Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Mind


What evidence or argument would convince you that consciousness is epistemically or ontologically subjective?

We can be sure that consciousness is ontologically subjective because it is epistemically subjective, or vice-versa. Or, can I indeed safely say that any theory of objective cause and effect can have consciousness elided from its elements without loss of predictive power?

  1. Objectivity and subjectivity
  2. Existence of subjectivity
  3. Objectivity of physics
  4. Immediate conclusions
  5. The consciousness device
  6. Speculation


Imagine a beautiful mountain.

The fact under consideration is that you find the mountain beautiful. This is not a property of the mountain, it is a property of your perception of the mountain - though we might wish that is it a function of the properties of the mountain. We commonly call this perception subjective. Is it truly subjective? Is that actually different from being objective?

Yes. Moreover, ontology impinges on epistemology and vice-versa. 

The perception has the property of total certainty. You cannot be mistaken about finding the mountain beautiful, as that would mean you saw something you find beautiful, and found it ugly, a straight-up contradiction. This is ontological subjectivity. The facts of the matter are determined by how they are perceived - the ontology is determined by epistemology. If you change your mind about the mountain being beautiful, it makes the mountain not-beautiful. If you forget the mountain, it becomes neither beautiful nor ugly, as no one is perceiving it.

This is fundamentally the opposite of ontological and epistemic objectivity. Objective epistemology is determined by ontology. When the observer of an objective fact makes a mistake, they're simply wrong.

When the observer stops observing an objective fact, the fact remains true, as can be verified by later observers noting its history of ongoing effects on the world. 

Objective facts are observable by multiple observers. It is impossible for two subjects to perceive a single subjective fact, as to be unmistakeable both subjects would have to have full control over the fact, which means one mind changing automatically changes the other - there is no distinction of mind, at least on this point. Telepathy is impossible, though I can't rule out hive-mind with this alone.

What would it mean to objectively observe an ontologically subjective fact? It would mean combining the property of being mistakable with that of being determined by observer, another direct contradiction.

What would it mean to subjectively observe an objective fact? This would be clairvoyance, the combination of unmistakableness and observable by others. How would the fact know to be unmistakable to you but not everyone else? By definition, objective facts are observer-independent - it would have to be unmistakable to everyone, another direct contradiction.

(These combined have the curious consequence that your subjective facts are, relative to me, objective facts.)


Can subjectivity not exist? Perhaps I'm mistaken about that. Let's assume I am.

Can I be mistaken about my mistake? Can I think that I think subjectivity exists, but be wrong? If I'm not actually thinking subjectivity exists, then nothing is thinking it. Which would mean I'm not writing this article, which means nobody is, which means it isn't being written, which means you're not reading this.

Even if I assume away all supposed subjective entities, some must immediately re-appear. 


The entire field of physics is objective.

A supposed physical object which others cannot observe is said to not exist.
First, no experiment on such an object would be replicable, and so it would be entirely non-predictive, and no devices could depend upon it. Going the other direction, no theory would fail an experimental test for not taking it into account.

A supposed objective entity which cannot be observed by someone, even in principle, cannot be observed by anyone. 


Subjectivity exists.
Subjectivity does not physically exist.

Therefore, physicalism, secularism, and/or materialism are false.

Naturalism is more or less okay, as they've reduced the meaning of 'natural' to simply 'existent.' Any naturalist who is fine with expanding the set of concrete natural things can remain a naturalist.

Whether dualism is true depends on how you feel like defining 'substance.' I've found that using the idea of substance misleads me, at this level.


For consciousness to meaningfully coexist with physics, they must somehow interact. If I have my logic right, this is also certain. The only alternative is epiphenomenalism, which means physics affects consciousness but not vice-versa, which means physics would be breaking Newton's third.

Therefore, there must be some entity which is both subjective and objective. Objectively, it will look like an open causal network. There will be some object which cannot determine its own state, but does so anyway. If we had a systematic description of consciousness, we could find a complementary loophole to this loophole in physics. Concretely we should be able to construct a consciousness device, and locate functional equivalents in human brains.

The device will have absolute, not relative, data signals. The device converts physical events into conscious events, and without 1 to 1 correspondance, it would violate causality. The signal that indicates a mountain must be identical, in some sense, across all such devices, or the consciousness would not know, or have any way to learn, what the signals were supposed to mean.

Having identified the devices, it will be possible to decode the signals by watching one function, and then feeding a signal into your own brain and seeing what it is. It will then be possible to objectively determine not only that a life-form is conscious, but what they are conscious of.


One application of the theory: colours are the same for everyone. If you think you're seeing green, you can't be mistaken. Imagine two people seeing a green ball. They are both seeing green, they are both not mistaken. To say they're perceiving different things is to say they're exactly identical in every respect except the fundamental existence in question.
This should be separated from calling a thing green - it is easy to get disagreement on whether a ball should be called green or blue, but that's a connection between two facts, not a direct perception. Similarly, eyes vary somewhat, which means similar photons get decoded into slightly different experiences.

Most likely, only information can cross the objective/subjective barrier, as otherwise we have an energy conservation problem. 

If folk wisdom has indeed been mainly vindicated, it means consciousness is qualitative, in opposition to physics, which is quantitative.

The self is simply the set of all subjective entities. Other is straightforwardly all objective entities.

Subjectivity must run on different rules than physics, which means the set of cheap computations are different, which has direct adaptive benefits. There's no grandmother neurons - no single point which can distinguish between grandmother and grandfather, which means the brain as a whole can only distinguish these implicitly, which means it can't properly understand either. It isn't necessary, because the mind can distinguish them easily and then tell the brain. 

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