How to think like a quantum monadologist

post by Mitchell_Porter · 2009-10-15T09:37:33.643Z · LW · GW · Legacy · 268 comments

Half the responses to my last article focused on the subject of consciousness, understandably so. Back when LW was still part of OB, I stated my views in more detail (e.g. here, here, here, and here); and I also think it's just obvious, once you allow yourself to notice, that the physics we have does not even contain the everyday phenomenon of color, so something has to change. However, it also seems that people won't change their minds until a concrete alternative to physics-as-usual and de facto property dualism actually comes along. Therefore, I have set out to explain how to think like a quantum monadologist, which is what I will call myself.

Fortunately, this new outlook agrees with the existing outlook far more than it disagrees. For example, even though I'm a quantum monadologist, I'm still seeking to identify the self and its experiences with some part of the physical brain. And I'm not seeking to add big new annexes to the physical formalism that we have, just in order to house the mind; though I may feel the need to impose a certain structure on that formalism, for ontological reasons, and that may or may not have empirical consequences in the macro-quantum realm.

So what are the distinctive novelties of this other approach to the problem? There is an ontological hypothesis, that conscious states are states of a single physical entity, which we may call the self. There is a preferred version of the quantum formalism, in which the world is described by quantum jumps between spacelike tensor products of abstract quantum states (more on this below). The self is represented by one of the tensor factors appearing in these products. There is an inversion of attitude with respect to the mathematical formalism; we do not say that the self is actually a vector in a Hilbert space, we say that the nature of the self is as revealed by phenomenology, and the mathematics is just a way of describing its structure and dynamics. Finally, it is implied that significant quantum effects are functionally relevant to cognition, though so far this tells us nothing about where or how.

Quantum Jumps Between Tensor Products?

For this audience, I think it's best that I start by explaining the quantum formalism I propose, even though the formalism has been chosen solely to match the ontology. I will assume familiarity with the basics of quantum mechanics, including superposition, entanglement, and the fact that we only ever see one outcome, even though the wavefunction describes many.

Suppose we have three qubits, allegedly in a state like |011> + |101> + |110>. In a many-worlds interpretation, we suppose that all three components are equally real. In a one-world interpretation, we normally assume that reality is just one of the three, e.g. |011>, which can be expanded as |0> x |1> x |1>: the first qubit is actually in the 0 state, the second and third qubits in the 1 state.

However, we may, with just as much mathematical validity, express the original state as {|01>+|10>}|1> + |110>. If we look at that first term, how many things are present in it? If the defining property of a thing is that it has a state of its own, then we only have two things, and not three, because two of our qubits are entangled and don't have independent states. It is logically possible to have a one-world interpretation according to which there are two things actually there - one with quite a few degrees of freedom, in the state |01>+|10>, and the other in the much simpler state |1> (and with |110> being unreal, an artefact of the Schrodinger formalism, as must be all the unreal "branches" and "worlds" according to any single-world interpretation).

And there you have it. This is, in its essence, the quantum formalism or quantum interpretation I want to use, as a neo-monadologist. At any time, the universe consists of a number of entities whose formal states inhabit Hilbert spaces of various dimension (thus |01>+|10> comes from a four-dimensional Hilbert space, while |1> comes from a two-dimensional Hilbert space), and the true dynamics consists of repeatedly jumping from one such set of entity-states to another set of entity-states. Models like this exist in the physics literature (see especially Figure 1; you may think of the points as qubits, and the ovals around them as indicating potential entanglement). For those who think in terms of "collapse interpretations", this may be regarded as a "partial collapse theory" in which most things, at any given time, are completely disentangled; actually realized entanglements are relatively local and transient. However, from the monadological perspective, we want to get away from the idea of entanglement, somewhat. We don't want to think of this as a world in which there are two entangled qubits and one un-entangled qubit, but rather a world in which there is one monad with four degrees of freedom, and another monad with two degrees of freedom. (The degrees of freedom correspond to the number of complex amplitudes required to specify the quantum state.)

The Actual Ontology of the Self and Its Relationship to the Formalism

I've said that the self, the entity which you are and which is experiencing what you experience, is to be formally represented by one of these tensor factors; like |01>+|10>, though much much bigger. But I've also said that this is still just formalism; I'm not saying that the actual state of the self consists of a vector in a Hilbert space or a big set of complex numbers. So what is the actual state of the self, and how does it relate to the mathematics?

The actual nature of the self I take to be at least partly revealed by phenomenology. You are, when awake, experiencing sensations; and you are experiencing them as something - there is a conceptual element to experience. Thoughts and emotions also, I think, conform somewhat to this dual description; there is an aspect of veridical awareness, and an aspect of conceptual projection. If we adopt Husserl's quasi-Cartesian method of investigating consciousness - neither believing in that which is not definitely there, nor outright rejecting any of the stream of suppositions which make up the conceptual side of experience - we find that a specific consciousness, whatever else may be true about it, is partly characterized by this stream of double-sided states: on one side, the "data", the "raw sensations" and even "raw thoughts"; on the other side, the "interpretation", all the things which are posited to be true about the data.

Husserl says all this much better than I do, and says much more as well, and he has a precise technical vocabulary in which to say it. As phenomenology, what I just wrote is crude and elementary. But I do want to point out one thing, which is that there is a phenomenology of thought and not just a phenomenology of sensation. Because sensations are so noticeable, philosophers of consciousness generally accept that they are there, and that a description of consciousness must include sensations; but there is a tendency (not universal) to regard thought, cognition, as unconscious. I see this as just footdragging on the part of materialist philosophers who have at length been compelled to admit that colors, et cetera, are there, somewhere; if you were setting out to describe your experience without ontological prejudice, of course you would say something about what you think and not just what you sense, and you would say that you have at least partial awareness of what you're thinking.

But this poses a minor ontological challenge. So long as the ontology of consciousness is restricted to sensation, you can get away with saying that the contents of consciousness consist of a visual sensory field in a certain state, an auditory sensory field in another state, and so on through all the senses, and then all of these integrated in a unitary spatiotemporal meta-perception. A thought, however, is a rather different thing; it is something like a consciously apprehended conceptual structure. There are at least two ontological challenges here: what is a "conceptual structure", and how does it unite with raw sensory data to produce an interpreted experience, such as an experience of seeing an apple? The philosophers who limit consciousness to raw sensation alone don't face these problems; they can describe concepts and thinking in a purely computational and unconscious fashion. However, in reality there clearly is such a thing as conceptual phenomenology (or else we wouldn't talk about beliefs and thoughts and awareness of them), and the actual ontology of the self must reflect this.

A crude way to proceed here, which I introduce more as a suggestion than as the answer, is to distinguish between presence and interpretation as aspects of consciousness. It's almost just terminology; but it's terminology constructed to resemble the reality. So, we say there is a self, whatever that is; everything "raw" is "present" to that self; and everything with a conceptual element is some raw presence that is being "interpreted". And since interpretations are themselves processes occurring within the self, logically they are themselves potentially present to it; and their presence may itself be conceptually interpreted. Thus we have the possibility of iteratively more complex "higher-order thoughts", thoughts about thoughts.

Enough with the poetics for a moment. Is there a natural formalism for talking about such an entity? It would seem to require a conjunction of qualitative continua and sentential structure. For example, a standard way of talking about the raw visual field specifies hue, saturation, and intensity at every point in that field. But we also want to be able to say that a particular substructure within that field is being "seen as a square" or even "seen as an apple". We might build up these complex concepts square or apple combinatorially from a set of primitive concepts; and then we need a further notation to say that raw sensory structure X is currently being experienced as a Y. I emphasize again that I am not talking about the computation whereby input X is processed or categorized as a Y, but the conscious experience of interpreting sensation X as an object Y. It can be a slippery idea to hold onto, but I maintain that the situation is analogous to how it was with sensation. You can't say that a particular shade of red is really some colorless physical entity; you have to turn it around and say that the entity in your theory, which hitherto you only knew formally and mathematically, is actually a shade of red. And similarly, we are going to have to say that certain states and certain transitions of state, which we only knew formally and computationally, are actually conceptually interpreted perceptions, reflectively driven thought processes, and so forth.

Returning to the second part of the question with which we started - how does the actual ontology of the self relate to the quantum mathematics - I have supposed that there is a mapping (maybe not 1-to-1, we may be overlooking other aspects of the self) from states of the self to descriptions of those states in a hybrid qualitative/sentential formalism. The implication is that there is a further mapping from this intermediate formalism into the quantum formalism of Hilbert spaces. This isn't actually so amazing. One way to do it is to have a separate basis state for each state in the intermediate formalism - so the basis states are formally labelled by the qualitative/sentential structures - and to also postulate that superpositions of these basis states never actually show up (as we would be unable to interpret them as states of consciousness). But there may be more subtle ways to do it which take advantage of more of the structure of Hilbert space.

What About Unconscious Matter? 

If I continue to use this terminology of "monads" to describe the entities whose quantum states, tensored together, form the formal state of the universe from moment to moment, then my basic supposition is that conscious minds, e.g. as known from within to adult humans, correspond to monads with very many degrees of freedom, and that these are causally surrounded by (and interact with) many lesser monads in simpler, unconscious states. I'm not saying that complexity causes consciousness, but rather that conscious states, on account of having a minimum internal structure of a certain complexity, cannot be found in (say) a two-qubit monad, and that these simple monads make up the vast majority of them in nature.

In fact, this might be an apt moment to say something about the relationship between these "monads" and the elementary particles in terms of which physics is normally described. I think of this in terms of string theory; not to be dogmatic about it, but it just concretely illustrates a way of thinking. There is a formulation of string theory in which everything is made up of entangled "D0-branes". An individual D0-brane, as I understand it, has just one scalar internal degree of freedom. A particular spatial geometry can be formed by a quantum condensate of D0-branes, and particles in that geometry are themselves individual D0-branes or are lesser condensates (e.g. a string would be, I suppose, a 1-dimensional D0-brane condensate). Living matter is made up of electrons and quarks; but these are themselves just D0-brane composites. So here we have the answer. The D0-branes are the fundamental degrees of freedom - the qubits of nature, so to speak - and their entanglements and disentanglements define the boundaries of the monads.

Abrupt Conclusion

This is obviously more of a research program than a theory. About a dozen separate instances of handwaving need to be turned into concrete propositions before it has produced an actual theory. The section on how to talk about the actual nature of consciousness without implicitly falling back into the habit of treating the formalism as the reality may seem especially slippery and mystical; but in the end I think it's just another problem we have to face and solve. However, the point of this article is not to carry out the research program, but just to suggest what I'm actually on about. It will be interesting to see how much sense people are able to extract from it.

P.S. I will get around to responding to comments from the previous article soon.

268 comments

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comment by Psychohistorian · 2009-10-15T17:04:26.891Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I may feel the need to impose a certain structure on that formalism, for ontological reasons, and that may or may not have empirical consequences in the macro-quantum realm.

This sentence pretty much guaranteed that the entire article would be vague, riddled with empty jargon, unfocused, and uninformative. It was right. Not saying you don't have a point; I'm saying this article is not clear enough for me to begin to determine if you have a point or not.

comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2009-10-15T15:40:20.332Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I very much suspect it's woo, but in any case it's written for a wrong audience. Mixing physics and thought raises red flags. Downvoted.

Replies from: Nubulous
comment by Nubulous · 2009-10-15T20:53:46.179Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This site is full of people interested in implementing intelligence (and even themselves) on a new substrate .... but they're not going to be interested in the relationship between physics and thought ?

Replies from: Vladimir_Nesov, Furcas
comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2009-10-15T21:08:17.365Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Articles should be legible to the audience. You can't just throw in a position written in terms that require special knowledge not possessed by the readers. It may be interesting, but then the goal should be exposition, showing importance and encouraging study.

It's great when thought is considered mechanistically, in terms of physics. It's also instructive to build ontology around knowability. There is a path across levels of abstraction between physics and intuition, and arguably a shorter path between intuition and logic. But mixing precision of physics with vague intuitive concepts such as "consciousness" at the same level is a no-no, an umbrella fallacy with supernatural a prominent example.

Replies from: mormon2
comment by mormon2 · 2009-10-16T01:40:05.398Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"Articles should be legible to the audience. You can't just throw in a position written in terms that require special knowledge not possessed by the readers. It may be interesting, but then the goal should be exposition, showing importance and encouraging study."

I both agree with and disagree with this statement. I agree that a post should be written for the audience. I disagree in that I think people here spend a lot of time talking about QM and if they do not have the knowledge to understand this post then they should not be talking about QM. The other issue is I think this post may be too muddled to really require special knowledge before the author clarifies the post.

General Post Question The one big thing that confuses me is the title do you actually mean Quantum Monadology? If so are you claiming some use of the formal term monad, or some definition of your own? I don't see this post as following from some real definition of monads as seen in scientific literature.

General Post Comment I think to be blunt this post is a bit muddled with ideas from all over the place put into one big pot and the result is not very enlightening. If you haven't already I suggest you lookup the precise definition of monad. I can't find it now but there was a paper a while back published on this topic of formalizing QM within the formal idea of monads.

Replies from: Vladimir_Nesov, Mitchell_Porter
comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2009-10-16T09:30:30.935Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I disagree in that I think people here spend a lot of time talking about QM and if they do not have the knowledge to understand this post then they should not be talking about QM.

Maybe they shouldn't (but not because they can't understand this post).

comment by Mitchell_Porter · 2009-10-16T01:53:33.556Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

As I've been saying, I mean pseudo-Leibnizian monads (pseudo because unlike Leibniz's, they can interact), not computer-science monads.

comment by Furcas · 2009-10-15T21:06:05.117Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

We're all interested in the 'relationship' between thought and reality, but I think it's unlikely that thought exists at the simple, fundamental level of reality that is studied by physicists.

comment by cousin_it · 2009-10-16T11:32:42.313Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Gotta agree with Psychohistorian and Nesov: this post is woo. Admittedly it's pretty hard to imagine how a classical computation can give rise to consciousness, but I don't see how quantum mechanics helps you. Please pinpoint the exact step in the reasoning where your monads actually require the quantum special sauce, rather than some massively complex Tinkertoys.

Replies from: Mitchell_Porter
comment by Mitchell_Porter · 2009-10-16T11:39:09.507Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Conscious experiences have "parts", but not in the sense of spatial parts. Therefore consciousness cannot be directly identified with any complex entity built up out of aggregation of parts in space. So if we don't want to be dualists, positing a law of correspondence between a spatial material complex and the nonspatial complex that is consciousness, we need a nonspatial material complex. Quantum entanglement is the only example we have of nonspatial complexity in physics.

Replies from: rhollerith_dot_com, kpreid, cousin_it, thomblake, Steve_Rayhawk
comment by rhollerith_dot_com · 2009-10-16T12:48:13.855Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The human brain is able to create and to maintain a model of reality, but it does so imperfectly. Imperfect operation of your brain is by far the most parsimonious explanation of your conviction that reality cannot be reduced the way most physicists and biologists claim it can be reduced.

If your subjective experience of redness strikes you as so vivid or so affecting somehow as to be incommensurable with standard physical and biological theory, you have no right to expect us (out of politeness to you or out of any other principle) to refrain from chalking that up to yet another of the many ways that the human brain goes astray.

In other words, all the evidence you have offered us so far to contradict the standard story on fundamental reality is vastly more likely to be malfunction of your own brain and the brains of the people persuaded by your evidence. The standard story on what brains are and how brains got here predicts that the brains will produce a large variety of wierd experiences that seem to contradict the standard story. Describing some of those wierd experiences is not an effective indictment of the standard story.

I am all for questioning basic ontological assumptions, especially before launching on a course of action that is likely to rearrange every human life and every human project in an irreversible way, but what I have seen of your contributions to Overcoming Bias and Less Wrong do not yet constitute an indictment of our ontological assumptions worth close study or soul-searching on our part. Since you seem sincere and seem to have put a lot of time and effort into your indictment, and I am sad that I cannot be more encouraging.

In reply to your latest comment (namely, the parent of this comment), do you agree that the same argument applies also to symphonic music?

Symphonies have "parts", but not in the sense of spatial parts. Therefore symphonic music cannot be directly identified with any complex entity built up out of aggregation of parts in space.

ADDED. Another summary: my current model of reality already contains imperfect intelligent agents. Moreover, my current model of the coming into existence of the imperfect agents already predicts that they will tend to report the incommensurable importance of their own existence. Moreover, the model already says that they are articulate social animals whose fitness in the EEA depended strongly on being able to persuade their fellows of their frame or interpretation of events. Note that a sense of the incommensurable importance of their own experiences will contribute to that ability. Consequently, your "But what about the incommensurable experience of redness?" does not cause me to allocate more weight to alternatives to my current model of reality.

I have not (yet) reflected on what you said about monads, microtubules or entanglement because I entertain models more complex than my current model only when I encounter evidence against my current model, which, again, you have not yet presented.

Replies from: Mitchell_Porter
comment by Mitchell_Porter · 2009-10-17T04:40:47.072Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Richard, at which step is the brain malfunction: the step where I think I see colors, or the step where I think there are no colors in physics, or the step where I draw the logical conclusion?

Jokes about the parts of a symphony aside, see my latest for more about this issue of "parts of consciousness".

Replies from: rhollerith_dot_com
comment by rhollerith_dot_com · 2009-10-18T19:46:32.384Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Richard, at which step is the brain malfunction: the step where I think I see colors, or the step where I think there are no colors in physics, or the step where I draw the logical conclusion?

Consider a community of intelligent agents whose eyes have the following flaw: there is an area of the retina of the eye where there are no photodetectors, with the result that the visual field experienced by an agent contains a black spot somewhere near the center of the field. The human eye has exactly such a flaw (where the optic nerve originates) but the human brain removes the existence of the flaw from the higher awareness of the individual. In contrast to the human case, suppose our hypothetical intelligent agents remain aware of the flaw (or can become aware of it whenever they choose to do so).

Suppose further that one day one of these agents, named Mitchell, addresses the physicists of the community as follows:

Yo, physicists! Although physics is supposed to be the study of fundamental reality, your account of fundamental reality neglects to account for the black disk that has contrived somehow to remain in front of my eyes for my entire life.

Clearly, your physical model needs to be revised to include the black disk. For example, unless the black disk is massless, momentum is not always conserved like your current physical model says it is. But a massless black disks presents problems, too. Research is needed to incorporate massless black disks into a coherent account of reality -- unless of course you decide instead to remove from your physical model the law of the conservation of momentum.

A physicist named Dick replies,

There is a reductionist explanation for the black disk that does not require a revision of our physical model. Here, let me lay it out for you. My model of reality includes my self. In other words, the model consists an agent (my self) and an environment. (Reality contains agents other than my self, but we will not be needing that fact today.) Moreover, the agent maintains a model of the environment. So, to review, in my model of reality, reality contains an agent which in turn contains a model of its environment. Let us appeal to the computer scientist's notion of state. The agent's model contains quite a bit of state. Part of that state is what we might call a low-level representation of the information coming from the environment through the eyes.

This low-level representation takes the form of a two-dimensional array, which we might call the visual field. Near the center of the two-dimensional representation is a blank area, a black area or what appears to be a representation of a black disk. However, the agent containing the low-level representation is an educated agent. It has been to college. It knows about the part of its retina where there are no photoreceptors. Consequently, the agent's highest-level representation of its environment does not include a black disk that contrives somehow always to remain near the center of where the agent is looking becuase it has properly accounted for other evidence (e.g., knowledge of the anatomy of its eye) that overrides the evidence of the low-level representation of the black disk.

Let me stop here, Mitchell, and ask you to confirm that yes, the account given by the fictional intelligent agent Dick is a satisfactory account of the black disk and is a satisfactory answer to the fictional Mitchell.

Second, let me ask you to confirm, please, that yes, for the fictional Mitchell to ask Dick, "At what stage do the quarks, photons, etc, of your physical model turn into a massless or momentum-conservation-violating black disk?" reveals a confusion between representation of reality and reality -- that is, between map and territory?

Jokes about the parts of a symphony aside

I am a little discouraged by your framing it as a joke. You made an argument about consciousness, then I pointed out that the same argument holds for symphonic music. I sincerely, non-jokingly did not understand what is different about consciousness that made your argument apply there, but not apply to symphonic music.

But anyway, you expanded your argument as follows:

I have my conscious experience of the world, which is some complicated mixture of sensations, diverse conceptual positing of objects and situations, and private intentionality . . . Then, I have my physical model of the world, which might be atoms in space, or amplitudes in configuration space, and I seek to identify the experience above with some subset of the posited physical world. On both sides of the equation we have things in relation to each other, so we need a mapping not just between things but between relations.

So my proposition is that it is extremely problematic to identify the constituting relations of consciousness - the relations between its parts at the level of experience - with spatial relations. The constituting relations of consciousness are something like: subjective spatiality, subjective simultaneity, gestalt unification of sensations into a sensory form, conceptual association of posited properties with sensory gestalts, logical and other conjunctions of things as the compound objects of thoughts

Let me ask you this: suppose I show you a computer program with rich, complex non-spatial relationships between elements of the computer program. Would you consider that evidence of the poverty and the unsatisfactoriness of our current physical model?

If you answer no, please explain what it is about you at the level of physical law that is intrinsically different from a computer program.

Replies from: Mitchell_Porter, Mitchell_Porter
comment by Mitchell_Porter · 2009-10-19T12:31:16.552Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Symphonies: well, they have parts, vocal parts and instrumental parts. The pun obscures matters and I didn't want to go there.

You bring up the physical ontology of computer programs and whether people are different. Computer programs introduce a new slate of complications because they are typically perceived and discussed in a way as full of imputed intentionality as when someone reads a book. As a physical object, a page of text is just ink on paper in a complicated pattern. The meaning is not intrinsic to the physical object. The same thing goes for computer programs. Physically, a given program is a pattern of magnetizations on a disk, a pattern of charge distributions in an integrated circuit, etc. We have computational devices constructed to be finite-state machines of a particular specification, an elaborate array of cultural props such as programming languages which allow us to think of these states and their components as being about anything and everything, and finally we have media-technology peripherals to enhance the illusion by presenting our senses, and not just our intellects, with simulacra.

Now of course the standard cognitive-neuro view of human beings is that, with the ability to move around autonomously thrown into the definition, this is essentially what we are too: finite-state machines with peripherals, all made out of atoms. If our thoughts manage to be "about" something, it's because of what caused those inner states and/or because of how everyone else would interpret them (causal and social theories of intentionality, respectively).

According to the quantum-monadic hypothesis, what makes us different to the computers we have is not carbon versus silicon, it's quantum versus classical computation. Any entity which forms interior entanglements with a high degree of freedom is at least potentially conscious; anything which doesn't, is not. A conscious monad is still a finite-state machine too, when viewed as a black box causally interacting with the world; but (this is the theory, remember) it contains intrinsic intentionality, whereas an entity which reproduces its causality in a way which has many physically separate parts, does not. You could almost say that a complex monad is made of "qualia and intentionality" (sensations and thought, basically), and that you can simulate the causal dispositions of such a complex monad using a multitude of simple ones, but you will not have thereby materialized actual sensations and thought into being.

I realize I'm making still further ex cathedra statements here, when apparently I still haven't persuaded anyone of the plausibility of the previous batch, but though I'm engaging a little bit with the criticism, I am at this point mostly just trying to convey a novel way of thinking. I see that even the mere exposition of the viewpoint is going to require a lot of work, to say nothing of its justification.

Replies from: SilasBarta
comment by SilasBarta · 2009-10-19T15:01:04.140Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Symphonies: well, they have parts, vocal parts and instrumental parts. The pun obscures matters and I didn't want to go there.

Pun? No, that's a metaphor (combined with a reductio). A pun is when you exploit an ambiguity that hinges on a phonetic similarity.

More importantly, it's not up to you to decide whether you need to "go there". You used a chain of reasoning about consciousness. Richard Hollerith pointed out that the very same reasoning can apply to symphonies, thereby showing your reasoning to lead to invalid results. So you need to refine the reasoning, not just dismiss it as a pun, which isn't even the right label.

I realize I'm making still further ex cathedra statements here

I don't think it's the ex cathedra bit that bothers anyone here, but the ex pedora [1]. Your'e not even at the point where you can present a coherent, testable (in the broad sense) viewpoint, and you keep finding distinctions that you "should have made" before -- yet you're sure that there's a flaw with the exisitng methods used here. This, despite all the time you've spent on the issue. If correct, you should be able to communicate the idea a lot better than you have been. If the issue's as important as you make it out to be, surely a little more effort on your part is justified when you make top-level posts.

[1] "from the foot-mouth", a term I just made up, which I don't even think is valid Latin. But it's closer to being a pun than the symphony thing!

Replies from: Mitchell_Porter
comment by Mitchell_Porter · 2009-10-20T05:14:47.665Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Richard Hollerith pointed out that the very same reasoning can apply to symphonies, thereby showing your reasoning to lead to invalid results.

I see now that I didn't want to dodge matters because of the "pun", I just tried to use that as an excuse. I wanted to dodge this question because "symphonic music" is, for the purposes of an ontological discussion, ambiguous in its reference and introduces much unnecessary new complexity however you interpret it.

I made the assertion that conscious experience - what happens in the mind of one individual at one time - is not made up of spatial parts. Richard said, I could say the same of symphonic music, do you think it can't be reduced to physics either. Well, first of all, what do we mean by symphonic music? Do we mean all the physical performances ever made by the symphonies of the world? Do we mean the experience of the listeners who hear those symphonic performances? Do we mean the abstract specification of a symphony, which those concrete performances attempt to follow? These are all very different things ontologically, their analysis into parts is going to be different, and the analogy/disanalogy with consciousness is also going to be different. It's one big distraction, I instinctively tried to dodge it, you pinned me down, so there's what I should have said to Richard to begin with.

you keep finding distinctions that you "should have made" before -- yet you're sure that there's a flaw with the existing methods used here. This, despite all the time you've spent on the issue. If correct, you should be able to communicate the idea a lot better than you have been. If the issue's as important as you make it out to be, surely a little more effort on your part is justified when you make top-level posts.

What can I say ... I have refrained for years from talking about this stuff at any length, because I didn't have it all figured out, and I still don't, and simply pointing out the flaws of physicalist orthodoxy changes nothing. On this occasion I have tried the more affirmative approach of introducing a concrete alternative, and I am being induced to bring out extra details as the discussion proceeds. I did not know in advance where the focus would be.

comment by Mitchell_Porter · 2009-10-19T11:58:33.332Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

We can skip the details of the story and come straight to the point. Let us suppose that what I see is indeed a two-dimensional data structure in my brain. It has pixels and they are neurally encoded somehow, e.g. by spiking rates.

Now suppose I'm seeing something colored - a blue sky, a red apple, anything. By our hypothesis, what actually exists is nothing but a two-dimensional sheet of neurons all firing in different rhythms - ions moving across membranes, and so forth.

Where is the blueness or the redness, if this and only this is the reality?

It seems to me you have two choices. Either blueness is nothing but ions plunging back and forth across a membrane with a certain regularity; or, there is no such thing as blueness - only talk of blueness, neural dispositions to categorize as blue, and so on.

I think that what people usually imagine is that the ions-crossing-the-membrane-at-a-certain-rate "is" the blueness, but they do this by mentally juxtaposing the physical picture (if they think it through that far) with the blueness that they actually see and experience. But in that case they've gone beyond the nothing-but-the-atoms provision. Or, the troublesome color-word will be buried in a larger phrase, and so all those neural firings are identified with "seeing blue" or "the experience of seeing blue". But I don't see how that solves anything, although psychologically it has the effect of directing your attention away from the blueness itself, towards the more abstract states in which it features. And being more abstract, perhaps it is easier - perhaps it is subjectively more plausible - to imagine that they are nothing but neural computations. However, that's just a trick that you play on yourself.

So I bite the bullet and say, the blueness is obviously there, somewhere in reality; it is obviously not there in a physics which consists of nothing but point masses moving back and forth, or any of the other, slightly more complex physical ontologies on offer; so, I had better seek a perspective on physics in which there is a place where it might be. This is the point of a monadic interpretation of entanglement. I don't say it's the only way to do it, but it is a way to create the necessary room.

Replies from: Jack, jimrandomh, SilasBarta, rhollerith_dot_com
comment by Jack · 2009-10-19T12:33:02.938Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Or, the troublesome color-word will be buried in a larger phrase, and so all those neural firings are identified with "seeing blue" or "the experience of seeing blue".

This is a linguistic fact, not a phenomenological one. Our language happens to distinguish verbs by referring to their objects, subjects and using adverbial modifiers. But the language could have just as easily had a one-word verb phrase than means "experience blueness". Say this word was "bluep". If this were the case we wouldn't be asking where the object of blueping was. Rather, we'd see blueping as fundamental and would easily identify blueping with a particular configuration of neural firings.

Since blueness is a phenomenological quality I can't imagine finding it anywhere except as an object modifier of experience. I don't see how a monadic interpretation of entanglement changes that fact-- you're just associating the configurations (or whatever) of monads with the subjective experience of blueness. Blueness itself is meaningless.

Replies from: Amanojack, Mitchell_Porter
comment by Amanojack · 2010-03-12T23:26:39.821Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Rather, we'd see blueping as fundamental and would easily identify blueping with a particular configuration of neural firings.

Yes, I'd say blueping is one of your "fundamental concepts that can't be dissolved." But to me it's no surprise that sensations of the five senses are the fundamental units of experience. The only reason I think people posit that there is more to experience than mere sensation is that they say, "What about thinking and emotions? Those are experience but not really sensations of the five senses."

My theory - developed for entirely separate reasons - is that all thinking is done in the (imagined) five senses, but that we don't notice because it's usually happening too fast, or is auto-ignored because the background sensory processes aren't generally relevant and would overwhelm our conscious mind. The sensory thought processes can be noticed in some special situations, though, which is how I found out about them. (In fact, I'm heading to an isolation tank this afternoon to try to "see" more of my own thoughts.) My theory says that emotions are primarily (or perhaps only) imagined physical sensations. I hope to write a main post on the theory once it's more developed.

Anyway, that would indicate that all experience is sensation, hence it would be natural to consider blueping as fundamental (or if you like, undissolvable).

Replies from: jimrandomh
comment by jimrandomh · 2010-03-13T00:22:40.201Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

My theory - developed for entirely separate reasons - is that all thinking is done in the (imagined) five senses, but that we don't notice because it's usually happening too fast, or is auto-ignored because the background sensory processes aren't generally relevant and would overwhelm our conscious mind.

Be warned: thoughts have properties and connections that appear only when summoned. For example, suppose I take a sentence or two from my inner monologue and try to analyze the voice. I will imagine hearing it in the voice of a person or character who might say that sort of thing. But the thought wasn't originally in that voice, or any voice at all; trying to inspect details like tone and inflection caused my mind to create those details, more or less at random, where they would not have been created if I hadn't gone looking for them. I can connect any thought to one of the senses in this way, but that doesn't mean that the connection was there before I summoned it. Words are imported through hearing, but there's no reason the brain has to maintain that connection.

On the other hand, minds vary. People with synesthesia definitely have stronger connections between their senses and other thoughts than normal. Someone with a slightly more active auditory cortex might hear their inner monologue in a specific voice even if they weren't trying to. There're many possibilities, and spending some time in a tank or meditative state to figure out how your mind works is a great idea.

Replies from: Amanojack
comment by Amanojack · 2010-03-13T02:01:02.436Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I believe you're cautioning that maybe what I'm noticing are sensory patterns my mind attaches to the thoughts after the fact, when I go in and try to analyze them, rather than the thoughts themselves. I actually had a few false starts this way, but later on I found what I think are my internal representations of the structure of logical reasoning. They are like fundamental thought-widgets (visual and physical, àla Einstein's claim) that fit together with a certain set of rules to form meaning. These could be after-the-fact sensory patterns as well, but since they are mostly visual I've started using them to create a picture-only language as a sort of proof-of-concept. I'll share more as it develops.

Also, I try not to think in words. Habitual word thinkers and non-word thinkers will probably have very different reactions to what I've been writing.

I grant that I might just have a particularly strong case of synesthesia. Hopefully the tank will bring answers.

comment by Mitchell_Porter · 2009-10-19T12:44:20.833Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

the language could have just as easily had a one-word verb phrase than means "experience blueness".

Are you sure about that? Do you think the meaning of "bluep" could be conveyed to young humans without having blue objects to point at and without those humans at least forming a concept of blue? I also doubt that this would make physicalism any easier subjectively. Whether it's the experience or the object of the experience which is regarded as blue, something's blue.

I have to go offline now, right in the middle of some heated real-time exchanges. Don't anyone get too steamed if you don't hear back from me for a day or so. :-)

Replies from: Jack, SilasBarta
comment by Jack · 2009-10-19T14:09:36.484Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Are you sure about that? Do you think the meaning of "bluep" could be conveyed to young humans without having blue objects to point at and without those humans at least forming a concept of blue?

You're conflating two things. There is the property some objects have of emitting photons with a wavelength of about 475 nanometers. Then there is the phenomenology of seeing such things which is "blueing" or experiencing blue. Teaching children the word blue just involves teaching them how to describe the reflective properties of certain objects.

Now people tend to divide their experiences along similar lines. Thus, the set of all blue objects is that same for most people. We don't disagree that there is a difference between red things and blue things, unless we're color blind. This lets us share a vocabulary of qualia but we have no reason to think that what the words actually refer to are the same for everyone except insofar as we find correspondence between the physical configuration of the brain and reports of subjective experience.

I also doubt that this would make physicalism any easier subjectively. Whether it's the experience or the object of the experience which is regarded as blue, something's blue.

No. Experience isn't blue... not at all in the same way objects are. This is a HUGE category mistake. The verification conditions for claims about "blue experience" are TOTALLY DIFFERENT then verification conditions for claims about blue objects. We might as well have different words.

Replies from: Mitchell_Porter
comment by Mitchell_Porter · 2009-10-20T07:27:43.062Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

So, if I understand you correctly, the world is as follows: There are objects that emit "blue" light. And there are nervous systems which respond differently to blue and non-blue light. And some aspect of this differential response is "experiencing blue".

It seems to me that this functions as a way to avoid directly mentioning the problematic entity, i.e. shades of blue. There is a concession that, yes, objects in the external world aren't actually blue. One might suppose, then, that the thing which is actually blue is somewhere in the brain. But instead, by talking about "experiencing blue" as a unit, we get to focus on language ("how to describe the reflective properties of certain objects", "vocabulary of qualia", "verification conditions for claims about 'blue experience'", "reports of subjective experience"), cause and effect, information processing, anything but phenomenal blueness itself.

Replies from: Jack, RobinZ
comment by Jack · 2009-10-20T16:16:16.164Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm fine with saying, "There are qualia. They are part of our experience and we need to account for them." The way to do that is to find the brain-state that corresponds to the experience of seeing blue and then (with other information about other brain-states) posit rules that relate subjective experience with brain-states. If we develop computers that report qualia then we can do the same and then generalize the theories and come up with a universal theory of qualia. We want to get to a point where we can say: P1, P2, P3, P4... (which are any set of empirical descriptions of a brain or computer) AND L1, L2, L3...(which are our laws) and then output S1, S2, S3 (descriptions of subjective experience). Once we can do this both ways I would take us to understand qualia and phenomenal experience.

But you keep using language which makes it sound like you're looking for real "blueness" or something. But there is no such thing as blueness except as a way of distinguishing a certain kind of sight experience. I'm not denying that the phenomenal experience of it isn't a real experience just that "experience being blue" is anything like jeans being blue. Jeans are blue in virtue of the fact that when a subject looks at them they experience blueness. So how could that kind of blueness be found within experience? Whatever experiencing-blue is it is likely very different from the property objects have of being blue.

This is all to deny the motivation of looking past neuron firings to find qualia.

Replies from: Mitchell_Porter
comment by Mitchell_Porter · 2009-10-22T08:08:29.804Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

you keep using language which makes it sound like you're looking for real "blueness" or something.

Of course I am. I emphasize again that the really undeniable reality (though you are apparently denying it) is the individual shade of color. Color names like blue are fuzzy in scope. But the concrete instances of color which they are intended to categorize very definitely exist.

Your second paragraph is a fascinating exercise in constructing a way to keep colors out of the realm of the real. First, assert that there is no such thing as blueness, except something not actually blue which has the functional properties of blueness:

a way of distinguishing a certain kind of sight experience

Second, say that a thing is blue only if it has the property of causing the experience of blueness:

Jeans are blue in virtue of the fact that when a subject looks at them they experience blueness

Finally, observe that the cognitively relevant physical properties of the brain are very different from the reflectively relevant physical properties of surfaces, and triumphantly conclude that the blueness in the external world is nothing like the experienced blueness in the brain,

so how could that kind of blueness be found within experience?

The physicalist vision of a world made solely of quantity, space, and causality has a very strong grip on the imaginations of those who can wield the formalism. But arguments like this really are an exercise in denying reality. The physicalist ontology is a subset of the real ontology and you can see some of what's missing whenever you open your eyes. Just because you don't yet know how to think about it precisely is no excuse for denying that it's there.

Replies from: Jack
comment by Jack · 2009-10-22T17:20:54.717Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Look, an annotated repetition of my argument followed by

The physicalist vision of a world made solely of quantity, space, and causality has a very strong grip on the imaginations of those who can wield the formalism. But arguments like this really are an exercise in denying reality.

amounts to a kind of circumstantial ad hominem fallacy. You don't actually dispute any claim I make you just 'diagnosis' it. It is mildly annoying and throughly unhelpful. Are you really denying that there is a difference between blueness as a phenomenal quality and blueness understood as the reflective quality of an object? Even if you want to say that the experience of looking at the sky is "blue" experience do you actually hold that experience is blue in the same way that the sky is? Do think that experiences have reflective properties? Do the electrons in the atoms of experience drop out of higher energy levels and release photons of different wavelengths?

When we talk about any phenomenal entity, quality or event are we not talking about subjective experience? Isn't the definition phenomenology the study of things as we experience them and not the things in themselves? If so, when we talk about the phenomenon of blueness are we not talking about a kind of experience?

Anyway, I don't even understand how I'm the dogmatic physicalist in this discussion. I'm the one willing to posit fundamental laws that relate brain states to subjective experience. You're the one positing a physical entity with no empirical evidence, which somehow, through the handwaving magic of quantum physics is subjective experience. This is a big point: even if it is the case that a substantial part of subjective experience is accounted for by something other than neuron firings we will still need a separate set of laws to relate the brain state to subjective experience.

Replies from: Mitchell_Porter
comment by Mitchell_Porter · 2009-10-23T07:17:24.091Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Are you really denying that there is a difference between blueness as a phenomenal quality and blueness understood as the reflective quality of an object? Even if you want to say that the experience of looking at the sky is "blue" experience do you actually hold that experience is blue in the same way that the sky is?

The appropriate use of the words has changed along with our ontology. In a mode of naive realism, in which appearances are not distinguished from their external causes, then the blueness of the sky is the blueness of the experience of the sky, because no distinction is being made between sky and experience of sky. However, once you get to the point of distinguishing between the experienced sky and the physical sky, then blueness in the original sense is only a property of the experienced sky, and the new "blueness" of reflective physics is only a property of the physical sky.

The problem now is that in the attempt to reduce experience to physics as well, the original sense of blueness is being banished entirely from discussion, solely in order to achieve the reduction. While it may be annoying to be lectured about how you're evading the question, you say outright

there's no such thing as blueness except as a way of distinguishing a certain kind of sight experience

which I take to be an explicit repudiation of the naive concept of blueness as applying to anything, physical sky or experienced sky. And you also said, two steps back,

This is all to deny the motivation of looking past neuron firings to find qualia

which suggests that you do understand this motivation, and are deliberately trying to route around it.

comment by RobinZ · 2009-10-20T13:40:06.574Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What was your reaction to How An Algorithm Feels From Inside, incidentally?

comment by SilasBarta · 2009-10-19T13:15:23.455Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Are you sure about that? Do you think the meaning of "bluep" could be conveyed to young humans without having blue objects to point at and without those humans at least forming a concept of blue?

Who modded this up? Is this the standard now for what words a language could have? Whether the concept could be explained to a child? You might as well dismiss the word "oxygen" on the grounds that you can't explain the full chemical model to a child, in a way that allows you to make use of the concept.

In any case, you could explain it to a child: "When you're dreaming about blue, you're just blueping. But when you see blue for real, you're blueping and seeing something blue."

Why is it that "It's impossible to explain ..." always seems to say so much more about the speaker than the concept?

comment by jimrandomh · 2009-10-19T22:48:24.516Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This is an instance of the fallacy described in Explaining vs Explaining Away. Color can be explained by neuroscience and physics, but it can't explain color away because it's still there after you learn what underlies it. You don't have to modify physics to make color real, because it's already real, as an abstraction layered on top of physics.

Replies from: Nick_Tarleton
comment by Nick_Tarleton · 2009-10-20T04:42:07.255Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Mitchell did acknowledge the existence of the identity view.

comment by SilasBarta · 2009-10-19T13:22:16.238Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Where is the blueness or the redness, if this and only this is the reality?

I already explained how blueness can arise: you have to distinguish between kinds of data, and your phenomenal experience of blue, is your label for the kind of data that is blue. Just as a program can use generated symbols to distinguish two kinds of data, you can distinguish between red and blue, or between sight and sounds, by being able to notice distinct traits about them that resist deeper scrutiny at the usual level of operation.

comment by rhollerith_dot_com · 2009-10-19T12:20:56.597Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I asked you four direct questions, the first three of which can be disposed of with a yes or a no. Do you not want to answer any of them?

Replies from: Mitchell_Porter, Mitchell_Porter
comment by Mitchell_Porter · 2009-10-19T13:05:35.937Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

A few minutes after I stepped away from the keyboard, I had a revelation about your story - something that was probably obvious to you, but which just seemed like an odd non sequitur to me until now. My alter ego in your story doesn't just think that he sees a black disk, he thinks there's a black disk literally floating in front of him all his life, which is why he goes on about momentum, yes? I had thought momentum was just thrown in there as a random physics buzzword. And so your alter ego is doing nothing but explaining that hallucinations are possible, I think.

This is coming at the problem from the wrong level. The experience of blueness is a problem for physics whether it's veridical blueness or hallucinated blueness. Either way it's there at the level of experience, and either way it's not there at the level of neural physics. I will answer your four questions tomorrow, if you still want me to, but I think you're not engaging with the challenge here. Unless you intend to maintain that the whole of humanity's experience of color is unreal.

Replies from: SilasBarta, RobinZ, rhollerith_dot_com
comment by SilasBarta · 2009-10-19T20:19:05.575Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Unless you intend to maintain that the whole of humanity's experience of color is unreal.

Why do you keep attributing this view to people here? I'm sure you've been corrected on it enough times. No one denies that people experience color. The claim is just that the reductionist materialist ontology is sufficient to explain why it happens, and it is due to a more fundamental phenomenon.

comment by RobinZ · 2009-10-19T20:05:22.224Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Either way it's there at the level of experience, and either way it's not there at the level of neural physics.

Question: Is this post on the LW server at the level of semiconductor physics?

Replies from: Mitchell_Porter
comment by Mitchell_Porter · 2009-10-20T08:55:40.992Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's like asking whether a book is just ink on paper. As a physical object that's all it is. As a message it also has a semantic content, but that is ascribed rather than intrinsic.

Replies from: RobinZ
comment by RobinZ · 2009-10-20T13:30:47.446Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

As a physical object it's a complex arrangement of subatomic particles and photons - the ink and the paper are as much ascribed qualities as the text. To pretend that the levels above the physical are not real is to commit the fallacy of greedy reductionism. See the link about "explaining vs. explaining away", elsewhere.

To make my point more explicit: what relevant difference do you see between (1) the relationship between mental phenomena and the neural physics and (2) the relationship between the message and the ink on the paper? Or better, between (1) and (3) the relationship between the videogame and the physics of the electronic systems in the console?

Replies from: Mitchell_Porter
comment by Mitchell_Porter · 2009-10-22T09:04:28.034Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

the ink and the paper are as much ascribed qualities as the text

Physical composition is not observer-dependent, interpretation is.

In a universe made solely of causally interacting particles in motion, there are plenty of complex higher-level properties: conjunctive properties, configurational properties, averaging properties, counterfactual properties. But you will find neither colors nor meanings. When dealing with problematic entities like these, physicalists either redefine them in purely physical terms, or posit untenable identities between the real thing and its supposed physical counterpart. The first class of explanation evades the problem and is really eliminativism, and the second class of explanation is a law of psychophysical correspondence and is really dualism.

So perhaps you can anticipate how I will answer your questions. If we posit a universe such as physicists presently posit, there simply are no mental phenomena, including the interpretations required to make patterns of ink into messages and patterns of phosphor into games. If we posit a "physics" which does include mentality, then such interpretations can exist, but they only exist in the lifeworlds of those who make them, and not intrinsically in the artefacts themselves.

You asked elsewhere what I thought of How An Algorithm Feels From Inside. It is the kernel of one possible explanation of why someone might "feel an impulse to go on arguing whether the object is really a blegg", and as an explanation it's incomplete both causally and ontologically. For a causally complete explanation, Network 1 and Network 2 would need to be embedded in some larger network that determines which questions actually get asked. For an ontologically complete explanation, something has to be said about how and why an algorithm feels like anything at all, and what a feeling is in the first place. And to really tie it all together, you would have to make the feeling of the algorithm causally relevant in the larger network (this would be bringing consciousness into contact with cognition).

Replies from: RobinZ
comment by RobinZ · 2009-10-22T15:54:15.963Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm sorry, this is just assertion with a broader vocabulary. You, personally, don't find physicalist explanations of experience like Eliezer Yudkowsky's sufficient. Nobody needed the three hundred words of pleonastic vocabulary you just foisted upon us to learn this fact - you've already told us.

What evidence do you have that reductive explanations of subjective experience are wrong?

Replies from: SilasBarta, Mitchell_Porter
comment by SilasBarta · 2009-10-22T16:06:21.960Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I have to agree with you there: it feels like Mitchell_Porter unnecessarily throws around jargon in these discussions :-/ But the post you replied to wasn't the worst case: I'd nominate the fourth paragraph here.

Replies from: RobinZ
comment by RobinZ · 2009-10-22T16:31:48.503Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You realize he can read this, right? :P

But seriously: Mitchell, drop the big words. We won't think less of you for it.

Replies from: SilasBarta
comment by SilasBarta · 2009-10-22T16:37:24.606Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You realize he can read this, right? :P

Yes, but he generally avoids reading my comments anyway ;-)

But just for the record:

@Mitchell_Porter: You unnecessarily throw around jargon in these discussions. A case in point is the fourth paragraph here.

ETA: Word of advice: Never criticize someone unless you'd be willing to say it directly to their monad ;-)

Replies from: Mitchell_Porter
comment by Mitchell_Porter · 2009-10-23T07:03:39.224Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm not actually avoiding you. I've picked a few comments to answer each day, and there's a growing unanswered backlog. At some point I'll go back and tie up loose ends, if I can figure out a way to do so that won't drive everyone to exasperation.

The examples of prose held up as jargon-ridden or redundant seem pretty tame to me, and do actually say something. Consider that list of "constituting relations of consciousness", for example. Every item in that list is either a specific relation that ties things together (e.g. simultaneity) or a structure held together by a particular relationship (e.g. a logical conjunction). The issue was whether or not the relations which make up a conscious state can be identified with physical relations, and I was providing a partial inventory of the relations in question. Without such a list there was no prospect of a real discussion.

Similarly, in the comment above which Robin Z dismissed, I stated aspects of my position for context, answered her questions, and provided an evaluation of one of Eliezer's articles.

Replies from: SilasBarta, RobinZ
comment by SilasBarta · 2009-10-23T13:59:05.107Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You misunderstand the criticism of jargon. It's not there's no meaning, or redundancy, or you're using them incorrectly. It's that you're making it unnecessarily difficult to follow, and thus causing any possible errors on your part to be less obvious yet seem more sophisticated.

As a rationalist, your beliefs should be taboo-invariant. If you can only communicate your ideas using rare phrases, you don't really understand your own point; if you deliberately chose not to make it easier to follow, I have no sympathy. Either way, there's no point to spending time considering your arguments.

comment by RobinZ · 2009-10-23T13:00:46.523Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Similarly, in the comment above which Robin Z dismissed, I stated aspects of my position for context, answered her questions, and provided an evaluation of one of Eliezer's articles.

Strictly speaking, you didn't explicitly answer my question about the videogame, but for the most part this is true. Nevertheless, I defend my response: the content of your response was, in fact, the assertion of the very claims I wanted you to defend.

comment by Mitchell_Porter · 2009-10-23T06:23:53.060Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What evidence do you have that reductive explanations of subjective experience are wrong?

The fact that they don't explain it. (Feel free to explain what's green about an act of classification or a neuron firing at a particular frequency, two popular reductive "explanations" of color. There's a nice instance of green up in the site banner, if you need an actual example to contemplate.)

Replies from: RobinZ
comment by RobinZ · 2009-10-23T12:30:05.453Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Why do you expect a reductive explanation of the perception of green to be green? The reductive explanation of the temperature of a gas isn't a temperature - it explains temperature in terms of things which are not temperature.

Either admit that you reject any reductive explanation of sensation or describe the phenomena which refute (i.e. render scientifically problematic) any possible explanation of color in terms of neuroscience.

Replies from: Mitchell_Porter
comment by Mitchell_Porter · 2009-10-23T13:48:26.298Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Why do you expect a reductive explanation of the perception of green to be green?

Something somewhere is green. So if you propose an account of the world, reductive or otherwise, which purports to be about greenness, something in it had better actually be green.

Do you dispute in any significant way my assertion that the existing reductive accounts of color seek to reduce it either to causal properties or to configurational properties? Are you willing to defend any particular form of identity theory when it comes to color?

Either admit that you reject any reductive explanation of sensation or describe the phenomena which refute (i.e. render scientifically problematic) any possible explanation of color in terms of neuroscience.

If someone presented an analysis of sensation into parts which, when combined, really did give you back what you started with, I certainly couldn't criticize it on these grounds. Though it's rather hard to imagine what such an analysis could be like. For example, I don't think you can say that color is made of hue, saturation and intensity, in the same way that a square is made of four line segments. The line segments each have an independent existence and being part of a square is a contingent matter for each of them, whereas HSI seem to me like dependent aspects of a necessary unity. You can't have "intensity of color" without actually having a color there.

The reductive analyses being proposed, however, are of a different character. When the parts are put back together, you have a quite different sort of entity, which is why I complain that they are really dualism or eliminativism.

Perhaps, then, color can't be reduced, only described. But that doesn't mean it has to be disconnected from a causal scientific account of the world. If the actual nature of color is that it is a component of certain monadic states, plays a certain specific causal role in the interaction of monads, etc - there's nothing there which is inherently beyond the reach of scientific reasoning.

Replies from: Alicorn, RobinZ
comment by Alicorn · 2009-10-23T13:58:06.747Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Something somewhere is green. So if you propose an account of the world, reductive or otherwise, which purports to be about greenness, something in it had better actually be green.

That doesn't make any sense. Something, somewhere, is a violin. If I propose a reductive account of the violin, none of the component parts I talk about will be a violin. Something, somewhere, is shaped exactly like the building in which I live. A reductive explanation of the building in which I live won't contain any components that are shaped like the building in which I live.

Replies from: Mitchell_Porter, SilasBarta
comment by Mitchell_Porter · 2009-10-24T01:29:45.441Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

On consideration of Robin Z's earlier example (temperature), I see that in the usual case of reduction, we have a phenomenon (temperature sensations) with a putative cause ("temperature"), and reduction simply clarifies or changes the nature of the cause. But when we have a reductive "explanation" of consciousness, we are engaging with the phenomenon as such and trying to say what sort of thing it is, not what sort of thing it is caused by. And these proposals for what color is are all missing the mark. It is as if I were to say that a violin is really a sentence in a dictionary.

comment by SilasBarta · 2009-10-23T14:04:36.336Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Shh! He's a little touchy about symphonies right now. And since a violin is part of a symphony, Mitchell_Porter must be touchy about that too. :-P

Replies from: Alicorn
comment by Alicorn · 2009-10-23T14:11:06.454Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Leave me the fuck alone.

Replies from: wedrifid, SilasBarta
comment by wedrifid · 2009-10-29T16:09:43.591Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That comment would be appropriate from Mitchell in this context, not Alicorn. In a public forum, expect replies.

Replies from: Alicorn
comment by Alicorn · 2009-10-29T16:14:17.426Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That's like saying "on a public sidewalk, expect catcalls" or "in a home visible from the street, expect missionaries". Just because the structure of the community has no mechanism to prevent harassment doesn't make it an acceptable behavior or one that I must tolerate quietly.

Replies from: wedrifid
comment by wedrifid · 2009-10-29T16:41:30.171Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That's like saying "on a public sidewalk, expect catcalls"

No it isn't. "Replies" are not analogous to catcalls. It is reasonable to object to harassment. It is not reasonable to expect special treatment, of which 'never reply to me' is an instance. I would prefer people who disagree with me with any significant frequency to not be allowed to reply to me but unfortunately cannot expect it.

Just because the structure of the community has no mechanism to prevent harassment doesn't make it an acceptable behavior or one that I must tolerate quietly.

Repeated attempts to damage someone's reputation are harassment of a kind I find reprehensible and a toxic influence. Taking offense is a weapon that can be used offensively as well as defensively and it is an extremely effective form of bullying, particularly when the actor has the higher status or a conducive environment.

Showing sympathy for Silas is obviously a bad social move both because you have higher status than Silas (whoops, another bad-move statement) and also project an image that is more optimised for claiming moral ground. So it is with some futility that I will point out that I quite often don't always approve of Silas's posts and in particular say this is an example of a reply that I would not expect anyone to tolerate. I also wouldn't expect anyone to tolerate this.

Replies from: Cyan, Alicorn
comment by Cyan · 2009-10-29T16:46:02.515Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The context you're missing here is that prior to this exchange Alicorn asked SilasBarta not to respond directly to her comments and he agreed.

Replies from: SilasBarta, Alicorn, wedrifid
comment by SilasBarta · 2009-10-29T17:59:21.377Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Unfortunately, it's not that simple; there are competing considerations from the rest of the users here that I have to honor as well.

If I'm going to comment in a discussion, I need to place my comments in the most relevant place. I did not see, and still don't see, why I should inconvenience everyone else here by putting my comments in irrelevant, hard-to-find places, just to stick to the rule of not replying directly to Alicorn.

Now, take a look at the comment I actually made. Is that a harassing remark? Even if it's going back on what I said, it doesn't look like harassment. Now, if I had made a point of deliberately replying to every single Alicorn comment, then I can see it be harassment. But that's not what happened. And to demand that I not comment at all would just be bullying.

What's more, when people were (severely) modding her down for her rather rude "Leave me the fuck alone", I asked them to stop and explained the context.

I've made every effort not to respond to offenses in kind, but as always, "no good deed goes unpunished".

Incidentally, I had withdrawn permission from Alicorn to post on my top-level posts, yet I don't see similar censure.

Yes, it's an obviously ridiculous demand based on an oversized sense of entitlement and an extremely fragile ego, and Alicorn could not have reasonably inferred her comments were inappropriate ... but when did that ever matter?

Replies from: RobinZ, tut
comment by RobinZ · 2009-10-29T18:11:06.779Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Now, take a look at the comment I actually made. Is that a harassing remark? Even if it's going back on what I said, it doesn't look like harassment. Now, if I had made a point of deliberately replying to every single Alicorn comment, then I can see it be harassment. But that's not what happened. And to demand that I not comment at all would just be bullying.

Not to address any of your other points, but my downvote on that particular remark reflected the insult to Mitchell_Porter, not the fact that Alicorn would prefer you leave her alone.

Replies from: SilasBarta, wedrifid
comment by SilasBarta · 2009-10-29T18:21:07.325Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Fair point. I agree that Mitchell_Porter may have had reason to object to it, but not Alicorn.

comment by wedrifid · 2009-10-29T18:23:27.677Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

my downvote on that particular remark reflected the insult to Mitchell_Porte

As was mine. (Also partly because I didn't really get the joke side of it.)

Replies from: SilasBarta
comment by SilasBarta · 2009-10-29T18:28:31.054Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

In the previous discussions, Mitchell had been repeatedly saying things like, "if no part of the system has color, neither can the system have color", and my comment was trying to make fun of this by saying that whatever beliefs he has about symphonies (the system) must apply to violins (the part).

Replies from: wedrifid
comment by wedrifid · 2009-10-29T18:34:24.098Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ahh, good analogy. I'd almost forgotten that this drama was going on in the (@#$!) monad thread.

comment by tut · 2009-10-29T18:09:26.473Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If I'm going to comment in a discussion, I need to place my comments in the most relevant place. I did not see, and still don't see, why I should inconvenience everyone else here by putting my comments in irrelevant, hard-to-find places, just to stick to the rule of not replying directly to Alicorn.

And doing so would not be a problem, if you would stick to replying to/with facts like you do to every male commenter, rather than try to have some kind of pseudofamiliar conversation with Alicorn.

Replies from: SilasBarta, RobinZ
comment by SilasBarta · 2009-10-29T18:30:53.814Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

And doing so would not be a problem, if you would stick to replying to/with facts ...

Have you been following Alicorn's complaints? It certainly would have been a problem to somebody!

comment by RobinZ · 2009-10-29T18:26:03.530Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

And doing so would not be a problem, if you would stick to replying to/with facts like you do to every male commenter, rather than try to have some kind of pseudofamiliar conversation with Alicorn.

SilasBarta has had pseudofamiliar conversations with me (on this very post, in fact) - I cannot pretend to have been paying attention to his interactions with Alicorn since the seduction community flamewar, but "every male commenter" is probably incorrect.

Replies from: wedrifid
comment by wedrifid · 2009-10-29T18:29:41.510Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

In fact, I think Silas displays above average pseudofamiliarity.

Replies from: RobinZ, SilasBarta
comment by RobinZ · 2009-10-29T18:32:05.558Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

...although that's not strictly a bad thing, in my opinion. It's worth noting, though, that displaying pseudofamiliarity with someone who would prefer you did not is impolite.

Replies from: wedrifid
comment by wedrifid · 2009-10-29T18:37:06.952Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I agree.

comment by SilasBarta · 2009-10-29T18:32:56.437Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What does pseudofamiliarity even mean? I'm guessing it means taking a tone more appropriate for someone you know well?

Replies from: tut, RobinZ, wedrifid
comment by tut · 2009-10-29T18:55:59.120Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What does pseudofamiliarity even mean? I'm guessing it means taking a tone more appropriate for someone you know well?

That's about what I mean. Something like

Jeez, where's Alicorn when you need her? We need someone to make a point about how, "Just because a woman sleeps with you once,...

is insulting on it's face. But it would appear goodnatured, and would probably bring you closer to each other, if the person you were referring to (effectively in front of her) were your friend in the first place. That is what I mean by taking a familiar tone. But you can not possibly have missed that your prior relation to Alicorn is not one of warm cameraderie, so you can't have meant it to work that way (or so I thought)*.

And if I actually had to explain that I will have to ask the question that I held back when I first saw your comment: Are you autistic?

*Edited because I assumed too much. My post became needlessly insulting towards SilasBarta. I hope that it is less so now.

comment by RobinZ · 2009-10-29T18:42:36.650Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I would say that is approximately correct - I read "pseudofamiliarity" as the tone you would take with an amicable acquaintance. Not as free as the way you would talk to a close personal friend, but lighthearted.

Alicorn is not an amicable acquaintance, and she has found conversation with you in the past uncomfortable. Even granting that you have the right to address her remarks without engaging her specifically, the jocular tone of your initial remark assumed a (pseudo)familiarity in your relationship which was not present.

Replies from: wedrifid, SilasBarta
comment by wedrifid · 2009-10-29T18:47:18.434Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I read "pseudofamiliarity" as the tone you would take with an amicable acquaintance.

(Or an acquaintance who is openly a rival, where it is a minor display of dominance and a signal to others that you don't need to consider them a threat. Not that I think it applies here.)

comment by SilasBarta · 2009-10-29T18:47:27.687Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Okay, that makes sense. I do use a lot of smilies, just to make sure the intent is clear.

Replies from: RobinZ
comment by RobinZ · 2009-10-29T18:56:03.268Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That's not surprising - posts where one is inclined to use smilies are at least pseudofamiliar.

(And - I apologize for interjecting with advice - given that Alicorn does not like you, if you are replying to her in such a tone that you would consider using smilies, you are probably being overly familiar. Jocularity is probably appropriate in other situations, though.)

(...but I would advise against cutting remarks like the one which set off this thread.)

comment by wedrifid · 2009-10-29T18:39:55.117Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

As far as I know it didn't mean anything until now, except as a pseudo-technical term used by memory researchers. But 'familiar' means roughly that.

comment by Alicorn · 2009-10-29T16:51:26.233Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The fact that he agreed just makes him a hypocrite when he breaks the agreement. If he hadn't agreed, that wouldn't make it appropriate for him to continue to bother me.

Replies from: Cyan
comment by Cyan · 2009-10-29T17:18:13.912Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

My point is directed at statements like

That comment would be appropriate from Mitchell in this context, not Alicorn.

and

It is not reasonable to expect special treatment, of which 'never reply to me' is an instance.

and not at the appropriateness or lack thereof of SilasBarta continuing to interact with you in the counterfactual world where he had not agreed.

comment by wedrifid · 2009-10-29T17:11:59.803Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

and he agreed.

Yes, that was foolish of him and were I to have made an impulsive concession like that I would retract it before replying. But then I would continue to reply impersonally to Alicorn's comments as though they were from any other poster, refuting those that I disagreed with or adding related insights as appropriate. (I would hopefully not make dumbass comments like "where is Alicorn when you need her?")

Replies from: Cyan
comment by Cyan · 2009-10-29T17:20:28.228Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Serendipitously, this reply to Alicorn addresses your comment as well.

comment by Alicorn · 2009-10-29T16:50:04.765Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Wikipedia which knoweth all says: "Harassment covers a wide range of offensive behaviour. It is commonly understood as behaviour intended to disturb or upset. In the legal sense, it is behaviour which is found threatening or disturbing." (Emphasis mine.) And: "Example: Talking to someone excessively without permission and continuing the conversation."

I have been seriously, actionably harassed by creeps on the Internet before. While participation on this forum should be considered an open invitation to the majority of people to interact with me, I retracted that permission from SilasBarta in particular upon collecting enough data to group him with other creeps on the Internet. I haven't demanded that he leave the site, or that anyone else stop interacting with him, or even that he avoid making comments on my top-level posts. I want him to refrain from replying to my comments and sending me private messages, and I'm extending the same courtesy. Is this "special treatment"? Well, in the sense that I'm the only person who has seen fit to request this treatment, yes; in the sense that I want it only from one individual, yes; but neither of these things seem to make the desire to be left alone by someone I don't want to ever talk to an unreasonable one.

Do you think I am attempting to damage someone's reputation, or are you saying that I'd only be justified in demanding to be left alone if this demand were in response to someone libeling me?

Replies from: wedrifid
comment by wedrifid · 2009-10-29T17:26:15.179Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

And: "Example: Talking to someone excessively without permission and continuing the conversation."

'Talking to' is an entirely different thing to replying to comments that happen to be made by you. If people are making statements here that others disagree with then those others should be free to make that disagreement.

Whether online or off, engaging personally is different to contributing to a group discourse.

Do you think I am attempting to damage someone's reputation

Absolutely, and very effectively. Silas's naivety when it comes to this kind of game helped. Apart from being somewhat disagreement prone, he tried to be conciliatory when you were going for the kill and was reckless when he was vulnerable to attack and needed to be impeccable.

For what it is worth I think you are being completely sincere in considering yourself a victim here. But I am less appreciative of sincerity than I once was.

Replies from: tut
comment by tut · 2009-10-29T18:00:53.040Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I believe that you miss some of the background here. A while ago there were a bunch of posts trying to set "the seduction community" up as a great example of rationality. Alicorn and some other women objected to the way that women were treated as objects to be aquired, studied and manipulated in various ways. The discussion became somewhat heated. All the women who were involved except Alicorn, and at least one of the guys who started it, have since left LessWrong, or changed their usernames. And SilasBarta has been picking on Alicorn ever since.

Replies from: SilasBarta, wedrifid, RobinZ, Alicorn
comment by SilasBarta · 2009-10-29T18:17:53.638Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

All the women who were involved except Alicorn, and at least one of the guys who started it have since left LessWrong, or changed their usernames.

False. Some of them comment less frequently, and I was worried myself for a time, but the people you refer to continue to comment here.

And SilasBarta has been picking on Alicorn ever since.

No. Just, no. I have refuted arguments she's made that I have found in error, sometimes harshly. I have applauded points she's made. I have come to her defense, even in contravention of my own interests.

I've never "picked on" Alicorn; she just has a tendency to completely misinterpret what I say or take refutations too personally.

comment by wedrifid · 2009-10-29T18:14:38.647Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Your framing of events here is quite strong, to the point of bordering on falsehood.

comment by RobinZ · 2009-10-29T18:05:49.993Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Alicorn and some other women objected to the way that women were treated as objects to be aquired, studied and manipulated in various ways.

Are you saying that there were no men present who shared that objection, or that those who did weren't real men? Your statement implies one or the other.

Edit: I do not mean to imply any character flaw on your part - merely to illuminate the poor wording.

Replies from: tut, wedrifid
comment by tut · 2009-10-29T18:13:38.763Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Your statement implies one or the other.

My apologies for being unclear.

There were several men who supported the objections. If I don't misjudge/misremember there were about an equal number of men on either side of that discussion. None of the men have been harassed later, and AFAIK none of the men who were on the side with the women have left.

Replies from: wedrifid
comment by wedrifid · 2009-10-31T03:00:19.620Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Your statement, once again, has clear implications which I would contradict were they explicit.

comment by wedrifid · 2009-10-29T18:17:23.280Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Your statement implies one or the other.

(Not true)

comment by Alicorn · 2009-10-29T18:24:02.543Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

SilasBarta had annoyed me in the past. It became irritating enough that I took the measure I did after the gender kerfluffle, but while the kerfluffle certainly did not help, it wasn't the sole cause.

comment by SilasBarta · 2009-10-23T14:39:10.142Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Don't mod her down, folks. Her phrasing is a reference to the earlier discussion, where LauraABJ seemed to be saying that the only reliable rejection signal from women is "leave me the fuck alone".

Btw, my reply, though nested under her comment, was not directed at Alicorn.

comment by RobinZ · 2009-10-23T15:01:22.670Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Something somewhere is green. So if you propose an account of the world, reductive or otherwise, which purports to be about greenness, something in it had better actually be green.

What Alicorn said. Furthermore, the things which are green are things like the leaves on an evergreen, the modern John Deere tractors, and Mountain Dew cans - what we are talking about is the experience associated with seeing green things such as these, which is completely different. (See the comment comparing "blue" to "bluep".)

Do you dispute in any significant way my assertion that the existing reductive accounts of color seek to reduce it either to causal properties or to configurational properties? Are you willing to defend any particular form of identity theory when it comes to color?

Your use of technical terminology here is confusing. I imagine color is perceived as a function of the visual response of the cones to the incident light, and the brain uses this input among others to form its internal model of the world - i.e. your subjective experience. Does that answer your question?

Replies from: Mitchell_Porter
comment by Mitchell_Porter · 2009-10-24T01:43:15.083Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

See the comment comparing "blue" to "bluep". [link added by MP]

And see the discussion which followed. When you define greenness to mean physical greenness, and then say that the experience of green is not itself green in that sense, you are dodging the issue. In naive realism there is no distinction between experience and object of experience, and the only meaning of greenness is the original one. Once you depart from naive realism and distinguish between experience and physical reality, there is a new meaning of greenness which applies to physical reality, and the original meaning of greenness now applies to the experience. And it is greenness in the original sense - the obvious sense, the sense used by everyone when they are not being physicalists - that we are discussing.

I imagine color is perceived as a function of the visual response of the cones to the incident light, and the brain uses this input among others to form its internal model of the world - i.e. your subjective experience. Does that answer your question?

Maybe. Do you understand my distinction between the original meaning of greenness, and the derivative meaning of reflecting light at a certain wavelength? If you do understand that distinction, then how do you explain greenness in the original sense? Where is it, in your account of color?

Replies from: RobinZ
comment by RobinZ · 2009-10-24T02:10:39.489Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I hope this discussion isn't as frustrating for you as it is for me - I swear I'm nearly at the point of giving up on any communication with you at all. I feel as if nothing I've said has been understood.

Do you understand my distinction between the original meaning of greenness, and the derivative meaning of reflecting light at a certain wavelength? If you do understand that distinction, then how do you explain greenness in the original sense? Where is it, in your account of color?

I assume by "the original meaning of greenness" you describe a subjective experience (which I shall call greenp for convenience) and by light at a certain wavelength you describe an electromagnetic waveform of a particular sort (which I shall call greenw for convenience).

The usual cause of greenp is, naturally, the incidence of greenw on the color-sensing receptors in an eye. Said incidence causes certain behavior in the optic nerve influencing the operation of the remainder of the brain in a way not well understood (or at all understood, by me), but which through the methods of heterophenomenology may be deduced to cause certain effects in the mind which we refer to as greenp. Given what is known in the field of neuroscience, it is clear that the mind is to a large extent a product of the operation of the brain, much in the way that the videogame is to a large extent a product of the operation of the videogame console - the ambiguities lie purely in the extent to which I/O information should be included in the phenomenon. Thus, just as the appearance of a vehicle in the videogame is associated with certain patterns developing in the RAM of the videogame console, the appearance of greenp in the subjective experience of an observer is associated with certain patterns developing in the neural activations of the brain.

I apologize if I repeat myself, but I cannot reduce it any farther - I'm not a neuroscientist. Greenp is created by the operations of the brain, just as simulated vehicles are created by the operations of the videogame console.

Replies from: Mitchell_Porter
comment by Mitchell_Porter · 2009-10-24T09:21:21.940Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I have aggregated my latest responses here.

comment by rhollerith_dot_com · 2009-10-20T23:43:10.712Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

A few minutes after I stepped away from the keyboard, I had a revelation about your story - something that was probably obvious to you, but which just seemed like an odd non sequitur to me until now. My alter ego in your story doesn't just think that he sees a black disk, he thinks there's a black disk literally floating in front of him all his life, which is why he goes on about momentum, yes?

Yes.

The experience of blueness is a problem for physics whether it's veridical blueness or hallucinated blueness.

Reading that was an aha moment for me in that I had not considered that that might be your position. Please allow me to explore your position a little.

If I step on a nail, the resulting sensation of pain is a problem for physics, too?

And if my toe non-painfully bumps into a marble, the resulting sensation of touch or bump is a problem, too?

If I get in my car to go to the store to buy some ice cream, but then I learn that the road to the store is closed, then I decide that finding an alternative way to get to the store is not worth the trouble of having the ice cream, is some aspect of that experience a problem for physics, too? Perhaps the desire for ice cream. Or the intention to satisfy the desire. Or the abandonment of the intention.

If the answer to all of those questions is yes, then is there any internal experience you have had or could have some day which is not a problem for physics?

I will answer your four questions tomorrow, if you still want me to.

Well, no need to answer the first two because I consider what I am replying to an answer to those two.

ADDED. Let me continue my exploration of your position a little. I am walking in the woods. I sit down. I become aware of a mushroom on a log. Then I change my position and I realize that what I thought was a mushroom is really just part of the log. Now I have a question about this transitory nonvericidal experience of a mushroom in my mind. Is it a problem for physics, too?

What I really want to ask is more complicated, and I am probably not setting up the question correctly, but let me ask anyway. Suppose I am sitting in the woods having the experience of seeing a log. Suspend your disbelief and suppose (against your belief) that there is a materialistic reductionistic account for that situation including my experience at that moment. Suppose my mental state then changes so that I think I have come to notice a particular species of very tasty mushroom on the log. Suppose the mushroom is not really there, but rather that my experience of noticing a mushroom is caused by an improbable coincidence in the shape and color of a small part of the log. Is my noticing the nonvericidal mushroom a problem for physics even if (counterfactually, according to your model of reality) my experience of seeing the log does not pose a problem for physics?

Replies from: Mitchell_Porter
comment by Mitchell_Porter · 2009-10-22T09:41:27.332Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

is there any internal experience you have had or could have some day which is not a problem for physics?

In the end, no. Physics as we know it contains neither qualia nor intentionality nor anything like the unity of consciousness, so no. But colors are particularly obviously not there in the physics we have.

Having taken such a radical stance, I want to emphasize what I'm not saying. I'm not saying conscious experience is indescribable. I'm not even saying it's indescribable mathematically. Consciousness is a sequence of states; those states have structure and can be compared to each other; we can describe those states using a formalism; we can also describe and analyze the transitions of state and theorize about a larger causal and ontological framework which would produce them and explain them.

I am saying two or three things.

First proposition: It would be a mistake to think that the descriptive formalism is the reality. It's more a calculus for reasoning about the reality.

Second proposition: Belief in physicalism is largely a belief that a particular descriptive formalism is the reality. Because the elements of the formalism are descended from elements of actual experience - e.g. geometry from the experience of space - when people think of reality in terms of physics, they do employ sensory intuitions and not just formal abstractions, so it's not just reification of formalism, but that is a large part of what goes on.

Third proposition - this is the controversial part: The formalism we have actually does not correspond to the manifest nature of consciousness; even if you try to see it in the proper way (according to the first proposition above), no part of the physics we have can in fact be identified with the consciousness we have. This is behind my proposals for minor modifications on the formal level (a single-world physics of transitions between spacelike-tensored Hilbert-space vectors, etc). The objective is to permit a nondualistic ontology true to the actual nature of consciousness.

Postscript: Given the categorical nature of my answer to your first question - all of experience poses a problem for physics - your final question is rendered a little unnecessary. But I should say something about it anyway. After all, I could re-pose it in a form that asked whether the situation described is a problem for monadological physics. I don't think it is, because the chief problems actually stem from the ontology of what Husserl called the "transcendental" aspect of consciousness, the part that transcends veridicality. This is really just a fancy way of saying: the properties of consciousness which are independent of whether appearances are correct. Qualia are there whether or not you're hallucinating, and even hallucinated objects (because they are interpreted sensations) have a structure of intentionality. And even a misinterpreted sensation is still an interpreted sensation, so the example of the illusory mushroom doesn't add anything new at that level.

Replies from: rhollerith_dot_com, Cyan
comment by rhollerith_dot_com · 2009-10-22T18:44:36.036Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well, thanks for replying to my questions.

My guess is that you are the victim of a failure of imagination: specifically, you fail to imagine everything an imperfect information-processing model-maintaining agent might falsely believe. Specifically, such an agent might falsely believe that aspects of its own operation are irreducible primitives. You keep on asserting that subjective experiences are irreducible to the primitives of the standard physical model, but you have not presented anything that I consider evidence for that.

The only way I can think of for you to make progress on moving me towards your point of view is for you to point out a problem with the standard model of physics using the vocabulary of the technical theory of how any agent can come to have an accurate model of its environment (Jaynes, Pearl, universal prior, Solomonoff induction, etc).

Replies from: Mitchell_Porter
comment by Mitchell_Porter · 2009-10-23T07:44:48.732Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You keep on asserting that subjective experiences are irreducible to the primitives of the standard physical model, but you have not presented anything that I consider evidence for that.

Whereas from my perspective, no-one is explaining how any particular higher-level physical property can be identified with a color - for example. As I just asked Robin Z, please explain to me what's green about a causal disposition or a physical motion.

I have yet to see any such explanation. Instead I just see assertion of identity, or a discourse structured to avoid talking directly about color.

I am skeptical that quantitative epistemology is much use here, because it is usually practised in a mindset which is already treating everything abstractly.

Perhaps the key is to get people into a state of mind in which they are genuinely attending to the "qualia" themselves, and in which it is not assumed that they must be reducible to the physics we have, and then to have them ponder afresh whether the alleged identities above (green as a causal disposition, green as a physical motion) actually make sense. Also throw in a warning to beware treating the possibility of systematic association as identity: imagining that the occurrence of greenness is always accompanied by some physical process or condition, is not the same thing as perceiving that greenness could be identical to the physical counterpart.

Replies from: SilasBarta, rhollerith_dot_com, wedrifid
comment by SilasBarta · 2009-10-23T14:21:29.858Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

As I just asked Robin Z, please explain to me what's green about a causal disposition or a physical motion.

And I've answered you several times, which is why it's specifically my comments that you avoid.

Let's go over this again: computer programs are in the very same dilemma. They use generated symbols. GensymA refers to this data. GensymB refers to that data. MetaGensym1 refers to the group {GensymA, GensymB, ...}.

It can tell any two gensyms apart. It can tell any metagensym group apart. But from the program's perspective, it cannot tell what is "GensymA-ish" about this data, or "GensymB-ish" about that data -- just whether they are or aren't. Between two program instances, all of this (within limits) could be switched around, and there would be no multi-program GensymA.

You already know how this situation arises from the physicalist reductionist account.

You simply have to recognize yourself as being in that same scenario. Your internal, truly-part-of-you labels for different phenomena are the qualia -- which accounts for the problematic aspects of qualia.

Does this resolve the issue completely? Of course not. Among many other things, we need to figure out what (seemingly efficient) data representation method the brain uses that causes the specific aspects of color, like its ability to vary in shade, and vary orthogonally to the sounds you hear. But there's a clear research program there and a coherent picture from a reductionist account.

Replies from: RobinZ, Mitchell_Porter
comment by RobinZ · 2009-10-27T00:27:15.253Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Incidentally, it may amuse you that others have (independently, for all I can tell) come to entirely similar conclusions:

But nothing requires us to make such an invocation. We don't have to know how we identify or re-identify or gain access to such internal response types in order to be able so to identify them. This is a point that was forcefully made by the pioneer functionalists and materialists, and has never been rebutted (Farrell, 1950, Smart, 1959). The properties of the "thing experienced" are not to be confused with the properties of the event that realizes the experiencing. To put the matter vividly, the physical difference between someone's imagining a purple cow and imagining a green cow might be nothing more than the presence or absence of a particular zero or one in one of the brain's "registers". Such a brute physical presence is all that it would take to anchor the sorts of dispositional differences between imagining a purple cow and imagining a green cow that could then flow, causally, from that "intrinsic" fact. (I doubt that this is what the friends of qualia have had in mind when they have insisted that qualia are intrinsic properties.)

The above comes from Quining Qualia by Daniel Dennett - the citations are to:

  • Farrell (1950). "Experience," Mind, 59, pp.170-98.
  • Smart, J.C. (1959). "Sensations and Brain Processes," Philosophical Review, LXVIII, pp.141-56.
comment by Mitchell_Porter · 2009-10-24T01:19:23.314Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You state the essence of your view here:

your phenomenal experience of blue, is your label for the kind of data that is blue

And I presume that the "blue data" is called blue, not because it is literally blue in the old-fashioned sense, but because it's caused by physical "blueness", or just because that's the name we're using for a particular range of data values.

To paraphrase what I just said to Richard: in effect, you are saying that the experience of color is the experience of colorlessness, plus a color label. Which is the same as saying that I don't actually see color, I just think I see color.

Replies from: SilasBarta, RobinZ
comment by SilasBarta · 2009-10-24T01:57:34.500Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You state the essence of your view here:

This is getting tiresome. The link you just gave was actually to a time when I was summarizing my previous attempt to correct a further previous misunderstanding of my position.

You haven't actually addressed any of it, including here. I gave a specific example of this model of qualia in a different context: generated symbols in programing. Instead of just an inflammatory strawman plus a non-sequitur,

you are saying that the experience of color is the experience of colorlessness, plus a color label. Which is the same as saying that I don't actually see color, I just think I see color.

how about you actually say where you think that model breaks down?

How about you stop repeating the same confusion between the linguistic label and the computational label, like you're doing here:

And I presume that the "blue data" is called blue, ... because that's the name we're using for a particular range of data values.

Again (this is at least the third time I've explained this to you): the phenomenal experience of blue is not the same thing as the name "blue". You experience seeing blue whether or not you have the term "blue" (or "azul" or "blau" or "bleu" or "aoi"). Rather, the phenomenal experience of blue is what it is like to be a program that has classified incoming data as being a certain kind of light, under the constraint of having to coherently represent all of its other data (other colors, other visual qualities, other senses, other combined extrapolations from multiple senses, etc) but with limited comparison abilities.

Yes, as part of your use of a language, you can assign the label "blue". But that's not how I'm explaining phenomenal blue. I'm explaining phenomenal blue as your architecture's direct label for a kind of light, below the level at which you can see it work. To experience blue is to feel your cognitive architecture assigning a label to sensory data.

Now, you may have a reason to reject this approach. You may have reason to believe that the associated research program will turn out surprisingly fruitless. You may have an alternative which looks more promising.

But I have no way of knowing that, when the only response that you give to the reasoning that I've just given (and have given in some form or another five times now) is to ignore it or respond to a mischaracterization of it.

Now, try again, and this time, communicate to me what caused you to reject this approach at the time you considered it during the last eight years. I would love to know what you uncovered in trying this out.

Replies from: Mitchell_Porter
comment by Mitchell_Porter · 2009-10-24T09:21:09.859Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I have aggregated my latest responses here.

comment by RobinZ · 2009-10-24T02:12:23.983Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What do you think you do when you see, dance a minuet to the music of Bach? Seeing is an act of thought.

comment by rhollerith_dot_com · 2009-10-23T19:09:46.357Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

To move me toward your point of view, you would need to do one of three things. (1) Show me that I am wrong in my expectation that your proposal will lead to an "ontology" (an account of reality) with significantly higher Kolmogorov complexity than the conventional ontology. (2) Present evidence that outweighs the higher Kolmogorov complexity. In particular, present evidence that not only prefers an ontology consistent with your proposal, but also does so to such a degree so as to outweigh the higher Kolmogorov complexity. (3) Cause me to come to doubt the epistemology I am using (universal prior, Bayesian updating, etc).

It would interest me to know whether you find any fault in my position as expressed above, Mitchell, because your finding a fault would be a strong sign that our differences in this thread stem from differences over epistemology.

Perhaps the key is to get people into a state of mind in which . . . it is not assumed that [qualia] must be reducible to the physics we have

I have not assumed anything of the sort. I am simply noticing that in contrast to what you seem to believe, qualia are not sufficiently strong evidence against the conventional ontology to satisfy condition (2) above.

(I will now quote again from the same sentence I quoted from above, but this time I will omit a different passage.)

Perhaps the key is to get people into a state of mind in which they are genuinely attending to the "qualia" themselves . . .

Do you sincerely believe that the people replying to you here neglected genuinely to attend to "the qualia themselves" when they considered your words and how to reply to them? I assure you that I for one did not. Just now, in fact, I caused myself to experience blueness while reflecting on your argument. It was no more persuasive than the last couple of times I did it.

Replies from: Mitchell_Porter
comment by Mitchell_Porter · 2009-10-24T01:03:31.180Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I caused myself to experience blueness while reflecting on your argument.

Did you remind yourself that what you are experiencing is inside your head, which according to conventional physics is composed entirely of colorless entities, and notice that nonetheless, something inside your head - a particular sensation - managed to be blue? If so, how did you deal with the contradiction?

We can have a dispute about the Kolmogorov complexity of different explanations once we agree on what it is that we're trying to explain.

Replies from: rhollerith_dot_com
comment by rhollerith_dot_com · 2009-10-24T05:14:08.677Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Did you remind yourself that what you are experiencing is inside your head, which according to conventional physics is composed entirely of colorless entities, and notice that nonetheless, something inside your head - a particular sensation - managed to be blue? If so, how did you deal with the contradiction?

If I find that I am able to experience blueness and to experience redness, then my brain must have at least two states, one that corresponds to the blue experience and one that corresponds to the red experience, or we have a contradiction.

The state of my brain that corresponds with the blue experience can be a normal, ordinary, conventional physical state. You have made no progress in persuading me -- or as far as I can tell anyone else who has commented on Less Wrong -- that it must be a special state where a special state is defined as a state that cannot be modeled by the conventional ontological model.

The thing that you refer to as a contradiction is only a contradiction if one mistakenly clings to a particular causal model (or a particular set of causal models) of the sensation of blueness.

I am using "state" the way the computer scientists use it, namely, to mean a configuration of reality or of an "identifiable" aspect of reality (such as my brain) that can change as a function of time.

Replies from: Mitchell_Porter
comment by Mitchell_Porter · 2009-10-24T09:21:16.271Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I have aggregated my latest responses here.

comment by wedrifid · 2009-10-27T00:55:15.929Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I have yet to see any such explanation.

And a color blind person may never see green. I wonder, if everybody was color blind would green cease to be a fundamental property of physics?

Replies from: RobinZ, Vladimir_Nesov
comment by RobinZ · 2009-10-27T14:08:08.030Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Back up: since when has color been a fundamental property of physics? Wavelength is, but wavelength and color are not identical.

Replies from: wedrifid
comment by wedrifid · 2009-10-27T14:52:42.834Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Some day I'm going to learn not to speak in facetious riddles.

comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2009-10-27T11:29:40.815Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I wonder, if everybody was color blind would green cease to be a fundamental property of physics?

Why not? Roughly speaking, if everyone was 2-dimensional, why would we see the world as 3-dimensional?

Edit: this came out wrong, for obscure reasons.

Replies from: Alicorn
comment by Alicorn · 2009-10-27T12:03:02.871Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Are you substituting in "believed to be a fundamental property of physics" for "being a fundamental property of physics"?

Replies from: Vladimir_Nesov
comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2009-10-27T16:44:37.003Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

My fault. That comment was some kind of cached thought that I can't quite examine now to explain what I thought I was writing.

comment by Cyan · 2009-10-22T16:22:33.743Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The formalism we have actually does not correspond to the manifest nature of consciousness...

Since we have good reason to believe that the manifest nature of consciousness (i.e., our own personal sense of it) is not true to the actual nature of consciousness, I do not find this lack of correspondence troubling.

Replies from: Cyan
comment by Cyan · 2009-10-22T16:47:40.713Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Man, this thread is a karma mint. I think I'll just refrain from commenting unless I have something really good to say.

Replies from: RobinZ
comment by RobinZ · 2009-10-22T16:53:42.250Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Upvoted. (;

comment by Mitchell_Porter · 2009-10-19T12:36:05.148Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I also asked a question. Could you answer that one first?

comment by kpreid · 2009-10-16T12:17:29.774Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Suppose I build a computer where all memory contents are stored encrypted. Then any particular program module or data set is at any given time either (a) distributed across the entirety of the memory array in a way which is not any kind of spatial partition or (b) currently in cache/processor, which is sequentially occupied by all parts of the program.

This system has structure, parts, in its computation, but that structure does not correspond to any arrangement in space, and yet its substrate is an aggregation of parts in space, without requiring any quantum entanglement.

(I do not intend to assume “minds are essentially computers” in this argument; I am only attempting to disprove your claim that non-spatial parts cannot have a substrate of spatial parts.)

Replies from: Johnicholas, rhollerith_dot_com
comment by Johnicholas · 2009-10-16T15:01:08.929Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

To expand a bit on what kpreid said:

Mitchell_Porter's second claim: "Therefore consciousness cannot be directly identified with any complex entity built up out of aggregation of parts in space." is NOT falsified by kpreid's example.

However, kpreid has given an example of a very reasonable INDIRECT identification which Mitchell Porter's argument would classify as "dualist". This example illustrates that Mitchell Porter is including far more positions underneath the umbrella of "dualism" than the ordinary "substance dualism" that, for example, Decartes espoused.

comment by rhollerith_dot_com · 2009-10-16T19:39:43.614Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Suppose I build a computer where all memory contents are stored encrypted. Then any particular program module or data set is at any given time either (a) distributed across the entirety of the memory array in a way which is not any kind of spatial partition

It is clearer to say, "where all memory addresses are encrypted".

Replies from: kpreid
comment by kpreid · 2009-10-17T00:42:43.094Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I find your rephrasing less clear. Could you expand on the distinction you're making?

comment by cousin_it · 2009-10-16T12:36:27.919Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Conscious experiences have "parts", but not in the sense of spatial parts.

How in the world do you know that? Can't those parts just correspond to parts of the brain?

Replies from: Mitchell_Porter
comment by Mitchell_Porter · 2009-10-17T04:37:19.200Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's the relations between the parts which are crucial to this argument, not the parts in themselves. I'm saying that at the level of experience the relations between the parts are not spatial. This discussion becomes unfortunately complicated because so much of conscious experience takes place in subjective space. A genuine monadologist could invert my original statement and say that space only exists inside monads, with the external connections between monads being causal rather than spatial.

But let's go back to the beginning. I have my conscious experience of the world, which is some complicated mixture of sensations, diverse conceptual positing of objects and situations, and private intentionality (thinking, willing, remembering, etc). This is all always there, and then on top of that I can be intermittently aware of particular parts or aspects of it (attention). And I'd better not leave myself out of this list of ingredients: there is a sense that someone or some entity is the entity that thinks, wills, attends.

Then, I have my physical model of the world, which might be atoms in space, or amplitudes in configuration space, and I seek to identify the experience above with some subset of the posited physical world. On both sides of the equation we have things in relation to each other, so we need a mapping not just between things but between relations. In fact, if it's going to be an identity theory, and not just property dualism, we don't just want a mapping, we want to be able to say that the things and relations on one side are exactly the same things and relations appearing on the other side.

So my proposition is that it is extremely problematic to identify the constituting relations of consciousness - the relations between its parts at the level of experience - with spatial relations. The constituting relations of consciousness are something like: subjective spatiality, subjective simultaneity, gestalt unification of sensations into a sensory form, conceptual association of posited properties with sensory gestalts, logical and other conjunctions of things as the compound objects of thoughts, attention to an object of thought under a particular propositional attitude, presence of all this to the observer-self - and that's bound to be an incomplete list.

If we were going to say that consciousness consists of things in strictly spatial relations to each other, then every one of those relationship types would have to be identical with a particular spatial relationship. Now as kpreid has pointed out, things in space can have other sorts of relations to each other, such as causal relationships. So the opportunities for a spatial reductionist are a little broader, but not inspiringly so.

However, if we turn to the quantum option, and specifically entanglement: a quantum state - conceived abstractly, rather than in terms of amplitudes over configurations - is something of a black box. All the physics is telling us is that these states have certain causal relationships to each other, but nothing about their intrinsic qualities. So the idea is to use the manifest nature of consciousness, that which can be seen at the level of appearances, as a clue to what's actually inside one of those black boxes. It's not that quantum physics looks especially more like consciousness than classical physics; it is that classical physics does not look like consciousness, and quantum physics looks like nothing. So instead I want to see if there's a perspective from which consciousness looks like quantum physics, e.g., like a big quantum tensor factor from an entangled physical brain.

Replies from: bigbad
comment by bigbad · 2009-10-17T19:56:59.457Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Brain functional MRI scans show that, to the best available resolution, conscious states are highly correlated with events in space.

The brain operates by electrical and chemical signals, so a complex circuit seems like a better physics-based model of consciousness than what you propose.

comment by thomblake · 2009-10-16T14:31:13.847Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Conscious experiences have "parts", but not in the sense of spatial parts. Therefore consciousness cannot be directly identified with any complex entity built up out of aggregation of parts in space.

I'm afraid it's too unclear how the conclusion is supposed to follow from the premise(s?) to determine exactly what fallacy you're committing here. But it reeks of the fallacy of division.

ETA: Maybe it could be clearer if you made your argument symbolically in some formal logic? And if you can't do anything like that, reconsider using the word "Therefore".

comment by Steve_Rayhawk · 2009-10-25T15:34:34.437Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

As in kpreid's question:

[. . .] consciousness cannot be directly identified with any complex entity built up [. . .] in space. [. . .] we need a nonspatial material complex. Quantum entanglement is the only example we have of nonspatial complexity in physics.

Would a classical simulation of an entangled quantum system, using a physical computing device built up out of aggregation of parts in space, have the needed type of nonspatial complexity?

If it would, then your question may be properly about the relationship of phenomenology to physics of computation or computer science as applied to physics (e.g. as in "digital physics"), and not about the relationship of phenomenology to quantum physics.

(A simulation would be different from the quantum system in that it would decohere any quantum inputs.)

Replies from: Mitchell_Porter
comment by Mitchell_Porter · 2009-10-26T10:35:08.716Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Would a classical simulation of an entangled quantum system, using a physical computing device built up out of aggregation of parts in space, have the needed type of nonspatial complexity?

For me, the nonspatiality of an entangled state is that it cannot be identified with a logical conjunction of spatially localized substates. For example, if the individual qubits are spatially localized, a two-qubit state like |01> resolves into a |0> over here and a |1> over there - "spatially localized substates" - whereas a state like |01>+|10> cannot be resolved in that way. If you are simulating the two-qubit state by using, let us say, four spatially localized registers to represent the amplitudes of a general two-qubit state ( c00 |00> + c01 |01> + c10 |10> + c11 |11> ), then you have indeed eliminated the nonspatiality.

comment by bigbad · 2009-10-17T19:46:54.662Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Why would you try to approach consciousness this way, as opposed to through neuroscience? Neuroscience has been making some real progress lately; what is it that you think this approach could add?

I can't help but notice that the "self-monad" looks a lot like a "soul" in a thin, crispy quantum shell. What are the differences? Are there differences? Dressing it up this way allows you to do math with the monad. Does that math tell you anything? Especially, can any testable prediction come out of this?

You describe how to think like a quantum monadologist. If you answer these questions, I'll be able to decide if thinking like a quantum monadologist is worth attempting.

Replies from: Mitchell_Porter
comment by Mitchell_Porter · 2009-10-20T08:49:23.095Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This is not in opposition to neuroscience. It implicitly calls for attention to quantum effects in the brain, and not just electrical and chemical signaling; and then there's the step where you explain the formal ontology of physics (used to describe the state of the monad) in terms of the ontology revealed by phenomenology, rather than vice versa. But that is all in addition.

The root of it all is that you take phenomenology seriously, and you don't think it can be reduced to the physics we have, and you take that seriously enough to look for ways to revise the physics, both ontologically and mathematically. The majority of commenters here appear to be content with the theory of consciousness they have, or at least with the prospects for reduction of consciousness to existing physics. I am not, and we are therefore going over some of the familiar disputations in comments, but I really didn't write this to present the case against ordinary physicalism one more time. Chalmers does that, many others have done that. Some people get it and some people don't. This article is a sketch (and only a sketch) of a new alternative - a new starting point, rather than an argument against the old one. If you don't feel the need for a new starting point, you may not be interested.

Is the self-monad like a soul? Yes and no, just as the brain is like and unlike a soul according to classic mind-brain identity theory. A monad is a "single substance", but here it is not a different sort of substance. A simple monad should be able to evolve into a complex one, or vice versa, given the right boundary conditions. There is also no radical independence of it from the body; it's a condensate of entangled electrons (or whatever) that forms as the brain develops, nothing more. As a quantum state, you might be able to transfer it into a new environment by a process resembling quantum teleportation; that's about as close to the traditional detachability of the soul as I can get in this theory.

The one inescapable empirical conclusion is that quantum effects are functionally relevant for consciousness and cognition, somewhere, somehow. But if that's a fact, plain old empirical neuroscience, biophysics, and psychology should turn it up eventually anyway, whether or not a theory of monads is a recognized intellectual option.

comment by Paul Crowley (ciphergoth) · 2009-10-18T16:47:34.092Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Actually, let me make a more general comment. This article seems to be aimed almost entirely at those who already agree that physics is going to have to change to account for qualia. I don't know if there's anyone but you here who accepts that, though. Your aim seems to be to show that a physics that could account for qualia in the way you want it to is possible, but I think the bit you needed to argue first was that it was necessary.

In particular, I'm really surprised that my Google searches haven't turned up anything by you setting out what problems you see with Dennett's account in Consciousness Explained, as I refer to in my earlier comment.

Replies from: Mitchell_Porter
comment by Mitchell_Porter · 2009-10-20T08:29:48.608Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This article seems to be aimed almost entirely at those who already agree that physics is going to have to change to account for qualia.

Not quite. It is an experiment in seeing whether the people who insist that there is no problem may be moved by seeing a concrete alternative, rather than being told that their existing account of color, etc, is inadequate. (See first paragraph, last sentences.) No success so far.

What do I think of Dennett? It is a while since I read him. But while of course I disagree with him, I think he is a superior exponent of the true consequences of standard physicalism. I have accused most physicalists of being stealth dualists, who posit an association between, say, color and some computational or other physical property, but call it an identity. Dennett simply says, there is no subjective color (which he calls "figment") and no unity of consciousness ("the Cartesian theater"). These are just intersubjective figures of speech, etc. And he's quite right: subjective color and the unity of consciousness do not exist in standard physics. But they do actually exist, which is why I've posited a monadic physics. A conscious monad is a Cartesian theater, a place where the components of conscious experience are genuinely simultaneously present, and among those components are color sensations.

Responding to your other question - heterophenomenology is where you agree that other people's phenomenological reports must be explained, but you feel no commitment to the ontologies implied by taking the reports literally. In principle, I have no problem with that. People can be wrong. But I disagree with Dennett's specific eliminations, and especially want to show that they are not necessitated by physical ontology, because physical ontology can be different.

Replies from: Cyan, ciphergoth
comment by Cyan · 2009-10-20T13:42:40.070Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

unity of consciousness... [does] actually exist,

The point of my earlier comment about touching a hot plate (ETA: link) was that once you know that your brain is capable of that kind of fiddling, you ought to be convinced of the essential unreliability of all subjective experiences up to and including unity of consciousness. Like the temporal order of events during a burn, unity of consciousness may not be what it subjectively appears to be, so you don't get to take it as a premise.

Replies from: cousin_it, RobinZ
comment by cousin_it · 2009-10-22T11:36:38.967Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

So Mitchell's perception of colors as fundamental irreducible qualia could be a similar illusion. Intriguing possibility!

Replies from: Mitchell_Porter
comment by Mitchell_Porter · 2009-10-26T04:19:30.754Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's not just an intriguing possibility, it's really the only counterargument anyone has, given that no-one has actually produced a way to make color out of noncolor.

Replies from: SilasBarta, jimrandomh, wedrifid
comment by SilasBarta · 2009-10-26T14:06:33.312Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

In the sense that I think you mean, yes, you are correct: there exists at least one phenomenon that science has not explained in terms of reducing it to more fundamental phenomena.

Now, Mitchell_Porter: do you want me to go over why that shortcoming is an insufficient reason to play "monad of the gaps", or do you think you can connect the dots yourself?

In any case, I already showed you the research program that can attack this problem from a reductionist standpoint and what a solution would look like.

Replies from: Mitchell_Porter
comment by Mitchell_Porter · 2009-10-27T04:28:27.717Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That research program reduces experience to computation. And in a brain that means atoms moving around. I have seen this position asserted in two forms. Color is atoms moving around in a certain way; or color is "how it feels" for atoms to move around in a certain way. The first is the sort of identity which I have been rejecting as outlandish - color is not motion, let alone collective motion.

The second possibly introduces a whole new sort of property to the physicalist vocabulary, "how X feels" where X is some physical event or condition. Where we go from here depends on how this property of feeling-like relates to the purely physical properties making up X. If "how X feels" is just another way of saying "X is the case", then we are back to the first approach. If feeling-like is a new and different sort of property, then we have property dualism - unless feeling-like is itself physically reduced, e.g. to another order of computation, in which case we are back to the first approach after all.

There is a gap and I'm putting a monad in it, yes; the monad is the place where consciousness actually happens. But we shouldn't overstate the difference between our views. In ordinary physical terms, this monad is supposed to be a big bunch of entangled biomolecules, nothing more; it's only when we go beyond making predictions, to asking what physical things actually are, that I insist upon this inversion of the usual approach, whereby (in effect) the physical state of the monad is going to be explained as an abstracted description of its actual, conscious state, rather than the other way around.

When I say "physics contains no color" or "color can't be reduced to physics", I'm talking about the physical ontology you get if you take the physical formalism literally. That ontology contains no color. But I'm not saying that actual color exists in some extra realm outside of physics; the expectation is that it will be there in a slightly modified physics (a monadologized physics), when that physics is properly understood.

But if we skip these philosophical subtleties and just compare your view to mine at the ordinary level of discussion, according to which there is a physical brain and it contains somewhere a physical correlate of consciousness, what are the differences? I'm saying there's a big quantum system somewhere and that is the correlate of consciousness; you're saying there's a distributed classical computation and that is the correlate of consciousness. That's a difference but it's not a radical difference. It's only when we get into the details of how to make such an identification, between subjective and objective, that we get to the really heated differences in this discussion. Of course, it's my views at that level which have motivated me to take the quantum path, so the two levels aren't independent. But I wanted to step back for a moment and indicate how un-exotic a major portion of my hypothesis is.

comment by jimrandomh · 2009-10-26T13:41:12.710Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Color is a property that objects, light, and experiences may have, not something that can exist independently, so "make color out of noncolor" is incoherent.

comment by wedrifid · 2009-10-26T05:08:45.544Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

given that no-one has actually produced a way to make color out of noncolor.

No, but give me an imperfect self-replicator and a few billion years and I may well be able to produce a creature that perceives, experiences and describes colour in much the same way that Mitchell Porter does.

Monads, midichlorians and phlogiston just aren't required to explain the phenomena that can be seen in the universe.

Replies from: whowhowho
comment by whowhowho · 2013-01-31T18:10:34.622Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

No, but give me an imperfect self-replicator and a few billion years and I may well be able to produce a creature that perceives, experiences and describes colour in much the same way that Mitchell Porter does.

which proves exactly nothing about whether or how it is being done physically.

Monads, midichlorians and phlogiston just aren't required to explain the phenomena that can be seen in the universe.

They aren't required to expalin the phenomena that have been explained. As to the phenomena that have not been explained...

comment by RobinZ · 2009-10-20T15:45:19.164Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm sorry, where was that comment? I can't find it now.

Replies from: SilasBarta, Cyan
comment by SilasBarta · 2009-10-20T15:57:58.591Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It was in another discussion: The Friendly singularity one. (I looked at Cyan's user page.)

Replies from: RobinZ
comment by RobinZ · 2009-10-20T16:00:39.279Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ah, I missed that one.

comment by Cyan · 2009-10-20T16:04:54.961Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It should have occurred to me to link it. Sorry about that!

Replies from: RobinZ
comment by RobinZ · 2009-10-20T16:10:58.718Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thanks - it's not a huge deal, I just wanted to read the whole convo.

comment by Paul Crowley (ciphergoth) · 2009-10-20T16:06:58.288Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

So, given that you accept heterophenomenology, you are proposing a huge, epoch-making change to the way we approach physics solely in order to account for certain utterances people make. I don't think it's enough to say that you think Dennett's eliminations aren't necessary; I think you are going to have to show some pretty big problems with accounting for these utterances while sticking with standard physics if you're to get our attention on this one.

Replies from: whowhowho
comment by whowhowho · 2013-01-31T18:21:05.034Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

So, given that you accept heterophenomenology, you are proposing a huge, epoch-making change to the way we approach physics solely in order to account for certain utterances people make

He is probably trying to account for certain experiences he has. if you have never experienced any colours or other quaiia, you are unusual.

Replies from: ciphergoth
comment by Paul Crowley (ciphergoth) · 2013-02-01T08:33:07.915Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Look up heterophenomenology.

Replies from: whowhowho
comment by whowhowho · 2013-02-01T10:54:41.997Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I know what it means. it is not clear that Mitchell_Porter has "adopted" heterophenomeonlogy as an exclusive means of epistemic access to the mind. Indeed, the fact that he has a problem with qualia is evidence that he has not.

comment by Jack · 2009-10-16T03:46:23.774Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Some questions that will probably reveal some of my ignorance but should help clear things up for everyone if answered.

You are saying that there is some monad in my head and that monad is me? No?

Living matter is made up of electrons and quarks; but these are themselves just D0-brane composites. So here we have the answer. The D0-branes are the fundamental degrees of freedom - the qubits of nature, so to speak - and their entanglements and disentanglements define the boundaries of the monads.

Does this mean the entire human brain could be a "monad"? If so why do we think that understanding the structure and function of this "monad" requires more than understanding the behavior of neurons and axons? Why bring quantum physics into the picture?

Or if the monad that is me is not my entire brain is there some surgery that could be done to remove the monad? Could we smash it in a super collider? If the monad isn't the entire brain how is it that significant changes or stimuli in any part of the brain can alter phenomenological reports? I.e. what is going on with Phineas Gage and all of neuroscience?

What work is the term "monad" doing? Its use has confused the hell out of everyone here. You wrote in a comment

By a monad I just mean an elementary "thing" which can have mental states.

All the ways I can think to interpret this either have it coming out as a term to basic to be of any interest or so weird as to make the research on face implausible so a much better elucidation what you mean by "monad" is pretty important. Especially since you're not using it in a way anyone here is used to.

Anyway, a lot of the language and ideas is awfully similar to stuff David Chalmers was and is working on. I wonder if you are familiar with his work.

Replies from: Mitchell_Porter
comment by Mitchell_Porter · 2009-10-16T04:05:18.243Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You are saying that there is some monad in my head and that monad is me?

Yes.

I think a concrete example of a quantum-monadological hypothesis is in order. The best-known quantum-mind theories revolve around microtubules, so let's start there.

Orthodox cognitive neuroscience revolves around synapses and action potentials. But let's suppose Stuart Hameroff is right and microtubules are relevant as well, and are not just structural molecules. Maybe there are quantum-entangled mobile electrons in the shell of the microtubule, they feel the action potential, and they affect the binding of microtubule-associated proteins, i.e. let's suppose they are causally relevant to neuronal information processing, as they had better be if they are going to be the locus of consciousness. So, some subpopulation of microtubules, in some subpopulation of neurons, contains a big set of entangled electrons - and that is the monad that is you.

Although I have described it as a "set of entangled electrons", it is to be regarded as elementary because entangled objects no longer have independent individual states - they are more like aspects of a bigger thing (at least under the interpretation of quantum theory I'm using). Mathematically, it has a large number of degrees of freedom, and I suppose that in reality, those degrees of freedom are busy being your conscious thoughts, perceptions, and so forth.

Does that make things clearer?

I certainly know about David Chalmers's work and I generally agree with it. I just think we need to go even further and say, not just that "raw sensory qualities" aren't present in physics as normally conceived, but that they are bound together in consciousness in a way which suggests an underlying ontological unity beyond that possessed by a collection of spatial parts.

Replies from: Jack, SilasBarta
comment by Jack · 2009-10-16T04:59:15.099Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thanks, that is quite a bit clearer. How would a quantum-monadological hypothesis make sense of split-brain cases? Surely the slicing of a corpus callosum can't divide a monad.

Replies from: Mitchell_Porter
comment by Mitchell_Porter · 2009-10-16T05:39:42.074Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Even given the general hypothesis, most of the brain's computations are still being done classically and unconsciously, in the form of interactions among small quantum systems (environmentally decohered biomolecules, let's say). Snipping through a bundle of nerves will interfere with these classical computations and have functional consequences.

But I really have nothing to say about split-brain phenomenology from a quantum perspective. The big biophysical challenge for me is just to explain how you can have significant structured entanglement extending beyond the individual neuron. How might the electrons (say) in one neuron even become entangled with those in another? The quantum-mind literature has suggestions, such as phonons in the polymer fibers of the extracellular matrix.

But I would prefer to first see much more progress in understanding the quantum dynamics of living matter when investigated from a neutral perspective, one that isn't specifically looking for interneuronal conduits of coherent quantum interaction. We need to know whether proteins spend significant time in superpositions of different conformations, whether the aqueous intracellular environment is entirely thermal or contains any form of quantum order... There needs to be a little more progress in general quantum biology before we can have a well-founded quantum neurobiology.

comment by SilasBarta · 2009-10-16T04:32:53.357Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Mathematically, it has a large number of degrees of freedom, and I suppose that in reality, those degrees of freedom are busy being your conscious thoughts, perceptions, and so forth.

Whoa, how do you get to make the jump to the degrees of freedom being my conscious thoughts? Whenever anyone else does that, you call it a deficient ontology, denying reality of experience, vaguing out, etc. But you're doing the exact same thing!

You have no standing on which to object to someone saying, "The brain state consistent with a certain wavelength of EM radiation hitting my eyes is my conscious experience of blue."

Replies from: Mitchell_Porter
comment by Mitchell_Porter · 2009-10-16T04:40:26.323Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I plead guilty to talking in a way which is ambiguous about the relationship between the actual thing and its mathematical description. I am frankly not sure what the right way to do so is. My objection to the similar identity statements that people produce is that they can't explain how the identity could be true, and will even define away the phenomenon they are supposed to be explaining.

comment by PlaidX · 2009-10-15T13:06:43.970Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Again I ask, does this theory make any testable predictions and if so what?

Replies from: SilasBarta, Mitchell_Porter
comment by SilasBarta · 2009-10-15T14:53:18.971Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Now, now, I'd like to tear into the methodological flaws in monadology as much as anyone here, but Mitchell_Porter clearly said:

This is obviously more of a research program than a theory. ..., the point of this article is not to carry out the research program, but just to suggest what I'm actually on about.

It would be unreasonable not to think about any idea until it's at the theory stage, else you'd never get there.

Replies from: billswift
comment by billswift · 2009-10-15T16:15:33.424Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You need to be thinking about tests at all levels of development. The actual creation of the hypotheses should have in mind tests which could test them. A scientific theory has already been tested. Or are you using "theory" like the creationist whack-jobs who are always saying "Evolution is only a theory".

Replies from: SilasBarta
comment by SilasBarta · 2009-10-15T16:33:52.687Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Or are you using "theory" like the creationist whack-jobs who are always saying "Evolution is only a theory".

Heh, no I'm not one of those people -- except when trolling forums, of course ;-)

And I already explained why, even if Mitchell_Porter answered the hard problems, it still wouldn't vindicate his ontology. That counts as giving it a pre-theory "test".

But at the very least, PlaidX shouldn't be calling Mitchell_Porter's ideas a "theory" or expecting an experiment yet. Though I agree it's fair to ask, e.g. "what would cause you to give up this whole monadology project?" And there it is indeed troubling, since Mitchell_Porter seems to decree, right from the beginning, that conscious experience is different in a fundamental way from the "mere" operation of quarks that prohibits any new discovery from showing that the two are not different.

Replies from: billswift
comment by billswift · 2009-10-15T19:23:20.062Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I misinterpreted your comment, entirely my misreading, though your last sentence is rather confusingly structured. In fact, my first three sentences basically just repeat what you wrote in different words. But I disagree about when you should be thinking about experiments - you should be thinking about how to test your ideas from the very beginning, from the time they first come together well enough that you can put it into words.

Hal Clement's next to last novel, "Half Life", has some interesting points to make about social interactions around science, especially about hypothesis testing. One rule the characters live by is to never present a hypothesis without also presenting either an alternative explanation or a means to test you idea.

Replies from: SilasBarta
comment by SilasBarta · 2009-10-16T03:36:46.913Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well, then I think we do have a disagreement. I think that sometimes it is necessary to grope in the epistemic dark without such constraints before you can put together a coherent understanding that can answer such questions.

However, it looks like Mitchell_Porter has been at this for eight years and this post is all he has to show for it. I would definitely agree that counts as Doing It Wrong.

Replies from: PlaidX
comment by PlaidX · 2009-10-16T12:31:10.685Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't think it's essential that everything be testable, it's just that it would help me understand what he's trying to say. I can't even tell if he's actually saying something about the way the universe works, or just relabeling things.

comment by Mitchell_Porter · 2009-10-27T05:02:29.436Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The major prediction is that mesoscopic quantum effects are functionally relevant in conscious cognition. Beyond that, there's also the prediction that the neural correlate of consciousness is one large quantum-entangled subsystem of the brain. But the crucial threshold, yet to be crossed, is simply for there to be such a thing as "quantum-computational neuroscience". If no-one ever sees an empirical need for that, then theories like this will go nowhere.

comment by Psychohistorian · 2009-10-15T17:03:10.083Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

the physics we have does not even contain the everyday phenomenon of color.

Color is determined by the wavelength of light. If you meant the experience of seeing color, it's still very much a neuroscience problem - we are nowhere near reducing the brain to the pure physics level.

Replies from: SilasBarta
comment by SilasBarta · 2009-10-15T17:22:53.862Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well, yes, based on his previous writings, that's what he meant. While it's not completely solved, it's not as mysterious as Mitchell_Porter makes it out to be:

We know why light departs from objects with the EM wave frequency that it does. We know what EM waves are well enough to generate them in other contexts consistent with our observations of light on objects. We know that detection of EM radiation at certain frequencies creates a physical response in the retina. Information about that response is passed to the brain through the optic nerve.

Based on this previous comment, Mitchell_Porter would consider even these last steps mysterious:

We can quantify certain things about subjective color; and we can describe certain physical realities which are somehow correlated with color. Thus 450-nm wavelength light "is" a type of blue light. But I submit that it makes no sense to say that when you see a particular shade of blue, you are "seeing a length"; or that blue itself "is a length". That might do as a poetic description of the physics behind the perception, but as an ontological statement, it simply substitutes the correlated geometric property for the sensory property we are trying to explain.

Which makes his level of dissatisfaction with current physics unjustified.

Furthermore, Gary Drescher made some headway in Good and Real about the phenomenological issues. Once you can explain the correspondence between different EM frequencies and different retina states (and thus the nerve signal), you're just left with the qualia issue of "is my red the same as your red?" and "Does this brain state mean a different red for me than if it appeared in your brain?" But, Drescher says, this is no different from the gensym "problem" in programming, where the names used in referencing data are different between program instances. If that doesn't confuse you, neither should color qualia.

Replies from: Psychohistorian
comment by Psychohistorian · 2009-10-15T22:24:02.724Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Exactly. Blue-ness is a property of the retina and brain, not of the light. The light just has a wavelength.

Replies from: Mitchell_Porter
comment by Mitchell_Porter · 2009-10-16T01:42:26.138Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Blue-ness is a property of the retina and brain

Which property? Under the usual assumptions, the particles composing the retina and the brain are exactly the same sort of particles composing the rest of the world. At what point in the piling up of colorless particles and forces does an actual shade of blue magically spring into existence?

Replies from: Vladimir_Nesov, Psychohistorian, SilasBarta
comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2009-10-16T08:58:45.226Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Directly related: Angry Atoms.

Replies from: SilasBarta
comment by SilasBarta · 2009-10-16T14:16:50.262Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for the pointer. Another underrated pre-LW post.

comment by Psychohistorian · 2009-10-16T01:59:56.922Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

At what point in the piling up of colorless particles and forces does an actual shade of blue magically spring into existence?

I have no idea. I don't pretend to deserve a Nobel prize. But I am reasonably sure that the colorless particles and forces we need to look at to figure that out reside in the brain, not in EM radiation of a specific wavelength.

I'm also pretty sure that however the experience of seeing blue springs into existence, no magic is involved.

comment by SilasBarta · 2009-10-16T14:17:40.181Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That's it? That's all it took to make you start hiding behind the Sorites paradox? That was easy.

comment by Mitchell_Porter · 2009-10-24T09:20:45.818Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

In this discussion of whether color experience can be reduced to the physics we have, let us return to the beginning and at least try to agree on why we disagree.

Before I knew about science, I lived in a world which included colored objects. Subjectively I still do. But I have also learned a theory of the world according to which it is made entirely of particles and fields. For the purposes of discussion, we can say that according to this theory, the world consists of particles and fields in a changing spatial configuration. (If quantum mechanics comes up, let us say that it consists of an association of complex numbers with a set of such configurations.)

I expect that we agree that at the fundamental level, this theory does not contain color. So if I am to believe that this theory describes the whole of reality, and if I am to regard my experience of colored objects as part of reality, then the elements of that experience must be identified with complex, non-fundamental entities or properties appearing in the physical theory.

A priori, I regard it as outlandish that color is an arrangement of things in space, or any other such composite property from the physical theory in question. They appear to be radically dissimilar things, as if one were to say that yesterday was the number 2. So when someone says that color is such a property, if they wish to convince me, they must overcome this skepticism and somehow explain how this can be so. I mention this, not to signal that I shall not be moved come what may, but to mention a psychological fact, and to indicate how large the gulf between the one and the other appears to me.

Robin Z, Richard Hollerith, and Silas Barta have all defended the physical reduction of color, as have several others. So I shall examine their positions in turn, and at least try to understand what it is that they are proposing.

Robin Z's most recent statement of her position is here. She says the experience of greenness occurs in the mind, the mind is a product of the operation of the brain, and the ultimate cause of the experience of greenness is usually the incidence of light of a certain wavelength upon the surface of the eye, which produces an unspecified causal sequence resulting ultimately in the experience of greenness.

This explanation does not specify which complex physical entity is the experience of greenness, or how it is that color arises from colorless physics. So it does not help me understand or give me reason to change my view.

An analogy with the figures in a video game is also presented. But described physically, an image on a screen is an arrangement of things in space, so it is not a problem to account for it in terms of a spatially based physics.

In Richard's comments, I cannot find a specific account of what color is physically. There is the assertion that "The state of my brain that corresponds with the blue experience can be a normal, ordinary, conventional physical state", but there is no explanation of what sort of physical thing a "blue experience" might be.

Richard also talks about information processing and model maintaining, so that is probably relevant to his concept of how the reduction is to be achieved, but it is not enough detail for me to work with.

Silas has been more specific. Following Gary Drescher, he refers to the "generated symbols" of the Lisp programming language. Silas says: "To experience blue is to feel your cognitive architecture assigning a label to sensory data."

We can all agree that there is no barrier in principle to providing a physical account of what happens inside a computer when such an operation occurs, though the details may be complicated. For example, in the computers we have, such a process consists of many charged objects changing their locations inside a number of transistors in a certain way.

I have no objection in principle to Silas supposing that an analogous computational process might occur in the human brain. The physical reality there will similarly consist of numerous charged objects moving around, such as ions moving across membranes, in a certain way.

Silas says that the experience of color is how it feels for this to happen. But I still do not see where the color is. Either I am to look for it in the motions of the ions themselves, in which case I do not see it; or I am to look for it in the "feel" of those motions, but I do not know what that means, in terms of the physical theory with which we began.

I therefore conclude that I have not yet been given a reason to think that color can, after all, be found in a colorless physics.

Replies from: rhollerith_dot_com, RobinZ, RobinZ, jimrandomh
comment by rhollerith_dot_com · 2009-10-25T14:38:26.155Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This will probably be my last reply to Mitchell on consciousness or ontology.

It is now very highly probable that my differences with Mitchell in this thread stem from differences over epistemology. Specifically, Mitchell considers it epistemologically satisfactory to adhere to his current position until provided with strong evidence or strong argument against it. The best summary of that position in a few sentences is probably the following passage written by Mitchell less than 36 hours ago to be found in the parent of this comment:

A priori, I regard it as outlandish that color is an arrangement of things in space, or any other such composite property from the physical theory in question. They appear to be radically dissimilar things, as if one were to say that yesterday was the number 2. So when someone says that color is such a property, if they wish to convince me, they must overcome this skepticism and somehow explain how this can be so.

My position is that what Mitchell considers outlandish is a perfectly normal and perfectly satisfactory hypothesis. None of Mitchell's indictments of the hypothesis strike me as actual handicaps in a proper contest among hypotheses (i.e., in a proper epistemological process). If you want a summary in a few sentences of my position (which is the standard position round here) on how hypotheses should be judged, see the first paragraph of something I wrote less than 48 hours ago. I would gladly elaborate on it and how it applies to Mitchell's concerns if anyone is interested. Alternatively, the interested reader could just wait for the top-level submission promised by jimrandomh in a sister to this comment.

Replies from: Mitchell_Porter
comment by Mitchell_Porter · 2009-10-26T04:04:53.232Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The only way I can see to impose a quantitative framework upon this disagreement is to construct a Bayesian belief network encompassing all the key propositions in both your argument and my argument, and then we try to find where your probabilistic dependencies are different to mine. But I wonder if that's even necessary.

Here's my reasoning:

  • Colors exist.
  • Colors would not exist in a universe consisting solely of colorless particles in motion through colorless space. (In a nutshell: you can't get color from noncolor.)
  • Therefore, this is not such a universe.

Your reasoning is something like:

  • We explained everything else in terms of colorless particles, etc, so far.
  • Therefore we'll do it this time too.

To come around to your view, I have to deny my second premise. I see three ways you can try to make me do that. First, you can show me a specific way to get color from noncolor - but no-one has shown me that. Second, you can use historical analogy to argue that my intuition is wrong. But in my most recent comment to RobinZ I explained why consciousness is different. Third, you can appeal to consensus: everyone else here thinks we can get color from noncolor somehow. But that consensus can be explained psychologically, culturally and historically.

Like I said, we can set about the laborious task of formalizing all this. But do we need to?

Replies from: rhollerith_dot_com, Alicorn
comment by rhollerith_dot_com · 2009-10-26T07:02:58.558Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I am going to ignore the parts of Mitchell's comment where Mitchell repeats points I already responded to, which leaves us with one point:

The only way I can see to impose a quantitative framework upon this disagreement is to construct a Bayesian belief network encompassing all the key propositions in both your argument and my argument, and then we try to find where your probabilistic dependencies are different to mine.

I do not know what you mean by a Bayesian belief network about an argument. I humbly suggest that when you wrote that sentence, you were confused about how a quantitative framework (as you call) or a formal epistemological treatment (as I would call it) would go. Please allow me to give the miminum amount of exposition necessary for present purposes. Although it is a clear improvement over what Mitchell wrote, there might be mistakes in the following exposition because I came to "technical epistemology" after the age of 40 and life circumstances have prevented me from giving it the study it deserves. If Eliezer, Anna Salamon or Steve Rayhawk takes exception to anything I say below, then believe them, not what I say below.

In the gospel according to Jaynes, Pearl, Solomonoff, etc, there is one Bayesian belief network out of all the possible Bayesian belief networks that is the accurate model of reality. If we knew which one it was, we would be able to use it to answer any question about any cause-and-effect relationship that is in principle answerable -- or so it seems to me according to my untutored understanding. Parenthetically, in Causality Pearl opines that systems of equations similar to the structural equation models pioneered by the econometricians are probably a better representation than Bayesian belief networks. Hutter and Schmidhuber I think use Turing machines instead of Bayesian belief networks. Needless to say, if you have a formal model of reality in one representation (Bayesian belief network, say), it is a fairly easy mathematical exercise to put it into a different representation.

So, there is one "objectively true" model of reality, but I do not know which one it is. Consequently, what I have as my model of reality is a distribution over models -- er, to be precise, a distribution over candidates for the One True model. (I think I used the word "hypothesis" in my previous comment, but right now I prefer "candidate model".) By "distribution" I mean a mapping from candidates to real numbers in the interval between 0 and 1. I will refer to these real numbers as probabilities. There are an uncountable number of candidates, and the only way to get the probabilities of the candidates to sum to 1 is if the probabilities of arithmetically longer candidates are geometrically smaller. This is the formal version of Occam's Razor. Why do the probabilities need to sum to 1? Well, the short answer is the Kolmogorov axioms say so. Who made the Kolmogorov axioms God? Cox's theorem did.

Since physics is the study of fundamental reality, when I say "our civilization's standard physical model" I refer to our civilization's standard model of fundamental reality. The word "fundamental" is in there to indicate that "Fairbanks is the capital of Alaska" is not in the model. Our civilization's model of fundamental reality remains _in_formal. To produce a formal model would require more than one generation of scientific effort in my humble estimate. In other words, to get it done would entail some community of scientists working on it till they became experts at the work, which I would think would take at least ten years. Then that first generation of scientists would have to train a second generation. But maybe I am wrong and it would take only one generation of scientific research to produce a formal model sufficiently useful that researchers wielding the model could compete with professional physicists trained the conventional way. (It would be a very cool achievement and parenthetically a potent way to remove human cognitive biases from scientific research it seems to me according to my untutored understanding of formal epistemology).

Even though I do not have a formal model of fundamental reality, my knowledge of formal epistemology which I have attempted to summarize briefly above is still useful because (probabalistically speaking, that is, excluding the freak case where all the air molecules go to one half of the room) any process that produces a true model of reality must approximate the process by which evidence updates a distribution on candidate models of reality outlined briefly above. (In particular, the process of natural selection that produced the scientists that produced our civilization's physical models must approximate the process outlined above.)

Well, that should be enough to correct Mitchell's false or confusing or easily-misinterpreted statements (quoted above) about formal epistemology -- which is the only end for which I have any patience left in this top-level submission by Mitchell.

Replies from: wedrifid, Mitchell_Porter
comment by wedrifid · 2009-10-26T07:19:09.334Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

In the gospel according to Jaynes, Pearl, Solomonoff, etc, there is one Bayesian belief network out of all the possible Bayesian belief networks, which is the accurate model of reality. If we knew which one it was, we would be able to use it to answer any question about any cause-and-effect relationship that is in principle answerable -- or so it seems to me according to my untutored understanding.

If I have The True Belief Network then I don't need to predict cause-and-effect relationships. I just know the full state of the timeless universe. I mean to ask, why is a belief network constrained to representing physical laws and not physical state? After all, my current network has a bit of both...

Replies from: rhollerith_dot_com
comment by rhollerith_dot_com · 2009-10-26T07:45:05.338Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If I have The True Belief Network then I don't need to predict cause-and-effect relationships. I just know the full state of the timeless universe. I mean to ask, why is a belief network constrained to representing physical laws and not physical state?

I did not say it is constrained to represent physical laws, wedrifid.

Could it be that you believe that my use of "cause-and-effect relationship" implies that constraint? If so, I'm not conceding the implication.

Replies from: wedrifid
comment by wedrifid · 2009-10-26T11:03:56.907Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm not asking you to concede anything. I'm trying to explore your meaning. What would you (or, for that matter, the experts you cite) say is the One True Model? I can imagine various types of mathematical abstractions but aren't sure which kind you are referring to.

Replies from: rhollerith_dot_com
comment by rhollerith_dot_com · 2009-10-28T20:38:33.763Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The casual reader might be saying to himself, "There goes Hollerith with another long comment about what he is calling formal epistemology. Why doesn't he have the manners to refrain from injecting a long thread on an unrelated topic into Mitchell's article on monads, consciousness, etc?"

Well, two replies to that. First, I say formal epistemology is not unrelated. Mitchell has been writing for many years around these parts on how consciousness presents a problem for standard physics. He has even solicited donations to support him in researching the matter further, saying that it is dangerous to have a singularity without having done that research. So, one of the ways formal epistemology enters naturally into this comment section is that I humbly sumbit that anyone engaged in such a project that Mitchell is engaged in should have as part of his technical background an education in formal epistemology. It leads to crisper thinking, and given how many resources Mitchell is devoting to the project, his dedicating some of those resources to learning formal epistemology is probably a good use of his time (and, oh, by the way, I'm not going to pay anymore attention to his writings on consciousness, ontology, etc, till he does).

Second, now that it has become plain that my mention of formal epistemology might lead to a long thread of conversation, I will indeed move the conversation to this place. It might move back to Less Wrong in the form of a top-level article by me with a title something like Why most people here should probably learn technical epistemology, a.k.a., the math of rationality. This prospective article would cover no ground that Eliezer has not already covered, but when it is important to publicize some point, then it often wins to have more than one voice making that point.

Replies from: Mitchell_Porter, Mitchell_Porter, wedrifid
comment by Mitchell_Porter · 2009-10-29T10:03:45.553Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It would be possible for a person to maintain that only the natural numbers exist, and that there is nothing else. They could point to all the things which can be described using natural numbers; and if you insisted that some particular thing was not actually a natural number, but merely had a relationship to the numbers, they would keep returning their focus to the numerical part of the description of everything, and handwave away every other aspect as not really real, or as itself just being another number.

In the discussion of whether color can be reduced to the motions of particles in space, I feel myself to be in a comparable situation. The discussion of color as such repeatedly turns into a discussion of particles in the light source or particles in the brain...

Perhaps someone out there has conducted the subjective experiment of attending to actual color for a moment, and asking themselves afresh whether this thing could "really" be just particles in motion. The first thing to ask yourself is whether this alleged identity derives any impetus at all from the intrinsic nature of particles in motion. If somehow you knew nothing of color experiences or of neuropsychology, would you have any reason to think, in contemplating any assortment of particles circulating in space, that "color" or "the experience of color" was there? I think not. The motivation for the identity comes entirely from the belief that the world in general has already been explained by a physics of this form, and so color (and everything else about consciousness) must, somehow, also reduce to particles in motion. There is nothing in the intrinsic nature of color or the intrinsic nature of particles in motion to make you think that it is even possible for one to be the other.

That is the sort of argument that you have to resort to with someone who thinks that color is particles, or that everything is a number. You have to draw their attention to their actual experience, and make them question from the very beginning whether what they are saying makes sense. But Richard, I have no idea how to do that within these epistemic formalisms you promote, which seem to mostly be good for arriving at the simplest possible causal structure for hidden causes, and say nothing about how to correctly think about appearances as such, or how to ensure that you are placing a thing in the right ontological category.

comment by Mitchell_Porter · 2009-10-29T09:07:54.831Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

But can this formal epistemology be the whole of epistemology? What is your formal epistemic basis for thinking that something exists, or that you have experienced blueness, or that 1+1=2?

comment by wedrifid · 2009-10-29T08:27:26.723Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It might move back to Less Wrong in the form of a top-level article by me with a title something like Why most people here should probably learn technical epistemology, a.k.a., the math of rationality. This prospective article would cover no ground that Eliezer has not already covered, but when it is important to publicize some point, then it often wins to have more than one voice making that point.

I look forward to that.

comment by Mitchell_Porter · 2009-10-26T10:16:07.851Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I do not know what you mean by a Bayesian belief network about an argument.

What I called a BBN (it may be a generalization of the standard concept) is a belief system schema constructed to be capable of representing your reasoning and my reasoning. Nodes are propositions and arrows are inferential steps. The schema must contain a node for every proposition that I use and every proposition that you use, and similarly must contain an arrow for every inferential step appearing in the argument of either person. Once we have that diagram, our two arguments may then be represented as each flowing through a portion of it. We arrive at opposite truth values for a common terminal proposition, so the arguments are in contradiction. To resolve the contradiction or at least identify its cause, we move upstream and try to identify where initial conditions differ.

This process will most likely require one to state opinions regarding certain implicit premises, used by the other person, which did not even play a role in one's own argument, as well as to express differing opinions about the arrows, i.e., about the implications of one proposition for the truth of another. One of us may regard the truth of B as independent of the truth of A, whereas the other would say that if A is true, then B is definitely false - or probably false. It is merely a formal process meant to guarantee that the sources of disagreement are mutually understood, something which should happen anyway if the disagreement has developed in a lucid and orderly fashion.

comment by Alicorn · 2009-10-26T12:52:15.871Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm concerned that you want to dive down an explanatory hole with no bottom. Suppose we say: okay, the particles are colored; or space is colored; or otherwise, beneath the objects we perceive to be colored, there are colors. Won't you want those colors explained too?

Replies from: Mitchell_Porter
comment by Mitchell_Porter · 2009-10-27T03:51:35.503Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

When I emphasize that the building blocks of physical ontology have no color, I'm not saying that everything would be solved if only they did. But if you start out without color, and your only way to make bigger things is through spatial and causal aggregation, color will not appear by itself - that is the message.

Replies from: Alicorn
comment by Alicorn · 2009-10-27T11:59:27.008Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Certain properties can be described counterfactually - does that help? For instance, "fragility" can be a property of an object that never in fact breaks, as long as it would have been disposed to break under a greater proportion of conditions than many comparable objects. An object is a certain color if it is disposed to reflect light of one wavelength as light of a certain wavelength, which may be different from the original. An object can have this property even if it spends its lifetime in the dark.

Replies from: Mitchell_Porter
comment by Mitchell_Porter · 2009-10-28T02:48:34.187Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The physical property to which you refer is deemed color only because it can induce an experience of color. And the experience of color can occur without that specific external stimulus. So the true nature of color must be sought within the brain.

Replies from: jimrandomh
comment by jimrandomh · 2009-10-28T03:31:07.364Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The physical property to which you refer is deemed color only because it can induce an experience of color. And the experience of color can occur without that specific external stimulus. So the true nature of color must be sought within the brain.

Here is the confusion underlying this whole mess. There are three types of things which color can apply to: objects, light, and experiences. These are related causally: blue objects cause blue light which causes blue experiences; and evidentially: a blue experience is evidence that there was blue light, which is evidence that there was a blue object. However, color as it applies to objects, light, and experiences are three separate entities with different reductions. We use them interchangeably because the causal and evidential relationships allow them to substitute for eachother in almost all contexts.

If you start with one of blue objects, light, or experience clearly defined, then you can use that definition plus the causal/evidential relationships to define the other two. The natural way to define them is to define all three only in relation to eachother - ie, refer only to the entire structure, and depend on the ability to compare the color of reference objects/light/experiences to keep the definition stable. Fortunately, some discoveries from physics have enabled a simple physical description of blue light. Blue light is any light made predominately of photons with a wavelength close to 470nm. Based off that definition, a blue object is one that reflects or produces blue light, and a blue experience is one involving some particular set of neurons which I identify by their causal relationship to blue light. But stimulating these neurons without using light still makes a blue experience, and I could in principle identify those neurons some other way - for example, if I were to discover that protein X is found only in blue-experience neurons, then I could define a blue experience as an experience involving neurons containing protein X, and then define blue light and objects based on that.

There are some other strange entities which can have color because of causal relations, too. For example, the number 255 (#0000FF) is blue because it causes blue photons to be produced when written in the right part of a CSS file.

Replies from: Mitchell_Porter
comment by Mitchell_Porter · 2009-10-28T03:50:47.416Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Here is the confusion underlying this whole mess.

There is no confusion. I am disputing the adequacy of the reductions proposed for blue experience, specifically.

Let us suppose you have a definition of the physical correlate of blue experience which no longer refers to external causes, but just to intrinsic properties, such as the presence of protein X. That is an arrangement of atoms in space. My question remains, very simply, where is the blueness in this picture? I don't see it.

Replies from: SilasBarta
comment by SilasBarta · 2009-10-28T04:20:25.278Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Where is chess in Deep Blue?

Replies from: wedrifid, Mitchell_Porter
comment by wedrifid · 2009-10-28T04:22:43.106Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

In the midichlorians.

Replies from: SilasBarta
comment by SilasBarta · 2009-10-29T03:59:21.459Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I can't find the video online, but there was an SNL Star Wars sketch that reminds me of.

Mace Windu: "Does Gary Kasparov have enough midichlorians to beat Deep Blue? Y'damn right he don't!"

comment by Mitchell_Porter · 2009-10-28T05:11:42.360Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Let's define what you mean by chess, first.

Replies from: SilasBarta
comment by SilasBarta · 2009-10-28T12:51:47.816Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

How about you explain what meanings you would find problematic so I can be sure you're not just trying to time-suck me as a cover for your own insufficient effort in developing a coherent position, which, as others who have argued with you here would agree, is a likely hypothesis?

ETA: In any other circumstance, if someone had given the response in this comment, even and especially if it were me giving the comment, I would accuse the person of being evasive because of an inconsistent position.

So, just to prove that that's not the case here, I'll show that I can define "chess" non-arbitrarily but in a way that's applicable to deep blue and the broader issues of reductionism. However, I'd also need for Mitchell to generate his answer independently of knowing mine.

So, I'm up for having us both submit our answers to some trusted third party, who then reveals the answers. I would be responding to "what is chess [and how does it relate to Deep Blue]?", while Mitchell would be responding to the question, "What are the problematic definitions of chess when trying to apply them to Deep Blue [and what are the implications to the alleged irreducibility of phenomenal blue]?"

Replies from: Mitchell_Porter
comment by Mitchell_Porter · 2009-10-29T00:38:05.949Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Silas, the answer to your original question really does depend on the definition. You presumably brought it up with some intent, why don't you go ahead and make the point you intended to make?

ETA: I can add right now that no particular definition of chess will be problematic, in the sense of leaving me at a loss for an answer.

Replies from: SilasBarta
comment by SilasBarta · 2009-10-29T03:52:46.137Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

My point was a response to your point by means of reductio: if you can't see the blueness in atoms moving around, can you see the chess in atoms moving around in a chess computer? It's the wrong question -- chess is identified by a large-scale pattern of behavior. It does not require there to be a low-level ontologically-fundamental chess-thing in the picture.

Replies from: Mitchell_Porter
comment by Mitchell_Porter · 2009-10-29T04:27:27.828Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

chess is identified by a large-scale pattern of behavior.

A counter-question I thought of asking: is there tennis in a brick wall? You can't get a whole game out of it, but you can get return-of-serve, rally practice, and volley practice. A brick wall has some of the capabilities you'd want in an 'artificial tennis player', just as Deep Blue has some of the capabilities of an 'artificial chess player'. The brick wall achieves this by inducing a particular systematic transformation of the game-state (it inverts one component of the tennis ball's momentum), just as Deep Blue does. Is there a sense in which there is chess in Deep Blue but not tennis in the brick wall?

Replies from: SilasBarta, RobinZ
comment by SilasBarta · 2009-10-29T15:10:59.572Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Is there a sense in which there is chess in Deep Blue but not tennis in the brick wall?

Yes. Playing against Deep Blue tells you something about the rules that define chess, while playing against a wall tells you nothing about the rules that define tennis.

If you knew nothing about chess, then by playing against Deep Blue, you can update your probability distribution about what sorts of behaviors (legal moves) count as chess. If you knew nothing about tennis, you're not going to learn its rules by playing against a brick wall.

See my last comment about when a computation is about something.

So does that resolve the hot-shot zinger that just popped into your head? Are we ready to go back to how blue can arise from "atoms moving around"?

Replies from: Mitchell_Porter
comment by Mitchell_Porter · 2009-10-30T10:04:46.911Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

To learn about chess by experimenting with Deep Blue, you must already know that it is a game-playing device, and something about how to engage it appropriately, such that your interaction with it will be an instance of the game. If you don't know that, it is just a complicated finite-state object which responds to its boundary conditions in a certain way. And conversely, if you know that a brick wall allows some aspects of tennis game-play to be reproduced, and you know the appropriate form of interaction, then you will be able to infer a little about tennis. Not much, but something.

However, this is a side issue, compared to your avowed subjectivism about computation. You say:

the existence of a computation in a process is observer-dependent

I appreciate that your personal theory of consciousness is a work in progress (and you may want to examine Giulio Tononi's theory, which I discovered simply by a combined search on "consciousness" and "mutual information"), so you may not have an answer to this question yet, just an intended answer, but - is the existence of an observer going to be observer-dependent as well?

Replies from: wedrifid
comment by wedrifid · 2009-10-30T12:22:32.857Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If you don't know that, it is just a complicated finite-state object which responds to its boundary conditions in a certain way.

So, if you don't know that it is a playing chess but decide 'hey, I want to maximise the amount of control I have over these little pieces here' then learn to play chess anyway you are really learning 'Zombie Chess' and not actually Chess.

Replies from: Mitchell_Porter
comment by Mitchell_Porter · 2009-10-31T03:35:09.479Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Depending on how you define 'maximum amount of control' you may find yourself playing for something other than checkmate, since the game ends for both of you in a mate. For example, if we define 'amount of control of the board' by the number of moves open to you, divided by the number of moves open to your opponent - or perhaps the sum of that quantity over all positions throughout the game - then you will be playing for a drawn position in which you have as much freedom to move as possible and your opponent has as little freedom to move as possible. This also assumes that you don't control the pieces by directly manipulating the screen image, and that you don't intervene in Deep Blue's computational processes.

The game that you learnt while interacting with Deep Blue would depend on the utility function you brought to the experience, and on the range of interactions you permitted yourself. Of course there is a relationship between the game of chess and the state transition diagram for Deep Blue, but you cannot infer the former from the latter alone.

Replies from: wedrifid, RobinZ
comment by wedrifid · 2009-10-31T03:44:04.633Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Of course there is a relationship between the game of chess and the state transition diagram for Deep Blue, but you cannot infer the former from the latter alone.

You're right, you can't. Now, assume I do in fact infer and adopt a utility function that so happens to be that of chess. This is not an unrealistic assumption, the guy has a crown and the game ends. In that case, is 'Chess' in the room, even though there's just this silicone powered thing and me who has decided to fiddle with it? Were I to grant that you can't make Blue out of non-Blue I would assume I also couldn't make Chess out of Deep Blue.

Replies from: Mitchell_Porter
comment by Mitchell_Porter · 2009-10-31T04:00:50.249Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Were I to grant that you can't make Blue out of non-Blue I would assume I also couldn't make Chess out of Deep Blue.

It's a bit different because (from my perspective) the issue here is intentionality rather than qualia. You can't turn something blue just by calling it blue. But you can make something part of a game by using it in the game. It has to be the right sort of thing to play the intended role, so its intrinsic properties do matter, but they only provide a necessary and not a sufficient condition. The other necessary condition is that it is being interpreted as playing the role, and so here we get back to the role of consciousness. If a copy of Deep Blue popped into being like a Boltzmann Brain and started playing itself in the intergalactic void, that really would be an instance of "zombie chess".

Replies from: wedrifid
comment by wedrifid · 2009-10-31T04:17:28.913Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You can't turn something blue just by calling it blue. But you can make something part of a game by using it in the game.

I'm not talking about parts. I'm talking about the game Chess itself (or an instance thereof).

Replies from: Mitchell_Porter
comment by Mitchell_Porter · 2009-10-31T04:51:41.490Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

We will have to return to definitions then. Can you have a game without players? Can you have a player without intentions? It is like arguing whether the Face on Mars is really a face. It is not the product of intention, but it does indeed look like a face. Is looking like a face enough for it to be a face? Deep Blue "plays chess" if you define chess as occurring whenever there is a conformance to certain appearances. But if chess requires the presence of a mind possessing certain minimal concepts and intentions, then Deep Blue in itself does not play chess.

comment by RobinZ · 2009-10-31T15:25:24.384Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Given the assumption that the computer is optimizing something, and given the awareness of the possibility of a game, you can infer essentially the whole of chess from the program. Chess consists of three things: the board and pieces, the movement rules, and the winning criterion. Observing the game, you will find that the computer steers the chessboard into different final regions depending on whether it moves the black pieces or the white pieces, and this will tell you the criterion the computer uses to optimize its position. And these will tell you that checkmate favors the party moving last and draws are preferred to being checkmated but not to checkmating.

comment by RobinZ · 2009-10-29T04:31:55.172Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

One obvious difference is that nowhere in the brick wall is a representation of tennis. Chess computers have models of chessboards, recognize legal and illegal moves, and have some judgement of how good or poor a position is for either side.

Replies from: Mitchell_Porter
comment by Mitchell_Porter · 2009-10-29T04:35:14.527Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

By virtue of what property do these representations have the content that you attribute to them?

I assume you can see where I'm going here - this is an old question in philosophy of computation: what is it that makes a physical computation about anything in particular.

Replies from: RobinZ, SilasBarta, JamesAndrix
comment by RobinZ · 2009-10-29T15:02:04.009Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

By virtue of what property do these representations have the content that you attribute to them?

By what virtue is a chess game a chess game and not two people playing with statues? The rules by which the chess computer operates parallel the rules by which chess operates - the behavior is mirrored within it. If you gave someone a brick wall, they couldn't analyze it to learn how to play tennis, but if you gave someone a chess program, they could deduce from it the rules of chess.

Replies from: Alicorn, SilasBarta
comment by Alicorn · 2009-10-29T15:11:29.118Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

By what virtue is a chess game a chess game and not two people playing with statues? The rules by which the chess computer operates parallel the rules by which chess operates

I don't think it's quite that simple. If a couple of four-year-olds encounter a chess set, and start moving the pieces around on the board, they might happen to take turns and make only legal "moves" until they got bored. I don't think they'd be playing chess. Similarly, if a couple of incompetent adults encounter a chess set and try to play chess, but because they aren't very smart or paying very close attention, about a quarter of their moves aren't actually legal, they're playing chess - they're just making mistakes in so doing.

Replies from: RobinZ
comment by RobinZ · 2009-10-29T15:26:28.585Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The equivalence I'm proposing isn't between results or actions, but the causal springs of the actions. In your example, the children making legal chess moves are only doing so by luck - the causal chains determining their moves at no point involve the rules of chess - whereas the adults playing chess badly are doing so by a causal chain which includes the rules of chess. If you changed those rules, it would not change the children's moves, but it would change the adults'.

comment by SilasBarta · 2009-10-29T15:19:02.503Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Wow, great minds think alike. ;-)

(No, I didn't see your reply before posting.)

comment by SilasBarta · 2009-10-29T15:07:16.939Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

this is an old question in philosophy of computation: what is it that makes a physical computation about anything in particular.

And it's one that's overhyped, but actually not that complicated.

A computation is "about" something else if and to the extent that there exists mutual information between the computation and the something else. Old thread on the matter.

Does observing the results of a physical process tell you something about the result of the computation 2+3? Then it's an implementation of the addition of 2 and 3. Does it consistently tell you something about addition problems in general? Then it's an implementation of addition.

This doesn't fall into the trap of "joke interretations" where e.g. you apply complicated, convoluted transformations to molecular motions to hammer them into a mapping to addition. The reason is that by applying such a complicated (and probably ever-expanding) interpretation, the physical process is no longer telling you something about the answer; rather, the source of the output, by means of specifying the convoluted transformation, is you, and every result originates in you, not the physical process.

Replies from: Vladimir_Nesov
comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2009-10-29T16:45:33.081Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

A computation is "about" something else if and to the extent that there exists mutual information between the computation and the something else.

Mutual information is defined for two random variables, and random variables are mappings from a common sample space to the variables' domains. What are the mappings for two "things"? Mutual information doesn't just "exist", it is given by mappings which have to be somehow specified, and which can in general be specified to yield an arbitrary result.

This doesn't fall into the trap of "joke interrelations" where e.g. you apply complicated, convoluted transformations to molecular motions to hammer them into a mapping to addition. The reason is that by applying such a complicated (and probably ever-expanding) interpretation, the physical process is no longer telling you something about the answer; rather, the source of the output, by means of specifying the convoluted transformation, is you, and every result originates in you, not the physical process.

When you distinguish between the mappings "originating" in the interpreter versus in the "physical process itself", you are judging the relevance of output of mutual information calculation in the same motion ("no true Scotsman"). Mutual information doesn't compute your answer, deciding whether the mapping came from an approved source does.

Replies from: SilasBarta
comment by SilasBarta · 2009-10-29T20:40:51.972Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Mutual information is defined for two random variables, and random variables are mappings from a common sample space to the variables' domains. What are the mappings for two "things"? Mutual information doesn't just "exist", it is given by mappings which have to be somehow specified, and which can in general be specified to yield an arbitrary result.

I wasn't as precise as I should have been. By "mutual information", I mean "mutual information conditional on yourself". (Normally, "yourself" is part of the background knowledge predicating any probability and not explicitly represented.) So, as per the rest of my comment, the kind of mutual information I meant is well defined here: Physical process R implements computation C if and to the extent that, given yourself, learning R tells you something about C.

Yes, this has the counterintuitive result that the existence of a computation in a process is observer-dependent (not unlike every other physical law).

When you distinguish between the mappings "originating" in the interpreter versus in the "physical process itself", you are judging the relevance of output of mutual information calculation in the same motion ("no true Scotsman"). Mutual information doesn't compute your answer, deciding whether the mapping came from an approved source does.

No, mutual information is still the deciding factor. As per my above remark, if the source of the computation is really you, by means your ever-more-complex, carefully-designed mapping, then

P(C|self) = P(C|self,R)

i.e., learning about the physical process R didn't change your beliefs about C. So, conditioning on yourself, there is no mutual information between C and R.

If you are the real source of the computation, that's one reason the equality above can hold, but not the only reason.

Replies from: Vladimir_Nesov
comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2009-10-29T21:09:58.925Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I wasn't as precise as I should have been. By "mutual information", I mean "mutual information conditional on yourself". (Normally, "yourself" is part of the background knowledge predicating any probability and not explicitly represented.) So, as per the rest of my comment, the kind of mutual information I meant is well defined here: Physical process R implements computation C if and to the extent that, given yourself, learning R tells you something about C.

Vague and doesn't seem relevant. What is the sample space, what are the mappings? Conditioning means restricting to a subset of the sample space, and seeing how the mappings from the probability measure defined on it redraw the probability distributions on the variables' domains. You still need those mappings, it's what relates different variables to each other.

comment by JamesAndrix · 2009-10-29T06:48:37.703Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

“This is a lot easier to understand if you remember that the point of the system is to keep track of sheep.”

http://yudkowsky.net/rational/the-simple-truth

Replies from: Mitchell_Porter
comment by Mitchell_Porter · 2009-10-29T07:14:54.763Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Are you saying, then, that the meaning of a computation depends on what the user thinks or the programmer intends, rather than being intrinsic to the computation?

Replies from: JamesAndrix
comment by JamesAndrix · 2009-10-29T09:14:07.804Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well, it could depend on what the computation thinks.

But my point was that the brick wall doesn't keep track of the ball.

Whether a robot tennis player keeps track of the ball or not doesn't depend on what I think it does or how I thought I designed it. It is a fact of the matter.

Replies from: Mitchell_Porter
comment by Mitchell_Porter · 2009-10-29T10:07:59.415Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Suppose I dip the ball in paint before I start hitting it against the wall, so it leaves paintmarks there. Is the wall keeping track of the ball now?

Replies from: JamesAndrix
comment by JamesAndrix · 2009-10-29T14:49:07.605Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You can't keep track of sheep by dropping pebbles down a well.

comment by RobinZ · 2009-10-24T18:20:11.087Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Silas says that the experience of color is how it feels for this to happen. But I still do not see where the color is. Either I am to look for it in the motions of the ions themselves, in which case I do not see it; or I am to look for it in the "feel" of those motions, but I do not know what that means, in terms of the physical theory with which we began.

I don't think you understand the nature of the exercise. Let me return to the example of temperature.

Temperature exists. I say this without qualm - I am an engineer working on thermal issues in electronic packaging, dealing with temperature is my profession. However, temperature is nowhere described in the most current theories of particle physics. Instead, we find that in certain special cases, we can relate certain properties of the distribution of particles to a summarizing parameter in different locations in space, and that if we analyze the behavior of the particles in time this implies certain patterns in the development of the field corresponding to our parameter. These patterns are identical to those observed regarding temperature distributions, and indeed predict in great detail the physics of temperature - even explaining when these physics 'break down'. We therefore conclude that we have discovered a reductive explanation of temperature.

The exact same story may be told about semiconductors, about conductors, about electricity and magnetism, about weather, about chemistry, about sound, and about light. We find a phenomenon associated with certain conditions, and we can relate the nature of that phenomenon to the underlying physics. We further prove this relation constitutes the innate nature of the phenomenon by examining edge cases - very thin conductors, chemistry in extreme conditions, light passing through a fine grating - and observing that the higher-level physics (of electrical conduction, of chemistry, of optics) break down just in the way which the lower level physics predicts.

We haven't finished the job of reducing subjective phenomena to their fundamental physics, but what we've accomplished so far looks like what we observed in all the previous cases: the normal patterns break down in edge cases (e.g. brain damage) and the science of the underlying phenomenon predicts certain aspects of the phenomenon in very, very special cases (e.g. autonomic nervous reflexes? I'm not a neuroscientist).

This is strong evidence that the entire thing is reducible, and therefore that the phenomenon of color perception can be found in a physics with no explicit color.

Replies from: Mitchell_Porter
comment by Mitchell_Porter · 2009-10-25T07:08:44.535Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I had thought you were someone else, thus the wrongly gendered pronouns, but I know who you are now.

The world can be divided into what goes on in the consciousness of some individual (e.g. yourself), and everything else, some very small part of which will play a role in causing the experience of that individual. Until this point, all naturalistic reductions have consisted of replacing one theory about everything-else with another theory about everything-else, or in otherwise adjusting the overall theory. Since everything-else is known (if you can call it that) only indirectly, by means of its effects on the consciousness of that individual, we have been free to suppose anything about it (that it consists of atoms in the void, that it consists of pure space-time geometry, that it consists of registers in the universal Turing machine), so long as its predicted causal outputs match up with appearances.

But when the time comes to account for appearances themselves, this absolute freedom to hypothesize no longer applies. There must be some fidelity to the appearance of appearances (to use an awkward phrase) in your theory of what they are.

I am quite happy to assert that there is no color in a colorless physics because the range of things you can get out of such a physics is so straightforward to describe. Everything reduces to causal interactions among localized quantitative properties, and so the possible higher-order entities are those you can build out of quantity, space, and causality. It's thoroughly unmysterious. What is mysterious is to suggest that you will get colored objects spontaneously showing up as well, like the ghost of Mickey Mouse hovering above the equations.

None of this is meant to suggest that neuroscience will cease to make progress in producing a causal, analytical and physical account of human consciousness. On the contrary, that progress is going to highlight ever more strongly the ontological mismatch between appearance and physical theory, and will ultimately show us what the correct physical ontology is, if we can avoid clinging to a particular reification or visualization of what the formalism is about. Celia Green writes (Chapter 7 here) that

as the scientific description of the external world (including the human brain) has become more complete and complex, the discrepancy between the world of physical science and the world of phenomenology has been thrown into sharper relief.

The step after that is to reinsert the phenomenological ontology into the physical ontology, which is what this article is about.

Replies from: RobinZ
comment by RobinZ · 2009-10-25T18:09:47.965Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I had thought you were someone else, thus the wrongly gendered pronouns, but I know who you are now.

Don't sweat it -- I honestly don't care in the slightest.

I am quite happy to assert that there is no color in a colorless physics because the range of things you can get out of such a physics is so straightforward to describe. Everything reduces to causal interactions among localized quantitative properties, and so the possible higher-order entities are those you can build out of quantity, space, and causality. It's thoroughly unmysterious. What is mysterious is to suggest that you will get colored objects spontaneously showing up as well, like the ghost of Mickey Mouse hovering above the equations.

I will have to agree with rhollerith_dot_com here -- you are treating as absurd a thesis we consider ordinary. And I think it's actually worse than that: you are treating as absurd a theory which you explicitly state you would not treat as absurd in any other context. That's not just strange -- that's downright reckless.

Now, you would be justified in being this reckless if you had a substantial amount of evidence to support your idea. We accept quantum mechanics, which is downright strange relative to the Middle-World of our day-to-day experience, but we accept it because it's been proven sixteen ways to next Sunday. But in support of your thesis that human consciousness must be analyzed differently to every other phenomenon in the universe, you have ... the naive sensation of indivisibility in the subjective experience of color.

That's not evidence. That's the phenomenon that needs explaining. And given all the myriad ways in which consciousness fails -- all the errors it makes in analyzing the physical world -- there is no sense in which subjective sensation can ever be a fitting element in a fundamental Theory Of Everything the way you seem to be proposing.

Replies from: SilasBarta, Mitchell_Porter
comment by SilasBarta · 2009-10-26T15:50:25.368Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I had thought you were someone else, thus the wrongly gendered pronouns, but I know who you are now.

Don't sweat it -- I honestly don't care in the slightest.

Heh, I was kind of scratching my head at it though. "Wait, did I miss something about Robin Z?"

Replies from: RobinZ
comment by RobinZ · 2009-10-26T16:03:59.473Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Only the degree of my indifference to pronouns!

comment by Mitchell_Porter · 2009-10-26T04:17:07.246Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

you are treating as absurd a theory which you explicitly state you would not treat as absurd in any other context

But I did explain why. We have some direct knowledge of consciousness. We have no direct knowledge of what's outside it. Therefore we are not as free to theorize about what consciousness really is; we must at least acknowledge what is there. That includes color, and so theories of nature which don't include color are ultimately untenable, even if they can have interim value as heuristic partial theories.

And by the way, indivisibility of color is not the problem. It is the failure to actually produce color by piling up lots of noncolor.

Replies from: RobinZ
comment by RobinZ · 2009-10-26T13:43:44.018Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

So far as I can determine, you have not understood anything I or any other physicalist has said. I cannot see any value in spending any further time on this discussion.

comment by RobinZ · 2009-10-24T16:31:27.526Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

A small note (no need to respond): my account as constructed so far is consistent with what Silas has proposed, a proposal I am inclined to accept.

A second small note (again, no need to respond): the analogy to the videogame was not an analogy to the visual output of the console as seen on the television, but to the internal representation within the program. So far as I can ascertain, the distinction is probably moot with regards to your reply.

comment by jimrandomh · 2009-10-24T13:44:15.395Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The confusion in this debate has nothing to do with color or experience; it's about how ontologies and definitions are (or should be) structured. Rather than try to give an incomplete explanation here, I'll write a top-level post to cover the topic properly (probably in about a week)

comment by wedrifid · 2009-10-23T07:40:37.814Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I also think it's just obvious, once you allow yourself to notice, that the physics we have does not even contain the everyday phenomenon of color, so something has to change.

You feel comfortable with throwing about hilbert spaces, monodologies, d0-branes and tensor products but not comfortable with a physics which represents colour in terms of the interaction between photons of various wavelengths, a few types of receptors in the eyes and a brain. Mind boggling.

About a dozen separate instances of handwaving need to be turned into concrete propositions before it has produced an actual theory.

Once produced, such a theory would be something other than physics and will hopefully be isolated to philosophy departments where it can do minimal harm.

Replies from: whowhowho, Mitchell_Porter
comment by whowhowho · 2013-01-31T18:31:09.593Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Representing isn't explaining.

comment by Mitchell_Porter · 2009-10-23T07:52:54.464Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The formal revisions to physics that I propose do not in themselves reintroduce color (or any other aspect of consciousness) into the real. But they are meant to make it possible, and the key move is to identify the thing that is conscious with a sharply defined entity in the physics, the monad. At present, computational neuroscience revolves around coarse-grained computational states of physical aggregates whose boundaries are vague from a fundamental perspective. (Under exactly what conditions does a wandering electron count as part of a neuron that it's passing through? Etc. And yet conscious states are supposed to be identified with computational states of neurons.) Once you have sharp boundaries, you still have to deal with the formal mismatch between physical properties and phenomenal properties, but I think that's doable. But if you can't even be precise about whether there's a conscious entity there, and how many of them there are, then you cannot even get started.

Replies from: wedrifid
comment by wedrifid · 2009-10-24T18:38:05.668Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Would a rose smell more sweet if you were defined as a fundamental entity in physics?

Replies from: Mitchell_Porter
comment by Mitchell_Porter · 2009-10-26T04:10:04.418Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

At least it could have a smell.

comment by Christian_Szegedy · 2009-10-20T06:52:15.226Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

My fundamental problem with any quantum-based theory like this is that since quantum systems (as far as we can tell) can always be modeled computationally equivalent (but slower) classical systems, such theories necessarily end up hypothesizing the possibility of zombies: non-conscious entities that simulate conscious ones perfectly.

This is extremely unlikely, for several different reasons.

Replies from: Mitchell_Porter
comment by Mitchell_Porter · 2009-10-20T07:10:39.556Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

In a monadology such as I propose you cannot have zombies in the classical sense, but you should be able to have unconscious simulations of consciousness.

The zombie as described by Chalmers is implicitly proposed within the framework of property dualism: you have a causally closed physical world, and an epiphenomenal world of consciousness linked to the first by a psychophysical bridging law, and a zombie world results by subtracting consciousness from the picture. In his book The Conscious Mind he has a chapter on "the paradox of phenomenal judgment", which is that zombies - being behaviorally identical to their conscious counterparts - talk about consciousness and even philosophize about it, without having it. In my monadology, the conscious state is identical with the state of the monadic self, so it is causally efficacious and you cannot simply subtract it from the world while preserving the causal structure. There is also no paradox of phenomenal judgment, because phenomenal judgments - judgments about the experience you are having - are in fact caused by consciousness. However, there is no obvious barrier within monadology to the creation of a black-box simulation of consciousness whose interior mechanism is made up of many simple monads rather than a single complex conscious monad, and which is therefore not conscious itself.

Replies from: Nick_Tarleton
comment by Nick_Tarleton · 2009-10-20T07:21:09.432Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

However, there is no obvious barrier within monadology to the creation of a black-box simulation of consciousness whose interior mechanism is made up of many simple monads rather than a single complex conscious monad, and which is therefore not conscious itself.

If the conscious monad's internal dynamics are uncomputable (even if its behavior is computable), and such a simulation must therefore have a radically different internal structure, perhaps not. But if such a simulation can be made which is structurally similar enough to the conscious monad, then it z-talks about consciousness for the same reason (at the appropriate level of abstraction) as the conscious monad, and the standard anti-zombie arguments return.

Replies from: Mitchell_Porter
comment by Mitchell_Porter · 2009-10-20T07:41:20.081Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

it z-talks about consciousness for the same reason (at the appropriate level of abstraction) as the conscious monad

"At the appropriate level of abstraction" is pretty broad. Part of the reason that a conscious monad talks about seeing colors is because it does see colors, whereas its simulation (let us suppose) talks about seeing colors only because it contains computational tokens imitating the causal role that colors play in the conscious monad's internal transitions of state. I don't see any contradiction. How would you employ a standard anti-zombie argument here?

comment by Tyrrell_McAllister · 2009-10-15T15:46:37.233Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Mitchell, I enjoy your posts (though I usually disagree with your conclusions). But they are very long, so would you please consider putting in breaks so that they don't consume so much space on the New Articles page?

Replies from: Mitchell_Porter
comment by Mitchell_Porter · 2009-10-16T01:42:55.984Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Done. Thanks (and thanks to Alicorn for assisting).

comment by JamesAndrix · 2009-10-19T05:26:48.885Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Why do you assume unconscious matter exists?

Replies from: Mitchell_Porter
comment by Mitchell_Porter · 2009-10-20T05:32:16.321Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It might be best to just be agnostic about the simpler monads, until the nature of the state space region between simple and complex states is much clearer. Given the monadic hypothesis, it is natural enough to wonder if the states of even the simplest monads have a psychological interpretation - maybe they are thinking some minimal thought or having some minimal perception. But I'm not going to assume that.

comment by Paul Crowley (ciphergoth) · 2009-10-18T09:25:34.321Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

EDIT: ignore this, see my second comment for discussion

I find when I ask more generally about Consciousness Explained the answers I get don't help me as much as I would like, so permit me to ask a more specific question. What do you think about heterophenomenology?

comment by RobinZ · 2009-10-27T17:36:20.529Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

(To people who have posted replies in this comments section - I have recently gone through and added a lot of up- and down-votes. If your rating has jumped by a significant number of points today, this may be a cause.)

comment by ellenjanuary · 2009-10-22T21:38:28.453Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Don't mind me. I just found "Less Wrong" recently, and I'm here to learn things. I say that this is a great post as it makes me think. I've yet to find the directions to this place to know if any "higher purpose" is idealized, or if conducting electricity into thought is its own reward.

I'm an artist, and believe that any two given individuals will not share an identical color perception. For that reason, I have argued in the past that color did not exist until the widespread use of the computer. Rather than debate teal, blue, or green, I could just use a hexadecimal.

I'm also a mathematician. (Not necessarily a very good nor learned one, but since it is oft defined that mathematics is what mathematicians are doing, I qualify. :) ) I was looking into the Continuum Hypothesis because I've always had issues with infinity and transcendental numbers. For instance, pi is said to be transcendental as it cannot be expressed as the ratio of two integers; yet, in a sense, is the ratio of two numbers - the circumference over the diameter. This got me to thinking about numbers as mere concepts. Numbers that we count on our fingers and toes have a greater "reality" than such oddballs as radical two and i, yet those oddballs seem to me much more useful.

Is conception so very cluttered? I think so. I imagined creating a set of numbers (the stupid number set) that were just one, two, three - got to thinking of forming axiom and method - and lo and behold! How much geometry did they sneak into my pure mathematics?

I'm currently waiting to get the funding for a complete collection of graduate-level mathematics textbooks to informally "finish my degree" as it were (because I'm not supposed to be a "mathematical theorist" as a forty-one year old former construction worker, but the whole world may be wrong and I may be right ;) ) and I mention this here because I believe this very post set me off a week ago. What I know of QM I could probably fit in a spoon, but from here to a single night of learning stuff; to drawing a picture the next day - and now I know I must learn a whole bunch of math. Because now I "believe" in quantum decoherence.

So! Even if I'm not helping you, you've helped me. Thank you.

Replies from: meanerelk
comment by meanerelk · 2009-10-23T04:26:23.143Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm an artist, and believe that any two given individuals will not share an identical color perception.

Being an artist has nothing to do with the accuracy of this belief.

I've always had issues with infinity and transcendental numbers. For instance, pi is said to be transcendental as it cannot be expressed as the ratio of two integers; yet, in a sense, is the ratio of two numbers - the circumference over the diameter.

There are two problems here. First, irrational numbers are the ones that cannot be expressed as a fraction of integers. Transendentals are defined as numbers that are not algebraic. All transcendental numbers are irrational, but the converse does not hold.

Second, pi is defined as the ratio of circumference to diameter, true. This would only be a contradiction if both the circumference and diameter could be integers at the same time, which is impossible.

This got me to thinking about numbers as mere concepts. Numbers that we count on our fingers and toes have a greater "reality" than such oddballs as radical two and i, yet those oddballs seem to me much more useful.

You are confused about what numbers actually are. Some classes of numbers are useful for certain tasks, but there is no sense in which one class is more 'real' than another. I recommend Mathematics, Queen & Servant of Science by Eric Temple Bell for a wonderful overview of mathematics. Chapter 2, "Mathematical Truth", is relevent to this discussion. Also, see Godel, Escher, Bach, Chapter 11: "Meaning and Form in Mathematics".

Replies from: ellenjanuary
comment by ellenjanuary · 2009-10-23T05:57:05.356Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

First of all, thank you for your reply. Honestly, I'm here because I love this place. I guess one is required to figure out the rules as one commiserates, hmmm? ;)

1) I agree. Being an artist does not validate the belief, it is merely shorthand for the formation of the belief.

2) Thank you for the definition of transcendentals. I'm a passionate writer more than an accurate one. That shall improve, and is part of the reason why I am here. The contradiction formed in my mind due to "skipping a couple of steps" and concluding that "all infinities converge at infinity." I agree that there is no contradiction.

3) We're going to have to agree to disagree in this area. Previously I was told I was "confusing the referent for the symbol" when I sat on a thread and took all comers with the proclamation that "zero is not a number, it is a concept." Glory days in the mind of a mathematician. (Yes, we are strange. ;) ) Irrelevant. I fully intend to dedicate the next four years on discovering the reality of concepts, and I will be sure to look into what you have recommended. The bookstore on the corner had the last tome; if it is still there in two weeks, that baby is mine. Thanks.

PS. In writing "thank you for the definition of transcendentals," it occurs to me that it sounds sarcastic. It is not. Previously, the stupid brain did not have a concise definition; and now it does. I fully intend to be polite, courteous, and respectful in all discussion on this blog. If I am not, please let me know. Thanks again. :)

Replies from: RobinZ
comment by RobinZ · 2009-10-27T17:33:42.332Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Previously I was told I was "confusing the referent for the symbol" when I sat on a thread and took all comers with the proclamation that "zero is not a number, it is a concept."

I apologize for the belated reply, but did you sincerely believe this at the time at which you said it, and do you sincerely believe it now?

Replies from: ellenjanuary
comment by ellenjanuary · 2009-11-01T17:35:02.833Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Sir, yes sir! But I'm hardly an expert, college dropout and all that. (Community college even. ;) ) So, where do I get off claiming to be a mathematician? Why, the scientific method, of course. The zero is not as "concrete" concept as his material other half, the one; but concepts of a symbolic language is all they are. A guy on Youtube made me a mathematician. He was arguing for the establishment of a new symbology to replace the zero; a "blank" that was more computer friendly, as it were. To me, that's not the point. I mean, that old, round fellow is all but a number to most but the nit-pickers like me. I see it as a type of warning. Here there be dragons. Zero is the face of infinity that has become contemptible by its familiarity, yet the wise men of the East have long knew something all our vaunted Western technology is just discovering. The legendary kingdom of heaven is not beyond the sum total of everything, the nearer doorway is through the absence of anything.

What is empty space? Far more than nothing, it would seem. I was watching Stephen Wolfram discuss his book, A New Kind of Science, the other day. Since I missed genius by a couple of points, I couldn't quite follow how computational irreducibility is other than deterministic chaos in a new suit; but I'm sure the stupid brain will do further research one day. But it was drifting, thinking about how I don't know jack about QM but quantum decoherence sounds like a winner; and he's showing patterns of cellular automatia, rule 110, I think it was. A nearly "random mess" in the first line, but as successive iterations display... particles, from the stuff of nothingness. He even mentioned how it resembled particle interaction towards the end. Like sixteen lines of code that display the sum total of the Julia sets, twenty years and three hundred pages of Gaston Julia's life. Elegant, as we say in the field.

But I love this place. I still have to go back and research half of this very post to decode what is actually being said, but "yes, no, and maybe" sure seem to be covered by the three infinities; positive, negative, and zero. ;)

Replies from: Zack_M_Davis, RobinZ
comment by Zack_M_Davis · 2009-11-01T19:46:13.968Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Your passion is admirable, but you would seem to have much more to learn before you are ready to make your greatest contribution. (As do we all, of course.) For instance, the mathematical community at large actually does consider zero to be a number; this is not really in contention.

But I love this place. I still have to go back and research half of this very post to decode what is actually being said,

Here at Less Wrong, we prefer focused, previously-researched posts: probably this partially explains the downvotes you've been getting. Have you considered getting your own blog? Keep studying, and I hope to see your work in the future.

comment by RobinZ · 2009-11-01T23:27:38.954Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Elaborating on Davis's remarks: what you have to consider is that mathematics is something of a game, something of an art, and something of a science - to become a mathematician is not to be declared such, but to develop the skill of mathematics.

On the point of zero: just to begin with, consider subtraction. Subtraction is a simple operation, the inversion of addition - because one plus one is two, two minus one is one. When we consider this operation, we discover that there is nothing to prevent us from subtracting a number from itself unless we make a rule such - and why should we? The only reason to make such a rule is to appease an idea of numbers which does not include those less than zero, and that is no reason at all.

So, we call this number - one less than one, two less than two, etc. - zero. We find it behaves as the other numbers do - it may be added, subtracted, multiplied just as other numbers, and that it cannot be divided by suggests a host of new ideas.

Calling zero a number pays dividends. Therefore zero is a number. Quod erat demonstrandum.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-06-13T07:41:24.415Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"A conceptual framework is an analytical tool with several variations and contexts. It is used to make conceptual distinctions and organize ideas. Strong conceptual frameworks capture something real and do this in a way that is easy to remember and apply. For example, Isaiah Berlin used the metaphor of a “Fox” and a “Hedgehog” to make conceptual distinctions in how important philosophers and authors view the world.[1] Berlin describes hedgehogs as those who use a single idea or organizing principle to view the world (examples given include Dante, Pascal, Dostoevsky, Plato, Ibsen and Hegel). Foxes, on the other hand, incorporate a type of pluralism and view the world through multiple, sometimes conflicting, lenses (examples include Goethe, Joyce, Shakespeare, Aristotle, Herodotus, Molière, Anderson, Balzac). Economists use the conceptual framework of “supply” and “demand” to distinguish between the behavior and incentive systems of firms and consumers.[2] Like many conceptual frameworks, supply and demand can be presented through visual or graphical representations (see Demand curve)." - Wikipedia

comment by bogus · 2009-10-15T11:36:11.877Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Good post, thanks.

For people who are puzzled by the reference to "monads", think about Schrödinger's cat. Schrödinger's cat has two classical states, "alive" and "dead". The "monad" of quantum states is basically the vector space generated by this basis. From outside the vector space you can't know whether the cat is alive or dead, and in fact the cat is in a superposition of these two states.

This vector space is a monad because:

  • you can "lift" elements of the basis into the space (put a live cat or a dead cat into a box)
  • you can "map" functions on the basis to functions on the entire vector space (put a device which kills the cat with certainty into the box)
  • and you can "bind" a function which takes classical states to quantum states to the entire vector space (i.e. make a device which randomly chooses whether to kill the cat based on a quantum event and put it into the box).

This is not a complete description; for instance, one needs to introduce a tensor product to account for the fact that independent (disentangled) monads can be effectively separated out. On the other hand this monadic description applies to all vector spaces; it's not specific to quantum mechanics.

Replies from: whpearson, Mitchell_Porter
comment by whpearson · 2009-10-15T12:08:31.495Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

We are using monad in the functional programming sense? I thought Leibniz at first glance. I've never quite apprehended Leibniz's monads, so I put off trying to grok the post fully. An introduction to them would be useful.

Replies from: Johnicholas, gwern
comment by Johnicholas · 2009-10-15T14:41:43.899Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't know much, but...

Leibniz's monads were an attempt to resolve the mind-body problem. Supposedly, monads are something like atoms, and something like souls. They don't interact with each other - all causality goes from God directly to the monads, not from one monad to the other - for example, perception is only accurate by God arranging for monads' perceptions to be accurate.

It seems like really incredibly strange metaphysics / theology to me.

Replies from: Mitchell_Porter
comment by Mitchell_Porter · 2009-10-16T01:52:12.416Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It seems like really incredibly strange metaphysics / theology to me.

I agree. Bertrand Russell explained it as due to Leibniz's beliefs about causality - one substance could not affect another substance. By a monad I just mean an elementary "thing" which can have mental states.

comment by gwern · 2009-10-15T15:05:34.761Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think it must be the FP monad; here's a sigfpe post which is, as usual, above me but which seems to treat vectors as Haskell monads: http://blog.sigfpe.com/2007/03/monads-vector-spaces-and-quantum.html

Replies from: SilasBarta, Johnicholas
comment by SilasBarta · 2009-10-15T16:04:36.507Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's inscrutable to me too, but mainly because I never learned Haskell.

It does, however, contain a link to this interesting paper, which shows that straightforward application of Cox's axioms allow you to have complex-valued probabilities in Bayesian inference, which makes the jump to quantum physics much easier.

I had a bit of a hard time following that too, but mainly because I'm not familiar with the ins and outs of mathematical fields and their notation.

Replies from: thomblake
comment by thomblake · 2009-10-15T16:55:09.063Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I never learned Haskell.

You should learn Haskell. Assuming you've already learned Erlang, of course.

I've got all kinds of advice on geeky things that are for most people complete wastes of time.

Replies from: None
comment by [deleted] · 2009-10-15T17:24:21.895Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I've got all kinds of advice on geeky things that are for most people complete wastes of time.

Do you have a list anywhere?

Replies from: thomblake
comment by thomblake · 2009-10-16T16:26:39.938Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Do you have a list anywhere?

I'm thinking I should totally do that, but it might make me seem less useful. Like when Sherlock Holmes explains his deductions so they seem obvious.

Replies from: None
comment by [deleted] · 2009-10-16T20:42:49.222Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well, I suppose you have two questions to ponder. One, is it worth it to be more useful if this entails seeming less useful? Two, is this what will actually happen if you make that list?

comment by Johnicholas · 2009-10-15T15:10:43.818Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

But where does Mitchell Porter use anything from the functional programming side of things?

Replies from: gwern
comment by gwern · 2009-10-15T15:51:21.633Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It might be this bit:

At any time, the universe consists of a number of entities whose formal states inhabit Hilbert spaces of various dimension (thus |01>+|10> comes from a four-dimensional Hilbert space, while |1> comes from a two-dimensional Hilbert space), and the true dynamics consists of repeatedly jumping from one such set of entity-states to another set of entity-states.

But really, I was replying to whpearson's question about bogus's comment. (The FP monad at least makes more sense to me than Leibniz's monads.)

comment by Mitchell_Porter · 2009-10-16T01:50:06.305Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

FP monads are interesting, but I was taking my lead from Leibniz, not Haskell. That is, a monad here is an elementary entity (or at least, one without spatial parts, it may have some other form of internal structure) which can be the bearer of a state of consciousness. Though my monads differ from Leibniz's in that they can interact with each other (Leibniz didn't think relations are real and so disbelieved in causal interaction, which led him in peculiar directions).