On Fri, Jan 8, 2010 at 10:03 AM, Brent Meeker <meeke...@dslextreme.com> wrote:

> Isn't it?  Bruno presents "comp" as equivalent to betting that replacing
> your brain with a digitial device at the appropriate level of substitution
> will leave your stream of consciousness unaffected.  From this people are
> inferring that the discrete states of this digital brain instantiate
> "observer moments".  But suppose (which I consider likely) the digital brain
> would have to have a cycle time of a billionth of a second or less.  I don't
> think you believe you have a different conscious thought every billionth of
> a second.  What it means is that "a state of your consciousness" corresponds
> to a million or so successive states of the digitial computation.  These
> sets of a million states can then of course overlap.  So the idea of
> discrete "observer moments" doesn't follow from "yes doctor".

It's plausible that "observer moments" correspond to what are called
"chaotic attractors" in complex systems theory.

The brain passes through a complex, dynamic trajectory of states.  A
stable attractor is a cycle of discrete states that repeats exactly,
in the case of a "limit cycle", or more often, retraces a similar but
not exact trajectory, in the case of a "chaotic attractor".  Chaotic
attractors are robust to perturbation, up to a point, and many complex
systems can be characterized by a succession of chaotic attractors
separated by rapid transitions driven by external perturbations
exceeding some threshold.  I use the term "meta-state" as a synonym
for chaotic attractor in this context.

My working hypothesis is that nervous systems developed into complex
systems capable of generating quasi-stable meta-states which were
evolutionarily advantageous, and over (evolutionary) time, were able
to reach a level of organization which eventually produced

In this model, brains are continuously cycling through patterns of
firing, which, absent external stimuli, are self-sustaining in some
sort quasi-stable chaotic fashion, or meta-state.  Sensory input of
various types may be "ignored" if it doesn't reach a threshold of
activation which tips the brain into a new meta-state.  Or, "novel"
sensations may drive the system into a new meta-state (dynamic cycle)
that corresponds to some classification of that input in the context
of whatever the current meta-state is.

Observer moments, then, correspond to some subset of meta-states in
the brain.  They aren't discrete states of zero duration, but
trajectories of states in a chaotic cycle.  A succession of these
meta-states would then make up a stream-of-consciousness.

As an aside, I strongly suspect that in practice, our sensory input
serves to constrain the brain into a (relatively) small set of
meta-states that has allowed us to survive in a harsh evolutionary
context, and produces what may be called "consensus reality" (I think
Bruno calls this 1st-person plural.)  Other chaotic systems do spend
most of their time in a small subset of possible states.  Yet there is
evidence that perturbing the brain in a variety of ways (fasting,
breathing exercises, meditation, religious contemplation, drugs,
disease, injury, etc.) can allow it to wander off into meta-states
that are quite subjectively different from the typical states
associated with "normal" functioning.

All of the above speculation could still hold true in a
non-physicalist, computationalism-based view of consciousness, where
one would replace "brain" with "computational substrate at appropriate
level of substitution."

Johnathan Corgan
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