Author Topic: I need someone smarter than me to parse this  (Read 3946 times)

East Coast Hustle

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I need someone smarter than me to parse this
« on: December 01, 2016, 08:29:33 am »
If I read this correctly, this guy has essentially devised a mathematical model for consciousness that seems to completely by accident have also found God, though it doesn't appear as though he sees it that way.

http://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2016/04/the-illusion-of-reality/479559/

Quote
Gefter: The world is just other conscious agents?

Hoffman: I call it conscious realism: Objective reality is just conscious agents, just points of view. Interestingly, I can take two conscious agents and have them interact, and the mathematical structure of that interaction also satisfies the definition of a conscious agent. This mathematics is telling me something. I can take two minds, and they can generate a new, unified single mind. Here’s a concrete example. We have two hemispheres in our brain. But when you do a split-brain operation, a complete transection of the corpus callosum, you get clear evidence of two separate consciousnesses. Before that slicing happened, it seemed there was a single unified consciousness. So it’s not implausible that there is a single conscious agent. And yet it’s also the case that there are two conscious agents there, and you can see that when they’re split. I didn’t expect that, the mathematics forced me to recognize this. It suggests that I can take separate observers, put them together and create new observers, and keep doing this ad infinitum. It’s conscious agents all the way down.

The whole article is pretty fascinating and seems, upon first superficial glance, to not be complete mumbo-jumbo bullshit. I'm really curious to hear what some of the people here who are educated in relevant fields have to say about this.
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Re: I need someone smarter than me to parse this
« Reply #1 on: December 01, 2016, 10:17:04 am »
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The idea that what we’re doing is measuring publicly accessible objects, the idea that objectivity results from the fact that you and I can measure the same object in the exact same situation and get the same results — it’s very clear from quantum mechanics that that idea has to go. Physics tells us that there are no public physical objects.

A lot of what he's saying makes sense and, to be honest, there's really nothing new there but I'm getting a strong sense of barstool in places where he does what most of these guys do and extrapolates too far. They take cause out of cause and effect and expect shit to still work.

If every third word in a - there's no such thing as reality - article is "quantums" I grow dubious.
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Re: I need someone smarter than me to parse this
« Reply #2 on: December 01, 2016, 12:20:47 pm »
This is why physicists need to be exposed to a healthy dose of philosophy. I really mean it, as someone who is studying philosophy in a university.

I'm actually having trouble finishing the article, I'm just cringing too much. They referenced the hard problem of consciousness right at the beginning of the article without one mention of the guy who popularized the term, David Chalmers. Leaps of logic and half-baked metaphors abound. I don't think I can read it all

And then public figures like Stephen Hawking and Neil deGrasse Tyson say philosophy is obsolete and no one needs it  :horrormirth:
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Re: I need someone smarter than me to parse this
« Reply #3 on: December 01, 2016, 01:02:59 pm »
I'm completely struck by this paragraph. Let me try to explain why I think it doesn't make sense at all.

Quote
Hoffman: Suppose in reality there’s a resource, like water, and you can quantify how much of it there is in an objective order—very little water, medium amount of water, a lot of water.

Ok, I'm still following so far.

Quote
Now suppose your fitness function is linear, so a little water gives you a little fitness, medium water gives you medium fitness, and lots of water gives you lots of fitness—in that case, the organism that sees the truth about the water in the world can win, but only because the fitness function happens to align with the true structure in reality.

In the first place, of course, it is entirely your supposition that the fitness function is linear - in fact, I think there's a very simple experiment to prove it isn't. Do all animals when confronted with a large body of water try to drink it all and end up drowning? Do animals simply charge at the ocean and die? They don't? Well then.

Also notice how he doesn't really define what is "the truth about the water". There are certainly a lot of truths about water - that it is H2O, that it is liquid at certain temperatures, that it dissolves some salts, etc. The closest thing I can interpret from the text (which is unclear) is that "the truth about the water" means, to some organism, something like "more of it will make me fitter" - which is of course a subjective statement. If he defines truth to be subjective like that, then what a surprise that he concludes that we can't really see the world as is!


Quote
Generically, in the real world, that will never be the case. Something much more natural is a bell curve—say, too little water you die of thirst, but too much water you drown, and only somewhere in between is good for survival.

Great. We're in the same page then.

Quote
Now the fitness function doesn’t match the structure in the real world. And that’s enough to send truth to extinction.

Come fucking on. The only thing you proved is that you supposition about the fitness function being linear is wrong. He's litterally saying, "oh, the first shit theory off the top of my head about the complex behavior of animals is wrong - I guess that means no one can access reality!"

And of course he's still unclear what does he mean by truth. If the "truth" means the subjective thought of some animal that more water will always make it more fit then sure, that's completely extinct. I still can't see how it has much to do about us being able to know that water is H2O, for example.

Quote
For example, an organism tuned to fitness might see small and large quantities of some resource as, say, red, to indicate low fitness, whereas they might see intermediate quantities as green, to indicate high fitness.

Your point being? First, let me point out how computer-model-centric this is. The only reason some organism might see water as "red" or "green" and not, you know, larger and smaller sizes of water is if that's the only damn thing it's ever tracking. Yeah, sure, that's how evolution works, there's not payout for coordinating different kinds of information, specially the relative sizes of objects, right?

Also, so what if it interprets what it sees in a particular way? You could say the same thing about how we se color - "oh, you're not really seeing blue, you are only interpreting a certain kind of wavelength in a certain way". I think we can all agree this kind of thought is in general useless.

Quote
Its perceptions will be tuned to fitness, but not to truth. It won’t see any distinction between small and large—it only sees red—even though such a distinction exists in reality.

First of all, your last fucking sentences say the organism sees red AND green. That's a distinction. And of course it completely obviates actual, true biological complexity. For an organism to sense something, it needs to have a way to sense it - an eye for example. Now I know that in a computer you can just program it to sense something, but that doesn't make much sense in reality does it? And if an eye can't make distinctions it's an useless eye, probably not an eye at all. But if it can make distinctions - and the more corresponding to reality the better the organism's fitness - and on top of that the organism has the capability to reason and its species has a long tradition of industry to expand on the organism's natural capabilities of perception (e.g. building telescopes) and its societies have means of storing information and collecting data and comparing theories and... well, you get the point.
Everything comes to an end, reader. It is an old truism to which may be added that not everything that lasts, lasts for long. This latter part is not readily admitted; on the contrary the idea that an air castle lasts longer than the very air of which it is made is hard to get out of a person's head, and this is fortunate, otherwise the custom of making those almost eternal constructions might be lost.

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Re: I need someone smarter than me to parse this
« Reply #4 on: December 01, 2016, 01:38:31 pm »

I'm actually having trouble finishing the article, I'm just cringing too much. They referenced the hard problem of consciousness right at the beginning of the article without one mention of the guy who popularized the term, David Chalmers. Leaps of logic and half-baked metaphors abound. I don't think I can read it all


Maybe the hard problem is only hard because we're trying to solve it using consciousness. Like trying to measure a ruler using the ruler itself. Maybe there are finite limits to what a couple of pounds of meat is capable of understanding. Maybe consciousness is what happens when you have something really simple happening over and over, in parallel, at massive scale. We can just about grok what an individual neuron does with a signal or even a small group of them but, by the time your get to a couple of thousand, we're clueless. Millions? Billions? Forget it.

I'm not sure that's ever likely to change. Maybe scientific study of consciousness is impossible. Science can't even prove such a thing exists, never mind how it works. We'd almost certainly need a brand new language to describe it. Just grabbing a trendy branch of mathematics off the shelf doesn't look like it's going to get far.
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Re: I need someone smarter than me to parse this
« Reply #5 on: December 01, 2016, 01:56:17 pm »

I'm actually having trouble finishing the article, I'm just cringing too much. They referenced the hard problem of consciousness right at the beginning of the article without one mention of the guy who popularized the term, David Chalmers. Leaps of logic and half-baked metaphors abound. I don't think I can read it all


Maybe the hard problem is only hard because we're trying to solve it using consciousness. Like trying to measure a ruler using the ruler itself. Maybe there are finite limits to what a couple of pounds of meat is capable of understanding. Maybe consciousness is what happens when you have something really simple happening over and over, in parallel, at massive scale. We can just about grok what an individual neuron does with a signal or even a small group of them but, by the time your get to a couple of thousand, we're clueless. Millions? Billions? Forget it.

I'm not sure that's ever likely to change. Maybe scientific study of consciousness is impossible. Science can't even prove such a thing exists, never mind how it works. We'd almost certainly need a brand new language to describe it. Just grabbing a trendy branch of mathematics off the shelf doesn't look like it's going to get far.

Well yeah, sure, maybe we will never really understand it. Maybe there will be breakthroughs, but only in the next century or the one after that. We have no way of knowing that. Shouldn't stop us from trying, though. What I'm saying is the article is bad even by our early, rustic standards of "trying".
Everything comes to an end, reader. It is an old truism to which may be added that not everything that lasts, lasts for long. This latter part is not readily admitted; on the contrary the idea that an air castle lasts longer than the very air of which it is made is hard to get out of a person's head, and this is fortunate, otherwise the custom of making those almost eternal constructions might be lost.

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Re: I need someone smarter than me to parse this
« Reply #6 on: December 01, 2016, 02:36:47 pm »
What you said about philosophy rings true with me. Philosophy seems to have a grammar and language suited to examining consciousness which science totally lacks. Science likes objectivity. Consciousness is an entirely subjective phenomenon. I think the article in the OP is what happens when objective science tries to understand the wellspring of subjectivity. Sure, we might figure it out eventually but until then I expect there will be many more lulzfests like this.
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walking the fine line line between genius and batshit fucking crazy

"computation is a pattern in the spacetime arrangement of particles, and it’s not the particles but the pattern that really matters! Matter doesn’t matter." -- Max Tegmark

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Re: I need someone smarter than me to parse this
« Reply #7 on: December 01, 2016, 07:01:08 pm »
I think he's just another phlogiston salesman. I read his piece then looked at his TED talk: http://www.ted.com/talks/donald_hoffman_do_we_see_reality_as_it_is?share=1dfeab9462

"Brains and neurons have no causal powers [ . . . ] Brains and neurons are a species specific set of symbols; they are a hack" [c. 17:30]

Only one hack in this piece, and that would be Dr Hoffman.

Also, This thread needs more barstools


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Re: I need someone smarter than me to parse this
« Reply #8 on: December 01, 2016, 07:24:12 pm »
All very valid criticisms, but not really touching on the part of the article I found interesting, which was the bit about the math inferring that there is very likely a single-source origin for consciousness.
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Re: I need someone smarter than me to parse this
« Reply #10 on: December 01, 2016, 08:15:51 pm »
All very valid criticisms, but not really touching on the part of the article I found interesting, which was the bit about the math inferring that there is very likely a single-source origin for consciousness.

this question lead me down a little rabbit hole of investigating the evolution of the Corpus Callosum (that little gray poop which connects your left and right hemispheres)

I found this paper, but it is mostly conjecture - sounds like its still a big guessing game.

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Re: I need someone smarter than me to parse this
« Reply #11 on: December 02, 2016, 01:32:52 am »
This is right up my alley, but I don't have time at the moment to read it. I'll try to get to it tomorrow morning when I'm actually fresh and bushy-tailed and not fucking off on the internets while training an undergrad on the scope.
“I’m guessing it was January 2007, a meeting in Bethesda, we got a bag of bees and just started smashing them on the desk,” Charles Wick said. “It was very complicated.”


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Re: I need someone smarter than me to parse this
« Reply #12 on: December 02, 2016, 08:33:36 am »
This is right up my alley, but I don't have time at the moment to read it. I'll try to get to it tomorrow morning when I'm actually fresh and bushy-tailed and not fucking off on the internets while training an undergrad on the scope.

Awesome! I was really hoping to hear your take on this, I kinda figured it was in your wheelhouse.
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Re: I need someone smarter than me to parse this
« Reply #13 on: December 02, 2016, 04:18:58 pm »
This is all actually pretty standard perception stuff; reality isn't what we perceive, what we perceive is simply our limited and subjective interface with reality. It's not quite accurate to say that he has devised a mathematical model of consciousness, although he is working on one. I am not sure where the "god" part is coming from, I didn't get that out of it.

I have two quarrels with Hoffman that are basically the same quarrels I have with every old-school cognitive psychologist I've ever met; he likes to talk about quantum physics, but doesn't have a quantum physics background and doesn't understand it well enough to grasp why scientists who DO have quantum physics backgrounds say that it doesn't apply at a macro level. He also, like many classically trained psychologists, has a distinct bent toward believing that philosophy without evidence is adequate to form theory.

It is worth noting that he works with the Chopra Foundation and is a crony of Rupert Sheldrake. http://www.choprafoundation.org/speakers/donald-hoffman/
http://www.beliefnet.com/columnists/intentchopra/2012/09/set-science-free-a-review-by-donald-d-hoffman.html

Basically, while what he says about the nature of perception being well removed from the nature of reality is accurate, I would take his other claims and any extrapolations from those claims with a generous pinch of salt. Notice that he decries pretty much all neuroscientists; that is a big tip-off that he is firmly rooted in woo. When you disagree with an entire field about the fundamental nature of the work they are doing, but don't actually have enough of a science background to understand the work they are doing, you are probably the one in error.

Setting all that aside, Michael Shermer has a salient criticism of Hoffman's hypothesis that our perceptual reality has no pressure to conform to actual reality: http://www.michaelshermer.com/2015/11/perception-deception/#more-4721

I think that he is not entirely off the rails, but that he is operating with insufficient understanding of the physical science he decries. He made a few references that seem to verge on an opponent network theory of consciousness, which is the right direction IMO, but I think that his insistence on latching onto a woo-tainted understanding of quantum mechanics is holding him back. Not that quantum mechanics has no relevance in neural processing; it very well might, but unraveling that is going to require neurophysiologists with strong backgrounds in physics, rather than psychologists with behavioral modeling backgrounds.
“I’m guessing it was January 2007, a meeting in Bethesda, we got a bag of bees and just started smashing them on the desk,” Charles Wick said. “It was very complicated.”


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Re: I need someone smarter than me to parse this
« Reply #14 on: December 03, 2016, 07:23:14 am »
Thanks for the excellent critique!
Rabid Colostomy Hole Jammer of the Coming Apocalypse™

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Some yahoo yelled at me, saying 'GIVE ME LIBERTY OR GIVE ME DEATH', and I thought, "I'm feeling generous today.  Why not BOTH?"