In previous posts I have been looking at the idea of the autistic-psychotic spectrum and matching it to the far ‘west’ and far ‘east’ poles within philosophy of mind. The far-east extreme would correspond to a myopic sense of exterior realism which is compensated for by profound and far-sighted appreciation for interior transcendence.
The far-west extreme is the exact opposite, and corresponds to a profoundly short-sighted appreciation of interior powers to transcend exterior realism but a far-sighted sense of that which is externally real. There is a sort of ironic-seeming twist there in that those who are using their consciousness in a most external-facing way are most denied the ability to see their own consciousness as an objectively real part of nature. You can’t look through the telescope and at the telescope at the same time.
The stereotypical autistic intellect is associated with low empathetic connections and high systematizing tendencies. There are theories which label autism an overly-masculine range of traits, while the psychotic spectrum of schizophrenia, bipolar, and depression are though of as overly-feminine. I say these are stereotypes not only because the use of gender and labeling in psychology is somewhat pejorative and backward, but also because a case can be made for the opposite association as well. The systemizing end of the spectrum can be thought of as being more empathetic to systemizing, mechanistic approaches while the empathizing end of the spectrum can be understood to be lacking in empathy toward mechanistic approaches such as logic and objective realism. It’s not that some people empathize and others do not, it’s that people’s empathy is focused in opposite directions.
Some people empathize with their own empathy and with that of others, while other people empathize more with the other-ness of others. For them, social interaction is best mediated by games with rules and teams with roles than through messy human emotions. Argue with someone who has a strong ‘west-minded’ orientation about the possibility of Strong AI though, and you will find that they are quite sentimental about machines and the future. Many times I have found myself debating with others who have no problem accepting that computers can and will someday be sentient to an extra-human degree, but when confronted directly with the phenomenon of human sentience and free will are adamantly negative. Some people find even the concept of free will so intolerable that they refuse to even treat it as a meaningful concept, saying that it is just a string of ASCII characters that refers to nothing that makes sense.
By the same token, I have had debates with east-minded people who revere the power of spiritual paths, but who are cynical toward science and have only knee-jerk responses against it. At the extremes, both ends of the spectrum become fanatical and each camp is united in their identical, all-consuming intolerance toward the other. Both are introverted in their identification to the interior reality of their perspective, but both are isolated and antagonistic toward other perspectives. Of course, everyone is like that to some extent, and it may not be possible to survive as a social entity without it, but if we can recognize our own near-sightedness and far-sightedness, we might find that we can learn to manipulate it and use our minds like lenses - different scopes of attention for different contexts. Instead of being obnoxious about what we can and can’t make sense of, we might find that the desire to be that way about it makes sense, but that there are other options available to us also. We can switch mental polarity and survive intact. We can develop a stereo vision which is both introspective and extroverted, and in both directions, to see that reality and unreality can be found both ‘in here’ and ‘out there’.
As anyone acquainted with basic photography knows, lighting is surprisingly effective at transforming the content of images. It’s not only a matter of controlling the intensity of what can be seen or not seen, but the entire emotional impact and story that the image tells is directly dependent on the direction and quality of the lighting. Direction and orientation is especially mysterious given that light itself is not where we think it is, if it can even be said to be anywhere at all.
Next time you’re bored on a video conference, take a moment to scan the camera image for bright spots. It’s interesting to note that sitting at a table with sunlight coming in at an angle, the camera can show a bright region of the table which just isn’t there from your point of view. It’s just an angle of incidence thing, but angle of incidence becomes a problem if we try to think in terms of objective physics. Just as a rainbow disappears when we move to a different angle, a reflection is only objective from a subjective perspective.
Sure, a camera can reliably pick up a reflection or a rainbow, but the camera does not interpret light as representing a distant condition of reality. To the camera looking at the sunlight filtering in from the window, the image of the bright spot and the image of the table are the same thing - like a Photoshop image, its all just data about the state of a photosensitive element, not about any ‘outside world’.
This tends to throw a wrench into the popular-as-ever Laplacian physical cosmology which insists upon particles in a void as the defining structure of reality. The problem with light is that it would indicate that a rainbow is nothing but unrelated local instances - the rainbow exists only as some kind of visual metaphor for a semantic relation between light sources and different collections of particles which are affected by them. There is no purely physical account of using light to see anything other than your own brain or retina.
In the camera example, or with the rainbow, how can we say where the light ‘is’ without a subjective expectation that it could be or should be anywhere else but within the particles of itself? For that reason, light should be understood to be intrinsically semantic. It is the visual-optical version of sense - storytelling on multiple levels and perspectives rather than only literal, local particles. Light is so revealing because it reveals revelation itself. We can see how light can appear to be a pure visible object, like a rainbow, or as a purely invisible conduit for reflections of objects. Light is a literal metaphor for the metaphor made literal.
“Kitsch causes two tears to flow in quick succession. The first tear says: How nice to see children running on the grass!
The second tear says: How nice to be moved, together with all mankind, by children running on the grass!”
— Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being
There’s something wrong with nostalgia, and I think that it’s related to what’s right about kitsch. To feel nostalgic is supposed to be bittersweet because there is presumably a longing for the past and perhaps a sadness for this unfulfillable longing. For me nostalgia seems more convoluted than that. It’s not so much that the past is forever out of reach, but that we wish that wanted to relive it as much as we are supposed to want to relive it. We want to be able to reminisce upon our lives and the worlds that we lived in with something like a magnanimous satisfaction, but instead something about the passage of time makes the past seem pathetic. Anything that was once a source of glorious excitement and greatness turns to some shade of banal humiliation.
What kitsch seems to offer is a workaround for nostalgic feelings. If nostalgia brings up unexpected shame that obstructs an idealized realization of the past, kitsch provides an opposite, unashamed idealization of an impersonal past/innocence. A kind of anorexic-bulimic alchemy of denial is at work. The fakeness of what we see kills the pain of the realness we wish we felt. The object and subject are inverted in some sense.
“The past is shit.” -Gerhard Roth, Winterreise
When we look at the past from the cynical view of the present, we see too much. The light of morning reveals the corny underbelly of the past, and all that was glamorous only serves to remind us of our own foolishness and mortality. Kitsch is one way to respond to this, and recapture our self worth through our own inverted self-pity reflected in the world.
I don’t think that I’m saying that we can’t have genuine fond memories which are uncomplicated, but they seem to evade being produced on command. They happen spontaneously, only as moments of grace. Somehow through grace innocence is redeemed authentically rather than marred by shame and regret. Maybe we need to experience the past as perpetually souring in order to keep us looking forward to the future?
In a nutshell, Pascal’s Wager is the idea that if we believe that God is real, we have a chance of going to Heaven, and that if we are wrong, we have not lost very much. Criticism to this reasoning has come from both atheists who point to believing in any one God would damn whoever failed to pick the right God to believe in, and also from some theists who point to the cynical nature of the wager and how it would disqualify one from any honest belief.
In the case of Free Will, however, a Pascal-like Wager seems perfectly legitimate and uncontroversial. There is simply no downside to believing in Free Will. If you don’t believe in it, it can’t matter anyways because your opinions cannot cause an effect on physics. You could, under determinism, try to believe whatever you can, but you will only be able to believe that which you are destined to believe anyhow based on your genetics, environment, etc. If you’re wrong however, then you may actually sacrifice the only thing in the universe which is truly yours - your freedom to choose whether to try to exercise your freedom. You literally have nothing to gain and everything to lose by wagering against your own free will. Furthermore, unlike God, Free Will doesn’t care whether you are sincere in your belief of it. You can even try the belief on for while, and return to full blown determinism later on.
There is one way that believing in free will can trip you up. If you get in your own way, by trying to take conscious control of everything that you can, you will likely invite complications from trying to ‘fix what is not broken’. You may find that it would have been better to let things work themselves out, rather than to be interfered with by injecting your personal intellect and ego.
Perhaps it is better then, to retain the belief on one level that you have some semblance of free will when you choose to exercise it, but that you can also choose to coast and ‘go with the flow’ and expect no worse results than through your own efforts. That brings up another layer of belief…do you believe in *your* free will? Do you feel lucky? Is it the right day to try to create from personal will, or is it safer to think it isn’t safe? To wager or not to wager, that is the meta-wager.
In the 20th century, brilliant individuals were celebrated and a chrome balloon of popular expectations surrounded the collective psyche. When the balloon began to expand in the heat and blasting force of the nucleating global culture, thousands of cracks opened up in the chrome of individual achievement. Celebrities and world leaders alike are revealed, shot through with banality like the man behind Oz’s curtain, just regular folks, and the time between new game changing tech innovations stretched longer and longer. The red heat of the 1900s gives way to a swamp of shit. It’s the twenty first century and more and more of us are stuck in the shit, and the shit is stuck in us.
Maybe that’s too negative though. Maybe we aren’t stuck in the shit at all, but just paying attention to the wrong thing.
If it’s fundamental and not caused by electrical signals, wouldn’t you have to conclude it’s actually everywhere and everything at all times wherever there is stuff, and is kind of a continuum where it’s “more aware” in complex places like someone’s brain? In which case a advanced computer could still act like someone’s brain and be capable of experience.
It may not be a matter of where it is, but when. Complexity may be the footprint of deeper histories of conscious experience making use of shallower histories, in a manner similar to how larger vocabularies might be used in more serious literature. In nature, an ‘advanced vocabulary’ would generally represent an advanced level of communication, but when we artificially imitate the vocabulary of a great communicator we do not conjure an author out of the pages of a book.
What I have come to is the idea that spacetime is only half of nature, and it is the half of nature which is used by the other half to disperse itself, to isolate, organize, and realize its aesthetic projects. By aesthetic projects I mean histories of experiences - expressions of theatrical immersion. This is the true fabric of the universe; what I call pansensitivity. Perceptual participation. Touch and feel. Seeing and looking. Tasting and eating.
In order to accomplish this anabolic construction through time, the aesthetic half of nature employs a contra-aesthetic; a hemi-insensitivity if you will, which is the modulation of entropy and negentropy, i.e. physics and computation. Physics is the outflowing, catabolic arrow of time which fixes public space and scale relation, contact surfaces, topological realism, etc. Computation is the inflowing synthesis of experience and physics (thesis and antithesis). It is the reinternalization of that which has been externalized in spacetime.
The problem (or solution, depending on what you’re trying to do) with AI is that we are a high level experience which is carrying a tremendous amount of what I call significance: We are individual people, we are anthropology and zoology, we are biology, genetics and chemistry, we are physics and mathematics. We have participated directly in the creation of these levels in real time over billions of years. What has happened now is that we have come full circle and are now building high level human intellectual logic as math in physics, from the outside in. Like any puppet or assembled machine, it is a vehicle for our motives and sense-making, rather than for its own agendas that arise from the inside-out. It’s a kind of sculpture, but not a three dimensional marble statue, or a four dimensional movie, but an interactive, five dimensional movie-making meta mechanism. This is something new in our history, and it brings new challenges and new promise.
One of the challenges is that these super-machines push the envelopes of individual people to truly understand what they are, and how to interpret their lifelike qualities without mistaking them for life. Even though CGI has come a long way, I find, and I think that most people find it pretty easy to tell that there is something inauthentic about it. It may not always rise to the level of conscious attention, but particularly when a main character’s image is computer generated, the phenomenon of the uncanny valley is evident. Something about it feels creepy. There is an emptiness where there should be warmth. There seems to be nothing ‘behind the eyes’ and animators often try to compensate with big, anime eyes or comical stylings. Indeed computer animation, in my view, is most authentic and creative in its original 8-bit forms - as PacMan or Tetris. If a computer has a soul it is that; brightly colored simple graphic images which present themselves as modular, miniature dolls rather than a virtual reality.
Look at how we use the internet; not to explore machine intelligence but to talk to each other and about each other, to look at pictures of each other, of food, hear music, etc. Even our online games are mostly fictional adaptations of human experience, not an encounter with any cybernetic other waiting to be born. Computers aren’t learning about their world, they are tools of our world which we use to predict and control ourselves. Acting like a brain is not enough, being a brain is not enough, you have to actually be a person in order to feel like a person and live like a person.
I’ve been having some interesting stuff bubble up today. I went to a mellow cacao-drinking ceremonial thing, and some threads came together…
A longtime staple of fractal-era New Age-itude, I always thought chirality was interesting but not sure exactly why. Today it hit me how truly implausible it is that on the molecular level the shapes of configured atoms could be identical but somehow ‘facing’ one direct. For instance, I can put a left handed glove on my right hand, in theory, but I’ll just be wearing the front of the glove on the back of my hand. Since a left handed molecule does not respond to other molecules in the same way as a right handed molecule, it says that even on the atomic level, the cosmos is a kind of text where directions like left and right are somehow relevant. It’s not like ball-and-stick models of molecules where you can just flip them and attach…even when the molecular bonds should ‘fit like a glove’ they know which way they are supposed to be “facing”. Who is there on that level to orient such a discernment?
2) Project Philosophy
Shamelessly lifted from Whitehead’s Process Philosophy, Project Philosophy would give a name “Project” to universal holons/monads/processes to emphasize nested bifurcation. A project is a becoming which is intrinsically teleological and sequential but which produces accidental and consequential effects. The project within a project produces a subjective quality of privacy in the child project relative to the parent project, which is now represented within the child project as ‘objective’ conditions.
3) Permittivity and permeability
These terms are related to electric and magnetic field strength and the calculation of the speed of light, but we might also be able to think of them metaphorically as the ‘susceptibility to phenomenalization’ within a given accumulation of matter. What I mean by this is that rather than seeing electric and magnetic fields as free-standing phenomena in empty space, they can possibly be relocated into the behavior of matter. Light would be a function of how permeable and how permissive physical conditions on one scale are to sensory-motive interaction on another scale. How easily will a piece of iron behave as if it were a single atom, and how difficult it is to disperse a signal across billions of atoms simultaneously. How matter feels, and how feeling ‘matters’.