Yesterday, I decided to clean out my Microsofted email account, at least to get my icon count of unopened messages down to zero. I'd closed my Juno account a couple of days earlier after years of trying to let it go fallow, and it mostly has. Although when I peeked and found old notes that I'd forgotten, there were pangs of loss. Tossing old items of clothing now, recycling things I might have liked. I hope that someone else will like them better. Goodwill.
Who really knows how perpetual 'free and unlimited' will be? Scanning down my inbox, I came across a New York Review of Books link to a review of a new Daniel Dennett book on consciousness. I read it - the review not the book - just because his big book, Consciousness Explained maybe, had felt so powerful to me. Yes, of course consciousness is an illusion of sorts, and we are less certain of our own "I" really than I am even of yours.
Oddly, I later found myself at the very bottom of my inbox (oddly really because my gmail account must be fathomless - unfathomable? - and the really good Juno stuff was jettisoned anyhow when they went all cloud. Though I archived it somewhere, even while the application which could open the archive must be long gone.
I do vaguely remember an original act upon discovering that I could have an email handle that was my actual name, since I'd gotten in to Outlook web access that early. My rickster variation is embarrassing. I was original on AOL, but now we proliferate and I have to add numbers and letters after that, my name.
I guess I got to the bottom of things with Outlook because I still favor the embarrassing account for friends. Since they know me there. I only recently started using my real-name account more, as I meet more genuine "I's" I'd like to continue to know, keeping the serious me, and dumping the trickster.
Anyhow, I'd written straight to Dennett way back in the beginning of this account. I wrote another one to Darryl Bem, who at the time had gained a little notoriety (probably brought to my attention by random acts of first-person news sorting on my behalf via some device or other). He'd been cited for his claim to have demonstrated pre-cognition. He used emotion and enthusiasm-charged pictures of porn to demonstrate an ever-so-slight favoring before the possibility of perceptual knowledge, of what the test subjects wanted to see. His statistical argument was impeccable.
Both had responded, Bem personally since I'd hooked him with the knowledge that we both like wooden sailboats, and Dennet by means of an automated assistant - likely a grad student - who passes along the good stuff, not including mine. He needs his space to do his work, of course.
Prof Dennett regrets that he is unable to respond, thoughtfully, to all the email messages he receives in the course of a week. He does try to read at least portions of them, but answering them would take all his work time. He is grateful for the thoughtful letters he is sent, and apologizes for not responding with the thoughtfulness that went into composing them.With best wishes,(from) Daniel Dennett
I'd tried to be really brief, which is hard for me, but I do stand by the conjecture I'd written. Of course I'd have to be a known personage in a field he respects to get a read from Dennett, but I had no idea how else to try:
Now you may have noticed that there was no malice aforethought in my scanning my email like that yesterday, apart from, perhaps, the occasion of moving. And boxing and sorting things, including books of course, does stimulate dormant memories. It is my sense, clearly, that most of my mind exists outside it, in the geography as it were, and among my possessions.Professor Dennett;I've just finished reading Consciousness Explained and then familiarizing myself with your work more generally. In brief, I find the writing brilliant and the overall case cogent and convincing. Since it's far too late for me to take up the study of consciousness to the level of your accomplishment, I feel entirely comfortable saying that for my purposes you have indeed explained consciousness. (I'll still read on through what you've written since!)Here's why I write: As it happens, I read your book in light of the soon to be published work of Professor Bem regarding Psi and possibly pre-cognition of which I'm sure you are aware. I also read a cogent critique from the Bayesian side of statistics which relieves me, at least, of the need to worry too much about pre-cognition as Bem's work purports to discover it. Were there pre-cognition it would, of course, fall within the margin of error which Bayesian statistics provides as corrective to non-Bayesian methods. That's almost definitional. Accounting for the priors is hard to distinguish from accounting for frame of mind.But since your approach to consciousness defies attempts to "locate" it, say in a brain, and since therefore there can be no meaning to simultaneity among drafted cognitions in a single mind - as you demonstrate convincingly in your book - therefore time's arrow has no place "in" the mind. A properly time-sequenced narrative must emerge for sense to prevail, but that is a separate matter from the order of events perceived, conceived, cognized or re-cognized.You also challenge, at least implicitly, the bordering of the mind by the limits of its physical substrate (the brain, for instance) among other places by your suggestion that a single mind may be thought to be distributed, as in certain twins who inhabit a coherent biography.So first of all, if there is no singular locus for any thought inside the brain, any cognition there must in effect allow for pre-cognition. Indeed it's not a problem worth bothering about, since even in principle there's no way to measure it, again as I believe you amply demonstrate in this book. At the very least any thought remains subject to subsequent cognition for so long as it might be held in abeyance by some sense that there will be more to assimilate before a completed thought is uttered.Consciousness, in other words, may have more to do with sense of potential completion, rather more like the ballistic act of throwing a ball than like hitting a target. You initiate and correct along the way until release.But more interestingly to me, if the mind cannot be located entirely "inside" the brain, then all those peripheral happenings which impinge on thought, of course including chance or random events, could be thought to condition moment of release according to their various potentials and probabilities (as variously perceived or conceived) regardless of their literal time-sequencing.In Bem's experiment, the button-clickers have some anticipation of porn - they have a motive to click, not unlike someone playing Jeopardy.Pre-cognition, however, is the wrong thing to test for. Rather, there should be some test along the lines of how Bell's Theorem is tested in physics, to demonstrate the impossibility to disprove spatial separation of cognitive inputs (technically indistinguishable from pre-cognition) to within the margin of error between Bayesian and non-Bayesian statistical models.My suggestion would be to redo the Bem experiment but using the pseudo-random number generated by the bounded system of the computer, rather than the "true" random number generated in the same "cosmos" within which the subject's mind is choosing.After all, it is damned impossible to determine that the coin is a fair coin after a long run of heads, other than by invoking "prior" knowledge. But as with voting machines which preserve a physical record, as least with a pseudo random number, you have a trace to compare against.Of course it is my sense that, as with physical reality, there is some dimension beyond which certainty is not only impossible for practical reasons, but impossible in principle. I suspect that this prospect unsettles you no more than it does me. I'd love to learn of a better conceived experiment than the one I propose, but I can't think one up right now - I know it's out there!Of course I have plenty more to say on the subject, but I have used enough of your time (pure wishful thinking on my part).Best!
I had no conscious memory of the Dennet email when the one random email would caught my attention by its failing to the first time in came in. How strange then that I'd find another one. Connected. It took me way more than a beat to realize the coincidence. I am dense that way.
Now you will think that these outerings are only catalogs for what is contained somehow inside my brain. In that case, I am one with Dennett, that such a mistaking of manifest image for the real "scientific image" is, well, understandable, if entirely wrong. But that so-called "scientific image" still reeks of Platonism to me, who stopped believing long since in eternal and universal natural law.
Today I learned that I may travel to Mandalay instead of staying "here" within my national boundaries. I can't tell yet if I am distressed or disappointed. I'll try to keep you posted. Mandalay has such romantic associations in my mind. As it were. At least I can use Mandarin there, which is still in need of a bit of brushing up for me.
Well here's the thing: Bem calls his article "Feeling the Future," and my entire being, as it were, is caught up in a "scientific" description of emotion as a concept at least as cosmically eternal as bosons are. The explanatory power of this trivial reconfiguration of the parts of physics is tremendous, fantastic, fabulous, let me tell you!
The Good News is that it really doesn't change a whole lot about the physical world and its rules that we hold so precious(ly). I can't ask you to plow back into what I've written up here, and sheesh I really do promise to try to extract the readable stuff some day, but the long and the short of it is that I define emotion as the prediction, held in mind, that two perceptual objects are bound to meet, though they have yet to exchange particles (bosons?) to define a force-field between them.
This reconfiguration resolves the information-at-an-instant paradox of quantum physics, even as it leaves the rest of physicality quite alone. You can have your God and eat it, as it were. Well, some of you already do that. Ewww!!
So mind and emotion are as primordial as everything else we already know about our cosmos. You can't make sense without these there, even though physics has been constipated since round about the turn of the twentieth century, which in scientific terms shouldn't be near long enough to grow constipated. It's not even much longer than my so-called life.
Well, I do wonder how long my identity might endure, catalogued among loves and losses. I wonder how long it might take to make my point? I've been at it for some 35 years, almost precisely. What a lazy shit I am, and yet I've been working like a dog! Honest! Scant reserves though I have to show for it.
So as it happens, yesterday in the car running yet another endless pile of shit to the storage shed (which had looked way too large when I started, and I've jettisoned all the big stuff!) I was listening on NPR to some TED talks about empathy. Explorations of the continuum between psychopathy and self-less acts of random heroism. Like giving a kidney to a stranger, or seriously risking one's life to save a stranger, or even a stranger's pet, or even a wild animal as my Trump-loving cousin just did up on Facebook.
I walk past lots of homeless people here in Burlington. Some of them live in tents in the woods behind my (for about two seconds longer) apartment. The police are trained to be friendly and benign here. I cannot stop for all the pleas for assistance, but I do tend to acknowledge the request, knowing what it feels like to be invisible.
Someday soon, I may learn to hug them, these homeless people, because I'll likely start smelling as they do in my imagination (Somehow I can't call up to memory what I did living on sailboat or motorcycle to keep my clothes clean. I just have no memory of using laundromats. Ever. I know I didn't use deodorant back in those days. I'm so much more civilized now as to be terrorized by these things; that I might smell bad, that I might look silly enough for someone to fall over laughing as they did when I was walking in Yosemite in the pouring rain, keeping my helmet and my leathers on. My cheeks puff out. I don't look good in hats)
I am terrorized about how to keep up my civilized and medicated existence if I were to move to Mandalay, which my friend tells me is like Taiwan was back in the seventies when we both were there. I had no fear in those days, and cut my own hair. Did I have a scruffy beard? I have no memory of razors.
So these TED talkers indicated that empathy can be learned. The example was of prisoners given the task to be minders for older prisoners suffering dementia. I ended my mini road trip before I could hear whether the Amygdala did grow apace, more or less like the Grinch's heart. Measuring the size and output of that organ, internal (external?) to the brain, is apparently part and parcel of distinguishing psychopaths from the rest of us.
Still, it did occur to me that ideology is the real empathy killer. This is what unites the evangelicals with the psychopathic Trumpistas. I mean that in the most benign and mild way, but these are people who might be able to kill an abortion provider on some certainty, or ditto hate a homosexual. Make a billion dollars a year and feel no connection to those billions who live in dread and pain in that making. The uniquely American ideology of rampant capitalism which must be liberated to rape the earth. I mean I did befriend my brother-in-law before he exposed himself as a child rapist, and he did occupy a pulpit for a while. He even tried to rationalize his despicable acts in reference to the Bible. Yes yes, I'm trying to find the time to watch The Keepers up on Netflix before my Internet goes metric.
Now I'm not saying that Dennett lacks good Samaritan instincts by ignoring my earnest request. Far from it. And I'm almost certain that his Amygdala Mandala Mandalay Mandarin is way bigger than mine is, in proportion to the size of his brain (metaphorically speaking, of course). I'm just saying that I wish someone were listening.
Oh brother, can you spare a dime? (I've had to dust off my guitar as well)
Godspeed! (Oy! Talking to myself all over again.)