Dr. Donald Hoffman, Materialism’s Final Death Blow? |436|

#1
Dr. Donald Hoffman, Materialism’s Final Death Blow? |436|
by Alex Tsakiris | Jan 7 | Consciousness Research, Consciousness Science


Dr. Donald Hoffman has proposed a rigorous mathematical model of consciousness that leaves materialism out of the equation.
photo by: Skeptiko
I have an interview coming up in a minute with Dr. Donald Hoffman, who is, well, he’s a really, really smart University of California Irvine professor, known for his work in consciousness and known for being the first guy to propose a truly rigorous mathematical model for understanding consciousness. Here’s a clip.
Alex Tsakiris: [00:00:26] Are we preparing for another version of shut up and calculate?
Dr. Donald Hoffman: [00:00:32] So one reason why scientists do mathematical theories is because they surprise us, they become smarter than us, and eventually we become the students of the theory.
I do agree that consciousness is the fundamental reality and that it transcends any of our theories and getting a direct connection with that conscious experience is very, very important. I actually spend time every day in meditation doing exactly that.

Alex Tsakiris: [00:01:02] And stick around after the interview for some analysis with me and Dr. Rich Grego:
Dr. Rich Grego: [00:01:07] Everybody has their metaphysical interpretation of the math and they have math that backs up their interpretation, but the math isn’t the interpretation.
 
#2
Wow - I have been looking forward to this interview for a long time!

One hour forty minutes of listening, will take me some time to chew through, and I do hope that Prof Hoffman will join us on this thread for further discussions. I have some questions I would like to ask them, but I will wait until after I have listened to the whole interview before I pose my main question.

David
 
#3
Wow - I have been looking forward to this interview for a long time!

One hour forty minutes of listening, will take me some time to chew through, and I do hope that Prof Hoffman will join us on this thread for further discussions. I have some questions I would like to ask them, but I will wait until after I have listened to the whole interview before I pose my main question.

David
yeah, I've been sitting on it for awhile. wanted to get Rich to chime in (many thx to him... good stuff)... then decided to wait until after holidays :)
 
#4
First I think I would like to puncture somewhat the idea that maths is all powerful. I mean the situation for ordinary QM (no Relativistic or other effects) applied to chemistry, is a bit depressing:

You can get an exact solution for the wave function for the hydrogen atom - one proton and one electron. The wave function is a function of the 3 coordinates plus time - 4 variables. (the coordinates of the nucleus can be eliminated by a mathematical transformation).

Beyond that, you have to use various approximations. For example, the helium atom (taking the nucleus as one particle of charge 2) has the nucleus and two electrons that dance around each other (because all three have charge) and the Schroedinger equation is much more complicated just to write down, and has to be solved by approximation. The wave function is a function of 7 variables - time and the 3 coordinates of the two electrons.

As you go to small molecules, you have a wave function that is a function of far more variables. All kinds of crude approximations start to creep in. For example, perhaps you only really model the outer shell of electrons, and treat the inner ones as a sort of charge soup!

Now take a single cell of your body - yes in principle it is supposed to be governed by QM, but nobody can possibly check that because treating the system quantum mechanically is unthinkable!

Maths can fail in other ways - for example even classical mechanics can demonstrate chaos, where the slightest perturbation of the input data (which is never known precisely) can generate wildly different answers.


What I am getting at is that maths can be smothered by complexity, and I suspect any model of reality is going to face the same problem. So for example if you have N identical conscious agents some analysis might be tractable, but what if all these agents are distinct - each with their own personality?

This reality didn't seem to feature in all the talk of precision mathematical models.

All that does not detract from the fact that this was a very inspiring interview from both interviewees, and I will have lots more to say, but it is getting rather late over here tonight!

Alex, I do hope both your guests find time to come and discuss with us on the forum.

David
 
#5
Dr. Donald Hoffman, Materialism’s Final Death Blow? |436|
by Alex Tsakiris | Jan 7 | Consciousness Research, Consciousness Science


Dr. Donald Hoffman has proposed a rigorous mathematical model of consciousness that leaves materialism out of the equation.
photo by: Skeptiko
I have an interview coming up in a minute with Dr. Donald Hoffman, who is, well, he’s a really, really smart University of California Irvine professor, known for his work in consciousness and known for being the first guy to propose a truly rigorous mathematical model for understanding consciousness. Here’s a clip.
Alex Tsakiris: [00:00:26] Are we preparing for another version of shut up and calculate?
Dr. Donald Hoffman: [00:00:32] So one reason why scientists do mathematical theories is because they surprise us, they become smarter than us, and eventually we become the students of the theory.
I do agree that consciousness is the fundamental reality and that it transcends any of our theories and getting a direct connection with that conscious experience is very, very important. I actually spend time every day in meditation doing exactly that.

Alex Tsakiris: [00:01:02] And stick around after the interview for some analysis with me and Dr. Rich Grego:
Dr. Rich Grego: [00:01:07] Everybody has their metaphysical interpretation of the math and they have math that backs up their interpretation, but the math isn’t the interpretation.
Great interview Alex

One point that stuck out at me where I was thinking you would push back was toward the end when you got into parapsychology and mentioned obe's. He responded that they had been explained in some sort of testing with magnetism in a part of the brain (I think the parietal lobe) which could induce an obe at will. From what I remember of those tests is that they gave a person the illusion of being out of their body but did not produce any paranormal veridical perception similar to nde's, remote viewing etc. and were basically used to dismiss paranormal claims the way g force and lack of oxygen was used to explain away obe's. He also used the weakest or the least robust examples in parapsychology – meta-analysis. I could see how that would win him points in the mainstream and allow him to stay in the game perhaps - at any rate he seemed to infer that his approach in proving consciousness as primary through math would open the door for deeper spiritual realization and would not have to depend upon the proving or disproving any form of psi. He seems to be making an end run around various controversies. It will be interesting to see how it plays out.
 
#7
Great interview Alex

One point that stuck out at me where I was thinking you would push back was toward the end when you got into parapsychology and mentioned obe's. He responded that they had been explained in some sort of testing with magnetism in a part of the brain (I think the parietal lobe) which could induce an obe at will. From what I remember of those tests is that they gave a person the illusion of being out of their body but did not produce any paranormal veridical perception similar to nde's, remote viewing etc. and were basically used to dismiss paranormal claims the way g force and lack of oxygen was used to explain away obe's. He also used the weakest or the least robust examples in parapsychology – meta-analysis. I could see how that would win him points in the mainstream and allow him to stay in the game perhaps - at any rate he seemed to infer that his approach in proving consciousness as primary through math would open the door for deeper spiritual realization and would not have to depend upon the proving or disproving any form of psi. He seems to be making an end run around various controversies. It will be interesting to see how it plays out.
yes, I agree... and I remember that moment in the interview :) when and where to interrupt/push-back? but no doubt -- DH is a prize... great thinker.
 
#8
An interesting show in that it affirmed that serious scientists were taking the potential of a post-materialist mindset very seriously> But I was bemused by the gentle defence of those satisfied with the materialist model, hugging the heroic illusion of Galileo [imperfectly apprehended] to provide comfort and justification for radically preferring materialism over the alternative. Galileo was not a materialist. It does seem that he may have been a bit mouthy and intemperate in pushing his science over Church dogma.

There are several things to remember about Galileo. The first is that he was treated with kid gloves by the Church, which imprisoned tortured and murdered magicians. Disputed between science and doctrine are not uncommon, especially amongst scientists themselves. So [the second point] holding Galileo up as some kind of intellectual martyr is more fantasy than reality.

Using Galileo to justify materialism misunderstands the role materialism has played as a critical counterpoint to theology and dogma - but not because it presumed God did not exist - rather [in proper sceptical fashion] God could not be said to exist on the basis of the evidence provided by scientific inquiry. However, predicating a whole philosophy on the absence of evidence provided by a narrow band of inquiry should hardly strike anybody as a sensible thing to do.

I recall Dawkins absurdly asserting that one could not do good science if one had a religious belief. He could not countenance the alternative - that one could not do good science without a religious belief. The argument that materialistic science has served us well with all the marvels that have been drawn from its fruits is profoundly misleading. There is something missing - something moral and holistic.

For me mathematics is the purest representation of 'head' consciousness - but it is only half of the human whole. The other half - 'heart' consciousness - is beautifully expressed in poetry and myth.
 
#9
I was very impressed by how open DH was with you. When it came to the issue of evolution, he said something like, "I assumed evolution by natural selection is true because most of my colleagues do". This seemed to leave open the alternative possibility - that evolution by natural selection is false, and that space-time is rather more than an icon on a desktop!

I hoped you would pursue that, or that DH will join us and discuss that!

I mean if you apply Occam's razor, which possibility seems better:

1) One rather imprecise nineteenth century theory is wrong.

or

2) The whole of space-time and matter are illusory!

My view, of course, is that there is a mass of evidence showing that the bulk of evolution cannot have been powered by natural selection.

David
 
#10
I think DH's work is part of a bigger picture that science itself is also painting. There is still a strong materialistic dominance but even physics "the fundamental science" is contemplating that the fundamental reality is one of information. Local realism fails the tests. In the formal sense we hear of information as fundamental and in the philosophical sense we here of consciousness being fundamental. These things are however intertwined. Quantum physics shows the knower and the known are inseparable. Like back and front.

Entangled particles having location and instantaneously affecting other suggest that space is a sort of a construction. In truth the information is entangled in a spaceless and timeless dimension where they are not separated. Likewise the quantum eraser appears to show how decisions in the present can affect the past. The information is entangled at the source outside of time. Time and space both emerge from something more fundamental.

The mathematics can also be applied to conscious processes of thought and decision making. Giving rise to the field of quantum cognition. Suggesting our thought process is like that of the probability wave. Not that they appear similar but are in fact the same thing. Someday this may indeed mesh with quantum biology.

So in essence we see some relationship to the mathematical formalism of the probability wave that is independent of time and space and that of consciousness. Thoughts and concepts themselves are also not physical but are still real. I can certainly see how this relates. Perhaps the Hilbert space is just the mathematical description of what is source consciousness?

In Jung's psychology behind the ego we have the individual unconscious and behind that we have the collective unconscious emerging from outside of time and space. Access to this can explain para psychological phenomena.

"...There are things in the psyche which I do not produce, but which produce themselves and have their own life." - Carl jung

Personalities can split. Even in our dreams we project alters that appear to have their own consciousness. Bernardo's view takes it further that we are also alters of the cosmic mind. I have related to it before as a fractal structure. As DH says when agents interact they can be modeled as one. Individualism would likely extend into the collective unconsciousness as well. Entities, angels demons, ET, whatever you would like to call them.

I theorize that certain molecules (neurotransmitters) that can alter consciousness do so by way of quantum interference in quantum cognition.

I can't think of a better way to describe the DMT realm then "as a network of conscious agents." outside of time and space. That is spot on IMO.
 
#11
The mathematics can also be applied to conscious processes of thought and decision making. Giving rise to the field of quantum cognition. Suggesting our thought process is like that of the probability wave.
That is new to me. Does this discipline treat the wavefunction as complex (or at least oscillating positive and negative) so that it includes interference effects?

David
 
#12
That is new to me. Does this discipline treat the wavefunction as complex (or at least oscillating positive and negative) so that it includes interference effects?

David
It is new to me as well. I think the Wiki article is fair.

....A decision process is thus an intrinsically contextual process, hence it cannot be modeled in a single Kolmogorovian probability space, which justifies the employment of quantum probability models in decision theory. More explicitly, the paradoxical situations above can be represented in a unified Hilbert space formalism where human behavior under uncertainty is explained in terms of genuine quantum aspects, namely, superposition, interference, contextuality and incompatibility.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quantum_cognition
 
#14
It is new to me as well. I think the Wiki article is fair.



https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quantum_cognition

Okay LS. Do you want to translate that into plain English? Not all of us read Nerd.

I was listening to an interview on Whitley Strieber's podcast on the theme of precognition. Under discussion was the proposition that our consciousness did not simply inhabit our 'now' but functions in a fuzzy zone that embraces past and future. We can know about the future now because of that part of our consciousness that is already there - more or less. But that extension is not temporal in essence. The 'I' we think of as us is essentially a point of awareness in a section of a chain of events which are, of necessity, both determined into infinity and are indeterminate at every stage.

There is a very useful book written in 1942 by A.E. White - The Unobstructed Universe. It translates Time as Receptivity, Space as Conductivity and Motion as Frequency. White says that Receptivity, Conductivity and Frequency are the 3 constituents of being. His point is that thinking about 'reality' from a material perspective is not sufficient to enable us to grasp the nature of the non-material dimension of being. We need language that is not 3D in essence.

White isn't Quantum Science - more Quantum Metaphysics. The conceptual framework of Receptivity, Conductivity and Frequency is immensely difficult to internalise and use an alternative descriptor for material reality - just because our minds don't do that jump readily.

I have great respect for Quantum Science, and I do think it is the future of where scientific thought must go to make the jump into the integrated potential that has been long latent in deep metaphysical and mythic systems. However there must be a balancing non-nerd discourse that helps the non-scientific types to work through the psychological and cultural shifts that must accompany the heavy duty intellectual ones that only a few can make.

So you can't have the nerd discussion to yourselves. You have to embrace the likes of White, De Marco, Roberts and Strieber. A critical consideration is that if you don't embrace and employ the others you will have no idea when you start talking and thinking bollocks.
 
#15
I can't think of a better way to describe the DMT realm then "as a network of conscious agents." outside of time and space. That is spot on IMO.
And then let's let that image permeate everything. Reality is a network of conscious agents in holographic expression maybe? The thing about any sense of The One is that it must be sub-divided into the many - organised into the myriad forms and hierarchies. We can choose our math mentality as progression by multiplication from the One to the Many or division from the One to the Many. As a matter of metaphysical bias I elect the latter.

The ancients saw what we call 'Gods' as coherent manifestations of natural forces - both physical and metaphysical. We are hamstrung by language - gods is a terrible term for us because we so misunderstand it - as Christians and materialists desire. But these 'gods' are expressions of organised and coherent energies - expressing as physical and metaphysical agencies.

Not just networks but networks organised into agencies with discernible intent. The Greek philosopher, Thales, opined that 'everything is full of gods' - everything is conscious.

The notion that any reality is as a network of conscious agents." outside of time and space is fundamental - but organised in what manner? And according to what ethos?
 
#16
I think this was quite a good interview, and I liked the way Alex brought in Grego. Pity he couldn't also have tempted Bernardo to come in and comment too, but doubtless he tried.

I also liked the way Alex explored spirituality with Hoffman, who seems delicately poised between being a scientist and being spiritually aware. I say bully for Hoffman: I think he's displaying courage tempered with the pragmatic attitude needed to help change the prevailing materialist paradigm.

I still can't say for sure what Hoffman means by "conscious agent". Does he mean agents that are conscious, or consciousness that works through agency? Does he lean more towards panpsychism, or towards idealism? What does he think about Bernardo's metaphor of living beings as dissociated alters of M@L? Of the inanimate elements of the universe as being how M@L's native and non-self-reflective consciousness appear to our perception? So many questions left unanswered, but I hope Dr. Hoffman will make an appearance here and say something about his opinions on such matters.

I get the point that in using mathematics as his principal means of approaching the problem, as well as his lip-service to natural selection (and is lip service all it is, just a means of appearing to connect with mainstream views?), he's using whatever tools and concepts that might be available and acceptable. Mind you, as regards maths, I wonder if it has much of a chance of doing more than acting as a kind of metaphor pointing to the truth rather than being truth itself.

He does seem to me to be aware of the limitations of mathematics, if only because he indulges in spiritual meditative practices. If maths were all that one needed to explain the truth, what need would one have for meditative practices? He must know that the only organ we possess to evaluate and explain anything whatsoever is our localised consciousness. He, and all self-reflective beings, are conscious entities that can use their consciousness to examine consciousness. That's inevitably recursive and somewhat circular. There's only so far it can take us. I'm not saying it isn't better than the standard materialist shtick, only that it has its limitations.

How to escape from the recursiveness, the circularity? How to directly apprehend reality as it actually is? This is where things like meditative practice might come in. As long as Dr. Hoffman retains an awareness that his tentative model of reality isn't actually reality, and in essence is able to "fact check" against his meditative awareness, I suspect he'll continue on a productive path. I for one certainly find him a refreshingly original and humble thinker and wish him well in his endeavours.
 
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#17
I enjoyed this interview a lot, as well. Hoffman has an enjoyable vibe to him; he always seems so passionate and excited and that is infectious. I don't quite grasp every last detail of his ideas--but it all sounds pretty cool. More power to him if over the next decade or two he can resolve the mathematical models he's working on and "get" the laws of physics out of his models of concsciousness (or whatever it is he's trying to do on that front.)

I also like his epistemological humility, though I like to play around with trying to be even more epistemologically humble.

I also liked the second little interview with Grego. I was pleasantly surprised to hear the discussion revolve around to radical doubt (Neti Neti Neti) as well as poetry and art, which harkens back to comments I made in the previous discussion with Michael Dowd. In my view, art is a way to express ideas as if the expressions are representations of psychological states in my consciousness ... instead of expressing an idea as if it's a representation of "Reality".

In this way of looking at things, the idea of Reality or Truth are useful in some ways but not Ultimately Useful. The usefulness of the idea of Reality or Truth have limitations in this way of looking at things.

I consider this to be a form of expression (and thought) that is closer to art. In some kinds of art practice, the expression is made based on its usefulness to the artist and possibly to the community, but the expression does not pretend to be an exact "Representation of Absolute True Reality" nor does the expression pretend that the idea of Reality or Truth are useful in unlimited ways.

It is useful for me to consider that the idea of evaluating ideas based on how well they represent Absolute True Reality is a common idea and it is useful to a degree, but it can be less useful in some contexts and for some specific purposes than, say, the idea of evaluating ideas based on their USEFULNESS for certain human physical needs, desires, goals, intentions, etc.

He, and all self-reflective beings, are conscious entities that can use their consciousness to examine consciousness. That's inevitably recursive and somewhat circular. There's only so far it can take us. I'm not saying it isn't better than the standard materialist shtick, only that it has its limitations.

How to escape from the recursiveness, the circularity? How to directly apprehend reality as it actually is? This is where things like meditative practice might come in. As long as Dr. Hoffman retains an awareness that his tentative model of reality isn't actually reality, and in essence is able to "fact check" against his meditative awareness, I suspect he'll continue on a productive path. I for one certainly find him a refreshingly original and humble thinker and wish him well in his endeavours.
In the view I am exploring, the idea of "reality as it actually is" is itself an idea that has limited value. I like to play around with the idea that "reality as it actually is" is not an Absolutely Necessary Idea for the continuation of human affairs. In this view, anything we think of us as reality can be thought of as useful ideas. It is useful to consider that there are brush fires in Australia. It is useful to consider that I'm sitting at my dining room table pounding away at my laptop.

I liked Alex's comment from the end of the talk with Grego:

"it’s the inquiry to perpetuate doubt and continually doubting, continually saying, “We’re not there yet,” which I do respect and appreciate about Hoffman; “This can’t possibly be right, and this will undoubtedly be proven wrong. ... That, in a way, is the deepest, most profound spiritual thing he can say. And I’d say the same thing, you know, it’s the neti, neti, neti, not this, not this, not this, kind of thing. For me that is not only an axiom but it is maybe closer to an ultimate truth, that if we ever think we’re getting toward some answer to this, then we are, as you said, we need to kind of check ourselves, because we’re moving further away.”


So this is the way I'm trying to write my posts... For me, with my background in creative arts, it's a natural thing to want to try to work the Form of my expressions (forum posts) with the Function (practicing experiencing the limits of the notion of ultimate truth). The way for me to do this is to continuously try to suggest that I am expressing A VIEW (one view among many) and that I find it to be a useful view. I'm specifcally trying NOT TO make my explorations have the FORM and FUNCTION of an ARGUMENT FOR A UNIVERSAL TRUTH or suggest that this view is the One Ultimately Correct View. I do not think it is the One Ultimately Correct Way of Looking of at Things. It is useful for me to consider that there may not BE one ultimately correct way of looking at things. But I can't formulate that as an affirmative Truth Proposition in the FORM of an affirmative argument, because then it becomes a self-contradiction or a paradox.

Not to play 'gotcha' with Alex's quote, but where he mentions "it is maybe closer to an ultimate truth" is verging on falling into that paradox.... at least he hedged it with "maybe". ;)

 
#18
(and is lip service all it is, just a means of appearing to connect with mainstream views?),
Yes, that is probably the best way to look at it. Absent the DH interpretation, it would seem to be another hole in neo-Darwinism.

Maybe DH chuckles to himself that academia has allowed him to promote this radical idea by ostensibly supporting RM_NS!

I was sorry Alex didn't put the alternative interpretation to him - but it can be hard to get everything into an interview like that.

In a way, I think both interpretations end up at a rather similar point. They both imply that consciousness is dominant if not everything.

David
 
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