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The Subsymbolist

Defanging Nagel: What is it Like to be a Bat in Philosophy's Belfry
2011-02-25 05:45:59
What it is Like to be a Bat in Philosophy's Belfry  
As you might suspect from my somewhat juvenile humor in titling this essay, I shall address and, to my satisfaction, rebut the core arguments of Thomas Nagel's essay, "What is it like to be a bat?" (available many places online should that link fail). My humor should in no way be construed as disrespect; Nagel's essay has now stood for decades as the shield in the van of those who resist the notion that the human mind is reducible to purely physical operations. It is a subtle and well crafted essay, and an absolute must for anyone seriously interested in philosophy or science of the mind.  
I published the substance of this repudiation in a brief post on forum. Here I shall elaborate a bit more.  
Nagel's paper has been endlessly discussed and naturally I am not familiar with all such discussion. It is quite possible that others have presented my core argument but that it has not caught my attention. Please direct me to any such should you know of them.  
The subject question is succinctly stated in the fourth paragraph:  
... Any reductionist program has to be based on an analysis of what is to be reduced. If the analysis leaves something out, the problem will be falsely posed. It is useless to base the defense of materialism on any analysis of mental phenomena that fails to deal explicitly with their subjective character. ...  
In other words any physicalist explanation of human cognition must account for our phenomenology, how it is generated, and what it accomplishes in terms of the other activities of the mind reduced to brain functions. The question then is whether such is possible. Is there, or even can there be a strongly plausible preferably testable explanation for our common if unsharable experiences of what we see, hear and feel "inside our heads" are generated by the biology and chemistry which we do know, or can plausibly come to know, comprise the physical mechanism of our brains?  
Nagel's answer is "no". To his credit he does not claim his title query and exposition as a positive proof. But his paper presents a potent argument that there must be an answer to it before physical reductionism can be taken seriously.  
Despite positing that there may one day be a science which can answer questions of phenomenology, Nagel quite clearly believes that nothing resembling contemporary science can address his question. From the opening:  
Without consciousness the mind-body problem would be much less interesting. With consciousness it seems hopeless. The most important and characteristic feature of conscious mental phenomena is very poorly understood. Most reductionist theories do not even try to explain it. And careful examination will show that no currently available concept of reduction is applicable to it. Perhaps a new theoretical form can be devised for the purpose, but such a solution, if it exists, lies in the distant intellectual future  
And otherwise throughout the paper there are telltales that Nagel believes that physical explanations can never account for the phenomenal. In 1974 there was considerably more justification for such pessimism than can be rationalized today. We have not only models, a la Dennett, but cognitive psychology mapping interactions between the perceptual and phenomenal, and neurophysiologists tracking the generation of phenomenal experience in living brains with probes, high resolution fMRI and other techniques.  
But it is Nagel's "what is it like" question and his powerful justification for it which raises his paper above a mere question begging blank assertion that the physical cannot account for the subjective. Even with the advances of science mentioned above, Nagel cannot be ignored. Even Dennett's attention to "What is it like ..." in "Consciousness Explained" seems to have misapprehended the motivation of Nagel's question.  
Nagel opens the substance of his salvo by demonstrating that, meaningfully and objectively, "there is something that it is like to be a bat", just as every sentient person knows intuitively that there is something it is like to be him- or herself. Even accounting for the large differences in intelligence, any creature which exhibits behavior more sophisticated than autonomic reaction to stimulus has some "experience" ... it adapts to changes in its environment in complex ways.  
Now his thesis that "what is it like" applies and must be answered for any sufficiently sophisticated animal and each human individually, but there is ample reason why Nagel chose a bat as his illustrative example. It is mammalian and sufficiently complex that we feel some sympathy - we are intrigued. But at the same time it is an animal profoundly unlike us, a nocturnal flier, but most significantly it possesses a sensory apparatus - echolocation - completely unlike our own senses.  
Nagel has some fun demonstrating that no matter how sympathetic we are any attempt by us to imagine what its like to be a bat is doomed to failure. At best we can imagine what it is like for us pretending to try to be a bat. There is simply no way that we, equipped with human senses, can meaningfully correlate our own experiences with those of a bat. Of course the same is true for any creature with different senses or significantly different lifestyle and correspondingly different motivations. And while Nagel doesn't stress it, at bottom it also applies to our fellow humans. No matter how much we commiserate we can never truly have the what is it like experience of someone else; at best we can learn what it is like for us to experience very similar events and circumstances.  
But further on comes the hammer blow. The "what is it like" question must be answerable for reductionism to have merit. Reductionism means equating the thing being reduced to an assemblage of simpler, better understood things and their interactions. The key is "equate". An equality. An "is". If there meaningfully and objectively is a "something it is like", then to be reducible there must be a what that something is like, preferably more immediately physical. But the question "what is it like" must be answerable.  
As Nagel puts it:  
But I believe it is precisely this apparent clarity of the word 'is' that is deceptive. Usually, when we are told that X is Y we know how it is supposed to be true, but that depends on a conceptual or theoretical background and is not conveyed by the 'is' alone. We know how both "X" and "Y " refer, and the kinds of things to which they refer, and we have a rough idea how the two referential paths might converge on a single thing, be it an object, a person, a process, an event or whatever. But when the two terms of the identification are very disparate it may not be so clear how it could be true. We may not have even a rough idea of how the two referential paths could converge, or what kind of things they might converge on, and a theoretical framework may have to be supplied to enable us to understand this. Without the framework, an air of mysticism surrounds the identification.  
So the profound impact of Nagel's paper lies not in the impossibility of answering the question "What is it like to be a bat" in terms of human experience, but in the well justified demand that reductionist physicalism must be able to demonstrate that there is an answer, preferably one where the response is notably closer to the physical.  
Is there an answer? Yes. And it is both trivial and informative.  
While I have not yet here expounded on my decorations of Dennett's model, that answer is an elementary exercise in mechanics within it. But we needn't go that far to answer Nagel's quandary, and doing so will illuminate some aspects of how consciousness works for later discussion.  
The single most interesting word in Nagel's title question is "like". All the other words are simple in context. Even "be" is elementary in context and we can ignore its ontological perplexities though peripherally pertinent. But what is "like"? What does it mean?  
"Like" means to abstract the similar properties of two entities. It implies a comparison. "Something it is like" then asserts that for a being of minimal neurological sophistication, i. e. capable of having experiences, its contemporary instant experience has properties similar to something else. Nagel's gauntlet is the demand that we physicalists find out what that other something is.  
So what can experiences be compared to? There is only one thing an experience can be compared to: other experiences. And since in the contemporary experience in question occurs privately in the head of a mute animal without means of exporting the properties of its experience, there is only one source of other experience with which to compare its contemporary experiences: its memory.  
Here then is the answer to Nagel's title question: what is it like to be a bat? The answer is: it is like the memory of having been a bat.  
The mysterians and willful obscurantists will undoubtedly regard that answer as inadequate. But it does fulfill the requirements of Nagel's paper. There is an answer. The X and Y of the reductionist formula have been met, there are two things different and distinct, immediacy and memory, intersecting in the "like" and resolving the "what" or "something" of the title and its source reasoning.  
And it tells us something which is not intuitively obvious at first glance. It powerfully infers that memory is a requisite of whatever mentality we would classify as having experience.  
To fortify against the first round of objections a few things should be noted. It implies and asserts that newborns will have little of consciousness until they accumulate experience. It predicts that there will be a positive correlation between the time or rate of accumulation of relevant experiences versus the sophistication of the adult in its niche.  
Likewise it needs to be noted that memory is much closer to being understood at the purely physical level. Edelman won his Nobel for exactly that work. There are volumes of scientific detail and experimental validation for our understandings of how memory is laid down in living brains. And conceptually, the idea of memory is well understood; the computer you are reading this on contains billions of bytes of memory. We understand memory conceptually and are well on our way to understanding it as chemistry in cells and brains.  
The only question then is how does that memory capture past experience and compare them to contemporary experience. But that of course relies upon how the subjective contemporaries are generated. We physicalists assert that it is simply chemistry in and among the cells of the brain, captured for memory by the processes Edelman and others have illuminated. The mysterians, of course will dispute that.  
But the title challenge of Nagel's essay has been met. The catcalls of naysayers are simply the statement that the mechanics of phenomenology have not been explained - which is largely true in terms of scientific rigor, not true conceptually for Dennett's followers. But having supplied the missing solution to the philosopher's inquiry, such quibbles are themselves reduced to the question begging that Nagel so brilliantly avoided.  
-- TWZ
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About this board
2010-08-19 03:39:45
Firstly, the name obviously is an hommage to Babylon 5's technomages, save that I can't sing worth a damn, hence the change. Sometimes I can do a little thinking.  
I'm a programmer. I grew up around tools and mechanics and such, and while I can swing a hammer and drive a nail, and use tools to fix things, I never had the tools and resources in my youth to make anything very interesting.  
Likewise in electronics. I messed with it a bit in high school, and "recued a few transistors and such from old radios and such but never had the parts to do much. A little later on I bought a couple very trivial kits from Heathkit (a VOM, and a simple FM radio kit, if I recall) and got them working. With my rescues, I built a couple logic circuits (NOR gates and such) which worked but were too haphazard to do much with. Then I was starting to grow up and had to think about college and girls and put away the toys.  
Now, of course, I've got a fine woman, grew two girls of my own who are adults now, have a house and garage ... and while not rich, I CAN spare enough cash now and then to buy tools and parts. So I've decided to have some fun. To use my hands to MAKE things - for me it will, hopefully, eventually be things that talk to the computer and I can then use my programming skill affect real things in the real world, even if they are mostly toys, rather than just lights and words on a screen.  
But the primary motivation is just fun.  
-- TWZ
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Link: The War of Qualia and Consciousness, Battle 1
2009-07-12 18:41:21
I have spent a lot of time at discussing my ideas of consciousness. I have here collected many of those posts from a thread on The Hard Problem of Hunting the Wild Quale  
Realistically reading the posts in context in the thread will give you a better understanding of the arguments, but here I have preserved my commentary for future reference.  
It is too large and complex to fit into a post on the site in the boredz system so I have made it a separate page off my blog.  
  The War of Qualia and Consciousness, Battle 1.  
I'll probably collect my posts from other threads and do likewise with them.  
-- TWZ
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Review: Richard Powers' "The Echo Maker"
2009-06-27 22:30:52
The Echo Maker,  
by Richard Powers.  
I'm not much on character novels generally, or mystery novels which is one of the minor threads of this story, but Powers can write, and write well. That writing as well as my interest in the mechanisms of phenomenal consciousness, which discussion plays a significant part of the story, are what kept my interest through the first half of the book. Having passed the half way point I bought into the sunk cost fallacy deeply enough to spend the two to three days reading time to finish it even though the last half is conspicuously less interesting.  
The focus story is that Mark Schluter, an otherwise uninteresting middle America mechanic at a meat packing plant suffering middle American anomie, overage juvenile dilinquent symptomology, has an accident on a lonely road late night that leaves him with an interesting mental disability, bordering on psychosis. He dosen't "recognise" his sister, dog, and his own house. He "recognises" them in the sense of knowing that they look very similar and in his sister's case know things that only his sister could know, but can't emotionally accept that they are who and what they look like. As the story goes on he suffers a variety of other lesser identity disorders that relate to the unfolding of the story.  
The second leg of the story is Mark's sister Karin. A likewise unfocused woman trying to find herself, but who adopted the chameleon technique of defining herself on what she can do for others. Her brother is her last remaining family and the only stable "other" she uses to define herself, ergo her part in the novel is her desparate attempt to help put her brother back together.  
The third leg of the tripod, and the least convincing one, is Gerald Weber, a neurophysiologist rather obviously modelled on real world Nobel Prize winning biologist Gerald Edelman. While laying the background material for Weber, his character seems realistic enough, but in the latter parts of the book his character diffuses and becomes as neurotically identity disconnected as Mark and Karin.  
Identity is what the book is fundamentally about. Mark's "Capgras syndrome" is the refusal to recognise the identity of certain loved ones. Karin's self identity as her brother's keeper is tested to the edge as his refusal to acknowledge her gnaws at her self identity and throughout the book she flails for other people and ideals to latch upon to anchor her own identity. Many of the lesser characters have their own identity issues, one of which is the keystone of the mystery thread. Weber begins as a renowned scientist ("Famous Gerald") devoted to his wife and through a midlife crisis, and in context a devolution through which I simply could not maintain verisimilitude, becomes something of a self doubting psychological wretch, for which the author's failure to resolve at the end of the story is perhaps its weakest point.  
It's facinating to see how much Powers' reading of consciousness overlaps mine (quite probably he has read much more than I). But "modules" as characterized by Minsky are mentioned several times. Edelman and his physiological approach are obviously represented in the person of Weber. Even Dennett, never actually mentioned is hinted at in a portion of one of "Weber's" books excerpted near the middle of the book which hints of multiple drafts so plainly as to be transparent, as well as discussion of the synthesis of the whole from competing modules which screams aloud "fame in the brain".  
The title of the book comes from the cranes which are the little Nebraska town's claim to fame as they stop in their annual migrations to rest in the mud of the Platte river. One of the names for cranes in an indian language is "Echo Maker". The town depends on the cranes for its fame and tourist sustenance, the cranes rely on the mud flats, all the characters show a connectedness with the cranes even while Powers shows us that the identity of everyone in the story is in some way dependent upon their echos of themselves in their relations with others, This thematic reflection from the title, otherwise having little direct connection with the story, is more interesting than the story itself.  
Like the birds, individuals with their own separate relations, yet bound together, travelling the same repeated migration year after year, and facing an uncertain future as much as a whole as separately, Powers' theme, taken from much modern psychology is that we are, none of us, truly a single individual. We have many, many competing ideas and forces in our own brains as well as external echos of ourselves at any instant all vying to reshape us and become part of our identity. Consciousness is then a threadbare damask thrown over this chaos to create the illusion of unity.  
I've scanned a couple of reviews last night and this morning, since finishing it. Other reviewers note the references and connection with The Wizard of Oz. That's certainly there, and as they point out there are several direct and many obscure references to it. But in as yet incompletely resolved consideration, this reminds me of that other great piece of identity literature of our culture, Peter Pan. Karin is obviously Wendy, trying to lead her brother back home rather than staying with the Lost Boys. Weber has found his way into Neverland and can't decide whether he wants to return home or to become Peter. Of course any piece of identity literature is going to have resonances with both works.  
If you like psychological novels and character studies, you will like this book. As said before, Powers writes well, and there are many interesting ideas presented here. But on the other hand you already know much of what is discussed as ideas, and you have a high confidence in your own ability to find and resolve your own identity (barring physical brain damage, of course!) then, like me you may find that you consider the last half of the book becomes an existential hodgepodge of just trying to follow the threads until they peter out. (In fairness, some of the threads from the first half do resolve - though predictably - and there are some new threads, even an additional mystery and something of an identity related plot twist added, but I found them mundane). I can't decide to *resent* having spent the time on this book - it was too well written, and when first presented the ideas were those I was interested in, sometimes presented in interesting ways, but I do mildly regret it as Powers didn't really "go" anywhere I found interesting with them.  
-- TWZ
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The Hard Problem when Hunting the Wild Quale
2009-03-26 03:05:08
I've posted my provisional, personal and no doubt flawed in many ways, model of how human consciousness came to be and how it works at ( also )

The question before the house is does this answer "The Hard Problem" as elaborated in . David Chalmers' "Facing the Hard Problem".

My answer is yes. And I'm curious to see whether others can shoot it down.

"The Hard Problem" is

The really hard problem of consciousness is the problem of experience. When we think and perceive, there is a whir of information-processing, but there is also a subjective aspect. As Nagel (1974) has put it, there is something it is like to be a conscious organism. This subjective aspect is experience. When we see, for example, we experience visual sensations: the felt quality of redness, the experience of dark and light, the quality of depth in a visual field. Other experiences go along with perception in different modalities: the sound of a clarinet, the smell of mothballs. Then there are bodily sensations, from pains to orgasms; mental images that are conjured up internally; the felt quality of emotion, and the experience of a stream of conscious thought. What unites all of these states is that there is something it is like to be in them. All of them are states of experience.

It is undeniable that some organisms are subjects of experience. But the question of how it is that these systems are subjects of experience is perplexing. Why is it that when our cognitive systems engage in visual and auditory information-processing, we have visual or auditory experience: the quality of deep blue, the sensation of middle C? How can we explain why there is something it is like to entertain a mental image, or to experience an emotion? It is widely agreed that experience arises from a physical basis, but we have no good explanation of why and how it so arises. Why should physical processing give rise to a rich inner life at all? It seems objectively unreasonable that it should, and yet it does.

And the answer is simply that the experience of the self is the projection of oneself in regard to these things (in room 2c, in my model) cotemporaneous with memories of excerpts and abstracts of the real past sensory experience (including possible inter body sensations) in pursuit of whatever goal the decision process in the brain is seeking. Including possibly answering the question about "do I have these qualia?", In which case it having previously conjured the projection of its puppet of self with those past experiences and they and associated relations coming down through the decision mechanism, it projects itself as the puppet nodding sagely, yes I know those qualia, and in consequence typing this paragraph (after running thousands of little projections about just how having such qualia relate to the abstract model of consciousness referenced and building anticipatory schemas of doing so).

"Why is it that when our cognitive systems engage in visual and auditory information-processing, we have visual or auditory experience: the quality of deep blue, the sensation of middle C?" Very simply because "when our cognitive systems engage in visual and auditory information-processing" it explicitly means referencing memories of excerpts and past abstractions of those past real experiences. We seem to have a similar experience to the real experience because the information passes through with reference to those real experiences, but it is not as rich and full as the real experience, for two reasons, the mind simply lacks the resources for full storage of the whole experience when it first occurred and doesn't have it to pass through, just the abstracts, and also the data is tagged as being part of a simulation. The mind knows it is not "experiencing" the sensory experiences live.

But there's an additional and much subtler problem here. You see, I never had a quale until I understood qualia.

Of course I had the experience of seeing red (to revert to the standard example) and would recognise red in any image falling across my retinas. And the word "red" and all its variants (magenta, ochre, brick) would trigger hundreds of past experiences of which one abstracted part was the experience we commonly mean by red. But I never had the "quale" of redness ... depending on where you define it.

But there's no mystery to having and knowing the experience of red. We have physical experiences. We know our brains cut them up, store and recombine them in pieces and can summon those memories up along with their sundry associations. Hardly a hard problem conceptually, though we're far from understanding the mechanics in our brains, our computers and cameras can do the same thing trivially, even though they have no conception of what they're doing while doing it.

So what is a quale? So I learn about qualia. In the puppet theater the self stands with the question, "do you know about abstractions, boy?", and back down through the C wing of levels (let's call them "scenes" from now on) 2 through 4 come the associations of the words "abstractions" and "you", and 4c directs 2c to have the puppet nod wisely. "So boy, do you understand the abstraction 'What x is like?'" ... and again the puppet nods. "So boy, a quale is the 'what it is like' for something we experience. Do you get it?" Happily the puppet nods, relieved that he wasn't about to be scolded for his obtuseness. "So explain to me the quale of red!" shouts the phantom professor in Descartes' theater. The puppet looks around and panics, then finally stammers "Um.... Er... I thought I understood, but I don't think I can ... there's just no way ..." "Excellent!", shouts the imaginary professor, "You've got it!".

But alone in the dark Pinocchio untangles his strings. Where did the mystery come from? There is no mystery to what red is. There is no real mystery to what our brains are doing in sorting out red as we can have our machines do it. And there is no mystery, conceptually, as to how it's done for the same reason though we don't yet have a good correlation between our machines and the mechanisms in goo. At first glance "qualia" like pain and hunger may seem to be candidate mysteries, but if the brain can create an experience out of light, there's no reason it should have a problem doing so about more overt chemical or physical problems. So where is the mystery? And the answer I see is that it was added after the fact.

The problem of the quale of red is nothing about how the brain/mind sees red, it is in seeing red as an abstraction of the experience of red, not the experience itself, nor in the myriad ways memories of such experiences may be recalled in the mind.

The problem, my dear professor, lies not with ourselves, but with our philosophies.

-- TWZ

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From Beast to Brightman, An Opera of the Evolution of Consciousness in Five Acts
2009-03-25 21:47:26
From Beast to Brightman, An Opera of the Evolution of Consciousness in Five Acts  
This is my model of how human consciousness evolved. It is a gross model of how I see the larger flow of information occurring in the human brain with separation into "acts" as to what I think was present at an earlier stage versus what I think occurred in later stages. I've made some pen and paper sketches of this, but in monochrome it's hard to see what's going on amid the detail. I've tried doing it with some graphic tools on the computer using various colors, but there I turn out to be woefully inept in using so. So here is the sketch, clumbsily, in words.  
I've thought of doing an extended article, but as I'm a hack business computer programmer not an academic, and this puts no money in my pocket. But I am interested, so I've put a few hours into writing this up. For now, at least, I'll leave it at this.  
It's a lot clearer in my head, but getting it into a communicable medium proves difficult. Hopefully at least a few others can make sense of it and possibly find it useful and/or refine it.  
Very little of this is "original" except perhaps the way I've laid it out. To be sure my introspective phenomenology, aided by some meditation practice over years has aided it, but mostly it comes from Dennett, Minsky and others I've read through the years with some late refinements by reading Edelman. There are a couple of sketches in Edelman's "Wider than the Sky" which anticipate this in some ways.  
I don't think of this as necessarily a detailed and direct path of how the evolution occurred, in particular I suspect Acts 4 and 5 were fairly blended together, but drawing a boundary at any one act and saying this ended before this began would be a mistake, just as saying that the separation of various "levels" would also be a mistake. I suspect large areas of overlap, both in internal organisation of the levels and in time among the acts.  
  Act 1. Beasts of the Earth.  
(Wherein our noble selves only react to what is before us; our history guides us but has only reinforcement of past consequences)  
1) The senses come in at the top. There are very short term buffers. Senses include things like bodily state, e. g. hunger or thirst.  
(cartographic note. I shall use "top" to indicate raw sensory data and "bottom" to designate the processes prior to action, but I while the "flow" is generally top to bottom I am aware that there is a great deal of side to side and even some "upwards" movement of information aside from that directly mentioned. Similarly I doubt the "levels" are as clear cut is this looks like I'n saying; this is just a crude sketch, There is very little distinction between levels save for what the result of that level of cognition is and no reason to presume any physical isolation between where each kind of informational resolution occurs)  
2) The sensory data gets sliced, diced and filtered, and various data from senses gets recombined and the recombinations compared other memory of similar slice and dice at this level. When the recognisers see a "significant" correlation they pass the appropriate signals and data to the next level down (a simplification). Likewise sensory data important to action, say kinaesthetic senses are shunted very directly down to action.  
3) The recombine and compare with memory at a like level goes on through many layers ... though the layers are not necessarily distinct. Higher priority recognised patterns can be shunted nearer to action more quickly (say you recognise a tiger with a toothy grin bounding your way).  
4) Predecision. A decision is reached ... but this is also a decision on the significance of recent data. Information gets propagated upwards on what data was important at each level and a signal upwards may cause the information at any layer involved in the antecedent processes to be committed to longer memory for subsequent comparison and the weights and depths of the downward processes may be adjusted ... including shunting comparisons deeper at any stage.  
5) Action, not directly germane to this discussion, but it is the ultimate target of our information processing so here it sits to ground things.  
  Act 2. Anticipation.  
(We get better at using the past as a guide)  
2) gets expanded into 2a, the real sensory data and pseudo-sensory data, 2b.  
3) The recognisers have some mutated younger but heftier siblings ... full fledged comparators comparing the pseudo-sensory anticipatory data with the "live" data. Throughout the comparison and filtering now the comparison of the pseudo-data to the real data is part of the mix, and variance given heavier weight and shunted more deeply toward the decision level. This results in more efficiency in terms of deciding action faster but may result in some loss of potentially valuable information saved and compared relative to the earlier 3 level. Let's call these new responsibilities 3b just for consistencies sake.  
4) The decision stage now takes on an additional role, itself splitting. It knows what decisions it has passed on to action and the traceback to the data from which the data was made. Aside from passing an action in 4a, new piece 4b signals 2b to take the original data out of store and build anticipatory models to match the expected results of pending action.  
  Act 3. The Fork in the Road.  
(Wherein our hero not only uses the past as a guide but learns to anticipate the future. First level abstraction was always implicit in the slice, dice and recombination of data, but now it becomes explicit in the decision process)  
2) This level now opens a drama wing, 2c. Here under direction of the new wing of level 4 (4c see below) anticipatory data much like 2b is played out... but there is no immediate sensory data with which to compare. When level 4 makes a decision the scenery anticipated here in 2c is shifted to 2b rather than regenerated on the fly from scratch. This gives added weight and import to the results of the comparators farther down.  
3) New wing 3c is opened and does the recombinant comparison with past (not present) sensory data such as is handled by wing 3a. But as things are passed down the wing designation remains.  
4) Well if we're adding a wing on the upper floors we need something in beneath them, so 4c opens as well. Where once 4a and 4b in concert could only reach a singular decision, the entirety of level 4 now accepts multiple possible action candidates, but if there's no emergency in progress, it defers decision and 4c tells 2c produce simulations for of the expected actions exactly as 2b would for anticipatory data, and the correlations come back down through the layers of 3 ... but tagged to know that these are simulations and which decision candidate they match (In earlier posts I've been calling 4c the producer/writer). Using this new data, perhaps iterated, 4 as a whole finally makes an action decision.  
  Act 4. The Puppet Master.  
(Wherein we dance on tangled gossamer ourselves enweaved before on path of destiny a single step be trodden)  
2) No new wing in this stage, but something just as significant, we now have an actor. By now in the memory cells of various layers there is a wealth of knowledge about what this mind has done before in various situations and the consequences that resulted. So under the direction of 4c 2c now runs the scenario with a puppet standing in for itself making different decisions up to each decision point, but instead of just the pseudo sense data being passed down, the alternate actions in similar situations are passed down.  
3) As in stage 3, level 3 passes on tagged information but the correlates from the alternate action options from the events in 2c rather than just desirability weighting are passed "downward". This includes not only what one actually did in prior cases similar to the situations shown in 2c, but also the alternate options which were previously considered action candidates in that situation along with some ancillary information on why they were rejected.  
4) Level 4 now gets not just base options for actions but ongoing updates of what possibilities for action arise from preceding possible actions. 4c now coordinates these ongoing threads of possible actions from the consequences of possible actions and prompts 2c to simulate them for the outside world keeping track of the decisions, actions desired and consequences, saving the earlier actions required for each step. This proceeds until immediate action is required or the plausible possibilities are exhausted and the decision to act is made and passed down.  
  Act 5. The Fat Lady Sings.  
Nothing happens at first except that over time things get faster and better through wing c which essentially obviates the deficiency noted in Act 2. Note that all of these processes are mechanistic ... they could be called deterministic except that these happen through billions or trillions of synapses in grey goo where said synapses are triggered by a handful of molecules diffusing by brownian motion so it is impossible to say which would fire first. But of course there is significant predictability to the brain's decisions, so this "noise" is overcome by either redundancy or some kind of synchronisation mechanism.  
Consciousness is now complete. It IS 2c ... with leakage from the rest of level 2 with which it is tightly coupled. Evolution doesn't care about *how* we think, but only *what* we think about ourselves in relation to the outside world ... and the only "self" the brain has to think about is the puppet actor dancing in 2c. That is the only self the brain is aware of, and "self", The Mind's I to use Dennett's title is just the relationship - both past and projected for various alternate and future scenarios in relationship to the outside world. Until we get where we are today, discussing the how's of how the mind works among ourselves, there isn't any value in knowing more about it the self than how it reacts to potential outside phenomena, and nothing on the outside cares about whether the whole animal decides upon action or just a few million neurons at such and such place(s) in the brain.  
But language happens. This throws a monkey in to wrench the machinery ... adding a lot of monkey grease to speed things up. What, in terms of making decisions were once solely internal representations and abstractions which could have remained close to their original sensory predicates, now have to be rendered solely as sounds in a highly abstracted format. It is now necessary to look at and describe the predilections of the self, already in at least first level abstraction as per Act 3, in this alternate representation, words. Thus second level abstraction becomes a necessary part of our mental machinery. This rerepresentation of the self often involves MANY iterations through 2c down through 4c, and 3c becomes hugely populated with these second level abstractions and their consequences.  
This in turn, means that we focus more and more upon our representation of ourselves and our options as puppets in the theater. The image of self becomes habituated on the self as representation, with options in a fluid future. We see ourselves as having "free will" because of the fluidity of the future even though the machinery is mechanistic because that is what we see in 2c, the Cartesian Theater, even though that is a small part of our minds and the work is actually happening mostly in levels 3 and 4.  
The ability to share these second level abstractions through language and build upon them gives us the capability to store and share information across time and space. This in turn gives us the power of dominion over the earth. We can be fruitful and multiply ... or subdue it...  
And the fat lady sings ... (she ain't fat, rather cute in my opinion, but it's her voice I'm in love with, Bocelli's voice is pretty good too.)  
-- TWZ
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Some Problems with Libertarianism
2009-01-31 22:10:37
Originally posted at  
Once upon a time I was Libertarian.  
No, as far as I could tell, the god botherers had little to nothing to do with the libertarians. A couple of people I knew called themselves Christian and were rather wearing it on their sleeve, but they were the mostly sensible sort, and were as committed to separation of church and state as were the rest of us. To the best of my knowledge no religious organization nor zealots had anything to do with the heirarchy of LPUSA proper.  
I began to doubt libertarianism when I learned a bit about economics and how hard currency MUST lead to economic busts (a "leak" or increase in savings reduces the amount of currency available ... it becomes a self reinforcing phenomenon). Some means to create and issue currency to prevent this is required for a stable society and accomodate growth. Fractional reserve banking isn't a perfect answer but it does address the problem in a dynamic way with at least some interaction with the market as a whole.  
Secondly, even when I was a libertarian, I felt the libertarian "answers" to ecological problems were far too glib. There just isn't any way to practically force internalization of all ecological costs into a market model.  
Thirdly, and this was the point at which the LP's inability to answer, despite my searching for their thoughts on it, eventually caused me to drop capital L standing, none of their programs or ideology address the market inequity posed by corporations.  
Finally, and returning to the first point, the heart of libertarianism is the "what you've earned, you should be able to keep" simply does not reflect material reality. Any material wealth more complex than a pile of bricks degrades (often rather quickly) with time without regular (and often costly) maintenance and protection.. Libertarianism's "keep yours" philosophy focuses, naturally in an economic milieu, on money ... but money is a completely artificial store of value across distance and time, and being artificial, is dependent upon the society that created it. Which is a long way around to say that nobody earns their money solely by their own labors. Simplistic philosophy aside, no man is an island.  
Ultimately I simply had to conclude that libertarian ideology is not a good match for the real problems posed by real human civilization.  
-- TWZ
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Hahahahaha. Circuit City Closing and Followup to eMachines Laptop
2009-01-17 00:42:15
See my previous blog about buying an eMachines laptop from them.  
I wish I could take credit for it, but this has been in the works for a long time. But I'll consider it a case of cosmic kharma.  
Meanwhile, since the updates - or I may just have been doing something wrong - the hibernate and suspend functions are working on the laptop. Boot time is so fast that hibernate barely seems worth the effort, but it works. Suspend gave me no problems when I shut the laptop for dinner.  
Getting the flash player to work in firefox on my 64 bit Ubuntu install took a little work. There are a lot of pages out there telling you how to do it. It wasn't hard for me with lots of Linux experience and no fear of messing around, but it's not something I would suggest for the technically naive. If you want flash working in firefox (who doesn't?) I would recommend newbs stay with the 32 bit version of Ubuntu, at least until it's announced that it works out of the box. The skilled don't need my advice.  
On another techie note, a year ago I was given an iPod Nano as a Christmas gift. A great at little music player ... but the third gen Nano's have locked firmware so that no application can update it without Apple's blessing. As a result I had to occasionally move back go to my Windows box and fire up iTunes just to update the iPod. Or at least it used to be that way. While surfing today I saw that someone has hacked the firmware so that now the songs on the iPod can be synced through Amarok. Hooray! I'll give that a try this weekend.  
-- TWZ
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New Laptop, putting Ubuntu on the eMachines D620-5133
2009-01-16 04:06:33
Well, I finally got a laptop. I was going to buy myself one last year, but just before doing so my job came through with a better faster one than they had issued me before, so I put it off. But a few weeks ago I changed jobs and my new employer is a bit less generous in the perks, especially those that cost them money (pretty good on the others though, and benefits).  
Anyway, the purchase itself was a minor adventure in aggravation. My wife wanted a gift for our daughter from Circuit City, and I wandered over to the laptops. I saw two that were ideal. They had this eMachine D620 for 450 and an HP G60-230 *advertised* at 500. Well, I wanted the HP initially, but Circuit City is notorious for "bait and switch" and that was exactly what the HP was. Though they had the demo in the store, the tag said "sold out". No problem, I went home and looked online, figuring to order it or pick it up at another CC. It turns out that you could not order it online; and through there store finder for it ALL zips and all stores said "Not in stock". I wrote a few nastygrams, including comment on their site for the product - which, surprise - was quickly deleted. And the next day - the next day! - the price was upped to 630 and it was available to order online.  
So Circuit City are scum with a bait and switch history. Almost this exact chain of events happened to me a few months back when I was helping my sister-in-law buy a laptop for her son. So it really wasn't a surprise that they advertise something cheaper than it can be found anywhere else, but will refuse to actually sell it to you.  
Yeah, so I'm a sucker for buying the eM from these scum. Not really, it's a good price - there was one other place online (tiger-direct?) offering it for ten dollars less, but I'd have had to pay shipping and probably make a trip to pick it up at the shipper's depot. They can't be making much profit on it in any case. So I bought it. Write it off to being a prisoner of consumer culture with the note that this blog will probably wind up costing them more than the profit in the long run anyway. Buy it elsewhere if you can.  
Anyway, it came with Vista Home Basic. I ran it just long enough to take an eyeball at it, my first experience with Vista. What a dog. It was sllllooowww - and this laptop specs out higher than any computer I currently own.  
No problem, I planned to put Linux on it in any case, and that both the eM and HP had reports of successful Linux installations, which was the tipping point of my buy decision.  
I burned Ubuntu 8.10 in both the AMD64 and the i386-32 bit versions, just in case. I tried the AMD 64 and it's running on it now.  
Installation was only minorly aggravating, mostly because of some quirks with my home network. The install of the operating system went without quirks or problems. I had to run a little program from within Vista which allowed it to install from the CD. This was on the disk and did it's job without issue, but the instructions could be clearer. After running the installer, (I surmise it installed an alternate boot loader) I had to shut vista down and reboot. It offered me the choice of windows or Ubuntu, and I naturally chose Ubuntu. This comes up in "trial" mode, where it doesn't actually write anything permanent to the disk. But the "install" icon is right there on the desktop and after looking around a bit, I clicked it.  
In partitioning, it asked if I wanted to leave a partition for the installed windows. No.  
It then asked for a user id to start automatically (optionally) and some timezone information and away it went. It took about half an hour.  
After the completed installation it tells you to take out the CD and goes for a reboot. Up came Ubunto native on the laptop! One obvious problem was that the display was "twitchy" and ugly. Well, almost immediately, it popped up a note about proprietary hardware drivers for Nvidia and Broadcom. Well I tried both. The Nvidia driver would not click to "active" and the Broadcom would not install at all. The driver install for the video appeared to have completed, but the wireless driver seemed to fail because it was trying to connect to the network - which I hadn't set up yet. Well, I rebooted again, and the video was crisp, clear and stable. The video driver was working.  
Well I piddled with the settings but could not get the wireless working. I plugged in the ethernet to my router ... it connected. I did the driver for Broadcomm again. It completed. I still had some problems getting wireless working, but I have an off brand wireless router and had it set for non-broadcast. I turned it to broadcast on and then (after unplugging the ethernet) I could see my router in the list. I had to fiddle with the security settings and password a bit, but after a couple minutes it connected fine.  
At some point I tried the hibernate and suspend modes. Bad news. it wouldn't even boot until I disconnected the power cord and replugged it. I'm not overly concerned about this, as shutdown takes about 10 seconds and it reboots in less than a minute. I later ran the updater task which updated about 218 packages. I haven't tried hibernate or suspend since then. But tonight, the second day with the laptop, it booted fine.  
I have a lot of software I'll be putting on it. Sound asked for some proprietary drivers to load the codecs, but this is mostly automated with "wizards" which simply ask if you want to use those proprietary drivers. They sometimes ask for your password to confirm running those things it must do as root, but this is mostly painless and simple. I have lots more to do to get it set up just the way I want - I'm a programmer after all, and there are about a zillion programming packages and tools I'll be loading, but at this point I see nothing that can present an insuperable problem.  
I'm extremely satisfied with both the laptop and Ubuntu.  
Did I mention that this turkey flys. The hour or so I spent in Vista was instructive just as a comparison in performance. (I should note that I turned off visual effects in the graphics; eye-candy is bad for you ... or at least I don't need it).  
-- TWZ
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Review: The Day the Earth Stood Still
2008-12-13 06:13:36
I left work early and saw the opening day matinee in IMAX. For this movie the extra few dollars for IMAX was well worth it.  
(Spoilers Ahead)
The 1951 version of TDTESS is one of my all time favorite films; I was prepared to dislike this by comparison. I was wrong, it was excellent. It is visually rich, tightly scripted and the modification of the story from the 1951 version is well done.  
There are some weaknesses, though. Chief among them is that Jennifer Connelly doesn't work as a scientist, particularly one who was mentored by a Nobel Prize winner. Her character does plausible things when the lead in the scene in the scientist role, but her manner and expressions do not convey the curiosity, wonder and excitement that should have been there. On the other hand, the meeting between Professor Bernhardt (John Cleese in a rare dramatic role) and Klaatu was practically a grand opera perfectly timed and choreographed. It was perfect, and the reprise of Sam Jaffe's Bernhardt line to Klaatu was the perfect homage to the original.  
Keneau Reeves slightly creepy persona was played up to make him the perfect Klaatu. Speaking of which what is it with Reeves? The 1951 version is a masterpiece in large part because, without discussing religion in any way, it made innumerable allusions to Christian symbolism and addressed many thematic issues important to Christianity. And of course The Matrix owes much of its mythic impact to exactly the same allegoric root. And in between, Reeves did Constantine. There may be some I missed as the film is rich and I'm still digesting it, but there were only a few and less direct allegorical references to Christianity in this version.  
Otherwise Reeves', reserved and stiff, did a very good job of portraying a sophisticated and intelligent but alien being learning from the inside out what it is to be human.  
Likewise kudos for Kathy Bates' character. She plays a strong, intelligent and wise woman that one would hope would characterize a cabinet level politician, but at the same time showing just enough arrogance and impatience to tip her encounter with Klaatu over to catastrophe. Her failure is not villainy but mere humanity.  
As science fiction, there are a few quirks in the science. Clarke's law says "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic", which excuses a lot in science fiction. But the inhuman powers exhibited by Klaatu could have used just a touch of bafflegarb to "explain" them. He is examined in detail while being "born" human; a sentence saying there were some oddities in some tissue would "explain" a connection to the technology of his ship; without that his ability to suborn our electronics is just a little too much of a deus-ex-machina.  
The director obviously had a lot of hard science input. The harvester bots, self reproducing miniature scale robots large enough to see but very tiny are an excellent disaster threat. The "grey goo" threat of nano technology but more realistically rendered. Nano machines cannot move fast, and dramatically are invisible. Now practically these mite size robots really could not move as fast as pictured either, but granting some artistic license they cater to our fear of insects - the scenes of the bot cloud descending was reminiscent of several old B movie insects attack movies, particularly "The Swarm".  
While I very much like this movie I think that others will not be so appreciative. As said, it is tightly scripted - perhaps too much so - and keeps a fast pace with a lot of action. But the story here, from the rationale for the invasion through the Klaatu's awakening to the value of humanity is very subtle and done much "between" the action scenes where the less attentive might presume there is little but filler. But that's where the story really unfolds to justify the eye candy.  
-- TWZ
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