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:

6 thoughts on “Chris Fields et al”

  1. For what it’s worth, Chris Fields takes the hard problem seriously. From a transcript of a different panel, found at

    ‘Chris Fields says, “If we understand the hard problem as why is there any awareness at all and if the question is have we come any closer to explaining why there is any awareness at all, I would say the answer is no. I don’t think we have a theory, at all, as to why there is awareness anywhere in the universe [I agree].” He points out that scientific work is contributing towards what awareness does, why awareness is useful, under what conditions a system will be aware of a particular phenomenon (mathematics allow prediction) but not why there is awareness.’

    The explanation of Fields’ position continues in the post.

  2. There is a later paper where Fields discusses the hard problem at length:

    He finds it either unsolvable or unstateable, and therefore recommends we don’t bother about it at all when trying to form a theory of consciousness. Thiss is good advice for physicalists who think they can “explain” awareness. According to Fields; they can’t. They should stop trying to go there, and focus instaed on what they can talk about.

    From a panpsychist perspective, he regards it as unstateable. A moment’s reflection shows that it is “unstateable” because under the assumption of panpsychism, the problem does not come up. The existence of awareness is simply recognized.

    Recognizing awareness as a fundamental thing makes the “problem” of awareness, as it might trouble a physicalist, simply go away. In this sense it “solves” the problem. But the solution requires the assumption of panpsychism as valid.

    Thus the hard problem is not a “confusion.” It remains a problem for the physicalist — an unsoluble problem. The phsyicalist is confused to think it can be solved physically. But it can be “solved,” or resolved, by assuming panpsychism. The question then is whether anything is to be gained by going beyond physicalism and embracing panpsychism, and the answer is “Yes — in this way we can account for awareness.”

  3. Not sure of your point?

    It’s obligatory that everybody take “the problem” seriously (Solms does too in his book). Me too for 20 years. But having taken it seriously they / we conclude “therefore recommends we don’t bother about it at all when trying to form a theory of consciousnes”.

    It’s not a problem that needs solving, it’s an intuitive confusion that doesn’t exist in any real model of consciousness. It remains a problem only for confused physicalists. Don’t be one 🙂

    (Thanks for the extra links – just need to check all search results are the same Chris Fields, it’s quite a common name.)

    And BTW – I don’t mention the hard problem in this post (?) – but I gave it a good kicking in this one:

  4. I would say, “Don’t bother about it at all when trying to form a theory of organized or intelligent response.” The confusion lies in thinking that a theory about how our brains work is still talking about “consciousness,” in the interesting sense suggested by the Hard Problem. Chris Fields has acknowledged at as an “unsolveable” problem, which is very hard indeed. Solms crosses the Rubicon and dares to suggest that in the mechanism we have found consciousness (I think he uses this word instead of “awareness”). Here it seems as if he’s hoping to solve the unsolvable problem.

    Chalmers pointed out the “hard problem” for the benefit of the confused physicalists trying to solve it. He is still right about that. To resolve it (not to “solve” it) requires, as far as we’ve seen, a panpsychist or pan-proto-psychist direction. Not that there’s anything wrong with figuring out how the brain works, as long as you aren’t trying to reduce consciousness to the mechanism.

    David Chalmers himself is not trying to solve the “hard problem.” He has helpfully identified it for others bent on “explaining” consciousness, in this or that book. When you described it, in a recent post about one of Chalmers’ books, as “long since debunked as a confusion,” you may not have been thinkingabout the researchers who still seem confused by it. But the concept is far from debunked, and I’m heartened to hear it’s still being taken seriously.

  5. QUOTE
    When you described it, in a recent post about one of Chalmers’ books, as “long since debunked as a confusion,” you may not have been thinking about the researchers who still seem confused by it.

    Very much thinking about those confused (physicalist science and philosophy) researchers – I’m asserting something they need to know. It’s very much debunked by the researchers leading this field. The whole pack coming over to the new paradigm is a multi-generational thing – 70 or 80 years after Kuhn and Kondratiev and Schumpeter etc. I’m not waiting around for them, work to be done. Historically Chalmers pointing out the problem – not new, but giving old knowledge a new name – was obviously valuable, I even said that – but whatever his intentions now, it’s better to ignore that formulation as “the hard problem” – it’s a distraction. Better get with the (affective / systems) programme 🙂

    (In fact is this Chris Fields et al post above these comments I already added Chalmers formulation as addressed by Solms – summarised in #016-2 at 31:51 and addressed at length previously in #016-1. Chalmers is simply stating a fact about confusing consciousness with cognition. Move on.)

  6. Chalmers is not talking about confusing consciousness with cognition. Those two things are related by the underlying factor of awareness.. To confuse them would be like confusing the ability to feel hunger with the ability to follow a recipe. Neither of these things is possible for something that is unconscious, or dead. We seem to be moving from the word “awareness” to “consciousness” to “cognition,” looking for the word that will allow us to say the hard problem is “debunked.” But the hard problem is about confusing consciousness with “matter.”

    One possible retreat is to suppose that consciousness is a “substance,”following Descartes — something that is not matter, but similar enough, somehow, to interact with it. This is where we might use the word “debunked,” such notions having been tossed on the scrap heap as incoherent.

    Another possible retreat is to say, “You know what, let’s just talk about matter.” This is not to “debunk” the problem, but to set it aside (calling it “insoluble”). This allows us to proceed with our studies _as if_ consciousness does not exist. I wouldn’t call this “debunking” the hard problem, but perhaps debunking the idea that physical science is going to solve it. We could certainly agree on that.

    We are stuck with the fact of consciousness, and our research programme is unable to address it as such, but can address its physical concomitants — much as one can understand everything about a living or dead body in exactly the same terms, without reference to what “makes it go.” We don’t want any spooky ghosts in here,so we just won’t talk about it.

    When we do get around to talking about”consciousness,” but without confusing it with a Cartesian “substance,” we find ourselves in a weird and uncomfortable space, talking about things like panpsychism. We want to make sense of our phenomenology, of what McGilchrist calls “betweenness,” of what some people sense as “the sacred;” but the usual scientific programme is of little use, having sensibly refused to cross that threshold.

    The threshold is still there. The idea of material science crossing it has been debunked, but the problem itself has not been debunked, and this is where we are looking for a paradigm shift. We need a way of seeing that allows us to get beyond “Let’s just not talk about it.” Chalmers’ observations are helpful for forcing us to consider panpsychism, but this is where many of the leaders in the field begin to scoff, talking confusedly about “ghosts in the machine” in what amounts to a Cartesian relapse.

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