February 2007

…is a paper Nuala sent on (here). To the change blindness people, vision is inherently purposeful. This isn’t an optional attribute. Vision must be purposive. To Hockney, talking bout his photos, it is the temporal element that distinguishes his photo collages (and paintings) from static photographs. But they seem to be talking about the same thing from two different standpoints. Purpose and temporality. Hockney is clearly talking about purpose, and his point would be clearer (and apply more readily to his pictures too). The vision scientists are also clearly talking about time:

the changed object attribute needs to be task relevant at exactly the right times

Our experiments
suggest a highly purposive and task specific nature of human vision, where information extracted from the fixation point is
used for certain computations only “just in time” when needed to solve the current goal.

… I guess I’m trying to understand the SPOV as a natural phenomenon. Understand it from the outside, because inside, it just doesn’t seem possible. What appears as intuition is, in fact, entirely misleading. That essence-sucking expression of ‘thought’ into a series of words turns it into something else. As when we retell our dreams. Perception appears to be an attempt by our systems to understand the world. I guess we need to know what understanding is. Some of it is the identification of macroscopic entities which we will then regard as discrete entities, like ants and trees. These then seem to form ‘natural categories’ to us, and we base our philosophy on them. But these categories have no ontological special hats on. They are precisely the kind of thing that it is suitable for us to see; where we are the kind of organisms, enveloped by the specific structured energy that we are. And we are entirely contingent. A puff of air at some remote spot, and the forms would be different. Evolutionary exercises. Blink, and the earth is populated by different beings. What, if anything, is the common purpose such beings could have? Can we possibly understand ‘purpose’? Perhaps (just perhaps) one way we can think of it is a ‘striving-to-being’, or indeed desire/appetite.

Jaysus, this is a lot to unpack. Don’t give up yet though. The ant/tree thing is worth it.

The link between perception (self-representation) and action (rejuvenation) is will.

Geoffrey Miller (psychologist) has an eloquent view of how secular humanists might face death. Its in this year’s answer to the Edge question “what are you optimistic about”. Its on page 4.

I mean a death that shows a gutsy, scientifically informed existential courage in the face of personal extinction. I mean a death that shows the world that we secular humanists really mean it.

The question is how one’s cortex faces death. Does it collapse in mortal terror like a deflated soufflé? Or does it face the end of individual consciousness with iron-clad confidence in the persistence of virtually identical consciousnesses in other human bodies?

Here are four:
Failure to meet minds with psychiatry
Sleep: what’s the story?
Why do we like music?

Consciousness, or self-awareness, is a transitional stage in a cyclical universe that needs awareness for a brief period in order to renew itself. We are part of a pattern that contains us, but is not about us. I suspect we stand shortly before a huge transition, and part of that transition will involve the elimination of us, and probably earth. As always with nature, we can see purpose in the design. The rate of relevant change is increasing. As consciousness arose, it reached a level of complexity that allowed it the means to represent itself. Whenever that happens within a system, strange things result. In this case, the universe gets sort of super powers. Our understanding is the universe becoming self-aware briefly in order to reach a stage at which it can reconfigure, reinvent, re-create, itself. Our technologies will facilitate that (so the idea of technology going mad and becoming a threat is not farfetched at all), nanotechnology is a start down a road that will give us complete control of materials. Given the rate at which technology has evolved, and the accelleration, it seems clear that the rate of change is quickening and quickening. So we may be on the cusp of a monumental event in a universe’s cycle, most of the time of the cycle being rather uneventful. Those very eventful few seconds after the big bang actually lie just ahead. That is the apolalypse.

I feel my pain, you feel yours. I have EP for my pain, you for yours. It does not follow that I know everything about what my brain is doing, of course. Indeed, I believe the case for EP is grossly overstated. We are lousy at giving causal accounts for our own behaviour. Look inside and tell me what you are feeling right now. Apart from sensations, there is little immediate experience of the kind of things we would describe if asked ‘how are you feeling?’. Where my thought are verbalized, I am a listener, and my experience of the words is very like that of hearing others speak. The murky goings on that are not verbal are not immediately available to me, certainly not that I could describe or report on. (that may be circular. If I could report something, it would be verbal… nah, I can report pain, and I experience pain directly and non-verbally).

I once sketched an argument (overly academic) about the idea that TOM in apes, if accepted, suggests that we might have gone from that starting point, and used it to develop a theory of self. I was cautious about the whole TOM thing, preferring rather to focus on the utility of prediction for social animals. I hypothesized that prediction from unseen causes, as with behaviour within a rigid social hierarchy, would be facilitated by the development of a ‘model’ of the other, with causal attribution to things like ‘jealousy’, ‘stubbornness’ and the like. This in turn could be turned inwards, to generate a causal account of ones own behaviour. We are notoriously bad at providing causal accounts of our own behaviour, and such accounts are manifestly untrustworthy (I don’t know why I did it; I just did). This would suggest that much of what we claim epistemological privilege for is, in fact, hypothetical, inferred, and of a kind with the causal accounts we provide for the behaviour of others.

I was tickled to see Ramachandran making a very similar argument in edge.org.