The Case Against Reality | Prof. Donald Hoffman on Conscious Agent Theory

#21
I love all this stuff.
I used to think that rocks and plastic and such were the unconscious accoutrements that God made available on the stage that conscious objects play their part on. However, I like the idea that the Sun and Earth themselves are conscious, as do many others. So is a rock the equivalent of a chunk of dead wood? That once upon a time was conscious when existing as lava many years ago.
I think it’s important (for me) to think of everything, whether rocks or plants or human beings, as divine creation.
I'm with you there Steve, taking it a bit further I think it it easier to conceive the universe as being an organism and also having a immaterial consciousness or spirit. We may not consider our bones to be conscious but they are part of a conscience being. Like the mountains of the Earth part of the body of a conscious Earth. Whether or not someone believes it is literal does not matter, it is a healthy way to think.
 
#22
What is a conscious agent? This is what I have gathered from his own words.

A conscious agent is something that has experiences, based on experience it can make decisions and can take actions, actions affect reality and in turn reality projects perceptions. Conscious agents are non physical existing outside space and time.

So from these interactions the formats can be extrapolated "booted up". Formats such as space, time and matter. This is a distinguishing feature from that of panpsychism. It would in my opinion be more in the philosophical realm of idealism.
So are subatomic particles projections of conscious agents? Are more complex apparent arrangements of particles projections of corresponding conscious agents? If so, might this not be another framing of panpsychism?

Also, I don't quite see how conscious agents can be "outside space and time". Space and time, according to DH (if I understand him correctly), are icons. They are secondary and phenomenal, the representation of reality to perception. Space and time are just aspects of how we perceive reality. Nothing is "outside space and time" because "space and time" don't literally exist.

It seems, if this is what DH is saying (as opposed to the way you've expressed what you think he's saying), then it seems to me he's attempting to explain noumena in terms of phenomena, which is the wrong way round. Noumena are the primary reality. Whatever it is that the experience of space and time represents to our perception is theoretically completely unknown, completely mysterious.

It seems conjectural to imagine that somewhere in this mysterious realm of noumena there are conscious agents that can have experiences and project them into our phenomenal realm. It seems almost as if we are but shadow puppets acting out their experiences -- but why? What need is there for us and why do we seem to evolve?

I'm not arguing with you or expressing any argument against DH. I'm simply musing on this concept of a "conscious agent" which I'd like to hear being fully expurgated by DH himself. It seems at first blush plausible, but the more one thinks about it, the more confusing it seems to get. Maybe he'd be able to clarify... :)
 
#23
So are subatomic particles projections of conscious agents? Are more complex apparent arrangements of particles projections of corresponding conscious agents? If so, might this not be another framing of panpsychism?
I think the difference is that yes, physical matter is the projection of consciousness. Where as in panpsychism, consciousness is a quality of physical matter.

Also, I don't quite see how conscious agents can be "outside space and time". Space and time, according to DH (if I understand him correctly), are icons. They are secondary and phenomenal, the representation of reality to perception. Space and time are just aspects of how we perceive reality. Nothing is "outside space and time" because "space and time" don't literally exist.
If it is consciousness that is fundamental then it precedes space and time, it exists in our perceptions. To go further we could say that the "I" does not exist. We should not look at ourselves as being separate from the whole. It is temporal space that gives the illusion of the "I'. You are the universe, all the gods do not exist outside of you, they exist within you. Despite what most believe the outside world is as much part of the self as the inner world. We are incarnations of divinity, the universe perceiving itself. This is the fractalness of consciousness I was inferring. Each part contains the whole. These are very difficult concepts to convey. This is the experience of satori or nirvana.

This is my belief, but it is also what sages have been saying for thousands of years. To think of it another way is to say that there is only one consciousness.

It seems, if this is what DH is saying (as opposed to the way you've expressed what you think he's saying), then it seems to me he's attempting to explain noumena in terms of phenomena, which is the wrong way round. Noumena are the primary reality. Whatever it is that the experience of space and time represents to our perception is theoretically completely unknown, completely mysterious.
Hmm.. I not quite sure I follow. But yes noumena in terms of phenomena would be the wrong way around.

It seems conjectural to imagine that somewhere in this mysterious realm of noumena there are conscious agents that can have experiences and project them into our phenomenal realm. It seems almost as if we are but shadow puppets acting out their experiences -- but why? What need is there for us and why do we seem to evolve?
This goes very deep, I'd refer back to the concept of the irreducible universal self. You, we, are the universe. I am hesitant to go into our predicament of why we exist in this realm of duality except to say that our evolution is to discover our own divinity.

Forgive me I am interjecting a lot of my personal belief here, I cannot of course speak for Donald.

I'm not arguing with you or expressing any argument against DH. I'm simply musing on this concept of a "conscious agent" which I'd like to hear being fully expurgated by DH himself. It seems at first blush plausible, but the more one thinks about it, the more confusing it seems to get. Maybe he'd be able to clarify... :)
I completely understand. All good points Michael.
 
#25
I'm not arguing with you or expressing any argument against DH. I'm simply musing on this concept of a "conscious agent" which I'd like to hear being fully expurgated by DH himself.
Hopefully he will, however my take on that, is that a conscious agent is not reducible to inert matter - it takes decisions that can't be explained in terms of fundamental particles interacting with each other.

The other thing I'd like to say, is that the number of particles in the universe is something unfathomably vast - 10^80 gets bandied about, but I don't suppose anyone has counted them.

If reality is an illusion created by conscious agents, I don't see why they couldn't use the VR trick, whereby matter is only simulated to the level approximation that is actually required.

David
 
#26
Some studies on the default mode network of the brain do imply that there are particular centers that relate to what Donald would call our interface. Very fundamental things such as the self, objectivity and the self relating to time.

There are two main centers of an eleven center network that comprise the default mode network.


The two centers are the posterior cingulate cortex (PCC) and anterior medial prefontal cortex (aMPFC) These are in yellow in the diagram. Outside of the are two other sub networks of nine cores.

One of these relates to our experience of self and other, this separates you from the outside world, this creates the separateness in our conscious experience. If this network shuts down there is no other and you have oneness. Everything is one. eg.. You are the universe.

Shut down the other one, self and time disappears. You no longer have any sense of time except the eternal now.

When they have both shut down, we have the mystical experience of timeless oneness. Satori.

Isn't it peculiar that these nodes in the brain are controlling something that we would consider to be not a part of our brain but would naturally exist in an apparent outside world.

I believe these centers and in general the default mode network to be in part what is projecting the "desktop" of reality that we perceive in regular states of consciousness. It is the grey matter in your head that prevents you from knowing the truth of the eternal irreducible universal self.

It is possible to deactivate these centers, strangely enough both meditation and psilocybin have been discovered to do just that.
 
#27
Isn't it peculiar that these nodes in the brain are controlling something that we would consider to be not a part of our brain but would naturally exist in an apparent outside world.
Maybe not so peculiar if these "nodes in the brain" aren't controlling anything, so much as being how certain processes occurring in the mind of M@L appear to the perception of its dissociated entities (aka human beings).

Maybe we shouldn't talk in terms of material objects as literally existing and controlling human experience and behaviour. Maybe we shouldn't sit on the fence and talk part in terms of materialism and part in terms of idealism.

Just a thought...
 
#28
Maybe not so peculiar if these "nodes in the brain" aren't controlling anything, so much as being how certain processes occurring in the mind of M@L appear to the perception of its dissociated entities (aka human beings).

Maybe we shouldn't talk in terms of material objects as literally existing and controlling human experience and behaviour. Maybe we shouldn't sit on the fence and talk part in terms of materialism and part in terms of idealism.

Just a thought...
I think I get what your saying, since after all these nodes in the brain and the brain itself are Icons.. I think that's definitely worth keeping in mind.. I think what we would have is a two way interaction. For example you could shut down these nodes and have the experience, or you can have the experiences and the nodes shutdown. They then have no true causative power and only are an image of what the process looks like.

If that is what you are talking about.
 
#29
To me, what he means by "conscious agent" (which has been said by others albeit with different words) is:

A nexus of consciousness that reflects on experience in a self referential way. The conscious agent needs a perception of self and not self for the agency to appear... and which appears simultaneously to that which is perceived "not it." Seems one cannot exist without the other. One cannot arise without the other. What I suspect is not something folks like to think possible... that the observer and the observed arise simultaneously... and when I say "observer" I mean the immaterial conscious agent, not a body-vehicle it might think "it" is.

IMO the body-vehicle and the reality perceived within which the body vehicle exists is a single "thing" that ties the conscious agent into a sub-reality some call physicality. When the conscious agent releases its perception of "being anchored" in physicality, it drops its body thus also, that physical reality. Yet it certainly could retain its agency whereby it now may experience a "less dense" outer reality such as described by an astral traveler or someone who had an NDE (as two examples). The dynamic remains in this "other" less dense but still loosely parameterized sub-reality... and that certainly there can be all sorts of sub-realities headed towards what might be seen as "annihilation" of the perception of self whereby consciousness remains yet agency has vanished.
 
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#30
I think I get what your saying, since after all these nodes in the brain and the brain itself are Icons.. I think that's definitely worth keeping in mind.. I think what we would have is a two way interaction. For example you could shut down these nodes and have the experience, or you can have the experiences and the nodes shutdown. They then have no true causative power and only are an image of what the process looks like.

If that is what you are talking about.
Yes. It's maybe a question of where the causality lies. We are so accustomed to thinking in terms of causation between what we take as literal objects on the one hand, and events on the other. Whenever we perceive object X interacting with other objects in a certain manner, we reliably see event Y occurring; and so we say that X's interactions cause Y rather than their being correlated with Y. But if X and its interactions are merely appearances to perception, or icons, then Y could be the cause.

In a lot of circumstances, the materialist way of looking at things is very useful, and indeed is the basis for the practical, empirical science (i.e. engineering) that has brought us everything from microwave ovens to computers and battleships. It's all the more convincing because we can seemingly engineer (i.e. cause to happen), events that have never happened before based solely on predictions based in turn on a logic of object interactions.

But the thing is, the logic of such thinking isn't itself anything concrete. It's a set of ideas that we have to verify through empirical testing if we are to have confidence in our inventions. In that sense, I see us as conscious agents that can, through our premeditated action, produce (apparent) objects that actually work.

The explanatory framework for why they work places the causality on them, and their interactions. Like I said, that has much practical utility; and if that's as far as we went, merely employing materialism consciously as a tool rather than an all-encompassing dogma, we'd become more able to think about life and nature in metaphysical or spiritual terms without throwing the baby out with the bath water.

I feel slightly uncomfortable with Hoffman's attempt to base everything on a mathematical basis. Maths is the most ethereal, most metaphysical, if you will, basis upon which science relies. But in and of itself, it could be just another set of icons at one place removed from reality, from the noumena that are really causing everything. And worse, because of its esoteric nature to most of us, because we seem to have little choice but to accept the conclusions that other people particularly skilled at it arrive at, it appropriates a cachet of awe and wonder; and it becomes reified as a sort of final arbiter of truth.

It takes on a life of its own, so much so that people can't imagine anything more fundamental. But in the end, it could be just a reflection of the inbuilt patterns and regularities of the apparent universe, which simply are what they are -- for no reason we can fathom. Don't get me wrong -- the way Hoffman is going is probably an improvement or refinement, but is it the ultimate mutt's nuts? I can't help but have my reservations.
 
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#31
For no particular reason I wanted to share some thoughts on time and space, perhaps it is relevant. It all depends on how you want to look at it.

This relates to causality. Under this notion of time and space being a construction (and only part of our virtual reality interface) so causality must also be a construction. We do define events arbitrarily. Event a causes event b, this seems logical. But is our own definition. For example when did you begin? Was it at your birth? Was it at conception? Was it when your Father produced sperm or your Mother produced an egg. Perhaps you began with sexual desire, perhaps you began with the origin of the species or the first cell. Perhaps you began with the beginning of the universe if their was one.

We define events by separating one thing from another, but that is not how it is. For the sake of argument let's use the big bang, you could say it was something that happened long ago, but it all depends on how you define it. Is it not something that is still occurring right now?

Rather than event a causes event B, is it not more accurate too consider that there is only one event unfolding? It is only our arbitrary definitions that separate things. If we try to look back into the past it ultimately fades into nothingness, into the void. Time is not driven by the past any more than a ship is driven by it's wake. Memory is not something physical. The future also is a conception. There is only the now.

We also define objects the same way. Where is the edge of a star? Is it where the visible plasma ends? What about at the heliosphere? What about it's visible light? What about it's source, perhaps the galactic nuclei? In plasma cosmology there are no separate islands, it is all connected, right up to super clusters of galaxies down to the smallest of moons. Science has in it's reductionism sought smaller and smaller pieces of things. For a long time it was the atom, then we find more divisible pieces, once we get to quantum mechanics we arrive at mere potential and matter then is no longer anything we can normally conceptualize as being solid or even having a specific time and place. It slips through our fingers. Again we are left with the void.

Think of the sound of a gong, to our ears it comes out of the void, it rings and fades away, back into void. All objects give of light and arrive to our eyes just like sound to our ears. Colour is also emerging from the void and will fade back into it just like the sound of the gong. It is all frequency and vibration. What is waving in a light wave? Nothing? The aether? What is a field? What is it made of?

It is all emergent from the void and it will all return to it.

The void has no quantity of time or of space, consciousness likewise has no time or space, it is what gives form to what emanates from the void.

You can interchange void with consciousness, I use two terms because it is easier to comprehend but there is only one.

These are hard concepts to grasp but is only because we are hardwired into this apparent reality of time and space. These concepts are called ineffable for a reason. I hope your imagination gives you a sense of what I'm trying to convey, even if just for entertainment purposes.
 
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#32
Yes but LS,

Where does that leave concepts like morality, or improving the world, or stopping Epstein's rampage - everything just dissolves into the flow!

That is not a criticism - just a plea for some help to understand the world you have outlined!

David
 
#33
Yes but LS,

Where does that leave concepts like morality, or improving the world, or stopping Epstein's rampage - everything just dissolves into the flow!

That is not a criticism - just a plea for some help to understand the world you have outlined!

David
Perhaps not dissolved, but unified and separated and unified and so on. For interest sake let's look at some occult knowledge.

What we are talking about here is duality or polarity, the game of black and white. It would be impossible to even know of morality unless its polar opposite existed. Impossible to know hot without cold etc...

I have a strong affinity to the mythology of the Gnostics, and in many pagan traditions we have this idea of a trickster God, a Demiurge, one that keeps humankind in ignorance. What he represents is lower consciousness, materialism and the ego. It is the opposite of the divine Sun. I mentioned earlier that the purpose of our evolution is to discover our own divine spark. Ubiquitous throughout esoteric teachings is the concept of unifying the polarity in order to transcend these things, (alchemical transmutation). Symbolic of the serpents separating and uniting up the axis mundi. In the myth of Eden the serpent was the messenger of the true light revealing the knowledge of polarity, good and evil. Prometheus (Lucifer) steals the light bringing the divine flame to humanity and is punished by being chained to the rock (matter). Keep in mind these are symbols and not literal truth of course.

Baphomet/Sophia represents this polarity and the unification principle.

The profane are worshiping the ass's head thinking it is the true light. This is the Demiurge or Samael the blind one. He is blind to the true light that is above him.
Interestingly enough when the Atbash cipher is applied....

The profane will have you believe this is a symbol of evil, it is in fact a masterful symbol rich in esoteric wisdom, Sophia is synonymous with wisdom.
 
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#34
To expand on this further. This is of great importance in understanding yourself, it is important for well being and spiritual growth. It is important that you accept your own dark side. If you deny it or suppress it, it will manifest in different ways unconsciously. You'll project it rather than understand and control it, or rather integrate it, unify it in order to be whole(y). As much as it exists in the apparent "outside world" it exists in you. This is because it is as much you as you are it.

I am a fan of Alan Watts and Carl Jung. Two modern day sages IMO.


 
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#35
I hope no one is put off by what would otherwise or is interpreted as something evil or satanic. It's natural to recoil at what I recently posted, I get it. Even if you are not religious these things have affected our psychology through institutions the west is founded on. Again these are symbols, myth, we have to see them that way. Anyway more ramblings from me. It is really just the same stuff again in different terms.

We all suffer from a blockage. I myself even saying this am it's victim, "I myself" is a testament to that. I am no better than anyone else. But I have experienced satori so I have had glimpses when this blockage I have in everyday life is dissolved. I really wish I could make it part of my everyday reality. I'm still working on that one. I do meditate, I have got a small taste this way. But I have only truly achieved it through the use of psychedelics. This way I can cheat and do what Yogis take decades to master. But believe me it does take some skill to navigate these experiences, it is not to be taken lightly you do travel to the brink of madness before going beyond. Unless you know the full extent of what can be achieved the human mind normally has no conceivable comprehension of these things. It is truly beyond anything I consider human. You leave that behind, absolutely.

The blockage is the thing we call "I" the watcher, the observer what we call ourselves, the egoic mind. As in the symbol I mention as manifest as the Demiurge. There is another though, it is the higher self and it is the fabric of existence, this is the true spiritual sun. All these myths and esoteric occultism is really all about consciousness and psyche. That light reported in NDE's well that is the true you. So magnificent it is perceived as God. You see how I say all the Gods exist in you not outside of you.

Bare with me this is related to perception.

The blockage "I" is what separates us from a external world, separates us from everything. It is the interruption between the knower and the known. When the blockage is removed it's apparent that the mind and what it experiences is one and the same.

Does what we know depend on their being a knower? It does.

If a tree falls in the forest without anybody listening, will it make a sound? Well what is sound? What would happen? Well the air would vibrate wouldn't it? But sound occurs only when that air vibrates the three ossicles bones passing that to the cochlea and is perceived as sound. So the sound requires a eardrum.

Light is just part of the EM spectrum. Very similar in ways. Just frequency and vibration. Various magnitudes and intervals of electro magnetic energy. There is no colour out there. It is only when an eye receives these signals do colors and form become apparent.

Hardness is interpreted by our softer skin as being such. Heavy things are interpreted by our muscles as being such. We do not actually touch anything truly, it is a electro magnetic repulsion between our atomic structure and the things structure, the atoms do not truly touch in the sense we would think. Again just frequency and vibration.

The same is true of space and time, they inseparably linked to perception.

It is a relationship between all of these things. Just as things have a back and a front. The knower and the known are intrinsically connected. The world that we know has absolutely none of the characteristic we attribute to it. There is no objective reality as we think. If we look at it this way, consciousness must be fundamental. It is impossible to know the universe in any way without consciousness to perceive it. They are linked and inseparable just like front and back.

Front and back create what is actually one.

Disclaimer: This rant may be founded on a drug induced dillusion. Use with discretion is advised :)
 
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