Consciousness, Qualia, Freedom, etc…

23 Oct

Dude: Isn’t consciousness just a physical thing?

A:  No, but our meaningful and coherent experiences are inextricably bound with physical and formal constraints inherent to our brains and, by hierarchical extension, to our Universe.  Consciousness is not merely physical, but it would be meaningless without these constraints, mediations, and ordered transactions.  It’s kind of a trick question.

Dude:  What about it isn’t strictly physical or broadly tangible?  Are you a mystical fairy boy?

Sidenote: This topic has repeatedly produced polemical debates to nowhere which have convinced me that neural differences between individuals come into play on the question. Some people are trying to look good for specific audiences, others are trying to introspect.  Some people seem to have very strong top-down/gestalt inhibition and structuring of their awareness, while others have more access to less processed components.  Some like to confuse absurd feelings for “illusions”.  And so on.


A:  Qualia.  Explaining this away as “information” is inadequate.  It’s a start of a start — that’s all.  We have subjective experiences which are logically additive to the merely physical and/or informational.  Many typical people agree with this, and I think some very smart people like Ed Witten and Saul Kripke are also likely to agree.  Philosophy is very difficult, and we won’t have metaphysically comprehensive answers to such questions for a very long time — if ever.  Roughly speaking, I like to think of it this way;  human being : reality as bureaucrat : genius.  I’m no poet, but I think you get the gist.  The crude idea is that we are basically piloting vehicles of necessary conditions which are satisfied for us in ways we neither understand nor care much about(compare this situation to the way farmers work their animals for their purposes in spite of mostly just knowing how to breed and feed ’em).  The bird hatches at height.

We don’t care about every little detail and trail of history because we can’t afford to in the unrelenting race of life(see: James’ Will to Believe and all that…).  Life’s a rush on the tips of history.  These pre-processed items get pooled into consoles which end up forming the visible(explicit!) terminals of our explanations. This is why so many people are satisfied by hand-waving.  All of our explanations eventually come down to hand-waving, but the explanations we celebrate are the ones which are continually reinforced by pragmatic triumph.  Descartes might be a bit of an exception in that he tapped something more innate and partly implicit, but even he would have done well to elaborate the implied formalism of his cogito ergo sum.   We point at various laws and correlations, but at some level we are probably trapped in an absurd user-view of stuff like qualia.

Dude:  What about freedom?  Isn’t it an antiquated term for mush-minded wimps?

A:  Yes and no.  The more reputable modern notion of freedom is not that we’re all special snowflakes with infinite prerogative, but is instead premised on the idea that we need sophisticated diversity in order to give us more perspective on our institutions and grand assumptions.  Part of it is a search space function, but part of it is even simple definition!  Healthy diversity also promotes greater resilience and flexibility.  There is more potential for recombination of various ideas, methods, and such.  Think of this diversity as providing a special kind of light which we can’t get from our crappy old light bulbs.  However, it must be sophisticated and serious diversity.  Not random sentimental crap.  There is a sense in which human beings must deal with a perpetual inadequacy of our explicit attainments.  One way to do this is by broadening the explication.  Lots of old-fashioned guys would announce various concepts from the mount as if the things stood alone in their own special private reality which sometimes condescended to mingle with the broader reality.  That’s poor form.  It’s better to explore the grounded contexts of such things.

Also, the human brain is partially capable of questioning its own assumptions.  It can sometimes objectify its gods.  That’s a remarkable ability.  It gives no appearance of being magical, but it’s certainly interesting and relevant.  Furthermore, information has a certain chemistry to it.  Different bits become member to different properties in different contexts.  My understanding of these processes is primitive, but I’m trying.  Think for yourself and follow the empirical results.  It’ll take time, but many good scientists are working on it.  In the meantime, oversimplifications are sure to proliferate.

Dude:  Wasn’t Hayek way over the top with his skepticism of explicit intervention?

A:  To an extent, but I think Hayek’s deep insight was that we don’t understand ourselves or our culture nearly as well as we like to believe we do.  There is a danger in being seduced by one’s own explicit symbolic productions to the exclusion of the underlying implicit supporting elements(recall the above analogy regarding human beings and reality).  Symbolic crispness, provincial successes, bros, and echo chambers are a dangerous combination.  People are quite dumb about this.  Hardly anyone realizes how amazing it is that we even care about what happens to ourselves a week from the present(more compelling philosophical diversity might help…).

It’s an incredible product of evolution, but common sense hides this wonder of nature safely in plain view as though it were some default aspect of reality!  As such, one can imagine why I think Hayek is worth more than a glib footnote.  This is basic stuff, and humans are really, really bad at introspecting it.  Imagine what else we must be glossing over(recall, for example, the early optimistic predictions about AI from very clever people…that never would have happened if they had excellent ability to introspect)!  I also have serious concerns about human cognitive limitations in comprehending many simultaneously interacting scales of selection and conditioning.  This sort of thing gives Hayek a lot of cred in my book.  Does Hayek provide realistic comprehensive solutions?  No way, but he had some good insights.  It’s the same with pretty much all authors who write about complex topics.  Different parts of the elephant are analyzed by specialists, and it’s hoped that the results can be pieced together well enough to draw some useful global conclusions.




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