The Split-brain Universe

An extended Nowa Fantaskyka remix.

The year is 1982. I read Isaac Asimov’s newly-published Foundation’s Edge with a sinking heart. Here is the one of Hard-SF’s Holy Trinity writing— with a straight face, as far as I can tell— about the “consciousness” of rocks and trees and doors, for Chrissakes. Isaac, what happened? I wonder. Conscious rocks? Are you going senile?

No, as it turned out. Asimov had simply discovered physical panpsychism: a school of thought that holds that everything— rocks, trees, electrons, even Donald Trump— is conscious to some degree. The panpsychics regard consciousness as an intrinsic property of matter, like mass and charge and spin. It’s an ancient belief— its roots go all the way back to ancient Greece—but it has recently found new life among consciousness researchers. Asimov was simply ahead of his time.

I’ve always regarded panpsychism as an audacious cop-out. Hanging a sign that says “intrinsic” on one of Nature’s biggest mysteries doesn’t solve anything; it merely sweeps it under the rug. Turns out, though, that I’d never really met audacious before. Not until I read “The Universe in Consciousness” by Bernardo Kastrup, in the Journal of Consciousness Studies.

Kastrup goes panpsychism one better. He’s not saying that all matter is conscious. He’s saying that all matter is consciousness— that consciousness is all there is, and matter is just one of its manifestations. “Nothing exists outside or independent of cosmic consciousness,” he writes. “The perceivable cosmos is in consciousness, as opposed to being conscious.” Oh, and he also says the whole universe suffers from Multiple Personality Disorder.

It reads like some kind of flaky New Age metaphor. He means it literally, though.

He calls it science.

*

Just as plausible, apparently.

Even on a purely local level, there are reasons to be skeptical of MPS (or DID, as it’s known today: Dissociative Identity Disorder). DID diagnoses tend to spike in the wake of new movies or books about multiple personalities, for example. Many cases don’t show themselves until after the subject has spent time in therapy— generally for some other issue entirely— only to have the alters emerge following nudges and leading questions from therapists whose critical and methodological credentials might not be so rigorous as one would like. And there is the— shall we say questionable nature of certain alternate personalities themselves. One case in the literature reported an alter that identified as a German Shepherd. Another identified— don’t ask me how— as a lobster. (I know what you’re thinking, but this was years before the ascension of Jordan Peterson in the public consciousness.)

When you put this all together with the fact that even normal conscious processes seem to act like a kind of noisy parliament— that we all, to some extent, “talk to ourselves”, all have different facets to our personalities— it’s not unreasonable to wonder if the whole thing didn’t boil down to a bunch of overactive imaginations, being coached by people who really should have known better. Psychic CosPlaying, if you will. This interpretation is popular enough to have its own formal title: the Sociocognitive Model.

There could be a sort of psychiatric Sturgeon’s Law at play here, though; the fact that 90% of such studies are crap doesn’t necessarily mean that all of them are. Brain scans of “possessed” DID bodies show distinctly different profiles than those of professional actors trained to merely behave as though they were: the parts of the brain that lit up in actors are associated with imagination and empathy, while those lighting up in DID patients are involved with stress and fear responses. I’m not entirely convinced— can actors, knowingly faking a condition, really stand in for delusional people who sincerely believe in their affliction? Still, the stats are strong; and it’s hard to argue with a different study in which the visual centers of a sighted person’s brain apparently shut down in a sighted person when a “blind” alter took the controls.

Also let’s not forget the whole split-brain phenomenon. We know that different selves can exist simultaneously within a single brain, at least if it’s been partitioned in some way.

This is the premise upon which Kastrup bases his model of Reality Itself.

*

You’ve probably heard of quantum entanglement. Kastrup argues that entangled systems form a single, integrated, and above all irreducible system. Also that, since everything is ultimately entangled to something else, the entire inanimate universe is “one indivisible whole”, as irreducible as a quark. He argues— let me quote him here directly, so you won’t think I’m making this up—

“that the sole ontological primitive there is is cosmic phenomenal consciousness … Nothing exists outside or independent of cosmic consciousness. Under this interpretation one should say that the cosmos is constituted by phenomenality, as opposed to bearing phenomenality. In other words, here the perceivable cosmos is in consciousness, as opposed to being conscious.”

Why would he invoke such an apparently loopy argument? How are we any further ahead in understanding our consciousness by positing that the universe itself is built from the stuff? Kastrup is trying to reconcile the “combination problem” of bottom-up panpsychism: even if you accept that every particle contains a primitive conscious “essence”, you’re still stuck with explaining how those rudiments combine to form the self-reflective sapience of complex objects like ourselves. Kastrup’s answer is to start at the other end. Instead of positing that consciousness emerges from the very small and working up to sentient beings, why not posit that it’s a property of the universe as a whole and work down?

Well, for one thing, because now you’ve got the opposite problem: rather than having to explain how little particles of proto-consciousness combine to form true sapience, now you have to explain how some universal ubermind splits into separate entities (i.e., if we’re all part of the same cosmic consciousness, why can’t I read your mind? Why do you and I even exist as distinct beings?)

This is where DID comes in. Kastrup claims that the same processes that give rise to multiple personalities in humans also occur at the level of the whole Universe, that all of inanimate “reality” consists of Thought, and its animate components— cats, earthworms, anything existing within a bounded metabolism— are encysted bits of consciousness isolated from the Cosmic Self:

“We, as well as all other living organisms, are but dissociated alters of cosmic consciousness, surrounded by its thoughts. The inanimate world we see around us is the revealed appearance of these thoughts. The living organisms we share the world with are the revealed appearances of other dissociated alters.”

And what about Reality before the emergence of living organisms?

“I submit that, before its first alter [i.e., separate conscious entity] ever formed, the only phenomenal contents of cosmic consciousness were thoughts.”

In case you’re wondering (and you damn well should be): yes, the Journal of Consciousness Studies is peer-reviewed. Respectable, even. Heavy hitters like David Chalmers and Daniel Dennet appear in its pages. And Kastrup doesn’t just pull claims out of his ass; he cites authorities from Augusto to von Neumann to back up his quantum/cosmic entanglement riff, for example. Personally, I’m not convinced— I think I see inconsistencies in his reasoning— but not being a physicist, what would I know? I haven’t read the authorities he cites, and wouldn’t understand them if I did. This Universal Split-Brain thing reads like Philip K. Dick on a bad day; then again, couldn’t you say the same about Schrödinger’s Cat, or the Many Worlds hypothesis?

Still, reading Kastrup’s paper, I have to keep reminding myself: Peer-reviewed. Respectable. Daniel Dennet.

Of course, repeat that too often and it starts to sound like a religious incantation.

*

To an SF writer, this is obviously a gold mine.

Kastrup’s model is epic creation myth: a formless thinking void, creating sentient beings In Its Image. The idea that Thou Art God (Stranger in a Strange Land, anyone?), that God is everywhere— that part of the paradigm reads like it was lifted beat-for-beat out of the Abrahamic religions. The idea that “The world is imagined” seems lifted from the Dharmic ones.

The roads we might travel from this starting point! Here’s just one: at our local Earthbound scale of reality DID is classed as a pathology, something to be cured. The patient is healthy only when their alters have been reintegrated. Does this scale up? Is the entire universe, as it currently exists, somehow “sick”? Is the reintegration of fragmented alters the only way to cure it, can the Universe only be restored to health only by resorbing all sentient beings back into some primordial pool of Being? Are we the disease, and our eradication the cure?

You may remember that I’m planning to write a concluding volume to the trilogy begun with Blindsight and continued in Echopraxia. I had my own thoughts as to how that story would conclude— but I have to say, Kastrup’s paper has opened doors I never considered before.

It just seems so off-the-wall that— peer-reviewed or not— I don’t know if I could ever sell it in a Hard-SF novel.

This entry was written by Peter Watts , posted on Wednesday September 12 2018at 10:09 am , filed under astronomy/cosmology, Omniscience, sentience/cognition . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

73 Responses to “The Split-brain Universe”

  1. Have you read “Pillars of eternity” by Barrington Bayley? It has very close cosmological to this theory. It’s not hard SF though

  2. I would buy consciousness as an emergent property of matter, which does not exclude non-organic consciousness from existing. But, that doesn’t take me any closer to understand why consciousness emerges, or what defines one thing as conscious and another as not.

    If one defines consciousness as part of behaviour, then things that move and respond to stimulus must have conscious aspects. Then I suppose one could extrapolate further using complexity and chaos theory. Actually chaos theory of mind might be quite fun.

    Just some thoughts.

  3. Consciousness is still one of the biggest scientific conundrums extant. I guess along with the question – “why is there even a reality? And what is reality?” But I imagine, dealing with the easier questions ought to come first?

    There is good reason why Bohr and Einstein argued for decades regarding the “weird results” of quantum physics. Because they really are weird. And you don’t have to be Einstein to understand some of the basic “weirdness” … such as quantum entanglement or the observer problem. There are quite a few good modern books on the subject – and tbh, pretty interesting to boot.

    I imagine if you want to be a fucking cutesy Sci Fi writer of any note like Frank Herbert (my God, if you think Asimov went off the charts near the end, read some of Herbert’s later writings) I would probably familiarize myself with some of the fundamental scientific principles in quantum physics and/or even current consciousness studies (Penrose, Chalmers, even Greyson are emminently approachable).

    The Observer problem still is one of the BIGGEST scientific problems ever in modern physics. And it STILL is quite the controversy. And John Bell’s Inequalities is STILL proven correct … And for those of you who are skeptics and actually know what John Bell had to say about Science and about contextuality within quantum physics, this poses a huge – the hugest, most astonishing, most spectacular scientific discovery since Isaac Newton. That’s right, the contextuality that John Bell proved existed. (And has further been backed by Kochen-Specker, and John Wheeler of course.)

    So, I guess for those of us who do take science seriously (like Bernardo) and are not being flippant about it or fucking cutesy, as if sarcasm would replace actual scholarship – yeah, CONSCIOUSNESS is a big fucking deal and quantum Entanglement (and the John Von Neumann chain) along with the quantum wave function collapse is one BIG FUCKING CLUE.

  4. It’s an interesting thesis, and reminds me somewhat of panpsychist Russelian monism (the “Russelian” being taken from Bertrand Russell), which is enjoying some small degree of popularity in philosphy of mind at present. It posits consciousness (or qualia or whatever) as the intrinsic nature reality, and the stuff that physics tells us about as its extrinsic nature. The philosopher of mind Hedda Hassel Morch wrote an introductary, popular article on the idea:

    http://nautil.us/issue/47/consciousness/is-matter-conscious

  5. I wonder what the implications might be for the Boltzmann brain thought experiment or whether it renders it redundant (let alone the Omega point stuff)?

  6. “I had my own thoughts as to how that story would conclude— but I have to say, Kastrup’s paper has opened doors I never considered before.”

    Yeah, please don’t. Part of the reason that I love your writing is that you don’t get into woo-woo mumbo jumbo. Max Harms did almost the exact same thing with his Crystal Trilogy. The first two novels were a novel take on how an AI might think (decently executed, too). The third one got into all this mystical crap about consciousness being a fundamental property of the universe which then dictated the actions of exponentially bootstrapping AI’s into not eradicating humanity because of some wonky determinism thing. Made absolutely no sense, and ruined the whole trilogy. I was pissed when I finished it a couple months ago.

  7. I had a conversation recently with a Japanese friend about Buddhism. He pointed out that Buddhism as understood in the West tends to reflect Western preconceptions and preoccupations, particularly with respect to mortality, reincarnation, etc., and that this doesn’t really reflect oriental Buddhist philosophy accurately.

    To give a simplified summary of the simplified summary that he gave me — which I’m sure is open to interpretation; he is not a religious expert, and there are a thousand different schools of thought within Buddhism anyway — things sounded remarkably like the model that you described. He talked in terms of a kind of distributed pool of ‘life’, in which all living things participated to a greater or lesser degree (for ‘life’, substitute ‘consciousness’). On the subject of nirvana and the escape from the cycle of rebirth — the end-game state for aspiring Buddhas — he described it not in terms of Western concepts such as heaven, immortality, or unbeing — but as the ability to participate in, and perhaps to perceive, the totality of this shared ‘life’ without the need to be embodied in a particular instance of it — a fragmented alter, as you would describe it. ‘Resorbing all sentient beings into a primordial pool of Being’ actually sounds a lot like the Buddhist program — and here I revert to my own sketchy understanding of Buddhism — in which enlightened beings such as Buddhas are supposed to help other beings attain enlightenment, as a route to direct, unembodied, unfragmented participation in the collective ‘life’ by all living beings.

    This is not to say that Buddhists have necessarily grokked the true nature of reality. As a kid, I read all those irritating books that tried to explain quantum physics in terms of Buddhist concepts (oh, California, you have so much to answer for), so I have little patience with that particular brand of woo (or wu). But if you want to write about this stuff, you might find some interesting ideas in Buddhism.

    The next question, of course, is whether scramblers, as non-conscious beings, have Buddha nature or not …

  8. If I am understanding Kastrup’s writing correctly, isn’t he simply saying that the universe is a monstrously powerful computer and that organisms within it are simply small programs floating around in an ocean of data? That doesn’t seem to weird to me. Pretty sure that’s just another spin of digital physics. It just doesn’t explain anything. Ultimately it looks like its just another half-baked attempt to do something to “solve” the problem of consciousness.

  9. This blog post, if I understand correctly, uses relativity to posit a similar thesis, arguing that there is no more continuity between your brain moment to moment than between your brain and a hypothetical Boltzmann brain recreation x trillions of years in the future, and also between your consciousness and that of other people.

    This author steps back from conscious rocks though, “(For those that want to place consciousness at the pre-Cambrain and think that conscious experience precedes self-modeling processes, I encourage you to pass out by drinking intoxicating volumes of alcohol. Then ask if pain exists when it is impossible to ask the question. Non-selfing animals including babies have no qualia. They have neither the cognitive tools nor the ability to hold memory of “raw feels.” There is no such thing as subjective pain without a referent who simulation. “

  10. I have no problem believing what we perceive as inanimate objects may be conscious in ways, or time frames, that we can’t grasp, I just don’t believe we can prove this in any meaningful way. John Lilly once opined that dolphins, using sonar, can tell what we’ve had for lunch, his point being that there are reasons we have trouble communicating even with mammals that may be as smart as us in many ways. Is there a way to transcend the philosophical prison of our own consciousness? I think arguments that there are ways must be taken on faith.

    To flip the notion that the universe’s fragmented consciousness is something that could use a few sessions on the couch (or rounds of antipsychotics), perhaps the fragmentation isn’t something to be overcome, but a way in which the universe is struggling to know itself.

  11. The first questions for any theory are: what does it predict and how can it be falsified?

    Besides, it sounds like redefining words. A consciousness that is common to rocks is not the type of consciousness I would be interested in.

  12. The observer problem is a non-problem, or rather one of using the wrong intuition. I’ve not yet seen a convincing argument that the observer has to be sentient and/or conscious.

    Wrt panpsychism, I like the approach for its elegance but naive panpsychism can’t explain how you go from “thinking rock” to “psyche that inhabits a body and has agency”. The two seem to be rather distinct phenomena.

    To further torture the DID metaphor: Minds tend to fracture when it’s too painful to be whole. Sure, you may try and reintegrate the universe mind, but once you join the nirvana of that mind, you may find it’s one of eternal pain. Maybe it’s better to leave it alone.

    Also, for an older school of thought with similar ideas, check out subjective idealism. Its main position is roughly “All reality is thought, and we are mere thoughts in God’s mind”. Which, incidentally, is just another way to state the simulation hypothesis if you exchange “God” for “Matrix”.

  13. Peer review is no help if your peers are also nuts…

    I do find panpsychism interesting, though the arguments are hand-wavy, difficult to falsify. There’s a good pocast with Galen Strawson, he’s worked with Penrose on a theory where the brain coordinates the pansychic (panpsychish?) properties of microtubules and generates consciousness from that.
    http://meaningoflife.tv/videos/39927

    I’ve read a couple of papers from him. Fun ideas at least but it does feel like using something we don’t understand (quantum entanglement) to explain something else we don’t understand (consciousness).

  14. Yeah… no. I call bullshit. That Kastrup is appealing to von Neumann’s book from 1932 for his interpretation of quantum mechanics tells you all you need to know about the rigor of his arguments. Kastrup is just using quantum terminology to make it sound like what he’s proposing is science rather than metaphysics.

    @gawp: Your peers don’t have to be nuts. At least in my field (astrophysics), it is extremely difficult to keep bad papers from being published; it takes real determination on the part of the referee, and even then they may get overruled by the editor.

  15. @PhilRM Anyone can fire up a peer reviewed journal and with a blistering impact factor of 0.78 (2011) The Journal of Consciousness studies has yet to truly awaken (heh) to it’s potential. I expect that most of the reviewers are down with the rather ambiguous nature of the topic and associated woo.

    My usual credibility check is cited papers in that field one in the same county:
    https://scholar.google.ca/citations?user=wFypi3MAAAAJ&hl=en&oi=ao

    Independent scholar
    15 citations *total*
    Nope.

    In my field (molecular biology / bioinformatics) I guess I’m the crazy one because “real determination on the part of the referee” has impeded publication of a number of papers I’ve been on. It’s been all the hassle of crazy, none of the fun. Damn you reviewer 3.

  16. “Also let’s not forget the whole split-brain phenomenon. We know that different selves can exist simultaneously within a single brain, at least if it’s been partitioned in some way.”

    Do we, though? http://www.uva.nl/en/content/news/press-releases/2017/01/split-brain-does-not-lead-to-split-consciousness.html

  17. I always love when science reminds me of the bits and pieces of my “knowledge around and about Buddhism”.

    “No outcome without an observer” – checked
    “Consciousness is all” – we have papers on it now!

    I find the whole thing deeply interesting, as in “there’s more to life than this”, and how our current tooling – that actually has the predictive powerz, is sometimes straight bumping into the “folk wisdom” a couple thousand years old.

  18. dRbiG: I find the whole thing deeply interesting, as in “there’s more to life than this”, and how our current tooling – that actually has the predictive powerz, is sometimes straight bumping into the “folk wisdom” a couple thousand years old.

    Yeah, but mostly it isn’t. I wouldn’t care to speculate on the scoreboard of hits to misses, but it seems pretty lopsided. When evaluating stopped clocks, it’s important to keep in mind the vast majority of the day the time is wrong, and not just the couple of minutes it’s incidentally correct.

  19. -DA-,

    I certainly don’t keep a scoreboard, but I’ve never seen science, even the “soft fringe”, resonate with Abrahamic beliefs. If I’m missing something here please do tell!

    And that makes even the purely incidental correctness a thing “of interest”. I’d prefer a broken clock to a stone, so to say 😉

  20. You’re not into anime at all? This is literally the plot of being genesis evanglion, and other gnostic-inspired Japanese produce like final fantasy and serial experiments lain. Sophia fell. The demiurge lives. The universe is a constructed lie. Inmanentize the eschaton or something.

  21. @dRbiG,

    It wasn’t my intent to try and score between different belief systems, but rather the broader category of “folk wisdom” you cited. If sifting through such low percentages for a couple points here and there over another floats your boat, then I grant you aberrations *can* be interesting.

    From what I little i know of Bhuddist philosophy it contains a lot of broadly applicable general and hazily detailed principles that could fit a lot of things if you squint at it, where the Judaeo-Christian mythology has a lot of oddly specific worldbuilding that is much more easily dismissed as erroneous. Different styles of fiction you might say.

    I just have a kneejerk response whenever anyone I think anyone might be making “the value of folk wisdom” argument, because someone at some point was accidentally right about something for the wrong reasons, and dismissing the sheer tonnage of destructive BS produced by it.

    Sorry I jerked my knee in your direction.

  22. Dk: Have you read “Pillars of eternity” by Barrington Bayley?

    I have not.

    Ashley R Pollard: If one defines consciousness as part of behaviour, then things that move and respond to stimulus must have conscious aspects.

    The problem is, it’s trivial to imagine any complex behaviour in the absence of consciousness, so I stall out at the first clause.

    John Amenta: I would probably familiarize myself with some of the fundamental scientific principles in quantum physics and/or even current consciousness studies (Penrose, Chalmers, even Greyson are emminently approachable).

    I’ve done Penrose and Chalmers. Don’t know this Greyson character. (And after The Emporer’s New Mind, I gotta say you and I might have different definitions of “approachable”.)

    Of course, Hameroff and Penrose weren’t the first people to connect quantum mechanics and consciousness. (I remember reading something by Zohar on the subject back in the late eighties, among others.) But while I’m definitely no kind of expert, I can’t help shake the feeling that a lot of these theories boil down to Consciousness is really spooky and makes no sense, and quantum mechanics is spooky and makes no sense, so they have to be connected somehow.

    Cameron P: The philosopher of mind Hedda Hassel Morch wrote an introductary, popular article on the idea:

    http://nautil.us/issue/47/consciousness/is-matter-conscious

    Goddammit, I missed that one. So now I have to go read it.

  23. Okay, well, based on that Nautilus essay, Kastrup isn’t alone. Shit.

    Brett Davidson:
    I wonder what the implications might be for the Boltzmann brain thought experiment or whether it renders it redundant (let alone the Omega point stuff)?

    I don’t know if it would have any impact at all on the Boltzmann Brain idea; as I understand that, the argument is that subsets of “universal stuff” are by definition more likely to spontaneously apparate than the whole kit’n’kaboodle of “universal stuff”, since they’re smaller packages. Whether said stuff is conscious or not would be a constant across subsets and wholes, so the variable would cancel out.

    As for the Omega Point Hypothesis, didn’t that bite the dust the moment we discovered that universal expansion was accelerating?

    Dizzy Data Geek: Yeah, please don’t. Part of the reason that I love your writing is that you don’t get into woo-woo mumbo jumbo.

    Believe me, I hear you. The problem is, I don’t know if it’s even possible to plumb the nature of consciousness without resorting to some kind of woo, insofar as conventional physics can only describe physical processes like computation; I don’t see even in principle how it could explain how meat “wakes up” when you trickle electricity through it the right way, no matter how fine-grained the physical insights might be. If that nut can be cracked at all, I think we might have to crack it from outside conventional physics— and isn’t that wooful by definition?

    This, incidentally, is why I set my sights so low in Blindopraxia. I wsn’t gonna touch what consciousness is with a three-meter pole. I just settled for exploring whatever it might be useful for.

    Angus McIntyreM: This is not to say that Buddhists have necessarily grokked the true nature of reality.

    Or that they haven’t.

    Angus McIntyreM: As a kid, I read all those irritating books that tried to explain quantum physics in terms of Buddhist concepts (oh, California, you have so much to answer for), so I have little patience with that particular brand of woo (or wu).

    Oh yeah. There was a copy of The Dancing Wu Li Masters kicking around the lab back when I was doing my Masters. I picked it up, glanced at the chapter headings, and decided I wasn’t gonna waste my time reading anything by some guy who apparently couldn’t even count to two.

  24. Robert Moir: If I am understanding Kastrup’s writing correctly, isn’t he simply saying that the universe is a monstrously powerful computer and that organisms within it are simply small programs floating around in an ocean of data?

    I hope not. That would be just another spin on digital physics, which as I understand it suggests that the perceived universe is a mathematical entity running on some kind of substrate (be it hologram bubble, physical matter, or a simulation running in some underachieving grad students laptop). Consciousness would be an emergent phenomenon of those computations.

    As I understand Kastrup’s paper (and, as it turns out, Mørch’s over in Nautilus), consciousness is the substrate and all the physical stuff is the emergent property. That seems like a pretty huge difference to me.

    Nestor: This blog post, if I understand correctly,

    Goddammit it, another one?

    Okay, fine. I’ll be back.

  25. “Is the entire universe, as it currently exists, somehow “sick”? Is the reintegration of fragmented alters the only way to cure it, can the Universe only be restored to health only by resorbing all sentient beings back into some primordial pool of Being? ”

    Well, if that were true, then it provides a novel explanation for death (the inevitable breakdown of localized highly ordered subdomains) that we, as sentient rogue offshoots, experience. Although (following the logic thread out a bit) clearly sentience per se is not a strict requirement as those things we don’t recognize as sentient still experience death. Is he saying that any localized ordered system is a flawed state, and the universe is attempting to eliminate localized order so as to achieve a uniform consciousness again? In other words, he’s explaining the tendency towards chaos as a drive towards universal background consciousness? The more chaos, the more consciousness? As Marge said “I’m not sure I agree with you a hundred percent on your police work, there, Lou.”

  26. -DA-: From what I little i know of Bhuddist philosophy it contains a lot of broadly applicable general and hazily detailed principles that could fit a lot of things if you squint at it, where the Judaeo-Christian mythology has a lot of oddly specific worldbuilding that is much more easily dismissed as erroneous.

    Very true. With the right amount of squinting, bullshit is easily retrofitted into wisdom, provided it’s vague enough. Cf. the predictions of Nostradamus.

  27. Is the “spit” in the title referring to something I’m not getting, a simple typo, or a specific reference to Trumpian consciousness (and the possibility the universe operates similarly)?

  28. Peter Watts: The problem is, I don’t know if it’s even possible to plumb the nature of consciousness without resorting to some kind of woo, insofar as conventional physics can only describe physical processes like computation; I don’t see even in principle how it could explain how meat “wakes up” when you trickle electricity through it the right way, no matter how fine-grained the physical insights might be. If that nut can be cracked at all, I think we might have to crack it from outside conventional physics— and isn’t that wooful by definition?

    Yeah I completely agree, I doubt it’s possible to pin down a subjective phenomenon like qualia via a process like science that’s entirely based off of making objective measurements. That said, it’s definitely fascinating to imagine what sort of scientific discoveries *could* turn out to actually prove (or at least provide evidence for) the existence of qualia in other beings. If you can’t objectively measure subjective experiences, maybe some sort of proof by contradiction could solve the matter?

    If we’re all just dissociated identities of the cosmic consciousness, perhaps there’s some sort of quantum-immortality-like effect that maintains the boundaries between different beings’ awarenesses. If you could deduce what sort of thoughts are mysteriously impossible to actually think, then maybe you could exploit that effect to map out where the boundaries of subjective experience actually lie. Would such a discovery be useful? Perhaps not, but what if an exhaustive search found that there are well-hidden holes in these boundaries….

    Or, maybe impossible thoughts could be weaponized; inducing people to try and think them could bring down the wrath of some kind of cosmic/quantum immune system, which would tweak reality in such a way as to prevent the rules from being broken. Might be hard to pin down the mechanism of action, but with sufficient computational power perhaps you could work out ways to trap reality in a corner, leaving only one way out.

    Lots of cool possibilities here – I’d love to see the third Blindopraxia book take on the so-called “hard problem” of consciousness after exploring the “easy problems” in the first couple books 🙂

  29. Peter Watts: I hope not. That would be just another spin on digital physics, which as I understand it suggests that the perceived universe is a mathematical entity running on some kind of substrate (be it hologram bubble, physical matter, or a simulation running in some underachieving grad students laptop).Consciousness would be an emergent phenomenon of those computations.

    As I understand Kastrup’s paper (and, as it turns out, Mørch’s over in Nautilus), consciousness is the substrate and all the physical stuff is the emergent property. That seems like a pretty huge difference to me.

    I guess my issue is that I’m not sure that consciousness is all that different from computations. Which I guess would mean that my computer is conscious in some small way. (Not sure I agree with myself there.) Also, neither Kastrup or Mørch really define what exactly what consciousness is, other than the unhelpfully calling it the system that contains and processes qualia.

    I do agree with Kastrup in that as of yet the physical sciences have yet to describe how a computation leads to qualia, but I don’t think that supposing that consciousness is the substrate of reality solves the problem.

  30. Incidentaly, Peter, if you want a book-length text defending the Russellian monist thesis outlined by Mørch, such a thing exists:

    https://global.oup.com/academic/product/consciousness-and-fundamental-reality-9780190677015?cc=us&lang=en&#

    With a commendation by Chalmers himself. Not sure if there are cheaper ways of accessing the text, if you know what I mean. Also, it should be said that the book is written for philosphers of mind, so it can be difficult in places.

  31. I don’t know whether to get pissed off or just shake my head at yet another person I’ve admired showing their clay feet. So, with tired brain, I will ask some questions.

    I’ve read When Rabbit Howls over a half-dozen times. To the best of my recollection (because I don’t have an electronic copy handy and so cannot conduct a word search), Truddy Chase never claimed to have a lobster “alter.” Despite the likelihood that the graphic you used in the post was intended to be humorous, it still targets a group of people who suffer from a devastating mental disruption, the effects of which have been derided for decades because of the media attention paid to certain cases which turned out to be bogus. Have you read When Rabbit Howls? Did you look up Truddi Chase?

    The two cites used for the paragraph discussing DID came from the same publication, same year, consisting of a two-part article/summary. These were 14 years old. Nothing more recent in the literature? You’d have far better access to this kind of scientific publication than I would, afaik. So, what gives?

    I get that you’re a busy person, I really do. This comment is a request for a less slap-dash approach to your blog posts. I just calls ’em like I sees ’em, dudimal.

  32. Peter Watts: Of course, Hameroff and Penrose weren’t the first people to connect quantum mechanics and consciousness. (I remember reading something by Zohar on the subject back in the late eighties, among others.) But while I’m definitely no kind of expert, I can’t help shake the feeling that a lot of these theories boil down to Consciousness is really spooky and makes no sense, and quantum mechanics is spooky and makes no sense, so they have to be connected somehow.

    You are correct. Hameroff and Penrose were not first to cite quantum mechanics connected to consciousness. Would you like to know who were among the first?

    Ever hear of John Von Neumann? Guy was pretty bright. He founded the field of continuous geometry, founded Von Neumann Algebra, made original contributions to ergodic theory – he also was a principle player in the foundational mathematics of quantum mechanics. John worked on the Manhattan project, founded Game Theory, and pretty much invented Von Neumann architecture responsible for the modern computer we use today. George Polya, a lecturer at ETH Zurich, where Von Neumann attended as a student, use to say that John was the only student he was ever afraid of:

    “If in the course of a lecture I stated an unsolved problem, the chances were he’d come to me at the end of the lecture with the complete solution scribbled on a slip of paper.” ~Petković, Miodrag (2009)

    Edward Teller said he could never keep up with Von Neumann. John also had an eidetic memory, with absolute memory recall. One time he was asked to recall how A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens started, and Von Neumann began reciting the first chapter verbatim and was only asked to stop after 15 minutes of recital …

    Von Neumann concluded that it had to be “consciousness” that resulted in the collapse of Schrodinger’s universal wave function in quantum physics.

    But perhaps that is too “spooky” for you Dk, and Von Neumann must have been “confused” when he connected consciousness to physics …

    So .. maybe I ought to mention Werner Heisenberg. Werner was a pretty smart guy too. I daresay, probably smarter than you (or me). He also was one of the first to connect consciousness with quantum physics. Werner also came up with this principle called the “Heisenberg Principle” (which was helpful in establishing John Bell’s refutation of Einstein’s Hidden Variables). He also won a nobel prize in physics. Worked with guys like Bohr, Planck, Schrodinger, even Einstein. Henry Stapp, a pre-eminent physicist still alive today, personally worked with Heisenberg – and has written extensively about what he and Heisenberg had concluded regarding the Observer during Measurement in quantum physics.

    I could name quite a few other physicists (John Wheeler comes to mind, really smart guy, probably smarter than you (or I).

    Definitely look up Bruce Greyson. He did some fascinating scientific research regarding human consciousness. And yes, he is more approachable than Penrose. I probably would substitute Penrose with someone like Robert Lanza, or even Henry Stapp.

    I am no expert – but I am aware that some pretty smart people have connected “consciousness” with quantum physics. And so, I don’t really joke about it or make fun of it (or people) like you seem to do here in your Blog.

    The thing about science is to keep an open mind, and know your scientific history – including scientists like John Von Neumann, Werner Heisenberg, John Wheeler, Planck, Bruce Greyson, etc.

    Skepticism should be about questioning your own biases and a priori assumptions…

  33. Jan Stinson: The two cites used for the paragraph discussing DID came from the same publication, same year, consisting of a two-part article/summary. These were 14 years old. Nothing more recent in the literature? You’d have far better access to this kind of scientific publication than I would, afaik. So, what gives?

    What gives is that I also cited a study in support of DID from 2014. Maybe that slipped by in the heat of your anger. Maybe my explicit statement that “the fact that 90% of such studies are crap doesn’t necessarily mean that all of them are” also slipped by as well. As, apparently, did the fact that I never claimed Truddi Chase claimed to have a lobster alter; that was reported in the review article I cited. The illustration was a comparison of two distinct DID narratives; and yes, the idea of a lobster alter strikes me as comically absurd.

    I’m not surprised you had to read Rabbit half a dozen times, judging by how much seems to have slipped past in a measly blog post. If you’re going to continue to hang out here, you really need to lighten up a bit. Or at least read a bit more carefully before going into splutter mode.

    Of course, it’s a big internet, absolutely packed to the gills with people who get off on public displays of outrage. If you choose to hang out elsewhere, I’ll miss you. But it’s your call. And I’m not gonna stop calling like I see ’em any more than you are.

  34. Sounds like the usual new-age crap to me. A bunch of non-falsifiable profound nonsense exploiting the fact that consciousness is hard to grasp for the conscious mind itself, given the biological constraints of our brains.

  35. I’m not a fan of panpsychism – even less so in the context of the blindpraxia universe. It would feel like a cop out to go, “whoop, guess all the scramblers WERE conscious after all, just on a different level!”. That would feel worse than the terrible UFO/Illuminati/Orgone fantasy book I read as a teenager that ended when the cabal were arrested by the Mounties on the last page.

    On the other hand, following the Thing like thread at the end of Echopraxia feels like it would inevitably slide into the post-βehemoth world shown in the Rifters set.

    So I guess what I’m saying is that you’ve written yourself a hell of a place to climb out of. I’m really looking forward to seeing how you slug it out though!

    (I’m guessing baselines don’t do so well though. There’s little real use for us, what with synthetic glands producing protocadherin/anti-cruciates being fairly high on the disaster prep shopping list for vampires. They would have started design on those shortly after being rebuilt, or at the latest at firefall.)

  36. Er, that should be “Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle”…

    Like you, I’m not an expert. And my mind is going …

  37. I wonder whether the problem is that physicists don’t differentiate very well between “being conscious” and “doing math.” I bring this up because it’s pretty obvious that the universe is “doing math” or doing something that’s hard to distinguish from “doing math” all the time. Does that mean the universe is conscious? Or does it mean the universe is a giant pocket calculator endlessly figuring out how long it takes your cellphone to hit the ground when your drop it (and all the other calculations involving physics?)

    And if the universe is, in fact, “doing math,” is there a math API we all can access? Maybe we’re all sharing the same processor and cases of “magic” or “miracles” happen when the OS gets wonky and fails to keep us in user-space… (please tell me the simulation which is our universe is not running Windows.)

    As for consciousness itself, that sense of self, I don’t think it’s very hard to find. Imagine there’s a hash (or maybe a list) called I. The list/hash is filled with variable names like “my eye” or “my finger” or “my memories.” Then imagine an overseer program called “myself” which constantly iterates through the hash/list and either orders output to or input from “my eye,” “my finger” or “my memories.” Build enough of the usual programming cruft – error checking, decision making, loops, specialized subprocesses, etc., plus interrupts from hardware like the genitals, stomach and other orifices into the “myself” program and allow it to continue adding cruft for a couple billion years… keeping in mind that it’s organic, it mutates, and has interesting failure conditions having to do with the nature of reality and it’s not hard to figure out where consciousness comes from.

    This isn’t much of a mystery, it’s just hard to replicate.

  38. “we are all one mind” is a pretty common belief held by sufferers of LSD psychosis and HPPD. Tread lightly, thar be crazies.

    Oh, and the whole entanglement thing is bull. Nothing about that, as far as I know, is relevant to consciousness in any way.

    Panpsychism in general is not that easy to dismiss, if it’s given the proper qualifications. But I do think there needs to be a difference of terminology between a self-identifying, self-aware consciousness and “something that experiences”. Sure, a tree might experience tree thoughts, but can those thoughts possibly qualify it for personhood? Is tree-human communication really possible? Probably not.

    I think that metaphysically, Liebnitz’s monadology makes a lot more sense than this. The DID explanation doesn’t explain how there seem to be irreducible elements and consistent patterns in the universe, while the monad explanation does. The DID explanation says that a consciousness is different from the sum of its parts, while the monad explanation would say that a thing is exactly what arises from the collective experiences of the things that make it up. Monadology would even accept the existence of a “universe monad”, which Liebnitz called God, but doesn’t try to diagnose God with a psychological disorder as if that mind could even be compared to a human one.

  39. Troutwaxer:
    And if the universe is, in fact, “doing math,” is there a math API we all can access? Maybe we’re all sharing the same processor and cases of “magic” or “miracles” happen when the OS gets wonky and fails to keep us in user-space… (please tell me the simulation which is our universe is not running Windows.)

    the universe runs TempleOS. God told Terry(R.I.P.) to write it so we could have the source code, because God believes in free software.

  40. popefucker: the universe runs TempleOS. God told Terry(R.I.P.) to write it so we could have the source code, because God believes in free software.

    As long as it’s not Windows.

  41. When you meditate you learn to separate the observer from the thoughts, so if the self is not my thoughts, my memories or my body, then it’s reasonable to assume that this raw naked “experience” of self may be identical to that of other individuals. I think this is the simplest take, without need for quantum or relativity, the observer is the observer, as identical to each other as any hydrogen atom is to another hydrogen atom.

    Which is all very well but at the end of the day I’m still in a funk because I’m not rich/getting laid/etc enough, ha ha.

    I don’t know what exactly we should take as a prescription from this if we take it to heart. Not love thy neighbour certainly, I can hate myself far more easily now that he’s distributed so widely and in such deserving targets. I guess you could end up with a kind of bushido style zen buddhist approach to life, perform your role as fully as possible, be the butcher this time, next round you get to be the victim. Be yourself without limit or apology. I guess it’s a roundabout Satanism?

    Philosophy is one hell of a drug.

  42. I don’t think the term “consciousness” was ever well defined. I much prefer computation, and something like “pancomputationalism” would make a lot more sense.

  43. Troutwaxer,

    “As long as it’s not Windows.”

    It would explain a lot if it is.

  44. Regarding why the primordial consciousness would “divy itself up” assuming it had reason, and was looking at eternity, what else could it do? I think eternity is best served in small portions.

  45. Anonymous,

    “Oh Lord, please move our reality to a Unix server.”

  46. Shortly after I read this blog post, I happened to listen to a CBC Ideas documentary on the philosophical roots of Panpsychism. Recommended.

    https://www.cbc.ca/radio/ideas/panpsychism-and-the-nature-of-consciousness-1.4822151

  47. Why not let Portia infect one of the human hive minds, say, a state, while the state’s constituent humans are unaware? You’d certainly get a good conspiracy plot out of that. Or maybe something from our Internet infects Portia with consciousness and intense infighting erupts.

  48. We are a dead goose in a bush next to a lake that has forgotten it is Coyote.

    https://www.gunnerkrigg.com/?p=1808

  49. Nestor: This blog post, if I understand correctly, uses relativity to posit a similar thesis, arguing that there is no more continuity between your brain moment to moment than between your brain and a hypothetical Boltzmann brain recreation x trillions of years in the future, and also between your consciousness and that of other people.

    I got as far as “Hippocampal neurons” before I ran out of time (I would have given up sooner but my flight’s delayed 90 minutes). I don’t know what to say. A lot of what he says is true; a lot of other stuff is interesting conjecture, but he states it as fact so simple that any idiot should swallow it whole. And, fact and conjecture alike, I think he takes way more words than necessary to make his point (I mean, hell, most of those animated gifs don’t seem to do much of anything except look pretty).

    I’m pretty sure I disagree with his all consciousness is continuous schtick. Sure, things like dollars, electrons, and periods at the ends of sentences are fungible, but if I erase the period at the end of this sentence all the other periods persist. That speaks to distinction, all his well-taken points about anesthesia and sleep notwithstanding.

    Then again, I only got halfway through. I may revisit the rest of the post at some point, but the signal:padding ratio is too low to justify the effort at the moment.

    Phil: I have no problem believing what we perceive as inanimate objects may be conscious in ways, or time frames, that we can’t grasp, I just don’t believe we can prove this in any meaningful way. John Lilly once opined that dolphins, using sonar, can tell what we’ve had for lunch, his point being that there are reasons we have trouble communicating even with mammals that may be as smart as us in many ways.

    Yeah, that’s a valid point. Although John Lilly once claimed that he got hit by a truck because a Higher Being in the Astral Plane was trying to tell him to stop tripping on Vitamin K, so— while I completely agree that dolphin perception/consciousness is radically different from ours, to the point where formal language might not even be useful to them*— there’s a limit to how often you want to cite that guy.

    *Not that Lilly ever believed that last bit, of course.

    Phil:
    Is the “spit” in the title referring to something I’m not getting, a simple typo, or a specific reference to Trumpian consciousness (and the possibility the universe operates similarly)?

    Arrrghh. Typo. Fixed.

  50. Nick Marino: If you could deduce what sort of thoughts are mysteriously impossible to actually think

    That is kind of a brain-breaking concept right there. But we might already have an example: quantum phenomena are pretty batshit, and I think the reason it seems batshit is because we can’t think about that stuff the way it actually is (unlike, say, Newtonian physics, which every dog feels in his gut when he jumps to catch a frisbee). The math tells us things we literally can’t conceive, so we make do as best we can with all sorts of classical-physics analogies which don’t really apply, so it all seems magic and counterintuitive.

    Our brains evolved on the savannah. There was no advantage in grokking the space between atoms, so are brains are neurologically incapable of doing that.

    Don Reba: A consciousness that is common to rocks is not the type of consciousness I would be interested in.

    That’s the “combination problem” in a nutshell.

    John Amenta: Ever hear of John Von Neumann?

    Sure. So has Kastrup. I think I mentioned Kastrup cites the dude…

    John Amenta: I am no expert – but I am aware that some pretty smart people have connected “consciousness” with quantum physics. And so, I don’t really joke about it or make fun of it (or people) like you seem to do here in your Blog.

    That seems like a rather odd thing to say. Joking about something in no way means one doesn’t take it seriously, and remarking about my own take on something I’ve admitted to no expertise in can hardly be regarded as any kind of attempted gotcha moment. If “Things you don’t understand” are all off limits for jokes, you must live a very dour life.

    As for people, of course I make fun of them. Look around the planet and tell me the whole fucking species isn’t a joke.

    John Amenta: Skepticism should be about questioning your own biases and a priori assumptions…

    I absolutely agree. Which is why I took this whole thing seriously enough to post about it in the first place, though—because— it goes against my a priori assumptions.

    What a priori assumption of yours kept you from seeing that?

  51. Anonymous: Anyone can fire up a peer reviewed journal and with a blistering impact factor of 0.78 (2011) The Journal of Consciousness studies has yet to truly awaken (heh) to it’s potential.

    Hey, you gotta start somewhere…

    Mika: Do we, though? http://www.uva.nl/en/content/news/press-releases/2017/01/split-brain-does-not-lead-to-split-consciousness.html

    Yeah, I saw that when it came out. It’s a data point, for sure, but there are so many other data points pointing the other way that the weight of evidence still seems firmly on the side of split-consciousness. (Even Pinto admits that their findings go against the “established view”.) And if, in fact, their subjects had undergone complete callosumectomies (or however that’s spelled), how did the admittedly massive amounts of data travel between hemispheres to permit coherence? Where’s the conduit?

    It’s fascinating, for sure. But I’m gonna need to see it replicated a few times before I stop thinking there had to be some kind of protocol issue.

    dRbiG: and how our current tooling – that actually has the predictive powerz, is sometimes straight bumping into the “folk wisdom” a couple thousand years old.

    Does it haz predictive powerz, though? A number of commenters to this very post have remarked on the difficulty of falsifying claims like these…

    Gendou Ikari: You’re not into anime at all? This is literally the plot of being genesis evanglion, and other gnostic-inspired Japanese produce like final fantasy and serial experiments lain.

    Actually, I have a certain fondness for anime. GitS in its various (non-live-action) incarnations, Wolf Brigade, Psycho Pass, Attack on Titan— and of course I gave Cowboy Bebop and Genesis Evangelion and Fulll-Metal Alchemist a go, because they are so seminal. They didn’t make my crank-turning list, though. And GE went completely off the rails when they started animating stick figures on foolscap…

  52. DavidK44: Is he saying that any localized ordered system is a flawed state, and the universe is attempting to eliminate localized order so as to achieve a uniform consciousness again?

    I don’t think he’s saying anything like that; he’s just saying that all of reality emerges from consciousness, and our experience of separate identities is a result of local boundary conditions. He’s not making any claims of health or pathology for the universe at large.

    That was me, because I thought it might be a cool idea for a story.

    Robert Moir: I guess my issue is that I’m not sure that consciousness is all that different from computations. Which I guess would mean that my computer is conscious in some small way. (Not sure I agree with myself there.)

    Or with me. The big bugaboo about the utility of consciousness is that it’s trivially easy to imagine nonconscious computation doing everything we can, so there doesn’t seem to be anything that consciousness is needed for. So there’s no a priori reason why computation needs to be consious.

    Then again, as you point out, there’s no reason why it can’t be, either. The best suggestion for reconciling this that I’ve seen is Rosenthal’s 2007 paper, in which he suggests that consciousness is a side-effect. It doesn’t do anything, but you can’t get away from it.

    FWIW, I’m perfectly willing to admit that a thermostat might have rudimentary consciousness as a function of internal computation.

    Tran Script: consciousness is hard to grasp for the conscious mind itself, given the biological constraints of our brains.

    Yeah, that’s a worthwhile point. Metzinger finally got me to grasp why consciousness— whatever the hell it is— will always be beyond its own grasp because it’s the outer layer looking in. And the only way to see that outer layer is to add another layer outside it, at which point the layer it’s looking at isn’t the outermost layer any more and collapses down to locality and is no longer conscious because the new outer one is.

    Or something like that.

    redqueenrunning: I’m not a fan of panpsychism – even less so in the context of the blindpraxia universe. It would feel like a cop out to go, “whoop, guess all the scramblers WERE conscious after all, just on a different level!”. That would feel worse than the terrible UFO/Illuminati/Orgone fantasy book I read as a teenager that ended when the cabal were arrested by the Mounties on the last page.

    Noted. I do, after all, remember how I felt when Asimov went down that road.

    Fortunately nothing’s set in stone yet. Or even jello.

    Troutwaxer: As for consciousness itself, that sense of self, I don’t think it’s very hard to find. Imagine there’s a hash (or maybe a list) called I. The list/hash is filled with variable names like “my eye” or “my finger” or “my memories.” Then imagine an overseer program called “myself” which constantly iterates through the hash/list and either orders output to or input from “my eye,” “my finger” or “my memories.” Build enough of the usual programming cruft – error checking, decision making, loops, specialized subprocesses, etc., plus interrupts from hardware like the genitals, stomach and other orifices into the “myself” program and allow it to continue adding cruft for a couple billion years… keeping in mind that it’s organic, it mutates, and has interesting failure conditions having to do with the nature of reality and it’s not hard to figure out where consciousness comes from.

    This isn’t much of a mystery, it’s just hard to replicate.

    Yes! Yes it is a mystery! Because you’ve just described a bunch of informational processes here referring to the internal state of a system, but you haven’t addressed why any of those processes should feel like anything! That’s like, the whole Hard Problem you just glossed over!

  53. popefucker: “we are all one mind” is a pretty common belief held by sufferers of LSD psychosis and HPPD. Tread lightly, thar be crazies.

    Ehhh. There’s a reason for that: psychoactives mess with the proprioceptive bits of the brain that tell it where you end and everything else begins. (Religious rapture and certain kinds of temporal-lobe epilepsy do that to, apparently.) Sensed boundaries between the self and everything else literally disappear.

    Obviously that doesn’t mean they’re right when they say “we are all one”. But that is a perfectly consistent way for the brain to interpret the data it receives in that altered state.

    Do-Ming Lum: Shortly after I read this blog post, I happened to listen to a CBC Ideas documentary on the philosophical roots of Panpsychism. Recommended.

    Cool. I’ll check it out.

  54. -DA-:
    @dRbiG,

    I just have a kneejerk response whenever anyone I think anyone might be making “the value of folk wisdom” argument, because someone at some point was accidentally right about something for the wrong reasons, and dismissing the sheer tonnage of destructive BS produced by it.

    Ahh, I see now what you’re at. I never had nor intended to make “the value of folk wisdom” argument, as I find it pretty much as you’ve put it above. I do still find such coincidences interesting, but that’s my fun in it I guess 😀

    -DA-:
    @dRbiG,

    Sorry I jerked my knee in your direction.

    Nothing to be sorry about!

  55. Then there’s Liu Cixin’s sentient protons.

  56. Nestor:
    When you meditate you learn to separate the observer from the thoughts, so if the self is not my thoughts, my memories or my body, then it’s reasonable to assume that this raw naked “experience” of self may be identical to that of other individuals. I think this is the simplest take, without need for quantum or relativity, the observer is the observer, as identical to each other as any hydrogen atom is to another hydrogen atom.

    Hm, have you read Schrödinger’s “What is life?” lately? He goes into similar thoughts in the last few chapters. Just asking…

    As for DID, I guess it’s best to look at the “more normal” dissociative states; the “blind alter” sounds quite like conversion disorder, and a lot of the other symptoms could be explained similar.

    What’s interesting in DID would be

    a) excarbaration and remission of symptoms are much faster than with most other dissociative states
    b) they appear in certain fixed clusters or “syndromes”, e.g. “alters”.

    So the brain imagin studies with DID just show that, well, the people involved are in a dissociative state. but they don’t say how much the “alters” are shaped by the patient, therapist or the environment.

    From personal experience, I have been told I’m quite different when agitated and/or angry, and I have little memories of those episodes; while some arousal would stabilize the engrams of short term memories, too much might destabilize short term memory engrams. Personally, I call them “my battle computer taking over” in lieu of some passages in “Blindsight”, but I could also go for my experience with RPGs and give it a warrior sheet with fitting biography.

    I have no idea how you’d get a “lobster alter”, though, a cocker-spaniel or cat, OTOH…

  57. Trottelreiner,

    BTW, I’m wondering how some different concepts come in; there is autism, where patients have been known to observe other people and emulate them whole.

    There might be ADD, with the memory problems,the shifting of attention, maybe some hyperfocus when in a dissociative state and the “openness to experience”, maybe also some impulsivity.

    And then, there might be the concept of “highly sensitive person”, which might explain why some people are overwhelmed by their emotions.

  58. Have you seen this?

    https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2018/09/20/648788149/octopuses-get-strangely-cuddly-on-the-mood-drug-ecstasy

  59. Peter Watts: Yes! Yes it is a mystery! Because you’ve just described a bunch of informational processes here referring to the internal state of a system, but you haven’t addressed why any of those processes should feel like anything! That’s like, the whole Hard Problem you just glossed over!

    I think you’re confusing an abstract kind of consciousness with “human-style biological consciousness.” The two aren’t the same, in the same way as your thoughts can be different than, or even opposed to your emotions. I would define consciousness as the ability to have self-awareness, to self-direct and self-interrogate; essentially to know that you can think and then to have a conversation with yourself; to mediate between competing imperatives and make decisions. This doesn’t require emotions or biological urges.

  60. Troutwaxer: I would define consciousness as the ability to have self-awareness, to self-direct and self-interrogate; essentially to know that you can think and then to have a conversation with yourself; to mediate between competing imperatives and make decisions. This doesn’t require emotions or biological urges.

    The treatment of self-directed actions is an extension to probability theory called Pearl’s do-calculus. This deals with *causality*. It lets us make the important distinction between “I usually do such and such an action before this outcome occurs” and “I usually do such and such an action *causing* this outcome to occur.”

    eg “When I am nervous before a test I usually fail it” and “Being nervous usually causes me to fail a test” are different and need to be treated differently mathematically. The first can be established by observation while the second requires an instrumental variable which is not causally effected by either of these two things.

    I can imagine people having a source of randomness that wells up inside them, we may as well call it “free will”, that serves as an instrumental variable. In a scientific experiment, random assignment of subjects to control and treatment groups serves the same purpose.

  61. Troutwaxer: I would define consciousness as the ability to have self-awareness, to self-direct and self-interrogate; essentially to know that you can think and then to have a conversation with yourself; to mediate between competing imperatives and make decisions. This doesn’t require emotions or biological urges.

    You can of course define consciousness in all kinds of ways. However, I think the variety, if you will, of consciousness that is difficult (if capable) of being accounted for in the terms of the natural sciences (as they presently exist) is so-called phenomenal consciousness. Phenomenal conscious states are those mental states for which, to quote Nagel, there is something it is like to be subject to them. For example, there is something it is like to see red, feel pain, taste suger, and so on. By contrast, there are phenomena that we tend to think of as having no “what-it’s-likeness” to them, take rocks as an example. Anyway, it is these kinds of states that seem to be difficult to account for in terms of facts about brain states. For why this seems to be the case, look up Frank Jackson’s knowledge argument (the Mary’s room thought experiment).

  62. Peter Watts:

    “Joking about something in no way means one doesn’t take it seriously”

    Intellectually weak and avoidant.

    Your original blog post toward Bernardo was steeped in mockery and some amount of scorn. And you didn’t even seriously consider the questions he posed. You just made fun of them (for the most part). Which is intellectually weak.

    Peter Watts:

    “I absolutely agree. Which is why I took this whole thing seriously enough to post about it in the first place, though—because— it goes against my a priori assumptions.

    Ah, I see. You’re posting about it by mocking the subject means you’re taking it “seriously”. Good grief. Please, do not blind me further with your illuminating reasoning abilities.

    Peter Watts: “What a priori assumption of yours kept you from seeing that?”

    I don’t know – could it be after reading what you originally wrote and realizing you’re an intellectually lazy asshole? Could that be considered a priori??

  63. Cameron P,

    That’s a definite issue. A large group of vibrating particles enter our eyes, and if those particles all vibrate at certain frequencies we “see red.” But red doesn’t really exist at all – it’s just another set of frequencies; a trick our brain plays on itself as it sums and averages in order to give us something useful to react to. Another consciousness, evolving on another planet, might use a completely different method of dealing with those frequencies and not deal with anything we would recognize (if we could inhabit their brains) as a color at all.

    But I think that other consciousness, if it were near-human-level intelligence, would talk to itself about what it’s doing and why. We can program a computer to recognize “red” but it not (yet) self-aware.

    But does a computer need to “see red” or “taste honey” or some other equivalent before it can be conscious? Or can it simply know that particles at a particular set of frequencies are reflecting from an object, or that a certain combination of chemicals is sitting on a sensor? How does consciousness relate to the senses? Are you saying that “simplifying” sensory input gives us something useful to react to?

  64. John Amenta:
    Intellectually weak and avoidant.

    That’s an assertion, not an argument. And entirely unsupported by evidence: why, on this very blog I’ve joked about nuclear waste, mass murder, and my own near-death from flesh-eating disease, to name but a few. Nobody with any sense would argue that I don’t take these things seriously.

    See what I did there? I cited actual examples to support my case. I know you’ll appreciate this because of your obvious interest in intellectual rigor.

    John Amenta:
    Your original blog post toward Bernardo was steeped in mockery and some amount of scorn.And you didn’t even seriously consider the questions he posed.You just made fun of them (for the most part).Which is intellectually weak.

    Hmm. Perhaps you missed the part where I said

    “Kastrup doesn’t just pull claims out of his ass; he cites authorities from Augusto to von Neumann to back up his quantum/cosmic entanglement riff, for example. Personally, I’m not convinced— I think I see inconsistencies in his reasoning— but not being a physicist, what would I know? I haven’t read the authorities he cites, and wouldn’t understand them if I did. This Universal Split-Brain thing reads like Philip K. Dick on a bad day; then again, couldn’t you say the same about Schrödinger’s Cat, or the Many Worlds hypothesis?”

    Or maybe you did see it, but kind of glazed over because it didn’t fit the narrative. Or, maybe you mistook the Kastrup quotes I extracted for my own commentary or “mockery” of some kind? I assure you, he did write those things. I link to the paper.

    John Amenta:
    Ah, I see.

    Actually, I don’t think you do.

    John Amenta:
    You’re posting about it by mocking the subject means you’re taking it “seriously”.

    No, joking doesn’t mean that I’m not taking it seriously. Read my previous remarks in this comment, and try to keep up.

    John Amenta:
    Please, do not blind me further with your illuminating reasoning abilities.

    Why blind someone who already insists on keeping their eyes so tightly closed?

    John Amenta:
    could it be after reading what you originally wrote and realizing you’re an intellectually lazy asshole?Could that be considered a priori??

    Ah. So the “mockery” is intellectually lazy, but outright foot-stamping insult is intellectually rigorous. Always good to see someone teach by example.

    Look, I don’t know what kind of cognitive cataracts may have muddied your view of this post, but I did not mock Kastrup’s paper. In fact, I explicitly cited it as potential inspiration for an upcoming novel, which is pretty much the opposite of mockery. I am not qualified to mock it, because— as I’ve repeatedly pointed out myself— I lack the expertise to pass that kind of judgment. (You can go back and actually read the post in its entirety if you don’t believe me, as opposed to whatever exclusive snippets you chose to suckle your rage on.) What I did do is make a couple of joking comments, or describe an argument as “apparently” loopy. Jokes are not necessarily a sign of disrespect.

    Mockery is a different animal. I don’t generally mock things which I merely find offbeat, confusing or humorous in some way; I tend to reserve my mockery for things I find downright idiotic.

    In fact, if you squint, you might even see some of it directed at you…

  65. Peter Watts:

    Damn it, I shoulda listened to that second thought. Apologies. I’m not one to make outraged displays online or anywhere else, honestly. Mental illness is a touchy subject with me, being a person who suffers from clinical depression (or major depressive disorder, or whatever the fuck the medicos call it these days). Thank you for the reminder to take a deep breath, wait five minutes, re-read the so-called offending post, and think some more. And to be sure brain is engaged before putting mouth (or fingers) into gear.

  66. redqueenrunning: I’m not a fan of panpsychism – even less so in the context of the blindpraxia universe. It would feel like a cop out to go, “whoop, guess all the scramblers WERE conscious after all, just on a different level!”. That would feel worse than the terrible UFO/Illuminati/Orgone fantasy book I read as a teenager that ended when the cabal were arrested by the Mounties on the last page..

    Calling it now : Third novel, final chapter, a scrambler gets unmasked and it was the old man who owned the run down amusement park THE ENTIRE TIME!

    And he would have gotten away with it too… if it weren’t for those meddling vampires.

  67. some fucking idiot,

    My name is Troutwaxer and I agree with this message.

  68. Jan Stinson: Apologies.

    No sweat. We’re good.

    I’ll admit I was a bit stung to see a blog post I worked on for three days described as “slapdash”…

  69. Beware, crazy stuff ahead.
    Schrödinger’s Cat means: „If I don’t see the kitty, I don’t know what happened to it, until I see it again” – quantum physics is warm butter for Ockham’s razor. And I strongly suspect, phases overlap, and our world is a mashup of them all. But that’s off-topic.
    Cats seem to have no function within the cat food industry, but without them, it wouldn’t exist. Think about consciousness in that direction.
    I’ve stopped distinguishing between physics and psychology, since there’s no point: Just because investigators chop up reality in pieces they can handle, it doesn’t mean they stop being components of one and the same thing, and humans still have to convince me they’re much different from other particles. Look at religion: It’s a force of physics, since the masses it coordinates can be measured, weighed and counted. And we share our obsession with finding a comfortable Goldilocks orbit around the next God impersonator with all matter, from electrons over puppies to stars. Lots of particles create a crammed orbit, so there’s a lot of elbowing around – here comes evolution. I can’t see anything new in the universe since the Big Bang, except increasing complexity: Particles with more and more interaction patterns. More jigsaw puzzle pieces, more cogwheels for machines, which become cogwheels of bigger machines themselves.
    Isn’t that survival of the fittest: Be the cogwheel that fits best into the machine around you – if not, you get dismantled and recycled, your particles may try again? Sounds kind of like God testing souls, doesn’t it? Isn’t that intelligence: be a shapeshifting cogwheel, able to steer, construct, survive in many machines?
    The nice thing about investigating matter is, you can just ask it what forces drive it. They’re called emotions, and you don’t have them without consciousness. Without the hungry kitty, there’s no industry, no machines. If your description of reality only includes dead components, it’s simply incomplete: Sooner or later, you’ll hear a “meow”.
    As for fusing all Universe together: Just hit your finger with a hammer and enjoy your brief visit to the original Big Bang, where all of matter and energy is focused in one point. Don’t you wish for some Nothing, some tiny Grim Reapers, points without mass or energy, some zeros – those separators that don’t exist, but somehow chop all matter and energy up, creating timespace? Nothingness is a major force of nature. And you don’t want to miss it in the mix.

  70. Take it from a physicist — the notion that there is ANY quantum mechanics involved in consciousness is not even bullshit. Even Roger Penrose doesn’t go down that rabbit hole any more, and I have that from him directly.

    Law blogger Ken White sells a t-shirt that says “It’s not RICO.” I need to sell the physics equivalent: “It’s not entanglement.” Whatever you think is, isn’t.

  71. pjcamp,

    Time works like a stop-motion movie, and we’re the puppets: We only see the snapshots added up, we don’t see what the crew is doing in between. The slowness of light limits our physical frame of reference, but not the physical set of the show: You got a scene in a show that’s played on a larger scene that’s included in a show played on an even larger scene, and so on. Take this into account when considering quantum phenomena.

  72. pjcamp,

    I remember physicists Einstein and Bohr disagreed on the underlying nature of quantum mechanics. Has the indeterminacy debate now been resolved?

  73. Phil,

    Take a common ruler: The centimeters are the Planck seconds, the frequency of your travel through time. The millimeters are the quantum frequency of rulerverse: The distance you cover with one big leap, they cover with ten small ones.
    Since you can only take a snapshot every centimeter, any particle you observe (blurred into a wave) has changed its state several times in between. There’s just too much happening within that Planck second to make certain predictions, it’s like guessing the result of a soccer game from a blurred picture of the teams entering the arena. Too many variables, too many possibilities and events you don’t know. You can only make statistical predictions – that’s the whole indeterminacy thing.
    Now, if you believe in a religious dogma stating: “Nothing can leap more often than a Planck second”, you have to explain away a century of massive evidence that it happens all the time on quantum level. So, like any religion, you resort to witchcraft and invent the quantum fairyland no man can understand.
    I could babble on about the links between frequency, dimension and the all-present relativity of timespace. But… I just had to explain a ruler. So I’ll rather curse everyone who ever told me thinking for myself was a good idea, drop science for crappy horror movies and dissolve my brain in alcohol. Cheers!