McGilchrist-Levin Dialogue

Another informal chat from Michael Levin.
(These are very good and this is a good one.)

Chirality (asymmetry / handedness) from individual biochemistry and cells scaled-up to organs and anatomy- bio-electrical gradients – but sounds very bottom-up mechanistic / reductivist? Yes, much more, part of the “space” in which development happens.

Palpation – in slime-moulds – very much as used by Solms. How does it obtain / remember the information about its environment and then act on it. Computational – physical / hydraulic – view. Still difficult for Iain?

One vs two-headed worm body pattern – learned bio-electrically after normal genetic expression attractor.

The pleasurable-experience <exclusive-or> good-memory option? (Similar to the torture and forget thought experiment.) The fact it’s a counter-factual – can’t actually imagine “how” that exclusive situation could be engineered – means it’s really a philosophical question, to hold a strong-intuition position. The latter for me. People saying the opposite are attached to the now, all that’s real, and don’t see long-term value – (unless they’re cheating in the thought experiment and expecting the experience will give them something of value?) Some degree of permanence, continuity of individual identity – yes, I’m with Iain.

Everything is a whole at its own level, not just a sum of its parts (in time or space), hence the continuity. Left-brained autism to think otherwise possible (eg Derek Parfitt). (Schizo-autistic spectrum very similar to loss of right-brain function – per TMWT. Dissociated personality disorders – even total split-brain cases – tell us a lot about integrated / continuity of personal identity.)

Matter and mind as different aspects / manifestations / (phases?) of the same reality – I should say so. Obviously the affect each other – mad to suggest otherwise. Materialists / physicalists are probably those who least understand – appreciate the value of – matter. (That “reality” is information & computation btw. More mentions of Solms, Friston, Fields …)

Interminable, standard problems in philosophy – as a choice between isms / schools – reflects left-right brain choices. Lack of integration.

Probably Racist

Me that is. Jeez.

I’ve just found to my horror that I’ve been conflating and confusing Anil Seth and Yuval Noah Harari. Seth is a Cognitive and Computational Neuroscientist of Indian heritage, author of “Being You”. Harari is an Israeli Historian, author of “Sapiens”. Problem is I’ve been conflating my impressions of their work based on their media appearances.

Anil Seth - How Our Minds Predict Our Reality - Mind & Life ...Yuval Noah Harari cropped.jpg

Sorry guys, won’t do it again.

Chris Fields et al

Mentioned very recently – this Solms / Fields / Levin discussion – that Chris Fields is someone I don’t really know much about, but keeps cropping-up in significant references. (Particularly with Levenchuk and AII.)

[Note: this post is a stub to which I’m adding thoughts as I read and listen …]

This paper … :-

Neuroscience of Consciousness, 2021, 7(2)
Special Issue: Consciousness science and its theories.
doi: 10.1093/nc/niab013

“Minimal physicalism as a scale-free substrate for cognition and consciousness.” (2021)
by Chris Fields, James F. Glazebrook and Michael Levin

… is one I’ve linked to in readiness to research Fields a little more.


“A Free Energy Principle for Generic Quantum Systems”
by Fields, Friston, Glazebrook and Levin (2019)


“A Mosaic of Chu Spaces and Channel Theory II: Applications to Object Identification and Mereological Complexity”
by Fields and Glazebrook (2018)

Note that’s
Fields & Glazebrook  (2018) >>
Fields & Glazebrook & Friston & Levin (2019) >>
Fields & Glazebrook & Levin (2021)
[Friston being the link to Solms]

That 2021 paper (without Friston or Solms)

      • Starts from awareness and consciousness (and cognition?) being synonymous with each other – simply the capability of having phenomenal experiences – however basic or minimally structured. (Obviously many levels and axes, but no sense of first-person “I” experience in this working definition? Significant because the point of the paper is the what and why. From higher mammalian primates right down to free-living or facultatively communal unicells, whether pro- or eukaryotic. Not just without brains or neurones, but not even nuclei. “Minimally structured” but “living” and “cellular”.)
      • [And, indeed, the criteria for “having experiences” may be as vague,
        general, and extensible to non-Terrestrial or even artificial systems as plausible criteria for “life” are; but see also an argument that “definitionism” is scientifically pointless.]

[Aside – watching this AII presentation with Mark Solms, from exactly a year ago – I’m near the end of this first part, around 1h40m – and he’s emphasising a higher take on consciousness – animals “down to” cephalopods say but also inserting different levels / axes – arousal, awareness aspects of “experience” … phenomenal consciousness vs reflective cognition “access” consciousness, awareness of what we’re aware of. Arousal entails awareness. And I’m now on part 2 (AII#016.2)]

Consciousness is at root “affect” (feeling felt) and “awareness” is intrinsic to it – in fact my summary of the central point of his book:

Consciousness “is” affect.
It’s feeling all the way down.
“How do I feel
about what I know
and what, if anything,
should I do about it?”

Chalmers: “There is no cognitive function such that we can say in advance that explanation of that function will explain experience.” Obviously! because experience is affective not cognitive.

“Something it is like to be” – after Nagel’s (1974) bat – is a construction I struggle with, but Solms uses it a lot. To be like – is a feeling.

Additional references also “getting” the affective angle – Manos Tsakiris and Aikatarini Fotopoulou and Ryan Smith and Casper Hesp and Maxwell Ramstead (folk psychology). Already following the latter on Twitter. Quite a few joint papers with Friston et all in Google Scholar. Stephen Sillett on the original call.

As we know, affective / feeling “beyond-autonomic” homeostasis based on Panksepp and Damasio – 25 year ago – Good vs Bad value system choice. Massive evolutionary survival advantage – choosing by feeling in unexpected “surprise” situations – and then learning. (Anil Seth gets several positive mentions – noted a discussion between Seth and Solms previously).

Awareness – as “a-whereness” (Daniel) – distributed not localised?

In fact the 4-hours of presentation is basically the full thesis of Solms’ book.
End Aside.

Continuing with the Fields/Glazebrook/Levin(2021) paper:

Reality Minus

I’m reading David Chalmers’s “Reality+

My Prejudice

It wasn’t on my list but I received it as a Christmas present. For me Chalmers is to philosophy as Brian Cox is to science; a rock star that gets everyone waving their knickers in the front row, which I admit may cultivate interest in the previously ignorant, but which adds more sound-and-light-show than enlightenment to the subject itself. So it’s a struggle. For me.

Obviously, I’ve been following his virtual worlds – Matrix – pronouncements for decades, along with the Zombie thought experiments and his infamous “Hard Problem” of consciousness, long since debunked as a confusion – like Cartesian duality – that is itself “part of the problem”. Part of the problem of “science” taking a too naive – limited, autistic – view of reality and (like Pat Churchland, one of his early references) in danger of condemning swathes of philosophy to the same limitations. Scientism.

If ever there was a “footnote to Plato” this is it. He famously uses his image of users in a VR suite as his 21st C version of the cave. Easy to find. It only adds to Plato’s understanding if you understand his take on VR, which to be fair is the point of his book.Philosophy and science regularly use simulations to test theories, and test cases which are incidentally or deliberately limited versions of normal reality. Neuroscience and consciousness (science and philosophy) would be nowhere without the #LesionLiterature in its widest sense. A real subject with some missing or artificial feature. Artificial – as in not naturally evolved – is already the stuff of science and philosophy (and indeed engineering in our real world “built environment”). What’s “new” to Chalmers is the technology, VR in the ICT technology sense. Technophilosophy as he would have us call it. New as in 30+ years old. And we get his life history as a gamer kid. He seems also to have discovered virtual meetings during Covid times. In the real world we’ve been doing these for the same 2 or 3 decades?

Anyway, prejudice aside 🙂 How do we know we’re not living in a virtual reality, a simulation, the matrix?

The Value of Virtual Worlds

Sure, the virtual worlds we create are in – part of – the real world, they are additions to our world, but each VR world – even a complex connected system of systems of VR worlds – is a limited version of some part of the whole real world(*).

My summation:
World plus VR = The Reality+plus
Each VR = A Reality-minus

“Today’s VR & AR systems are primitive […] Virtual environments offer immersive vision and sound, but you can’t touch a virtual surface, smell a virtual flower, or taste a virtual glass of wine when you drink it.”

Indeed, and you can’t get food poisoning from Mazviita’s Lobster either, let alone the pleasure and nutrition from tasting and consuming it. (Excretion? – let’s not go there.) The point is not that they’re technologically primitive, relative to future versions. They surely are. The point is accepted models of physics and sentience don’t support each other – yet(*). People are going to spend a lot of time and money, having a lot of fun in the process of building deeper and better VR & AR experiences. Like most science, failure to achieve a solution to the subjective sentience aspect and the “reality” of others – like the bacteria and toxins in that lobster – will be empirical evidence of a lesson learned. Negative results are always valuable to science. Anyway:

“The central thesis of this book is:

Virtual reality is genuine reality,
or at least, virtual realities are genuine realities.

Virtual worlds need not be second-class realities.

[And we can’t rule out the possibility we might already be living in a virtual – simulated – reality.]”

Sure, they’re “real” but inevitably limited versions of other realities – different classes – we’re setting up a taxonomy of realities. And we’re back to the same fundamental problem as the many worlds / multiple universes speculations. The root of both ontology and epistemology – what do we mean by existence in this – the/our – world? Illusions are real too. We run out of meanings for the words we have. Chalmers prefixes his “realities” with “genuine” – genuinely real. This is never ending race to the grounding of physics itself. Properly, genuinely, in actual fact, physically, real – anyone? I’m with Deutsch – everything we can conceive of is – in some sense – real, part of the real world. It’s the sense we’re lacking.

As my prejudiced position said above, without properly understood, properly modelled, living sentience in ourselves and others, AI / VR / AR will fall short of expectations.

Chalmers thought experiments will make you think if you’ve not thought them before, and by promoting VR & AR for experimentation in real world applications will expose more people to more of the possibilities as well as the limitations. I will skim later chapters to see what’s new, but I’m sceptical, so please alert me if you find anything I’ve missed.


(*) Which isn’t to say I don’t believe artificial life and sentience cannot be engineered, they can and will be (see previous post), but they will be real life and sentience – artificially evolved – when that happens.


Chris Fields talks with Mark Solms

Chris Fields and Marks Solms clearly seem to be aware of each other’s work even if this is the first time they’ve communicated. As the tweet says it’s a very informal chat facilitated by Mike Levin (interesting Tufts connection with Dan Dennett in my context.)

Mark is someone I’ve already talked about a lot – proper “neuro-psychological” (systems & Friston-free-energy) understanding of consciousness – building on where I’d got to with Iain McGilchrist and all the #LesionLiterature before that.

Chris Fields is of interest for all the references [29][31][32] by Anatoly Levenchuk and others in the #UpperOntology field. I didn’t actually know much about him until this exchange. (And of course I am reminded now that Chris, like Anatoly and Karl Friston, are scientific advisory board members of AII – ever convergent “systems” world!)

So far just rough notes on the informal dialogue
(apparently the first of two):

    • #HardProblem an absurdity arising from the exclusion of our subjective “machinery” from all considerations.
    • John Wheeler’s star in the ascendant in the “fundamental information” camp.
    • Carlo Rovelli the poet-laureate of the relational view of quantum theory.
    • Karl (Friston? or Carlo?) making positive statements about using our knowledge (of consciousness) to engineer “sentient machines”. Feynman “if I can’t create it, I don’t understand it” (Maybe we already have? Just haven’t convinced people – may take human generations (like Kuhn / Kondratiev)
    • Other than observed behaviour what evidence of sentience are we expecting. Addressed for many decades in sci-fi – novel embodiments of the kind of sentience we seem to ascribe exclusively to humans.
    • Exchanging first-person felt “affect” by artistic means?
    • Psychedelics – LSD & Psilocybin experience and perception; not thought and conception, intellectual deduction.
    • Different “living” needs compete with each other on different timescales – where they “think” (actively infer) free resources (energy and material) are available based on felt sensations. Optimisation landscape – sometimes exploration is more valuable than exploitation.
    • Physical face-to-face / get-to-know conference / symposium of like minds on “what criteria” would convince more widely of subjective states of conscious sentience. Thoughts as experience of “feelings”? (And exists by degrees.) Maybe using VR / Video-game resources (and biometric monitoring, and  prosthetics, and body-swaps / mannequins?) to demonstrate.
    • Bonding with another “being” is about shared existential “struggle” not the physical mammalian biology – so no reason why the “artificial” could not also provide such – more than empathy – bonding. The dawning of self (unity) distinct from our parts. System<>not-System – Markov blanketed boundary of distinction.
    • Formally – the whole of evolution is one self-organising system of which we are a “component”.

Looking forward to Part 2 !!!


Rawls IoT – Rough Notes

(PS – haven’t managed to find it.)

Utilitarianism vs Intuitionism – the latter tells us the former is unfair, but is not the solution. The rest is about fair procedures to achieve justice.
A new form of Social Contract. Nothing better since J.S.Mill or since despite many practical disagreements.
Key thought experiment – Original Position / Veil of Ignorance – which isn’t to say we plan and execute in ignorance, obviously. (eg historical injustice – class/ race etc specifics)
Placing yourself as competitor / opponent / enemy would
(Children slicing the cake)
Fairness as Justice

Mutually disinterested
We’re not all maximally altruistic

Faith, Hope and Carnage

Despite my “STEM” core, avoiding anything remotely supernatural despite strong human spiritual interests, I’ve always been sympathetic to theists and theologists. (Full statement of my “Sacred Naturalism” stance here.) As thinkers, and carers for humanity, smart theists are at least as impressive – generally more so – as any public scientist / atheist types, when it comes to deep and thoughtful concerns for reality. That started with my friend Sam Norton (@Elizaphanian) and our early shared philosophical interest in Robert Pirsig and probably reached its zenith with Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. Along the way I count Liz Oldfield among their number, having met her when she was running the Theos think-tank. Although her role has changed, she still hosts The Sacred Podcast.

Part of my human spiritual connection is musical and in the poetry of the bards who write the songs. Mentions are dotted incidentally about these pages and my specific interests here are too many to mention. There’s a common thread of blues inspired genres from the solo trad & singer-songwriter folk artists to the heaviest of rock, with all varieties of Americana in between. With some wannabee aspirations, I am under some pressure this very moment (from four different directions!) to actually take the plunge into performance, but I’m currently restricted to “getting into it” any way I can short of that. A release from intellectual to embodied engagement anyhoo.

Strangely, Nick Cave (and his Bad Seeds) ought to be in that mix. Someone I’ve been aware of at a distance. I might recognise a song or two and I’ve certainly noticed the plaudits for his intelligent & thoughtful creations, but through circumstances of timing and opportunity, I’ve never really gotten into him. (Until his death a few years ago the same was true of – say – Leonard Cohen.)

I had detected in recent years both his Christian religious commitment and that the upheaval of death had greatly affected his musical trajectory. Anyway I added “Faith, Hope and Carnage” to my book list during 2022 and as I mentioned previously, it was the only book from that list I received as a Christmas present. So I’ve been reading it and making surprisingly copious notes. Whether I finish it or not I’ve recorded my notes below.

And the reason I was motivated to post them today is because The Sacred Podcast has just published a discussion with Nick Cave and his co-author of “Faith, Hope and Carnage” Sean O’Hagan hosted by Liz Oldfield.

(And, there’s a full transcript there too.)

My notes/quotes from “Faith Hope and Carnage”

“[I] try to lead a life that has moral [and religious] value, and try to look at [all] other people as if they are valuable. […] I guess what I’m saying is – we mean something. Our actions mean something. We are of value.”

“[T]he numinous and shocking beauty of the everyday is something I try to remain alert to, if only as an antidote to the chronic cynicism and disenchantment that seems to surround everything these days.”

“[R]ational truth may not be the only game in town. I am more inclined to accept the idea of poetic truth, or the idea that something can be “true enough”. To me that’s such a humane expression.”

“Sometimes you need to say out loud what you think or talk to someone else about the ideas you hold, just in order to see if they are valid. […] This is the essential value of conversation, that it can serve as a kind of corrective.”

“[S]adly, organised religion can be atheism’s greatest gift.”

“[M]y rational self seems less assured these days. Things happen in your life, terrible things, great obliterating events, where the need for spiritual consolation can be immense, and your sense of what is rational is less coherent and can suddenly find itself on shaky ground. We are supposed to put our faith in the rational world, yet when the world stops making sense, perhaps your need for some greater meaning can override reason. […] I’ve grown increasingly impatient with my own scepticism; it feels obtuse and counter-productive, something that’s simply standing in the way of a better-lived life […] happier if I stopped window-shopping and just stepped through the door.”

“[Attending to yearning …] maybe the search is the religious experience – the desire to believe and the longing for meaning, the moving toward the ineffable. […] When it comes down to it maybe faith is just a decision like any other.”

“Before knowing – is good, I like that.”

“[Doubt is part of your belief system?] Doubt is an energy for sure and perhaps I’ll never be the person who completely surrenders to the idea of God [.] [Intrinsically human to doubt?] Yes. And the rigid and self-righteous certainty of some religious people – and some atheists for that matter – is something I find disagreeable. The hubris of it. The sanctimoniousness. It leaves me cold. [… attitude of moral superiority.] The belligerent dogmatism of the current cultural moment is a case in point. A bit of humility wouldn’t go astray.”

“[Was your Mum religious in any way?] No. She actually told me she envied those who were religious, but she just couldn’t bring herself to fully believe.
[A bit like you then?] Oh no, I believe. Especially today.”

“[Last time in Australia with my mother before she died – listening to the album written after my son Arthur died] she would be sitting in her chair listening to it, lost to it, really moved. It was as if it was speaking to her, not just about Arthur, whose death hurt her very deeply, but all the many people a woman of ninety-three has inevitably lost. And at that age, that’s essentially everybody. I was very affected by that. Those were beautiful moments.”

Affected me too, reading that just last week, my 93 year-old mother’s birthday and accompanying her to the funeral of an old friend.

“Doubt and wonder. Yes, well put. […] [S]ince when has belief in God had anything to do with logic? For me it’s the unreasonableness of the notion, its counterfactual aspect that make the experience of belief compelling.” [The rationality of the irrational.]

“Our lives are, in fact, of enormous consequence, and our actions reverberate in ways we hardly know. [Many atheists would agree with that.]”

“There’s an attempt to find meaning in places where it is ultimately unsustainable – in politics, identity and so on. [Are you saying atheism – or secularism – is an affliction?] Not saying they’re an affliction … I just don’t think they’ve done a very good job of addressing questions that religion is well practiced at answering.” … “The upshot of that is a kind of callousness towards humanity in general.” … “Increasingly they are finding [religion and meaning] in tribalism and the politics of division.”

“The decline of organised religion took with it a regard for the sacredness of things, for the value of humanity in and of itself. This regard is rooted in a humility towards one’s place in the world – an understanding of our flawed nature. We are losing that […] and it’s often replaced by self-righteousness and hostility.”

“[Drugs as sacrament] Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. [Absolution from his home-town audience is response to his apology for dissing the town years earlier.]”

“[Contrasting organised life now with chaotic drugs and rock’n’roll years.] Impressive to be surrounded by efficiency, dedication and competence … It’s a kind of bliss! … Personally, I have found that a disciplined and structured workplace encourages a certain kind of free-range creativity that chaos is just not conducive to … A beautiful freedom.” {Ed. Cf Neil Hannon – You must go and I must set you free. ‘Cos only that will bring you back to me. (Freedom’s two-way perversity).}

[Infamous 1987 NME interview with Cave, Shane McGowan and Mark E Smith.] That was just after my first time in rehab. I had just come out the day before. What could possibly go wrong … I’m clean and sober an they’re like ‘What the fuck? You can’t be serious’ as they sat there chucking down drugs and drinking themselves into oblivion. They were hardly sympathetic to my situation.”

And so much more – an insightful read. Recommended.

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