Thoughts And Dreams … Of A Computer (Free Will Interlude)

What follows is fairly long and taken verbatim (sans spelling errors) from a comment I made on the post at Invasion of the Zombies by  fidedubitandum (Author is Debilis)

In which I argue against mind body dualism, touch on what thoughts are, and why qualia is not a concern in understanding the workings of our minds. To put a fine point on it, our consciousness as I describe it here is in fact THE evidence of free will. We cannot use it to stop meteors from smashing into the Earth or convince that hotty to come talk to us, but we do use it to decide how to act in the world in whatever limited ways the laws of physics permit us to.

Despite the thin line of difference between Sam Harris’ bit and this, they are different. More on that later.

Yes, this is a long dry post – just press like and move on if you are feeling a bit weak at the moment LOL


A few important bits of fleshy compute power

Here is the comment I made. The Zombie link above takes you to the entire post and comments. It’s got a picture of Rob Zombie on it. It doesn’t get better than that when Rob Zombie is in the discussion of consciousness. Pass the joint….

Point for point

is useful many times, but here I’ll just try summary style to cut the size a bit. Forgive if I don’t quote you.

The ‘science’ of mind is imprecise for exactly the reason that it is still a mystery. I feel that most are afraid to admit the simple truth that mind is the emergent property of a ‘computer’ analyzing how it analyzes already analyzed data. This necessarily distorts the hard and easy problems into separate pseudo domains.
The ‘red’ problem shows us that it is not intuitive on how to explain ‘experience’ among others. Stated simply (and I do mean simply), it is the process of analyzing the meta data of analysis of what data has been acquired.

This begs the question of what experiences that last analysis? That’s a good question. There is a part of the analysis machine that analyzes how we analyze other data. All the many layers of analysis feed back on each other until we often can’t tell them apart. We certainly don’t communicate in significant ways that highlight the different layers, but you can detect them if you try.

It is not the qualia

that can be objectively analyzed, but the manner in which we analyze qualia that can be. Bad analogy: When we measure current, we do not measure the spin of electrons but merely the effect of electrons passing through a point of a conductor. To know that the meter works correctly we do not have to measure exactly the spin of electrons it measured or even how the meter ‘perceived’ the electrons. The analysis of qualia which arrives at a nominal/average value indicates strongly that the analyzer has similar processes to analyze the qualia. If an apple looks slightly darker in hue to you than to me, it is not important. We both assessed red as red. This is important knowledge along with the fact that we can both compare this to a 3rd or 4th qualia perception source to see where our subjective differences are in order to find a mean value. This tells us that one of us might be colour blind or other details about the qualia sensing mechanism’s we have. Again, it’s not that we experience red of a specific wavelength of light, its that we both experience it. This is external qualia. The experience of red is immutably entangled with both the physical parts and our biological parts.

In our brains we both experience a qualia. We both label it red. These are the physical parts of the problem. Internal to our minds red is associated with different things, different other qualia. Someone working at Target (red is the only colour they use) would have a different analysis of the colour red than you or I. The act of ‘experiencing’ red necessarily causes our brains to bring up stored data about red, things that are red, experiences that happened around red and so on. The perception of red is nearly identical for all. The resultant analysis is not. The perception and analysis IS the experience of red. It is not possible to experience red without the analysis of the perception of red and all other related data available to us. This is what our brains do.

By the time your brain has ‘perceived’ red, it has reduced the physical inputs to data. Bits and bytes etc. When you ‘experience’ red it is the act of analyzing the data that represents the sensory input of the wavelength of light that we have labelled as red. We never directly ‘experience’ red or any qualia of the physical world. What experience is then is the analysis of the data that represents the external world and all its aspects.

Thoughts and experience are the same things internally to the brain.

Physically they use the same hardware and algorithms. When the input data to the ‘experience’ engine is from external sensory sources, it is ‘experience’ and when it is from internal sources (our own brain) it is thought. When we mix the two it is thinking. To demonstrate: Think of a zoo full of animals that you have never seen before, that no human has ever seen before. How many of those animals were original and NOT based on anything you ever acquired information about (even fictional animals from stories etc). Try to imagine the unimaginable. The rules that you have built into your brain simulation of the world cannot easily make up new stuff. This is the source for the argument from ignorance. Thought is based on the rules that we have acquired and built into our simulation of the world. Thought is running that simulation without strict adherence to external world rules or even any external world rules. The rules, however, are based on what we learn from the real external world.

Analyze sensory data. Analyze the meta data from that. Analyze the meta data from that. Analyze how you analyzed the meta data. Analyze how you analyzed your analysis. Somewhere in the recursive analysis you become self aware. Lots of accessible and highly referenced historical data helps.

We think we can understand how perception of the external world is modelled and how it can be represented mathematically. Thought is the same process. Analysis of that thought brings more focus on one aspect or another.

What then is ‘analysis’ that I’m talking about?

How do we analyze the data we acquire? The answer is that we do it the same way as all other animals. We check the available data and run all of it through comparisons to what we know already to see if it fits or needs more ‘analysis’ to find patterns that it does match. Where there is no match we store a new pattern and give it a label/symbol/weighting etc.

We have a bit of reasoning/software if you want to think of it that way, where we look for meta pattern matches and this done in many layers. The weighting of any pattern match can heavily influence or count more strongly in other pattern matches depending on physical inputs. Hormones have an often detrimental influence, as does hunger and so on. Things like hypothyroidism and sleep deprivation can interrupt normal bodily inputs and unbalance the pattern matching. Physical defects in the body/brain can permanently alter the pattern matching machinery causing many ‘psychological’ disorders. The pattern matching layers, at different point, have outputs that send signals to our body to perform this function or that.

None of this is impossible nor improbable and testing for it is being done. Behaviours indicate physical maladies/conditions, this is common sense. The part which makes us individuals is at the top of the heap of pattern matching. It’s the part that shuts off when we sleep, when we are unconscious. The brain still functions at a level which will avoid death for as long as possible. If you think carefully enough you’ll be able to see that you have trying to match patterns the entirety of this written conversation. You do it for everything. The top layers (consciousness) is able to import problem sets/simulations from abstract things. Imagine you are tech support and get a call where the user says the printer is not working: analyze your thoughts as you receive that problem and what your brain does to solve it. Now to build the long chain, analyze why you do this job, what it might mean to you and find the ultimate reason that you go to work every day. How much of that is about feeding yourself and your family, spending time seeking pleasures, avoiding pain. The complex analysis of large data sets to arrive at positive outcomes on these pattern – your life against patterns of suitable lives – and you can see that our actions are all driven by pattern machines. Consciousness is the ability to do complex analysis of problem sets/patterns which are not linked to your bodily functions.

A thought is just pattern

matching on that whose input data/criteria was assumed or pieced together from two or more other pattern matches which seem unrelated. An incomplete problem set in which you are pattern matching across all that you know or have memories of.

Emotion: when lower layers of pattern matching get heavy weighting and pattern matches cause output to the body, there is vacillating feedback patterns in the machinery which distort other pattern matching processes. Depression, anger, happiness, joy, grief… all distort the pattern matching processes.

Soon, science will have more information about the structure of the neurons in our brains and how specific drugs/injuries/maladies can affect behaviours and vice verse. Yes, there is structure to the neurons in our heads. Structure implies machine like processes and that each brain is not a unique snowflake but rather a inexact copy of the parents brains. This is why we see some dog breeds with certain behaviours and others not etc.

What you would like to be out of the physical world truly is not. Nuclear power was impossible until it wasn’t. My thoughts here are not conceived in a vacuum. All that I read and learn helps shape what I think is the most realistic match. Nothing that comes with credibility suggests that consciousness is found in anything outside of a brain. Dualism loses the plot by not thinking about what we are thinking with or how we might be thinking it and assumes that it is some kind of magic. It’s not. We are meat machines. Try to think of something that is absolutely unrelated to anything you’ve ever thought, heard, learned about, seen etc… Think of something that is so different that it cannot be concieved of coming from what you already know, or being built from little bits you know about, like a Lego model.

When you decide that you can’t think of what has not already entered your mind or something based upon such things, you’ll be able to see that thoughts are simply pattern matching activities we use to work to achieve better outcomes for existent problem sets. The more information that we have the more likely we are to have more productive thoughts.

==No amount of scientific knowledge (including knowledge of neuroscience) will allow a blind person to know what colour looks like to a sighted person. That experience is not something science discusses.==
But it can. Just as you do not know what it is like to experience infrared light waves, the blind person cannot see light waves that you do. To want them to experience this is to want to be able to see infrared. Their simulation does not have those symbols or aspects. Lets find some data on fMRI where blind people’s reaction to words about colour is compared to those of sighted people. Turn around and look at the results of asking each about the ‘sound’ of spring or some such. What you’re trying to do here is compare apples and oranges. Once the simulation is built, the machinery does not compare between brains with differing senses.

==Hence, thoughts are something that must be taken as more than symbols of the outside world, but something else which has properties.==
Thoughts are simulations in and of themselves. We switch simulations depending on the problem needing resolution at the time. This context switch is how a smell or sound can ‘take us back’ to when we were young or visiting a friends house or what have you. The exact mechanism of context switching is instantiated by perception and subsequent analysis. Strongly weighted memory groups will be revived from analysis of some sensory data and the group can instantiate the context switch in a partial mode or even complete mode. PTSD folk have this problem in spades.

That should be enough for now.
This has been good so far.

  1. OK, i’ve got one for you. This is a true story.

    Many years ago I fancied myself as a playwright. Storytelling using a stage excited the fuck out of me. It still does, but that’s beyond the point. I’d finished a play which got some attention then wrote 2 acts of a 3 act play set in Charles de Gaulle Airport. The outline being: an electrical storm had closed the airport and 10 passengers decided to forgo the paid hotel room and wait the storm out in one of the airport’s bars. Half way through the 2nd act I hit a wall and simply couldn’t figure out where the story was going. It was shelved shortly after and forgotten about. 6 or 8 months later I was watching a Sunday Arts program and there was an interview with a young English composer who’d written and was about to present a 3 act opera set in Charles de Gaulle Airport, an electrical storm had closed the airport and 10 passengers had decided to forgo the paid hotel room and wait the storm out in one of the airport’s bars. My jaw hit the ground, and even more striking was he described how hard it was to write the third act, and the dates he gave matched mine almost exactly.

    Now, how does one explain this? Two people on opposite sides of the planet had the exact same idea at the exact same time…

    • This is a fucking good question – and I want to read your play!

      Despite how I explain life and consciousness there remain things that seem strongly to need more explanation. The gasping on this one is the idea that such a large number of coincidences could not statistically happen like that except one in a really huge number. The problem is that they did happen which makes the chances 100% that they can.

      What we don’t know is if you both listened to the same news, had similar writing habits, similar plot ideas and so on. Consider yourself fortunate to have seen this high coincidence. The more of us there are and the more information available to more people, the more likely it is to happen. In our lifetime we have seen explosions of all of this. Every technical idea I come up with has been thought of by someone elsewhere and generally implemented before I have a chance to.

      In your case it could simply have been that both of you read the same story unrelated to this story and within a suitable time frame were exposed to the airport and arrived at the same idea/plot.

      The point is that even without knowing all the particulars, it can be seen that it is not impossible for two writers to come up with the same idea, especially if they are exposed to the same news, information etc. Imagine that both of you were exposed to the same combinations of new information and had overlapping memory sets. Is it so difficult to think that both of you might pull out the same plot/story line ?

      • Toady I put it down to coincidence, but at the time i entertained the idea that thoughts could well rain down, being received by whomever was tuned in at that time/frequency. The origin of those thoughts were human, not godly, but they were shared by being bounced off the stratosphere. It was a thought.

        However, as you pointed out, the idea itself is not terribly unique. Airports do suffer closures, passengers make for easy characters, and de Gaulle is a European hub. The timing is a little freakish, but not statistically so.

        • Statistics are a humbling thing. When the number of data points is big enough extraordinary things happen all the time. I forget which physicist said that. People who live by astrology are victims of statistics and poor understanding of superstitions. You can write anything for any day of the year and someone born in that time frame will consider the horoscope quite accurate. Being sceptical is a hard learned skill for most of us, sadly.

  2. I didn’t go to debilis blog but from your post it does seem to me he is arguing for mind body dualism. How does he explain, why if the mind were separate or independent, why as a person advances in age or why when a person is very sick their minds are impaired.

    Great post mate and it ain’t dry as you wanted as believe maybe just a bit technical for my spongy brain 🙂

    • Well, thank you for the kind words. As for dualism, I argue against it for the very reasons you cite, among others.

      It does not explain anything nor offer explanatory power for anything. It’s a claim of magic…

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