Sunday, December 5, 2010

Neurobabble in high places and other topics.

Here are some comments, that seem appropriate for this blog, on the new book by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow “The Grand Design” (New York, Bantam, 2010). (My comments in square brackets)
Key words to be queried starred in text.

They say:

“Recent experiments in neuroscience support the view that it is our physical brain, following the known laws of science, that determines our actions, and not some agency that exists outside these laws.” (p. 32)

[This represents a total misreading of these "recent experiments" in which NCCs are illegitimately identified with phenomenal events. Also we determine our consciously motivated actions—not our brains]

“…we human beings…are ourselves mere collections of fundamental particles of nature…” (p. 181)

[ How does he know that?]

“…the raw data sent to the brain are like a badly pixilated picture with a a hole in it [the blind spot]. Fortunately the human brain *processes* that data, combining the input from both eyes, filling in gaps on the *assumption* that the visual properties of neighboring locations are similar and interpolating. Moreover, it reads a two-dimensional array of data from the retina and creates from it the *impression* of a three-dimensional space. The brain, in other words, builds a *mental picture* or model.” (pp. 46-47).

“…our brains *interpret* the input from our sensory organs by making a *model* of the outside world. We form *mental concepts* of our home, trees, other people, the lectricity that flows from wall sockets, atoms, molecules, and other universes. These *mental concept*s are the only reality we can know [no mental percepts?]. There is no model-independent test of reality.”

[These "mental" pictures and "mental" concepts suddenly appear from nowhere!!]

And—
“Feynman realized that…a particle [going from A to B] takes every possible path connecting these points, and take them all simultaneously.” (p. 75). In two slit experiments this is“…how the particle acquires the *information* about which slits are open.” (p. 76)

[Particles acquiring information??]

[I should like to see Bill’s and Ray’s opinion on all this!]


——————————————————————————

Problems about higher dimensions

“…if a theory called the holographic principle is correct, we and our four-dimensional world may be shadows on the boundary of a larger five-dimensional space-time.” (p. 44)

[Nowhere does Hawking mention this idea again.]

“Similarly, we know our universe exhibits three large space dimensions” although “… the number of large space dimensions is not fixed by any law of physics.” (p.141)

[That's useful to know]

“There seems to be a vast landscape of possible universes.” (p. 144)

{Hawking assumes a priori that all higher-dimensional space-times must contain matter like ours]

“Although Einstein’s general theory of relativity unified space and time as space-time and involved a certain mixing of space and time, time was still different from space…In the early universe there were effectively four dimensions of space and none of time.” (p. 134)

Needs further explication—mixing?

100 comments:

  1. I've heard Hawking interviewed on television where he definitely took a positivist approach to the philosophy of science; i. e. took the approach that any talk about theoretical entities was just part of a mathematical device for linking observations. I don't know whether he still holds this, but if so, it raises issues concerning how deep his ontological commitments are to what is mentioned here.

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  2. Given that Hawking used to include cartoons of Martians to illustrate his scientific papers, one cannot help but wonder! I can tell you, though, that he is very fond of classical music, and I remember well sitting with him in his living room at Caltech listening to a Beethoven quartet. He asked me to turn the record over, but I couldn't understand what he was saying, his speech was so impaired even then (over 30 years ago).

    I think today's physics is, overall, pretty positivistic--perhaps because positivism is the only thing that still works for it! Most physicists I find are fairly shallow thinkers when it comes to philosophy in general. Some are deeper thinkers (like Wheeler) but lack much grounding in philosophy, so make all kinds of conceptual errors that even a first year philosophy student probably would not make.

    So I would have to say that Hawking and his views probably will not be of much use to us here! A friend of mine commented on the title of his book "A Brief History of Time," pointing out that someone had said in criticism that it should have been more properly called "A Brief History of *Measured* Time" or time as measured.

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  3. Will R, what you say here is very interesting. On the whole, your comments on positivism seem to be seriously disparaging. Assuming this to be so, then I think I must ask why you believe positivism fails and how you believe positivism differs from your own position.

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  4. Good questions, David! I shall respond with a question: how do you see my position as sharing something in common with the somewhat bastardized version of (scientific) positivism practiced in contemporary physics?

    Though I like much of Mach, I have never averred that the scientific method is the only source of valid knowledge as Popperian-style positivists would, nor do I believe that philosophy should (or can) be replaced by science (that should be obvious by the number of times I quote or refer to Wittgenstein).

    As a follower of the old "Journal of Irreproducible Results," I think science takes itself too seriously--and at the wrong times. At other times it doesn't take phenomena seriously enough--like Hawking's Martian cartoons.

    In general I don't find it very useful to pigeonhole ideas as belonging to this or that "-ism," as some want to do, as if it were comparable to a sort of partisan affiliation. I'm what used to be called a "non joiner." Very few philosophical systems or positions have nothing to recommend them.

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  5. Why do I think positivism fails? Because it places a veritable straight jacket upon phenomena to conform with its rather Procrustean dictates. It fails because of what it leaves out, as much as what it affirms through reductionism. Any other questions?

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  6. I would like to quote from one of the only English-language papers published by Ganzheit psychology founder, Felix Krueger. It is his "The Essence of Feeling: Outline of a Systematic Theory" (1928), where he writes:

    "Positivism, as it is known, used the criticism against all psychology that the process of observation, if it be directed upon the particular experience of the observer, always changes these experiences themselves. This is true in the highest degree, as we saw, for the psychology of feelings. Skeptical conclusions may be drawn only with precaution. It is the task of science, however, to recognize difficulties and then overcome them step by step by suitable methods."

    Sounds a little like the observer problem in Q.M., doesn't it? Suffice to say that Krueger's Ganzheit psychology was about as far removed from Wundt's elements as QM is from Newtonian mechanics--yet this wonderful efflorescence of philosophically-informed psychological theory and experimental research is virtually unknown to the English-speaking world, and in its own day, was either misunderstood completely, or summarily dismissed because it failed to observe the blinkers of stimulus-response psychology.

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  7. Oh, well, yes, right, of course. What led me to ask is that you speak as if observable objects are mere constructs from experience. To be sure, this concern does not exactly make someone a positivist, but it is certainly a large chunk along that line.

    Remarkably enough, it turns out that the denial of this concern may not stop someone from being a positivist. Moritz Schlick was one of the founders of logical positivism from the old Vienna Circle, yet he promoted what I have called traditional realism!

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  8. Okay, let's try a simple test. Do you have a desk? If yes, can you observe it? Do you need a construct to observe it? Probably not would be my guess.

    Schlick was an incredible paradox--and salvaging realism at all costs may require some fancy dancing, given how weird reality may turn out to be (LW, R.I.P.)

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  9. Regarding these questions about desks, I also have a desk which I believe has an independent existence apart from anyone's observations, and that what gives it that existence is the way in which it is made up of atoms located in a three dimensional space. At times Bill R, you sound quite sympathetic to phenomenalism, and to Mach. Mach did not believe in an independent existence of atoms. Is that also your position? Also, can a desk, for you, be explained just in terms of actual, or possible, experiences of one?

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  10. I note Bob that you say "believe" with respect to your position on your desk's "independent existence" and its composition of atoms and dimensionality.

    Developmental psychology has known for almost a century now that children go through several stages of cognitive development regarding (perceptual) objects, the first major milestone occurring between the ages of 8 and 12 months in which they *achieve* what is called "object permanence," i.e., when an object goes out of view it does not cease to exist, or conversely, when it comes into view it is not also coming into existence. Obviously this provides the foundation for the idea that unseen things exist, and has been said that this realization is the basis of logical induction in an individual's mental development.

    But notice that I use the word "achieve" in this context, as it goes back to the beginning of this posting in which I proposed that reality is *achieved* in the perceptual world. This is an example of that usage, and there are 872 others you can see in this Google search on "achieving" object permanence:
    http://www.google.com/search?hl=&q=%22achieve+object+permanence%22&sourceid=navclient-ff&rlz=1B3GGGL_enUS372US355&ie=UTF-8

    The point is that we are not born with knowledge of so-called "object permanence," whereas our perceptual apparatus has no difficulty soon after birth in seeing things, if not knowing what they are. But the bottom line is that the experience of object permanence--which is first an experience before it is a concept--only assures that things continue to exist in the *perceptual* world, and it is only at a much more advanced level of abstraction that we come to believe that there is a "physical" world beyond the perceptual one that we (naively?) take to be the only world.

    Now I might mention in passing that Mach's "Knowledge and Error" is cited by the early Swiss child psychologist, Jean Piaget, who argued that we are not born with a sense of the difference between themselves and their environment. That has since been discounted by subsequent development psychologists, such as Thomas Bower in Britain, whom I have cited previously here, who conducted experiments with infants showing that their behavior towards their mothers demonstrates a sense of self and other (see his 1977 book "The Perceptual World of the Child").

    I think much hinges upon how the word "independent" is understood in this context. Saying that one's desk has an "independent" existence when one is not looking at it is just consistent with object permanence in the perceptual world, whereas saying that atoms exist, which have never been observed but only conceived in thought, is quite another, and thus Mach's phrase "things of thought." That was Mach's point, and I'm not sure it is known for certain whether or not if he ultimately accepted the "reality" of atoms (i.e., as being "mind-independent").

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  11. My understanding is that Mach specifically disavowed the existence of atoms, but I don't have the reference off hand; I will try to find it. The remarks you make on child development I think are well taken Bill, but as far as my knowledge of the existence of atoms goes I think that it has a different source. One has to look at the history of the development of the atomic theory, both the ancient unsupported hypotheses of Democritus and Epicurus, and the modern theory as developed by John Dalton, especially the ratios at which different gases combine. Certainly atoms at the time of Dalton were not individually observed (although in a sense they can now for example with time-lapsed photography of light from ion traps). I hold though that our evidence for their existence is now overwhelming, although it is essentially all indirect in character; e. g., from the explanatory power in chemistry.

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  12. Yes, atomic theory is very old. You may recall, though, what I quoted from Democritus in this regard (in turn quoted by Schroedinger in the "Mystery of the Sensual Qualities):

    "Democritus introduces the intellect having an argument with the senses about what is 'real'.
    The intellect says; 'Ostensibly there is colour, ostensibly sweetness, ostensibly bitterness, actually only atoms and the void.'
    To which the senses retort; 'Poor intellect, do you hope to defeat us while from us you borrow your evidence? Your victory is your defeat.'"

    Most people don't seem to get from this that it concerns the "mystery" in the title of Schroedinger's chapter, a genuine paradox, too, that whereas we can have knowledge of atoms, we seem to have no knowledge about the objective existence of sensations!

    In his "Popular Scientific Lectures," Mach writes:

    "Similarly, it would not become physical science to see in its self-created, changeable, economical tools, molecules and atoms, realities behind phenomena, forgetful of the lately acquired sapience of her older sister, philosophy, in substituting a mechanical mythology for the old animistic or metaphysical scheme, and thus creating no end of suppositious problems. The atom must remain a tool for representing phenomena, like the functions of mathematics. Gradually, however, as the intellect, by contact with its subject-matter, grows in discipline, physical science will give up its mosaic play with stones and will seek out the boundaries and forms of the bed in which the living stream of phenomena flows. The goal which it has set itself is the simplest and most economical abstract expression of facts."

    So this is a rather different and more nuanced picture than the oversimplified claim that he did not believe in the existence of atoms. He adds in a footnote, "Measurement, in fact, is the definition of one phenomenon by another (standard) phenomenon."

    Do not construe from this that by quoting these men they represent a position of my own. Rather, I am presenting these statements for purposes of discussion relative to our topic, which seems to have little to do with the reality of atoms. I am more concerned about the reality status of the perceptual world, which is never explained by representationalists.

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  13. You are quite right Bill that there are a number of nuances to Mach's position, he evidently was an early believer in atoms, and later clearly rejects them in his 1872 work Geschichte und Wurzel, and then became more ambivalent again towards the end of his life. Also, I have no problems at all about the reality of the perceptual world, as you have explicated it in terms of events in phenomenal space, it is just that I am also a physical realist, and thus don't reduce physical objects to the perceptual world, even if, in effect, that occurs with naive realism.

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  14. It seems to me that there is reality and then there is reality, that the reality of the perceptual world is of a different order than that of the physical world, otherwise Mach would not have been ambivalent about the reality of atoms. This again points to the need for us to be careful about the various senses of the word "reality."

    Perhaps more directly relevant to our topic is the *relationship* between perceptual and physical reality. Though John imagines a kind of psychophysical parallelism, spatially interpreted by parallel manifolds (physical, perceptual), if, as Wm. Gooddy and Ray Tallis have argued that representationalism won't fly, then we are left without an explanation of the connection between the two realities (as it were).

    John has long been at pains to say that one version between the two manifolds is exclusively spatial, with no causal relations (Price is it, John?) whereas his own version has causal relations. But I have already argued against the idea that the activity (and structure) of the visual cortex seems very promising as an antecedent to the structure of the visual world, and it is difficult to see how one could be derived from the other. Following Gray Walter's old idea that there is something like a television system, John has imagined that the visual system is comparable to imaging technology, but on close inspection of the relevant brain parameters, it doesn't look like it is generating an image, but rather, de-constructing one (in a manner of speaking). I've repeated this point now several times in slightly different ways, but my objections have not elicited any response.

    So the present paradox is that while on the one hand we seem to have fairly straight forward (seeming) causal relations between the visual cortex and vision, we don't seem to know why, since the spatial relations seem so incongruent between brain and visual space.

    That's the rub!

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  15. I basically agree with what you say here Bill, but I am a bit more optimistic that the mind body problem is solvable. I think that there is a causal connection between physical events in the brain and events in phenomenal space, but I really don't understand how it works. I think that the best that we can do is try out various hypotheses and see if and why they fail, and then hopefully find better ones.

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  16. The only thorough-going "overhaul" of the theory of perception I have found is by James T. Culbertson, because it was his specific aim to solve the problem of *conscious* perception. If you are interested in reading about it, there is a good summary in physicist Nick Herbert's book, "Elemental Mind."

    The basic gist of it, as I have stated before, is that the causal theory of perception is wrong, not because causality is wrong, but because understanding what makes consciousness possible are not causal connections per se, but connections in space-time.

    There is much to recommend his analysis, going backwards through the visual system as he does, because the further back one goes, the more the visual pattern resembles (= are congruent with) that which we perceive in visual space, or, the "visual world." Starting with the double sense organs--two eyes--is the beginning of the *spatial* (congruence) problem. That is eliminated if, in some way, consciousness is closely bound up with surfaces (described in 4-D) of objects.

    Either Culbertson's theory "works," or it doesn't. Nick Herbert thought it quite plausible. My only objection is that Culbertson seems to presuppose a rather classical-looking physical world by even talking of surfaces, which would seem to be more a property of the perceptual world than the physical one.

    So I stick by my claim that physics is still hopelessly entangled with forms of naive realism, and that therefore what you, Bob, and David are calling "classical realism" is, because of that, also so entangled. (Now please, David, don't beat me up for asserting that!)

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  17. I should also mention that our crony Bernard Carr is also keen on Culbertson's theory, finding that his own theory seems to converge with it. So I recommend to you all that you acquaint yourselves with Culbertson's ideas, even though they are outside the mainstream.

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  18. This sounds possibly quite interesting Bill. It is not obvious to me why it is not a version of the causal theory of perception though, so maybe you could expound a bit on why it is not.

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  19. Beat you up for asserting that? Good grief! But then, what shall I say? Well, yes, it is true that all the examples of correspondence I can cite are to be found within experience. So, when I say experience *corresponds to* some further world of things that are prior to, and thus independent of, experience, why is that statement legitimate? The notion of correspondence I employ in saying this must be purged of sensuous (and imaginative) content. In a word, this notion must of course be highly abstract. "Well, but ordinary people who have not studied philosophy or mathematics speak of experience as corresponding to things." Yes, but then do they really follow traditional realism? Insofar as they do, then they see through a glass darkly what is fully articulated in the highly abstract notion. Now, to be sure, *if* all this that I have just said will not work, then indeed traditional realism is at least in grave jeopardy.

    What about physics? It may perhaps be that people in physics speak much more glibly about having experience correspond to things. Their idea of correspondence may perhaps not be fully purged of sensuous and imaginative content. If they mix this untransmuted lump into their claims and theories, then indeed one may say modern physics is tainted with a kind of naive realism. For all I know, this is likely enough to be true. But if this is not what you mean, then I am at a loss.

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  20. It has been a while since I read Culbertson, but perhaps an analogy may serve to illustrate his main premise (though not an analogy he himself uses): One would not think that because the molecules in a rock were connected by molecular bonds that one molecule "caused" another, or that the rock was "caused" by molecules.

    So even in the physical world there are connections that are not necessarily causal (in the sense of cause and effect). If over millennia the rock crumbled into dust from decomposition, one would not think that some of the molecules had "caused" that process of transformation resulting in the rock coming apart.

    To push the "composition" analogy a little further, consciousness may be in some sense "attached" to brain events, without actually being caused by them. The disruption of brain functioning due to injury or disease might be something like the rock falling to bits, or, alternatively, consciousness just becoming disconnected and in some way existing independently, as in NDEs. But this is a crude analogy, just to suggest an alternative to a serial causal sequence like light -> retina -> brain -> consciousness -> mind.

    Culbertson does explain his theory (better than I have) in terms of a critique of the causal theory of perception in what is an excellent introduction to his thinking, published in 1982: "Consciousness: natural and artificial: the physical basis and influence on behavior of sensations, percepts, memory images, and other mental images experienced by humans, animals, and machines."

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  21. "The notion of correspondence I employ in saying this must be purged of sensuous (and imaginative) content. In a word, this notion must of course be highly abstract," David tells us. With all due respect, this strikes me as something one might expect to contemplate in a Buddhist monastery, like the sound of one hand clapping. In other words, I would deny that it is possible to "purge" any such correspondence of "all sensuous and imaginative content" and still have a correspondence. I don't even understand what that is intended to mean. (Now you have permission to "sock it to me," if you like, David.)

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  22. Permission to sock it to you, eh? All right, so be it. Now, what about "something one might expect to contemplate in a Buddhist monastery, like the sound of one hand clapping"? Well, I would simply point out that the purpose of those exercises in Zen Buddhism is to get the student to think outside the box. Perhaps some version of that is what is needed here.

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  23. Speaking of Nick Herbert, perhaps the way out of the box can be illustrated with a hypothetical example from quantum physics. A physicist might speak of glarps and blags. He might add that these things cannot be perceived by the senses, nor even pictured in one's mind. "No, but they can only be understood intellectually at a very high level of abstraction." Then he might go on to say glarps and blags correspond to each other. "Well, but what do you mean by corresponding in this context?" The physicist would presumably answer by speaking of one-to-one mapping, reciprocal relations, complementary character and functioning, et cetera. It certainly seems that this answer would be intelligible enough, even though it calls for leaving behind sensuous and imaginative content.

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  24. Of course, the whole point of bringing up Culbertson's theory was to encourage "thinking outside the box."

    Granted, such exercises in Buddhist meditation are designed to think outside the box--but moreover, to clear consciousness of any content (or so it is claimed).

    I would counter that at every turn the so-called "abstraction" you characterize is clothed in bits and pieces of sensate substance, as "things of thought" as Mach would say, if only mathematical symbols in someone's mind. There is really no such thing as contentless thought, nor empirical science without some form of human observation (again, as Schroedinger reminds us).

    Again, there's the rub!

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  25. I have referred now several times to Schroedinger's philosophical essays published as "Mind and Matter," and quoted from the one entitled "The Mystery of the Sensual Qualities."

    Perhaps a more relevant one here just now is entitled "The Principle of Objectivation," in which quotes Jung and explains how the "Subject of Cognizance" has been removed from the physical picture of the world: "Mind has erected the objective outside world of the natural philosopher out of its own stuff. Mind could not cope with this gigantic task otherwise than by the simplifying device of excluding itself--withdrawing from its conceptual creation. Hence the latter does not contain its creator."

    Note the critical phrase "simplifying device."

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  26. Abstract thought is "clothed in bits and pieces of sensate subtance," you say. Well, yes, that is true, at least in this life and this world. The trick is, that point is almost what is at stake here but not quite. The question is not about the mathematical symbols in someone's mind. The question is whether one can use those symbols to reach up to levels beyond what can be perceived by the senses or even pictured in the mind. Given the way people in physics and chemistry are constantly talking, it sure looks like this is possible.

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  27. So then the question becomes: What is the real motivation behind this desire for scientific/physical objectivity? Ultimate enlightenment? Does the existence of reality need to be "proven" by such means to be acceptable to a scientistic society such as ours?

    It seems to me that more than objectivity per se, what is being sought is some kind of transcendental realism--in fact, idealism--but there is no guarantee in all the posturing "physicalizing" (if mediated by mathemetics) that it shall turn out to be anything material, since this curious process of rarefaction and abstraction seems to have as its goal existence without existence--a veritable realism without realism--something so far removed from the everyday world of the senses, that it might as well be the very thoughts of God. And I believe for many physicists, worship of the universe and its cosmic order has replaced the worship of God. The first to my knowledge in our era to explicitly acknowledge this state of affairs was Howard Jastrow in his 1978 book "God and the Astronomers."

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  28. (For those who may not know, Jastrow was a religious agnostic, who found himself perplexed by quasi-metaphysical paradoxes, such as the Big Bang.)

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  29. (BTW, he was also an astronmer, trained at Columbia University.)

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  30. (Mea culpa: It's *Robert* Jastrow.)

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  31. Well now hold on! There can be a very broad range of different motives for adhering to traditional realism. Yes, I have spoken to my students about the modern error of exalting Nature with a capital N instead of worshipping God. But one who sees that baloney for what it is, and who opposes scientism, might still accept traditional realism. He might consider, among other things, that "in the beginning God created the heavens and the Earth" as genuinely real things and not as merely a Berkeleyan dreamscape. Again, he might consider that "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us" as having a real material body, et cetera. Why should it be mere posturing?

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  32. Are you by chance a creationist, David?

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  33. Bill, with respect to what you say concerning Culbertson, I find that I am still a bit confused. If he is just saying that conscious experiences are associated with certain brain states without being caused by them, to me it would still sound like he holds the causal theory of perception for processes leading to these brain states. Since our experiences also change over time, I am also confused by the static examples which you give as metaphors; i. e. according to Culbertson do the brain states have to change if our conscious experiences change? If so, this looks an awful lot like causation to me.

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  34. Am I a creationist? Well, I do not take the Book of Genesis to be literally correct in the manner of a modern scientific document, and so I am unlike the fundamentalists. If that is what you mean, then no, I am not a creationist. But I agree with Saints Augustine and Thomas Aquinas in affirming Divine creation. Indeed, I agree with them about much more than that. I stand with them in religion even more than in philosophy, and in modern times, with John Paul II and Benedict XVI. How about that!

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  35. Culbertson's theory depends upon a rejection of classical causality and involves space-time. The "connections" he discusses are interconnected world lines, not causal sequences. In a 4-D scheme, even the molecules of rocks have world lines that change with time due to the process of chemical decomposition and related changes of state that just occur and are not "caused" in an electrochemical or biophysical sense as things are in the sensory systems. In his summary of Culbertson's theory in "Elemental Mind," Nick Herbert raises the question of how "real" these world lines are in light of Q.M. Unfortunately I don't have either Herbert's book at hand, or the one by Culbertson, so cannot refer to details, except to say that an example of a "clear" worldline that Culbertson associates with consciousness, extends from light particles at the surface of objects through its path to the retina and as being close off (for the lack of better word) by brain events. It is like a little ecosystem, except that it exists in four dimensions rather than three. Does that make any sense?

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  36. It helps some Bill, but it would help more if I can get a hold of either the book by Culbertson or the one by Herbert.

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  37. Probably the best introduction to Culbertson's theory is Herbert's book, in which he devotes an entire chapter to it (I believe). Nick Herbert provides a few salient points in any obituary he wrote for Culbertson last year (as you will see, Nick himself is on Blogger--perhaps we should invite him to participate here?)
    http://quantumtantra.blogspot.com/2009/06/james-t-culbertson-1912-2004.html

    One of the most interesting facets of Culbertson's career is that he once worked for the RAND Corp. "think tank."

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  38. A while back Bob asked John if he only considered causality in terms of action-by-contact, which is essentially the tacit principle underlying the existing causal theory of perception, such that the causal sequence underlying perception in some sense *moves* from object into the brain, because it is really attached to one (a) a moving photon (b) reflecting (moving) from a surface (c) entering the optic media (again moving) (d) initiating a photochemical response (bleaching) which (e) initiates a neuroelectric impulse traveling into the visual cortex. This entails a movement of electromagnetic activity. Of course not all the objects involved are (necessarily) moving: (1) the object surface (2) the eye and (3) the whole brain. The fact that these things may be stationary (more or less) is never factored into the equation, as it were, only the "moving parts." Is this of no consequence?

    In outer space there is no sound, because there is no atmosphere, not because people are deaf in outer space. As long as we only think of the "moving" components in causality, we may remain forever stuck on first base. I think this is partly what motivated Culbertson's thinking about the nature of consciousness.

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  39. Taking what you say at face value concerning the presupposition of motion for causation Bill, I want to make a few points. First, while you are right that there is no sound in outer space, light does travel in a vacuum, and I am a realist about the electromagnetic field - see my paper on a physically realist Interpretation of light on David and my website quantumrealism.net, which was also published in Physics Essays, 21 (2008), p. 196. Also, while the brain need not move during visual perception, the electrons constituting neuroelectric impulses do,and it is changes in the electric fields associated with neurons in the visual cortex, which presumably Hubel and Wiesel were measuring with their microelectrodes. Maybe I am missing something here, but all of this certainly sounds like motion and causation to me.

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  40. Well Robert, yes, right, exactly so. Of course it is as you said, for there is an obvious way in which it is just too ridiculous to say there is causation going on when everything is standing still. (At least, this is so unless one is talking about the "immanent causation" whereby things cohere and persist. But what is at stake here is clearly transitive causation instead.) However, there seems to be an alternative. William may be concerned to deny what Whitehead called the doctrine of simple location. (The core of this doctrine is, "...material can be said to be here in space and here in time, or here in space-time, in a perfectly definite sense which does not require for its explanation any reference to other regions of space-time.") On the basis of this denial, there might perhaps be causal influence from what is happening elsewhere in the system, even though nothing is moving at the site in question. So, this denial may help one to account for consciousness, depending on how it is developed. I do not rightly know, but then I have not checked out what Culbertson said.

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  41. Yes, exactly so, light travels through a vacuum, whereas sound waves do not: The point being that one has to look at the "total picture" of what is going on to not fall prey to the various versions of "central state materialism" (as, I believe, Eccles called the psychoneural identity theory, that what is going on in the brain is all that counts in the final analysis, etc.). Culbertson was looking at the whole picture anew but in a new way, in terms of space-time, rather than as a purely causal sequence. It is the specific *structure* of the world lines in his model that makes consciousness possible, not causality per se.

    The main question remaining in my mind, Bob, is whether Culbertson was tacitly assuming either (1) a block theory of time and/or (2) a form of higher causality (as Wigner has proposed), because Culbertson argued that sensations occur *before* brain processes.

    In a sense, he was trying to de-couple causality from being in lock step with space and time, perhaps influenced by Q.M. with the possibility of action at a distance and retrocausality (as I say, it has been a while since I read his work, but it has never been entirely clear to me how this was supposed to work!).

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  42. With the popularity of atheism in both science and academia these days, I admire David for unabashedly avowing his faith, much as Ray Tallis does by saying that he is a humanist atheist (though an erstwhile believer, it seems).

    But the really "big" question in my mind is one that I hope David continues to ponder, and that is what happens when one removes the metaphysical background to Descartes' thought about mind and perception. I suspect that contemporary science (somewhat smugly) thinks that has already been done, and that the metaphysical background need play no role in current formulations. If so, how did they manage to do that, David?

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  43. How did they manage to do that? My cynical suspicion is, by something even more terrible than mere stipulation. They did it by ignoring the whole cluster of issues to the point of annihilation. What modern physical science studies is in fact a simplified model of the world of material bodies, a mathematical image. This model captures enough of the concrete reality to work out and stand up under experimental inquiry. But because it does not capture the full reality, one whose view of that world is limited to that model cannot account for mental life as being associated with some (living) material bodies. Because they lack philosophical sophistication, the people in the physical sciences may fail to appreciate the basic error of taking their model as capturing the full reality. So, they may adopt some sort of Identity Theory as the line of least resistance. They would do this to have some (at least apparently) easy, "brute force" way to have mental life associated with living bodies. On this basis, one can be glad of quantum physics, which is the final breakdown from within of the old model as clearly inadequate.

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  44. Clearly, then, this is partly a historical question calling for a historical answer which, presumably, can be had. Might it be connected with the "Gallilean Revolution" that the Catholic church tried most earnestly to stifle? Surely the seeds to scientific heresy were sewn there, if not before . . . .

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  45. Yes, indeed, the denial of simple location is the general philosophical argument which, though Nick Herbert and I knew of, I'm not sure Culbertson cites. But as a well trained philosopher, it seems likely that Culbertson did know it, and I see just checking now that he cites p. 337 of W's "Process and Reality" in his book "The Minds of Robots". He also cites one J.R. Smythies:

    ". . . If a comprehensive scientific theory of perception can be constructed, then the philosophical puzzles about perception--together with the purely philosophical theories evoked by these puzzles--will, as it were, wither away. Such a comprehensive scientific theory or perception will explain just how our raw experience is related to the physiological process of perception...." ("Analysis of Perception") What wishful thinking, eh, John?

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  46. Also a more general philosophical/theoretical question is whether or not the simple "billard ball causality" naively presupposed by the causal theory of perception in neuroscience is appropriate for physical processes in which EM is so intimately (and complexly) involved, i.e., the biophysics of photochemistry and electrochemistry, and thus therefore the potential for quantum entanglement is great (the understatement of the century?)

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  47. Cf. for the relevance of quantum entanglement to the stability of DNA: http://arxivblog.technologyreview.com/blog/arxiv/25375/

    The maverick physicist Jack Sarfatti claimed that consciousness was closely associated with the pi electron bonds because they are "delocalized," but Saul-Paul Sirag retorted that Sarfatti was confusing delocalization of electron orbits with quantum non-locality (!) Here is a debate on the topic that appeared in 1998:
    http://www-physics.lbl.gov/~stapp/q-mind-8-12-98.txt

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  48. One point on entanglement Bill, is that I do give an account of at least polarization accountment in terms of properties of electromagnetic fields in my paper on a physically realist account of light. I have yet to see this account be refuted.

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  49. Thank you, Bob. Can you see how this might be possibly be relevant to the optics of vision?

    People so often hear the phrase "quantum non-locality" today that they sometimes forget that it is an abbreviation for "non-local *causality*." Following the lead of Whitehead, I don't think classical realism must necessarily depend upon classical causality, nor on the ability of our puny minds to understand it.

    If we limit reality to only our understanding of it, or in a vain effort to make it correspond with perceptual reality, we may not get very far.

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  50. In reply to your question Bill, the non-local effects which I discuss in such phenomena as photon absorption and the Renninger effect are relevant in such matters as understanding how a lens works (where light takes all physically possible paths over the entire lens even at very low light intensities). Possibly it is also relevant for understanding how spatially spread-out neural events in the brain are responsible for conscious experiences as well, but I haven't worked out the details of how this might be the case.

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  51. Bob, how do you propose to define congruence relations between EM brain events and VS?

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  52. Bill, we've covered some of this material already. There is a topological isomorphism between events in the visual cortex and those in visual space, but not a metrical one since foveal regions are disproportionately enlarged in the visual cortex. Thus, if by congrence you are referring to a metrical congruence, there isn't one here . Also, I am not at all sure that the concept of entanglement is going to help that much with an understanding of what is going on here, although what is held in common is that a physical state is spread out over more than one spatial location.

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  53. In my paper "Visual Space as Physical Geometry" I analyzed why the notion of isomorphism is not adequate in this context, when congruence is required to establish geometrical identity *and* psychoneural identity. Neither condition is met on the basis of already established neuroanatomy and neurophysiology.

    Nor is it clear that there even *is* an isomorphism between visual space and activity in the visual cortex--or what exactly that means, or implies except as an abstraction--given the structural analysis provided by Hubel & Wiesel already decades ago, with much additional information to amplify it cited here. Have I perhaps missed some new finding that now establishes that there is after all an isomorphism twixt the two?

    As I see it, quantum entanglement is as much a *problem* for the theory of perception, as offering any prospect for a solution. The reason for mentioning it is to get away from the assumption (reification) of simple location, which rather hamstrings causality, classical causality being the unquestioned assumption of current neurophilosophy and the psychoneural identity theory.

    Are we just left then with the proposition that VS is only self identical, congruent with itself? That doesn't help us much, does it?

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  54. More specifically, what kind of transformation do you envision that connects two structures that are not congruent? How is it effected?

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  55. But why exactly do I need to care whether there is any congruence, or even isomorphism, between visual space and activity in the visual cortex? No one has to care whether the imagery on a computer screen reflects the spatial order among the events down in the circuits that generate the imagery. To be sure, the deeper layers of programming must be set up to make these events add up rightly to generate the imagery, regardless of how these events are spatially arranged. So, in the present case, what the lack of serious isomorphism between the neural activity and visual space shows is that within the human subject, there must be appropriate layers "between" the one and the other to make the neural events add up rightly to generate visual space, regardless of how these events are spatially arranged. Now, what these layers are and how they work is the $64,000 question (or $128,000 in these days of inflation).

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  56. The problem of the lack of congruity between visual patterns and patterns in the visual cortex was noted by John Smythies over half a century ago now in his book "Analysis of Perception."

    There is no real evidence to support the contention that the visual system is making anything like an image, and that is not my opinion, but that of Hubel & Wiesel, a view that they expressed already over 30 years ago (as I have noted repeatedly already).

    Do you have specific reasons to disagree with their own conclusions based on their experimental research on mammalian brains?

    Have you read John Smythies' summary of Ray Tallis's "Why the Mind is not a Computer" here? Do have have objections to Ray's points that you have not yet expressed on that posting? Surely we don't need to rehearse the movie/TV/computer screen/workings analogy all over again, do we?

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  57. Oy veh! I agree that thinking is NOT compting. Indeed, I have defended this thesis in print. I read the posting from Ray Tallis, and it looked good to me. The comparison with the computer is an analogy only. The point is that the "nitty gritty" events that generate something on a higher level need only be made to add up rightly to produce the result on the higher level. The structure displayed on the higher level need not be present among the events on the lower level in any straightforward way.

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  58. The computer analogy is a false analogy--that was Ray's main criticism. It has led to an illusion of scientific progress, when much of the progress is just of the the Emperor's New Clothes variety, i.e., just "prose information processing" palaver (to echo the words of Jim Culbertson).

    There just is nothing of the "nitty gritty" elements in the visual cortex that would seem to "add up" in any way to be "displayed." So the whole notion of a "display" in this context doesn't work very well, when the underlying neurophysiological process seems from all reports to be disintegrating the pattern coming from the periphery, rather than engaging in something that might be construed as a corollary or precursor to figural synthesis, such as even the Vorgestalten of visual objects, for which no known neurophysiological account seems able to explain (perhaps Lothar will help us out on this).

    It almost seems like a whole other process must be involved--somehow. Something is wrong with the existing picture, as we have already discussed at some length here.

    Perhaps we need some new more apt analogies?

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  59. I agree with you Bill that some new thinking, outside of the box so to speak, may be required here. Still, it does help to at least explore implications of theories already mentioned. One point concerning your arguments about congruence in your paper, is that they do not apply explicitly against my position since I am not a physicalist, and do not at least numerically equate phenomenal space with brain states, even though I think that they are causally linked. A second point, is that I am not tied to the position of events in the visual cortex as being the immediate neural correlates of events in visual space, for some of the same reasons which you have mentioned. One question which I have, which either you or John may know the answer to, is whether extensive mapping has been done of the visual projection areas of the superior colliculi, and if so, whether these projections have the same foveal disproportions in size as the projections in the visual cortex. A second question is whether you know if either projection compensates for small eye movements, such as saccades, which we are typically not visually aware of.

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  60. Congruence relations, whether internal ones or external ones, surely must apply to any geometrization of visual space because congruence is the sine qua non of geometry, whether conceived in a monistic or dualistic framework.

    So I do not see how dualism eliminates the problem of congruence, if one ties visual space in any way to the visual cortex. To exaggerate the problem with a metaphor, it is rather like trying to fit the proverbial square block into a round hole.

    If there is no close correspondence in spatial order (including properties such as isotropy and metricity) between VS and brain states, how do you imagine the causality works in spatial terms? How is the unified VS "stitched together" from the disparate pieces in the brain which don't correspond in terms of topology or geometry? What sort of embodied algorithm could make that possible?

    That is why I asked you, Bob, what sort of transformation you imagine being entailed to make such a (spatio-causal) correspondence possible? Just invoking dualism doesn't seem to really address that specific problem, and the purpose of this blog as I envisioned it is indeed to address just such problems.

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  61. The so-called "mappings" in the visual cortex and optic tectum would both be relevant to the position of the embodied cognition folks, because both are intimately involved with eye movements, thus exemplifying their desire to eliminate the distinction between perception and action.

    When you asked this question previously, Bob, I believe I answered that even though the visual map in the SC is also retinotopic in organization, it was cruder than the cortical counterparts. Yes, it is associated with saccades (as is also V1) and exhibits magnification similar to cortical magnification relative to the retinae.

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  62. The problem remains, though, regardless of which "map" we discuss--or even if these projection areas should rightly be conceived as being maps at all--is how we determine what are both necessary and sufficient conditions for them to be precursors to visual space, let alone conscious visual perception in general.

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  63. All this has gotten to be very interesting. Let me see whether I can put together the different sets of facts in play and develop what comes out. On the one side, visual experience is strongly correlated with neural activity in some way. On the other side, neural activity does not add up rightly, at least on its own level, to generate visual space. Then, realistically, there is just one possible answer. Visual space is generated on some higher level, beyond the confines of the central nervous system. What neural activity contributes at most is to feed up into some higher level, but it is on the higher levels that this activity is finally made to add up to something appropriate. There, I have said it.

    The implications of this result must be appreciated. All standard versions of materialism, whether in terms of Identity Theory or functionalism, are just so many chunks of phony baloney. (I say standard because, for example, what John has about higher dimensions and parallel universes might be considered a nonstandard version of materialism.) All stadard versions of epiphenomenalism are also just so many chunks of phony baloney. Moreover, all this turns out to be so even before one gets into the standard challenge of either the moderns (qualia) or the traditional people (intellectual abstraction). In a word, the standard approach to philosophy of mind nowadays is a crock, based on the (now obsolete) neurology of 40 or 50 or 60 years ago.

    What embodied algorithm could take one from neural activity to visual space? Given all this, that is the wrong question. No embodied algorithm is involved. The work belongs to the higher levels instead. What could be going on there? Well, the natural and obvious place to start would seem to be with the "fairy tale" account they teach school children. "The two retinal images are coordinated in the brain to produce stereoscopic vision," et cetera. The thing to do would seem to be to imagine what algorithms or procedures would have to be implemented if this were really so, and then consider what would be required to reach the place where this can be done. Very likely the real truth is much more exotic than this, but one must start exploring somewhere.

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  64. I agree with the spirit if not the letter of David's assessment. But I have to say that (re-)evaluating metaphysics (of any stripe) is not really the purpose of this blog, even though a good deal of space has been devoted to that already now (mostly somewhat tangentially IMO).

    So discussion of metaphysics is best reserved for what is directly relevant or can be related to the topic as stated at the top of the blog. Obviously, David, you are more interested in general metaphysical issues, especially affirming classical realism and dualism. But that is not what this blog if for, and presupposing them may only give rise to circularity, which is counter productive. As I said to John awhile back, this is not the place for sacred cows.

    Relegating VS to "something higher" doesn't tell us very much pursuant to our goal, because for all we know, in some paradoxical sense, VS may represent something *lower* in the causal sequence (Culbertson), something more fundamental, and not "higher" than the brain level which, conceivably, may only "complete the circuit" (to use a crude metaphor).

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  65. Well, so far, I have still not been able to check out what Culbertson said, and so I cannot say much about that. He may perhaps be right for all I know at this point. As it happens, I do not follow dualism, but I follow the theory of Aquinas whereby the human person is a unified whole. For the rest, I submit that the concern to think outside the box (which has already been propsed as necessary) cannot be divorced from the concern with "general metaphysical issues." As for being relevant to the stated topic, yes of course. But then the result that the brain turns out NOT to be where the action is must not be underestimated. This is such a large chunk that to note the impact on contemporary philosophy of mind is merely to point out a trivial corollary. To appreciate this result and its implications is to kill and not to introduce sacred cows.

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  66. One move, to partially answer your concerns Bill, is to conceive of portions of phenomenal space as just being potentially actualized into sensations. I think that this move may be necessary in order to account for the fact that when we turn our head slowly, objects, as constituted in visual space do not appear to move, and thus it is at least as if the actualized portion (approximataely 180 degrees by 120 degrees) of a complete sphere slowly shifts to another part of the sphere. These regions of potentiality could also be invoked for bridging different regions of the neural correlates. This is just a thought, but it does seem to me to be a possible move here.

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  67. Interesting, Bob. But I'm not sure I understand what you mean by "portions of phenomenal space ... being potentially actualized into sensations." If visual space is composed of sensations to begin with, what exactly do you mean by "actualization"? That's not clear to me, though I otherwise follow your description, which is very intriguing.

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  68. I guess I would have to say that in a sense the potential space is the more primitive one, and perhaps not define the space as necessarily being comprised of sensations, although it can be actualized into them. In general I am not a big fan of potentiality, at least not in quantum mechanics when it is not further characterized in terms of something else that changes, but here our choices appear to be very limited, and the alternatives appear even less attractive.

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  69. Okay, that helps a little! But I think we would be treading on thin ice if we include in perceptual space things that are not perceived, in this case, things that are seen, ergo, comprised of visual sensations.

    Certainly nothing could be more primordial than the visual space of newly sighted patients who had been born with congenital cataracts, which John and I have described here previously. But you may be quite right then to ask (if I can anticipate a question you might have) are they really experiencing "sensations"? Perhaps one might say "sensations of light." But an amorphous reddish mist is what they describe--at least after the fact because, after all, how would they know what a mist looks life if they had never seen a mist?

    Is it possible that we need to look at the word "sensation" more closely to see what it may encompass/not encompass? It may be that "sensation" is really a hypostasis, an abstraction, because mostly we perceive *things* in the visual world, and in ordinary language at least reserve "sensation" more for tactile experience, especially "unusual sensations" etc.

    I think there may be a language issue here, as you quite rightly suggest, Bob. (No pun intended, this really needs to be "looked at" more carefully!)

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  70. It occurs to me that much of what Lothar has developed may be quite relevant to capturing the sort of distinction you are trying to make by introducing the notion of "actualization" into the mix. The Ganzheit psychologists were very interested in "primitive" perception under degraded viewing conditions, etc. Hopefully Lothar will help us in this regard, because he probably understands the notion of "Vorgestalt" better than any of us!

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  71. I actually agree with you Bill about the thin ice comment, and I also think that what I am saying is pretty ad hoc, but I have nothing better to offer. Some other reasons for bringing in a potential space though, are both that it is a possible way to link periods of unconsciousness (e. g., dreamless sleep), and also for accounting for sensations for other senses (such as audition and touch), in particular when they involve directions away from the visual field of view. Unlike vision (where we have a sensation of blackness when we close our eyes), no sensations are typically present for these other senses when there are no appropriate stimuli, so it at least raises the question what is present at these locations which becomes a sensation. The best answer that I have is a potential space, but I welcome other possible solutions.

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  72. David, what you say is certainly true, but perhaps I need to remind readers that this "blog" is not intended to be one as such, but a virtual research group, working on a specific set of problems, much as one might find in any research facility (or, for example, the group of scholars who have long collaborated on the preservation, transcription, and deciphering of the Dead Sea Scrolls). The only difference is that rather than meeting under the same roof, our discussions are occurring virtually. Maybe that isn't clear from our description of the goals of the Group above under the name. I am happy to leave it to others to ponder the metaphysical implications/consequences of this inquiry (of which I am perfectly aware, though).

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  73. Perhaps the problem of unconsciousness in its various meanings should be handled separately, because it is not clear that there really is such a thing as dreamless sleep, for one (the last I recall is that sleep research had determined that whenever people were awakened during sleep they reported that they were dreaming).

    So perhaps the real question you are posing, Bob, is whether visual space exists 24-7 for individuals, whether while being "conscious" (awake) or asleep. Rather than making this a problem right now, maybe we should just assume that it is always there, except in cases where it literally seems obliterated due to brain damage? Otherwise we have something like a "hidden variable" problem here (a lack of observability, granted that this is a unique form of observation, more akin to just thinking about experience in general).

    So coming back to what you describe above about VS not moving might better be conceived in terms of relative motion within the perceptual world, because there is a somatic component to it (the bodily sense of turning one's head or eyes, which comprises our experience that we are indeed "looking at" the visual world, i.e., the act of looking is itself part of the perception).

    As I recall, the "stability" of the visual world has been studied heretofore largely in the context of "object constancy."

    I think if we want to continue this line of thought, we should create a new posting for that purpose rather than continuing on this one, and you are welcomed, Bob, to create one.

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  74. Bob, just a question about your statement above (December 15, 2010 11:51 AM): "... it is at least as if the actualized portion (approximately 180 degrees by 120 degrees) of a complete sphere slowly shifts to another part of the sphere."

    Do you really see curved contours suggestive that your visual field is spherical?

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  75. You have to distinguish between the external geometry and the internal geometry here. For the internal geometry the coordinate system is embedded on the spherical surface, and then one can talk about lack of distortions, such as those of the Mercator projection, if one tries to project such a surface onto a flat plane; in this case it is the lack of marginal distortions which occur in wide-angle photography.

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  76. Thanks, Bob, but you are answering a different question that the one I asked, which is whether what you are describing is something you have observed yourself (with your "own two eyes"), or something deduced through geometrical analysis?

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  77. Objects don't appear disproportionately enlarged in the peripheral regions of my visual field, although obviously there is a lot less spatial acuity there, and certainly the marginal objects in very wide angle photography appear very much distorted to me. So, no this isn't something just deduced from a geometrical analysis.

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  78. Okay, so I take it then that the "sphere" to which you refer above is not something actually perceived as such, i.e., something curved as we ordinarily perceive spheres to be?

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  79. You are right in the sense that we don't perceive the sphere from a position outside of the sphere. Rather our visual experience is numerically identical with a portion of the sphere (the 180 degrees by 120 degrees), and I think that this portion can shift when for example we slowly move our head.

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  80. Are you saying, Bob, that we perceive the visual sphere from within it?

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  81. In effect Bill, but there is more to say. For example it is possible to map other senses onto the same sphere for phenomenal space, with positions on the sphere at least usually corresponding to directions being sensed. Also, the system can breakdown, as with vertigo for the visual case; try taking a carnival ride for a demonstration of this one!

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  82. Let me make sure I understand you, Bob. Are you saying that the visual world *appears* to be spherical, as if the observer is inside a sphere? That is, in keeping with our previous discussion, are you saying that the visual world actually *looks* curved, much as the interior of a geodesic dome?

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  83. In effect "yes" Bill, but there are a few caveats and subtleties to take note of here. First, as I go into in my paper on apparent distortions in photography, I only hold that visual space is spherical when objects being seen are physically equidistant from the viewed; otherwise there is a variable curvature determined by my depth function. A second point is that one has to be very careful about language in discussing the position, since I hold that ordinary perception language presupposes naive realism, and I am trying to state something different. One subtlety here is that "observe" is a transitive verb and thus implies a distinction between the observer and what is observed. In effect, I hold that this distinction has to be collapsed here (otherwise regresses occur), and thus the bare occurrence of visual sensations in visual space constitutes their observation; i. e., I hold that there is not another entity doing the observing. I hope this helps some, the whole subject is a bit hard to discuss, since, as I was saying, our ordinary perception language assumes the truth of another position.

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  85. Though this comment more properly belongs in response to your original posting on distortions, perhaps it is better to continue it here than return to the original posting for that purpose.

    Just keeping to ordinary language for the moment, would you say that the visual world looks curved, as if it were the inside of a sphere?

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  86. One of the reasons I am focusing on this basic point, is because for the entire geometry of visual space to change globally or locally would create potentially catastrophic effects were it like physical space, which for a long time was thought to be both isotropic and homogeneous. So are you saying that the space itself changes curvature or merely the objects in it? This is not clear to me, and I have posed this question before.

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  87. In response to your first question Bill, my position is that the appearance of the internal metric structure is the same as that of a portion of a spherical surface. In response to your second question, my position is that the space itself changes curvature over time as a function of the physical distance away of objects being seen in different directions.

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  88. Exposition of Whitehead’s denial of simple location finds a wealth of divergent interpretations. Sometimes it is interpreted as an absolute theory of space-time
    So, “this denial may help one to account for consciousness, depending on how it is developed.” Also, the often-heard phrase "quantum non-locality" is just an abbreviation for "non-local *causality*."

    Generally, philosophical concepts serve as a beacon in search for a concrete model of a given phenomenon. Once a model is established it becomes a subject of particular engineering developments and experimental tests.

    The phenomenon of human mind appears as a thing of unimaginable structural and functional complexity. Yet in perceiving human brain this way one cannot rely on complexity as a basis for steadily reproducing formations. Behind the construction of human brain there must be a sophisticated, but an operationally simple high-tech concept.

    In our model, the framework of the absolute space-time is considered as a holographic medium for extracorporeal placement of human memory. Thus, biological information processing can be considered as “Cloud Computing” on the “Internet” of the Universe.
    Biological memory acquire more than an “infinite” storage capacity, it presents a forced continuous recording. Figuratively speaking, human memory is not just as an outside repository of the information, but a “camcoder” with nonstop fixation of incoming information.

    Physical evidences for the corresponding organization is a separate issue. For biological testing of this construction one of the effective ways, besides afterimages, is using the “seeing with the tongue” effect. It has been firmly established that humans can blurrily recognize visual images applied to the tongue in the form of electrical signals. So, by blocking neural connections of the tongue with the head it could be possible to test our central supposition that major activities in the brain employ “wireless” communications rather than neuronal processes.

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  89. Though you responded to my question, Bob, you didn't actually answer it. My question was, "Would you say that the visual world looks curved, as if it were the inside of a sphere?"

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  90. Okay, Bob, if VS is something like a "display," as John and David envision it, this would be equivalent to the whole display itself actually changing shape. Would that be consistent with your analysis?

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  91. The answer to your second question is yes Bill, since I hold that the shape of visual space dynamically changes with time as a function of the distances away of objects being viewed. Maybe I don't completely understand your first question, but are you referring to the fact that the geodesics of a sphere (i e., great circles) converge? This is actually a good question for visual experience, but it is a bit tricky to do since we are talking about effects in peripheral regions here. One way to try to do it is to look at a long low building headon from midway along it, and see whether both ends tend to converge. There are probably other variants as well.

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  92. The fact that VS changes shape may/may not ultimately be a problem, even if that geometry is then linked to dynamic factors such as Gestalt formation (which, hopefully, Lothar may have some relevant things to say in the context of our topic).

    My first question concerns the perception of curvature. Clearly we have no problem seeing curves vs. straight lines in VS, and have no problem making fairly fine descriminations between them (as has been widely studied by experimental psychologists over the years). How is the notion of curvature (variable or otherwise) to be reckoned with that fact? In other words, is the "curvature" of VS perceived as curvature?

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  93. Commenting on Simon's remarks, which are all cogent, I will say that simulations or engineering models are sometimes just "embodied analogies" which may or may not illuminate what is actually going on in nature, because they may suffer the same shortcoming of all analogies, if taken too far or too literally.

    Ray Tallis made the very point Simon makes that complexity alone does not seem like a very useful criterion for how memory (or the mind in general) works, and some of the points Simon has raised illustrate specific problems, since mind seems to produce very finite results.

    Culbertson believed that his theory solved the problem of memory capacity/storage by claiming that memory mainly consists of directly accessing the past (in other words, he seems to be implying some sort of 4-D "block" theory of time in proposing that).

    I'm not yet quite sure what the appeal is of the holographic model because nowhere in the "system" is there any provision for the "explicate," i.e., the equivalent of the holographic image. Where is it "realized" if not within the same holonomic environment as the rest?

    Of course "tongue vision" is just evidence of "cross modal transfer" of sensory information, which occurs in daily life between the senses. Otherwise learning something would be exclusively confined to one sense modality!

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  94. Again, to try to answer your question Bill, as far as I can see, apart from illusions, physical straight lines come out as geodesics in visual space, and thus no lines are straighter. They can still converge in peripheral regions though. Another example of this effect is Helmholtz's checkerboard where the original figure has a hyperbolic structure, but it is perceived as a regular checkerboard in visual space.

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  95. Perhaps I should ask a different question, Bob. Is the "curvature" of visual space perceived as curved? The notion of curvature in non-Euclidean geometry is, after all, ultimately derived from the notion of curved shapes that are indeed seen as such (e.g., sphere, hyperbola, etc.)

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  96. Back to neurobabble for a moment.
    I have rashly signed up to write 2 new books, one on the scientific explanation of NDEs, which requires me to surf through the entire neuroscience literature on consciousness, and all things related, over the last 10 years. During this process I come across some interesting specimens. Here is one of them (that should be of interest especially to Ray), in which the author says some of what I think are the right things, mixed in with some of the wrong things.

    "Rev Neurosci. 2009;20(3-4):151-76.
    Networks of conscious experience: computational neuroscience in understanding life, death, and consciousness.
    Leisman G, Koch P.
    F. R. Carrick Institute for Clinical Ergonomics, Rehabilitation, and Applied Neuroscience, Leeds Metropolitan University, Leeds, UK. g.Leisman@leedsmet.ac.uk
    Abstract
    We demonstrate brain locations appearing to correlate with consciousness, but not being directly responsible for it. Technology reveals that brain activity is associated with consciousness but is not equivalent to it. We examine how consciousness occurs at critical levels of complexity. Conventional explanations portray consciousness as an emergent property of classical computer-like activities in the brain's neural networks. Prevailing views in this camp are that patterns of neural network activities correlate with mental states, that synchronous network oscillations in the thalamus and cerebral cortex temporally bind information, and that consciousness emerges as a novel property of computational complexity among neurons. A hard-wired theory is enigmatic for explaining consciousness because the nature of subjective experience, or 'qualia'- 'inner life' - is a "hard problem" to understand; binding spatially distributed brain activity into unitary objects, and a coherent sense of self, or 'oneness' is difficult to explain as is the transition from pre- to conscious states. (continued)

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  97. Consciousness is non-computable and involves factors that are neither random nor algorithmic - consciousness cannot be simulated;

    [Bully for him!]

    explanations are also needed for free will and for subjective time flow. Convention argues that neurons and their chemical synapses are the fundamental units of information in the brain, and that conscious experience emerges when a critical level of complexity is reached in the brain's neural networks. The basic idea is that the mind is a computer functioning in the brain. In fitting the brain to a computational view, such explanations omit incompatible neurophysiological details, including widespread apparent randomness at all levels of neural processes (is it really noise, or underlying levels of complexity?); glial cells (which account for some 80% of the brain); dendritic-dendritic processing; electrotonic gap junctions; cytoplasmic/cytoskeletal activities; living state (the brain is alive!); and absence of testable hypotheses in emergence theory. There is no threshold or rationale specified; rather, consciousness 'just happens'. Consciousness then involves an awareness of what we are sensing or experiencing and some ability to control or coordinate voluntary actions.—"
    {That last part is not very clear to me]

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  98. My word, John, what a concoction of neurobabble that is, not to mention virtuoso hand waving for good measure! What is he really saying other than the whole "computational" paradigm in neuroscience along with neuroreductionism just won't fly in explaining consciousness?

    My sense of things is that we need to continue to evaluate what are really epistemological problems rather than scientific ones, not the least of which, as I have said here now several times, is how so-called *qualia* became a problem in the first instance, given that such qualia constitute the most fundamental aspect of our experience. (Talk about the elephant in the room!)

    Writers such as those of the paper abstract seem oblivious to the philosophy of perception in general, otherwise they would understand that sensations (viz. qualia) have been deliberately left out of the scientific picture. Why should it then be any surprise not to find them there? It is rather like putting an umbrella away in a closet and then asking why we can't find it in the living room.

    Thus "finding" these elusive sensations/qualia seems to be the #1 conundrum--one we have partly created ourselves it seems.

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  99. There's worse to come. For connoisseurs of neurobabble I recommend a lengthy paper in Consciousness and Cognition called "Progress in Machine Consciousness." (vol. 17, pp. 887-910) by D. Gomez.
    He proves to his own satisfaction that machines can have full phenomenal consciousness—
    "The fourth area of machine consciousness is more philosophically problematic, since it is concerned with machines that have real phenomenal experiences—machines that are not just tools in consciousness research, but actually conscious themselves."
    Ouch!

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  100. Yes, probably there is an audience of neurobabble (and the closely associated cyberbabble), much as the CSICOP "skeptics" relish the writings of all cranks. But the logical defects remain the same, and so it is those defects that we need to surpass in our own deliberations.

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