Consciousness: Beyond Opposites

Context: What If Consciousness Comes First?

Interesting article, but not any kind of ultimate solution to the associated enigmas. While it is true that consciousness has played second-fiddle to the lumbering mechanistic leviathans of reductionism and behaviourism for some time, this is not a fault with reductionist thought, per se, so much as a result of the limited conceptual vocabulary within which the associated theories were formulated.

That said, I am not an adherent of reductive functionalism which isolates our experience as a by-product of clockwork logic within the brain (or brains, as we have many identifiable functional components/sub-brains there between our ears). As it turns out, the axiomatic, algorithmic foundations of such a paradigm are as implicitly and endemically incomplete as are all other non-trivially sophisticated logical systems.

There is not time or space here to parse the author’s argument but I think they are wrong, but for the correct reason. The argument asserts a divide between two polar perspectives which are under analysis reducible to the same essence.

Discussion of these kinds of topics is invaluable (here as much as anywhere) because, not only does it provide substantive cognitive nutrition, but – many of the key epistemological and ontological questions of philosophy, biology, psychology and physics contain the key to reconceptualising organisations, individuals and social systems. We should all be looking to expand our conceptual vocabularies and from this derive a fertile cartography of thought, seek new configurations, solutions and paths through the forest of facts as we currently understand them to exist; to mix and monster metaphors, somewhat.

There are always new ways to understand, to explain and to design organisational (or for that matter – technological) systems. This is a consequence of physics as much as of logic or mathematics; it is in deluding ourselves that we have arrived at any kind of final endpoint or closure that we unwittingly generate endlessly turbulent and unproductive ideologies, frameworks, dogmas and contexts.

Consciousness will only ever be partially explained and even then, never in terms of a legacy dualism rendered as polar opposites of mind and matter.

Utopian Entropy

Reflections on Entropy: there exist more disordered than ordered configurations of components, entities and systems; subsequently, it is more *probable* (even) under procedural, axiomatic or algorithmic systems of governance or ideology that culture, cognition and technology end up in a disordered, dystopian state – but things do not, generally speaking, devolve in this way. There are (or must be) aspirationally utopian options which successfully negotiate and exploit this material informational and energetic bias towards disorder; however, negotiating entropy and it’s unknown information (towards a goal of cultivating self-organisational and exploratory emergence, optimal qualitative and quantitative experience) invokes a requirement for open systems, flattened hierarchies, decentralised control and creative intuition. Does an individual or collective psychological or cultural profile as currently (Globally) exists fundamentally inhibit or energise this as an admissible organisational systems state?

The entropy which incurs dystopian control or disorder is also the entropy which invokes emergent complexity. It is all about probabilities; nudging constitutively open systems towards effective and emergent self-organisation and away from the compound, convergent neuroses of authoritarian control or (a similarly unfortunate) chaotic dystopia. Navigating the extremes towards a plausibly better world is a matter of mature and intuitive, creative engagement with entropy management.

Self-organisation is emergent under sufficient circumstances and in well-tuned resonances. Utopian systems surely also exist in that region of possibility space.

Disassembling Sentience: Distributed Multidimensional Computation

Context: How can you tell if another person, animal or thing is conscious?

An unpopular philosophical intuition in this context might be that the essential self-propagating information and energy-processing patterns of (a) logical, material and organic necessity are only identifiably “sentient” or “conscious” because from within the epistemological coordinate system that they are measured from they are inevitably and circularly intelligible and self-validating. To put it another way – there are underlying symmetries of autonomously self-propagating recursive logic that we associate to, and identify as, individuation and (perhaps) subjectivity or interior experience; these patterns are not necessarily bound or parameterised by organic computation.

There exist distributed information computing systems such as communications networks or the systems, artefacts and disembodied entities of cultural representation within (and as) which we exist. It is probable that a distributed cultural (say political, ideological, narrative) information system displays many of the essential features of sentience – statistical or probabistically optimal computation, memory, adaptive selection and emergence – *without* necessary experience or awareness.

The imputation is that sentience is merely a specific instance of a ubiquitous bias towards optimally concise and autonomously self-propagating information and energy-processing systems in nature. A possible consequence of this – the “philosophically unpopular” part – is that there is nothing particularly special about consciousness, that complexity and biological selection for experience or cultural selection for identifiable subjectivity are only a narrow-band instance of a much broader-spectrum system and logical principle.

This invokes (or incurs, if poorly-received) that psychological systems are perhaps best understood as adaptive nodes in a vast information and energy-processing environment that could have many dimensional cross-sections, partitions or relational subsets. This also suggests that methods of narrative or material persuasion-for-effect are as diversely identifiable and applicable as are the information-processing or distributed computational entities they seek to influence.

Detecting Deception


…and in a world over-infused, hyper-saturated with relentlessly self-replicating strings of unsubstantiated text and casual assertion, there is no simple or immediate test of truth for non-trivially complex statements or perhaps also (at times) for simple statements in non-trivially complex contexts. Critical analysis, a useful tool, is hardly the measure of median information consumption, nor perhaps is it that long-term goal to which most vocational education is generally directed.

Ambiguity and semantic dissonance probably serve a useful purpose beyond the confusion and turbulence they generate, beyond their singular utility for the Machiavellian conjuring of political capital out of thin air. Invocation of emotional affect via voice or text, the flip-side of detection, is an art – often enough a dark art.

On a related topic that you may find interesting: Don’t look now: why you should be worried about machines reading your emotions.

Social Media and a Self-Curated Spiral of Depression

Social media really makes me a bit sad. I find I end up comparing myself and elements of my life with all those perfect faces and places of everyone and everywhere else. It makes me feel empty and dissatisfied.

I can only assume that this is the way that this game is played – we feel empty and dissatisfied so we just pump more bullshit and sparkling, pyrotechnic white noise and meaningless fluff into our minds. Once the novelty of the new experience wears off, this in turn makes us feel more unhappy, so we turn once again to grazing on more ultimately pointless information noise – and the cycle continues in an endless spiral of participatory angst and emotional futility.

It is no coincidence that flushing money down the commercial toilets of casino slot machines incurs a very similar sense of emotional futility and dissatisfaction, nor that drug dependency invokes identical forms of psychologically obsessive and spirals of cyclically self-amplifying emotional futility. Does social media only really exploit us and invoke reflexive psychological and emotional dependency?

Inversely, though, it is also true that there are fascinating articles, images, people and places available through social media – the true question or reflection here may be of the quality of that personalised or self-curated content that we choose to expose ourselves to. Can social media ever be psychologically or emotionally beneficial?

The Creativity of Cultural Erasure

The subtle or substantive subtext of this image (above), implicit and unspoken, is that of negation, deletion, erasure. What depths might dwell in acknowledgement of the fact that every creative act is simultaneously an addition and a subtraction, a multiplication and a division, an exponentiation and a recombinatory partition?

Every creative gesture, thought, action and symbolic or linguistic frame of reference is always, and indelibly so, both assembly and dissasembly. We recombine artefacts, concepts, words, referential or semantic systems and entities into new or information-laden (a.k.a. novel and new or unexpected and surprising) configurations and iterative, recursive reconstellations. This represents the hyper-inflation of thhe evolving metamorphosis of material culture and cognitive or conceptual vocabularies; this is the amplification and accumulative side of this equation.

On the other side of this is a necessary function of negation and erasure: every extension of a (logical) system of reference, representation and meaning is also that foundational and recursive, self-referential extensibility through which all material, mathematical and living systems expand their scope, presence and internal complexity. Each assertion of novelty is an extension, structiral challenge and logical negation of the preexisting matrix and methods of cognition and of ways of being.

A systemic extension of art and creativity is a logical inflection and erasure of the assumptions upon which previous cognitive and ideological methods have been cultivated. There is no end to this recursive logical erasure; it is how we all grow and live and it is how the Universe autonomously processes information and energy through the self-propagating shockwave passing through a transmission medium of material artefacts, cultures and minds.

Viewed from a holistic perspective, all novelty and procedural or developmental creativity represents logical inflection, systemic insight and, at paradigm-transforming moments, processes of axiomatic reconfiguration. At a holistic level of analysis, in fact, the process of logical negation being described here and that is implicit in all creativity is that mischievously self-inflected replication of an entire system of cultural, cognitive or material artefacts within itself. Systemic extensibility is implicit, endemic, distributed and recursively self-similar.

The Abject Dissolution of Object Relations

Context: (Art) – “Lost Love” by Damien Hirst.

In so many ways – unacknowledged, subterranean, perhaps unintelligible – humanity’s relationship with knowledge, theory and science is deeply inflected by our basal instincts, our visceral orientations and our complex neurochemical and emotional experience, our essential relationship with the world and the endlessly extensible theories and frameworks which seek to explain it.

We find ourselves endlessly aspiring towards procedurally patterned symmetries of refinement in an iterated and accelerating aspiration towards beauty, knowledge and (what is at essence) control – of ourselves as much as of others or of the world. There is however a deep and problematic enigma here: our implicit orientation or angular emotional momentum towards an Object of desire, of knowledge and structured control is also that equation of difference by and through which our own psychological subjectivity and, further, substantive cognitive method or lived, emotional experience of sentience and self-awareness is defined.

What this means is that we are unable to ever attain our Object, our control or understanding or the completeness and resolute certainty we seek because in so doing, in acquiring that consummation of intelligibility or theoretical mastery we entirely, irrevocably, inevitably completely and utterly disassemble and invalidate our selves; this is to discover that you never were, that your dependence on and interdependence with that Object of representation, control, of that model of your own self that you cherish – although putatively real – was, is, could only ever be entirely insubstantial, built on shifting sands, and is in essence profoundly fictional.

We inhabit these self-inflating conceptual and emotional spaces of dissonance and it is through the difference and distance we find or cultivate here that we find a contingent, ephemeral or transient validation and certainty. The extent to which that certainty is fragile is endemic to physics and to mathematics or logic, in very special ways, so it should not be surprising that we find ourselves unable to find peace or satisfaction in any ultimate sense. The extent to which this provides cultural opportunities in an ecological niche of competitive and adversarial communication is self-evident: procuring narratives of certainty and completion invoke that psychological and subjective certainty by which we seek comfort in the face of the facts of endless material, emotional and cognitive disassembly.