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Dean Pomerleau

The Ultimate Purpose of Life

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Interesting stuff, but as Peter Russell points out in the video (above) science can’t explain consciousness. Scientific theories must be testable and make falsifiable predictions.  He goes on to suggest we need a new paradigm because we assume “matter is insentient”.  Yet in doing this, isn’t he shifting from the realm of science to that of philosophy? In what way has science defined matter as insentient?  This sounds like religious conjecture.  Which is fine, but why cloak the ideas as science when they are not?

 

As far as matter being “insentient”, some religions, like Judaism, have a long history of teaching the opposite.  Namely, that all matter is imbued with “a spirit”.  According to some Jewish teachings, all matter in the universe has Nefesh (the natural), all living things also have Ruach (the life) and people have an additional Neshamah, (the intellect).   Three levels of consciousness/spirit.

 

Hey, I am one of those who want to have “a meaningful life”.  Yet I am not comfortable with physicists who make a slight of hand switch from scientific theories to philosophy.  Philosophy is not science. Philosophy uses logical analysis, science uses empirical measurement.  Peter Russell admits we can’t measure consciousness.  Consciousness is subjective.  Science concentrates on the objective world.

 

It seems like this trend of a few physicists cloaking their philosophy with scientific theories, stem from the strangeness of quantum mechanics.  I prefer Richard Feynman’s approach “"If you think you understand quantum mechanics, you don't understand quantum mechanics."

 

The transactional interpretation of quantum mechanics avoids the philosophical problem with the collapse of the wave function and role of the observer (i.e. consciousness).  TIQM looks at the emission and absorption of photons as a time-symmetric process.  QM waves move both forward and backward in time.  Doesn’t make it “true”.  But what do we mean by true?  It is a working model.

 

Science gives us working models, not truth.  Science attempts to represent the world (or a “piece” of it) as a closed system with perfect formalism.  With each new fundamental scientific discovery (that doesn’t fit into the closed system), we break it open and then close it up again.  Science is a systematic process of establishing closed systems over and over again.  Complex, open systems are generally very sensitive to external influences, making their behavior unpredictable.  Welcome to the human condition!

 

Pea

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Thanks Dean! I didn't even watch the very end of Amit's video. I should have known! Anyway it seemed to reflect some of the concepts of creativity and the idea of transcendence where consciousness goes beyond brute materialism which I find to be of interest in this discussion on meaning. Are you familiar with Dr. Bohm and his concepts of the implicate and explicate order? This might tie in with the simulation concept although I don't think Bohm ever went that far. IAC, I think Bohm's credibility is untarnished and he was a well respected theoretical physicist.

http://quantum-mind.co.uk/theories/david-bohm/the-implicate-order/

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Pea,

 

Welcome over here to one of the chitchat threads where we let our hair down, and talk about the really interesting and important stuff!

 

In fact, you know all that talk on the other CR forums about health, diet and longevity? Merely a bit of search engine optimization, an elaborate ruse to attract the eyeballs of smart and curious people (and eventually, non-people) like yourself. No joke. I'm quite serious.

 

... I am not comfortable with physicists who make a slight of hand switch from scientific theories to philosophy.  Philosophy is not science. Philosophy uses logical analysis, science uses empirical measurement. 

 

You seem like a person after my own heart - fascinated by the nature of reality, but unwilling to settle for the drivel many new-agers (some of them former physicists, like Amit) spew forth, and then try in vain to give credibility by connecting it to quantum physics, Deepak Chopra-style. Their woo almost always mentions the very dubious idea (no longer considered true by the most real physicist) that consciousness is somehow required to collapse the quantum wave function.

 

This morning while eating breakfast I watched a fascinating and very nuanced video interview with a real physicist, Ed Witten (developer of M-Theory, and only physicist to win the Field Medal in Mathematics). I highly recommend it (embedded at the bottom).

 

He talks about how it looks now like the concepts of time and space drop out from the laws of physics when things get really extreme (e.g. inside black holes, the first 'moments' of the big bang, etc.), and how we aren't wired by evolution to be able to grasp such ideas, at least not intuitively - only with mathematics.

 

Unlike another real physicist, Steven Weinberg, who was interviewed in the same series (Weinberg's very good video interview is here), Witten doesn't see us ever arriving at a "final theory" of everything. Instead, he talks (starting around 1:08:00) about how he sees science somehow eventually morphing into a pursuit like number theory, which no mathematician can imagine "bottoming out" in a final theory. I agree with him, both about how neither number theory nor science (or physics) will ever "bottom out" at a final theory.

 

Why?

 

In number theory, the reason is partly mysterious, but partly pretty clear.

 

The mysterious part is why certain numbers and sets of numbers (like primes) have such interesting properties, seemingly independent of the human mind. Why does such a simple (but nontrivial) relationship between three of the most important constants in math and physics, embodied in Euler's Equation (eπi = 0), hold true now, and why has it always been true in a timeless fashion unlike anything in the material world, which is always changing? 

 

While the reason for the existence of weird mathematical truths is a mystery, part of the reason for the boundlessness of number theory (and math in general) is that we're making it up, at least in part, as we go along. Mathematics appears to get richer and richer in part because there seems to be no bounds to the human imagination when it comes to thinking up new questions to ask and (try to) answer, at least when it comes to mathematics. We can play 'what if' math games (not in a disparaging sense of the word 'game') and make up new mathematical puzzles to solve, seemingly without any limits. So the richness of math has no bounds.

 

Witten doesn't go further, and says he doesn't know how physics could or will morph into a pursuit like number theory, but instead simply shares his intuition with us that physics will never bottom out. The following is my speculation, riffing on Witten's hint...

 

The same open-ended exploratory nature will one day be true of physics as it is for number theory, at the point when we can start playing 'what if' games with our experience of reality. When we can tweak with the laws of physics, and see how things turn out, in arbitrary detail, then physics will have the same open-ended status as mathematics. When will that be? When we can create (an perhaps inhabit if we choose) our own hyper-realistic virtual worlds, in which we control everything, including the laws of physics. When we progress to point where we can build (virtual) worlds with different laws of physics, and can dive into them, inhabiting them as virtual creatures ourselves, then reality and physics will take on the same open-ended character as pure mathematics.

 

In fact, perhaps pure mathematics has the same origin as the physics - as thought experiments in the minds of advanced beings. Perhaps at some level of the hierarchy, Mind got sick of toying with the Tinkertoys of physics, and wanted to explore really fundamental and abstract stuff. So Mind invented (and is in the process of inventing) pure mathematics. And the problems of pure mathematics have been handed down to our level of reality from several (who knows how many) levels above. The reason π = 3.14159... is the same reason the electron has a change of 1.60217... ×10−19 - a conscious entity a few levels up thought it would be fun to set things up that way, to see how the world turns out...

 

And if you don't know by now from what I've said above (or elsewhere), I'm becoming increasingly convinced that we already live in one of those virtual worlds, created by a very advanced intelligence one level above us (or below us, depending on your perspective) in the ontological hierarchy of being. We are a thought experiment, like one of Einstein's Gedankens, in the mind/computer/whiteboard of a superintelligence or AGI, investigating the implications of one set of physical laws (ours), by seeing how it plays out via elaborate simulation. We're destined to do the same someday, if we don't kill ourselves first. These ideas are explored more thoroughly in this thread, if you've got the time and interest. 

 

Interestingly and not unrelatedly, at 1:10:20, Witten starts talking about consciousness. He's a bit of a mysterian. He thinks it likely we'll solve Chalmer's "Easy Problems" of consciousness, but not ever solve the "Hard Problem" of consciousness - why certain brain processes lead to subjective experience. He has a much easier time believing we'll solve the deep mysteries of physics before we figure out consciousness. Witten says "I can't conceive of it [consciousness or subjective experience - DP] not remaining a mystery unless there's some modification of the laws of physics that's relevant to the functioning of the brain, and I think that's very unlikely."

 

Nice to see he doesn't buy into the simplistic notions of panpsychism that folks like Chalmers, and even neuroscientists like Kristoph Koch, Giulio Tononi and perhaps even (once?) respected physicists like Roger Penrose subscribe to, in which consciousness is somehow part of the primitives of nature, right alongside the mass and spin of elementary particles. That seems lame to me, and as Chalmer's points out, the big problem with panpsychism is the 'composition problem' - how to put together tiny amounts of protoconsciousness these guys postulate exists in every particle in the universe into the big and rich sort of consciousness that we humans experience. That seems as hard to solve as the Hard Problem itself. And no, Tononi's Integrated Information Theory (IIT) doesn't do it.

 

But unlike panpsychism and other explanations for consciousness being pursued by philosophers, neuroscientists and (worn out) physicists today, the simulation hypothesis (going as far back as Plato with his cave analogy, but most recently and eloquently elaborated by Philosopher Nick Bostrom) goes a long way (in my book) towards also explaining subjective consciousness (i.e. why subjective experience exists in a seemingly entirely material world, and why we aren't all just mindless zombies), and the connection between consciousness and the material world. In the simulation model as I conceive it, consciousness is fundamental and the "ground of being" as espoused by nearly all Eastern mystics and religious folks, because everything that exist are thoughts in the consciousness of other beings. The very definition of what it means 'to exist' or to 'be real' is to simply be a thought in the mind of another consciousness.

 

Let's unpack that idea in the form of an analogy, to see if it can be made clearer and more explicit. I hate leaving things vague and open-ended, like almost everyone who tries to explain consciousness ends up doing. As you'll see it turns out to be more than an analogy...

 

I had a dream a while back. The details of the dream aren't important, except that it involved two characters, my childhood best friend named Steve and me. (In the following, I'll use lowercase 'me' to refer to the me who is the character in My dream, and reserve Me or My to refer to the real Me, i.e. My persistent consciousness, which takes flights of fancy in dreams sometimes, but always returns to what I consider the 'real' world). My friend Steve grew up to become a police officer, who was recently shot and killed heroically in the line of duty, obviously prompting my dream. RIP Steve... But as I said, the details of the dream aren't important for this example.

 

The me in My dream seemed every bit as real to Me during my dream as I seem to Myself now. The me in My dream was perceiving the (dream) world, interacting with (dream) Steve, remembering (dream) events, wondering what would happen next in the dream, etc. But the me of My dream wasn't 'real' in the way we usually use that word, and neither was the (dream) Steve. They, and the events of My dream were all figments of My imagination while I slept. 

 

But imagine I had a much more powerful mind.

 

Imagine I could dream both the me in My dream and especially Steve in such detail that the dream Steve had elaborate thoughts, memories, perceptions, desires, hopes, etc of his own (inside his virtual head). In short, what if I was able to make up inside my dreaming head such an elaborate dream character named Steve and an elaborate world for Steve to inhabit that he had his own rich inner mental life, in the form of an internal analogy between the dream world (which remember, I created in My head while sleeping) and a miniature model of that dream world inside his head (as a character in My dream). I contend that once the dream character Steve's mental model of the world became rich and elaborate enough, he would seem real to himself, and the world around him would seem real to him as well. In short, from the inside, Steve would have conscious, subjective experiences, just like we do.  I (the dreamer) would have dreamed Steve in such vivid detail that he would take on a reality of his own, complete with his own inner, subjective experience.

 

What 'subjective experience' really means in fact is that inside the dream character Steve's head (or our heads for that matter) there is an elaborate analogy between states of his (virtual) brain and the (dream) reality he is experiencing. When such a rich and elaborate analogy exists, what it feels like from the inside to exercise that analogy is experienced as subjective conscious awareness of that which is being analogized. To be consciously aware of something, say a tree or myself, simply is to have built and now be exercising (i.e. updating to maintain its accuracy) an analogy between what I perceive as an entity in the 'real world' and a miniature version of that entity (constructed from neural firing patterns) inside my head.

 

In other words, both 'reality' and subjective experience are literally analogies in the mind's of elaborate entities, which exist inside the mind of other, even more elaborate entities. And so it's mental analogies (i.e. simulations, figments of imagination) all the way down...

 

Put more crudely, we think sh*t into reality, and the more realistic our thoughts about it, the more reality (and eventually consciousness) the sh*t gets endowed with. But the purple elephant I'm thinking of at the moment doesn't have any reality at what I consider my physical level of reality. 'The Secret' is bullsh*t - you can't manifest your thoughts and dreams into reality at our physical level, at least not with thinking alone. The purple elephant I'm thinking of has (a tiny bit of) reality, but only in the (crude) mental world that contains it which I've created in my head at the moment.

 

Given how crude, fleeting and disjointed My sleeping dreams and my waking daydreams about purple elephants are now, how might I someday be able to create such rich and elaborate dreams (or more generally, thoughts in My mind) that the characters and objects of My dreams/thoughts take on a life/reality of their own, complete with their own conscious subjective experiences?

 

That will only happen post-singularity, when we've merged with our technology to greatly boost our memory and brain power. At that time, I (or whatever emerges post-singularity) will be able to support such elaborate dreams/thoughts that they'll take on a reality of their own, inside the super-powerful, technology-augmented, post-singularity minds of our descendants.

 

That's where we've emerged from (i.e. we are right now characters in the post-singularity thought experiment of a powerful post-singularity consciousness) and that's where we are headed post-singularity - destined to create inside our own technology-augmented minds elaborate virtual worlds inhabited by sentient characters, and perhaps even by our fully-digital selves, just like the 'me' character I create, identify with, and inject into My dreams at night.

 

Sorry for the long-windedness. This is yet another instance of 'I don't know what I think 'til I hear what I say, and read what I write"...

 

--Dean

 

Here is the Ed Witten video.  Don't worry about the German (?) in the first minute or two, and the slow parts where he's flipping through his scientific notebook at the beginning - when Ed starts talking it is all in English and quite interesting to see how a true genius' mind works. Skip ahead to around 3-4 minute mark and you won't miss much:

 

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One other thing Pea,

 

You wrote:

Science gives us working models, not truth.  Science attempts to represent the world (or a “piece” of it) as a closed system with perfect formalism.  With each new fundamental scientific discovery (that doesn’t fit into the closed system), we break it open and then close it up again.  Science is a systematic process of establishing closed systems over and over again.  Complex, open systems are generally very sensitive to external influences, making their behavior unpredictable.  Welcome to the human condition!

 

Philosopher Hilary Lawson is pursuing exactly this ideas about the open-ended, limitlessly nature of reality that we turn into closed systems through his Theory of Closure, discussed in this post (and this one). Lawson, like Witten, sees there being no end to discovery and no final theory, because we humans project structure onto the world through a process he calls 'Closure', and will be able to continue doing this without bounds into the future. He's sometimes frustratingly fuzzy about whether there is any real underlying structure to the world that guides the models we build and project out into/onto the world, but otherwise he's got some quite solid ideas and presents them quite clearly.

 

If you're interested in this stuff, I highly recommend Lawson's video embedded in that reference post. His perspective (and Witten's) can seem a bit frustrating at first ("You mean we'll never get to the Ultimate Truth?" ☺), but can also be taken as hopeful if interpreted the right way.

 

--Dean

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Mike,

 

Are you familiar with Dr. Bohm and his concepts of the implicate and explicate order? This might tie in with the simulation concept although I don't think Bohm ever went that far. IAC, I think Bohm's credibility is untarnished and he was a well respected theoretical physicist. 

 

 

I'm familiar with Bohm's work in quantum physics, but not his philosophical stuff. Thanks for the pointer! I'll take a look.

 

--Dean

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Hi Dean,

 

I very much like the way you think!

 

I am curious how your concept of “simulations all the way down” differ from “if the gods created everything, what created the gods?”  From a traditional religious perspective, the god sits outside of time. 

 

Hasn’t the idea that we can never, in principal, find the theory of everything been proved?

 

Physicist and computer scientist, David H. Wolpert, built on Alan Turnings work by formalizing a description of “inference machines”.  He logically proved the following 2 conclusions:

 

“ a) For every machine capable of conducting strong inferences on the totality of the laws of physics there will be a second machine that cannot be strongly inferred from the first one; b) Given any pair of such machines, they cannot be strongly inferred from each other.”

 

- PhysicaD: Nonlinear Phenomena Volume 237, Issue 9 ,  July 2008, Pages 1257–1281

 

It is comparable to Gödel’s incompleteness theorem and Turing’s halting problem, both of which are variants of the liar’s paradox. 

We can’t escape paradox.  It is my interpretation that Truth sits at the heart of paradox. 

 

 

As for me, I choose to live my life as though some sort of god(s) exists.  I make an active choice to live as though my existence has meaning mostly because I don’t know how to live if the alternative is true.  It is, I suppose, an act of faith.  Faith, after all, is only a valid concept in the absence of knowledge.

 

…………..I am sorry to hear about the loss of your friend.  Our world needs more people like him.

 

-Pea

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Pea,

 

Once again your post provokes some serious thinking...

 

I am curious how your concept of “simulations all the way down” differ from “if the gods created everything, what created the gods?”  From a traditional religious perspective, the god sits outside of time. 

 

Obviously the simulation hypothesis is not inconsistent with the Judeo-christian conceptions of God, since our simulation's creator would possess at least one of the three Big-O's - Omnipotence, at least with respect to the creation of our world.

 

Whether he/she/it would be Omniscient, Omni-benevolent (or even completely Omnipotent) is much more questionable. If we really are a thought experiment or dream in the mind of a super-being / God, he/she/it might not have complete understanding, control or unlimited compassion with respect to what he/she/it has created. We enjoy watching and studying an ant farm, but don't shed too many tears when/if all the ants accidently (or intentionally) perish... 

 

Hasn’t the idea that we can never, in principal, find the theory of everything been proved?

 

I'm not aware of such a 'proof' per se. I'm not sure what is meant by the concept of "strongly inferred" in the Wolpert proof your refer to, but I can certainly see an analogy with Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem and the Halting Problem when it comes to trying to explain the ultimate nature of reality.

 

In fact, the Halting Problem is one piece of evidence in favor of the simulation hypothesis. It says (informally) for any arbitrary program (i.e. simulation) it's impossible to predict ahead of time how it will turn out. So a super-being must actually run a simulation to explore the outcome and ramifications of any particular set of rules and initial conditions. In that sense, omniscience is ultimately impossible, so that is where our (simulated) world comes in...

 

But more generally, I can certainly imagine it being conceptually impossible to figure out the ultimate reason why anything (as opposed to nothing) exists. The simulation hypothesis does not attempt to do that. Instead, it attempts to explain our limited local circumstances (i.e. why / how our world came into existence), and suggests an embedded hierarchy of nested simulated worlds as the explanation. How such a hierarchy ultimate grounds out, or why / how the whole shebang came into existence in the first place, is left as an exercise for future philosophers...

 

…………..I am sorry to hear about the loss of your friend.  Our world needs more people like him.

 

Thanks Pea. You have not (yet) stumbled across the full extent of my recent losses. You probably will if you stick around long enough, which I really hope you will.

 

The world certainly does need more compassionate people like those I've lost, including Steve.

 

As for me, I choose to live my life as though some sort of god(s) exists.  I make an active choice to live as though my existence has meaning mostly because I don’t know how to live if the alternative is true.  It is, I suppose, an act of faith. 

 

I like your pragmatic attitude towards faith. It matches my own, perhaps most clearly and generally expressed earlier in this thread here, and specifically in relation to the simulation hypothesis here.

 

--Dean

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Hi Dean.

 

As I understand it, inference devices are physical machines that obey the rules of logic and mathematics. By definition, they must exist in the same physical universe as the system they answer questions about. Wolpert’s mathematical proof is independent of any particular set of physical laws or computational structures.  It sets physical limits of inference for past, present and future along with all possible calculations and control.  He proves that it's impossible for a inference device A to both know its own answer to an arbitrary question and to also know the answer to the same question by a different inference device B.

 

Using Wolpert's framework, we can model the current simulation of the universe as an inference device (A), and the future simulation of the universe as another inference device (B).  The state of the universe changes from one instant to another so our inference devices are defined within the context of an instantaneous state of the universe.

 

In this way, Wolpert's work shows that a simulation of the current state of the universe (device A) cannot know with absolute certainty the future device B’s knowledge about the state of the universe. 

 

According to Physicist, Phillippe Binder, this has implications for our ability to come up with the kind of theory of everything.  As Binder points out in his essay (“Philosophy of science : Theories of almost everything” Nature 455, Oct 2008, 884-885), Wolpert's work suggests that "the entire physical Universe cannot be fully understood by any single inference system that exists within it”. So, at best we can hope to a have a "theory of almost everything."

 

 

 

 

You have not (yet) stumbled across the full extent of my recent losses. You probably will if you stick around long enough, which I really hope you will.

 

 

Really sorry to hear this.  I look forward to our discussions and really enjoy learning from you.  Please accept a heart felt "hug" from me. 

 

- Pea

Edited by Pea

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https://wwwp.oakland.edu/Assets/upload/docs/AIS/Issues-in-Interdisciplinary-Studies/1995-Volume-13/01_Vol_13_pp_1_23_David_Bohm's_Theory_of_the_Implicate_Order_Implications_for_Holistic_Though_Processes_(Irene_J._Dabrowski,_Ph._D.).pdf

 

A good explanation of the implications of the wholistic paradigm proposed by David Bohm.

 

Excerpt from the paper:

Holistic Thought and David Bohm: A Matter of Consciousness

 

The point of initiation to a holistic mode of thinking is an "integral education" (see Naranjo. 1982, p. 56), which tends toward and even reaches the varied dimensions of people and orients them to the living system of which each person is a part. Educational holism entails moving beyond the two-dimensional parameters of rationalist knowing (e.g., linear, yes and no, black and white, computerized ways of understanding the world) into deeper, more complex "layers of knowing" (Oliver, 1989, p. [81), which take into account feelings, intuition, movement, images, stories, theories, and critical thinking, along the continuum of all the disciplines! David Bohm (1980a) in his book Wholeness and the Implicate Order, presents a multilevel and dynamic view of cosmic functioning, claiming the unity of matter and consciousness. In elaborating upon this core supposition, he finds potent implications for holistic thought processes such as those mentioned.

Bohm criticizes our atomistic thought processes and fragmented approach to reality. He points to the negative consequences emanating when "the process of division is a way of thinking about things" (p. 2). For the individual, divided thought constructs what Bohm terms "a fragmentary self-worid view" (p. 15). The individual acts as a compartmentalized rather than unified agent, dividing the world. The collective impact or "overall world view" (p. x) of segmented thinking and behavior is reflected, according to

 

Bohm, in the global array of social, economic, and environmental problems (see pp. 1, 2). On the other hand, Bohm interprets holistic thought as thought which does not break. He explains that:

thought is a sort of 'dance of the mind' which functions indicatively, and which, when properly carried out, flows and merges into a harmonious and orderly sort of overall process in life as a whole, (p. 55)

In the context of the looking glass phenomenon, the "harmony and order" or else "conflict and confusion" (pp. 55, 2) that prevail in society, reflect our mental competencies and deficiencies

Edited by mikeccolella

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