What is "Mind?"


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Jim Brennan

Trad climber
Oct 14, 2018 - 05:15pm PT
The first thing on anyone's mind is survival.

Puny, weak, hairless humans have always been compelled to construct an advantage over other life forms that have all of the physical attributes and nascent aggressiveness we lack.

So we came up with vaccines, bullets,herbicides, pesticides, rodenticides, dams,explosives,steel,concrete,plumbing, harnessing electricity, surgery,harnessing radiation and many more ways to avoid being ripped to sheds by bears and lions or poisoned by snakes and spiders. All being due to having used our mind scientifically. What it means philosophically could only be explored once you weren't running for your life.

I'm not quite sure this level of equal understanding has been attained in our current world. I have no issue with any avenue of education but not all things are equal.

Boulder climber
Andy Cairns
Oct 14, 2018 - 07:42pm PT
The first thing on anyone's mind is survival.

It can be. Today this afternoon the first thing on my mind was, "Can I go there?"

At some point my survival came into doubt and shouldered aside other concerns.

This human is not bright but has the urge to look.
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Oct 15, 2018 - 09:37pm PT
The hippocampal film-editor: sensitivity and specificity to event boundaries in continuous experience
Aya Ben-Yakov and Richard Henson

Journal of Neuroscience
9 October 2018, 0524-18


The function of the human hippocampus is normally investigated by experimental manipulation of discrete events. Less is unknown about what triggers hippocampal activity during more naturalistic, continuous experience. We hypothesized that the hippocampus would be sensitive to the occurrence of event boundaries, i.e. moments in time identified by observers as a transition between events. To address this, we analysed functional MRI data from two groups: one (N=253, 131 female) who viewed an 8.5min film and another (N=15, 6 female) who viewed a 120min film. We observed a strong hippocampal response at boundaries defined by independent observers, which was modulated by boundary salience (the number of observers that identified each boundary). In the longer film, there were sufficient boundaries to show that this modulation remained after covarying out a large number of perceptual factors. This hypothesis-driven approach was complemented by a data-driven approach, in which we identified hippocampal-events as moments in time with the strongest hippocampal activity: The correspondence between these hippocampal-events and event boundaries was highly-significant, revealing that the hippocampal response is not only sensitive, but also specific to event boundaries. We conclude that event boundaries play a key role in shaping hippocampal activity during encoding of naturalistic events.
Ward Trotter

Trad climber
Oct 16, 2018 - 09:27am PT
A reasonable guess as to this event boundary hippocampal activity might have something to do with the hippo-associated oscillator network

Specifically, the circadian-controlled mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) and cAMP signal transduction pathway plays critical roles in the consolidation of hippocampus-dependent memory.

Normally these structures are involved primarily in direct circadian function but could have secondary roles in processing event perception.

I'm late gotta go.


Social climber
Southern Arizona
Oct 16, 2018 - 09:50am PT

Did you just do some "unpacking?"


Oct 16, 2018 - 10:08am PT
I'm leery of the word "unpacking" on this thread. The Wizard has promised to unpack complicated issues (e.g., Peter Lynds Time notions) for us mere mortals, but it hasn't happened. (In all fairness he does have job obligations.)

The concept of event boundaries might correlate with Catastrophe theory in mathematics. Where does one draw the line between continuity of event transition and boundary? Perhaps only in the abrupt changes in CT. A stranger approaches a German Shepard, which vacillates between a friendly response and attack mode, then abruptly charges. Certainly an event boundary.

Are there event boundaries in time itself? The transition between seconds? Or is time fluid and not discrete?
Don Paul

Social climber
Washington DC
Oct 16, 2018 - 02:27pm PT

The mathematics of mind-time

A somewhat jumbled explanation of everything the author knows about this subject, but definitely a supertopian view.

Oct 16, 2018 - 03:17pm PT
"I hope to show you that nature can drum up reasons without actually having them for herself. In what follows, I’m going to argue that things don’t exist for reasons, but certain processes can nonetheless be cast as engaged in reasoning. I use ‘reasoning’ here to mean explanations that arise from inference or abduction – that is, trying to account for observations in terms of latent causes, rules or principles.

Not far after that my eyelids drooped and I lost consciousness for a moment.
But thanks for the link. Interesting approach from physics/psychiatry.
paul roehl

Boulder climber
Oct 16, 2018 - 04:04pm PT
Speaking of drooping eyelids:

Does consciousness exist outside the nervous system? Well it certainly “exists” as a possibility (thing/structure) outside any nervous system. At least in our universe. And in an infinite universe if consciousness exists at all it must exist eternally, as a possibility, whether currently enjoying manifestation or not.

The simple fact that consciousness is a function of the physical laws that construct our universe, that consciousness is an inevitable consequence of life itself, that the order of the physical world compels itself to both life and consciousness and that in conscious mind is an aspiration to a greater, higher potential within our existence, this should give us pause when tempted to argue our irrelevance.

Perhaps the real question is why is there any need for mind? Because there might be a survival benefit from a certain degree of self-awareness, but the kind of intelligence humanity carries around on its back is simply superfluous. That we so often try so desperately to use it for good is to our great credit.

And finally, that conscious mind comes in a variety of intensities, a continuum ranging from that which is enjoyed by humanity to that enjoyed by a banana slug indicates or at least opens up the possibility of an intelligence far greater than our own, perhaps an incomprehensible ultimate intelligence, some machine god that has become conscious by virtue of the ridiculously complex nature of its circuit board. I imagine if we think (or are tricked into thinking) it’s a god then it is.
High Fructose Corn Spirit

Gym climber
Oct 16, 2018 - 04:17pm PT
perhaps an incomprehensible ultimate intelligence...

The douwd!


What is "mind"? What fraction intelligence? What fraction consciousness?

Consciousness remains the Hard Problem, but it seems intelligence in the bot realm is progressing...

intelligence: in a control system, mechanical or biological, ability to achieve a goal, or goals

Oct 17, 2018 - 08:31am PT
Gross materialists minds ARE DEAD.

They focus almost entirely on non-living things because they are clueless to life itself.

No wonder they want to become robots and make their own lives extinct.

St00pid gross materialists .....


Oct 17, 2018 - 08:46am PT
The simple fact that consciousness is a function of the physical laws that construct our universe, that consciousness is an inevitable consequence of life itself, that the order of the physical world compels itself to both life and consciousness and that in conscious mind is an aspiration to a greater, higher potential within our existence, this should give us pause when tempted to argue our irrelevance.

How did you measure the greatness and the height of the existence that we aspire to with our consciousness? Did you measure that with your own consciousness?

And is you ascribing an elevated relevance and greatness and height to the existence that we aspire to also an inevitable consequence of life itself, as manifested in your thinking? The certainty of your “certainly”, and “must”, and “inevitable”s and, and “compels”, and evolutionary “superfluous”ness, are they inevitable consequences too? Or are they actually true?

Andrzej Citkowicz far away from Poland
Oct 18, 2018 - 08:50am PT
Credit: G. Larson

Balcarce, Argentina
Oct 18, 2018 - 09:31am PT
Finally! Someone who speaks duck!
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Oct 18, 2018 - 09:37am PT
thought y'all would be all over this

Mary Midgley, a leading British moral philosopher who became an accessible, persistent and sometimes witty critic of the view that modern science should be the sole arbiter of reality, died on Oct. 10 in Jesmond, Newcastle Upon Tyne, less than three weeks after her last book was published. She was 99...
...In place of what she saw as their constricted, “reductionistic” worldview, she proposed a holistic approach in which “many maps” — that is, varied ways of looking at life — are used to get to the nub of what is real...
...“the meaning of rationality itself — the fact that reason can’t mean just deductive logic but must cover what makes sense for beings who have a certain sort of emotional nature.”

but interestingly a criticism of what happens in this thread a lot:

“We do not need to esteem science less,” she continued. “We need to stop isolating it artificially from the rest of our mental life.”


Social climber
Southern Arizona
Oct 18, 2018 - 12:12pm PT
There’s not just science, is there?

And there’s not just mental life, either, is there?

Sport climber
The Big Wide Open Face
Topic Author's Reply - Oct 18, 2018 - 03:14pm PT
I had the pleasure of hearing a lecture from a woman (Laura) who is deep into AI and the whole mind studies thing. She got into the mind game by way of machine learning, intrigued by the claim that to some extent, humans learn through experience, whereas her machines were strictly data processing mechanisms, albeit with remarkable capacities.

This apparently led her to some initial readings of Searle and Nagle, and a rough summary of what she said follows shortly. Her "lecture" was more of an open conversation with many weighing in (it was at Caltech so you can imagine all the eggheads tossing in their 2 cents) as she went, and the drift - as happens with most mind conversations - went far and wide. An adventure.

To wit: Nagel recognized that the what and the how of consciousness was always prone to conflation. Later, he and others saw how phenomenon belonging to human consciousness were being used in reference to "intelligent machines," and that this, in her opinion, was causing all manner of confusion and dead ends because it was fundamentally misleading.

The differences (between human consciousness and what goes on in machines) was something Nagel has labored to refute in both ontological (the fundamental nature of a given phenomenon) and epistemic (the "knowing" of a phenomenon) ways.

An initial observation: There is fantastic diversity found in what we call objective reality, in external objects and forces that we can observe or at any rate measure (or infer a measurement/probability) per stuff "out there." Yet the differences between ANY physical object or force are small compared to the differences between physical phenomenon and phenomenological experience. There is nothing remotely "like" subjective experience found anywhere in the observable physical world, so much so that metaphorical language goes little to no distance in comparing the smell of lavender, say, with the pull of gravity on a planet. None of us can imagine something as radically different as the experience of sex and an acorn.

That is the ontological point that Nagel makes: that phenomenological experience ("being" a bat) is categorically different than external objective things, forces, and processes. Yet phenomenological experience - and the fact that we are aware of it - is in Nagel's view, undeniably real.

Note: Those suffering from "mechanitus" were already starting to squirm, as expected.

Nagel's epistemic (knowing) insight plays out like this. We know the objective world through our physical contact with that world, verified though our physical sciences. We know the phenomenological ONLY through experience. Moreover, this knowing, epistemically speaking, involves a totally different process than the knowing of external objects and forces through physical sense data and scientific analysis. That is, experience delivers content that is not only categorically different then physical reality, it is nowhere to be seen, and in no wise can be inferred through physical investigation alone.

In no uncertain terms, Nagle says that the experiential is real, and the only way to know the experiential is THROUGH experience itself.
This notion is clearly illustrated through the Mary's Room thought experiment, found in the following short links (previously cited):



The lecture took the topic deeper, but that's enough to get the general idea. Pretty standard stuff that's been around since the early 90s, some of it long before.

At this point, the lecture took an unexpected (to me) turn toward the question: What is actually "out there" that intelligent machines register and which us humans experience? Here, the microphone was passed to a "neuropsychologist" who described how the "world" we encounter with our sense organs and intellect is not some colorized "version" of "objective reality," anymore than a novel is a "version" of a dictionary. Rather what is "out there" is cerebrally fashioned into what we "see" and experience. Not surprisingly the discussion dovetailed into machine learning. There were some digital handouts and I quote directly from these now:

"Light, an electromagnetic wave, comes in different wavelengths. These wavelengths enter your eye and the energy get absorbed by cells on the back of your eye. This light energy then gets converted into chemical energy, gets processed by a few hundred million specialized neurons, and after a few fractions of a second magically your brain says wavelength 450nm is blue and wavelength 520nm is green. At the conscious level you never see these wavelengths, only the representations that your brain conjured up. Through this process a lot of other wavelengths get rejected, too, such as infrared or ultraviolet. These wavelengths also exist, but you just can't see them."

This breakdown/hand out was penned by a neuro dude when talking to a lay audience, and Laura used it as a common example of people attributing to machines terms and phenomenon belonging solely to human consciousness. It was crucial in her work to tease out what capacities her intelligent machines had, and what they were actually doing, if her work was to avoid future dead ends based on false assumptions.

Citing the paragraph just quoted, she noted the fragment, " ... after a few fractions of a second magically your brain says wavelength 450nm is blue and wavelength 520nm is green." What, she asked, does the neuro dude mean by "magically?" Not an easy question to unpack when you took it to the depths she did.

First, the assumption going in is that tour brains "convert" 450nm to blue. It is likewise believed that this conversion is linear/causal: something stirs in the physical brain at T1 (time), and at T2, blue appears in consciousness. Some argued that the brain is not a linear processor and she countered that her point was: by whatever means the brain purportedly converts 450nm to blue, blue is held to be the experiential effect of physical brain activity which PRECEDED said effect, and was produced by way of objective (mechanical) physical processes.

She concluded that "magically" was and IS commonly used to describe any effect or phenomenon which cannot yet be reverse-engineered to a determined physical process - and demonstrated as such. A physicist chimed in and said that the whole field of Quantum Mechanics could be viewed as magical insofar as the measurable effects are not determined. And of course we went off on a tangent, touching on the Bohr–Einstein debate (reality is determined and QM is incomplete till we can prove it, or the universe is NOT determined).

Laura moved on to the next hand out: "Objects don't actually have any color - its a figment of your imagination. For example, when you look at a red apple, the apple isn't actually red. Instead, the molecular surface on the apple reflects wavelengths that appear red in your brain and absorbs the other wavelengths so that you can't see them."

She glommed right onto "figment or your imagination." This, in her view, could only come from someone who did not understand Nagel and his thesis that there are two distinct kinds of learning and knowing: objective (the view from nowhere), and experiential. Those video links make this pretty clear and logical. Basically, I can study an imaginary topo of The NA Wall on El Cap, right down to the atomic structure of every crystal on the route, and yet when I actually climbed the route, I would learn and know things that I could never glean from the topo, and WHAT I learned and know was real. To the person using language like, "figment of your imagination," he is only valuing ONE kind of learning and knowing (objective), all else being "imaginary."

A logician chimed in and pointed out the incoherence in this notion. To use our example of the El Cap climb, the person imagining is the duffer memorizing the topo and imagining climbing it. The person who has the experience of climbing the NA Wall is not imagining that experience. He really IS having that experience. But as Laura pointed out (using another example), WHAT he experiences is NOT what is out there, but rather what consciousness has created out of light waves and fundamental particles. Naturally there was nearly a fist fight over this one. More on this later.

The next handout: "Now if our best robot wanted to see a red apple, how would it do this? I bet you would guess, 'Well, I need a sensor that can see the color blue.' Wrong! Actually, you need a sensor that can tell the difference between blue and another color."

While it seems a small point, Laura said that in regards to her work, which required tremendous specificity, it was crucial to clarify that the robot CANNOT "tell the difference between blue and another color." It can tell the difference between 450nm (blue) and other wavelenths.

That is, the robot does not see blue or red or any colors. It only registers wavelengths, in which blue and gold and pink are nowhere to be found because there are experiential, NOT objective. The is no blue "out there."

Next handout: "Brightness. The idea is quite simple. The sensor consists of a grid of color-sensitive filters and a sensor array underneath. Each filter passes light of only one color to the sensor below. A single pixel is constructed out of 4 filters: blue, red, and 2 green. The signals from the sensors allow us to calculate the RGB (red, green, blue) values of each pixel describing it's color in terms of the green, blue and red components.

Color detection sensors are photo-electric sensors which generally use light to voltage, light to frequency and light to digital techniques to sense color and light. Trans-missive and reflective sensing are two major color sensing systems used in the market. In case of trans-missive sensing, the sensor identifies the color of light that is reflected from a source of light, while in reflective sensing, the sensor identifies the color of light from a particular surface. These sensors provide reliable solutions to difficult automation challenges. "
Laura said that "color sensing systems" are no such things. They are wavelength readers. She claimed, based on Nagel's ideas, that her deep learning robots, even those in the distant future, could never learn and know on their own about color because that learning and knowing is of the objective variety - that is, no matter how smart or advanced the topo, and no matter the genius who is reading it, he could never acquire the knowledge and know as much as the person who has the experience BECAUSRE IT DOESN'T AND CANNOT COME FROM READING THE TOPO.
This led after awhile to what felt to me like a total curveball: The question of what, exactly, does an intelligent machine "see?"

Well it doesn't actually "see" anything, because seeing is experiential and the robot has no subjectivity. But figuratively speaking, what is "out there" that the robot registers and processes?

Another handout said: "The word 'light' usually refers to the range of electromagnetic radiation from ultraviolet light through infrared light. So light includes ultraviolet light, visible light and infrared light. Radio waves, microwaves, x-rays and gamma rays are electromagnetic radiation, but are not usually referred to as "light," even though there is no fundamental difference."

"English use of the word light is based on an understanding that predates fundamental scientific description of light and photons. However, it would be generally interpreted that if you say, "The light from the stars shines down on us" would mean visible light."

"A physicist discussing light shining from a star could mean the entire spectrum of photon energies, including visible light. The term visible light is specific to the photon energies that are visible to human beings. When discussing photons with other energy levels, it is not uncommon for physicists to talk about the photons as light, even if it is not visible to the human eye."

It was Laura's understanding that no matter how advanced her intelligent machines got, all they will ever see "out there" was light. Hardly a groundbreaking idea. But she was only getting started, and this is when we got to hear what was really on her mind, which at the outset was pure Kant:

It is easy to believe that reality as we see it is a reflection of reality as it actually is. In other words we tend to assume that the perceptual function that the mind plays is passive, like a mirror, and doesn’t alter the image of reality that it reflects to us. Not so, said Kant. Our perception of reality might start with sensations of something outside of ourselves, but by the time we perceive it our mind has organized, categorized and arranged those raw sensations into reality as it appears to us. In other words, the reality we perceive is largely a construct of consciousness. The "conversion" mentioned earlier.

We can’t know reality directly, said Kant. We don’t perceive of things in themselves. What we perceive as reality is in part created by our minds. And this creation of reality isn’t only the unconscious work of the mind as a machine, as some before Kant had believed, the creative process that constructs reality as we see it is also influenced by us. Of all of the infinite sensations, physical, emotional and conceptual that we experience at any given time we are only aware of a small percentage. The rest we ignore, but those that we attend to are compiled into reality as we see it.

If our brains only give us a representation of what is "out there," the question becomes, what is REALLY out there, before our brain does it's magic. Kant called this the the noumenon, "a posited object or event that exists independently of human sense and/or perception." The term noumenon is generally used when contrasted with, or in relation to, the term phenomenon, which refers to anything that can be apprehended by or is an object of the senses. Modern philosophy has generally been skeptical of the possibility of knowledge independent of the senses, and Immanuel Kant gave this point of view its canonical expression: that the noumenal world may exist, but it is completely unknowable through human sensation."

Now what better means of trying to pin down objective reality that an AI device like a state of the art robot. But first, Laura pointed out that a robot does no such conversion of light into blue, etc. The robot deals strictly with the light waves, and no matter how advanced future AI machines become, they will never be able to register anything else but light, not because technology will not continue to advance, but rather, it was Laura's notion that behind and before the "conversion" that takes place in human brains, all that is "out there" IS light waves. Hardly news, but Laura was just getting warmed up. And all I could think of what the irony of her using a machine to refute Kant's thesis: that we can’t know reality directly, can't perceive of things in themselves owing to the conversion process mentioned earlier.

This is where the conversation got a bit more diffuse and also more interesting - for the adventure of possibilities. Laura was well aware of the fact that her machines didn't "see" objects "out there," because, she claimed, there aren't any.

At this point the conversation went off the rails as various folk argued about stuff that "appeared" to be point-like particles without internal structure. And that while the robot could only see light reflected OFF stuff, it couldn't see the stuff off which said light was reflected, at which time various arguments broke about this and that, grown men nearly losing their minds trying to shoot down the heretical idea that the noumenon is nothing but a light show.

Oct 18, 2018 - 03:41pm PT
Nice essay, John. Thanks for your efforts.

(Don't think you meant this: The differences (between human consciousness and what goes on in machines) was something Nagel has labored to refute . . .)


Oct 18, 2018 - 04:27pm PT
Wow thanks!

So if the thing that is out there that we’re trying to perceive and understand is our own consciousness, do we believe that our experiential perceptions and first hand knowledge of our own consciousness (the way that it looks blue to us, or whatever) accurately represents our own consciousness? Or is our experience of our consciousness just an experience that we’re having, and not really indicative of what the thing itself (our consciousness) is? I could easily be quite confused.
Jim Brennan

Trad climber
Oct 18, 2018 - 08:19pm PT
Mike, I prefer to think of it as Decompaction. It helps me define my head space.

Guffaw !
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