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Is consciousness just a subroutine in a “big loop” operating system?

 
Nhoj Morley
 
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Nhoj Morley
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06 September 2018 00:57
 
Poldano - 02 September 2018 12:06 AM

I’m glad you responded, Nhoj. I was looking forward to it.

...In order to maintain the coherent illusion (or delusion, if you prefer) of a continuous stream of consciousness, while at the same time enabling an interruption of attention for possible existential threats, there must be at least one point of synchronization interleaving decision making on new information with processing of previous information.

Tis always nice to feel welcome. Thanks.

You have made a decent computer metaphor but it is a programmer’s metaphor. Consider the computer metaphor from a tech’s point of view as well. The two together flesh out a bioon-like machine but with a missing critical component. Hence the endless fuss about consciousness.

Our computer’s have a physicality to them that is easily overlooked by stuffing the desktop somewhere out of sight where it can’t breathe through its muffled fans. They are full of conductive pathways down which electric charges pulse at screaming high frequencies. Pathways for screaming charges open and close by being conductive or non-conductive. Other screaming charges open and close the pathways. Stored but changeable charges determine the moment’s pathways. This machine has no motivation to do anything but dissipate heat. Time passes and coal is burned.

It needs an ongoing beat in order to bring time into the operation. A charge-excited crystal or equivalent creates a steady ringing oscillation that gives the machine a perception of time. As in, there is a now and a next. Each ring triggers the next step of charge herding until a whole specific and repeatable process of charge herding can be played out in sequences as delivered by the special changeable (programmed) stored charges.

At this physical level, the machine has no perception of a process or a sequence. It sensory input is externally modulated electric charges including keystrokes, mic diaphragm wiggles, sensor pixel light levels and etc. With each new ring of its crystal clock, one of these stimulus sources might be at a different voltage level than the last ring. The machine can see a variety of signal variations and can perceive time as now and next. If it is alive, it must be suffering horribly from the damn heat.

4 Hz is whale song to a crystal clock or whatever creates the charge cycle. Computers run at radio frequencies and beyond. That’s what the processor speed rating says- how many times now goes to next and the charges change their pathways. This is probably faster than anything we do but the maximum speeds of our primary perceptions and functions are way past 4 Hz. If the computer is alive, it is forced to toil as an uniformed slave laborer in the terrible heat.

That this machine has an ‘operating system’ is an entirely different level of awareness that, ironically, does not belong to the machine. The machine will herd the charges to rows and columns of pixel spots and tint them. It can send charges to make the cones of your speaker wiggle. Some machines can even turn up the air conditioning but it is pity that they don’t know that. Add motors and gyros, and it’s a robot.

Once those pixels have been tinted and the cones are wiggling, now your metaphor has somewhere to exist. It is what’s on the screen or what chatters from the speakers. Processes play out and job’s are done but only with the result of different dots and wiggles. That level of awareness is not in the heat stroked machine but in us.

The point is, our own physicality provides the same level of awareness as the machine. Limbs are articulated by screaming neurons charging down pathways and so on. None of its jobs rely on knowing what’s happening as in a process or result. However, just like the computer, one of its jobs is to create a panel of pixels that the machine itself cannot see. Because this job is done, there can be a secondary level of awareness of what it is doing. It might be your taxes.

Some claim that if the charges scream high enough or zip around fast enough doing lots of path traveling, there will somehow emerge a consciousness much like the one we all disagree about. Show me a computer that thinks so and I’ll believe it. It will never happen.

Our brains are doing something that our computers do not. We perceptually consume our own internal pixel panel in a second process. The panel is a cinematic composition. Composed for what? So our souls can watch our body’s mortal life?

The computer machine’s job and ‘life’ are all pre-panel or pre-cinematic. We consume the cinematic result in a physically separate machine linked to the computer (in most cases) only by the photon paths from the tinted pixel panel’s back light and speaker wiggles.

Our brains obviously do both jobs of creating the picture and consuming its result. That we can export half the work to an overheated metal machine should loudly demonstrate that these are separated processes. It is in this secondary realm where we are observing duty cycles of 40 to 400 ms or 4 to 25 hz. Any faster and we are into frequencies that our senses perceive. On the overall spectrum of frequencies, we are blind in that range but Nature is probably not offering anything significant to primates in that range. It the range of the duty cycles of our ‘mind’ where the perceptions are the whole duty cycle and not an instant with a space between. That will take a whole other metal box to recreate, someday.

 

 
 
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06 September 2018 02:21
 
Nhoj Morley - 06 September 2018 12:57 AM

...

Tis always nice to feel welcome. Thanks.

You have made a decent computer metaphor but it is a programmer’s metaphor. Consider the computer metaphor from a tech’s point of view as well. The two together flesh out a bioon-like machine but with a missing critical component. Hence the endless fuss about consciousness.

...

 

Awesome post, IMO.

I did not intend for my metaphor to be interpreted as an argument for machine consciousness. I only used it to point out a way of understanding some neural aspects of it, or perhaps one of its components, by use of some standard computer concepts. I think of phenomenal consciousness, which is what we experience subjectively, as a small part of a larger body of functionality that exists prior to and largely independent of it. We can shut down consciousness and most of the rest of the functionality continues undisturbed. Perhaps the notion of app is better than the notion of subroutine, but neither of them are exact. The differences between them are largely irrelevant to the metaphor, at least until we get more data.

The cycle time of episodic attention is critical, specifically because it is so slow, as you pointed out. That makes it a fairly high-level piece of functionality, very much on the surface of the whole of the activity, rather than something intrinsic to every element of the activity. The much higher frequency of sensorimotor functions indicate that they are more basic to the whole of the activity than directed attention, just as the higher frequency of CPU instructions, memory accesses, and discrete input-output operations are more basic to a computer’s operation than a user-facing app is.

[ Edited: 06 September 2018 02:52 by Poldano]
 
 
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06 September 2018 02:36
 
Brick Bungalow - 05 September 2018 10:56 PM
nonverbal - 03 September 2018 07:27 AM

If he can split up attention into its constituent parts, he’ll likely claim it doesn’t exist. My car is also made up of constituent parts. . . I think I’ll report it stolen due to its nonexistence. The insurance folks will surely understand once I send them a few Ground posts.

This point deserves a double take. Not every phenomena is illuminated in the same way. Many of our discoveries in nature are reductive. We zoom in through microscopes or dissect things into pieces or otherwise figure out how a set of parts is assembled and how it functions. Some events, however are not understood and predicted this way. Somethings require several steps back instead of forward. The analysis of traffic patterns, for instance or certain market trends. I think functions of the mind might be this way. There may be some wheel spinning when we simply assume that insight into things like subjective experience will be found by slicing dead brains into thinner and thinner slices. I suspect many of the more useful observations will be found by zooming out and considering brain function in larger and larger contexts. It’s relation to the body and the environment and to other minds and to nature in general.

Systems thinking is one part of what you are getting at, I think.

Also, the phenomenon of conscious experience probably cannot be reduced to a single point in spacetime, or isolated to a single neuron that we can then call the “seat” of consciousness, is what I think you are saying.

My opinion is that investigation of single neurons and small clusters of neurons are necessary, but all findings have to be considered in the context of the whole organism or system. Reductionism to the point of maintaining that the whole or the system does not exist does not explain the observed phenomena sufficiently.

 

 
 
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06 September 2018 23:14
 
Poldano - 06 September 2018 02:36 AM
Brick Bungalow - 05 September 2018 10:56 PM
nonverbal - 03 September 2018 07:27 AM

If he can split up attention into its constituent parts, he’ll likely claim it doesn’t exist. My car is also made up of constituent parts. . . I think I’ll report it stolen due to its nonexistence. The insurance folks will surely understand once I send them a few Ground posts.

This point deserves a double take. Not every phenomena is illuminated in the same way. Many of our discoveries in nature are reductive. We zoom in through microscopes or dissect things into pieces or otherwise figure out how a set of parts is assembled and how it functions. Some events, however are not understood and predicted this way. Somethings require several steps back instead of forward. The analysis of traffic patterns, for instance or certain market trends. I think functions of the mind might be this way. There may be some wheel spinning when we simply assume that insight into things like subjective experience will be found by slicing dead brains into thinner and thinner slices. I suspect many of the more useful observations will be found by zooming out and considering brain function in larger and larger contexts. It’s relation to the body and the environment and to other minds and to nature in general.

Systems thinking is one part of what you are getting at, I think.

Also, the phenomenon of conscious experience probably cannot be reduced to a single point in spacetime, or isolated to a single neuron that we can then call the “seat” of consciousness, is what I think you are saying.

My opinion is that investigation of single neurons and small clusters of neurons are necessary, but all findings have to be considered in the context of the whole organism or system. Reductionism to the point of maintaining that the whole or the system does not exist does not explain the observed phenomena sufficiently.

 

I’m not a neurologist but I do feel that reductionism can, in some cases be positively detrimental to the explanatory power of investigation and I think there are some markers of this in consciousness studies.

My intuition is that the brain is certainly an essential component of the mind but not its only component. I feel like the total mechanism of something like volition encompasses inputs and outputs that extend beyond the brain and indeed beyond the body. Nothing mystical of course. I think it has to do with the way that the nervous system extends into other organs in the body. It relates to our constructed prostheses like language and symbolism. It has to do with the way our sensory perceptions adapt to the environment and how certain elements in our environment react to us. I think there is reasonable consensus that language skills are linked to our persistent memory. I think it follows that developments in language are, in some sense apace with the development of human cognition… and that’s just a throwaway example really.

 

 
Nhoj Morley
 
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07 September 2018 00:11
 
Poldano - 06 September 2018 02:21 AM

I did not intend for my metaphor to be interpreted as an argument for machine consciousness. I only used it to point out a way of understanding some neural aspects of it, or perhaps one of its components, by use of some standard computer concepts. I think of phenomenal consciousness, which is what we experience subjectively, as a small part of a larger body of functionality that exists prior to and largely independent of it.

I know I took some slight liberties with your intentions but I see us both arguing against machine-consciousness. I was drawn toward making a contrast between your mention of operating system strategies over basic functions with something way more separate. Be it OS interruptus or not, it is still all within the realm of the basic metal machine.

I also know you come at this from a ‘prior and independent’ position on consciousness. I used to be sympathetic to that view because plainly, subjectively speaking, there is a position of perspective that needs to be accounted for. As in, where am I looking from? There must be a sight-line with our brain on one end of it and disagreement over what’s on the other end on the other end. The subjective or mental experience we endure is beyond physicality but not in a prior realm of semi-coupled adjectives. I sympathize with the difficulty in describing where prior is. I remember having a go.

The evidence mounts that this is a posterior process as trioon describes. The realm is not spiritual, it is temporal. The sight-line is between our time-separated perception processes. We are having sensations of long and structured durations exploiting the available bandwidth. This sort of process does not need a position to be seen from. It presents what we seem to be presented with in a mundane way. As consciousnesses go, ours is very mundane with many limitations like our chunk-limit and reliance on uncontrollable sub-routines.

A larger body of functionality or other notion of a cosmic source-consciousness is still possible but actually unnecessary to account for us. I realize now that any universal experience, if it exists, would be bored silly in our sorry little monkey brains. God-like functionality bodies must have better things to do then us. Imagine an attention-cycle a hundred million years long.

[ Edited: 07 September 2018 00:17 by Nhoj Morley]
 
 
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07 September 2018 09:13
 
Nhoj Morley - 06 September 2018 12:57 AM

It will never happen.

Why not?  Our brains evolved enough so that “it happened”, so why can’t we develop a machine that has perceptions like we do? Someday, in a galaxy far, far away?

 
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07 September 2018 10:57
 
EN - 07 September 2018 09:13 AM

Why not?

Not that we couldn’tâ€Ĥ only that the current machine as designed never will. It will take a second and very different machine that interacts with the first one. That could be possible some day.

 
 
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07 September 2018 20:37
 
Nhoj Morley - 07 September 2018 12:11 AM

...
Imagine an attention-cycle a hundred million years long.

Actually, that is something that I try to do. What would be its chunk limit? Or is the chunk limit independent of the length of time, and dependent on something else? How could we even know about something with an attention cycle of that length? Would we even be able to recognize its existence?

 

 
 
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08 September 2018 13:02
 
Poldano - 07 September 2018 08:37 PM

Actually, that is something that I try to do.

That could be time-consuming. It is imagining doing something while already doing something that is imagining. What are the limits of our perceptions that keep them from being cosmic in scale? Think bandwidth.

What would be its chunk limit? Or is the chunk limit independent of the length of time, and dependent on something else?

It is a feature of trioon’s cinematic perception and not necessarily something a cosmic consciousness would need. The chunk-limit is the maximum number of comparable or contrastible components for one attention cycle to compare or contrast. The next attention cycle can include a summary of the previous cycle as one of its components. When stretched to the limit of its bandwidth, cinematic perception becomes our capacity to follow a structured rhythm with the summary serving as beat one.

How could we even know about something with an attention cycle of that length? Would we even be able to recognize its existence?

Nope. We are blind to cycles of that bandwidth by mortality. Imagine that is takes a million years to know what you’re looking at. I would not expect a wisdom-filled perception. It would be overwhelming to us in its detail and resolution. Compared to our RGB sense of colors, there would be a whole alphabet of color channels with differentiation that never wimps out into white. The EM spectrum would be felt by not five, but dozens of categories of senses.

As the million year attention cycles race by (why wouldn’t they?), the cosmos would be animated in ways we still would not notice for their foreign-ness. Granting, for the moment, the notion as plausible, it is awesomely awesome, but is it truly enviable? Cosmic beings cannot binge-watch netflix. They don’t have the bandwidth. All they hear is the constant screaming of the satellite signal.

 
 
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09 September 2018 22:26
 
Nhoj Morley - 08 September 2018 01:02 PM
Poldano - 07 September 2018 08:37 PM

Actually, that is something that I try to do.

That could be time-consuming. It is imagining doing something while already doing something that is imagining. What are the limits of our perceptions that keep them from being cosmic in scale? Think bandwidth.

What would be its chunk limit? Or is the chunk limit independent of the length of time, and dependent on something else?

It is a feature of trioon’s cinematic perception and not necessarily something a cosmic consciousness would need. The chunk-limit is the maximum number of comparable or contrastible components for one attention cycle to compare or contrast. The next attention cycle can include a summary of the previous cycle as one of its components. When stretched to the limit of its bandwidth, cinematic perception becomes our capacity to follow a structured rhythm with the summary serving as beat one.

How could we even know about something with an attention cycle of that length? Would we even be able to recognize its existence?

Nope. We are blind to cycles of that bandwidth by mortality. Imagine that is takes a million years to know what you’re looking at. I would not expect a wisdom-filled perception. It would be overwhelming to us in its detail and resolution. Compared to our RGB sense of colors, there would be a whole alphabet of color channels with differentiation that never wimps out into white. The EM spectrum would be felt by not five, but dozens of categories of senses.

As the million year attention cycles race by (why wouldn’t they?), the cosmos would be animated in ways we still would not notice for their foreign-ness. Granting, for the moment, the notion as plausible, it is awesomely awesome, but is it truly enviable? Cosmic beings cannot binge-watch netflix. They don’t have the bandwidth. All they hear is the constant screaming of the satellite signal.

I’ll attempt to answer the questions I posed with an optimistic attitude. We might find archaeological evidence. Of course it’s easy to mistake such evidence for evidence of intelligent design, but that is not what I mean. Instead, I pose the question, what would be the residue left by an entity with such an attention span? I am assuming that attention requires some amount of memory simply to span the cycle time between one instant of attention and the next. I am further assuming that memory requires physical substances with multistable (at least bistable) equilibria with a stable duration greater than or equal to the cycle time. This entity is not necessarily cosmic in scope, just too large and spread-out temporally and probably spatially to be recognized by our current intuitions as an entity.

 

 
 
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10 January 2019 06:58
 
Poldano - 24 August 2018 05:22 PM

The article below suggests that consciousness is episodic, occurring about once every quarter second. The rest of the time we’re eminently distractable. Of course, we’re not conscious of the gaps, because they happen unconsciously. Only if the focus of consciousness changes will we be conscious of it. The gaps are filled in by the neural mechanics of consciousness to be experienced as a continuous stream, for the most part.

And what would be the use of “filling the gaps” in consciousness? Why would it matter to do that?

Poldano - 24 August 2018 05:22 PM

https://www.inverse.com/article/48300-why-is-it-hard-to-focus-research-humans

The “big loop” reference is my own first impression. The cyclic and regular episodes remind me of the most basic structure of a reactive computer program, the sort that is used to run devices. It is a big loop, which services various inputs in a cycle, generally calling subroutines to handle the details of each different input, and the integration of information from a collection of inputs. We sometimes referred to this program model as “Big Loop Technology”.

Here’s a quote from the article:

About four times every second, the brain stops taking snapshots of individual points of focus — like your friend on the corner in Times Square — and collects background information about the environment. Without you knowing it, the brain absorbs the sound of the crowd, the feeling of the freezing December air — which it later uses to stitch together a narrative of the complete Times Square Experience.

From that, I don’t see why we should infer that consciousness somehow stops. Rather, our brain has to share perception time between different parts of our mind, between our conscious mind and parts of our mind that are somehow unconscious. And this is something I would say we’re all familiar with since it is fairly obvious that our brain makes us do all sorts of things and much more than we are effectively conscious of doing. Somehow, the brain needs to attend to that even if we’re not. This is the case for example as I am typing this. I’m only very partially and vaguely aware of what it is my fingers do and yet, it’s presumably my brain that’s in control, control it couldn’t possibly maintain without using at least a good share of whatever perception time is available.
There is no good reason to infer from that that consciousness has gaps filled up by the brain. I would assume that the part of the brain responsible for consciousness just keeps going during “gaps”, doing whatever it is doing between “gaps”. Consciousness has to move its focus between a potentially large number of very different items, like items from the range of percepts available, remembering things relevant to what is going on, intuitions about the significance of a percept, conceptual ideas, visualisation, feelings, etc. I doubt filling gaps would have any usefulness in that tableau.
I will guess that what you call “consciousness” here is in fact our conscious attention to the outside world, not consciousness itself.
EB

 
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10 January 2019 08:13
 
Speakpigeon - 10 January 2019 06:58 AM

I will guess that what you call “consciousness” here is in fact our conscious attention to the outside world, not consciousness itself.
EB

Exactly! We’re deceived into thinking that our conscious attention to (or awareness of) the outside world is continuous, or nearly so. But that’s a huge illusion, because trying to identify all the times when consciousness is not focused on the outside world—the “here and now”—is like trying to find all the darkest places in a room with a flashlight. Anyone who’s ever tried to practice “mindfulness” can attest to this.

But, as usual, this depends on how you define “consciousness.” It seems that the truly “hard problem of consciousness” is defining it.

 
 
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10 January 2019 14:20
 
Antisocialdarwinist - 10 January 2019 08:13 AM
Speakpigeon - 10 January 2019 06:58 AM

I will guess that what you call “consciousness” here is in fact our conscious attention to the outside world, not consciousness itself.
EB

Exactly! We’re deceived into thinking that our conscious attention to (or awareness of) the outside world is continuous, or nearly so. But that’s a huge illusion, because trying to identify all the times when consciousness is not focused on the outside world—the “here and now”—is like trying to find all the darkest places in a room with a flashlight. Anyone who’s ever tried to practice “mindfulness” can attest to this.

I’m quite sure we don’t need to be deceived into thinking our conscious attention to the outside world is continuous or nearly so. It’s quite clear to me my own isn’t. I’m sure it’s even more patchy that I realise, but that still doesn’t equate with anything like a necessity to, somehow, “deceive”. More likely, I would assume conscious attention is never conscious attention to the world that is or isn’t out there. According to what we believe in scientific terms, conscious attention can only be conscious attention to the brain’s representation of the world that supposed to be out there. I would also assume that this representation is without temporal gaps for the very basic reason that it’s a representation of a reality which is itself without temporal gaps, if that’s what it is.

Antisocialdarwinist - 10 January 2019 08:13 AM

But, as usual, this depends on how you define “consciousness.” It seems that the truly “hard problem of consciousness” is defining it.

There’s inevitably a subjective perspective and an objective perspective. The basic mistake of the “hard problem” paradigm is to think of these two perspectives as similarly legitimate. They are not. Problem solved and solved since Descartes.
EB

[ Edited: 10 January 2019 14:23 by Speakpigeon]
 
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10 January 2019 19:23
 
Speakpigeon - 10 January 2019 02:20 PM
Antisocialdarwinist - 10 January 2019 08:13 AM
Speakpigeon - 10 January 2019 06:58 AM

I will guess that what you call “consciousness” here is in fact our conscious attention to the outside world, not consciousness itself.
EB

Exactly! We’re deceived into thinking that our conscious attention to (or awareness of) the outside world is continuous, or nearly so. But that’s a huge illusion, because trying to identify all the times when consciousness is not focused on the outside world—the “here and now”—is like trying to find all the darkest places in a room with a flashlight. Anyone who’s ever tried to practice “mindfulness” can attest to this.

I’m quite sure we don’t need to be deceived into thinking our conscious attention to the outside world is continuous or nearly so. It’s quite clear to me my own isn’t. I’m sure it’s even more patchy that I realise, but that still doesn’t equate with anything like a necessity to, somehow, “deceive”. More likely, I would assume conscious attention is never conscious attention to the world that is or isn’t out there. According to what we believe in scientific terms, conscious attention can only be conscious attention to the brain’s representation of the world that supposed to be out there. I would also assume that this representation is without temporal gaps for the very basic reason that it’s a representation of a reality which is itself without temporal gaps, if that’s what it is.

Antisocialdarwinist - 10 January 2019 08:13 AM

But, as usual, this depends on how you define “consciousness.” It seems that the truly “hard problem of consciousness” is defining it.

There’s inevitably a subjective perspective and an objective perspective. The basic mistake of the “hard problem” paradigm is to think of these two perspectives as similarly legitimate. They are not. Problem solved and solved since Descartes.
EB

I think we’re pretty much in agreement. “Consciousness” is continuous, but the “here and now” is only sometimes its subject.

I’m curious, though: what definition of consciousness do you prefer?

 
 
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11 January 2019 04:25
 
Antisocialdarwinist - 10 January 2019 07:23 PM

I think we’re pretty much in agreement.

Aw, sucks!

Antisocialdarwinist - 10 January 2019 07:23 PM

“Consciousness” is continuous, but the “here and now” is only sometimes its subject.

Well, mostly continuous, since it does seem we lapse into the unconscious when asleep or knocked out, although that may be a false impression.

Antisocialdarwinist - 10 January 2019 07:23 PM

I’m curious, though: what definition of consciousness do you prefer?

Consciousness is what you know.
Said differently, in a perhaps less misleading way, consciousness is knowledge, the only actual knowledge there seems to be, what Russell termed “knowledge by acquaintance”, and what people now tend to call “qualia”.
The rest, what you believe, includes things like the physical world, including your own body, as well as gods and angels, taxes, other people and indeed other minds. It also includes yourself in the past, not just the physical person you were but also your own past conscious self.
At least, that’s how I empirically experience it.
Definitions are obviously all definition of something in terms of some other things. Fundamental things cannot possibly be defined in terms of other things, though, and so cannot be defined. Indeed, definitions can only make sense to us if we happen to know the fundamental things relevant to them. Definitions make sense only in terms of what we know. All definitions of the physical world would be meaningless if not ultimately expressed in terms of the fundamental things we happen to know. So, we all understand all our beliefs in terms of what we know, and therefore all our notions about the physical world, other people, other minds, god, taxes, coli-flowers etc. in terms of what we experience consciously now because that’s all that we know.
That, however, does not preclude having nice theories about things not consciousness.
This definition will only make sense to you if you can interpret it in terms of the things you happen to know yourself, i.e. your own consciousness If it doesn’t, there’s nothing else I could do to make you understand.
Many people seem to misinterpret Descartes’ Cogito. So, I’m open to the idea that not everybody is necessarily conscious, although, more often, it seems to me that misinterpretation results from strict adherence to some dogma, in particular what I call “hardcore materialism”.
I hope that’s good enough for you.
EB

 
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