• Gnomon
    1.1k
    Could one of you, or anybody, explain why zero was a "troublesome" concept to integrate into science? Was the issue forced by the success of math in making predictions?frank

    Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea : https://www.amazon.com/s?k=zero&i=stripbooks&ref=nb_sb_noss
  • apokrisis
    5.1k
    Does anyone want to comment on his criticism of computational theory of mind?schopenhauer1

    I can't remember the detail of his position - his book came out 10 years ago. But to the degree he understands biosemiosis, the critical difference is that a biological system employs "computation" to stabilise its "being in the world". Biology has intentionality baked in by its need to rule over material instability.

    So life and mind - as the intentional attributes of an organism - are this hybrid thing of information and dynamics. Computers - under the Turing Machine definition – are just plain informational mechanism.

    Now you could broaden your definition of computation to start incorporating some biosemiosis - some biological realism. That is what neural network architectures attempt.

    But computational approaches to theory of mind play fast and loose with this critical distinction, largely because the messy facts of biology and neuroscience seem so irrelevant if you are a computer scientist. You don't know what you don't know.

    However this is what to beware of. Biosemiosis doesn't exclude "computation" as an important part of its theory of life and mind. It just says that a Turing Machine notion of computation is something else.

    A TM is designed so as to be materially divorced from reality. A biosemiotic system is evolved to be intimately connected to the construction of its material reality.

    The two ontologies are so wildly at odds that there is no point making "computational" arguments until you can show you get the difference.
  • frank
    5.8k
    Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea :Gnomon

    "Seife urges his readers to peer through the zero down into the abyss of absolute emptiness and out into the infinite expanse of space."

    :up: got it

    ṣĭfr in Arabic, means literally: the void.Olivier5

    I love that. The void shows up in Einstein's stuff as part of his thought experiments

    is pointless to talk of 0 things and nonsense to talk of negative things. How could you have -3 tables?khaled

    You're saying numbers had to become abstract in order for zero to be accepted?
  • apokrisis
    5.1k
    You're saying numbers had to become abstract in order for zero to be accepted?frank

    In maths, zero doesn't stand for the void. It is the additive identity element - just as 1 is the multiplicative identity. Anything plus 0 is unchanged. Just as anything times 1 is unchanged.

    So where this leads is a notion of symmetry and symmetry-breaking that is critical to scientific models. The positive number line can be mapped on to the negative numbers by a reflection through the zero point. And so a notion of "threeness" can be mapped on to the notion of "a lack of threeness" as a justified symmetry operation.

    Once you understand the role of the identity element as a fulcrum of symmetry, rather than as a void, then useful mathematical results follow. Presences can be matched up to absences. Complex directions in space and time coordinates can be simply inverted or reversed.

    Note also the practical uses once the modelling of nature became reduced to the 1/0 of a digital code, or the yes/no of any bivalent logical argument.

    It really has nothing directly to do with nature and everything to do with formulating a reductionist view of nature. And from there, imposing a controlling mechanical design on nature.

    So realising that zero was the key to unlocking a higher level of generality - a new level of symmetry - in counting operations, was crucial to the rise of the modern mechanistic mindset. A way humanity could enslave nature to its desires.

    But the tricky part about biosemiosis is the realisation that nature was already playing its own version of this game. Just a much more sophisticated one in being "organismic" rather than "purely mechanical".

    This animation of the molecular machinery that regulates the thermodynamic instability of every living cell gives an idea of just how literally life depends on having one foot in the informational/mechanical side of things.

    And now imagine humans trying to replicate this kind of organic complexity with their clumsy reductionist science.

  • Janus
    9.6k
    Could one of you, or anybody, explain why zero was a "troublesome" concept to integrate into science? Was the issue forced by the success of math in making predictions?frank

    It seems to me that the idea of zero enables the grasp of orders of magnitude, so I wouldn't see it as "troublesome" but quite the opposite, as preeminently useful.
  • Janus
    9.6k
    deleted
  • Wayfarer
    10.4k
    My sketchy understanding is that zero was rejected by Greek mathematicians in part because of the philosophical implications of non-being or nothingness. This was related to the dictum ‘nature abhors a vacuum’. India by contrast was comfortable with the idea of nothingness due to the Buddhist concept of śūnyatā, so the idea didn’t represent a conceptual threat to them. The symbol was derived from the hole in the middle seat of a dhow, which also conveniently expresses Deacon’s idea of an absential.
  • magritte
    145
    criticism of computational theory of mindschopenhauer1

    I read that Deacon objects to the overly simple linear computer modeling for either the massive neuronal cross-wiring of the brain or for the unknown complex higher functionality of the mind. In the example of Big Blue's defeat of chess champion Kasparov, Deacon says that the computer was loaded with the all relevant historical games and the computer's speedy and deep calculations just wore the human into exhaustion. In other words, it was more a competition of computational speed and not of mental power.

    To me, the real test would be one of judgment, creativity, and adaptability.
  • magritte
    145
    The library heroically fetched a copy of the book for me. It was sad to see four bored workers and no patrons. I am grateful to you for bringing this topic for attention. It seems as if I've been in a slumber on emergence for a decade.

    I am curious how Deacon develops 'absential' as the centerpiece of his theory. When thinking of holes in wholes, Emmentaler Swiss cheese or a mathematical doughnut comes to mind. These are fixed though, there can't be much action there. The example of the red blood cell is intriguing from evolutionary, structural physical chemistry, and functional perspectives. Just the right hole for an oxygen atom for transport is shaped and preserved, and the atom is loosely held by the cell's molecular structure so it can later be released. But absences in other instances could also be environmental or symbiotic in some sense.
  • frank
    5.8k
    Have you gotten to chapter zero? I fell off into a book about the history of the concept of zero, but I'll catch up!
  • magritte
    145
    Zero is just a strange number with many guises. It isn't just 0 or Nothing but also the dimensionless Origin of any arbitrary observer in space-time or of the absolute here-now of the Self. In this sense its opposite would be untamed metaphysical infinity.
  • frank
    5.8k
    this sense its opposite would be untamed metaphysical infinity.magritte

    That's what the guy says in the other book I'm reading. :grin:
  • schopenhauer1
    4.8k
    A TM is designed so as to be materially divorced from reality. A biosemiotic system is evolved to be intimately connected to the construction of its material reality.

    The two ontologies are so wildly at odds that there is no point making "computational" arguments until you can show you get the difference.
    apokrisis

    I suppose I will read more about this as I move forward in the book. It sounds like he's saying a TM is all form and no matter. Matter drives form and is messier perhaps. Of course, the overriding thing he hasn't gotten to is how absence of material processes create the form, yadayada which I am sure is the bulk of the book. He does a good job priming his main point with a lot of what isn't his theory, which keeps you reading I guess to see what indeed is the his main thesis and how it will spread the gamut to the hard question of consciousness. That is the part I am more skeptical he is going to accomplish.

    It just seems to me that at the end, we are going to get a lot of what the machinery behaves like, but then lose how behavior becomes something like the internal colors and textures of our internal subjective self.

    I think a lot of the debate is conflating mechanism with experience. The eliminativists want to keep point to one part of the equation and keep forgetting to address the part we are actually trying to figure out which is "what" (metaphysically) is experience as opposed to the matter which is causing or associated with the experience. It seems to me that even behavior patterns of matter and their statistical tendencies for this or that, are still not quite getting at the question. It does provide interesting ideas for how biology can be considered information rather than mechanistic, but that's not answering the question I am interested in.
  • Janus
    9.6k
    The eliminativists want to keep point to one part of the equation and keep forgetting to address the part we are actually trying to figure out which is "what" (metaphysically) is experience as opposed to the matter which is causing or associated with the experience.schopenhauer1

    Do you have any idea at all what a possible answer to that question could look like, or what (observation or logic) could possibly justify it?
  • apokrisis
    5.1k
    Of course, the overriding thing he hasn't gotten to is how absence of material processes create the form, yadayada which I am sure is the bulk of the book.schopenhauer1

    As I say, I can't remember Deacon saying anything surprising so far as biosemiosis went.

    But the way I view this is to stress that semiosis depends on top-down informational constraints on bottom-up material possibilities. So this means that the right kind of material foundation for a living and mindful system is one that has critical instability. The material aspect must be in some kind of delicate equilibrium balance that both makes it essentially formless, but also eminently tippable. Because that is how informational mechanisms can step in and deliver the tiny nudge needed to tip the material dynamics in one direction vs another direction.

    The obvious everyday example is how tossing an enzyme into a metabolic pathway can drive the reaction faster. The chemistry is some kind of equilibrium equation in which one thermodynamic direction is statistically favoured over the other. But the genes can make proteins that then apply a purposeful regulatory framework of over that dynamic, switching the pathway on or off as best serves the needs of the organism.

    So life and mind boil down to this trick. The natural world offers up tippable states of matter. There are fundamental sources of instability that can then be harnessed - given some stable and definite direction - by a machinery of information. It is the lack of form and purpose in the states of matter that permit form and purpose to become the purview of the informational machinery.

    In terms of "absentials", this just means that some state of matter could accidentally go in a near infinite number of directions. If it is a complex and unstable network of relations, then chaos rules. Tippping one direction is as good as another.

    But once under informational regulation, all those other trajectories become potentials being actively and intentionally suppressed. The matter can no longer lurch off randomly. It is being nudged so that it keeps falling towards the right outcome.

    If we zoom in on any material process in a living system, then it still seems to be just some kind of statistical event. Every metabolic reaction can still reverse itself. An enzyme is just tilting the odds in favour of the house. So - unlike a machine or computer - the material process is not being actually controlled in the positive deterministic sense.

    And that is where talk of absences would fit. The negative space view. What is critical in semiosis is the ability to constrain the material system - limit other outcomes. And that is how on the whole, the desired outcome, the desired material form, is sure to emerge into concrete being.

    That is why consciousness is not about an attentional spotlight that illuminates the world for some ghostly viewer. Instead, an attentional spotlight is what emerges from the active suppression of every other possible state of interpretative response. We are conscious of "something" because the brain has just filtered out "everything else" that might have been the case.

    As a general principle, the brain is assaulted by a barrage of noise in every instant - all the sensory energies flooding from every direction. And its job is to suppress the noise to discover the meaningful signal it can pick out of the chaos. You can record the wave of excitation followed by the wave of inhibition as the brain makes this focusing transition to a state of attentional connection.

    It just seems to me that at the end, we are going to get a lot of what the machinery behaves like, but then lose how behavior becomes something like the internal colors and textures of our internal subjective self.schopenhauer1

    Of course. But that is a prejudice bred by believing in a computational model of mind. You are presuming the world is all signal, all data, not all noise, all material dynamics. And so the job of the brain becomes to form a display or representation of this data - for some ghostly homunculus to then "experience" ... and probably then issue some spooky mental commands that cause the material body to jerk into neural and muscular reaction.

    If the brain's job is to instead impose that kind of attentional and behavioural particularity on the chaotic energetic assault of an environment, then this is quite a different thing. It is by successfully being in the world - regulating its flows - that we develop this sense of being conscious. Our actions construct an "us" that is rendering a "world" as some meaningful structure of being. There is a place to be understood in terms of "its" colours and textures.

    It does provide interesting ideas for how biology can be considered information rather than mechanistic, but that's not answering the question I am interested in.schopenhauer1

    Yeah. But that is a question that can arise only because of a materialist/mechanical world view. It make sense because you also accept that the Cosmos is essentially a dumb Newtonian and Darwinian machine.

    That is Cartesianism in a nutshell. If the Universe is dumb matter, that justifies an endless pining for the absent thing which is the mindful soul, the moving spirit, the machine's missing ghost.

    But biosemiosis is a different paradigm. With it, science has moved on. Talk of qualia and suchlike become redundant relics. Empty questions challenging the sterile notion of physical materialism.
  • magritte
    145
    It seems to me that even behavior patterns of matter and their statistical tendencies for this or that, are still not quite getting at the question. It does provide interesting ideas for how biology can be considered information rather than mechanistic, but that's not answering the question I am interested in.schopenhauer1

    That seems to summarize the dilemma of the social sciences. When they study minute mechanistic processes they get funded and succeed with many small publishable results. When they study meaningful, experientially relevant topics the results are washed out by the inherent multi-faceted complexity of the subject matter and consequently lose funding.
  • magritte
    145
    attentional spotlight is what emerges from the active suppression of every other possible state of interpretative response. We are conscious of "something" because the brain has just filtered out "everything else" that might have been the caseapokrisis

    Does this mean that experience is not intentionally directed but emerges as an act of subconscious attentional focus?
  • apokrisis
    5.1k
    Does this mean that experience is not intentionally directed but emerges as an act of subconscious attentional focus?magritte

    It is more complicated. But as a general principle, yes. Your brain tries to do everything at the level of subconscious habit. And then by default, that which is too novel or too demanding to be handled by automatic routine becomes escalated for a full brain attentional response.

    The complication is that whatever catches your attention this way then becomes the intentional frame guiding your next moments of action. So conscious intention exists ahead of the fact in any largely predictable world. It is only when the world is found to have a surprise that there needs to be an intentional reset.

    So I head to the kitchen because I'm thirsty for a beer. I could be thinking of half a dozen other things while my feet tread a well-worn path and my hands reach for a familiar location.

    In a general way I have made an intentional choice after the idea I both want, and am deserving, of that beer. That is, I have created an attentional constraint of my behaviour that for the moment rules out other things - watering the garden, feeding the cat, whatever. And in that focused state - a state carried by working memory - I can let all the detail, all the supplementary motor routines, just kick in without further conscious choice.

    The key thing for attention was to eliminate the many alternative goal states I could have been in. Then as much as possible, learnt subconscious routines are left to deliver the goods.

    This is efficient. It takes about a fifth of a second to execute a skilled habit. That is how it is possible to return a 100mph tennis ball serve with practiced ease. It takes half a second to have a full brain attentional reaction to that same tennis ball. That is why the ball flies past the beginner before they have time to take its presence in.

    So when it comes to the "machinery" of the mind, this is all well understood neuropsychology. And it illustrates the principle that the brain does not exist to represent the world as a conscious display. The brain is forever trying to learn how to reduce its awareness of the world to some collection of well-honed automatisms that by-pass any need for thought and deliberation.

    Of course, the world always has surprises. So in any half second, there is always something a little bit novel to latch on to. Or at least we need to be shifting our eyes towards the beer bottle we mean to grasp just so our hands get enough last millisecond subconscious docking data.

    The cartoon version of consciousness is that the mind makes choices and then the body executes its decisions.

    But it takes a tenth of a second just to subconsciously hear the starter's pistol fire in a sprint race, half a second to attend to the fact in any conscious way. That is how they detect false starts in international rules.

    So any sense of making conscious choices is about the pre-thought that can form some goal - like clearing the mind and getting set to make the fastest race start. And then afterwards - half a second later - we can begin to credit ourselves for getting out the blocks right at the crack of the pistol as a self-centred reconstruction of the facts. We can notice that there is a memory for the sound and for our body leaping into action. So now, we can retroject ourselves as the entity making the choices and commanding the muscles.

    Does a computer have the equivalent of either attentional or habitual processing, let alone a complex interaction between the two?

    A Turing Machine certainly doesn't. But certain neural network approaches do try to build in this kind of biological realism.

    So the whole debate can't come into focus until we can compare and contrast functional architectures. And biosemiosis is about the very different functional architecture that organisms employ.
  • javra
    1.1k
    Does this mean that experience is not intentionally directed but emerges as an act of subconscious attentional focus? — magritte

    It is more complicated. But as a general principle, yes.
    apokrisis

    If my memory serves me right, you used to talk of top-down process working in conjunction with bottom-up processes.

    In your post you address, more or less, bottom-up process that result in what we experientially appraise to be voluntary behaviors that do not require cogitations on our part to accomplish. You’re sitting on a stool; you feel an impetus to drink a beer; then you voluntary ask the bartender for one; this without cogitations of whether or not you should drink a beer rather than a cola or a whiskey, nor with cogitations of which word choice to utilize in order to accomplish the feat of conveying what you want to the bartender (etc.). All good. A multitude of habitual behavior process kicking in. Given that our conscious awareness is not identical to our total mind’s awareness - which in laymen terms consists of both subconscious and unconscious awareness and cognitive activities, with neither the sub- nor unconscious mind (where differentiated) being the conscious awareness we as egos hold - it only makes sense that our non-conscious minds do a heck of a lot without any conscious input; and that this should be observable neurologically. (We, for one example, don't choose, intend, what to perceive; our non-conscious minds, in their interaction with our environment, are from where these percepts develop.)

    Yet, when it comes to deliberation - wherein a choice is to be consciously taken between two or more alternatives (with these two or more alternatives themselves being products of the sub/unconscious mind) - the consciously aware ego can (or else cannot) hold top-down effects upon the substratum of its total mind and, therefore, upon the neurological correlates of the respective CNS.

    I’m curious at this point. Are you now upholding that consciousness (as differentiated from the total mind within which it is embedded) cannot hold top-down effects upon the CNS via its consciously performed choices during times of conscious deliberation?

    Concordantly, how are we to neurologically pinpoint such top-down effects by a consciousness when we can’t even neurologically pinpoint consciousness? … here alluding to the combination aspect of the binding problem.

    This could all be part of what you meant by "it is more complicated". To me, at least, top-down process of consciousness - when they occur - do touch upon an important aspect of our cognition.
  • apokrisis
    5.1k
    Are you now upholding that consciousness (as differentiated from the total mind within which it is embedded) cannot hold top-down effects upon the CNS via its consciously performed choices during times of conscious deliberation?javra

    I wouldn’t agree that habit level processes are unconscious and thus that only attentional processing is conscious.

    When driving on automatic pilot, your eyes are open and your brain processes the sensations. But because you allowing habit to control the actions, it all just kind of flows through you in an unremarked and unremembered way. There is no deliberation and so no need to form a working memory to juggle options or debate alternatives. You just respond to the road conditions, forgetting as fast as things happen.

    So operating purely at habit level, there is awareness - of the unremarked and immediately discarded kind.

    Thus - in keeping with the neurology - I talk about attentional vs habitual processes. Consciousness is an ambiguous term, even further confused by the fact that human self awareness or introspective consciousness is a socially constructed and language based skill.

    So consciousness has at least three levels of complexity that need to be distinguished. And none of them have anything to do with the usual passive data display conception of experience.
  • magritte
    145
    that which is too novel or too demanding to be handled by automatic routine becomes escalated for a full brain attentional responseapokrisis

    Is this the reaction to a bucket of icy cold water or a charging tiger which are animal responses held in common with a paramecium or an earthworm, or is it deliberated act of educated judgment, creativity, adaptation?
  • javra
    1.1k
    Realized after my post that I’m not a contributing member of the reading group, so I’ll back off the thread. Just wanted to clarify:

    I wouldn’t agree that habit level processes are unconscious and thus that only attentional processing is conscious.apokrisis

    I wouldn’t agree with that either.
  • apokrisis
    5.1k
    Paramecia and worms are responding out of reflex - a genetic hardwired circuit, so a third level even below attention and habit.

    Humans also have reflexes. Put a hand on a hot plate and you will jerk it off as a spinal level reaction.
  • frank
    5.8k

    and all

    End-directed forms of causality, or purpose, is clearly an aspect of life and consciousness. The term "abstential" is supposed to pick out the object of purposeful behavior.

    I'm not sure life and consciousness are exclusice about that, though. A positively charged object is understood in terms of what it's missing. Right?
  • schopenhauer1
    4.8k
    I'm not sure life and consciousness are exclusice about that, though. A positively charged object is understood in terms of what it's missing. Right?frank

    Is thrre a particular part of book you are referring? Also can you elaborate your last statement about positively charged?
  • Gnomon
    1.1k
    End-directed forms of causality, or purpose, is clearly an aspect of life and consciousness. The term "abstential" is supposed to pick out the object of purposeful behavior.frank
    Yes. That seems to be the meaning of Deacon's term "Absence" ; the pull of the future, so to speak. Apparently, only humans can imagine a non-existent future state, and then work to make it real. So the purpose of Purpose is to convert Absence (lack, want) into Presence (possession, fulfillment). :smile:
  • frank
    5.8k
    This is chapter one. He talks about causality in relation to a child throwing a stone. He points out that none of the atomic information we may have access to would explain the rock's motion as well as knowing the mental information associated with the throw.

    Then he points to the abstential associated with the child's purpose.


    I dont know if it diminishes his point, but absence is an aspect of a lot of things, such as a valley or a positive charge which results from atoms that are missing some of the electrons they would need to be neutral. True?
  • magritte
    145
    End-directed forms of causality, or purpose, is clearly an aspect of life and consciousnessfrank

    Yes, but not magically all at once, as is usually implied by teleology. Nature is infinitely complex with many levels of complexity and we are rarely smart enough to look past just one level at a time. This is a valid reason to be suspicious of broad claims, even if eventually they turn out to be correct. For instance, impressed but not convinced, both Hume and Kant proposed their own alternatives to Newton's Laws.

    Hemoglobin's ability to transport oxygen in the blood stream [p.9] can be understood either for the single blood cell or for oxygen transport functionality one level above. The cell is a structure that houses a hemoglobin molecule to fit oxygen like a glove and just the right amount of energy will cause the release of the oxygen at any peripheral organ. It serves until it dies. The functionality is to have enough working blood cells in total for all organs to survive.

    The Zeno example of infinite divisibility may not have a philosophical solution. It was solved after 150 years of intense search by the greatest minds for mathematics as the Fundamental Theory of Calculus. For physics, quantization as Planck length-time guarantees a minimum step where division must end. To my thinking, unbounded lines and numbers are geometric and mathematical, infinites are unmanageably philosophical.

    "absential" is supposed to pick out the object of purposeful behaviorfrank

    I'm still confused by absential. I understand what a key missing from a lock is, or that my pocket is empty, but that seems too specific for what needs to come later in the book. Absence should incorporate enough of the unknown background environment to explain symbiosis and forward evolution.
  • schopenhauer1
    4.8k
    This is chapter one. He talks about causality in relation to a child throwing a stone. He points out that none of the atomic information we may have access to would explain the rock's motion as well as knowing the mental information associated with the throw.

    Then he points to the abstential associated with the child's purpose.
    frank

    Ok, I remember this now. So he introduces the term "ententional" to capture the idea of intentionality in any sense, whether mentalistic (human mental representation of a goal in mind), or more primitively biological (like an organism's "goal" to survive). He wants to introduce the idea that biological organisms aren't just mechanical but end-driven. This he might then tie to an even more general principle of absential states.

    I dont know if it diminishes his point, but absence is an aspect of a lot of things, such as a valley or a positive charge which results from atoms that are missing some of the electrons they would need to be neutral. True?frank

    I think he is trying to say that yes, absences actually may be the key in defining what will eventually become end-driven "ententional" states in biological systems.
  • apokrisis
    5.1k
    I dont know if it diminishes his point, but absence is an aspect of a lot of things, such as a valley or a positive charge which results from atoms that are missing some of the electrons they would need to be neutral.frank

    Absence should incorporate enough of the unknown background environment to explain symbiosis and forward evolution.magritte

    This comes together in any holistic perspective, like Tao, Hegelianism or Peirceanism. You have the three things of an action, its negation, and then the equilibrium balance that is the ground state that was being sought before any particular disturbance rose.

    So you discover the flat surface of a pond when a falling leaf makes a sudden pattern of ripples. And you discover positive and negative charge when their natural tendency to be in balance is broken by a local action and its global contextual response.

    From a pansemiotic point of view, this makes all nature ententional. Nature is always going to arrive at some dynamical state of balance, some minimal state of dynamical tension. That's just a blind statistical fact perhaps. But thermodynamics thus has finality in this fashion. It is "intentional" even at the most brute material level possible. Though we would properly call it a tendency rather than a telos as such.

    So a local presence speaks to its global absence. And the two together speak to the thirdness of a underlying state of equilibrium.

    That's probably one reason a focus on "absences" alone is not enough for a pansemiotic rewrite of mainstream mechanistic thinking.
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