Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Lost Mind, a Valuable Experiment

It's hard for me, but when I lose something, I try to forget about it for a while. Sometimes it seems that the need I have to find that thing that's lost causes it to be held too tightly in mind, and so like Bose noise cancelling headphones working on my overall perceptual apparatus, I can't see the blasted thing, though it might be right in front of me.

Other times, when all hope is lost to a rational mind, I look anyhow, and plenty of times I do actually find the thing. Once it was my brother's contact lens, lost while skiing in fluffy new snow. Another time it was a friend's engagement ring, which survived falling out of a boat turned upside down upon a car which had driven many miles along a bumpy and windy road. The ring was improbably lodged in the bumper.

These findings, when they occur, feel very much as though something mysterious about the cosmos is being tapped. When I turn away from the search, often enough the thing appears as clear as it had been in my mind all along and I am amazed I could have missed it. When something surely lost appears, impossibly among a camouflaged backdrop or despite having been discarded, it feels like a gift or an answer to a prayer.

And yet I don't doubt that Bayesian theoreticians will always be right when they debunk the work of Psi researchers. Precisely because they account for frames of mind.

Surely there is no impact of our mind alone upon the future, nor any kind of impact back in time. I can't imagine that my very need to find something can have an impact either way upon its appearance. Except, of course, that I wouldn't bother to look if I didn't care to. I can pretty easily make things stay lost forever by not bothering to look. And by refraining from running a vacuum and holding on to my need for the object for a while, I can be pretty certain, eventually, to find whatever's been lost.

So the trouble with Psi experiments is that they're testing against the wrong hypothesis. It's no good to test for whether choosing door "A" or door "B" can be done at better probability than chance depending on whether one wants to see what's behind it. One should test instead for rules of containment for the mind.

My mind cannot be precisely located within my brain. That seems settled fact. But the notion that my brain should contain fully one hundred percent of my mind seems highly problematical. Most of the structures which allow me to make sense of the world around me and to navigate it successfully don't need to be brought "inside" my mind by some representational process for them to serve my needs.

As long as they stay reliably put, and my mental apparatus can locate them regardless of the state of my moment by moment sensory input, they can stay right where they are on the outside. Take them away altogether though, and I might have a serious case of vertigo. Soon enough, I'd start hallucinating or in ordinary parlance, I'd lose my mind. Sensory deprivation experiments demonstrate this as fact.

So in this Psi experiment I've been reading about - speaking very metaphorically here, and oversimplifying shamelessly - male subjects were asked to identify where the pornographic picture would be before the computer had actually made its selection, which would be done post-hoc by a truly random (and not pseudo-random, which is the best that computers can do all on their own) process. Thus the chooser would have no way to know ahead of time which door would reward his choosing even were he able to get insight to the machine.

The results seem convincing that the subject either influenced random or that the future disposition of things had some sort of retroactive influence on the subject's choice. Either possibility is offensive to ordinary rules for reality.

Careful readers will immediately be reminded of Bell's theorem and the experimental testing which has demonstrated, convincingly to all the investigators who count, so far, that it is not only the case that measurements disturb the thing being measured (the weak version of uncertainty in physics) but that the thing itself doesn't even exist as a measurable object before the act of measurement. This is offensive at first perhaps, but apparently true.

Now of course I'm allowing Bell's theorem to stand in for all the strangeness which comes along with quantum physics, but then I'm writing in all sorts of shorthand, since the alternative is, well, offensive which you can easily demonstrate if you care to look backward in time through what I've written.

Even though there may be loopholes through which designers of experiments have allowed themselves to be fooled, I'm still taking it as factual that at the extreme reaches of scale it will be necessary to forgo precision in the description of the physical universe. It will also be necessary to discard strict notions of causality in the direction of time's arrow right along with definitions for simultaneity. In simple terms (ahem) when one is describing something at the extremes of scale in relation to the describer, the things described are neither here nor there.

In some sense they exist only in relation to other things, and in particular in relation to the uses to which they are being put, in this case for the purpose of understanding just how things work; beyond a fraction there just won't be an answer, Zeno!

Plenty of people speculate that this strangeness must also be a part of what is meant by consciousness, which also exists at the extreme, certainly, of some scale of mechanical causality. There is a very powerful seeming quality to our conscious freedom to choose, intentionally, between this and that: here or there.

Relations in our minds seem very much like those relations among quantum implicated entities. Indeed, they are identical. But it is the "transmission" of "information" that is problematical, not the definition of a conceptual relation as something apart from time and space. That's what mind means - a relationship without physical connection among the concepts apprehended (comprehended?).

But wanting them surely doesn't make things so. Not without a lot of work intervening; a lot of motivated cause and effect.

Now let's propose that in principle it's impossible to circumscribe, in any discreet and stable fashion, that boundary between what's inside and what's outside the mind of any individual. Intuitively, this makes a lot of sense. The stars, if I perceive them, are also in my mind, but not, perhaps, the imaginings of my lover right beside me; those would be in hers.

Still, there would be plenty of signals for what goes on in others' minds, and plenty of attenuated evidence for the sound trees make in forests when no-one's there to witness their fall. But that chaos and complexity prevent, in principle, any smooth tracing back to cause. That princess's pea is but a fiction.

And yet the tree did make a noise if it did fall, because if that were not the case, well, we'd lose our mind. We'd have to imagine things differently while our backs are turned than they are when facing forward. We'd have to hold everything on the inside - in our mind - which would leave the falling tree in a very very strange spot on the outside of our field of awareness.

Now you can surely see where I'm going with this. That porno picking pixilator (the computer which invokes random selection after I've made mine intentional) is in no wise on the outside of my mind. I've turned my back to it, or its workings have been shrouded, but to the extent that I as subject know what I'm expected to do, and even though I haven't a clue what's going on inside it, I do know that there is a picture picking machine which might reward my desire depending on how I pick.

Ah, but what about random? That by-definition a-causal method for choosing sides. If a part of my mind is but randomly connected to the shifting sands of reality outside it, then any fulfillment of my mind's desire is but a figment of my imagination. Like finding a lost and valuable object as the answer to my prayer. Its seeming doesn't make it so.

Unless random isn't random. Unless it's not just the computer which can only do pseudo-random. Because, you know, in order for a computer to come up with a coin toss, it has to look outside itself, picking something from the real world. And that's the world of my mind.

My favorite experiment from the world of quantum physics is the double slit experiment whereby there's no conclusion possible other than that photons are both waves and particles. That is to say that photons must both extend themselves in space and time as though there were some ether (which there demonstrably is not) for their propagation defined by field theory, and limit themselves to some more discreet and particle-like position and velocity.

So I'm looking for an experiment in the realm of consciousness which performs the analogous test. To demonstrate that the mind must be both a part of and apart from the randomly interacting stuff all around it. Gong-fu demonstrations won't cut it, since they'll be dismissed as sleight-of-hand tricks of magic.

One thought would be to replace the true random with the computer's internal pseudo-random number generator. That way, the computer would be more precisely cut off from any of that stuff around him which informs the intentional selector's expressed desire. Would the results diverge, and if so how?

I do believe that right there is the distinction without a difference between the Bayesian analysis of the results and the non-Bayesian regression analysis of divergence from chance. Each team wants to have its cake and eat it.

My goal would be to test the hypothesis that there is no sensible and consistent way to define the mind as bounded by the brain the body the skin the limits of perception. Rather the mind would be implicated, and intentionality could be abstracted. Surely I respond to random insults happening all around me. And just as surely those happenings become less random when I exercise my will upon them.

But the question becomes where, then, does will originate? I take it as a given that there can be no discoverable location either inside or outside the mind. The only requirement, for consciousness, is that there be some consistency in my responses such that I can be identifiably me. I have to operate at some remove from random in order to be said to exist as a conscious being. And for this narrow purpose I would have to consider the informed reactions of sentient animals to be extravagant extrapolations from random, but random nonetheless. Or perhaps less random than human behavior, since we can know them only by their actions, and we can know one another by our faces and by our words and by our style (it may be simpler for a human to enact another human and to make a fool thereby, than for any animal to enact another).

But it seems fairly certain that at the reductive level at the extremes of scale where consciousness is supposed to exist, there will be no extensionless location for the mythical "I". And there will be, therefore, no directionality to time. Intention arises from the stirring of yin/yang relations "in" the borderless mind. And it's carried forward by the random motion of character's momentum, which already got its start elsewhere.

So here's how to re-construe a misguided test for precognition as a proper test for divergence from chance in the operations of desire: learn to read. Fall in love. Find a truth that's non-metaphorical and then believe in it.

Or, if you would be less a fool, then bet a head against a long running string of tails and try to maintain a straight definition for properly unbiased coins. Your wager will always be against your trust and never against your future (if you can find a distinction there).

This, as it always shall be, is a matter for choice and not for testing. Would you step out into the void, apart from any of those other spinners of discourse webs, to prove that you have free will? Or would you thus be left alone, the only free willy on the planet, though dead for that, among a multitude of servants.

It is a condition of my consciousness that I remain blind to my future. A noble test.

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