Thursday, December 25, 2008

The Complex Qualia Space

In many of my previous posts, I have indicated the presence of an "imaginary qualia space" which is a counterpart of the real qualia space. The real qualia space corresponds to "real" sensations while the imaginary space corresponds to imagined sensations. Both of these can exist simultaneously at a certain point in the CBS. For example, even though I might be seeing a red object, in my mind I can be imagining it to be blue at the same exact spot. As I had indicated in this post, the imagined qualia can for all practical intent and purposes be compared against other real or imagined qualia and the normal operators associated with qualia apply to them as much as real qualia.

Can I take this a step further and imagine an imagined qualia? I do not count dreams as pure imagination states (since dreams have both real and imagination states and are indistinguishable from the waking state in this regard). So, imagining something in one's dream is the same as imagining something in one's waking state. When I try to imagine a red ball where none exists and try to imagine it being blue, the original red gets replaced by blue. This is unlike the case where I imagine a real red ball being blue. The real hue of red is always there and my imagination of it becoming blue does not change the red that I am perceiving all along.

Basically I am saying that there can exist only one imagination qualia space that can co-exist with the real one. This applies to all qualia (sight, hearing, touch, etc).

If this hypothesis is true, is this some kind of species-specific limitation? In other words, are there other species, or even other extra-terrestrial beings in our universe that can have overlapping imagination spaces? Or is this an arbitrary constraint imposed by the "program" that simulates our universe, something that could easily be changed by the master programmer? Or, is this because of some fundamental mathematical truth that imposes a limit of one imagination space and something that is program-independent ?

If the answer is the third one, then we can possibly club the real and imagination qualia spaces into one complex space, where the real part corresponds to our real qualia and the imaginary part corresponds to our imagined qualia. Since the accesses for both real and imagination states are the same (see this post), there is no reason why this cannot be acheived. Alongside, there exist operators which can act on the real and imaginary parts, or some combination thereof. For example, I can compare the hue of an imagined blue region with that of a real blue wall and decide which one is lighter.

So what are we going to acheive by making our qualia complex values, you may ask. One thing is, we just have one qualia space instead of two. Another way of putting it is, to specify the complete qualia state of a conscious entity at a given time, the dimension of the qualia space required is cut in half.

But this aside, are there any other advantages to doing this that follow from the properties of complex numbers? Let us take the case of conjugate qualia. For example the two states corresponding to imagining touching a hot object and a cold object with my index finger. If I am not actually touching any object at that time, the two states are purely imaginary and conjugates of each other. If on the other hand I am actually touching some hot (or cold) object with that finger, then the two states correspond to complex conjugate values. (Actually, in this example, I have ignored other parts of the CBS that correspond to the rest of the body as well as other sensations - we can always take only the subspaces corresponding to particular sensations and the regions of the CBS within the subspaces that are of interest to us - in this case, only the one corresponding to the index finger).

At this point, it is not apparent if there is anything to be gained out of this. But assuming a theory of qualia ever gets developed, it would be interesting to see if representing qualia as complex values in the above manner is compatible with it (if not encouraged by it).

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The dimensionality of the CBS - part 2

In this post, I had indicated that the common binding space (CBS) is 3-dimensional and that this holds true of a mosquito as much as a human.

When someone/something becomes conscious (including a newborn mite), its CBS unfurls. And it doesn't really go through a phase where it is first one-dimensional, followed by two dimensional. While a man might feel drowsy at the time of waking up, there is no sense of a flattened or restricted CBS. The alarm that woke him up seems to come from the correct direction, and from the moment he opens his eyes, he is aware of the 3-D space that extends out in its entirety.

As I had suggested in this post, every conscious entity is associated with an instance of the CBS. Given the vast discrepancy in sizes between the brain of a human and that of a mite, how is this possible? What is the smallest structure that would create a new instance of the CBS? (In other words, what is the smallest structure that is needed to create consciousness?) This is a question that would have a profound impact for both philosophy and theology.

But is the CBS always 3-dimensional? Can there be drug-induced effects that can actually add extra dimensions to it? I have maintained that it isn't the case. But when I was going through a Wikipedia article on LSD, this is what I found:

"Users commonly report that the inanimate world appears to animate in an unexplained way; for instance, objects that are static in three dimensions can seem to be moving relative to one or more additional spatial dimensions" and

"Higher doses often cause intense and fundamental distortions of sensory perception such as synaesthesia, the experience of additional spatial or temporal dimensions.."

Agreed that Wikipedia is never the final authority, and the entries also keep morphing constantly. But I was curious to find out more about these "extra" spatial and temporal dimensions. If these are indeed possible, that would be a counter argument to my earlier suggestion of the CBS being always 3-dimensional.

I googled many articles on LSD (including the one that was cited by the first statement), but never really came up with any that actually backed these two claims. I get the feeling that those who think they experienced additional dimensions (whether spatial or temporal) really are confusing them with something more mundane. For example, a 3-D picture of a box on a sheet of paper is still 2-D. In a similar manner, I think what some people think are additional dimensions are simply heightened perceptions which nevertheless occur in the same 3-dimensional Cartesian theater. I also think that what some people might refer to as being extra dimensional do it in a purely metaphorical sense.

I think I will continue to stick to my earlier claim about the CBS being always 3-dimensional.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Meta ethics and black holes

One of the fundamental aspects of ethics that I have always found puzzling is why it even exists in the first place. Sure enough, if we go by Richard Dawkins' "The Selfish Gene", concepts like ethics and altruism have to do entirely with survival strategies. The whole concept of ethics would then seem an unnecessary complication, since it would be reducible to functional strategy that helps a species survive. Going by this argument, one shouldn't read too much into altruism.

But, if ethics can be denied by this argument, then so could qualia. Indeed, why couldn't zombie creatures evolve exactly in the same manner as humans and normal creatures around us? Dawkins doesn't even mention qualia anywhere in his book (at least to my memory).

But, the whole point of the philosophy of qualia is that qualia do exist. Which then portrays the concept of ethics in a different light altogether.

If we acknowledge that others around us are able to feel pain qualia due to some of our actions, ethics would dictate that we refrain from performing those actions (in a broad sense). This, I would call, the fundamental premise of ethics. Virtually every religion and many proverbs convey the same in one form or the other. For example, ""Do not do unto others as you would expect they should do unto you" is probably the most obvious and direct of them all.

I have two issues with this reductionist approach to ethics. The first one is the dichotomy associated with some assemblages of atoms versus others. It is ethical to break a computer (a particular arrangement of atoms) but is unethical to kill a puppy (another arrangement of atoms). It hardly matters whether the computer is simulating the same puppy. In fact, any credible theory of qualia, in my opinion, should resolve these kinds of inconsistencies in a seamless manner, even if it has to closely parallel solipsism. As of now, that seems to be the only one that, in my view, treats the two on the same footing and presents no such contradictions.

The more troubling issue is, even if I do acknowledge that the other being can feel pain, why should that prevent me from causing that pain to that other creature? At least, if it is not going to affect me later. Of course, for "normal" human beings, there is an inherent "moral compass" that would discourage them from doing so. But again, is this merely a product of evolution as would be argued by Dawkins?

In fact, if there are no checks and balances, the whole premise of ethics seems vacuous to me, no matter how noble it may seem otherwise. If there is no retribution, then it makes no logical sense to have a code of ethics for the perpetrator when he is assured he can get away with any crime that he commits.

Which is perhaps the reason why most religions threaten its followers with some kind of punishment for crimes in an afterlife. Not only is this more practical in keeping its followers in line, it perhaps is the only logical rationalization in enforcing such behavior, if we cast aside its survivalist value (of the Dawkins variety).

Religions lead us to believe that there is some kind of an afterlife retribution. But, as I have suggested in this post, there is an automatic "retribution" of sorts if we assume that all qualia are ultimately felt by the same entity. This way, by not unnecessarily causing pain to another creature, we spare ourselves that agony, so that in the end we benefit. Note that, this assumption is all that is needed to make the subject of ethics a logically deductible one. And we need not even be bothered about Darwin or Dawkins here.

A fundamental question with such an universal consciousness is how it relates to living beings (including humans) which are physical assemblages of atoms. I have discussed this issue in several of my previous posts, and have even hinted that quantum uncertainty principle might have a role to play here.

It is easier to buy into this if we assume a connected universe. But what happens when there are regions of space-time which are disconnected from the universe we are in? In such cases, how does meta ethics hold true?

To give an example, take the case of a simple black hole (non-rotating and non-charged). Associated with such a black hole is an event horizon, and once an object crosses it, there can be no communication back to the rest of the universe. Now let us do a small though experiment here. Let us have a puppy cross it, so that it can no longer communicate with the rest of the universe. Now we can shoot the puppy from the outside once it has already crossed the horizon. (The bullet can be made smart enough to catch up and actually knock down the puppy theoretically, although there is no way the shooter would come to know of it, assuming he stays outside the event horizon.) If the puppy hadn't been shot, it would have survived till old age happily in its spaceship. (For supermassive black holes, the tidal effects are so weak that this is a real possibility.)

If we assume that meta ethics is a logical fallout of a single universal consciousness, and that the qualia of all conscious entities are mediated by quantum processes, then it follows that conscious entities in regions of space such as the inside of the event horizon cannot be "connected" to any universal consciousness outside, because according to present-day physics, the whole region inside of the even horizon is shut out from the rest of the universe. According to the "no hairs theorem", the only things that matter as far as a black hole is concerned are its mass, charge and angular momentum.

Which then raises the question as to whether shooting a puppy from the outside of the event horizon actually is unethical from a meta-ethical standpoint. If we go by the "no hairs theorem", then it should not matter to the rest of the universe whether living beings inside of the event horizon of a black hole feel pain. And also there would be no accountability on the part of outsiders who decide to torment those inside.

As of my understanding, the Hawking radiation is the only reverse communication that is possible, but this is so weak, especially in the case of supermassive black holes that it probably has no significance anyway. I seriously doubt if meta-ethics is dependent on this phenomenon.

The conundrum regarding black holes and ethics needs to be reconciled.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

A model for human consciousness experience

I wondered if there is a crude way of representing human experience, once we accept physical qualia as something as they were. Of course, the human state of mind at any instant is more than just an instantaneous physical qualia state. Or so it seems.

The most common objection to representing the human experience as just the sum of physical qualia states has to do with emotional qualia. But as in the previous post, I am less inclined to believe that there exist the so-called emotional qualia which cannot be seen as just constructs of physical qualia. In fact, now I see no convincing reason as to why the concept of emotional qualia cannot be fully abandoned in describing human experience completely.

My model of human experience consists of three different entities -

1. The universal or mother consciousness that is ultimately the experiencer of all qualia of all conscious entities in a given physical universe. (Arguably, the title of the post is unnecessarily restrictive since it implies only human consciousness.) See this post for a discussion on universal consciousness.

2. A functional block which I call the "Dennettian complex" which basically embodies the various functional blocks which would seemingly explain human behavior completely (although not quite true) .

3. The forward communication link between the Dennettian complex and the universal consciousness, which reside in eigenhue recognition units (ERUs).

The Dennettian complex is not a monolithic block (and that's the reason why I call it a complex). It has many functions -
a. converting sensory inputs from the various sense organs into a form that interface with the ERUs, so that the universal consciousness experiences sensory qualia (in the associated 3-dimensional space called the CBS).
b. Perform many logical and housekeeping activities that can be reduced to pure functionalism. The "Multiple Drafts Model" deals with this aspect.
c. Also interface with ERUs (the same as in a. or different) to allow the universal consciousness to experience simultaneous imagination states in the same CBS as in a.
d. It is very likely that the universal consciousness, instead of just being a passive observer of both real and imagination states, also influences the functional aspect given in c. This would be the equivalent of the exercise of "free will", and the presence of this would preclude the existence of true zombies. From an evolutionary standpoint, this makes sense since if qualia cannot influence behavior, they would be useless from a natural selection point of view. Also this would imply that the inverse of ERUs exists, since the universal consciousness has to communicate back to the Dennettian complex somehow.

Please note that the real qualia states do not always have to correspond to reality. Examples are dream and hallucination states.

Also one wonders what are the ERUs and their inverses. Could QM provide the link in both cases?

The imagination states are very important in human experience. As argued in the previous post, the whole thought process can be seen as an imagined conversation orchestrated by the Dennettian complex that is "heard" by the universal consciousness. Of course, the universal consciousness is not a passive audience member (like the homunculus in the Cartesian theater), but actually controls the script (through the inverse ERUs).

I also wonder how temporal pattern recognition of qualia (such as recognizing and enjoying music) is achieved. Is the above model adequate in explaining the same? Or do we have to bring in other constructs that cannot be adequately explained by the above model?

And what about the general state of the mind itself? Can the action of mood elevators or even alcohol be explained by physical qualia alone? I raised this issue in the previous post, and am now inclined to believe that the answer is yes.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Do emotional qualia really exist?

When compared to physical qualia, emotional qualia seem even more mysterious. While physical qualia seem pretty obvious, emotional qualia don't seem to be clear-cut. Also, I had suggested that emotional qualia also belong to the CBS but are spot-bound.

But after pondering over this issue, I cannot help wondering if there are such things as "emotional qualia" to begin with, or if they are just constructs of physical qualia.

To most people, the term "emotions" generally refer to such states as crying, grieving, becoming angry, and so on. What I then realized is that, in virtually every one of these cases, there is always a set of physical reactions that accompany these so-called emotional states. Which leads me to wonder how much "emotional" these so called emotions would be without the accompanying physical qualia. Thus, stripped off quivering lips, racing hearts, and tearing eyes, the so-called emotions would get reduced to "logical" or non-qualia states.

To give an analogy, consider the background score in any melodramatic movie. Now, the essence of the story can be conveyed to the audience without having this music score (in a logical fashion). But what the background score does is to accentuate the melodrama and make the experience more intense for the audience. I think that the physical acts associated with emotional qualia accomplish pretty much the same. In other words, create drama where there isn't any.

It is well established that hormones like adrenaline can cause people to go into a fit of rage. But this is most likely not because the hormones act on the brain directly, but because they produce symptoms throughout the body (like a racing heart and restless limbs) that perhaps loosens the mind's restraint over what the body does. A similar thing, I believe, occurs with orgasm, where the physical quale associated with it deludes the person into thinking he is totally connected to his partner, even if only for a few fleeting moments.

It is possible that similar emotional responses can be created by logical processes that are contrary to each other. For example, consider tears of joy. Although the physical qualia (shedding tears) are the same in both cases, the logical reasoning leading to this state is totally different from the case of a person grieving. By the same token, I also think that if there is some physical means of preventing a person from crying, then the person would not be capable of grieving as much!

What about states like depression where physical manifestations are absent? How does one distinguish between two people who have the same physical qualia, but one suffers from depression? Or, for that matter, one who is high on drugs? I think the answer might be that the difference might still have to do with physical qualia (although not apparent as actions to a third person) along with altered logical (qualia-less) state of the person's mind.

A simple analogy would be the difference between an optimist and a pessimist. If, let us say, we have two individuals, the optimist and the pessimist, assess the prospect of a third-party individual in an objective manner, we can say that both of them, although may make opposite conclusions regarding the third party individual, suffer no emotional consequences of their own in doing their assessment. Thus, emotionally, both the optimist and the pessimist draw even in this case.

But consider the case where both of them are told that the third-party person is none but themselves. Now there would be a divergence in the emotional state of the two. The optimist will feel elated while the pessimist will develop sweaty palms and become sullen.

We can now say that the optimist is feeling "high" while the pessimist is depressed. But please note that we have differentiated the states of the two in terms of - 1. their own logical conclusions (non-qualia) and 2. their physical manifestations (like becoming sullen).

It is possible that even cases of clinical depression (or drug-induced highs) fall into this paradigm although the context where "logical reasoning" applies is not so clear. Also it could be that symptoms corresponding to being high or depressed exert some sort of positive feedback and try to maintain or exacerbate their state, in a case of the body controlling the mind, as in the example of crying. Indeed, it is common experience that when children start crying, the intensity builds up rapidly from the onset and the crying needs to run its course once the whimper becomes a wail. At a certain point, the child might have even forgotten what he is crying for. In fact, even if a child who cries because he is denied some treat is given the same as a surprise, the crying doesn't stop instantaneously. In this case, the child probably still "suffers" crying, but it is the physical reaction that maintains itself for some time.

So, I feel that the so-called emotions are nothing more than physical reactions coupled with the thought process. Which brings into question the nature of "logical reasoning" itself. Surely, this must be emotional, right? I wish to discuss two different types of thoughts, pattern recognition, and abstract thinking.

Consider someone seeing another person. Now there could be two different scenarios - the scenario where the first person recognizes the other person, and the case where the first person sees the second person as a total stranger. Now, one could say that the physical qualia is the same in both cases - the qualia associated with the sight of the other person is exactly the same. And if we assume the first person is objective and doesn't experience any emotions in both cases, we can say their physical qualia match. But of course, there is a difference in the mental states in the two cases. This difference cannot be explained by just physical qualia. (Here I use "emotional qualia" strictly to represent emotions as per the common usage. Objective, unattached thoughts, including face recognition, do not count as emotional qualia going by this definition.)

And what about thought processes? When we do the kind of thinking that animals are not capable of doing, we tend to verbalize our thoughts internally. In fact, we imagine talking to ourselves when we try solving abstract problems. I had already mooted the idea of "imagination qualia states" in previous posts. So our objective thought processes actually form physical qualia, albeit imaginary ones. But as I've suggested, the imagination space shares a lot with the real state space, including the density function in the CBS. Since the thought process involves imagined sound, then the density function is not spot-bound, since real world sounds are not spot-bound. Although when one hears oneself talk, it is a close enough approximation to being from a point source. But at least in theory then, the thought process has a 3-dimensional qualia distribution by virtue of the imagined internal conversations.

It is possible that not all thought processes correspond to imagined conversations. A scientist might imagine equations, an interior designer might imagine different decors, a vintner might imagine different tastes, and so on. But in every case, the thought process is associated with the CBS through one imagined sense or the other.

Coming back to instant face recognition where there is no conscious thought process involved, where does this fit in? My own take on this is that "recognition" is actually a logical qualia-less state. In fact, I consider it similar to the decision-making that occurs at each step of the thought process that steers the thought train in a particular direction. This part is decoupled from physical and imagined qualia, but still has a bearing on the physical and emotional aspects of the mind.

However it is not clear if a person's mental state can be completely described by his physical and imagination states, plus logical (non-qualia) states. If so, it is not clear how the latter mesh with the former two.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The integration problem

In this post, I had hinted at the "integration problem" towards the end. I wish to address it in more detail here. Although I myself am sympathetic to subjective idealism, I cannot sometimes help wondering if the hard problem is for real, and whether the terra firma assumption is true.

Even if we assume that the hard problem might itself not lend itself to an answer, there is no mistaking the fact that there are neural correlates to subjective experiences. This is the basis for the reason mind-altering drugs and even alcohol work. I foresee that in the future we can develop technology that can extend our sensory experiences to heights beyond even the reach of currently available mind-altering drugs, and at the same time, having a hundred percent safety factor. Also, such altered experiences can be brought back to "normal" almost instantaneously through the flick of a switch. In short, a hedonist's holy grail come true.

I predict that within the next half century or so, there would be a new field of science/philosophy called "Qualia Engineering" (QE) and this would explore how neural processes relate to actual qualia perceived, and would spawn a vast plethora of "virtual drug" machines. One of the obstacles to be overcome is how to interface our organic brains to these machines in a non-invasive way.

Once the ball of QE gets rolling, it would spawn exciting theoretical advances in the same manner that quantum mechanics did in the 1920's and 30's. Who knows, even my "no tinted glasses conjecture" might get to be proved right (or wrong).

Please note that QE as a field might not come anywhere closer to solving the "hard problem". And the presence of the "hard problem" as a philosophical conundrum should in no way deter the development of this field. An analogy is the philosophical question of why the immensely successful Standard model of physics is correct, which might probably never get answered. I however do get the feeling that QE will have a lot to do with quantum mechanics.

Having made the above general prediction, I wish to now address some of the concepts that I think are relevant.

The first is that, QE would be able to create consciousness! After all, qualia, by definition, are stuff perceived by conscious entities.

If QE can indeed produce self-contained conscious entities, how is it going to help us extend our sensory experiences? This brings us to the integration problem. As I had hypothesized in previous posts, each conscious entity is associated with a 3-dimensional binding space called the common binding space (CBS). One can unify two different conscious entities by unifying their CBSs into one. In our own brains, the corpus callosum does this. The integration problem specifically deals with how the CBS of our brain gets unified with the CBS of an external device, so that we ourselves get to experience the out-of-world experiences that are theoretically impossible with our brains as such. It is not known as of present whether the corpus callosum has a classical or quantum mechanical role to play. Even if it is the latter, it may not be a great practical hindrance in integrating external CBS's with our own. Heck, a lot of the electronics these days borders on the quantum mechanical anyway.

I also wish to bring up the concept of an eigenhue recognition unit (ERU), a fundamental unit of some sort that needs to be "excited" for us to perceive a quale of unit intensity at some point in the CBS. I believe that there is an associated density function which depends on the spatial location of the CBS and sets the limit for the maximum intensity of a particular eigenhue at a particular spot in the CBS. For example, in the case of vision, the density function is zero towards the back of your head, but not so for the case of sound, where it is possible to localize sound coming from there. In addition, there is also a degree of fuzziness, given by the standard deviation for each point of the CBS that sets the limit on how precisely we can localize any particular eigenhue in the CBS. (This standard deviation is not isotropic, and can have different values in different directions.) For example, a light source can be highly localized, but not sound.

I also conjecture that in addition to the "normal" excited state of an ERU, there also exists at least an additional state called the "imagination state". This allows us to imagine sensory experiences where there is none, or even something contradictory. For example, when we see a blue lamp, we can imagine it glowing red and even draw comparisons between our imagined red lamp and another real one as to whether they have the same hue, or which is brighter. Since we are seeing blue during the whole process, it seems that the imagination state can co-exist with the "normal" excited state, which probably implies that they are orthogonal and can exist as a superposition.

I had also suggested in this post that the density function applies to imagination states as much as real ones. Thus, one cannot just see things to the back of one's head, one cannot imagine them as well. I have called the non-zero values of the density function the access for a particular quale in the CBS. We are unable to experience or even imagine any sensory experience which exceeds the density function value at any point in the CBS. And we would be unable to experience or even imagine a very bright light - there are just not enough ERUs available to do the job. And in a similar manner, the associated standard deviation function sets the lower limit for the spatial resolution for a particular quale. We can say we don't have any access to resolving an A0 piano note to within an inch.

There are evolutionary and physical reasons for both intensity and spatial resolution access limitations. The upper limit for intensity is set by the intended behavioral response that a particular quale elicits. Too much can be counter-productive. For example, consider pain. A certain amount of pain enables an animal to keep away from harmful stimuli. But too much can cause it to get traumatized to such an extent that it behaves in an irrational fashion where it doesn't learn to keep away from them. If it is too much, it can even die due to the mental trauma.

In case of sound, there is no need for the quale localization to be within a fraction of an inch since the wavelengths of the sounds that cause those qualia might have wavelengths several times that amount. Thus, the spatial resolutions are in sync with the physical phenomena they represent. But this does not mean that the quale corresponding to a A0 note cannot have a resolution of a millimeter, in theory. In fact, I predict that QE would enable us to hear sounds with the same resolution as a visual image.

Besides intensity and spatial resolution access limits, I had also hinted in this post about access of operators on classes of qualia. For example, if we take notes of music theory, we have relational operators like "an octave above" or "a fifth below", and so on. It is possible that in case of tone deafness, the patients lack access to the pitch relation operator. And it is entirely possible that we lack relational operators between the eigenhues of color (red, green, and blue) when in theory they might exist. If so, QE would allow us to enjoy chromatic melody just like music.

I had also discussed the idea of platonic qualia spaces. Because of the architecture of the human brain, the range of qualia we can experience is quite limited in terms of the types, the intensities, the spatial range and resolution, and lastly, any relational operators within a class of qualia eigenhues.

So it is possible that there are entirely new colors in the platonic qualia space that we cannot experience or even imagine. QE will actually let us enjoy these new colors.

I had also hypothesized in the same post that the platonic pitch range is infinite. It might be possible, through QE, to enjoy piano solos played on a hyper grand piano having 176 keys!

And we can have orgasms like none before. Apart from 1000x the intensity of "normal" orgasms, we can also have them in any part of the CBS, like the back of your head, or a mile to the front, or both, if you wish!

And we can get to experience entirely new senses. It might actually be possible to feel what it is like to be a bat. Thomas Nagel would certainly be pleased!

The interface to the human brain would be through a device that is non-invasive or maybe minimally invasive. When one wants to return to the "normal self", one can just remove the interface and proceed as usual. Once the QE device is off, not only would we lose the capacity to experience the new expanded qualia, we would lose the ability to imagine them as well. Thus we can see and imagine a fourth color for as long as the QE device remains interfaced to our brains. The moment it gets disconnected, we wouldn't know what the fourth color is like, and we would only remember that we experienced a fourth color, but cannot really even reminisce it any longer, at least till we turn the QE device back on. This is because the ERUs as well as the associated window functions reside in the device, not in our brains.

I also feel that there might be conservation theorems regarding qualia, and we cannot develop runaway situations of hedonistic pleasures, since there is a cost associated with them, and would be governed by ethics committees. But my own conviction in this aspect is probably a lot lesser than the other points I have made.

We will have to wait and see if all this is just fantasy or something that would actually come true!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

On somatosensory binding

Somatosensory experiences, like those of sight and sound, are projected on to the CBS. But unlike sight or sound, the mapping between particular somatosensory receptors of the human body to the positions in the CBS is dynamic and depends on the exact pose of the body at the particular instant. For example, consider a highly localized somatosensory stimulus like a pin prick. If someone gets pricked on a finger but he waves that hand wildly, the sensation of pain travels a trajectory in the CBS, and the exact position is determined by the motor feedback which tells the brain the position of the hand. This remapping to the CBS enables one to coordinate other senses with the pain stimulus. For example, when you are getting bitten by a mosquito on the leg, your hand automatically reaches towards the correct part of the leg to hit it, even though at that time, the actual way the leg is folded is not brought to conscious attention. And simultaneously your eyes also get drawn to the direction of the bite.

Of course, the dynamic mapping is not a hundred percent accurate. One extreme pathological case is the phenomenon of phantom limb pain suffered by amputees. In this case, the pain is projected on to a part of the CBS which doesn't correspond to any part of the person's body. But even otherwise one can assume that the mapping is not accurate to within a fraction of an inch because of the limitations of the motor feedback mechanisms. Which is in a way good, since it would allow us to perform a simple thought experiment. If we have the index fingers of both the left and right hands pricked and bring them close together so that their pain centers coincide in the CBS (and this is possible without the fingers running into each other if there is some error in the motor calibration), is the qualia state indistinguishable from just one finger pricked twice as hard? If the overall sensation of pain is mapped as points in the CBS, once this reduction takes place, it would no longer be possible for the brain to figure out which finger got pricked, without other cues like visual, etc. But the important question here is, does this kind of reductionist mapping occur in the first place? From a functional standpoint, it is fairly easy for the brain to figure out which hand got pricked. It is a no-brainer (pun unintended) to find out from which hand 's nerves the pain sensation originated.

But if we accept the premise that qualia are higher level representations which subsume lower level unconscious signalling, then we somehow need to accomodate this extra information regarding which hand the pain originated from into the nature of the pain qualia itself. This means that the simple assumption that pin pricks are just pain points in the CBS is inaccurate. With a fully developed theory of qualia (if that ever happens), we will see the exact representation of somatosensory experiences and how ambiguities of the above sort are resolved within the framework of the qualia representation itself.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

On space and time

Can we imagine a situation where there is no space or time? When scientists say the Big Bang is the start of time, it immediately begs the question, "Then what went on before that?" Similarly, one cannot fathom the situation where there is no space. According to the current theory, the universe is bounded. So again, the question would be "What lies beyond that then?"

It seems like even philosophical schools which dwell on the concept of "nothingness" implicitly acknowledge the presence of the framework of space and time. "Nothingness" really refers to something like an empty street. To me, this in itself exposes the limitation of the human mind when it comes to questioning the very framework on which conscious experience is based.

To me this strongly suggests that the perceptions of space and time are not something which are tied to fundamental laws of the universe in any obvious manner, but necessarily have to do with consciousness. I have already brought up the concept of the CBS many times before. This is our perception of the 3-D space around us, be it in the waking or the dream state. Similarly, we are aware of the flow of time in both these states.

If we assume that there are no conscious entities in some universe, is it possible that that universe is devoid of our concepts of space and time, yet obeys fundamental laws similar to our own universe?

If we assume that our own universe is a program being executed on some computer, then there is no reason to believe that the program variables (of that computer) dealing with our space and time have any correlation with the space and time dimensions of whatever space and time that computer exists in (assuming those concepts exist in that universe).

Even if strong AI concedes that a computer can produce consciousness, it constrains the computer's concept of time (even if in discrete clock cycles) to lie in the same physical time dimension of what it is simulating. This, to me, reflects a narrow-minded approach to the highly metaphysical topic it claims to address.

As I had pointed out in this post, a computer simulating this universe may not have to step through the states according to its concept of time. It can step through them in its concept of space. In fact, why even stop there? That computer need not even operate according to any notions of space and time that we are familiar with. Space and time are very anthropocentric concepts. The states of that computer need to have some labeling, if only by some abstract members of some infinite set. In fact, when we index the operation of the computer to these abstract infinite sets, the coordinates x, y, z, and t can be freely switched around, and mean no more than the names given to variables in a conventional programming language such as C.

But there is an additional complication (described in the referenced post) which I call the Interpretation Problem. In short, the results of any program can always be mapped according to some look-up table (whether real or imagined), and as a result, can mean totally different things depending on which look-up table is used. Note that the word "interpretation" itself implies a conscious observer in that universe, so the creation of consciousness implies the presence of another one at a higher level.

As far as the philosophical riddle of "If a tree falls in a forest and there is no one to hear it, does it still make a sound?" is concerned, the answer is that the tree may not have fallen at all in a universe devoid of conscious observers at any point in the spacetime history of that universe, since it depends on the interpretation of what a tree-fall constitutes. This can be decided only by a conscious entity.