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[P]
A Philosophy of Perpetual Existence

By Eloquence in Culture
Fri Jul 20, 2001 at 11:48:02 AM EST
Tags: Culture (all tags)
Culture

(or: Dreams, Consciousness and the Definition of Self)

You are dreaming. You don't know that. What you -- your consciousness -- believes is that you are climbing a mountain. It is a red mountain, and as you look down, you notice that the whole planet is red. Apparently, you are on the planet Mars. You are not wearing a spacesuit, but your brain does not seem to care about such details. As you look at your body, however, you notice that you don't have any arms -- and in the place of arms you have tubes, connected to simple mechanical hands. You are a robot on a mission on Mars. Yet everything seems perfectly normal to you as you continue your ascent, trying to find the astronauts who must have crashed somewhere in the vicinity.


The point of this article is to define, as far as it is possible, what consciousness and self are, and in how far these entities can possibly persist even after our death. It is an atheistic examination of afterlife in a non-metaphysical way. The article does not cover the question of free decision nor the definition of emotions, and it does not discuss philosophical thought models which are similar to the one proposed in it. Warning: Some aspects of it may offend your feelings, religious or otherwise. The article is exclusively written for K5 but may be reproduced and modified without permission if this part is left intact and significant modifications are marked as such. -- Erik Moeller, July 2001.

Dreams are strange. Once we wake up, we forget them. Although some people think they don't dream, everyone dreams -- dreams are an integral part of our brain's memory management, deleting unnecessary memories and reordering chaotic ones. Since this is essentially a reindexing process and the conscious perception of this process is merely an inevitable byproduct, there is no point in storing the memory of it. Storing memories is a process of several stages (ultra short term memory of about 20 seconds, short term memory of about 20 minutes and long term memory), and if this chemical-electrical process is aborted at an early stage, memories are completely forgotten -- like the RAM of your computer when you turn off the power. There is no way to recover them.

There are situations in which we do store the memory of our dreams. Sometimes it happens during soft sleep or in the transitional phase between dreaming and "really waking up". But these are only fragments of dreams, and since we usually easily recognize them as not being important, we discard them. Dreaming in itself, in this way, is a pretty surprising or even scary process. Every night, while your brain tries to make some sense of your daytime experiences, you are in a different world, usually not aware of the fact that you are dreaming ("lucidity") -- you may have adventures in a different world, you may suffer terrible torture, or you may re-live an actual experience with different results, or different people, or from a different perspective.

You experience all this. Sometimes you feel you make decisions actively, sometimes you feel you are just passively experiencing something. But as an experience, it is not totally different from your real life. We often say that a certain dream was incredibly realistic. But maybe all dreams are equally realistically perceived, and it is only after we have "viewed" them that we forget them differently. As you wake up, it's usually all gone.

Similarly, as you begin to dream, you often forget who you are. It's like dreams and reality are separated by a "mutual amnesia", so you may very well live two, or many more, separate lives at the same time. While it is of course hard to prove (especially to ourselves) that the experience of dreaming has ever taken place in the cases where we forget it, those who write dream journals or use other methods to better remember their dreams know very well that we dream a lot more than we think we do.

This is on its own, while impressive and fascinating, not a life-changing fact. Trivially speaking, you are merely watching yourself throw the trash of your memories away, and then discard the experience itself. Dreams, when memorized, are overinterpreted even today, sometimes seen as predicting the future or explaining parts of the past you have no access to. This is easily understood as dreams often reveal memories of which we don't even know that we have them. Someone who thinks very scientifically may very well come up with a completely plausible alternative reality in his dreams, since his scientific conception of reality is still active in his dreams (fortunately, he is also likely to realize that the dream is just that -- a fantasy without meaning).

Dreams are often fun, and it can be a rewarding experience to unearth their origins ("This element of my dream occurred in the movie I watched yesterday"). Overinterpreted, they become a waste of time or even dangerous, as psychologists and therapists of the last century have shown. But dreams are meaningful as an argument in defining consciousness.

Self vs. Consciousness

One important question that intelligent biological beings ask themselves after their most basic needs have been fulfilled is inhowfar their existence can continue after their physical substrate ceases to function. This line of thought usually begs the question what existence is, so we will begin with that.

Human existence can be separated into two parts: memory and consciousness. Memory of what we have done, and the awareness of our actions. Both of these are integral parts of our experience and cannot be described without it (similar to questions like "How does the color Red look like?"), however, that does not mean we cannot examine how they work. We know a lot about memory (although still far too little), and there are countless philosophical, psychological, neurological and illogical theories of consciousness as well.

The separateness of "self" (as our actions and our memories thereof) and consciousness is a fundamental part of many religions. A person committing suicide may very well wish to have a conscious afterlife but forget the undesirable aspects (memories) of their existence at the same time. That this is not an illogical possibility is illustrated by the analysis of dreams above: We already do have separate lives that are consistently experienced with one consciousness, even though they are tied together by the same memories. Our consciousness is like a computer screen that is used by our brain to permanently project an image of our thought. Whether this "screen" is physically part of the brain itself or separate from it is outside the scope of this article, but let us assume that it abides by the laws of physics just like the brain itself.

So existence is really made up of two parts that could theoretically be separate. Many of us may have the feeling of them actually being separate at times, when we are wondering who we are and what we are doing on this planet. Most of us consider these two parts to be equally worthy of being preserved or "continuing" in some fashion after our death.

The Inevitability of Wishful Thinking

But all arguments made for or against the continuation of consciousness or self must be taken with a grain of salt, since all intelligent animals including ourselves are equipped with a strong drive of self-preservation, indispensable from an evolutionary perspective. Like all of our emotions, we translate it into "rational" thoughts and explanations for the world we live in. For example, the biologically caused mental block against having sex with the people you grew up with (incest taboo), which is necessary for genetic diversity, has resulted in numerous explanations of why incest is bad and must be prevented.

The same thing happens even later in life as we rationalize our actions for good or for bad: The smoker will always prefer to live in the belief that his actions are not harmful to him nor to others and select his perception accordingly, the corporation dumping toxic sludge in your backyard will prefer to believe that the stuff is not really harmful, and those who cause global warming would rather think that it doesn't exist or that it is actually beneficial (all these examples can of course be reversed to a degree, and they have been listed here as a demonstration: if you disagree with them emotionally your brain will immediately come up with explanations of why they are wrong and urge you to search a solution).

The power of selective perception is incredible and exploited by PR organizations, churches and consumer coaltions, who all tell people what they want to hear. It proves that our brain is far from perfect and still very much related to that of the animals we have descended from, trying to most effectively avoid the dangers of their environment once it has figured out the basics. The human brain can be easily fooled and is, in some respects, "fooled by default" to prefer certain thoughts to others.

If we prefer finding the truth to enjoying possibly false conceptions of reality (a preference that is certainly not universally shared among humans but rather learned through experience), we should try to suppress for a moment those scenarios that are desirable and look at the logical consistence of those that are undesirable. Given this introduction, what are the odds for or against an actual "afterlife"?

On the Desirability and Possiblity of Perpetual Existence

If we accept the theory that our thoughts and consciousness are in essence dominated by the laws that dominate the reality experienced in them, it seems inevitable that the dysfunction of the human brain results in the end of both memory and consciousness, thus in the destruction of both of the aspects of ourselves we would wish to preserve. This is a reality that is not easy to accept and many prefer beliefs that imply some sort of immediate afterlife (even if some of these beliefs are unrealistic to the point of being ridiculous as portrayed by most movies depicting an actual afterlife, most of them being comedies for the same reason -- many people wish to believe in a world where you live on clouds as an angel, asexually, somehow enjoying the experience).

Whether such an afterlife is actually desirable is not really examined by most of these beliefs, some of them simply suggest two different possible outcomes (e.g. heaven and hell) and don't go into much detail as to what they involve (usually there's more about hell than about heaven). To examine these very different notions would be material not for an article but for a book, and a lot of books, probably too many, have been written on the subject already.

If we accept the separation of consciousness and memory, one aspect of ourselves can most certainly live on: Our thoughts and ideas can be passed on to others, and as long as they are relevant, they will be part of our culture. They can evolve and turn into something much more advanced, they can stagnate and they can die. The best ideas can reach virtual immortality. But even the more trivial aspects of our existence are remembered by our friends, relatives and loved ones. This is a fact that we can take comfort in: Knowing that, in a way, we will live on. It is also a fact that can motivate us to participate more actively in intellectual discourse, knowing that this may very well be our only chance to actually leave a significant imprint in reality.

The TV show you watch, the game you enjoy, even the sex you have, these, while they can be important to our well-being, are not really the remarkable aspects of human existence (even though they may be experienced as such). Remarkable are the brilliant ideas, the intellectual creations that we share with others and build upon (limiting such sharing through concepts of intellectual property is, in a way, increasing our mortality, limiting the potential impact of our own existence [while admittedly potentially making the consciously experienced part of it more enjoyable]). Remarkable is our improved understanding of the universe we live in, and the practical application of this knowledge. This ability, in quantity and quality, is what separates us from lower life forms.

Perpetual Consciousness ..

Many people will not be satisfied with that, especially those who do not really care about their impact on reality. For them, actually "experiencing" reality may be more important than changing it. If that is your preference, a vision of an afterlife that does not necessarily include our memories but continues the possiblity of making new experiences (including such fundamental emotions as pleasure and pain) may be preferable to you. Or you see your existence dualistically and both aspects of it, memory and consciousness, are equally important to you. So a "memetic" (idea-based) afterlife is certainly not completely satisfactory. Is there the realistic possibility of the continuation of consciousness?

As has already been pointed out above, the possibility of continued projections onto the screen that is our consciousness seems unlikely once our body has died. Not only is it assumed (for lack of contrary evidence) that our consciousness is built on the same biological substrate as our memories, there is nothing to project onto it once we have died. While dreams illustrate the possibility of having different existences with the same consciousness, some phases of our dreams are sleepless, and in these phases, we don't have any significant conscious thoughts; the same is true in many cases of unconsciousness and coma caused by accidents, shock etc. So consciousness is in no way more persistent than the rest of our existence.

Whether it will persist nevertheless seems to fundamentally depend on the way our universe works. Visibly, our universe, while incredibly huge, is limited (if it were not, there would be no night, since a sun would shine from every visible point on the sky at a certain distance), and we know that it will also end in some way or another. But there are theories that describe a universe which is really a "multiverse", comprised of an infinite number of universes, which exist parallelly and/or sequentially. While it may ultimately be proven that our universe is not unique and part of a larger multiverse, it remains an unprovable assumption that it is indeed infinite.

Religions traditionally prefer a finite universe and project infinity into one or multiple separate entitities; these assumptions are not supported by evidence any more or less than the assumption of an inifinite universe. Our universe has certain remarkable variables that support life in it, and that strongly supports theories of multiple universes where ours is the only one being observed. While this condition can also be used to argue for external creation, logically, for reasons of preferring a simpler explanation to a more complicated one if both are sufficient ("Ockham's Razor"), it would be more reasonable to assume an infinite universe or "multiverse". An infinite "parent universe", on the other hand, would have to answer exactly the same questions as an infinite one without a parent, these questions are merely easier to avoid for the inhabitants of the "daughter universe".

Nevertheless, if one accepts an infinite multiverse as realistic, one ignores the fact that infinity is by no means a given prerequisite: The "multiverse" may very well consist of a limited number of universes, and that's it. An unsettling possibility, but it seems like between these two, no logical preference can be made.

.. Through Infinite Possibilities

What does that have to do with consciousness? The answer is quite simple: While an infinite multiverse may still be constrained in some fashion (e.g. it cannot suddenly pop out of existence, there are no worlds governed by non-consistent physical rules ["magic"] etc.), any event that has happened once will happen a second time. The part of the multiverse we inhabit may very well die before this happens, and there may be billions and billions of lifeless universes before another one forms that harbors life, and there may be billions and billions of inhabitated uiniverses before another one that contains intelligent life, and even more so until an inhabited universe forms that harbors intelligent life with consciousness as we experience it.

But time is only relevant to an observer, and after the "death" of our consciousness, we are no longer an active observer. So when, at a certain point, a universe forms in which our consciousness as it exists in this world, at some point is re-created, through evolution or otherwise, the "screen" is turned back on. Like in a non-lucid dream, we will not be aware of our former existence. At the beginning, our experience will, in fact, be even more limited, until we conceive the tools to describe our new reality. How this reality will look is a very hard question to answer. In this "reincarnation" (which does not come with any of the religious benefits of gaining karma or preserving memories), we may very well be a lower animal, if they possess a form of consciousness similar to our own. The more general consciousness is, the more possibilities there are (and the more likely it may be that our existence may be an unintelligent one).

Insofar, it may well be that before this life, we have lived countless lives as beings lacking our current intelligence, or as beings with a superior intelligence. In any case, our current experience may be really a "one-in-a-billion" choice that has followed many, many others, possibly less desirable ones. In that respect, one may consider it especially important to "make the most" of one's life. Emotions are a basic quality of all forms of higher life as we know it, intelligence and culture, however, are not. Using our intellectual potential to the fullest may therefore also be considered to be more important than experiencing the broadest possible spectrum of emotions, since it is so much more exclusive an experience.

In an infinite multiverse, the possibility of forever fading away becomes a contradiction. A finite one, governed by a "parent" universe or God, is in that respect also the less attractive possibility; it turns infinity into a "black box" the behavior of which we merely guess. The specific religious scenarios of an afterlife belittle the infinite amount of possibilities that may really expect us. Even though these considerations are philosophical and not an "exact science", some conclusions seem compelling.

Conclusions

Our existence is not limited by our current experience. Our deeds and our ideas will have effects even after we are gone, and our consciousness is capable of experiencing different lives than our current one (and will do so if an infinite amount of possibilities can be assumed). After we die, memory and consciousness become separate, if not forever then for a long, long time. Our presence as intelligent beings on a planet, especially at this time where technology opens us more and more possibilities of extending ourselves and improving our lives, is a chance of incredible proportions.

The afterlife of many traditional religions tends to consider our presence here as merely a preface to a much bigger and more enjoyable experience. If one assumes such a scenario, immediate suicide would be the most logical consequence, and some cults have followed this logic in hopes of transcendence. Traditional religions only avoid this through fundamentally arbitrary rules against suicide. The outlined philosophy of perpetual existence gives much bigger meaning to our current "incarnation" simply because of its uniqueness and unlikelihood, and gives us many reasons to work towards a better tomorrow in this world -- not necessarily for ourselves but also for those who follow us and those who are left behind. It cannot promise a reunification with those who we have loved or lost in this life, only a new start -- which makes the experience of mourning more important and more difficult.

Pure hedonism, while it can also be deducted from this philosophy, can be interpreted as a waste of possibilities. The same is true for suicide, which, however, becomes an acceptable solution for a horrible and undesirable life. The remaining uncertainties of whether there is a "next life" and if so, how it will look like, prevent us from considering suicide as merely a cheap entry ticket into a new life.

If you consider the logic presented here as consistent and not merely a conscious reflection of wishful thinking, you may deduct from it a simple axiom: "Carpe diem" -- use the day, and cherish it. Consider your actions carefully, for you know that every day may be the last one you experience as the being you are, in the universe you know, with the people you love. Try to leave an imprint on the world you live in by trying to improve it, enjoy its highest pleasures where you can without becoming totally immersed in them. Find much needed serenity in the fact that you will not be forgotten in this world, and that you may have an infinite number of possible existences ahead of you.

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Poll
The Philosophy of Perpetual Consciousness ..
o .. is interesting and compelling 17%
o .. is fascinating, but does not satisfy my wishes 10%
o .. is inferior to [my/a] religious belief system 2%
o .. is fundamentally flawed 32%
o .. is not a new (but good) idea 12%
o .. needs a catchy name and some good marketing 7%
o .. is something I will dream about tonight 5%
o .. is something I am dreaming about right now 12%

Votes: 40
Results | Other Polls

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o Erik Moeller
o lucidity
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o "Ockham's Razor"
o Also by Eloquence


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A Philosophy of Perpetual Existence | 77 comments (69 topical, 8 editorial, 0 hidden)
Tangential aside about hell (4.33 / 9) (#1)
by Anonymous 242 on Thu Jul 19, 2001 at 11:17:11 PM EST

Whether such an afterlife is actually desirable is not really examined by most of these beliefs, some of them simply suggest two different possible outcomes (e.g. heaven and hell) and don't go into much detail as to what they involve (usually there's more about hell than about heaven).
An interesting note on the heaven/hell dichotomy is that Orthodox Christianity posits that heaven and hell are the same state, being in the presence of God. To those willing to humble themselves, being before the throne of God is eternal bliss. To those unwilling to humble themselves, being before the throne of God is eternal torment. Further, Orthodoxy does not posit that God throws people into hell, but that those who find themselves experiencing eternal torment do so from their own free choice.

A more detailed description of this can be found in Dr. Alexandre Kalomiros' essay The River of Fire.

Wouldn't this be worse? (3.50 / 4) (#2)
by sasseriansection on Thu Jul 19, 2001 at 11:42:35 PM EST

My reasoning is this:

A greater hell would be to die, leave the mortal world, appear in the afterlife, see the righteous divided from the fallen, and then forever be cast not into a lake of fire, but to be removed from all things good and honorable. To know that you had the option, made the wrong choice, were cast down and now have no hope.

Having no hope is surely the worse thing that can happen to someone. If you are unwilling to humble yourself, being before the throne would only add to your resolve. But to be thrown down, have God turn his back on you for not accepting the love he has offered, and pull everything away; What would be worse than that?

Exile has long been the tool to torment and demoralize.

And i'm not going to get into the "Perfection that tolerates sin is no longer Perfection" argument. I read the page and I completely don't understand his reasoning. Perhaps he has tried to candy coat the Heaven/Hell dichotomy to say to people "there may be a chance" even if it is subtle?

As a quick side note... it's funny that after 1900 years, the Eastern and Western Christians can't get the true message through their heads, and are instead bickering over petty things that in the long run matter as much as the sand Icrushed between my fingers when I was 6 years old.
------------ ------------
[ Parent ]

The greatest crime (5.00 / 2) (#24)
by earthling on Fri Jul 20, 2001 at 10:49:01 AM EST

A greater hell would be to die, leave the mortal world, appear in the afterlife, see the righteous divided from the fallen, and then forever be cast not into a lake of fire, but to be removed from all things good and honorable. To know that you had the option, made the wrong choice, were cast down and now have no hope.
This, of course, could never come if you believe that God is even remotely good.

I think you are absolutely right when you declared:

Having no hope is surely the worse thing that can happen to someone.
I do not think there is a greater crime than this. Greater than the death of flesh is the death of hope, the death of dreams. Against this peril we can never surrender.

What kind of petty creature would then comdemn someone to such torment for ETERNITY, which, all things considered, is a pretty long time?
For being guilty of having been born in a time before his religion existed?
Or in a place where his parents believed in another diety?
How could a god gift us with self-awareness and that amazing and wonderfull ability called reason, and then throw someone in hell for ever because he concluded that, based on the evidence presented to him, doubting the existence of a diety was not an entirely untenable position?
For believing the wrong thing about the right God, for believing the right thing about the wrong God, for believing the wrong thing about the wrong God, or for not believing in any God?
For having the unbelievable audacity of disagreeing with him?

If such a god existed, it would indeed be a monster.

-Earthling
"I'm sorry, I had to; the irony was just too thick."
[ Parent ]

If God were good... (none / 0) (#61)
by sasseriansection on Fri Jul 20, 2001 at 10:15:43 PM EST

A greater hell would be to die, leave the mortal world, appear in the afterlife, see the righteous divided from the fallen, and then forever be cast not into a lake of fire, but to be removed from all things good and honorable. To know that you had the option, made the wrong choice, were cast down and now have no hope.
This, of course, could never come if you believe that God is even remotely good.
I disagree. If God exists, then he is perfect, and has to posses perfect "perfection", justice, wisdom and mercy. Therefore I agrue that:
  • Pefection can not tolerate imperfection, therefore there must be a way to weed out the "righteous" from the "fallen" therefore....
  • God has perfect justice, being able to know everything that has happened in our life, and requiring us to stand trial for our actions against the perfection we were created with and in but...
  • God realised that everyone would go to hell. Period. Man's fall has had a most long lasting impact on Homo Sapiens. Therefore if he wanted any of his "crown creations" in the hereafter he would need to ...
  • provide a means to get them into his presence, given that his creations realised that they could not regain perfection on their own.

    Note that i'm applying my knowledge pretty broadly here, but i think the general theme is true. People and politics have a tendency to take an original message and warp it to their own means. Xtians have Mass, Purgatory, Confession. Jews have wailing walls, fastings, feasts, and circumcisions. Muslims have holy wars, veils, and certain directions for them to kneel towards. The fact of the matter is the same now as it was when the central character in the New Testament told the pharisees that they were more focused on the rules than they were on their hearts.

    As for not going to heaven before the religion was created, there are examples in the bible of men being taken up to heaven prior to Jesus' time (just a technicality but I thought I'd note it).

    Thats is the central theme. Love your neighbor as yourself. If you buy the golden rule, then that means you follow the ten commandments (or whatever moral law) AND THEN SOME.

    I would like someone to tell me which commandment is so horrible.
    ------------ ------------
    [ Parent ]

  • Even God is entitled to his own opinions (5.00 / 3) (#7)
    by earthling on Fri Jul 20, 2001 at 02:55:21 AM EST

    Seeing that we're off on a tangent (I'll address my main concerns about the article in another post), I'd like to comment here on something that has always fascinated me: the notion that whoever would dare to defy God must not only be mistaken, but evil personified. You mentioned that, according to Orthodox Christianity,

    those willing to humble themselves, being before the throne of God is eternal bliss. To those unwilling to humble themselves, being before the throne of God is eternal torment.
    I think this general principle, while of course different in the details, holds true for all modern religions.

    I'm an atheist and naturalistic humanist. If God existed and I was to die this very instant, maybe due to being struck by a bolt of lightning, and afterward I was to suddently appear before God himself at the gates of Heaven and he was to ask me to humble myself before him to gain entry, my answer would neither be "yes" or "no" (as I suspect many theists would think I would answer). No, my answer would instead be a question: "Why?"

    There is an absolutely great character in Greek mythology named Prometheus. Frederick Edwords describes him in these terms: "Prometheus stands out because he was idolized by ancient Greeks as the one who defied Zeus. He stole the fire of the gods and brought it down to earth. For this he was punished. And yet he continued his defiance amid his tortures.

    The next time we see a truly heroic Promethean character in mythology it is Lucifer in John Milton's Paradise Lost. But now he is the Devil. He is evil. Whoever would defy God must be wickedness personified. That seems to be a given of traditional religion. But the ancient Greeks didn't agree. To them, Zeus, for all his power, could still be mistaken."

    Plato, of whom it was said that all of western philosophy is but a footnote to his writings, examines in Euthyphro the belief that ethics should be based on religion with the famous question by Socrate: "Is the pious loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?" Is morality based upon the arbitrary will of God? Or is God limited by the objectivity of morality? None of the major modern world religions would permit such an heresy, such a questioning of God's will. None of them would agree that it could be okay to disagree with him, her, or it.

    Yet, as Edwords so wonderfully said, even God is entitled to his own opinions.

    -Earthling
    "I'm sorry, I had to; the irony was just too thick."
    [ Parent ]

    I shouldn't get into this argument (4.00 / 2) (#11)
    by John Milton on Fri Jul 20, 2001 at 04:16:58 AM EST

    John Milton did not set out to create a heroic character. It is our perceptions which make him that way. He has Lucifer point to his ungratefullness in one dialogue. Lucifer realises that God was the one who gave him his life, and God placed him in a high position by no merit of his own.

    If you believe that there is a god that could create the whole universe, then everything in your life is owed to him. I'm sure you'll say that the same can be applied to parents. The difference is that you will grow to be equal to your parents. You will not be dependant on them to live.

    Since God is considered to be the cause of all actions, you will never be able to attain anything that he did not allow you to attain. All of your actions are enfolded into what you are allowed. Thus, you're whole life and everything you have is a gift that has been given to you. Then you owe him everything. I realize that this argument won't fly with you. I'm just trying to justify the ways of God to men. :) I'm sure you won't change your mind, but I thought you would appreciate an answer. Perhaps lee can answer this better. I will be the first to admit that I'm not a religious apologist.

    Warring in Heaven against Heaven's matchless King.
    Ah wherefore? He deserved no such return
    From me, whom he created what I was


    "When we consider that woman are treated as property, it is degrading to women that we should Treat our children as property to be disposed of as we see fit." -Elizabeth Cady Stanton


    [ Parent ]
    Could God, even for all his power, be mistaken? (4.00 / 3) (#22)
    by earthling on Fri Jul 20, 2001 at 09:32:14 AM EST

    Thanks for the reply!

    Lucifer: hero or anti-hero?

    You stated that

    John Milton did not set out to create a heroic character
    and you are, of course, absolutely right. Which, coincidentely, is also my exactly my point. My argument was that the very notion that someone would dare to defy God and claim, high and loud, "in this matter, you are wrong", and be right!, is completely inconceivable for all our modern religions. Therefore, all such characters in mythology must inevitably be depicted as wicked, as evil.

    Should God be worshipped simply because he is God? Is God right simply because he is God?

    In your second paragraph, you wrote that if

    you believe that there is a god that could create the whole universe, then everything in your life is owed to him.
    You then proceeded, in that and the following paragraph, by making a preemptive strike against a comparison that I would inevitably make with our parents. And once again, you are absolutely right: I will indeed make this comparison, because it is my opinion that yours was flawed.

    I am not grateful to my parents for being born. Don't get me wrong, I am amazed, joyous and exalted to be alive, but I am not grateful to my parents simply for bringing me into this world. I am grateful, however, for the way they raised me, for the education they gave me, for the wonderful memories they have and still do provide me with, memories that I will cherish the rest of my life. Memories that I hope I will, one day, be able to share with my own kids. The very same reasoning applies to God. Let's say, for the sake of the discussion, that God indeed exists and was to appear before the world, proving his existence. While I obviously would not be an atheist anymore, would I immediately get on my knees and pray? No, I would not. This may very well appear inconcievable to you and other theists. How could I, knowing that God exists, not worship him? But, once again, why should I? Simply because he exists? He may have created the universe, and therefore ultimately me, but just like for my parents, I would not feel the obligation to be grateful to him just for that, even less feel the need to worship him.

    At that point, many theists will undoubtedly hold up a Bible or [insert favorite religious document here] and, pointing out to it, declare that God did not simply create us, but also showed us the ideal way to live on this earth. It is exactly when faced with such an event that Edwords said, as I quoted earlier, "If there were such a god, and these were indeed his ideal moral principles, I would be tolerant. After all, God is entitled to his own opinions!"

    I am not claiming that, if God was to exist, he would necessarily be wrong. What I hope I've been able to provide, however, is some insight as for the reasons why I suggest that, even if there is a god, it could be okay for someone to stand up and disagree with him.

    My mind is free.
    My soul is my own.
    I am an atheist.
    I am human.

    -Earthling
    "I'm sorry, I had to; the irony was just too thick."
    [ Parent ]

    Jerk Gods (none / 0) (#48)
    by snowlion on Fri Jul 20, 2001 at 05:25:23 PM EST

    I agree. If some glowing space alien jerk appears out of nowhere and claims to be God, I wouldn't bend over for it either, even if it did create me for some perverse science experiment.


    --
    Map Your Thoughts
    [ Parent ]
    hardly... (none / 0) (#29)
    by Xeriar on Fri Jul 20, 2001 at 12:56:00 PM EST

    Since God is considered to be the cause of all actions, you will never be able to attain anything that he did not allow you to attain. All of your actions are enfolded into what you are allowed. Thus, you're whole life and everything you have is a gift that has been given to you. Then you owe him everything. I realize that this argument won't fly with you. I'm just trying to justify the ways of God to men. :) I'm sure you won't change your mind, but I thought you would appreciate an answer. Perhaps lee can answer this better. I will be the first to admit that I'm not a religious apologist.

    Hardly - haven't you ever written a program or otherwise made something that didn't work exactly as you wanted (or expected)?

    ----
    When I'm feeling blue, I start breathing again.
    [ Parent ]

    Lost towards the end (3.80 / 5) (#3)
    by SpaceHamster on Fri Jul 20, 2001 at 12:05:26 AM EST

    I followed all the way through, right up to Infinite Possibilities. How is it that *my* consciousness will be implanted somehow in a creature in some other universe?

    hehe (none / 0) (#30)
    by Xeriar on Fri Jul 20, 2001 at 01:00:13 PM EST

    I followed all the way through, right up to Infinite Possibilities. How is it that *my* consciousness will be implanted somehow in a creature in some other universe?

    The same way it got there the first time, silly. :-) Have you ever dreamed about being someone (or something) else? If you haven't I suppose it's harder to explain. If you do, and remember it, you will know what we mean.

    ----
    When I'm feeling blue, I start breathing again.
    [ Parent ]

    dreams? (none / 0) (#51)
    by SpaceHamster on Fri Jul 20, 2001 at 05:48:25 PM EST

    Have you ever dreamed about being someone (or something) else?

    I don't think I have: different places, completely alien situations, even totally different types of people (or not a person at all)... but always, err, me. So is the point that when you're dreaming, your consciousness is actually off living some other life somewhere else in the multiverse?



    [ Parent ]
    Well... (none / 0) (#52)
    by Xeriar on Fri Jul 20, 2001 at 05:58:38 PM EST

    I don't think I have: different places, completely alien situations, even totally different types of people (or not a person at all)... but always, err, me. So is the point that when you're dreaming, your consciousness is actually off living some other life somewhere else in the multiverse?

    Some cultures (the Celtics, as an example) believed that. No, I'm referring to the fact that you aren't you, necessarily, in your dreams. Ie, your memories, and situation are completely different (I have had some dreams where I actually pondered 'past memories' - completely alien to my own).

    But, despite being a different 'person' the awareness is still yours.

    ----
    When I'm feeling blue, I start breathing again.
    [ Parent ]

    +1FP, but... (4.50 / 4) (#6)
    by cyberformer on Fri Jul 20, 2001 at 02:18:26 AM EST

    How can "our consciousness as it exists in this world" be re-created in "beings lacking our current intelligence, or as beings with a superior intelligencee"?

    I'd have thought that if your consciousness died and then reappeared at some point in the future (or a different Universe), it would (by definition) be in exactly the same state as before, with exactly the same intelligence. If it's a different form of life and it doesn't have your memories, how is it uniquely your consciousness, rather than somebody else's?



    Dreams Do Not Preserve Self (5.00 / 1) (#19)
    by snowlion on Fri Jul 20, 2001 at 07:32:45 AM EST

    His argument/analogy was that dreams don't preserve self, and it'd probably be just like that.

    Consider: You are in a dream, and you have no idea who you are, or what you are doing. But, presumable, it's your same consciousness.

    While knowledge of the carry-over would not be retained, the essential experiencer would be identical.

    The definition of consciousness is discretely independent of the memories and thought patterns.

    Thinking about waking up in someone else's body, and having all of their memories, and none of yours, is a jarring experience, because it psychologically feels just like death. However, in this model, regardless of whether you agree with it or not, the individual awareness is preserved in the exchange, and thus it is a conceptually different thing than death. You may say that it has "no meaning", since from the outside, there is no difference. But to the individual awareness, and you are (presumably) an awareness (unless you're an unaware but functioning zombie person)- it is literally a world of a difference.

    It's helpful that, even though in a dream you don't know who you are, when you wake up and remember everything, everything makes sense, and you can see that the two selves are just the same one, and that they were experienced by the same awareness.

    [Un]Fortunately, in the reincarnation form, there is presumably no such time at which the various selves are seen by you- the occupant- as links in a chain. But we have the benefit of the dream example to understand what he means.


    --
    Map Your Thoughts
    [ Parent ]
    this is what i'm talking about... (3.50 / 2) (#39)
    by bluesninja on Fri Jul 20, 2001 at 03:31:18 PM EST

    The whole idea of an "essential experiencer" is flawed.

    The reason we consider dreams to be parts of our own conscious experience is because they are going on in our own brains (as opposed to someone elses). It is me dreaming because when I wake up, I can remember it and you can't. I have access to that information and you don't. There is no need to fall back on tired Cartesian cliches.

    Consider: if i created an exact duplicate of your brain and body, would they both be conscious? If you say yes, then surely it must be a separate consciousness in the other body (because you wouldn't experience the "clone's" sensory perceptions, emotions, etc.). The clone would become a different consciousness the instant it began to have sensations of any kind different from yours. Therefore, consciousness is a process having nothing to do with physical identity, and a completely identical physical substrate is not enough to duplicate consciousness. No essential experiencer here. Move along

    If you say no, then you have a lot more explaining to do about why anybody is conscious at all. If you can do that without invoking God or a soul, then you get a gold star.

    And I can't believe you brought up philosophical zombies. Worst. Philosophy. EVAR.

    /bluesninja

    [ Parent ]

    Ack! It's a Zombie! (3.00 / 2) (#41)
    by snowlion on Fri Jul 20, 2001 at 04:34:01 PM EST

    Yah; Sure: You make an exact duplicate, and it's got it's own awareness living it it. Your "Therefor" however has a lot of hand waving about it: Want to clue me in on the specifics of how your line of reasoning goes there? As far as I can tell, there is none. You just said the word "Therefor", and it magically was. You're going to need to be a little more meticulous here. Especially your spontaneous injection that consciousness is a process. Whoah there! Let's see some arguments here!

    You're bang on at one point: There's a lot more explaining to do about why anybody is aware at all. Since awareness offers absolutely no evolutionary or functional advantage at all, why does it even exist? Great point. A lot of your compatriots believe that awareness DOESN'T exist, and that lends into the whole zombie argument, which, thank God, you've rejected.

    Since a computer functions just as well whether someone looks at it or not, awareness is merely a dangler. [Un]Fortunately for you, awareness exists, and unlike you, I'd like to have a world view that doesn't exclude my very existance.

    You will now proceed to tell me that awareness doesn't exist, that it's just an "illusion" in my mind, and the product of superstitious beliefs. Great. That's a really intelligent argument. Either that, or you'll invent some new "awareness force field", or some other similarly metaphysical untestable phenomena, or appeal to the god of the gaps: "Things just get so complex, that awareness either spontaneously pops into existance or gradually appears", in which case you will have to believe that tables and cars and wind have awareness. Puh-LEEeeze.


    --
    Map Your Thoughts
    [ Parent ]
    ooh stop! (none / 0) (#49)
    by bluesninja on Fri Jul 20, 2001 at 05:30:07 PM EST

    OK I was just going to post to your reply to my message above, but I couldn't let this pass without comment.

    Since I don't have time to explain to you the elementary rules of logic, I'll have to hope this is a good enough explanation for your rigorous standards:

    point 1: A and B are functionally identical (notice they aren't physically identical, since they occupy different locations, etc.)
    point 2: A and B have dis-similar consciousnesses (or, what it is like to be A is not the same as what it is like to be B)
    THEREFORE Consciousness is not a physical function of A or B, intrinsically.

    Are you with me so far?

    (rhetorical) point 3: what are candidates for non-physical properties that can arise in functionally identical objects? Processes, i.e., the actual stance toward data. And souls, of course. You can jump on that bandwagon if you like.

    QED, fucker.

    btw, I didn't really set this out as a logical problem. It was a thought experiment to demonstrate that based on one's intuitive ideas of consciousness, there is an obvious contradiction in asserting an identity relation for consciousness. Which is what is going on here, when you say your consciousness can exist after death, or in other locations, or whatever.

    I don't need awareness fields or gods of gaps. I'm not saying awareness doesn't exist, fool. I'm saying that the word "consciousness" (not the same as the word "awareness", btw) really means a lot of things. It's complex: surprise! Why is this so controversial?

    /blues

    [ Parent ]

    Thank You (3.00 / 1) (#55)
    by snowlion on Fri Jul 20, 2001 at 06:25:04 PM EST

    (rhetorical) point 3: what are candidates for non-physical properties that can arise in functionally identical objects? Processes, i.e., the actual stance toward data. And souls, of course. You can jump on that bandwagon if you like.
    -- bluesninja

    Good reasoning; Thank you.

    Unfortunately, I see no reason to believe that processes are magically aware. Would you have me believe that the wind blowing over the earth is aware, since it is a process? Or the river flowing over the rocks?

    No, you'll believe that only specific manifestations of complexity exhibit awareness.

    So you either must believe in spontaneous emergence of awareness when n degrees of complexity of are reached, OR that everything is on a gradient of awareness, and thus, the wind flowing over the earth has at least some nominal form of awareness.

    Both are absurd from many perspectives (If it's a gradient, what is the border between awarenesses? You've already accepted that awarenesses are discrete perceptions.)

    QED, fucker.

    {:)}=

    It was a thought experiment to demonstrate that based on one's intuitive ideas of consciousness, there is an obvious contradiction in asserting an identity relation for consciousness.
    --blues

    Where's the contradiction?

    I don't need awareness fields or gods of gaps. I'm not saying awareness doesn't exist, fool. I'm saying that the word "consciousness" (not the same as the word "awareness", btw) really means a lot of things. It's complex: surprise! Why is this so controversial?
    --blues

    There you go again, conveniently redefining consciousness. Sure, I'll give you that brain processes are complex, and immanently solvable. Those are the easy problems.

    The hard problem is why and how this huge computer is being experienced at all. Surely the computer would function equally well whether it was experienced or not, no? Things function just the same whether they are being watched or not.

    Just looking for a view of the world that doesn't ignore the existance of awareness.


    --
    Map Your Thoughts
    [ Parent ]
    You're welcome (none / 0) (#60)
    by bluesninja on Fri Jul 20, 2001 at 08:39:14 PM EST

    So you either must believe in spontaneous emergence of awareness when n degrees of complexity of are reached, OR that everything is on a gradient of awareness, and thus, the wind flowing over the earth has at least some nominal form of awareness.

    Bah. I need to believe no such thing. Yet another indication that you completely fail to grasp the subtleties of the argument. Awareness emerges out of complex processes OF A CERTAIN KIND (to find out what kind, exactly, you have to do some science). It involves very complex relationships between particular data and particular operations. Astoundingly, mind-crushingly complex relationships. But also specific kinds. Computers are complex. Do you think that playing Quake is magic because you don't understand how it works? Could Quake emerge spontaneously from ocean waves, which are also complex? No. Just plain-jane complexity isn't enough. I thought that would have been obvious. (Now if you turn around and accuse me of saying Quake is aware, then I'm going to give up on you.)

    Where's the contradiction?

    The contradiction is that if you think consciousness is non-physical AND non-functional, you have to claim that both A and B (from my original post) have identical consciousnesses, which is intuitively absurd.

    That's it. I quit. I'm not pointing out the obvious any longer.

    /bluesninja

    [ Parent ]

    The Possibility of Recursive Existence (4.66 / 6) (#9)
    by mkc on Fri Jul 20, 2001 at 03:32:58 AM EST

    As we watch the seemingly unending procession of increases in computing power and technological discoveries in general, it must be occurring to many of us that we will soon acquire the ability to simulate reality at such a level of verisimilitude that the subjective experience of this simulation will compel utterly. This new capability is no mere remote possibility--looking at what we now know, it seems that only a general disaster could keep it from coming about in very short order.

    Anyone who's lost themselves in even a limited reality like Quake can see the appeal of such simulated realities. Imagine the realities ("games", if you like) we will be able to create for ourselves within the next several decades or centuries.

    Now, to the point. Since this is obviously going to happen, how do you know it hasn't already? That is, you could be smack in the middle of such a simulation right now. There's no evidence to contradict it and quite a bit to suggest it's a perfectly reasonable possibility.

    Not only that, but you might be within a simulation within a simulation. If the simulated reality is itself rich enough to support such inner simulations, it seems possible if not probable that that capability will be developed. (This is called "playing".)

    By induction, you (or from my point of view I) might be currently experiencing a reality sitting at the top of an arbitrarily deep "stack", with height N, of enclosing realities.

    So, assuming you buy this all this, what happens when you die? My answer is, virtually every time, you wake up into the enclosing reality and think to yourself, "Good/bad/fun/interesting/boring/scary/sad/happy/cool game!", and maybe go have a few with the buddies you were playing the reality with.

    Why almost every time? Of all the numbers N (> 0) might be right now, what are the "odds" that N is 1? :-)

    (And as for N = 0, who can say--maybe it's turtles all the way down...)

    Cheers, and catch you later in the enclosing reality!

    [Excellent and thought-provoking article, Erik.]
    -- Teach a man to fish and he will eat for a day. Give him a patent on fishing and he can enjoy watching everyone else starve every day.

    re: recursive existence (4.00 / 2) (#26)
    by danceswithcrows on Fri Jul 20, 2001 at 12:19:30 PM EST

    The idea of "whoa, I'm dead. Oh well, back to the higher reality, good/bad/interesting/cool game, guys!" has been explicated before, in The Wounded Sky by Diane Duane. (It's a bit of a silly and naive book, but interesting nontheless.)

    Anyway, I think I'd rather exist in a place where there is a definite end to existence somewhere. When authors have thought about this, they've said that a limited span of existence is practically required for people to live their existence to the fullest. (War In Heaven by David Zindell goes into this, as do several other books and short stories whose names I've forgotten.) If you only have $20, aren't you going to be more careful about what you spend it on than if you have $(infinity)? Guess I'm weird, because I actually enjoy the effect of turning off my brain for ~7 hours every night. (I don't usually remember dreams, and those I do recall are often unpleasant.)


    Matt G (aka Dances With Crows) There is no Darkness in Eternity/But only Light too dim for us to see
    [ Parent ]

    better to have just enough than too much (3.00 / 2) (#31)
    by mkc on Fri Jul 20, 2001 at 01:00:22 PM EST

    Interesting comments.

    Regarding the superiority of having only $20, if I have an infinite amount of money, then why does it matter whether or not I am careful with it or not? It seems to me that having an inifinite amount removes the need to be careful with it, at least as far as worrying about running out of it.

    Maybe these realities are a way of getting the benefits of a limited lifespan without actually being so limited. If you think you'll die "soon", you'll act that way whether it's true or not, right?

    I certainly could be missing something, though. (The subject line is a paraphrase of a Basque proverb I just discovered.)
    -- Teach a man to fish and he will eat for a day. Give him a patent on fishing and he can enjoy watching everyone else starve every day.
    [ Parent ]

    "The days drag on, but the years fly by" (none / 0) (#73)
    by sopwath on Sun Jul 22, 2001 at 02:08:56 AM EST

    Having an infinite amount of money makes buying things worthless. You would at some time, assuming you started with a set amound of cash and then attained infinite money, you would use other things to set a value on what you have. If you had everything your life would be too chaotic to understand. So you get rid of things that don't make you happy for example.

    I think that's a big part of what religion does. It gives value to something you can't really grasp, LIFE. I bet for most people that their whole existence is hard to understand. I know what I did this week, but I can't really think of my entire life in the same way at all.

    Humans try to give a value to what is supposed to really matter in life. Trusting in some higher being who loves you (love is the best thing of all) comforts humanity into thinking some things are right and wrong. Even though natural selection may be why most cultures frown on murder, religion allows us to have a better understanding to why it's wrong to kill. We can give a certain value to our actions in addition to the tangible things we own and wish we owned.

    I can't afford a ferrari, but my life is still OK because when I die I will be rewarded in heaven because I didn't take it from that guy who can.



    sopwath


    [ Parent ]
    Complexity of a Simulation (5.00 / 1) (#56)
    by Andreas Bombe on Fri Jul 20, 2001 at 06:42:19 PM EST

    One interesting point to think about here is that the simulation can never be as complex as the simulator. Every particle with all its possible states needs more than one particle to be simulated (given that we use equally complex physics in the simulation here). This should be easy to prove for Turing machines at least.

    The implication of that is that the deeper down the stack you get, the more simplified and approximated will the realities get. Either that or you reduce space with the same effects (less space for computing power in the simulated world). If anything, The Thirteenth Floor was a nice movie about this effect.

    [ Parent ]

    loopholes (none / 0) (#65)
    by mkc on Sat Jul 21, 2001 at 12:50:56 AM EST

    This is an interesting comment (as are the others).

    Your comment makes sense, but I think you don't necessarily have that limitation if the underlying levels are sufficiently infinite. ("Sufficiently" here is alluding to the whole countable vs uncountable thing, blah, blah, blah.)

    And you probably have the chance to trade time for space. That is, if you have infinite time, you can simulate infinite space, and vice versa. I think. :-)


    -- Teach a man to fish and he will eat for a day. Give him a patent on fishing and he can enjoy watching everyone else starve every day.
    [ Parent ]

    not really (5.00 / 1) (#71)
    by Andreas Bombe on Sat Jul 21, 2001 at 10:41:48 PM EST

    Your comment makes sense, but I think you don't necessarily have that limitation if the underlying levels are sufficiently infinite.
    Which requires building a simulator that is infinitely large. Our universe could run on such a thing, but we certainly couldn't build one in this universe.
    And you probably have the chance to trade time for space. That is, if you have infinite time, you can simulate infinite space, and vice versa.
    You can't unless there are parts not causally related (and then they can be seen as independent simulations anyway). To illustrate this, consider a machine with 1MB of RAM. You can't always simulate that on a machine with only 512kB of RAM even in infinite time.

    If the simulated machine uses all of its RAM (say, md5sums all cells and writes result to address 0) then you have the simple problem that the simulated RAM can't be stored by the simulator. To preempt a likely response, simulating just the part currently in use is not legal solution since that involves saving the other half (and the storage counts as part of the simulator).

    Only if the simulated memory can be split into n parts <= 512 kB where no values depend on other parts would a successive simulation work. But that really is exactly like simulating n independent machines with the respective smaller memory.

    Regarding sizes, a 1MB machine can't simulate a 1MB machine. Simulation needs a controlling instance that enlarges the simulator. Without this, it wouldn't be a simulation but the real thing itself.

    [ Parent ]

    hmm (none / 0) (#72)
    by mkc on Sat Jul 21, 2001 at 11:35:51 PM EST

    Which requires building a simulator that is infinitely large. Our universe could run on such a thing, but we certainly couldn't build one in this universe.
    I'm not quite convinced of this. Couldn't I simulate one infinitely large Turing machine on another?

    In any case, it wouldn't have to be the case that the simulated reality was as large or complex as the enclosing one. Maybe each is 10% smaller. :-)

    Only if the simulated memory can be split into n parts <= 512 kB where no values depend on other parts would a successive simulation work. But that really is exactly like simulating n independent machines with the respective smaller memory.
    I guess you're right. That's what I get for late-night hand-waving. I was thinking of how you can, for example, simulate breadth-first search (which is very storage intensive) with depth-first search (which is not), and thinking the ability to re-execute sub-parts of the simulation an infinite number of times would do the trick. I don't see it now, though.

    Cheers.
    -- Teach a man to fish and he will eat for a day. Give him a patent on fishing and he can enjoy watching everyone else starve every day.
    [ Parent ]

    eXistenZ (4.00 / 1) (#59)
    by zahgurin on Fri Jul 20, 2001 at 08:38:47 PM EST

    ... this is exactly the theme of the David Cronenberg film eXistenZ (although I doubt he was the first to imagine it).

    If you like his style and this sort of thing interests you, I heartily recommend it 8-)

    Si

    "Death to the demoness Allegra Geller!"

    [ Parent ]
    Angels (3.75 / 4) (#14)
    by Scrymarch on Fri Jul 20, 2001 at 05:02:28 AM EST

    many people wish to believe in a world where you live on clouds as an angel, asexually, somehow enjoying the experience

    I am deeply offended on the part of the entire k5 asexual angel community.

    Dust (3.50 / 2) (#15)
    by Scrymarch on Fri Jul 20, 2001 at 05:21:29 AM EST

    I am heavily reminded of the Dust theory Greg Egan talks about in Permutation City.

    I'm confused on a few points though. Do you mean that my consciousness is roughly a "signature structure" that, whenever it physically exists in the multiverse, represents a continuation of my being, regardless of what memory it is connected to? Is this just "I think therefore I am" again?

    Is it really meaningful to separate memory and consciousness in this way? Looks false to me, even if dreams are cool.

    Not Signature Structure, Not DeCarte (4.00 / 1) (#18)
    by snowlion on Fri Jul 20, 2001 at 07:21:42 AM EST

    Even if you do not accept that memory and consciousness are ever seen apart, there is value in being able to communicate about the different elements.

    For example: Even though game engines very rarely have an AI system without an accompanying graphics rendering system (so that you can actually see them), it is useful to be able to distinguish between the two elements.

    I don't know if he would believe in a signature structure, since he (unfortunately) does not talk much about the interaction between consciousness and memory form. He does talk frequently about the lack of interaction. Since he says that previous memories would be inaccessible to the consciousness, I believe he can safely say that the consciousness does not interact with the mind, and thus consciousness is not a signature structure. Rather, it is a "dangler" that observes. There is one element he will need to explain: How it is that we are even able to talk about awareness- how did knowledge of the dangler get into the system?

    Nowhere in the argument has he said, "I think therefor I am", thus this is certainly not a repeat of Decart's "I think therefore I am" argument. This is a "Self (Memory and Mental Configuration)" and "Consciousness (Awareness)" are different, and may or may not propogate on in their own ways, and may or may not be intricately connected. Whether you agree or disagree, surely you understand the difference between the two, and that he has done a good job of differentiating where others have failed miserably.

    Again, the difference is well made, regardless of whether or not you agreed.


    --
    Map Your Thoughts
    [ Parent ]
    Memory (none / 0) (#76)
    by Scrymarch on Tue Jul 24, 2001 at 07:20:18 AM EST

    Even if you do not accept that memory and consciousness are ever seen apart, there is value in being able to communicate about the different elements.

    This I accept; it is why we have different words for them.

    [snip]

    I don't know if he would believe in a signature structure, since he (unfortunately) does not talk much about the interaction between consciousness and memory form.

    I suspect it's an inevitable consequence of his suggestion consciousness can exist separately.

    He does talk frequently about the lack of interaction. Since he says that previous memories would be inaccessible to the consciousness, I believe he can safely say that the consciousness does not interact with the mind, and thus consciousness is not a signature structure.

    The consciousness does not interact with the mind? Gads, who's in control in here then? How do I know I'm conscious? Think you're invoking the homonculus here. ie, attributing the features of the mind to a sub-mind; how do you then explain the features of the sub-mind?

    Rather, it is a "dangler" that observes. There is one element he will need to explain: How it is that we are even able to talk about awareness- how did knowledge of the dangler get into the system?

    And how does the dangler tell me to type if it is disconnected from the rest of the system?

    Nowhere in the argument has he said, "I think therefor I am", thus this is certainly not a repeat of Decart's "I think therefore I am" argument.

    I realise it isn't a rerun of cogito ergo sum argument (sp?) but it does take the same starting point; self-awareness implying the existence of the self. Given the journey he takes (virtual reincarnation by the coincidental reoccurrence of something structured like my consciousness) I though he should take even more care with the usefulness of the "self" abstraction. It's a potent symbol, but how separate is it from a brain, body &c?

    This is a "Self (Memory and Mental Configuration)" and "Consciousness (Awareness)" are different, and may or may not propogate on in their own ways, and may or may not be intricately connected. Whether you agree or disagree, surely you understand the difference between the two, and that he has done a good job of differentiating where others have failed miserably.

    Sure, he does draw the point out well, though your summary helped too ...

    Again, the difference is well made, regardless of whether or not you agreed.

    [ Parent ]

    The problem I see is... (4.00 / 3) (#16)
    by MugginsM on Fri Jul 20, 2001 at 07:04:05 AM EST

    > In an infinite multiverse, the possibility of forever fading away becomes a contradiction.

    I see a few problems with this.

    1. You assume "infinite" means "all possible combinations". This isn't necessarily true. It's quite possible to have infinite alternate universes where ours is the only one with consciousness.

    2. If there are other versions of our own consciousness out there that may continue from our point of death, there may also be other versions that die permanently. Who's to say which one will become "ours".

    3. Is our consciousness really disconnected from our memories and environment? Perhaps the "I" is completely intertwined with the past, present, and future, and cannot be seperated from this universe.

    As someone else mentioned, Greg Egan (excellent author for this kinda stuff) has a similar idea in his Permutation City novel.

    - Colin


    Ooh! Egan.. (4.00 / 1) (#21)
    by mindstrm on Fri Jul 20, 2001 at 08:57:28 AM EST

    I was just going to mention that; permutation city (as well as some of egan's short stories) come to mind as revolving around *exactly* this topic. Very though provoking, hard sci-fi.

    One short story revolves around the 'jewel', a device implanted in the brain at birth that 'mimics' the brain perfectly, throughout life. At some point during life, around the age of 25 or 30, the device is wired completely to the nervous system, and the original brain removed, replaced by supporting tissue. THe device never wears down or needs replacing.

    The question of 'am I myself or the Jewel' is the main theme; what is the difference? So long as the two are the same, even if one has no *actual* control over the body, there is no way to tell.

    Similary, I like to think of the replicator dilemman. If I could, a-la a transporter star-trek style or something, replicate myself, which one would be me? Rather, if an exact copy is made somewhere else, and the original (me) destroyted, is it still me? What happens to my self? The dilemma is that, to any observer other than me, there IS no difference; it's still 100% me, no matter what the test. What does this say about perception?


    [ Parent ]
    My worthless 2 cents (5.00 / 2) (#23)
    by MicroBerto on Fri Jul 20, 2001 at 09:32:56 AM EST

    > In an infinite multiverse, the possibility of forever fading away becomes a contradiction.

    1. You assume "infinite" means "all possible combinations". This isn't necessarily true. It's quite possible to have infinite alternate universes where ours is the only one with consciousness.

    I am not at all even a novice when it comes to discussions like this (I spend more time napping, working, exercising, and going out than reading books and thinking about this), but here's the way I perceive it:

    If given infinite number of possibilities, taken under an infinite amount of time in an infinite number of universes, I think that "all possible combinations" is not only possible, but all possible combinations can take place up to an infinite amount of times as well!

    It's like taking infinity^infinity ... to me, it equals an "everything explosion", where everything keeps happening over and over again, given enough time.

    I hate introducing time into this though, because I am way over my head. This is just how I perceive what's going on in the grand scheme of things.

    Berto
    - GAIM: MicroBerto
    Bertoline - My comic strip
    [ Parent ]

    So basically (3.00 / 1) (#33)
    by mrgoat on Fri Jul 20, 2001 at 01:37:38 PM EST

    <rambling_post>You mean a recursive power set function? (I'm drawing a little bit from math concepts here, specifically discrete mathematics and set theory.)

    As you may know, there's more than one kind of infinite, and the "quantities" associated with those infinities are different (cardinal numbers), furthermore that there is an "infinite" number of cardinal numbers, (i.e. the set of cardinal numbers is infinite, and itself has a cardinal number). So basically, where do you stop? (I think you're proposing an answer of "nowhere" but I'd like a little bit of clarification.

    This sounds a bit like the infinite monkeys at infinite typewrites given infinite time.

    Of course, if you don't understand the set theory I'm talking about, this reply won't make much sense. (i.e. e-mail me, or someone more qualified than me, for more explanation. Or find a college textbook on discrete math. Or ignore the issue all together if you feel like it. :) ) </rambling_post> p.s. If I've screwed up my mathematical concepts here, someone please tell me.

    "I'm having sex right now?" - Joh3n
    --Top Hat--
    [ Parent ]

    Zip (none / 0) (#68)
    by MicroBerto on Sat Jul 21, 2001 at 06:25:51 PM EST

    Yes, I see how my understanding of different types of infinity is poor. I do not know set theory or any of that crazy stuff, but you basically hit my idea on the head with the monkeys.

    Berto
    - GAIM: MicroBerto
    Bertoline - My comic strip
    [ Parent ]
    Different levels (none / 0) (#58)
    by dice on Fri Jul 20, 2001 at 08:35:54 PM EST

    This is where we come to different levels of infinity.

    I'm only a student of math, so this may not all be completely correct, so anyone feel free to correct me.

    The size of the set of integers (..., -2, -1, 0, 1, 2, ...) is one type of infinity, aleph_0, sometimes called a "countable infinity".

    The size of the set of real numbers ( 1.2, 1.5, 1.6, 1.981246492301046593, e, pi, I hope you understand ) is a different type, aleph_1.

    For a quick understanding of this (not rigorous in the slightest), think of an infinite listing of the integers. They're all listed, ok?

    Now think of a listing of the real numbers. Infinite however much you want. But even with a listing of all of them, there will ALWAYS be another number between two of them, so your list will be incomplete.

    If you care about this more, do searches on things like "continuum hypothesis", or "cantor diagonal", not to mention aleph_0.

    If you want an incredibly cool book that goes into this, pick up "Godel, Escher, Bach: The Eternal Golden Braid".


    [ Parent ]
    Lessee (none / 0) (#28)
    by Xeriar on Fri Jul 20, 2001 at 12:44:45 PM EST

    1. You assume "infinite" means "all possible combinations". This isn't necessarily true. It's quite possible to have infinite alternate universes where ours is the only one with consciousness.

    Certainly valid, though I would also like to add - our STYLE of conciousness, and life, and universe. Infinate can be a heck of a lot, after all.

    2. If there are other versions of our own consciousness out there that may continue from our point of death, there may also be other versions that die permanently. Who's to say which one will become "ours".

    Some people may not dream as others - some people may not truly be aware as another - if any are at all. This is not an easy thing to discuss.

    3. Is our consciousness really disconnected from our memories and environment? Perhaps the "I" is completely intertwined with the past, present, and future, and cannot be seperated from this universe.

    I tend to think so, given the nature of my own dreams, anyway. You are likely not 'the person' you were as a toddler or teenager, for example - the moment itself is your concious memory, your past self is no longer, though you may remember - you still exist, though. Non-lucid dreaming (well, some of it), and death can take this even further - complete amnesia of your former identity, but it is still your conciousness (assuming a soul or recreation after death, of course).

    ----
    When I'm feeling blue, I start breathing again.
    [ Parent ]

    Re: The problem I see is... (4.00 / 1) (#38)
    by bluesninja on Fri Jul 20, 2001 at 03:13:00 PM EST

    2. If there are other versions of our own consciousness out there that may continue from our point of death, there may also be other versions that die permanently. Who's to say which one will become "ours".

    I think that the author was deriving the permanence of consciousness from the following deduction:
    (1) consciousness is a physical configuration (in the brain, for example, though not restricted to our brains);
    (2) the universe is infinite
    (3) infinite universes contain all possible physical configurations, an infinite (or at least really big) number of times
    Hence, the universe contains many (or infinite) instances of your consciousness.

    I think you were correct in pointing out the flaws in (3). However, as long as all consciousness consists of physical stuff behaving in certain ways, your second point is missing his point. If you want to argue that consciousness can subsist in non-physical stuff, then lots of luck!

    /bluesninja

    [ Parent ]

    Really Long Reply (4.14 / 7) (#17)
    by snowlion on Fri Jul 20, 2001 at 07:06:51 AM EST

    Dear Eloquence,

    While I may have some minor differences with your base assumptions, you will appreciate the thought and attention that I have given to your arguments. I have paid such close attention because I greatly respect the integrity and relevance that your thought exhibits.

    Know that I have read, fully recognized, and understood, every element of what you have written. Understand that I am limited by time in replying to you, and that I am not able to make all of the valuable arguments and points that I would like to make; You may need to perform many logical extrapolations yourself, and I recommend tracking down the sources that I will cite here.

    First, let's look at the arguments that begin with Maslow's hierarchy of needs. I have two points here, one relating to the question of "what is existance?", and the second one relating to your framing of the question at the top of the hierarchy of needs.

    What is existance? You started with that question, but then quickly morphed it into: What is human existance? I am familiar with the difficulty in writing long editorials and the shortcuts involved and sometimes necessary, but I think that this slight was too costly. To answer "What is human existance?" with memories and consciousness, and then to say that you've addressed "What is existance", is a bit too much.

    You need to tackle existance in the abstract. The best I have come up with, is that existance is what is experienced, and non-existance is nonexperienced. The problem of existance is fundamentally connected to the problem of consciousness, and this is interesting. I infer that you have made that connection in your mind, but you did not argue it, nor did you even mention it; you just swept it under the rug. The point requires argument. If I were to argue it, I would begin by talking about nonexistant things: Universes full of nothing but strawberries, and other such realms that nobody sees, nobody hears, and that for all intents and purposes, don't exist. Then I'd talk about universes where things exist: People see stuff and do stuff. While the things seen and heard do not necessarily need to be "directly" perceived (ie without some mapping to light and sound), they do need to ultimately be perceived in order to exist. After this, some discussion follows on whether possibilities can give rise to awarenesses, or if awarenesses came first, and the possibilities rose to fit. This is a long and tedius argument to make, but it has to be made if that is what you are going to draw out. If you disagree with this argument, you will have to replace it with another. But you can't just sweep "What is existance" behind the very different question: "What is human existance." To make it a little clearer, since we, as humans, have a hard time differentiating human existance and existance existance, consider the difference between what "rock existance" is, and abstract existance. Consider if I were to say, "What is existance", and then say, "We now look at what rock existance consists of: Sitting around and being grey. Well! That sums it up for existance!"

    My next point of contention involves the framing within Maslow's hierarchy of needs. You put at the top of his hierarchy, the question: "How can we persist after death". Maslow put "Self-Actualization Needs" up there, cautiously avoiding "Spiritual". In the model you present, it is replaced that with something more evolutionarily proper, the question: "How can we persist after death". From there, you go on to describe how much of this is wishful thinking. (A good concern, and well addressed.)

    Why didn't you perhaps frame the discussion with the natural question, "What am I". I suspect that you have done this because "How can we persist after death" fits nicely with your arguments' evolution based scaffolding. The question "What am I?", offering no obvious evolutionary supports, is ommitted. Evolutionary supports are not hard to come by here, incidentally, if you need them: I could make the argument that the evolutionary support comes in the form of an inquisitive nature, an indicator of intelligence, which helps with survival. Regardless, I think that "What am I?" is a perfectly rational question to ask, and that it was slighted as part of the effort to blend in with the strictly scientific community. Don't worry: I believe completely in evolution and determinism. (While I have an occasional fling with the magical universe, I'm mostly a "strictly business" billiard balls kind of guy, especially when arguing on these topics. This is mostly for political reasons.)

    So anyways: I'm just naturally curious about what I am. We've learned a lot about the brain, but not much about the consciousness watching it. I honestly wonder about that quite a bit, as you can tell by the length of this reply.

    Speaking of what am I: Amidst all this talk of consciousness side-by-side evolution- Don't you find consciousness to be something of a dangler? Surely organisms could do just as well if they were not watched, than as well as if there were. Surely any decision making performed by awareness could be equally well performed by unseen machinery? So why the dangler of consciouss..? (Related Questions: How is it that we are even using the word awareness right this instant? How did the information get inside?)

    Okay. Let's stuff Socrates' dictum "Know Thyself" for the moment, and we'll accept the planted question: "What is going to happen to my poor soul" (One of the two s words! GyaHaHAAHAHaAaA!).

    You talked well about selective perception, (though you made a false link, or at least an unreasoned connection, between evolutionary predisposition (incest example) to selective perception (smokers, corporations, and republicans)), but your conclusion- that if we prefer to reason against our emotional urges- that we should look at the logical consequences of the undesirable, does not seem to me to be wholely rational. I would think that the solution is not to think up terrible things and the consequences of "what if they were true". Rather, I believe that the rational thing to do is to determine if they are reasonable or not, and what formal and logical basis do we have in believing things, desirable or not. An illustration will make this clearer: I will consider the logical consequences of an undesirable possibility. The undesirable possibility: A swarm of nasty killer bees from South America will teleport into Seattle tomorrow morning, and sting my daughter a lot. The logical consequences: She will die. Undesirable as it is, I don't think it merits much thought. Not because I'm avoiding it, but because I don't find it terribly rational to believe that killer South American bees will suddenly gain the ability to teleport to Seattle tomorrow. We should be putting our energies into determining what it is rational to believe, and what it is not rational to believe. Assuming that unpleasant things are true, and reasoning from there, diplomatic as it is (especially in our culture), is not the path to reason. Reason about the unpleasant/pleasant things themselves and determine their validity, then it will make more sense to extrapolate from them.

    Now a bit of my own opinion. Personally, I find the belief that mechanical processes can suddenly pop into awareness once a mystical quantity of properly structured complexity is achieved is a bit inane and irrational. I have found other attempts at "scientifically" prodding awareness out of matter to be equally rediculous. Somehow, when I argue with people, though people understand my "Rediculus!" responses to arguments about how awareness comes out of matter (or more popularly, energy, because, like, it's a wave, man), they somehow take that the large collection of rediculus arguments to somehow be a safety net of sorts, and that amongst the large collection of rediculous arguments, there is some form of palpability. Most people find significant faith in either mystical complexity (because computers can do cool stuff, and because mankind has continued to progress), or less commonly but still popular- the theory that everything is conscious (makes it all a lot easier, doesn't it?) and always ultimately, faith in the historical incorrectness and hypocracy of anything that sounded spiritual, or vaguely associated with religion. My personal favorite: the most "intelligent" deny the existance of consciousness altogether, insisting that we are merely fooled into believing that we are conscious (never mind who is being fooled). I'm going to put my personal communication difficulties arest aside for the moment, so that I can resume talking about your submission...

    I did not understand what you meant when you said, "Or consciousness is like a computer screen that is used by our brain to permanently project an image of our thought." I find it rather curious: What is so permanent about the projection onto consciousness? It always flows. If we are projecting onto memories, then we are talking about your "self" concept, and not consciousness. I didn't get that part.

    With regards to fluffy clouds and harp playing angels: While it is commendable that you note many religions don't specifically describe heaven (not the Jehovas Witnesses- they keep drawing the future earth-heaven in a particular style, sort of based in Romanticism, for many decades; you want to know what the post-apocolyptic world looks like? I'm surprised they don't have photographs these days..!), I don't know that there are many people in the world who believe in the clouds and harps and angels either. Even among my homosexual hating Christian "friends". Again, unfortunately, back to my personal opinions: What I believe is worth taking from the angels and harps is the fundamental symbol of musical elements associated with heaven. You can find it in everything from Shakespeare's plays (Tempest in particular) to the Pheonex's song in Harry Potter. I recommend this path as worthy of investigation, if you would like to find the deeper sources behind the angels and their harps.

    Thing, Emotion, Habit, Memory, and Thought: You invest a lot of gravity in Memory and Thought, but pay little attention to emotion, and the amount that you invest is mostly negative. My personal opinion is that if this hasn't already nipped you in the butt a few times in life, it almost certainly will in the future. Your negative perspective on emotion will cause you to harm yourself, just as much as someone who dislikes themself harms themselves as well. This is not critical to your arguments, merely an observation and an implicit recommendation. Your position is a little like someone who, noting that cake can do poor things for ones health, decides to omit eating all together. Selection and careful supervision of your consumption in the emotional domain is important.

    I would recommend the following nomenclature: Use the word "Reality" in place of "parent universe", and "universe" to refer to an (entirely?) closed and internally consistent set. Mathematical category theory works nicely here as descriptive language: A category is a universe. (Conceptual Mathematics "A first introduction to categories" by F. William Lawvere and Stephen H. Schanuel)

    Your conclusions section misses an important conclusion. Upon noting the rarity of this form, you conclude that we should try to preserve, improve, and enjoy. However, there is another school of thought: The belief that this incarnation is so rare, that we should work dilegently to preserve it. Others, however, are of a different mind. There is a faction of people who are what I call, "I Am"-ers. I do not count myself among these people. These people are highly realized, but I believe, subtly flawed. I call them "I Am"-ers because that phrase is their favorite. They are a very old, and very powerful influence in our history and lives. These people, recognizing the limited time that we spend here, are interested in establishing these incarnations as the basis for perpetual existance. They would like to turn this, or some other, (but preferably this one, since this is where they find themselves) into a "base station" if you will across the multiverse. You have left open the possibility that travel between universes is possible. These people would like to establish their immortality here, reform it into a world of mind, and live, on earth as in heaven, perpetually. You have omitted this obvious conclusion: If this is so rare, we shall do everything (ethically) in our power to preserve it. Kabir, while certainly not an I-Am-er, reasoned similarly: We are rare to have such a birth, we should do everything in our power to transcent reincarnation, for fear of what may come. (Rumi was a little more relaxed about such matters.)

    Finally:

    You may be interested in reading Jaron Lanier. Since you have already accepted that something called "consciousness" even exists, Jaron Lanier's work isn't so necessary; he expends much of his energy trying to get people to accept that awareness even exists. Choice quotes: "I am certainly not trying to convince zombies that they exist in some special way, that they might have a sense of experience. By now I know better.", "Zombies owe us zagnets a great debt for making their information exist.", and "I can think of two consequences of the consciousness debate that matter to me currently. One is that it would be pleasant for non-zombies to have a philosophy that does not require that we ignore our own experience of existence. The other is that zombies have come up with a batch of metaphors that are radiating out in the world at large and are having an effect on politics and culture."

    If it doesn't completely invalidate my thought and reasoning, I will mention that I practice Surat Shabda Yoga, the union of the Awareness (Surat) with the Eternal Light and Sound (Shabda). I recommend an investigation into Light and Sound paths to all people, but particularly to those who consider Awareness.

    I remember once talking with someone who was quite excited about awareness, walking through various arguments and lines of reasoning. Suddenly, he said: "Wait- did you learn this from somebody else?" When I said, "I have devoted most of my energy to these questions on my own, but yes, I have received help", apparently every argument that I had made had suddenly turned to dust. I hope that this does not happen to you. Variations on the theme: "Oh, you believe this because the church wanted to expand its power and control people by suckering them with the sugar of eternal life." While "the church", (probably where "the man"goes?) was indeed an agent of destruction and control, I don't think that that fact should invalidate arguments. If nobody accepted the concept of the "0" because it came from those nutty Hindus, I don't know where we'd be today. ("That's different"? The 0 was once considered to be a religious metaphysical element.)

    I.. must... sleep.

    This is not written as eloquently as I would have liked it to have been, nor as friendly- please pardon the rough edges; it's now 4:00am, and I began reading and taking notes on your article at 8:00pm. Please trust that I consider you close company, and consider the length of my arguments as indicative of that trust.

    I hope that these replies have been valuable to you. As I have said, I have a whole lot more that I could say. But, I am rather limited here. Feel free to contact me. I will of course be watching this article's life cycle.

    Take care, Lion Kimbro =^_^=


    --
    Map Your Thoughts
    Groan (4.66 / 3) (#42)
    by sanity on Fri Jul 20, 2001 at 04:34:47 PM EST

    Know that I have read, fully recognized, and understood, every element of what you have written. Understand that I am limited by time in replying to you, and that I am not able to make all of the valuable arguments and points that I would like to make; You may need to perform many logical extrapolations yourself, and I recommend tracking down the sources that I will cite here.
    Is it just me, or does this kind of pompous, "i can use 20 words where 5 would have done the job" style of writing make anyone else nauseas?

    [ Parent ]
    Why I Used 20 Words (3.00 / 1) (#46)
    by snowlion on Fri Jul 20, 2001 at 05:08:42 PM EST

    Generally, it feels good to meet the one in a million who really gets it. I am making an effort to be *real clear* that his line of reasoning is sound, and to encourage him to look more deeply into these issues.

    Personally, hand waving makes me more nauseas. I suppose different people have different priorities.


    --
    Map Your Thoughts
    [ Parent ]
    Brevity is the soul of clarity (none / 0) (#77)
    by Woundweavr on Tue Feb 05, 2002 at 01:31:01 PM EST

    "I've read the points you've put forth. As I will not be able to address everything I would like, you may have to extrapolate conclusions and track down sources."

    Thats still wordy and gets the point across as well. Brevity is the soul of clarity.

    [ Parent ]

    regarding reasoning ... (5.00 / 1) (#64)
    by BlueOregon on Sat Jul 21, 2001 at 12:33:51 AM EST

    ... well, his reasoning may be relatively sound, if you accept his unfounded assumptions.

    Such as, for example, the bit about human existence consisting of memory and consciousness. *Yawn* Oh, let's forget the body totally. We're just minds. *OK* you say -- it's an assumption about our existence, so as long as the author is consistant with that (we're just mind, not matter), then the argument is reasonable, perhaps.

    Oops, then we get the bit about self-preservation (which is explained as an evolutionary device). Well, it seems to be part of human existence, which by the stuff above, means it's either part of consciousness or memory. How he avoids the body here, I don't know.

    But it gets better, since we suddenly have a biologically (I would take that as physical, but that's excluded due to stuff above) "caused mental block against having sex with the people you grew up with (incest taboo)" -- hrmm. Let's see, incest taboos are not universal. And even to the extent that they are common, they aren't applied universally. And add to that that they are broken a lot (and let's see, the farm cats we had didn't seem to have any such "mental block" [biologically caused or otherwise] ... but then again, what do I know?) So why are we talking about physical things such as reproduction, sex, evolution, etc.? After all, our existence is only memory and consciousness. So much for being consistant. My final quote for this section is merely:

    If we accept the theory that our thoughts and consciousness are in essence dominated by the laws that dominate the reality experienced in them, it seems inevitable that the dysfunction of the human brain results in the end of both memory and consciousness

    Then our dear writer talks about how we rationalize harmful behavior -- how we always do that (example: the smoker). Hrm, I guess I have to ignore all those people (relatives, friends, etc.) who don't rationalize it -- they admit that they're hooked, it's bad for them, but it feels good. I'm not saying rationalization doesn't occur. It does -- all the time. (and the comment about selective perception is nice; including that it is exploited. How it is exploited isn't covered well, though) However, our dear writer seems too intent upon rationalizing and rationality. Another mis-guided assumption, I might argue.

    Let's not forget the nice limited-to-western-thought-and-christianity angle (... heaven, angels and clouds ...) masqerading as universality.

    And then, finally (for now), there is the nice "any event that has happened once will happen a second time" line. Another nice assumption. Baseless, I might add.

    At least the author regularly lets us know what his assumptions are -- "if one accepts" (used several times), "it may well be", "If you consider", "Visibly", "If we prefer", etc.

    I read the whole thing. I found parts interesting. The whole, however, rang of that half-drunken-sitting-around-on-the-couch philosophizing conducted by college student and other bored individuals (and while this might seem like a personal attack, it is meant more as a comment upon the level of research conducted).

    To conclude, I hope the article suceeds and inspring discussion. And for more on the discussion of self and consciousness (including attempts at definitions, problematics, etc.), I highly recommend the author consult the "Jena Romantics" (ca. 1795-1806) and their affiliates, including Fichte, F. Schlegel, the early Schelling, etc. From there move on to contemporary neuro-science and cognitive science.

    Cheers,
    --SK

    [ Parent ]

    Body implicit in Self (none / 0) (#66)
    by snowlion on Sat Jul 21, 2001 at 04:56:47 PM EST

    Such as, for example, the bit about human existence consisting of memory and consciousness. *Yawn* Oh, let's forget the body totally. We're just minds. *OK* you say -- it's an assumption about our existence, so as long as the author is consistant with that (we're just mind, not matter), then the argument is reasonable, perhaps.

    Oops, then we get the bit about self-preservation (which is explained as an evolutionary device). Well, it seems to be part of human existence, which by the stuff above, means it's either part of consciousness or memory. How he avoids the body here, I don't know.

    I've been sort of taking it for granted that the body was considered to be part of the "Self". Considering the body isn't really necessary to get to the essence of his argument. For example: We have hairs on our head; You didn't mention them in your argument- What a grave ommision! If you think that consideration of the body would add to the argument, go right ahead and bring it up. I think it's just a non-point.

    I suppose I could go into a dissertation here on Chinese pagodas, and how you neglected to mention them in your argument.

    For all practical purposes, just include "Body" as part of the self, and make necessary adjustments. If you think that you uncover a flaw in his arguments as a result, bring that up and integrate it in.

    But it gets better, since we suddenly have a biologically (I would take that as physical, but that's excluded due to stuff above) "caused mental block against having sex with the people you grew up with (incest taboo)" -- hrmm. Let's see, incest taboos are not universal. And even to the extent that they are common, they aren't applied universally. And add to that that they are broken a lot (and let's see, the farm cats we had didn't seem to have any such "mental block" [biologically caused or otherwise] ... but then again, what do I know?) So why are we talking about physical things such as reproduction, sex, evolution, etc.? After all, our existence is only memory and consciousness. So much for being consistant.

    Interesting! I never thought about that. I have no sisters, so I'm unable to know myself. I also don't have cats, so I don't know if they have sex with their brothers and sisters either. If you know about human cultures in which there isn't an incest taboo, let me know- I'd like to file it away for future arguments.

    What he was trying to do was to tie evolutionary self preservation to the process of selective perception (the smoker, company, and republican). I wrote in my reply that he screwed up here, but that's okay, because that whole tangent was not really necessary for his argument. He was leading up to saying that we should consider the extrapolations of unpleasant arguments in order to avoid being swayed by evolutionary bias to not think about such things. I argued that we should argue the arguments themselves and see what is there, deeply deeply consider them, before getting carried away with extrapolations just because they are unpleasant.

    I see this evolution based argument as further evidence that the author implictly included the body in the the "Self". He talks about brains later on; yet another inclusion of body with "Self".

    Again, thank you for the datapoint on incest. (I knew there was a reason there were all those "family sex" port sites; now all I have to figure out is those weird "pregnant chicks" porn sites...) {;D}=

    Let's not forget the nice limited-to-western-thought-and-christianity angle (... heaven, angels and clouds ...) masqerading as universality.

    Yup.

    Your final advice was to look at neurologists and what not, who are taking us, slowly but surely, up the ramp towards an understanding of awareness.

    While I agree that anyone studying awareness should have an understanding of neurological issues, it does not require a PhD to understand arguments about awareness, for which I believe an understanding of mathematics would be much more appropriate.

    I would posit that if you accept that "thoughts and consciousness are in essence dominated by the laws that dominate the reality experienced in them", then you're going to do much better to study the span of laws through mathematics and computer science than you are going to do with neurological research.


    --
    Map Your Thoughts
    [ Parent ]
    Curious (none / 0) (#69)
    by Zero Tolerance on Sat Jul 21, 2001 at 07:56:22 PM EST

    I've been sort of taking it for granted that the body was considered to be part of the "Self".

    The original author (of the story) did not. The original author explicitly stated that it (the body) wasn't by defining it (the self, human existence) as memory and consciousness. Nothing else. You then go on to say we can add things here and there. Return to logic 101 please. If adding further elements (as you propose) introduces inconsistency, then I would say we've got ourselves a rather faulty system -- that is, the original author's system is not reasonable, insofar as it is inconsistent.

    You don't actually address a single point that BlueOregon makes. You miss them completely. And then there is your seemingly offensive "sisters" comment ... I'll leave *you* to explain what you meant by that.

    As for where you miss BlueOregon's points -- he points out that the original author *did* in effect (through the evolution argument) include the body -- however, that contradicts his (the author's) statement that the body is only memory and consciousness.

    As to your final point about using math and comp. sci. ... why? If by combining math and comp. sci. in that comment you mean that both (math and comp. sci.) represent a rules-based, rational system (for what are mathematical systems if not rational/logical?), and that such a system is the best way to approach learning about consciousness, then I think you have been ignoring a large number of thinkers who disagree with the notion that all of reality, and especially consciousness, can be contained within a single, consistant system.

    So, why are we arguing again?

    ZT

    --------
    Give a man a fire and he will be warm for a day. Set a
    man on fire and he will be warm for the rest of his life.
    [ Parent ]

    Oops; No Insult Intended (none / 0) (#74)
    by snowlion on Sun Jul 22, 2001 at 04:53:04 PM EST

    I live outside social mores, I do not take social mores for granted. I think Phil Foglio is a creative and social genius.

    The insect taboo theory- that there is a biological evolutionary basis against incest, is something that I internalized because it sounds rational, and there is no counterevidence. I asked one of my best friends, who's sister I had a crush on, if he ever thought about her sexually. He looked at me with a disgusted look on his face, and said, "No!!!"

    The author made two good counterpoints, though: Cats don't have any such taboo, and he claimed that there were human societies that were the same way as well.

    These are good points, and led me to question my beliefs.

    In my mind I can allow for the cats evidence. While I have never raised cats, I can imagine that they would behave that way, based on movies and stories, admitedly bad sources of information.

    What would be best would be evidence of cultures that did not have an incest taboo. The first exposure I ever had to this idea was in Tenchi Muyo:2; the house of Jurai (a royal family) arranges incestuous marriages. I heard that the old Russian royal families were like this. They say that in the deep South, there are incestuous families, but I've never seen evidence for that and am sort of skeptical. I don't claim to know.

    Basically, I was covering my ass when I said, "I don't have a sister, so I wouldn't know." I don't know about outside the US, but in here, this entire discussion is taboo. If you ask about incest, and you have a sister, the people with pitchforks and torches show up at your door. Luckily, I have no such impediment, so I can ask about it. That was my reason for saying that; Certainly not to cast an implicit accusation.


    --
    Map Your Thoughts
    [ Parent ]
    I'm Familiar with the Arguments (none / 0) (#75)
    by snowlion on Sun Jul 22, 2001 at 05:25:42 PM EST

    ZeroTolerance, if you take everything that he wrote literally, as someone must do if they are not familiar with an argument space, then I understand the appearance of contradiction.

    However, if you are familiar with the argument space, you can make several shorthands and abbreviations.

    That is what happened here, and the main reason I said, "I fully understand your arguments." He left things out of his writing because his essay would be 3-5 times longer if he included them (and open himself up to even further trivial mistakes).

    After you are involved in a subject matter for a while, you can say things that are literally inaccurate, but as long as your audience understands what you are saying, it's okay. For example, frequently programmers, we say: "x points to y, y points to z, z points to n", even though x is an integer that indexes into an array a that includes y, y is an actual pointer, and z is a string that can be looked up in a hash to spit out n. A newcommer to programming will say, "Huh? Only y is a pointer!" and then chastise the experienced programmer for not saying "x indexes into a to produce y, y points to z, z can be looked up in h to produce n." The problem with that is that, in addition to being too verbose, it detracts attention from the central message- we are focusing on the thread from x to y and then to z, probably illustrating that from x you can get to z.

    It may sound like I'm saying, "Who-ho-ho! Look at me, I know this argument so much better than you!" It's not, really. Perhaps another analogy will serve well: In the game of Go, near the end of the game, there are a bunch of open spaces that can be played in. Generally, however, the players don't play into them, because they know that the net effect on the game will be zero. Some times you can eek out a point from your opponent by playing into them, but generally, it's pretty well there. When experienced Go players play with less experienced Go players, they generally have to play into the territories that they wouldn't otherwise. The experienced Go player knows that the net difference is zero, but the inexperienced player doesn't know that.

    While we could sit here, and I could resolve all differences, scrutinize and make plain the connection between his concept of Self (memories, memes, the habits of the mind) and the body, and how it was that I was able to infer that the connection was there and understood, the net change would be zero, save that I would have cost the two of us a lot of time.

    Your best piece was the following:

    ...I think you have been ignoring a large number of thinkers who disagree with the notion that all of reality, and especially consciousness, can be contained within a single, consistant system.

    Yes! Good point, and a keen observation. This is totally true, and I have used this point before.

    The reason that I do not bring it up is primarily a cultural one: People who disagree with the notion that all of (let me be more specific, and replace reality with "our universe"; unless you are an anti-foundationalist like Protagoras [who was defeated logically by Plato by the "turning the tables" argument], you believe that there is a consistant reality, no matter how "perverse" the rules are- we can argue this point more if you like) our universe and consciousness are ruled by a consistant set of rules (say, the 4 forces, or something like that) generally have no problem with the concept of an atomic (smallest, indistructable) awarenes. So, I don't even bother. Besides, the predominant view here is in the strictly 20/21st scientific college cultural perspective, and they would ridicule me to no end if I brought that idea up. Since it's not necessary for my arguments and conclusions, I don't even bring it up.

    The most that I will say to the 20/21st century scientific college instance is that- In the end, this whole entire universe, and all our observations in it, may very well be nothing more than just a beautiful dream.


    --
    Map Your Thoughts
    [ Parent ]
    musings on existence (3.50 / 2) (#25)
    by khallow on Fri Jul 20, 2001 at 11:04:01 AM EST

    I find it interesting that most of the story really wasn't about " human existence" (whatever that means), but the ending of existence (i.e., death) and of ways to thwart that outcome. Needless to say, there are a lot of possible ways, however these all have a serious flaw. I.e., there's no rational evidence of any sort of life after death. I don't refer to progeny, memories, litter, etc that you might leave behind, but more potent concepts like "Heaven", "Nirvana", reincarnation, etc.

    From a cursory survey of numerous religions, I see a common trend. The religion that does the best job of comforting people and of improving the social and biological success of its worshippers is the one most likely to succeed over the long term. The actual philosophical and dogmatic foundations of the religion seem to be quite irrelevant aside from the previous considerations. It's not what you believe in, but how a religion helps you in mundane life.

    By rational evidence, I mean neither an incident that can be easily explained as rationalization, or a rigorous mathematical proof (based on sound axioms!) that I'll live forever - although the latter would be amusing.

    In summary, the only reasons I can see for debating this subject are to either avoid boredom or to prevent some nasty meme from taking hold (i.e., sacrifice someone and you get to live longer).

    Evidence and proof (3.50 / 2) (#35)
    by spiff on Fri Jul 20, 2001 at 01:46:18 PM EST

    Needless to say, there are a lot of possible ways, however these all have a serious flaw. I.e., there's no rational evidence of any sort of life after death.

    A man who doesn't want to believe in pigs will say: "Pigs?... I'll believe in them when I see one fly past my 11th story window!"

    I find it interesting that you don't deny "evidence" for life after death, but rather deny any "rational evidence" (rational seems to be a buzzword in the atheist community). Rational evidence being some "incident" or mathematical proof. I can't comment on the "incident" because I don't know what you are asking for. But what makes you think that mathematics is an adequate instrument for proving life after death? Could using mathematics to prove life after death be like trying to light a match on a marshmallow?

    [ Parent ]

    Problem of Awarness, & Reasons for Debate (5.00 / 1) (#45)
    by snowlion on Fri Jul 20, 2001 at 05:05:21 PM EST

    The reason why awareness is so interesting to me, is that it is completely unnecessary (ie offers no functional advantage), resists all attempts at explanation, and is fundamentally glued to the concept of existance.

    Consider: What is the difference between a universe (or something) that exists, and one that does not exist? The only difference is that one is experienced, whereas the other is not.

    Given that existance requires awareness, and that awareness totally avoids all explanation and reasoning, I find it quite rational and reasonable to believe that matter and mathematics cannot produce awareness. If it cannot produce awareness, then I see no reason that it should be able to take it away, either.

    Other reasons to debate this subject that you have missed: One, ethics. Injuring things that are not aware causes no ethical delimma. Two, for completeness of a world model- I'd rather not have a world model that excludes my own existance.


    --
    Map Your Thoughts
    [ Parent ]
    My personal, largely unsupported view. (none / 0) (#50)
    by Xeriar on Fri Jul 20, 2001 at 05:36:38 PM EST

    Given that existance requires awareness, and that awareness totally avoids all explanation and reasoning, I find it quite rational and reasonable to believe that matter and mathematics cannot produce awareness. If it cannot produce awareness, then I see no reason that it should be able to take it away, either.

    I believe that complex matter attracts awareness so as to be a part of it. To attain a higher form of existance, and the ability to actually enact a change, however minor, upon the universe.

    This could be called a soul, but that would imply that there is only one per person. It is difficult to define, really. ICQ #77363824

    ----
    When I'm feeling blue, I start breathing again.
    [ Parent ]

    Interesting (none / 0) (#54)
    by snowlion on Fri Jul 20, 2001 at 06:14:15 PM EST

    I find this perspective interesting, and still contemplate it. In my head, I've been calling it "The Spirits Within" hypothesis, based on the Final Fantasy movie. Maybe I should just adopt "The Gaia Hypothesis" as the term for it.

    The perspective nicely solves a lot of problems, such as: How is it that we are even able to talk about awareness?

    Another nice thing about the perspective is that it is, theoretically speaking, testable: When we get to a level of engineering where we can make very small non-intrusive measurements within the brain, we can check for any anomalous behavior.

    The primary problem with the idea is that it is "magical" (isn't rooted in one of the 4 fundamental forces), and thus doesn't go over to well with the US climate (the only one I know well). I never mention it in arguments, since it only serves as a detraction from actual points that need to be made.

    Perhaps General Cid's idea is right, but it is premature to tell. I'm definitely keeping my eye on this theory. There are other theories that do well, so this one doesn't completely occupy my attention, but I definitely look at this one favorably.


    --
    Map Your Thoughts
    [ Parent ]
    Hrmm... (none / 0) (#62)
    by Xeriar on Fri Jul 20, 2001 at 11:11:56 PM EST

    I find this perspective interesting, and still contemplate it. In my head, I've been calling it "The Spirits Within" hypothesis, based on the Final Fantasy movie. Maybe I should just adopt "The Gaia Hypothesis" as the term for it.

    I was first discussing this with a friend of mine back in '97, really. I have only recently actually flushed it out. I haven't seen the FF Movie yet, so maybe I should.

    The perspective nicely solves a lot of problems, such as: How is it that we are even able to talk about awareness?

    It would be interesting to set up an AI scheme to build up to a civilization, and see if they talk about awareness ever... This is well beyond our capabilities even in the foreseeable future. Problem being that, once a creature sees others talking about being aware, natural response would be for it to act as if it was...

    Another nice thing about the perspective is that it is, theoretically speaking, testable: When we get to a level of engineering where we can make very small non-intrusive measurements within the brain, we can check for any anomalous behavior.

    I would like to get an accurate-as-humanly possible thermistor, and have a computer take readings off of the smallest meaningful significant (binary) digit. A computer would display a pleasing image, or a blank screen, based on the sigfig. This would be done standalone and then with a human present. It may also be necessary to measure at multiple sigfigs.

    That would be definitive, I think. At least, if it turned a reasonably positive result. Else there is always a chance until we get down to Plank, literally.

    The primary problem with the idea is that it is "magical" (isn't rooted in one of the 4 fundamental forces), and thus doesn't go over to well with the US climate (the only one I know well). I never mention it in arguments, since it only serves as a detraction from actual points that need to be made.

    Who is to say that it is not rooted in a force, maybe gravity or something we otherwise have not seen? What I have proposed here (and I'm certainly not the first to think of it) - is that something may lie beyond our current understanding of the universe, on a fundemental level. I am by no means saying that we cannot understand it.

    Perhaps General Cid's idea is right, but it is premature to tell. I'm definitely keeping my eye on this theory. There are other theories that do well, so this one doesn't completely occupy my attention, but I definitely look at this one favorably.

    We need to discuss :-) More of Cid, eh? I really need to see that movie...

    ----
    When I'm feeling blue, I start breathing again.
    [ Parent ]

    This is awesome... (3.00 / 1) (#27)
    by Xeriar on Fri Jul 20, 2001 at 12:28:55 PM EST

    I suspect that 'we', in whatever form that may take, may actually 'reincarnate' fairly frequently - short enough to suffer the effects of our actions.

    Certainly, if there is such a thing as a soul, at best it is a mere shadow of the person (people) it once belonged to. Memories, emotions and conciousness would be few, if any. I think there is such a thing because we act seperately from our environment (or at least percieve it) - though there may well be a reason for that.

    Death, unfortunately, is the only way to find out, and likely you won't remember the answer upon waking up. So it goes...

    Excellant article, though.

    ----
    When I'm feeling blue, I start breathing again.

    Real Reincarnation (none / 0) (#57)
    by tz1n on Fri Jul 20, 2001 at 06:43:57 PM EST

    Although his proposed variation on reincarnation is interesting, it made me wonder if this author would make for an angry church mouse if he died and found himself in a "lower animal", on earth, and without use of our supposed intelligence to finally answer his inquiry.

    [ Parent ]
    Consciousness/Mind (3.00 / 3) (#34)
    by ava on Fri Jul 20, 2001 at 01:38:19 PM EST

    Wouldn't it be more logical if the mind was a way of expressing the consciousness? The mind is more or less a tool. Most people generally agree that all mammals are conscious. I believe this too and that our consciousnesses are very similiar in structure (read: same), but we are only limited by our minds.

    I dunno, just a thought.

    Consciousness - a pacifier (2.33 / 3) (#36)
    by anarchartist on Fri Jul 20, 2001 at 01:58:13 PM EST

    Could it be that consciousness is simply a pacifier for our own doomed, yet intelligent, existance?

    You mentioned how we have invented religion and the concept of afterlife to soften the blow of death. Could it be that we have also over-inflated our self value for the same reason?

    Sorry to put a downer on the whole situation but were just animals at the end of the day. Lets just live!




    Yeah anyway... (4.00 / 1) (#40)
    by Phire on Fri Jul 20, 2001 at 04:16:32 PM EST

    I think we as animals are not here for a purpose, but have accidentaly developed. Well, not accidentally, since it was inevitable (maybe I'll write a story on that sometime). Conciousness is simply the total effect of senses, senses which include memory, decisions, consequences, in addition to the other 5 we learn in kindergarten. However, conciousness is quite unique to one's own person. To believe that conciousness can continue without a binding body is slightly alarming, as this would be suggesting that mind and body are seperate. However, for each individual person, there is one conciousness, and to even recreate that person by rearranging individual atoms into an exact replica and at the exact same time destroying the original (aka teleporting) would evectivly destroy individual conciousness while at the same time creating a new one. So even with the same body, the conciousness would be different. This may confuse you, but look at it this way, One possible body per conciousness, Many possible Conciousnesses per body. --PHIRE
    Remember this: It isnt how, but why, because to know why is to know how anyway. --ME
    [ Parent ]
    Then Why Do We Experience? (4.00 / 1) (#44)
    by snowlion on Fri Jul 20, 2001 at 04:58:58 PM EST

    Conciousness is simply the total effect of senses, senses which include memory, decisions, consequences, in addition to the other 5 we learn in kindergarten.
    --Phire

    Why do we have to actually experience it? Why can't it just be that this whole universe is a computer process locked away in a closet somewhere, and nobody ever knows it's there, or has any experience with it? What are the mechanics by which experience is invoked?


    --
    Map Your Thoughts
    [ Parent ]
    outdated idea of consciousness (4.16 / 6) (#37)
    by bluesninja on Fri Jul 20, 2001 at 02:19:27 PM EST

    I really liked this story. It is quite well-written and thoughtful, and I'm always excited when people try to grapple with really difficult questions, (even if the web is far from the ideal medium...). However, I have a bone to pick with this idea.

    Your entire analysis of consiousness hinges on the idea that there is a particular thing that is consciousness. I.e., that there is a functional aspect of the brain that one could point to and say "that is where consciousness is, and this is what it does." I think that most modern philosophical ideas tend more toward the view that consciousness is actually a very general term covering a wide variety of mental phenomena. Your analysis tends to rely on a rather naive and pre-scientific idea of what consciousness is.

    When we use the word "consciousness" we are really referring to a whole bunch of mental occurences: memory retrieval, emotions, dispositions, personality, physiological states, etc. Which is the author talking about? All of them? No -- memories are obviously not necessary for perpetual consciousness. Neither are particular physical sensations, if you are going to allow the possibility that your consciousness could subsist in, say, an insect or a martian (or a robot). None of these particulars seem to stay the same among different "instances" of the same consciousness, nor are they even the same within a single person throughout their lives. But when you strip all these things away, are you still left with a "consciousness" at all? It wouldn't seem so.

    What the author seems to be referring to as "consciousness" is really just a kind of intuitive singularity of experience. The "what it's like to be aware" phenomenon. (see Thomas Nagel or Dave Chalmers for more on this). This idea of consciousness creates a lot more problems than it solves (we've been struggling with this since Plato, at least). It works as a pre-scientific religious idea, but when you start poking around too much, it falls apart logically and scientifically. I have an elegant proof of this which the margin of this HTML form is too small to contain ;)

    See work by Marvin Minsky, Paul Churchland or Dan Dennett for a much more eloquent exposition of these problems than I could ever muster.

    That being said, I thought the essay was very thoughtful. I just happen to think that the starting point is flawed.

    /bluesninja

    Time For You To Meet Lanier (3.33 / 3) (#43)
    by snowlion on Fri Jul 20, 2001 at 04:55:33 PM EST

    Jaron Lanier's: You Can't Argue with a Zombie. I don't suppose you'll actually read it and address it, though. Too bad.

    I think that most modern philosophical ideas tend more toward the view that consciousness is actually a very general term covering a wide variety of mental phenomena.
    -- bluesninja

    Soc. When any one speaks of iron and silver, is not the same thing present in the minds of all? Phaedr. Certainly. Soc. But when any one speaks of justice and goodness we part company and are at odds with one another and with ourselves? Phaedr. Precisely.
    -- Plato, Phaedrus

    Sure, if you change your definition of consciousness, you can make consciousness into a process. I could say that "consciousness" is a rock, and thus clearly a substance with mass. I have not proven anything by doing so, though.

    When we use the word "consciousness" we are really referring to a whole bunch of mental occurences: memory retrieval, emotions, dispositions, personality, physiological states, etc. Which is the author talking about? All of them?
    -bluesninja

    Damn- and I was just complimenting Eloquence on what a good job he did of differentiating Self and Consciousness. Or did you miss that part?

    What the author seems to be referring to as "consciousness" is really just a kind of intuitive singularity of experience. The "what it's like to be aware" phenomenon. (see Thomas Nagel or Dave Chalmers for more on this). This idea of consciousness creates a lot more problems than it solves (we've been struggling with this since Plato, at least).
    -- blueninja

    Yep- that damn problem of awareness. I agree, the universe would be a lot simpler if we weren't aware. [Un]Fortunately, it isn't like that. I refuse to accept a view of the world that will require me to ignore my very existance..! I would be quite happy to be a bunch of bits that are never seen or heard, happily computing away in a closet. Unfortunately, it's not that way- I am aware, whether you would like to include it in your world view or not.

    It works as a pre-scientific religious idea, but when you start poking around too much, it falls apart logically and scientifically. I have an elegant proof of this which the margin of this HTML form is too small to contain ;)
    -- blueninja

    Riiiight. There's something I can argue against...

    See work by Marvin Minsky, Paul Churchland or Dan Dennett for a much more eloquent exposition of these problems than I could ever muster.
    -- blueninja

    Only Dennett could write a book called "Consciousness Explained", and then fail to do just that. He takes the approach you have taken above: Redefine consciousness, and then explain that.

    I've read their papers and books. They have said nothing that I can't argue against. Care to bring up a point from them? I'll be happy to argue against it.

    Some day I'm going to have to write a web page: "Consciousness Explained Away".


    --
    Map Your Thoughts
    [ Parent ]
    jaron lanier is a zombie (5.00 / 1) (#53)
    by bluesninja on Fri Jul 20, 2001 at 06:08:04 PM EST

    Jaron Lanier's: You Can't Argue with a Zombie. I don't suppose you'll actually read it and address it, though. Too bad.

    Wow, where did this sudden hostility come from? I thought we were having a reasonable debate, until now. Anyways, here's the deal: I did read it, but no, I won't address it here because it would take way to long. We can discuss that particular work through another medium.

    As for your other points,

    Sure, if you change your definition of consciousness, you can make consciousness into a process. I could say that "consciousness" is a rock, and thus clearly a substance with mass. I have not proven anything by doing so, though.

    Ahhh, but philosophy is nothing but finding the right definition of words. I'm saying that consciousness can, and has, been studied as a conglomerate of various processes operating on particular data. Attention, recognition, memories, feelings, and probably a hundred things I haven't mentioned all become the thing that consciousness is. That's the theory; and the theory goes that we don't really loose anything by doing this reduction.

    Now, say what you want about the validity of particular points, or the viability of the entire theory itself, but it is an extremely useful and sophisticated theory -- it is not at all the same as saying consciousness is like a box of chocolates, or whatnot.

    Damn- and I was just complimenting Eloquence on what a good job he did of differentiating Self and Consciousness. Or did you miss that part?

    No I didn't miss that part. I was questioning what his basis was for separating consciousness from these things. Eloquence asserts that consciousness and memory are not the same thing. Agreed. He says this division is common in religions. Okay. How does this show that self and consciousness are different again?

    Only Dennett could write a book called "Consciousness Explained", and then fail to do just that. He takes the approach you have taken above: Redefine consciousness, and then explain that.

    As I've said, the job of philophers is to figure out the right definitions of terms. Just like Socrates asks "what is justice?," other philsophers ask "what is consciousness?" and then proceed to write papers arguing for the truthfulness of one definition over another. Only a fool, (and you, and Jaron Lanier, apparently) could have read Dennett's book and objected that he wasn't talking about consciousness. When you say "explain fire" and you get the answer "combustion....yadda yadda...chemical reaction...yadda...energy release as heat..", you don't turn around and say "yeah, that's all well and good, but when are you going to talk about fire?". Now, I'm not saying that Dennett's theory is 100% right, but I think it is realistic and useful. As opposed to just pointing at memory, attention or whatever and saying "that's not it; that's not it".

    I've read their papers and books. They have said nothing that I can't argue against. Care to bring up a point from them? I'll be happy to argue against it.

    I think we should take that off-K. That could get long-winded. Nice to know you're sure enough of yourself that you think you can singlehandedly dispatch every single point of argument from people who have been active in AI and cognitive science for the past 30-50 years ;) /blues

    [ Parent ]

    worry not ... (none / 0) (#70)
    by Zero Tolerance on Sat Jul 21, 2001 at 08:10:29 PM EST

    snowlion's hostility just seems directed at people with 'blue' in their IDs ... you, and BlueOregon, for example. He/she/it tried to pull the same sort of "argument" both times.

    It just seems he/she/it won't be satisfied with any definition of consciousness and/or being that doesn't hit his/her/its pre-conceived notions of what it should be ... after all, snowlion is an expert in this field.

    Pardon me if I'm venting a little "hostility" here.
    --ZT

    --------
    Give a man a fire and he will be warm for a day. Set a
    man on fire and he will be warm for the rest of his life.
    [ Parent ]

    Dictionary definition of conciousness... (none / 0) (#47)
    by Xeriar on Fri Jul 20, 2001 at 05:22:37 PM EST

    1. Self-awareness.

    Self Awareness: Awareness of self.

    This sucks. At some point, clarification of semantics is needed. So, when reading an article about conciousness, you need to figure out what the writer means by the term, as much as what the article is trying to say :-)

    ----
    When I'm feeling blue, I start breathing again.
    [ Parent ]

    Another way to know? (4.00 / 1) (#63)
    by timcornwell on Sat Jul 21, 2001 at 12:00:06 AM EST

    I appreciate the thought that has gone into this essay, and into the many comments on it. I spent a happy couple of hours reading here and on links to other places (e.g. Jaron Lanier's Home Page).

    My view, which I'm not at all interested in arguing for, is that nearly all (and perhaps all) of that's interesting about consciousness and existence can only be learned from diving into your own consciousness as deeply as you can. There are many ways to do this, a number of which are called mystical. I'd recommend one of (use the web to find them):
    • Zazen meditation
    • Ramana Maharshi's question
    • Douglas E. Harding's book
    Of these, Harding's is the best for this community. He is a total original. Read him to find experience what it is like to have no head.

    If you dive into one of these ways (or others), you'll come back to discussions like this with a new perspective. You won't be able to say anything useful, except maybe to point out the way. But you will be able to seize the day.

    Eternal, or Afraid? (4.00 / 1) (#67)
    by Xero on Sat Jul 21, 2001 at 06:00:49 PM EST

    This is an interesting and very well written article. Even though I found some of the logical jumps a bit forced, it is still easy to follow the authors chain of reasoning to his final point.

    But this idea sounds eerily familiar. Almost exactly like something I've heard before.

    In this "reincarnation" (which does not come with any of the religious benefits of gaining karma or preserving memories)

    Ahh...

    Now reincarnation is an old, old idea, at least as old as, and essentially similar to, the concept of an afterlife. To a peasant in ancient India, the difference becoming a member of the ruling caste and becoming an angel is probaly one of semantics only. And they both stem from the same place: the essential belief that all humans (and animals?) have an indefinable *something* that will continue after them.

    The author touches on this in his sections 'The Inevitability of Wishful Thinking' and 'On the Desirability and Possiblity of Perpetual Existence,' and even asks the question himself:

    Given this introduction, what are the odds for or against an actual "afterlife"?

    But then he never answers. He simply says 'Since we are, we must be forever.' The entire reasoning on how our 'awareness' is unique and eternal, pivots on the simple point that our awareness is unique and eternal. Most christian philosophers make the same mistake. You have to already accept the definiton before the definition makes sense.

    Here's one: Love is an ideal, pure emotion, since it cannot be caused, unlike lust, fear, or anger. Therefore, the part of us that experiences love must also be eternal, and this thing is called the soul, and this part of us is eternal. Note how similar this is to the argument that since we have consciousness seperate from our memories, our consciousness must be eternal.

    To complete the triune of mind, body and soul, I have also heard it proposed that since proton and electrons cannot be destroyed (?!?), the very building blocks of our bodies have always existed and always will. When, in billions and billions of years they are once again in the same configuration we will live again, so we are in some sense... eternal.

    Eternal mind, eternal body, eternal soul. Or is there simply nothing?

    Many people sieze upon the near universal belief in an eternal something as proof that there must be one. But maybe it's just that the concept of not existing is just something that, try as we might, we simply cannot allow ourselves to beleive.

    Maybe we're simply afraid of dying. Of not being. But as long as someone... something, somewhere is afraid to die, we shall be...

    Eternal

    S

    A Philosophy of Perpetual Existence | 77 comments (69 topical, 8 editorial, 0 hidden)
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