Tuesday, February 6, 2024

What Emotion Means for Consciousness

As you must know by now, gentle reader, it is my burden to convince you that emotions are at the core of what it means to be conscious, even at an animal level. Just as emotion pervades the cosmos, which would never move without it. 

I don't believe that I am a panpsychist, being rather more attached to the successes of materialism than those folks seem to be. My take is more limited. I take rational consciousness - of the sort which enables us to fix and build things and to get to the moon and back - to be a human quality; a quality of humans alone.

What I don't believe is that emotions arise only at some point in the evolutionary process. Along with Steven Jay Gould, I don't quite believe that evolution is progressive, teleological, or tending toward completeness in understanding or fulfillment. Evolution is life, driven in the direction of love, and is no more forever than the sun is. We're in a shady moment now.

Love is not necessarily a force for progress.

Emotions are as there at the beginning as elementary particles are, though they don't avail themselves to perception. Emotions are more directly felt - they are the only truly inner feelings. Emotions move without any rational consciousness at all. Interactions among Platonic ideas, if you will. Though nothing is eternal.

The researcher Mark Solms has convincingly demonstrated, and cited others who have demonstrated, that consciousness does not require our "higher" faculties; it requires the stem more than the convoluted surfaces of the brain. Emotive awareness is a direct response; a weighing of the odds which requires no more calculation than does the attitude of a leaf which wants the sun.

I am no researcher. I am an interested party, convinced that we are on a very wrong track with what we think intelligence means, and free will, and how that all might relate to evolution and our very existence. To think that we can design our way out of life is to believe that you can lift yourself by your bootstraps. I think this matters, and that those who are researchers need to be nudged by random others, before the consequences of our misapprehensions play out their massive consequence. Our world will not endure our contemporary cleverness; our heartless AI designs.

Like everyone I've ever met anywhere, I spend a lot of time trying to figure things out. Mostly, like everybody else, I keep these things to myself (except for here, haha!), though I may have a talent for eliciting the everything thoughts of others. Not sure.

When I mention 'heartless AI designs', that does not mean that I think AI research is somehow evil. I just don't believe that it can lead anywhere close to what it means to be human. Except, perhaps, by abreaction. Like all research, AI research can move in many directions. It's the remoteness from ordinary thought that makes it suspect. We've already ceded so much of our reason to the upper echelons, which is plenty enough to explain the Trumper backlash. We need to stop this. Stop ceding our local initiative.

For sure, I am not as willing as some researchers are to discard the possibility that there will still be a godhead, no matter our apparent progress toward more and more complete understanding. I am quite willing, however, to discard religion, which is fundamentally the play of patriarchy; and a perennial goad toward its power. I'm still not sure if or that my godhead differs in any significant way from the panpsychists' sense that consciousness is everywhere in everything.

No, I think I meant the idealists, Bernardo Kastrop style for whom my godhead is his cosmic mentation. Mentation still feels like a kind of direction to me; something that tends toward completion. I'm not sure that there's anything wrong with Kastrop's thinking. I just a little bit unsure that it really adds anything or resolves anything. That's because he seems as emotion-voided as the physicalists.

Well, enough of that blather. Because I am convinced not so much that I might be right about what consciousness isn't as I am that it's not what most researchers on consciousness seem to think that it is, I am rather more interested in human tool usage than most seem to be. And less interested in design.

As a boat rebuilder (I'm not bold enough to build from scratch, nor can I see my way clear to becoming a builder, any more than I could become a researcher), I find that there are two approaches. The one builds on experience, but engages in back and forth with the results of the building at various stages until a serviceable and beautiful boat is revealed. The other begins with a design - on paper, if you will - which the builder endeavors to realize as nearly as possible. 

I am and shall remain much more enamored of the first sort of boat-building. I guess it feels more "organic," and therefore more real. It allows for triumph that's closer to the grass roots. It never favors the rich and the powerful. I still drive a stick shift, idiot that I am.

I find my own attachment to tools to be emotive. There is a feel to tools and their usage, which is quite on the border, for me at least, between physical feel, which is a quality secondary to perception, and the more direct feeling of an emotion. Direct feeling in the mind is that in which consciousness consists. An emotion is only ever obliquely mediated by perception. I say that because emotions are always prior to conscious perception. They turn our attention, so to speak. 

Just about the only thing I take actual joy in is fixing things. I'm good at it, though not professional good. Git 'er done kind of good, but my work lasts. I'm old enough to prove it. I'm also old enough to be losing the joy in the fixing. A certain kind of energy is required for that. I'm losing it.

And yes I do mean something akin to what Zen In the Art of Archery describes. Attempt for too much precision and you miss the mark. As an item of trivia, this is the book I've given away most in my life. But I'm no purist. I do use electrically powered tools now, where my emotional feelings are mostly engaged in the sharpening. I no longer use them free-form, though I once did with pretty darned good accuracy.

Zen in life involves accepting the inexplicable accidents as a part of the life that you have rather than a distraction from the life that you (think that you) want. Want too much and you miss all the good stuff. Of course that's easy for someone loaded with as much social capital as I have. My desired contribution to helping others is by way of a quest to improve our understanding of what life is, and by inference therefore our understanding of what it isn't.

Our brutish behavior toward one another is not a necessary part of civilization. Our brutishness toward others demonstrates only our own lack of civilization. 

Now, for sure, as always happens, my relation between perception and feeling raises a kind of chicken/egg problem. For me, that is only a milepost on the way to what we generally mean by consciousness. Does it happen first in bacteria? In plants? Is it only ever a matter of relative speed? Over a long enough time, the world does evince a kind of consciousness overall, or so some would say.

But we are not aware of any "other" for our earth, nor of the necessary bicameralism of its thinking apparatus. Each of those dialogical processes is required for rational consciousness. Or any kind of consciousness; there is no such thing as a unitary solitary lizard. So far as we know so far, there may be such a thing as a solitary unitary earth.

I rather think there is no consciousness in plants, although there are other sorts of researchers who think that plants have feelings too. I can't seem to get that far, though it may be that plants are so integrated with our own thought-based chicken/egg sets of dilemma and paradox that it would be hard to disentangle the relations. There are "plants" within the boundaries of our skin.

The moves of plants - toward or away from the sun, for instance - surely mimic our own feelings toward homeostasis, as Solms would have our feelings work. In any case, up through the food chain, plants provide our energy from the sun. They are, at least, a part of consciousness.

And so I raise yet another reason why there are no digital tools, in the literal sense of tool. At least, I claim a mild distinction between "proper" tools and metaphorical tools. In our language now, we seem to like to paint with a brush too broad, and don't always notice, or want to take note, about when a particle has become a meta-particle, or when a tool has gone meta too. 

For me, tools represent a reversal of the ordinary vehicle/tenor vector toward meaning beyond what words can say. A tool is not like a hand; a tool extends the hand to make the hand like a tool. Sometimes there is love in the touch, though almost never by way of a tool, once you're meaning human to human love.

And I'm not so enamored anyhow of the metaphoric conceit. I think that's because there always seems to be a direction to it, analog at least for the direction for history that most of us in the West - which means almost all of us altogether now - seem to believe is progress. 

As metaphor, a tool points, as I say, backward, to the thing itself. The hand, say, or the teeth or sometimes to the eye or the ear. I have now on my bookshelf an actual telescope from the age of sail. And it's still functional. And wooden and brassy and gorgeous, in its way. 

I have said, very early on, that the skin provides a kind of boundary to when words become metaphorical. Head of state, hand of the market, foot of the mountain kind of thing, expression of the self or of a bladder. Our body is what we know intimately, while these others things can only be pointed at. The soul, say. God, maybe. Sub-atomic particles certainly. Mathematical constructs which happen, in the aggregate, to work, mathematically speaking. So long as you don't try to pin them too exactly.

But now plants may indeed feel, though I doubt they're conscious. Lizards are surely conscious, but they don't have will. Not free will anyhow. Nope, one needs reason to have free will. The body moves and the mind takes credit. After the fact.

Back when I worked with computers and networks, I really didn't know as much as plenty of the rest of that crowd. But I was the better trouble shooter and problem solver, and network systems developer. I think pretty much because I knew how things worked and how to fix them. I had some sense that others lacked. I had worked with my hands and with tools. Actually, in fact, when gathered as a group, by Novel or by Microsoft, for example, we tech managers were all aging baby boom liberal arts and portly schlumps.

Tools are extensions of the body. They give the mind room to calculate; the sharper the tool the sharper the mind. One must take the time to sharpen and hone if one wishes to cut the uncarved block and not to cut oneself. Break the skin. Outer the blood, and let the aliens in. 

If one wishes to think, one ought to do it by a tree, the very way that Kindle pictures reading. Leaves. Which the tenor, which the vehicle? The both do move in mysterious ways, one by wind, one by reading and round and round the qi flows, where it stops nobody knows.

Come in, my friend, come in. It's warm inside. There is no metaphor where qi is flowing.

Well anyhow, our trouble now is that we've allowed everything to move up, up and away. There is almost no decision-making to be made locally anymore, with finance capitalism funneling it all to the mystical top. Money is the beating heart of artificial intelligence. 

When restaurants and grocery stores and hardware stores were owned and run locally, there were smart and informed people involved with local politics. Sure, they had local prejudice and shortsightedness. They needed to be invaded by the feds now and again. Whatever.

Most of us have abdicated our responsibility to try and understand life, the universe and everything. We prefer to entertain ourselves to death. In rough order of descent, let's start with religious abdication, go through hedonistic apologia down to the basement of utter depravity. Call that one lust for power.

At the lowest level one becomes an avatar and not a person. A reflection of the depravity of at least and at most the half of us. Consciousness depends.

Now nobody knows who and what to believe. Otherwise smart people think that it's OK to put a zero like Trump in charge. Should have been tossed out with the bathwater. There's nothing there after you wash off all the dirt. But things are so bad that really people are just excited to blow it all up before it turns into their personal nightmare. We can't even share our nightmares anymore. 

Like maybe SBF is fundamentally innocent, since it all comes out OK after the wash when the Ponzi schemes rebound, and maybe the board members she sold ought to have been sent up instead of Grace Slick Thanatos, I mean Theranos. Would Harvey Weinstein have been convicted if he looked like gay Rock Hudson instead of like a troll? He picked me up as a hitchhiker when he was part of Harvey and Corky here in Buffalo - music promoters - and I just wondered how someone so young and dorky, wearing a Mickey Mouse T-shirt, could afford to be driving a Buick. A Riviera, I think. Maybe. He was very nice, not like those creepers who sometimes wanted to grab my leg, but always let me out when I objected. Thanks God I could be threatening. Look, I always liked the guy's films.

On the whole we're out of whack and off our balance. Getting it together globally on the planet is proving much more tricky than we seem to have anticipated. Like, who could know that fascist piglet Giorgia Meloni could be good for Italy's economy. Mama Mia!

So now I'm trying to read Dennett et al. on humor. I can only try to read now, I am so decrepit. But along the way of my read, they make a vague claim that the two uses of "funny" may be universal; the one leading to involuntary laughter apparently so-called as Duchenne laughter, and funny as in my stomach feels funny.

Try as I might, I can't find that distinction/identity preserved in Chinese. I'm not native enough to say this with any certainty, but funny haha is just "laughable" in Chinese, and funny/weird is just "weird." I think this all goes along with yin/yang couplet versus metaphor pointing toward universal truth. There is no irony in Chinese, though the Chinese themselves don't seem to know that. This, to me, goes along with humor, as in funny haha. The word for humor in Chinese is actually a phonetic borrowing from English.

Irony requires eschatology, teleology, eternity, and God. China is always glossed over, even by the Chinese now. The literary couplet as the major figure of speech is being glossed over. Funny. 

So anyhow, AI is nothing new under the sun. It's been codified in our economics since we started thinking that we could and even should take over the earth. Scientific and industrial revolution, same thing, The joke's on us. AI has long since taken over.

God and Confucius walked into a bar. Both of them needing a drink. 'On me!' says God. 'Oh no,' says Confucius, 'you have no credit down here. This one's on me!' Wanting to honor the Chinese courtesy, God defers to Confucius upon entering, who then says, of course, 'oh no no no, after you,' as must be said to any foreigner. Now God in his certainty that he was the ultimate, the one, the only God, says back to Confucius, 'It's true that I have no credit here. Might I borrow the coin to treat you?' 'Let's flip, says Confucius. Head for yang and tails for yin.' So God flips the coin and it comes up. 

It is sad to me that our American attempt at universal democracy is failing so miserably. A part of that sadness is that we won't admit Chinese as equals, though that only means that we're returning the favor. You won't yet quite really be admitted to China as citizen unless you have Chinese blood.

Perhaps the world requires the othering of peoples. Rural urban east west divides, not to mention north-south. Perhaps our ultimate awakening depends on this dialogic process, and perhaps there will always be blood. I had hoped not. 

A dream for final understanding is but fantasy. Progress is not good unless you know toward what. Understanding doesn't ever lead to meaning. If you buy too many new things you'll lose track of what you like. If you practice love with too many lovers you'll lose the possibility for love. These obvious truths are at odds with our current behaviors on the planet. We should really get a clue.

What we really need is slack.

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