Anil Seth: We Risk Not Understanding the Central Mystery of Life

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The professor of cognitive and computational neuroscience discusses his work to develop a scientific explanation for how the brain conjures consciousness


Quote:I was interested in your section about memory in the book, in particular about Clive Wearing. Wearing is someone who, as a result of a devastating brain infection, lost all conscious memory and lives in a permanent present tense, as if perpetually waking from coma. Yet the studies show that he demonstrates an abiding love for his wife. How is that explained?
I’ve never met Clive or his wife, only read about the case. But it highlights the fact that some of those things we think are necessary for selfhood are obviously not. There are all sorts of different forms of memory. Explicit conscious recall, autobiographical memory, is just one of them. In neurological patients, you often see how the mind is built of processes that in normal life we never see...

...But there is an inbuilt narrative however we describe it – our internal life is all storytelling?
Dennett is a little equivocal about what he thinks perceptual or phenomenal experience is, if it exists or not – whether, once you’ve explained all the functions of the system and its dispositions to behave in particular ways, there’s anything left over still to explain. I’m on board with that, because I think we can get a very long way to explaining the functions and dispositions of things to behave in particular ways. But I’m agnostic about whether at the end of this programme of trying to account in physical terms for properties of experience, there will still be some residue of mystery left, something more to explain.
Have your thoughts on that ever taken any spiritual swerve – in terms of the why of there being something rather than nothing?
It’s more that I think there’s hubris in assuming that everything will submit to a mechanistic programme of explanation. I think it’s intellectual honesty to acknowledge that the existence of conscious experience as a phenomenon in a universe for which we generally have physicalist accounts seems weird. I want to figure out the ways in which we can undermine this seeming weird.
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I haven't read his book; just read through that interview. It's interesting, although this is puzzling:

Quote:Presumably, the mind-body problem is never going to be entirely resolved?
No, but I’d like to make progress. It’s the boring answer of continuing to do rigorous science, rather than proposing some eureka solution to “the hard problem”

The mind-body problem as far as I can see is a philosophical one rather than a scientific one. Likewise the hard problem.

If all you assume you have to work with towards your resolution is a bunch of (non-conscious) "physical" stuff, you've failed from the get-go. You can't get consciousness from non-conscious matter, regardless of how you arrange that matter, in whatever dynamic system - any more than you can get a meal by rearranging Lego bricks. Lego bricks just aren't edible, just like non-conscious matter is just not conscious.

You have to change your philosophical assumptions to solve the hard problem, not "science harder".
(This post was last modified: 2021-08-22, 07:20 AM by Laird.)
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To add to the above, here's the next bit of the quote:

Quote:My approach is that we risk not understanding the central mystery of life by lurching to one or other form of magical thinking.

Hmm, presumably excepting the magical thinking of "mind out of matter"?
(This post was last modified: 2021-08-22, 07:18 AM by Laird.)
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(2021-08-22, 07:18 AM)Laird Wrote: To add to the above, here's the next bit of the quote:


Hmm, presumably excepting the magical thinking of "mind out of matter"?

Exactly.  I have become utterly uninterested in any supposed scientist's thoughts on these matters when I pick up this default bias (e.g., physicalism/materialism).
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As silly as his physicalist leanings are, I do like that Seth seems intellectually forced to admit there might simply not be any physicalist explanation.

We'll probably see more and more concessions over time from these types as the public is too well informed about the Hard Problem to accept unqualified physicalist dogma.

That said, I do agree with him that there is more to be found in the structure of the brain/body and how it relates to consciousness. But I think almost everyone does? His attempt to gaslight and act like the serious questions will be a mere "residue" before materialist explanation is laughable, but religious fanatics have a hard time letting go of their programming and fundamentalist atheist-physicalists are among the worst.

I wish we'd gotten more about the Clive Wearing case, that one's deep love can survive obliteration of other aspects of memory seems quite important.

That Seth avoids looking too deep into thoughts...well it is no surprise he seems to be a fan of Dennet. It's like the opposite of the guy who looks for his keys where there is light - he wanders into the darkness to avoid challenges to his physicalist-atheist faith.

I don't know why he avoids going deeper into his own apparent work on the playfulness of cosnciousness. It's like a man who feels cosmic horror for the most familiar and fundamental aspect of ourselves...imagine feeling that Love itself is like Lovecraft's Cthullu...very cult like IMO...then there's this chestnut:

"For this piece of flesh and blood here, they seem to be unified – at least if I don’t reflect on it too much."

An amazing example of the kind of Double Speak you have to entertain to be part of the Physicalist-Atheist cult...So the I needs to reflect on the I to see it doesn't exist?...What? Goes back to Hankins' question - "If consciousness is an illusion, who precisely is being fooled?"

I'm glad he at least doubts the ability of AI to be conscious. Again it's good for the public to be aware of the flaws in the atheist-physicalist faith, especially the more cult like computationalist side.

Cults often have leaders, where you are afraid of being on the receiving end of their displeasure. For Seth that seems to be Dennet:


Quote:Dan Dennett has been one of my longest-standing inspirations and mentors and the chance over the last few years to argue with him has been a great pleasure. I gave a Ted talk in 2017 and of the 3,000 people in the room – lots of founders and investors and famous people – I was only terrified about Dennett, who I knew was in the audience. And rightly so. At one point in the talk, I described perceptual experiences as a kind of “inner movie”. Afterwards, he said: “Ah, that was all great, apart from the movie. Because: who’s watching the movie?” And that’s a very good criticism. There’s no movie because there is no one watching it.


Again, what? This continual attempt to get around the "I-Self" [is] just bizarre, whether from Physicalists or Idealists. My guess is if we gave someone else the Nobel for Seth's research he would quite suddenly proclaim "BUT I DID THE WORK!" 

Thankfully there is a small light of rationality in the delusion:


Quote:It’s more that I think there’s hubris in assuming that everything will submit to a mechanistic programme of explanation. I think it’s intellectual honesty to acknowledge that the existence of conscious experience as a phenomenon in a universe for which we generally have physicalist accounts seems weird. I want to figure out the ways in which we can undermine this seeming weird.


Anyway, glad to read the interview as a benchmark of how deep the corruption of clear thinking has gone, but also that intellectual honesty can leave a foothold of sanity. Thanks for posting!
'Historically, we may regard materialism as a system of dogma set up to combat orthodox dogma...Accordingly we find that, as ancient orthodoxies disintegrate, materialism more and more gives way to scepticism.'

- Bertrand Russell


(This post was last modified: 2021-08-23, 01:50 AM by Sciborg_S_Patel.)
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(2021-08-22, 10:05 PM)Sciborg_S_Patel Wrote: An amazing example of the kind of Double Speak you have to entertain to be part of the Physicalist-Atheist cult...So the I needs to reflect on the I to see it doesn't exist?...What? Goes back to Hankins' question - "If consciousness is an illusion, who precisely is being fooled?"

Have any other mere ten words ever so utterly eviscerated an intellectual conceit as these?

Double-speak done and dusted.
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(2021-08-22, 10:33 PM)Laird Wrote: Have any other mere ten words ever so utterly eviscerated an intellectual conceit as these?

Double-speak done and dusted.

Yeah I recall someone commenting on one of BK's essays noting that no matter how you feel about different paradigms for consciousness they can at least be stated simply.

Illusionism, however, can't ever get started without trying to convince you of absurdity. And this is the jumping off point to even greater descent, like when Graziano tried to convince us that puppets were consciousness....(o_O).
'Historically, we may regard materialism as a system of dogma set up to combat orthodox dogma...Accordingly we find that, as ancient orthodoxies disintegrate, materialism more and more gives way to scepticism.'

- Bertrand Russell


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Oh boy. Yes. When your argument is (paraphrased) "Just as we attribute the illusion of consciousness to a puppet, so our attribution of consciousness to ourselves and others is illusory" you need to stop attributing to yourself the illusion that you are making sense.
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I was gonna do a response but Sci pretty much hit the nail on the head. I always feel kinda bad talking shit when I see posts like these, cause here's this famous neuroscientist compared to me.

But anyway, you can definitely see the angle he's going for in this. It's funny that even he admits that the hard problem and the mind body problem are significant obstacles. But then he tries to dodge the problems by rewording them and attempting to undermine them. The problems that are there make him uncomfortable so he's trying to slip in a bit of physicalism to make them go away. Though, even if you somehow solved the hard problem you still have the explanatory gap of how consciousness comes from objective matter in the first place.

I remember seeing a thing a while ago about him making fun of panpsychism for being magical thinking with conscious spoons. He's definitely go his angle.
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(2021-08-23, 08:53 AM)Smaw Wrote: I was gonna do a response but Sci pretty much hit the nail on the head. I always feel kinda bad talking shit when I see posts like these, cause here's this famous neuroscientist compared to me.

But anyway, you can definitely see the angle he's going for in this. It's funny that even he admits that the hard problem and the mind body problem are significant obstacles. But then he tries to dodge the problems by rewording them and attempting to undermine them. The problems that are there make him uncomfortable so he's trying to slip in a bit of physicalism to make them go away. Though, even if you somehow solved the hard problem you still have the explanatory gap of how consciousness comes from objective matter in the first place.

I remember seeing a thing a while ago about him making fun of panpsychism for being magical thinking with conscious spoons. He's definitely go his angle.

Yeah, the "magical thinking" pejorative is ironic considering all possible explanations for consciousness, including those coming from materialist circles, are magical through any generous definition of the word.

Sci, thank you for the quote (If consciousness is an illusion, who precisely is being fooled?) as I'd never seen that one before.  Pretty profound it seems.
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