Friday, April 21, 2017

I challenge you all to jump off a tall building

David Schwartzman Apr 21, 2017
Your conclusion: consciousness is unexplainable by science, now and forever, therefore, we must adopt on an idealist philosophical position, mind/consciousness is primary, obviously ignoring all the knowledge produced by science, i.e., the universe and the Earth existed long before human consciousness emerged. 

I submit  Benjamin Farrington argued persuasively that Plato’s idealism was associated with the emergence of an aristocracy doing no manual labor,  served by slaves, leading to the concept of mind being primary, in contrast to the materialism of Thales of Miletus who lived in a more equal society where everyone worked with their hands. Carlo Ginzburg’s “The Cheese and the Worms” is recommended, supporting this take on the relation of materialism to social reality (Menocchio the miller:  God and the angels came out of the foam of ocean waves, spontaneous materialism). Menocchio burned at the stake one year before Giordano Bruno; witness the fate of outspoken atheists in Bangladesh, and other victims of religious intolerance of non-believers.

If material reality is just an illusion, as all of you idealists claim, I challenge you all to stand in front of an incoming train or truck, or jump off a tall building, your choice.  Again it is obvious that common sense, grounded in conscious realization that material reality exists outside our consciousness will prevail for your personal survival.  Of course, I anticipate some convoluted argument to the contrary. 

Hi Avtar,
Indian philosophy calls the collection of all the thoughts, desires, emotions, memories, etc, of an individual as the individual's mind and emphasizes that just like lifeless matter, an individual's mind is NOT conscious! The philosophy explains the solution to the hard problem by means of an analogy as follows: When sun light falls in a pot containing water, the light is reflected by the water creating an image of the sun. The image has some brightness but its origin is in the sun light and not in the pot nor in the water. A living being is a body with a mind and similar to a pot containing water; the mind is like water and the body is like the pot. Consciousness (with big C) is the sun light. The consciousness appearing in a living being is like the image of the sun in water. Just as there is no reflection in an empty pot, there is no appearance of consciousness in lifeless matter but only in living beings because they have minds and life is the interaction of mind with matter. Again, just as the water needs a pot to hold it, and the reflection is gone if the pot is broken, the mind cannot exhibit the apparently conscious behavior after the death of the physical body.

Syamala Hari

Sri Aurobindo wrote extensively on Consciousness a century back but referring to his Ontology is being avoided in these conversations. He provides a much advanced point of departure to study this problem which, I hope, can help in resolving many difficult dilemmas. Thanks to everyone participating in these discussions.

Tusar Nath Mohapatra
Apr 20, 2017

Hi Surge:
I do not agree with the widely-used definition (Hard Problem) - "By a "theory of consciousness" I suggest to mean an explanatory framework which is able to explain how the physical (sensory) signals become transformed into experience.....If a theory is not able to explain this, then it is not a theory of consciousness.....So, may I as Deepak to name, at least, one theory of consciousness known for him? Who is its author?"

Theory of consciousness must address the physical mechanism that powers the firing of neurons to generate signals; how the signals generate experience is only a limited sensation - manifestation of the fundamental consciousness or free willed energy in the universe as evidenced in the spontaneous expansion of the universe a physical model of the universal consciousness. The so-called Hard Problem only addresses limited biological experience and not the fundamental consciousness.

Best Regards
Avtar Singh, Sc.D.
Alumni, MIT
Author of "The Hidden Factor - An Approach for Resolving Paradoxes of Science, Cosmology, and Universal Reality"

Dear Serge

In case Deepak can't answer your very reasonable challenge, let me draw your attention to my theory of consciousness (Position Selecting  Interactionism) because it is a theory that does fulfill your criteria.

It really does provide an explanatory framework that scientifically explains how the physical sensory signals became transformed into experience. And it does this without invoking any functionalism. Moreover, this theory appears to be testable.  Unfortunately Deepak may not have heard of it yet as it has so far only been published in my book THE BLIND MINDMAKER which has only been available on Amazon since Christmas.

Best wishes,

C.  S.  Morrison,  author of THE BLIND MINDMAKER: Explaining Consciousness without Magic or Misrepresentation

Dear Peter and Serge,

There does seem to be a range of meaning to the notion of ‘theory’ when we look at examples of theories.  So, although Newton’s theory of gravitation does not give an ‘explanation’ for how gravity is able to affect objects at a distance, it is still an adequate and rather successful explanation and predictive model for a large set of observations over a wide range of scales. In the effort to widen the range of applicability and predictive power of a theory of gravitation (i.e. to understand why the environment of an accelerating elevator looks just like the environment in a stationary elevator in the presence of a gravitational field), Einstein came upon the idea of curvature of spacetime as an ‘explanation’ for how gravity can influence objects at a distance: a massive object at location A results in the spacetime near it to be curved in such a way as to influence another object at location B.   

This theory greatly expands the range of applicability and predictive power to include behavior of masses that are highly concentrated (neutron stars and black holes), and large energy events that generate gravitational waves (predicted by Einstein and confirmed by the LIGO experiment).  But even this theory does not account for all phenomena, as evidenced by its extension by Hawking to include some quantum effects near black holes. My intention in responding here is to highlight three things about theories in general (of the many characteristics that could be highlighted), and how these things apply, in particular, to a purported theory of consciousness. 

The first is the presence and assumption of primitives, or concepts that are considered ‘givens’.  For example, in the case of a theory of gravitation, a ‘given’ is that it acts at a distance.  Who can argue with that, right?  Except that within this assumption is embedded the particular ways our human senses perceive and our minds interpret distinction or separation between what we see as different objects, and the distances between them.  So, although Newton could not account for that particular aspect of gravity, his theory still stands as a valid and effective theory.  And this leads to the second aspect of theories, which is their range of applicability, to some degree determined by the primitives of the theory.  So, both Newton’s and Einstein’s theories of gravitation are limited in their applicability to scales (in phase space) much larger than the quantum of action. The primitive in this case is the assumption of the unrestricted divisibility of matter.  Questioning the validity or essential nature of the primitives creates the opportunity to expand the range of applicability of the theory, as does Einstein’s in relation to Newton’s.  So, these two aspects can be summarized as: 1) what question(s) does the theory try to answer? and 2) what are the givens it must answer these questions in terms of? The third aspect is that a theory that is expanded in its range by changing the primitives does not necessarily invalidate the former theory: Newton’s theory is still adequate for many things, and far easier to use than Einstein’s.

I basically agree with you, Peter, that Serge is pointing to a demanding concept of theory.  But I would also say that behaviorist theories of consciousness have a (limited) range of validity.  So, as long as the primitives are clear, and the range of applicability is clear, then perhaps there can be a little more agreement on what is valid theory?  For example, consider the challenge to Deepak from Serge:

“I suggest to mean an explanatory framework which is able to explain how the physical (sensory) signals become transformed into experience.”

Within this challenge there appears to me to be embedded an already virtually complete theory for how experience happens: it happens when “physical (sensory) signals become transformed into experience”.  First there is a signal, which has physical roots or are physical in nature, and then somehow these are transformed—altered in their essential nature as physical things—into experience (assumed, I guess, to be non-physical in nature).  Hence the difficulty in answering the challenge—how can we give an explanatory framework for something that is already assumed without question to be a certain way?  I believe what Deepak is saying is that he disagrees with the most commonly assumed primitives, the ‘given’s’. 

We have a ‘common’ narrative born of historical record that life evolves from physical things that begin with simple interactions, and such interactions grow in complexity until ‘poof’ - life emerges.  If we accept this narrative as a given, along with the more subtle embedded assumptions, then we appear to be constrained to pose the question as SP did above. 

I would also like to point out there are many theories of consciousness already, but they can be viewed from the perspective described above—clearly demarcate the primitives and their range of applicability.  I can mention two I am familiar with (arguments against them are a separate issue): Giulio Tononi’s Integrated Information Theory (which doesn’t so much explain consciousness in physical terms as it gives constraints on a physical substrate sufficient to account for the phenomenology of consciousness), and Penrose and Hameroff’s Orchestrated Objective Reduction hypothesis.

Dear Serge,

How do you distinguish informational factors from information, energy factors from energy and material factors from matter? What  are the different  informational factors and  from where  they emrrgre out?

I never indicated  that you consider    consciousness  as more fundamental   than information 

If a person likes red cars more than green cars, no need for criticism by a person  who likes green  cars. But some logical reasons in the genetic structure can be sought. If meta theory can't be sought based upon grounds  that it is one's belief than why  discussions on this forum? What I intend to convey that by rational  logical deliberations  with open mind, gap between meta theory of two persons can also be narrowed down.

Does hypothesis  of information  without consciousness  appears  sensible  to you? Every rational  person  with sense is an author of this. Could you please cite even a single example in our worldly life where information might have come. Into existence without the interventions  from some consciousness possessing agency?

You are  stating applied theory  of consciousness  as one which explains  transformation  of physical signals  into new products viz thoughts or experiences  of all variety. I treat  any such theory  as theory  of cognition  and not of consciousness  with due difference  between  consciousness  and cognition.


Vinod Sehgal

Respected Dr. Ram,


What  I wanted  to highlight and  convey was that quantum  uncertainty is not an inherent feature  of nature  and that this property  arise in nature due to interaction  of matter particles with the measuring dignal. In other words, if there were no measurement, quantum particles  at the ground level should not have any intrinsic and inherent uncertainty. My arguments  for this hypothesis are summarized at following:

Distinction between  macro and quantum scales are arbitrary one. If we measure a macro level  object say a tree from the macro level  observational platform, no  uncertainty is detected. Had uncertainty been an inherent and implicit property of nature, the same should have continued to any scale from electronic  to galactic  one. But this does not happens. This indicates that uncertainty is property as induced  in quantum particles by the signal of the measuring  instruments.  A related corollary  of this hypothesis should be that even a macro level object say a tree should reveal  also reveal uncertainty  if  the measuring signal is quite strong enough. When measuring a macro level object from the same macro level, there may not be the need to have a quite strong signal to induce uncertainty  in tree. But if  the tree is measured  from the galactic observational scale, a  very strong measuring signal  may be needed enabled to induce uncertainty  in a tree which we call as macro one from our present observational scale . It is for  the same reasons that  atoms and molecules should not exhibit  any uncertainty when measured from the same quantum observational plateforms since  in that case a very weak measuring signal  may be needed unable to induce any uncertainty.

If above hypothesis are correct, this will have very serious implications for the quantum  theories/models related to thr creation of the universe. If uncertainty is not an inherent property of nature but a property as induced by measuring signals in nature, it means all the quantum theories and models  of creation are wrong since creation  commenced and continued  to go forward  without any measurement. If it is so, Einstein was  correct  when he made the famous statement: God does not play dice with the nature.

To sum up,  key question  is : Is uncertainty an inherent property of nature or an induced one by measurement ? You may please respond against  this query in a direct and frontal manner.


Vinod Sehgal 

Respected Vinod ji,

In physics, as per my understanding, some physicists propose that Nature is deterministic at sub-microscopic level (such as Planck level, deeper than quantum level) and stochasticity in QM is an artifact of measurement and probability is subjective probability due to our ignorance. If we do not make a measurement, a quantum particle follows deterministic Schrödinger equation. If this is true, then I would agree with you that Nature is deterministic except initial condition. This is ('t Hooft, 2015).

On the other hand, some argue that Nature is fundamentally stochastic as in ZPF fluctuations and the objective probability is real. This is (de la Peña, Cetto & Valdes-Hernandez, 2015)’s position.

Therefore, to be on safe side, we should make a model in both ways and perhaps, we can find some real contradiction so one of the views can be rejected in future.


Kind regards,
Rām Lakhan Pāndey Vimal, Ph.D.
Amarāvati-Hīrāmaṇi Professor (Research)
Vision Research Institute, Physics, Neuroscience, & Consciousness Research Dept.
25 Rita Street, Lowell, MA 01854 USA

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