The Problem of Consciousness

Consciousness clearly arises from the physical structures and activities of the brain, but how and why are something of a mystery. We can feel, but why do we do so rather than just act?
Apparently physics has something of a similar problem:

In this way, the deep nature of consciousness appears to lie beyond scientific reach. We take it for granted, however, that physics can in principle tell us everything there is to know about the nature of physical matter. Physics tells us that matter is made of particles and fields, which have properties such as mass, charge, and spin. Physics may not yet have discovered all the fundamental properties of matter, but it is getting closer.

Yet there is reason to believe that there must be more to matter than what physics tells us. Broadly speaking, physics tells us what fundamental particles do or how they relate to other things, but nothing about how they are in themselves, independently of other things.

Charge, for example, is the property of repelling other particles with the same charge and attracting particles with the opposite charge. In other words, charge is a way of relating to other particles. Similarly, mass is the property of responding to applied forces and of gravitationally attracting other particles with mass, which might in turn be described as curving spacetime or interacting with the Higgs field. These are also things that particles do or ways of relating to other particles and to spacetime.

In general, it seems all fundamental physical properties can be described mathematically. Galileo, the father of modern science, famously professed that the great book of nature is written in the language of mathematics. Yet mathematics is a language with distinct limitations. It can only describe abstract structures and relations. For example, all we know about numbers is how they relate to the other numbers and other mathematical objects—that is, what they “do,” the rules they follow when added, multiplied, and so on. Similarly, all we know about a geometrical object such as a node in a graph is its relations to other nodes. In the same way, a purely mathematical physics can tell us only about the relations between physical entities or the rules that govern their behavior.

One might wonder how physical particles are, independently of what they do or how they relate to other things. What are physical things like in themselves, or intrinsically? Some have argued that there is nothing more to particles than their relations, but intuition rebels at this claim. For there to be a relation, there must be two things being related. Otherwise, the relation is empty—a show that goes on without performers, or a castle constructed out of thin air. In other words, physical structure must be realized or implemented by some stuff or substance that is itself not purely structural. Otherwise, there would be no clear difference between physical and mere mathematical structure, or between the concrete universe and a mere abstraction. But what could this stuff that realizes or implements physical structure be, and what are the intrinsic, non-structural properties that characterize it? This problem is a close descendant of Kant’s classic problem of knowledge of things-in-themselves. The philosopher Galen Strawson has called it the hard problem of matter.
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The article asks whether matter is conscious. As a Mormon I unhesitatingly answer yes. Mormon points out that the dust is always obedient to God, unlike man. It cannot be obedient w/o consciousness. Furthermore the cosmos revealed by Joseph Smith is alive and consciousness.

…think of someone who has never seen any red objects and has never been told that the color red exists. That person knows nothing about how redness relates to brain states, to physical objects such as tomatoes, or to wavelengths of light, nor how it relates to other colors (for example, that it’s similar to orange but very different from green). One day, the person spontaneously hallucinates a big red patch. It seems this person will thereby learn what redness is like, even though he or she doesn’t know any of its relations to other things. The knowledge he or she acquires will be non-relational knowledge of what redness is like in and of itself.

This suggests that consciousness—of some primitive and rudimentary form—is the hardware that the software described by physics runs on. The physical world can be conceived of as a structure of conscious experiences. Our own richly textured experiences implement the physical relations that make up our brains. Some simple, elementary forms of experiences implement the relations that make up fundamental particles. Take an electron, for example. What an electron does is to attract, repel, and otherwise relate to other entities in accordance with fundamental physical equations. What performs this behavior, we might think, is simply a stream of tiny electron experiences. Electrons and other particles can be thought of as mental beings with physical powers; as streams of experience in physical relations to other streams of experience.

That is actually quite elegant way for matter to be conscious. It is consciousness in and of itself, not as an emergent property. Obviously there is no way to prove this as it is a question about fundamental reality. I am, therefore I experience. Do read the whole article.

Food for thought is how the big consciousness of a person would relate to the little consciousness of the constituent particles – not only of the brain, but also of the entire person.

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A New Federalism

Disclaimer. This is theoretical only. Various sides in modern politics want to win, not to be left alone. Besides I cannot imagine a new constitutional convention going well.

Background. Before the Civil War a high federalism prevailed. From the Civil War to Wilson/FDR a moderate federalism was in place. Progressives sought and succeeded (with the help of World Wars) in centralizing power to curb the abuses of machine politics at the state and city levels. This mostly worked, but even as they succeeded large business interests were scaling up. Now regulatory capture at the federal level is almost complete. This proposal is to revert to moderate federalism and curb the oppression of sub-entities by allowing people to move.

Proposal 1. New smaller states. In order to make movement practical and states more responsive to their citizens, large states need to be broken up. This also reduces the impact of majority of the tyranny, as minority political interests will be less in each state. Maybe 70-110 states?

The Senate. One senator from each state instead of two. In an era of slow communications, two provided needed redundancy but no longer adds much except slightly more representative but not really. One per state will keep the Senate a workable size. Additionally Senators should be appointed by state governments, not popular vote as this gives them an incentive to vote for states’ rights instead of increasing their power.

The House. In order to reduce the increased power of the state government above, representatives are no longer by district but chosen by vote in a party, which then draws its districts and votes for representatives within that district. (This may need some more thought, but the goal is to reduce the power of states to gerrymander)

Metro States. It is easy to see that a large political divide is between large urban centers and the smaller cities, towns, and ruralia. This means that for people living in the chunk of land attached to a large city, they are ruled by people who don’t necessarily understand them nor their way of life. Sometimes the reverse is true with a medium city ruled by the rest of the state. I propose the top metropolitan areas be made into their own states and be divested of the surrounding land. Using Population-explorer.com I throw out the following metro-states: New York, Philly, DC, Atlanta, Detroit, Chicago-Milwaukee, Miami, Tampa-Orlando, Minneapolis, Kansas City-Independence, Dallas-DFW, Houston-Galveston, Denver-CO Springs, Phoenix-Mesa, LA-Anaheim-Long Beach, San Fran-San Jose-Oakland, Seattle-Tacoma-Olympia. The exact number would depend on maintaining a balance of power of urbanites at the federal level set against the desire to separate in individual cases. Generally a metro state will consist of several cities, each city no larger than one can commute about 30 minutes to its boundaries. Exceptions may be made for strong historical/practical reasons. In researching metro areas it seems there is some power in having different administrative regimes next to each other-this is the principle of being able to easily vote with your feet and shop between governments.

Land States – This will be drawn with more of an emphasis on the shape being east-west instead of north-south. The North-South orientation made sense as states were carved from a frontier that was north-south. But the frontier days are long gone. Look at http://www.unz.com/jman/the-genetics-of-the-american-nations/ . States that go more east-west are more likely to capture like-minded people. Additionally agriculture zones are east-west. Perhaps in the mountain west watersheds could be taken into account. Lots of factors but I think we could do better states than the legacy ones, maybe some way to dissolve and reform states? Of course I live in a state with little pride and is not in the orbit of any state just because there are too many to choose from: TX, CA, the nation of Mexico, the Navajo Nation, and mine (the fed gov).

Immigration – States should be able to control immigration into their states. An ability to settle large amounts of people in a state is the ability to destroy it and remake it another image. I think immigration would be a much less divisive issue if the states had some say in this-not a 100% say, but a lot more than now. Citizens of course can settle as they will.

Ports and highwaysMovements of goods and citizens cannot be restricted by individual states. Large Ports that serve much more than the state it is located in now belong to the federal government. Sorry Seattle, you can’t decide that oil cannot flow through your port.

Anti-trust and regional centers – Along with our invigorated political entities, we need to start anti-trusting or nationalizing various industries. Comcast is a biggie, Social Media/internet may be ripe for the utilities treatment, or be the new postal service, Anyways, IMO there is a long list of too big to be private entities that needs addressing.

Electoral Votes Apportionment – In order to break down political bubbles, I think that electoral votes should be awarded proportionally. That way there is an incentive to campaign in more than just a few battleground states. However, realistically there are a lot of places that are bubbles and that won’t change, so I propose proportional until a candidate gets over 62% in which case he wins all. This also reduces the incentives/opportunities to voter fraud.

Final Note: Historically this would be like the Holy Roman Empire with its lands and free cities. Since this is historically prob the most functional long lasting federalism, I am confident this is generally a good idea w/ re to federalism.

 

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Futher Thoughts on Creation, the Fall, and Evolution

I don’t see that evolution is the religion killer that is purported to be. It seems that it presents a world and mankind similiar to that of ToE, hopeless and flawed. The main difference is that religion adds a ray of hope as a ‘rest of the story’.

But I am left with the curiousity. How to concord the actual events. It seems wrong, as one wag slyly suggested that fossils were planted to mislead. I also have reservations about Bishop Huxleys declaration that Evolution is one of the tools that God used to create everything. So I propose an alternate explanation. The Fall caused a seperetion between god and man, a godless world, ever afterwards and always before.

First, plausiblity of retroactive causation. We are told in the scriptures that the atonment wrought by Christ is neccesary for Man and God to reunite. Else they must be seperate forever. But before the atonement was done Christ forgave sins, the dead rose, the prophets communed with God and the work of salvation was carried on (a lot more explicitly in the new world scripture). Clearly the atonement could be and was applied retroactively. It is plausible then that the Fall, compared by Paul to the atonement in effect, could also have retroactive effects.

Physics can not rule out retroactive causation. In deed it seems possible, but not to us because of the massive energy requirements. Or the conclusion to some theories seems to be that time is not what we think it to be. It seems probable the universe is simultaneously both static and dynamic. That blows my mind, but given other dual natures in physics -particle/wave, energy/matter &c. it is mo of the same. I am clearly not educated enough in physics or for that matter smart enough to add anything here, but I gather physics does not entirely rule out cause flowing backwards sometimes.

So what does this mean? I would like to use an analogy.
A building suddenly loses its foundation.
It collapses in itself, but is not destroyed, floors are askew, lots of cracks everywhere. Indivudual beams are twisted, marred and have a lot of microcracks in them weakening their structures. However their original form and purpose can sometimes be glimpsed.

Down is the past, and support is causation. Pieces reflect some ideal form and function they had before the cataclysm. Living creatures fall until they have a godless cause for their existence (the foundation now being gone). That is evolution and evolutionary history. The world is godless yet there is a god. The creation has been severed from the creator.

People scoff at the idea that the building once had a foundation because they can show how each individual piece is supported presumably down to the ground. The ground being fundamental fabric of reality that cannot be altered w/ or w/o God. There is no need to posit a foundation they say to explain the structure. And they aren’t even wrong.

The advantages of this explanation is that God didn’t creat an imperfect world through cruel and uncertain means, nor did he create elaborate deceptions to hide himself. The intended recipients of the perfect world rejected him, and the creation could not persist with its creator.

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Book Review: The Hungry Brain, Guyanet

Rating: As good as it gets – lotta unknowns.

This book explores research into causes of the obesity epidemic including the regulatory systems involved. Regulatory systems are 1. a satiety system that tells us if we’ve eaten enough this meal  and in a different part of the brain 2. A system that tries to keep body weight stable.

It list causes as:
1. Really tasty food, super-stimulus: salty, crunchy, fatty, sugary, MSG w/o much satiety signals like fiber, volume, or protein per calorie. This food breaks reg system No. 1.
2. Food Advertising – Or just smelling/seeing food out in the open.
3. Ease of getting food – seems to bypass regulatory system if it is effortless to consume it.
4. Damage to regulatory system, cause of damage unknown, may be a result of chronic overeating or of some toxin. In any case obese people seem to have lesions in the no.2 brain region.
5. Decreased exercise
6. Poor stress management
7. Circadian arrhythmia – poor sleep, eating at the wrong part of the cycle. Much more weight gain when eating same calories at night than during day.
All but 5 and  7 basically add up to we binge on foods, getting an a huge amount of calories, and then we do it again and our body can’t cope. We binge when we have tasty easy food, and are stressed and sleep deprived which basically leads to 4 which may start the cycle anew.

As for exercise, it says this isn’t a panacea but is an important part. I know from other research that exercise has different effects on different people some it suppresses appetite, in others it stimulates. So for an unlucky seventh  of the population exercise may not be helpful with re to weight loss.

So avoid binge foods and binge triggers. Shelled nuts better than unshelled fe.

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The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle

Rating: Recommended with reservations

I was hoping this book would have some insight as to how to increase myelination, as the blurb talked about how research into that was revolutionizing our understanding of how talent is developed. I was hoping for something practical to help my strength training. No luck! This book was written by someone not too familiar with brain science who trots out myelin every so often for the Wow! Science! factor. Invoking it does not add anything to his book, and furthermore, one would get the impression that myelin is The Factor in developing skill but I know there are also other essential mechanisms.

If you ignore the myelin junk it is a fairly interesting book. The author investigates towns and nations that have produced an extraordinary amount of talent in some particular field for common causes to offer suggestions for someone trying to create their own hotspot. If you want the brain stuff, get a book on neuroscience for your level.

An incomplete, unordered list:
A spark: something that gets kids interested in the activity. This could be a coach/teacher who is enthusiastic about it and their pupils or a hometown hero who inspired all the kids back home with their success.
A facility that is shabby yet functional and has a lot of reminders of glory that can be achieved-such as pictures/trophies of that hometown  hero.
Lots of chances to practice the critical part of the skill. For a pianist going over difficult passages as much as possible and not wasting time on other passages. For soccer players in Brazil a compact faster paced version of soccer commonly played by children means they have much more time handling the ball, than kids who grow up playing the regular version who haft to spend a lot of time moving the ball up the field or waiting for the ball to come to them to get to the ball control-improvisation part. So, lots of repetition, and quality of that repetition to improve a skill.
And more stuff, but these are the ones that came to mind. If interested buy the book, or visit the website.

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The Tablet

I’ve been wanting a e-ink tablet for a while now. I don’t have a smart phone but want to use some apps. E-ink is because I can use outdoors, it has long battery life, and I think the non glowing screen is less hypnotic. I’ve noticed a problem with glowing screens. Activities on them seem strangely addictive. Now I know designers try to make their content as compelling as possible but the attraction seems way out of proportion to the reward. I think that hypnosis is at heart capturing attention, and that we are hardwires to pay attention to glowing, flickering things (consider people staring at a campfire). So e-ink screen for casual computer stuff. I also like to imagine hanging out on the porch while I catch up on things.

Second implementation: I got a Boyue e-reader. It’s a fully functional android tablet (except flash and other animation). A little slow though.  I’ve got the following apps: LDS tools, library, evernote, nook, Gofree. Not happy with the browser and I will root to install the kindle reader and remove bloatware. Also feedly, twitter, facebook,

Results: The outdoor stuff hasn’t happened as I have no porch furniture yet and lots of things to do outside. It is definitely easier to resist one more click syndrome but that may be due to it being slow. Teaching a class out of gospel library is sub-optimal, printout or book is better. I like playing Go on it.

Future: I got a hand chorder and am learning it. This post was typed (slowly on it). Once I’ve mastered it I’ll be able to type on it at full speed with one hand; everything pocket portable. I’ll like a tablet with bluetooth so I can do so sans cable. There are similar models with that feature. faster processor? Maybe mounts so I can use it in certain locations without having to hold it or hunch over? Also, no built in GPS so unit I can plug into and use when needed?

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Book Review: The Righteous Mind

Rating: Recommended

 

First Haidt proposes a model for the relationship of morality / reason modifying Humes; reason is the slave of passion. The modification would be stipulating this is a roman master and an educated greek slave who is a trusted advisor, and whose fortunes are tied to the gens. That is virtually all reason could also be described as rationalization and is post hoc.
I have no problem with this. In high school, I was challenged by my religion teachers, as Mormons are, to find out for myself about the truthfulness of God, Christ, and the LDS Churches claims to authority/revelation. So I spent a lot of time marshaling arguments for and against. I found that I could establish a pretty strong case either way, depending on what I wanted to do. I concluded that reason itself would be useless in making this determination. So I put all my efforts in praying, reaching out to God. Words were given to me, “You already know its true.” and those specific memories came to mind. So his statement that we evolved to be lawyers and not scientists is more or less in line with my pre-existing thoughts. It also jives well with the conclusions that seem to follow from Turchins work on large scale cooperation – basically the genius of humankind is social, all other intelligence evolved either to support that or is a legacy of primates. When I was studying intelligence I recall a test of chimpanzees for working memory (thought to be one of the building blocks of high IQ v. low IQ in people). The test is n-back, a good score for humans is 5-8, for a chimp 30-50 is reasonable. Perhaps a good society has already allowed us to offload a lot of cognitive function, to the cloud of other people? And we use the surplus to maintain bigger more integrated societies?
Moving on, I think that the political focus was a mistake as it took away from the main points. On the other hand without tying it to politics, it is likely I would never have heard of the book. Implications of it is that to form strong sacrificing groups and outgroup is needed. One world government has some problems built in. That’s not to say a nation state status quo is without issues. It appears the democratic norms (real rights, privileges and responsibility to little people) came about as a side effect of mass wars. Well, it seems mass war is dead, and if it weren’t we’d probably want to kill it. Well like the greeks we might be done with mass war, but as with the romans it may not be done with us.

 

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