Originally posted on the IEET Weblog

Why the “Toward a Science of Consciousness” Conference is Important to Technoprogressivism

While Kristof Koch, Patricia and Paul Churchland, Daniel Dennett and the like continue to criticize the emphasis on mind (qualia/non-physicalism) over brain (Eliminative Materialism), the Hard Problem of Consciousness continues to stump psychology, biology and most brain science, respectively. However, this Tuesday marks the beginning of a five day conference on Consciousness Studies which aims at being an informative lecture series and event for those interested in the science of consciousness, artificial intelligence and neuroscience. People will have the opportunity to learn about the forefront of the world's best theories of consciousness, brain, and mind.

It is very important that we understand the nature of consciousness if we are to understand the universe, ourselves, and where consciousness is going. For example, if AI is never able to create true feelings or what philosophers call “what it is like” to experience, also referred to as “qualia”, we can infer that neural networks and brain patterns are significant enough to pose the problem that computer code cannot replicate qualia.

On top of this lies the most important questions about the workings of the universe if Eliminative Materialism is wrong. Howard Robinson articulates this point about the universe and consciousness very clearly in Edmond Wright’s book, The Case for Qualia.

“…it is accepted that physicalism gives an adequate account of non-conscious reality, which constitutes almost 100 percent of the universe, but struggles to accommodate certain features of mental life, namely the “what it’s like” or qualia of certain conscious states. These latter constitute “the hard problem” for physicalism. The fact that they also constitute such a tiny part of the world is presented as a reason for thinking that they cannot plausibly be held to refute a unified physcialist account”

What it is like to experience is the fundamental problem with AI. If Strong AI, in the end simply uses the same kind of patterns the brain uses to replicate qualia, we still have a problem of consciousness, we will still have to understand why it is that these patterns create experience and qualia.

We need to understand the relationship between the brain and qualia. Assuming that qualia is real, that what it is like to experience is a real phenomena still not explained, we will have to look further into the difference between consciousness and AI, and why, in the end, if AI produces philosophical zombies then what does that mean for the Turing Test, or any test for consciousness for that matter.

Consciousness Studies is important to technoprogressive ideals because a science of consciousness will mean that we will understand the workings, the nature of, those very ideas we value so much; peace, equality, justice, and egalitarianism for brain/mind. We are consciousness, consciousness is us, we are most familiar with consciousness then we are of anything else in this world, and having a coherent science of it will not only allow us to understand ourselves, but will also help us understand the nature of intersubjectivity. To me this will aid in our struggle for a technoprogressive future, a future where understanding ourselves and the universe works as the leading tool for progressive change.

May 20, 2005

What is consciousness? We say we are conscious, but do we know what it is? What are we conscious of? These questions are at the heart of philosophical research today because it seems, no matter how detailed the metaphysical theory, how much research the physicist and biologist do, no matter how the psychologist stereotypes/destereotypes the human mind, there seems to be something left unanswered. Why does it feel like something to experience? How can matter behave in such a curious way to produce what we call information? Are there fundamental properties of information, is information a part of matter like gravity is? Are the physicists, biophysicists, biologists and psychologists missing something?

When one analyzes themselves, and stops for a moment and simply experiences experiencing, a few things seem apparent, the feelings themselves seem simply real, like how we think of matter. It seems there are fundamentals to conscious experiencing and that there are properties of consciousness that are universal.  This would make sense since we are of the same species, but what does this tell us about the brain/mind? It seems there is a what it feels like to experience a certain experience and realize that others can experience that identical experience.

July 12, 2009

I think that it matters greatly which philosophical theory of the underlying principles of the universe one adapts to consciousness. We have emergentism, reductionism, and supervenience, etc for the nature of the universe, for the ontogeny (“ontogeny” is a word mainly used in biology but is being used here because it’s a nice word about the evolution and emergent nature of the universe, if emergentism is true) of universe to life. For consciousness we have materialist reductionism, materialist emergentism, panpsychism, materialist/epiphenonomal/monistic/dualistic -supervenience, epiphenomenalism, emergentism, dualism, and illusion, etc – most of which can be combined and blended to form a different concept of mind.

If consciousness can be explained simply by the “behavior of the subject and the accompanying neurological data” does that mean we can just assume consciousness is an illusion which operates like a computer with inputs, memory, and outputs? My concern here is that being conscious of our mental ability allows for peculiar things, mainly, the formation and awareness of concepts, awareness that one is aware, being concerned with the fact that a feeling or “what it is like” to have an experience doesn’t seem to add up to just neurons doing their job.

The peculiar thing about concepts is that our awareness allows us to ask questions about the origins of the very matter/stuff we are made of, we are the universe experiencing itself, trying to figure itself out. Our awareness that we are aware, compared to a rock and the like, is also interesting in that awareness allows for awareness of emotions and values towards questions and memes.

We value and get all worked up over questions like how did life begin, what are the origins of the universe, are there brain/minds like ours on some other planet, what are the building blocks of quarks, “what a horrible meme religion is!”etc,. We have the potential to adopt and value memes of a certain rational variety, something that just doesn’t seem, intuitively at least, an input/output machine could do, or really want to do, for it wouldn’t want to do anything; it just does whatever it does. Although some scientists are working on neural networks that learn, and “make decisions” and “value” information and concepts, but is the code flowing through the processors really the same consciousness that we experience? Only time will tell.. Although one can simulate learning on a computer, and even argue that its learning very much the same way humans learn (churchlands) as soon as that neural network really becomes conscious, it wont have any awe provoking emotions, unless its identical to the human mind, or cognitively better then the human mind.

I think it’s a good thing to remind ourselves why people are doing philosophy and science, that its not embarrassing or awkward at all to keep asking questions like “what is the origin of the universe”, or “how did life begin”, "how does the mind work?" "what is a self, or not a self" "am i just an illusion", "what can be known and how can we know it?" etc.

A grandfather clock does not worry about which time it is. But a philosopher or scientist can worry about EVERY detail of that clock. Think about a dog which looks at the clock for a moment, and may actually have a similar experience as people, it sees something swinging back and fourth, and it may sit there for a moment and wonder what it is. But then the dog just walks away, the clock is not food, its not something to play with, its just a thing swinging back and forth, but if a child looks at it and questions what’s going on and continues to wonder, looking at every detail possible, to asking someone to open it to see how it works.

Yes, this is poetic or armchair or whatever in style, but my point is that not only do we crazy philosophy of mind people sit and think of “redness” as if we have gone crazy, just starring at a wall, but we are also concerned with how the mind produces concepts, and what concepts are. To me, concepts, especially logically sound, scientifically based concepts lead me to believe in our apparent direct relationship with qualia’s existence even more so then starring at a wall and thinking about redness.

Even if we are using different aspects of the brain which were originally adapted to help us hunt, build tools, etc, the big questions emerged/evolved somehow from our brains. I also believe/value that it is not all about language either, I think there are feelings of aweness, of wonder, of confusion about ones reality aided by the power of our cognition and awareness of this aweness. This aweness of existence, this yearning for answers, with or without the aid of language is so very peculiar to me.

Concepts themselves have a feeling of what it is like to know which memes are rational and which are irrational. This is very different from lets say ECC memory, or from current neural networks, and from the ability of other species' brains, etc.(though I think dolphins, elephants, etc create memes, mostly about survival, though some studies have shown dolphins and elephants creating complex societal norms) These brains probably produce elements of feelings "qualia" in which humans have used to go beyond building spears to asking questions about the ontology of the universe, even asking what is the ontology of ontology.

So where am I going with all of this? I believe that the definition of qualia is so important, in understanding the universe, just as important as all the sciences because qualia suggests an anti-epoche of consciousness, a realm of theory and “what it is likes” to understand the universe, an assortment of rational memes, a sort of anti-phenomenological reduction, the blending of positivist feelings, the mixing of concepts, the crisis within paradigms. Once we understand all of physics and neuroscience, wouldn't it be a paradigm of a paradigm? to get around this i think we need qualia to "know" that crisis is not around the corner, or to know that it is ambiguous, and knowing ambiguity is something my computer, clock, and to a large extent animals, just do not grasp. The qualia of the ambiguity of our existence and being is a bit different from the firing of neurons. However rational memes and theories evolve… and people put value on them, adding to epistemology and ontology of whatever question was originally asked.

I would like to see the neural pattern of "what the hell am i experiencing right now?" i dont think that knowing that pattern will explain much of anything, or maybe it will, maybe there is some correlation to "what the hell am i experiencing right now" to the pattern, or the neural correlates of consciousness of that concept, NCC’s of rational concepts would be such an incredible finding, the patterns of “what it is like” to experience rational theories or memes....

Kris Notaro

Awareness. Consciousness. Intellectualism. Future.

Sense data / qualia
Being / Being?
Information to asking “what, when, how, why” “Being?” “Existing?”
-potential supervened or emerged properties allowed by few constants
-when complex system has same “function” but really “ability” to maintain the “real emerged” property, the property which is said to be “emerged” from minds analysis of the system is thus scientifically reduced supervened and emerged.
Reduced because “”
Supervened because “”
Emerged because “”

So what I suppose in the end here is that when we say “we” “one” or “I” in a context of “ought to think” we are referring to intellectuals in which we assume have a grasp on “rationality”. I assume that I am rational and that the material in which influenced me to write this paper on intellectualism and rationality was rational in itself. But not all "intellectual" media is rational... This we assume can come from lack of research or facts, from our time and place within history of science, rationality, and the collection and understanding of truth, facts, memes, and proofs. Out of what seems a haunting truth, or constant from this quest of “understanding” existence, is the inevitability of the intellectual constant. The issue then arises that, out of what seems to be intuitive grasping of this “haunting truth” is that the “pointing towards” of the associations intellectuals make with the words “we”, “one”, “I”, and mind/brain, we are forced to associate science and rationality with intellectualism, in such a way as to render them connected and because of the “intuition” that in order to really explain reality, to explain “us” the history of the scientific elite or intellectuals is assumed without doubt, with a huge degree of assurance, is the only way to really understand what we mean when we say “we”.This unfortunate reality thus shows that because of birth and death, the living must constantly learn and rationally think in the context of science in order to make progress into the discovery or formulation of the Theory of Everything, epistemology and ontology, so that the felt notion of being and existence, in which we intuitively force onto, out of uncertainty or ambiguity to that notion of “I” and “we” is a necessary process to understand mind/brain, existence and being.

Unfortunate because, given the reality of the situation, billions of people are excluded from really grasping this notion, primarily and exclusively because of birth and death and the resources required along with the time it takes for this realization and for education to hit this plateau of understanding how to understand. This reality, that of the lack of billions of people understanding the connection between rationality, science, and uncertainty and being, is thus conflict from not only ignorance, but also the elite intellectuals ("intellectuals" come in many forms, however i believe they all use science to their advantage, even pseudo science like economic theory concerning the capitalist system) and the ignorant.

We all truly have to learn and figure out how to live, and how to be, and figure out how it is that we exist in this undefined reality. People can be immensely lost in a world which throws at them immense uncertainty contributed by religions, social constructions of reality, theories which defy rationality, and ideas/memes which bring with them absurdity. The self, that part of the mind/brain which has the ability to both introspect, and to feel what it is like to experience what it is like to be the mind/brain in which you are is of major importance today, not only socially, but also scientifically and philosophically. The self, that part of the mind/brain which is like the spot light on ones own memories, filters, and abilities, is of major importance today because we have made it so, out of a yearning to understand the mind/brain and existence, and unfortunately the inclusion of irrational-memes.

The fact that we are now researching the physical ability this mind/brain has to create feelings which are conscious to the self/mineness will probably revolutionize the way we think about the mind/brain and reality. It will revolutionize it because the consequences seem so severe, so important that what we know about being human today is liable to change in ways we can only guess. And by guessing I mean thought experiments done by people who, because of their privilege, have access to such information. Many people today believe that its absurd to start taking seriously the idea that humans will soon be changed biologically through genetic manipulation and the integration of body and mind with computer technology, and any technology which may lead to other physical/mental changes of the human as we know it today.

Never before has it been so clear that this is going to be an upcoming reality which “we” must take seriously before any mistakes are made. Theorizing about the moral and ethical implications is a necessity, as well as the effect it will have on society and mind/brain/consciousness. The social implications as well as the scientific understanding of Being will be immense. I think that we should really consider the impact this will have on our idea of young/new minds and education. And as long as we haven’t reached the actual integration and merging of computers, mind, nanotechnology, and genetic engineering, we should use this idea as a thought experiment to better understand ourselves. Looking at animal minds/brain, our mind/brain, and that of the notion of the future mind/brain we can make drastic leaps in our understanding of the current reality we live in. To think that it takes so long for people to realize the nature of the universe around them and the absurdity of social constructions of reality -in the context of irrational memes, is one of the sadist things I can think of. And "we" know all this can change, and will change with the help of rational theorizing, the spreading of technology and equal access too education, food, housing, etc.


I remember when I was a kid starring at the intricate network of veins on the leaf of a maple tree. Staring at the leaf invoked awe inspiring thoughts about how this leaf could be alive similar to myself, how such a living thing can be so amazingly complex. Realizing that people had jobs in which they are very passionate about, researching for the answers to these very questions was inspiring to me.  to think that others had a sense of awe and curiosity about the same questions made a lot of sense to me.  how could someone look at complex life and shrug it off, associating god to it, or thinking that its useless to think about.   i understanding nature is what its all about, and through understanding nature, we u understand more about ourselves and the universe. 

The leaf to me is a symbol of positive science because as long as humans have been around so have leaves, and so have the awe inspiring moments of wondering about the workings of these magical living organisms.  the leaf experience is an experience which i have on a daily basis, perhaps hourly about the world around me. i look at the sky and wonder what it is that makes it the sky,. and i look to myself, or into the a puddle, into the woods, into anything which existed before or during people which is said to be more “natural” and I think about the universe, about the brain/mind, about being alive in this moment, and remembering what it was like to ponder those veins on all those leaves. 

stream of consciousness

Simulation, emulation, qualitative, quantitative, evolution, reductionism, emergentism, politics, “nature of”, senses, sense data, taste, smell, sight, hearing, sense of balance, sense of bodily pain, unconscious mechanisms controlled by unconscious brain processes or simply unconscious brain processes, becoming conscious of the potentially conscious such as breathing, becoming conscious of harder processes like heart beat, big bang, string theory, qualia, critical thinking, reason, rationality, knowledge, truth, accurateness, correspondence, correlative, neurons, neuronal network, information, matter, energy, particle physics, innateness, simplicity, complexity, neural transmitters, moods, modes of attitude, modes of thought, brain parts and their functions, representation, representational, phenomenology, phenomenal character, gravity, neural correlates of consciousness, consciousness, awareness, self, ego, oneness, nullness, concepts, information, dualism, computers, future, genetics, genetic engineering, data mining, exactness, laws of nature, void, vacuum, space-time, selection pressure, genes, accurateness of encyclopedias, wikipedia, plato.stanford, dictionaries, precision, atheism, agnosticism, panpsychism, evolution of information, conceptual evolution, feelings, the mary problem, information theory, brains in vats, philosophical zombies, dialectical materialism, was hegel on to something, and along those lines: what about plato, Chalmers, Searle, Epistemology, ontology, feminism, process philosophy, binary, cybernetics, futurism – what makes sense and what doesn’t, nanotechnology, information manipulation, homeostasis, pain, pleasure, hope, Bertrand Russell, activism, whitehead, Einstein, e=mc2 as a “scientific constant”, future of genetics, future of computers, the merging of computers and biology, the enhancement or evolution or devolution or destruction or understanding of mind after the merging, politics after the merging, human rights or “mind/brain” rights after merging, animal consciousness, animal brain states, animal similarities, ethics, morals, existentialism, freedom, determinism, hormones, reality, existence, infinity, the essence of “essence”, experiencing experiencing, awareness of awareness, awareness of the “raw” sense data, reduced sense data, innateness from biology, nature, nurture, social constructions of reality, “biology finding qualia,” brain finding feelings for biological processes, awareness of feelings of biological processes, the notion of the “theory of everything”