Sense, Essence, and Existence

A ManifesT.O.E. of the Over-Examined Life


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The Movie Will Begin in Five Moments…

A conversation on Quora about the Subconscious and Superconscious.

…”There is consciousness of every process and every phenomenon, but it is not available to us within the personal range.”

"If it’s not available to us in the personal range, doesn’t that make it subconscious?"

Subconscious relative to the executive/person level, yes, but not to every level of consciousness.

Yes it does, because an actor knows the cinematographer exists but a person does not know what their subconscious mind is doing.

Is knowing that the cinematographer exists the same thing as knowing what she is doing? Does the actress see herself from the view through the camera? That would make it hard to act.

I am not completely in the dark about what my subconscious is doing. I can feel the implicit presence of events that have populated my morning, week, year and life without explicitly making memories conscious in my mind. I can know about all kinds of things without thinking about them intentionally.

"What is a sub-personal and super-personal experience?"

They are other frames of reference within the total “Self”. The personal level of consciousness would be like the actors, plot, costumes, locations, etc of the movie. The sub-personal experiences would be the technical end - the lights, sound, camera…which to us looks like physiology, biology, and chemistry, but are actually sub-movies. The sub-movies may not feature actors or plots, except perhaps as supporting characters or even scenery, but instead the sub-personal movies are more like documentaries about film-making.

The super-personal level of awareness would be a movie of the producer’s view of the film as a project. It would be a movie in its own right, but it is a movie about financing, insurance, distribution of the personal movie. The actors here are only seen in somewhat expendable roles, while the real action is played out on screen between studio executives, investors, and audiences, who to “us” the actors, will seem like VIPs, aka archetypes, God, destiny/luck, etc.

Timeless Dreams and STUFF

Being awakened by light is one of the most natural and familiar ways of gaining consciousness. There can be a moment of disorientation in which we are aware of some jarring-but-generic stimulus but have not even yet identified that it is light, or that we have been asleep and are now waking up. It is also true that we can be unconscious and not be sensitive to light.

The physicalist interpretation would cite these points as evidence that consciousness is controlled by unconscious processes, since it shows that we cannot wake ourselves up, and we can be awakened by stimulation which we do not consciously understand.

The question that I ask is whether we should assume that just because we are not personally conscious of the stimulation, the local sensitivity to light is not also a form of consciousness or awareness? Could we think instead of a “local aesthetic” or sensitivity which awakens a less local “general aesthetic” or consciousness?* Could we interpret being awakened by light as an example in which the phenomenal self is awakened by microphenomenal consciousness?

If that is the case then the question is how much of that microphenomenal consciousness is devoted exclusively to waking us up intentionally, and how much is stimulation/experience on the micro- level that is unrelated to us personally? If there is a lot that is unrelated to us, then we can ask whether that lot is experienced as:

  • a single “I”
  • multiple “we” 
  • S (Semi-I/We)
  • O other
  • M Multisense (all/some of the above),
  • Q qualia…the sensation presents spontaneously and directly without container.
  • M(Q) Each sense has its own unique signature that extends roots to the Primordial Aesthetic (PA).

All of these options play with the idea of definition and self. Can there be a dream without a dreamer? If we say yes, then we are making consciousness more like an objective property with nothing that it is a property of, like ‘existence’. If we say no, we are making the contents of consciousness into a substance that belongs to a separate subject. When we telescope this out to the cosmological scale, we are making a theological assertion is it all the product of a primordial aesthetic of awareness or awareness of aesthetics? Is we qualia that thinks or are we thoughts that become qualified?

I think about this a lot (can you tell?) and in light of the utterly unprecedented nature of qualia, I have to say that it is more miraculous than the idea of self, of existence, or even of God. They are incredible, but the experience of tasting, feeling, and desiring the aesthetic qualities is much more miraculous, to the point of being absolutely incredible.

Once we have qualia, the idea of quantized qualia (information) or publicized qualia (physics) seems like a pretty straightforward modulation of sensitivity against nested insensitivities (counting is an objectivization, objects are an experience of inexperience). Without qualia though, nothing makes any sense at all. God? God of what? Unconscious void? Existence? As Kant said, existence is an empty predicate. To say ‘the lamp exists’ adds nothing to the concept of the lamp. They are the same thing, so that when we remove the lamp, there is nothing there remaining but the meaningless word ‘exists’. It just means that we are treating an experience in its own frame of reference. By itself, without consciousness, existence is a theoretical anything which is indiscernible from nothing.

Maybe the truth is beyond our grasp through this method of inquiry, however. We might find that it happens to be an empirical truth that God or a timeless dreamer ‘exists’ prior to awareness itself, or is identical to awareness, and that we simply have no logical access to why that has to be the case. Because this option is not out of the question, an ambi-theistic compromise is appealing. In the same way that we can decide that our own free will is an illusion, our own attention is capable of defining itself as ‘ours’ or simply as ‘it’. We can say that every time we release an illusion of self, we are merely leveling up to a higher level of self (who is doing the releasing?), or we can say that there is a final level at which human consciousness transcends self entirely and becomes pure?

As usual, it helps to think about light. Light is visibility, but when concentrated it becomes brightness and bright white. Even though it is ‘pure white’ it contains all colors, as can be demonstrated by using a prism, which is both transparent and reflective. The color is neither in the prism, or our eyes, or our brain, or in the information of electromagnetic frequencies. We could produce those frequencies within a computer’s processing of a program and not get any color out of it. The color is the experience itself. Even though we experience color as something that we personally experience, that may be only our perspective. Subjectivity itself may be subjective, in the same way that visual experience itself is an irreducibly visual phenomenon. Locality and generality are both ultimately aesthetic qualities. If it were not that way, then we should have no complaint against physicalism, since any notion of self or God which exists completely outside of awareness is subject to the same Berkeleyan objection as matter is.

* Could this general awakening be a way that we are separated from a super-general totality or “primordial aesthetic”?

I am thinking about our own subjectivity as a temporary/temporal bubble of relative insensitivity within the fundamental ground of timeless dreams. The bubble is not a material or immaterial substance, but a condition of polarization of sensitivity. The bubble is an envelope of filtered sensation that can be called STUFF {Space-Time, U, Form-Functions}. This is personal qualia…dreams with a dreamer.

In the case of human consciousness, it’s a bit more complicated than that I’m afraid. We have our own personal STUFF, in the form of imagination and dreams which are distinct from the outer-scene bubble of Relativized-Realized STUFF.  This could be called ME [Mass-gravity Energy-entropy.] and it divides visual-seeing from optical-looking, tactile feeling from tangible touching, etc.

I conceive of ME [Mass-gravity || Energy-entropy] as the square of the primordial insensitivity (STUFF). A second filter on the primordial aesthetic, which would be the timeless, boundaryless totality of sensory-motive, nesting significance (PA). One bubble allows for dreaming STUFF, nested bubbles allow for increasingly focused, signifying, and realistic experience (ME STUFF).

The Autistic-Psychotic Spectrum

My recent interest in the autism theories of Simon Baron-Cohen, Crespi and Badcock has given me a new way of describing what I call the Multisense Continuum. My interest in the autism work is not so much in the literal interpretation of these theories, but in the themes that the theories tie into. Whether or not autism is caused by high fetal testosterone or selection pressure for ‘maternal resources’ is not my interest personally, and my instinct is that these are ultimately regressive approaches that can be too easily politicized.

What I am interested in, however, is the continuum itself. The concept of autism, not as it really is; a complex set of possible traits related to social development, language, interests, etc, but as a stereotype. The themes of autism and the way those themes can be juxtaposed against the themes of psychosis diametrically are, in my view, the keys to understanding consciousness, and by extension, all of nature. This may sound like an idea which is both psychotic and autistic…and that would make perfect sense.

What I am saying is that the entire universe and the fabric of every part of the universe are fundamentally rooted in the same thematic spectrum as these theories. Physics is the autistic spectrum of the universe, and subjectivity is its psychotic spectrum.

Here are some other ways to look at it:

Unnatural > Natural < Supernatural

In this simple version, the left side would be the autistic side, called ‘unnatural’ to reflect the atomized, mechanical aesthetic of the cosmos. Repetition and isolation are highlighted. Each part a discrete object connected to other objects through highly systemized, literal links.

The right side (and I always put the subjective side on the right or “East” side as it is the “orienting” side) would be the psychotic side, called ‘supernatural’ to reflect the irrational, mystical, and divine connotations of delusional and psychedelic states. I think that people who have experienced bipolar shifts from mania to depression might agree that they correspond to a transition from personal identification with the divine to a divine disillusionment or abandonment. Psychedelic trips also famously follow this supernatural ‘Heaven and Hell’ amplification of what would ordinarily be the simple highs and lows of mood. Moods swing up and down, but they also swing left and right, from saturated, floridly supernatural hallucinations to flat, utilitarian execution on the left.
This is not to say that all supernatural experiences are ‘hallucinations’ or that all unnatural influences are devoid of empathy, only that this is what the universe is doing with itself…oscillating and tessellating through this spectrum, expanding it in ever more elaborate ways.

A semiotic way of expressing it might be:

Semaphoric > Morphic || Phoric < Metaphoric

On the left*, I am using a neologism “semaphoric” to make the connection with deflating the broad, poetic sensibility of loose metaphorical association to the precisely defined, mathematical sensibility of codes and logic. Semaphores are flags, like digits or cards** which are used for making compressing information and making it unambiguous. Semaphoric sensibility is bottom up, building complex communication from binary or quantized alphabets.

The center (Natural) section is bifurcated here into the Morphic and Phoric, referring to form and feeling respectively. Form could be geometric objects in space or functional steps in time while feeling would be the appreciation of and participation in sensory experience which may or may not be attached to logical objects/functions. The double pipe (“||”) emphasizes a fold in the continuum, since the inflection point at which the morphological counter-aesthetic of bodies in spacetime and the native, ‘phoric’ aesthetic of experiences-qualia within itself is one of diametric opposition. The flavor of apple pie is not only nothing like the structure of organic chemistry, it is the opposite ontological expression

On the right, ‘metaphoric’ refers to the sensibility which is anchored in the firmament of collective experience. Just as the semaphoric bumps up against a minimum limit of binary logic, the metaphoric branches out into a kind of unification of infinity…a maximum holism. Here, the logic of space and quantity breaks down entirely, as all of history is fused into pool of potential inspiration and meaning. Fantasy is intrinsic to all experience, including the fantasy of escaping fantasy entirely.

Autism > Systemizing || Empathizing < Psychosis

So yeah, this is the human personal version of the Multisense continuum in my view. The extremes of autism would map to my category of OMMM (Only Material Matters Matter) and ACME (Anything Can Mean Everything) would map to the Bipolar/Schizophrenia category. There are endless other ways of expressing this, and I did not even get into how the spectrum ‘wraps around’ so that left and right ends can be seen as the center, but that works also (instead of a diametric “||” there would be an evanescent …… linkage for the ‘Ouroboran’ wrap around).

My hunch is that this spectrum can be formalized for scientific purposes, and that the systemizing and empathizing functions can be understood in ontological terms. The pound sign # and the asterisk * can even be a clue, or perhaps :-)  < *

* left is also Western-Occidental, counter to default orientation.

**Descartes, interestingly, was so named because of ‘cartes’, or charts that he used to explain his theories, theories which ushered in the Enlightenment era of Cartesian coordinates, through which space and time were digitally quantified.

What do you think the word “quale” refers to?

Maybe the term “qualia” refers to nothing. Maybe it refers something. What do you think the word “quale” refers to?

If we take a phenomenon like a chocolate chip cookie, we can divide it into three categories that I might call morphic, metric, and phoric.

The morphic category would define the cookie as a physical form. A quantity of mass, energy, density, structure, volume in space, duration through time, etc. The physical thingness of a thing.

The metric category would define the cookie as an informational entity. An index of relationships and measurements about the cookie as it relates to human appetite, nutrition, metabolism, the evolutionary value of particular foods, the behaviorist psychology of reward, the game-theoretic and economic value of possession of cookies, etc.

With the morphic and metric together, we can assemble a kind of perfect facade of what a cookie is and what it is for from the perspective of an aloof observer. We can build a virtual cookie and we can insert it into a virtual universe and watch avatars behave just like we behave, baking and buying cookies, putting them in their mouths, and watching their mouths make a distinctive :-) pattern, especially in children.

What’s missing?

The phoric category would be the qualia - the actual aesthetic experience of tasting and enjoying a chocolate cookie. Not just the fact of its hyper-selected lipid-saccharide content which insures overconsumption for individuals and societies alike, but the specific, proprietary, exquisitely detailed qualities of flavor, ‘mouthfeel’, and sugar ‘bliss point’ that flavor scientists talk about. Qualia is why we humans spend fantastic amounts of time and money preparing food that tastes delicious in specific ways, rather than just getting a drum of tasteless fat and protein every week. What qualia refers to is the actual content of our own direct experience, rather than indirect analyses of structures that we find to be associated with (some) of those experiences.

YouTube comment thread

Zooming in on Reductionism and Extremely Gendered Brains

One of the greatest obstacles to understanding the hard problem of consciousness and the explanatory gap between function and qualia is that we are psychologically conditioned to overlook the destructive compression of reductionism.

Only a person who is familiar with the shape of the State of Texas can fully understand the connect the dots image shown above. I have included an intermediate image between ‘potential Texas’ and the Functional View to show how even a shift in perspective can make identification impossible. In the end, no identification at all is necessary fro a machine to logically connect one dot to the next in an n+1 sequence. No matter how many dots are connected, it is just the same mechanical action. No geometry or memory is required, just a machine that logically associate one point of data with the next.

When we build computations out of that, we can step back and look at all of the dots and say “yes, the computer is drawing Texas, therefore it might know what Texas is.” or “surely the more complex the arrangement of dots, the more likely it is that a computer could develop geometry and visual experiences of shape”, but there is no logical support for that. Each process of the machine can continue on as it has, completing one mindless task after another, including mindless meta-tasks of associating many groups of data points with many other.

When we reduce the reds, blues, and yellows of light to ‘simply’ electromagnetic wavelengths, we are suggesting that some agent is converting a set of colorless data points into a a color. This is the explanatory gap. A surprisingly high percentage of the population has no trouble with outright denying that there is a gap at all, and will insist that color simply “is” the brain’s reaction to processing data about light. They do not see that processing of data need only be an invisible, functional interpretation of logical points, compressible to any kind of labeling scheme we like.

A brain could easily use biochemical, epigenetic, or quantum computation to label its vast oceans of data at high speed without having to invent flavors, colors, or feelings. Colors are not even the best example because visual qualia maps relatively isomorphically to optical measurements. The same is not true for flavors and emotions, which bear almost no resemblance to physics. If we allowed the brain to produce a single dimension of sense, there is no plausible reason to have to produce a second, any more than there would be a reason for a car’s dashboard to make a musical playlist to accompany itself. If for some reason a computer needed to see its own data, and it could somehow magically conjure that into existence out of its ‘complexity’, seeing would be more than enough to fulfill all data compression needs forever.

An interesting explanation for the inability of so many people to recognize the gap between function and qualia may be hinted at in Simon Baron-Cohen’s Empathizing–Systemizing (E-S) theory of brain types, and Crespi and Badcock’s paper Psychosis and autism as diametrical disorders of the social brain. I have already caught shit for proposing this, as it may sound like I am saying that autism is bad, or that people who favor functionalism are autistic, but that is actually the almost the opposite of what I am saying. What I think the truth is, or might be, is that everyone carries these diametrical potentials (which map to my ACME-OMMM dichotomy, btw) to some extent, and they reflect the continuum of human consciousness, philosophy of mind, and nature itself. This article had this to say about it:

In their forthcoming article in the premier journal Behavioral and Brain Sciences, Crespi and Badcock present a very convincing case for paranoid schizophrenia as an extreme female brain. Now the whole picture appears to be complete. When your brain is “too male,” too systemizing, too mechanistic, you become autistic. When your brain is “too female,” too empathizing, too mentalistic, you become paranoid schizophrenic. If the extreme male brain of an autistic is “mindblind,” then you might suggest that the extreme female brain of a paranoid schizophrenia is “logicblind.”

Again, to be clear, I am not advocating a clinical reductionism in psychology. I’m not advocating the labeling of autism this or male-female that. This is not about neuroscience or biology for me*, it is about metaphysics and ontology. The difference between representation and presentation, and how they are flipped again and again within nature, and how they are both lenses which define each other.

*I don’t blame people for having a negative reaction to this kind of science, as far as using terms like ‘extreme male brain’ in itself sounds like the product of ‘extreme male’ thinking. It seems crass and inaccurate to go down that road of categorizing people and pathologizing psychological differences as disorders, but I will take what I can get. I think that this research is on to something, regardless of how it may sound.

INTP sounds about right :)

INTP sounds about right :)

Can Science Understand Consciousness?

"But I think just by definition of what science is, it will not or can not examine the psychological entanglement of mind and body. "


Either that’s true, in which case the way forward will be called something other than science, or it’s not true and we will extend the definition of science so that it seeks the truth about nature regardless of its content. Either way, it’s politics, and therefore irrelevant.

"science, even though it is incomplete- is able to tell us objective facts about the universe. Thus- allowing us to learn about what exists beyond our personal subjective experience- Do you agree?"


Science can help us make sense of larger scopes of experience. There is no ‘objective’, only very old and reliable qualities of experience.

"Can you explain what you meant when you said science is [now] … "ideology that will always try to turn interiority into exteriority by amputating the relevant parts"

I don’t think that is what science is, just what it has become right now. Science, philosophy, and theology are all branches of the same tree. Right now the science branch has grown so far to the West that it has pathologized the East, so the way forward is to use science to see the subjectivity within objectivity, and the objectivity within subjectivity.

Reality is just the universe’s day job.

Idealism, Chinese Room, God

Commenting on this vlog.

Agree and disagree.

Agree that idealism does not support theism per se, although arguably slightly more than atheism since concepts are more plausible as functions of a supreme being or super-phenomenology than they are of physical mechanisms.

Disagree that the Chinese Room suffers from the Masked Man fallacy. Although it is flawed, it is still a stepping stone in the right direction. The key flaw in the Chinese Room, as well as Chalmers’ concept of philosophical zombies is the beginning definition of a program which behaves *exactly* like a natural mind/person. This is a mistake for a couple of reasons, the first of which is that nothing is exactly like anything else, particularly anything which is an imitation of something else. A plastic plant is not exactly like a real plant, but from 15 feet away, it may be hard to tell the difference. It may be easier to tell the difference if you are a designer of plastic plants, or a horticulturist.

This leads to the second mistake - the assumption that consciousness and understanding are monolithic rather than qualitatively layered. Just like the plastic plant in it’s degrees of perceived authenticity, the degree to which something like a language is ‘understood’ breaks out into levels. I can read, speak, and understand English fluently, but some languages I can only recognize in general geographic terms, such as ‘Eastern European looking’ or ‘Southeast Asian sounding’. Some languages I can make out the letters and sound out the words phonetically, but would need a phonetic dictionary to understand the meaning. If I did have such a dictionary, I still might miss a lot of cultural contexts and idioms, current styles etc that play a role. If another person with an equally poor command of the language were to audit my understanding, they might conclude that I was a fluent speaker.

Herein lies the problem with disregarding idealism - we are forced to rely on faith in a fully objective factual state of being which is independent from all forms of interpretation. If we do that, however, then we must ask the question of why, should this state of being exist, would perception exist at all? If the world can simply exist and function automatically according to axiomatic, unconscious conditions, then why should any such thing as consciousness develop at all? This of course is the Hard Problem of Consciousness, and it doesn’t go away just because we redefine the Chinese Room as a “system” or a mass of neural tissue as a “program”.

Raatz is quite right to ask why there are no qualia like color or flavor present in the brain, since the whole point of physical or functional reductionism is to show that nothing other than mechanical information processing is necessary to explain consciousness. Of course, we can see mechanical information processing in the brain perfectly well without any magical qualia being conjured. The brain needs qualia to process information like a computer CPU needs a video camera to look at its own data visually. The gap here (the Explanatory Gap) is very subtle for some people, impossible for others, but for those who can see it clearly, there is no possible resolution - it is the cosmological Grand Canyon. There will never, ever be a reason why calculating structures passing abstractions from one location to another would or could spontaneously develop phenomena such as blue, itchy, dizzy, effort, recreation, etc. Not going to happen. You can dance around it all you want, and call Santa Claus to sprinkle some emergentism on it, or call it ‘interpretations’ or ‘labels’ but in the end, it’s BS and you know it. Pinocchio is not going to become a real boy.

Why that’s the case is a different story, which I won’t get into, but suffice it to say, that if all you have ever seen is a plastic plant, and you try to build a real plant, you are not going to get anything more than a plastic plant. Conscious experience develops from the inside out, it is not assembled from the outside in from unrelated parts. Living creatures divide from a single cell, of their own volition, not grafted onto an inorganic process which has no capacity to scale up to biology on its own.

Anyhow, I have my problems with theism, but they are problems with the logic of a necessity for a super-being in the absolute context which would lack other beings. My thinking is that sense/awareness/qualia is the absolute fabric of all phenomena, beneath physics and information alike, however our human experience of being a person/subject could easily be a function of what an animal does in the world rather than the ontology of sensory experience itself. Having said that, once you get into the crazy implications of a sense-primitive universe, in which space and time are collapsed in the outermost-innermost realms of awareness, then it is not at all out of the question that humanity is being called to by something like our future potential…a teleological strange attractor with the face of divinity. Could be. It may be better to leave it at ‘could be’, and give ourselves the authority to interpret it in the way that our experience recommends, rather than submitting to a logically overwhelming argument. Can we really have faith if we logically have no other choice, and isn’t faith really closer to the Absolute than logic? Maybe for some of us logic is closer to the Absolute though, so the peace which a logical certainty brings best reflects the divine?

The Sound of Ions

A question about the sound that Geiger counters make came up on Quora and got me thinking about sound and electricity. It seems that the sound a Geiger counter makes is synthetic, in the sense that the event which is being recorded by the counter is actually silent (for all practical purposes), so that it is only the electric current which is being used to power the audio speaker which is fluctuating. The speaker is making the sound, not something which has been recorded by a microphone. Static on your phone line works the same way, only in a Geiger counter there is a capsule of gas that gets ionized in the presence of radiation, causing a change in the electric current running in a wire through the gas.

For those of you who favor an information-centric view of nature, this supports the idea that what we hear is ‘information’: a pattern of quantitative relations which can be reproduced in different physical media, which also may be reducible to information. What we are hearing in the world, the tapping of a keyboard for instance, would only be a hallucination of neurological information that happens to correspond to extra-neurological information by contagious physical analogs. We are hearing the keyboard no more than we are hearing acoustic vibrations of air, or eardrum membrane, or chemical changes in the auditory nerve. It is only by the brain’s power to compute the associations between the underlying quantitative pattern and the most likely context it matches with that we achieve a sense of ‘hearing the keyboard’.

My intention is to turn this worldview inside out, and see that information, rather than being a real agent of physical and sensory change, is actually an abstraction which refers only to communication across various sensory frames of reference. Information allows us to hear events, to share sensations at a distance, but it is not the event or the sensation itself. Information is how we can make physical media transparent to a particular message, or to collapse spacetime through recording/playback. Sound is interesting in that it straddles the overlap between tactile vibration and audio performance. A musician can transduce some aspect of their feeling into a mechanical format that resonates instruments, amplifiers, air, and the ears and feelings of an audience. The sensory path is quite different, however. The music is a phenomenon in its own right, from the sensory perspective - an aesthetic encounter which can be recalled in memory or composed creatively as well as existing as a quantitative waveform. In the sensory view, the musician and audience are connected via instrumental performance in their own irreducible frame of reference. It is this phenomenon of nature, that I call pansensitivity or sense, which is more important, direct, and fundamental than physics or information…both of which can be explained as sensory phenomena on a distant, impersonal level of description.

When viewed this way, nature is not just a computer plowing through mindless, inevitable computations, but it is a perceptual pantheon of ever-accumulating depth and richness. Sense allows us to pay attention to what is relevant, but it also allows us to appreciate experience for its own sake. Like the sound of the Geiger counter…it is what it is, a sound. Not information that sounds like something, not a physical event that we can hear, but an audio perception that exists in the experience of the person operating the counter. On the microphysical level, the perception may not have an audio quality, or even a tactile quality, but I imagine that what it is like for gaseous molecules to undergo ionization is fundamentally a feeling. Not necessarily a feeling ‘of’ a molecule, any more than the sound of the Geiger counter is the sound of the molecule, but just a feeling. A feeling that our eyes might feel also, which we see as lightning, or feel as a shock of static electricity on the surface of our finger. We are feeling ourselves change, and change in a way that is isomorphic to other changes, in physics, in computation, and in time.