quote: A cryptically succinct definition. Where and how do you see the transaction taking place? My first guess is the central nervous system? And this definition would suggest you see consciousness as an emergent property rather than fundamental?
Correct. I think consciousness is an information systems' monitoring of its own integrity and processes. And yes, thenlocus would be the CNS, with the caveat that theres probably a lot of hormonal and neurotransmitter stuff going on as well; I don;t only mean 'in the nerves'.
quote: Wouldn't it be more accurate if your statement read, "the ego exists to delay my getting intergrated into the universe through a wolfs belly for as long as possible hopefully until I die of old age."???
Yes it would. But where we differ slightly is your claim that the ego is an idea or illusion. This is where, IMO, information theory lets us cut through a lot of psychobabble. A signal or message can be said to be 'an illusion' at one level, and tangibly real at another. If I see a person on TV, I am only seeing an illusion of that person... but light from the CRT is still actually falling on my retina.
Thus, ego is an 'illusion', because it is a 'programme', but is also real for the same reason. To the organism, that programme has a real and useful function - self-preservation. Whether or not survival is an important issue in the grand scheme of things is a 'meaning of life' question.
quote: For myself I can see how complex systems can represent themselves but I can't yet imagine how that results in the awareness that I am. This is partly the issue of how we experience "qualia" but perhaps more importantly how we have a sense that I know that I am.
Based on prior conversations, I'm not dure that 'qualia' is a meaningful category, becuase it seems purely definitional rather than observational. But putting that aside, if the machine REFERENCES ITSELF - like doing a table lookup of some kind - and also has a mechanism to monitor that self reference, then it MUST be self aware. Thats what the system is built to do. And that, I contend, is the sense of knowing that you are.
quote: We may be using differing definitions of the consciousness and ego. I'll just note now that ego is not the only self preservation process and it may not be the most reliable process.
Sure; but it does not need to be reliable or universal in application. A foot will not save you in all circumstances, but still contributes to your survival.
quote: I'm not sure I would use illusion in that sense of the word. Few people would mistake the television image for a person actually being in the room. I'm thinking of illusion more in the sense of a distortion of information processing or false conclusions about information. I'll grab a quick example and it may not be the best, but I'm trying to keep this witht he t.v. example. What if I talked to the image because I thought it was a person?
But exactly. You say few people will mistake a TV image for a person; thats true, but thats only brecuase we know what TV is and someething about how it works. Without that knowledge, it would be quite easy to come to 'false conclusions' about the image you see.
And under certain circumstances, you'd be foolish not to talk to the image you see; if you were looking at a video intercom system as might be found on secure buildings, talking to the image exactly as if it were a person would be the right thing to do.
quote: The illusion of the ego that I'm speaking about is that the processes of the organism are experienced by an entity, a permanent entity. I'm using concepts from Buddhism and Advaita which you may find flawed but I wouldn't characterize their philosophy as psychobabble as it's not based on western pyschological theory or practise.
Well, I'll grant that but claim that the theistically informed language which buddhism uses is vague in much the same way as western psychobabble. This is what I am addressing with the 'illusion' issue. The construction we are dealing with is one in which illusion is used as indicative of false-ness, misunderstanding, but with a more sophisticated understanding of information theory we can make more intelligent use of concepts like illusion. Its not as cut and dried a disinction as the buddhists believed, becuase information is as real as matter.
quote: Self preservation until DNA has been replicated and propagated. Organisms as DNA's way to make more DNA. But I'm not identifying the ego with the self preservation programs. My claim is that the organism can preserve it's self and function quite well without the illusion that it consistutes a permanent entity. I'm not saying without an ego, but without the illusion that the ego is a permanent entity.
Ars longa, vita brevis. The illusion that we have of ourselves as a permanent entity is limited by the fact we recognise our own mortality. Sure, subjectively, the ego does not feel that it will be truncated, but its always difficult for something to comprehend the context in which it is set. Despite the ego's denial, I submit most people do not have a sense of being a permanent entity, as we are well aware of death.
quote: If consciousness is an emergent property of highly compex organisms then it disappears when that complexity ceases its function.
quote: An eastern based position that I am favoring here asserts conscious, not what it's aware of, but simply that it is aware is a fundamental, perhaps the fundamental property of the universe.
OK, but why. Why should it be fundamental, and how have we come to this conclusion?
You see, this is exactly the sort of confusion I think arose in pre-technical societies grappling with information theory; the only language by which they could discuss entities that existed as process rather than matter was to construct 'spirit'.
quote: At this point I don't belive there are any proofs of this or of the emergent notion. But the eastern approach factors in the observer, whereas the religious and scientic approach don't pay as much attention to the role the observer plays in these questions.
Correct, and IMO, rightly. Why SHOULD we 'factor in the observer'; the whole point of developing a rigorous explorative process is to extract insights from the world we experience that apply to all observers. Again I say 'factor in the observer' amounts to psychobabble without a methodological claim as to why we should and what is meant by the term. I mean,t I would argue that science does exactly factor in the observer by requiring independant reproducibility. The obsewrver is acknowledged as part of the process, but that introduces some problems which we address procedurally.
quote: I'm pointing out that the more fundanmental questions to be addressed are why am I here, how do I know I am here, and what or who am I. Am I information? Information about information? Or am I awareness itself looking at the contents of this nervous system and body, but not identical with those contents and that body.
Well you see, I would think that 'awareness... looking at the contents of this nervous system' is exactly 'information about information', or indeed the 'self-monitoring transaction' I initially indicated. But 'awareness itself' s a meaningless concept; awareness is a property of physicality.
quote: Do you see a difference between a human and a computer with self monitoring feedback? The sense in which you "know" yourself, your feelings, your sensory experience do you think it differs in any way from a machine using feedback loops, look up tables etc to reference it's state?
The short answer is "no". I cannot detect any essential feature that seperates our information processing fro theirs. Please note I am not claiming they are identical, in that the have different historical origins, but in principle they are the same device.
quote: I obviously do. I don't think a computer "experiences" itself in the same way a person does. That a machine has feedback and responds to it's own state seems very different from the way I experience myself.
Really? Why is that? I'm not being sarcastic, thats a serious question. If you cut your finger, you would react precisely because a dumb sensor in your skin sent a message along an electrical circuit to the central processor that then gave what amounts to a warning or error message.
We are even aware to an extent of our automated nature. If you need to test something to see if its hot, its best to do so with the back of your fingers - because if you get burned youre fist tends to close. If your palm is facing the hot object,m your hand may close on it just because of this reflex. Not only is this mechanical, but we are well aware its mechanical.
quote: A very thought provoking reply. I've too little time this morning to reply to it. I'm wondering if you could recommend a book or two that you consider a good introduction to information theory? I did a brief google search and found some sites on the internet. The impression I got was that it was very mathematical analysis of entropy, noise, and data transmission arising from the computer field. But that is a first impression based on maybe 10 minutes of poking around on the net.
Unfortunately I don't know of anything usefully coherent; lets say I have not seen a discussion as yet as to the philosophical implications of informaiton science.
Your analysis above is not wrong, and unfortunately this is a technical, matehmatical discipline. It helps to have some familiarity with statistical methods, for example. You usually don't need more math than algebra for basic information science concepts such as logical arithmetic, which forms the basis of circuit design. But for the sruff thats relevant at the kind of scale needed for biological systems, the math is rough indeed.
Where this overlaps with living systems is ecology. Mathematical models are used in detecting and analysing changes and developments in organic systems. All of these are entropic systems with lots and lots of noise; thats what makes the mathematics of data applicable. Equally, quite a lot of actual process biology is similar; very large entropic systems with millions of moving parts and millions of signals. Of all the hormones flowing in your bloodstream, how does a particular cell pick out the one it needs? Thats an information science problem: how to distinguish signal from noise.
A brief search indicates that a recommended starting text is J.R. Pierce's "An Introduction to Information Theory: Symbols, Signals and Noise" in being not too heavy mathematically. Its long enough ago that I can;t quite recall if this was one of my textbooks but it rings bells.
But another very interesting example of the signifcance of information theory is the research into artificial life systems, the most famous of which is John Conway's 'Game of Life'. The significance of this work is that it demonstrated that very simple rules iterated over large numbers of instances can produce very strange effects. That is, such simple rule systems can produce outputs so complex they look as if they were designed.
quote: Yes. But I'm trying to get at the distinction between "mechanical" and "aware".
there is no distinction. Imagine two cogs; both contact and interact with the other, both are 'aware' of each other.
quote: What is it that is aware of the mechanical? and that seems conceptual, so also what is aware of the sensory information?
Sensory information is, at the information level, indistinguishable from information that emanate from any organ. Light falls on the retina stimulating nerves which transmit a signal to other nerves. Thats all there is; the 'awareness' IS that process of electrical transmission.
How does a telephone become "aware" of an incoming call and "know" to ring? Without pseudo-mystical starting assumptions that there Must Be a difference between "matter" and "life", there seems to me no reason to hypothesize any difference at all.
This message has been edited by contracycle, 07-16-2004 10:43 AM
quote: Pierce's book is available at the library here. I'll take a look at it. Thanks for lead. My math skills are extremely rusty though I've taken intro statistics and some calculus. It's a "I didn't use and lost it proposition" for me.
Heh, me too. Fortunately I don;t work in the deep end of informaiton science tho.
quote: You mention math, biology, and philosophy. If this isn't too personal a question (ignore it if it is) is your training in biology with background in math and philosophy?
No, I trained as a programmer. I have read fairly widely on chaos, ecosystems, sundry other sciences.
quote: The old school behaviourist just wouldn't deal with consciousness at all. I woke up this morning and though my body functioned through the night there is a difference in my awareness as I type this in the cool morning air.
Sure. And when your computer is idle, the screen saver comes on .
There are a number of non-conscious process changes your body implements when you sleep, too, such as your breathing becoming slower and deeper. To assert that consciousness is mechanical is not to imply it is always operational.
IMO, when you sleep your brain carries out a function that is analogous to disk compression defragmentation; puts files where they need to be. There is no need for me to claim the same process that expresses your sense of self need be present and active all the time.
This message has been edited by contracycle, 07-16-2004 10:43 AM
quote: That is a very radical (i.e. to the root) statement. You are asserting that the awareness that I have as I write is a quality that is also found in inanimate interactions? If a rock rolls down a slope would you say the rock and earth of the slope are aware of each other?
Yes and no. Inanimate objects interact, "communicate", pass forces and particles between one another, all the time. I am asserting that what you subjectively experience as "consciousness" is among these processes. Your relationship with a foodstuff, say - particles entering your nose, being sorted, signals triggered - may well be much more complex than a two cogs exchanging kinetic energy, but is not an essentially different process IMO.