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Tam Hunt is a philosopher, lawyer, and biologist. He lives in Santa Barbara and blogs at Thought, Spirit, Politik at www.tamhunt.blogspot.com.

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  • Burning Man Experiment—Data Analyzed! Mar 03, 2013

    Dean, on the issue of non-locality, I'm not convinced that distance has no bearing. In our experiment, which is the topic of this blog, we saw results from the RNG on the Playa (peaking 8 minutes after the Burn) that were quite different from the results for RNGs that were part of the GCP (peaking 45 minutes before the Burn). An explanation may be forthcoming if we reflect on the phenomenon of non-locality in quantum theory. While it is often stated that non-locality means instantaneous effects, there is no reason that such effects aren't simply a lot faster the speed of light. Technically, non-local means faster than the speed of light, but it's often simply assumed that this means instantaneity. But there's a vast middle ground between faster than light and instantaneity. Salart, et al (2008) showed that quantum entanglement effects operated at least 10,000 times the speed of light. This is very fast but there is still a lot of room for non-instantaneous effects between 10,000 times c and infinitely fast (instantaneity). Moreover, even if entanglement phenomena do operate far faster than the speed of light, this doesn't itself mean that the impacts don't fall off quickly with distance.

    In line with another comment above, it also seems that many other global events may have had an impact on the GCP RNGs.

    So lots to chew on here still, and I look forward to round two of this experiment!

  • Absent-Minded Science, Part VII: What Is Life? Jul 11, 2011

    Ethan, thanks for the kind words.

    On consciousness and AI, what I wrote in this piece is a simplified version of my full theory, which is described in a forthcoming paper in the Journal of Consciousness Studies. In addition to complexity (which I describe how to quantify in my paper), I propose that field coherence is necessary for consciousness. I am coming around to the view that perhaps it is in fact quantum field coherence that is necessary and that particles that are entangled enjoy by that criterion alone a unitary consciousness. So complexity by itself is not enough. I'm not sure I agree with Penroses' non-computability concept but I haven't reviewed his ideas in detail in some time now.

    As for entropy, I agree that parts of our universe consistently display entropic tendencies, but it's all a matter of scale. I think the large-scale structure of our universe, both geographically and temporally, will become evidently negentropic over time due to the presence of biological life, which, once it gets a technological foothold like we have, will very likely "biologize" entire sectors of the universe around them as they appropriate the matter of entire star systems into complex bio-electronic systems. This will be a many billion year process but it seems that it is all but inevitable once a certain level of technological savvy is reached - which it seems we are close to reaching in the next few decades.

    So at the micro-scale, entropy seems to dominate in most parts of the universe that we know of. But at the macro-scale I strongly suspect negentropy becomes the dominant trend.

  • Absent-minded Science, Part IV: The “C” Word and Emergence Feb 17, 2011

    Hi Debo, I'm sorry but I don't have any good answer to your question. I find it hard to fit precognition within my worldview, though there is some pretty good data suggesting that at least short-term precog is possible. It seems that your experience is, however, perhaps just bad luck! On a more personal note, I do find that the universe seems to average out good and bad events, so perhaps other good things have happened to you that will balance these bad ones?

  • Absent-minded Science, Part IV: The “C” Word and Emergence Feb 07, 2011

    nb, I have done a fair amount of reading in psi research and reincarnation and I agree that there is some very good data that suggests these phenomena are not complete hokum. The other areas you mention I have not looked into in great detail. But the key is what we mean by "data": when you use words like apparitions or hauntings you are accepting already with your words that these are supernatural phenomena. And I think this is hasty. We can accept that some strange things have happened but we don't have to agree that the cause is some supernatural phenomenon when there may be more parsimonious and naturalistic explanations. Similarly, with respect to mediumship, can we explain these phenomena through telepathy instead of actual mediumship? In many cases, I suspect we can, as with reincarnation being explicable through some kind of transference of memory or information rather than transference of something like a soul, which is difficult to accept for many many reasons.

    Anyway, I'm not trying to suggest I have all the answers, but I would urge caution in imposing your own theoretical structure on the data in such a way that suggests we know more about the universe than we actually do.

  • Absent-minded Science, Part IV: The “C” Word and Emergence Feb 06, 2011

    nb, when we postulate higher dimensions of reality and assert that "Nature is created by Mind," we are engaging in theory. So if we are engaging in theory, we should use the best tools available in our toolbox. I agree that data trumps theory if we are scientific. But if we are going to engage in theory, we should at least be able to answer questions (at least speculatively) such as I've posed. I'm not saying there are not higher dimensions. I don't know. But it seems to me there are more parsimonious and more naturalistic explanations that avoid ontological redundancy and the problem of non-interaction between fundamentally different substances. Check out Whitehead's solution, a dual aspect oscillating interactionism in which all things oscillate between subject and object. So each actual entity is both mind and matter, two aspects of the same thing, which at least in principle explains the interactionist issue and also avoids ontological redundancy.

  • Absent-minded Science, Part IV: The “C” Word and Emergence Feb 05, 2011

    PS. The strong form of interactive dualism advocated by Eccles and Popper and many others faces the same problem that faces Descartes' less sophisticated dualism: how on earth do two fundamentally different substances interact? Why wouldn't they simply pass by each other like ships in the night? Descartes ran into trouble when he suggested that for some unexplained reason the pineal gland was the seat of interaction. But why would a single biological structure be so unique when it is clearly comprised of the same types of molecules and cells as the rest of our brain?

  • Absent-minded Science, Part IV: The “C” Word and Emergence Feb 05, 2011

    nb, there is a way in which I agree with interactive dualism, but not the way in which you suggest. I can agree in a way with James' position on the brain as a transmitter of consciousness rather than a producer if we think of all things as transmitting the fundamental neutral substrate of the universe - pure information, pure energy, pure consciousness, or whatever you want to call it. This follows the intuition that to have anything at all we must have some ground of being that supports perceptible reality. The question that arises, then, is whether this ground of being has any structure itself? Can this ground of being support any kind of differentiated consciousness, which may bubble up into perceptible reality in the more interesting cases of reincarnation? I find it very hard to accept, for various reasons, that personality truly survives death. But I can identify a plausible rationale, along the lines of what I have just sketched here, for the survival of certain structures, what we may call aspects of personality. And we may explain the more credible reports of reincarnation as the possible survival and bubbling up again of aspects of personality. The reason I find it hard to accept the survival of personality itself is that it would make the entire perceptible world (the physical world) rather redundant. And nature is unlikely to have redundant parallel structures.

  • Absent-Minded Science, Part III: What Is Matter? Jan 04, 2011

    Reta, glad you liked the piece. A key question for any panpsychist theory of mind is what kinds of matter have unitary conscious experience? Do tables, rocks, electrons, have unitary experience? My view, which is the general Whiteheadian view, is that tables, rocks, and other "mere aggregates" do NOT have unitary experience. Rather, their constituents have unitary experience and these are Whitehead's "actual entities." So the electron, as a fundamental component of the universe, would have its own (very rudimentary indeed) experience, and so would an atom, because it has the kind of connectivity that can combine its constituents' experience into a higher-level unitary experience. But rocks, tables, and other macro structures that have very basic connectivity do not have the right kind of connectivity to result in a macro unitary consciousness. This is known as the "combination problem": what types of matter result in higher-level unitary consciousness? If you're curious, email me at tam dot hunt at gmail and I'll send you my recent paper tackling this issue.

  • Inner Space – Technology’s New Frontier? Dec 09, 2010

    Nice piece Matthew. It is indeed an interesting conundrum we find ourselves in with respect to technology and living an authentic life. I just came across The Shallows, a continuation in some ways of McLuhan's work re how media literally changes our brains and our worldviews. A little scary but I'm generally optimistic that technology will lead us to better futures despite some pitfalls along the way.

  • Absent-Minded Science, Part II: The Zombie Defense Nov 15, 2010

    Shaka, I've been thinking/feeling a lot about the issues you raise. I'm preparing another blog essay entitled "On the Heart." Keep in mind that your comment itself constitutes the "intellectual pursuit" in its use of language to convey concepts. So when we argue something like "we can't intellectually grasp" this or that, or "reason fails us," we are in fact using reason to express these ideas. So there's a bit of a paradox at work. I agree, however, that because words and concepts are purely human creations that are by necessity imperfect and imprecise, that we can never grasp reality in itself through concepts and words. We must accept this if we are to immerse ourself in reality. Yet just as Zen Buddhism uses words, koans and exercises as "direct pointing" to reality itself, beyond words and concepts, intellectual pursuits more generally can, at their best, constitute direct pointing to the deeper reality.

  • Absent-Minded Science – Part I Nov 11, 2010

    schmere, thanks for the kind words. As for hidden dimensions, I do think there are other dimensions that form the basis for our own 4-d world. David Bohm's "implicate order," or the Akashic field, apeiron, Brahman, ether, etc., are all fine words for this hidden reality. The essential argument for such a reality is that for there to be a physical world there must be something that sustains that world in each moment - a ground. The ground of being. It just so happens that many modern physics theories support this notion, but I put little stock in string theory at this point because it is so far from empirical reality and is currently untestable (see Lee Smolin's 2006 book The Trouble With Physics).

    Now, whether or not the mental realm resides in these hidden dimensions is very debatable and probably unknowable. When I write, however, that the mental realm is the "inside" of matter, we could just as well conceive of this inside as another dimension(s) because I don't mean literally when I say inside. Rather, I mean that there is something about matter that is not accessible to outside observers. Outside observers can only know the relational aspects of each object of study: how it relates to other outsides and the particular inside of the observer herself. This is the nature of outsides. But as Alan Watts writes: "For every inside there is an outside, and for every outside there is an inside. And though they are different, they go together."

    The key point, in my opinion, is that we cannot deny the epistemological duality of inside/outside, subject/object, knower/known. This epistemological duality is the most certain thing we know, by sheer virtue of our existence as conscious beings, but it shouldn't be mistaken to require an ontological duality. The better view is that, as Watts, suggests, inside and outside are two aspects of the same fundamental stuff. And this stuff we may call Brahman, ether, ground of being, etc.

  • Absent-Minded Science – Part I Nov 11, 2010

    pt68, there are no "official" definitions of these terms but there are certainly conventions and personal preferences. The convention in the philosophy of mind is to use "consciousness" as the most general term for the mental world. But as I mentioned previously in these comments, Strawson and Griffin, and some others, prefer generally to use "experience" as the most general term. "Awareness" usually refers to the more purely psychological meaning that you describe as "consciousness" above.

    It's important to distinguish at least terminologically between psychology and philosophy of mind and ontology/metaphysics. The latter three fields are generally trying to get at the fundamental nature of things, rather than to explain psychological phenomena, which is often referred to nowadays, tongue in cheek, as the "easy problem."

    The "hard problem," as you probably know, is determining exactly what consciousness is, in an ontological sense. See David Chalmers' 1996 book on this topic and many other treatments since. The hard problem is, however, just another name for the eons-old mind/body problem. This is the problem of determining what mind and matter are, and how they relate.

    As for "proof" of consciousness, the only consciousness you can prove is your own. I can't prove yours and you can't prove mine. We magnanimously grant each other conscious experience because we have good circumstantial evidence that others are conscious. But we can't know if they are because it is the nature of consciousness to know only one's own consciousness. Similarly, we can, based on circumstantial evidence, decide to grant consciousness to creatures and objects that are not human. As I write about in Part III of this series, some well-known physicists, including Freeman Dyson and David Bohm, believe that the behavior of electrons and other subatomic particles, which is often described as "random," suggests instead a choice. That is, the electron's behavior can best be explained by ascribing a very rudimentary consciousness to it. This is one more line of reasoning that supports the panpsychist hypothesis.

  • Absent-Minded Science – Part I Nov 10, 2010

    Thanks Stefania! Words can mean what we want them to mean, as Humpty Dumpty famously observed. To me, mind and consciousness are synonymous though we can of course if we wish reserve "consciousness" for more complex types of mind like our own. Some philosophers, like Galen Strawson and David Ray Griffin, prefer to use "experience" as the most basic level of mental reality. I imagine the experience of an electron to be a simple humming or "om-ing" of very basic existence.

    We could also take the more Idealist route and consider mind to be akin to Hegel's Spirit or the Absolute. In this version, mind/Spirit/Absolute is akin to the Vedanta Brahman and is the source of it all, the ground of being from which reality grows in each moment.

    These views are not mutually exclusive. Rather, they use different terminology but can be readily reconciled if we look to the underlying concepts.

    Part III of this series will delve a bit more into these ideas.

  • Absent-Minded Science – Part I Nov 09, 2010

    QuantumDoug, my intuition is that you are correct in suggesting a link between quantum phenomena and consciousness. This is of course not a new idea and there are many extant quantum theories of mind (Pribram, Stapp, Penrose, Hameroff, to name a few). My own theory of consciousness, which is panpsychist and described in detail in a paper that will appear in the Journal of Consciousness Studies next year ("Kicking the Psychophysical Laws Into Gear: A General Theory of Complex Subjects), suggests that quantum nonlocality may be crucial for high-level consciousness like our own because it allows surmounting barriers to causation propagation that would otherwise limit consciousness to fairly simple types. Our brains, in my theory, act like consciousness superconductors by allowing the stability and synchrony of countless tiny minds to combine at various holarchical levels into the type of mind we enjoy as humans. This is my solution to the "combination problem" and it's hard to do it justice in just a few sentences.

  • Absent-Minded Science – Part I Nov 09, 2010

    pt68 and dwhogg, I am using the term "mind" here as the most general term for consciousness, awareness, experience, etc., which are different terms for the mental aspect of the universe.

    As for emergence and comparisons to features like liquidity, this is a common objection to anti-emergence arguments. If features like liquidity, solidity or color can emerge from objects that don't display these features, isn't this a good precedent for emergence of mind from non-mind? In a word, no.

    There is a crucial difference. Let's take liquidity. Liquidity is indeed a new feature of molecules that isn't present until the right conditions are present. H and O molecules aren't themselves liquid at room temperature. And yet liquidity is entirely explicable by looking at how these molecules interact with each other. There is really no mystery now (well, surely some, but not much) in how H and O molecules combine to form dipolar molecules that attract each other more loosely than in a solid but less loosely than in a gas. In other words, liquidity is pretty predictable, or at least explicable, when we consider the constituents of any given liquid. We're dealing with "outsides" at every step in this process - first the outsides of the individual molecules and then the outsides of the combination of molecules in the liquid.

    Consciousness is entirely different because we are not talking about relational properties of the outsides of various substances. We are talking about insides, experience, consciousness, phemonema, qualia, etc. And when we define our physical constituents as wholly lacking in mind then it is literally impossible for mind to "emerge" from this wholly mindless substrate. This is what Strawson calls "radical emergence" and he makes basically the same argument that I've made here as to its impossibility.

    Now, maybe impossibility is too strong a word for you. Granted, at this level of abstraction we can't prove anything (can anything be proved, period?). So perhaps a better word would be implausible. It is highly implausible that the inside of matter (mind, consciousness) would suddenly emerge at some arbitrary midpoint in the history of the universe. Isn't it far more plausible that if there must be some kind of emergence (something from nothing) that it occurs at the beginning of the ontological chain of being?

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