Consciousness and Free Energy

Just a post to capture a couple of unconnected links:

(1) Sue Blackmore and Deepak Chopra revisiting their decade old “Battle of the Worldviews” disagreement at Tucson 2022 “Science of Consciousness” conference.

Only managed to listen to half of it – not enough actual dialogue and Stuart Hameroff’s chairing doesn’t really help … but some interesting content where – as Sue points out – they have a large measure of agreement and shared experience. (Falters almost entirely on very basic language about what being real and/or illusory/imagined means … before anyone can talk about any explanatory processes, physical or otherwise. Ho hum.)

(2) A brand new paper with Karl Friston on the author list attempting to “introduce” Bayesian Mechanics / Free-Energy-Principle / Active-Inference / Markov-Blankets ….

(Hat tip to Kevin Mitchell for the sceptical link. In fact he has a thread on his reading it:

I consider that anthropic perspective very important … it’s not just a distraction. The subjective view is fundamental to Solms’ “Crossing the Rubicon”.)

Unus Mundus

Posting to capture this link to presentations from the 2022 “Tucson” science of consciousness conference – in particular this one on various “dual-aspect monisms” by Harald Atmanspacher.

I think what I’m proposing is similar to his psychophysically neutral monism involving a third neutral layer underlying both the mental and physical. He calls it Unus Mundus. Seems like Northrop’s “Undifferentiated Aesthetic Continuum” behind James and Pirsig?

(In mine it’s an informational filed of possibility / conceivability. I don’t need his quantum entanglement explanation – but note it’s only a metaphor to aid understanding – like so much quantum physics, there’s no real ontological commitment here, just explanatory aids.)

(Interesting, he mentions Metzinger too in the Q&A.)

The Exemplary Court Jester

Ricky Gervais can be a bit “Marmite” – love him or loathe him – but there can be no arguing with the fact he is one of our highest-level official court-jesters. Capturing this here for two maybe three reasons:

Firstly, the whole “TERF War” has been an exemplary / archetypal issue for my agenda in the madness of “binary” woke – “freedom fetish” – identity politics disfiguring all hope of civilised discourse and understanding on any number of complex topics facing our times.

Secondly, when it comes to constructive discourse, the roles of both respect and rhetorical humour are so misunderstood. We can’t all be comedians if we really respect the discourse – but we really do need our court-jesters out there too – to say what can’t be said in constructive discourse.

And finally Ricky himself. With someone so creative on so many topics and with the entertainment community divided on this, he could probably just as easily have written his latest material from the TRA perspective – but he has chosen to make them the butt of their own absurdities. Good call Ricky. I hope his peers are watching.


[PS – Ricky getting lots of attention on Twitter for this. So far much applause from the LGB & Feminist voices – “namaste” all round – not much shit-hitting-the-fan getting through from the TRA side yet … here we go:

Thread … it’s not “Trans people” being humiliated, it’s the ludicrous misogynistic / anti-LGB / TRA / Stonewall / cis-trans / TWAW movement.]

[Post Note: And now a couple of days (and dozens of articles and zillions of social media posts) later the “debate” continues. I’m not going to provide a running commentary, unless David Baddiel pipes up. All the James Acaster / Nish Kumar takes are so … such naive and ill-informed intellectual dwarves. Ho hum. Full marks to @NaturalPhilosopher for trying to educate those philosophers who really should know better.]

Good and Bad but not Black and White

I have a long overdue (several years, half-drafted) piece called “Good Fences” that goes right back to basic “classification & identification, definition & description” of stuff we deal with in the real world: How we subdivide the world into different kinds of stuff and different things and give them various names. It occurs everywhere from the fundamental ontologies of existence to the woke machinations of identity politics – where anti-woke = the new woke, etc. From clarity and useful value to divisiveness and oppression of freedoms. (Still not that essay, but …)

Sam tweeted this today – it really is useful and necessary to be clear about putting things in good and bad pigeon-holes, even whilst rejecting absolute good and evil.

It struck me as worth recording, because also today there were two “day job” LinkedIn posts – one by Ben Taylor on fitting things into neat categories and another by ex-colleague Keith Williams on the new buzzword “Data Lakehouse”. The former emphasising the possibility of clarity without exclusivity – one point of the Good Fences meme. The latter a compromise – or rather useful integration – between the well defined (well structured, homogeneous) data “warehouse” databases and the more loosely defined collections of heterogeneous objects in data “lakes”. A passion of mine I’ve for many years called “just-in-time vs just-in-case” mark-up tagging – to combine views of well identified and versioned but loosely modelled resources with tighter fine-grained semantically defined resources. I tend to think in terms of the resource in human digestible “blob” form with a keeper or guardian-angel bracelet or lanyard with sufficient linkage to additional (and additive) semantic definition as fine-grained as needed – as and when necessary.

And, because my current read, Kevin Mitchell’s Innate is – like Solms’ Hidden Spring before it – using the same raw, categorical “affect” of good or bad compressed short-hand as the root of all conscious experience and hence all intellectual (scientific) conceptualisation and categorisation.

In fact the whole “systems thinking” / “active inference” approach encouraging seeing different strongly emergent levels / contexts for different levels of granularity and precision in the “definition” of subject-matter content.

(And “computation as compression” is as old as this blog.)

Jeez. Just write something!

Innate Progress

About half-way through Kevin Mitchell’s “Innate” as I type.

Highly recommended as an educational read – very matter-of-fact / common-sensical style – on understanding that pre-wired traits are not hard-wired (plasticity) and that genes & DNA really do drive (most of) the whole (genetic) process of development of the human individual – traits, propensities, capabilities of brain and mind – without being reductively deterministic. From conception to our early 20’s, birth itself is just one point in the complex processes of development in a multi-layered landscape of time and location.

Very good on distinguishing between individuals and population distributions when it comes to human nature(s) and the value in understanding these without being in any way prescriptive or limiting of individuals. Makes it easy and natural to talk about differences – not least for example sex/gender differences and preferences, free of “woke” politics. In fact difference – differences that make a difference – is a strong theme.

The complexity of the many feed-back and feed-forward loops in the nature of nurture – and the scale of the numbers involved – in neural and mental / behavioural development are endlessly fascinating and yet, as I say, presented in a very readable and digestible style. Highly recommended.

I will further gut and unpick specific topics below that relate to my own writing agenda, but one to highlight first is that infamous Pinker “Blank Slate” finding, much quoted here since 2002 about the rough ratios of development “nature vs nurture” influence between genetics (~30-40%), parenting (~10-20%) and wider social environmental peer-group experience (~50-60%). Mitchell shows that the “environmental” aspect is so misleading – actually very like the content<>context distinction in knowledge generally. (ie Context is just more content, but often meta in layers removed from the current content). At any point, our existing brain / mind IS the context for our ongoing content development. We are a large part of our own environment. That large mysterious part of our development is mostly indirectly – many layered loops of influence – driven by our own genes and those we share with our parents and siblings. Nurture is natural too.




Wendy Pirsig Interviewed on Quality

In connection with the publication of “On Quality”, the Spectator book club has Sam Leith interviewing Wendy Pirsig. (30 minute audio).

Actually quite fascinating since Leith actually appears to have prior understanding and research (and empathy) on the relevant topics. Great also to hear Wendy talking so enthusiastically with him about Bob and his work and their travels.

(Hat tip to David Matos and Artun Turan for spotting and sharing the link variously on social media.)

Innate by Kevin Mitchell

I’ve just taken possession of Kevin Mitchell’s (2018) “Innate – How the Wiring of Our Brains Shapes Who We Are”.

No idea why it’s taken me so long to acquire a copy, he’s been on my book list for some time and I’ve been following him for a few years on Twitter – he’s a gold-mine of sharing sources with images of brain architectures and processes and comments approvingly on McGilchrist and Solms and related references, though neither appear in his book so far as I can see. Just doing my usual first-impressions / skim before I start.

Guess it was the wiring diagrams aspect that prompted my actual purchase. I noted yesterday that meaningful graphical language was a a bottleneck for my own writing project. Mitchell’s book is indeed full of black and white line-diagram illustrations of his story, so far so good.

Lots to like in the chapter titles and sub-headings too:- differences that make a difference; you can’t bake the same cake twice; perception as active inference; ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls; exceptions, to name a few.

Usual suspects include Hofstadter (Strange Loop), Pinker (Blank Slate) and Sacks (Wife / Hat) in the end notes. (Acknowledgement to Adam Rutherford, will be interesting, been trouble in the past.)

Great to see “Active Inference” in there – very much part of my emergent architecture systems-thinking. Game on.

Distractions from “Just Write Something!”

I am again, as once or twice previously, in a “Just Write Something” mode.

In many ways it’s how I came into blogging itself – when wrestling with complex issues beyond the day job – writing – putting into language in any medium – is part of the thinking processes. Dialogue about it helps too. Nothing new there.

The quoted “Just Write Something” mantra is something I’ve often referred to as the key piece of advice a psychotherapist gave to Robert Pirsig, starting the recovery from his descent into institutionalised madness. The result was “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” and “Lila”. His mission was “outflanking the entire body of western thought” no less. I know how he felt.

Anyway, whatever actual piece of writing saves me from wherever “there but for grace” I might go, the jury is still out. But it’s pretty clear a comprehensive capture of “my thesis” will need to be part of the process, even though the aspirations are literary. And even though it’s on a scale where it will be impossible to dot every “i” and cross every “t” to the satisfaction of every technical critic – an occupational hazard of all multi-discipline discourse – it’s real life.

This post is itself one of the distractions – in fact “housekeeping” all the resources that contribute to the thinking behind writing is itself a distraction to the writing.

Housekeeping – literal housekeeping – has thrown-up two other relevant distractions recently. Having moved house at the end of last September, we got the office / library set-up pretty quickly, but there were quite a few archive resources still boxed-up in the garage and other hidey holes like the under-stairs and linen / airing cupboards. Anyway having got a shed up in the garden last month, we managed to shift stuff that was taking up space in the garage and … long story short, I have a few more “resources” taking up mental bandwidth in or about the office:

(1) One source of distraction is where I made the simple reference to important resources behind the “Pirsig / On Quality” post last Friday, I noticed how many of my topics went back as far as my Masters project back in 1988/91. Whilst I have a later html version of that thesis, it’s poorly formatted and has dodgy links to dumb scanned versions of the graphics and tables. The distraction was to find the original figures – in the physical archive unearthed above – and generate better future-proof versions or the graphical figures in an updated rendition of that thesis.

(2) Secondly, since making architectural / systems-thinking explicit as the default view of ALL my evolutionary thinking of the physical and psychical worlds, it has become clear my thesis is going to need a graphical language to present that thinking – networks of stuff and relations with clear semantics (noted here too.) That’s pretty close to my “day job” (eg on LinkedIn). It turns out that the semantic capabilities of my preferred language (IDEF0, for the past 3 decades) have become subsumed into standard language developments up to and including The Open Group’s ArchiMate – and there are quite a few tools that support this. One of which is “Archi” and having installed that, I’m trying to establish templates and palettes of semantic objects my thesis is going to need. Getting there.

Distractions, distractions, but resources contributing to the writing project, nevertheless 🙂

[Post Note: Oh, and I’m learning / practicing the guitar again, at least to get a few tunes to performance standard. Whether that is a distraction from or a contribution to “the writing project” we’ll see.]

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