Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Part 2

TO RECAP, here is the last graph from pt. 1.

“You’ve got one referring to it as a “thing”, another, as the system that generates the Qualia, and another as the central mechanism that directs how it is employed. THEY ARE ALL DIFFERENT PARTS OF THE SUBJECT WHOLE, see?” Whither Consciousness, then?

Now, to state the obvious: The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

…and that’s why the parts have such a hard time regarding the whole.

Say whaaat?

Ok, let’s just deal with this off the top. One explanation of that phenomenon is its analog to a very similar one in Quantum Physics (don’t worry—it gets easier) as described by Kurt Godel in his major thesis, the Incompleteness Theorem, in 1931. To give this context, it was ten years after Heisenberg published his Uncertainty Principle which was ten years after Einstein published his Theory of General Relativity. First, the simple way to understand Godel: “The Liar’s Paradox”: “This statement is false,” or "Everything I say is a lie. I am lying." Now, the hard way: "Any formal system complicated enough to describe itself in provable axioms (the accepted terms and conditions establishing premises) will also have some statement which is not provable, nor would its contradiction be as well." (And part of this mind-bender is that once you find an unprovable statement, you are free to adopt it into the system AND its contradiction as well! So? How about "Everything I say is the truth. I am lying." Huh? Maybe even "God is nothing. Nothing is God." Or maybe a paraphrase of Meister Eckhart: "God is not a being; God is being.") If I were a gambling man, I'd place my money on all the above coming from a bunch of guys getting nuked on primo Viennese coffeehouse crank, as that is exactly how crazy most people sound when jacked up on speed, the ravings of a coke fiend. The only difference?--there was more math than meth to their method. But why were people shocked? Just another nutty professor, right? Check out the vocabulary lesson from the other half of their papers: "...all things are relative...uncertainty...incompleteness..." It's like a whispering campaign of doubt, just about where the last century's Age of Anxiety began.

That is said to say only this: the human brain is the product of Darwinian evolution and, just as animal brains have limitations or strictures (processing of scents over vision, detection of color over motion, instinct-level awareness, etc.) bound by their genetic history and environment, so too are WE limited. Michio Kaku, one of the pre-eminent physicists working in String Theory and 10-dimensional space, has said that the reason humans have trouble visualizing a seven- (let alone TEN-) dimensional universe is that we are barely capable of creating a visual logic for any beyond solid geometry, and probably would have no grasp of the 4th Dimension if it weren’t for Op Art tricks and computer graphics representing the curvature of gravity in Einsteinian space by putting a bowling ball on a plane created by a taut fishing net. We just do not possess the image-processing equipment to understand such concepts. AND THIS is on the same line of argument as Godel: the tool just can’t analyse the tool with the tools.

So what is the tool? Language. (Told you we’d get back to this in a big way.)

I want to break it down to the element here, the one that all the boys and girls on both sides are pretty much in agreement on, summed up by a guy named Daniel Dennett. “The Brain is a semantic engine mimicking a syntactical engine.” So what does this mean? Let me break it down further, as I have come to understand it. The Brain (or Mind, if you will) is a semantic engine (a machine for processing symbolic information, more or less, and giving it “meaning,” which can be as much personal as educational/informational) mimicking a syntactical engine (a machine for processing that information into “meanings in a context”, forms, structures, etc., usually grammatical, when talking about the rules of a particular language, but may also include other less explicable gradations, considerations, etc.). When he uses the term “mimicking”, the root of that is very similar to mime. Now what is it miming? Ok, let's say it may contain the shapes or forms or rituals or motions or patterns of an activity that, while they might be recognizable (or entertaining, if white-faced clowns are what you’re into) by other humans, are nonetheless wholly without any content other than what was just described (i.e., figures, silhouettes, echoes, traces, etc.--stuff that has none of the original meaning).

Is that getting too murky too fast? Think of a cartoon of Batman throwing a batarang, or something. Now give him an empty word balloon. You have a pretty good idea of what he’s doing and why, and probably are right when you think he’s making some snide comment at the Joker, or such. But you are never going to know EXACTLY what should be in that word balloon. Of course, that won’t stop you from trying to fill it in either. And that’s EXACTLY where the troubles begin. As one of the prime "hard problem" researchers, a guy named Edelman, I think, said this of our certain knowledge: “We evolved structures which invented language. But when you add in syntax, all bets are off.” Note, he didn’t say “context” but “syntax” because the former is purely data processing into a set form and the latter is too huge to answer here, even if it IS implicated as part of the former.

So that would give us a symbol-wielding consciousness that seeks “meaning” (perhaps “significance”?) in all things and that, lacking any concrete reference, is just as capable of finding meaning when there is none, manufacturing one to fill the void. Which, I believe, is another term for psychosis. Or religion.

But I digress. And even more right now.

There is also a visual language of images, that’s quite true. It is processed in the very same area of the brain (called Broca’s Area) which processes speech. It is also where there have been discovered a whole new type of cell structures called Mirror Neurons. (Hang with me on this one, its real good!) You’ve heard the rhyme, “Monkey see, monkey do, monkey does the same as you” right? Well, there’s a reason for that. It has been found that there is some common link between aping of apes and certain autistics. It appears that, by imitating the behavior of others, by LITERALLY GOING THROUGH THE MOTIONS, they might learn, or accept as an explanation, the actions they see (right down to facial expressions) demystified and, therefore, stripped of confusion. Exactly what is gained for them is unclear (outside of calming down apprehensions, at least for the autistics), but the reward factor is high enough to repeat the behavior, see? And it is these Mirror Neurons which process the same information as the higher-level order of the Empathic Response, lending credence to the idea that our ability to appreciate “the other” in ourselves is founded in how much of what it is that they do we can do as well, or similarly.

Now hold that thought and watch this.

What we all possess, to one degree or another, is the ability to hold information/data in our brains to an extent that the data is assimilated into our core identity, becoming reliable resources which we may summon up on a moment’s notice to perform tasks, amuse ourselves or get into a maudlin sentimental mood over. This is called memory, and the non-experiential stuff Learned Memory. Before we had PDAs, there were file cabinets, and, previous to that, books and libraries, scrolls... When you get into the ages before the printing press (and even for some time after that) however, you had a lot of scholars with access to very few concrete reference books. What they did was to physically memorialize Great Halls of Learning in their brains via the process of creating libraries or cathedrals AS IF MAKING REAL ARCHITECTURE in the deepest recesses of their minds. (I first heard about this from Carl Sagan, actually, many years ago.) By the time of the Renaissance, this (more or less) was the inspiration behind the creation of the Wunderkammer, or Cabinets (or Rooms) of Curiosities, wherein you could display the most outlandish and bizarre collections of objects with the intent of stimulating and exciting the senses with the bounty of possibilities in form, shape, color and ideas found on this planet. (I’d liken it to an acid trip without the acid.) And yes, it was certainly for the wealthy and titled to show off their collections of junk in a psychedelic setting, but they were also seen as legitimate places of meditation and contemplation. However, to get back to their purpose, you’d have someone like, say, Erasmus or St. Augustine or Eckhart, creating this imaginary mansion which you’d enter via a massive portal graven with biblical friezes on the arch, a Latin inscription over the door, a large brass doorknocker in the shape of some kabbalistic letter, entering a foyer whose vault is covered with astrological signs and astronomical charts, walk up a stairwell of portraits of the Caesars or great Philosophers, entering a den or study filled with representational objects for the human anatomy or a kitchen where story problems stand in for mathematical concepts. Without knowing what they were doing, outside of packing their brain with pictograms, they were actually creating mnemonic devices of the highest modern order, comparable to any Random Access Memory devices available today.

Ok. Now back to ye olde image banquette. Part of that is also that symbolic representation can be understood via intuitive logic, from someone opening hands and spreading fingers splayed out to mean the number “ten”. Is it the same as the Roman “X” or the numeral “10”? No, because the former is also the letter “X” or even “X marks the spot” or “Dig HERE!” on a treasure map, and the latter is actually a marker in a base-ten enumeration or counting system. The symbols of “Ten” each come with their own package of associations, bound morphemes as invisible files—some essential, like knowing it comes after “nine” and before “eleven”, some not so: like viruses attached to system files, self-replicating and adding weight and complexity where none is needed, or like spyware, transmitting data that you would rather keep private.

Yeah. When I said language was the problem, even choosing the proper symbols/characters makes it worse. Because: are they your choice, or are you using someone else's choice, that just looked/sounded/seemed right for the job? (“The Brain is a semantic engine mimicking a syntactical engine,” remember? And mirror neurons don't know the difference between your stupidity and my imitation of it.) And what makes it worst is symbols are always mere representations of reality. (And pay attention to this trifle; you’re going to need it.) Right; nothing new there…except, while it MAY be neurotransmitters with which the brain communicates between the maps and quales, it could just as well be personal iconography (flags, family dogs, smoke signals, old teachers or lovers, hieroglyphs, that one big Little League game--take your choice) in the conversations between the various architectures and hierarchies of your own design. So factor in this as well: a symbol that represents something in one brain area/map/quale/studyhall or context represents something entirely different when transmitted to another area/map/quale/studyhall.


I am not trying to make you crazy. It just goes back to Godel’s Incompleteness Theorem, again. Now you are beginning to see the “hard problem,” aren’t you?

And so are we--speaking for every voice in your head.

That is a not-so-coy method to lead us to another thing many researchers (including some of the “hard-core demystifiers”) are in agreement upon, evidence supporting the “Fame-In-The-Brain” idea. Going back to the “maps/quales=Personality” formula, it is not too far a stretch for us to examine ourselves for the functional schizophrenia that goes on in our everyday lives which we call “getting along with people.” I don’t have to tell you that we use one set of responses to our boss, another reserved for intimates only, and a general hale-fellow-&-well-met with our peers or perceived lessers. This is standard stuff. It is comparable to opening up a computer program like Photoshop or Microsoft Word and having the same set of palettes and menus come up, the same formatting of documents; these are the pre-sets, the default modes. Well, the brain has the same thing on a different scale, and some researchers have referred to this as maps/quales “vying for celebrity,” wanting to take their turn on the stage, with the rest of the characters in our heads as an audience, in the Cartesian Theater of the mind. So when you get a chance to put in your two cents at the staff conference, it IS truly “Showtime!”

This is how the “hard problem” advocates have come to label the Consciousness as “an Emergent Property”: that which emerges from all of these processes, its manifestation in reality, the real world. All the examples cited here are emergent properties...or maybe discoveries of principles? Whatever. But this is what turns up from evidence borne of recorded personal testimony, direct observations of human existence, and experiments in logic. Perhaps it is not as cool as lab coats and beakers and meters and switches and DNA results, but it is fairly certain, and conclusive, as far as it goes. When you start with Pavlov and end with B.F. Skinner, you can codify the results in a simple formula: S=R+ (Stimulus equals a Positive Response). This is the core of Behaviorism, probably the most exact "soft" science there is. It may not be Evolution, but it ain't completely off that track either. Maybe on a parallel course.

To bring it all together, you may begin to see how behavior describes an Emergent Property that vets out pretty much as a popularity contest among the personality-quales via a process of selecting the right language for the right situation in the right context, based as much upon how you see others responding to a situation as from your own experience. As convoluted as this summary may seem, it is still the best psychological basis for the “easy problem” advocates to say, "We've got it under control, we can handle this", and make their Spartan stand at the Thermopolye of Consciousness. They believe this is enough solid proof to hold off the hordes of pagan Persians, the “soft” scientists, whom they regard more as “meat chauvinists” than they do Darwinists.

I hear you saying, “But, after all this, that and the other, it’s so-so-so…vague.” Of course it’s vague! Hard science gives you hard data and numbers crunched into facts; social science gives you tendencies assumed from observations of repetitions and response curves. Then, when you get into psychology, and you talk about voluntary and involuntary processes, and then the conscious vs. the unconscious…it gets really messy, Bessie!

Time to bring in the philosophers and head ‘em off at the pass!

No comments:

Post a Comment