In sight of the supranatural – Part 2: A cosmic consciousness

Phenomenalist:  ‘The question is, either science is observing nature objectively, by looking at or upon it, or it is nature observing itself – because science acts in nature.  Either way something different is happening to the way things change in nature, since perception now has an active role.  So how are we to understand ‘the fact’ of nature?’

Realist:  ‘You seem to have overlooked the fact that perception is explained as an evolved capacity that assists survival, which is the same reason why thinking evolved with all its inherent meanings and purposes.’

P:  The utility of perception and intelligence for survival is without question, but it doesn’t prove that evolution is the explanation.  Evolution is observable as the result of change, but it amounts to a description, not an explanation – although the theory is generally regarded as if it is the cause of those changes.

R:  That’s because the theory proves what actually happens.

P:  There is no doubting the assiduous detective work that goes into piecing together the facts of evolution, but proving a fact is not the same as explaining it.

R:  You’re splitting hairs.  It’s the same thing.

P:  The distinction is not trivial.  The explanations are theoretical, hence it is properly called ‘the theory of evolution’.  Evolution appears to make things happen, but ‘it’ has no capabilities – it is no determinant of possibility – so we can’t explain the capacity for things to evolve by noting their evolution.  In other words, evolution doesn’t supply an answer to the question of how things are possible.  It is neither the beginning nor the end of possibility, nor does it give us an overview of what is possible.  In short, evolution is not the cause that we read into it, though it’s easy to see how the mistake arises, given the belief in underlying causes as the foundation of all explanation.  However, all the information in a picture doesn’t explain the change to its perception even though changes in one state of reality produce changes in the other.  Furthermore, in the bigger picture, we see that causes build upon causes in the constitution of different realities existing in parallel, but it doesn’t allow us to claim that one difference is the explanation of the other or that the unfolding direction of change is explained by the first cause.

R:  Nor does the idea of parallel realities help to explain anything.

P:  I’m not pretending that there is an explanation for everything.  It’s as basic as this: a book is filled with information but nothing is recollected until a reader comes along – so a book is and isn’t the source or explanation of knowledge, it just seems so when using it as a point of reference – but we don’t make the mistake of believing that the book knows anything.  The same applies to our observations of cause and effect as an explanation of change.   The explanation is in the mind, not in the cause.  Nor can we validate those explanations by claiming that they are direct effects of our observations – as if that explains what we see.  The same mistake arises when we believe that the brain does our thinking for us.

R:  It doesn’t mean that the theory of evolution is wrong.

P:  It does and doesn’t – it is wrong to believe that evolution provides a ‘missing link’ that explains change.  The theory is not self-explanatory, rather the explanation is an embellishment we attach to the observation that things change – which we presume to evolve that way because the changes are useful in the struggle for survival.

R:  So you accept that evolution has a place?

P:  However, it’s not the facts of change that owe their origin to the theory of evolution, rather it is the theory of evolution that owes its origin to the facts of change.

R:  Nevertheless, natural selection explains those changes as adaptations in life.

P:  Except the nature behind it all has no need to be selective.  That is, according to the laws of physics, there is no need for life to emerge, no necessity for there to be additional ‘evolved’ states of existence.

R:  But there it is – identifiable as a process of natural selection, which is also the explanation of how evolution works.

P:  I am not denying the fact of natural selection in evolution, but I am questioning its status as the definitive explanation of change in nature.

R:  There is no better explanation.  Also you are raising your objection in defiance of all the accumulated evidence.

P: The process of natural selection is but one unexplained change to the nature of nature, and it is not the end of the story.  The evidence indicates that things change, and the ensuing difference reveals properties that exist in addition to the observable cause – hence the laws of physics contrast with the relatively extraneous functions of biology, psychology and survival.  Nor can we explain away those differences as superficial versions of their underlying causes.  At the same time, we see the face of nature being transformed through the activities of a host of shaping influences, which we interpret variously and retrospectively as the marshalling of order, organisation, necessity, need, purpose and design.  Of course, science does not associate all of these factors with ‘things natural’.

R:  Because the explanation that things exist by design has been discredited scientifically.

P:  However, design exists in the real world – so where are you going to place it, or its agents, if it is not in the course of nature as defined and explained by science?

R:  But where’s your evidence that nature turns into something else?

P:  Remember, I am talking about a plurality of inexplicable natures, compared to a single version which is equally inexplicable.  In fact, things diverge in extraordinary ways from a reality seen to be unified by insensible natural causes; but you want to solve the problem by predicting that the facts will one day show us that it is all one and the same, so we might as well start believing it now.

R:  Then how would you approach the problem?

P:  Despite nature having been described as a ‘blind watchmaker’, implying a non-designer of ‘things natural’, we still have to explain the presence in nature of real watchmakers and their purpose-built designs.  To put it crudely, nature works as nature works, with the mind working as the mind works – bear with me on that for the moment – but the fact that thought fails or alters if the bio-chemical system fails or alters doesn’t prove that thought is just biochemistry, or that consciousness is explained by the cells of the brain becoming conscious.

R:  So is consciousness floating about in a world of its own?

P:  Yes and no.  Consciousness is different from other natural states – though we see it as growing out of those states.

R:  So how do you define consciousness?

P:  By the fact of what we know in being conscious.  But there is a reason why we cannot equate it to something else, thereby to explain it, because it means becoming conscious of it as something in addition to itself – the cause of the becoming – which nudges our awareness of the original fact out of the frame for the sake of a non-conscious fact that we claim to be more original.  Alternatively, if consciousness is a property of nature, albeit incomprehensible and inexplicable at present, then nature is both conscious and unconscious – something that we wrestle with in ourselves.   Either way, it is the definition of nature that gives way, not the fact of consciousness.

R:  You still haven’t defined consciousness.

P:  You’re missing the point – which is, the moment we try to relate consciousness or thought to something else, ostensibly in the name of explanation, we stand to lose sight of the features we are talking about – since we are now talking about them as features of something else.  This is why I asked you to bear with me earlier – because beneath it all, we can see that everything remains unchanged.  So, apparently, things change and don’t change – we really are stardust – however, the preconditions for change don’t explain the inception of change, or where it leads.  The point is that we need to alter our approach to the way we define things – beginning with our definition of ‘things natural’ – and we can make a start by accepting that we don’t have an adequate understanding of ‘things natural’ or ‘things explained’ or, indeed, ‘things conscious’.

R:  Then would you say that the problem is solved by the idea of a grand design within it all and a grand designer behind that?

Mike Laidler

To be continued

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Subject to oneself

Is consciousness an illusion generated by the brain?  But how would we know it without the overview that enables our recognition?  So consciousness ‘looks on’.  And there can be no scientific discoveries without a sentient faculty of realisation.  Hence the dawning of awareness heralds a new kind of reality in which facts become identified as perceptual objects.  Likewise, self-awareness marks a new kind of realisation – evocative of ‘a self’ as the object of its own perception.

However, reality is not necessarily limited to that which is framed by perception.  And there is something odd about the nature of self-discovery because it involves the perception of facts that had hitherto escaped recognition – even when the recognisable element of such facts obtains imaginatively of the subjective realisations of insight.  Then what of science’s embrace of an ‘objective reality’ of things natural – is it inclusive enough to show that scientific knowledge represents nature’s insight into itself?

Mike Laidler

Self-consciousness

Think about it – a cause of consciousness.  What does it mean?  Does it mean that the cause is operative in the identification of itself?  Or does it mean that the cause and effect work in some kind of relationship brought about by a difference occasioning an interaction?

But how are we to identify a difference without a point of comparison that is particular to the nature of consciousness?   And how can the observation of parallel changes in the operations of consciousness and its physical support processes prove sufficient to explain any differences or show that they are one and the same thing?

Mike Laidler

Grey matters

We may feel that we can get to know a thing better by explaining it in terms of something else, indeed science depends upon this philosophy, but there is also a sense in which it doesn’t make sense – and the best example is ourselves.

Consider the perceived difference between our thoughts and the brain.  First we must recognise a difference in order to talk about a cause, otherwise there is nothing to talk about.  Then we suppose that the cause must explain things – especially if there is nothing else to see.  Yet something else remains evident in the change, now perceived as an effect.  However, saying that the cause has changed to create that difference leaves the fact of the change unexplained and renders the effect redundant.  Typically, we diminish the reality of the difference in order to explain it by attributing the emergent properties of the effect to the cause – as if ‘causality shows us’ that change doesn’t really occasion a shift in reality.  Thereby we conclude that new events, such as thought or consciousness, are really superficialities that cannot amount to changes in the nature of nature.  In other words, we concede, for the sake of explanation, that change is not all it seems – as if a talking nature is really not so different in kind from one that never did, now seen as the cause.

Moreover, the mind and the body amount to differences in reality which we can’t explain by supposing that reality must be a singular ‘thing’.  Indeed we are no more able to explain reality in terms of ‘things real’ than we can explain the existence of existence.  In fact, we can’t pin the ‘it’ down.  And perhaps reality is a fact we cannot define because it can also be seen to define us – in more ways than one.  So when people say that mind and body are one and the same thing, they are calling them the same in the name of an incomplete explanation – as if causality is a thing in existence that explains the origin of things in existence and automatically clears-up the problem of change.  Also, we are looking at ‘the reality’ retrospectively by leaving out of the analysis the significance of the looking – as if the change to observation can be seen as a subsidiary effect.  But we have yet to explain the change to perception, together with the evidence, of itself, of the effect that occupies an additional reality to the cause – a difference that cannot be accounted for by saying that there is no real change, as if the fact of change is subsidiary to the cause instead of the other way round.

Mike Laidler

 

Turing’s Avatar

Can a machine think? Can a thinking machine tell us something about ourselves – or does it need to ask its own questions?
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Abstract: The Turing test poses problems for explanation in supposing that different causes, synthetic and biological, can converge upon the same effect, namely intelligence. In particular, the recognisable change from cause to effect depends upon a capacity for recognition that cannot be subtracted from the appearance of intelligence or its explanation.

Historical background: Alan Turing was a pioneer in the field of Artificial Intelligence. In 1950 he devised a famous thought experiment as an objective means of assessing the equivalence between an intelligent machine and a human competitor: If an independent examiner, who can’t see whether he is dealing with a man or a machine, cannot discriminate between their performance, then it is reasonable to assume that the machine is intelligent, indeed thinking for itself, and that thinking and intelligence can be explained as a programme. Various advances have been made since then plus diverse claims about the prowess of thinking machines. There is an annual competition called the Loebner Prize which is broadly based on the Turing test. The 2014 competition was held at Bletchley Park and won by a machine called Rose, which was awarded a bronze medal. If a machine eventually passes the Turing test, a special prize will be awarded and the competition will end.
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Causality is a conundrum. Everything we know about atoms and molecules doesn’t tell us what comes next until we see what comes next. So it is by the nature of the effect that we are able to establish the nature of the causal properties of the atom – observable in the changes attributed to it. These attributions reassure us that the change is within bounds, but those bounds are discoverable by observation of the recurrent fact of the effect, not the continuing presence of the cause in its original state. So all we have really established is that things change, with implications for both the cause and the effect.

In fact all we see is change as a fact of change. The causality is a fact we have construed. Our causal proof is based on the fact that the cause came first, in its unchanged state, plus the ‘fact’ that there is nothing else to observe – save for the effect that results. But this observational framework is directly challenged when it comes to our understanding of our own thinking – because here the effect comes first, as an active observational prerequisite, and all the facts we can observe as causes can’t match the nature of the effect we seek to explain.

Likewise, we attribute consciousness to its causes knowing that any comparison is based on the change to consciousness – an effect that supplements the cause, meaning the cause is less than the effect – a difference that calls into questions the explanatory power of our causal proofs. However, the Turing test proposes a situation in which the difference disappears when comparing our version of thinking with an ‘intelligent machine’ – suggesting that if we can’t tell the difference we can dismiss it, and implying that we can also ignore the physical differences in its causes. Also, we can begin to understand the mind as a physical process, knowing that the Turing machine is an entirely material thing.

But what does the machine know? Is it aware that it knows – of knowing as a state of awareness? Is awareness no more than a physical process? Presumably an alert machine would recognise this much of itself and could simply tell us or show us, providing the answer from the material information in its operating systems and programmes – the corollary being that the reality equates to its physical activities, that there can be nothing more to our thinking, knowing and understanding. In this vein, the ‘change’ to awareness is seen as a feature and function of its physical causes; but it was the change to awareness that led us to identify this feature with its causes, and without the effect emerging as something else we have no cause to attach any function to the cause. Furthermore, the possibility of different causes, biological and synthetic, leading to the same effect also endorses the significance of the effect as a real change. Whichever way we look at the facts we can’t escape the fact that the special nature of our state of awareness is really its special nature as something else, which can’t be the nature of the cause as it was.

An explanatory gap lurks within our theories of where thinking comes from, as if its properties can and need to be known as the output of something else – to the point that we can also identify our awareness with that something else, in its cause. Current reasoning avers that we can’t really know what knowledge amounts to in ourselves, subjectively, without observing it objectively as an objective fact in the world, with the unknowing unconscious physical cause instated as the complete explanation. This is the same reasoning that subsumes the nature of the effect to that of the cause. Accordingly, reason itself is seen as belonging to the properties of an external world and as such gives our reasoning its authority. However, the universe is an unthinking fact occupied by a thinking fact – in one sense it can be seen to give the thinker their thoughts, but in another, very real sense, it cannot – for it has no thoughts to convey.

Even though science hasn’t explained the physical nature of consciousness ‘it’ remains sure that there is a physical explanation in its causes. But causality is a conundrum. It comes down to the fact that we know the conscious mind is possible, but we are expecting the impossible of it in trying to explain it away in the properties of something else that is less than conscious – in the unconscious causes of the physical world. These material proofs attempt to reconstruct the mind as an avatar, by which we might know it better. However, even the ‘thinking machine’ cannot show us what its thinking is really like without doing something really unusual, without joining us in the speculation over its own faculties and their origin – for it is evident that the reality is simultaneously one thing and another, being one thing as the cause and another as the effect. It appears that we introduce our own reasons for wanting the appearance of appearances to be a reality we must explain in terms of its insentient causes.

Mike Laidler

The Sound of Silence

Science is a reality proceeding to its completeness through the realisation of possibilities and the discovery of what is there. A prerequisite for this exercise is the capacity for knowing which the knower uniquely brings to the facts under study in a reality now extended by a new and different kind of realisation – one that takes place in the mind.

This process of completion began long before we invented science. Hearing a sound extends the reality from its physical state into a co-existing mental state. It is futile to argue whether the one or the other is the more real, they both add up a new reality – a reality that has already changed with the advent of its perception. We now know that we occupy both versions of this new reality – knowing that the physical waveform of sound is not everything to know, that perception brings sound to life and without that living perception the ‘sound’ remains in the silence of its physical state. Meanwhile the forests may fall and the mountains crumble without the full reality of sound having made its appearance.

Scientists know that the reality of knowledge is incomplete without an objective basis, yet tend to overlook the fact that the objective basis is incomplete within a wider reality that is known to obtain – that the world is incomplete in the oblivion of its physical completeness without the presence of a knowing realisation to change what happens next.

Mike Laidler

 

The consciousness uncertainty principle

Consciousness is bigger than anything we can set-up in consciousness as the form of our awareness.  

 

We are certain that we are conscious and yet we cannot discern its nature in any preconscious state of nature.  Nor can we prove that such preconscious states relate to the fact of consciousness without relying implicitly on the very fact we are trying to establish explicitly in terms of those other facts.  In other words, we can know the essential nature of consciousness only from within and must start from that knowledge in order to assess any fact about its nature and origin.


Furthermore, every time we probe the form of our consciousness in order to find out something new about it we alter the state of our awareness in the wake of our discovery – we generate a new state of consciousness, so ensuring that there is always something new to learn.  And if, as it would seem, consciousness remains bigger than any fact we can determine about it, then our awareness of that paradoxical fact holds the key to expanding our horizons.   


Mike Laidler