Strange Loops

Drawing Hands by EscherIf you have read this blog much, you know that a topic that interests me greatly is the nature of consciousness. How is it that a three-pound clump of cells, a brain, gives rise to the rich experience of consciousness, our minds? Cognitive scientist David Chalmers termed this “the hard problem” of consciousness, and as it stands we really have no idea what consciousness is (and yet we all experience it all the time).

Back in 1979 cognitive scientist Douglas Hofstadter wrote Gödel, Escher, Bach, a book that attempts to answer the question. GEB, as it became known, was a large book most took as a random tour of interesting scientific ideas. But GEB did  have a theme, so 25 years later Hofstadter wrote another (much shorter) book to re-state his case.

That book is called I Am a Strange Loop, and it has much worth considering!

GEBIf you find the phrase, “much worth considering,” somewhat less than glowing, the reason is that I’m not sure how I feel about Hofstadter’s ideas. Obviously my opinion is vastly less informed than his, so you should really take this with a grain of salt

[A “grain of salt” is—I suppose—intended to make an opinion less “sweet.” But doesn’t salt make things more flavorful?  I’m reminded of the old tale about the two Princesses. Their father King asks them how much they loved him. The first replies, “Oh, father, you are the apple of my eye!” This pleases the King greatly! The second replies, “Oh father, you are the salt in my food!” That makes the King all WTF? Then second daughter reminds him how, without salt, food is lifeless and tasteless, and then the King is delighted.]

Douglas Hofstadter

Douglas Hofstadter

And I don’t really intend to take on Hofstadter’s main idea about consciousness today. I want to read the book again more carefully, before I get into that.  I also want to get through David Chalmer’s The Conscious Mind. These two scientists have quite different views of consciousness, and so far I find I lean towards Chalmer’s ideas (although I’m not sure I buy his “philosophical zombies” idea).

His book is a challenge, though. I’ve started it twice and had to put it down both times due to time constraints (as in, “severe lack of”). It’s not the sort of book you can read a chapter at a time when you get a chance. (Now that I’m retired, I can finally sit down and get through it.)

For now I’ll just say that Hofstadter believes consciousness arises from a kind of feedback loop, a “strange loop,” taking place in our brains. He cites, as a very primitive example, the sort of microphone feedback we’ve all seen at live events. The sound from the speakers goes back into the microphone, which sends it back out the speakers amplified. The process repeats until it hits the max limits of the system. The result is a blast of pure over-amplified sound.

I Am A Strange LoopThe point of his simple example is to illustrate how something (the loud squeal) arises from the process of repeated recycling of a starting sound. Even the softest sound can be enough to start the loop.  If you think of the sounds as thoughts, you begin to understand Hofstadter’s point.

There’s more to it, of course. One important aspect is the idea of self-reference, how parts of our mind refer to other parts of our mind. Another is that our minds consist of a “tangled hierarchy” that lacks distinct end points. You can follow some of the links in this post if you’re interested in details now. I’ll return to Hofstadter’s Strange Loops another time.

What I wanted to write about today was an interesting idea that Hofstadter has about our existence as conscious beings.

David Chalmers

David Chalmers

Think of someone you know very well, a child, a parent, a spouse, someone you’ve known a long time. In particular, someone you know so well you can accurately predict what they might say in a given situation. You know their likes and dislikes; you know their personality; you could have conversations with this person in your head.

Hofstadter’s idea is that our actual existence is “smeared” out across all who know us. We think we exist within the confines of our own body, but in reality we also have some form of existence in all who know us.

In fact, our bodies may die, but we continue to live on in the minds of our loved ones.

And, indeed, if I imagine a long conversation with a dear one departed—given that reality, in some sense, is mainly in our minds—how can we really say that person is “gone”?  They’re not gone; I was just talking to them!

I found myself wondering how much more true this might be when it comes to artists or anyone who leaves behind a body of work. Is William Shakespeare actually dead, or does he live on in every production of his plays and every reading of his sonnets?

Paris Hilton

Paris Hilton

And what does modern media do to this equation? Is Elvis really gone, or does he live on in his music, movies and recorded interviews? What about in our modern era? Will Justin Bieber and Paris Hilton live forever? [Yoiks!]

Considering the number of photographs and videos made of most people today, do they all maybe live on in their Facebore posts and Twits?

Will I live on in my WordPress blog articles?

It’s a fascinating idea, and as a metaphor or abstraction, I’m totally down with it. But Hofstadter means something more concrete. He really does believe that our consciousness becomes smeared out across all who know us. He really does seem to believe in the reality of a continued existence.

When you realize that he’s mourning his wife, who died young from a brain tumor, you can’t help but wonder how much of his idea is driven by grief and loss. I do wonder if this might be an atheist scientist’s response to death. If “going to heaven” isn’t an option, perhaps living on in other minds is?

Bart blackboard voices

But they have great ideas!

And yet, who hasn’t had a conversation in their head with someone they’ve loved but who is no longer physically present for conversation? (In fact, this idea applies even to those who’ve just moved to some other part of the world so we never see them again.) But for me, the missing element of volition and experience are necessary.

The image of a person in your mind has no volition of their own, and—most importantly—they don’t experience anything.  The experience is all yours. There is a funny thing with regard to volition, though. If your image of that person is accurate, they may tell you things you don’t want to hear.

voicesHave you ever heard a loved one’s voice in your head telling you not to do something (or that you should do something you don’t want to)? What an interesting thing: you have in your head an “actor” that seemingly acts against your own mind!

Freud would probably attribute that as a function of your super-ego, and I suspect that’s a more accurate view. As lovely as the idea of others living on in my mind is, I find ultimately I believe they’re all me. A large cast of stars, supporting characters, bit parts and walk-ons, but they’re all me.

I think!

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

46 responses to “Strange Loops

  • politicalmuser

    Thanks for your stimulating post. In trying to refresh my recollection of related books I’ve read, I was amazed at the number of relevant titles currently in print.One of the ones I’ve read, beside GEB, was Julian Jayne’s “The Origins of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind.” I thought that was very original, but on the wrong track. I’m skeptical about Freud’s model being very useful for illuminating the many questions about consciousness. At the moment, I’m interested in what other animals should be considered to have consciousness. Apes and porpoises seem to have the ability to realize that the creature they see in a mirror is themself — but dogs and cats do not —- even though they apparently dream. Obviously anyone has a right to create their own private definitions: “I am going to use ___ to mean ___.” But communication requires definitions that others find useful. With neuroscientists, linguists, psychologists, philosophers, and others from many fields working on consciousness — or in areas that may shed light on aspects of the issues, I’m anxious to see what will unfold in the next ten years,

    • Wyrd Smythe

      I’ve never read Jaynes’ book, but it sounds interesting. If a book written in 1976 is still controversial, it’s worth a look. He certainly does have an unusual premise! And it raises a good point. Jaynes apparently defines consciousness as what some call meta-consciousness: being aware of being conscious. When you talk about consciousness, one has to define what one means by the term.

      I tend to favor the definition that simply equates consciousness with experience. If a living thing experiences the world, it is conscious. On this account, all mammals are conscious, all mammals seem to have some sense of experiencing reality. Other definitions require intelligence or self-awareness, on these accounts we question the degree of consciousness of anything non-human.

      Recent studies have shown some surprising abilities in dogs. Their level of consciousness is still debatable, but their long association with humans has developed their minds such that they “read” us extremely well. When interacting with humans, dogs use parts of their brains they do not use when interacting with other dogs.

      My vote for scary smart animals (and perhaps our future masters) are crows and capuchin monkeys. I’ve seen studies with crows that are jaw-dropping. (But here’s a datum for you: dogs are the only animal that seems to understand pointing. You can point a dog to something. Even baby humans don’t have that skill.)

      Yet there still seems a huge gap between the smartest, most conscious, animal and humans. The nature and size of that gap is, I think, a key question. Spiritual people can believe it’s a soul that elevates us. Atheists seek to explain it through human evolution. It’s a fascinating topic, and I also look forward to new discoveries!

      Thanks for dropping by, reading and commenting!

  • reocochran

    I probably need to get this book, would like to get to it one of these days! Great introduction and explanation of his theory and the book review is appreciated. Anytime someone like you, who I value your opinion, I will try to follow up and read it!

    • Wyrd Smythe

      I’ll warn you, it’s not a light read! But it is much, much lighter than the original version, Gödel, Escher, Bach, and it’s much lighter than Chalmers’ work that I mentioned.

  • Jennifer S

    It’s an interesting, and comforting theory, and it has definitely driven some amazing artistic, capitalistic, scientific, and even charitable achievements… this idea of existing (on some level) beyond our time here. But I agree with you… as far as the enjoyment of the experience goes, it appears pretty one-sided in favor of the living. Of course, I can’t say that definitively.

    As for the conversation about dogs… has your reading given you insight? I’ve always been curious about what thoughts are like in the absence of meaningful language. Do they think in images? Scents? They clearly do think… right? Maybe they do have a language?

    • Wyrd Smythe

      “What comes next?” is one of those endlessly fascinating questions that we’ll all discover an answer for someday, but which so far remains unanswered among the living. The great “spirits” debunker, Houdini, vowed that he would return if it were possible. A séance is held every year on the anniversary of his death, but so far Mr. Houdini has been unavailable for comment.

      Yep. Pretty one-sided. If existence does continue, apparently either we completely lose interest in our corporeal lives or we are unable to reach back. Both seem kind of odd conclusions… Everyone loses interest? No one can reach back? The more likely bet seems to be no continued existence; at least not one that retains our individual spirit.

      I’ve long wondered what my dogs have “thought.” They clearly experience happiness, sadness, joy, fear. But it may be little else than moment-to-moment experience; they don’t seem to deal in abstractions. Due their powerful noses, scent “concepts” may well play a role. When I’d take Sam someplace to play, she’d always sleep in the car on the way back. But she always woke up when we got a mile or two from home. I believe it was the unique smell of home that woke her. That’s pretty amazing.

      Language as we use it depends on abstract ideas, syntax and semantics. No other animal seems to have this capacity, but like consciousness there seem to be lower levels that may be precursors. Many animals have some vocabulary of concepts that allows crude communication. I could tell Sam to go get a “toy” or “ball” (she knew the difference). I also trained her to understand certain hand gestures for sit, stay, come, down. There is no question they feel, think, learn and experience.

      But I think W.G. Sebald’s great quote remains true, “Men and animals regard each other across a gulf of mutual incomprehension.” We’ll probably never really know how our dogs experience the world. (More is the pity.)

  • Hariod Brawn

    Thanks for this thoughtful and insightful post.

    I haven’t read Hosfstadter, though your brief description here sounds reminiscent of the late Zoltan Torey’s theory as set out in ‘The Crucible of Consciousness’. For me, Z.T.’s theory is a little too reliant upon language as a causal agent for consciousness, but other than that, I thought it was a fabulous read.

    ‘We think we exist within the confines of our own body, but in reality we also have some form of existence in all who know us.’

    This is surely fair enough given consideration of what the ‘we’ is – a self-entity existent only as a narrative construct, but not as anything substantive. Even when taking a very ‘hard materialist’ stance in our conceptual understanding, we all identify ourselves as some loosely morphing narrative. And this narrative does indeed ‘smear out’ into the minds of other beings as we project our putative ‘self’ into the world (not that it wants it).

    With gratitude and respect, Hariod Brawn.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Thank you for reading and commenting!

      There does seem a strong link between language and consciousness, although I wonder if that link is stronger between language and intelligence. I’m not familiar with Torey’s book, but I wonder what his theory says about pre-language infants, adults with primitive language, adults with small vocabulary and grammar, and adults with large vocabulary and grammar. Are they different in consciousness or different in intelligence or just different in education?

      The thing that strikes me about Hofstadter’s idea is that, while an “echo” of someone may live on in others — with greater or lesser precision — that echo has no experience of its own (regardless of how one defines or describes that experience). Only the source of the echo, the original being, experiences the world.

      Many talk about the model of the world we carry in our head versus the outer physical world and how the only reality we truly know is that model. There is no question we can include our external perception of someone in our own model, but I have big questions about how accurately our model of someone really represents their internal model of self. Plus the key sticking point that our model of someone else doesn’t experience reality on its own.

      That said, I do love the metaphor of loved ones living on in us as echos of what they were. Consider the model we might carry of a childhood friend and how different that model might be if we met that person again decades later.

      • Hariod Brawn

        Hi Wyrd Smythe,

        This will sound a bit terse because I’m typing in a little box and find it uncomfortable – so many apologies in advance; I come in peace!

        You say: ‘I have big questions about how accurately our model of someone really represents their internal model of self.’ Well, of course our model is merely formed by inference so is very partial and is in no way a facsimile of the others’ model. My point is that the internal model of self, as well as the inferred external model, are both still narrative constructs formed, sustained and perpetuated by a stream of mentation. At that level of analysis, they’re of the same category I think it’s fair to say.

        You also say: ‘Only the source of the echo, the original being, experiences the world.’ I’m not sure about the analogy of the ‘echo’; I don’t think that’s really possible. I feel it (what you call the ‘echo’), is more an inference formed from the highly selective projections of the others’ self-entity – it’s a morphing transition from one very partial exposure of narrative into another narrative – again, they’re of the same category when viewed in this way.

        As to what ‘experiences the world’, then we can philosophise about whether there is an ‘experiencer’ (a homunculus, a self), or not. My guess is that we’d pretty soon agree there is no such thing – am I right?

        With respect, Hariod.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        (FWIW, those dots in a triangle in the lower-right can be used to make the box bigger.)

        We agree that my model of a loved one isn’t accurate, but I’m not totally onboard with emphasis you give narrative. I’d have to know more precisely what you mean by that, but I can’t help but think existence transcends narrative. I continue to believe there are substantial differences between my ‘self’ and any other ‘selves’ I echo (a word I used metaphorically rather than literally). For one thing, I can test my ‘self’ against my ‘self’, but other ‘self’s I maintain do not evolve within themselves.

        Regardless of the reality of other ‘self’s within our ‘self’ perhaps the key points here are twofold:

        Firstly, the role that narrative plays, and that’s something I’d have to learn more about. My gut reaction is to wonder if it’s either necessary or sufficient. I would agree it’s tied to intelligence, but I’m not sure about consciousness. (But a lot may depend on how things are defined and applied.)

        Secondly, the role of experience, and I do think there is ‘something it is like to be human.’ I am definitely a dualist in that I hold that mind is not just something brains do. I do not believe “strong AI” is possible, nor do I believe Kurzweil’s idea of downloading consciousness will ever be possible. The future may prove me wrong, but for now I believe consciousness is somehow “special.”

        If I’m interpreting your last paragraph correctly, I think we would actually disagree on that?

  • Hariod Brawn

    It may sound a bit wishy-washy in short form, but by ‘narrative’ I mean a stream of mentation (words and other sensory data), that coalesce in awareness and memory as a fictional idea ‘about’ a supposed subject – ‘me’ or ‘you’. So it’s an about-ness; and it’s this that stands as the putative ‘self’ of the bat, you or me. We can never quite contact our ‘self’ can we? Is it perhaps because we’re always distanced by this about-ness?

    You say: ‘Existence transcends narrative’; though can you define the difference in terms of how either are experienced? If existence is synonymous with change, then where is the distinction between it and narrative? We never know the thing that changes in itself, we only know the mental representations of that changing process i.e. the narrative. Just asking.

    It’s 1.30 a.m. here in England; very tired. Sorry this isn’t much cop.

    Respect to you, Hariod.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      A very interesting question! And I think I follow what “about-ness” is about. Could I say it’s the “story” of something? (One of my interests is the art of storytelling!)

      I’ve been thinking about the idea of narrative with regard to thought all evening. I thought of three applications of the idea. There is what I think you mean above, which is fixed in the past, plus I think there’s a different narrative of how we imagine the future. That one’s not fixed and can vary in accuracy considerably! (I still want the flying car that was promised back in the 1950s. On the other hand, we did get the Dick Tracy communicators!)

      I see yet a third narrative — the narrator himself. At the point where the imagined future freezes into the recorded past, we exist in a moment of “now.” There seems to be an identity there; something that can say, “I (think, therefore I am)!” That may be the sole contact we have with that past-future narrative.

      Whatinthehell that “I” thing is, we don’t have a clue. Theories aplenty, but no real clue. And yet we each experience it every single conscious moment. Is there anything more mind-blowing than talking about blowing your mind? 🙂

      Which brings me to your question.

      There is something it is like to look at the color red. There is no time component involved; looking at red for a second or an hour is still just looking at red. There is something it is like to taste cheese. There is something it is like to hear a saxophone. There is something it is like to be happy.

      That phrase — there is something it is like — refers to the concept of experience. This only happens in that “now” knife-edge between future and past.

      The next level is that we assign semantic labels to these experiences (qualia) to give them meaning. The color red can mean “stop” or “caution” or a variety of others. We build more complex semantic objects by linking simpler ones. Linking “red”+”button” suggests a stop button.

      A narrative (as I think of it) is a stream of semantic objects that tells a (usually coherent) story — it’s about something. (Consider surrealism as one kind of incoherent narrative. 🙂 ) At this level there is a time component. Stories start and end; the concepts of “before” and “after” are meaningful (again, surrealism aside 🙂 ).

      So, that’s why it feels to me that experience and narrative differ. Experience is part of that “I” now moment, whereas narrative exists in the past and the imagination.

      If you include that leading-edge now moment as the prow of the narrative, we may be talking about the same thing. I’m not quite sure what you mean by “and other sensory data”. There is the sensory experience (qualia) and the sensory semantics (what “red” means).

      I’m not sure existence is synonymous with change, but that’s a nit. Change is certainly part of existence, and we record it as part of the narrative. I think change and the time component are probably the same thing.

      • Hariod Brawn

        The ‘bat’ I referred to was (as you know?), Thomas Nagel’s. [] So, we’re together on the qualia stuff – what you call ‘experience’.

        I think the difference is that for me, in becoming ‘conscious’ (being ‘with knowledge’), of that experience, the mind is reflecting upon its own representations of sensory contacts, whereas for you (it appears), the experience is direct and unmediated. So ‘experience’, by my lights, is almost exclusively a superimposition, and is most typically a meta-level awareness comprising lower-level representations of sense contacts. This brings me back to narrative, because that again is a superimposition comprising representations.

        To say that this narrative is a ‘story’ (your point), is only so at the coarsest level of its meaning i.e. as yet another summarising reflection about it. Also, the whole thing gets messy when we introduce time (as you have). Experientially, that is in ‘psychological time’, we appear to be in and out of ‘now’, though of course, this is never possible. So my conception of narrative isn’t ‘fixed in the past’ as you suggest, though is invoked by memory, sense contact, as well as its own running analysis – what I initially described as ‘some loosely morphing narrative’.

        You say: ‘ . . .we exist in a moment of “now.” There seems to be an identity there; something that can say, “I (think, therefore I am)!”’ To which I respond with a cheap joke: This is to put Descartes before de horse. I’ll get my coat . . .

        Yes, of course there is an ‘I am-ness’ about the state of affairs – agreed. Where we may disagree, is that I say there is no need for experience (qualia), or thought, for this ‘I am-ness’ to persist. Experience/qualia and thought are overlays upon a pure, unmediated and lucid potency of mind – this is the point of pure potential from which the mind brings the world into existence for itself. (‘oh, he’s gone off on one’ I hear you say). Still, I maintain that this pure potency is accessible to all with correct application. It is here/now/present and yet invariably is obscured by experience and mentation.

        Finally, you asked what I meant by ‘words and other sensory data’ when referring to the ‘stream of mentation’. When you think about your dog (try it now), I suspect very few words appear. So your narrative (your stream of mentation), forms ‘now’ as a mix of apparent sights, smells, feelings, etc. i.e. ‘other sensory data’.

        I’ll hand over to you now for some closing thoughts WS, as I feel I’m taking up rather a lot of space here on your fabulous blog. Thank you so much for engaging with such care and attention; I only hope my modest contribution hasn’t been too tiresome for you and any possible readers.

        All best wishes, Hariod.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        I’m off to do other things for a bit, so I’ll return to this in more depth later… Would it be fair to say that what you call narrative is the beginning and seat of self-awareness, then? If so, I can see why you find similarities with Hofstadter’s Strange Loops idea.

        I think we may differ, at least somewhat, on the role of experience, but I need to ponder this. Some of it may be just different ways of saying the same thing. I’ll be back in a day or so — we’ve got a bit of a party going over here on this side of the “pond.”

        The space you’re taking was empty, and you’re filling it in an extremely interesting way, which makes you a very welcome visitor! By all means, contribute away!!

      • Hariod Brawn

        I’m not sure what you mean by ‘self-awareness’. Not to be too pedantic, but right now – can you be aware of your ‘self’? If not (and I don’t think you can), then you’re using the expression in a more reflective sense, like a memory that runs along parallel to and just lagging real-time. And still then, it’s never a memory trace of your putative ‘self’.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Sure, by self-awareness, or even by “consciousness” in this context I usually mean that “I-ness” we’ve touched on. Regardless of its actual nature, I believe we agree on its existence.

      • Hariod Brawn

        Okay. So it’s not reflective and it’s not an ‘awareness of’ any ‘thing’; least of all a fixed self-like entity – which is why I questioned the use of term.

        If it’s devoid of thought and imagery, then are we not talking about the same phenomenon I referenced above (July 4th. 5.01 a.m.), as ‘this is the point of pure potential from which the mind brings the world into existence for itself.’?

      • Wyrd Smythe

        We may not be,.. because I’d call it the one ‘thing’ in our existence that we can be truly ‘aware’ of. My sense of unity — of a fixed self — is exactly what I mean. The “I” that is me changes, just like everything else in the world, but self-awareness is the one certain knowledge. Even the idea that I existed an hour ago is a memory, but that I exist right now is self-awareness.

        When Nagel says, “There is something it is like to be a bat,” he’s talking about that awareness. In humans, we believe it rises to a level of ‘self-ness’ unlike any animal’s, but part of Nagel’s point is that it’s a challenge for us to comprehend an animal’s consciousness. We only “understand” each others’ by assuming they are like our own.

        I liked the joke (!), but I’m not sure if it means you’re discarding Descartes. Cogito ergo sum is a foundational concept for me. It’s the actor on the stage, the voice in my head, the apparent source of my will. And it’s the part of my mind that experiences qualia.

        I do absolutely agree the mind brings forth the world — the only world we truly know (and of which the actor is center-stage). Kant had the idea that, yes the real world exists, but we can never know it directly, we can only know the model of the world we create mentally.

        The qualia experienced by the self are different than the self; I think that’s a point of agreement. Messages from nerves in the body are processed in the brain resulting in qualia in the mind. The self exists potentially without experiencing qualia — something else we’d agree on? (I’m not sure how coherent such a self would be. Experience turns out to be important for mental development.)

        And on that note, back over to you! (And I don’t mean for you to have to re-write stuff you’ve covered elsewhere. By all means, if you have a page I can read that covers this, just give me a link!)

      • Hariod Brawn

        Your opening paragraph WS: would you accept that this awareness is no more than awareness knowing itself as itself? In other words, it’s not an ‘awareness of’ in a reflective sense; it’s not awareness acting as a mediator. You insist on calling this ‘self-awareness’ 🐻 and yet why does the awareness need to be referenced in this way? I can’t work out if we’re merely farting around with words or if there’s a conceptual difference.

        On the Nagel thing: that’s referencing active consciousness – the re-presentations of sentience that are peculiar to the bat, the baseball player, the dog etc. I agree that’s also an expression of awareness of course. It’s ‘consciousness’ in as much as it’s awareness ‘with knowledge’ of some thing-ness (the senses). What I’m tediously bashing on about is awareness without thing-ness; though I have to confess I’m losing sight of why – never mind!

        On the cart and the horse: I don’t have the intellect to discard even the thinking of the horse let alone Descartes. I’m just groping my way along in the darkness; right now, with your kind assistance. And yet (here he goes again o_O ), whilst cognition creates THE IDEA of ‘me in the world’, why must we create this identification with thought-forms (what you call ‘The “I” that is me’), rather than simply accept – as it is – the awareness both prior to and with cognition? [When prior to, this is what I mean by awareness knowing itself as itself – which it can. *folds arms*]

        WS says: ‘The self exists potentially without experiencing qualia — something else we’d agree on?’ Negative captain. Awareness can exist without qualia, though I once again refute the need for this insistence on an existent and enduring self (though as I’ve boiled my cabbage twice on that . . .).

        WS also says: ‘I’m not sure how coherent such a self would be. Experience turns out to be important for mental development.’ 😡 And here, I rediscover why I’m ‘bashing on about awareness without thing-ness’. It’s because it contextualises the whole mentation thing so that we don’t get confused by appearances. 💡

        WS, I’ve already said before that you should have the last say as this is your home. You meant it when you said below ‘I keep going and going (and going).’ Whilst I’m happy to continue, I’m conscious that you may, just may, have a life to lead and a dog to walk. For me, neither of these situations obtain. 😮

      • Wyrd Smythe

        I’m not sure I’m keeping up… Are you saying that I’m aware that I’m aware? If so, I agree with that. (A question about animals is whether they are also aware that they are aware, or are they merely aware.)

      • Hariod Brawn

        Dammit: o_O didn’t turn into a smiley. Why? Any ideas WS?

      • Wyrd Smythe

        It’s “little-oh-underbar-big-oh” — no zero. Also, I’ve found smilies in general can get mixed up if a trailing right-parenthesis directly follows. Best bet is making sure there’s at least one space on either side of a smiley. (I fixed the two above in case you’re wondering why now they work. 🙂 )

      • Hariod Brawn

        Thanks WS – in that case the link to WP you sent me has duff info on that little blighter.

        “little-oh-underbar-big-oh” — no zero.

        Got it. Thanks for clarifying so er . . . clearly!

      • Hariod Brawn

        Later WS. World Cup QF in 7 mins. HB.

      • Hariod Brawn

        We’ve tied in some other thoughts in this comment stream; so now I’m responding to your own of the 5th. at 2.50 p.m.

        Warning: I’m ‘tired and emotional’ (hic!), after the Holland vs. Costa Rica epic.

        I am saying that at this level of awareness, where there are no objects or representations of the senses, it is also the case that there is no apparent subject.

        So when you ask ‘Are you saying that I’m aware that I’m aware?’, you are incorporating AN IDEA which in actuality is not present. This, to me, is your own ‘strange loop’ WS.

        And what is that idea? It is what you previously described on the 5th. at 12.56 p.m. as ‘My sense of unity — of a fixed self . . .’

        P.S. Sorry for shouting with caps WS – I want to use italics but can’t; neither can I make the box bigger as you previously suggested I could (no matter).

      • Wyrd Smythe

        I jumped below for a restart at understanding. As for italics and bold, the short version is “use HTML em and strong tags.” This page might help:

      • Hariod Brawn

        Thanks WS – you’re talking to a WP novice here, and know nothing about HTML, so the link is really useful – great!

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Sorry, believe it or not, that was the short version! When I’ve got the steam, I keep going and going (and going). 🙄

      • Hariod Brawn

        Likewise WS, likewise – though not in the manner you allude to – I’m far too old for all that messy nonsense.

        P.S. Sorry to keep posting the above comments in the wrong places – bit of an amateur at all this.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Oh, trust me, I was talking about talking, too! 😛

        No worries about the comments… I guess you mean putting one at the main level? I do that myself, especially if the blog is set for many comment levels and the comments start getting very skinny and therefore very long.

      • Hariod Brawn

        Whoops, I misunderstood – what a filthy mind I have.

        Yes, I’ve messed up the levels on occasion which is a bit disrespectful of the protocols – not intentional, just sloppy.

  • Wyrd Smythe

    Restarting for some elbow room and focus…

    I’m not understanding something crucial here, because I don’t see much distinction between “this awareness is no more than awareness knowing itself as itself” and the idea of “being aware of being aware.” Aren’t those saying the same thing?

    Most recently you wrote, “I am saying that at this level of awareness, where there are no objects or representations of the senses, it is also the case that there is no apparent subject.”

    What I’m not getting is: What is that awareness aware of?

  • Hariod Brawn

    WS asks: ‘“this awareness is no more than awareness knowing itself as itself” and the idea of “being aware of being aware.” Aren’t those saying the same thing?’

    HB says: The latter example is creating an object of awareness; that is to say, it’s creating an idea of awareness which by default includes a subject which knows the idea i.e. it’s both conceptual and dualistic.

    When I mention ‘awareness knowing itself as itself’, this might otherwise be expressed as there being just the lucency of the mind. It is what illuminates ideas of subjects and objects. It exerts the effects of lights and mirrors, but is neither a light nor a mirror – ‘it’ is not a thing.

    Another way of expressing it is to say its purely and only the potential of the mind. I mean it is highly ‘potent’ because, shit, anything could happen! And of course it does, but only because the potential pre-existed. Without that, nada.

    We may have reached something of an impasse here WS, because without the mind actualising this state of affairs, it’s all but impossible to grapple with successfully in word arrangements (nod to Wittgenstein). Maybe something like Ted Honderich’s ‘Radical Externalism’ gives a flavour, but no more; and it’s ages since I looked at that so I’m not sure if it still holds good in my mind.

    This probably sounds like a non-analysis WS, for which I can only apologise. I fuss over it because, to me, it’s at the heart of what it is to be a human. And as I said previously, this thing-that’s-not-a-thing that I’m talking about is incredibly powerful in contextualising the entire narrative construct formed in mentation and which we erroneously take to be ‘my life in the world’. It’s not as important as baseball, or in my case, football, but comes close.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      “Another way of expressing it is to say its purely and only the potential of the mind.”

      Well, I certainly grasp the idea of potential. Would you compare it to a tool shed filled with tools from which one could make anything? Or more like ground on which water would tend to run in certain ways?

      • Hariod Brawn

        I think that comparisons and analogies all lead one astray. It must be actualised for it to be known, but it isn’t an object known ‘about’; neither is it known by a knowing subject.

        Sorry if my inability to convey any sense of this renders it sounding only like some fanciful idea – it isn’t. But just like it’s impossible to describe or provide an analogy of, say, the smell of a rose, so too this is only known in an immediacy and in its own actuality.

        Still, you, I and everyone know it WS (more accurately it knows itself), but because our brains can’t make an object of it, so it is that it can’t be embedded in memory and recalled – as a concept, a representation of the mind. You get what I mean when I go on about ‘representations’ – right?

        These representations are the ‘stuff’ of consciousness, and yet they do not constitute it entirely. If we regard consciousness or awareness always in terms of an experiencing subject, then we’re imagining something analogous to a mirror (the singular subject), and its reflections (the objects of ‘my’ body and the world). In this conception, there’s always a distance between the mirror and what is reflected. This insistence that consciousness/awareness must be analogous in this way means we never consider the idea of it being non-local . . . and non-dual . . . which it is (I say).

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Well, if it defies metaphor or label then it’s probably beyond me! The smell of a rose I can at least relate to other things. You seem to mean something other than the phenomenon of existing or experiencing, but I’m afraid I’m not getting a clear picture. Some examples or illustrations might help. What do you mean by “non-local” or “non-dual”?

      • Hariod Brawn

        As I said ‘you, I and everyone know it WS (more accurately it knows itself) . . .’. You only think you don’t know it because you can’t recall it as an object in memory. It occurs in very brief flashes every day for you and everyone, maybe even for your dog . . . dunno.

        These ‘flashes’ can be temporally extended by going deeply, intimately into awareness – though it ain’t easy, and it takes time that I suspect you’d rather spend exercising your very impressive intellect (wrong place for this). 😥

        In extending these flashes, say by means of some mental culture practice, and in which experience disappears, what remains is not sleep or death (hooray!), but a pellucid awareness knowing itself as such.

        Interestingly (trade secret coming up), this can also be ‘seen’ as an overarching awareness in which experiences do occur. Here, it’s at once perfectly normal and yet weird, because there is still no idea of a subject, and hence no centrality around which ‘normal’ experience appears to accumulate.

        It doesn’t ‘relate to other things’ (your words), in any way that is useful to its understanding, because it can’t be ‘understood’ as a concept/object and isn’t an experience filled with thingness, which is what experiences are.

        Non-dual = the absence of the presupposed relationship between a subject and the objects it thinks it contacts, and which lies ubiquitously within conventional (dualistic), awareness.

        Non-local = no longer the idea running along in perception that awareness is somehow channelling from there to here, or from here to there – okay for photons and waves, but not this. Again, there is no apparent centrality, nor localised experiencer of experience (subject).

        Hey WS, can you sling me a short link for this article/discussion – cheers!

        WC SF’s tomorrow. I’m going to have a beer and watch both games. 😀

        P.S. I noticed in today’s post that Eve comes here – she’d probably have some ideas on all this . . . ? 💡

      • Wyrd Smythe

        To be honest, I’m either too dim to get it or it’s just too nebulous for me. We seem to have wandered off into the woods in any event. Maybe once I have a chance to think about it some more, the light bulb will light. ❓ ❗ 💡 XD

        If the article link isn’t short enough:
        There is always this one:

      • Hariod Brawn

        I can only stress once again WS that it isn’t a matter to be grasped by the intellect. Even if you were ‘dim’ (for example, like me), then it wouldn’t reduce your capacity to know the nature of awareness in the least.

        Really, we can read Hofstadter, Chalmers, Gazaniga, Penrose, Torey, Dennett et al – but it won’t help. We’ll learn lots of theories about how consciousness functions, but we’ll never know it as it is; we’ll never smell the rose so to speak. Only awareness itself can give a direct and clear answer as to its own nature, the intellect can only ever dance around admiringly.

        In your opening sentence of this article, you say ‘ . . . a topic that interests me greatly is the nature of consciousness’. If you want to know its ‘nature’, then the only option is to become intimate with it, or rather for it to become intimate with itself. 😮 Everything else is just dancing around within ideas – interesting and stimulating, but never able to reveal the nature of the beast.

        I know this is highly unsatisfactory for you WS, though our exchange may at least invite some gentle pondering in an area you hadn’t previously dwelt. There’s a book by a dead Frenchman (Jacques Hadamard), on the psychology of invention [ ], and in it JH learns from great scientific figures of his time that the process of incubating ideas is what leads to the ‘aha’ moments.

        In common with many others, I’ve found this ‘incubation’ can be accelerated by the practice of mental culture (silent contemplation), in which we create the space for awareness to relax, empty out and so get to see its own feet. This may well not be your thing, though I saw you just made a comment to Eve on the Heaven & Hell article: ‘I can’t help but think we miss something the east provides.’ So maybe some day you might skip down to your local Zen centre and see what they can offer. But if you think talking to me about this has been a nightmare, just wait until they start smacking you on the head for thinking too much! 😕

        Thanks for the short link WS. I might want to reference this article on my blog if that’s okay with you. And thanks too for teaching me all I ever wanted to know about smileys.

        Cheers and thanks for everything; truly. ➡ Football.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Well, see, I’m caught between a sense of “oh, that!” and a sense of … being at a loss, I guess. If you mean what I think you might mean, then my reaction is, “oh, that; yes, of course, that.” I have dabbled slightly with Zen and the Tao… what I’ve seen so far seems sensible to me. I’m acquainted with altered mental states of various kinds… I was way into the (sadly, tail end of the) whole Hippie thing, along with all the navel gazing. (Southern California in the late 1960s and 1970s!) 🙂

        You are, from what I can tell, talking about a descriptive and prescriptive approach, which is cool, but the interests of mine that you cite are more aligned with the analytical and theoretical. At the heart of my interest is the question: Can a machine think like us? Can our consciousness be downloaded to a machine?

      • Hariod Brawn

        You want to know if your life as you experience it equates to an algorithm WS?

      • Wyrd Smythe

        No, I’m on the disbelieving side on that question.

      • Hariod Brawn

        Sorry, I thought you’d just said (something like), this was at the heart of your interest. (6.18 p.m.).

        Where do you go from here if not computational theories and not experiential knowledge? Physicalism?- but I think you already said you were a dualist. Where’s the in-between to explore?

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Well,… almost everything. 🙂 Indeed, what’s at “the heart of my interest” is knowing the nature of consciousness. I already experience it; I know it’s real (it’s the one real thing I truly know). I’d like to understand why I have it, why other humans apparently have it, and why animals don’t seem to have it.

        I’d also like to understand it enough to know if machines can have it. I believe they cannot. (If I’m honest, I also hope they cannot.) But if a Physicalist universe is the correct universe — and if Dualism is incorrect — then consciousness has to be just something brains do, and my belief (and hope) is incorrect.

        Science is based on the falsifiable, so demonstrating that thought can come from machine or algorithm falsifies Dualism — the idea our consciousness is ineffable. Our continued failure (so far) lends support to (but doesn’t prove) Dualism, so the research there is of crucial interest to me.

      • Hariod Brawn

        Yes, had already fully taken on board you want to know the natureof consciousness. That was behind my approach in this exchange all along WS.

        ‘ . . . why animals don’t seem to have it.’ You mean why they don’t seem to have an egoical consciousness – a consciousness that cognises its own self-entity? 🐻

        ‘Science is based on the falsifiable’ Yes, Karl Popper’s ‘falsification-ism’. And yet so too can be experiential knowledge [‘Via negativa’/’Neti-neti’]. That is the method of knowing the nature of consciousness that I’d wondered whether you’d explored, as apparently you did as a young man – the dude abides!

        A closing thought on monism vs. dualism: Maybe they are not mutually exclusive? 💡

        What a pain ‘I am’. 😈 😉

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