What is the intrinsic nature of experience and conscious awareness?
As Judi says, we have been here before, many times.
And I’ll have one more trip around the pole.
What is meant by intrinsic?
What is the intrinsic nature of anything?
It seems that the nature of this reality we find ourselves in is a very complex set of systems.
Consider something quite “simple” like water.
Water is just two types of atom – oxygen and hydrogen, two hydrogen atoms attached to each oxygen, in a slight bend.
The oxygen attracts the electrons more strongly than the hydrogen, so the molecule has an electric asymetry to it – it is more charged on one side than the other.
Without delving more deeply into the substructure of atoms, the particles that make up protons, neutrons and electrons, we can say a lot about water from knowing about the properties of the atoms that make it up. And water has some amazing properties, like wetness, wave propagation, and ice, and snow, and rain and clouds and …………..
Human beings are mostly water, and we are also about 50,000 other sorts of molecules as well.
We are each and every one of us a collection of some 100 trillion cells, with every cell having about 500 trillion molecules in it. And those molecules are bumping into each other about 100 billion times a second.
And those cells are organised into many different levels of structures.
And every one of those structures interacts with all the other structures and layers of structures and the wider reality within which we exist.
When one spends a few years studying the anatomy and chemistry and logic of how we work, one comes to an understanding of the sorts of levels of complexity and levels of relationship that are present in the systems within us, that enable us to be what we are.
It seems clear that experience is the action of a set of software systems within a software model of reality.
It seems that our experiential reality is this software on software happening within our brains, within the subconsciously created model of reality that our brains create.
There are so many levels of complexity in that system.
About 10 levels of systems that seem to have evolved over deep time from relatively simple replicating molecules.
About another 10 levels of systems that seem to be more nearly cultural, that have evolved essentially over the last few million years, and most of them over the last 15,000 or so years, through evolution in a sense that is more nearly cultural, involving language and values and relationships at understandings.
It seems that the nature of consciousness and experience requires many of these levels of systems to deliver the context in which the experience of consciousness can emerge.
It seems that prior to a very few years ago, we did not have sufficient understanding of systems for anyone to have much of an idea of what consciousness actually is.
It seems that over most of human history people have used the most complex thing they know (humans) to model all aspects of the systems around us.
It is only really since we developed computers, that people have had the tools to develop the levels of systems understanding necessary to begin to get the vague outline of the complexity of what the intrinsic nature of consciousness is.
And the numeric complexity that I opened this with guarantees that there are such levels of complexity that there will always be unknowns and unknowable aspects of what it is to be a conscious entity.
So what could intrinsic mean, when we are so intimately linked to the big bang some 14 billions years ago, and so reliant on our sun, and our planet, and the ecosystem, and each other, and technology, and words and culture and inquisitiveness?
[followed by Bhatta uploaded a paper “Intrinsic Awareness, The Fundamental State of Consciousness” by Weili Luo]
To me the paper reads as a statement of belief without reference to reality.
The abstract opens with “In an effort to simplify the complexity in the studies of consciousness, the author suggests to describe the conscious experiences as a fundamental state, the intrinsic awareness (I.A.), and functions of this fundamental state.”
This is a statement of belief, not a statement that has any evidencial basis in observable reality. Quite the contrary.
All of us experience loss of consciousness every day – via sleep. Some of us have experienced other modes of unconsciousness, due to anesthetics, asphyxia, blow to the head, etc. Each of those clearly demonstrate that consciousness has a strong relationship to aspects of reality.
When you get into the biochemistry of neuronal function, and into neuroanatomy and neurophysiology, the picture becomes very complex, of many different layers of systems, with each layer having many different systems.
I am writing this on the inter-island ferry, heading back to Kaikoura from our daughter’s 21st in Wellington, and just a few minutes ago was in the toilet on the ferry. A few cubicles along from me someone dropped the toilet seat. I was very conscious that my body tensed from the “bang”, before I consciously heard the noise. One of my subsystems put my body instantly into fight/flight mode, long before my brain had time to process that information into sound for my consciousness, to perceive.
As someone who has been programming complex systems for 40 years, the details of such layering of systems are something I am intimately familiar with.
So the opening sentence is to me simply a statement of someone’s belief, and not something supported by any sets of evidence.
“I.A. does not depend on external environment, our sense organs, and our cognitions.”
This too is simply a statement of belief, not something supported either by my experience, or by the evidence sets available to me, and I can sort of see how it might seem like that to someone without the sort of systems experience I have.
“This ground state of consciousness is timeless and irreducible to sub-constituents; therefore reductionism can apply neither to the analysis nor to the new theory of I.A.”
To me, making such an assertion is an attempt to step outside the realm of science.
If one accepts such an assertion, then one is by definition outside of science.
To me, the paper is a piece of dogma, not related in any way to science.
How it got through a peer reviewed journal I don’t know, but it seems like it did.
I certainly would not have accepted it.
It belongs in theology, not in science.
It makes the often asserted claim “while the hard problem is the one that researchers do not know where to start” which to me is simply bunkum.
The hard problem is hard.
It requires being able to deal with multiple levels of complex software systems, information theory, systems theory, probability, etc.
In my experience, it required being able to simultaneously deal with 12 levels of abstraction.
That isn’t easy.
That took me a long time, a lot of practice in many different disciplines.
That let me develop an understanding.
I know of no way of communicating that understanding to another.
It is extremely difficult to communicate a third level abstraction to another. Many people find even a second level abstraction difficult – the addiction to simple ideas like truth tend to get in the way.
Holding 12 levels of probabilistic systemic relationships is a very long way from anything like the classical notion of truth.
And I have done it, and I do have a coarse grained model of consciousness that is very much based in a quantum mechanical understanding of reality, that has aspects that approximate classical engineering certainty and other aspects that are fundamentally stochastic (uncertain).
This may sound weird, and I am confident that should I live for the rest of eternity, and should I exponentially expand my awareness for that entire time (hundreds of billions of years), I would still be dealing with fundamental uncertainties in the nature of consciousness. That really does seem to be the nature of the beast. It seems to be complex in ways that are fundamentally beyond prediction. And at the same time, it does definitely seem to be a software thing, intimately linked in many different ways to the hardware systems on which it is running.
On page 2 it makes the statement “It is not difficult to realize that I.A. does not depend on our senses and the external conditions.” To which I simply say, if that were correct, then anesthetics could not possibly work. In my experience they do work. If the dose is adequate then there is no experience of time between the onset and recovery, yet a full daylight period (6.5 hours) passed during my last major operation.
During sleep I maintain an accurate awareness of time in one of my subconscious brain systems. During that period, even that system was disrupted, and I experienced no time. Quite disorienting. Not something I am likely to forget any time soon.
The description of the sensory process that follows the above quote is simply wrong. That is not how it works. No evidence is given, no studies, it is simply presented as an article of faith. Nonsense!
Sure, consciousness isn’t a simple direct response to sensory information. Sensory information is one input, and most of the input comes from many levels of neural networks trained by past experience, which training starts in the womb long before birth. And none of that in any way supports the notion put forward here.
The software systems are really complex – more complex that anything else in the known universe.
Yes the problem is hard.
And one can get a sketch map of it, that is suitable for navigation. And having a map of India is in no way equivalent to or a substitute for experiencing being in India, and it can be a useful guide on one’s journey.
I’m not going to waste any more time on it. To put such a collection of words forward as something scientific is to abuse science.
To me, I wouldn’t have accepted work this flawed from a 12 year old, let alone from someone with a PhD.