Thursday, February 17, 2011

Hello! Watson, Can You Hear Me?

Our computer overlords indeed! Jeopardy mocks humanity by making a contest of the freakish ability to read quickly and recall meaningless bits of information. It's like watching sports contests in a way, but at least so far there doesn't seem to be a way to dope and get an unfair advantage.

Unfair advantage would mean being able to tap into the Internet, or maybe to have some signal from a team of smart buddies that their answer will be forthcoming by the time you have to answer it. "We're pretty sure you can click yes, and we'll pay if we're wrong." Having a computer on the game hardly changes the sport of watching it. Good show old man!

Of course, that's what the computer did. It calculated the likelihood of getting the right answer, and then pushed the buzzer before the words were necessarily pulled together. Before the voice was modulated. The human champions must do the same thing, just like I do when I know that I know what I'm about to say, but haven't quite strung the words together. How else can we even start talking?

There's this interesting guy, now emeritus at Cornell, who's devised a very careful experiment to test the possibility that there is a way backward from the future which allows certain kinds of highly charged stimuli to pre-cause a response. The way the experiment is constructed, it isn't just the lag between the brain's excitation and one's consciousness of that response. Even the computer hasn't determined its selection to be presented to the human before the human subject hits his buzzer.

Let's suppose this experiment is valid. Granted that I learned of this watching Stephen Colbert and granted that professors can't really do this kind of research until they're pretty much retired, but I actually do suppose that there is some structure to the cosmos which allows for violations of Einstein's universal limits.

At the subatomic level, physicists have demonstrated that this must be so. There is no meaning at that range to such concepts as simultaneity since there is no meaning to such things as points in time or space.

There are only (relative) clouds of probability, to be determined by acts of perception. Perception (and forces) gets defined at that scale by the impingement of particulate probability clouds on one another to the extent that the probabilities re-calculate until the threshold of collapse into what we normally call determinate reality. Perception quite literally realizes things.

I have been arguing for most of my adult life now that we have language from the macro world which could also be deployed at the subatomic level to describe interactions which aren't "physical" or "perceptual." These relations are, properly, conceptual, and the interactions emotional. Calling them that way doesn't change the math or the reality one iota, but it does have implications for the way we understand the macro world.

If, for instance it is conceptually impossible fully to distinguish an individual from its context, then by analog to the way that subatomic particles are determined by their futures (connections not yet perceptual, but destined by trajectory as held in mind to be so), it would be reasonable to assume that future shifts in context might be prefigured in ways to destroy conventional notions of cause and effect, by the "individual" whose existence will be profoundly impacted by those shifts.

My brain reacts to stimuli prior to my consciousness. Why not connect my brain to things outside it with which it's implicated? If the connection is mechanical - perceptual - then the direction of time's arrow is inexorable. But if it's a conceptual connection - like the one between twinned sub-atomic particles distant in space and time, but the perception of one of which determines characteristics of the other - then no directionality for time need be inferred.

But of course, this is difficult to get ones mind around, just as quantum physics is more generally. But experimental evidence demonstrates that it's neither adequate nor appropriate to fill in the blanks with metaphors for "transmission" or field-like arrays for the simultaneous and faster-than-light communication of information.

In simple terms, "mind" must be inferred to make much sense of these things. Mind, not as a characteristic of human beings, but of the cosmos even without us. Perhaps especially without us, since we're so utterly enslaved by the notion of our individuality and authorial originality. If mind is a function of cosmic reality as that necessary thing to "explain" the coincidence of meaningful but perceptually distinct events, then it is also that in which our local and mis-conceptually individual mind partakes. We are conscious only insofar as we are not distinctly individuated from the mind-stuff of the cosmos.

Of course this leaves machine-mind out of any proper description of reality, but really now, that should be evident to anyone with the capacity to think. Not even interesting.

But it does make it even more interesting that the experiment I referred to above, which finds a statistically very significant tendency toward pre-cognition when the image to be displayed is pornographic. This stimulus, evidently, relates to that which individuals actually are important for. We carry around particular genes, which are usefully - for the species - perpetuated or not depending on how likely they are to last.

So that which is truly individual about us - the genetic makeup of our physical body - is the thing which must be, for the sake of our evolved species - most connected to that part of our mind which is not confined by the body's skin. Prescience is what best determines pro-creative durability. Or in common language, luck. Evolution combines the good or bad luck of myriad individuals and  by the ever-shifting context winnows out the winners who just happened on the right stuff.

Here's a proposed continuum: start with the common, the fleshy form, and then progress through the behavioral expression of our genes' expression which forms a personality or a character, which often competes on equal terms with the relative perfection of our body's form to consummate a mating. So far nothing approximating consciousness is required in any sense - any old dog has a bit of personality, um, so to speak.

And it would certainly be a mistake to consider degrees of perfection of the physical form to relate to some pre-formed "ideal" form, since, well, the ideal form which might be thus pre-formed itself pre-supposes consciousness (that there is a progression). Prior to that, there are simply degrees of attraction, which can only be defined in relative terms. Following this cognitive science fellow, Daniel C. Dennett, beauty, in the sense lampooned by pornography, is by definition simply that which attracts and has no intrinsic cosmic quality. It's quality inheres in the conceptual and thus emotional direction for attraction between gene-carrying individuals.

Consciousness is a second-guesser. It rides on top of more fundamental  moves. It cautions, as it were, about acting too rashly. It represents a society-wide constraint against individual action which, while avidly promting that individual's subset of the collective gene-pool, might run afoul of such facts of life as that the babe bending down across the way is the daughter of the alpha male whose violation would entail instant termination of your particular genetic bag were you to follow its dictates, um, so to speak again.

Consciousness is not even conceivable as the quality of an individual, man or machine. Consciousness partakes of mind which is prior to any particular individual manifestation of it. But not ideal mind, as in mind of God. Rather, cosmic mind as in that which allows of conceptual connections among otherwise unconnectible discreet objects.

Individual consciousness aspires, in precise analog to what lust lusts after. Most of the time we are either asleep or reciting mindless cliches and other language circles, filling in the blanks as does color-phi which infers solid happenings where only elision exists. Like the smooth motion inferred by viewers of celluloid or digital flip-books. The mind fills all lacunae as though something were there. That's its definition.

Now what picture might you flip in front of a computer to test its pre-cognition? Even in principle, it's not an interesting question . . .

No comments: