Saturday, June 29, 2024

An Open Missive for Federico Faggin - Goodreads Review

Irreducible: Consciousness, Life, Computers, and Human NatureIrreducible: Consciousness, Life, Computers, and Human Nature by Federico Faggin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was very excited to hear of this new book, by way of Bernardo Kastrup. Kastrup is very compelling about his insights, and I have found Faggin similarly compelling. I have, myself, come to similar insights from a different perspective, and his write-up has been extremely helpful for my own thinking.

My thinking certainly harmonizes with the conclusions of Irreducible, though I would love to engage Dr. Faggin about what I think may be mistakes in his analysis. I don't claim so much that he is wrong, but rather that he needlessly elaborates concepts in a way that many readers might associate with other unprovable belief systems. He might be getting in the way of a more convincing argument.

We most certainly agree that what is called AI is not very similar to human intelligence, but I think his systematization is overly complex, especially with his introduction of new and, to me, unnecessary technical terms.

It has been my adult pursuit to find someone with whom I might communicate those insights I gained from an experience while in my twenties, not dissimilar to what Faggin describes in the introduction to Irreducible, where he describes feeling a kind of cosmic love. I arrived at that place by cognitive breakthroughs; insights about love would follow.

The main elements of my own preparation before my breakthrough were physics and a reasonably deep study of Chinese poetics, together with a practiced understanding of how things work. I was living at the time aboard a wooden boat that I'd rebuilt. I am less proficient at designing or building new things. I am even (or have been) demonstrably great at troubleshooting computer networks.

I am no inventor or innovator, except perhaps conceptually with words. I left behind childish pursuits of gizmos and gadgets, having experienced early on the mayhem of industrial pollution and its analog of spiritual confusion from an economy fundamentally tied to warfare. These problems would not be fixed by use of the masters' tools. Dr. Faggin may have the pride of an inventor, which allows him to lay claim to more than he should in his formulations. I humbly ask that he open his mind to a much simpler rendering.

As do many of us, I now feel a sense of emergency, based on my own advancing age as well as on what I feel has become the moral emergency of mankind's misapprehension about the nature of existence. I think that much more than the future of mankind is at stake. Faggin also identifies our evil tendencies in the distortions which derive from competitive self-aggrandizement.

Along with many, if not most, thinking people, I feel alarmed about the state of humanity. Our collective behavior is certainly understandable in light of exponentially accelerating transformations which began with the industrial revolution and are now culminating in a communications revolution. Hopefully, humanity is integrating just prior to the awakening which Dr. Faggin urges. In competition with that awakening is misplaced triumphalism about the glories of materialism.

It has been convenient to put aside deeper aspects of our existence so that we may almost blissfully enjoy the triumphs of our materialistic certainties. They are certainties because they work. It has been convenient to put aside conventional morality as the atavistic holdover from an ignorant theistic past, while we glory in newfound bodily comfort and thrill.

The trouble is with replacing one theology with another.

Here's a tiny rehearsal of how evil works: I find it convenient that my phone offers up news items according to my interests. But this is not serendipity, as Faggin amply defines such things. I read more and more and inevitably fall into a false sense that by understanding more and more detail, I can alter my behavior in ways to make the world, and my world, a better place.

But of course all of the computed suggestions are motivated by algorithms for monetization. The root of all evil. By comparison, wanton recreational sex is a sin on the level of using the f word in every sentence. Bad, but not so bad. And yet our political body is once again motivated by the same kind of moral absolutes which power terrorists. How can we better align ourselves?

Because I feel still alone with my own realizations, and apparently remain incapable to share them, It is hard for me to find any good outcome for not just our current trends; it is also difficult to circumvent my sense that we have already passed the point of no return.

Collectively, we are experiencing a moral failure, which is firmly based in dangerous assumptions about the meaning of progress, the proper purposes for technology, and especially on economic arrangements which incentivize inhuman behaviors. But, it is in the nature of moral failure that it can be rectified much more quickly than can other sorts of ignorance.

It is still not inconceivable to me that we shall pull ourselves together and arise from our man-made muck by tugging at our bootstraps once the obvious truth of what Kastrup, Faggin, and I'll add myself, are struggling to share starts to infect a sufficient portion of intellectual mankind.

In some fictional cosmos - a fiction which I don't endorse - our global collectivization will entail spontaneous contact and potential communion with some other global collective of consciousness. A more realistic scenario to me would be our moral awakening to a collective responsibility for life in the largest sense. That is sine-qua-non for transcendence of our contemporary benightedness.

In a related, though subtly different fantasy, we will solve all of our problems by the application of new technologies derived from objective materialist science. It already seems far too evident that this fantasy stokes human competitive greed much faster than human compassion.

My own interpretation involves deeper definitions for familiar terms. I combine those definitions with a fuller definition for time than what we currently understand.

Firstly, I would extend to emotion the universal quality that Faggin extends (as does Kastrup) to consciousness. Consciousness is surely much more common than is conscious mind, but the term loses its meaning if made universal to the level of paramecia. Mind pervades everything, in the way that Faggin would have consciousness do, while conscious mind is rather rare, and on earth that designation should probably be reserved for humans. I think both Faggin and Kastrup misuse the term consciousness to mean mind, with which the smallest entities must always participate, even though mostly without consciousness.

A different way to speak about this, as Faggin does to an extent, would be to observe that the separation of individual conscious entities from all else is a very dangerous exaggeration. Digital either/or reality is by definition not connected. I would observe consciousness in individuated animal species as "primitive" as a lizard. That would be the starting point for "free will," or the ability to initiate causation in the world "outside" the conscious being. It would be the boundary between reactive unconscious vegetative participation and a more proactive animal posture. All boundaries are fractal, and therefore not measurable or precisely locatable, so this starting point must be intrinsically arbitrary. Proactive conscious decisions are prompted by emotive (gut) impulse, conditioned by cognitive understanding. No creature reasons its way out of emergency. Emotion provides the quickening.

I would claim that conceptual reality is ontologically equivalent to perceptual reality. Concepts exist in minds (or are of mind), and generally require rough material representations before they can be spoken of and shared. There is no conceptual circle in perceptual reality, though there must be approximations near enough to the idea(l) to provide the basis for shared comprehension.

Ideas are not born of themselves - they are not the initiator of what we call invention - but result from the interplay of objective material reality and the conceptual work of mind.

I don't think that the philosopher's term 'qualia' adds anything useful to our understanding. That term exists because of an unthinking denigration of conceptual reality. We have no more trouble being certain that our compeers perceive our own "red" than we do with more instrumental perception. In this I agree with materialist Daniel Dennett.

I don't find any of the newly coined technical terms which Faggin uses to add anything useful to this discussion. I mean such usages as seity, CU, as well as qualia. To some extent, Faggin is urging a belief system based on his own quasi-religious awakening. I don't think he's really furthering understanding.

The consequence of the realization of the ontological equivalency of conceptual reality with perceptual reality is the realization that mind pervades the cosmos.

The nut of my realization has been that emotion is (the apprehension of) change in conceptual arrangements. To put that another way, in the perceptual world, movement means that force is present - the exchange of gauge bosons, as described in the standard physical model. In conceptual terms, there is movement without force, and that movement constitutes or provokes the emotional response of the conscious mind. That response ranges from "aha" to the love felt when deeply in communion with cosmic mind. To understand is to feel a more encompassing conceptual arrangement.

Of course, there is no final or ultimate understanding. This realization is where hope resides. The world which we co-create will never be complete. Its natural laws evolve along with its creatures.

As regards ultimate matters, Dr. Faggin doesn't address time except implicitly. It is my realization that directional time is defined by the course and direction of evolution in life. A sort of complement to entropy, which might be called love, but might better be called eros.

I don't believe that there is any consistent physical description for time's direction without life. As with the big bang at the beginning - according to some exponents of the standard model - without life, the ending of the cosmos would be as instant and as beyond time (as we currently understand and sense it) as "was" the Big Bang. Emotion is a not time and force-bound any more than is quantum entanglement. The universe as we experience it is not composed of 3+1 dimensions. It is composed of four.

The non-reproducibility of quantum nature constitutes the identity of all electrons with all other electrons. Faggin mistakes the mistakes the uniqueness - the non-clonability - of each collapsible cloud of probability, just as he extends the uniqueness of each individual conscious being by introducing the needless concept of seity. No other conscious being can exist in my space. My "interiority" is sufficiently defined by my social, physical, linguistic and emotional "position;" my uniqueness requires no further mystification. Electrons or other quantum particles are sufficiently unique according to their approximate position. It isn't helpful to equate this uniqueness with some supposed "interiority" of consciousness. Personally, I tend to believe that we all wear our special qualities on our sleeves.

In brief, usages for both "consciousness" and "time," as that relates to history and development, are not sufficiently examined or consistent as described in Irreducible. If he has a kind of faith that the interconnected lived world of consciousness will get us out of our current mess, I also differ with that fundamentally religious position. What is required is the exercise of moral will.

In some obvious sense, each of us is individuated enough that our being doesn't end when our body does. Based on a personal experience of death by drowning, I also know that, upon death, individual human consciousness grows exponentially toward full consciousness of one's entire life at once. Analagous to the Big Bang, death of consciousness, identical to birth of consciousness, has no boundary, no finality, and is metaphorically identical to time dilation to massless eternity at light-speed.

Humans are now organized in a state of confusion probably greater than any previously experienced in our history. Various styles of religious belief proliferate willy-nilly, and an alarming number of people have evidently abandoned any and all natural (versus rule-bound) quality to morality and moral behavior. Our seeking individual fault is counterproductive at best, and is more likely an accelerant to our collective misbehavior, as I'm certain Dr. Faggin would agree.

Ours is a crisis of understanding, though its terms are based on morality, rather than on cognitive understanding. Accepting the fundamental reality of emotion allows for at least as much "progress" toward rulemaking for behavior as materialism (R.I.P.) has afforded us the means to control our environment. Meanwhile, we've run amok both conceptually and materially.

I wish that I could develop a compelling narrative, but I seem first to require an interlocutor open-minded and informed enough to work with me on that. So far, there has been nobody. It would be a contradiction in terms for me to be able to accomplish this understanding on my own. My goal in blogging is to make contact. I have no finished description or explanation on my own.

I'll be grateful for any help in the contact.

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