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Mind as an emergent self-organizing process (qz.com)
145 points by Osiris30 on Dec 25, 2016 | hide | past | favorite | 74 comments

It's kind of weird how this comes from a "scientist" instead of a philosopher. I read the article and it's basically saying this scientist guy came up with the definitive "definition" of the mind so other scientists can have a common ground to build upon.

While I understand where this is coming from, I still don't understand why a "scientist" is advertising this concept as something novel. Also I can't believe a scientist--who should know better--is trying to define this.

This debate has existed throughout human history and you could even arguably say the entire history of philosophy is to figure out the answer to this problem.

I also visited the author's book page on Amazon https://www.amazon.com/Mind-Journey-Heart-Being-Human/dp/039... (of which this article is an advertorial), and just look at that cover art. This is not a "scientist" material. Really reminds me of some Eckhart Tolle stuff.

Hi cocktailpeanuts,

Can I share with you some of the things I learned through reading his books?

You say he did this for scientists to share a common ground, but there is a more practical reason too. He's a practicing psychiatrist who has written books to help the general population with their mental health and relationships.

That is how I found him - through exploring attachment theory, of which he discusses a great deal.

What does this have to do with the idea of the mind as a self-emerging process, or a healthy mind as integrated?

It's this idea that is leveraged in his books to help teach people how to develop their mental health. It gives them a clear and concrete path to follow. The idea of integration is not just for intellectual beauty - it is a teaching tool.

He used an analogy of a choir to teach attachment theory. Anxious attachment: multiple people singing the same, prolonged, single note - connected, not differentiated. Avoidant attachment: everyone singing a different song - differentiated, not connected. A choir of people singing the same song, connected, and in harmony with a variety of pitches, differentiated, represents secure attachment and integration.

There is a visceral experience of something wonderful emerging when you hear the secure choir vs insecure, and likewise the well-being and health that comes from a secure attachment relationship (or an integrated mind) is viscerally wonderful too.

If you are happy to look at his ideas for their teaching applications, I encourage further investigation of his books and talks. They have been an anchor for my healing from trauma and I am deeply thankful.

If you have read his books, is this a suitable description of his definition of mind:

"After much discussion, they decided that a key component of the mind is: “the emergent self-organizing process, both embodied and relational, that regulates energy and information flow within and among us.”"

Just between you and me, I don't think that is very spectacular. But it's been years since I kept up with readings in the theory of mind.

Yes, in a similar way to saying 'I am a human being' is a description of me. :)

What I mean is that a brief, minimal description can be accurate but missing the joy, wonder and nuanced intimacy that comes from a deeper relationship.

For example, there is a wheel of awareness practice where you develop your ability to 'regulate energy and information flow'. You practice directing your consciousness to different points of awareness, one by one, and linking them together. Awareness of awareness itself is part of this practice too.

An exercise like this is when the definition above can come to life in your personal, subjective experience, and you get to observe how it looks and feels to you. You feel whether these ideas resonate with you, not just from assessing its logic, but from your felt experience. This is the spectacular part for me, the movement from abstract ideas to taking actions in the world that help improve my ability to thrive.

The emergent self-organizing part... think of a flock of birds in the sky and the shape it creates. No-one told the birds to make that specific shape. Likewise, no-one is telling me to speak these exact words to you. They have emerged from a combination of many processes coming together, culminating in an orchestra that somehow is coordinated well enough to let these ideas flow coherently from me to you. I can find this meaningful in many ways, some of them are: a sense of wonder, gratitude, trust, understanding how rigidity and chaos affects the shapes I make, looking at relationships and observing the emerging flow we make together and how it changes over time and what influences us.

This is my current understanding, but I am no expert. I can say that exploring a personal relationship with these ideas, developing my own hypotheses and observations and comparing them, and looking to observe these concepts in the world around me, has been deeply fulfilling.

> Also I can't believe a scientist--who should know better--is trying to define this.

We're all philosophers, some are just better than others. The legitimacy of his argument is not dependent on his formal training, and so using this as a reason to dismiss his argument isn't valid.

where did i dismiss his argument? I said he shouldn't sell "science" to tell this story. This is not science.

Interpretation is part of every scientific theory. Many scientific theories that start exploring a new domain posit working definitions that and change and get refined over time.

You're probably right on all the other comments, but to say that "the entire history of philosophy is to figure out the answer to this problem" is bad.

Real philosophers, like those who lived from Socrates until Descartes, care too little to this question to even mention it, as the answer is given from the start.

Are you saying everyone who called themselves philosophers after Decartes is fake? And I wouldn't just call someone "wrong" when it's obvious that you're making an opinion. As for the "real philosophers" thinking about this, learn more here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philosophy_of_self

When I say "like those who..." I mean that all these were real philosophers, after Descartes that is not a rule anymore.

I would say that the real rule today is: everyone who publishes in philosophy magazines or has a chair in some philosophy department on some university is NOT a philosopher, all the others are.

As you can see from that Wikipedia article, the theme is totally ignored by philosophers. Wikipedia makes a huge effort to make a full article for it, but only achieves a small text full of sparse references to unrelated topics (self-knowledge, which is clearly not the same thing as we are talking about here; and various superficial silly comments from post-Descartes people).

Yes, it's a mess. Its a poor mixture of:

- Scientific hypothesis of consciousness

- Self help / therapeutic framework

- Biology

- Metaphysics

The author should pick one of these perspectives and make a stronger case for one rather a weak case for all.

I'm skeptical he made up any definitions since it hews quite close to existing ideas. With developments in AI, neuroscience and even physics, this stuff is starting to enter into science proper. The errors of the piece are no worse than your average pop piece (mostly in placing too much emphasis on chaos given how theoretical, compared to even the rest, that viewpoint is).

No need to throw the baby with the bathwater...

I thought the point to take away, is that mind is not separate from environment. And futher questioning the inner / outer distinction which causes a sense of separation and disconnectedness.

edit: for me it echoes a recent post from Riccardo Manzotti's "spread mind" theory:

"Are subjective qualities really more private than objective properties? Or are they the conceptual byproduct of two different ways to address the same stuff?"


As Alan Watts beautifully put it:

"Every way in which you define your self, can be described in terms of other"

ie. just find a single part of "personal" experience that can not be defined as non-personal. arms, legs, face ? those are the body. memories / thoughts? Are obviously made of some kind of echo of sense experience. Content of recent thougghts? Obviously in response to recent experiences or concerns, which themselves again are not self, and never originated as "self".

"the emergent self-organizing process, both embodied and relational, that regulates energy and information flow within and among us"

This definition is worthless. It has an incredibly high false-positive rate. For example, according to this, any animal would qualify as "a mind", any self-sustaining chemical reaction would qualify as "a mind", and in fact anything that sort of looks like life (key concept is "self-organizing") would qualify as "a mind".

Breaking it down:

> emergent self-organizing process

Any life, and a lot of things that probably wouldn't be counted as life. For example, gravitationally bound spherical bodies in space.

> both embodied and relational

Mumbo-jumbo, presumably meaning "both physical and abstract".

> that regulates energy and information flow

Vague bordering on meaningless. This sounds more like it's describing a transistor than a mind.

> within and among us

Completely ill-defined. Who is "us"? Is this definition impredicative, where "us" is defined over the set of minds? If so, it's useless.

It's cool if people want to spin yarn about how to define various difficult-to-quantify abstract concepts, but it's frustrating when they act as if they're talking about some sort of factual discovery they've made.

> Completely ill-defined. Who is "us"? Is this definition impredicative, where "us" is defined over the set of minds? If so, it's useless.

If you think in terms of behavior, there is the agent, the environment and some kind of reward signal to be optimized. The article "is saying" (liberally adapted by me) that behavior depends on both the agent and dynamics of the environment. Of course it does, the mind learns its values from interaction and rewards.

Why are people still trying to solve the mind-body problem when we have Reinforcement Learning? It's a much better conceptualization - without definitional problems, concrete, implementable in both biology and AI, and most of all, it's simple. It does away with most words used in psychology and philosophy, which is a good thing, because they have really imprecise meanings. Just try to define "consciousness" or "mind" - it's a 2000 year old mess.

I don't think this definition is quite as worthless as you argue. Specifically, you've missed the meaning of "relational". By "embodied" the definition means the physical (brain and rest of body). By "relational" I believe the point is all the stuff that happens to/around/in concert with the physical body and brain. You cannot decouple the brain from the external experiences of the brain, and so the mind must be considered as the processor (the brain) as well as all of the data (stimuli/experiences) that is input and output from the processor.

I think there is a much cleaner, more logical approach to the topic without any magical voodoo. I always find that this topic somehow lures people into esoteric explanations that wouldn't be acceptable in other areas, but when dealing with the mind it somehow is okay. In my opinion there is an example for a more productive paradigm when we want to discuss what the mind is. Just take a look: http://www.cognitive-ai.com/publications/assets/Draft-MicroP...

This article looks interesting. I was going to make a similar comment with a much more dated source so I'll piggyback off of yours. Piaget, in his book "Biology and Knowledge", applies biological concepts to the study of mind and comes to the conclusion that consciousness is similar to embryogenesis: both are processes that actively construct a set of interwoven systems that effect biological homeostasis. Many of the basic principles in embryogenesis and learning are the same. For example, isolated subsystems are developed in parallel, with input both from the genetic system and from the environment, and are later integrated to form higher-order functional systems. This idea is more interesting when you consider that the development of mind could be just the final stages of embryogenesis insofar as it is an aspect of the physical development of a child and their integration into society.

Piaget's ideas were a little sketchy because of the paucity of information about the brain at the time so I'm excited to look more at the article in the parent comment which appears to be an attempt at a more detailed analysis.

Well in a way the articles approach is similar to Piaget's in the sense that the approach is also functional. The hypothesis here is that the mind is just a information processing system and the research approach therefore is developing functional models. It will either work or not, you can actually test your models. This approach doesn't just model biological structures but independently tries to find functional explanations/mechanisms that could result in a mind like system. I think the articles model is one of the most sophisticated of the highly integrated ones out there. It really is worth reading, especially the explanation for emotion and motivation i found to be quite interesting.

If you need a teaser to get you going, there is also a talk by the author which is a good summary of the article: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lKQ0yaEJjok

What the f* am I reading?

The notion of mind is a delusion, caused by confused verbalized introspection in the first place. An observer (the awareness) misapprehends working of a set of semi-independent parts as a whole, like an observer of a large city from the top of a skyscraper could readily mistake it for a living organism.

Some rather theoretical scientists are arguing that the notion of so-called [my] self is just an illusion of the same kind. (The Robert Wright's course on Coursera is a good starting point).

Consciousness (but not necessarily self-consciousness, which is the notion available only to an abstract-thinking capable entity) or awareness is the property of all animals with a complex-enough brain. It definitely exist as one of many processes in a brain.

The notion of an individual mind being a part of the universal mind (in which each individual mind is a drop in a waterfall on the river of Brahman) goes back a few millennia and nowadays is considered to be nothing but a beautiful abstraction.

As a person who got The Society Of Mind and The Emotion Machine (among other titles) on my bookshelf I am very concerned about such lousy "science" being promoted on HN.

> Some rather theoretical scientists are arguing that the notion of so-called [my] self is just an illusion of the same kind.

Illusion of mind, which is represented as activity of neural patterns in a brain, and therefore causes observable effects, stretches definition of illusion to the point of losing any sense.

> [mind...] is represented as activity of neural patterns in a brain

This is the stretch; accepting electrical activity (EEGs in particular) as a proof of mind. If electrical activity is a proof of mind, my radio has a mind.

When radio mediates sounds of "I think, therefore I am", there's nothing more than sound and electrical currents correlated with waveform of that sound in it. Source: I can build simple radio.

Why brain is probably not like that? Because there's no single experimental result pointing in this direction, while there's nothing contradicting the idea of brain producing mind.

I know, philosophers are arguing both pro and contra, but they unlikely to come to agreement in nearest 100 years. Thus I need experimental results that brain is somehow communicates to something, to take this seriously.

"An observer (the awareness) misapprehends working of a set of semi-independent parts as a whole, like an observer of a large city from the top of a skyscraper could readily mistake it for a living organism."

So you (and/or Robert Wright) would argue that a city doesn't exist as something worthy of a name in itself? In other words, "Albuquerque" doesn't denote anything; the only thing that exists is a loosely related collection of buildings, people, etc.?

Of course his point of view also flies against systems theory and the last 60-70 years of radical progress that has been made in this domain. An ant colony is so much more than the sum of its parts. To call similar emergent systems "a delusion" is laughable. That he also mentions "Brahman" in the same post tells me that he's extremely confused and can't separate philosophy/mysticism from empiricism/science.

lngmn writes:

"The notion of mind is a delusion, caused by confused verbalized introspection in the first place. An observer (the awareness) misapprehends working of a set of semi-independent parts as a whole, like an observer of a large city from the top of a skyscraper could readily mistake it for a living organism."

So, in his view, there exists an "awareness" that acts as an independent, objective "observer" that is in the position to misapprehend and it is this "awareness" that is deluded about the mind? How is that for circular reasoning.

Even primitive Hindu mystics thousands of years ago when reflecting on the "awareness", what he calls Brahman, had the insight and reasoning ability to posit it as non-objective nothingness, non-dual, outside space and time, ineffable.

Coming back to this reality, feedback loops and emergent properties are _everywhere_, and as the loops get shorter and shorter, system cohesion strengthens and the properties become more _obvious_.

Arguments of the short that he put forth should be viewed with suspicion, if not outright dismissal and ridicule.

> extremely confused and can't separate philosophy/mysticism from empiricism/science.

That's rather bold generalization form a single term.) Nevertheless I would argue that I could easily hold a discussion on various branches of Eastern philosophy and modern sciences.

My friend, awareness does not act, it exist. Other parts of the brain are responsible for actions. That is the point. Awareness is a process (processing of a sensory input, if you wish), one of many, not the whole.

Awareness cannot be objective (or subjective) - this notion is inapplicable. Are camera and microphone in your phone objective?

Observer is a metaphor used to give an oversimplified but familiar example.

In philosophy of the mind an observer emerges as an abstract entity when awareness augmented with a language is directed toward itself in the process of verbalized introspection. A human language is a prerequisite for having such a notion. That is why modern science has no evidence that animals posses self-awareness.

That "mind" or "I" or "myself" with which the verbalized introspection has been labeled what it think it sees is mere a linguistic construct. A label. A name for a reflection in the water of consciousness.

The notion of Brahman is applicable to the nature of the universe and has nothing to do with awareness. The different notion - Atman - is used to convey fundamental idea, that what the nature of a Man is no different from the nature of the Universe - Man is mere a "product" of the Universe. This is the meaning of famous upanishadic "Atman is Brahman" and "I am that".

There, perhaps, no subject other than what we call the philosophy of mind, on which the best minds of the humanity has been working since the beginning of time, and the ideas and notions they have developed, principles they have formulated still stands, even if they were realized as mere insights and intuitions.

As for feedback loops and emergent properties - these are everywhere in biology. No one argues against systems biology or development. A brain has been emerged dues to accumulation of feedback and selection on "useful" patterns (I am oversimplifying for the sake of the argument). There is nothing to talk about.

Actually, what is really ridiculous is trying to put in a few sentences the findings of evolutionary psychology, the notions of social and cultural conditioning, that a language is conditioned by a sensory experience (and hence by physical shared environment - this is how we got these apriori notions of time and space, described by Kant).

What we call the mind is mere conditioning and memories of experiences, encoded using the very same conditioned linguistic forms and emotions (should I explain in what sense emotions are conditioned by the shared environment?).

I think you should take the Robert Wright's course and read a book or two on the subject before trying to piss on a wrong tree.

I had a look at Robert Wright's course, it's irrelevant to this discussion but I will devote some time to it since I'm interested in its subject matter and have been for years. Thank you for suggesting it.

I don't like to mix philosophy or mysticism with science. In both your posts, you are going back and forth between the two, mixing and matching, and while everything may make sense to you, it's not really helping when other minds come into play. It's far more productive I feel to talk from one or the other perspective, but not both.

This was the major point of me disagreeing with your first post, and also that you seemed to dismiss "the process" itself. Surely the mind is not mere conditioning and memories of experiences, maybe you could get away talking like this with other Buddhists or mystics or Vedantic followers — and then they'd tell you that none of that really exists — but when talking with cyberneticists or system theorists you'll be laughed out of the room. And this is coming from someone who is very familiar with the first and well-versed in the second of these domains.

You talk about the brain having "emerged" but this risks confusion when applied to the topic at hand. The brain may have emerged through evolution and natural selection, but it is not emerging right now.

The mind is an emergent process altogether.

The conditioning and memories that you talk about is really the "self-model", data, but not the process-in-execution itself. Maybe you will say that the mind emerges from said data and that therefore this sort of data is a pre-requisite. I could argue for or against this depending on day or phase of the moon, it's an interesting point. But it's erroneous I feel to identify the mind with said data.

In deep sleep, there is no mind even though the brain is physically there and so are the memories and experiences and conditioning. The mind begins to emerge in dreams and is fully emergent in wakefulness. There is a clear distinction between data as stored in the brain and the process of becoming self-aware.

Finally, there is plenty of evidence that certain animals possess self-awareness without possessing anything close to human language. Dolphins, some apes and birds (parrots and magpies). And again, all of this makes a lot of sense from a cybernetic perspective but it makes no sense whatsoever from your mystical/philosophical pov. Which is why it's a mistake to apply notions from the second to the first.

Forgot to ask - what exactly are the evidences of possessing sefl-awareness? Which experiment has been accepted as a proof? How did they proved that an animal subject does not see a mere another animal, but exactly "that is me" or not just merely confused, like all these babies with ridiculous looking time experiments?

There is a story about blind philosophers touching an elephant. Fortunately, in the case of mind they all are touching the same elephant, contrary to some theoretical physicists and dark matter/dark energy astronomers who are touching imaginary spherical elephants in vacuum, or french existentialists touching each other.

This means that after pruning out, like in a search algorithm, obvious nonsense the remaining insights and formulated principles "describe" the same phenomena from different perspectives, so the process is still have good chances to converge to some approximation of what is (or truth or absolute, if we wish to use archaic terms) while other processes are not even convex (this is another analogy). So, dismissing a proper philosophy as unscientific is a bit premature, in my opinion.

Sometimes metaphors are the only way to correctly express certain notions, which are foreign to our conditioned and specialized brains, like the notion of non-existence of time as a distinct phenomena, or that there are such things as appearances - patterns of sensory input which interpreted by the brain, conditioned to do it by the environment in which it has been evolved, to accept these perceptions as ultimately existing. Forth grade example with zooming form a solid into atoms and then "particles" would illustrate it best.

For the system theorists the analogy would be that they are talking about implementation details, while philosophers are talking about higher lever, linguistic abstractions, the domain of what we call the mind. It is easy to see that linguistic abstractions of the mind does not necessarily exist, like angels or dark energy.

The state of deep-sleep or losing of consciousness has been used as a counterargument to refute the separate good-created-soul dogmas back in the times of Upanishads. Nowadays we would say that some processes are suspended and then recreated, which at least refutes the dogma of separate, permanent self as a distinct entity. Obvious examples from software systems one could find himself.

The good AI research, like a good philosophy, which could be characterized by pruning of nonsense and collecting non-contradictory general principles, with help of evolutionary and social psychology already got what is possible and how it works in principle. What they, obviously, do not know is how exactly it works (due to complexity) and how it came to be, but these are non-principal questions.

At least, there is no doubt for a modestly educated person that most of mind-created appearances does not ultimately exist, like socially constructed dogmas or memes.

Time, soul, self are a memes of the mind, if you wish. Implementation details are irrelevant.

I don't think we know yet what the mind is. In every time, people have some theory about it that is informed by the major scientific breakthroughs and ideologies of that time that get generalized beyond recognition. One hundred years later, all that remains are memories of a faded fad.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Embodied_cognition https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Extended_mind_thesis https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Situated_cognition

The article's ideas are related to the extended mind, situated cognition,and embodied cognition hypotheses. They are interesting, and really challenge us to let go of our scientific tendency to separate the world into discrete objects.

Defining "mind" or "consciousness" seems like a backwards effort. I would think that the natural progression would be that there is an observed concept which then needs a label (ie, I observe a bunch of tallish greenish things that share a large number of similarities and I label them "tree"). In this case, I would think that there was some observed phenomenon with observable/definable traits that we would then label as "mind" or "consciousness". However, in these cases, it feels as though we came up with the label and are now in search of a concept to fit them.

The observed phenomena are the perception, reasoning, and labeling processes you describe. The word "consciousness" refers to the means by which those processes and many others are interconnected.

I find it plausible to say that something identifiable by the term "I" exists.

You're missing the point. We know that angels are real because we observe their effects on the world around us. The important thing for us to do as scientists is to figure out how angels operate on everything, simultaneously, without leaving any evidence. A thought experiment that will give us unprecedented insight into their function would be to imagine how small an angel could physically get while maintaining all of the properties they are known to have. It would be very, very small, so the best unit to calculate it with might be the maximum density of angels of theorized types, qualities, and distributions within some arbitrarily small area. It'll be the greatest discovery since aether, and has the potential to yield methods for us to wield the power of angels, which would completely disrupt health care, immersive gaming, social multimedia and national defense.

Just kidding. Theory-theory is all about discovering the definition of words. It rests entirely on the axiom that when people talk about their motivations and the motivations of other people, they're talking about real objects and real processes. After we assume we're already right and have always been right, all that's left is to locate and quantify "jealousy," and invent ways to create, destroy, and control it. "Jealousy," whatever we may determine that is, is axiomatic before being defined.

I ambiguously like the article, just in that it reminds the reader that there's no clear way to detach any physical mind from anything else in the world without making it into a soul. The important thing about you is not that there's introspective rationalizations running on a verbalized loop in your head (and in any reaction requiring speed, slightly later than the action they pretend to explain), but why you can hear the ones running in your head so much louder than you can hear the ones running in someone else's head. It's a proximity problem, not a problem of "consciousness" or "mind." Why am I so much closer to me than I am to you? I have to rely on sounds and visual indications to act upon, and to get feedback from, your nervous system. Why am I in my head and not yours? If I am not this introspective loop; if I were in your head, wouldn't I be in your introspection? If I have no agency, and my behavior and the content of my introspection are an epiphenomenon of the relationship of my nervous system and environment, rather then something that I initiate from wherever I connect with the physical world - am I unitary? Could there be countless me's in my own head observing (living without acting) my life from my perspective?

It's far safer to define consciousness or mind as the thing that separates humans from meat, then spend a lot of time studying humans and meat and comparing the two. It's also useful in that you can declare any behavior that you don't like in humans a problem with their meat, or declare some people more meat than human. You'll never be wrong.

I read the article twice, I still have no idea what he is talking about.

I wonder if the mind can be distinguished philosophically from identity. It's an important concept in many spiritual practices, to understand and realize that the mind is not the self.

hey folks, if this is not ok i'll remove my reply. I just want to post this article I wrote on the subject a few months ago:


If anyone finds the time and mood to go over it I'd appreciate a discussion :)

You lost me at "Life causes the Heisenberg uncertainty". Actually, you lost me at least a paragraph before that, but this statement is just so flat-out wrong that I stopped reading at that point. Life has nothing to do with Heisenberg uncertainty.

Your essay in general is poorly informed and borderline incoherent. But asking for feedback on HN is perfectly OK and you should be downvoted for that. I think it is reasonable to expect people to either give you constructive feedback or STFU.

hey, thanks for replying. Yep, this is what I find hardest these days, asking for feedback. If you happen to be in a life setting where you don't have direct access to informed opinion you must risk the usual down vote of coming out of the blue asking for opinion on internet forums.

regarding the article itself I think you should try to understand I did my best stay away from the horror of the shitty "new age" quantum bullshit interpretation of the measurement problem. it is NOT my intention or idea.

my central idea is that maybe life is a property of the universe not a phenomenon, and try to construct something out of it.

I wish you'd give the perspective a chance :), beyond the annoying paragraphs, and put up with my lack of coherence as a gentle gesture towards an amateur wrestling with an extremely complicated subject.

Thanks again!

>life is a property of the universe not a phenomenon

That is a bizarre, quasi-religious assumption. What evidence do have in support of it? I understand that you're making an assumption and proceeding from there, but it seems to revolve around a misunderstanding of what "property" means. If life is a 'property' of the universe, everything else also is, and the word ceases to have any meaning.

Well, if by life the author means consciousness/awareness (not intelligence), I don't know that it is necessarily a religious assumption. Western orthodoxy assumes that consciousness arises out of complex arrangements of matter, yet it is different in kind and does not appear to be itself reducible to matter. Isn't it a simpler hypothesis to assume consciousness is the default state of the universe, and all material phenomenon are the result of conscious action? This problem is this hypothesis is that it removes us from our privileged position as masters of the universe.

The idea that I am just a small part in a giant conscious living system makes me feel good. The alternative - that we are islands of life that somehow different and separate from a dead, mechanistic universe - seems kind of unpleasant.

I agree he should use a different word than property, but it made me think of Schrodinger's epic lectures/book. Criticism is great but I don't want to dissuade a clearly intelligent guy from exploring new creative ideas.

>The only possible inference from these two facts is, I think, that I –I in the widest meaning of the word, that is to say, every conscious mind that has ever said or felt 'I' -am the person, if any, who controls the 'motion of the atoms' according to the Laws of Nature

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/What_Is_Life%3F http://www.whatislife.ie/downloads/What-is-Life.pdf

> If life is a 'property' of the universe, everything else also is, and the word ceases to have any meaning.

Why would life be all encompassing? It is just a thing on its own, and quite small in its manifestation. The way I framed the assumption is that life (I know it's hard to dismantle the meaning inside the word and see it separate from us) is just as time woven in, working in the opposite direction of time.

I have developed this here:


As for the idea, it is exactly NOT religious I want it to be seen. A property is a characteristic and I don't know if life would be an essential or accidental property of our (this) universe.

Awareness, our subjective existence, subjects of religion and philosophy are completely separate subjects from life and the phenomenon of evolution it produces.

As for evidence, I would dare quote evolution and the spawning of it. But I can solely produce thought experiment type of evidence :) from my current settings.

For one, you need to better define life. Are you referring to life in the biological sense? You say that it is distinct from consciousness. Will bacteria qualify? What about viruses?

yes bacteria and viruses qualify. I propose biology is a process made possible by life and evolution a phenomenon inside this process.

for entertainment purposes i have an attempt to define life here:


Back to your original article, I think several scientific notions of yours are misguided. I presume that by entropy you refer to information entropy, not thermodynamic entropy, and I think you have conflated these two different notions that are called entropy. Thermodynamic entropy is concerned with how easily energy can be transferred from one thermodynamic system to another, while information entropy is concerned with how many bits we require to select a string from a group of possible strings.

> The void has in theory the highest level of entropy. Matter randomly spawns into existence, then back into non existence. Can’t get any more chaotic than that.

On the contrary, a vacuum has very little information density; to describe a region of space to that is a vacuum to any degree of precision requires fewer words than to describe any space on earth to the same degree of precision, since the vacuum is very uniform. Your impression that the void is more chaotic than our everyday environments is a misreading of pop-sci physics books; the same chaos happens throughout, even in matter-dense regions of space.

I think that your article illustrates why many critical thinkers refrain from creating cosmologies; our present scientific understanding and tools are still so immature that we cannot accurately describe our own minds and bodies, let alone with any certainty the human societies; and that let alone the cosmos, let alone one person's attempt.

Though it seems to me that physics has a tradition of producing outspoken physicists with enough hubris to think otherwise.

> thanks for replying

You're welcome.

(Note that my reply had a serious typo: it should have read: asking for feedback on HN is perfectly OK and you should NOT be downvoted for that. I left out the word "not". Thanks to grzm for pointing that out.)

>life is a property of the universe not a phenomenon

But that's not true (to the extent that I can wring any coherent meaning out of that sentence at all).

Life is very well understood: it is the reproduction of information in the face of random mutation and natural selection. The central concept is not complicated at all. The results of this process (because that's what life is: a process) can be very complicated, but the process itself is not.

s/you should/you shouldn't/ ?

Um, yeah. Doh!

The problem with your article is that it is just based on reasoning in a vacuum. It is not based on any repeatably measurable observations, and it does not allow you to make any predictions about anything, or to meaningfully fill in gaps in existing knowledge.

It uses existing vocabulary from physics, but just for superficial discourse. Entropy, locality, the Heisenberg principle, etc are not just concepts, but equations and definitions one uses to measure and reason about the physical world, which your article completely ignores.

Tldr it'a woowoo "science"/"philosophy".

This is pretty good as far as grand theories of the universe go, which in fine because we're talking philosophy, not science. However, I don't agree with life being an oppositional force to normal increasing entropy. It's probably more like eddies in a current, where life can only exist where free energy / negative entropy / information already exists and can be used.

You might be interested in a book I just added to my reading list: "What is life?" (Schrödinger, 1944) The wikipedia articles on it sound fascinating.

the funny thing is i have a series of "posts" on this subject and while trying to post on r/philosophy i got a ban warn on the reason it is not philosophy :D

What made your article a grind to read to me, was the intermingling of vague understanding of bits of physics and mathematics with personal philosophy, presented under the nomer of "science". It's basically "my beliefs", but with a rationalization based in mostly just namedropping scientific terms.

There's no clear structure or method to the reasoning. There are no valid scientific hypotheses in it, and no ideas for scientifically researching parts of your philosophy. There are a lot of assumptions about things you don't seem to know a lot about, and a lot of unfounded, unresearched statements.

I'd recommend you study logic, as in the mathematical field, at 1st year mathematics Bsc level, and also get a solid understanding of basic research statistics and hypothesis testing. It'll help you be more precise in your reasoning and get a better understanding of the border between philosophy and science.

I'll end with a list of more specific critiques:

>> Consider for a moment that life is an embedded property of the universe, just like time and space are.

What does this even mean? Spacetime is a construct that combines space and time to make it similar to 4-dimensional Euclidian space, which makes it much easier to reason about physics mathematically AFAIK. Are you suggesting a 5-dimensional model? Or that life is "literally time" travel? Or that entropy can decrease in a closed system, if only for "the life element"?

Because any of those interpretations sound a lot like "life is not part of physics" and pseudoscience-based mysticism when not supported by any mathematical rigor.

>> Just like time is a property of the time-space continuum, life is a property of a larger continuum space-time-life.

What the hell is this continuum you're talking about? This needs references and a thorough definition which does not contain made-up undefined terms. You can't just say a few magic words and call it science.

>> Time and life are two opposing fundamental forces of the universe. Time is the global entropy increase and life is the local entropy decrease. I don’t know if they’re symmetric, but they are closely so. It is a fractal who grows the same over and over again, no surprises here.

Uh, yes. Why are they opposing? Why are you saying life is "a force"? What do you define as "a force"? How is time global entropy increase? What's this crap about symmetry and fractals?

>> "the animus and the tenses"

>> "the power of resilience"

Define your terms.

I could spit through the whole article line by line but I don't have enough battery and I'd end up critiquing every nonempty line.

If you want I could help you find some good learning resources on the subject. You're on HN so you probably have access to a modern browser OR a somewhat decent PDF reader, and that ought to do fine.

Thank you a thousand times for this. It was extremely helpful for me :) I take this very seriously and have no issue with admitting the strong limitations in my grasping capacity.

Your detailed effort is much appreciated, almost a Christmas gift! And with limited battery :D

Awesome, yours, A

As an aside, my offer to help find learning resources stands, just say so here or shoot me an email.

ping :) Yes, I am very interested in your offer, sorry for the delay, holidays got to me! on the spot i didn't have the nerve to ask, and i took it as a politeness formula, but if indeed this is a activity you enjoy do help me :) ill be thrilled!

Ok, do you have an email I could contact you at?

This alt isn't strongly linked to my IRL identity (yet) and I'd like to keep it that way. I'm a bit busy so I'd rather not make another email account for this occasion.

No problem, I hope it helps :)

Thanks everyone who took the time :) You've been very helpful and I really appreciate it, A

I see that there is much disagreement with this article but I could not find anything with which I seriously disagreed. I suspect most readers are pattern matching in that the arguments sound very dualist but they need not be; most of the piece's problems are more in phrasing and emphasis. While the core ideas offered within might not be known to the broader population, they are in line with current research. There are two aspects to the piece. One that appeals to math and another that is really arguing for a notion of distributed cognition.

The math portion is not well written but I don't know whether the fault lies in the article or the original book. Whatever the case, I can summarize more concretely: the idea is that life (and minds) are organizations of matter that more effectively leverage free energy in open systems out of equilibrium. This 4 min video narrated by Sean Carroll gives an accessible description. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HxTnqKuNygE.

Much of the work in this area was jump started by Jarzynski, who notes non-equilibrium free energy plays a central role in the thermodynamics of processes involving the manipulation of information.

In http://rsif.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/10/86/2013047... Friston argues that life "—is an inevitable and emergent property of any (ergodic) random dynamical system that possesses a Markov blanket". And in the work of Susanne Still, we see that all manner of systems, not just brains, are capable of some kind of predictive inference in order to operate at high energy efficiency.

the stall torque for the F1-ATPase [26] and the stall force for Myosin V [27] are near the maximal values possible given the free energy liberated by ATP hydrolysis and the sizes of their respective rotations and steps. These and many other biological functions require some correspondence between the environment and the systems that implement them. Therefore the memory of their instantiating systems must be nonzero

We have shown that any such system with nonzero memory must conduct predictive inference, at least implicitly, to approach maximal energetic efficiency

* * *

The other aspect to the essay essentially was an argument for the Distributed Mind Hypothesis, which is certainly more philosophy than it is science. I nonetheless find the viewpoint most compelling.

Examples of Distributed and or Extended Minds

- Mutually Auto-completing Old married couples where recall of events is most accurate together.

- Experts at some task where the knowledge is distributed amongst workers because it is too subconscious to be reliably recorded as text.

- Proto cyborgs via mobile phones and laptops. As computers get more personal, the notion of the mind extending outside the brain will get less and less outlandish sounding.

- What makes up a person? After you remove the influence of genetics and interactions with books written by others and people met, what is left? Now this part is controversial but someday, we might find that the mind as a single self is a useful illusion but actually a highly correlated subcomponent of a more distributed concept in both space and time.

What to look for: Distributed Cognition, Extended Mind, Intelligence Augmentation

Possibly the worst article I've read about mind-body dilemma.

This definition is basically a translation of anaxogoras's original definition.

It's good to have a more modern way of phrasing it but the idea is older than Christianity.

This is really a little misleading.

The 'mind' is an abstraction, it does not exist in physical space, ergo, it never did exist in your 'brain' or 'anywhere else'. It does not have a 'location'. And this is without getting into tangential metaphysical issues ...

If the mind didn't have a specific location, events st any specific location could not affect it. Since they can (someone talking to me here in my house in England affects my mental state) and events at other locations cannot (unless they have a telephone or similar device relocating the sound of their voice here, if they try talking to me in China it won't affect me at all), clearly the mind has a location.

I'm not sure why you were downvoted here -- the mind-body problem isn't nearly as trivial as this article makes it sound.

I don't think the article makes the problem sound trivial. The title does, because it's the usual baitiness. We replaced it with a primary phrase from the text itself.

You lost the essence of the article by changing the title to a trite observation. The point the author is (presumably) making is a bit outrageous: that you not live just in your own brain but in the brain of the others you're related to.

I say presumably because I haven't read Siegel's book, but am extrapolating from the same thread which was woven by Hofstadter in "I am a Strange Loop". A more popular yet similar exposition of this idea is the word Ubuntu, which you can roughly grasp using the aphorism "A person is a person through other people".

The article title definitely colored my perception, thanks for replacing it.

That being said, there are parts of this article that come across as trivializing the issue:

> Mental life for an anthropologist or sociologist is profoundly social. Your thoughts, feelings, memories, attention, what you experience in this subjective world is part of mind.

Neither monists nor dualists would dispute this, but the article makes it sound like it's a sole necessary result of the dualist view. I guess I'm not being a charitable reader, but this does a disservice to both sides (and to Siegel, whose actual claim is much more nuanced than the article makes it out to be).

"mind-body problem" is indeed not trivial.

But the 'mind' does not have a location, it does not make sense describe it as 'in your head' or 'in your body' or anywhere else.

Your brain has matter/energy. It has a location.

Your mind has neither, it's a abstraction. It has no location.

If it did, you'd be able to say where it was without fuss.

You'd have to get into fancier metaphysics (i.e. non-materialist) to go too far beyond that.

Not sure if you're positing dualism or just being cautious.

Thought exercise: how many lightyears wide would you have to draw a box that contains all the physical processes necessary to simulate your brain (and the experience your brain is having right now)? Any answer in the form of a number implies that you don't really believe in dualism.

One could do the same with other "abstractions" (quoting just because of the vagueness of the term in comments sections on hackernews). What about the operating system in your computer? Where is "Windows" or "Linux"? It's a lot of different pages of code and data in memory, but pages are just collections of cache lines and memory activation lines and disk sectors...it's hard to pin down what is "operating system" and what is not "operating system". But even so, one can easily draw a box around your physical computer and say that your operating system definitely _is_ in there.

Why should your mind be any different? It is just the software of your brain. It inhabits time and space just as anything else does.

I'm not hinting at dualism, but I accept someone might infer that.

"how many lightyears wide would you have to draw a box that contains all the physical processes necessary to simulate your brain "

Well - if you want to map physical processes to the locations of their abstractions, you could say 'the mind is in the brain'.

But if you posit your mind and brain are different things (and I think it's pragmatic to do so), then the mind does not have a location.

It doesn't matter 'what particles are where'.

The brain gives rise to the mind, in the same way that the physical computer, in operation, gives rise to abstract computational processes. Could you pinpoint these processes exactly in space/time? No. You can pause the computer and _inspect the state of the system_, but this not the same as pinpointing the _process itself_. The process does not exist inside the debugger.

Yet you can not say that these processes do not exist or that they don't have an (abstract) location. Assuming a non-distributed model, if you kill the physical computer, you also kill whatever emergent properties it has. The same is true for brain and mind.

I don't think it follows from "the mind and brain are separate things" that the mind does not have a location.

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