Jun 02 2011

The Decline Effect Revisited

I have written previously about the decline effect – the apparent decrease in the magnitude of a phenomenon as it is scientifically studied. Initially there seems to be a big effect, but the effect size shrinks as further research is done, sometimes shrinking all the way to zero.

This effect was perhaps first observed (or at least named) in psi research. Over the last century psi researchers have come up with a number of research paradigms to demonstrate so-called anomalous cognition. But in every case the initial impressive effect sizes have shrunk to non-existence with repetition. While the standard interpretation of this failure to reproduce results is that the phenomenon is not real, some defenders of psi have tried to argue there is a real metaphysical decline effect at work. It’s not their fault – the phenomenon actually goes away over time.

Writing for Naturenews, Jonathan Schooler makes a similar claim about the interpretation of the decline effect in science in general. To be fair, this is not the focus of his article. He is making an argument for registering all scientific studies, so that publication bias cannot distort the patterns of evidence in the literature. I completely agree. But within his article he writes:

Perhaps, just as the act of observation has been suggested to affect quantum measurements, scientific observation could subtly change some scientific effects. Although the laws of reality are usually understood to be immutable, some physicists, including Paul Davies, director of the BEYOND: Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science at Arizona State University in Tempe, have observed that this should be considered an assumption, not a foregone conclusion.

Perhaps he was just including this notion for completeness, because he does also cover more “prosaic” explanations – but seriously, this is dangerously close to quantum woo. Interacting with a system in order to observe it can affect the behavior of that system (a well-known observer effect). At the quantum level, interaction with a particle causes the collapse of the wave function. Observation, however, is not changing the laws of physics or the way subatomic particles behave – it’s part of their behavior. Extrapolating from quantum mechanics to the notion that the laws of physics may not be immutable is simply a false analogy.

What is Schooler really proposing – that doing research on a drug subtly changes its chemical properties over time? Further, even if this were true (an extraordinary claim for which there is no evidence and which does not flow from quantum mechanics) why would the laws of nature always conspire for such changes to decrease the effect being observed. Why wouldn’t treatments, for example, work better over time – at least sometimes.

The main thrust of Schooler’s article, in my opinion, is almost certainly the answer to the decline effect – it is an artifact of the research.

There are multiple known or highly plausible effects that would conspire together to create the appearance of a decline effect, and Schooler points many of them out. First – when scientists first start to do research into a new phenomenon they have yet to work out all the kinks. Generally the rigor and quality of research improves over time, with increased knowledge, experience, attention from the community, and resources to perform more elaborate research. What this means is that the effect of bias is likely to be greater with earlier studies and then “decline” over time as rigor increases. Researcher bias is known to exaggerate the phenomenon that the researcher is trying to demonstrate. This alone is enough to explain a decline effect.

But there’s more. Publication bias (the specific effect Schooler wants to eliminate) would also create an apparent decline effect. In order to get a paper published on an entirely new idea, you need a fairly large and impressive effect size (at least this helps the probability of getting published). But once a new concept is published, if a follow up study shows a smaller or even non-existent effect, that is interesting because it is a failure to replicate an already published effect. In other words, the probability of getting a paper published might be biased towards larger initial effect sizes and smaller later effect sizes.

Further, the biases of those replicating research are not necessarily the same as the originators of an idea. Someone proposing a new idea is highly motivated for their pet theory to be backed by impressive evidence. But often those replicating the research are motivated to disprove a competing theory, or perhaps are just interested in exploring a possible new finding but don’t have much of a bias one way or the other. They may also be more confident in their ability to get their replication published regardless of outcome.

There doesn’t need to be anything sinister in this effect, and even without researcher bias there are statistical factors at play. Those research outcomes that by chance are more dramatic are more likely to get published, and then regression to the mean takes over and later research is likely to more accurately reflect average or true effect sizes.

It is probable that because of all these factors initial effect sizes are exaggerated. These effect sizes then decline toward the real effect size over time, whatever that is. If effect sizes shrink to nothingness, then the phenomenon is discarded as a dead end (unless, of course, you are a psi or CAM researcher). If a significant effect size persists then the phenomenon is considered to be genuine.

In fact this has been standard in research for decades. The decline effect is just describing something researchers already know but perhaps never bothered to measure. Preliminary research tends to show big effect sizes that often do not hold up with later replications and more rigorous protocols. Researcher bias, publication bias, regression to the mean, and the normal progress of study design are enough to explain this.

There is no need to speculate about the mutability of the laws of nature.

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182 responses so far

182 Responses to “The Decline Effect Revisited”

  1. Minon 02 Jun 2011 at 8:52 am

    I had been meaning to email you and ask you to revisit the topic after listening to this podcast:

    http://www.radiolab.org/blogs/radiolab-blog/2011/may/03/cosmic-habituation/

    Their science is normally pretty good but it has been getting a little soft recently.

    Steve, I do have a question about this article:

    “But once a new concept is published, if a follow up study shows a smaller or even non-existent effect, that is interesting because it is a failure to replicate and already published effect. In other words, the probability of getting a paper published might be biased towards larger initial effect sizes and smaller later effect sizes.”

    Why is the probability of getting a paper published biased towards smaller later effect sizes? Why wouldn’t they be just as likely to publish larger effect sizes? Both are saying that the original was “wrong” and essentially a failure to replicate. How is less more interesting than more?

  2. Steven Novellaon 02 Jun 2011 at 9:12 am

    Min – I was not clear. My primary point is that there is a bias against small effect sizes for initial publication, but a lack of bias against small effect sizes for replications – not so much a bias toward small effect sizes.

  3. Adam Slagellon 02 Jun 2011 at 10:11 am

    I have been disappointed in Radio Lab’s flirtation with woo, especially in their “Shorts” lately. This episode especially bothered me as it got a bit Deepakish for me. I actually sent them a link to one of Steve’s old blog posts on this after I heard the episode. :-)

  4. Karl Withakayon 02 Jun 2011 at 10:17 am

    As a side note, I’m very much in favor of registering all studies. In addition to being able to know a researcher’s conflicts of interest, I’d like to able to tell what percentage of their studies end up in the circular file rather than get published.

    I also like the idea of the registration containing the proposed methods of statistical analysis, so the researchers would be required to explain and justify any post hoc deviation from the planned method of analysis.

  5. Karl Withakayon 02 Jun 2011 at 10:21 am

    ..not that failure to publish necessarily constitutes some intentional self-suppression of undesirable results, but if a researcher published almost exclusively positive results, I would be very interested in what they don’t publish or even submit.

    I suppose it might be be a good idea for the registration to include whether a study was submitted for publication and a list of journals it was submitted to.

  6. locutusbrgon 02 Jun 2011 at 11:44 am

    I think Karl makes a very reasonable point about discarded studies kind of left of target. I very tired of Quantum Mysticism in discussions. Really really tired. Ask Mr. Schooler to stand in front of car coming at him at 50 MPH, look at it very hard, and see if it changes his reality.

  7. davidsmithon 02 Jun 2011 at 1:21 pm

    “Over the last century psi researchers have come up with a number of research paradigms to demonstrate so-called anomalous cognition. But in every case the initial impressive effect sizes have shrunk to non-existence with repetition. ”

    I don’t think that is true. Dick Bierman plotted a linear regression for all ganzfeld experiments falling between 1974 and 1994. That plot showed a decline to about zero. However, Bierman mentions in the same paper that when data is plotted up to 1998 the decline is “dampened considerably”.

    http://www.uniamsterdam.nl/D.J.Bierman/publications/2001/Benjaminschapter.pdf

    Since then, we have had Storm et al.’s meta-analysis reporting data from 1997-2008 with a highly significant effect size of about .15. So is there a decline in the ganzfeld database as it stands? I don’t know. I doubt it would be a decline to zero considering the latest meta-analysis.

    Bierman also mentions declines in the remote viewing paradigm is his paper. He says that one database declines (the PEAR lab) and the other (SRI) does not. However, no analyses are provided and we don’t know if the PEAR decline was to zero.

    So I’m interested Steven if you have any additional references on this?

    Schooler describes his own psi studies that showed a decline. He repeated a Bem style retro-priming study about 17 times and observed a decline to zero. So there’s no publishing bias in that case which is interesting.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Tdiu5kwjKs&feature=player_embedded

  8. nybgruson 02 Jun 2011 at 4:33 pm

    Extrapolating from quantum mechanics to the notion that the laws of physics may not be immutable is simply a false analogy.

    Tell that to Deepak Chopra!

    I think that people in general tend to focus on one tiny bit of something (whatever it may be that strikes their fancy) and then extrapolate it out to everything. It is vastly easier to do this than to get the “big picture” and integrate it into the rest of reality. Thus, something small can seem very big and important in their eyes.

    I reckon something similar is going on with science and research as well. The difference is that in science we keep looking at things and trying to fit them into the reast of our knowledge and body of research. So whereas Chopra will make that quantum elephant of his fit into a shoebox, science will realize the elephant is actually more of a mouse and conveniently find a place for it.

  9. Jeremiahon 02 Jun 2011 at 5:25 pm

    “So whereas Chopra will make that quantum elephant of his fit into a shoebox, science will realize the elephant is actually more of a mouse and conveniently find a place for it.”

    That makes no sense at all. What science will do is recognize when we are really looking at an elephant and not some mathematical model that would ironically fit in Chopra’s shoebox.

  10. BillyJoe7on 02 Jun 2011 at 5:39 pm

    “Interacting with a system in order to observe it can affect the behavior of that system…At the quantum level, interaction with a particle causes the collapse of the wave function. Observation, however, is not changing the laws of physics or the way subatomic particles behave – it’s part of their behavior.”

    Not only that but the concept of an “observer” is also misunderstood.

    An “observer” does not “collapse the wave function”. In every case, it’s particle-particle interaction that causes “collapse of the wave function”. The “observer” is superfluous. When the “observer” has set up his quantum experiment, no “observation” on his part can change the outcome. He could drop dead for all it will matter to the outcome of the experiment.

  11. Jeremiahon 02 Jun 2011 at 6:22 pm

    The observer that sets up the experiment is not necessarily the observer that records the change that seems related to its presence.

  12. SimonWon 03 Jun 2011 at 2:09 am

    Aside from the abuse of quantum mechanics, as a physicist the “decline effect” is largely restricted to various classes of research.

    One is effects that don’t exist, which unsurprisingly aren’t reproduced very well.

    There may be some effect from research in softer sciences like medicine, where more dramatic results in small sample catch attention but the reality is slightly more constrained.

    In the hard sciences, as an effect is understood it typically becomes easier to recreate the conditions needed to reproduce it from Newton and his spectra (he struggled to reproduce a spectrum from sunlight for the Royal Society with a prism, but you can use the business side of a CD to reproduce this trivially these days), to superconductivity (again tricky to measure early on and needing extreme cold, now engines can be bought off the shelf if you have enough cash).

    I doubt there is much significance to the “decline effect” outside of the study of non-existent things.

  13. sonicon 03 Jun 2011 at 2:53 am

    “We have no right to assume that any physical laws exist, or if they have existed up until now, that they will continue to exist in a similar manner in the future.”
    Max Planck.

    I guess Paul Davies would agree with Max.

    Currently I’m not in any position to state with any certainty that Max’s intuitions about and understandings of the universe we live in were incorrect in any meaningful way.

    Should I be?

    I would agree that there is no need to ask such questions- but I’m unaware of any question that must be asked.
    BTW- I really liked Paul’s book “About Time”.

  14. Mlemaon 03 Jun 2011 at 5:07 am

    “There is no need to speculate about the mutability of the laws of nature.”

    But if we don’t, how will we learn what they are? :-)

    I do understand what the meaning here is, but I think it’s good to investigate every phenomenon that occurs – continue to research the research, so to speak. As Shakespeare said:
    “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
    Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

  15. BillyJoe7on 03 Jun 2011 at 6:29 am

    Mlema,

    You are not responding to anything Steven Novella has said.
    He is saying that you cannot change the laws of physics by “observation”.

    First of all, it’s not “observation” but particle-particle interaction that determines the outcome of quantum experiments. In the double slit experiment, for example, if the particle-particle interaction occurs (ie detectors in the “on” position), we get a scatter pattern. If it doesn’t (ie detectors in the “off” position), we get an interference pattern. The “observer” can shout, cheer, plead, pray, or fall into a coma and die, but he will not change that outcome.

  16. SteveAon 03 Jun 2011 at 7:41 am

    Mlema: “’There is no need to speculate about the mutability of the laws of nature.’ But if we don’t, how will we learn what they are?”

    The meaning here is that we don’t need to look for exotic explanations for the decline effect if more down-to-earth, everyday explanations fit the bill.

  17. ccbowerson 03 Jun 2011 at 7:52 am

    @SimonW

    The distinction between “harder” and “softer” sciences can be put in a different context. One reason why harder sciences are considered hard is because the the things being studied are relatively simple and the relevant variables are largely known and relatively easy to control (in comparison to “soft” sciences). In medicine, for example we are dealing with people, which are slightly more complex, and because of this we are dealing with confounding variables that are hard to identify let alone control. So as more confounding variables are controlled for, the smaller the effect. This can happen in physics too, it is just less likely for those reasons.

  18. eeanon 03 Jun 2011 at 1:04 pm

    has anyone ever thought about terrorifying the Universe would be if what this guy was saying was true? studying something could change how it works for everybody for all time? I know the Universe doesn’t owe us anything, but that just wouldn’t be fair. I really don’t think Chopra etc have really thought about what it would mean if they were actually correct.

    the conclusion of Accerlando by Charles Stross and his Laundry series grapple with this question, and the latter most directly with the question of living in a Lovecraftian horror universe. SciFi is really good at taking silly ideas very seriously and exploring them, much better then the woo-artists are about the ideas they themselves supposedly believe in!

  19. Jeremiahon 03 Jun 2011 at 1:04 pm

    “First of all, it’s not “observation” but particle-particle interaction that determines the outcome of quantum experiments.”

    Second of all, that has it almost exactly backwards.

    In the “double slit” experiment, the outcome is determined entirely by which or two types of measurements the experimenter makes. An attempt to change the type of ‘measurement’ also changes the outcome. A single outcome does not exist until the observer makes a decision as to how to measure the outcome.

    The lesson is that, at the smallest, quantum, level, the nature of reality is not determined until it is “observed”, at which time it then ‘collapses’ into a definite state.

  20. eeanon 03 Jun 2011 at 2:04 pm

    @Jeremiah but to clarify the point… its that the observer doesn’t have to be sentient. That’s all BillyJoe7 is trying to say. These “observations” happen a trillion times a second all over, no lab coat required.

  21. sonicon 03 Jun 2011 at 2:23 pm

    Karl Withakay-
    I agree that the proposed methods of statistical analysis should be made public before a study is done.
    Most people don’t realize that the tool of statistical analysis can be abused to the extent it can.
    I believe Mark Twain understood many years ago– what is the quote?

  22. sonicon 03 Jun 2011 at 3:05 pm

    eean-
    you are making claims about the state of knowledge in the subject of physics today.

    Can you please give me a reference that backs your claim?

    In all my reading it seems there are a number of open questions-
    Here is a reference I would use-
    http://arxiv.org/pdf/quant-ph/0312059v4

    What reference are you using?

  23. Jeremiahon 03 Jun 2011 at 3:46 pm

    @eean on 03 Jun 2011 at 2:04 pm
    >@Jeremiah but to clarify the point… its that the observer doesn’t have to be sentient. That’s all BillyJoe7 is trying to say. These “observations” happen a trillion times a second all over, no lab coat required.<

    Actually that was my point earlier when I wrote that, "The observer that sets up the experiment is not necessarily the observer that records the change that seems related to its presence."

    And further, as I've also noted, it's not particle to particle interaction being recorded.

  24. Jeremiahon 03 Jun 2011 at 3:56 pm

    And yes, read the paper that sonic has cited, especially the concluding remarks that begin as follows:
    >V. CONCLUDING REMARKS
    We have presented an extensive discussion of the role
    of decoherence in the foundations of quantum mechanics,
    with a particular focus on the implications of decoherence
    for the measurement problem in the context of various
    interpretations of quantum mechanics.
    A key achievement of the decoherence program is the
    recognition that openness in quantum systems is important
    for their realistic description. The well-known phenomenon
    of quantum entanglement had already, early in the history of quantum mechanics, demonstrated that correlations between systems can lead to “paradoxical” properties of the composite system that cannot be composed from the properties of the individual systems.<

  25. BillyJoe7on 03 Jun 2011 at 5:36 pm

    sonic,

    The “observer” in the double slit experiment is not the person in the white coat. It’s the sensor placed at one of the slits. If it is turned on it either interacts with the electron or it doesn’t interact with the electron. In either case the system now “knows” which slit the electron passed through. In other words, the “wave function has collapsed” and a scatter pattern results. If the sensor is turned off, the system has no knowledge of where the electron is. In other words the wave function has not collapsed and a interference pattern results.

    All the person on the white coat does is to set up the system including deciding whether or not the sensor is turned on. After that the inevitable happens. Nothing observed by the person in the white coat will change the outcome.

    If you think so please explain why you think so, not by linking to a 40 page dissertation, but in reference to the double slit experiment. If will be happy to be wrong if you can show me exactly how I am wrong.

  26. BillyJoe7on 03 Jun 2011 at 5:37 pm

    …that should be “in the white coat”

  27. Jeremiahon 03 Jun 2011 at 6:26 pm

    An attempt to change the type of ‘measurement’ also changes the outcome. A single outcome does not exist until the observer makes a decision as to how to measure the outcome.

    It’s not about the sensor interacting with the electron. It’s about determining how and why the decision to change the method of measuring from an apparently unconnected distance mysteriously results in changes to the outcome. Measuring is of course a form of observation.

  28. sonicon 04 Jun 2011 at 8:03 pm

    BillyJoe7-
    What I think is that there are a number of open questions (that is to say nobody really knows the answer to certain questions).
    I’m quite certain the ‘observer effect’ and a number of other issues (what is an observer, what role does decoherence play, is there a collapse of the wave function, are there many-worlds…) are open questions.

    BTW-
    I don’t think that wearing a white coat changes the nature of the universe in a meaningful way. I’ll let you know if I see any evidence to the contrary. :-)

    Jeremiah-
    Or my favorite quote (from the intro)-
    “On the other hand, even leading adherents of decoherence
    have expressed caution or even doubt that decoherence
    has solved the measurement problem. Joos (2000)
    writes
    Does decoherence solve the measurement prob-
    lem? Clearly not.”

  29. BillyJoe7on 05 Jun 2011 at 12:38 am

    sonic,

    I don’t know why you have avoided answering the question.

    All I asked was for you to point out where the “observer” is involved in the double slit experiment. I have explained how the observer is actually irrelevant. Point out my error.

    Really, I want to know because (in the double slit experiment) I just don’t see consciousness causing “collapse of the wavefunction” (or whatever you want to call it when a scatter pattern appears on the screen instead of an interference pattern).

  30. davidsmithon 05 Jun 2011 at 6:19 am

    BillyJoe7-

    Hasn’t Jeremiah answered your question about the role of the observer?

    A single outcome does not exist until the observer makes a decision as to how to measure the outcome.

  31. BillyJoe7on 05 Jun 2011 at 8:19 am

    davidsmith,

    I no longer read his posts.

    If you have something to say about the role of the “observer” in the double slit experiment I will read it and respond.

    If the experimenter sets up the experiment with the sensor turned on, a scatter pattern inevitably results. If he sets it up with the sensor turned off a interference pattern inevitably results. Where is the role for consciousness?

    If you are saying that the experimenter decides whether or not to turn the sensor on, that is just trivially and uninterestingly true. If he decides not to set up the experiment at all no result will be obtained. So what?

  32. davidsmithon 05 Jun 2011 at 12:14 pm

    Just wondering if you had any comments about Jeremiah’s last post.

  33. sonicon 05 Jun 2011 at 2:08 pm

    BillyJoe7-
    Your error is in thinking that there is something called an observer that has been defined well enough to make the statement you are making.
    If you would read the article I linked to– just read the English- skip the math- heck I don’t no anybody who knows it all– you will find that every interpretation of QM exists because it fits the data in ways that are of interest to particular people.
    They all work, that’s why they exist. And they all don’t work- that’s why we know that there are problems.
    Your claims of knowing how the problem will resolve are baffoonish.
    Don’t let a friend drive drunk.
    I’m trying to help you to not make such baffoonish claims.
    Help me out a little- do some reading.

  34. BillyJoe7on 05 Jun 2011 at 5:49 pm

    sonic,

    You don’t understand.

    I’m not being buffoonish, as should have been clear when I said “I will be happy to be wrong if you can show me exactly how I am wrong.”

    I’m simply asking because, for the life of me, I can’t see any role for observer, or consciousness, in that double slit experiment.

    There’s is certainly something bizzare going on in the quantum world which we do not see in our everyday experience, but a role for conscousness I don’t see.

    I’m not asking you to explain the problem, I’m asking you to point out what the problem is. But if you can’t point it out for me in the specific case of the double slit experiment, then why don’t you just say so. Because then we are actually in agreement.

  35. sonicon 06 Jun 2011 at 12:43 am

    BillyJoe7-
    You are asking about the measurement problem.

    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/qt-measurement/

    is another excellent article on the topic.

    Once you understand what the wave-function is and what it means for the wave-function to collapse, then you have a chance of understanding the problem. So if the above doesn’t make the situation clear, then try reading about the wave-function and collapse. It is one thing to know the problem. Nobody knows the solution- as far as I can tell…

    Good luck!

  36. BillyJoe7on 06 Jun 2011 at 5:36 pm

    sonic,

    So, no, you cannot point out to me where, in the double slit experiment, consciousness is implicated.
    Thank you, that’s all I wanted to know.

  37. sonicon 07 Jun 2011 at 5:05 am

    BillyJoe7-
    Consciousness is implicated at the moment of conscious measurement. How could you miss that?

    That’s why it’s called the measurement problem- aka the observer effect. Have you ever wondered why they call it that? (Hint- it has to do with when the wave function collapses.)

    I’m sorry that you are so unwilling to read something that would expand your understanding of the problems in physics today. Perhaps you really do know more than all the physicists who know the problem is real.
    I wish you would explain it to them.

    Bafoonish is a mild term here, my friend. Do some reading.

    Do you need a less advanced version of the links I’ve sent? If you google “measurement problem” you will be able to find a reference that matches your level of education on the overall subject.

    Try it…

  38. BillyJoe7on 07 Jun 2011 at 7:39 am

    You are being disingenuous here.

    It is only true that SOME physicists implicate consciousness in “collapse of the wave function”, specifically that observation by a conscious observer causes the collapse. The majority do not. Please do not pretend otherwise.

    And there are seemingly insurmountable problems with this view. Was the universe is superposition until consciousness evolved? How much consciousness is required to collapse the wave function?

    I have described the double slit experiment without the need for any role of consciousness. But you have continued to fail to make the case for consciousness. Until you do I will assume you are unable to do so.

  39. sonicon 07 Jun 2011 at 2:59 pm

    BillyJoe7-
    I just made the case.

    The fact you don’t know that is because you haven’t done any reading. You don’t know about the wave function, the collapse, the math of von Neumann, the questions about what causes the collapse (or if it even happens), why the physicists believe what they do (no- it isn’t that you are much more knowledgable than they are). Haven’t you ever wondered why they call it the ‘observer effect’? Do you think it is because these physicists are dolts? Hawking claims he can’t get the observer out of the universe. Is it because he doesn’t understand what you do?

    You have now entered into belligerent buffoonery.

    This could be remedied by actually reading something about the topic under discussion. Please do some reading. I know from the past you are capable of learning. I really do think you are capable of understanding this. It is one of the most interesting things in science today.
    I don’t want to give you BS short answers to questions that require some thought and study- it is because I really do think you are capable of understanding and appreciating the situation. If you feel that you are not capable of understanding the problem, it’s probably because you haven’t found the right reference yet.
    If you google “measurement problem” you will probably find such a reference. (I suggest the Stanford sites because they are so good- but I realize they aren’t easy to read).

    Belligerent buffoonery is funny for a while, but wouldn’t you really prefer to understand instead of berate and belittle out of ignorance? BTW– You don’t look that good with a red rubber ball on your nose– sorry to be the one to tell you. :-)

    When you have read something and can make an intelligent remark about the situation- one that indicates that you have understood why someone would suggest the variety of interpretations that exist- I would enjoy continuing the conversation.

  40. nybgruson 07 Jun 2011 at 4:48 pm

    Granted this is just a wikipedia article, but my readings of Brian Green and Michio Kaku gave me the exact same impression:

    An observer is anything that causes wavefunction collapse, it could be anything really; a rock, human, particle, etc. It is important to note that an observer has nothing at all to do with a human consciousness.

    I seem to recall reading about an experiment where there were two entangles particles generated. One was sent through a diffraction grating and the other was sent on a much longer path that ultimately lead to a detector of some kind. There was enough lag time between particle A hitting the grating and particle B hitting the detector that the difference could be measured. In the first experiment the detector was off and an interference pattern was noted. In the second the detector was turned on, allowing the particles passing through the slits to be indirectly measured via the entangled particles. This was done via computer at random and needed no one in the room. The interference pattern was lost each time, but not until the entangled particle was measured. In other words, there was a lag time that demonstrated both non-locality and the observer effect – but no need for said observer to actually be conscious and self aware.

    I apologize that I do not have the reference – I am pretty sure it is either from “The Elegant Universe” or “Fabric of the Cosmos.”

    I am also not an expert in quantum mechanics, but from what I do know and have read it seems to me that an “observer” is merely something making a measurement, regardless of whether it is sentient or not. Perhaps I am wrong?

  41. BillyJoe7on 07 Jun 2011 at 5:44 pm

    sonic,

    Thanks for telling me again what I do not know.
    Thanks again for failing to make the case for conciousness causing collapse of the wave function.
    Thanks again for the disingenuity involved in pretending that it is bullshit to ask for a short answer to this question just because you cannot answer it.
    And thanks again the disingenuity involved in pretending that it is because I do not understand the measurement problem sufficiently to understand that it is a bullshit question when it is the most pertinent question of all.

    Really, just answer the question.
    Just show me where consciousness is involved in the double slit experiment and I will be done, dusted, cooked and fried.
    And, while you are at it, consider the answers to the other questions I posed: Was the universe in superposition until consciousness evolved? How much consciousness is required to collapse the wave function.

    They are not a bullshit questions.
    They just don’t have answers as you’ve amply illustrated in this thread.

  42. sonicon 07 Jun 2011 at 7:07 pm

    BillyJoe7-
    Consciousness is involved in the double-slit experiment when a conscious measurement is taken.
    That is when the reading is read.
    That is that when a person looks at the measurement device and notices what is on it.
    Is any part of that unclear?
    Perhaps you thought that the experimenter would be unconscious when taking a measurement?

    Imagine what it seems like to me to have to point out that a measurement occurs when a measurement occurs and that this has something to do with the measurement problem…
    Imagine being accused of being disingenuous and unable to answer a question that has been completely answered numerous times…
    Imagine that the person making such accusations obviously won’t read a simple article on the subject under discussion and has said so repeatedly.

    Imagine that my patience is limited.

  43. nybgruson 07 Jun 2011 at 8:31 pm

    I have posted up a simple article on it that refutes what you have been saying, sonic. I am also curious as to your interpretation on it, since it has been my impression from my readings that consciousness is not a requirement for wave function collapse and “observer problems.” The observer need not be human – an electronic non-conscious detector is the observer in the case of the experiment I outlined above.

    But I also admit that this field is not my expertise, so I would like to hear your take on why the wiki article is incorrect and how the results of that experiment necessitate a conscious obverser to effect wave function collapse.

  44. sonicon 08 Jun 2011 at 1:04 am

    nybrus-
    Where is the article you refer too?
    I would be happy to read it.

    What the requirement for a wave-function collapse is in question- in fact there are those (the many-worlders) who claim that the wave function never collapses.
    The consciousness guys say that we know the wave function is collapsed when someone looks, but that we don’t (and can’t) know it is otherwise.
    It seems the math (von Neumann) can be used to back this point.
    It is not popular with many physicists- “Shut-up and calculate,” seems to be a much more prevalent attitude in this case.
    I have not claimed that consciousness causes collapse, only that this (amonst other things in physics today) are open questions.

    But as you know, I am a sucker for the open question.

  45. mufion 08 Jun 2011 at 1:14 am

    BillyJoe asked: Was the universe is superposition until consciousness evolved? How much consciousness is required to collapse the wave function?

    Or as John Bell put it: Was the wave function waiting to jump for thousands of millions of years until a single-celled living creature appeared? Or did it have to wait a little longer for some highly qualified measurer – with a PhD?

    This discussion takes me back to that useful comparsion chart, which I referenced last summer (i.e. back when Paisley was trying to argue his religious beliefs here on the basis of QM). Here’s what I observe: a minority of interpretations that actually require an observer role, on the one hand; and a set of unresolved ideas whose status as science (as opposed to philosophy) seems questionable.

    Like Feynman said: I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics. So let’s ignore what we do know (e.g. that consciousness is a biological function that emerged relatively recently in the history of the universe) and instead give epistemic priority to what we don’t! :-)

  46. nybgruson 08 Jun 2011 at 1:41 am

    sonic:

    I was referring to the wiki article which stated

    “It is important to note that an observer has nothing at all to do with a human consciousness.”

    I think the question is indeed still open, but what about an experiment where there is no conscious intervention? One where the measuring gate is set to a random number generator on a computer which will correspondingly turn on and off randomly for a 24 hour period. The presence or absence of an interference pattern will be recorded by video (or optic sensor within the surface being projected upon) and then after the experiment is over the results will be viewed.

    In my opinion, from what I have read, we will find the interference pattern disappear when the gate measurement is turned on and reappear when it is off. It seems to me there need be no consciousness for this to happen since none will be involved in the measurement of the electrons (or quantum particles). Unless you are stipulating that the video recording itself will change upon observation by a human being? Or that the experiment would show no change in the interference pattern at all?

  47. sonicon 08 Jun 2011 at 1:54 am

    nygbrus-
    Oh, I found the link you were referring to.
    First I should say this–
    Most physicists aren’t really interested in this topic. “Shut up and calculate,” would no doubt be the consensus view.
    I should also note- I think most physicists are wise to have the attitude they have. But I am not a physicist, it is OK with me to have doubts about this subject (I find it interesting) and it does not hinder my work in anyway.

    As to the article you cite–
    The author seems to be confused about what some physicists are trying to show (that consciousness is not part of the system) and what has actually been shown. This is common in that many physicists think that this has been solved (many-worlds or decoherence, for example), but upon investigation one could discover that this has more to do with the attitude mentioned above than the truth of the matter. (It is Joos- the most knowledgeable person about decoherence- that states it has not solved the problem, for example).

    The article then gives Wheeler as an example of someone who thinks consciousness has nothing to do with it.

    But here is what Wheeler really said-
    “It from bit. Otherwise put, every ‘it’—every particle, every field of force, even the space-time continuum itself—derives its function, its meaning, its very existence entirely—even if in some contexts indirectly—from the apparatus-elicited answers to yes-or-no questions, binary choices, bits. ‘It from bit’ symbolizes the idea that every item of the physical world has at bottom—a very deep bottom, in most instances—an immaterial source and explanation; that which we call reality arises in the last analysis from the posing of yes–no questions and the registering of equipment-evoked responses; in short, that all things physical are information-theoretic in origin and that this is a participatory universe.”
    Also- (what was said about him)–
    “Many don’t agree with John Wheeler, but if he’s right then we and presumably other conscious observers throughout the universe, are the creators — or at least the minds that make the universe manifest.”

    If the author thinks that Wheeler makes his point about consciousness, then I would suggest the area isn’t really closed.
    Ya know what I mean?

  48. sonicon 08 Jun 2011 at 2:00 am

    nybrus-
    The problem of the experiment with no conscious intervention is that nobody could possibly know the outcome.
    Observation makes science.
    ( “What is the universe like when nobody is looking?”
    “Unverifiable.”)
    Attempts to answer the types of questions that you pose (and there have been many attempts) include things like the “delayed choice quantum eraser”.
    If you want your mind blown you can look that up and read it.

  49. sonicon 08 Jun 2011 at 2:21 am

    mufi-
    To quote Bell again (this is in respect to the ‘hidden variable’ ideas that he supported— and that was shown false by the experiments he devised (OUCH that must have hurt))–

    “For me, it is so reasonable to assume that the photons in those experiments carry with them programs, which have been correlated in advance, telling them how to behave. This is so rational that I think that when Einstein saw that, and the others refused to see it, he was the rational man. The other people, although history has justified them, were burying their heads in the sand. … So for me, it is a pity that Einstein’s idea doesn’t work. The reasonable thing just doesn’t work.”

    So all though what you say seems reasonable, I’m afraid that may not be a point in its favor in this case.
    Darned physics

  50. BillyJoe7on 08 Jun 2011 at 6:46 am

    sonic,

    Thank you for your answer.

    Are you saying that “a person looking at the measurement device and noticing what is on it” causes “collapse of the wave function” is a reasonable proposition?

    If so, let me ask you this:

    Does it matter who looks? Does it need to be a physicist who understands the experiment. And does he need to be fully conscious or can he be half asleep? Does he need to look at it intently or is a glance out of the corner of his eye sufficient? Or could it be the cleaning lady who happens to wander by? Or perhaps the physicist’s wife has dropped in for lunch and the infant in her arms randomly looks at the screen? Does the physicist’s pet dog qualify?

    And…

    Was the universe in superposition until consciousness evolved? At what point was consciousness sufficiently evolved to collapse the wave function?

    At the very least it seems to be an unnecessary and irrefutable hypothesis with loads of baggage hanging round its neck.

    Which is why I asked my auxillary questions.

  51. mufion 08 Jun 2011 at 9:55 am

    sonic:

    I live with contradictions, but as I see it, you’re picking one of several (speculative) interpretations of quantum physics and lording it over everything else, as if that “darned physics” obliges you to do so, rather than it’s being a personal choice.

    Meanwhile, the evidence from that “darned” combination of cosmology, evolutionary biology, and cognitive science suggests that consciousness is a special property of the mammalian cerebral cortex, which emerged only within the last few million (out of 13+ billion) years and is (as far as the evidence suggests) extremely rare in the universe (both spatially and temporally).

    That said, I think I’ll go with that “darned combo”, instead, and leave the “consciousness causes collapse” theory to others , if you don’t mind.

  52. sonicon 08 Jun 2011 at 3:45 pm

    BillyJoe 7-
    I don’t think I would suggest anything about quantum physics is a ‘reasonable proposition’.
    I don’t have answers to the questions you ask.
    It seems you do have the answers to these questions.
    Good on ya, mate!

    mufi-
    You seem to think I have a need to pick one of the many over the rest.
    But I can maintain doubt.
    I would be happy to defend any of the current interpretations as I understand them.
    You can pick whatever one you want.
    Or you can decide they are all wrong.
    I’m merely pointing out that it is possible to maintain doubt in this case- as it is an unsettled question.

    When it comes to picking sides, I try to save that behavior for sporting events. Go Mavericks!!

  53. mufion 08 Jun 2011 at 4:47 pm

    sonic: The metaphor of “picking sides” seems an apt one for what happens when a scientist chooses one explanation over another. It’s common to speak as if the evidence does the choosing for him/her, but of course that’s not literally true.

    I’m only a lay person (a web/software developer actually), but I’m aware that I “pick sides”, as well, when I, say, favor scientific over pseudoscientific explanations of how the world works, or when I encounter a controversy within a science and study it enough to develop an opinion favoring one view or another.

    But, in the case of what to make of the QM interpretations, I’m saying that we seem to have left the scientific shores and sailed into more speculative, philosophical waters, and that, whatever view one favors ought (according to scientific norms) to be compatible with knowledge that we already possess (e.g. the cosmological/evolutionary-biological/cognitive-scientific intersection that I referred to earlier).

  54. mufion 08 Jun 2011 at 5:05 pm

    PS: To put a finer point on it: I do believe that the “consciousness causes collapse” view is in conflict with scientific knowledge, once we factor in the dominant views of other fields that relate to it. Were I committed to that QM view – perhaps because it strikes me as compatible with, if not supportive of, some non-science-based belief of mine (e.g. mind/body dualism or theism) – I might go about trying to find grounds to doubt that such knowledge is indeed that. But that’s a non-issue for me.

  55. BillyJoe7on 08 Jun 2011 at 5:32 pm

    sonic,

    I guess I will have to take you at your word that you do not favour one view over another.

    However, I will just say a few things.

    Firstly, how can anyone who has read about quantum physics as widely as you apparently have, not have a view about it.
    Secondly you seem to be inordinately sensitive when someone criticises the “consciousness causes collapse” view, whilst ignoring obvious points which seem to invalidate that view driven to its logical conclusion.
    Thirdly, and correct me if I’m wrong, you are also a proponent of – or at least treat seriously – the view that quantum physics explains consciousness itself, that it plays a pivotal role in driving evolution, and that there is a “universal consciousness”.

    You seem to think that being a sceptic means doubting everything equally. I think you have to be carefull your brains don’t fall out in the process.

    If you cannot answer those auxillary questions, should you not be abandoning the “consciousness causes collapse” view as incoherent and the nonsense that it so obviously is (which I say at the risk of suffering another “sharp rebuke” from you about my knowledge and competence).

  56. sonicon 08 Jun 2011 at 8:38 pm

    mufi-
    Are you saying that some part of what Wheeler said is pseudoscience? If so, could you point out exactly which part, please?

    I agree that it is sensible to try to align as much data as possible when making a choice about things.
    It’s just that you know different things than I do.

    BillyJoe7-
    If the world worked based on my ability to answer questions and explain it, I don’t think it would work at all.
    That’s why I don’t think my ability or inability to explain something is the final arbiter of truth.
    I don’t doubt everything equally. I put more weight on what Wheeler said about what physics has shown than what you do, for example.
    Need I say more on this topic?

  57. Jeremiahon 08 Jun 2011 at 11:37 pm

    sonic, FYI
    http://www.nature.com/news/2011/110602/full/news.2011.344.html

  58. BillyJoe7on 09 Jun 2011 at 12:27 am

    sonic,

    “I don’t doubt everything equally. I put more weight on what Wheeler said about what physics has shown than what you do, for example.”

    Why?
    Has he explained how to pull the millstone off from around the neck of “consciousness causes collapse”.
    Has he even thought for a moment about the implications – as per my auxillary questions – and how to resolve them.
    If not…

    Okay, sarcasm at work here, but still…

    “Need I say more on this topic?”

    Yes, the answers to those auxillary questions would be nice.
    No?
    Oh well…

  59. sonicon 09 Jun 2011 at 2:04 am

    Jeremiah-
    I’ve seen this. I don’t know what to make of it–
    Here is a good article about some possible ramifications–

    http://discovermagazine.com/2010/apr/01-back-from-the-future/article_view?b_start:int=0&-C=

    Fun reading.

  60. sonicon 09 Jun 2011 at 2:14 am

    BillyJoe7-
    I would recommend reading some of Wheeler’s work.
    He worked with Feynman, Einstein, Bohr amongst others.
    He coined the term ‘black-hole’, ‘quantum foam’ and ‘wormhole’.
    I have no doubt that his explanations of his ideas are better than mine.
    Good Luck.

  61. Jeremiahon 09 Jun 2011 at 2:55 am

    sonic, I’ve seen the article. Time is a measurement of change. Reversal of quantum causation or its observable lack cannot reverse the sequential aspects of its measurement. Nothing can be backed up into. Wheeler would tell you that except of course you and I know he died a while back. He has met that destiny. As was inevitable, sequentially.

  62. BillyJoe7on 09 Jun 2011 at 6:56 am

    http://discovermagazine.com/2010/apr/01-back-from-the-future/article_view?b_start:int=0&-C=

    The conclusion:

    “The Rochester experiments seem to demonstrate that actions carried out in the future—in the final, postselection step—ripple back in time to influence and amplify the results measured in the earlier, intermediate step. Does this mean that when the intermediate step is carried out, the future is set and the experimenter has no choice but to perform the later, postselection measurement? It seems not. Even in instances where the final step is abandoned, the intermediate weak measurement remains amplified, though now with no future cause to explain its magnitude at all.”

    Seems like a clear contradiction doesn’t it?
    But here’s the escape clause:

    “you can see the effects of the future on the past only after carrying out millions of repeat experiments and tallying up the results to produce a meaningful pattern. Focus on any single one of them and try to cheat it, and you are left with a very strange-looking result—an amplification with no cause—but its meaning vanishes. You simply have to put it down to a random error in your apparatus.”

    :D
    It even claims to explain quantum fuzziness:

    “Why must the quantum world always retain a degree of fuzziness when we try to look at it through the time slice of the present?
    That loophole is needed so that the future can exert an overall pull on the present, without ever being caught in the act of doing it in any particular instance.”

    Neat.

    “The future can only affect the present if there is room to write its influence off as a mistake”

    And false premise about evolution to reach a wishful conclusion about the role of quantum physics:

    “Even if you could take life for granted, it’s not clear that 14 billion years is enough time for it to evolve by chance. But if the final state of the universe is set and is reaching back in time to influence the early universe, it could amplify the chances of life’s emergence.”

    Did he really mean evolve by chance?

  63. davidsmithon 09 Jun 2011 at 7:20 am

    mufi said,

    Meanwhile, the evidence from that “darned” combination of cosmology, evolutionary biology, and cognitive science suggests that consciousness is a special property of the mammalian cerebral cortex, which emerged only within the last few million (out of 13+ billion) years and is (as far as the evidence suggests) extremely rare in the universe (both spatially and temporally).

    The last I looked, all we have are correlations between physical observables and subjective experience. Perhaps those correlations come about because the physical world is dependent on consciousness for its existence, not the other way round. This solution to the mind/body problem would seem to bypass your evolutionary concerns.

    See this paper for one brief overview of this idea:

    http://www.cogsci.uci.edu/~ddhoff/ConsciousRealism2.pdf

  64. BillyJoe7on 09 Jun 2011 at 9:02 am

    I don’t know why I’m reminded of this song:

    The porcelain mannikin with shattered skin fears attack.
    The eager pack lift up their pitchers, they carry all they lack.
    The liquid has congealed, which has seeped out through the crack,
    And the tickler takes his stickleback.
    The carpet crawlers heed their callers:
    We’ve got to get in to get out.

  65. Jeremiahon 09 Jun 2011 at 1:02 pm

    davidsmith,
    Excellent paper, worth all the wading if you’ve anticipated my meaning.

    “To a physicalist, the conscious-realist mind-body problem might appear to be a bait and switch that dodges hard and interesting questions:
    What is consciousness for? When and how did it arise in evolution? How does it now arise from brain activity? Now, the switch from the ontology of physicalism to the ontology of conscious realism changes the relevant questions. Consciousness is fundamental. So to ask what consciousness is for is to ask why something exists rather than nothing.”

    Wheeler would have loved that.

  66. mufion 09 Jun 2011 at 3:27 pm

    sonic: I don’t of speculation based on science as “pseduoscience” – more like philosophy.

    davidsmith: I’m a slow reader, but I am enjoying the Hoffman paper so far. As a designer/developer of user interfaces (viz. for web-based applications), I particularly enjoy his MUI (multimode user interfaces) hypothesis (i.e. “The conscious perceptual experiences of an agent are a multimodal user interface between that agent and an objective world.”).

    I hope to report back you later re: whether or not it alleviates my problem with the “consciousness causes collapse” interpretation of QM.

  67. mufion 09 Jun 2011 at 3:29 pm

    correction to my last reply to sonic: That should say “I don’t think of speculation based on science…”

  68. sonicon 09 Jun 2011 at 3:55 pm

    mufi-
    You seem to think that humans ( and perhaps some other mammals) have consciousness and nothing else does.

    On the one hand I think it is possible that humans have souls, that God created the universe for man, and that only humans have this special quality called consciousness.
    On the other hand- I think it is possible that each of these ideas are just mistakes made by egomaniacal apes suffering from delusions of grandeur.
    If consciousness really isn’t a special unique quality of humans (the egomaniacal apes suffering from delusions of grandeur mentioned above), then perhaps the quality of consciousness really is just another part of the universe as a whole.

    You see how profoundly ignorant I am.

    davidsmith-
    fantastic article.

  69. mufion 09 Jun 2011 at 5:33 pm

    You seem to think that humans ( and perhaps some other mammals) have consciousness and nothing else does.

    I’ll put it this way: I believe that my experience of wakeful humans serves as a prototype for the category of consciousness. While I recognize family resemblances to that category in my experiences with other, wakeful animals (which turn out to be our close genetic relatives), the effect drops precipitously as we move away from the prototype (including sleeping or comatose humans).

    [I've never taken a Turing test, but it seems that its goal is to aid the development of a computer that can imitate a wakeful human.]

    That said, the suggestion that reality hinges on consciousness – when (according to the science-based narrative that I also have in mind) reality is largely devoid of human or human-like life – strikes me as too absurd to believe. But I admit that, strictly speaking, I’m agnostic on the matter.

  70. mufion 09 Jun 2011 at 5:47 pm

    PS: I don’t think it’s necessarily a “delusion of grandeur” to suggest that only we humans and our close relatives are conscious. That characterization would imply a value judgment; i.e. that it’s better to be a wakeful human than not. While I’m certainly partial to being a wakeful human (not to mention a live one), I hold nothing against trees or rocks. And when it’s late at night after a long day, I usually look forward to a break from being conscious.

  71. ccbowerson 09 Jun 2011 at 11:55 pm

    “On the one hand I think it is possible that humans have souls”

    What’s a soul?

  72. sonicon 10 Jun 2011 at 4:14 am

    mufi-
    Please excuse the flippancy here-
    I’m not suffering from delusions of grandeur-I’m enjoying every minute of them.;-)

    A Turing test is not something you would take.
    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/turing-test/

    I’m not sure the “My experience is the prototype…” thinking is going to work for me.

    Let me just say this– If I told you about my experiences, you wouldn’t think I’d make a good prototype. ;-)

    It seems the notion that humans are different than everything else due to an immaterial state of being (consciousness) would qualify as a delusion of grandeur– but I might be misusing the term. ;-)

  73. BillyJoe7on 10 Jun 2011 at 5:42 am

    Nice faery tale, davidsmith.

    Starting off with the untestable but incoherent notion that consciousness collapses the wave function, Hoffman creates a incredible world of make-believe that is a wonder to behold.

    Well done, son.

    “And who comes here to wish me well?
    A sweetly-scented angel fell.
    She laid her head upon my disbelief
    and bathed me with her ever-smile.
    And with a howl across the sand
    I go escorted by a band
    Of gentlemen in leather bound
    No-one, but someone to be found.”

  74. mufion 10 Jun 2011 at 8:48 am

    Having since finished that Hoffman paper, I’ll say this: he had me on MUI, but lost me on conscious realism.

    I’m not even entirely sure why that is (most brain activity, after all, is unconscious, which seems like a potential counter-argument to conscious realism in itself), but I suspect that it stems from how poorly he defined “conscious agency”, which helps to render the claim unfalsifiable.

    Afterwards, I went looking for a review (preferably, by a peer), but only came up with these two blog entries: here and here, both of which raise some valid points (although I’m not sure that I agree with all of them).

    Just a note to sonic: Although I framed that “prototype” statement re: consciousness as if it came from personal introspection, it’s actually a concept that I learned from reading about cognitive science and the embodied cognition hypothesis (e.g. George Lakoff’s books). Unlike the metaphysical realm of conscious realism, this is an area of research that makes a lot of sense to me.

  75. BillyJoe7on 10 Jun 2011 at 10:02 am

    mufi,

    “he had me on MUI”

    That’s because he did two things.

    Firstly, he juxtaposed it to HFD (Hypothesis of Faithful Depiction): the hypothesis that the goal of perception is to match properties of an objective physical world.
    Hoffman says that this is the dominant view of scientists. Do you recognise this? Because I certainly don’t. There’s no perspective from evolution at all. How can this be the dominant view of scientists? Where is the view that perception is geared towards survival by making accurate decisions on the run rather than accurately matching what’s out there? What are optical illusions all about then?

    Then he gave us a first pass on MUI (Multimode User Interface) which, if you overlook his real meaning (because you couldn’t possibly think he actually meant that could you?), broadly matches what most scientist do believe about the role of perception.

    “but he lost me on conscious realism.”

    Yes, he went completely bonkers.
    Here it is the sad story:

    Something does exist whether or not you look at the moon, and that something triggers your visual system to construct a moon icon. But that something that exists independent of you is not the moon. The moon is an icon of your MUI, and therefore depends on your perception for its existence. The something that exists independent of your perceptions is always, according to conscious realism, systems of conscious agents….conscious agents construct physical objects and their properties, even space and time themselves

    It’s not a table, it is a system of conscious agents creating an icon of your multimodal user interface.
    It’s not the Moon, it is a system of conscious agents…
    It’s not the universe, it is a system of conscious agents…

    The Conscious Universe anyone? :D

    ——————

    “Man of passion rise again, we won’t cross you out:
    for we do love you like a son, of that there’s no doubt.
    Tell us: is it you who are here for our good cheer?
    Or are we here for the glory, for the story, for the gory satisfaction of telling you how absolutely awful you really are?”

    (j-tull: A Passion Play)

  76. Jeremiahon 10 Jun 2011 at 12:57 pm

    Anything that is predictable with relation to its reaction to some potential force has the anticipatory capacity built in that will enable its required response – or in other words will trigger the reaction required by the laws of nature. Laws which would seem to be the source of the consistency of nature’s anticipatory strategies.
    Thus we have come to see that the concept of awareness applies to energy systems that not only include the biological but are a necessary precedent to those forms existence.

    As to human consciousness, there are of course an untold number of levels of awareness that our top level consciousness cannot or does not need to monitor. Nevertheless at most if not all of those levels, there is such monitoring occurring which Lakoff has referred to as awareness, but would clearly understand that “aware of” and “conscious of” can be overlapping metaphors. (See Lakoff on shared metaphors and conceptual overlap)

    The universe of course does not have to be consciously monitoring the consciousness that exists within it, which would include that of the humans that have coined the word and seem (as in the examples here at hand) to think it’s for their use exclusively.

  77. 2_wordson 10 Jun 2011 at 1:26 pm

    I may be way off base here but it seems like a problem of definition. What is the limit of the observer?

    If something makes a measurement and there is no one to read the measurement is a measurement made?

    A whole tree in the forest falling making a noise problem.

    Like we know prime numbers larger than the ones we know exist but we don’t know what they are until we calculate them.

  78. mufion 10 Jun 2011 at 1:40 pm

    Looks like I’m with BillyJoe on this one.

    As for what Lakoff says, I have something like this in mind:

    Cognitive thought is the tip of an enormous iceberg. It is the rule of thumb among cognitive scientists that unconscious thought is 95 percent of all thought —and that may be a serious underestimate. Moreover, the 95 percent below the surface of conscious awareness shapes and structures all conscious thought. If the cognitive unconscious were not doing this shaping, there would be no conscious thought.

    [See pg. 13 of Philosophy in the Flesh. As I recall, in the Political Mind, which is more recent, he increased that estimate to 98%.]

    Of course, Lakoff’s “hidden hand” metaphor for the cognitive unconscious does not disprove Hoffman’s thesis that consciousness is foundational to reality (or no more so than his book Where Mathematics Comes From disproves the reality of Platonic forms). On such matters (like God), I believe that we are all agnostics.

    But then the metaphor doesn’t exactly sit well with it, either, if it’s true that consciousness isn’t even foundational to human thought (i.e. that it represents only 2-5% of it). If only to make nice with his peers, perhaps Hoffman should rename his thesis “unconscious realism.”

  79. Jeremiahon 10 Jun 2011 at 2:16 pm

    @mufi,
    >Looks like I’m with BillyJoe on this one.<

    Indeed. Since "unconscious realism" makes no sense at all, either as unconscious of, or as unaware of.
    Without that inferential usage it would mean non-real, or unreal, or dead realism. Indeed again.

  80. sonicon 10 Jun 2011 at 3:15 pm

    2_words–
    Your analogies aren’t bad.
    If you want to get some idea of the extent of the problem and how it has been argued–

    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/qt-measurement/

  81. 2_wordson 10 Jun 2011 at 4:38 pm

    I do not think I could begin to answer any of the problems posed in that article. But the subject is very interesting, so thank you.

    What I wondered is how much of the instrumentation is included in the definition of the observer. This instrumentation is not conscious, but it is created by those who are. The technology is a physical manifestation of our ideas.

    I think a lot of the people who get ‘quantam woo’ed out’ have this definition of observer/instrument set incorrectly. They apply this definition to other technology or to perception in general. From which you get people that think seeing changes any phenomena besides that of their own thought.

    Whereas like was mentioned before, to prove that the decline effect changes the laws of nature, it itself needs to be tested. This of course, if it is something besides a research artifact, will then go ‘poof’ into a cloud of logic and not be measurable.

  82. mufion 10 Jun 2011 at 4:40 pm

    Since “unconscious realism” makes no sense at all…

    OK, how about 2% conscious realism? [Both are my attempts at humor. I'll try to remember the :-) next time.]

    BTW, you may recall that Lakoff’s view is “embodied realism”, which he (and Johnson) argues is “realist” on the grounds that it assumes that “the material world exists and an account of how we can function successfully in it.” (It also denies a mind-body gap.)

    By that definition, I suppose that Hoffman’s view is anti-realist, inasmuch as matter is traditionally understood as mind-independent, whereas for Hoffman it is a mere “icon of your MUI” (or that of the “systems of conscious agents”).

  83. Jeremiahon 10 Jun 2011 at 5:00 pm

    >There’s no perspective from evolution at all. How can this be the dominant view of scientists? Where is the view that perception is geared towards survival by making accurate decisions on the run rather than accurately matching what’s out there? What are optical illusions all about then?<

    What else would optical illusions be about if not as evidence that our perceptions will not at first glance need to accurately match what's "out there?" And since, from the perspective of evolutionary science, the needs of the organism are hierarchical in importance, the need for quick decisions in the short term will override the need for time taking decisions in the long term.

  84. Jeremiahon 10 Jun 2011 at 5:11 pm

    @mufi,
    >Lakoff’s view is “embodied realism”, which he (and Johnson) argues is “realist” on the grounds that it assumes that “the material world exists and an account of how we can function successfully in it.” — By that definition, I suppose that Hoffman’s view is anti-realist, inasmuch as matter is traditionally understood as mind-independent, whereas for Hoffman it is a mere “icon of your MUI” (or that of the “systems of conscious agents”).<

    Except that Hoffman is not making the argument that material does not exist. The reality is that its form is much more complex than we have yet evolved the need to accurately perceive.

  85. mufion 10 Jun 2011 at 5:28 pm

    Sorry, but when I read “conscious agents construct physical objects and their properties, even space and time themselves”, I get the distinct sense that Hoffman is describing a material, objective world with no actual materials or objects in it—unless you want to redefine those to mean “conscious agents”, whatever that’s supposed to mean in the abstract, disembodied way that he uses that term.

  86. Jeremiahon 10 Jun 2011 at 5:29 pm

    Mufi, you did read this paragraph in the paper’s evolution chapter, did you not?

    “It is, one must admit, logically possible that the perceptual icons of Homo sapiens, shaped by natural selection to permit survival in a niche, might also just happen to faithfully represent some true objects and properties of the objective world. But this would be a probabilistic miracle, a cosmic jackpot against odds dwarfing those of the state lottery. The smart money is on humble icons with no pretense to objectivity.”

  87. mufion 10 Jun 2011 at 5:33 pm

    PS: Part of my last comment was a paraphrase of AI researcher Jim Carnicelli, when he wrote in his review:

    Although Hoffman rejects the notion of inanimate objects as conscious in a trippy, Disney cartoon sense, he doesn’t really elaborate on what he does mean. Moreover, if a table is labeled as conscious in order to stick a placeholder for a physical object in the objective world, what value does this add over the simpler, more intuitive conception of the table as being a physical object? It almost seems as though, in order to come up with a rigorous, clean-cut, math-friendly theory of how consciousness constructs perceptions of the world, Hoffman throws the baby out with the bathwater by claiming that even though there is an objective world, it is not composed of actual objects.

    source (again)

  88. sonicon 10 Jun 2011 at 5:34 pm

    2_words-
    The questions you ask are the right ones.
    The mathematician von Neumann did the work on this– what he showed was that the observer/observed cut can be made anywhere and the math will still work.

    http://www.informationphilosopher.com/solutions/scientists/neumann/

  89. Jeremiahon 10 Jun 2011 at 5:41 pm

    And Mufi, if you have the time, consider the addition of these referenced materials to your summer reading:

    Wheeler J.A. and Zurek W.H., eds. (1983): Quantum Theory and Measurement, Princeton University Press, Princeton.
    Whitehead A.N. (1929/1979): Process and Reality: An Essay in Cosmology, Free Press, New York.

  90. mufion 10 Jun 2011 at 5:47 pm

    I’ll consider it, Jeremiah, although I’m sure I’ve already read plenty of secondary sources that cite either Wheeler or Whitehead, and those didn’t stop me from thinking that cognitive realism is silly.

  91. Jeremiahon 10 Jun 2011 at 5:48 pm

    The “some true objects and properties of the objective world” would seem to give the lie to what your somewhat questionable source thinks “it almost seems as though” Hoffman was saying.

  92. Jeremiahon 10 Jun 2011 at 5:54 pm

    Wheeler and Whitehead are for me much better sources of authority as to the true nature of the silly than you are. I’d add “but that’s just me,” but that would be wrong.

  93. mufion 10 Jun 2011 at 6:09 pm

    There is a world of difference between a faithful representation of, say, a predator and there being no actual predator to represent. But if the representation is faithful enough to trigger a flight response, then perhaps the affected prey will live to experience another day.

    Hoffman might reply that the predator (along with everything else) does exist as a “MUI icon”, but that metaphysical assertion doesn’t necessarily follow from his MUI theory (which he himself acknowledges: “One could accept MUI theory and reject conscious realism.”).

  94. mufion 10 Jun 2011 at 6:13 pm

    Jeremiah: I never imagined that you would deem me an authority on this matter. Indeed, you should not.

  95. Jeremiahon 10 Jun 2011 at 6:24 pm

    Hoffman has already noted that predators do exist as recognizable forms of a dangerous reality. He would say that it’s better to mistake the icons for a predator than to mistake an actual predator for an icon.
    Predators have perfected the art of mimicry just for that purpose, and prey have evolved their perceptive arts accordingly.

    One could reject conscious realism and still manage to survive – that was his point. What was yours?

  96. mufion 10 Jun 2011 at 7:24 pm

    One could reject conscious realism and still manage to survive – that was his point. What was yours?

    If you’re referring to this statement “One could accept MUI theory and reject conscious realism.”, then I interpret that plainly as MUI theory neither stands nor falls on the strength of the doctrine of conscious realism.

    I accept what you reprinted earlier, as it relates to cognition and evolution (“…faithfully represent some true objects and properties of the objective world…”), even though I (and apparently some others) am skeptical (to put it mildly) of his metaphysical claim that the world “consists entirely of conscious agents” (whatever those are supposed to be, when abstracted from human bodies and those of their close biological kin).

  97. Jeremiahon 10 Jun 2011 at 7:42 pm

    I will agree that his statements rely a lot on context, which paradoxically makes us take the meaning to be inconsistent with the very context he wants them to be used in for their added meaning.

  98. Jeremiahon 10 Jun 2011 at 8:38 pm

    Further, it’s my surmise he’s pointing out that all entities are agents of causation based more on their functions than their forms. Yet we have by necessity evolved to consider what we observe as forms to be a parent to their functions. And he’s also saying that these same functions are those that make the universe appear a lawful enterprise, and that all observable material formations, including our own apparent selves, evolve through experiences that their functions have caused them to be subject to.
    The universe has thus become functional by law, and these functions are the agents of whatever change occurs to either form or function, or for that matter, laws. Evolution thus a consequence of experience, not a cause.
    Causation then comes closer in reality to being a matter of the agent’s anticipatory capacities, but i digress.

  99. BillyJoe7on 11 Jun 2011 at 8:24 am

    2-words,

    “I may be way off base here but it seems like a problem of definition.”

    I used to think so as well.
    But, no, they actually mean consciousnsess collapses the wave function. From this, Hoffman derives his conscious realism. Consciousness is primary, physical is secondary.
    It goes something like this:
    Consciousness (systems of conscious agents) creates physical objects. Like the Moon? No. The Moon is merely an icon (of the multinodal user interface of these systems of conscious agents). These icons merely represent the physical object created by consciousness. These systems of conscious agents never actually get to see the physical objects they have created. All they see are the icons that represent them.
    I know.

    “If something makes a measurement and there is no one to read the measurement is a measurement made?”

    Apparently, no physical object exists unless and until it is consciously observed (observed by a system of conscious agents in Hoffman’s parlance)

    “A whole tree in the forest falling making a noise problem.”

    It’s worse than that.
    A falling tree, does not make a noise. It creates a travelling wave of compressions and rarefactions in the air molecules that surround it. If there are creatures equiped with ear drums that vibrate in response to these waves, and with middle ears and cochleas that transmit these vibrations to brains that convert them into perceptions called sounds, then and only then, does sound exist; and only for the creatures so equiped.

    But the absence of these creatures (the removal of consciousness) does not remove all physical reality. The travelling waves of compressions and rarefactions in the air molecules that surround the falling tree exist irrespective of the presence of a conscious creature. It is a physical reality independent of consciousness. An objective physical reality.

    Conscious reality denies that objective physical reality. And it’s all based on the incoherent and untestable hypothesis that consciousness causes the collapse of the wave function.

  100. BillyJoe7on 11 Jun 2011 at 8:48 am

    Actually conscious realism pretty well falls on its own sword…

    MUI theory says that the moon you see is, like any physical object you see, an icon constructed by your visual system. Perception is not objective reporting but active construction. A perceptual construction lasts only so long as you look, and then is replaced by new constructions as you look elsewhere.

    Thus the moon you see only exists when you look at it. Of course the moon Jack sees might continue to exist even when the moon Jill sees ceases to exist because she closes her eyes. But the moon Jack sees is not numerically identical to the moon Jill sees. Jack sees his moon, Jill sees hers. There is no public moon.

    Something does exist whether or not you look at the moon, and that something triggers your visual system to construct a moon icon. But that something that exists independent of you is not the moon. The moon is an icon of your MUI, and therefore depends on your perception for its existence. The something that exists independent of your perceptions is always, according to conscious realism, systems of conscious agents.

    …so I need say no more.
    (except to wonder what the Big Bang equivalent for conscious agents might possibly be)

  101. davidsmithon 11 Jun 2011 at 9:35 am

    Billyjoe said,

    Consciousness (systems of conscious agents) creates physical objects. Like the Moon? No. The Moon is merely an icon (of the multinodal user interface of these systems of conscious agents). These icons merely represent the physical object created by consciousness. These systems of conscious agents never actually get to see the physical objects they have created. All they see are the icons that represent them.

    I don’t think that’s correct. According to Hoffman there is this system of interacting ‘conscious agents’ and there are the icons. The interactions create the icons. The icons are the objects. There are no physical objects existing independently of this system of interacting conscious agents.

    Conscious reality denies that objective physical reality. And it’s all based on the incoherent and untestable hypothesis that consciousness causes the collapse of the wave function.

    Where did you get this conclusion from?

  102. mufion 11 Jun 2011 at 9:52 am

    Having now slept on this matter, I suppose that a big problem for me is that I’m already so influenced by the embodied cognition (EC) view (or at least my flawed layperson’s understanding of it), which is I see as compatible with Hoffman’s MUI theory, but not so with his conscious realism (CR).

    After all, according to EC, the mind is largely determined by the form of the body (along with sensory-motor experience, particularly during the developmental years). Also, as I alluded above, what one’s mind does is largely (95-98%) beneath the surface of one’s conscious awareness. So, from this angle, there is nothing particularly foundational about consciousness in the mental life of an agent.

    Yet CR appears to turn this view upside down when it asserts that consciousness is foundational to reality and exists independently of any body (as in a vague sort of disembodied cognition). While I imagine that these views might somehow be reconciled, they don’t exactly sit well with another in my mind.

  103. BillyJoe7on 11 Jun 2011 at 11:33 am

    davidsmith,

    “According to Hoffman there is this system of interacting ‘conscious agents’ and there are the icons.”

    Yes.
    And there are physical objects that are independent of the perceptual systems of those conscious agents

    “The interactions create the icons.”

    Not exactly.
    The perceptual system of a conscious agent constructs the icon.
    (You look and your visual system contructs the moon icon)
    That icon interfaces between the conscious agent and a physical object that is independent of the perceptual system of that conscious agent.
    (You -> moon icon -> independent physical object)
    That independent physical object actually triggers the perceptual system of the conscious agent to construct that icon.
    Finally, the interactions of conscious agents produce that physical object.
    That’s how I read it at least.

    “The icons are the objects.”

    No, they represent the objects.
    Or, more correctly, a particular icon interfaces between a conscious agent and a particular independent physical object. That particular independent physical object (produced by interacting conscious agents) triggers the perceptual system of the aforementioned conscious agent to construct the aforementioned icon.

    “There are no physical objects existing independently of this system of interacting conscious agents.”

    Again, not exactly
    Those physical objects are produced by systems of interacting conscious agents but they are independent of the perceptual systems of those interacting conscious agents. The only access conscious agents have to these complex physical objects is via the simple icons that represent them.
    But, then, I’m not the expert here.
    Maybe sonic can help. :)

  104. mufion 11 Jun 2011 at 11:41 am

    Sorry if this overlaps with BillyJoe’s reply, as I typed this up before I noticed it:

    davidsmith said: There are no physical objects existing independently of this system of interacting conscious agents.

    There is a problem with this metaphor, in that, literally speaking, the closest thing to a “system of conscious agents” that I (and presumably most folks) can think of is a group of people. And, while people mentally construct images of physical objects, one normally assumes that physical objects (if only approximately) exist independently of their minds.

    For example, I know that the UI/software components that I work with on a regular basis do not exist as such (as Hoffman points out as part of his MUI theory). But I assume that the hardware components, as well as the forces that they harness, do exist. More to the point, it would be most unusual (if not disordered) if I (or any other conscious agent or system thereof) were to believe that I actually cause these physical entities to exist.

    It is at this point when I have come to expect that someone will retort that I have not consumed enough QM, or have yet to receive the best interpretation thereof. My stock answer to this is: There is a plurality of interpretations, all of which strike me as highly abstract forays into metaphysical speculation, and it is by no means clear that the most counter-intuitive one necessarily wins.

  105. BillyJoe7on 11 Jun 2011 at 11:41 am

    BillyJoe: “Conscious reality denies that objective physical reality. And it’s all based on the incoherent and untestable hypothesis that consciousness causes the collapse of the wave function.”

    davidsmith: “Where did you get this conclusion from?”

    I guess you mean the second sentence.
    There would be no need to develop the concept of conscious reality if not for the belief that consciousness causes collapse of the wave function. That is the whole point: to develop a science that is consistent with this view of quantum physics

  106. Jeremiahon 11 Jun 2011 at 11:52 am

    Put simply, CR posits that if experience is causative then whatever gets the direct benefit of it must be in that sense conscious of it.

    Conscious in this context is akin to aware. The functional entity forced to react is thus made aware of the force.

    As Hoffman indicates in his paper, we’re not talking about advanced features of consciousness such as self consciousness when we’re applying the CR concept to other than biological forms.

    Rather than the red herring assertion here that it’s consciousness somehow causing the collapse of the wave function, it’s more like the exact opposite – that an elementary form of consciousness is caused by the so-called collapse.

  107. 2_wordson 11 Jun 2011 at 11:59 am

    So it is a problem of knowledge. As in everything we know has been relayed to us by conscious beings, others or ourselves.
    If consciousness collapses wave functions then the ’uncollapsed wave function’ will always be beyond knowledge.
    We have learned object permanence at 2 years of age but it seems some are arguing against it as a species. It seems moot unless you move the description of all conceivable objects into the quantum world.

    As in, we all point at the moon and see the same thing. If that icon is the moon it doesn’t change anything about the moon. It is as much of the moon as we know. It is like saying the moon becomes a fish when it is not measured or observed and is only but always the moon when it is measure or observed.

    I doubt, at least hope, that there are not many that think when a tree falls in a forest and no is there to hear it that no sound is made. Whatever it is that sound stands for, that occurs. Besides the answer to this question, to be clever, is that the word ‘tree’ falling or otherwise doesn’t make a sound.

  108. mufion 11 Jun 2011 at 12:50 pm

    Hoffman does mention a rat as a example of a “conscious agent”, in that it can presumably sense objects; e.g. “the smell
    of a rose to the taste of garlic.” But that’s still a rather fleshy example, in that he’s talking about a biological organism, and a fellow mammal at that.

    And that was before he stepped into CR, where a far more abstract notion of “conscious agent” obtains as the presumed foundation of all reality. How or why these conscious agents interact to maintain the UI that they do* is beyond me to answer – and I suspect beyond science, as well.

    By contrast, science (and cognitive science, in particular) seems to have advanced quite nicely on the basis of physicalist assumptions. That said, it’ll be interesting to see if Hoffman convinces any of his peers to abandon those in favor of CR assumptions.

    * Can they redesign the UI, like I occasionally do in my career?

  109. Jeremiahon 11 Jun 2011 at 12:54 pm

    # 2_words
    >It seems moot unless you move the description of all conceivable objects into the quantum world.<

    But note that we are in that world already, and as the saying goes, may as well relax and enjoy it.

    From the paper:
    "Thus the possibility that our sensory worlds might be virtual worlds, akin to a user interface, comports well with the empirical evidence of quantum physics, and is endorsed by some physicists. This is not to say, of course, that quantum theory requires this interpretation. Proponents of decoherence approaches, for instance, reject this interpretation. And most proponents of the Copenhagen interpretation embrace it only for the microscopic realm, not the macroscopic; but this saddles them with the unsolved problem of providing a principled distinction between microscopic and macroscopic."

    All saddle and no horse?

  110. Jeremiahon 11 Jun 2011 at 1:25 pm

    Mufi, you keep on pretending that all this is new to science, and that the functional aspects of biology are somehow unrelated to their biochemistry.
    It was not new to Whitehead, Wheeler, et al, and consequently the only thing surprising here was that Hoffman was able to so eloquently sum up the situation and remind us that we have a lot of catching up to do.

  111. mufion 11 Jun 2011 at 1:48 pm

    Jeremiah: Firstly, your use of the word “pretending” implies intent to deceive, which I assure you is not true in my case. At most, I am ignorant of.

    And I do not dispute Hoffman’s claim re: the dominance of physicalist (a.k.a. materialist) assumptions in his field, cognitive science (although that’s actually a broad term for multiple fields, including those specialized in neuroscience or linguistics). After all, no cognitive scientist that I’ve read prior to Hoffman has raised doubts about those assumptions, which is why I remarked: “it’ll be interesting to see if Hoffman convinces any of his peers to abandon those in favor of CR assumptions.”

  112. Jeremiahon 11 Jun 2011 at 2:41 pm

    Is Chomsky not a cognitive scientist? Nor Pinker, nor Fodor? All of whom have raised doubts, as pains were taken in the paper to indicate. And then there were the Whitehead lectures in “Cognition, Computation and Culture.” Was it a pretense that you were familiar with Whitehead’s work to the extent that you could find his writings on this subject unconvincing?

  113. mufion 11 Jun 2011 at 5:52 pm

    If you mean to suggest that Chomsky, Pinker, or Fodor reject physicalist assumptions, then I suspect that they would be very surprised to learn that. Nor do I think Hoffman meant to suggest that, although he does capitalize on some isolated statements about qualia and consciousness by Pinker. Looks to me like he’s hunting for a knowledge gap, where he fit in CR. (As I suggested, it would be nice know how his peers respond.)

    It would be an overstatement to say that I am familiar with Whitehead’s work, having never read it directly, which is why I said that “I’ve already read plenty of secondary sources that cite” him [emphasis added]. Theologian Philip Clayton’s essays come to mind here, plus related entries on process theology and historical accounts of Whitehead’s collaboration with Bertrand Russell re: formal logic and math.

    But if this conversation is about to turn into a succession of personal accusations (as opposed to a discussion of ideas), then I’m moving on.

  114. mufion 11 Jun 2011 at 6:10 pm

    Correction to myself: That should say “….where he can fit in CR.”

    But I already regret that line, as that it imputes a motive to Hoffman, which I know nothing about.

  115. Jeremiahon 11 Jun 2011 at 6:12 pm

    But I do see weaknesses in this paper, if not in the theory of conscious realism itself. For example, there is little said as to the different levels of responsibility that a conscious agent must take as its duty. What are the functional duties of protons, for example as opposed to the functional duties of biochemical compounds such as proteins? At what point do the agents consciously/deliberately elect to cooperate or compete? Are there agents of proactive choice outside of biology? &c.
    I’m not suggesting that the paper should have dealt directly with these questions – only that there was no hint as to the capacity or potential that conscious agents had to deal with them.

  116. BillyJoe7on 11 Jun 2011 at 6:18 pm

    2-words,

    “If consciousness collapses wave functions then the ’uncollapsed wave function’ will always be beyond knowledge.”

    But we know that there is a probability distribution of likely outcomes. Some outcomes are likely others are unlikely. Some are common and some are rare.
    But that applies even if consciousness does not collapses the wave function.

    “It seems moot unless you move the description of all conceivable objects into the quantum world.”

    And, of course, we can’t. In the macroscopic world of everyday experience, there is no heisenberg uncertainly, no action at a distance, no delayed choice, no objects that act both as waves and particles. Or, at the very least, they are undetectable. In fact, in the double slit experiments, the efffects are undetectable with molecules exceeding the 60 atom size.

    “As in, we all point at the moon and see the same thing. If that icon is the moon it doesn’t change anything about the moon. It is as much of the moon as we know. It is like saying the moon becomes a fish when it is not measured or observed and is only but always the moon when it is measure or observed.”

    Hoffman says that there is an underlying independent physical object that stimulates the perception systems of conscious agents like ourselves to construct these icons. That physical object changes only very slowly over time and therefore the icon changes only very slowly over time.
    Again, sonic may be able to help us out.

    “I doubt, at least hope, that there are not many that think when a tree falls in a forest and no is there to hear it that no sound is made. Whatever it is that sound stands for, that occurs.”

    I’m not sure if you are countering my response here but I would just reiterate that, without conscious brains to interpret them as sound, there are only waves of compressions and rarefactions in the air molecules that surround the tree.

  117. Jeremiahon 11 Jun 2011 at 6:21 pm

    Oops, I didn’t see that comment where mufi now takes my use of pretense as a personal attack, yet continues to pretend that he understands I’m saying one thing when it’s quite probable that I’ve said another. I use the word doubt and he pretends I used the word reject.
    So yes, mufi, I think we’re done here.

  118. BillyJoe7on 11 Jun 2011 at 6:28 pm

    mufi,

    “How or why these conscious agents interact to maintain the UI that they do* is beyond me to answer – and I suspect beyond science, as well.”

    My understanding of Hoffman is that interacting conscious agents produce the physical objects that, in turn, stimulate the perception systems of conscious agents to construct the icons.

    But, yes, how interacting conscious agents produce the physical objects and how physical objects stimulate the perception systems of conscious agents to construct the icons is beyond me also. However, Hoffman contends that there is science and mathematics to back it up.

  119. mufion 11 Jun 2011 at 6:40 pm

    Based on Jeremiah’s last comment (where he continues his streak of personal attacks), I’ll amend one word for the record:

    If you mean to suggest that Chomsky, Pinker, or Fodor doubt physicalist assumptions, then I suspect that they would be very surprised to learn that.

    But who knows? It’s not like we have a peer review of Hoffman’s paper in hand – by these guys or by anyone else, for that matter. The closest I’ve found to one are those two blog entries that I cited earlier – one by an AI researcher and the other by a philosophy hobbyist, both of whom had negative reviews.

    No accounting for taste, I guess.

  120. BillyJoe7on 11 Jun 2011 at 7:16 pm

    mufi,

    I have always been of the opinion that, despite what some posters here would have you believe, views like those of Hoffman, are fringe science. There is very little support for their views amongst mainstream scientists – “interesting” is about the most postive comment – and runs completely counter to the consensus view of science.

  121. Mlemaon 11 Jun 2011 at 7:41 pm

    Wow, what a great discussion! Thank you to Dr. Novella for sowing the seed. And to everybody here for introducing me to a new idea (CR) and helping me to conceptualize it (I know you didn’t do that on purpose for me, but thanks anyway!)

    To me, there is no logical fault in the CR theory, but I think some thoughts that could be added to simplify the “systems of conscious agents” concept, and thereby answer some of the Ockham’s razor criticisms:

    What if the conscious agents are subsets of a single consciousness? And they possibly have subsets? And there are other subsets within the single consciousness? Subsets within subsets within subsets, etc? This solves problems of needing cooperation between agents within a subset in order to maintain icons in common. Then the icons are ways of transferring information between the agents and between “levels” of agents.

    This will require that our consciousness is both independent and shared, and possibly part of and interactive with a “larger” consciousness (in the way the subconscious is part of the larger “wakeful” consciousness). For me this solves some of the problems with the idea of CR. The higher the “level” of consciousness, the greater its functional responsibility to the lower consciousness. Doesn’t this tie together the macro-/micro- in a way that materialism doesn’t without denying some evidence? It also finally gives dualism the boot, yes?

    Would love anyone’s comments on this idea.

  122. mufion 11 Jun 2011 at 7:46 pm

    BillyJoe: Well, a journal did publish Hoffman’s paper, but I’d never heard of it before, and I don’t know how rigorous its referee standards are. That’s why it would be nice to come across some post hoc peer reviews (as opposed to what lay blokes like us can do).

  123. mufion 11 Jun 2011 at 7:49 pm

    Mlema: I’ve gotta run, but very quickly: I think a Software Architect might be the metaphor that you’re looking for.

  124. Mlemaon 11 Jun 2011 at 8:04 pm

    mufi:
    I’m not really looking for a metaphor, but, if you could expand the metaphor of software architect to help me see how it might apply to what I’ve said that would be appreciated.

  125. Mlemaon 11 Jun 2011 at 8:22 pm

    again mufi: I think what I did was USE a metaphor: that of mathematical sets and subsets, to describe how “conscious agents” might share information in such a way as to create icons common to their own subsets. Sounds like you’re trying to insert a Great Conscious Agent which is “designing” the icons for separate conscious agents, which again creates dualism.

    To conceptualize this, you need to parse your ideas of “embodied cognition” into one that incorporates the existence of various levels of consciousness within your own body.

  126. Jeremiahon 11 Jun 2011 at 8:54 pm

    miema, that was an insightful and positive response. An extrapolation from an understanding of the concept, rather than the more common practice here of denial based on the lack of such.

    Note also that the scientist in question is a member of the Edge fraternity: http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/bios/hoffman.html

    And I see no reason why we shouldn’t find more of what Hoffman refers to as heterarchies of interacting conscious agents, and outside of brains or other biological constructions.

    As to the top level of conscious monitoring to be reached in the universe, that level may be limited to life forms that evolve in the universe rather than a greater consciousness reforming the state of the cosmos. We represent functions that take on the responsibility for their own survival. Are there other functions in the universe that can do that. No question. Could the universe ultimately become responsible for itself? No answer.

  127. Mlemaon 11 Jun 2011 at 10:09 pm

    Jeremiah,
    thanks for your reply, which has made me think that everything I said was probably said in the paper, and I just thought i made it up because I didn’t get it when i read the paper.

    Think I need to read the paper again!

    your further comments help me to consider the “macro” aspect of this. Need to think about that more too. and thanks for the link.
    M

  128. mufion 11 Jun 2011 at 10:22 pm

    Mlema: Perhaps I’m biased by the knowledge that a conservative Catholic blog took an interest in Hoffman’s thinking that led me to the Software Architect metaphor for God.

    Other than that, when he adopted the software user interface (UI) as his metaphor for subjective experience, he stepped into the IT domain, where I earn my livelihood, and for that the Wikipedia entry is as good as any source.

    But if what you see there doesn’t fit what you’re looking for re: a “single consciousness”, then I take your word for it.

  129. Mlemaon 11 Jun 2011 at 10:48 pm

    mufi: I think the ideas I stated were not fully thought through within the context of the CR theory as I now understand it more completely to be. And perhaps it was a mistake for me to use the term “single consciousness”. I think you (inadvertently?) make a legitimate criticism of my understanding of the CR paper and my attempt to make it more coherent, when in fact it had already possibly accounted for the ideas I was expressing. Can you show how the CR theory itself does not fit my reflection of what i understand it to be based on my comments? Or how “software architect” can be a metaphor for any level or set of consciousness(s), because (to me) that metaphor suggests something or someone outside the consciousness, that controls the nature of the icons. (perhaps a material being? which wouldn’t fit into the theory)

  130. Mlemaon 11 Jun 2011 at 11:04 pm

    PS – a “single consciousness” would never exist outside the descriptive realm. But if you were referring to a set in relation to its subsets, that first set would be “single” as opposed to the “multiple” subsets. Perhaps I have not fully conceptualized the overlapping aspect of heterarchies in the theory, but that’s as far as i got, and was the genesis of my use of the term “single consciousness”

    need to do some more of my conjecturing offline rather than keep commenting now

    thanks

  131. Mlemaon 11 Jun 2011 at 11:18 pm

    mufi: final question/comment (for tonight!)

    would knowing whether Hoffman is an atheist or a theist influence your take on his theory of CR?

    http://payingattentiontothesky.com/2010/09/29/selections-from-dismissing-god-by-donald-d-hoffman/

  132. mufion 11 Jun 2011 at 11:32 pm

    Mlema: There are surely limits here to the Software Architect metaphor, and it might have been entirely inappropriate of me to ascribe it to your earlier comment re: a “single consciousness” and a ‘“larger” consciousness.’

    But part of me is wondering: Who designed the operating system, which determines which icons are available to the conscious agents (e.g. suns, moons, clouds, landscapes, bodies, brains, cells, molecules, atoms, etc.)? After all, in the real world of software & IT, someone actually makes these decisions. And, if we’re going to take the MUI theory as far Hoffman does, then it seems to me that someone ought to explore its underlying metaphor more thoroughly than he does, and see what rationally follows from it.

    A working stiff like myself is surely a poor choice to follow up on that challenge. But I’m not so shy or humble as to stifle my own opinion, which is that Hoffman is (whether he realizes it or not) clearing scientific space for God, which seems a lot simpler and culturally palatable (given our theistic traditions) than the grand conspiracy theory implied by his System of Conscious Agents metaphor for reality.

  133. mufion 11 Jun 2011 at 11:49 pm

    Mlema: I don’t think that knowing that Hoffman is an atheist (like myself) would help me much here.

    In fact, his System of Conscious Agents metaphor initially reminded my of Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials novels. Pullman is an atheist, but central to his trilogy is an elementary particle known as Dust, which is supposed to be the source of consciousness in the multiverse. I very much enjoyed reading these books to my daughter, some years ago.

    However, Dust (as I recall) is not foundational (i.e. it evolves from matter), so in that sense it is more realistic than CR, and if Pullman intended Dust to be anything more than a fictional device, then I was none the wiser.

  134. Jeremiahon 12 Jun 2011 at 12:18 am

    Miema, despite the IT inference that Hoffman is in the religious closet somewhere, I suspect from his writings that Hoffman is an agnostic, as is the owner of this blog, and also were the aforementioned Whitehead and Russell.

    Also agnostic: Karl R. Popper, Francis Crick, Charles Darwin,
    Albert Einstein, Stephen Jay Gould, Thomas Henry Huxley,
    Carl Sagan, Steve Wozniak, &c.

  135. Mlemaon 12 Jun 2011 at 12:57 am

    Sorry, thought i was done for now, but, just enjoying this too much!

    To me it seems like a mistake to go too far with the software interface metaphor that Hoffman uses as a way to conceptualize how the limits of, for instance, the consciousness of a liver cell (it’s awareness) in relationship to a whole body, would cause it to construct icons, such as chemical messengers passing through its cell wall, that would serve to represent the consciousness of the next larger subset of functioning within a body. And, in turn, how that next larger subset of consciousness might construct icons to perceive the consciousness of the liver cell, as well as the cells and tissues (or, actually the cells’ and tissues’ consciousnesses) and tissues within it’s perceptual domain, and on the next larger subset of functioning within a human body. And then, too, there would be consciousness subsets of the liver cell, and other groupings between the highest subset and the lowest subset in these heterarchies.

    Some people will have trouble thinking of a liver cell as having consciousness. But as I think Jeremiah said (sorry if not Jeremiah), awareness, as an aspect of consciousness, might be the way for those people to start to think about this. There are different ways for different agents to possess perception. Think of the examples used in the paper, like: what is a roach’s perception of the roach’s world like?

    Also, it is difficult to reconfigure our own ideas to match what i think is a radical (although not really new I guess) idea: that there is no matter, there is only mind (consciousness). That the existence of a material objective world separate from ANY consciousness (not just the mind of a man) is an illusion, and NOT the “mind” (of any conscious agent). Doesn’t it solve the macro/micro difference in the application of physical law problems?

    What I think is another mistake is to try to cast a religious light on the theory (as it is likewise a mistake to cast religious light on the theory of evolution, or on any scientific theory)

    and certainly it is a sort of mistake (yes?) to interject religion into these discussions, as they then quickly degrade into meaninglessness.

    I guess it’s legitimate to try to ascertain what the religious bent of someone might be, and then use that to decide what you think about their ideas. But when you do that you’re really preventing yourself from enjoying the exploration of the complete nature and ramifications of those ideas.. And that goes, of course, for both sides of the atheist/theist coin.

  136. Mlemaon 12 Jun 2011 at 1:01 am

    Jeremiah:
    was just about to post my above comment as your last comment posted.

    Because I have “shown my hand” as a theist-leaner, for many who participate here any comments i make will be tainted. But I have no attachment to my leanings. they are, after all, only an icon! :-)

  137. BillyJoe7on 12 Jun 2011 at 1:10 am

    http://payingattentiontothesky.com/2010/09/29/selections-from-dismissing-god-by-donald-d-hoffman/

    Hmmm…I think I have his measure now.
    Hoffman is one of those authors of whom you can say:
    Unless pre-armed, you can end up knowing less after listening him than you did before.
    That is no mean feat.

    What can I say?
    He is not informing us about the state of science but giving us his opinions about his misrepresentations of science.
    Is he wilful or just ignorant?

    As an example, he starts off with the fact that our visual perception is not an accurate representation of what’s out there. As if this is not common knowledge amongst scientists! (Just as in his first article where he wants us to believe that the consensus view of science is what he calls the Hypothesis of Faithful Depiction).
    Then he segues effortlessly into dismissing everything we can possibly learn via our visual perceptions, including their technological extensions in the form of telescopes, microscopes, scans, space probes, etc etc.

    In any case, if this is true, where did he get the answers? Were they magically revealed to him by god?

    …and, is he not even aware that he is using the argument from ignorance – that totally discredited “god of the gaps” argument?
    Nuts!

    Where is that darned trash can icon on my MUI? :D

  138. Mlemaon 12 Jun 2011 at 1:13 am

    PS – if anything, i think a theist, to incorporate whatever truth is in this CR theory, would have to change his locus of existence in a fundamental way.

    is there a God? no, there is only God.

    i cannot comment on the validity of this postulate

  139. Jeremiahon 12 Jun 2011 at 1:29 am

    Miema, levels of abstract thought are a lot like levels of awareness or of conscious agency. Francis Collins, director of the Human Genome Project, is a highly intelligent theist, yet his problem solving skills are at the highest level. In close contrast, we have atheists that seem to make this blog a home, and yet never fail to miss an abstract point.

  140. BillyJoe7on 12 Jun 2011 at 1:35 am

    Mlema,

    It’s okay, we don’t need to bother any more.
    Hoffman has just been deconstructed.

    In fact, he has self-deconstructed.

    If, as Hoffman says, “what we see is entirely our own construction”, how can his conscious realism be true?

  141. Jeremiahon 12 Jun 2011 at 1:50 am

    Is there a god? No it’s only a supreme heterarchy.

  142. davidsmithon 12 Jun 2011 at 6:59 am

    BillyJoe said,

    And there are physical objects that are independent of the perceptual systems of those conscious agents.

    If this were true, he would be talking about a dualistic framework, i.e., interacting conscious agents and independent objects. Since he explicitly says that CR is a metaphysical monism, what you’re saying can’t be true. I still say that the icons are the objects, full stop :)

  143. davidsmithon 12 Jun 2011 at 7:12 am

    BillyJoe said,

    There would be no need to develop the concept of conscious reality if not for the belief that consciousness causes collapse of the wave function.

    Well, that’s not what Hoffman argues for in his paper as far as I can tell. CR is a proposed solution to the mind/body problem. He may go into some detail about how a mathematical formulation of this solution is compatible with certain interpretations of QM, but I can’t see the conception of CR as having anyting to do with QM. It’s primarily about addressing the relationship between two seemlingly different properties of reality – physical and experiential. Unless you can point me to a bit of the paper saying otherwise?

  144. BillyJoe7on 12 Jun 2011 at 8:46 am

    davidsmith,

    “I still say that the icons are the objects”

    Then you would be wrong.

    Here is a relevant quote:
    To say that a world is objective means that the world’s existence does not depend on the agent. MUI theory claims nothing about the ontology of that objective world. It requires no resemblance between properties of the interface and the world. As virtual tennis illustrates, they can be as dissimilar as tennis balls and integrated circuits.

    But I’ve lost interest in this guy.
    I mean he is beyond the fringe into woo territory.
    We’re not going to learn anything from him except bad ideas.

  145. BillyJoe7on 12 Jun 2011 at 8:58 am

    davidsmith,

    “I can’t see the conception of CR as having anyting to do with QM”

    Again, here are some relevant quotes:

    Here I explore a solution to the mind-body problem that starts with the converse assumption: these correlations arise because consciousness creates brain activity, and indeed creates all objects and properties of the physical world.

    And…

    Placing subatomic particles in the MUI rather than in the objective world is compatible with quantum theory. Indeed, the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum theory asserts that the dynamical properties of such particles have real values only in the act of observation. That is, they are part of the observer’s MUI.

    His motivation is to solve the mind/body problem but he takes his cue from QM to take consciousness as primary.
    But he is all over the place anyway, so who knows or cares really.

  146. davidsmithon 12 Jun 2011 at 9:20 am

    BillyJoe,

    Here is a relevant quote:

    That quote refers to MUI theory only. As Hoffman says, MUI does not require CR. Hoffman’s thesis is an explicit combination of CR and MUI. In other words, CR does claim something about the ontology of that objective world. And within that ontology, there is no room for objects that exist independently of the system of conscious agents.

    Here I explore a solution to the mind-body problem that starts with the converse assumption: these correlations arise because consciousness creates brain activity, and indeed creates all objects and properties of the physical world.

    Placing subatomic particles in the MUI rather than in the objective world is compatible with quantum theory. Indeed, the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum theory asserts that the dynamical properties of such particles have real values only in the act of observation. That is, they are part of the observer’s MUI.

    He doesn’t seem to mention anything specifically about QM in the first quote. Nothing about wave functions for example. In the second, like I said, he is just saying that his model is compatible with Copenhagen interpretation. It still seems like the primary reason for CR is to provide a workable solution to the mind/body problem as he describes in the introduction.

  147. mufion 12 Jun 2011 at 10:28 am

    Mlema:

    Just to clarify, I don’t know what Hoffman’s religious beliefs are and I don’t really care. But, whether he likes it or not, ideas have a way of taking on lives of their own (so to speak), and his foray into metaphysics, and his critique of materialism in particular, means weighing in on a very old debate in philosophy, where religion has long taken an interest. With that in mind, it is probably no accident that his CR reminds folks of idealism (e.g. see Bishop George Berkeley) and that a religious web site published him. (What’s next? a Templeton prize? :-) )

    That aside, when you say “Some people will have trouble thinking of a liver cell as having consciousness.”, my reaction is: As I would expect, given what I said earlier about our prototype for consciousness’s being a wakeful human. (That’s the whole human.) Cognitive scientists’ knowledge of how the body produces this effect is growing, but not as quickly as we might like. What’s more, I suspect that there are epistemic limits here (e.g. an unbridgeable gap between the subject and the observer) that we will just have to live with.

    Lastly, my extension of Hoffman’s UI/Virtual Reality metaphor to the Software Architect was an attempt to address some of the criticisms (including my own). For example:

    Materialism says that there is a single real physical reality, which affects us all in the same way, thus resulting in a similar concept of moon being triggered in us all (although not the same concept, for example some people see the face and some the rabbit, we must assume the trigger is modified by the physical make-up of the brain). Hoffman would have to answer this by asserting that all the conscious agents are interacting, constantly, to ensure that they are all triggered in a similar fashion, and that this interaction is preserved throughout time, and that the interaction would be modified if something happened on the moon to change its appearance, maintaining the illusion of a single physical reality. You can see then why we might prefer materialism because of its simplicity, for in Hoffman’s view there must be interaction between conscious agents concerning every aspect of “the world” that they agree on, and that these interactions must be altered appropriately if there are changes in “the world” in a way that makes the world seem consistent and independent of us. Thus Occam’s razor would lead us to materialism.

    source

    I could be wrong, but I think this is a valid point. The IT person in me is tempted to respond that the illusion of a single physical reality might be facilitated by a sort of native Operating System (or Event Listener), whose function is to distribute information/update-instructions between all nodes (a.k.a. conscious agents) in the system, and that Hoffman might actually build something like this into his definition of CR. [The Software Architect metaphor is unnecessary here, except that, in the real world of IT, it would be. And I would expect that a theist to prefer it.]

    But there is not a shred of scientific evidence to support any of this speculation, which does indeed render it vulnerable to Occam’s razor.

  148. mufion 12 Jun 2011 at 12:14 pm

    Postscript (mostly for Mlema):

    On methodological grounds alone (i.e. leaving aside the ontological truth or falsehood of the matter), it is theoretically possible that CR assumptions might yield some successful predictions that physicalist/materialist assumptions have thus far failed to deliver. Or perhaps they might facilitate public understanding and interest in science. Indeed, the pragmatist (and metaphysical agnostic) in me is actually quite sympathetic to that approach.

    But then I also have this criticism to consider:

    What new insights will the physicist have as a result of expressing gravity in terms of multimodal user interfaces and with reference to heavenly bodies as conscious entities? If anything, it sounds more like this extra layer would only add to the confusion people have in trying to understand already complex concepts and could even potentially take away certain practical conceptual tools. So I don’t see the point.

    source

    I think it would be more accurate to say that CR would refer to heavenly bodies (and all other imaginable phenomena) as MUI’s, rather than as conscious agents. But this line of inquiry (e.g. what’s the point? or how might we benefit?) seems a valid one, nonetheless – and one that seems more appropriate for the domain of science (including the philosophy and education thereof) than the a-priori/ontological line of inquiry that tends to dominate discussions like these (presumably because they are of more religious/spiritual/ideological relevance).

  149. Jeremiahon 12 Jun 2011 at 12:46 pm

    Mostly not for Miema who doesn’t need references from underqualified critics:

    >You are still greatly misunderstanding Hoffman. There is no entanglement, there is no speed of light, no space. This is idealism, not immaterialism. Let me put in another way. The philosophical standpoint of materialism or idealism is the foundation for theories of science, it cannot be justified by them, to do so would be circular. For example if pressed on why a theory of science was believed one would justify it by observations, and if one was pressed to why observations reflected reality one would justify that stance by an appeal to materialism or some other philosophy governing the ultimate structure of reality. To argue for materialism or idealism by appealing to scientific theories is much like the kind of fallacy committed by those who attempt to identify Leibniz’s monads with whatever particles seem fundamental at the moment. To do so would be to misunderstand monads, for under Leibniz’s theory they create reality, and are not some part of it, i.e. they cannot be observed.<

  150. Jeremiahon 12 Jun 2011 at 1:00 pm

    The best appeal to the preservation of ignorance I’ve seen yet from the incognizanti:
    >If anything, it sounds more like this extra layer would only add to the confusion people have in trying to understand already complex concepts and could even potentially take away certain practical conceptual tools. So I don’t see the point.<

  151. mufion 12 Jun 2011 at 2:10 pm

    Too bad we have no qualified critics (e.g. cognitive scientists or philosophers of mind) who have read Hoffman’s paper and take it seriously enough to publish their thoughts on it.

    That said, I have to agree with BillyJoe that Hoffman seems unaware that he is using the argument from ignorance.

    What’s more, that was my impression – not only of his essay on God – but also of the CR portion of his paper. The only difference, it seems, is which knowledge gap (real or imagined) he’s addressing (ultimate reality or mind/body) and which contrived explanation he plugs into it (God or a system of conscious agents).

    But, as a lay person with shallow pockets, far be it from me to decide which methodological assumptions (e.g. materialist or idealist) should found a research program (although Dr. Novella might have something to say about that).

  152. Jeremiahon 12 Jun 2011 at 3:41 pm

    Where, I ask rhetorically, has Hoffman in any way stated or effectively implied that the truth of his premise is based on the fact that it has not been proven false?

    More to the point, the unstated premise or inference would be that the opposing hypotheses have not, after all this time, been proven true.

    To have someone who is demonstrably and incurably ignorant accuse such a well respected Professor of Cognitive Science of being unaware of the extent that he misuses logic, and then use that to support one’s own dubious positions is bizarre.

  153. mufion 12 Jun 2011 at 4:28 pm

    Must have hit a raw nerve.

    Looking forward to reports of those spooky, disembodied conscious agents!

    Who ya gonna call?!

    :-)

  154. BillyJoe7on 12 Jun 2011 at 4:36 pm

    davidsmith,

    “It still seems like the primary reason for CR is to provide a workable solution to the mind/body problem as he describes in the introduction.”

    Yes, as I said that is his motivation. But he does take his cue from QM, in particular that consciousness collapses the wave function, and his hypothesis is all about consciousness being fundamental, an ida that he gets from QM.

    Here is a quote form one of his “Edge” responses which makes this clearer:

    http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/bios/hoffman.html

    Quantum measurement hints that observers may create microphysical properties. Computational theories of perception hint that observers may create macrophysical properties

    BTW, can I take it that you now agree that the icon is different from the object. That they are not one and the same

  155. BillyJoe7on 12 Jun 2011 at 4:52 pm

    mufi,

    “I think it would be more accurate to say that CR would refer to heavenly bodies (and all other imaginable phenomena) as MUI’s, rather than as conscious agents.”

    That is definitely what he is saying. In fact, he specifically says the moon is an icon in our MUI. But the physical object that the icon represents is the result of interacting conscious agents. This declaration about the existence of physical objects gives him a pass on Idealism, and the his idea that interacting conscious agents produce these physical objects absolves him of Dualism. Or so he believes.

  156. BillyJoe7on 12 Jun 2011 at 5:10 pm

    mufi,

    “Too bad we have no qualified critics (e.g. cognitive scientists or philosophers of mind) who have read Hoffman’s paper and take it seriously enough to publish their thoughts on it.”

    A fringe dweller tends not to get noticed by real scientists. ;)

    “That said, I have to agree with BillyJoe that Hoffman seems unaware that he is using the argument from ignorance…The only difference, it seems, is which knowledge gap (real or imagined) he’s addressing (ultimate reality or mind/body) and which contrived explanation he plugs into it (God or a system of conscious agents).”

    The knowledge gap is at least imagined if not lied about. He mischaracterises the mainstream view, placing it at one extreme (sensory perceptions match objective reality) and then slides to the other extreme (what we see is entirely our own construction).

  157. Jeremiahon 12 Jun 2011 at 5:26 pm

    For davidsmith: Be forewarned that the favorite trick of the incognizanti here is to take something out of context and “pretend” that it proves some otherwise untenable argument from pure ignorance.

    Example: Here’s the full commentary from Edge where the implication that his theories are somehow derivative of a particular aspect of QM is clearly missing, and when in fact there are virtually no present theories of the physical world that do not take QM into account. Note that what has been taken out of context as a premise, is in fact one of two proposed yet separate examples.

    >Donald Hoffman
    Hoffman’s First Law
    A theory of everything starts with a theory of mind.

    Quantum measurement hints that observers may create microphysical properties. Computational theories of perception hint that observers may create macrophysical properties. The history of science suggests that counterintuitive hints, if pursued, can lead to conceptual breakthroughs.

    Hoffman’s Second Law
    Physical universes are user interfaces for minds.

    Just as the virtual worlds experienced in VR arcades are interfaces that allow the arcade user to interact effectively with an unseen world of computers and software, so also the physical world one experiences daily is a species-specific user interface that allows one to survive while interacting with a world of which one may be substantially ignorant.<

    You'd have to be substantially ignorant not to get that.

  158. mufion 12 Jun 2011 at 5:28 pm

    BillyJoe,

    I think we’re on the same page here. I just want to check one interpretation against yours:

    This declaration about the existence of physical objects gives him a pass on Idealism…

    Do you think that it does? or do you think that he thinks that it does?

    Because CR sounds an awful lot like a version of idealism to me. After all, what are we to make of this vague and abstract notion of a conscious agent, if not that it is a unit of mental activity, which forms the ontological foundation of both idealism, in general, and CR, in particular?

    Incidentally, I stumbled across an earlier discussion of this same topic on The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe forum, which is worth a comparative scan.

  159. Jeremiahon 12 Jun 2011 at 5:36 pm

    However, it’s nice to see these two masters of denial publicly united in debate as an example of how icons of ignorance feed off of each other’s experience.

  160. mufion 12 Jun 2011 at 5:45 pm

    PS: On that same thread, this comment grabbed me:

    One inconsistency I found was the assumption of a computational burden that needs to be alleviated by the use of an interface. This only makes sense in terms of neurological processes, but Hoffman says that neurons are epiphenomena. What’s the logic of imposing such limitations on fundamental “conscious agents”, moreover ones that don’t even occupy space-time (as described by modern physics)? I asked him about this the other day during a lecture and it stopped him dead in his tracks. The whole thing was caught on tape. It was glorious.

    But I guess that meat-heads like us are not supposed to raise such intuitive questions, so long as the notion can be made “mathematically precise and yields experimental predictions”, as Hoffman alleges.

  161. BillyJoe7on 12 Jun 2011 at 6:30 pm

    mufi,

    “This declaration about the existence of physical objects gives him a pass on Idealism…Do you think that it does? or do you think that he thinks that it does?”

    I don’t think that it does, but he certainly thinks that it does. That’s why I said “Or so he believes”.

    He says that interacting systems of conscious agents produce the physical objects. We are not given much of a hint as to what what these concious agents are*, or what systems of conscious agents are, or how these systems of conscious agents interact to produce physical objects.

    I agree that he would need to do so in order to absolve himself of Idealism (and Dualism). After all, these conscious agents are pivotal to his hypothesis.

    *Except that, apparently, they are not all human!

  162. Jeremiahon 12 Jun 2011 at 6:40 pm

    Again with the deceptive ploy of taking an example out of context to re-frame the meaning. Here’s the full comment:

    “We can compare the MUI to its philosophical antecedents all day, but in the end the idea only serves as way for Hoffman to present conscious realism. And your emphasis on “representation” tells me that you didn’t read the article closely enough. Hoffman rejects physicalism, so to him there is no external reality that needs to be re-presented.
    Again, while I don’t agree with Hoffman I think that refuting his theory will take more than treating him as if he’s a freshman philosopher who’s unaware that he’s plagiarizing. It’s better to engage his concepts and use his language. One inconsistency I found was the assumption of a computational burden that needs to be alleviated by the use of an interface. This only makes sense in terms of neurological processes, but Hoffman says that neurons are epiphenomena. What’s the logic of imposing such limitations on fundamental “conscious agents”, moreover ones that don’t even occupy space-time (as described by modern physics)? I asked him about this the other day during a lecture and it stopped him dead in his tracks. The whole thing was caught on tape. It was glorious.”

    It probably was, from the point of view of someone who can score a debate point from a respected opponent. Too bad we don’t have access to the tape, but at least we have the full comment.

    There were other comments from this same poster that were quite favorable, as well as quibbles along the lines of my own
    (# Jeremiah on 11 Jun 2011 at 6:12 pm).
    But we won’t get any of this from the master debaters here.

  163. Jeremiahon 12 Jun 2011 at 7:05 pm

    “Again, while I don’t agree with Hoffman I think that refuting his theory will take more than treating him as if he’s a freshman philosopher who’s unaware that he’s plagiarizing. It’s better to engage his concepts and use his language. ”

    Amen to that in any context.

  164. Jeremiahon 12 Jun 2011 at 7:18 pm

    Of course to use his language you’d have to be more cunning as a linguist.

  165. BillyJoe7on 13 Jun 2011 at 1:58 am

    Just to round this off…

    Hoffman definitely is motivated by the “consciousness causes collapse” nonsense. So let me just make the following observations:

    It is simply not the case that consciousness collapses the wave function. By which I mean that this is not the majority view but the view of a minority.

    It is also not the case that measurement collapses the wave function. Again, what I mean is that this is not the majority view but the view of a minority.

    And it is also not the case that the wave function actually collapses. Or, in other words, that a wave collapses into a particle. It’s simply that different properties of the same object are being measured. Quantum objects have both wave-like and particle-like properties, they do not change from one into the other.

    In other words, the whole motivation for making consciousness primary is baseless.

  166. Mlemaon 13 Jun 2011 at 2:56 am

    Hi BillyJoe7,
    It may be true that quantum theory helped to inspire and shape Hoffman’s CR theory. He seems to work to incorporate current quantum theories in order to validate his theory. In the same way he accounts for evolution.
    http://www.cogsci.uci.edu/~ddhoff/
    But he is a cognitive scientist, and I don’t see that, as you say: “he definitely is motivated by the “consciousness causes collapse” nonsense.”
    Plus, I don’t think the “majority view” would be that questions about quantum theory are “nonsense”. Additionally, if wave collapse IS nonsense (for the reasons you say), I don’t see that it would necessarily cause a collapse in his theory.

    But that’s just me talkin’ outmah ass. Make of it what you will.

  167. Jeremiahon 13 Jun 2011 at 3:42 am

    Consciousness doesn’t ‘collapse’ the wave function, it’s a property that emerges from the function, and as a consequence is inherent to all functions. Functions can’t operate effectively without awareness, i.e., being conscious, of their interfacing.
    The “icons” in his view are (or at least include) what we will perceive as particles. But ask yourself how any function could operate consistently without some sense of whatever entity was reacting to the operation? It simply couldn’t. Awareness of some sort is primary.
    Functions are the change agents. Their icons are their intervening “faces.” But to fully understand the theory requires some attempt to view it as an extremely complex abstraction. To oversimplify the view of an abstraction tends to destroy the view, not the abstraction

  168. mufion 13 Jun 2011 at 10:14 am

    BillyJoe:

    I’ve not seen any surveys of physicists, cognitive scientists, or philosophers, as they relate to these questions, so I can’t speak to what the majority or minority views are among them.

    Hoffman makes some relevant statements here – e.g. regarding the dominance of physicalism and what he calls HFD (hypothesis of faithful depiction) among perceptual theorists, and he reprints Searle’s “dead as a doornail” remark about the status of idealism in contemporary philosophy (which might explain why Hoffman tries to distance CR from it). But I understand that you have doubts about Hoffman as a source – and/or about the HFD remark, in particular.*

    In any case, I would agree with you that (at least for lay folks like ourselves) it’s helpful to know the difference between mainstream and fringe before making generalizations about “what the experts say” or “what science says.”

    * I, too, found that description a little surprising, although it jibes somewhat with Lakoff & Johnson’s critique of the correspondence theory of truth and its influence on philosophers and what L&J call “first-generation” (i.e. pre-1970′s) cognitive scientists.

  169. davidsmithon 13 Jun 2011 at 1:39 pm

    BillyJoe,

    and his hypothesis is all about consciousness being fundamental, an ida that he gets from QM.

    Well, we’ll have to agree to disagree. I suppose the best way to clarify would be to ask him. In any case, the logical consistency of his thesis is not contingent on where we think his ideas came from.

    BTW, can I take it that you now agree that the icon is different from the object. That they are not one and the same

    Erm, no. Hoffman states quite clearly in his paper thus:

    The conscious perceptual experiences of an agent are a multimodal user interface between that agent and an objective world.

    and:

    Conscious realism asserts that the objective world, i.e., the world whose existence does not depend on the perceptions of a
    particular observer, consists entirely of conscious agents.

    So why don’t you tell me where you think “objects” fit in with Hoffman’s scheme of things if they are not the conscious perceptual experiences of an agent or a system of interacting agents?

  170. Jeremiahon 13 Jun 2011 at 1:56 pm

    That question comes too late in the game. BillyJoe and Mufi have already moved on from “the theory is wrong because laymen can’t understand it” to “the theory is wrong because laymen won’t understand it.”

  171. Mlemaon 13 Jun 2011 at 2:10 pm

    Hi Jeremiah
    your comments regarding Hoffman’s paper have helped to illuminate the CR theory for me. And now with your last comment regarding function, I need to think about it some more!
    thanks

  172. Mlemaon 13 Jun 2011 at 3:01 pm

    Hi mufi
    as with all theories about what is the most fundamental nature of our existence, I seriously doubt there will be consensus about Hoffman’s CR. If there ever is, then it will certainly change. :-)

    but based on the comments you’ve made in this discussion, you and i truly do not understand Hoffman’s theory to say the same thing. And the criticism you’ve quoted (from AI guy) are also, to me, not pointed at what Hoffman is actually saying. (I read the source too)

    Perhaps people who are heavy into software and interface design are so well-able to conceptualize the MUI that they don’t extrapolate from the metaphor, and, instead, tend to superimpose it on the CR theory. Perhaps Hoffman needs a another metaphor for the locus and form of interaction between consciousnesses (at least for us laypeople) Myself, i can’t imagine what that would be.

    I am conceptualizing Hoffman’s “heterarchies of conscious agents” as a sort of multi-dimensional Venn diagram.
    anyway, in a different world we would perhaps be able to find time to agree about this. But in this world I have to do some work.
    cheers

  173. mufion 13 Jun 2011 at 3:03 pm

    davidsmith, quoting Hoffman:

    Conscious realism asserts that the objective world, i.e., the world whose existence does not depend on the perceptions of a
    particular observer, consists entirely of conscious agents.

    That’s fine, if one accepts his definition of “objective world”, which is often used to refer to a world which does not depend on any observer (i.e. and not merely of any “particular” one). Otherwise, what we seem to have here is more of an “intersubjective world”, where “subject” refers to an incorporeal, and not necessarily human, conscious agent, which are the only ontologically real entities.

    BTW, this long and wordy thread was started when you suggested that Hoffman’s paper is a solution to my problem with the “consciousness causes collapse” interpretation of QM. I suppose it is, in a way – despite my layman’s doubts about it (and despite the apparent lack of qualified peers to defend it).

  174. mufion 13 Jun 2011 at 3:28 pm

    Mlema:

    Fair enough.

    I’ll just toss in this essay about “The Perils of Metaphorical Thinking”, which concluded:

    Metaphors are so deeply embedded in our language that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to think without them. And there’s nothing wrong with that, as long as we keep a firm grasp — metaphorically speaking — on what they really mean.

  175. mufion 13 Jun 2011 at 3:28 pm

    link

  176. Jeremiahon 13 Jun 2011 at 5:02 pm

    >where “subject” refers to an incorporeal, and not necessarily human, conscious agent, which are the only ontologically real entities.<

    Do you derive the meaning from a human thought by measuring the visual or its otherwise determinable amount of corporeal matter?

    Get real.

  177. BillyJoe7on 14 Jun 2011 at 7:38 am

    davidsmith,
    (quoting from the article)

    “The conscious perceptual experiences of an agent are a multimodal user interface between that agent and an objective world.”

    He is saying that the icon of the MUI is how the conscious agent experiences the objective world where the object resides. They are quite different. One represents the other. They are not the same.

    “Conscious realism asserts that the objective world, i.e., the world whose existence does not depend on the perceptions of a
    particular observer, consists entirely of conscious agents”

    He is saying that a particular conscious observer sees an icon that represents the object. That object is produced by interacting conscious agents, all of whom individually only see the icons representing the object.

    ————————-

    davidsmith,

    “So why don’t you tell me where you think “objects” fit in with Hoffman’s scheme of things if they are not the conscious perceptual experiences of an agent or a system of interacting agents?”

    Remember the analogy. In the virtual tennis game the ball is not an object. It is an icon. The object is the contents and activities of the supercomputer that creates the icon. This is invisible to the player. All he sees is the icon.

  178. davidsmithon 14 Jun 2011 at 11:45 am

    Now I am really confused. I think it’s because we are using the word “object” in different ways. It might be helpful to use another Hoffman quote to clear this up (p103):

    According to conscious realism, when I see a table, I interact with a system, or systems, of conscious agents, and represent that interaction in my conscious experience as a table icon.

    So, when I say “the icons are the objects” I mean that the icons are tables, chairs etc that we experience as ‘objects’. You are using the word “object” to refer to the system of interacting conscious agents that constructs the icons.

    But, surely, there is no “object”, in either sense, that exists independently of these interactions between conscious agents. That is my point.

  179. mufion 14 Jun 2011 at 2:29 pm

    davidsmith:

    But, surely, there is no “object”, in either sense, that exists independently of these interactions between conscious agents. That is my point.

    That was how I interpreted him, as well.

    It’s also partly why I refer to these conscious agents as “disembodied” or “incorporeal”, because (according to how I understand Hoffman) their bodies are not really bodies in any objective, mind-independent sense (an idea which both materialism/physicalism and dualism seem to share). Their bodies (and all their parts, including brains and neurons) are mere icons, or epiphenomena, with no causal powers of their own.

  180. Jeremiahon 14 Jun 2011 at 3:17 pm

    Show me a body, including any of its parts, brains, neurons, that can operate without either its operation or its operator.

  181. Jeremiahon 14 Jun 2011 at 6:54 pm

    So Mufi, you’ve gone to the next thread to plea for help, such as you did here: “although Dr. Novella might have something to say about that.”

    So you must have known that he had said the following about Hoffman’s theory earlier:

    ># Steven Novella on 15 Nov 2009 at 11:04 am
    davidsmith – that is philosophical masturbation. First, it replaces an apparent hard problem of consciousness with an even harder problem of how consciousness creates material reality.
    Second, and more importantly – what predictions flow from this view? How does this actually solve anything?
    Regarding why I don’t buy Chalmer’s “hard problem” – I discuss that here: http://www.theness.com/neurologicablog/?p=309 <

    Perhaps you'll get lucky and he'll say that again.

  182. michalchikon 19 Jun 2011 at 5:40 am

    On a epistemological level; I agree with Jonathan Schooner that we can not dismiss the possibility that the decline effect may be a physical phenomena until we quantify the other possible causes. One of the main differences between science and pseudoscience is that scientists don’t settle for plausible explanations without testing them and I am a little disturbed by how often Steve does this (despite his wonderful mind). Nevertheless, I find this whole situation humorous, because if the decline effect turns out to be a physically real phenomena we have just made an utterly useless discovery.

    To paraphrase Karl Popper, no reliable technology can be created based on unfalsifiable ideas. That is, you can build anything you know will work if you don’t know when the idea applies and when it doesn’t. There are no prayer powered cars because even if God is real he supposedly answer all prayers with yes, no and wait. You can’t trust the power of prayer because there is no causality you can control.

    A physical decline effect is even worse. If psychic phenomena are all completely quash-able by study, they are completely irrelevant because the more you rely on them the less reliable they are. Any effect that disappears when you try to learn how to use it and predict its effects is by definition useless and unpredictable. Not worth study.

    So even if Jonathan Schooner is right, he is wrong to worry about this. This falls in the category of other phenomena that are epistemologically intractable and therefore not worth any effort to study or even acknowledge. Other examples being super powerful beings (gods, aliens, ancient warrior spirits) that are effectively omnipotent and omniscient that don’t want to be found. Miracles that never happen by command or in any sort of pattern and will in fact avoid happening when we are looking for them. Physical laws that fail completely randomly and a causally to the extent that they can’t even be stochastically quantified. Phenomena that are incomprehensible to human minds due to some limitation or our biology or some metaphysical principle. Phenomena that have no objective or consensual manifestation.

    No phenomena like the ones just mentioned can ever be the fruitful subject of human effort of any kind whether by science or mystics. If the physical decline effect is somehow proven, so what? We do the same thing we have always done and do experiments until we get results we can trust and therefore use.

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