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consciousness

In the river out of Eden replicated and survived the first pieces of matter that could, unleashing a long sequence of ever complex adaptations and phenotypes, leading to self-contained danger-avoidant,  preferentially-optimising safe-deposit boxes that lumbered around carrying these vials of replicators with instructions on how to make more of such vial+box combinations.

In the arms race of the safe-deposit boxes, genotypes  made trees taller, giraffes longer necked, and chimps hierarchical. The extended levers of the genotype eventually reached around to designing safe-deposits with self-contained simulation units powerful enough to avoid dangers and preferentially optimise more than any safe-deposit box had ever done before (in the neighborhood).

“Minds” could remember the past, and anticipate the future, model other minds and game-theoretically anticipate the actions of other safe-deposit boxes. Holism came first, and then subsequently came reductionism, and yet later, the understanding of the tangled interplay between them.

From the 2% of the genes that formed the divergence from our ancestor chimps, man emerged gloriously after his Great Leap Forward with the shines of culture, and the Frankenstein monster-child of the gene, the meme. There was now an avalanche of tools, language, mathematics, music, literature, sadness, happiness, poetry, dance and humour, ideas of war, peace, colonization, racism, sexism, liberalism, beauty, progress and enlightenment, civilization and… morality.

The tiny blue planet was now teemingly populated with ‘valuers’. Matter had strange-looped around, carrying within itself messages about itself. For the first time in the known  parts of the universe, entities found meaning in “meaning”. Initial jubilation upon the discovery of the ability to reason gave way to an awareness of its shortcomings and limitations. With visceral and atavistic typicality, humans compared against their own towering fantasies, and dolefully discovered a cocktail of cognitive biases barfed up by their blind safe-deposit-box-maker. Physical abilities drag baggages of primate ancestories, and mental makeup and brains throwback to our ancestors from reptilian times to our hunter-gatherer Dunbar tribe ESSes, to current postindustrial post-postmodern ethos.

Amidst the victories and falls from grace, the chimp within the man grows smaller, as he spreads for that gigantic sprawl, and in him burns the flicker of the flame that the universe accidentally but inexorably lit to shine some light on itself. Through man-made “words” such as “economics”, “peace”, “love”, “future”, “nuclear”, “environmental-danger”, “evolving to extinction”, “Drake’s equation“: man makes “sense” of the human condition to effectively try extend beyond it, as we “teme” up to dream of creating our own Frankenstein monster and other dreams to come.

The flicker may be headed for a wimpy extinction. Or an inglorious explosive annihilation. Or perhaps the seeds have been sown for a long eventful march all the way toward the heat death of the u.

Meanwhile, oblivious or regardless of the ambiguity of the understanding of understanding of uncertain futures and false certainties of what will be written in its blank pages; and incomplete grasps of incompletenesses in “frameworks” that only make sense to a colony of cells that have a human-evolutionary history, another “revolution” of the blue-orb is complete on its dutiful sojourn around this rather unremarkable much-larger-but-yet-insignificantly-tiny yellow-orb, thereabouts where the embers were lit through evolutionary-kisses-of-death from our parent-stardust, and this colony of cells in front of “my” monitor tells this tale to other colonies of cells in front of other monitors, changing their simulation architectures by a wee bit, influencing their futures by a wee-er bit. In characteristically defiant, intrepid, raucous dignity – the.man.burns.

*Apologize for the gender-specific-language. Man=man&woman.

There is a tendency for an introspector to overestimate the power of consciousness, and its scope for self-knowledge and control of thought and behaviour.

This chapter addresses the state of the understanding of limits of conscious thought.

Some excerpts:

People are often unaware of the reasons and causes of their own behavior. In fact, recent experimental evidence points to a deep and fundamental dissociation between conscious awareness and the mental processes responsible for one’s behavior; many of the wellsprings of behavior appear to be opaque to conscious access.

 

 

Wegner and Wheatley (1999) reported studies in which participants used a computer mouse to move a cursor around a computer screen filled with pictures of objects. doing so along with another participant (actually a confederate of the experimenters) so that the two of them jointly determined the cursor’s location. While they were doing this. the names of the different objects were spoken to them one at a time over headphones. Unknown to the actual participant, the confederate was given instructions over his or her headphones from time to time to cause the screen cursor to point to a given object. By manipulating whether the name of the moved-to object had or had not been presented to the participant just (l.e., a second or two) before the cursor landed on it (as opposed to earlier, or after the cursor had landed on it), so that the “thought” about that object had been in the participant’s consciousness just prior to the cursor’s movement to it, the experimenters were able to manipulate the participant’s attributions of personal responsibility and control over the cursor’s movement. In these experiments, therefore, beliefs about personal agency could be induced by manipulations of the key factors presumed to underlie feelings of will, according to the authors’ attributional model-even though those factors had not, in fact, been causal in the cursor’s movement.

Such findings demonstrate that people do not and cannot have direct access to acts of causal intention and choice. Kenneth Bowers (1984) had anticipated this finding when he pointed out that it is “the purpose of psychological research to enhance our comprehension and understanding of causal influences operating on thought and action. Notice, however, that such research would be totally redundant if the causal connections linking thought and behavior to its determinants were directly and automatically self-evident to introspection”