. I’m not disputing the stuff that goes on in the neurons is why we have the experiences we do – even stuff like phantom limb pain is accounted for by the neuroscience.

            I agree with you – but I sometimes add clarification or emphasis. I was not sure if you had seen the Wiki link I added as an edit as your comment quickly followed mine !
            There seems to be some confusion in some other posts between perceptions and the material processes driving them, so a little emphasis and repetition helps clarify. It seems silly to be discussing quantum effects before looking at the basics of the chemical or electrical synapses. It invites quantom-woo-gapology!

            The OP graphic image is not particularly informative, so the diagram on my link @52 gives a better description of the chemistry.
            As does the little animation clip illustrating the working of a chemical synaps:- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Synapse.theora.ogv

  18. @Stephen of Wimbledon #50
    The names you mention are “philosophers” – this word has fallen into abuse. Francis Lucille really is a “lover of wisdom”, and currently available. His experiential definition can form the foundation for a subjective investigation which will uncover that which you are searching for.

    • In reply to #54 by DhyanVijen:

      His experiential definition can form the foundation for a subjective investigation

      It’s called introspection, and it’s been established as useless for a long time. Just ask any psychology department; that’s how the field started, just as chemistry began with alchemy and astronomy began with astrology.

    • In reply to #54 by DhyanVijen:

      Hi Dhyan,

      I’m sorry that you’re unable to engage with my questions. It also undermines your position.

      The names you mention are “philosophers” – this word has fallen into abuse

      Definitions are constantly misinterpreted and corrupted, it’s not a new problem. A good philosopher helps us to understand by working on the details of their definitions. Neither you, nor your hero Lucille, appear willing to do this.

      Francis Lucille really is a “lover of wisdom”, and currently available.

      What I was able to find of Lucille’s thinking did not persuade me that he is wise – lover or not.

      Since when did being alive make a persons philosophy superior?

      [Francis Lucille's] experiential definition can form the foundation for a subjective investigation which will uncover that which you are searching for.

      As Zeuglodon points out, Comment 55, introspection has long been discounted as a path to truth – and I also indicated that my personal journey has taken me beyond Plato. Not engaging with my position is only proving to me that you’re wrong, you are following a false path. Your journey is taking you away from truth, rather than towards it.

      One of the greatest lessons of human history is that subjective studies are inferior. You are free to ignore that lesson. By failing to address my concerns, you’ve persuaded me that ignoring that lesson is a failure of thinking.

      Peace.

  19. What do we know about consciousness?
    There seem to be several kinds:

    1. none (knocked out with anaesthesia) no sensation of passage of time
    2. dreaming (sensation of passage of time)
    3. hallucinating
    4. ordinary waking

    It seems to pop on and off, rather than gradually kicking in, or kicking in a section at a time.

    Subjectively it feels like a unitary experience.

    Unconscious people do not react to pain.

    Conscious people react quickly to changes in the environment.

    People make assumptions about what animals/machines are conscious and what are not, based on nothing more than a hunch.

    I think we have determined it has no mass or very small mass.

    • In reply to #57 by Roedy:

      Unconscious people do not react to pain.

      That’s not really correct. Unless the unconscious people you are talking about are dead.

      But then, what do you make of people, conscious people —alive (therefore conscious) yet responding to external stimuli, despite a psychotic episode for example?
      Some do not react to pain or even worse while being technically conscious.

      Conscious people react quickly to changes in the environment.

      Tricky one, this.
      Every day, anywhere, there are countless conscious people turning a blind ear, a blind eye, a blind mind to their environment.
      A bullied kid in school.
      A beaten dude on the sidewalk.
      An abused co-worker… the list is long.
      Conscious people do NOT always react to changes in their environment, unless they are a perfect model that do not actually exist.

      People make assumptions about what animals/machines are conscious and what are not, based on nothing more than a hunch.

      This is just the old anthropomorphic problem.
      Which is just a nice worded thing for navel-gazing. It’s been plaguing us all for so long…

  20. I have to say I used, for some time, to be somewhat fascinated of these hypothesis about “quantum mechanics” playing some part in brain processes, but I slowly changed my mind and came to the conclusion I was only interested in them because of, well…the “coolness” factor :)

    Objectively speaking, a human brain performs an array of tasks, some of them possibly admirable and quite complex, such as processing an image and identifying shapes and objects in it, navigating in 3D areas, recognizing patterns and figuring out, through continuous observation and experimentation, the “unknown” rules/laws a system adheres to, even to the point of putting them down to mathematical expressions. While I find all of that, and especially the latter, almost wondrous, I can’t really say what is “missing”, so to speak, from an(extremely complex, of course) classical system that makes it insufficient to produce such behaviour, thus making us hypothesize that it is only with the addition of QM concepts that these phenomena became fully “explainable”. Haven’t watched the interview yet though, so I’ll bookmark it and watch it at some point.

    • In reply to #64 by Peter Grant:

      In reply to #52 by Alan4discussion:

      The point I am trying to make is that even illusory pain hurts just as much. Conscious experience is purely subjective, but this doesn’t make it any less real.

      So WHAT?

      What you may feel is absolutely irrelevant. Your ‘feelings’ —whether they are pain or otherwise— do NOT necessarily constitute reality.
      You are just making an appeal to emotion here.
      All along.

      If you would miss your right arm, say, and I would stick a very smart helmet on your head that would produce in your brain the image of your restored right arm… Then I would grab an axe and sever said inexistent arm and you would experience pain from it.
      Did I cut your arm? Did I harm you?

      No I did not. You did.

      The experience of anything cannot be countered. It does not make the experience real.
      I may be tripping my tits off on an LSD hit that I am some dark universal overlord blowing this universe up. It would be real to me. Would it be reality?

      This is all a circle jerk, as I said, only worth a spliff in college.

      • In reply to #67 by dom d. miller:

        If you would miss your right arm, say, and I would stick a very smart helmet on your head that would produce in your brain the image of your restored right arm… Then I would grab an axe and sever said inexistent arm and you would experience pain from it. Did I cut your arm? Did I harm you?

        There is a fascinating example a lot like this in Pinker’s book How the Mind Works. A scientist was working with a patient who had a missing arm but still had many physical sensations associated with it. The scientist created a situation where the patient perceived the missing arm was holding a cup and then he moved the cup in a way that would have caused the arm pain had it actually been there and the subject howled in pain.

    • In reply to #64 by Peter Grant:

      In reply to #52 by Alan4discussion:

      The point I am trying to make is that even illusory pain hurts just as much. Conscious experience is purely subjective, but this doesn’t make it any less real.

      I think you mean, “this doesn’t make feel it any less real”. What some seem to be struggling with, is that the physical neurological processes are real, even when the imagery or perceptions of sensations are imagined. (The pain generated by “short-circuiting” of severed nerves is real, even though the location in a missing amputated limb is imaginary.)

    • In reply to #65 by Peter Grant:

      In reply to #60 by dom d. miller:

      Illusions don’t disappear just because we realise that they are illusory.

      So..? Does that make them, illusions, anymore real?

      My boyfriend was convinced, beyond the shadow of [his] doubt that he was the little boy in The Neverending Story and the son to Madonna (no less) — among other things. That was his experience. A real experience to him.

      Does it make his delusion real? No.

      Just because I know it is a delusion (as he does) that one remains in his mind. Does that make it real? No.

      It may be really hard to deal with, hard to conceptualise and to even grasp, but an illusion is just that: an illusion. Whether we like it or not. Truth has a price tag and that one is more often than not the very price tag we do not want to see.

      Granted, illusions do not disappear just because they are illusory. Does that make them real or more potent, or more significant? No.
      Truth is a b*tch.

      • In reply to #66 by dom d. miller:

        My boyfriend was convinced, beyond the shadow of [his] doubt that he was the little boy in The Neverending Story and the son to Madonna (no less) — among other things. That was his experience. A real experience to him.

        Contrast this with me, I still see gods and devils and often have lengthy conversions with them, but realising that they are hallucinations means their presence doesn’t bother me nearly as much any more. In fact I’ve grown quite fond of some of these figments of my own imagination.

        • In reply to #68 by Peter Grant:

          In reply to #66 by dom d. miller:

          Contrast this with me, I still see gods and devils and often have lengthy conversions with them, but realising that they are hallucinations means their presence doesn’t bother me nearly as much any more. In fact I’ve grown quite fond of some of these figments of my own imagination.

          Well, in that case, I would hope you are taking good care of yourself and that the ones around you who love you do care as well, so you make sure to take antipsychotics that may help alleviate symptoms. Alas, as we know, it won’t treat the problem itself. At least as of yet. We’re working on it.

          Your experience is not the problem and you are not even the problem, yourself, there. It is just a fact yet it still does not make your perception real.

          • In reply to #69 by dom d. miller:

            I don’t consider it a problem. I am fully capable of differentiating my own subjective experience from objective reality and my hallucinations sometimes have good ideas. Chronic pain, illusory or not, now that would be a problem.

          • In reply to #70 by Peter Grant:

            In reply to #69 by dom d. miller:

            I don’t consider it a problem. I am fully capable of differentiating my own subjective experience from objective reality and my hallucinations sometimes have good ideas. Chronic pain, illusory or not, now that would be a problem.

            Good. Keep it that way, I say :) Hallucinations or glitches in perception often gave birth to really interesting things, art or otherwise.

            I empathise with the notion of pain though and that one can be a hell of a problem indeed. Fear though, is never a response to reality. Of course that’s just pure reason and logic and everything in-between. On a daily basis, that is sometimes a whole other story.

            But you see, just because it’s pain, just because (!) it’s even illusory does not make it more real than say thinking I am Poseidon about to rule over this world.

            It’s all cool though. Just take your differentiation a step further if you can. And if you can’t, talk about it, over and over again, to friends, to family, to anyone including me! :)

          • In reply to #73 by dom d. miller:

            If you don’t like real then call it epiphenomenal. I’m not a substance dualist, but I am a property one. Subjectivity is at least subjectively real.

          • In reply to #74 by Peter Grant:

            In reply to #73 by dom d. miller:

            If you don’t like real then call it epiphenomenal. I’m not a substance dualist, but I am a property one. Subjectivity is at least subjectively real.

            I think you may have misread/misinterpreted my words. I meant no harm.

            This is just a discussion, Peter. One that seems to run faster and faster from the original subject, actually (we’re all ending up on tangents here, it seems).

  21. “Hey, er …” said Zaphod, “what’s your name?”

    The man looked at them doubtfully.

    “I don’t know. Why, do you think I should have one? It seems very odd to give a bundle of vague sensory perceptions a name.”

  22. In reply to #90 by Peter Grant:

    In reply to #89 by Zeuglodon:

    Even if I was memoryless and stimulus-driven, the hard problem of consciousness, No. 1 on my list, would need explaining.

    That is where we differ. I don’t think the hard problem is hard, I don’t even think it’s a problem. We can study subjectivity objectively without…

    I’m not saying otherwise. I happen to agree with Dennett that it’s purely a matter for a scientific account of the brain to deal with. My point was just that we can isolate these things and discuss them and ask “What is that?”, even if the best answer is “It’s a brain function”.

    Interesting that this should come from someone convinced by property dualism, though. I myself go with something like material monism, specifically reductive physicalism, at least as it’s defined on that Wikipedia page. Probably functionalism, too. I’m not sure which best covers it.

    • In reply to #91 by Zeuglodon:

      I’m not saying otherwise. I happen to agree with Dennett that it’s purely a matter for a scientific account of the brain to deal with. My point was just that we can isolate these things and discuss them and ask “What is that?”, even if the best answer is “It’s a brain function”.

      Yes, but subjectivity is also the basis of value. Loosely, it answers the why question if not the how.

      Interesting that this should come from someone convinced by property dualism, though. I myself go with material monism, specifically reductive physicalism, at least as it’s defined on that Wikipedia page.

      I’ve said it before, subjectivity is subjectively real. I’m also a material monist and a reductive physicalist.

      • In reply to #92 by Peter Grant:

        If subjective experience is part of the package of a physical account of how the brain works, then the “Yes, but” is unnecessary. Value simply becomes a subset of a physical account, albeit a highly abstract one rooted in the setup of the computational functions of the brain. Sentience becomes no less real that the objective things it experiences, on that account.

        I’ve said it before, subjectivity is subjectively real. I’m also a material monist and a reductive physicalist.

        Then why did you claim earlier you were a property dualist? You can’t be both at once. Monism and dualism are mutually exclusive.

        • In reply to #93 by Zeuglodon:

          If subjective experience is part of the package of a physical account of how the brain works, then the “Yes, but” is unnecessary. Value simply becomes a subset of a physical account, albeit a highly abstract one rooted in the setup of the computational functions of the brain. Sentience becomes no less real that the objective things it experiences, on that account.

          Sentience is no less objectively, but subjectively it’s so much more. I will welcome the need for abstraction if it improves our lot.

          Then why did you claim earlier you were a property dualist? You can’t be both at once. Monism and dualism are mutually exclusive.

          Property dualism does not need to assume material dualism. Subjective properties have no real effect, but they really do affect us.

          • In reply to #94 by Peter Grant:

            Sentience is no less objectively, but subjectively it’s so much more. I will welcome the need for abstraction if it improves our lot.

            There is no “more”; that’s the point of a monistic position. There’s no missing ingredient, and there’s no fundamental distinction between the atoms making up your mind and the atoms making up your furniture. The difference – one of how each is set up to make two different structures with different computational and sentient capabilities – occurs within the monist paradigm as subsets of the physical.

            Property dualism does not need to assume material dualism. Subjective properties have no real effect, but they really do affect us.

            It does need to assume dualism, that something of the mind exists which is fundamentally distinct from the physical matter making it up or the mathematical, logical, or other abstract principles in its design. Monism and dualism are incompatible because even property dualism singles out aspects of the mind as a property completely different from its other properties. Under physicalism, this same claim is a confusion or even a delusion that there is something more which cannot be accounted for purely by physical descriptions.

            Note your own use of language. Who does “us” refer to that isn’t contained in a physical paradigm? It looks like an example of the Ghost in the Machine, except here it would be better termed the Pronoun in the Machine.

          • In reply to #95 by Zeuglodon:

            There is no “more”; that’s the point of a monistic position. There’s no missing ingredient, and there’s no fundamental distinction between the atoms making up your mind and the atoms making up your furniture. The difference – one of how each is set up to make two different structures with different computational and sentient capabilities – occurs within the monist paradigm as subsets of the physical.

            I don’t disagree.

            It does need to assume dualism, that something of the mind exists which is fundamentally distinct from the physical matter making it up or the mathematical, logical, or other abstract principles in its design.

            No subjectivity is not fundamentally distinct, it’s emergent and entirely reducible. It doesn’t “supervene” or anything like that.

            Monism and dualism are incompatible because even property dualism singles out aspects of the mind as a property completely different from its other properties.

            Not different, simply viewed from a different perspective, think of Einstein’s Relativity. Subjectivity looks different from the inside.

          • In reply to #96 by Peter Grant:

            No subjectivity is not fundamentally distinct, it’s emergent and entirely reducible. It doesn’t “supervene” or anything like that.

            Not different, simply viewed from a different perspective, think of Einstein’s Relativity. Subjectivity looks different from the inside.

            Points of view are not cases for property dualism, though, and I think your points are generally OK but you’re using the wrong concept to describe them. POVs are based on the mundane fact that I – or my brain, whatever is the case – can’t see what you can see, isn’t connected or integrated with your brain into a genuine super-entity, and isn’t subject to the same particular physical conditions yours is. For instance, you might be on a ship travelling close to the speed of light and I might be stuck on Earth, and the physical difference between our environments and our brains is enough to account for the differences between us. There’s no need to invoke a property as in property dualism.

          • In reply to #97 by Zeuglodon:

            POVs are based on the mundane fact that me – or my brain, whatever is the case – can’t see what you can see, isn’t connected to your brain into a genuine super-entity, and isn’t subject to the same particular physical conditions yours is.

            And on the fact that you wouldn’t see them in exactly the same way even if we were connected! However, I’m sure that you can a least guess how I feel, and if we can develop these guesses into a science?

          • In reply to #98 by Peter Grant:

            And on the fact that you wouldn’t see them in exactly the same way even if we were connected!

            Unless this is a reference to the “Is my green the same as your red?” question, I should think the neurological bases for seeing blue or yellow would be the same in either case. The specific contents and combinations of our brains would also be physical differences, though, as your memories and my memories alone would have different contents and neural configurations.

            However, I’m sure that you can a least guess how I feel, and if we can develop these guesses into a science?

            I think people already have: the mind sciences.

          • In reply to #99 by Zeuglodon:

            Unless this is a reference to the “Is my green is your red?” question

            I’m not even sure that your red is my red, subjectively. Objectively, they probably correlate.

            I think people already have: the mind sciences.

            They still need work before I will call them sciences. However, there are at least a few scientists working on the field.

          • In reply to #100 by Peter Grant:

            I’m not even sure that your red is my red, subjectively. Objectively, they probably correlate.

            I could be persuaded yet, but I have my doubts. You call it a correlate, but doesn’t that assume there are two different things to correlate, thereby making a dualistic argument circular? It might have made sense when people thought the heart was the thinking organ and not the brain, because the location of the mind was up for grabs, but now that it’s been located in the brain and its details are being accurately worked out bit by bit (closing in on a complete account, as it were), this distinction seems misleading. Even if the brain wasn’t the organ of sentience itself, but some kind of medium through which it worked, there would presumably be a real organ somewhere… say, in a parallel dimension, or using wireless, or something. Does this by itself warrant the creation of a distinct category we call a dualistic property, or is that a mistake akin to thinking living things contain elan vital?

          • In reply to #101 by Zeuglodon:

            I could be persuaded yet, but I have my doubts. You call it a correlate, but doesn’t that assume there are two different things to correlate, thereby making a dualistic argument circular?

            Objectively my red is probably your red unless one of us is colour blind, but red might be your favourite colour. Mine is green.

          • In reply to #102 by Red Dog:

            I prefer the term Cognitive Science but either way, yes there is fascinating work going on these days. Pinker’s books are the best summary I’ve come across. I’ve also heard the term Evolutionary Psychology, which just means we analyze the mind with the same disciplines and context as other complex systems such as vision and with the assumption that there must be adaptations that had survival benefit that enabled things like language and planning.

            I know; I’m a big fan of both fields of cognitive science and evolutionary psychology (though I agree with Jerry Coyne that it could do with less speculation and invention from certain people). If anything, I lament I can’t find more books on the subjects. I’ve also bought and read most of Pinker’s works and follow his online publications on his website. Haven’t gotten around to reading Words and Rules, sadly, but I think can get a copy from my local library.

            That article I referenced on another thread recently by Chomsky and two others was a great summary of the various kinds of cognitive behaviors that exist in the animal kingdom (communication, planning, numbers, etc.) and are almost certainly essential to understanding human cognition.

            Yes, and thanks for posting that. I haven’t read it all yet, but what I’ve read so far has been great. I only lament computer science isn’t my strong point. Undoubtedly, this is a subject I need to brush up on.

            In reply to #103 by Peter Grant:

            In reply to #101 by Zeuglodon:

            I could be persuaded yet, but I have my doubts. You call it a correlate, but doesn’t that assume there are two different things to correlate, thereby making a dualistic argument circular?

            Objectively my red is probably your red unless one of us is colour blind, but r…

            Ah, well, likes and dislikes. Not quite the same thing, is it? What is a like and a dislike if not a goal function of the brain? I’ve heard Haidt describe the system as the “Like-o-meter” in his book The Happiness Hypothesis when describing the more instinct-driven parts of the mind, mostly associated with the limbic system.

            The correct term is a goal function, isn’t it? Or something like that?

          • In reply to #105 by Zeuglodon:

            The correct term is a goal function, isn’t it? Or something like that?

            Yes, but it’s still subjectively meaningless. We need to implement our knowledge of goal functions to make people feel like they have actually scored a goal, preferably to serve a function.

          • In reply to #107 by Peter Grant:

            In reply to #105 by Zeuglodon:

            The correct term is a goal function, isn’t it? Or something like that?

            Yes, but it’s still subjectively meaningless. We need to implement our knowledge of goal functions to make people feel like they have actually scored a goal, and preferably to serve a function.

            I’m not sure what you mean here. Are you talking about ethics? If so, then I think that it’s a bit off-topic to discuss it here, and there’s another discussion at the moment we could relocate to. Or are you discussing values or something else? Would you care to explain?

          • In reply to #108 by Zeuglodon:

            I’m not sure what you mean here. Are you talking about ethics? If so, then I think that it’s a bit off-topic to discuss it here, and there’s another discussion at the moment we could relocate to. Or are you discussing values or something else?

            Ethics are a bit too abstract, but values are the only reason I care about consciousness, except for the subjective, painful aspect of course.

          • In reply to #109 by Peter Grant:

            In reply to #108 by Zeuglodon:

            I’m not sure what you mean here. Are you talking about ethics? If so, then I think that it’s a bit off-topic to discuss it here, and there’s another discussion at the moment we could relocate to. Or are you discussing values or something else?

            Ethics are a bit abstra…

            Yes, but where do your values come from, if not from your neurological/psychological make-up and the logic of social interactions, game theory, and how minds in general work? I’m not saying they don’t exist, but I am saying they are built upon aspects of the physical make-up of your brain. Emergent, yes, but in the same way that biology emerges from chemistry, and chemistry emerges from physics, and certainly not requiring anything dualistic.

          • In reply to #110 by Zeuglodon:

            Emergent, yes, but in the same way that biology emerges from chemistry, and chemistry emerges from physics, and certainly not requiring anything dualistic.

            You still seem to be conflating property dualism with substance dualism. Everything is emergent. Some properties are purely subjective, but they have objective correlates.

          • In reply to #111 by Peter Grant:

            You still seem to be conflating property dualism with substance dualism. Everything is emergent. Some properties are purely subjective, but they have objective correlates.

            I probably am, but I admit I’m wrestling with the distinctions a bit here. I had a look on Wikipedia, and I think it comes down to how emergent properties are treated. On the one hand, I can appreciate how emotions, thoughts, and beliefs can be treated in their own right, just as biological concepts can be treated differently from their chemical and physical constituents. On the other hand, the part about its non-reductiveness leaves me hesitant, as the physicalist position seems to require a reductive component. If it isn’t explicable by its parts, then what is that but a subtle admission for substance dualism, even if it doesn’t look like it? I mean, would we speak of a property dualism for biology, chemistry, and physics?

          • In reply to #112 by Zeuglodon:

            On the other hand, the part about its non-reductiveness leaves me hesitant, as the physicalist position seems to require a reductive component. If it isn’t explicable by its parts, then what is that but a subtle admission for substance dualism, even if it doesn’t look like it? I mean, would we speak of a property dualism for biology, chemistry, and physics?

            Objectively, it’s reducible.

          • In reply to #112 by Zeuglodon:

            In reply to #111 by Peter Grant:

            You still seem to be conflating property dualism with substance dualism. Everything is emergent. Some properties are purely subjective, but they have objective correlates.

            I probably am, but I admit I’m wrestling with the distinctions a bit here. I had a look on Wikipedia, and I think it comes down to how emergent properties are treated. On the one hand, I can appreciate how emotions, thoughts, and beliefs can be treated in their own right, just as biological concepts can be treated differently from their chemical and physical constituents. On the other hand, the part about its non-reductiveness leaves me hesitant, as the physicalist position seems to require a reductive component. If it isn’t explicable by its parts, then what is that but a subtle admission for substance dualism, even if it doesn’t look like it? I mean, would we speak of a property dualism for biology, chemistry, and physics?

            The best way to understand emergence, is to realize that it’s not just the parts, but the way the parts are connected, the structure of the system. The system is reducible, just not predictable. The parts come together in random ways and organize themselves into a system through feedback loops and adjustments to create a new environment that facilitates the behavior of all the parts, giving them context and meaning relative to this mutually created environment. It’s all theoretically reducible, but often too complex to be practically reducible. So, what emerges from the self-organization is something new that has properties of it’s own besides being an ideal environment for the activities of its parts.

          • In reply to #129 by jimblake:

            That’s how objective emergence works. Subjectivity is also emergent, but it doesn’t actually do anything objective. Also, strong emergence, the “irreducible in principle” kind, is bunk.

          • In reply to #99 by Zeuglodon:

            I think people already have: the mind sciences.

            I prefer the term Cognitive Science but either way, yes there is fascinating work going on these days. Pinker’s books are the best summary I’ve come across. I’ve also heard the term Evolutionary Psychology, which just means we analyze the mind with the same disciplines and context as other complex systems such as vision and with the assumption that there must be adaptations that had survival benefit that enabled things like language and planning. That article I referenced on another thread recently by Chomsky and two others was a great summary of the various kinds of cognitive behaviors that exist in the animal kingdom (communication, planning, numbers, etc.) and are almost certainly essential to understanding human cognition.

            One of the most interesting ideas I’ve come across lately is that people are trying to define “modules”, essentially trying to come up with functional specifications of what the inputs/outputs and internal logic of these cognitive sub-systems might be like. This is interesting to me because if I was to summarize the progress the Information Technology world has made since I started working there in the 80′s it would be that we have recognized that the definition of software modules is the most essential requirement to developing large complex and robust software systems. And the more I read the more things that every software engineer knows by heart: encapsulation, information hiding, etc. keep popping up in discussion of the human cognitive modules.

            BTW, this isn’t because I think the research will lead to me finally being able to create my Robot monster and take over the world (that project is on hold for now), its not that I think we will find that you can just write software that replicates what the brain does, its that the same general principles about information and how its organized and communicated may be applicable in both domains.

  23. Oh and one more point, its because of interesting research such as the stuff that Pinker writes about that I find articles like this rather annoying — not even worth taking serious time to refute. There is good science being done right now in understanding consciousness but the key isn’t going to be some magical quantum properties (and really that is what this comes down to on the quantum stuff, an embrace of magical thinking) but through the same kind of slow, incremental progress we had to take to understand far less complex systems (which we still barely understand at that) such as vision.

    • In reply to #104 by Red Dog:

      Oh and one more point, its because of interesting research such as the stuff that Pinker writes about that I find articles like this rather annoying — not even worth taking serious time to refute. There is good science being done right now in understanding consciousness but the key isn’t going to b…

      Agreed. It’s basically life force for the modern age.

    • In reply to #124 by Moderator:

      Sorry, was that directed at me? I thought I was entirely on topic and I don’t see how this exchange can be viewed as private. I have nothing against gay people, quite like them. Mainly because they seem to get hold of the purer stuff, but also because I can identify with their persecution by stupid society.

  24. “The illusion of free will is itself an illusion” – Sam Harris

    Should you put drugs before people: you have a problem, dude.

    Yes, generally I prefer drugs. I don’t blame drugs, I blame people, but the sad part is that it’s not really their fault either.

    The sad part is never anyone’s fault (though it IS). The sad part here, right now is the derailing of this thread.
    For the rest I’m all yours.

  25. I always wonder why there is this persistent connection between quantum physics and “the mind” that has been around for so long. I think there are very good arguments (such as Tegmark’s paper in Physical Review : “Importance of quantum decoherence in brain processes” , Phys Rev 61, 2000) that convincingly show Th.e lack of relevance of QM on brain processes. But more importantly, I feel that there is a huge gap between the two realms and little evidence that such gap requires a connection. In other words, there are very good examples in the history of science where a SIMPLE experiment (such as the Michelson-Morley one) revealed a paradox that required a completely novel interpretation of reality (i. e. Einstein’s special relativity theory). I would find the whole discussion relevant if something concerning the activity of neurons in a Petri dish suggested a profound paradox that cannot be explained using the standard, classical methods of neuroscience. No such a thing exists.

  26. The structure of consciousness is ‘feeling’ and ‘naming’. We are alive as we are ‘feeling’ and ‘naming’.
    Feeling is in the form of anger, fear, confusion, anxiety, pleasure. Now the illusion enters and sees anger, fear and so on in rejection mode and pleasure feeling in welcome mode. The ground of consciousness is touched; the ground of being ‘alive’ is touched when these expressions are not rejected as alien. Can one see that anger, fear and so on are simply psychological discomforts? Suddenly, the ground is realized.
    https://sites.google.com/site/yvchawla/third-eye/frictionisthesignofbeingalive

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