Are solipsism and open individualism beneath the surface the same view?

Are solipsism and open individualism beneath the surface the same view?

[ 28/10/20 – updated 22/12/20]

That does not seem to be the case.

There is a sense in which it seems probable that Descarte got one thing right, “cogito ergo sum”. The sense that given there can be no argument that I exist, but a lot of argument about the nature of that existence.

So if Solipsism is taken to mean this, and only this – that one can be sure that one is some sort of something, but not certain about the nature of the what that something is; then it seems to be valid.

Everything beyond that seems to be a matter of probabilities.

When one spends a few decades in the depths of biology, in evolutionary theory, in the quantum mechanics of biochemistry, in the strategic dimensions of the emergence of cooperative complex adaptive systems, in exploration of highly dimensional mathematics and logics, in the enquiries into the nature of the substructure of this matrix of existence that we seem to find ourselves in; then one comes away with a profound appreciation of the complexities and dependencies and levels of influence and relationship that seem to be present in this reality we find ourselves in.

One starts to appreciate that all models of such complexity are necessarily incomplete, and that there are many different classes of fundamental uncertainty present, and that summed over many instances, such uncertainty can in aggregate very closely approximate classical logical certainty in some contexts.

Thus it seems we live in a world that can deliver life, choice and computers, all built on a fundamental base that is a mix of the random and the lawful – a probabilistic base of uncertainty.

Building back up from that base, we get to an understanding of just how reliant we as individuals are on the ecosystems and social systems within which we exist.

So in this sense, we can start from an uncertainty delivered by a form of solipsism, accept the probabilistic nature of all knowledge of reality, then do the hard work of examining evidence sets, building reliable probability assessments, and going down below atoms and then come back up through matter and life forms and social systems to arrive at a profound appreciation for the necessity of cooperation for the existence of complexity such as us.

Thus in this sense, starting from solipsism, and using the probabilistic evidence of observations, we end up with an understanding that individuals have huge value, but that value must exist in social and ecological contexts.

So individualism, in so far as it is construed as valuing the individual and devaluing social and ecological systems and relationships is disproven.

Individualism in the sense of valuing individual life, and acknowledging that individual existence necessarily comes with social and ecological responsibilities if it is to survive long term, is not a common view of individualism, but it is one that I hold and one that seems to me to be proven beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt.

It is certainly possible for people to hold different views of individualism, but I doubt whether it is possible for such things to survive over the long term.

If we desire long term survival, then we must all acknowledge the fundamentally cooperative base that is required for complexity such as us to emerge and to survive long term. And everyone needs to be really clear about the distinction between cooperation and control – they are very different things.

Global cooperation between diverse levels and classes of agents is nothing like global control by a subset of agents.

[Addendum – in case of doubt – there is no evidence I have seen to support the notion of “open individualism”, as in a single identity who is all people at all times. The likelihood of such a things appears to be very close to zero.]

[followed by in response to Rares Mircea’s comment about open vs empty vs closed individualism]

Hi Rares

While I share many of the experiences you report, and quite a few others, I have a very different interpretation.

It seems clear to me that we are very complex embodied systems.

There seem to be at least 15 levels of systems present in the simplest conscious individual human, and each of those levels is built upon the level(s) below.

Most of those levels seem to be cooperative complex adaptive systems.

Most of them seem to be some form of clocked probabilistic mostly finite state machines.

It seems that memory in some form is important to most of those levels.

It seems that consciousness resides only in some of the higher levels.

It seems that for most people most of the time state changes in consciousness occur at about 15 cycles per second, but in some contexts it can be much higher, approaching 200 cycles per second. Extreme forms of stress and meditation seem to achieve those higher clocking rates but by rather different mechanisms (I’ve tried both).

I’m unusual in many aspects. I only recently realised that I am autistic, as my autism was masked by a quite a few other and more obvious differences. I see in a different set of visual spectra to most people, something that was proven when I did my skipper’s ticket 42 years ago, and they checked me for colour blindness, and determined that while I could see red/green, I saw it differently from most other people). That was something I had suspected for about 15 years at that stage. My hearing is also very different, being quite acute in 5 different bands above 25 KHz. So some machines and animals that are silent to most people are screaming at me.

When I was practicing a variety of meditation techniques 40 years ago, one of the things I practiced was going to a restaurant alone, and listening to and following every conversation in the room.

Almost 60 years ago my father taught me to play 500, and we used to go to a community 500 school every Saturday night. We usually won. We did not use any form of cheating, our only communication was through the bids we made, but we had a well defined and yet flexible strategy about what bids to make in what context. And I always could recall exactly who played what cards once we started playing. It took me a long time to realise that most people do not have that ability.

At university I found it simple to keep count of a 4 pack deck when playing blackjack, and could mentally recalculate probabilities after every card was played.

So to me, keeping track of complex systems is much easier than for most people, and even my brain is overwhelmed by the complexities already identified and characterised within the human brain.

I can recall when I first became conscious, and I can recall that I already had many memories at that instant.

Prior to that instant I was simply being, without awareness of being, something similar to “flow” state, yet also different.

My consciousness of being was a thing in language, yet it was instantly accompanied by all the other sensations of being that have nothing to do with language.

I can recall the first time I became conscious of my first act of consciousness for what it was – I was on a school bus, on my way to highschool – about age 15.

I am now conscious of about 100 protein modulators of synaptic function.

I am aware of many levels of chemical, electrochemical, and electrical modulation of synaptic function.

I have no difficulty imagining that my experience of being, my experience of self and the many levels of sensation, are what it is to be this extremely complex cooperative colony of cells we call a human being, many of which are organised into a very complex set of neurological systems mostly in my brain and gut but also distributed throughout the body.

I have trained for deep free diving, I have undergone complex surgery, I have studied hypnosis, so I have many different experiences (or not) of many different states of mind and consciousness. There isn’t much consciousness left after you have been more than 7 minutes since you last took a breath. It is a very strange state to spend many hours of your life in over many years.

So for me, there is no reasonable doubt that I am an embodied human. My conscious experience is what happens when a brain this complex, with language and experience sets this complex, and with multiple levels of memory systems, exists in a reality this complex. And it is, by definition, vastly more complex than I can possibly deal with in detail (for all the amazing capacities of my autistic brain to deal with complex systems {even if it has great difficulty dealing with people – they are too complex – I get overwhelmed}).

I seem to be this amazing (massive) stack of interacting complex systems, with multiple levels of memory, and multiple levels of prediction about what is likely to come next, and multiple levels of systems that respond to any deviation from the expected.

For me, being the geek that I am, with the experience sets that I have, there is no shadow of reasonable doubt remaining – the evidence sets are that strong.

But I have over 5 decades of fascination with mathematics, systems, patterns, machines, and how things work.

I guess in large part because I experience things so differently from most people, the standard explanations of authority figures have never made a lot of sense to me, as they simply did not align with my experience (never have).

Thus I have been forced, for over 60 years, to make my own sense of my own experience. And of course some of what some people say has been exceptionally useful. I have learned from intellectual giants throughout history, by reading and critiquing what they wrote. But for the most part, few people in the educational establishment were interested in my critiques, in part because their experience and mine were so different.

So I am kind of in the Buddhist tradition, that self, in so far as it exists, is given by a series of memories, which are one small part of the totality of the massive sets of levels of embodied systems that are me.

One of the tricky bits that few seem to fully understand, is that what we experience as reality cannot possibly be reality, but can only ever be a sort of subconsciously generated virtual reality. Whatever reality actually is, we have overwhelming evidence that it is far more complex than any computational system can possibly model in detail. Every computational system, human, AI, AGI or whatever, must, of necessity, be dealing with some simplification of the matrix we find ourselves in.

What sort of simplification is most appropriate to context???

That seems to be THE question in life.

Evolution seems to have embodied in us a set of Bayesian priors biased towards particular sets, with the ability to modify and modulate those priors over time and experience.

This seems to be the sort of life and choice available to us.

Might as well accept and enjoy it.

[followed by]

Like you, I think we are all necessarily delusional, but I’m not delusional in that particular way at this particular time 😉

The idea of soul doesn’t quite work for me.

Certainly, we are all uniquely different systems; and soul could, kind of, be a proxy for that; but to me it seems to be overloaded with too much baggage to be a useful term.

It seems to me that IIT has part of the picture, but right now I don’t really have time to dive into depth on that discussion.

[In response to Bryce Timothy – 10 Dec updated 22 Dec]

Thanks Bryce – that is a context I can work with.

I have difficulty putting much of what is in my head into words.

When I was about 11 I used to get 100% in most of the math tests, but barely managed a passing grade in English. I recall a discussion with my teacher as to why I needed to learn the forms of writing solutions to mathematical problems in steps rather than simply writing the answer, as he tried to make me understand that others could not accept my answers, even if correct, if I could not show how I got there. What he failed to grasp, was that I did not get to the answers by the methods he was teaching me. I just knew them, instantaneously. He also failed to grasp that to me it was a maddeningly slow waste of my time.

I became intrigued by why I could do that, and why only I among all I knew could do that.

That started me into a multidisciplinary enquiry into the nature of being – biology, evolution, chemistry, physics, cosmology, …. I conducted that enquiry and made my projections and associations at full speed; not particularly concerned with communicating anything to anyone else, as so few could understand anything that I found even vaguely interesting in that realm – though I still managed to find all individuals fascinating and mysterious in other dimensions. My hubris did manage to get tempered by a little humility and genuine respect for diversity. The more deeply I investigated the diversity the more deep the respect that resulted.

At 17 I started university, was granted direct access to biochemistry at second year level; the same year I discovered computers and programming (coming from a small country school I had never met a computer previously).

I slowly started to develop sets of conceptual tools, and sufficient practical experience and datasets to employ them usefully. I started to understand the evolution of complexity itself, and of control systems, and started to appreciate the depths of the amazing multi leveled hardware and software environment that allowed for the software bootstrapping of my consciousness.

I started to appreciate the many levels of logic that demanded that all perception must necessarily be a simplification of what is present, and that complexity comes with huge overhead costs of time required to make decisions. I could see the multiple levels of evolutionary drivers for contextually driven simplification.

Having sufficient knowledge to be confident beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt that indefinite life extension was possible, my attention turned to the levels of systems that would be required to give potentially very long lived agents a reasonable probability of actually living a very long time with reasonable degrees of freedom (prioritised in that order – life then liberty).

It became very clear to me in my exploration of the strategic spaces that the assumptions von Neumann made in coming to MAD were invalid, but I could also see that there did not exist sufficient time for me to create a set of words that could show a stepwise path as to how I reached such a conclusion.

So I live in a world of probability, that contains many levels and classes of fundamental uncertainty as well as many classes of chaos.

In such a world absolute certainty is a sign of madness, yet we all require operational confidence; so we all require contextually relevant operational heuristics. That is the nature of evolution – so many levels of heuristics, all tuned by differential survival in the contexts of the past.

I am clear that there is a very real sense in which all experience is some form of historically useful illusion, and I am also confident that my existence is part of the very complex cooperative complex that is my cellular based body in a cultural context of language and practices and tools and institutions.

And I am confident beyond all shadow of reasonable doubt that in a very real sense, my awareness of the continuity of being is the effect of multiple levels of “memory” encoded in my biological being and the cultural and physical contexts within which I exist and of which I am part.

That understanding does not fit neatly into any of the classical versions of individualism, and it contains shadows of all of them. It is deeply complex.

[Followed by – 11 Dec]

Hi Bryce,

Unfortunately, you didn’t follow in the direction that my words pointed far enough to be able to answer your own question.

There is no implication of influence from an undiscovered source.

What there seems to be, is levels of systems with degrees of isolation and degrees of influence (within and between levels); along with degrees of uncertainty and randomness.

There does not appear to be any theoretical limit on the levels of abstraction possible; though for me 12 seems to be something of a practical limit, and communication of anything past 3 has proven impossible to date.

The evidence is very strong that most people most of the time experience being at a state change frequency of about 13 Hz, but some can push that up to around 200 Hz by various mechanisms and contexts. Obviously the nature of the experience changes.

Clearly also the nature of experience changes when the restraints of comparing expectation with sensory delivery is removed – overclocking can occur strongly.

When one starts to fully exploit the power of random search, it gets “interesting”.

[Followed by]

Hi Bryce,

I get that some people believe in the non termination of “I”.

I am not one of those.

I get that some people believe in god(s).

I am not one of those either.

I don’t “believe” in anything. I have contextually useful sets of heuristics that I am prepared to trust my life to in some contexts, and I am aware that they are necessarily simplifications of what is actually present, and thus necessarily wrong, and less wrong than what most people are using in most situations.

I can understand the experience of “I” you describe, and have experienced it. I have experienced lots of other things also.

In my younger days I developed some skills as a free diver, and got to being able to hold my breath for 7.5 minutes – not up to the level of today’s adepts, but a big enough deal for me at the time. One gets to experience many different states of consciousness while maintaining some sort of awareness with very low oxygen levels – the passage of time is one that stays. I have been under general anesthetic several times – zero experience of being, zero memory of anything, not even the passage of time – just a big gap (6.5 hours the last time).

I do not find p-zombie arguments even remotely interesting, as they vastly over simplify the complexity that is happening within us. The very notion of qualia seems to me to be a vast over simplification of what is actually present.

Yes, sure, we all have this experience of being, that we give the label “qualia” to; yet it seems beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt that the experience of “qualia” is a simplification of something (as all experience must logically be – it cannot be any other way – once you actually start to get some beginnings of an idea of just how complex reality actually is, and how complex the biochemisty and circuitry of our brains).

My reference to MAD was Mutually Assured Destruction – one of the major strategic underpinnings of our current global economic/political system.

The entire theoretical structure behind economics is seriously broken (too simplistic and no longer appropriate due to changes in context) and now poses existential level risk.

People have to start to see beyond the idiotic notion that evolution and freedom are all about competition; and start to appreciate just how fundamental cooperation is to our existence as a species, and to the evolution of complexity, and to the survival of all levels of complexity – the math and the logic is beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt to me, but too complex to explain in detail in any reasonable time (without making overly simplistic simplifications that necessarily fail on close inspection).

[Followed by 11 Dec]

I responded on your post – but copy here:
Your first presumption is not actually true [“Because any system of knowledge must take either observed facts or presupposed axioms as true in order to draw framework around these key points”].

Evolution does not need to deal in truth.

All evolution requires is useful approximations, and those that are better than the other alternatives will tend to be selected for.

The really tricky bit is looking very closely at what “better” means in an evolutionary context. In most real world situations speed of response and lower cost in terms of metabolic energy are highly selected for – much more so than actual accuracy.

In evolutionary terms, something near enough to be survivable (that is also fast and cheap) is much better than something accurate but slow and costly in terms of resources.

What that delivers is multiple levels of systems masquerading as “True”, whereas in reality their real state is “near enough to be useful in the contexts of our ancestors”.

Where things get quite tricky is when contexts change – like the double exponential we are currently experiencing in technological and conceptual change.

So the very idea of “PURE TRUTH” seems to be a simplistic illusion that evolution has predisposed our brains towards us accepting, because it stops us putting in the vast amounts of resources required if one really does keep asking the really hard questions, and starts taking the time to build multiple levels of datasets and multiple dimensions of measures of the reliability or otherwise of particular datasets to particular contexts.

One then ends up in a place where all things contain profound uncertainties. We may be certain that we are some sort of something, but it takes a great deal of work across a vast array of disciplines to start to build a reasonable model of just how complex we are and how much fundamental uncertainty and unknowability is embodied within us and within the matrix of our existential reality.

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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