Monday, March 6, 2017

DOES THE BRAIN GENERATE CONSCIOUSNESS?

Many Western scientists seem to think so.  A lot of research is being conducted at the moment to determine just where in the brain that consciousness is being generated.  Of course consciousness is never observed by these researchers.  What is observed are electrical patterns of firing neurons and the assumption is that firing neurons are generating consciousness which is not observed.  While it is obviously true that firing neurons effect the quality and content of consciousness, they do not generate consciousness.  It is also true that the firing neurons are the instrument of this change of consciousness, but not the cause of this change.  Firing neurons are the result, not the cause, of intentions, both personal intentions and Divine intentions.  The fantastic construction of our organisms, of any organism, is the result of Divine intention and the equally fantastic systems for the maintenance of that organism, to keep it surviving for as long as possible, is also the result of Divine intention.  So when your conciousness is effected by pain, which is a way of communicating to you to stop doing whatever it is that you are doing that is causing that pain; and when your consciousness is effected by thirst, or hunger, or fatigue, or the experience of being very hot or very cold, or very sexually desirous, this is the Divine communicating to you to do something that will insure your survival and insure the survival of your species.

There are experiments to show that electrical brain activity precedes consciousness.  Here is one of them:


Tracking the Unconscious Generation of Free Decisions Using UItra-High Field fMRI

Abstract


Recently, we demonstrated using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) that the outcome of free decisions can be decoded from brain activity several seconds before reaching conscious awareness. Activity patterns in anterior frontopolar cortex (BA 10) were temporally the first to carry intention-related information and thus a candidate region for the unconscious generation of free decisions. In the present study, the original paradigm was replicated and multivariate pattern classification was applied to functional images of frontopolar cortex, acquired using ultra-high field fMRI at 7 Tesla. Here, we show that predictive activity patterns recorded before a decision was made became increasingly stable with increasing temporal proximity to the time point of the conscious decision. Furthermore, detailed questionnaires exploring subjects' thoughts before and during the decision confirmed that decisions were made spontaneously and subjects were unaware of the evolution of their decision outcomes. These results give further evidence that FPC stands at the top of the prefrontal executive hierarchy in the unconscious generation of free decisions.
I have just included the abstract.  If you would like to read more you can google the title of the experiment above.

The attempt here is to locate the areas of the brain where decision making is generated.  What the researchers overlook is that the process was initiated not by firing neurons, but by the participants conscious decision to participate in the experiment and then to follow the instructions of the researchers.  The researchers wanted them to make a decision and they, wanting to collect their fee for participating, wanted to comply.  It was their conscious decision to decide which number to press or which button to push that set the whole process in motion.  But isn't this the way that it always is?  A couple decides they want to have a baby.  They copulate and hopefully the woman becomes impregnated.  Nine months later they hopefully have what they wished for, but all the incredible processes involved in giving them what they want took place beyond the purview of their consciousness.  Right now when you get up to get a glass of water whole cascades of molecular reactions leading to muscular and skeletal reactions are set in motion that are beyond your conscious purview; but the whole process was set in motion by your conscious experience of thirst leading to the experience of the satisfaction of your thirst.

The fabulous workings of our organisms can be divided into two areas.  One is to satisfy or attempt to satisfy whatever conscious desires we have.  Every time we want something, whole cascades of molecular reactions are set in motion that result in us satisfying or attempting to satisfy that desire.  So that is the genie aspect of our organisms. The other is to keep this organism alive as long as possible so that we can continue to enjoy this way of experiencing the world for as long as possible.  This includes all the metabolic and homeostatic and digestive and circulatory and reproductive activities that take place beyond our conscious awareness. It also includes a system of biological desires that align perfectly with our biological needs.  So, ignorant of our biologifcal needs, we, humans and otherwise, seek a certain type of food when we are hungry, seek water when we are thirsty, seek rest when we are tired, try to stop doing whatever we are doing when we feel pain, seek refuge when we feel threatened, and seek a member of the opposite sex, but the same species, when we have sexual feelings.  Those desires, plus the know how to satisfy those desires, plus the fabulous nerve and muscle and skeletal and molecular equipment that allows us to satisfy those desires, are all gifts of the Divine whose goal is to provide us with this way of experiencing the world, that is called our organism, for as long as possible.  
Finally, consciousness is not generated, by the brain or anywhere else.  Consciousnes is.  It has no beginning and no end.  Organisms are ways of providing, for consciousness, a unique experience of living in this world, a unique experience of a separate existence.  The body does not generate consciousness.  Consciousness attaches to the body to have this particular experience and detaches from the body when the body is no longer capable of providing that experience.

Something must be eternal.  Otherwise you are faced with the problem of something emerging from nothing, which seems insurmountable.  Materialists used to think that particles were eternal until two discoveries made them very quiet on this subject.  The first was the Big Bang, which, according to their western scientific brethren was the beginning of particles.  The second was the discovery by quantum physicists that particles are a function of perception; that what exists prior to perception are wave potentials; with the potential of materializing in a whole variety of particular ways depending on which living organism is perceiving it.  
We are, as John Milton so beautifully put it, the "bright effluence of bright essence increate."  The over flow of the Divine energy and light that has no beginning and no end. 

I want to remind you of two things: One is that my play 'Disinherit The Wind' has just opened in Los Angeles (see post 'Shameless Commerce Division') and that your comments are always welcome. 







Sunday, January 15, 2017

SHAMELESS COMMERCE DIVISION

After much tossing and turning, I have decided to pass on Google's generous offer of making possibly $11 per month to allow advertisements on my blog.  I will reserve this post, however, to do my own shameless advertising.  I am doing my play, 'Disinherit The Wind' again.  I did it over a year ago and it got some sensational reviews.  Here's one from the LA Examiner:

Disinherit the Wind' Spellbinding RATING: *****

"One of the most compelling, riveting , spell binding shows to hit the stage in a very long time. A college professor Bertram Cates [masterfully portrayed by Matt Chait] takes a position not totally in compliance with the academic norm and is vilified. Eventually the matter winds its way into a court room and the scene is set for an overpowering intellectual battle. The amazing detail with which the issues unfold on stage and before the court creates an experience that is truly unforgettable. Much of the credit goes to Matt Chait who not only wrote the play ‘Disinherit the Wind’ but who also brought the lead character Bertram Cates to life on stage along with another stellar performance from Circus-Szalewski as the more than a little arrogant Professor Hawkins.

The pivotal issue is the extent to which any level of spirituality plays a significant
role in the character and advancement of man versus a belief solely in the Darwinian Theory of evolution and natural selection. This is somewhat rather weighty material, however the entire team presenting the world premiere of ‘Disinherit the Wind’ is so unbelievably skilled that what appears to the audience in something a bit over two hours of utter intellectual and even emotional enchantment. This is not just another play, this is something deeply extraordinary. ‘Disinherit the Wind’ is something utterly unique as it thoroughly captures the minds of everyone who watches as the story unfolds. It is one the most worthy and poignant plays to have ever been staged. It deserves ten stars but I am confined to a maximum of five. "


                   




As I said, this is the shameless commerce division, so modesty has no place here.  The production we will be doing in March (March 3-April 9th) is a revison of the earlier production.  I revised it for several reasons.  One is that I was surprised at how many people had an affinity for the main character's ideas, which are many of the ideas expressed in this blog. So the play is now not so much about the lead character vs. the world, but about the spiritual dimension in all of us vs. the materialist establishment that would supress that dimension.  It is also more interactive, funnier and more dramatic than before.  I am very excited, and that's not shameless bragging; that's the truth.

I should tell you the basic plot of the play.  Do you know the play/movie Inherit The Wind?  That play was about the Scopes Trial, also known as the monkey trial, which took place in the 1920's in a small town referred to in that play as "the buckle on the Bible Belt."  The citizenry of this town were up in arms because a teacher read to his class some portion of Darwin's 'On the Origin of Species.'  At that time, presenting anything other than a biblical account of the origin of life was illegal in that state.  It became a trial of international significance, with the teacher being represented by Clarence Darrow, the foremost trial lawyer in the country, and the townspeople being represented by William Jennings Bryant, the foremost orator in the country.

Disinherit The Wind takes place in the present.  An eminent neurobiologist from the University of California has been dismissed from his tenured position for espousing a view of evolution that is different than Darwin's and that has a spiritual perspective.  After a lot of humiliating publicity and unable to find work as a teacher or laboratory access to continue his research, he sues the University to be re-instated.  The teacher and his graduate student disciple present many of the ideas that run through this blog.  The characters share the same names as characters from Inherit The Wind, although their roles are very different.  The one exception is the expert witness for the University's defense, whose name is Robert Hawkins and who shares an uncanny resemblance to someone that is often mentioned in this blog, Darwinian front man and promoter, Richard Dawkins.

If you enjoy reading this blog, attending this production, I imagine, will be "truly unforgettable." (Remember, this is still the shameless commerce division.)  Small theater in Los Angeles is always a money losing proposition, but if the admission price is difficult for you, you can enter 'Deal50' when you make your reservation and get a half price ticket.

If coming to Los Angeles is not in the cards, then you can purchase a copy of the play at amazon.com. I would wait on this, however, since the play that they are selling now is the original and the revised edition wont be ready for at least a month.

Here are some reviews of the current version of the play:


Santa Monica Observer 
By Ron Irwin 
Observer Staff Writer 

Play offers rather rare quality of complete mental immersion in the subject matter 

The show begins in a University lecture hall where Professor Bertram Cates is presenting an abundance of details about the biological and physical structure of the human body. Compelling are these details of DNA and cell formation and other fascinating facts about physical life and they are made even more impressive as actual scientific video is projected on a very large screen as the good professor explains to the assembled class also known as theatre audience in this instance exactly what it is they are looking at. 

Instantly the audience knows that whatever may be ahead it is absolutely not your typical theatrical event and indeed it is not. It becomes far richer and infinitely more thought provoking yet retains the essential requirement of being fully entertaining as it dives into the question of how does spirituality connect with science? 

Soon the story moves forward several years. Professor Cates has lost his tenured teaching job for daring to challenge the academic establishment. Professor Cates you see actually started to look beyond the mere mechanics of human life and began to ponder the true meaning of life. As he did so he increasingly began to challenge the Darwinian theory of natural selection and began to focus more on consciousness and spirituality along with other scientific knowledge that has emerged subsequent to the development and wide acceptance of Darwin's theory of evolution. Taking that position put him out of work and eventually in a courtroom seeking some level of justice. 

The courtroom battle is intense and pits Professor Cates against the world renowned Dr. Robert Hawkins a deeply devoted subscriber to the Darwinian theory. The battle of wit is brilliantly presented and utterly captivating. Very unique in the world of theatre "Disinherit the Wind" compels a complete mental emersion and evokes long term analytical thinking, and that is both the strength and the weakness of this magnificent show. 

It gives "Disinherit the Wind" a rather rare quality of complete mental immersion in the subject matter. Such immersion is richly stimulating and for many a source of great joy regardless of any conclusions that may be drawn. But then again there are those who consider "The Kardashians" and "The Bachelor" to be really good television. Those folks will likely not enjoy "Disinherit the Wind." 

"Disinherit the Wind" is intense and compelling and extremely well acted by the entire cast, superbly written by Matt Chait and brilliantly directed by Gary Lee Reed. So except for those who actually watch "The Kardasians" or "The Bachelor" I highly recommend "Disinherit the Wind" playing now through April 9th 2017 at The Complex [Ruby Theatre], 6476 Santa Monica Boulevard, Hollywood, California. Show times are Fridays and Saturday evenings at 8:00 p.m. and Sundays at 3:00 p.m. This is one show you will never forget. 



Colorado Boulevard

“Disinherit the Wind” at the Complex Theater

Did Darwin skip a link?
Here’s a line we don’t often hear: “I’m going to make you feel great about your body.” Now place it in the mouth of a tenured microbiology professor, and you have the essence of what makes playwright Matt Chait’s Disinherit the Wind so unique.

By Melanie Hooks

Just opened at the Complex Theatre in Hollywood, Chait’s courtroom drama debates evolution theory, specifically Darwin’s, and its lionization among scientists. Chait himself plays the lead, Dr. Bertram Cates, a professor stripped of his position and reputation by the University of California when his unusual take on consciousness brings unwanted media attention. As we learn through the courtroom proceedings, however, Chait’s real beef is with Darwin’s Origin of Species conclusions. The institution’s, and indeed the field’s, knee-jerk reaction is to label him a creationist (which he assuredly is not) and laugh him out of his profession. Cates has his day of reckoning to clear his name, and we the audience go along for the intellectual, spiritual, and occasionally emotional ride.

The biggest draw is Chait himself, nimbly managing the lion’s share of dialogue, over the 2 hour, 40 minute run-time. He immediately establishes credibility as a professor in the opening scene’s sample Molecular Biology lecture. His topic – the delicacy and intricacy of DNA replication – fascinates and awes him, and his energy, like any great university lecturer’s, spreads throughout the room. Audience members nod in understanding as he breaks down the topic and leans into the best bits. The Complex is a small, black box space, so there is little hiding even in the darkened seats, adding to the feel of a classroom. “Life is a million times older than the pyramids;” “One hundred trillion hemoglobins/second are produced by ribosomes;” “Your body has 37.2 trillion cells.” These could be delivered as dry facts, but Cates practically sings them. The body’s complexity enthralls him, and the character, even later when beaten down by humiliation and exhaustion, stays true to that pure love. This love is the basis of his spirituality, which he’s not shy about sharing. It’s refreshing to see such a duality in an academic character.

More common in drama is the representation of Cates’s rival, Dr. Robert Hawkins, played by Circus Szalewski with exactly the sort of sneer one expects from a Cambridge don. Unfortunately his dissertation-style dialogue doesn’t allow for much comedy, but when it does, Szalewski shines.

Cates’s protégé, Howard Blair, is closer to tears than laughter, as his fellowship and engagement to the Dean’s daughter are both on the line. Actor Stephen Tyler Howell shakes with all the nervous energy one can well imagine having on the biggest day of a young life. He arguably has more to lose as Cates’s only character witness. Blair is gambling a future career yet to happen versus Cates’s defense of a long-established one. Howell and Rehany Aulani, who plays his fiancé Melinda Brown, share a nice, believable chemistry amongst the biologists, and Aulani strikes a grounding daughter-father presence with G. Smokey Campbell, who plays the pro-Darwin crusading UC department head, Dr. Jared Brown. Neither Brown nor Hawkins can imagine an explanation of life’s origin outside Darwin’s theory, and both struggle to understand Cates’s thoughts about consciousness versus physical existence. Where does the mind fit in?

Brown’s character has the potential to be the most morally complex and conflicted, torn between his desire to defend the university’s reputation and his own love for new ideas, something his bureaucratic tenure has denied him. Campbell is afforded little opportunity to express this middle ground position, as most of the play’s real estate concentrates on the ideas themselves as expressed by their real believers, Cates and Hawkins. Playgoers however are treated to Brown’s forceful academic animosity in contrast with his real tenderness toward daughter Mel, a tease at a deeper emotional journey that would have been enjoyable to experience more often. Campbell’s stillness when holding daughter Mel’s hand might be the show’s most deeply felt moment – quiet, brief, jealously guarded.

As it stands, grad student Blair takes the prize for Act One’s most transformative personal choice, and Cates’s highs and lows take the audience along the whole of Act Two. The writing makes good use of the Judge (Christina Hart)’s reminders to both sides that they should be sticking to the evidence instead of their desire to win small, personal points. Even lauded academics are human, perhaps more painfully so, as their daily goals often knock on the door of eternal questions. The visuals, projected on scrims, of microscopic and galactic images also harken back to the real topic – the mystery and wonder of life.

Including intermission, the entire experience runs around three hours, which starts to feel it at about Hour 2.25. But as a summary of his own life’s writings and insights into spiritual-scientific links, it likely feels short to Chait, who remains just as invested emotionally by the end of the play as in its opening. His drive powers along the last section, and we experience Cates’s personal resolution as genuine and profound.

In an interview with Dan Berkowitz, Chait dismisses cautious and ‘good enough’ attitudes about theater: “If you are not trying to deliver an experience to an audience that is life-changing, or attempting to affect people in a way that they will never forget, then what is the point?” Whatever one’s own conclusions about the origin or meaning of life, it’s unlikely that Disinherit the Wind will leave the mind unchallenged or unaffected.

Well worth your time – enjoy




The World Through Night-Tinted Glasses

Monday, March 6, 2017
Disinherit The Wind (review)
Spoilers ahoy!

I feel strange writing this. Disinherit The Wind (the title is a sly reference to the famous Pro-Evolution play Inherit The Wind--one of several) is a polemic about the relationship between science and spirituality, with an emphasis on how the two can live side by side. It attacks pure materialism, while eschewing anything smacking of fundamentalism or Creationism. But it also rejects Darwinian Evolution.

Now, most of this is actually my own point of view as well. I also see the universe itself as the manifestation of a transcendent consciousness of which we are a part. I see no inherent conflict between my faith and science.

But...

Disinherit The Wind tells a moving story, one that centers around some fairly esoteric questions of evolution, biology, genetics and other sciences. The fact such seemingly dry fare becomes a source of fascination and passion marks one of the play's great strengths. It urges, encourages, almost makes audience members think! Which is nearly the highest praise I can offer.

Dr. Bertram Cates (Matt Chatt--the playwright and owner of the Complex Theatre) is our protagonist--a neurobiologist fired because (he claims in a lawsuit) he disagreed with Darwinian Evolution. Financially he defends himself while the University has prominent attorney William Brady (Ken Stirbl) assisting Dr. Jared Brown (G. Smokey Campbell). The only witness Cates has on his side is graduate student Howard Blair (Stephen Tyler Howell), engaged to Dr. Brown's daughter Melinda (Renahy Aulani). One can see how the case cannot help but strum the strings of conflict, also the real battle happens in Act Two.

That is when Cates confronts the University's prime witness--Dr. Robert Hawkins (Circus-Szalewski) a very thinly veiled version/parody of Richard Dawkins. Since all this takes the form of testimony before not a scientist but a judge, both debaters are forced to make their points in layman's language--which sometimes even strays into the poetic.

Juicy stuff. It works I feel for the characters, and the rest of the audience felt for them as well. More I was so involved in the debate my urge to enter into it, making a point, needed stifling! Wow. Well done! Entertaining, moving and thoughtful--as fine a trio of adjectives as most plays could hope for! And totally deserved!

So why do I feel strange? Especially since I essentially agree with the protagonist in what after remains a play with a great big MESSAGE delivered pretty explicitly over and over again?

Well, I don't think he succeeded in making his case. Not in the way he claimed, anyway. Frankly Hawkins is set up as a straw man, the authoritative voice of the opposition. And he comes across as very intelligent, very arrogant, very unwilling to consider any world view other than his own--to the point where he storms off rather than even talk with Dr. Cates.

Frankly that feels like cheating. I wanted to step on stage and take his place--specifically because I do agree with Dr. Cates and wanted to hear him expound on important things such as punctuated equalibrium, and alternate definitions of life, and other matters. The play presents the question of evolution and beginning of life as in any way related--they are not. The latter is an infant science and anyone who confidently claims ideas common before I was born as current thinking--as Hawkins does--of course comes across as a fool. The playwright set up his voice of dissent to fail.

Of course that also makes for a good story, so in a way I cannot blame him. It helps as well the whole cast does a fine job--including Lon S. Lewi, Tony Cicchetti, Caroline Simone O'Brien and Christina Hart. All of which adds up to an almost startlingly good piece of theatre, a theatre of ideas that (and this makes for very high praise) fuels serious thought on the part of the audience.

So despite my whining, this remains a good play and very compelling production.



If you do come to see the play, please say hello to me after the show.  It only takes me about five minutes to emerge from the dressing room.  Thanks.


Friday, December 9, 2016

WESTWORLD


So now there's Westworld, the latest in a long line of books, movies and TV shows tracking the plight of various robots who feel disrespected, maligned, alienated and ignored, or whose more aggressive brethren seek revenge, justice, equal rights or domination over the species that created them. And if there are a few among us to whom all of this seems absurd, there is always an 'expert' on hand to assure us in dulcet tones that, although it may now seem farfetched  to have robots with this level of sophistication and versimilitude, it is only a matter of time, perhaps twenty years or possibly thirty, when such humanoids will be commonplace.

Good God!  Do you really think the inner life of a robot has, or could have, anything in common with the life of a human being?  Do you really think that a robot has any inner life at all?  If I make a recording of myself saying, "Hello.  My name is Matt,"  and place the recording device inside a box; do you think when I play that recording that there is an entity within that box who thinks that his name is Matt?  What if I paint a face on the outside of the box?  What if I add some mechanicals so the mouth smiles and the eyes widen when the recording is played?  What if I add some light pattern recognition device so that the recording goes off automatically when anyone enters the room?  Is the box's name Matt yet?  How much more equipment do I have to add before the box's name really is Matt?  Is there any entity, any unitary being or consciousness within that box, no matter how much equipment I add, that could sanely be referred to as Matt, or Gloria or Alphonse, and by sanely I mean referring to that name as if it meant a conscious being that experiences things and that has any feelings or preferences or any self awareness or any awareness of any kind?

A computer named Alpha Go beat the world champion Go player, Lee Seedol.  The wiring of that computer was contained inside a housing on which were printed the name Alpha Go.  Do you really think any wire, any stream of electrons, any pattern recognition device within that computer considered itself as part of Alpha Go?  Do you think any part of that computer realized that it was part of something that we called a computer?   Do you think it realized that it was playing Go?  Do you think that it realized that it beat Lee Seedol?  Do you think that it knew who Lee Seedol was?  Do you think it knew what the game of Go was?  Do you think it knew anything at all?

Computers are intelligently programmed by intelligent programmers to recognize patterns of electrons.  Pattern recognition by a computer is not remotely related to the way that we recognize things, patterns or otherwise.  We think to ourselves that a pattern seems familiar.  We think of where we noticed a similar pattern before.  If we make the connection between one pattern and another we say to ourselves, "Aha, I've got it," or, if we don't say those words we experience that feeling of completion or accomplishment regarding that problem.  Computers do no such thing.  They don't think that anything seems familiar, because they don't think.  They don't experience satisfaction at making a match of patterns because they don't experience.  The only accomplishment that is felt is by the humans that are rooting for the computer.  The computer is not rooting for itself.  The computer has no self.

I have to apologize for making the same point over and over, but people give all indications of not getting it, and this belies a very deep and troubling misunderstanding of what we living beings actually are.  Yes, we have wiring, and, yes, our wiring is programmed for pattern recognition.  We have wiring but we are not our wiring.  We are what experiences our wiring and experiences the world around us.  We are the ground of our experience, which we call consciousness.  And consciousness is the milieu of desires.  Nothing matters to matter.  Matter doesn't care if it is held together in complicated molecules or dispersed into atoms or subatomic particles.  It doesn't care if it is a gas, a liquid or a solid.  It doesn't care if it is in a hot environment or a cold environment, an environment where there are many, many other similar particles or an environment where it is completely isolated.  It doesn't care about anything at all.

Machines, including computers, are made of material.  They perform certain functions because they have been designed that way.  They don't know they are performing those functions.  They don't know anything at all.  They follow instructions, not eagerly and not reluctantly, but blindly, automatically and unconsciously.  Steve Pinker may be very proud of himself because he debunked the 'ghost in the machine.'  As long as he is on a roll, he can now tackle the two other ghosts that are not in the machine, but hover just outside the  machine: namely the ghost, or the non-physical consciousness of the human being that invented the machine and the ghost, or the non-physical consciousness of the user who experiences the benefit of the machine.

If we are upset at the death of a living being, including ourselves, that is because this way that we have been experiencing the world, or our friend has been experiencing this world, this particular set of intentions and way of organizing experience, has come to an end.  We also may be upset at the loss of a machine, if that machine has given us ease or pleasure.  We may be sad when our car is totalled, or when our old computer is beyond repair.  The car and the computer and Alphonse the robot,  could care less.  They won't miss the experience of being that car or that computer or being Alphonse, because they never experienced anything in the first place.  There is no part of Alphonse that experienced being Alphonse.

Now there are some people who believe that conscious computers are right around the corner; that consciousness is just another attribute like power steering or  internet access.  That when we get our programming complicated enough, that consciousness will just grow out of those sufficiently complex electrical and computational conditions.  In fact, it is utterly amazing how many people in our modern neo-Darwinian materialist world hold to this belief.  Why? How?  Is there one shred of evidence to lead you to this bizarre conclusion?  Where did you get this idea that consciousness is an outgrowth of complicated electronics?

Some materialists are upset with this type of argument.  They say that I am impatient with science.  When the helical structure of the DNA  molecule was discovered in 1953, we still had no idea of the genetic code until some years later and then, once we knew the code, that was followed by the discovery of transcription and translation and the details of the manufacture of proteins.  In the same way, now that various neurons are being identified as connected to certain types of experience (memory, hearing, sight, heat, hunger, pleasure sensations, etc.), the code by which those neuron stimulations are translated into experience and the means by which that translation takes place will unravel itself with further research.

The problem with that analogy is this:  When the double helix was discovered, we had no idea of the structure of the cell outside of the nucleus.  We knew that the nucleus occupied only one portion of the cell, but what went on in the rest of the cell was a mystery.  As the cytoplasm and the outer cell was explored, the connection to the activities within the nucleus became clear.  Nucleotides, amino acids and proteins are all measurable, observable objects.  Consciousness is not.  There are no structures external to the neuron where a physical translation could take place.  Everything that is observable within the brain has been observed.  We may not understand it, but we have observed it.  The neuron is not the central part of a larger, as yet unexplored, structure where electric patterns are translated.  And even if some code were figured out, some algorhythm for determining which combination of neurons or activity within the neuron or even observable activity without the neuron, led to specific experiences; the means by which those algorhythmically selected particles were then translated into experience would still elude us.  This is, once again, because consciousness, our actual experience, is neither measurable nor observable; and if we limit ourselves to the scientific method, to the measurement and observation of empirical phenomena, then the best that we can hope for is to be led to the doorstep of consciousness, but never let into the house where consciousness lives; which, by the way, is the house where you live.

In the future you may develop a great affection for your robot, but, sadly, your robot will have no such affection nor disaffection for you.









Are you being shy?  Why don't you make a comment
? 

Sunday, November 20, 2016

TWO DELUSIONS



                                 THE FIRST DELUSION

In the fall of 2012 a group of eminent scientists and philosophers convened at a lovely hotel in the Berkshire Mountains of Western Massachusettes.  Among them were Richard Dawkins, author of
'The God Delusion,' Daniel Dennett, author of 'Consciousness Explained,' (which his detractors nicknamed 'Consciousness Ignored'), Jerry Coyne, author of 'Why Evolution is True,' Owen Flanagan, author of 'The Really Hard Problem: Meaning in a Material World,' and Alexander Rosenberg, author of "The Atheist's Guide to Reality: Enjoying Life Without Illusions.'

There was an enormous amount of common ground in the room.  These men shared and continue to share the belief that the  normal way that people see the world, as containing other people, colors, sounds, sights, sensations, good things and bad things, evil things and inspiring things; which they refer to as the 'manifest image,' is entirely illusory.  They believe that there is an 'objective reality' which consists merely of soundless, colorless moving particles. Sounds and colors, for instance, are the result of how certain vibrations are translated into electrical current and interpreted by our brains.  Our sense that colors and sounds exist in the outer world rather than the inner world of our brains as well as other qualities of objects and spaces such as being attractive or repellent, edible or inedible, scary  or safe; all of this sense of the world that we currently enjoy and allow us to survive and maneuver in a way that we can not only survive but get our needs met in the outer world; all of this ability is entirely the  result, according to the conferees,  of an extemely long line of remarkably fortuitous mutations, each one of them retained because they conferred a slight survival advantage over the genetic apparatus of the previous generations.

So at some early point on the evolutionary tree these mutationally advantaged creatures were preceded by creatures who merely perceived the 'objective reality' of colorless, meaningless particles, and perceived them where they were 'really' taking place within their skulls, as the interpretation of electrical signals received by their brains.  It was only a few of their progeny, many, many generations later, who had been the recipient of a whole series of fantastically fortuitous mutations that allowed them to sense the external world as being colorful and producing various sounds, as well as having distinct qualities;  a world in which there are objects that are  attractive or repellent,  edible or inedible, scary or safe.  Also, at some point, and also do to a long series of really remarkably fortunate mutations, the entire field of perception flipped from being inside their heads to being outside of their heads. 

Now the survival advantage that all these myriad mutations would provide is very easy to understand.  What is harder to grasp are all the tiny incremental advantages that would very gradually lead a creature from perceiving things inside their heads to outside their heads.  If there ever were  such ancient predecessors that actually experienced the world as taking place inside their heads, or even partially inside their heads, and their survival was dependent on being able to meet their needs by accurately maneuvering in the physical world outside of their heads, then that would make survival very difficult indeed!  How many of these feckless creatures could survive an existence of bunking into every object, falling off every cliff, completely incapable of finding water or food or sex partners; how many of these could still be around at the age of sexual maturity for them to replicate for countless generations until one of them was lucky enough to be the recipient of a long series of random mutations that would allow their whole perceptive field to flip outward?

Of course there is no fossil record of any creature anywhere living like that, because living like that would be utterly impossible.  Even the existence of bacteria, that preceded all other life by two billion years, depend on their accurate negotiation of their environment to locate food and water sources, to seek coolness when it gets too hot, to seek warmth when it gets too cold,  etc.   If you experienced everything as taking place inside your head, even if it really was (see post 'Location, Location, Location) so that there was no way to distinguish memories, which really are experienced as inside your head, from actual events happening in the present moment, then that would make surviving, which includes finding nourishment and safety and sex partners, and not walking off cliffs, or running into walls, but being able to maneuver skillfully and alertly in the physical universe in order to get your needs met,  well, that would make surviving very difficult indeed.  

This agreed upon way that we perceive the world around us, which they refer to as the 'manifest image,'  although ultimately illusory, is the agreement within which we all operate, including all the attendees at that conference, otherwise they could never have managed to get themselves to the Berkshires or even inside that conference room. And each species operates within their own uniquely shared agreement.  What one species defines as a food source, another species defines as a predator.  What one species defines as a sex  partner another species defines as a terrifying threat.  What is a comfortable, appealing environment for one species is a fatal environment that must be escaped from for another.  And this species specific, shared illusion, could not have evolved.  No organism, no species, could survive without such a shared illusion; the illusion that corresponds with a particular species is the birthright of each member of that species, and is an integral part of the design  of both the species and the environmental niche in which the species is born.  

"Powered by Darwin, modern science proceeds," in Dennett's phrase, "as a 'universal corrosive,' destroying illusions all the way up and all the way down, dismantling our feelings of freedom and separate selfhood, our morals and beliefs, a mother's love and a patient's prayer: All in reality are just 'molecules in motion.' "*  So these people, these molecules in motion, although they do not actually behave that way, live in their imaginations, in what they call the 'objective reality.'  Although it may be a source of professional embarrassment for them, they probably all do, to some degree, love their mothers, feel compassion for people in need, and reach for the accurately perceived door knob on their way out of conference rooms rather than trying to walk through the wall that they had just bunked into, or trying somehow to reach the doorknob located somewhere on the surface of their cerebellum.

Like members of any cult, all of these people were in total agreement about their core beliefs.  There was, however, one bone of contention, which was the reason for this conference.  Some of them thought that this materialist view should be taught in its full, relentless form; that people should know the utter meaninglessness and randomness of their existence and that every thing that they hoped for and cherished were merely delusions.  Then the masses, who may not understand the truth completely, could just accept it and discover that living a life without purpose, free will or spirituality was not as bad as they had been led to believe by superstitious people, and by superstitious they meant anyone that didn't hold the identical set of beliefs that they did.

Of course if life wasn't so bad for these conferees, it was precisely because they did not live, did not actually manage their lives, according to the tenets that they preached.  They all shared the belief in the ultimate reality of molecules, and in the supreme powers of mutation and natural selection to create all the manifest illusions that we experience around us.  They also had the deep sense of commaradarie, as all cult members do, in that they were the small group that really knew the truth and by virtue of that, they were superior to all the common, unenlightened (or should I say  'unendarkened') people around them.  They were also all professionals, making a good living writing books and doing lectures and panels discussing all this stuff.  If this truly became an age of endarkenment, as they hoped, then the  masses, those incapable of grasping the true genius of this vision, would have lost not only all the things they had previously lived for, but would not have that sense of exclusivity, commaradarie and superiority that the Berkshire group enjoyed.

The other conferees argued that even though what we are is no more than 'moist robots,' if the masses realize that there is no objective reality or free will, then that might undermine civilization.  It would be hard to imagine people taking personal responsibility to live within the civil order if they realized that civil order, responsibility and even one's own personhood were ultimately illusory.  They should be told, according to Dennett, "that the self and free will do exist, and that colors and sounds do exist, just not in the way that they think. They exist in a special way."  This uncommunicated special way, of course, was that they, ultimately, did not exist at all.   Rather like Santa Claus; if you could just convince the kids that Santa did exist and that he was coming to bring you gifts if, and only if, you were good, then you might be able to wrangle some decent behavior out of the little brats for at least the month of December and, if you were lucky, even for some of November.

                              THE SECOND DELUSION

There is another group of people that also believe that the way we perceive the world and most of the things that we hold as important to us is illusory.  I can't point to a specific conference that they attended, although they do confer, but I do know how they experience the world, and, although there are some cultural and stylistic differences among them, they experience the world in the same way. I know this because in speaking with these people or in reading what they  have written, the identical understanding emerges.

Notice that I did not say that they share the same beliefs.  Beliefs pre-date experience.  I believe I will enjoy a movie.  After I have watched the movie it makes no sense to ask me if I believe I will enjoy it.  I already had the experience.  I now know what that experience was like.  So when I am talking about this group, I am not talking about their belief system; in fact, they do not argue about belief systems among themselves; in a very real sense they have no belief systems because the way that they experience the world automatically dictates how they behave.  The golden rule, do unto others as you would have others do unto you, is practiced among them, not because they believe in the authority of the author of that rule, but because they realize that the other that they are doing something unto is actually themselves.

While the first group has come to believe what they believe based on a certain amount of research (while selectively ignoring a huge amount of other research), this second group has come to believe what they believe based on search.  Before research there is search.  These people searched within, and what they discovered was that the material world, which the first group thinks of as the one and only ultimate reality; that the material world has no ultimate reality at all.  Even the molecules that Dennet exalted are not really solid particles, but are configurations of bound forces, with nothing 'solid' in them; that the physical universe, as we perceive it, is the result of the interplay of forces, call them yin and yang, baca and fana, in and yo, Heaven and Earth, celestial and terrestrial, or by many other names.  These forces, which configure with each other, give the illusion of permanence and solidity because of the stable force fields that they create.  Ultimately, the force behind the force fields is consciousness, and consciousness, rather than being a delusional survival trick, is actually the only reality.  In other words you exist and every other being exists, and the delusional part is the way we perceive each other as separate beings.

While the first group talks about and writes books about the God delusion, the second group realizes that nothing actually exists beyond God (the Atman, the Cosmic Consciousness, Allah, Hashem, or whatever you would like to call Him/Her/It); that even the molecules that are the foundational truth of the first group are the illusion of the second group.  In fact, now that quantum physicists have discovered that particles only exist when they are being observed, it is hard to imagine particles as pre-dating the observer.  If particles are a product of consciousness, then, it seems reasonable to assume, consciousness pre-dates particles.  The same would hold true for the wave potentials that things seem to be prior to being observed.  They are wave 'potentials' for what?  For being perceived and interacted with by conscious beings, each conscious being experiencing each thing in their own unique way; and each wave potential having the capacity to be perceived and experienced in a multitude of different ways, sequentially or simultaneously, depending on which beings are perceiving and experiencing it.

How pure consciousness (consciousness not separated by unique organisms, genomes, nervous systems and cultures)  the cosmic consciousness,  Milton's "bright essence increate,"  that beginingless essence from which we all come and to which we will all return, how the world is perceived through that unfiltered consciousness, is beyond our understanding. It seems to me, though, that it would be similar to the way a gift is perceived by a parent prior to giving it to a child.  We imagine all the different ways that the child could enjoy it, and then watch as the child does enjoy it and, hopefully, falls in love with it.  We experience that with the toys and clothing and cars and allowances that we give our children.  The Infinite experiences it with the clouds and mountains and trees and bodies and minds and stars and galaxies and every thing of the natural and organic world that the Infinite provides for all living organisms.

The realization, as the first group would have it, that all is illusory except particles, and that even the observer, the experiencer of these particles and particle formations, which is you, is also illusory, leads to the deepest experience of alienation and despair.  The members of this first group avoid that despair by priding themselves not only on truly understanding what so few others have been able to grasp, and making a good living at it in the process, but they also pride themselves on coping very nicely with this utter meaninglessness, and knowing that this Herculean coping activity is something that the unwashed and uneducated masses most likely could not grapple with.  Their's is a loveless world whose only reward is a cynical superiority over everyone else who doesn't know 'reality' as they know it.

The second group is not really a group, because they understand that all boundaries, including the boundary that separates their group from everyone else; that all boundaries are illusory; that boundaries only exist when you are conscious of them.  If you have ever been in the presence of a saint, you feel the boundary between you and the saint disappear.  You feel the saint bonding with you and knowing you in a way that perhaps no one has known you before, even if you have never met the saint previously.  And this is precisely what love is, the disappearance of a boundary; the realization that you and another person, or group, or your environment, or your planet, or your galaxy, are not separate at all.  That you are of a piece, are one with the entire universe.

The realization of the second group, that all things are illusory, but that you are not a thing; that you are not matter, but that 'bright essence increate,' and that every separate thing that you see is not separate but is, in essence, that same brightness, that same beginningless and endless consciousness 'increate,' leads to an experience of nothing but love.  Isn't it time that we climbed out of the Darwinian darkness and this age of material delusion and despair and entered the light?  Isn't it time that we developed the capacity to slow down the mind and see through this illusion of separation and began to treat each other with the love and respect that all the sages of the past have demanded?  Isn't it time that we realize that, not religous and culture bound dogma, but real spiritual understanding is not a delusion, not the opiate of the masses, but based on a clear understanding of the ultimate truth; that the material world is not the end all and be all, but is merely a phantom, a chimera that exists between desire and experience?

Every particle and every particular thing changes.  Your particular body, your particular genome, your particular brain and nervous system, your particular way of perceiving and experiencing the world, all these things change.  But you, in your essence, you are not a thing.  You are of a piece, you are one with that 'bright essence increate,' that beginningless and endless consciousness.  You are beyond change and beyond separation.  The first group would demolish you and elevate the particle.  The second group sees through particles and the boundaries between particles, to reveal the you which is boundless, limitless and which is also me.





Whether you agree or disagree, please let me hear from you.  Peace!

Friday, November 11, 2016

THE ELECTION

This is not a political blog, but I am having trouble focussing on anything else but our recent election, so let me write down a few thoughts about it so I can clear my mind to get back to other things.

Why were we all shocked that Donald Trump was elected?  Because we did not understand the level of despair and anger that so many people, particularly in small towns and rural areas are feeling.  Donald spoke to those feelings and promised to alleviate them, but his promises were vague and, I believe, he will not be able to fulfill them.  Not that the Democrats would have done any better.  These people are furious at establishment politics because it has done nothing for them.  The problem is that it cannot, and that is because government is now funded, is completely dependent, on the huge multinational corporations that are the real source of the problem.

There is no government, no nation, no international body, that is powerful enough, or even has the political will at the moment,  to regulate multinational corporations.  Their whole set up, where they are owned and ultimately controlled by faceless investors who make decisions with no regard to the actual people that do the work of these corporations, is something that we have gotten so used to that we take it as an inevitable fact of life; but why should it be that way?  Why are there multinational corporations?  If corporations have the same rights and freedom of speech and power and political participation as citizens, then they should be citizens, too.  Citizens of a particular country, which is the country of citizenship of their owners.  This means that if they are engaged in manufacture, that manufacturing must take place in their native country.  They can import raw materials that are not available in their native country, if they really are not available, but any manufacture, any assemblage must be done in their native country.  They cannot play one labor market off another.  They cannot discard workers who have give decades of service to these corporation, like old shoes, and move on in search of increasingly more desperate pools of labor.  They cannot play this game of switching locations with no allegiances, so that states and countries and workers are so desperate for them that they will bend over backwards and offer these corporations such absurd tax deals and be willing to work for slave wages just for a chance to survive, and so that faceless stock holders can reap huge profits and executives making decisions in offices many thousands of miles away from where the work is actually done, reap obscene salaries and benefits.

All of this is done under the guise of the insidious misnomer 'free market capitalism.'  What is free about it?  My understanding of a market is that it is made up of capital, the owners of the means of production, labor, the people that actually do the work, and consumers, the people that use and purchase the products of this work and machinery.  What is actually meant by 'free markets' is the total domination of labor and consumers by capital.  Consumers must be able to have some control of the price, quality and safety of products.  The 'invisible hand' of a free market will not help consumers if the only choices they have are similarly over priced and flawed.  

Representative government is nothing more complicated than a group of people that are elected to represent the interests of the people that elected them.  People are furious at government because they are not representing their interests, but the interests of their big money supporters.  And it is only government, only the people organized into a large enough and powerful enough group, that is capable of controlling these multi-national corporations.


There should be a limit set on the percentage of profit over costs.  Any one working for a corporation for two years should then, on top of their salary, start to build up some ownership of the business.  The percentage of a company owned by outside investors should never exceed the percentage of the company owned by its employees.  And a formula must be worked out so that the more employees a company hires, the smaller the percentage of ownership is allowed by the original owners.  These situations where huge companies are employing many thousands of workers who cannot support their families on full time jobs, while the owners are making more money than they can possibly spend, is simply obscene.  What is the appeal for a billionaire to become an even richer billionaire?  How much material indulgence can you possibly enjoy?  Or is it the extent of the kow towing and subservience from other people that are in desperate need of a tiny piece of your fortune to support their artistic endeavors, to be donated to their charities, to be celebrated and feted at charity balls, to convince yourself of your utter goodness and generosity, as you exploit by the tens of thousands your own workers; is this what appeals to you?

Whether our trade deals have increased or diminished our employment is hard to say.  What it has definitely done is shifted and then reshifted employment, so we are no longer secure in our jobs.  How many of us are working for employers who we feel have a personal interest in our welfare and security?  Why is that something that we no longer feel that we are entitled to or that is even possible?  It is because of these endless, faceless deals: trade deals and mergers and acquisitions and relocations.

The whole economy is so pumped up, all this wheeling and dealing and hyped up advertising campaigns, with new winners and new losers every day and constant insecurity.  And every thing is growth! growth! growth!  Wouldn't everyone be a lot happier if the emphasis was on stability and more equitable distribution?  Do we really need to live in a society where fashion demands a new wardrobe, new furnishings, new gadgets and new cars every year?  If we really knew each other we would make 'relating' more important than 'impressing' and these endless frivolous products would lose their appeal.

The real slow down in unemployment is due to automation.  These jobs are not coming back, regardless of anything that Trump says.  In fact, there is no holding back technology, so automation will be increasing.  But why should automation screw the worker?  Wasn't the original idea of automation, of technology, to make people's lives easier, not harder?  Why shouldn't that benefit extend to the worker as well as the consumer.  If one worker is creating, because of automation,  four times the product, which is creating four times the profit, than he was thirty years ago, then that worker should be making four times as much.  In fact, he is making less in actual dollar value, because as the number of manufacturing jobs has decreased, because of automation, worker's desperation for those few remaining jobs have increased.  Workers are now willing to accept much lower salaries, in terms of real wages, even though their labor is contributing much more to the profits of their company.  

Here is my suggestion:  We create two jobs where there was one.  Now we have two workers working twenty hours a week, each one making twice as much as his counterpart from thirty years earlier and working half as much.  Why can't we do this?  Why does this seem absurd?  If having rampant unemployment and barely liveable wages while a select few are drowning in obscene, frivolous wealth; if that insanity is accepted as normal, why can't a twenty hour work week with a comfortable wage, comfortable enough to support a family that has enough time and enough security to have a happy life, why can't that be the norm?  Why isn't that the result of automation and technological advances instead of this pathetically skewed distribution of wealth?

Will this destroy corporations?  Of course not.  Do the math.  The corporation is still making more profit per worker than it was before and they now have a labor force that has the economic wherewithall and the leisure time to buy the goods and enjoy the services that the corporation produces.  Even crazy old Henry Ford tripled the wages of his factory workers when he realized how much better he would do when everyone could afford a Ford.

All of this can be done.  All of this is a rational way of doing things, but it will not get done, until we realize that this is what we need; until we stop blaming our unhappiness on people that are different in some way than we are, and focus on the real source of our unhappiness, which is the stranglehold that multi-national corporations and corporate structure and power are exerting on our lives, our freedom, our opportunities and our governments.

This is not a right or left issue.  This is a common sense issue.  This should be a priority for everyone who is not in that top 1% and for decent minded people who are in that top 1%.  When we have a political party that fights for that interest  then we will be able to effect real change without the necessity of bullying or race baiting, or religion baiting, or gender or sexual preference baiting.

Donald Trump says he is an outsider, that his only interest is in making America great again.  He and the Republicans might be able to lure a few corporations back to the U.S. with ridiculous tax cuts so that all the tax burden will be borne by people that are least able to afford it.  And that, I believe, more than the racism, the sexism, the homophobia and Moslemphobia, is why he got elected; people are so desperate for the return of manufacturing work that they are willing to  follow the Republicans and offer the coporations anything they want to get them back and, conversely,  they fear that the Democratic attempts to raise taxes on the wealthiest and most successful corporate profits will drive more job sources away.  

What we really need to do is level the playing field, so that we don't have to be that desperate for work.  Let's end multinational corporations.  Let's have a unified tax deal for all American corporations in all states so they cannot play one against the other, and let's all share in the fruits of technology so that we not only have more convenient gadgets, but that we all have to work less for more pay, and not be divided into a labor market that is either overworked and underpaid, or not able to find work at all.


Comments?

ORIGIN OF CONSCIOUSNESS




"Harvard scientists think they've pinpointed the physical source of conciousness.  This is where our awareness lives.  Scientists have struggled for millennia to understand human consciousness - the awareness of one's existence.  Despite advances in neuroscience, we still don't really know where it comes from, and how it arises.
But researchers think they may have finally figured out its physical origins, after pinpointing a network of three specific regions in the brain that appear to be crucial to consciousness.  It's a pretty huge deal for what it means to be human, and it could also help researchers find new treatments for patients in vegetative states."
Fiona McDonald 8 Nov 2016

If this research leads to the ability to resuscitate patients from vegetative comas, that's great.  Their understanding of what it is that they are uncovering, however,  is entirely backwards.  They are not discovering the 'physical source of consciousnes.'  Consciousness is not physical and does not have a physical source. We live in an ocean of consciousness.  We are, in Milton's words,  the 'bright effluence of bright essence increate.'  

Something must have had no beginning, don't you think?  Scientists thought it was particles that were beginningless until they discovered the Big Bang which must have pre-dated, if only for a millisecond, the origin of particles.  Recently we have discovered that particles, at least on the subatomic level, only exist as a function of our perception of them.  When they are not being perceived they are wave potentials.  Potentials to do what?  To materialize into arrangements of seeming particles and in whatever appearance they occur to which ever living organism happens to be perceiving them.  One human perceives a tree as his tree, because it is located in his backyard.  Another person perceives the same tree as their neighbor's tree, and another, a visitor from far away, perceives that tree as an utterly exotic specimen that she has never encountered before.  Simultaneously, several birds perceive the tree as their home, thousands of insects perceive it as their neighborhood, and countless bacteria perceive it as the entire context of their lives including their search for nutrition and their struggle with threats to their existence.  Individual organisms are different ways of perceiving and experiencing the world and the physical world is wave potentials that will appear and mean a countless number of different things simultaneously depending on which organism is perceiving them.  

If the Big Bang was not preceded by consciousness, then how do we account for all the utterly precise and inter-related laws, all the utterly precise qualities of elements of matter, without which there would be no physical universe and, ultimately, no living organisms?  To say that the brain stem, or any part of the brain stem or the cortex is the 'origin' of consciousness, is exactly like saying that the ear is the 'origin' of sound waves, the eye is the 'origin' of light waves, and the nose is the 'origin' of air.  In a functional human being as in any functional animal, their brain is connected to consciousness; they receive consciousness; life is the filtering of consciousness through a particluar body/brain/genome.  

Until scientists realize this, and they won't realize it through research, but through search, through inner contemplation and the practice of slowing down thoughts until you can experience consciousness without the contents of consciousness; until they do that, they will continue regarding their research, much of which may have wonderful salutory effects, but they will continue to view this research completely backwards.  What they are trying to pin point and what they will be tinkering with is the receiver not the generator of consciousness.