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Monday, 19 September 2016

Matthew MacKenzie
(Re-)Constructing the Self
 This paper aims to take up the complex dialectic between  self and selflessness as raised in the target papers of this issue and in
classical Buddhist thought. I’ll argue that the recognition that the
 self is constructed can lead, in the right theoretical and practical context, to (i) the deconstruction of fixed views of self, (ii) the decentring of  self-experience within a larger horizon of awareness, and (iii) the reconstruction of a more fluid self as a skilful means to cultivating and embodying wisdom and compassion.

Saturday, 30 April 2016

Objects of Consciousness

In the conclusion to his paper entitled Objects of Consciousness, Donald D. Hoffman (Professor of Cognitive Science, University of California, Irvine) writes:

"If we assume that conscious subjects, rather than unconscious objects, are fundamental, then we must give a mathematically precise theory of such subjects, and show how objects, and indeed all physics, emerges from the theory of conscious subjects. This is, of course, a tall order. We have taken some first steps by (1) proposing the formalism of conscious agents, (2) using that formalism to find solutions to the combination problem of consciousness, and (3) sketching how the asymptotic dynamics of conscious agents might lead to particles and space-time itself. Much work remains to flesh out this account. But if it succeeds, H. sapiens might just replace object permanence with objects of consciousness."

Sunday, 6 September 2015

What it is Like to be Me

There is something rather than nothing

This "something" exhibits orderliness

The exhibited orderliness takes the form of a perspective upon a world

I'm referring to this "something" as conscious experience.

The exhibited orderliness encompasses both the idea of a self in the world and also the idea of a world that the self is in (we could refer to these two ideas as the subjective pole of conscious experience and the objective pole of conscious experience respectively).

Since these two ideas are stable, this something (i.e. conscious experience) must be of a form that admits of this stability.

It's my conscious experience not in the sense of ownership, but rather in the sense that it has the form of a view upon a world from the perspective of an entity (the unique physical organism that refers to itself as "me") embedded within that world.

It is clear that the idea of my conscious experience is not the same as the idea of the world that the self is in -- the former might well be described as "what it is like to be" the self that is in the world.

Monday, 29 June 2015


The way I've come to think about this is that conscious experience is constantly bifurcating, one half migrating towards a subjective pole and the other half migrating towards an objective pole. Some aspects are even represented at both poles, allowing William James to claim that their subjective and objective aspects are "the same experience given twice over" (in his essay Does Consciousness Exist?). I would also follow a Wittgensteinian line and say we should be suspicious about our inclination to reify notions as a result of the way we use language, and I'm thinking particularly of the ideas of 'objectivity', 'subjectivity', and 'knowledge' here. Regarding this bifurcation and migration process (here I'm giving a nod in the direction of Whitehead) -- is it "desirable"? It is some of the products of this process that behave in terms of desires and aversions, so from this wider perspective the question seems misplaced -- that kind of thinking pertains to things that are embedded within this World of Pure Experience (James again).

The "Measurement Problem".

When we observe an object for a while, then stop observing, and then take up observation again, we don't know what has happened to the object between those two periods of observation, so its state at the start of the second period of observation is not deducible entirely from ts state at the end of the first period of observation. There is an epistemological uncertainty involved.

When a quantum object interacts with a piece of apparatus and its state is recorded by that apparatus, we can determine what the state of the object was at the time of interaction. If the object is allowed to continue without interaction with any other object whatsoever for some finite duration, then there is no record anywhere of what happened to the object between that interaction and its subsequent interaction, so its state on subsequent interaction is not deducible entirely from its state on the prior interaction. However, it seems to be the case that this is an ontological uncertainty rather than an epistemological uncertainty.

I've come to regard this "superposition of states" for quantum objects as more of a superposition of histories. In the case of a quantum object passing through a single slit and meeting a detector, the superposition of histories is constrained to a single slit, so the detector only sees particle-like behaviour. In the case of a quantum object encountering double slits and meeting a detector, the superposition of histories has to take into account both slits, so the detector sees wave-like behaviour.

The two-slit scenario is a highly constrained case of the quantum object "going everywhere" (i.e. a case where most of "everywhere" has been narrowed down to two slits), this notion of "going everywhere" being what I take to be metaphor for "having all possible histories". It may even be the case that a non-interacting quantum system can be considered to be constituted by all of its "possible histories". This interpretation would also be consistent with the "delayed choice" and the "quantum eraser" variations of the two-slit experiment.

Note that human consciousness in the form of a human "observer" is not implicated in these scenarios, but the mystery of ontological uncertainty remains.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Am I a p-zombie?

 The p-zombie and the non-p-zombie alike could have the idea of the entirety of the constituents comprising their "world view", recognizing that some of those constituents were public (or objective) and some private (or subjective). They would both use language as they have been trained to use language by participation in their respective linguistic communities. They could conceivably both assign the word "mind" or the term "conscious experience" to that entirety of constituents, and even describe that entirety as the "what it is like to be me". They could both conceivably recognize the impossibility of acquiring any evidence via their sense organs (i.e. empirical evidence) to support or refute the existence of an external world. Any third-person claim (i.e. a claim from any other p-zombie or non-p-zombie appearing as part of that totality of constituents) made for metaphysical solipsism would clearly be mistaken (since the third person is part of the constituents of at least one other mind), but how might this be taken as an argument for the existence of an external world (i.e. as a repudiation of metaphysical solipsism) for the host entirety in which these ideas emerge (i.e. in the first-person case)? -- only by inductive reasoning. This is sufficient for me to repudiate metaphysical solipsism, but I must still acknowledge Hume's argument regarding inductive reasoning (i.e. I must still acknowledge that I don't have any apodictic proof of the existence of an external world). All I have is a repudiation of metaphysical solipsism, not a refutation. But the real question this brings to light concerns the distinction between the p-zombie and the non-p-zombie: am I really something over and above what the p-zombie is?

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

"Mind as an Intrinsic Property of Matter"
-- a paper by Jussi JylkkÀ (Senior researcher, University of Turku, Finland):