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. 

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Salt vs. Consciousness

You've heard that variation within populations is larger than variation between populations. One consequence is that the right amount of salt for you in particular is say 80% likely to be far from the average. If your sodium regulation system cannot tell the voluntary muscle system how much salt to eat, then you cannot eat the right amount of salt, because nobody else knows how much it is. This also goes for how your internal signals manifest.

It seemed odd to me that some signals are labelled and some aren't until I went to write this sentence. For all the signals to be labelled, the genes would have to recognize everything in the environment, and would be helpless against chemical novelties. 

 Blarg. (Via.)
"I experienced no cravings even when my sodium intake was too low. I can’t just “listen to my body”."
As per standard evo/paleo principles, what would a hunter on the savanna have to guide them toward eating the right things? Moreover, absent puritanical, secular anti-consciousness, or authoritarian self-abnegation campaigns, they would have been listening to and thus learning about their internal signals since infancy.

It turns out that if you don't do something your entire life, and then suddenly try it once, you do it wrong. You might do this because you feel the need to disprove others, who are also doing it wrong but the other way around. (Hence scare quotes.) However, it is not then safe to conclude it is impossible.

I probably mis-estimate how difficult this question is, because I already know the answer. I don't get salt cravings until months into salt restriction, whereupon I start thinking fondly of Pringles, which I learned not on purpose and self-consciously, but by accident. For me, the salt signal is the taste of salt. If I'm low it is delicious, even straight. This reverses within about half a teaspoon, becoming bitter and terrible. You might think this is a palate interaction, but the amount I can have before it's gross doesn't reset the next day, or even that week.

I'm also like this with water. My thirst seems a little miscalibrated, I don't feel anything for low to moderate thirst until I pick up a glass and start drinking.
"Likewise, while the salt loading phase was difficult for the first two or three days, my taste rapidly adjusted to the added salt."
First he ate less salt than tasted good, then more. What would have happened if he had tried just right? It is hard for me to see this as accidental. How does it fail to occur to someone that the primary conscious impression of a thing is relevant to how you should behave toward it?

One of the things I learned through years of practicing it is that the signals are complex and sometimes the subtle notes are more important. The ache of a bruise is different from the ache of a used muscle is it not? Calling both 'pain' is hopelessly crude. Likewise, saying cookies taste 'good' to me is hopelessly crude. They have a characteristic burning sensation, and they sit poorly. There is 'good,' but it is shallow and reminds me of plastic for some reason. The burning sensation means I don't have to ask if restaurant meals have added sugar, because it shows up there too.

By contrast, for me, the right amount of salt is a symphony of good. I've also experienced adaptation to too much salt, but it acquires bad notes. Once I can stop I prefer no salt for some weeks. The thing to watch for here is psychosomatic influences, but psychosomatics have trouble surprising the mind in question.

"I would not necessarily call these “discoveries” but they are important observations that should be reported."
I can guarantee that he did not report the majority of his observations. If I were to go by his account, he either has almost no consciousness, or it did not react to these events. It did not apparently feel like much to eat different amounts of salt.

That said, this account corroborates my own experiences.

For comparison, I also get vegetable cravings, but only, again, after months of no vegetables at all. Ever looked at a raw broccoli and starting thinking impure thoughts?

I'm told unused neural connections are pruned in early adulthood. I wonder what happens to biofeedback circuits if they're being ignored.
"1. Salt restriction caused impaired thermoregulation."
Sea salt has iodine, and modern mined salt is iodized. Thermoregulation is partly the thyroid's job, and thyroid impairment is a symptom of iodine deficiency. I should stop forgetting to test this with some seaweed. I think I'll go fix this right now.