Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Universal consciousness and meta ethics

In this post I had indicated that if there is only a single consciousness behind all living beings, then the question of justice and fairness are not relevant, since the perpetrator and victim are one and the same. Although this seems to be a fairly obvious conclusion, in reality it is not so straightforward.

Let's take criminal justice as an example. The two main reasons or punishing an individual for a crime committed by him/her are as follows-
1. Deterrence - To teach the individual (as well as others) that crime doesn't pay, so they don't commit it again.
2. Retribution - In this case, even if it certain that the individual will not repeat the offense, the law may seek a penalty from him/her just so as to make him/her suffer for the wrongdoing, even if it has got no further deterrence value either for the individual or for others.

Now let's take an example of a person who has been found guilty of a certain crime. But after committing the crime, let's say he suffers a severe head injury that either renders him insane or suffers permanent amnesia that makes him totally unaware of the crime he had committed. In most civilized societies, the individual would not be meted out the same punishment as he would be if he were fully aware of his wrongdoing. This is because, most societies require that a criminal be aware of what he is being punished for. Although this lessens the scope of deterrence (since the punishment is now less for the same crime), there is also an implicit belief that the individual now is "not the same" as the criminal who comitted the crime, and therefore should not get punished since it would be perceived as tantamount to punishing an innocent person.

But from a metaphysical perspective, is it really so? If we go solely by the retributive aspect of criminal justice, it should not make any difference whether he remembers the crime or not, provided we accept that it is the same consciousness as the one responsible for the crime that would suffer the punishment. If we start making the assumption that the loss of memory makes the individual different (from the perspective of the homuncular identity), then of course, we cannot ignore this aspect.

So it seems that society treats people as conscious individuals with identities that are determined more by access. Since society is not capable of reconciling the two different access identities (one before the accident and the other after), it can be hardly expected to do so in the case of different people or other life forms when it really turns out that there is a single consciousness operating behind them all.

For example, religious fundamentalists would still hold the belief that the pain felt by a human fetus in an abortion is somehow more tragic than (the same) pain felt by the fetus of a cow.

If we disregard access altogether, then if there is a single consciousness behind all living beings, then as I had mentioned in the earlier post, the question of criminal justice and ethics go away in a meta ethical sense. Of course, there are evolutionary reasons for having justice and punishment (solely determined on the access side), so one has to respect those. But these are mundane motivations rather than any meta ethical ones.

But let's assume for argument's sake that there are two consciousnesses operating behind two sets of people respectively. So if one person from one set has wronged the other set, then does it become fair to punish someone else from the offending set? My personal belief is that it should be ok (provided we are certain that it is the same consciousness operating behind everyone in each set). For the agent undergoing the suffering is not the person himself, but the consciousness operating behind him.

If the last paragraph is hard to digest, think of the two master consciousnesses as two people and the individuals in each set as bank accounts belonging to those two. When any transactions are made between banks belonging to the two, we only look at the net the first person owes the second or vice versa. We do not worry about details of which bank accounts were involved. In legal theory, when a statement like "John owes Peter" or "John has to repay Peter" is made, the details of which bank accounts are relevant are left out, since they do not matter in the larger picture. It is possible that entirely different bank accounts were used on both sides while repaying the loan, as opposed to while borrowing it.

I strongly believe that a similar argument holds in meta ethics too.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Evolution of qualia

In this earlier post I had alluded that evolution confers advantages to beings that perceive qualia. But how does evolution go about the process in the first place? It is rather striking that we perceive unique qualia, not only for the "standard" senses like sight, hearing, and so on, but also for functions which depend on morphology and biology, such as thirst, hunger, vomiting, defecating, and also such ones like water entering the nostrils, etc.

In every case, the qualia seem to be a "perfect match" to the stimulus or condition that we cannot think of an alternative. For example, while it may seem plausible that for the purpose of warning about water entering the nostrils, another unpleasant sensation like pain might be equally effective, it wouldn't have just "seemed right" as compared to what we all experience. So how did evolution settle on the various qualia which seem so fitting to the intended stimuli? Was it by trial and error? Were creatures which experienced pain instead of what we feel when water enters the nostrils (geez, is there a word for that?) at a disadvantage?

Also how did evolution pick out new qualia before it even let them play out the evolutionary game? Was it out of thin air? How many different qualia spaces does the bucket of platonic qualia spaces hold? If in the course of biological evolution, a new mutant needs a new sensory input/response mechanism, then will the appropriate qualia space automatically get tried as a normal part of evolution? If that's the case, we can think of an evolutionary battle between qualia spaces in serving a particular sense/response need.

I assume this is probably what happened when bats came up with echolocation. If we assume that before that, they relied on sight alone (and assuming that their sight corresponded to the same qualia space as ours), then echolocation would have initially groped for a new qualia space. It is also possible that after several tries, or in some species, the qualia which corresponded to their earlier vision hijacked echolocation, with a new, less efficient one for the original eyes.

But again, going back to the more fundamental question, how many different qualia spaces does the fundamental platonic qualia space hold? Did there exist abstract qualia spaces for biological mechanisms like hunger, or sex, even before the needs for them arose, like when the earth had only unicellular organisms like the amoeba? And in the future, if a creature needs a new biological mechanism, can it expect to garner appropriate qualia for that? If the number of qualia spaces is finite, do existing spaces need to be recycled?

Also what are the "hooks" that creatures use to access these abstract qualia spaces? Are they QM processes? Hmm.. that would be rather interesting to have a QM wavefunction for sexual desire! I guess we are headed in the direction of the hard problem already..

Monday, May 7, 2007

Renaming my conjecture

In this blog I had conjectured that the eigenhues perceived by two different individuals are exact. This conjecture cannot be either proved or disproved without the hard problem itself getting solved. I think that this conjecture (if it turns out to be true) would be a fundamentally important result that I wish to give it another name. I am calling it the "no tinted glasses conjecture" instead of "Shankar's color perception conjecture" after shedding my ego considerably. The new name actually conveys the meaning of the conjecture more deeply and dramatically.

For this not only implies that two normal individuals cannot have colors grossly inverted, but actually goes on to say the colors match to fine precision. Anyone who wears tinted sunglasses will initially notice the difference but will get used to it in no time. So two individuals who wear green and red tinted glasses would still "pass" according to the inverted spectrum principle, so an argument can be made that all individuals have this amount of hue variation to begin with. But my conjecture states that there is absolutely no variation whatsoever between individuals perceiving eigenhues due to direct stimulation of the neurons that are the "final link".

Again, I wish to caution that actual vision is subject to variations right from the lens and the cone and rod cells in humans, so the colors may not match. Indeed, in my own experience, seeing with only my left eye results in a slightly bluer (and cooler) sight compared to seeing with my right eye, though this is barely notiecable. Please refer to the earlier blog for a more detailed explanation.