• Wayfarer
    20.4k
    I am not aware of any events taking place in the realms of organic chemistry or evolutionary biology that are not reducible to fundamental particles.Patterner

    You are aware of ‘reductionism’, though, right? It is 'the practice of analysing and describing a complex phenomenon in terms of its simple or fundamental constituents, especially when this is said to provide a sufficient explanation.' Claiming that organic chemistry and evolutionary biology are reducible to fundamental particles is a reductionist claim. But there are numerous objections to the idea:

    1. Emergent properties: Critics argue that reductionism fails to account for emergent properties, which are characteristics or behaviors that arise in complex systems but cannot be solely explained by understanding their individual components. Organic chemistry, for instance, involves the study of molecules and their interactions, which can give rise to emergent properties such as self-assembly or enzymatic activity. These properties cannot be accounted for solely on the basis of the physical analysis.

    2. Context-dependence: Reductionism neglects the significance of context in understanding complex phenomena. Organic chemistry and evolutionary biology involve intricate networks of interactions and dependencies that go beyond the principles of physics alone. The specific context in which chemical reactions occur or the environmental factors influencing evolution play a crucial role in shaping the behavior and outcomes, which cannot be fully captured by reductionist approaches.

    3. Levels of analysis: Reductionism typically focuses on explaining phenomena at the most fundamental level of analysis, often neglecting the relevance of higher-level concepts and principles. Organic chemistry and evolutionary biology operate at higher levels of complexity, incorporating concepts such as molecular structure, functional groups, genetic information, and natural selection. These higher-level concepts and principles cannot be derived from the laws of physics, although it can be and often is argued that they 'supervene' on them. But in this context, supervenience is a philosophical term of art, which seems suspiciously close to ad hoc argumentation in many cases.

    4. Methodological limitations: Critics argue that reductionism faces methodological challenges when attempting to apply reductionist strategies across different scientific disciplines. The methodologies, experimental techniques, and theoretical frameworks employed in physics may not always be directly applicable or sufficient for investigating organic chemistry or evolutionary biology. The inherent complexities and unique features of these fields often require specialized methods and approaches that go beyond reductionist principles.

    5. Epistemological constraints: Reductionism assumes that the most complete and accurate understanding of a phenomenon can be achieved by breaking it down into its constituent parts. However there are phenomena that have properties that are irreducible or not fully captured by reductionist explanations. Consciousness or subjective experience, for example, is a topic that poses challenges for reductionism, as it is difficult to explain or understand solely based on physical or chemical principles (which is the subject of the 'facing up to the hard problem of consciousness' argument of Chalmers).

    6. Last but by no means least, quantum physics raises philosophical questions about the role of the observer in the measurement process. The act of observation and the establishment of measurement outcomes seem to play a fundamental role in determining the observed properties of the objects of the analysis, which are, purportedly, also the fundamental particles of physics. This connection between observation and the physical world suggests that reductionism, which aims to explain everything solely in terms of physical entities and processes, is insufficient in accomodating or accounting for the role of the observer. Related to this is the known incompleteness of the standard model of physics, which despite being the most accurate predictive model ever devised, fails to account for dark matter and energy which are believed to account for more than 90% of the total mass-energy of the known universe, as well as for gravity.

    So those are some of the directions the argument can take.
  • apokrisis
    6.8k
    I don't know what Metzinger says about psychogenesis, though it would surprise me if he believed the self is "genetically baked in" - considering his minimal phenomenal selfhood idea doesn't contain a self as usually construed. And specifically, tonic alertness is construed as an essential component (and precursor of) what we'd normally construe as a self - which is the autonomous cortical feedback of that blooming, buzzing confusion of impulses and reflexes.fdrake

    I admit my response is largely based on what he was saying about 30 years ago. So maybe he applies the simplifying logic of dichotomies and symmetry breaking to brain architecture now?

    But I've skimmed a few sources and he still seems to be coming from a cognitivist paradigm and so sees both this "minimal phenomenal selfhood" and "conscious self-awareness" as brain located functions. One as the low-level story, down in the basement of the brainstem; the other a high-level process, up in the prefrontal.

    My approach is biosemiotic and so I see ordinary animal awareness as embodied and enactive, but
    human self-awareness as a further learnt linguistic skill – a capacity that is socioculturally constructed in the Vygotskian psychology sense.

    The "narrative consciousness" that humans enjoy is a habit of thought shaped at the level of our neurobiology as constrained by the cultural semiosis which is humans coming together as a dissipative social organism.

    Thus the ability to pay introspective attention to our embodied existence – to model our selves as selves – is not something that is genetic and so explicable as some kind of particular neurological function. It has to be explained in terms of the kind of reality model that our societies need us to have to function as "self regulating" social beings within its socially collective space.

    So Metzinger's more recent MPE work may now be informed by the enactive turn in cognitive science. The importance of embodiment to any account of the "phenomenal self" is recognised. But that is still some distance from my biosemiotic perspective which gives far more weight to the sociocultural shaping of what actually fills our heads and shapes our cognition.

    And likewise, the dissipative structure foundation to that biosemiotic perspective gives far more weight to the structuralism that says brains are in general organised by the triadic logic of a system, regardless of whether we are talking biology or sociology. Ideas about computation and modularity – a construction-based ontology – has to give way to an organic causality that is based on constraints on uncertainty. A vague potential gets dichotomised and thus becomes hierarchically complex, in symmetry-breaking fashion.

    The metaphysics that grounds a naturalised account of "consciousness" is quite different when you shift from cognitivism to organicism.
  • Janus
    15.3k
    I read Metzinger as saying essentially this. Up to and including the self/world distinction as a bodily modelling process with environmental feedbacks.fdrake

    I agree; I see little difference between what @apokrisis is saying about the self and world being a modeling relation and what is presented by Metzinger in Being No One.

    I'd say Metzinger is not concerned with the metaphysical and scientific angles on the self/world modeling relation which you like to explore; he focuses on a phenomenological account.
  • Janus
    15.3k
    The functioning of an internal combustion engine motor vehicle cannot be understood in terms of the fundamental particles that constitute it. So, all you seem to be saying is that there are different levels of explanation when you get to macroscopic objects and their relations. And how much more complex than a motor vehicle is a mammal? A human?
  • apokrisis
    6.8k
    I see little difference between what apokrisis is saying about the self and world being a modeling relation and what is presented by Metzinger in Being No One.Janus

    Check the references. Note the lack of a sociocultural or systems perspective. It's all neurobiology and functionalism.
  • Janus
    15.3k
    As I say above, Metzinger gives a neuro-phenomenological account. The socio-cultural aspect is simply an amplification of the self/ world modeling. So, of course a detailed sociological account is also possible, but the fact that it is not Metzinger's focus does not detract from his work. I don't follow you in thinking there is one overarching account, different accounts are valid from different perspectives.
  • apokrisis
    6.8k
    The socio-cultural aspect is simply an amplification of the self/ world modeling.Janus

    It ain't simply an amplification according to me. A change in code is a change in levels. It's not about more. It is about different.

    So a biosemiotic perspective is an advance on good old fashioned cognitivism in two ways. It is both more general and more particular.

    It is more particular in pointing to the difference in kind that comes with evolving new levels of symbol-processing – the steps from the genetic, to the neural, to the linguistic, to the actually symboilic.

    And it is more general in indeed showing that life and mind have the same general rational structure. It is all a play on semiosis – the triadic modelling relation which results in organisms with Umwelts.
  • Janus
    15.3k
    Sure, the way I understand it is that animals also have a self/world model but it is not symbolically reflective. So, with symbolic language, i.e. with human culture, comes a complexification of the more basic pre-linguistic animal self/ world modeling.

    That brings with it a qualitative difference as well; a profound difference in that we now have the arts, the sciences, religion, philosophy and history. So yeah, I agree this is also a difference in "level".

    That said, I hesitate to say the human level is "higher" or "better" than the animal level, rather than just more complex. which is pretty much what I meant by "amplification".
  • apokrisis
    6.8k
    That said, I hesitate to say the human level is "higher" or "better" than the animal level.Janus

    In the logical sense, it is more abstract and so less concrete.

    So higher in abstraction. And thus better at maximising entropy production. Intelligence buys access to entropy gradients.

    As to moral judgements, we can tell just how much those are central to a social level of semiosis, but not a technological level, by the ruthless way they have been ripped out of modern political and economic theory.

    That is another advantage of the biosemiotic turn. It places the spotlight on the current human plight.

    You should enjoy Gowdy and Krall on this. We’ve evolved beyond social apes to become … technological termites.

    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25915060/
  • Janus
    15.3k
    The abstract looks interesting, but I couldn't access the full article.

    Interesting point about the technological destruction of morality. Have we climbed all the way up the ladder and reached the level of the social insects? Those insects don't have parties, entertainment, festivals, the arts, religion, science, philosophy and history though.
  • apokrisis
    6.8k
    Download here: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/305375362_The_Economic_Origins_of_Ultrasociality

    Those insects don't have parties, entertainment, festivals, the arts, religion, science, philosophy and history though.Janus

    They garden fungus, we harvest the biosphere. They have been successful at sustaining ecosystems for hundreds of millions of years. We are blowing through the world’s fossil fuels and mineral gradients in a couple of hundred.

    So same, but different.

    The point is that if we talk about the consciousness of social insects, it actually is understood in terms of a groupmind or social intelligence. The hive or nest acts as a social organism.

    Realising that the highest level of ant and termite-dom is agriculture - the domestication of their ecosystems - should certainly be pause for thought when it comes the Hegelian structure of evolutionary history.

    Bacteria of course had already done the Gaian thing about 2 billion years ago by learning how to domesticate the planetary carbon cycle by balancing O2 and CO2.

    Semiosis is the big picture ontology.
  • Janus
    15.3k
    We are blowing through the world’s fossil fuels and mineral gradients in a couple of hundred.apokrisis

    That's true, and I wonder if we would have achieved such spectacular levels of "entropification" if we hadn't discovered fossil fuels. That discovery has arguably enabled a massive population explosion.

    Or perhaps our symbolic capabilities would have made that outcome inevitable, just coming to pass over a longer period. Symbolic language seems to have allowed us to be too adaptable for our own long term good. Being higher on the abstraction scale is not necessarily a good thing, it seems. When animals, notably apex predators, proliferate and overuse abundant resources, they are naturally knocked back, but we are so clever at abstract thinking we have so far avoided that.

    Thanks for the link.
  • RogueAI
    2.3k
    The functioning of an internal combustion engine motor vehicle cannot be understood in terms of the fundamental particles that constitute it.Janus

    Do you mean just the fundamental particles? What if you knew the fundamental particles and all their interconnections/arrangements? Wouldn't you be able to figure out that you were looking at an engine?
  • Janus
    15.3k
    I don't think so; in any case it's not just a matter of knowing you are looking at an engine or whole motor vehicle but of being able to explain all its macroscopic functions, interactions and inter-relations in terms of the basic understanding of fundamental particles.

    Even if it were possible, it would be such a complex task, I think it could hardly be referred to as "reductionism". All models are reductive, and they are reductive for the purposes of simplifying explanations, not rendering them unnecessarily complex.
  • RogueAI
    2.3k
    I don't think so; in any case it's not just a matter of knowing you are looking at an engine or whole motor vehicle but of being able to explain all its functions and macroscopic interactions and inter-relations in terms of the understanding of fundamental particles.

    Even if it were possible, it would be such a complex task, I think it could hardly be referred to as "reductionism".
    Janus

    Fair enough. Let's assume an alien (or better yet, machine intelligence) was examining, for the first time, an engine and a brain. I don't think the engine would be mysterious in any way, but I think the alien/machine intelligence would not be able to figure out the brain was capable of consciousness.
  • Janus
    15.3k
    Sure, but only if you can see the engine or motor vehicle working and not if you just saw it standing there would it lack mystery as to its function, but further investigation would be needed to understand its functioning. Similarly, just looking at the surface of a brain doesn't tell you it is working or what it's doing. And the same goes for just looking at an animal or a human just standing there. Even if you see the animal or human moving that doesn't tell you anything about its cardio-vascular, respiratory and digestive functions.
  • RogueAI
    2.3k
    OK, suppose you have a working brain hooked up to life support and a running engine. Would the engine be mysterious in any way? Would the alien/machine intelligence know that the working brain is conscious?
  • Patterner
    386
    You are aware of ‘reductionism’, though, right? It is 'the practice of analysing and describing a complex phenomenon in terms of its simple or fundamental constituents, especially when this is said to provide a sufficient explanation.'Wayfarer
    Indeed. I've been arguing that it does not suffice to explain consciousness, or even make the attempt. It addresses only the physical activities.

    Organic chemistry, for instance, involves the study of molecules and their interactions, which can give rise to emergent properties such as self-assembly or enzymatic activity. These properties cannot be accounted for solely on the basis of the physical analysis.Wayfarer
    Can you give me an example of this kind of self-assembly or enzymatic activity?
  • Wayfarer
    20.4k
    Isn't that at the basis of molecular biology and mitosis etc? I'm not trained in biology, but I would have thought this was common knowledge. (There's an article I frequently refer to, What is Information? Marcello Barbieri, who is one of the founders of what he describes as 'code biology'.)
  • Janus
    15.3k
    You would have to pull the engine apart and examine the components and analyze their functions and inter-relations in the overall process of its running in order to understand how it works. This is just what neuroscience is doing with the brain. The brain is much more complex than the engine, though, and you cannot pull a living brain apart to examine its structures and since the functional components are microscopic and not obviously mechanical in functioning like the engine the task is much more complicated and difficult.

    Taking vision as the paradigm, the fact that the brain produces visual images (as does a camera) and also the seeing of those images, and the awareness of seeing those images seems impossible to explain in mechanistic terms. Perhaps we will never be able to give a comprehensive causal account of that process since causal models are generally mechanistic in nature. It doesn't follow that anything magical or supernatural is going on.
  • RogueAI
    2.3k
    You would have to pull the engine apart and examine the components and analyze their functions and inter-relations in the overall process of its running.to understand how it works.Janus

    OK, the alien/machine intelligence takes apart the engine after it stops running. Then it takes apart the working brain. Is the engine going to be mysterious in any way? Is the brain?
  • Janus
    15.3k
    I already said the engine is easier to understand being far less complex, and also because our models are mechanistic and the engine is a machine, and it just may not be possible to understand how the brain gives rise to consciousness mechanistically. What more are you angling for?
  • RogueAI
    2.3k
    I already said the engine is easier to understand being far less complex, and also because our models are mechanistic, and it just may not be possible to understand how the brain gives rise to consciousness mechanistically. What more are you angling for?Janus

    It seems obvious to me that the alien/machine intelligence could know every physical fact there is to know about brains, and still not know the most salient fact: they're conscious. Do you agree? Doesn't that put brains in an entirely new class of things: things you could know all the physical facts about and still not understand them completely?
  • apokrisis
    6.8k
    That's true, and I wonder if we would have achieved such spectacular levels of "entropification" if we hadn't discovered fossil fuels. That discovery has arguably enabled a massive population explosion.Janus

    Correct. This is something I’ve been researching this year. It is remarkable how human entropy production maintained a Malthusian balance even through the agrarian era showed some technical advance between 1100 and 1700. Any increase in food surplus was cancelled out by a matching growth of population, bringing everyone back to a steady state economic level.

    But then technology and science made its sudden left turn with the discovery that the British midlands and European lowlands had all this buried coal. The per capita entropy production of the West became an exponential curve which then turned super-exponential with the discovery of oil.

    So that is my argument. Humans have just been riding the dissipative wave of a succession of entropic bonanzas. Homo erectus already started things by stumbling across the notion of firewood and big game hunting. No one else was burning the trees or cooking the flesh. This entropic bonanza shaped a whole new level of mentality - a “self model” of the hunter-gatherer in its savannah/steppe world.

    Agriculture was the next step up. And then fossil fuels became something different in that it now looked like Homo sapiens had finally tapped an “infinite resource”. And in complementary fashion, that justified a self-model as the “other” as no longer the gardener of nature, but instead the liberator of unlimited entropy production. The Elon Musk fantasy of peak humanity.

    Population growth hopped on this exponential curve, finally released from its Malthusian limits. Human entropy production in general became a game of how quickly we could find more opportunities to dissipate and so do proper justice to a world of made of unlimited material resources.

    Before you know it, the planet was populated by dudes like Hanover saying unbound growth is nature at work and simply an expression of the human destiny.

    When animals, notably apex predators, proliferate and overuse abundant resources, they are naturally knocked back, but we are so clever at abstract thinking we have so far avoided that.Janus

    That’s the Malthusian equation. And if we had listened to science when it modelled the Limits of Growth in the 1970s, we would have realised how we had allowed fossil fuels to hijack our reasonably clever human social systems for its own mindless purpose.

    We did fall upwards in previous rounds of the game. We ate all the Steppe mammals during the ice ages but took good advantage of the Holocene’s climate stability to switch to agriculture as the new thing.

    And we could have also heeded the ecologists in them1970s and begun the Green transition to a more sustainable burn rate. The future would indeed have been sweet. Even if world population would have been stuck at around 1900s levels, and per capital energy expenditure at 1950s levels.

    But win some, lose some.
  • Janus
    15.3k
    That all makes sense to me, although I would add to this:

    we would have realised how we had allowed fossil fuels to hijack our reasonably clever human social systems for its own mindless purpose.apokrisis

    that the motivator for the willful blindness to the science was economic: the greed of some for money and power and the general complacency that comes with comfortable levels of prosperity,
  • Janus
    15.3k
    It seems obvious to me that the alien/machine intelligence could know every physical fact there is to know about brains, and still not know the most salient fact: they're conscious. Do you agree? Doesn't that put brains in an entirely new class of things: things you could know all the physical facts about and still not understand them completely?RogueAI

    Firstly, I doubt it's possible to know all the physical facts about anything let alone brains, and secondly most of what we call physical facts are conceptual models given in mechanistic causal terms. So, for me it appears that what you are claiming just amounts to saying that brains cannot be understood entirely in terms of mechanistic models, which I have no argument with. In fact, I think the same goes for biology in general. There are other modes of investigation and understanding on the horizon it seems, and I think it's too early to pronounce on what they will be able to come up with.
  • Outlander
    1.8k
    Understanding of time, memory, and decision making as a result of real or imagined past, present, and future states of another biologic being.

    Edit: Absent of programmed nature. Which is argued that the human brain is little more than a sponge that retains and in a sense "obeys" what is generally thought of as "mindless" programming of past experiences and education albeit with a degree of randomness.
  • RogueAI
    2.3k
    Firstly, I doubt it's possible to know all the physical facts about anything let alone brains, and secondly most of what we call physical facts are conceptual models given in mechanistic causal terms.Janus

    You don't need to know all the physical facts of an engine to figure out what it is and what it does. The same should be true of brains, but it's not. No matter how much an alien/machine intelligence studies a working brain, it will not know if it's conscious or not. Is your claim then that there is some undiscovered method of science the machine intelligence/alien could use to figure out whether something is conscious or not? Shouldn't we at least have some hints by now of what that could be? Are you a mysterian?
  • Janus
    15.3k
    You don't need to know all the physical facts of an engine to figure out what it is and what it does. The same should be true of brains, but it's not. No matter how much an alien/machine intelligence studies a working brain, it will not know if it's conscious or not.RogueAI

    You are assuming that the percentage of all the possible facts that could be known about the brain that we currently know should be sufficient to understand consciousness, and this is merely an assumption, not something you know.
  • fdrake
    5.8k
    I admit my response is largely based on what he was saying about 30 years ago. So maybe he applies the simplifying logic of dichotomies and symmetry breaking to brain architecture now?apokrisis

    I'm quite sure you have different concerns!
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