Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Bem, Dennett, Yudkowski, Wagenmakers, da bunch of 'em

Like accepting an award at the Oscars, it's hard to know whom to thank, but the list is growing. People arguing about pre-cognition, who should be arguing about something else instead. My list is not the same as your list.

Here's what we know: Statistical analysis falls short of classical proof in at least a couple of dimensions. First it always is and always will be subject to interpretation. After a while, the machinery gets way complex and the various experts sound like they're differing only in point of view.

We also know that definitions for mind, while radically incomplete in a lot of ways, should at least begin to accommodate the notion that there is no strict boundary between inside and outside the mind. And if there is no strict boundary, then it's pretty arbitrary whether you decide that pre-cognition is possible or if it's not, since it pretty much comes down to how you place that boundary.

In any given instance, most candidate boundaries involve volition. If something originates in the mind then it impacts stuff on the outside. But even that quickly becomes a chicken and egg problem where the distinction between paying attention and having your attention drawn is hard to discern.

So it looks as though there's going to have to be an experiment which will skirt the issue of statistical predictive analysis and unambiguously debunk the mechanics of cause and effect. That's already been done in physics to at least the point where we are arguing multiple universes and which metaphors for subatomic are the most consistent among, say, strings, particles and overall strangeness.

I wonder why we remain so skeptical in the macro world? Surely we understand that temporal ordering in the mind is a function of the ex-post-hoc narrative function of mind's threshold for outering or utterance. That is by itself  definition of the boundary between in and out. We assemble perceptions which come at us all out of order, but their condition for utterance is their completion, which includes their re-ordering into a temporal narrative.

You can't really talk to someone meaningfully if you're going to be telling them about what's going to happen unless you can direct their attention to shared perceptual data which is going to assure them you're right. If you refer to something only in your mind, then you have resort only to trust as the "mechanism" to gain that other person's concurrence. Ordinarily, it's no trick to trust that someone in a position superior to yours should be trusted when they shout "duck!"

For most of us, trust is also required to adjudicate among the contending scholars of statistical analysis, since all we really know for sure is that there's lies, damn lies and statistics, and we're getting damned tired of realizing that the experts use these matters against us to sell us quack medicine as often as they use it for our benefit. Practitioners are not always the most informed, especially when they're motivated.

So you end up assessing who has a stake in dreams of immortality, who just wants to get laid and who needs to be incredibly rich. Because he seems a kindred spirit, and doesn't seem to be dissociating from deep psychological hurt, in general I'll go with Dennett.

But his work harbors a deep inconsistency. On the one hand he seems to want to defer questions about pre-cognition off into infinity, while on the other he comes pretty close to saying that there are no clear bounds to the mind.

So, we have a definitional problem here. What is the mind and what is considered to be "in" it.

In my usage a mind is a truly trivial thing, present at creation. What? Creation!? No, that's not what I mean, since what the hell can creation mean? Anyhow, mind is simply that quality of phenomena which involves relations which are not mediated by perception.

In physics, perception involves the exchange of particles, up to the limit of gravity, which seems to implicate virtually everything at the macro level to the extent that gravity is only felt in relation. It seems to be true that there is a divide which cannot be crossed in principle between conceptual and perceptual relations, because the act of crossing collapses the conceptual into the perceptual. Trust me, that's what quantum physics means!

So perceptual reality is outside the mind and conceptual reality is in. I'm not sure how you can test for that, since for me it's by definition; there is no way otherwise to be consistent in what we talk about. Science is all about (actually, I think it's only about) reducing trust issues to as near to zero as can be accomplished, and even then, qua Wittgenstein, you have to have a willing interlocutor. Which hardly happens at the fringes of science, even among scientists who respect one anther. They always end up questioning motives. Sheesh!

And that's where emotion sneaks back into the game. Emotion as in what is it that you really want? Once you show up on Colbert, it's assumed you want book sales, but maybe that's because there's no other way to assert the rightness of your findings. You know they're right and that they will be swamped unless you garner a critical mass of readers to force attention.

But emotion is, you know, always implicated in the life of the mind. Conceptual motion is - and again I'm being definitional which is probably a crime in China, but I'll do it anyhow because around these parts we still believe in free speech - emotion. That's right! If you sense something having only a conceptual relation to something else moving on a collision course, you would be wise to predict actual perceptual implication. And in that sense sensed motion, or I mean emotion, is predictive of events in the outered world.

Since, by definition there isn't any perceptual implication yet, this prediction is not utterable. What you can talk about is your feelings, your wants, your hopes, your aspirations, but you can't assure anyone that these things will come about except by acting on them.  (how cool that even a word like "thing" becomes a metaphor!)

Feelings tend to be shared, and in precisely the manner that Fox TV can predict the future by creating it, you might find that the world's greatest narrative doesn't have to be true. It only has to change the world, Q.E.D. (Quite Evidently Dirty)

Well, OK so this is starting to feel dangerous. I only want to come up with some experimental proof that my definitions are better than your definitions. The presentiment of porn stuff is proving problematical since there are stubborn true believers out there who just won't buy it no matter the discount.

I'll bet if I were to offer a million dollars to the first person who comes up with a good experiment, I'd get it. Of course I don't have a million dollars, but I would have if someone were to take me up on the offer. Still, I'm just not that kind of gambler. Hmmmmm

OK, how about this: After thinking really really hard about why you won't slurp your own spit but you will slurp your lover's spit and more, which should sharpen your mind about the inside/outside boundary thing, now try imagining a world in which you just don't care about anything, but manage to stay conscious all the while.

You have no particular reason to pay attention to this or that, and no pretty asses catch your gaze (gender neutrality is critical here, since we don't want to fall into the Fox TV trap!). No emotional attachment to any sun God or other abstractions, so you can't imagine yourself a monk. A Buddhist, perhaps, but how many of them get to ZaZen in this lifetime? A scientist without passion about his work? Really??

You really can't do it, since you'd be imagining yourself perhaps acting as yourself but not being yourself.

I declare!

I really do doubt that there is an experiment which can be devised, unless it's the one over there among the borderlands of Europe, where they want to capture something metaphorically equivalent to the graviton. But where all the complexity just won't stay still long enough for things to get up and running.

My stars! What shall we do?

I for one am pretty cool with accepting a bit of ambiguity. I'm fine with notions of immortality by reputation and that one day my want will reduce to nil. That my consciousness comes and goes, and my me gets displaced and replaced, but that my desire remains until it to is resolved in crystalline clarity indistinguishable from death.

Or I would be fine to end me with a question mark, and allow as how consciousness is in a bottle, tossed to sea or smashed. Machines are awake already, sure, and not in some dim future. I feel they are already in control, and we have already become unfeeling.

But I will not be fooled by experimental evidence which is but sleight of hand. I want to see the outside in and the inside out before I admit defeat. I want to be educated.

OK, sorry, cheap ending. But I can't come up with a better one. Educate me!

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