May 18, 2017

Karma and popular imagination of it are universes apart

Dear Jonathan

I think the claim that qualia are no different from electromagnetic fields and gravity follows logically from the view that qualia have a causal impact on the world. There is, after all, no indication that the strong or weak nuclear forces could play any part in the processing of information in the brain, and we know of no other force that does so. In the light of the success of Neo-Darwinian theory, the very fact that our qualia are organised into designlike representations of sensory stimuli gives us every reason to believe they have a causal impact. They are therefore almost certainly something to do with electromagnetic (and perhaps gravitational) fields. But that doesn't tell us much.

What seems strange to me is that everyone is arguing over how qualia might act upon matter but nobody is approaching this problem from the perspective of the one scientific theory that gives us reason to believe in such an action: Darwinian natural selection. It seems to me that we should be looking at the ways in which the qualia of human consciousness have become organized, asking ourselves what sort of influence would be adapted by a brain in a way that would result in that organization, and then looking for a biophysical system that could provide such an influence. When we eventually narrow the candidates down to one we will have identified the direct physical correlate of our qualia and solved the hard problem.

I am not quite there yet.  However,  I am reasonably confident that I have identified the sort of influence that would result in the qualia of a single consciousness coming to exclusively encode the broad variety of sensory and memory outputs found in human consciousness.  Moreover,  I can explain why they came to be arranged in sensory-image-like patterns,  why we sense what these patterns mean, why they seem to highlight what we are attending to,  why different senses came to use distinct qualia, and even why unpleasant types of qualia became confined to generally detrimental circumstances, and pleasant qualia to beneficial ones. If interested,  see my book THE BLIND MINDMAKER - available on Amazon

As my book explains,  the selection pressures needed to explain that organization require that our consciousness exerts a single, highly-localized output effect that varies randomly in position in a way that is statistically influenced by the intensity and type of the qualia we experience. Consequently, I have concluded that we must each be the aspect of nature that chooses the position of a single particle whose position has become indeterminate through quantum processes. That particle is confined to a region of the brain where its position probability-density is determined by external potentials controlled by sensory and memory outputs.  These are what we experience as different types of qualia (the differences arising from differences between the particles responsible for the potentials). The outcomes of regular measurements of that particle's position have been adapted to an attention-directing role.

Since it would be pretty much impossible for natural selection to create a vacuum anywhere in a brain,  or confine a fundamental particle like a photon or electron in such a way,  it seems to me that the only plausible candidate is a relatively large and robust biological molecule such as an ion channel whose position within a part of a cell is made indeterminate by the sort of quantum diffusion processes envisaged by M J Donald in his Quantum Theory and the Brain.

An ion channel would also make it easy for the brain to measure the position of our particle as my theory requires, since all the brain would need to evolve is a means of registering the point of initiation of an action potential.  The only problem is that an ion channel in a cell membrane is pretty much confined to two-dimensional movement. To account for our sense of depth in vision, and our sense of our body occupying 3-d space, our particle in my theory really needs to diffuse throughout a three-dimensional region (confined as always by the sensory-controlled potentials).

Although the matter that directly constitutes our qualia in this theory has thus not yet been identified,  that is the same with every other theory of consciousness.  Penrose and Hameroff do not specify which microtubules constitute our experience, and more seriously they don't tell us how these microtubules came to be organized so that the colour ones form an image very closely related to the patterns formed by particular frequencies of light rays impinging on our retinas, and the touch ones come to feel like the surfaces touching our body. My theory at least does explain how the direct correlates of our qualia came to be so organized. And for those on this list bemoaning the untestability of most theories of consciousness,  let me point out that my theory - Position Selecting Interactionism - is easily testable by a relatively straightforward experiment that is detailed in my book's postscript.

I don't have the resources to carry out that experiment.  But hopefully someone out there will.

Best wishes,
May 18, 2017

C.  S.  Morrison -  Author of THE BLIND MINDMAKER: Explaining Consciousness without Magic or Misrepresentation

How can any of this have anything to do with whether people interperet the word red as my redness, or my grenness, or something different, entirely?

How can it describe how to theoretically detect and destinguish particular elemental qualia anyone may be experiencing (such as my redness or grenness..)?

How could I possibley see anything in your equations which could have anything to do with what my redness is like, and how it is different than my grenness, or other's redness....

I don't see how it could be possible to, given what you describe, to eff the ineffable, or know what someone else's red is like, just as sure as you know the difference between your redness and grenness...?

How can these kind of mathematical equations, even if they do describe anything in nature, have anything to do with describing or detecting what a simple redness experience is or is qualitatively like?

If you can answer any of these questions, I might become interested, but otherwise, what is the use of putting so much effort into something that seems like it can't have anything to do with knowing, discovering or detecting or comunicating what my redness is like?  To me, it all seems like a complete waist of time, and completely categorically missing the point about what qualia are, or what might have them, how to detect and describe them, and so on.


Brent Allsop 
May 18, 2017

Jo: "My beef is with the analytic fall-out crowd who have gone round and round in circles because they have assumed that words have meanings that can be assumed to be fixed across contexts - like subjective and objective or mental and physical."

Excuse me, but if there are no words that on some level have meanings across contexts, then simultaneous apprehension of / communication regarding those contexts is impossible. Bye bye, science! In fact, bye bye reality.

Jo: "I think it is a fallacy to think that two subjects can observe the same causal relation. Nothing ‘out there’ is available to two observers in any sense that is important to a metaphysical discussion."

If two observers cannot agree on anything of an observational nature, then they cannot agree about anything of a cognitive nature either. This follows from the fact that the set of instances of perception is a subset of the set of instances of cognition. If you can't even think it in your mind, then you certainly can't perceive it as mental input; to this extent, every perceptual process is a cognitive process. Again, bye bye science!

Jo: "Moreover, it seems to me that the fact that two people can cross check their inference of a chair disposition is really of no interest to our metaphysical discussion. It applies to oneself."

Are you positing a kind of solipsism? Even in a solipsistic universe, you must have some kind of cognitive-perceptual accord with your simulacra. Otherwise, you cannot interact with them, even if the interactions are seemingly patternless.

Jo: "Phenomenality or qualia or whatever one likes to call ‘what it is like’ for a subject receiving influences from the world that inform it about the world is exclusively proximal in the sense of being totally determined, as far as we can judge, by the last, direct, causal relation in the brain that brings the influence to bear."

Totally determined ... and by the last causal influence? Where would one get an inference like that? As even Jack could tell you, quantum theory presents the possibility of nonlocality and delayed causation.

Jo: "So the only really interesting dichotomy is between proximal and distal events."

A very interesting dichotomy indeed. In fact, it is possible to explain this dichotomy in great detail ... but I don't expect you to be able to do that.

Jo: "And I agree that ninety percent is crap, on a very good day, that is. And the ten or so percent can be excellent. But with analytic philosophy I find it hard to find anything recent that approaches the clarity of Leibniz."

Yes, Leibniz was very smart. But here's a new flash: things have come a little way forward since he plowed his way through the boudoirs of Europe. Whether anyone in particular knows it or not.

Jo: "I have spent the last ten years boning up on neurophysiology, fundamental physics, linguistics, philosophy, logic, neuropsychology, computational theory, complex systems … Did I miss something?"

Yes. Evidently you did. But don't feel bad, as you took up philosophy at a relatively advanced age. It takes a long time to really get good at it.

(By the way, why are emails sent hours after mine being received in advance of them? There seems to be some kind of differential delay, perhaps having to do with geography ... or perhaps moderation, or surveillance.)

Chris Langan
May 18, 2017

Not really. Sometimes a good soul may chose to accelerate its evolution by suffering. That too is said to happen. I read Sri Aurobindo. There are no rules of Karma. Karma is a law of spiritual development. You should. Karma and popular imagination of it are universes apart.

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