About Rationally Speaking


Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

What about information?

By Massimo Pigliucci
“Information,” in some quarters, seems to be a magical word. Creationist Bill Dembski, for instance, keeps repeating that evolutionary theory cannot explain the production of new information; dualists of every stripe declare the death of “materialism” based on the idea that, you see, information is neither matter nor energy, so there; and of course “singularitarians” and transhumanists think that the key to immortality is to “upload” our consciousness to a computer because, after all, what is human consciousness except information?
There are many technical definitions of information, perhaps the most commonly cited being Shannon’s, which is related to the physical concept of entropy. At bottom, though, in order to meaningfully talk about information there has to be either an organism or a (human made) device involved. For instance, when we say that plants act on information about the position of the sun to orient their leaves, or that DNA carries information from one generation to another, or that a satellite in orbit around earth is gathering information about the weather, we mean that there is a causal input of some sort that interacts with a receiver of a given type.
Another way to put it is that information is any type of pattern of matter/energy that causes (or contributes to cause) the formation or transformation of other patterns. Again, think of the examples given above: the light coming to the plant (energy) causes the alteration of the pattern of orientation of the leaves (matter); the DNA carried by germ cells (matter) contributes to the formation of a new organism in the next generation (matter); and the photographs (energy/matter, depending on the medium) taken by a satellite influence whether you’ll pick up an umbrella (matter) on your way out the door.
Notice that if we see information this way, there is no requirement for the presence of a conscious mind. Plants are not conscious (yeah, yeah, that we know of, but we have no reason at all to believe they are, and every reason to believe they aren’t), and of course neither are segments of DNA. The satellite too isn’t conscious, but of course it was put together by conscious beings.
What, then, is the difference between having or not having consciousness involved in the process? If consciousness is involved, we don’t just have information (in the above defined neutral sense of the term), but knowledge. Plants and pieces of DNA don’t have knowledge of things, only human beings (and of course any other relevantly similar conscious being) have knowledge. (Of course, one can say that plants “know” where to turn their leaves for light, but my point is that they don’t, they are simply using information in a way that was structured by natural selection to increase their chances to survive and reproduce.)
While Shannon-type information theory tells us that information cannot be destroyed without increasing the entropy of a given system, the analysis above suggests the philosophical point that information is a type of energy/matter. That being the case, there is nothing mystical about information, and the concept cannot therefore be brought up as a way to defeat materialism.
As for Dembski’s and co.’s claims about evolutionary theory, it is well understood that biological information of the type stored in DNA is created (and destroyed) all the time. The destruction comes, for instance, with the death of a given organism (which, accordingly, corresponds to a sudden increase in that organism’s entropy level), while creation/change occurs every time there is a mutation, i.e. a chemical alteration in the structure of DNA. Again, nothing magical going on, and certainly no need for conscious agents to get involved — be they of the supernatural type or whatever. (It is, of course, perfectly possible for a conscious agent to alter genetic information, it’s called genetic engineering, and we do it all the time.)
What about the possibility to “upload” one’s consciousness to a computer? My objections to that notion have been detailed elsewhere. Briefly, though, I think the burden of proof is on the singularitarians / transhumanists to show that consciousness is just a matter of logical inputs and outputs of the type that can be simulated — at least in principle — in a computer. Like Searle, I think it more reasonable to consider consciousness a biological phenomenon akin to, say, photosynthesis: something that does have a logical structure, but that also requires certain kinds of substrates to actually work (you can simulate photosynthesis in a computer, but you ain’t getting no sugar out of it). I would note in passing that, as Searle pointed out, if one thinks that consciousness can be “uploaded”, one is committed to a type of dualism (something that singularitarians profess to abhor), because one is assuming that the “stuff” of thought is independent from the stuff of brains. (And before the flood of critical comments gets started, let me make crystal clear that this is absolutely not an argument against artificial intelligence tout court, only against a particular type of artificial intelligence represented by the strong AI program.)
To recap: information is not a third type of thing outside of matter and energy (which are, of course, just two aspects of the same type of thing), and it therefore poses no problem to materialism. Also, talk of information does not require the presence or involvement of conscious minds, unless one wishes to talk about knowledge — the latter being a fairly uncontroversial and utterly non-mystical concept.

244 comments:

  1. "you can simulate photosynthesis in a computer, but you ain’t getting no sugar out of it"

    Don't you see the implications here, Massimo? If you simulate thinking on a computer, but get no consciousness out of it, you have created a philosophical zombie a la David Chalmers. ....Is that your final answer?

    "if one thinks that consciousness can be “uploaded”, one is committed to a type of dualism... because one is assuming that the “stuff” of thought is independent from the stuff of brains."

    You could make the same accusation about "dualism" for lots of other phenomena. Do you think the letter B exists apart from all the ink stains on paper that represent it? Dualist! Do you think math exists independently of minds to perceive it? Dualist!

    Headway will not be made by such quibbling over labels. The point is, neither you nor I believe consciousness is ontologically basic. That means neither of us are *really* dualists. Functionalists like me just find it implausible that meat has some extremely special property making it capable of giving rise to consciousness, that silicon (say) doesn't have. But maybe it does, I can't prove it either way.

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  2. Ian, no Chalmers-style zombies would result. We already have programs that do a pretty darn good job at fooling humans into thinking that they are thinking. No reason to think they won't get better at it.

    As for "meat" having special properties, I find that pretty uncontroversial. After all, we are made of meat, not electronic circuits, yes?

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  3. Okay, let's go through this from the top.

    Massimo Pigliucci is a lawful entity within physics.

    It is therefore possible (in principle!!!) to simulate Massimo Pigliucci *wholesale*, atom-by-atom, in the mother of all supercomputers. If I can simulate electrons and quarks, I can simulate Massimo Pigliucci. Agreed?

    I can then give the simulated Massimo inputs, like questions (propagating as simulated pressure differential waves through simulated air).

    By hypothesis, simulated-Massimo's responses will be indistinguishable from the real Massimo's, at least from the outside. Remember, Massimo is a lawful entity within physics, so his behaviour is predictable and simulatable in principle.

    The question is: does sim-Massimo experience consciousness? Luckily, we can ask him.

    If he says No, then Cartesian dualism is true. Consciousness must reside outside the physical world, and the simulation just doesn't have the right link to consciousness-land.

    If he says Yes, then we either believe him or we don't. If we believe him, functionalism is right. If we don't believe him, as far as I can tell he's a philosophical zombie and epiphenomenalism is right. Remember, his behaviour is otherwise *indistinguishable* from real Massimo's.

    "As for "meat" having special properties, I find that pretty uncontroversial. After all, we are made of meat, not electronic circuits, yes?"

    That is an interesting historical fact about life on earth, not a proof that consciousness has to be run on an organic substrate. It's like asserting that DNA and RNA are the only possible carriers of hereditary information in the universe.

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  4. Massimo said: "because one is assuming that the “stuff” of thought is independent from the stuff of brains"

    Perhaps computers are not able to simulate the physical system of a human brain (like planes don't fly just like birds, or submarines swim just like fish, but they get the task done). However there are other possibilities to make 'the stuff of thought'.

    When and if a robot (running an enough complex software that possibly no one can properly understand) is socially accepted as a person, wouldn't he be considered as a conscious being? What would be the point of discussing the differences between "meat/brain conscious" and "silicon conscious"?

    Another possibility is that a software could be able to approximate a behavior of a "meat/brain mind" to a point that no "meat person" could spot the difference between the copy and the original (at least in the beginning, because, with time, both personalities would diverge). Why wouldn't the copy be considered as conscious as the original? The criteria of having a brain or an organic body are not sufficient, imho.

    Best Regards,

    João Neto

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  5. I think Massimo has a point but is not fantastically convincing.

    "you can simulate photosynthesis in a computer, but you ain’t getting no sugar out of it"

    Getting sugar out of a computer would be violation of several "known" laws of physics and chemistry. Whether conciousness would violate such laws would be the very matter in question.

    Either way I don't think we will know until we accomplished it.

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  6. @Ian pollock

    My opinion is that you cannot simulate
    Massimo Pigliucci on a computer because you will have to simulate his whole environment too (his cells constantly interacting with the air of the room, etc.), otherwise he will die in a second. In other word, you will have to simulate the whole universe if you want to create a real consciousness...

    As your first statement is impossible, the rest is meaningless.

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  7. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  8. Massimo said:

    If consciousness is involved, we don’t just have information (in the above defined neutral sense of the term), but knowledge.

    It seems to me that there's still a lot to unpack in that statement. For starters, what definition of "knowledge" do you have in mind here?

    And do you mean to suggest (in your reply to Ian) that only "meat" can "have" it?

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  9. Q said: In other word, you will have to simulate the whole universe if you want to create a real consciousness.

    Or, you'll have to account for the challenges of robotics, as well.

    That said, is it necessary for robotics engineers to knock off a human (i.e. one that can fool other humans) before they can legitimately claim to have achieved true AI?

    In other words, is intelligent agency necessarily so anthropomorphic?

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  10. @Q: "In other word, you will have to simulate the whole universe if you want to create a real consciousness..."

    If this were true, no one could ever simulate anything. I've done computer sims of physical scenarios, like electrons passing through a magnetic field. Trust me, you don't need to hard code the whole universe into it. For example, to bring gravity into the equation, you just program in a generalized downward-acting force. You don't need to actually program in the whole earth.

    Actually, all I REALLY need to do is simulate his brain as it functions under ordinary bodily conditions (I don't actually have to put the causes of those conditions in directly), plus inputs and outputs down the spinal column, optic nerves, etc.

    Easy as pie. Five minutes. ;)

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  11. It is pretty standard in discussions of the philosophy of information to distinguish between causal information (of the kind physical systems embody, like smoke containing information about the fire that caused it) and semantic or intentional information, which (unfortunately for the attempted thrust of your post) is of a different kind.

    This kind of information, for starters, can be false, it can misrepresent the way things are. Smoke reliably indicates combustion: if causal information is there, it is there. But the information in Ptolemaic texts on astronomy--while still clearly information-- is false, it misrepresents reality.

    This is just one principal difference, there are others. It is this kind of difference which leads some to suspect that semantic information is not reducible to causal information, and thus that there are problems for materialists who claim that it can be.

    Creationists and singularians are nuts, no doubt about that. But a sophisticated dualist cannot be dismissed so quickly as you suggest, here.

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  12. Massimo, you're right (about not getting sugar out of a simulation of photosynthesis) and wrong (about consciousness being necessarily biological).

    Consciousness is the interplay between human sensor, human actuators, and the cognitive computation in between.

    I definitely disagree with Chalmers' dualism, but I find your approach equally nonsensical. Electronics can sense, actuate, and compute. You are not even asserting a necessary additional ingredient, and loops in cognition allow for all observations of consciousness.

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  13. @Q:

    No need to simulate the whole universe. Just simulate the brain, protective casing, sensory inputs, and an extremely blood supply.

    @Massimo:

    Not really sure if a simulation would be conscious, but if I ever find myself with the extra cash, I'll probably arrange to have my brain frozen for future uploading when I die. Even if it isn't really immortality, people in the future will be able to interrogate a simulation of me to find out what life was like in the bygone days of the 21st century. Worries about what consciousness really is, IMHO, are no reason not to do them that favor (assuming again that I have the cash to spare).

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  14. Sorry, but the comparison with photosynthesis is flawed. Photosynthesis is defined as the production of sugar using chlorophyll, so obviously we cannot reproduce it in a computer. Nothing stops us, however, from connecting photovoltaic cells to a machine that synthesizes sugar, we just would not call it photosynthesis anymore.

    Likewise, there is no reason to assume that a sufficiently complicated machine cannot produce consciousness unless you assume that consciousness has some magical property. After all, it follows logically from monism that we are nothing but sufficiently complicated machines.

    As I have argued before, the idea that machines can in principle be conscious does not change the fact that we will never upload "ourselves", as that would entail the transfer of some dualist "me essence" into the machine.

    The problem with the creationists is more that they use a never openly spelled out definition of information that is essentially begging the question. To them, it is only information if there is a designer behind it. Let's call that concept information type A. Conflate it with information type B as observed in DNA, eh viola!, there must have been a designer.

    (Why do I have the feeling that many a mathematician could, if (s)he were so inclined, justifiably react to your non-technical definition of information as "matter/energy" with the same vitriol as you do when a scientist dares use the word philosophical?)

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  15. Not to bring politics into it, Massimo, but you bring to mind the quintessential Obama-term Republican saying "No" to progressive ideas. In this case, these are ideas that are fast gaining traction and momentum.

    Very simple non-quantum information is the basis for matter or energy. As you say:

    ....there is a causal input of some sort that interacts with a receiver of a given type.

    and there is a sender as well.

    Information is always sent from something and it is sometimes picked up be a receiver.

    Inasmuch as this means what we sense and believe is what is, then from the little I've read of Plato, I guess he would have been proud because this is so very much where modern philosophy is heading.

    The satellite too isn’t conscious, but of course it was put together by conscious beings.

    ....the dog being judged by a judge and jury of cats.

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  16. Massimo: "Creationist Bill Dembski, for instance, keeps repeating that evolutionary theory cannot explain the production of new information; dualists of every stripe declare the death of “materialism” based on the idea that, you see, information is neither matter nor energy."

    To begin with, the ushering in of quantum theory sounded the death knell of materialism (there is no physical explanation for either quantum indeterminacy or quantum entanglement).

    Also, if you do not posit that consciousness is fundamental, then you have to provide an explanation why something that is invisible and causally inert (consciousness is deemed to be an epiphenomenon on the materialist view) was naturally selected by evolution. (Things which are invisible and causally inert cannot possibly confer any survival benefit.) Hitherto, no plausible explanation has been given.

    Massimo: "Another way to put it is that information is any type of pattern of matter/energy that causes (or contributes to cause) the formation or transformation of other patterns."

    Patterns are "immaterial" abstractions. If you ascribe formative causation to information (which literally means "in-form"), then you are expressing what is known as "hylopmorphic dualism," which is the dualism expressed in Thomistic and Aristotelian metaphysics (the basis for Catholic theology).

    Also, digital physics (which holds the view that all of physics can be described in terms of information) is gaining traction (e.g. prominent physicist John A. Wheeler was a proponent of this view, expressed succinctly as "it from bit").

    Massimo: "Plants are not conscious (yeah, yeah, that we know of, but we have no reason at all to believe they are, and every reason to believe they aren’t)"

    If the hypothesis that "consciousness is a quantum-mechanical phenomenon" (which has been taken seriously by prominent scientists - some Nobel laureates) is true, then we may have good reason to believe that plants (or at least the individual cells which constitute them) exhibit consciousness (recent research in bacteria have demonstrated that photosynthesis is a quantum-mechanical process).

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  17. "While Shannon-type information theory tells us that information cannot be destroyed without increasing the entropy of a given system, the analysis above suggests the philosophical point that information is a type of energy/matter."

    The following two quotes from Seth Lloyd briefly summarizes it...

    "Ultimately, information and energy play complementary roles in the universe. Energy makes physical systems do things. Information tells them what to do." pg. 39 "Programming the Universe" by Seth Lloyd

    "The law of thermodynamics guide the interplay between our two actors, energy and information." pg. 42 "Programming the Universe" by Seth Lloyd

    Below are links to two videos from PBS's "Closer to Truth" series. Here Robert Lawrence Kuhn interviews both Frank Tipler (physicist) and Seth Lloyd (computer scientist) on the nature of consciousness and its relation to "digital physics." They are brief and well-worth the time to view.

    "Is Consciousness an Ultimate Fact (Frank Tipler)"

    "Does Information Create the Cosmos (Seth Lloyd)(Part 1 of 2)"

    "Does Information Create the Cosmos (Seth Lloyd)(Part 2 of 2)"

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  18. I find it interesting that so many people are assuming that I am denying the possibility of artificially replicating consciousness, implying some sort of magical thinking on my part.

    Nothing could be further from the truth. I'm not even necessarily denying the standard computational theory of mind. I'm simply trying to make people think that such theory is far from established.

    For all we know at the moment, consciousness is an inextricably biological phenomenon, just like photosynthesis. Like photosynthesis, it can certainly be done in different ways and evolve in a variety of fashions. And it can certainly be done artificially.

    But to assume without argument that consciousness is just a matter of computability, and that it can therefore be done regardless of substrate or external condition strikes me as pretty far fetched.

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  19. Well, I'm not saying regardless of substrate or external condition either.

    ---

    All these claims of the cosmos being nothing but information, satellites being conscious or quantum is consciousness are just as nonsensical as those from the creationist side. Spell out what information and consciousness are and it all falls apart as either obviously wrong or sneaky redefinition of terms.

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  20. Those persons who are thinking of uploading themselves into a computer are overlooking something really fundamental, as is anyone who assumes that machine consciousness will be anything like our own.

    As has been stated we are meat and we are constrained by the needs and desires of meat. We need to respire, we need sleep, we need food and water and need to expel the waste products of digestive processes. We need and desire to mate. Our meaty brains are burdened with the detritus of billions of years of evolution adapting to the physical world.

    Machines need only electricity (and occasional maintenance). Any consciousness that emerges from them will be of a very different kind. Any need they have will be there at the whim of the programmer not arising to satisfy the requirements of the physical world. They will be very different and no meat creature such as we would be happy inside one with the possible exception of abstruse mathematicians and philosophers who are perfectly happy doing nothing but thinking and who don't enjoy any of the meat needs listed earlier. I think for most people having their consciousness transferred into a machine would be something like hell.

    I think machine consciousness is certainly possible, but barring any breakthrough is still a little ways away.

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  21. My point is that simulating the brain with an algorithm would not result in an accurate simulation of a human being.

    Obviously, consciousness is present on non-computational tasks. Everything that is seemingly computational in my brain is also unconscious (face recognition, ...), I am only aware of the result of those processes. When I learn to play piano or to drive a car, my playing becomes unconscious when it becomes automatic, and my intention remains only in what is not automatic (nuances, ...).

    I suggest that in the best case, an algorithmic simulation of a brain would result in something close to my mental state when I wake up : a kind of half conscious state. If you ask me "are you conscious" at that time, I will answer "what did you say ?"...

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  22. ""Ultimately, information and energy play complementary roles in the universe. Energy makes physical systems do things. Information tells them what to do.""

    This is hopelessly tautological. Information is "that which can distinguish one thing from another" or "difference that makes a difference", and you distinguish things by what they do.

    He's simply inversed the usual ontology.

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  23. Massimo: Although I share your skepticism towards singularity, it's unclear to me why your take on consciousness is not magic thinking. We can agree that consciousness is probably a biological function that requires a certain substrate to work. But what are those substrates? Neurons and other biostuff (glial cells, neurotransmitters, ions, water molecules...etc). We know that (1) all these "biostuff" are just molecules whose operations are determined by basic physical laws. And that (2) their interactions are also determined by physical laws. This means that at least in theory they can be simulated in a computational device.

    This view is consistent with everything we know about the brain and we are finding more evidence for it everyday. What is so far fetched about it, unless you believe in magic?

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  24. One COULD define consciousness to be the receiving or input section of an entity's information processor.

    @Paisley: Your post was going down like a good summer ale until you got sucked in by the 'plant's possibly being conscious' bit near the end.

    Where do you draw the line? Certainly not at rocks, for which geologists could describe processes similar to photosynthesis, only using different timescales.

    @Bubbarich - you are on track. What in Chalmers dualism is distasteful to you?

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  25. opticalradaition (and others),

    okay, can we agree that no one here is talking about magic, vitalism, etc.? Good. Of course biological stuff is just stuff, hence the possibility of replicating consciousness artificially. If evolution did it, we can do it.

    My point is that computers - as currently conceived - are not the kind of stuff/device that can generate consciousness. See the abysmal failure so far of the strong AI program, for one.

    I base my point on the hypothesis that consciousness is a type of biological phenomenon, not just an abstract pattern of logical symbols. In particular, to put it as neurobiologist Antonio Damasio did, it is "the feeling of what happens," meaning that it is an internal sense of what an organism is doing with respect to the external world.

    Again, no magic, but something more than the simple computational theory of mind.

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  26. Massimo: I agree with you that the old school symbolic processing AI (ie. LISP, Prolog and all that) probably won't work and nobody is talking about strong AI program for maybe 20 years. But what I (and others) have been talking about is digital simulation of biology, not symbolic processing AI. I just returned from a supercomputer programming seminar. The amazing people at IBM demonstrated a simulation of the operation of the opsin in the retina. It took one of the most powerful computers (IBM Blue Gene/P, with more than 6000 CPUs) in the world days to simulate the first few nanoseconds of the photo transduction pathway. That probably says that uploading brain won't happen in the next few decades (or centuries), but don't you think if we can simulate that, we can (at least in theory) simulate consciousness? As you said, consciousness is most likely a function of biology. But that is no different from the photo transduction cascade.

    I also can't help but noticing that you don't seem to have done too much homework in computer engineering. Your "current conceptualization of computer" might be way behind other people's current conceptualization of computers.

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  27. optical,

    that's very impressive, but again, I'm making a fundamental distinction between the thing and a simulation of the thing. The two are only equivalent if one takes seriously the symbolic processing type of AI that you rightly say is dead.

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  28. Massimo,

    I take it then that theoretically, if we could make a computer out of biological material, then you would agree that brain copying seems completely feasible in principle?

    What if a computer was made out of particles more fundamental than biological structures? Or, is it that there is something structurally necessary at the biological level? And of course, if this is true, there may be something about that structure that makes copying impossible - though I can't imagine what.

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  29. James,

    I don't see any reason in principle, as I've already stated, to humans being able to replicate consciousness in machines. Yes, one way would obviously be to use the same "stuff" of which we are made (though of course we do that all the time, they are called babies ;-)

    There may be a range of materials that would do the trick, I don't know. This is analogous to the question of whether life *has* to be based on carbon. Possibly not, but it certainly can't be made of helium (not the kind of life we understand, at least). Perhaps silicon, but the chemical properties of silicon are significantly different from those of carbon to cast serious doubts on that possibility.

    That's what I mean when I say that the "stuff" matters.

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  30. Massimo: Or not. What makes you think the stuff matters?

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  31. optical,

    it matters for every other biological process we know of. What makes you think consciousness is the only exception?

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  32. Massimo: That makes sense. I'm beginning to see your point. Thanx.

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  33. We shouldn't expect a simulation of consciousness to be conscious, just as we shouldn't expect a simulation of digestion to digest a turkey dinner.

    However, if we were to literally recreate the causal/functional organization relevant for consciousness, then we should have a conscious machine.

    While the stuff is important in biology, it often isn't essential. We recreate relevant biological causal/functional architectures all the time. Artificial hearts, kidneys, etc.. We have also come close to replacing single neurons in real neuronal systems as in this study.

    The effectiveness of dynamic clamp in that study, and the main overarching theoretical framework in neuroscience, suggests that the lowest-level causal/functional details we'll need for consciousness are likely Hodgkin-Huxely type conductance-based dynamics. Since such dynamics are starting to be recreated (not merely simulated) experimentally, I am somewhat hopeful about the prospects of machine consciousness (I don't call it 'computer' consciousness, as a computer is just one type of machine).

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  34. Eric, precisely my point. But much of the literature on "uploading" consciousness says nothing about doing the sort of things we do to get artificial hearts and the like.

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  35. @optical radiation

    We know that (1) all these "biostuff" are just molecules whose operations are determined by basic physical laws. And that (2) their interactions are also determined by physical laws.

    Those "basic" physical laws are
    - not calculable
    - non local
    - probabilistic
    - somehow unknowable (see the measurement problem)

    The "just basic laws" we use for simulation are always very approximative. It is not obvious that they are sufficient for simulating consciousness, and personnaly, I doubt it.

    With unlimitted computer resources, I suppose we might be able to have a better simulation, which would look like Everett's multi-world : an almost infinite set of more or less probable behaviors forking each nanoseconds.

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  36. Massimo said:
    While Shannon-type information theory tells us that information cannot be destroyed without increasing the entropy of a given system

    This is not quite right. There are many ways that the statistical dependence between two event spaces can be eliminated. We can reduce the entropy of both to zero and there will (by definition) be zero information between them. We could keep the overall entropy the same, and as long as the statistical dependence of the two sets of events is removed, then the informational connection is cut.

    (I wrote a lot about how to interpret (Shannon) information theory in this paper.)

    Massimo also said:
    [T]he analysis above suggests the philosophical point that information is a type of energy/matter.

    Perhaps it's more accurate to say that information is orthogonal to ontology altogether. Statistical relations between sets of events can hold no matter what the events are, physical nonphysical or whatever.

    In theory we could have dualism and the nonphysical mind could carry information about the physical world.

    On the other hand, those using information theory to argue against materialism are wrong too. It's exactly like saying the existence of correlations between variables refutes physicalism.

    Shannon information (technically, mutual information) is merely a matter of there existing statistical dependence between two sets of events. It's a generalized correlation measure that indicates any deviation from statistical independence, not just linear correlations.

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  37. Massimo said:
    While Shannon-type information theory tells us that information cannot be destroyed without increasing the entropy of a given system.

    Eric Thomson said:
    This is not quite right. There are many ways that the statistical dependence between two event spaces can be eliminated. We can reduce the entropy of both to zero and there will (by definition) be zero information between them. We could keep the overall entropy the same, and as long as the statistical dependence of the two sets of events is removed, then the informational connection is cut.


    I think you are both missing the point here. Thats a shame because it is a very cool and fundamental point.

    Consider the question: what is the minimum amount of energy that it takes to do a given calculation? It turns out that there is no lower bounds as long as the calculation is reversible. The problem is that most calculations are not reversible. Addition for example. You can add two numbers and get one number but you cannot then take that one number and calculate the two numbers that you added to get it. That information was lost. As a result of that lost information your computer consumes energy and radiates heat.

    Now there are ways to get around that. If your computer in some way keeps a copy of the numbers you added then it can use that to reverse the addition. In principle then you can add without using energy. But in a long calculation the amount of information you need to preserve grows very large.

    Calculations on a quantum computer need to be reversible because if they radiate the energy from the computations into the environment it destroys the quantum correlation of the internal logic states. That heat contains information about the quantum states. When that heat merges with the environment it is like measuring one end of a quantum entangled pair of particles and collapsing the wave function of the other particle.

    Information is never destroyed. Ever. Hawking has even decided that not even a black hole can destroy information.

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  38. "(though of course we do that all the time, they are called babies ;-)" - Massimo

    Yeah, but we don't copy our consciousness into them. Yet. Mwah-ha-ha-ha.

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  39. @Alex SL formerly Mintman (both posts):
    The problem with the creationists is more that they use a never openly spelled out definition of information that is essentially begging the question. To them, it is only information if there is a designer behind it...

    and

    Spell out what information and consciousness are and it all falls apart as either obviously wrong or sneaky redefinition of terms.

    Others have commented on consciousness. Re information, use the vanilla definitions in any published reference or ask your favorite IT person what the word means.

    What is the 'it' that falls apart or is obviously wrong? Like Massimo you take a contrarian position and say "I doubt you" without offering alternatives or ways forward. While arguments from the quantum realm in support of information are compelling, they are unnecessary. It is as simple as A sending info to B, B processing it, and this is the way the world works. There is no stuff.

    But if you are throwing the word sneaky around, here is sneaky, and this does relate to information. People kept looking at stuff as the centuries advance and discover smaller and smaller sub-units of stuff. Finally, they hit a wall when they discover further sub-units of stuff that may or may not exist, or may exist as more than one thing. Right? Then how do people who know this get to say that conglomerations of these particles, like cars and people, etc exist.

    I've heard the argument, but I think that that is a very sneaky thing to do as a pathetic attempt to preserve the old order. But am willing to listen to a reasonable explanation again. Otherwise, will continue to believe stuff doesn't exist, it is merely sensed, and that is how information works.

    As for designers and so forth, that is another argument not so correlated with information. But it is equally simple.

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  40. The problem with the whole "downloading yourself to computer" idea is the "transporter problem." As far as the rest of the universe is concerned, a copy might be the same as me. As far as I'm concerned, however, I'M still me.

    Nobody is seriously proposing downloading their own first-person CONSCIOUSNESS to a computer, are they?

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  41. Considering the recent post about Jerry Coyne and this post about information, I thought this link to an article by Victor Stenger might be of interest to readers and Massimo: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/victor-stenger/the-evidence-against-god_b_682169.html

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  42. @ppnl said:

    "Hawking has even decided that not even a black hole can destroy information."

    Credit for that probably goes to Leonard Susskind, whose book "The Black Hole War" is a great window into the world of physicists and how they work these things out. Imagine Stephen Hawking as your intellectual nemesis! Fun read.

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  43. DaveS said:

    "People kept looking at stuff as the centuries advance and discover smaller and smaller sub-units of stuff. Finally, they hit a wall when they discover further sub-units of stuff that may or may not exist, or may exist as more than one thing. Right? Then how do people who know this get to say that conglomerations of these particles, like rocks and dirt, etc exist."

    The non-stupid Materialist is unconvinced by your argument, because the materialist claim has never been that we know everything there is to know about matter. Specifically, we have never claimed to know where matter comes from. Your attempt to found your idealism on that unanswered question is the "argument from ignorance."

    You also suffer from an understandable "reality bias" which equates smaller with more real. This is the fault of most scientists who use terms such as "God Particle" and "fundamental" so that it's easy to slip into language such as: "we see rocks and dirt but what's REALLY there is quarks, bosons, etc." No, the rocks and dirt are really there. They exist as rocks and dirt and behave as such. The sub atomic particles are also there, but they exist in a very different way than the rocks and dirt. Yes, in a sense, the rocks and dirt are made out of the particles, but the rocks and dirt don't cease their existence because the sub atomic particles are either 1) weird or 2) have an unknown origin. The very process of looking at a smaller and smaller scale of matter is what makes the rocks and dirt appear to cease to exist. Because rock-ness and dirt-ness have no intelligible meaning on even the atomic level, let alone sub atomic. If you are looking at matter on a smaller scale, you are looking is such a way that makes seeing rocks and dirt impossible. This is not an existential statement, it's one of perspective. If you look at the pixel of this word you cannot read the word. It doesn't mean the word doesn't exist. It just means you have the choice of reading the word or seeing the pixel depending on your perspective.

    Smaller does not equal more real. Similarly, the word "reduce" has mislead idealists who think that since there is no "consciousness particle" there is no explanation for it. There is also no "ice" particle or to borrow from Dennett no center of gravity particle. That doesn't mean they don't exist.

    Massimo himself slips into this type of locution and irrational juxtapositions of perspectives. He does it most often when he talks about how impressive it is that, on a sub atomic scale, there are great empty spaces between particles. "Empty space" and "distance" on a sub atomic level don't really apply. It's only by importing a non subatomic sensibility into that realm that we can think things like "boy it'd be a long walk from the nucleus to the electron." Well, that may be a fun thing to put on the sidewalk in front of a museum, but on a subatomic level, that space is actually incredibly full. It is utterly full of the electromagnetic force, which is all one would ever expect to find there, and all one could ever be to observe or exist in that space.

    A razor's edge seen through a microscope is a rough mountain range. Do not make the intellectually equivalent mistake of trying to touch that mountain range with your macroscopic hand!

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  44. Was this post brought about by thoughts of Susan Oyama?

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  45. Nope, though I have read some of her stuff.

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  46. Massimo,

    Any attempt to define the brain as anything more than an information processor runs into the problem of turning consciousness into some kind of physical substance.

    Comparing consciousness to photosynthesis shows this clearly. Photosynthesis takes substance as input and produces substance as output. If consciousness is a substance then you have a point. Otherwise its a clean miss.

    There is no reason that you cannot simulate a brain to what ever degree of resolution you wish on in a computer program. Well maybe the simulation of a brain is not conscious even while it behaves just as a real brain would. If so we have created a philosophical zombie. I know how much you hate them. On what empirical basis can you claim that one thing is conscious while another isn't if they both behave the same?

    That is the central problem of consciousness. We are demanding objective evidence of subjective experience. We cannot even imagine what such evidence would look like yet we demand it.

    Why can't information processing be the explanation for consciousness? It does not seem to lack for explanatory power. But there is a disconnect between explaining the external observable actions and the internal subjective feelings. It leaves us dissatisfied.

    The thing you need to face is that any objectively observable process will leave us with the same disconnect. We cannot do a seance on a chemical reaction to see what it feels.

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  47. I prefer Bateson's definition of information: "The difference that makes a difference." Seen this way, information is not a thing, but rather a process. Information is as much epigenetic as genetic.

    I would agree, then, that the problem with Kurzweil's "uploading" theory is that it views consciousness as a thing, rather than as an embodied process.

    As for "Massimo Pigliucci 2.0," hasn't Donald Davidson already addressed this point? (re: "Swampman").

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  48. Gentlemen, consciousness is a process, and photosynthesis is a process (so is, I don't know, breathing!). But the process is made possible by a particular thing made of particular types of matter (brains made of neurons and such; leaves containing pigments of a particular kind; lungs made in certain ways; etc.). The analogy stands, as far as I can see.

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  51. @Massimo:
    As you say, consciousness is a biological phenomenon and *could* depend strongly on substrate.

    However, it would seem that proving this substrate-dependence would involve learning some new fact about physics that we don't already know (thought is fundamentally carbon-based, or something).

    Right now, there is nothing that makes it seem infeasible except that it hasn't been done yet.

    "computers... are not the kind of stuff/device that can generate consciousness. See the abysmal failure so far of the strong AI program, for one."

    Isn't it sort of logically rude to demand the complete success of strong AI before you think that strong AI is possible? It seems analogous to somebody in the 50s demanding that NASA actually put people on the moon before admitting that moon landings are feasible. The point of rationality here is to give us some predictive idea of the future, not to wait for AI, then retrospectively explain why AI *was* successful (or not).

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  52. Ian,

    I think it is "logically rude" to claim success when there has been abysmal failure...

    And I have never said that it has been "proven" that computers can't develop consciousness. But it seems to me the burden of proof is on the other side, considering that we don't have a single example of non-biological consciousness.

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  53. Begging again the question of whether consciousness is a function of living forms (carbon-based or otherwise), or living self-reliant forms are a function of consciousness.

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  55. Are there or are there not theories out there that the universe is a self-operative computer that fashions information in ways that serve to replicate its particles and uses consciousness as a creative tool in that endeavor? Wasn't that part of Seth Lloyd's contention, for example?

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  56. Artie,

    okay, I'll bite:

    > Begging again the question of whether consciousness is a function of living forms (carbon-based or otherwise), or living self-reliant forms are a function of consciousness. <

    And which consciousness would living forms be a function of, pray?

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  57. Well, supposedly the regulatory systems of the universe are also (and necessarily) instructional, and for that to be the case, the strategic elements that respond to those instructions need (metaphorically at least) some form of awareness to absorb the lessons. Such an awareness would seem to be a requirement for any form of evolutionary change in any of the universe's algorithmic systems or strategic entities. So in theory, it's not "which consciousness" but an aspect of that universal function that living forms require to exist at all. IOW, living forms don't acquire consciousness, it's the awareness extant in the universe that enables "life" to reach the computational levels that separate it from the "non-living."
    These are not ideas that I dreamed up to test your mettle, and I don't necessarily endorse them. But it does seem that for life forms to have expectations that separate them from the more inert, awareness had to be a given and not an acquisition.

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  58. I knew I was going to regret it. Honestly, I read what you wrote and I have absolutely not the slightest idea of what it means. Oh well, I tried, and so did you.

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  60. exists only in terms of other things.

    so that it's easy to slip into language such as: "we see rocks and dirt but what's REALLY there is quarks, bosons, etc." No, the rocks and dirt are really there. They exist as rocks and dirt and behave as such. The sub atomic particles are also there, but they exist in a very different way than the rocks and dirt.

    When you or anyone else talks about an object’s existence you will find yourself qualifying it in terms of other things As long as you are OK with the razor not existing without the forces and other components in its environment which keep it alive, then the razor itself cannot be said to exist - other than in a virtual form, other than as information for the benefit of other things. Therefore the only material out there for the benefit of materialism is information.

    If you disagree, and say that a thing is real in and of itself, fine - but I say it might as well not exist, and ask you to temporarily stick to the assumption that information is 'all', Then what is it being sent from and what is it being sent to? This is a difficult question, my best answer is something like a single point of an emitter for the sender and it's opposite – a single point of consciousness - for a receiver.. Anything can send or receive, the dirt off your shoe, or a civilization, no difference. Again, I can't defend this one as well as other ideas.

    @Artie – good stuff, don’t let the accusation of incoherence get to you. Its happened to me too. People are used to being spoken to in a coherent manner, and if they are not with you for your ride, sometimes that’s their problem not yours.

    @CamusDude The Western god article by Stenger was quite interesting. Stenger questions the existence of a western god who (1) functions in the universe humans inhabit (2) may have designed the universe humans inhabit (3) answers human prayer (4) provide otherwise undiscoverable or predictive info to humans. Just replace gods with people and people with machines and reread the article. The first two problems with gods I leave to educated cosmologists, the last 2 remain a puzzle in information technology. Imagine all of us have parallel gods as do the groups of people we belong to etc (e.g. each family, each boy scout troop, each atheist organization also has a sponsoring god…) If so, call them laissez-faire-weather gods or loving almighty fathers, it’s quite the mess up there, and I’m not sure who could prove what, when, where, and why about that situation, since we have a hard enough time proving anything about ourselves. I just point to good old Jethro Tull’s Aqualung liner notes at the beginning of this link http://www.boudnik.org/~cos/music/JethroTull/Albums/Aqualung-lyrics.html

    They say it quite nicely, call it synchronicity, symbiosis. But you need the human- machine understanding to understand the god-machine interface.

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  61. "Gentlemen, consciousness is a process"

    Quite so as indeed are we. We are each of us a material process, and we didn't start with consciousness (unless people out there think a fertilized egg is conscious)? Consciousness comes to us gradually as our brains react to external and internal stimuli.

    Computers have the basics (memory and the ability to be equipped with sensors to collect data about the environment) but those trying to give them consciousness are (I think) barking up the wrong tree. What needs to be found is the right code to teach them consciousness and who knows what the final form of that would be? Processors and architecture get better every year. You never know when we might hit critical mass. Predicting future technology is an iffy game at best. Radioactivity was discovered in 1896 and in 1945 the first human created nuclear explosion took place. The Wright Brothers took to the air in 1903 and Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon in 1969. Some pretty fundamental changes in only a matter of decades. Give the computers a little more time and some better architecture and who knows what they might do?

    For my part though I think the analogy that Massimo uses is wrong. Comparing one process which produces a material product (photosynthesis) with one that doesn't (thinking) is comparing apples to oranges. Are the computer global warming simulations false or useless because they don't produce wind?

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  62. @OneDayMore - 1st off, never meant to imply that the 'bigger' things are not entities in their own right. 2ndly, my quarrel is with the word 'exists' being used without a subject. That rock, razorblade, or hand exists only in terms of other things.

    so that it's easy to slip into language such as: "we see rocks and dirt but what's REALLY there is quarks, bosons, etc." No, the rocks and dirt are really there. They exist as rocks and dirt and behave as such. The sub atomic particles are also there, but they exist in a very different way than the rocks and dirt.

    When you or anyone else talks about an object’s existence you will find yourself qualifying it in terms of other things As long as you are OK with the razor not existing without the forces and other components in its environment which keep it alive, then the razor itself cannot be said to exist - other than in a virtual form, other than as information for the benefit of other things. Therefore the only material out there for the benefit of materialism is information.

    If you disagree, and say that a thing is real in and of itself, fine - but I say it might as well not exist, and ask you to temporarily stick to the assumption that information is 'all', Then what is it being sent from and what is it being sent to? This is a difficult question, my best answer is something like a single point of an emitter for the sender and it's opposite – a single point of consciousness - for a receiver.. Anything can send or receive, the dirt off your shoe, or a civilization, no difference. Again, I can't defend this one as well as other ideas.

    @Artie – good stuff, don’t let the accusation of incoherence get to you. Its happened to me too. People are used to being spoken to in a coherent manner, and if they are not with you for your ride, sometimes that’s their problem not yours.

    @CamusDude The Western god article by Stenger was quite interesting. Stenger questions the existence of a western god who (1) functions in the universe humans inhabit (2) may have designed the universe humans inhabit (3) answers human prayer (4) provide otherwise undiscoverable or predictive info to humans. Just replace gods with people and people with machines and reread the article. The first two problems with gods I leave to educated cosmologists, the last 2 remain a puzzle in information technology. Imagine all of us have parallel gods as do the groups of people we belong to etc (e.g. each family, each boy scout troop, each atheist organization also has a sponsoring god…) If so, call them laissez-faire-weather gods or loving almighty fathers, it’s quite the mess up there, and I’m not sure who could prove what, when, where, and why about that situation, since we have a hard enough time proving anything about ourselves. I just point to good old Jethro Tull’s Aqualung liner notes at the beginning of this link http://www.boudnik.org/~cos/music/JethroTull/Albums/Aqualung-lyrics.html They say it quite nicely, call it synchronicity, symbiosis. But you need the human- machine understanding to understand the god-machine interface.

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  63. "But it seems to me the burden of proof is on the other side, considering that we don't have a single example of non-biological consciousness." - Massimo

    Can it in principal be proven that a computer is exhibiting consciousness? I'm not sure how. If it can't, on what grounds can we say that the burden of proof lies with those claiming it is possible, while the burden of proof is not with those claiming God is possible (or other religious questions)?

    ... or are you objecting to strong AI on non-scientific grounds?

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  64. Dave S"our post was going down like a good summer ale until you got sucked in by the 'plant's possibly being conscious' bit near the end.

    Where do you draw the line? Certainly not at rocks, for which geologists could describe processes similar to photosynthesis, only using different timescales.
    "

    I have an organismic view (based on process metaphysics), not a mechanistic one.

    "Biology is the study of larger organisms, whereas physics is the study of smaller organisms." - Alfred North Whitehead

    A distinction should be made between "compound individuals" (which do have a unity of consciousness and are comprised of fundamental constituents that do also) and "aggregational societies" (which have no unity of consciousness, although they are comprised of fundamental constituents that do). A rock is an example of an aggregational society. That's where I draw the line.

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  65. Massimo: "I knew I was going to regret it. Honestly, I read what you wrote and I have absolutely not the slightest idea of what it means. Oh well, I tried, and so did you."

    I understood what Artie was saying - namely, that consciousness is fundamental and living organisms are an expression of it. That being said, I would ask you to address a question I posed earlier in this thread...

    If you do not posit that consciousness is fundamental (which you, as a materialist, obviously do not), then you have to provide an explanation for why something that is invisible and causally inert (consciousness is deemed to be an epiphenomenon on the materialist view) was naturally selected by evolution. (Things which are invisible and causally inert cannot possibly confer any survival benefit.) Hitherto, I have never received a plausible explanation. I am hoping that you, as an evolutionary biologist and a philosopher of science, can provide one. (If you choose not to respond, then I will assume that you have no explanation.)

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  66. Artie, Paisley: yes, I understood what Artie said in the same sense. I just don't think it makes any sense. Consciousness seems to be an attribute of only one or very few species, all arrived late in evolution. And it seems to require complex brains. All of which argues for the idea that consciousness isn't basal at all, but a highly derived process of evolution.

    James: if the idea of conscious computers can't be tested, then there is nothing to talk about, but I seriously doubt that transhumanists and strong AI type would agree.

    (For the record: I do accept weak AI, and it should have been clear from several of my comments.)

    Pure Luck: photosynthesis is an analogy, breathing is another one. Analogies need not be exact in order to make the point. You thinking that "thinking" is not material, but in that sense "transforming energy" (what photosynthesis does) isn't either. Sugars are matter, but so are neurons and neuropeptides. My point is that it is a big assumption to think that one can abstract consciousness from its material basis, and that doing so certainly amount to dualism, a consequence that no AI supporter or transhumanist seems to be happy about.

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  67. @Paisley: You did not say why you thought aggregational societies are not conscious.

    Also, do you think you or Whitehead have the right to determine whether the rock is conscious? You are a human, a rock would say you are not conscious because you are only 'alive' 200 years tops.

    Also

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  68. Massimo,

    I'm with those that say the photosynthesis analogy doesn't hold and so doesn't help us. The fact that an information processor can't replace a manufacturing process by simulating it doesn't really tell us anything about how well one information processor can substitute for another by simulating it.

    I've put a fuller explanation of my argument on my blog at takesatmbl.wordpress.com ("Could A Computer Ever Be As Smart As You?").

    You said: "For the record: I do accept weak AI"

    Apologies: in that case I misrepresented you on my blog (now updated). I thought you were opposed to weak AI too due to the following dialogue 20 minutes into the debate video you linked to:

    Eliezer Yudkowsky: OK so first, are we agreed that with enough computing power you could simulate the human brain up to behavioural isomorphism, in the same way that we can… that we can...?
    Massimo Pigliucci: No.

    If you accept weak AI and reject strong AI, I'm surprised that you strongly reject the idea of zombies. If you think computers could behave just like humans but not be conscious, isn't that suggesting that we could make zombies by using computers?

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  69. Ghost, I never took weak AI to imply zombies, and I doubt that AI-ers do either. Zombies are supposed to prove something about the decoupling of behavior and consciousness, but a crucial part of the argument (such as it is) is that zombies are in every other respect *identical* to us, they are not just weak simulations...

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  70. Paisley claims:
    consciousness is deemed to be an epiphenomenon on the materialist view

    This is simply false. While there may be some materialistst that are epiphenomenalists, most think consciousness is an evolved feature of complex nervous systems.

    Let's discuss some of the functionally important features of consciousness. First, it aids in long-term planning. When I experience a toothache, one result is my calling the dentist. If I didn't have that experience, I would not have called the dentist.

    Second, it aids in memory formation. When we are conscious of something, we are more apt to store it in long-term episodic memory for later recall.

    Third, concious experiences are only a sliver of the full symphony of information processing happening in our brains. Consciousness is the tip of the iceberg, providing a filter that selects the most important information that requires action. I discussed this topic a little bit here.

    I'll stop there, but could go on. The problem isn't that we have no idea of how consciousness is useful, but that it seems to be useful for so many things it actually becomes a tougher target to hit.

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  71. I should explain why I linked to an earlier comment. I think people are missing Massimo's point. It's not that we'll never have a good enough simulation of brains, it's that even a perfect simulation of consciousness will not necessarily be conscious. Similarly, a perfect simulation of digestion won't digest milk. A perfect simulation of a heart doesn't pump blood.

    An artificial heart works because it reproduces the relevant causal/functional architecture of real hearts. That's why I linked to my discussion of prosthetic neurons, as they should give us pause to think that machine consciousness may be possible.

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  73. Fourth try at a post – will break this into 3 sections if this fails…..

    @OneDayMore - 1st off, never meant to imply that the 'bigger' things are not entities in their own right. 2ndly, my quarrel is with the word 'exists' being used without a subject. That rock, razorblade, or hand exists only in terms of other things.

    so that it's easy to slip into language such as: "we see rocks and dirt but what's REALLY there is quarks, bosons, etc." No, the rocks and dirt are really there. They exist as rocks and dirt and behave as such. The sub atomic particles are also there, but they exist in a very different way than the rocks and dirt.

    When you or anyone else talks about an object’s existence you will find yourself qualifying it in terms of other things As long as you are OK with the razor not existing without the forces and other components in its environment which keep it alive, then the razor itself cannot be said to exist - other than in a virtual form, other than as information for the benefit of other things. Therefore the only material out there for the benefit of materialism is information.

    If you disagree, and say that a thing is real in and of itself, fine - but I say it might as well not exist, and ask you to temporarily stick to the assumption that information is 'all', Then what is it being sent from and what is it being sent to? This is a difficult question, my best answer is something like a single point of an emitter for the sender and it's opposite – a single point of consciousness - for a receiver.. Anything can send or receive, the dirt off your shoe, or a civilization, no difference. Again, I can't defend this one as well as other ideas.

    @Artie – good stuff, don’t let the accusation of incoherence get to you. Its happened to me too. People are used to being spoken to in a coherent manner, and if they are not with you for your ride, sometimes that’s their problem not yours.

    @CamusDude The Western god article by Stenger was quite interesting. Stenger questions the existence of a western god who (1) functions in the universe humans inhabit (2) may have designed the universe humans inhabit (3) answers human prayer (4) provide otherwise undiscoverable or predictive info to humans. Just replace gods with people and people with machines and reread the article. The first two problems with gods I leave to educated cosmologists, the last two remain a puzzle in information technology. Imagine all of us have parallel gods as do the groups of people we belong to etc (e.g. each family, each boy scout troop, each atheist organization also has a sponsoring god…) If so, call them laissez-faire-weather gods or loving almighty fathers, it’s quite the mess up there, and I’m not sure who could prove what, when, where, and why about that situation, since we have a hard enough time proving anything about ourselves. I just point to good old Jethro Tull’s Aqualung liner notes at the beginning of this link http://tinyurl.com/23wtcj5 They say it quite nicely, call it synchronicity, symbiosis. But you need the human- machine understanding to understand the god-machine interface.

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  75. Massimo: "Artie, Paisley: yes, I understood what Artie said in the same sense. I just don't think it makes any sense. Consciousness seems to be an attribute of only one or very few species, all arrived late in evolution. And it seems to require complex brains. All of which argues for the idea that consciousness isn't basal at all, but a highly derived process of evolution."

    Yeah, you say it doesn't make any sense; and yet, when I asked you to provide me with an explanation why something that is invisible and causally inert (consciousness is deemed to be an epiphenomenon on the materialist view) was naturally selected by evolution, no response was forthcoming (things which are invisible and causally inert cannot possibly confer any survival benefit.) Therefore, I can only conclude that you have no explanation. That doesn't exactly support the materialist worldview.

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  76. Paisely,

    you insist in saying that "the materialist view" is that consciousness is an epiphenomenon, though plenty of people have commented that that is simply not the case. Indeed, I'm not even sure what that would mean...

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  77. DaveS: "You did not say why you thought aggregational societies are not conscious."

    Yes, I did, but evidently it was not clear. Based on Whiteheadian process metaphysics, the fundamental constituents of the universe is technically known as "actual occasions experience." Also, "actual occasions" may be hierarchically organized into what has been termed (by Hartshorne and Griffin) as a "compound individual." Compound individuals are comprised of actual occasions (or other compound individuals) and of a "dominant or regnant actual occasion" which gives a unity of experience to it.

    "Aggregational societies" are comprised of actual occasions, but have no dominant occasion to provide the society with a unity of experience. (A "rock" would be deemed an "aggregational society." It has no dominant occasion; therefore, it has no unity of experience. That being said, the individual atoms, which constitute the rock, would qualify as compound individuals.)

    DaveS: "Also, do you think you or Whitehead have the right to determine whether the rock is conscious? You are a human, a rock would say you are not conscious because you are only 'alive' 200 years tops."

    Did you not berate me earlier because I suggested that "plants" may be conscious? Now, you are taking issue with me because I am not willing to ascribe consciousness to "rocks?"

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  78. Massimo.
    Consciousness is awareness writ large. Awareness is not causally inert. Show me an organism that's been found to have survived with no awareness of its immediate environment. In fact, show me one without some self-awareness of its place in that arrangement. Show me as well that there is no need for awareness as an element of causation elsewhere in the universe.

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  79. We've been through this before. Plants, bacteria, viruses, etc. etc. are NOT aware, under any reasonable meaning of the word "aware." And no, "responding to one's environment" is not the same as being aware, otherwise your computer is aware.

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  80. Massimo argues, "otherwise your computer is aware." Why does that follow? The computer does not knowingly depend on itself and on its sensory apparatus for its survival. As someone earlier pointed out, your analogies in this respect are considerably less than apt.

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  81. @Paisley 18 Aug, 2010 2:34PM:
    Need to spend a little more time on ‘dominant’ vs ‘actual’ occasions, but you (and Whitehead??) may need to be a little more rock-PC. Have not spent much time on process metaphysics, but more than 0, and will read before replying further.

    Did not mean to berate you over calling plants possibly conscious. Was berating the idea of ‘possibly’ in this context, and would have done the same thing if you had called rocks conscious, and your favorite toothbrush unconscious. But wasn’t being personal.

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  82. Artie,

    and you know that plants or bacteria (as opposed to your computer) are aware how?

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  83. Because I "know" (as in aware of through observation, inquiry, or information) they are independently motivated to seek input from their sensory apparatus and they respond appropriately. They would thus, according to the definition of awareness, "have knowledge or perception of a situation or fact."

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  84. Massimo: "you insist in saying that "the materialist view" is that consciousness is an epiphenomenon, though plenty of people have commented that that is simply not the case. Indeed, I'm not even sure what that would mean..."

    Merriam-Webster defines "epiphenomenon" as ": a secondary phenomenon accompanying another and caused by it; specifically : a secondary mental phenomenon that is caused by and accompanies a physical phenomenon but has no causal influence itself"

    Mental phenomena are deemed to be epiphenomenal on the materialist view because all mental states must necessarily reduce to physical states. In other words, only physical states qualify as the sufficient and necessary conditions of causation; any reference to mental states is completely superfluous.

    Those materialists (e.g. Eric Thomson) who argue that materialism does not imply epiphenomenalism are seeking to have their cake and eat it too; they seek to uphold a belief in free will while simultaneously professing a belief in strict materialism. They can't have it both ways. Materialists are obligated (for the sake of logical consistency) to dispense with free will. And by dispensing with free will, they render consciousness causally inert ("awareness" in and of itself has no causal efficacy).

    At any rate, what we have established here is that you no explanation whatsoever why consciousness was naturally selected by evolution. That fact alone should give you reason to pause, and seriously rethink your position.

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  85. Paisley: by your logic, materialism about digestion implies that digestion is epiphenomenal. This means you need to rethink the steps in your argument.

    Paisley accused Massimo:
    what we have established here is that you no explanation whatsoever why consciousness was naturally selected by evolution

    I described three causal powers of consciousness (aid in long-term planning, memory formation, and highlighting important information), any of which would be a sufficient basis for natural selection to operate upon. Perhaps Massimo didn't think he needed to add to my list, or he is waiting for you to discuss specifics.

    Sorry, but merely repeating the claim that 'Materialism implies epiphenomenalism' is not sufficient to make it true.

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  86. On the worldview that is scientific materialism (a.k.a. "physicalism"), everything reduces to physics (if it doesn't, then materialism is not true). The only place in physics that allows consciousness to play some kind of causal role is in the "measurement problem" in quantum mechanics. However, if you allow consciousness to play this role, then you have dispensed with materialism. On the other hand, if you deny consciousness this role, then you have only one viable option - "epiphenomenalism." It's really that simple.

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  87. Paisley: I would not claim that consciousness is part of fundamental physics any more than I'd claim digestion is part of fundamental physics.

    Even if such biological processes reduce to physics (which is actually an extremely contentious claim) that doesn't mean each property found at the higher level will be found at the lower level. That would be a rather egregious instance of the fallacy of division.

    I don't expect quantum processes to be conscious, digest, respire, etc.. Your argument has again brought you to an absurd dead end.

    Here's a suggestion Paisley: before making an argument about consciousness, see if it will work with digestion. If not, chances are you made yet another wrong turn somewhere.

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  88. Conscious gods and conscious ball point pens are laughing their asses off at this back-and forth.

    They say to you, as does WhiteHousePressSecretary Gibbs "Have some more drugs or CNS depressant of choice."

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  89. Eric Thomson: "by your logic, materialism about digestion implies that digestion is epiphenomenal. This means you need to rethink the steps in your argument."

    You're making a category mistake - specifically, you're failing to differentiate between an internal state (i.e. subjective awareness) and an external process (i.e. an objective physiological process). Therefore, your point is moot.

    Eric Thomson: "Paisley accused Massimo:"

    I'm sorry to disappoint you. But seeking to curry favor with the moderator of this thread does qualify as a counterargument. Make a point, or quit wasting my precious time. The fact is that he did not provide me with an explanation why consciousness was naturally selected.

    Eric Thomson: "I described three causal powers of consciousness (aid in long-term planning, memory formation, and highlighting important information), any of which would be a sufficient basis for natural selection to operate upon."

    You're failing to distinguish between "phenomenal consciousness" (P-consciousness) and "access consciousness" (A-consciousness). P-consciousness is "qualia" (i.e. subjective experience), what philosophers of mind call the "hard problem of consciousness." A-consciousness is simply "information processing" (the "easy problem," the problem that cognitive scientists and neuroscientists address). Whether or not an information processing system is experiencing subjective awareness is completely irrelevant to the information processing that is taking place. In fact, my "chess program" on my PC is capable of "long term planning," "memory formation," and "highlighting important information," noO consciousness is necessary! (How many more times do I have to refute this argument before you get it?) But more to the point, the materialist has to explain why some organic information processing systems (i.e. living organisms) are sentient while others are not. Clearly, consciousness (at least on the materialist view) is not required for information processing (not unless you are willing to acknowledge that bacteria have some form of sentience). So, yeah, I understand why a more complex organic information processing system would be naturally selected. But I fail to see why a conscious organic information processing system was. That's what the materialist has to explain. Hitherto, no plausible explanation has been forthcoming.

    Just FYI, epiphenomenalism denies the influences of the brain's mental states, not its processing.

    "Epiphenomenalism denies that the mind (as in its states, NOT ITS PROCESSING) has any influence on the body or any other part of the physical world: while mental states are caused by physical states, mental states do not have any influence on physical states." (emphasis mine)

    (source: Wikipedia: epiphenomenalism)

    Eric Thomson: "Sorry, but merely repeating the claim that 'Materialism implies epiphenomenalism' is not sufficient to make it true."

    We both know that I have repeatedly dismantled your arguments.

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  90. Eric Thomson: "Even if such biological processes reduce to physics (which is actually an extremely contentious claim) that doesn't mean each property found at the higher level will be found at the lower level. That would be a rather egregious instance of the fallacy of division."

    If consciousness does not ontologically reduce to the physical, then it is not physical. Duh!

    Also, you are seeking to make the same category error. All other emergent properties known to science are objective (i.e. physical) properties that are observed by subjects (i.e. scientists). You are now attempting to present subjectivity itself as an objective property. It can't be done!

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  91. Paisley: now you are shifting your argument. I was merely refuting your claim that if consciousness is a biological process, then epiphenomenalism is true (that consciousness has no causal powers). That claim is false, just as it is false of digestion.

    Your response was:
    "my "chess program" on my PC is capable of "long term planning," "memory formation," and "highlighting important information,"

    Let's assume that's true, for argument sake. That doesn't imply that consciousness is not used for the same things. I can produce carbon dioxide in a test tube, but that doesn't mean respiration doesn't produce carbon dioxide as well.

    And let's apply some common sense here. Does your conscious experience of the toothache not aid in your decisions to go to the dentist? I'm not sure what kind of psychology you are advocating, but it is a lot different from mine!

    In sum, people advocating a biological view of consciousness aren't saddled with epiphenomenalism, we shouldn't expect to find consciousness at the quantum level as you said, etc.. Your reductio of a biological view fails.

    In addition, in your last two comments you stared to attack the antecedent of the conditional more directly, bringing up Chalmers'"hard" problem concerns. That's fine, and a different set of arguments.

    I've discussed the hard problem problem in detail (this post at Philosophy of Brains and in the comments, where Chalmers responded and we had some back-and-forth).

    I am actually sympathetic to Chalmers' project, as I can understand the seeming conceptual gap between experiences and brain processes. The mistake is the slide from this conceptual difference to the the claim that there is an ontological difference between brain processes and consciousness. There is a conceptual gap between water and H20, but that doesn't mean water is different from H20.

    To baldly state that consciousness cannot be a biological process (because it is subjective or because of so-called P-consciousness) is merely a restatement of the conclusion you need to establish.

    In case you bring up the argument that there is no evidence that consciousness is a biological process, let me pre-empt that with a link to a refutation I wrote over at Neurologica. Attention conservation notice: it's long and somewhat detailed response to Paisley's claim that there is "absolutely no objective, scientific evidence that consciousness is physical..."

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  92. Paisley to Eric:

    If consciousness does not ontologically reduce to the physical, then it is not physical. Duh!

    Hey, I like semantics, too, and if you press me hard enough, I might even agree to say that digestion is (as a subject matter primarily of biology, rather than of physics) "non-physical". [Kudos to Eric for sticking with this useful analogy, although I personally have to give credit for it to Searle.] But it doesn't change the fact that the subject matter of biology is (as best as we can tell) functionally dependent on the subject matter of physics.

    Also, you are seeking to make the same category error. All other emergent properties known to science are objective (i.e. physical) properties that are observed by subjects (i.e. scientists). You are now attempting to present subjectivity itself as an objective property. It can't be done!

    And what if we reject this dichotomy from the get-go? Sure, it may be convenient to speak in these dualist-sounding terms, but linguistic convenience is hardly sufficient to establish its truth.

    I think it's closer to the truth to say that all science is inter-subjective; i.e. subjects sharing observations and/or causal analyses of various phenomena. Whether the phenomena in question are believed to occur within or without another subject's body may pose different challenges (i.e. with respect to the tools and techniques required for gathering data on them), but says little or nothing about their ontological status ("natural"'s being a another linguistic convenience; albeit, a relatively agnostic one).

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  93. Eric: "Does your conscious experience of the toothache not aid in your decisions to go to the dentist?"

    "Decisions" is the keyword here. It presupposes free will. On the materialist view, there is no free will.

    Also, painful and/or pleasurable stimuli and how living organisms respond to them has been modeled by behaviorists as "stimulus-response systems." The materialist has to explain why some stimulus-response systems (i.e. living organisms) require consciousness in order to respond to environmental stimuli while other stimulus-response systems apparently do not. I suspect no response will be forthcoming from either you or your compatriots.

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  94. Eric Thomson: "I'm not sure what kind of psychology you are advocating, but it is a lot different from mine!"

    Yes, let's talk about my psychology. My first-person experience provides me with proof-positive that I have free will. On the materialist view, free will is purely illusory. And if free will is purely illusory, then our entire mental life is purely illusory because it is predicated on the belief in free will. Without free will, consciousness has no causal role to play because it has been stripped of the only thing that can possibly confer it with causal efficacy.

    The only place in physics that allows consciousness to play some kind of causal role is in the "measurement problem" in quantum mechanics. If consciousness is not a quantum-mechanical phenomenon (and you have vehemently argued that it is not), then there is no place in the scientific worldview that would allow consciousness to exhibit causal efficacy. This is why materialists deny the reality of free will ( it is incompatible with determinism), and this is why they deem mental phenomena to be completely epiphenomenal. So, whether or not consciousness has a causal role to play hinges completely on whether or not we are endowed with free will. And until you specifically address this issue by explicitly stating your position on free will, I will not respond to any further posts you might make.

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  95. Paisley said:

    "Decisions" is the keyword here. It presupposes free will. On the materialist view, there is no free will.

    Hmm, then I suppose you reject the first of these definitions (from Biology-Online), and hold exclusively to the second:

    1. A will free from improper coercion or restraint. To come thus was i not constrained, but did on my free will. (Shak)

    2. The power asserted of moral beings of willing or choosing without the restraints of physical or absolute necessity.

    That's your prerogative, but for those of us who accept the first definition as both legitimate and meaningful (after all, it was good enough for Shakespeare), your claim above is false. Free will, in that sense, is both compatible with materialism and worth wanting.

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  96. Paisly says:
    And until you specifically address this issue by explicitly stating your position on free will, I will not respond to any further posts you might make.

    Thank goodness. I'll refrain from pulling this perfectly good comment thread down the rabbit hole into my personal views on 'free will.'

    Luckily, the question of epiphenomenalism about consciousness, and the question of libertarian free will, are different questions and four conceptual possibilities emerge (you can go either way on both questions). Paisly conflates the two. 'nuf said.

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  97. jcm: "[Kudos to Eric for sticking with this useful analogy, although I personally have to give credit for it to Searle.] But it doesn't change the fact that the subject matter of biology is (as best as we can tell) functionally dependent on the subject matter of physics."

    Searle's "biological naturalism" is easily refutable (I have already refuted it once before.) Searle proposes that consciousness is causally reducible to the physical, but it is not ontologically reducible to physical. If consciousness is not ontologically reducible to the physical, then it is not physical. Duh! (That is the second "duh" that I had to employ to refute such a ridiculous argument. Hopefully, you and others who support this indefensible position will now get it.)

    jcm: "And what if we reject this dichotomy from the get-go? Sure, it may be convenient to speak in these dualist-sounding terms, but linguistic convenience is hardly sufficient to establish its truth.

    I think it's closer to the truth to say that all science is inter-subjective; i.e. subjects sharing observations and/or causal analyses of various phenomena. Whether the phenomena in question are believed to occur within or without another subject's body may pose different challenges (i.e. with respect to the tools and techniques required for gathering data on them), but says little or nothing about their ontological status ("natural"'s being a another linguistic convenience; albeit, a relatively agnostic one).
    "

    We have historically defined the physical as the objective, and the mental as the subjective. Contrary to materialists, dualism was the historical metaphysical assumption in which modern science developed, not materialism. Descartes, the father of the mechanistic philosophy, was a dualist, not a materialist. Science was commissioned to study only the objective - i.e. physical phenomena. So, one could say that science employs "methodological naturalism" only in the sense that its domain is limited to the natural world. The mind was considered to be nonphysical and therefore within the domain of the supernatural. Therefore, the onus is on you, not me, to prove that mental phenomena (and in particular subjective awareness) are physical. If you seek to "naturalize" the mind, then you have to prove that it is actually physical. To date, no materialist has ever accomplished this feat. In fact, materialism is actually a metaphysical belief that is contrary to the present evidence. We have no objective, scientific evidence that consciousness is physical...none, zilch, NADA!

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  98. Paisley, Descartes, Wheeler, Everett, Tegmark, and Chalmers rock!

    Now Descartes was a dualist because he had no choice! He had no way of clubbing together the 'spirit' and the 'physical', words fast becoming outdated. And he had no internet exploding around him, and had religious strictures as well which limited anything he said.

    But had he lived today, he would have seen that the spiritual (non-physical, if you like) and physical are one and the same, and surely would have jumped on an information bandwagon.

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  99. jcm: "That's your prerogative, but for those of us who accept the first definition as both legitimate and meaningful (after all, it was good enough for Shakespeare), your claim above is false. Free will, in that sense, is both compatible with materialism and worth wanting."

    The first definition actually presupposes dualism by implying that a distinction exists between the internal and the external (coercion is something external). Besides, you already made the argument that "dualistic-sounding terms" are nothing more that a "linguistic convenience." What exactly exactly are the dualistic terms and the linguistic convenience? Answer: Employing the personal pronouns "I" and "you" and speaking in terms of agents.

    Incidentally, Shakespeare's thoughts on this subject are completely irrelevant.

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  100. Paisley predictably stated:
    We have no objective, scientific evidence that consciousness is physical...none, zilch, NADA!

    LOL. Recall my above comment to Paisley...
    In case you bring up the argument that there is no evidence that consciousness is a biological process, let me pre-empt that with a link to a refutation I wrote over at Neurologica.

    The evidence that consciousness is a biological process is a lot better than the evidence that consciousness is not part of nature!

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  101. Ah, but then isn't the question how (if not why) do the different physical elements of nature experience their existence?
    Does not a bug, as one example, experience the forces it encounters differently than a human or an electron? And are not these experiences bounded by what the entity has the ability and capacity to experience? And is not the quality of those experiences delineated accordingly?
    And are not awareness and consciousness essentially labels for the categories we're assuming certain biological entities are able to qualitatively experience and others not? And are we not ultimately mistaken to assume that the quality of these experiences is ever the same, even among individuals of the same species or categorical denomination?

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  102. That last was meant to follow Paisley's earlier commentary, but as usual I forgot to say so.

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  103. Paisley said: "The first definition actually presupposes dualism by implying that a distinction exists between the internal and the external (coercion is something external)."

    Do you mean to suggest that it's dualist to believe that you are external to me (in the sense that the matter that composes your body is not identical to the matter that composes my body, even though it's all the same substance)? If so, then that seems an odd use of the term "dualist", but it's hardly at odds with materialism.

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  104. Eric Thomson: "Luckily, the question of epiphenomenalism about consciousness, and the question of libertarian free will, are different questions and four conceptual possibilities emerge (you can go either way on both questions)."

    No, you're talking nonsense. Both questions are inextricably linked. If libertarian free will is purely illsuory, then epiphenomenalism is true. It's that simple. In fact, materialiststs cite scientific evidence (e.g. the "readiness potential") which seems to suggest that free will is illusory in order to establish the validity of epiphenomenalism.

    "The scientific data seem to support the idea that conscious experience is created by non-conscious processes in the brain (i.e., there is subliminal processing that becomes conscious experience). These results have been interpreted to suggest that people are capable of action before conscious experience of the decision to act occurs. Some argue that this supports epiphenomenalism, since it shows that the feeling of making a decision to act is actually an epiphenomenon; the action happens before the decision, so the decision did not cause the action to occur."

    (source: Wikipedia: Epiphenomenalism)

    Eric Thomson: "Thank goodness. I'll refrain from pulling this perfectly good comment thread down the rabbit hole into my personal views on 'free will.'"

    This explains why you didn't support the viewpoint that the Libet experiments proved that free will is an illusion. It is obvious that you are either suffering from some form of cognitive dissonance or engaging in intellectual dishonesty.

    Christof Koch (the neuroscientist responsible for initiating the NCC project) argues in an interview with Robert L. Kuhn (host of PBS's "Closer to Truth" series) that free will is not compatible with materialism. However, he also states that he is ambivalent about free will. Therefore, we can safely conclude that he is ambivalent about materialism. In fact, he concludes the interview by saying that the brain "exudes consciousness which is ontologically different than the underlying brain states." Enough said.

    "Can Brains Have Free Will? (Christof Koch)"

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  105. jcm: "Do you mean to suggest that it's dualist to believe that you are external to me (in the sense that the matter that composes your body is not identical to the matter that composes my body, even though it's all the same substance)? If so, then that seems an odd use of the term "dualist", but it's hardly at odds with materialism."

    The implicit belief that there is a difference between internal causes and external causes is a dualistic one. Besides, you have already implied in a previous post that our language inherently presupposes dualism and that you use it simply because of social convention (this is a standard materialistic argument to counter the claim that the materialist presupposes free will and therefore dualism in practice....I've heard it before). You don't see the contradiction there?

    If determinism is true, then the only difference between voluntary actions and involuntary actions is that the former is purely illusory. In other words, voluntary actions are actually involuntary actions because they are completely predetermined. That you think you have voluntary control is purely an illusion. On the materialist view, we are not active participants in life, just passive observers. For some reason, materialists like yourself are not willing to accept the logical conclusions of your worldview.

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  106. Paisley: You are conflating two questions. One, is consciousness epiphenomenal? Two, do we have libertarian free will?

    For instance, you said:
    If libertarian free will is purely illsuory, then epiphenomenalism is true.

    Not necessarily. Imagine a conscious fat frog that just sits there snapping at flies, no free will at all (not even an "illusion" of free will, whatever that means). However, it is conscious of where the flies are, and this conscious neuronal process is crucial for setting up the transformation between two different spatial representations that allow it to get the fly. For instance, consciousness is involved in the transformation from retinocentric to world-centered coordinates in he neuronal representational system (as in Mandik's theory of consciousness). Consciousness in that case is not epiphenomenal, but the frog does not have free will that circumvents biology.

    There you go Paisley. There's one of the four conceptual possibilities that you have denied exists. I'll leave it as a exercise for you to figure out the other three possibilities in this conceptual landscape.

    Obviously it is ultimately an empirical, not conceptual, question for neuroscience to figure out the relationship between decision making and consciousness. Libet's work is one piece of the puzzle, one that people tend to overemphasize (and then overinterpret) because of its surprise value.

    Before I get sucked down Paisley's garden path of free will, I accomplished my main goals. First, refute the claim that consciousness is epiphenomenal from the neuroscience perspective. Second, refute the claim that there is no evidence that consciousness is a biological process. Paisley have fun speculating on what follows from those refutations.

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  107. I totally agree with Paisley in this thread.

    One should distinguish between consciousness, which is a first-person experience, and any kind of biological or physical process (digestion, water, whatever) which only exist as a unity inside our mind. Not that digestion does not exist, but it can be split into different sub-processes downto the molecular scale. Digestion as a unique process only exists in our understanding. Consciousness as a 1-person experience is exeperienced as single (I am not you, you are not me, I am not a composition of consciousness) and cannot be split into different processes, however we may conceive it.

    The problem in this discussion is that you are talking about different things. I think that Paisley is talking about consciousness as a 1-person experience, whereas the others are talking about the objective attributes of the entities who supposedly have consciousness (=our fellow human beings) from a third-person perspective.

    The frog's knowledge of where is a fly, if understood as a causal process (3-person), is necessary to catch the fly.
    The frog's knowleddge of where is a fly, if understood as a subjective awarness (1-person), is not necessary to catch the fly.

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  108. Q: I'm fine if you think that consciousness is not a biological process. My arguments were different. One, if it were a biological process, that wouldn't imply epiphenomenalism. Second, I refuted the crazy claim that there is no evidence that it is a biological process. That's it. I didn't try to refute dualism.

    In fact, I can't outright refute dualism (I made this point in some detail in the last two sections of this post). It's when a dualist acts as if the neuroscientific approach has nothing going for it, and builds straw men, that they will get a proper skewering.

    I would welcome a positive alternate dualist theory that grapples with the mountain of data from neuroscience and psychology. I look forward to comparing results and progress in 20 years, to see which has fared better.

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  109. I did not talk about dualism. I don't think dualism is a valid philosophical option : in my opinion, it's only a failure to find a naturalistic explanation for consciousness.

    That said, I still have a subjective experience of consciousness and this experience is the base of everything else (including my conception of the material world).

    All I say is that this existential experience should not be confused with high cognitive processes, whatever the connection is between them, and Paisely is right when he says that this subjective experience is epiphenomenal as long as free will does not exist.

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  110. Eric Thomson: "You are conflating two questions. One, is consciousness epiphenomenal? Two, do we have libertarian free will?"

    I am not conflating two questions. Either you are refusing to acknowledge or you are simply lacking the intellectual capacity to grasp the implications of what it means to strip consciousness of its will. If free will is purely illusory, then consciousness cannot play any causal role whatsoever. So, saying that free will is an illusion is the same thing as saying that consciousness plays no active role. By dispensing with free will, the materialist renders consciousness an epiphenomenon while relegating himself and others to the status of mere spectators (as opposed to active participants) in the drama of life.

    "This also suggests a delay for processing data before conscious experience occurs. Norretranders has called the delay "The User Illusion" implying that we only have the illusion of conscious control, most actions being controlled automatically by non-conscious parts of the brain with the conscious mind relegated to the role of SPECTATOR." (emphasis mine)

    (source: Wikipedia: "Epiphenomenalism")

    Eric Thomson: "Not necessarily. Imagine a conscious fat frog that just sits there snapping at flies, no free will at all (not even an "illusion" of free will, whatever that means)."

    If materialists believe that human beings are mere machines, then it logically follows that they believe frogs are too. So, if human beings do not have any voluntary control, then it logically follows that frogs do not either! On the materialist view, both are simply organic "stimulus-response systems."

    Now, you continue to make the same argument that consciousness does do something - namely, it performs information processing. Well, your argument would potentially have some validity if you were willing to ascribe consciousness to all organic information processing systems (i.e. living organisms). But the fact is that you are not. And since are you not willing to make this ascription, then it logically follows that some organic information processing systems do not require consciousness to process information. And if this is true, then why do other organic information processing systems require consciousness to process information? I do not suspect that a straightforward response will be forthcoming.

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  111. Paisley said: The implicit belief that there is a difference between internal causes and external causes is a dualistic one.

    Some events occur within a body, and some events occur between bodies. If there is a causal relationship between two events, and both events occurred within a single body (or between two smaller, constituent bodies), we say that the cause was "internal", rather than "external", etc. (For example, "the car came to a stop because its engine ran out of gas" vs. "the car came to a stop because it collided with another vehicle".)

    Metaphysics (or ontology) need never enter into this everyday story. But if it must, and we assume that the bodies are composed of different substances, then it is a dualist story. If, however, we assume that the bodies are composed of the same substance, then it is a monist story. If, going further, we assume that the single substance is matter (or matter/energy, in the modern version), then it is a materialist (or physicalist) story.

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  112. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  113. Paisley asks:
    some organic information processing systems do not require consciousness to process information. And if this is true, then why do other organic information processing systems require consciousness to process information

    This is a good question. The only direct evidence we have so far suggests that consciousness is a feature of certain complex nervous systems.

    Once we have a more complete story about how brains are conscious, then we'll be poised to precisely answer comparative questions of the type you ask. What does this particular property confer on complex brains? What is the distribution and abundance of consciousness in the evolutionary web?

    Until we have a much more detailed grasp on the biology of the situation in clear-cut cases, we will not be able to answer the question in unclear cases (e.g., are Paramecia conscious?). To reconstruct phylogenies, and answer comparative questions, we need to have a well-defined set of characters for the analysis. We aren't quite there yet (nor are we there with language).

    Also, note Paisley and Q I never said contracausal free will doesn't exist. My conceptual point is you are wrong to assume I think it does exist just because I realize consciousness is not epiphenomenal.

    My frog example refutes your claims to the contrary; it's a conceptual case of an animal with consciousness but without free will. For a more realistic case, you might study akinetic mutism as described by Damasio. The poor chaps are conscious, but their will is severely compromised. Basically a conscious vegetable.

    Again, just a conceptual point. Neuroscientists, not armchair pilots, will fill in the details eventually.

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  114. It appears, time-wise, that the moderator skipped my earlier submission, so I'll try it again, intervening commentary notwithstanding:

    Biological processes have sensory experiences. We humans call or label some of those experiences "consciousness." Does that mean that it took biological functions to produce that consciousness, or perhaps that they are more the product of the experience that granted them what seems to be the ultimate reward for sensory information processing? Did, in other words, biology produce experience, or in the alternative, experience produce biology, or in the causative scheme of things, all of the above?

    And can we have a causative scheme that requires experience as a means to an end if that end has been predetermined in its absence?
    Not likely. But does indeterminism then negate physicalism? Also not likely if experience is at bottom a universal motivator.

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  115. @Eric Thomson

    In your frog example, the frog's subjective awarness of the position of the fly is epiphenomenal, since it has no impact on the result of the action.

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  116. By the way free will, like consciousness, is not some free floating force or energy field in the natural or unnatural world. And free will is not something that an animal can be without. It can be without the ability to exercise its options, but the options are still conceptually available.

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  117. Q says:
    In your frog example, the frog's subjective awarness of the position of the fly is epiphenomenal, since it has no impact on the result of the action.

    That isn't true. In my example the experience is the neuronal process that mediates the transformation from retinocentric to another coordinate system. Without that transformation, the behavior would be different. That would be like saying digestion is epiphenomenal even though it transforms food into usable energy for the organism.

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  118. The neuronal process is not consciousness. Consciousness is being aware of something. A neuronal process is the transformation of an electric signal. These are totally different notions. One is a third-person physical notion and the other a first-person philosophical notion.

    For example : face recognition is a neuronal process. It is the transformation of a visual signal into the activation of a specific memory. Consciousness is not that process of transformation : consciousness is perceiving that activated memory, and that's all.

    Digestion is not being aware of something, digestion is a process (a 3rd person concept) just like cognition is a process, but consciousness is something else.

    You can compare digestion with cognition, but not with consciousness. It is like comparing a camera and a picture.

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  119. Eric Thomson: "Second, I refuted the crazy claim that there is no evidence that it[consciousness] is a biological process. That's it. I didn't try to refute dualism."

    The claim I made was that there is no OBJECTIVE, SCIENTIFIC evidence that consciousness is PHYSICAL. IOW, there is no scientific instrument (e.g. a "psychometer") that can check for the presence or absence of consciousness. By your own admission, you can't refute dualism. Therefore, you cannot refute this claim because it implies dualism.

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  121. Q says The neuronal process is not consciousness.

    So you say, but my claim is that it is. I'd need an argument.

    Of course, you are free to go to a nonneuronal theory of consciousness, see how far that research programme takes you. I encourage you to try going outside the biology to explain consciousness. I wish you luck.

    Regardless of where that gets you, in the biological view epiphenomenalism is not a problem. Indeed, it's one of the few theories in which epiphenomenalism trivially is refuted (compared to, say, panpsychism, in which epiphenomenalism is a horrible problem).

    Paisley: I've given a long detailed argument why the neural is the best game in town, why the evidence supports it. You are free to explore whatever alternative view of consciousness you have, whether it be dualism, quantum panpsychism, or whatever. I hope you find plenty of good experimental results and funding for your research.

    Just because we don't have a consciousness meter does not bear on whether consciousness is a biological process. Is there a language meter to tell you if something uses language? Is there a life-meter that can tell you if something is alive? No, but there are certain signatures that something is alive, certain lines of evidence. For each case, we'd have to examine the evidence (e.g., is a virus alive?).

    Similarly, there are neuronal and behavioral signatures of consciousness in multiple species (binocular rivalry, blindsight, masking, attention, etc), and in light of our best evidence we have to decide case-by-case if something is conscious. It's too soon to decide for some things (e.g., butterflies). As we get more clear in the obvious cases, we'll get a better answer in fuzzy cases.

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  122. Dave S: "But had he [Descartes] lived today, he would have seen that the spiritual (non-physical, if you like) and physical are one and the same, and surely would have jumped on an information bandwagon."

    I don't subscribe to Cartesian substance dualism. In fact, I have a processual view, not a substantialist one.

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  123. Q said:
    The neuronal process is not consciousness. Consciousness is being aware of something. A neuronal process is the transformation of an electric signal. These are totally different notions.

    I have a similar argument to show the error in your view:
    Water is not H20. Water is that clear odorless fluid we drink to stay alive. H20 is a group of three atoms connected via covalent bonds. These are totally different notions.

    Someone above said that you need more than a different concept to establish your point. True and this shows how.

    From my seeing, there is no good knock-down arguments that neural activity is not sufficient for consciousness. Ápropos that topic, there is no good knock-down argument against nonreductive physicalism,hylomorphic dualism, etc. Take your choice!

    What you should do is write your positive story. Stop trying to kill other's stories, as such murder attempts I laugh at them they do not work. Produce what is right, and we will all see how good your view is. It fit data better, you think, no? Then what is it? What is your story?

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  124. @Giordano Sagredo

    I did not say that neural activity was not sufficient for consciousness.
    Water is the name we give to a certain amount of H2O molecules and other ions, which shows macroscopic properties.
    Consciousness is not the name we give to a certain amount of cognitive process, it is subjective awareness.

    A 3rd person concept (H20, water, digestion, cognition) is an abstraction. Maybe you include mastication in digestion, maybe you focus only on the stomach or intestine part... It's a matter of definition, because in a sense, digestion does not really exist. Digestion is an abstraction, a concept. The same can be said about cognition.

    A 1st person experience is not an abstraction but something very concrete. That is the difference. You cannot decide that something is or is not part of your consciousness just for a matter of definition, it's impossible.

    Having said that, consciousness maybe causally emerging from the neural activity, that is what I think, but consciousness is not a neural process.

    You asked me my story. I think that the mind is a quantum phenomenon, but I did not mention that because I don't want to enter a never ending debate...

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  125. Bravo, Giordano.

    However, I think your advice still begs the question: what if we discover that the data supports one view over another? At least within the limits of an empirical approach, doesn't that scenario (e.g. where one view generates successful predictions more often than the other) qualify as a kind of victory of one view over another? True, fortunes may change as more data arrives (e.g. "a lack of evidence is not evidence of a lack"), but this only bespeaks the provisional basis of scientific claims to knowledge.

    I say this partly because (to my mind, anyway) we already have a kind of empirical "knock-down argument" in favor of a biological/neuroscientific (a.k.a. "materialist") explanation of consciousness (which is nicely summarized by Eric here), relative to its competitors (usually labeled - rightly or wrongly - as "dualism"). And yet I recognize that there is still much to be learned about how a human brain performs human mental processes (including consciousness, or what Q calls "subjective awareness" and others call "qualia", or simply put: the way things feel or seem to us). Moreover, no amount of empirical knowledge in this domain can ever completely vanquish what I call the "ghost of the gaps" argument (as in: wherever one finds a gap in one's neuroscientific knowledge, insert some mysterious & spooky force, which is somehow responsible for subjective experience). Given the general pitfalls of confirmation bias and cherry-picking (to which we are all vulnerable), a person who is predisposed to use (or find plausible) a "ghost of the gaps" argument is also likely to interpret the data differently than one who rejects such arguments, thereby minimizing (often unconsciously) the unpleasant effects of "cognitive dissonance".

    I don't mean to sound pessimistic about our hopes of reaching a broad agreement on this topic. At least among those who devote their careers to it (e.g. neuroscientists and philosophers of mind), the controversies seem rather minor and technical. But in the greater population (of which this forum is a microcosm), the culture war rages on, with this as one of its fronts.

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  127. Eric Thomson: "Indeed, it's one of the few theories in which epiphenomenalism trivially is refuted (compared to, say, panpsychism, in which epiphenomenalism is a horrible problem)."

    Yeah, why does panpsychism imply epiphenomenalism?

    Eric Thomson: "I hope you find plenty of good experimental results and funding for your research."

    This suggests that your views on this matter are largely determined by financial-constraints.

    Eric Thomson: "Just because we don't have a consciousness meter does not bear on whether consciousness is a biological process."

    You keep making the same straw-man argument. Correlations do not necessarily imply causation, let alone identity or equivalency. My argument is that there is no OBJECTIVE, SCIENTIFIC evidence that consciousness (which is inherently SUBJECTIVE by definition) is actually physical (i.e. OBJECTIVE). That's what you have to establish - you have to establish that which is inherently SUBJECTIVE is actually OBJECTIVE. You have failed to do that. And until you do that, you have no basis for claiming that consciousness is physical. (Next time, either address my argument or don't bother responding.)

    Eric Thomson: "For each case, we'd have to examine the evidence (e.g., is a virus alive?)."

    There is no consensus in the scientific community on the definition of life. Are viruses alive? You tell me. What about macromolecules? Molecules? Atoms? Electrons?

    Here's a definition of life that I rather like...

    "For a more complete definition of life I would add: life is a system which uses internal quantum measurement to capture low-entropy states that sustain the length of the system against thermodynamic decay." (source: pg. 257 "Quantum Evolution" by Johnjoe McFadden)

    Eric Thomson: "Similarly, there are neuronal and behavioral signatures of consciousness in multiple species (binocular rivalry, blindsight, masking, attention, etc), and in light of our best evidence we have to decide case-by-case if something is conscious. It's too soon to decide for some things (e.g., butterflies). As we get more clear in the obvious cases, we'll get a better answer in fuzzy cases."

    Well, you know where I stand on this. I believe that consciousness is a quantum-mechanical phenomenon. And I can infer (although I can't prove....and that's all you're doing...you're simply making an inference) that subatomic particles are conscious based on the scientific evidence that they are exhibiting spontaneous behavior.

    Just FYI. Massimo Pigliucci (moderator of this blog) as well as Richard Dawkins are only willing to grant consciousness to a small number of species (presumably human beings, primates, and maybe dolphins and whales). IOW, they would consider your fat frog to be without consciousness.

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  128. Paisley, I'll go you one better and infer that subatomic particles, based on the scientific evidence that they are exhibiting (apparently) spontaneous behavior, are not only experiencing that behavior, but are the product of a compendium of such experience.
    To infer, however, that they are simply "conscious" says nothing about how that consciousness must necessarily be different in degree and content from our own.

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  129. @Eric Thomson

    So you say, but my claim is that it is. I'd need an argument.

    My argument is in my answer to Giordano.

    Of course, you are free to go to a nonneuronal theory of consciousness

    I am not going to a nonneuronal theory at all, I do think that the neuronal processes give rise to our human consciousness. All I say is that you cannot identify those two concepts like you do because they are very different by nature: one is an abstraction of our understanding and the other an experience. At most you can say that one gives rise to the other.

    Indeed, it's one of the few theories in which epiphenomenalism trivially is refuted (compared to, say, panpsychism, in which epiphenomenalism is a horrible problem)

    I don't think epiphenomenalism is a problem for panpsychism. Basically, epiphenomenalism is not a problem in itself but a conception of things. Quantum panpsychism refute epiphenomenalism, since it has an active conception of consciousness. Could you explain why you think it is a problem?

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  130. jcm Thank you for putting it so clearly. Is right on the mark.

    I didn't mean to say that all theories are equally supported. Your link settled that! I also think one theory is better supported.

    I was saying I get bored with people try to say there is zero support for one view, they say "I will kill biological view with zombie." I wish they would just expound what they say is right, as they do not succeed with their attempts to refute. At root, they just repeat Leibniz (genius, yes, but his mill is very old now).

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  131. Paisley, I have already refuted your claim that there is no evidence that consciousness is a biological process. Links above multiple times, I think jcm linked in his most recent excellent post in response to Sagredo. Ignoring my post doesn't make it go away (though you and jcm have inspired me to turn it into an even longer piece).

    Good luck developing your alternate to the neuroscientific approach; let's compare notes in 20 years.

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  132. jcm: "Some events occur within a body, and some events occur between bodies. If there is a causal relationship between two events, and both events occurred within a single body (or between two smaller, constituent bodies), we say that the cause was "internal", rather than "external", etc."

    We commonly employ the term "internal" to refer to the subjective (the inside), and the "external" to the objective (the outside). Also, keep in mind that you are making this distinction in the context of a discussion involving free will and the mind/body issue.

    If materialism is true, then all voluntary choices (or actions) are really involuntary ones by virtue of the fact that all internal causes are ultimately determined by external causes. There are no exceptions.

    jcm: "Metaphysics (or ontology) need never enter into this everyday story. But if it must, and we assume that the bodies are composed of different substances, then it is a dualist story. If, however, we assume that the bodies are composed of the same substance, then it is a monist story. If, going further, we assume that the single substance is matter (or matter/energy, in the modern version), then it is a materialist (or physicalist) story."

    We are having a philosophical discussion here on a blog dedicated to philosophical issues. So, speaking in philosophical terms is appropriate. That being said, we're debating "theories or hypotheses," not "stories." Also, I do not subscribe to substance dualism. The subjective is nonphysical; the objective is physical. Moreover, materialism is not the only form of monism (e.g. idealism is also monistic, which is actually the complete opposite of materialism). Finally, it is debatable if materialism is actually monistic; matter is fundamentally dualistic - where everything reduces to probability waves (immaterial mathematical abstractions) and point particles (having location in space/time, but lacking physical dimensions); there's the duality between "matter" and "energy" (a very nebulous term); there's the duality between "space" and "time" (both terms are pure abstractions), and there's the duality between "matter/energy" and "space/time." The only basis for labeling anything as "physical" is that the physical can be OBJECTIVELY measured by science. (Truth be told, a real strong argument can be made for idealism and/or immaterialism.)

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  134. Wait a minute, who are the "we" that need to divide or separate causation between the internal and the external? Materialists perhaps, but certainly not physicalists.
    Neither jcm or Paisley are making any sense by creating that particular distinction.

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  135. OK, some physicalists are not up to speed on this as well, but that's what happens when you're reduced to using labels as a means of explanation.
    I'm sure nobody will mind if I label my version as strategic physicalism.
    Well I suppose David Papineau would mind, and I'd defer to whatever label he preferred.

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  136. Artie: "To infer, however, that they are simply "conscious" says nothing about how that consciousness must necessarily be different in degree and content from our own."

    I'm simply using the term "consciousness" here to mean "awareness." Also, I see awareness as binary (either there is awareness, or there is not). So, in that sense, I really don't see a difference. But having said that, I definitely see a difference in the intensity of experiences. The experience level of a bacterium is exponentially greater than that of the molecules that constitute it.

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  137. Artie: "Wait a minute, who are the "we" that need to divide or separate causation between the internal and the external? Materialists perhaps, but certainly not physicalists."

    I consider the terms "materialism" and "physicalism" to be interchangeable.

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  138. Eric Thomson: "Paisley, I have already refuted your claim that there is no evidence that consciousness is a biological process."

    How many times do I have to repeat my argument before it will penetrate that dense neural network of yours?

    My argument is that "subjective awareness" is SUBJECTIVE, not OBJECTIVE. To refute my argument, you are required to demonstrate that the SUBJECTIVE is actually OBJECTIVE.

    I expect you to address that argument and not the straw-man argument you keep repeating. If you can't do that, don't bother replying.

    Eric Thomson: "Good luck developing your alternate to the neuroscientific approach; let's compare notes in 20 years."

    Neuroscience addresses "access-consciousness" (the easy problem of consciousness), not "phenomenal-consciousness" (the hard problem of consciousness).

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  139. Paisley said: If materialism is true, then all voluntary choices (or actions) are really involuntary ones by virtue of the fact that all internal causes are ultimately determined by external causes. There are no exceptions.

    So, according to you, if I believe that there is a difference between, say, suicide and homicide (i.e. resolving to kill oneself vs. being killed against one's will), then I cannot be a materialist (or at least not a consistent one).

    Look, it's one thing to argue that it has yet to be demonstrated that matter/energy is the sole building block of decision-makers like ourselves. It's quite another to argue that by definition matter/energy cannot be the sole building block of decision-maker like ourselves.

    Re: the first argument (which is amenable to science), I leave you in Eric's capable hands.

    Re: the second argument, I can barely guess at why you even think it qualifies as an argument at all (as opposed to a bald and baseless assertion).

    My sense (having read your comments for some months now) is that materialism makes you anxious. I can guess why that is, but my point here is that anxiety doesn't necessarily translate well into rational discourse.

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  140. Artie, just to be clear: the internal vs. external tangent came out of the "free will" definition I submitted above; viz. "A will free from improper coercion or restraint."

    I think that's a pretty common use of the term (sorry if you disagree), and when Paisley responded to that observation with the "internal cause" vs. "external cause" lingo, I assumed that he was using these terms as surrogates for "proper coercion or restraint" vs. "improper coercion or restraint." In retrospect, that may have been a mistake on my part.

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  141. @ Eric Thomson August 20, 2010 2:08 PM

    Again, just a conceptual point. Neuroscientists, not armchair pilots, will fill in the details eventually.

    but armchair pilots, as the name implies, will lead the way.

    @Paisley August 21, 2010 1:44 AM

    I don't subscribe to substance dualism either, and have been thinking a lot about process-based philosophy. Problem and I hope a solution follows. Most of the posts added in the last day or two talk about consciousness and cause, butting heads with my belief that time is not one way, or even two-way but is spatial in nature. So that when we talk about cause, it is a human-centric view to say A causes B. I say A has a lot to do with causing B, but there are other influences, and B certainly causes A too. But all 'real'-world pointers do not explain what is going on, and the 'real' world goes to entropy blah blah blah. So I would only buy process theory if the seller allows for time flow in many directions and is OK with the various processes bumping into each other. But it does not, according to Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, we have:

    as a sequentially structured sequence of successive stages or phases.

    Here's my story as per Giordano Sagredo's request. I do this because Massimo opened up a post about information. For those who deride and decry burblings from armchair philosophers such as myself, I've been developing some of this information pseudo-theory since the late 70s, have not published, except on blogs, and to family and friends, and was pleasantly shocked to find other respected practitioners in various fields in the past few years (courtesy Massimo's blog) who felt the same way. I join them with open arms and a willingness to listen.

    Here goes:
    (1) Information is the basic unit of which both matter and energy are composed

    (2) Anything conceivable is possible

    (3) Up to 7 dimensions can be filled in - 3 'space-spatial', 3 'time-spatial', and a magnitude of strength that can be ascribed to an event. I am still fuzzy on the strength thing but its jelling.

    (4) As gods made 'living' things, so machines were created.

    (5) No difference between one person and two people, a flyspeck, and a corporation in many more ways than we understand.

    (6) Reality is completely subjective. Things in one's imagination are as 'real' as commonly agreed-upon reality. Knowledge is a form of fiction that can be considered a kind of best-seller. It sits well with many people, works for them and so on.

    (7) Nearly all communication between two entities involves some sort of 'extra-sensory' aspect or 'mystical' component, i.e. mechanics we don't quite understand. But they are ultimately explainable, and utterly 'scientific', just not today.

    (8) Dreaming provides a window for us to understand other beings and entities. I think they will one day prove to be key in understanding consciousness.
    :
    :
    (n) Re skepticism and rationality... anyone listen to the recent Massimo and Julia podcast? A skeptic should always ask "How do you know?", "How do you know?" How do you know that you exist? How do you know that others exist? Prove it, provide evidence other than an account of your senses.

    All: Prove that the physical stuff surrounding you is as real to you as it is to the fly, as it is to 'inanimate' objects, etc. I say the stuff is awarded special status because it appears real to you from a human vantage point.

    All: I can defend any of these views if you care to engage. I'd like that.

    The observer counts in this game.

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  142. Paisley said to Eric: Correlations do not necessarily imply causation, let alone identity or equivalency.

    No, but correlations (viz. between events) are the only candidates for causal relationships that I'm aware of. So, to my mind, it's simply a question of who has the best candidate(s)?

    Or, to be more precise, who has the best causal explanation for consciousness, based on the available data? (I think you can guess by now my answer to that question.)

    So here's a little philosophical bone to chew on: Is it possible that the following two premises are logically compatible with one another?

    A) "consciousness is a biological process" (to quote Eric); and

    B) matter/energy is not the only substance in the universe (i.e. materialism/physicalism is false).

    Whether or not either premise is true, they seem compatible to me - even assuming that all biological processes are activities of matter/energy [such that it still seems fair to characterize (A) as a "materialist" or "physicalist" theory of mind].

    If so, then this observation hardly settles the theory-of-mind debate (or at least not for those who insist that there must be some non-biological explanation for consciousness). But I think it at least let's some of the metaphysical hot air out of the room.

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  143. Paisley, you claimed that there is literally zero evidence that consciousness is a physical [biological] process. I refuted that claim here.

    Instead of a specific response to my detailed argument, you ofer:
    To refute my argument, you are required to demonstrate that the SUBJECTIVE is actually OBJECTIVE.

    Subjective awareness is consciousness, so nothing new here. It's pretty well established that is the topic under discussion.

    I don't need to "demonstrate" that the subjective is objective. I never said I could "demonstrate" it. And that was not your original claim: your original claim was that there was literally zero evidence for a biological basis. That's what I refuted, and that is not equivalent to "demonstrating" that the biological approach is correct.

    Just so you can't miss the logic of the situation. Claiming 'The evidence supports theory X over other approaches' and 'I have demonstrated theory X' are different. The first is sufficient to refute the unqualified claim that there is 'zero evidence' for theory X. You claimed there is zero evidence for theory X, and I refuted you.

    In sum, you made it too easy. Now you are trying to move the goalposts. You set me up for a five yard field goal, and then you try to move me back to my own forty yard line. Sorry, I already kicked the field goal.

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  144. I just found the following play on the internet. The authorship is unclear, but it might help clarify what's going on here.

    ==========================

    A Dialogue Concerning X

    Simplicio: There is no absolutely no evidence that X. ¡Zero, zilch, nada!

    Salviati: But what about evidence E1...En? It doesn't conclusively show that X is true. That is, I admit ~X is a logical possibility. However, you have overstated things a bit.

    Simplicio: Nice try, but you have not demonstrated X as I originally requested.

    Salviati: But I showed your original claim, that there was absolutely zero evidence for X, was incorrect. The challenge was never to demonstrate X. Indeed, in my original response to your claim, I explicitly made this point multiple times!

    Simplicio: Now you are just being stupid, or an intellectually dishonest liar coward son of a bastard! Until you demonstrate that X, then you are evading my question. I squat and piss on X. How do you like that? How will you demonstrate X, as I originally asked, when there is piss all over it?

    Salviati: [slowly backing up, keeping his eyes on Simplicio] OK Simplicio. You are right. I didn't demonstrate X, and I cannot!

    Simplicio: All right, then. We agree there is absolutely no evidence for X.

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  145. Eric Thomson: "I don't need to "demonstrate" that the subjective is objective. I never said I could "demonstrate" it. And that was not your original claim: your original claim was that there was literally zero evidence for a biological basis. That's what I refuted, and that is not equivalent to "demonstrating" that the biological approach is correct."

    Yes, you need to demonstrate that the subjective is objective because that is my argument!!! It was my argument on this blog; it was my argument on Novella's blog. (Objective evidence is required to scientifically establish that something is physical.)

    "Paisley avers:

    You have absolutely no OBJECTIVE, SCIENTIFIC evidence that consciousness is physical…..Consciousness is supernatural because it has no physical properties whatsoever and, as such, is beyond the natural.
    "

    (source: Thomson's Response on the Neurologica's "Subconscious Motivation" article)

    If you actually had OBJECTIVE, scientific evidence that consciousness is PHYSICAL, then you would be able to refute dualism. As it is, you don't and therefore you can't. And even by your own admission, you stated that you cannot refute dualism!!!
    Moreover, Christof Koch (your intellectual and science hero) implied that consciousness is not physical when he concluded the "Closer to Truth" interview with Kuhn by saying that the brain "exudes consciousness which is ontologically different than the underlying brain states." If mental states are ONTOLOGICALLY different than the underlying brain states, then they're not physical.

    Eric Thomson: "Subjective awareness is consciousness, so nothing new here."

    No kidding!! Consciousness is SUBJECTIVE; it's not OBJECTIVE. That's the whole freaking point!!! Consciousness is not something that can be observed by the third-person perspective - that's the perspective of science, and that's the perspective that must be employed to establish that something is physical. SUBJECTIVE evidence does NOT constitute OBJECTIVE evidence. What exactly aren't you getting here?!!!

    Eric Thomson: "In sum, you made it too easy. Now you are trying to move the goalposts. You set me up for a five yard field goal, and then you try to move me back to my own forty yard line. Sorry, I already kicked the field goal."

    You forfeited this game when you decided to make straw-man arguments rather than address the actual argument I presented.

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  146. LMAO Paisley: thanks for adding more lines to 'A Dialogue Concerning X.' Hilarious stuff: I'm glad to see you have a sense of humor about all this. Have a good one.

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  147. Nice back and forth, unless both of you were fundamentally wrong in that consciousness IS a physical process and as such it is more than a biological process - being quite likely that biological behavior is a process of evolved consciousness rather than (or at least as much as) vice versa. (Needing perhaps to accept consciousness as qualitatively evolving experience - which at least one of you might be open to.)

    And as to the claim that subjective evidence does not constitute objective evidence, I again object that the subject's not that cut and dried. From Wikipedia: "The very term objectivity is in question around the world; many scholars have now concluded the proper term lies closer to a collective subjectivity on what we all can agree to be independent of any one person's opinion or perspective."

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  148. @Eric August 22, 2010 4:20 PM - I disagree with nearly everything y'all scientissy, real worlder types stand for (forgive me for labeling you) but the dialogue was really funny.

    In the consciousness war, Artie has got the right idea, listen to him.

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  149. Dave S: "So I would only buy process theory if the seller allows for time flow in many directions and is OK with the various processes bumping into each other. But it does not, according to Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, we have:

    as a sequentially structured sequence of successive stages or phases.
    "

    I agree. I have a problem with asymmetrical time (i.e. the arrow of time pointing one way - namely, from past to future). We know that this cannot be true based on logical deduction. There could not have been an infinite past because it implies that an infinite amount of time would have had to expired to arrive at the present. I like the way Paul Davies works this out (and he does this by reworking John Wheeler's "participatory universe.") The key is in understanding that the uncertainty principle applies equally to the past as it does to the future.

    "Now, this uncertainty principle works both ways in time. There's no doubt about this. If we make an observation of an atom in a certain state now, then its past is uncertain just as its future is uncertain."

    (source: "We Are Meant to be Here" by Steve Paulson, Salon.com, 07/03/07

    Whitehead's eschatology can be reworked (and has...e.g. by Roland Faber) to allow for this.

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  150. There is no going back in time except metaphorically. The present is the only "time" that exists, and there's no good reason to believe there could have been a "nothing present."
    IOW, there exists a something and therefor there could not have been a nothing that it (as Wheeler unfortunately opined) would have conceivably come from.
    Reversing some chemical or physical reaction may look to some like going back in time, but if that could actually occur, all sequential events could be reversed without destroying their present or their purpose in some way. Which is not time travel if you can't get back to where you were.
    I could go more deeply into this, but I doubt it would change anyone's mind here, as what I said about this subject some time earlier evidently didn't affect Paisley's views at all.

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  151. @Paisley & Eric Thomson

    Apparently you are arguing on the statement that "consciousness is / is not physical/biological".

    In my opinion, this statement is meaningless. I don't know what "being physical" means, I only know what "having physical manifestations" means.

    Maybe (for the next discussion) reformulating what both of you mean by "being physical" could help clarifying your points...

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  152. @Paisley August 22, 2010 9:35 PM:

    Yeah, so a redefined process theory may then correctly describe the forces on an event. Begging the question - does an event even exist? I think process theory says no, or that it does not make sense to look at events as anything but the sum of the forces on or information received by an infinitesimally small point. Point or no point, I think you can assign a strength or magnitude to an event, and in doing so assign it to much larger conglomerations or assemblies, up to the point that you can make statements like "I am stronger than you", or that "The NY Jets are inferior to the NY Giants". The reason for this is that all of life appears to be a numbers game, and might always seems to make right. I further think that event strength is behind this because it is possible to break down an entity into further units, all of which have strength (this linebacker vs that linebacker, this hamstring vs that hamstring), but also treat the entity as a unit, and poll its status amongst all known observers, (those who are aware of these teams), and this is key to the equation.

    I had a knockdown argument with my wife - who is heavily into Star Trek etc. (I'm not) about whether any object actually exists. So I learned something. If I'm going to make statements like "This is not a piece of paper", I'm not talking about "This" and I'm not talking about the paper". Clinton/Lewinsky references aside, I am talking about the use of the word "is" without the subject references missiing in the sentence. The sentence should be "This is a piece of paper to those who see it that way". She thought it was bullshit to say the paper did not exist.

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  153. Q: "Apparently you are arguing on the statement that "consciousness is / is not physical/biological".

    In my opinion, this statement is meaningless. I don't know what "being physical" means, I only know what "having physical manifestations" means.

    Maybe (for the next discussion) reformulating what both of you mean by "being physical" could help clarifying your points...
    "

    The physical is that which can only be observed from the third-person perspective.

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  154. The physical is that which can only be observed from the third-person perspective.

    I would infer from this definition that, the better one becomes at detecting and/or predicting a first-person perspective (e.g. how another person feels at a given moment or in a given situation), the more "physical" that perspective becomes.

    I'm comfortable enough with that definition - so long as we're clear that it has little or nothing to do with metaphysics and everything to do with methodology (as in: which tools & techniques are best equipped to "physicalize", in this sense, subjective experience).

    Technological advancement notwithstanding, researchers are bound to always run up against some epistemic limits here, but that's true of any science.

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  155. Artie: "I could go more deeply into this, but I doubt it would change anyone's mind here, as what I said about this subject some time earlier evidently didn't affect Paisley's views at all."

    No, it didn't. And here's why:

    1) The laws of physics are time symmetrical.

    2) The uncertainty principle applies to the past as well as to the future. IOW, the past is indeterminate as is the future.

    3) There's evidence for precognition as well as for other psi phenomena.

    4) Paradoxes are involved no matter how one conceives of time.

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  156. Paisley, I asked this question early on, and I'll redirect it to you:
    "Are there or are there not theories out there that the universe is a self-operative computer that fashions information in ways that serve to replicate its particles and uses consciousness as a creative tool in that endeavor? Wasn't that part of Seth Lloyd's contention, for example?"
    Isn't this also your and Davies' contention, except that you have no explanation for the purposes this computer thinks it's serving other than those of the contemplative observers from its projected future?

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  157. Artie: "Nice back and forth, unless both of you were fundamentally wrong in that consciousness IS a physical process and as such it is more than a biological process - being quite likely that biological behavior is a process of evolved consciousness rather than (or at least as much as) vice versa. (Needing perhaps to accept consciousness as qualitatively evolving experience - which at least one of you might be open to."

    Do you believe that consciousness is derivative of the physical or that the physical is derivative of consciousness (or some other kind of combination thereof)?

    Do you consider yourself to be a "physicalist?" In philosophy, "physicalism" and "materialism" are, for all intents and purposes, interchangeable terms.

    Artie: "And as to the claim that subjective evidence does not constitute objective evidence, I again object that the subject's not that cut and dried. From Wikipedia: "The very term objectivity is in question around the world; many scholars have now concluded the proper term lies closer to a collective subjectivity on what we all can agree to be independent of any one person's opinion or perspective."

    The point is that we cannot all agree. So, there is no consensus (the "collective subjectivity" qualifies as a euphemism for "consensus" in the context of the above statement). The materialist (a.k.a. physicalist) believes an objective world exists independently of any subject or conscious observer.

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  158. Paisley;
    Time to note again what the physicist David Albert has to say in a Big Think interview as to t-symmetry:

    “Once again, it appears as if although the theory does an extremely good job of predicting the motions of elementary particles and so on and so forth, there’s got to be something wrong with it, okay, because we have — although we have very good, clear quantitative experience in the laboratory which bears out these fully time-reversal symmetric laws, at some point there’s got to be something wrong with them, because the world that we live in manifestly not even close to being time-reversal symmetric.”

    There is no credible evidence for psi phenomena or precognition that meets at best the test of plausibility.

    There are no determinatively unsolvable paradoxes in our perception of "time."

    The statement that "the past is indeterminate as is the future" has no relevance except as an essentially meaningless tautology.

    (And as I'm reviewing this comment, I note that you've added more, which may take some time to respond to.)

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  159. Physicalism and materialism are not interchangeable terms, even as labels. I consider myself an independent thinker (relatively speaking) in any case.

    Consciousness is derivative of physical awareness. Awareness is an inherent aspect of a self-regulated universe. Why the universe is physically interactive may be unanswerable except to posit that it always has been.
    And has always had the capacity to effectively observe and regulate itself accordingly.

    (Well that part didn't take as long as I'd expected.)

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  161. From: Thought-Experiments In Honor of John Wheeler
    by Freeman Dyson
    I deduce two general conclusions from these thought-experiments. First, statements about the past cannot in general be made in quantum-mechanical language. We can describe a uranium nucleus by a wave-function including an outgoing alpha-particle wave which determines the probability that the nucleus will decay tomorrow. But we cannot describe by means of a wave-function the statement, ``This nucleus decayed yesterday at 9 a.m. Greenwich time''. As a general rule, knowledge about the past can only be expressed in classical terms. My second general conclusion is that the ``role of the observer'' in quantum mechanics is solely to make the distinction between past and future. The role of the observer is not to cause an abrupt ``reduction of the wave-packet'', with the state of the system jumping discontinuously at the instant when it is observed. This picture of the observer interrupting the course of natural events is unnecessary and misleading. What really happens is that the quantum-mechanical description of an event ceases to be meaningful as the observer changes the point of reference from before the event to after it. We do not need a human observer to make quantum mechanics work. All we need is a point of reference, to separate past from future, to separate what has happened from what may happen, to separate facts from probabilities.

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  162. Artie: "Physicalism and materialism are not interchangeable terms, even as labels. I consider myself an independent thinker (relatively speaking) in any case."

    The two terms are basically interchangeable. (It's simply the more fashionable term in the philosophy of mind. And even there it is used interchangeably with materialism.)

    "Physicalism is also called "materialism", but the term "physicalism" is preferable because it has evolved with the physical sciences to incorporate far more sophisticated notions of physicality than matter, for example wave/particle relationships and non-material forces produced by particles."

    (source: Wikipedia: Physicalism)

    Artie: "Consciousness is derivative of physical awareness. Awareness is an inherent aspect of a self-regulated universe."

    Physical awareness? That's a new one. You're not describing physicalism, but some form of panpsychsm or pantheism, which would be compatible with interaction dualism, dual-aspect monism, dualistic monism, neutral monism or maybe idealism. At any rate, it is not compatible with materialism/physicalism (not as the terms are commonly used today).

    In a previous post, you stated that you subscribe to "strategy physicalism" (whatever that means). You can use whatever term you want. But it is not helpful to use such ambiguous terms if your intention is to verbally communicate. Describing yourself as a "physicalist" when you actually believe that the universe is "self-aware" is misleading.

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  163. (1) @Artie August 23, 2010 5:18 PM:

    Re the David Albert comment about time. He is right to think the real world supports unidirectional time flow if he is speaking from an empirical POV.

    But if we just learned a little more about time this century than we ever knew before by relating it to something else, it seems silly not to think there is not a lot more to learn. Also the concept of 3space-1time seems pretty silly as well.

    (2) Re the physicalist/materialist argument, I don't know. We are stuck with definitions that just don't work. It is a monistic world of 'physical' stuff that includes the stuff we do not understand. But those things exist only in my mind and in yours. While that seems to negate the argument for physicalism, the mind too is physical, and so in the interests of building a better mousetrap, I think a better definition of physicalism is warranted. I know the SEP says in definition part (d)
    It is reasonable to say that physicalism entails objectivity

    Leading me to Paisley - so what is the opposite of a monistic physicalism? Its not dualism anymore, because we have got the same issues with objectivity. Back to the process philosophy or something else??

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  164. Artie: "Time to note again what the physicist David Albert has to say in a Big Think interview as to t-symmetry:

    “Once again, it appears as if although the theory does an extremely good job of predicting the motions of elementary particles and so on and so forth, there’s got to be something wrong with it, okay, because we have — although we have very good, clear quantitative experience in the laboratory which bears out these fully time-reversal symmetric laws, at some point there’s got to be something wrong with them, because the world that we live in manifestly not even close to being time-reversal symmetric.
    "

    The bottom line is that even David Albert acknowledges "we have very good, clear quantitative experience in the laboratory which bears out these fully time-reversal laws." (His words, not mine.) Apparently, Albert would have us simply ignore the evidence!

    Artie: "There is no credible evidence for psi phenomena or precognition that meets at best the test of plausibility."

    The evidence is subject to interpretation. We will have to agree to disagree. But having said that, it has been my experience that those who summarily dismiss the research have never seriously investigated it. Also, I find your dismissive attitude on this subject to be very inconsistent with someone who supposedly believes in a "conscious universe."

    Artie: "There are no determinatively unsolvable paradoxes in our perception of "time.""

    It seems to me that you implied that it was "unanswerable" in another post...

    Previous post by Artie: "Why the universe is physically interactive may be unanswerable except TO POSIT THAT IT ALWAYS HAS BEEN." (Emphasis mine)

    Artie: "The statement that "the past is indeterminate as is the future" has no relevance except as an essentially meaningless tautology."

    It happens to be a fact of the uncertainty principle...something which David Albert has acknowledged that there is clear evidence for.

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  165. @DaveS

    About the philosophy of Whitehead: you are lucky, I just read "the concept of nature".

    The first thing to understand is that Whitehead reject the idea of an absolute space-time and also the notions of substance/property (including the notion of matter). The fundamental concrete aspect of nature is event. Everything else is derived from that. Objects (chair, table, ...) are build up from comparing similar events.

    According to Whitehead, no such thing as instantaneous time or "infinitesimally small point", as you said, exist. They are abstractions derived as conceptual limits from our experiences but every concrete event has an extent and a duration. Moreover, space extension and duration are only relational properties. Space and time do not exist without any events.

    About time sequence: for Whitehead, there can be as many sequence as perceiver. There is not necessarily one direction of time. He was inspired by special relativity (and his philosophy is compatible with it), which states the locality of time.

    Personnaly, I don't think it is necessary to "redefine" process theory for any reason.

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  166. Dave S: "So what is the opposite of a monistic physicalism? Its not dualism anymore, because we have got the same issues with objectivity. Back to the process philosophy or something else??"

    The opposite of materialism is actually immaterialism or idealism, not dualism. On the materialist view, consciousness is reducible to the physical. On the idealistic view, the opposite is the case, the physical is reducible to consciousness. Dualism actually constitutes a middle ground between the two.

    Concerning process thought, I would probably characterized it as a form of "dualistic monism." But that's just my take on it. Scholars may disagree. At any rate, it's based on an ontology of panpsychism (technically, "panexperientialism").

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  167. Q: "About time sequence: for Whitehead, there can be as many sequence as perceiver. There is not necessarily one direction of time. He was inspired by special relativity (and his philosophy is compatible with it), which states the locality of time.

    Personnaly, I don't think it is necessary to "redefine" process theory for any reason.
    "

    I wasn't sure where Whitehead himself exactly stood on this. I know that some of the more influential scholars and/or proponents of process thought (e.g. Charles Hartshorne and David Ray Griffin) have expressed in their writings that Whitehead's philosophy posits that time is asymmetrical (i.e. time does have one direction). Personally, I find this to be problematic. But that doctrine may have just been Hartshorne's or Griffin's interpretation (or modification) of Whitehead's thought. As you pointed out, relativity theory itself holds that there is no absolute time and space - both are relative to the reference frame of the observer. So, I agree with you; we do not need to redefine or rework process theory, at least, not on this score. Whitehead apparently had it right.

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  168. "You can simulate photosynthesis in a computer, but you ain’t getting no sugar out of it."

    That's because the simulation is incomplete, which makes this a false analogy. In a Turing test, the output of a simulation of consciousness would be formatted in the same way as the output of an actual consciousness -- both would be text on a page. But no existing photosynthesis simulator currently has the ability to generate output formatted the same way as the products of actual photosynthesis.

    Here is an improved analogy: say you have your photosynthesis-simulator -- let's make it more specific, a beet simulator -- hooked up to a hypothetical piece of future tech: a matter compiler. The matter compiler generates whatever substances the simulation says would be generated by photosynthesis. The analogy is no longer false, and the question is as follows: could you tell the difference between the simulated beet sugar and the sugar generated by a beet?

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  170. Scott, at that point you don't have an analogy anymore, you've got a modified replica of the real thing. Which was my point exactly.

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  171. Hi Massimo,

    I don't quite follow you. The analogy I was speaking of was between the Turing test (comparing simulated and actual consciousness) and the "beet test" (comparing simulated and actual beet sugar), and it's a false one without the matter compiler.

    What's a "modified replica" of the real thing? I suppose you're talking about the relation between the computer/beet simulator and the actual beet/human?

    I think the root of my confusion is your claim that belief in "uploading" commits you to dualism. To my mind, belief in "uploading" commits you to the position that any given consciousness is isomorphic to some algorithm. That only commits you to dualism if you believe that algorithms, in turn, exist independently of their substrates.

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  172. Scott, what I'm saying is that computers can only simulate consciousness, not be conscious, because consciousness is inextricably bound to matter, it isn't just a question of symbolic operations.

    How do I know this? Well, so far the only conscious beings we know require meat for the process to work, so the burden of proof is squarely on the other side. The dualism thing comes in because some people claim that matter isn't necessary for consciousness.

    Incidentally, good biological reasons for thinking that consciousness is a physical thing, not just a matter of logical operators, is found in the excellent book by Antonio Damasio, The Feeling of What Happens, where consciousness is treated as a sense analogous to vision, hearing, etc. (all of which cannot be abstracted in a computer - yes, we can create machines that see, hear, etc., but that is a different claim altogether; I never denied that humans are thinking machines of sorts).

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  173. You say "consciousness is a physical thing, not just a matter of logical operators" -- but unless you're a dualist of some kind, logical operators must also be physical things.

    For a monist, symbolic operations must be as inextricably bound to matter as consciousness, in which case, what exactly is the distinction between consciousness and symbolic operations?

    Are you arguing that consciousness is bound to particular kinds of matter? Doesn't that amount to some kind of neo-vitalism?

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  174. Scott: ".In a Turing test, the output of a simulation of consciousness would be formatted in the same way as the output of an actual consciousness -- both would be text on a page."

    The Turing test is not a valid test for consciousness. All it would prove is that people can be fooled into believing a computer is conscious.

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  175. Massimo: "The dualism thing comes in because some people claim that matter isn't necessary for consciousness."

    This is not entirely true. Dualism holds only that consciousness is nonphysical. In fact, the primary form of epiphenomenalism actually qualifies as a form of dualism.

    "In philosophy of mind, epiphenomenalism, also known as 'Type-E Dualism', is a view according to which some or all mental states are mere epiphenomena (side-effects or by-products) of physical states of the world."

    (source: Wikipedia: Epiphenomenalism)

    This explains why Jaegwon Kim entitled his book "Physicalism, or Something Close Enough." (That a prominent philosopher of mind feels the need to invoke dualism in order to salvage his "materialistic" theory of mind does not bode well for the future of physicalism. And despite this, you feel that you are in a position to characterize dualists as delusional.)

    "Kim currently defends the thesis that intentional mental states (e.g., beliefs and desires) can be functionally reduced to their neurological realizers, but that the qualitative or phenomenal mental states (e.g., sensations) are irreducibly non-physical and epiphenomenal. He, thus, defends a version of dualism, although Kim argues that it is physicalism NEAR ENOUGH." (emphasis mine)

    (source: Wikipedia: Jaegwon Kim)

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  176. Scott: "Are you arguing that consciousness is bound to particular kinds of matter? Doesn't that amount to some kind of neo-vitalism?"

    I think you have a point. It appears to me that Massimo wants to say that consciousness can only be generated by a biological process, not a mechanical one. Therefore, it cannot be simulated on a machine. However, he has placed himself in a dilemma because, based on his worldview, he believes that living organisms are nothing more than machines.

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  178. Scott, I'm not sure in what sense logical operators are physical. They seem to me like numbers and such, i.e. ideas. And no, my position does not imply any sort of vitalism, simply the statement that consciousness is not substrate independent, that doesn't mean the substrate has to be a human brain.

    Paisley, to me a biological being *is* a mechanism, so you've got my position wrong. I'm simply arguing that consciousness needs some kind of mechanism (as opposed to being "uploadable," i.e. independent of any particular substrate) and that this mechanism cannot just be anything, arbitrarily. But, again, it doesn't have to be a human brain.

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  179. Massimo,

    I agree that logical operators are like numbers -- adopting your terminology, they're ideas. The question is whether you think ideas are physical or not. I don't see how you can claim that ideas aren't physical and simultaneously claim to be a monist.

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  180. Massimo: "Paisley, to me a biological being *is* a mechanism, so you've got my position wrong. I'm simply arguing that consciousness needs some kind of mechanism (as opposed to being "uploadable," i.e. independent of any particular substrate) and that this mechanism cannot just be anything, arbitrarily. But, again, it doesn't have to be a human brain."

    If you subscribe to a strictly mechanistic worldview (even though it contradicts the prevailing scientific evidence), then the only mechanism you are left with is information processing.

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  181. @Paisley

    I am not a specialist, but I would say that we are both right: according to Whitehead, time is directional, but there may exist multiple directional sequences associated to different perceivers, consistently with relativity.

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  182. Scott, of course information is not outside of matter/energy, that was the main point of my post. But that doesn't mean that you can transform it in any way you like and preserve its properties. You can transform matter and energy at will, but once you turned plutonium into an exploded bomb you don't have anything like the original piece of material.

    Paisley, that addresses your comment as well. "Information processing" is too vague of a term. Plants do "information processing" all the time, but they are not conscious.

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  184. Massimo: "Paisley, that addresses your comment as well. "Information processing" is too vague of a term. Plants do "information processing" all the time, but they are not conscious.

    If you subscribe to the idea that computers will eventually exhibit consciousness, then you are obligated to believe that consciousness reduces to information processing. Why? Because that is what computers do. So, if you believe "information processing" is too vague of a term, then perhaps you should provide us with a clearer description of what you think will be necessary. Also, information is platform independent. So, transferring information from one platform to another is not a problem. IOW, "uploading" is feasible.

    Incidentally, we know that living organisms are not biological machines (as you have asserted in a previous post) because there is scientific evidence that photosynthesis is a quantum-mechanical process (i.e. it is partially nondetermistic or spontaneous). And if consciousness is a quantum-mechanical process (there is no physical explanation for spontaneous behavior), then all cellular life forms may indeed be conscious.

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  185. Paisely,

    I don't have to subscribe to any such notion. Computers as just formal operators will never be conscious, in my mind. I said that human beings are a kind of *machine*, but not the same kind of machine that current computers are. In order to have consciousness it seems that one needs additional things beyond the ability to formally manipulate symbols, hence Damasio's concept of consciousness as an internal sense.

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  186. Massimo: "I don't have to subscribe to any such notion. Computers as just formal operators will never be conscious, in my mind."

    Okay, I stand corrected. I thought you previously stated that you believe in the prospect of AI (i.e. that computers will eventually exhibit consciousness).

    Massimo: "I said that human beings are a kind of *machine*, but not the same kind of machine that current computers are."

    Does that (a kind of machine) mean that you think biological organisms are basically mechanistic, but not completely mechanistic?

    Massimo: "In order to have consciousness it seems that one needs additional things beyond the ability to formally manipulate symbols, hence Damasio's concept of consciousness as an internal sense."

    An internal sense? It seems to me that you are making the distinction between access-consciousness (basically information processing) and phenomenal-consciousness (e.g. qualia or subjective experience). But what exactly are you proposing here - that subject awareness cannot be reduced to information processing (i.e. a mechanical process)?

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  187. Q: "I am not a specialist, but I would say that we are both right: according to Whitehead, time is directional, but there may exist multiple directional sequences associated to different perceivers, consistently with relativity."

    Okay, that makes sense.

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  188. Paisley,

    > Does that (a kind of machine) mean that you think biological organisms are basically mechanistic, but not completely mechanistic? <

    Completely mechanistic.

    > what exactly are you proposing here - that subject awareness cannot be reduced to information processing (i.e. a mechanical process)? <

    No, it is a type of information processing, but in the broad sense of the term, i.e., it isn't simply symbolic manipulation.

    Again, the problem with the computer analogy is that computers do *only* symbolic / formal manipulation, but the point of my post is that information processing is much, much broader than that - including, for instance, the production of sugar during photosynthesis.

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  189. Massimo,

    "of course information is not outside of matter/energy, that was the main point of my post. But that doesn't mean that you can transform it in any way you like and preserve its properties."

    To my mind, information (in Shannon's sense) is something that has the same properties regardless of the medium used to represent it. I'm not sure whether that contradicts what you just said or not. If you blow up a computer, obviously the properties of the information in it are changed. But how is that relevant? The explosion just doesn't represent the same information anymore. (Though there's an argument to be made that with adequate knowledge of the exploded computer's final state, it might be possible to reproduce some or all of the original information from the debris.)

    On the other hand, I think it's pretty clear that you could construct a one-time atomic bomb logic gate. Does that count as transforming information "any way I like?"

    I still think there are two discrete questions to address when it comes to the question of uploading -- is consciousness an algorithm, and are algorithms physical? As long as the answer to the second question is yes, belief in uploading is consistent with physicalism. You may believe the answer to the first is no -- fair enough. That's an interesting position and I'd like to learn more about it. But in your article you cite Searle and agree with him that belief in uploading commits you to dualism. This is only true if you are already a dualist about algorithms.

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  190. Scott,

    good way to look at the problem. Before I answer your questions, let me ask two in return: do you think photosynthesis is an algorithm? If so, where does the sugar come from? Whatever answer you give to these questions you can use mutatis mutandis (I always wanted to use that!) for your questions to me.

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  191. The chemical algorithm for the process is 6CO2 + 6H2O (+ light energy) =C6H12O6 + 6O2.
    Mutatis schmutatis.

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  192. Artie, when you write it down, do you get sugar?

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  193. Massimo: "Completely mechanistic."

    Okay, then you really do think of biological organisms as machines - or, more precisely, "organic machines."

    Massimo: "Again, the problem with the computer analogy is that computers do *only* symbolic / formal manipulation, but the point of my post is that information processing is much, much broader than that - including, for instance, the production of sugar during photosynthesis."

    This is not entirely true. Computer programs do more than data manipulation. They read input data; they manipulate or process data; and they generate output data. You may think that this is a trivial point, but it's not and here's why. Stimulus-response systems (e.g. robots) read in sensory data, process that data, and then use that data to respond to the environment. (You do believe that organic stimulus-response systems qualify as organic robots...right?)

    And concerning your last point, I have already cited a source that provides evidence that photosynthesis is the result of quantum computing. (Of course, quantum computing is not a strictly mechanical process. And the fact that it is not is the reason why photosynthesis is such a highly efficient process.)

    "Plants are employing the basic principles of quantum mechanics to transfer energy from chromophore (photosynthetic molecule) to chromophore until it reaches the so-called reaction center where photosynthesis, as it is classically defined, takes place."

    (source: "When It Comes to Photosynthesis; Plants Perform Quantum Computation" by David Biello, Scientific American, 04/13/07)

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  194. Massimo,
    The point may be that if you don't write it down, you don't get sugar. But you still get the energy that everything including sugar came from. The so far unanswerable question is where did energy come from (assuming it had some origin other than itself).

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  195. Massimo,

    That's useful, and I'm glad you put it that way. I think it would be defensible to claim that photosynthesis is a particular instantiation of a more general algorithm. The algorithm generates a symbolic representation of a structure that is isomorphic with the structure of sugar.

    That stance clarifies certain things for me. Because the word "sugar" doesn't refer to the structure of sugar but to the most efficient instantiation of that structure in a particular substrate (Carbon, Oxygen, and Hydrogen atoms), the algorithm alone doesn't generate sugar; it only generates the structure of sugar.

    But the very question we are faced with is whether the word "consciousness" refers to a structure or to the instantiation of that structure in a particular medium. The photosynthesis analogy only works in favor of your argument if we've already reached an answer to that question.

    It's worth noting that thinking carefully about this issue enables me to make a clear distinction between my consciousness -- which is indeed the instantiation of consciousness in the particular substrate of my body -- and consciousness in general.

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  196. Computation is meaningless unless it serves some algorithmic purpose. Spontaneity is the antithesis of the purposive.

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  197. Artie: "Computation is meaningless unless it serves some algorithmic purpose. Spontaneity is the antithesis of the purposive."

    There is no physical explanation for a random event. I'm not here to give credence to physicalism, but to dismantle it. That's where we fundamentally differ.

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  198. Scott said: But the very question we are faced with is whether the word "consciousness" refers to a structure or to the instantiation of that structure in a particular medium. The photosynthesis analogy only works in favor of your argument if we've already reached an answer to that question.

    I think Massimo has already answered that question in favor of the latter option (i.e. that without the medium, no sugar and no consciousness). Of course, that choice won't stop others from reducing the medium to information, but then it seems that they're using "information" in a novel way (say, as a surrogate for "matter/energy", rather than as a symbolic representation of it).

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  199. Paisley,
    The rather clear existence of the regulatory laws of nature demonstrates that both the randomness of energy and the regulatory purposes for directing energy on a variety of probabilistic paths exist. If randomness is essentially undirected behavior, and behavior is energy in action, then what is the non-physical explanation for action versus inertia? There is none unless you have a non-physical explanation for the existence of energy to begin with. Physicalists can demonstrate that laws of nature serve strategic purposes. You have no strategies for dismantling the physicality of those laws without using the very tools those laws have taken the advantage of. You would substitute nature's acquired purposes for your own, but unless you imagine you have access to some Godlike powers, you haven't got a prayer.

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  200. Paisley,
    Or should I have pointed out with more specificity that your own reliance on quantum computation belies your inference that spontaneity serves no strategic purpose?

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