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  1. #61
    BookWyrm Archren's Avatar
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    Sep 2003
    You know, it often does disturb me a little when I see evidence of how chemicals affect my mood in subtle ways. For instance, I notice myself getting more sarcastic and snippy to the people around me when my blood sugar is low (I'm a little hypoglycemic). I notice that I'm less able to control my frustration at little things in similar cases.

    At those points I do sometimes wonder how much of the brain process is deterministically chemical, and how much can be "controlled" by "me," the personality that seems to be thinking my thoughts. The thing is, if I'm aware of how my lack of blood sugar affects me, I can clamp down, refocus, and avoid saying things that I'll regret. As I've lived with this for a few years, that gets a little easier.

    So I guess what I'm saying is that I'm aware of the issues of chemical control of mood and thought, but there always is the illusion of "me" that can push through those factors and focus on what "I" need to be doing. I'm trying to figure out what sort of evidence would be necessary to break that illusion in a really disturbing, "stop me from functioning in a normal way" kind of way. I'm not sure what it would be, exactly. I'll have to pick up Scott's book when it comes out to find out!

  2. #62
    Registered User
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    Oct 2003
    high noon
    Evidence! We need evidence of our lack of efficacy that is so blatant and so frightening that we cannot ignore it any longer. But haven't we all thought about the extent to which we are manipulated by various different stimuli and environmental issues? We just don't panic because that sense of self and continuity in time that we all have remains constant. When that breaks down, when the thread of our past frays and splits apart, we don't care either because we loose the awareness of that power we always thought we had anyway.
    I'm buried doing revisions for TTT, but I fully intend on presenting some of the experimental findings regarding the experience of conscious willing. Otherwise, I thinks there's a pretty big distinction between feeling empirically disempowered on occasion, and discovering that 'empowerment' is illusory altogether.

    So I guess what I'm saying is that I'm aware of the issues of chemical control of mood and thought, but there always is the illusion of "me" that can push through those factors and focus on what "I" need to be doing. I'm trying to figure out what sort of evidence would be necessary to break that illusion in a really disturbing, "stop me from functioning in a normal way" kind of way. I'm not sure what it would be, exactly. I'll have to pick up Scott's book when it comes out to find out!
    I would rephrase it as "there's always the illusion of 'me' that can simulate pushing through those factors and focus on the illusion of what 'I' need to be doing..." - to give an example of all the absurdity of this! I don't think anything can dispell the illusion - we're hardwired to experience the world the way we do - but then dispelling not the point. The point is to illustrate the degree to which our knowledge undermines the 'credibility' of our experience - and to underscore the absurdity of humanity finding itself at such a socio-historical point.

    The experience of things like 'willing' is likely ineliminable; it's the conceptual framework we've raised on this experiential foundation that is profoundly threatened.

  3. #63
    Illustrious Gambler saintjon's Avatar
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    Jan 2002
    in a pimped out airship baby
    What do you think would need to change to make said framework more functional again?

  4. #64
    Yobmod Yobmod's Avatar
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    Dec 2004
    Scott wrote:

    There's actually position in the philosophy of mind which hypothesizes that we can never resolve the mind/body problem because we simply haven't evolved the juice we need to tackle it.
    I think that humanity as a species (or individuals) is only capable of understanding less complex systems than itself. Hence by the time we've evolved intellectually and biologically enough to fully understand neuroscience it will be obsolete.

  5. #65
    Hmm... I'm not sure the idea that my life is meaningless is frightening either. I think pondering it would be more likely to cause depression than terror.

    I once had a discussion with a nihilist. I asked him about responsibility. He said, "the only responsibility is consequence."

    Maybe: Regardless of the advances of nueroscience human societies exist and will continue to exist, and as a prerequisite of their existance they will subscribe to certain illusions. Those illusions entail consequences for individuals, placing limits on the possible outcomes of their choices (in the same way that physical laws such as gravity place limits on the possible outcomes of individual choices, like jumping off a building). Whether the individual sees the society's illusions for what they are, or not, the consequences remain the same.

    In other words, we live within the same framework whether nueroscience says we have free will or not. And it is infinitely easier to believe in the experiential illusion of free will than it is to reject it at every second.

    So, yes, where does all of this get us? It is a depressing (and possibly shocking) intellectual exercise, but it does very little to change the experience of life. Because, even the depression is a neurochemical response, and will remain or vanish as your nuerochemisty dictates.

  6. #66
    Quote Originally Posted by Scott Bakker

    It seems that we don't exist.
    This is not as new as you think. I don't know if anyone in this topic has already mentioned it, but eastern "wisdom" traditions have always claimed that we don't exist.

    The wisdom traditions claim (my interpretation anyway) that there is only ONE movement, everything is part of that movement. There is no real causal individuality in that movement. There is only individuality in the way that each person has a unique quality. Quality that is defined by cause and effect, by movement.

  7. #67
    It seems you see Determinism as a negative thing. Is it? Is free will and choice essential to overall positiviteness of life? Of course not. We must simply embrace absurdism. We must be as Camus's Sisyphus, and conclude that all is well regardless of the triviality or the futility of it all. Morals deem things good and bad, right and wrong, and thus morals are ridiculous human creations, that is all; to condemn someone who had no choice in the matter is quite foolish.

    We operate so as to benefit the whole. We don't really judge people on their objective moral standing (doesn't exist), we see how they affect the whole of everyone, and make an assertive decision on their positive or negative stance in society.

  8. #68
    Registered User falcon57's Avatar
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    Mar 2007

    Basic assumption is debatable

    Hi there,

    This thread seems to be dead, and I do not agree with Scotts first postings,
    so I take the liberty to answer to the Scotts original postings. He states that there are two ways to understand the world. By reason and by cause. He argues that the balance is rapidly changing to in favor of cause asking us whether we are afraid that reason and meaning might disappear.

    It seems to be a tradition of some kind that hard science has a monopoly on truth. Medcine is based on biology, biology on chemistry, chemistry on physics and physics on mathematics. Mathematics we all know is true! The point I want to raise is not whether mathematics is true or not but I want to point out that the nature mathematics is not of this world. Nobody has ever seen a simple number one nor can anyone say where one might find it. I'm not saying that numbers don't exist, but they are for certain not part of the world we humans live in.

    So even if we could find a mathematical description of the world we live in and about ourself that doesn't obliterate the why. Cause and reason are not opposites they are independent.

    Another question is, if someone could simplify a hypothetical description about us to the point that it becomes managable by the means awailable of this hypothetical time.

    We are drifting towards a time that would be ripe for such an invention. We have individualized medcines, buying offers, personal news profiles, etc. So if it becomes possible to feed the individual with individual input it might be possible to influence his/her behaviour.

    Assume further that those techniques are used to prevent terrorism and criminal behaviour and improve education and general happyness those techniques might have a chance to be actually used. At first reeducating child molesters, sociopaths later as therapy for people endangered by suicide and at the very end some agency controls us all. I don't think this control would take the form of a sinister Dr. Strangelove, rather it would be far more subtler and accepted by all as a necessary institution, maybe even with democratic control and this would be a true nightmare.

    I would like to read a book within such a setting where there are the 'good' controlers and (illicit?) 'evil' controlers and a love story where the lovers are never sure wheter their love is not manfactored by one of the factions.

  9. #69
    A friend of mine recommended a book to me today, which I plan on reading, but I'm in the middle of Crown of Stars and plan on finishing that first. Anyway, when I heard about it, it made me think of this thread.

    "Stumbling on Happiness," by David Gilbert

    "Why are lovers quicker to forgive their partners for infidelity than for leaving dirty dishes in the sink? Why do patients remember long medical procedures as less painful than short ones? Why do home sellers demand prices they wouldn't dream of paying if they were home buyers? Why does the line at the grocery store always slow down when we join it? In this book, Harvard psychologist Gilbert describes the foibles of imagination and illusions of foresight that cause each of us to misconceive our tomorrows and misestimate our satisfactions. Using the latest research in psychology, cognitive neuroscience, philosophy, and behavioral economics, Gilbert reveals what we have discovered about the uniquely human ability to imagine the future, our capacity to predict how much we will like it when we get there, and why we seem to know so little about the hearts and minds of the people we are about to become.--From publisher description."

  10. #70
    First off, I appologize if I trip myself somewhere in the wording of this; English is not my first language and you guys are frightfully good at it. Anyway,

    Quote Originally Posted by Scott Bakker View Post
    With modern neuroscience we are finally unravelling the human functional puzzle, and surprise-surprise, intentional phenomena like meaning, purpose, and morality are starting to seem as ephemeral in us as they were in the rest of the natural world. We are in the process of being 'disenchanted.'
    After Science's victory over God, and years of French literature for that matter, I think the general populace would by this point be hardened to such a revelation to the point of indifference.

    The 'yoke' of sentience prevents such realizations from having any consequences beyond those of spiritual gloom, depression (etcetera; all these things have become trivial with the disenchantment). It's easy to look at something and be convinced it's not what you're really seeing, but since everyone is duped into the same illusion, the relevance wanes.

    You'd probably have a minority of extremists, or realists in this case, that would go full monty and bask in the glory of actions with no responsibilities, but since the revelation is intellectual in nature and not physical, by and large things would remain unchanged.

    Quote Originally Posted by Scott Bakker View Post
    It seems that we don't exist.
    Really? To me it seems we're deceived, and in order for us to be deceived at all we must exist. This, more than anything, has confirmed our being.

    (did I just completely misunderstand the question and instead echo Descartes?)

  11. #71
    I Like Ham Rhombus's Avatar
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    Jul 2007
    My house
    Hi All,
    I do research in cognitive neuroscience, and I was very interested when I stumbled upon this thread.
    My simplified understanding of Scott's argument is that:
    1.) people view stuff in terms of causes or reasons
    2.) because of science, (enlightened?) people view much of the world in terms of causes, while people are still understood in terms of reasons
    3.) modern neuroscience is increasingly able to explain the behaviour of the mind and people in terms of causes and not reasons. We can describe why a person acted the way they did in terms of neural processes
    4.) point 3 is very depressing, (people are no longer special)

    I've heard people talk about the mind in ways that mitigate the depresiveness of point 3 in my field, however. There are technical labels given to these ideas, but I can't remember them.

    Non-depressive point 1.) The mind is greater then the sum of it's parts. You can measure the behaviour of individual neurons, for example, but when you combine them together, they form something that can not be understood in terms of its constituent parts. Even if you could perfectly measure everything about all of the brain, you still would not be able to get a causal understanding of it at the level of neurons. You hear terms like emergent phenomena bandied about with respect to this idea.

    Non-depressive point 2.) The brain, in theory, could be understood by perfect measurement of its constituent neurons, and glial cells, etc. However, extremely small variations in input lead to highly unpredictable changes in output. So as a practical matter, we can't develop a sufficiently good causal picture of the brain. The brain is deterministic, but things like action potentials demonstrate chaotic dynamics. Terms like "motive" and "reason" will still have their uses, and people will never fully be "disenchanted".

    I personally believe point 2 and not point 1, but there are people for and against both of these ideas. My point is that if you believe in either of these two points, then you believe that "causes" and "reasons" will never fully be antagonistic.

    As an aside which may be interesting only to me, there is a lot of very cool work being done on how people judge things like motives, and what brain areas are involved. For example, I have a friend who does work that involves a small shape or pixel moving across a computer screen. If it moves in a certain way then people will judge it in terms of what Scott calls causes, and if it moves in another way (more irregular, jerky motion, for example) people will judge it in terms of what Scott calls reasons. My friend tries to pin down exactly what properties of movement lead to these animacy judgements, and what brain areas are implicated.

  12. #72
    OK, I came late to this party, and I doubt I'm as deep as most, but no it isn't disturbing, nor do I find it that upsetting. The philosophical implications and theological ones are nasty.

    As a Catholic I look forward to watching theologists tie themselves in knots over it for years as it becomes more apparent.

    As an American, I suspect the same folks that get very upset over evolution are going to **** themselves sideways and foam at the mouth once this becomes popular knowledge.

    Why? Well, if you think evolution means you're not some special little snowflake, or challenges the word of God, what are you going to do when someone can clinically prove that much of your actions are not driven by a conscious mind, but by base drives that make you no different from an animal? See above for my take on it.

    At this point, its not popular knowledge (despite the articles in The Economist, Blindsight, a fair number of short stories and books like The User's Guide to the Brain, etc.), but I suspect it will within the next 5 years.

  13. #73
    Master Obfuscator Dawnstorm's Avatar
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    Oct 2003
    Sinking in the quicksand of my thought
    Hey, the thread's active lately. (Hopefully, Neuropath comes out soon, so we can all read it. )

    And welcome to the newcomers! I hope you stick around; your posts were interesting to read.

    Antaeos (how do I get that "ae"-letter; alt+????): I find the problem I have with seeing the "scariness" of "We don't exist" is that the "scaredness" itself is a brainstate. For example, you speak of "no responsibility". The decision to take no responsibility is just as much a brainstate as the decision to take no responsibility. Any reasons you may have for the one or the other decisions are brainstates, too. Ultimately, what's relevant to day to day life is full-body behaviour, not brain-only behaviour. And however we deal with new information about brains and decisionmaking, it's still an interaction effect between people. We talk, write, signal to each other; we don't exchange electrical charges brain-to-brain. (Not yet, at least. )

    The thing about Descarte that's hard to grasp is "pure" existence; untainted by any "exists as" constellation. To me, "Cogito ergo sum" is too wordy. "Cogito" is enough, as the "sum" is implied in the verb ending -o, in the grammatical concept of "I think". Basically, it's a distincition between action and actor. And "thinking" is the only action that proves itself, not because "thinking" is special in any way, but because "thinking" is the only behaviour that has the problem.

    Who or what we are, whether you and I are different people, or whether we're all aspects of dreaming goldfish, doesn't change anything. The problem with the kind of existance that "cogito ergo sum" assures us of is that it's not satisfactory in any way. There isn't all that much difference between existing or not existing, not in any meaningful context.

    Rhombus: The moving-pixles experiment sounds very interesting! (And I'd be interested how "reason" and "cause" are defined, operationally. How do we know we're seeing reason? Cause?)

    As a side note, I think the relation of science to nature is assymptotic rather than tangential (if that's a meaningful metaphor at all), with the added complication that all actions that contribute to science are nature. Makes little sense, now that I think of it. What I'm on about is that - no matter whether it's reason 1 or 2 - being something takes less energy than understanding something. (I'm sure I'm not only confusing myself.)

    Pilgrim: The "humans'r'us club" will probably be the most upset. Interesting connections there with "evolution". I agree, this should be social content of debates to come.

    As an aside, I spend much of my time in the writing forum, being a hobby writer and all. For some reason I love the phrase "some special little snowflake".

    So another round of welcomes, and I'm bowing out to relax my brains.

  14. #74
    Dawnstorm: Æ=Alt + 0198, æ=Alt + 0230

    Thank'ee for the welcome. I've been looking forward to Neuropath since Peter Watts' mentioned it on his blog.

  15. #75
    Master Obfuscator Dawnstorm's Avatar
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    Oct 2003
    Sinking in the quicksand of my thought
    Quote Originally Posted by Pilgrim View Post
    Dawnstorm: Æ=Alt + 0198, æ=Alt + 0230
    Thænks. (the table said U+00E6.)

    Still waiting for Neuropath,


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