Darkness and the drive to understand



Yvonne: I feel like the core of why I try to understand things, at the center of it, there’s a disturbance. Not just disturbance in the general sense, but disturbance with the negative connotation attached, like a bad …

CSH: Yeah, suffering! Dukkha. This is the fundamental idea of Buddhism. You’re exactly on target. You wafted perfectly right over into the gateway to Buddhism. Something is wrong. And you feel it in your core. It cuts you like a knife—like Dr. Seung says. “Concern, craving, clinging, identification with the local—the body and with others. Really being immersed in that drama and saying “self” to all the content of your drama. That is the source of suffering. Because you’re identified core self-illumination of consciousness with an interesting and dark narrative/drama. But in fact consciousness is the transparent stage that can house all dramas. So we know we’re not any particular drama. This is Buddhism’s saving cognition. Just remember: consciousness can concoct any drama, consciousness can understand any drama. Therefore, consciousness is no drama.

Our self-cognition is our transcendence. That’s a good motto: OUR SELF-COGNITION IS OUR TRANSCENDENCE.

You were saying a second ago that neuroscientists are the brain looking at itself.

Modeling yourself before yourself—what a satisfying cognition! It just tickles us. Is it the cognition that we think has the highest value? The cognition of how you (consciousness) arise necessarily from the laws of physics. To just look at the laws of physics and in that vision see how consciousness pops out necessarily as a logical consequence of physical law—is just the most satisfying cognition. It’s like a God-moment for the consciousness that attains it. What is that? You see how you are necessitated by nature. You see that nature peoples.

Nature peoples self-aware cell-colonies, and you’re one of them. And to see that peopling occurs is a really satisfying cognition. To see that you arise necessarily is like seeing proof that you are loved by God. Nature has produced you out of her intrinsic necessity! To see that is utterly rapturous. “I can finally relax! Finally, I am resting in God … I am resting in God.” You can rest completely in God when you see that you, as consciousness, arise necessarily from the laws of physics, when you can trace yourself back to that.

We feel at home. It’s feeling-at-home. We want to feel at home in being. We want to feel at home in sense-being, which is spacetime. We’re “in” spacetime. And we want to feel at home in spacetime. This longing drives us to secure the necessity of our thrownness. We are determined to find how self arises out of nature—through physics, chemistry, biology, and neuroscience. Up to the level of sexually driven meaning making machines like us. We want to see that the consciousness of this horny primate arises necessarily as a consequence of the fabric of the cosmos and the way it has evolved.

We want to feel at home in spacetime. It’s so sweet. We’re so sweet.

Yvonne: Are you saying you’re a computationalist? Do you really believe that consciousness is a consequence of pure physical processes, the laws of physics?

CSH: One of which is the conscious will. I’m a panpsychist. Panpsychism says that matter is already proto-conscious. When a hydrogen atom’s electron changes orbits, that “atom” has a subjective experience, a feeling. That thing, the hydrogen “atom,” is actually a relation between two things—opposed spatially but attracted by force. Difference self-relating. Panpsychism says that when there’s a state change, say from excitation to equilibrium, that this is also an internal subjective stage change. But, we imagine, this must be super primitive. It’s like a super-primitive sensation.

If a biological organism is sensate, then moving matter is sensate. Moving matter can be sensate. Motion indicates sensitivity. You have a homeostatic machine. You throw something at it and a perturbation travels through it.

[This perturbation is automatically taken as awareness, as representation. First order material structure is matter itself. All motion is taken by the matter as representing things “outside.” All motion is taken by matter as outer sense. Second order material structure is the homeostatic system of matter. All perturbation of some homeostatic loop is taken as an-effect-from-outside the loop. All perturbation of a homeostatic system is taken by that system as outer sense.]

The perturbation disperses through it, and then the system returns to equilibrium again. That taking-on of perturbation and its subsequent “digestion” into equilibrium is one internal subjective click in that clock of that CPU. Every perturbation/excitation and return is in fact an instance of consciousness. There’s a feeling or a possible feeling inside every material motion, something that is noticed when (for example) an object is impacted by some force. (Displacement and velocity are no changes in state, but acceleration is.) Feeling and material motion are two views on the same reality.

That’s panpsychism. Otherwise not even the most sophisticated computer would ever feel, and thus would never have that quality of what it is like to be conscious.

As Chalmers points out, it is logically possible for a planet exactly like Earth to be inhabited by people exactly like us, doing and speaking exactly the same things, but without having any consciousness. A robot can be behaviorally and even functionally equivalent to a conscious person but have no internal consciousness.

Yet we have this consciousness. So consciousness really exists. Which means that consciousness really exists. It’s already there as the inner life of material motion.

Motion is feeling by space. Space feels by using motion. Motion is the way space stimulates itself. Space stimulates itself, as motion. But space already has a subjective proto-“I” because motion is feeling. Feeling exists as a fundamental element in nature.

Consciousness has to exist on the level of content, and not as an emergent structure arising from real content.

I don’t believe that unconscious matter can become conscious, but Daniel Dennett says it does. He says you have a system of billiard balls, none of which are conscious, yet together as a system they become conscious. I really want to understand that. Is it true? It matter really unconscious, yet capable of spawning consciousness when properly combined?

In that case, I don’t really exist on the content level. [Trembles.] I exist only on the formal level. [Trembles.] I’m a structural, functional, informational … what the fucking kind of bullshit thing is that? It doesn’t really exist. For example, I can arrange sand into a triangle. But what kind of reality does that triangle have? In one sense it’s real, but ultimately it’s not—it’s just an arrangement of sand. The triangle isn’t really there. That’s what we are. We’re like the triangle. That scares us. We’re just formal, functional, computational. We’re not the infrastructure that’s doing the computations. Scary!

Isn’t it scary that we’re not resting on the bottom?


Yvonne: No. I don’t think it’s scary.

CSH: Ew! You’re an annihilationist. You don’t mind being empty of being.

Yvonne: That’s the truth. I’m not scared. That’s because I don’t quite understand it. I’m taking philosophy 301. I’ve read a lot about philosophical concepts but …

CSH: Did my screed make any sense?

Yvonne: Disturbances, like since waves and stuff like that, …

CSH: When a cluster of molecules is hit by a particle, the impact propagates inside the cluster. We want to say that this propagating disturbance represents that particle (or it’s point of departure). This is how vision and hearing occur. The eardrum is hit, the hit propagates, and then an internal content arises for a consciousness. In other words, sound is experienced by that piece of space. All that sound-consciousness is is a kind of material motion.

So you have: homeostasis, disturbance of homeostasis (which is actually experienced as sound, the sound part of sound, the feeling-content that is sound), and then return to homeostasis. It’s bizarre—sound seems like a real content. But all it is is a way of digesting a mechanical hit.

So these are the puzzles I kind of focus on. These days I’ve been trying to connect the Buddhist genesis of sense consciousness story with physiology.

Yvonne: What religion do you subscribe to? Buddhism?

CSH: I guess I do. I think that consciousness is inherent in nature.

Yvonne: My TA said something like that. He said that atoms and subatomic particles have some sort of free will.

CSH: I guess they do, because of indeterminacy. For example, given two entangled particles, if you pin down the position of one over here, you erase the momentum of the other over there. This is that non-local, super-luminal thing. Freedom exists as the crests of the probability wave function. Those are the curtains you can pick on today’s show. And so maybe that’s how we dive our freedom into spacetime. The cracks whereby we fall through into the future are the crests in that probability wave.

Yvonne: How do you feel about the analytic philosopher Bertrand Russell?

CSH: I just read a comic book about him. Did you read Logicocomix?

Yvonne: I just read it and it was the reason why I started reading about philosophy in the first place. I read that he was disturbed—bad disturbed. I remember a scene where he had a nightmare about an infinite number of doors.