Friday, February 10, 2017

Consciousness is virtual


I will dare to call this a theory because it aligns with and is built upon all the facts, empirical proofs and ontological knowledge that we have about the phenomena of Consciousness.

And i have an undeniable proof for it.

This is not something i say lightly. Ive been working on this theory for quite some time, probably decades. It is an expression of everything i know, everything i managed to figure out and keep objective as best as i could. The theory is based on all scientifically proven facts about our brains, bodies, biology in general, history, evolution and many other relevant current discoveries - some of which you will find linked to at the end.

Before i explain it fully and present my proof i have to be very clear that this actually does not really prove or disprove any of the usual atheistic or religious points of view about what consciousness is. Instead it synthesizes both of these binary extremes, shows they are both right to some extent and leaves open a possibility of understanding and accepting a “spiritual level” of this phenomena. Although that was not the intent.

The intent is only to figure out the Truth. Not to confirm any pre-established belief or opinion.

I dont subscribe to either of these binary systems of belief and disbelief and rather than calling myself agnostic (which became a loaded term) i usually say i am simply undecided, until some stronger evidence comes along one way or another.
In fact, i will say that this theory provides a clear and provable basis for the concept of a "soul", without it actually being completely materialistic, or completely non-materialistic entity. Of course that won't satisfy any of the usual binary extremes proponents. But that is largely because humans have a fundamental flaw of “tendency to think in binary extremes”, among a few others such fundamental faults.

I am sure that both sides will try to argue to the contrary and try to take this as proof for their side, but i am telling you: this theory does not do any such thing.

Which i consider the beauty of it.
In this it also satisfies the elegance requirement of scientific theories, although that by itself is not a proof.


When I figured this out, at first I thought someone else had already surely done so.
So i checked.

There is already a theory seemingly similar to mine but it went into very limited and therefore wrong direction, as John Searle argued, among others. The "Computational theory of the Mind",

There are several other hypothetical or theoretical propositions that try to solve the so called "mind-body problem" in "Philosophy of mind" theories.
This theory explains and solves that problem, as well as problems of intentionality and dualism.

There is also a "Hard problem of consciousness".

This theory of mine solves the Mind-Body problem, the Hard Consciousness problem and all other problems of this kind. Or at the very least, shows a better new approach as it clarifies and corrects the mistakes in all of these previous approaches.

The first crucial truth:

In order to clarify and explain i will need to use the example of the computers, but not in the way most of readers would expect, because:
"We are not like computers. The computers are like us. Very, very simplified and specialized versions of us."

This will be repeated many times throughout this paper because the opposite and completely wrong meme has been repeated far too many times and has taken root in far too many people's minds. This inverted incorrect, illogical reductionism meme is causing many extremely negative and absurd consequences, such as rejection of individuality, personal agency and responsibility as well as any value we consider fundamental for our existence.

But also because the actually true and correct comparison, which is:
"We are not like computers. The computers are like us. Very, very simplified and specialized versions of us." - is very useful in explaining what the consciousness and the mind actually are.
This is probably the strongest and biggest disagreement i have with the above mentioned "Computational theory of the mind" or any such kind of similar idea.

The obvious similarities between us and the modern computers has lead many to make the wrong assumption, that we are like computers. And of course, once people took it as true it became very difficult to make them reconsider because people have difficulties admitting they are wrong. This incorrect and upside down opinion that “humans are like computers” led many to jump to conclusions that we are nothing but some kind of more complicated calculating machines.

Yet all that we know about neurology and how our brains work clearly and undeniably shows we do not calculate zeros and ones like computers do, that our neurons and synapses don't really use mathematics in such a crude basic way and we definitely do not behave like any such simplistic machines.

On the other hand, if we look at that idea in a correct way and realize that computers are actually like us, but very simplified and specialized versions of some of our capabilities, then the picture becomes very different. Much more logical and reasonable. And much clearer.

One more thing to point out is that we did not create computers through some subconscious urge to make copies of ourselves. As some maybe would assume.
We created computers as they are because such systems are efficient. They provide specific capabilities that are useful in very efficient ways. Nature has been using the same kind of efficiency systems to achieve and create various efficient and capable systems, like for example, living beings and living beings with conscious minds. The computers are very, very, very simplified and specialized versions of these natural systems of efficiency - which are apparently ubiquitous and fundamental in this Universe physical laws.

We made computers able to do everything they can do, just based on the most simple form of mathematical calculation. Binary combinations of zeros and ones. Yet even such a simplified basic form has created the Internet and all the incredible things we can do and create with the help of computers today. Naturally, we started with the simplest possible versions we could achieve back in those times of past century, but then the evolution took over and those starting designs and technologies  improved – evolved.

Imagine what you could do if you had such systems based not just on ones and zeros, but something much more complex.

We are already moving in that direction with the advent of quantum computers and DNA based computers which will have three, four or more basic states to calculate with, instead of just binary two like the current ones.

Imagine what you could do with neurons that can have hundreds of connections in a biological system.

Well,... - you could imagine things like that, for one thing.

The second crucial truth:

What exactly do all those calculations and those connections achieve? That is a crucial consideration or question most people don't think about correctly. What do we create even with that simple binary calculation our computers are capable of?

Mathematical results? Endless strings of numbers? Electrical signals? Is that what you see on your screen?

You see a Virtual Space.

At the most basic level, all the calculations your computer does - with the help and instructions of software - create your OS. The Operating System which is Virtual and so immaterial.
It is built on hardware and software which ultimately create a specific Virtual environment. But very undeniably real all the same. You see it right in front of you right now. You interact with it in many different ways everyday.

In that virtual space you can install and run other programs which are also virtual, all of which have specific valuable or needed capabilities – which are specifically virtual, despite the fact that their foundations are physical.  You use those virtual capabilities – which are virtual and at the same time no less real for it – to create specific virtual and real things.

I am writing this theory in the virtual space of Open office, which is itself a software running in the virtual space created by my Windows Operating System. All of it is running on the physical hardware of my PC. Which is used and instructed by the software to create all kinds of different virtual capabilities and virtual spaces we see presented in light dots on the surface of our screens.

If i want i can start another kind of virtual tool called a “movie player” and watch a movie in this virtual but real space, maybe a whole tv-show, like Breaking Bad is, and experience the whole story about invented but very well created characters and their “adventures” - all of which is virtual and magically appearing inside my screen - In the virtual space the hardware of my computer creates.
Or i can open Photoshop and create some art myself in that virtual space which has very specific tools and capabilities.
Or use a music software and the virtual capabilities that program would give me to create some kind of music. (it wouldn't be any good but that's beside the point).

I can also start a whole sub virtual space of a video game, a seemingly whole small virtual world running in the virtual space of my OS – and then play a game inside that completely invented non-material but real virtual world. Maybe playing as a pale gray dude who cannot die and talks to a floating blabbering skull who he should not trust. And so live through and experience all that invented, immaterial character experiences in that immaterial invented world.

I could even, if i knew how, use other virtual programs and create a whole video game inside them.  A completely invented virtual world of my own in which i can guide a virtual character through a whole progression of experiences set in that virtual world and its specific setting, rules and conditions.

I could do science, create new better computers, design new things or improve designs of already existing real things, study and do medicine, architecture, talk to other people, collaborate on projects that will become real in the real world... almost anything you can think of.

All of that and more can be done in a virtual space my computer creates, with the help of virtual capabilities various software programs provide inside the virtual space of my OS. All of it running on the materialistic physical hardware.
Hardware that is based on simplest binary calculations of ones and zeros.

"We are not like computers, the computers are like us. Very, very simplified and specialized versions of us."

The capability to create virtual spaces is the main ability of the computers and the result of computation they can do. Not the computation itself. The computation is a tool that is used to create something – greater than computation itself. It is only in these virtual spaces that we get all the special capabilities and options i mentioned above.

It is only in the virtual space of our minds, running on and created by the biological hardware and "software" of our bodies and brains, so much more complex than any binary computer, that we gain the capability to be conscious.

To think, to value, to create meanings, to experience all that we can, including ourselves and our own consciousness.

The proof:

Is a thought experiment which is undeniable.

And i think that is very apt.

I will use the Millennium Falcon (from the original movies mind you) as a subject of this thought experiment because it is a completely fantastic, virtual, but real and very widely known term.
Trekkies can swap it for Enterprise as they prefer. As far as i'm concerned i would rather use terms like Neuromancer and Wintermute but those are not so widely known.

Imagine you are watching the Star Wars movie on your computer. In it you will see the Millennium Falcon. The importance of it is not just in the ship by itself, but in all the meanings that “ship” carries with it. The story it is a part of, the connections between specific plot points and events, the characters connected with it and the story and relations between them.

No matter how hard you try you won't be able to find the Millennium Falcon in the hardware or software of your computer. No matter the force or technology you use, no matter how microscopically deep you try to dissemble any particular part of the computer, regardless of how deep you go – you won't find the Millennium Falcon anywhere in it. No super computer or even a godlike AGI can find the Millenium Falcon in that reductionist way.
Not even if you discover the code, the raw data of the movie itself somewhere on the hard drive – all that will show is huge strings of ones and zeroes. Or just magnetic signals on a piece of metal.

There will be No Millennium Falcon anywhere in that.

You could catch the electrical signals traveling through the hardware as you watch the movie, or play a game but those won't be the Millenium Falcon with all its meanings and importance. As the concept as it is. An idea and a part of a bigger story. You can find all these separate basic ingredients of it in the hardware. But you cannot see or find the Millennium Falcon itself.

Yet the second you put it all of it together, the hardware, the software, the data, and turn it on – the second you boot your OS virtual space and then start a virtual movie viewing program in that virtual environment - the whole movie is there, before your eyes.

And the Millennium Falcon appears.
With all the meanings, with all the baggage.

If anyone wants to disprove this – you will need to show me the Millenium Falcon in any level of the hardware or software of your computer.

Not the data, not the signals and electrons, not the strings of code.

Show me the Millenium Falcon itself.

And of course it's not just about the Millennium Falcon. You can exchange that concept-idea with anything else that has a meaning, anything else we understand or think about.
Any qualia you can think of.

Virtual, but so very real.

The Answer:

Consciousness is virtual.

It is a virtual gestalt effect, or virtual strong emergent phenomena that is greater than the sum of the parts that create it.

It is created out of, emerges out of several other basic virtual emergent phenomenas all arising, emerging from biological hardware that is interacting with and being influenced by environment (which we are a part of) in numerous diverse force feedback loops.

It is more then the sum of its parts.

These emergent virtual capabilities arise from combinations of all the different physical and biological parts that make us who we are yet cannot be found in any of them, no matter how far down we dissect and disassemble them. Not in the mere biology of the brain, or the body, nor in neurons or synaptic connections themselves, not in chemical reactions transferring signals, or in the signals themselves.

But you need all of those and the interaction with the environment working together for consciousness to emerge.

All the current neuroscience is doing is basically digging through the hardware.
And it will never ever find the consciousness there.
Because it is not in the hardware. It is in the virtual space that our biological hardware creates.

Some of the other emergent capabilities we have that are parts of the whole:

  • Our subconsciousness is like bios (only actually it is the bios that is like our subconsciousness) that controls how our biological hardware is running, it keeps us breathing without the need to do it intentionally, it keeps our heart beating while we sleep. And many other crucial things, so we dont have to waste every second of our lives doing it "ourselves" which we wouldn't be able to do either with our emotions or with our minds.

  • Our memory, both long and short term, is a feature of the biological hardware but it is also a emergent capability with its own virtual features, capabilities and effects..

  • Our capability of logic thinking is a virtual capability of our virtual Mind.

  • Our capability to think at all is a virtual capability of our virtual Mind.

  • Our capability to formulate language and have thoughts in that language is a virtual capability running in the virtual environment of our Mind.

All of these and many more are partially created out of the physical capabilities of the biological hardware. Just like the operating system or other programs capabilities of your computer are not really in the copper, silicone and transistors of your computer but arise from the interaction of all these different parts. They are not in the software itself, or the data.
Or the electric or magnetic signals.

Just like the Millennium Falcon is a virtual emergent phenomena that cannot be found in the physical matter or data of a computer or in my brain biology itself.

Therefore: consciousness arises as a virtual strong emergent phenomenon from all these constituent parts all working together and affecting each other physically and virtually.

It is virtual – and it is real.

Some further explanations and facts:

Of course you can affect minds and consciousness by damaging or in other ways affecting the biological hardware it runs on. It can also be affected by many chemical changes our body goes through, not just the brain. That is undeniable.

There are many new research papers and discoveries that prove our minds can be affected even if any of our symbiotic microbial biomes are damaged or changed.This proves that the emergent virtual spaces our biology creates cannot be considered completely divested from the material or physical reality.

This connection goes both ways and that has been empirically proven over and over.
Our virtual minds, thoughts and emotions can similarly affect, change and or damage our physical bodies, our very biology. The force feedback loops our physical and virtual features create are mutual. They are not separate entities.

Our emotions can severely affect our minds and bodies, there is no denying that. From effects of stress, or any sort of trauma, or any kind of less strong feelings, to greater positive ones like love is.
Our emotions are not just "feelings" and they are not "just chemical reactions or signals".

So i should probably explain what emotions really are:

Emotions are the primary interface with reality all living beings have.

We know this because we can see that many "lesser" animals have various "instincts", yet no complicated minds capable of thought like ours.

We know that minds, especially our complicated ones came much later in the evolution of life.

We call these "instincts" as if that means it's something not worthy of considering. Something "lesser" and easily dismissed. Another way to make ourselves feel greater than the other living beings and so excuse many of our behaviors, which are unfortunately still necessary. But hopefully not for long, as the various “cultured meat” projects and technologies have advanced by strides in recent years.

We know that living beings had such "instincts" since ever life began on this planet.Those early forms of life had no complicated brains or minds to use as interface with reality.

But living beings needed something to understand reality with. What some call "sensory input" and usually reduce to just a few basic simplified ones, despite the actual truth and reality of a very complex and incredibly diverse sensory input spectrum.
So – the primary interface with reality was created. Physical sensations.

At first very simple, simplest possible, just enough for the simplest survival basics.
The feeling of hot and cold, the feeling of touch, pain, the feeling of hunger, or satisfaction. As life evolved and become more complex, as it expanded into new environments and as those environments became more complex – living beings became more complex, spectrum of sensory inputs became more complex and diverse and so did the primary interface with reality.


As we evolved we also developed a separate language to communicate these emotions, better than our gesticulating, body language or other physical behavior can. Better than our rational language and minds can. Although we try to incorporate and use all of those in communicating this understanding of reality through that primary interface.

We call it music.

It is the only language that can properly express the full depth, diversity and width of our primary interface with  reality. There is as many different emotions as there is different kinds of music and songs in the world.
Yes, we like to combine the pure emotional language of music and our language of mind and thoughts. To get a fuller, better, more precise expression of all that we are.
That is why we are at our best when we manage to balance the two main interfaces with reality that we have, our emotions and our rational mind. That is also why we are at our worst when that balance fails or is damaged.

Our emotions provide a deeper primary understanding of reality that our minds cannot efficiently process. Our minds provide a higher level interface with reality that our emotions cannot efficiently  process. They both deeply affect one another - as they should. Both are physical and virtual.

Neither of these two interfaces should take precedence over another, neither should exclude the other. And that is hard to achieve and maintain. Which is why we fail at it so often.
But we are getting better at it. Slowly.

More on this particular subject is in the second article on this blog:

The Meanings, conclusions and assumptions:

Unlike the extreme materialistic view this approach does not and cannot lead into assumptions that we are "machines" or "computers" or "chemical reactions".
That is just the hardware and the software.

Not what that hardware and software create.

Unlike the religious point of view this does not prevent us from understanding, does not require the end of attempt to understand ourselves. Nor does it require refusal and rejection of what Science is discovering.

A term as a "soul" can too be understood as something arising, emerging from the "material" – but it is not material itself, nor it can be found by disassembling the biological hardware. In that sense, at the very least, it undeniably leaves open the possibility many ideas of spirituality subscribe to.

A "soul" could very well be another strong emergent phenomena, created by all the "lesser" virtual phenomena such as our minds, emotions and consciousness are.
Whether that has any religious meaning – i am sure i do not know.

If you are not religious, this theory gives you an undeniable proof that we are not just material beings, or computers, or machines.
Remember: Computers are simplified and specialized versions of some of our basic capabilities.

We are not "machines" or chemical reactions or electrical signals.
Each of us is a unique complex physical-virtual being, arising from the physical biology of our bodies and the environment we are parts of.

We are all deeply connected with reality that surrounds us through primary and secondary interfaces of our emotions and minds. We are literally made from reality - created out of matter and energies of our environment. We affect the reality and our environment as it affects us back, which creates meanings and values in our higher emergent virtual capabilities, which then affect our lives, behavior, thinking, even our biology. Sometimes these force feedback loops show results quickly, sometimes more slowly, sometimes over very long passages of time.

This same process is happening to every living being, not just humans.
All life has these same capabilities, all life is conscious - just in many varyingly lesser or greater degrees. Science confirms this. Your direct experiences confirm it.

You can FEEL it. Down in the bones. In the deepest parts of yourself. As well as know it rationally or intellectually.

This theory of mine shows that reductionist materialism is a limited tool.
It is undoubtedly useful in some or a lot of cases, but that does not mean its the only tool we can use to figure out literally everything. It is almost useless when we need to understand the created phenomena, to experience it, to feel it, and so to understand it as a whole.

As a very, very, very wise man once said:
"He who destroys a thing to find out what it is, has left the path of wisdom".

Because what is created by the fundamental particles and energies (and what are those?) has capabilities and qualities and utility that cannot be found in the constituting parts. Just like the Millennium Falcon cannot be found in the constituting parts of a computer.

This is nothing strange or unnatural.

If you take a look around you can easily see that the whole Universe and every single thing in it is emergent phenomena. A process of emergent complexity which has its own extra features and capabilities that cannot be found in the constituting parts. Some of these emergent properties can be traced backwards (but only to some specific point after which we simply do not know) and the others are strong emergent phenomena and reductionism fails as a tool of discovery and complete understanding of those.

I think that the best thing about this theory is that it does not present an end of understanding,

But only a new, better and more true beginning.

- Edited 02.07.17
For purposes of clarity and easier reading. Shifted one section to another position. Hopefully improved some sentences.
Several new links added to the relevant research and recent discoveries are added to the previous ones bellow.

- Edited 10.05.18
Slightly edited some sentences to improve readability and clarity.
Added a few more links of relevant scientific discoveries since last edit.


So close.
When i was watching this presentation by mr. Henry i thought "Shit! Someone figured it out. I should have written this theory of mine... there goes my fame and glory..." - and then he switches back to that old "machine" regression reductionist logic just at the last moment. 
While actually watching the visualization of the "virtual space" of our consciousness right in front of him. Its right there at the end of the presentation. Glowing - for all to see. 

andersonbrown mereological-fallacy
A very nicely written article that very much aligns with my view and provides more insights about the usual sides in this discussion.

David Deutsch: How close are we to creating artificial intelligence

An excellent and very easy to read article where David Deutsch explains how and why the computation itself is not enough and will never be enough to create an actual consciousness. Among other things. 

Split brain does not lead to split consciousness
Just what it says.

Dissociative Identity Disorder (Multiple Personality Disorder)
Very relevant.

Neuroscientists just accidentally discovered a whole new role for the cerebellum
New discoveries about the cerebellum, which is considered one of the most ancient evolutionary lineages of all the brain regions and is wired in similar ways across all classes of vertebrates. 
This new research shows the deep connection of our sensations and feelings with most basic functions of our body.

A higher-order theory of emotional consciousness
Although emotions, or feelings, are most significant events in our lives, there has been relatively little contact between theories of emotion and emerging theories of consciousness in cognitive science.
We offer modifications of higher-order theory, a leading theory of consciousness, to allow higher-order theory to account for self-awareness, and then extend this model to account for conscious emotional experiences.

Same genes and environment create different personalities
Genetically identical Amazon mollies raised individually and under identical environmental conditions, nevertheless develop different personality types.

Cliques of neurons bound into cavities provide missing link between structure and function
The lack of formal link between neural network structure and its emergent function has hampered our understanding of how the brain processes information. We have now come closer to describing such a link by taking the direction of synaptic transmission into account.
Applying this approach to a local network of neurons in the neocortex revealed a remarkably intricate and previously unseen topology of synaptic connectivity.

Neurons form up to 11 dimensional structures

Blue Brain Team Discovers a Multi-Dimensional Universe in Brain Networks

When simulated virtual neurons would form a clique with each neuron connected to another in such a way that a specific geometric object would be formed. A large number of neurons would add more dimensions which in some cases went up to 11. The structures would organize around a high dimensional hole that researchers called a "cavity". After the brain processed the information, the clique and the cavity vanished.

Henry Markam director of the Blue brain project, said the findings could help explain why the brain is so hard to understand. "The mathemathics usually applied to study networks cannot detect the high dimensional structures and spaces that we now see clearly", he said. "We found a world that we had never imagined. there are tens of millions of those objects even in the small speck of the brain, up through seven dimensions. in some networks we even found structures up to eleven dimensions".

No two neurons are genetically alike
Accepted dogma holds that - although every cell in the body contains its own DNA - the genetic instructions in each cell nucleus are identical. But new research has now proved this assumption wrong. There are actually several sources of spontaneous mutation in somatic (nonsex) cells, resulting in every individual containing a multitude of genomes.
There are reasons to think somatic mosaicism may be particularly important to the brain, not least because neural genes are very active.

Natural systems show nonlocal correlations
This article points toward future research that will very probably be very relevant to the understanding of how our biology and so our consciousness works, as it points toward the possibility that quantum entanglement plays a big part in how we function and think.

These animals are not just hibernating--- they are actually triggered by their environments to rewire their own brains.

Why genes don't hold all the answers for biologists
The function of genes is now understood to depend on systems of epigenetic inheritance and environmental signaling. Whether a gene is activated (or not) to produce a protein depends on how it is "packaged" into chromosomes, and information the organism receives from the environment.

In a study published in Nature Neuroscience on Jan.21, neuroscientists and systems biologists from Harward medical School reveal just how inexorably interwoven nature and nurture are.

Further links to relevant scientific discoveries will be added as they appear.

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