Consciousness and The Interface Theory of Perception

Discussion in 'Critical Discussions Among Proponents and Skeptics' started by Sciborg_S_Patel, Mar 29, 2014.

  1. Paul C. Anagnostopoulos

    Paul C. Anagnostopoulos Nap, interrupted. Member

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    I understand that how we see M. genitalium is just part of our interface to the world. But if our perception of it is so far from reality that we can't even judge how much computing power it has for building the interface, nor judge that more "primitive" organisms probably have more primitive interfaces, nor speculate that the evolution of interfaces started with ones that were closer to reality (because there was not enough time or power to evolve a complex one), then how is this theory ever going to be anything but speculation? No matter what we say about it, we can always add "but we may not be seeing this as it really is."

    I think Hoffman may be painting himself in a corner with no way out.

    ~~ Paul
     
  2. Paul C. Anagnostopoulos

    Paul C. Anagnostopoulos Nap, interrupted. Member

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    Except, as David pointed out, our perception of "a small number of genes" may be completely off the mark.

    Hoffman uses computer icons as an example of an interface. Certainly the little icon representing a file is not very much like the file. However, when I delete it, the file is deleted. When I move it, the file moves. When I ask for properties, I see things that make sense for a file. Now let's consider how much different the real file might be. Perhaps when I delete the icon, the file is actually replicated 39 times and strewn across the universe, but not on my computer. Perhaps when I ask for the size of the file x, I'm really being told that there are sqrt{x} conscious entities each repeating sqrt(x) part of the file under its breath. Perhaps when I rename the file, I'm actually replicating the entire universe with one small change. And perhaps the light from the icon is really going into my nose.

    What is the scientific power of such speculation? Is it falsifiable? Can he develop a mathematical model of it?

    ~~ Paul
     
  3. David Bailey

    David Bailey Administrator

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    He does have a mathematical model that supposedly allows one to derive Newtonian mechanics and (I think) SR from a few simple hypotheses about his observers. This may suggest that our entire physics comes from the interaction of these things! Unfortunately, his proof is couched in a style of maths that I just could not penetrate. I'd be very interested if you could make any comments:

    http://www.cogsci.uci.edu/~ddhoff/ompref.html

    David
     
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  4. Stephen Wright

    Stephen Wright New

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    A lot to unpack. I am encouraged by the context of an ecological view of observers in environments. Math models like this, may make data crunched by the numbers form patterns. Analysis of these natural patterns can generate useful insight in modeling reality.

    I am not qualified to evaluate the math itself - but I look forward to commentary about it.
     
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  5. Stephen Wright

    Stephen Wright New

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    I found an article co-authored by Hoffman, which I had read with interest some time ago.
    http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00577/full

    I strongly agree with the authors' emphasis on the "tuning to fitness". I strongly disagree with Hoffman and Prakash about Direct Realism and with their interpretation of Gibson's Direct Realism as being devoid of information processing.
     
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  6. Paul C. Anagnostopoulos

    Paul C. Anagnostopoulos Nap, interrupted. Member

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    I'll have no more luck penetrating it than you. Here is an interesting, positive review of their theory. Note, however, that it does not mention the observer hypothesis.

    http://link.springer.com/article/10.3758/s13423-014-0742-y

    They discuss the idea that higher-level organisms should have more abstract models of the real world. As we discussed above, I'm not sure how we can really test this, since our view of other organisms could itself be abstracted. Perhaps the "simpler" organisms are really more complicated than the complicated ones, but our abstraction of the world flips the coin.

    ~~ Paul
     
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  7. Hieracosphinx

    Hieracosphinx Member

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    I think your intuitions about simple vs. complex organisms are leading you astray. An organism with a smaller brain, when hooked up to (say) a high-resolution camera, is not going to make decisions based on a less abstracted form of the raw pixel data. It's going to make a few basic judgements about brightness and shadows (most relevant to affordances / fitness function), then discard the rest. To use a mathematical analogy, if you don't have the brainpower to understand a bunch of numerical data, you can model it as random values taken from a normal distribution with a certain mean. As a mathematical model, a normal distribution would have absolutely nothing to do with the mechanics behind the original data, but you could still potentially use it to make decisions. (Edit: On the other hand, a complex organism can put more effort into moulding itself to the affordances, so the interface strategy still applies. It's a general principle, apparently.)

    In the video where he does a talk with Dennett and Chalmers, Hoffman refutes Dennett's objection that his virtual organisms are too simple to be realistic (i.e. the opposite argument), by saying he's done simulations at varying levels of complexity without finding any trend.
    Aren't you cheating here by working backwards? I wouldn't expect a race of beings who lived inside desktop interfaces to have an easy time inferring the existence of operating systems, hard drives, or transistors. At best they may develop a theory of file mechanics that has good predictive power but fails to capture the truth.
     
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  8. David Bailey

    David Bailey Administrator

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    That is a good article - vastly more penetrable than Hoffman's maths! I'd recommend everyone read it, to get a clearer idea of what Hoffman is on about.

    I am dubious about the whole concept of evolution by survival of the fittest, so I don't know that I believe this scenario - what do you think?

    David
     
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  9. Max_B

    Max_B Member

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    Briefly scanned it, I thought that was dumbed down Hoffman? The author extracting some parts that are not really controversial "...perception hides the truth..." which seems little more than saying the 'result' comes from a 'process'... I also balk at invoking the word 'truth'... I don't know if there is such a thing... difficult to call a process the truth... but if your going to use the term truth... I'm not sure why the result shouldn't be the 'truth' either.

    However I had a brief look at the 'Epilogue' in the Hoffman link you gave earlier... and that was fun reading, I can actually see why he wrote what I thought is an incorrect article on the spoon and the headache being the same thing. To him they are the same thing - as at page 5, he seems to envisage an 'instantiation cone', or, one thing building up complexity. Where as I see two things building up complexity. He seems to see a single 'thing' spread across observers, which I can see might be correct from a particular point of view. But it doesn't seem very useful... because he doesn't appear to deal with space-time.

    His 'instantiation cone' seems like a poorer version of my sense-of-space final diagram ( http://www.skeptiko-forum.com/posts/29304/ ). But he seems to be saying a similar thing...

    O: ...For dynamics near the top of the cone, close to O itself, the representation tends to be more "psychological" whereas as one goes down the cone the representation becomes more "neurobiological" and then more "physical" and then...., well there’s no bottom that we know of.

    I:
    Then you would deny a principled distinction between mind and body?

    O:
    Yes. "Mind" and "body" are convenient terms to distinguish between levels of the instantiation cone for a given observer. Higher levels, or rather an observer’s representation of the dynamics at these higher levels, are
    "mental." Somewhat lower levels are its "body"....​

    ... but I think how he gets there is incomplete, it's too simple, because he doesn't attempt to deal with space-time... and thus gravity/acceleration, and thus matter/energy. I can see for instance that degrees of freedom are correlated with the acceleration of matter...

    I accept that observers (whatever they are) are working together to produce our waking perception (coherence). But it's not very useful to merely suggest (show?) that. When what we really want to understand is why perception is the way it is... dealing with space-time is vital... it's vital to be able to break out of coherence, in some ordered way.
     
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  10. Paul C. Anagnostopoulos

    Paul C. Anagnostopoulos Nap, interrupted. Member

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    So we would assume from our view of the world, of organisms, of evolution, etc. But who's to say this view isn't abstracted from reality so much that we are being fooled?

    Sounds reasonable.

    Let's assume our assumption is correct that "simpler" organisms will build simpler abstractions. The simplest organisms could react to the influx of some chemicals. Eventually it could react to simple information from impinging light. Then we might get an organism that has a rudimentary ear. At what point would the interaction with the external world diverge from the conventional view of evolved interaction capabilities and become an official "interface"? We already know that we abstract our sensory inputs. When is that abstraction a Hoffman interface?

    I think they could infer more than you assume. At least they could infer every operational characteristic that finds its way into the interface, including the icon interface, file management interface, disk drive management interface, driver installation interface, etc. They could time disk I/O operations. But you are right that it would be tough to get down to magnetic recording surfaces and transistors.

    ~~ Paul
     
  11. Hieracosphinx

    Hieracosphinx Member

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    Well, it's supposed to be a general theory about perception. So it doesn't matter which organism and what kind of ground-truth we choose to illustrate the idea, as long as they're not 'humans' and 'naive realism as seen by humans' respectively. We can consider what an amoeba might get wrong about a world of concrete objects and forces, or we can imagine that humans might be wrong about a world of conscious agent networks.
    I'm not sure what you mean. I suppose more complex organisms may be more similar to ourselves, if their frequent possession of eyes and ears is anything to go by.

    I couldn't draw a bright line between interface theory and traditional scientific realism, which is probably the weakest part of the whole argument. A degree of separation between reality and perception is old hat. What he's added is the theoretical background that explains why the fundamental level might be hidden from us, beyond the simple limitations of the sensory organs.
    That's true. With enough time they can peel back deeper and deeper layers between the interface and the underlying system. They might be surprised at what they find, though. For example, the modern theory of file mechanics says that you can't actually move files, only copy them to another place and delete the original version! Of course, the ancient filesystem philosophers probably came up with that idea years ago. The lack of pixels may be another sticking point for their intuitions. We had definitely reached this stage with quantum mechanics. So you have to ask how many layers are left.

    If you go with the correspondence theory of truth, you can gauge the organism's perceptions by what they correspond to and how well. Since your perceptions are set up to have maximum mutual information with affordances, rather than with fundamental truth, you know less than you might think. To put it another way, there are extra degrees of freedom in the possible theories you can suggest. It doesn't entail that there is zero mutual information with fundamental truth, so you can still gain knowledge from your perceptions with enough effort. How you'd know when you've reached the bottom level, I wouldn't know, but the possibility to reach it is open. I'd guess a mixture of scientific parsimony and metaphysical considerations would be the best guide. So I take what Donald Hoffman is saying as an invitation to consider more radical interpretations of nature.
     
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  12. Stephen Wright

    Stephen Wright New

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    well ok! mutual information (Shannon) affordances (Gibson) and the correspondence theory of truth (T.Aquinas & E. Swedenborg) are all critical concepts for the modern information age, imho.

    But you relate mutual information with "fundamental" truth. I would separate Truth in a moral sense from the isomorphic structure of patterns corresponding with inputs and outcomes as truth tables. The latter are useful in applied science and the former not so much. Are fundamental truths the math patterns that describe physics? How are you using the term?
     
  13. Hieracosphinx

    Hieracosphinx Member

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    To be completely honest? I inserted 'fundamental' because it improved the look and cadence of the sentence it was in. I agree there's more to actual fundamental truth than, as you say, the structure of inputs and outputs.
     
  14. PorpoiseSeeker

    PorpoiseSeeker Member

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    I think the importance of Hoffman's work is his model of the universe as comprised entirely of Conscious Agents. To me, he is a pioneer in applying a scientific approach to understanding consciousness as fundamental rather than epiphenomenal of matter in motion. He is bold, claiming that (if correct) he will derive Quantum Theory, Relativity and Quantum Gravity from what I would call "the inside." He has succeeded in demonstrating an equivalence between his model of a group of interacting conscious agents and Schrodinger's Wave Equation for an elementary particle. I can't comment on whether he actually "derived" a piece of QM, but his equation is identical term for term as the specific wave equation including the square root of -1. Has anybody else done anything close to this?
    He claims he has theorems that show how networks of interacting Conscious Agents function as a higher level Conscious Agent with indefinite levels of such embedding. Extrapolating to us, we are Conscious Agents that fit his 6-tuple model--messages (2) come to Conscious_Agent_me from the World (1) and are Experienced (3), then processed with who knows what constraints until a "choice" is made (4), and an Action is taken (5). Action means sending a message (6) back to the World (1). And then recall, that the World (1) is comprised entirely of Conscious Agents. He aspires to develop this Conscious Agent model to be analogous to a universal Turing machine.
     
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  15. David Bailey

    David Bailey Administrator

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    Right - his theory is extremely radical, and seems to amount to a form of Idealism.
    He has a book "Observer Dynamics" that for me, became totally impenetrable just about the point where he started to discuss the derivation of space-time and QM from his ideas. Have you managed to penetrate that further, or have you found another exposition of his ideas?

    Alex told me that he once interviewed Hoffman for Skeptiko. He never published the interview, and I was never sure if this was because of technical sound quality issues, or something else. I really wish he would do another interview (if necessary) and publish it!

    Welcome to the forum - it is always pleasing when a new member starts with a substantial topic!

    David
     
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  16. Baccarat

    Baccarat New

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    I didn't know where to post this, simple question. If consciousness is outside of the brain.Why does the direct force let's say getting hit by a car kill you (In this instance) if consciousness was not limited to your mind, why does your body die? Why does the consciousness seem to short circuit and go haywire if its not created by the brain and your body eventually dies? Then again consciousness is energy also?
     
  17. Typoz

    Typoz Member

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    Are you changing horses in midstream here? First the car kills 'you', then that was modified to it being the body which dies. It's fairly straightforward, being hit by a car can destroy physical things, whether it is another car which is destroyed, or a rather less substantial human body. There's no mystery there. The question is, do we identify with the body as being who we are? Even those blessed with almost perfect physical bodies still have an inner life which is in some way unrelated to that body, physical perfection doesn't tell us anything about the inner turmoil which can be raging within.

    Are you saying when hit by the car, that "consciousness seem to short circuit and go haywire"? I'm not sure what you mean by that. Certainly NDE reports don't use such terminology, instead they express things in terms of a sudden lack of pain, greater clarity of thought, ... and a whole range of other concepts which don't seem 'haywire' but rather seem more lucid than usual.
     
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  18. Stephen Wright

    Stephen Wright New

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    This is where science helps! Consciousness is measured in terms of phenomenal experience and mental output. These are measured not by the standard units of energy in physics - but in units that correspond to information. Consciousness can structure and organize energy - but is not energy.
     
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  19. malf

    malf Member

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    I guess we focus on death because it's something we all have in our futures. Unfortunately, "what happens to consciousness at death" is very tricky to study for some obvious reasons.

    I suspect we can learn far more about the nature of consciousness by studying and researching the emergence of our conscious experience at the other end of life.
     
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  20. David Bailey

    David Bailey Administrator

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    Consciousness is only measured in terms of information is a book (which contains information) is somewhat conscious. A decent library should be quite significantly conscious in that case!

    David
     
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