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Mitchell_Porter comments on Can't Unbirth a Child - Less Wrong

24 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 28 December 2008 05:00PM

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Comment author: Mitchell_Porter 19 June 2012 04:33:48AM 2 points [-]

You may see the unacknowledged dualism to which I refer, in the phrase "how an algorithm feels from inside". This implies that the facts about a sentient computer or sentient brain consist of (1) all the physical facts (locations of particles, or whatever the ultimate physical properties are) (2) "how it feels" to be the entity.

All those many definitions of color will be found on one side or the other side of that divide, usually on the "physical" side. The original meaning of color is usually shunted off to "experienced color", "subjective color", "color qualia", and so on. It ends up on the "feeling" side.

People generally notice at some point that the "color feelings" don't exist on the physical side. Nothing there is actually red, actually green, etc, in the original sense of those words. There are two main ways of dealing with this. Either you say that there aren't any real color feelings, there's just a feeling of color feelings that is somehow a side effect of information processing. Or, you say that subjective conscious experience is a terrible mystery, but one day we'll solve it somehow. (On this site, I nominate orthonormal as a representative of the first option, and Richard Kennaway of the second option.)

The third option, which I represent, says this: The only way to admit the existence of consciousness, and believe in physics, and not believe in dualism, is for the "feelings" to be the physical entities. They aren't "how it feels to be" some particular entity which is fundamentally defined in "non-feeling" terms, and which plays a certain causal role in the physical description of the world. The "feelings" themselves (the qualia, if you prefer that term) have to be causally active. The qualia must enter physics at a fundamental level, not in an emergent, abstracted, or epiphenomenal way.

They will have an abstracted mathematical description, in terms of their causal role, but it is wrong to say that they are nothing but That Which Plays A Certain Causal Role; yet this is all you can say about them, so long as you only allow physical, causal, and functional analysis. And this is the blue pill that most rationalists and materialists swallow. It keeps them on the merry-go-round, finding consciousness an unfathomable mystery which always eludes analysis, yet confident that eventually they will catch up and understand it using just their existing conceptual toolkit.

If you really want to understand it, you have to get off the merry-go-round, deal with consciousness on its own terms, and make a theory which by design contains it from the beginning. So you don't say: I can understand almost everything in terms of interacting elementary particles, but there's something elusive about the mind that I can't quite fathom... Instead you say: reality is that I exist, that I am experiencing these qualia, they come in certain types and forms, and the total gestalt of qualia that I experience evolves from moment to moment in a systematic way. Therefore, my theory of reality must contain an entity with all these attributes. How can I reconcile this fact with the instrumental success of a theory based on elementary particles?

If I were to tell you that I have a theory, according to which there's a single big long superstring that extends through a large part of the cortex (which is made up of ordinary, simple superstrings), and that the physical dynamics causes parts of the string to be knotted and unknotted like an Inca quipu tally device, and that this superstring is the "global workspace" of consciousness, you might be extremely skeptical, but you should at least understand what I'm saying, because it conforms to the familiar computational idea of consciousness. In the end I would just be saying, there's this physical thing, it undergoes various transformations of state, they have a computational interpretation, and oh yeah, our conscious experience is just how this alleged stringy computation "feels from the inside".

What I am saying is less than this and more than this. I am indeed saying that the physical correlate of consciousness in the brain is some physical subsystem that needs to be understood at a fundamental physical level; but I only have tentative, speculative, vague hypotheses about what it might be. But I am also saying that the "physical" description is only an abstracted one. The ontological reality is some sort of "structure", that probably deserves the name "self", and which contains the "qualia" (such as color in the primary sense of the word), and about which it is rather difficult to say anything directly, but this is why a person needs to study phenomenology - in order to develop rigor and fluency in their direct descriptions of subjective experience.

The historical roots of natural science, especially physics, include a deliberate methodological choice, to ignore "feelings", colors, thoughts, and the whole "subjective pole" of experience, in order to focus on quantity, causality, shape, space, and time. As a result, we have a scientific culture with a highly developed model of the world employing only those categories, and generations of individuals who are technically adept at thinking within those categories. But of course the subjective pole is still there in reality, although badly understood and conceptualized. In an attempt to think about it, this scientific culture tries to utilize the categories it knows about; and this gives the mystery of consciousness its peculiar flavor. We could explain everything else using just these categories; how can it not work here as well!

But in turning our attention to the subjective pole, we are confronting precisely that part of reality which was excluded from consideration in order to create the scientific paradigm. It has its own categories, to which we give inadequate names like qualia, intentionality, and subjectivity, which have been studied in scientifically shunned disciplines like "transcendental phenomenology" and "existential phenomenology"; and a real understanding of consciousness will not be obtained using just the scientifically familiar categories. We need an ontology which combines the familiar and the unfamiliar categories.

So if I am hard to understand, remember that I am not just stating an idiosyncratic hypothesis about the physical locus of consciousness, I am trying to hint at how that physical locus would be described in an ontology yet to come, in which the subjective ontology of qualia and the self is the primary way that we talk about it, and in which the physical description in terms of causal role is just a black-box abstraction away from this.

The usual materialist approach is the inverse: physics as we know it and conceptualize it now is fundamental, and psychology is an abstracted description of brain physics and brain computation. But the concepts of physics were already obtained by looking away from part of reality, in order to focus on another part; we aren't going to get the excluded part back by abstracting even further, from physics to computation.

Hopefully I have addressed most of your questions now, albeit indirectly.

Comment author: hairyfigment 19 June 2012 07:05:37AM 0 points [-]

People generally notice at some point that the "color feelings" don't exist on the physical side.

You're begging the question. I think you mean it doesn't seem obvious that a functional process is a feeling of color. You object to the fact that we don't recognize ourselves with certainty in this description. And yet you know that functionalism doesn't predict certain recognition. You know that it would seem, if not directly self-contradictory per Gödel and Löb, at least rather surprising for a mind in a functionalist world to find functionalism intuitively obvious when viewed from this angle.

But we don't have to speculate about the limits of self-consciousness in humans. We know for a fact that a lot of 'unconscious' processing takes place during perception. And orthonormal provides a credible account of how that could produce thoughts like yours.

I would actually say that if you think a functionally-human version of "Martha" would not have consciousness, your intuition is broken. So now we have an impasse between dueling intuitions. I suppose you could try to argue that one intuition seems more reliable than the other. Or we could just admit that they aren't reliable.

Comment author: [deleted] 19 June 2012 10:36:20AM 0 points [-]

There are no fundamental "feelings." The map of reality exists inside a brain which is a part of reality. Your modal logic and monad tensor algebra is unnecessary and meaningless. Everything you say has simpler explanations. You're begging the question, you show clear signs of self deception.

The universe is fundamentally simple, only in our map-of-the-universe do we pretend that things are different in order to compress the information.

You are misusing words. Like, basic errors.

And I am not going to take apart your wall-of-text philosophy. Come back when you have equations and predictions. Until then I am a material reductionist.

Halt, melt, catch fire. Now. Unless you Aumann up, this conversation is over.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 19 June 2012 11:38:51AM *  2 points [-]

Unless you Aumann up

Aumann agreement is a cooperative process. Flying off the handle in the face of persistent disagreement does not look like part of such a process.

this conversation is over.

For you and Mitchell Porter, that is probably the best achievable outcome.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 19 June 2012 11:53:26AM *  3 points [-]

Or, you say that subjective conscious experience is a terrible mystery, but one day we'll solve it somehow. (On this site, I nominate orthonormal as a representative of the first option, and Richard Kennaway of the second option.)

That accurately characterises my view. I'd just like to clarify it by saying that by "somehow, one day" I'm not pushing it off to Far-Far-Land (the rationalist version of Never-Never-Land). For all I know, "one day" could be today, and "we" could be you. I think it fairly unlikely, but that's just an expression of my ignorance, not my evidence. On the other hand, it could be as far off as electron microscopes from the ancient Greeks.