On Sat, Oct 15, 2011 at 2:13 PM, Craig Weinberg <whatsons...@gmail.com> wrote:
>> I think we are talking past each other. There is the behavior of
>> neurons at the single-neuron level. That is fairly well understood.
>> Nothing about the spontaneous activity you referenced really
>> challenges anything about our understanding of single-neuron function.
>> You may disagree, but you would be disagreeing with the mainstream.
> No, I don't disagree. In the language of the extended metaphor I used
> earlier, an auto mechanic with the right tools and engineering
> diagrams can tell you exactly how a car works. I have no problem with
> that. I only argue that the mechanic cannot tell you where the car is
> going to be driven. You can't predict what is going to be on TV by
> looking at the electronics of the screen. This is the situation with
> the brain. Low level neurology does not always predict high level
> intentionality. That's all that I'm saying.

Yes, but your account of "intentionality" is confusing. You're saying
"high level intentionality" here but elsewhere identifying it with
electromagnetism, which is the lowest level without getting into
quantum dynamics.  I would agree with intentionality being "high
level", as in, emergent. But I can't make sense of your account. How
can something be low level and high level at the same time? The
different levels of reality that emerge at increasing orders of scale
are characterized by completely independent dynamics.

>> Then there is the behavior of large ensembles of neurons. This is an
>> emergent phenomenon and is not well understood.
> Exactly. I think that it can be better understood as a phenomenon
> which is not only an emergent property of ensembles of neurons, but
> granular properties in the moment of an individual entity's behavior
> over time. It has to go both ways otherwise there could be no reason
> or mechanism for us to care about anything.

What do you mean by "going both ways"?  Causality really does not
cross levels. All we can say is that higher levels emerge
from/supervene on lower levels. If that gives you problems in seeing
how we could have a phenomenological experience of will, then that is
a failure of imagination on your part. Unless, you can come up with a
principled argument as to why, for one, "there could be no reason or
mechanism for us to care about anything," and for another, how
causality can "go both ways".  Rhetoric won't do. I need detailed

>> Spontaneous activity
>> is described at this emergent level. In fact, there may be multiple
>> levels of emergence in the brain, each characterized by a unique set
>> of dynamics. It is hard to say, because the complexity involved is
>> mindblowing. But the fact that we have observed activity at this level
>> of the brain that confounds us is hardly news. It just reinforces the
>> brute fact that we really don't know how the brain works. And this
>> says almost nothing about the nature of will or consciousness.
> We are on the exact same page. This is why I keep barking in Stathis
> direction - his view is that there are no emergent properties because
> everything that exists must be reducible to a molecular level or else
> it's magic.

Well I'm going to stop guessing about what Stathis thinks and let him
chime in if he wants to.

> I would have doubted it too, but no. His argument is straight up 19th
> century Billiard Ball Universe determinism. He says that all that can
> happen in the brain is a chain reaction from neuron to neuron (plus
> "Inputs" from the external environment).

But that is a correct description from the level of single-neuron
dynamics. It is utterly deterministic. If you disagree, then you must
show how, without hand-wavy arguments about will and electromagnetism.
If single-neuron dynamics are not deterministic, then there must be a
random or probabilistic dynamic at play. Roger Penrose thinks so, as
he says consciousness is rooted in quantum effects. So, are
single-neuron dynamics 100% deterministic?  If not, why not? What is
the *specific* mechanism that makes them non-deterministic?  You
cannot answer "will" as that would be level confusion once again.

>> Again we must distinguish
>> between single neuron dynamics, which are fairly well understood (and
>> can be roughly modeled in terms of linear dynamics, but only if you
>> don't care about precision), and large scale dynamics of ensembles of
>> neurons, which are not all understood in terms of any kind of linear
>> analysis. I would be surprised if Stathis disagreed with this
>> description.
> Ask him. You'll be surprised. From what he has said here, his position
> is that since we do understand single neuron dynamics, then there
> cannot be anything which cannot be understood using linear analysis.

OK, I will await his answer on this if he cares to. You're right, I
would be surprised.

>> That is just hand-waving. There is no way to refute it and there is no
>> explanatory power. Why did Bob kick that tree?  "It was his
>> electromagnetic dynamics, i.e. his will."  "It was God's will". They
>> both have the same explanatory power.
> Then you are saying that electromagnetism has no explanatory power
> either. My idea is that electromagnetism and sensorimotive experience
> are essentially the same phenomena, and that phenomena is a universal
> primitive. Carrying and releasing are the sensorimotive experiences of
> negative and positive charge in electromagnetism, it's just the first
> person view of it. How is that not explanatory? I am putting
> consciousness into the physical universe, not sequestering it into a
> metaphysical never-never land. My view even explains how the idea of
> God works and why it, and other super-signifiers are such powerful
> motivators for human beings.

Electromagnetism obviously has explanatory power - at the level at
which electromagnetism operates, which is the atomic. I am not
unsympathetic to the idea that things like atoms and molecules might
have a subjective aspect or flip side to their objective realities.
But for one, now you are committing to a metaphysics of your own
(something you seem to be averse to for whatever reason), and for
another the burden is on you to explain how the phenomenological
realities we experience as humans are somehow made up of the 10^40
(just a guess) subjective experiences of the atoms in our bodies. What
mechanism have you identified that integrates all these
micro-experiences? And again we run into the boundary problems, see

>> Also, why is will, in your account, confined to regions of the brain?
> Will isn't confined to regions of the brain. It's just our will that
> is, because we happen to be this huge, trillion cell organism that has
> a specialized organism-within-an-organism nervous system to manage the
> whole monstrosity as a single coherent entity. You can't really even
> say our will is confined to the brain, since we impose our will on the
> outside world and on others all the time. The motor areas of the
> brain, collectively, are the inflection point from which an individual
> person's will is translated from the subjective 'experience through
> time' topology into the material changes in 'objects across space'.

But if will isn't confined to regions of the brain then you have no
story for why some behaviors are voluntary and some are involuntary.

>> If will and electomagnetism are the same thing, where are the
>> boundaries?
> The boundaries are a matter of perspective only. It's solipsistic, but
> it isn't an illusion. Change that you feel that you cause or infer is
> being caused by something which resembles yourself is will.

If I'm superstitious, I might believe I caused the Red Sox to choke
because I lost my hat. Is that will?

> Change
> that you observe in something other than yourself which you cannot
> infer as having intention boils down to electromagnetism.

Isn't this statement as guilty of reductionism as you chastise Stathis for?

>> Why not the entire brain (even the parts we know to
>> control involuntary behaviors)?  Why not the entire body?  Why not the
>> air I breathe in and out, and my shit and piss, pardon the language?
>> All of that can be modeled in terms of its electromagnetic dynamics if
>> you go micro enough.
> Yes, all of those things have micro wills too - just nowhere near as
> qualitatively developed as ours (just because we are this crazy
> overgrown animal nervous system). The blood cells in the coronary
> traffic jams may not be playing XM radio while they get pumped through
> the interchange, but that doesn't mean that these tissues aren't
> expressing a will to live in what they are doing every day, just as we
> do in our own (1,000,000,000,000 times more elaborate) way.
>> >> If you want my explanation, will is a psychological epiphenomenon.
>> > Which means you are relying on metaphysics. I don't.
>> You wanted an alternative explanation. I was not offering it to argue
>> it. Only to show that there are alternative explanations in which
>> "will" is something that is not contradicted by the laws of physics.
>> Perhaps it is wrong. Who cares.
> If you are fine with metaphysical explanations of what the universe
> is, then that's ok with me. I want the uni in universe though. I don't
> buy some voyeuristic dimension that is separated from physical
> phenomena by an impenetrable wall. I think that although our
> perception is determined by who and what we are, that does not mean
> that we aren't also literally part of the physical universe - that we
> don't directly participate in our own lives rather than some
> epiphenomenal simulation. My ideas offer a way of putting us back into
> the cosmos without sacrificing anything from science.

OK, I'll bite. What are my metaphysics?  All I'm proposing is that
will and consciousness emerge from a particular organization that we
refer to as brains (and, btw, possibly from other kinds of
organizations with certain properties that brains happen to embody).
What am I sacrificing from science?  I'm not saying will and
consciousness aren't real. I am saying they aren't magic.

>> So you don't believe in egos?
> I'm saying that in the case you describe, where are bodies and minds
> simply behave according to various predeterminations and
> probabilities, that it would make no sense for egos to exist. I don't
> think that egos 'exist', but they can be said to 'insist'.

OK, I like that, 'insist' instead of 'exist'. But of course it makes
sense for them to 'insist'. How would we relate to other people
otherwise?  Just because there is a deterministic root on which egos
supervene, does not mean that we have no agency. You should check out
Conway's Game of Life. Understanding how higher-order objects appear
and interact with one another can be very instructive given that at
base it is a cellular automata with just three rules.  In fact, some
smarty pants even implemented a Turing Machine on it.

>> That is for you to answer, unless you are asserting that you don't
>> participate in such a narrative yourself.
> Are you saying you want me to answer why it exists (again, I think
> that it 'insists', and the reason is because it reflects the evolution
> of significance in the face of entropy) or that the nature of the
> narrative is such that it also includes a mysterious quality that
> invites interpretation by each person? Of course I participate in such
> a narrative myself, sure.

The point is that you think such a narrative is unnecessary, but this
is surely due to your squeamishness about everything supervening on a
completely deterministic level.

btw, what does "reflects the evolution of significance in the face of
entropy" mean?

>> That is an argument from ignorance. Just because you can't conceive of
>> a reason, doesn't make that a valid argument.
> No, it's just a contrafactual example. What would be the pojnt of
> having two different areas of the brain that do the exact same thing
> but one is accompanied by some magical feeling that it 'wants' to be
> breathing? I'm asking you why that would make sense. Why have any high
> level processes in the brain at all if it's all automatic and
> awareness of it is epiphenomenal?

Highly evolved primates surely evolved this mechanism of "voluntary"
control because singing and otherwise vocalizing required it.

> I used to believe in consciousness as an epiphenomenon myself, not
> very log ago, and for most of my life, so I do understand the appeal
> of it very well. It's almost right, but in this case I think that
> means that is exactly wrong. The point of this conversation for
> instance, is to consider our opinions. We care about our opinions for
> one reason only, because we might need to use them. With an
> ephipehenomal intellect, why would we have opinions much less care
> about them or identify with them. They would mean no more to us than
> the wallpaper in the hotel room we are visiting. It just doesn't make
> sense to feel anything if we aren't going to be able to do anything,
> and it doesn't make sense that doing anything should or could feel
> like anything if it is going to get done no matter what. Determinism,
> emergent properties, bottom up processing are all just the left hand
> of the story; the stage and props. The actors and agents add something
> else. I don't know why everyone is so afraid of recognizing that
> simple, ordinary reality that they treat it like some exotic
> witchcraft but I'm not afraid.
> Craig

Far from it, it's an incredible and stimulating challenge to
understand how agency arises from deterministic origins. Nobody here
is running from that. In fact, I could easily turn the tables and say
that those who deny determinism out of fear it denies agency are the
ones who are afraid to consider the empirical facts.

As far as I can tell, the two biggest problems with your account are:

1. You conflate vastly different ontological levels by identifying
will, a psychological phenomenon, with electromagnetism, a low-level
physical one. The problem is not the duality between the objective and
the subjective, but the scale at which these things manifest.

2. You still haven't rejected determinism at the lowest levels, which
means you actually believe comp is true.


You received this message because you are subscribed to the Google Groups 
"Everything List" group.
To post to this group, send email to everything-list@googlegroups.com.
To unsubscribe from this group, send email to 
For more options, visit this group at 

Reply via email to