Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The meaning of conscious identity

I had in several previous posts alluded to the existence of a single "universal consciousness" behind all conscious entities. Before we even try to embark on understanding the implications of such an argument, let us try to even define what it means in the first place. I don't think this first step in itself is necessarily straightforward.

In this post, I had formulated that every conscious entity has a collection of real and imagined qualia in its own CBS. The "Cartesian theater" roughly corresponds to the CBS, though there is no room for imagination qualia in that model, which is a serious limitation. The other problem with that model is that a homunculus seated in the theater is supposed to be the ultimate perceiver, but again, the model doesn't define what the homunculus is. So in a sense, there is not much to be gained out of that model.

In my post, I proposed that instead of attributing conscious experience to some concentrated entity like the homunculus, we change the paradigm to make the sum total of the qualia themselves to be taken as consciousness. In other words, the Cartesian theater doesn't seat the homunculus, the Cartesian theater is the homunculus. Of course, we have to include imagination qualia too in this model.

In this paradigm, the burden of consciousness shifts from a subject that perceives qualia to the CBS and the qualia within it themselves. There is no need for any additional perceiving agent.

With the above qualia-centric model of consciousness as opposed to a homuncular or subject-centric model, the concept of identity becomes murky. If we had the conventional homuncular model, then identity is defined by each individual homunculus and is relatively straightforward. Although since each homunculus itself is quite mysterious and a black box (corresponding to a "soul" in theology), in the end it doesn't really answer anything unless you turn to theological explanations.

But coming back to the qualia-centric definition, how is John's pain from a pin-prick different from Jane's then? I had already maintained several times that each conscious entity has an unique 3-dimensional space or the CBS (which would be now the same as the Cartesian theater) and the pin pricks for both John and Jane may, for all you care, be in the same co-ordinates within each theater, but the very fact that they occur in different theaters implies that they are perceived by different "entities". Now I wish to clarify the meaning of each person's CBS. Please note that each CBS is an abstract space that has no relation to one another. Even though Jane and John might be sitting next to each other, it is not as if Jane's CBS is the same as John's CBS shifted by one meter. They are abstract 3-dimensional spaces that have no interconnection. If John is asleep and having a dream, his CBS would take him to some distant vacation spot while Jane's might correspond to the immediate neighborhood. Also, unlike the case of the seat of the homunculus in the Cartesian theater, the "origin" of the CBS in the qualia-centric model enjoys no special status. It is just a reference coordinate, and is not "the seat of the mind", for there is no such thing as the latter.

In fact, according to the referenced post, the whole conscious experience (including the aforementioned "mind") is the sum of real and imaginary qualia perceived in the CBS according to predefined intensity and resolution functions. This applies to the thought process as well, which I had implied in that post to be just imagined soliloquies correspond to positions within the CBS which are the same as real ones. In this model, the intensity and resolution access functions can be quite arbitrary in theory, and the only reason they are concentrated around the origin is because of the physical correspondence with the body of the organism which serves an evolutionary purpose. Although in the case of humans, the portion of the CBS corresponding to hearing one's own voice fall within the region of the head, we can conceive of organisms which have weird shapes and intensity and resolution functions where the so-called "mind" is miles removed from the body of the being. Out-of-body experiences of humans due to drugs or illnesses also seem to reinforce this viewpoint.

I also wish to reiterate my own interpretation of the word quale. It is not just the hue, as the hue of red. I call the "redness of red" a red hue (see this post), although I have come across the same used to define the term "quale". In my dictionary, a quale is an actual embodiment of some hue or a combination of hues in some CBS. For example, seeing a tomato would cause someone to experience a red quale. This has to be differentiated from the concept of redness itself.

While some might think that they can imagine the concept of redness itself without attaching to some shape or region, I don't believe this is possible for any conscious entity. Imagining "redness" all by itself invariably results in some actual embodiment (or imagined quale) to occur in someone's CBS, even if it is just a random patch of color in front of the eyes. As implied in the aforementioned post, every conscious experience is the sum of real and imagined qualia, and the act of imagining a 'hue' by itself will invariably lead to an imagined embodiment (quale) of it.

Although the above point may seem more of a matter of terminology, please note that my definition of a quale automatically brings with it a CBS (or in other words, a conscious entity). So a quale is a self-contained perception (meaning it is the perceiver as much as the perceived). A pin-prick on your finger or the sound of a distant ambulance siren to your left are all examples of such qualia which by default imply consciousness. Under normal circumstances we may think that we are perceiving those sensations (when we also are hearing imagined soliloquies much closer- in other words, when we are thinking), but when we are about to doze off and stop thinking, we sometimes reach a state where only the real qualia are present in the CBS. (Of course, sometimes the moment we realize this, we get jolted back and then the imagination qualia again start playing out again in our CBS.)

I will address the issue of meta-ethics in the context of the qualia-centric model of consciousness in a future post. I feel that meta-ethics is intrically linked to the fundamental theory of qualia and is not just an optional "nicety" in the sense of societal/evolutionary checks/balances.