80000 Hours – David Chalmers – Hard problem of consciousness

80000 Hours – David Chalmers – Hard problem of consciousness

[ 7/2/20 ]

At about 1:27:00 David talks of the hard problem of consciousness, and declares that it cannot be solved.

To me, it is hard, and it is solved, but not in a simple way.

To me it is clear beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt that consciousness is an emergent property of the very complex systems that happen in a human brain.

We are the result of that complexity, and therefore the details of it are necessarily beyond our understanding in detail (a necessity of computational logic).
What we can do is approximate the computational systems present and their relationships.

In his book – “The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory” on page 4 he states “Trying to define conscious experience in terms of more primitive notions is fruitless. One might as well try to define matter or space in terms of something more fundamental.” In these two sentences he demonstrates both his failure to understand modern physics, and the conceptual difficulty of the problem. To do either thing (understand modern physics or consciousness) one must be prepared to go well beyond common sense. One must be prepared to try out ideas that seem completely counter to our experience.

That has in fact been the path of science throughout the ages.

Common experience is that the sun and the stars revolve around us.
Our common experience is not that it is us that is revolving, but if you live well away from the poles and can set up a very large pendulum, it will demonstrate that it is in fact us that is revolving.

So in this passage Chalmers demonstrates that he is unwilling to even try, as he has given up before he starts.

Einstein showed with his famous equation E=MC^2 that matter and light are two aspects of the same stuff. And the equations he used to get to that point demonstrate a need for many more than 3 dimensions of space.

And it seems beyond reasonable doubt that our brains evolved here on this planet, and are therefore imbued with all the hacks, heuristics and Bayesian priors required to make some reliable approximation to the reality of that experience. So the model of reality assembled by our subconscious brains to give us the experience of being that we have, is a simplification of the reality that we seem to actually exist in, but a simplification that was very reliable and useful to our ancestors (but maybe not quite so reliable for us in our rapidly changing present).

I’m very unusual.

I got to love numbers and mathematics very early, and throughout school would help my teachers by working with half the class while they worked with the other half.

I then got seriously interested in life, the chemistry and structure of it. At 17 years old I got direct admission to second year biochemistry in my first year at university, and did very well in those classes. I left university and went fishing, starting and running a fishing business.

I then got very interested in computers and computation. I started a software business that I still run (34 years on).

So I am not “normal in any sense of the word”.

I have the sort of brain that loves to work on complex abstract problems, and I have developed an ability to “visualise” spaces of more than 3 dimensions.

None of that stuff came easy, it took thousands of hours of working with ideas that made my head hurt thinking about them.

So yes in a sense, it is a really hard problem, but not for any of the reasons that Chalmers outlines.

It is hard because it is deeply complex.

To begin to get an appreciation of how complex one must be able to imagine a processing system (a type of computer), that has at least 6 levels of fundamentally different sorts of computational systems (hardware). One must then be able to imagine a set of software systems running on that extremely complex computational hardware that has at least nine levels of software running (and sometimes many more than that).

That is not easy.

It is really hard.

Most people use most of their brain power to create and maintain models of their social relationships.

I am essentially asocial.

Most people are a complete mystery to me.

Most of my brain is constantly involved in exploring the sorts of ideas outlined above, even while I am doing things like driving cars or flying aeroplanes or cutting wood or mowing lawns or digging the garden. I can set my body doing things then leave it to it for hours at a time without any conscious input on my part. That was one of the great beauties of fishing – hours alone at sea for uninterrupted contemplation of complex ideas.

Developing software was different, it demanded all of my brain power to construct complex models of the problem, then turn those models into sets of symbols that would make a machine do exactly what I wanted it to in every case.

So I have this really unusual brain. To me, it seems obvious that the sort of thing we experience as consciousness is exactly what one would expect to emerge from the interaction of those hardware and software systems, interacting with each other. And I can get why that is not obvious to many other people.

About Ted Howard NZ

Seems like I might be a cancer survivor. Thinking about the systemic incentives within the world we find ourselves in, and how we might adjust them to provide an environment that supports everyone (no exceptions) - see www.tedhowardnz.com/money
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