consciousness

In a world of abstractions…

It was in Douglas Rushkoff’s Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus that I first became really aware of how much of an abstraction money is. Just to clarify what ‘abstraction’ is in this context, vegetables, meat, human labour etc all have clear, tangible value. Money is a transactional device with many advantages but it has no inherent value. Its common acceptance is its value. The exercise on 8th November 2016 is a great example to illustrate this –  those pieces of paper we thought were valuable until a minute ago suddenly became worthless. In fact, at one point, there was a chance that after Dec 31st, they would even be harmful!

At some point, I started thinking of abstraction with respect to consciousness. At a very broad level, I think of consciousness as having three basic fluid forces at play – sensations, emotions, and thoughts. We tend to use the adjacent ones (sensation/emotion and emotion/thought) interchangeably but if you think about it, nuances separate them. They all have a role to play, but I also see them as a hierarchy with respect to their influence on consciousness – thoughts at the top. More

The case against cosmic justice

Evolution, as I have already stated sometime back on this blog, is a fascination these days. Fundamentally, I see it as a gigantic A/B testing mechanism operating over large swathes of time, with only one seeming agenda – moving on. A lot of things make immense sense when I accept that as the only framework. Including the idea of God, which has several key roles. e.g. to provide the impetus to move on even when things are not going well (faith), explain the things that science cannot (yet) and so on. If it helps someone, it is a great idea, though as a species we have been consistently been stupid enough to let the practitioners of organised faith take advantage of us for their own needs.

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But that’s not what this post is about. One of the offshoots of faith (God/Cosmos/insert whatever works for you) is the related idea of cosmic/divine justice. I used to believe in that until very recently, and it was one of the attributes of being what I called myself – a spiritual person. But at this point, I don’t think it exists. There are at least two perspectives that brought me to it. More

Memories & Consciousness

I was looking at the bookshelf a few days ago, and realised that though their relative position indicates they are among my favourites, I couldn’t recall some specific plot points and in some cases, even the ending, of some of the books! I was more than a little dismayed, but thankfully, found some solace in this post “How You Know“, specifically “Reading and experience train your model of the world. And even if you forget the experience or what you read, its effect on your model of the world persists.” It immediately set me thinking on the idea of consciousness and what technology can do to it, and it was a wonderful coincidence that the author too touched upon it towards the end of that post. But we’ll get to that in a bit.

Two nieces have ‘happened’ to me in the recent past, :) and I have clocked a few hours with them. The older one is just over a year old and is in general, a happy child. In my erm, ‘conversations’ with her during her stay with us, I have wondered what she perceives of the world around her. This was probably influenced by the fact that I had just finished reading Michio Kaku’s “The Future of the Mind” (must read!) and the four levels (starts at zero – plants) of consciousness. The final level, where humans are, are distinguished because of self awareness, and our understanding of time – specifically the enormous amount of feedback loops. This allows us to simulate, in our mind, possible future situations, and go beyond instinct and even emotions.

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Conscious choices

I found this video shared by K (part of a series by Professor Russell Stannard) offering me a very interesting perspective on the free will vs determinism debate. (earlier post)

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V8EI4obG5zM

He starts with talking about the brain as a physical object which is governed by the physical/chemical/biological rules of nature – like a computer works within a  set of mechanical/electronic laws – and therefore predictable. So it should be possible to predict our choices. But it doesn’t work that way. Consciousness is different.

He then talks about how some are trying to apply quantum theory to the free will – determinism debate. Apparently, at sub atomic level, the ‘future’ is not predictable with absolute certainty. It has a built-in uncertainty in it. What we can do, however, is predict the odds of various possible outcomes – the average behaviour of various items. So if this is applied to individual cells whose behaviour is unpredictable, it would be free will, say the proponents of this theory. But the prof refutes this, and says that this is one of the debates that can’t be solved to everyone’s satisfaction.

[This prediction of group behaviour reminded me of Asimov’s Foundation series and specifically Hari Seldon‘s psychohistory, through which he predicts the future in probabilistic terms.]

But more importantly, it made me think that if indeed, there is a creator, maybe he built the automaton inside our head to make us predictable. The automaton grows with us, making most of our decisions unconscious ones, based on baggage accumulated over time – conditioning. That could explain why those few who break out of it are able to attain a higher level of thinking in which they can bend the rules, predict the future and so on and the only advice they can give others is to be aware of every second.

And when I think of predicting the odds of outcomes, I wonder if the results of all our free will choices are written, like a tree with infinite branches. And as we continue our journey of choices that is life, one by one the branches disappear, until on hindsight, they look like one straight line that was always meant to be that way.

 until next time, a predictable end

Stop. Watch.

Playing music on the mobile as you drift to sleep is probably nothing new. I’m sure many people do it. The snag of course is managing to switch it off before you sleep. You could create a list and make sure it stops after x number of songs, but there’s some joy to be found in random shuffling. There’s probably an app somewhere that will somehow manage it, but I haven’t found it yet. What I would like is something that will sense my breathing pattern and switch off, but that might be wishing for too much :)

‘The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying’ brings up an interesting point, when it discusses sleep in the context of death and the state of consciousness. It asks

How many of us are aware of the change in consciousness when we fall asleep? Or of the moment of sleep before dreams begin? How many of us are aware even when we dream that we are dreaming?

From the music example, it is easy to guess that I certainly am not. In fact, my experiment on this failed too, as I completely lost track during a conscious attempt to ‘know’ the moment I fell asleep. I then realised that I should perhaps try being ‘conscious’ while I am awake without flowing from thought to thought unconsciously, especially since D is not very encouraging about me trying to sleep more. 😐

Try recollecting the last 15 minutes minute by minute, and you’ll sense the unconsciousness :)

until next time, asleep yet?

Playing God

So, a few days back I had this rather scary thought. What if ‘God’ or ‘collective consciousness’, was a variable?  Depending on the notions and mores of living beings, it would change, continuously. That would probably explain how everything went downhill from whatever is believed to have existed as utopia or paradise, and how it works in cycles. Like a game that adapts to you and your moves.

Meanwhile, I came across a link that I am yet to fully explore. Maybe you can, and write about your experience in the comments/ your blog. It is titled ‘Ten games that make you think about life‘, and the synopses do make it seem promising. Coincidentally, the first one in the list is ‘Immortall’!

And while I was writing this, and scanning Google Reader, I came across this link, which talked about a game where Augmented Reality, a new technology that offers a “direct or indirect view of a physical, real-world environment whose elements are augmented by computer-generated sensory input, such as sound or graphics”, was mashed up with “Conway’s game of life“. Though I’m familiar with AR, I’m still reading up on Conway’s Game of Life and it’s fascinating!!

From the wiki entry “The game can also serve as a didactic analogy, used to convey the somewhat counter-intuitive notion that ‘design’ and ‘organization’ can spontaneously emerge in the absence of a designer. For example, philosopher and cognitive scientist Daniel Dennett has used the analogue of Conway’s Life ‘universe’ extensively to illustrate the possible evolution of complex philosophical constructs, such as consciousness and free will, from the relatively simple set of deterministic physical laws governing our own universe.” Essentially, the game of life could’ve been played out without the designer – God.

Meanwhile, the new game lets users create their own artificial life and then, through augmented reality, see it ‘live out’ in the real world. We have become creators. Does it go from here to a point where in the far away future, a new strange species looks back and wonders who created them, and gets no answer? Is that how the game is played out?

until next time, a level playing field?

Back to eternity

Despite being a Star Trek fan, I happen to think that Time is the final frontier, at least in the horizon that I can see. I find it quite intriguing that, though it might be looked on as a tool for tracking, I can perhaps not account for most of my lifetime. I don’t mean the large picture, I haven’t lost it totally yet, but specific minutes. Take for example, the last hour and account for all the thoughts that rushed in. I would find it difficult.

If you close your eyes, and allow your breath to be the only meter, the perspective of time undergoes a shift. Meditate a bit, and its easy to see. Easy to see that even the measurement of time – years to seconds and beyond is our  construct. But it is so ubiquitous and enmeshed in our lives that it seems as though it is a constant and only we change. It requires dramatic events for us to pause and note the passage of time. Kahlil Gibran has said, ‘Perhaps time’s definition of coal is the diamond”

Meanwhile, I wonder if all the information about those unaccounted for minutes is stored somewhere in my brain, and is just not deemed enough to be of any priority for me, and hence seems inaccessible. The tools that consume me these days – most specifically Twitter, and more recently, Foursquare, also help me keep track of what I’ve been up to, and when it works the same way for everyone is when there is an information deluge, and that seems to be something we find difficult to handle. Something that we have discussed before. There is a toon I found (here) that correctly describes the way a lot of us seem to be functioning now

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And in another example of how man is shaping his own evolution, I read about companies like Lifenaut, which  ultimately aim to create humanoid robots powered by a backup of the original human’s brain. (via @pkaroshi) The first step is to create a digitised version – an avatar, and give it enough data for it to mimic the original human. It makes me wonder whether we will be able to create ‘consciousness’.

And that makes me think a bit more – by the time, we are technologically advanced to create it, will we have forgotten what consciousness is? Which also begs the question whether we have ever understood it at all, when we are not even mindful of the minutes of our lives? How does one define it? So many reactions which seem pre-programmed when one thinks of it, actions and reactions more out of habit than any conscious choice being exercised.

So yes, with all of the work happening at a rapid pace, (do read) I think its more ‘when’ than ‘if’ – that we will become immortal, and time, from a future point of view, will become immaterial, because the future will be infinite. But we still may not be able to undo what we did a minute back. Where does that leave us? To quote Pico Iyer (from Abandon) “God has to be understood in the context of everything that is not Him”. But that is a different discussion, I guess. Its only that with every advancement that humanity makes, and in that process also usurps things once attributed to divinity, I begin to wonder where that leaves our versions of God?

until next time, time.ly links :)

PS. I tweeted sometime back, even if you never read an Asimov work, or never plan to, this is one that you should read. The Last Question.

Characteristics

There are nearly seven billion people on this planet. Each one unique, different. What are the chances of that? And why? Is it simply biology, physiology that determines this diversity? A collection of thoughts, memories, experiences that carve out our own special place? Or is it something more than this? Perhaps there’s a master plan that drives the randomness of creation, something unknowable that dwells in the soul, and presents each one of us with a unique set of challenges, that will help us discover who we really are.

We are all connected, joined together by an invisible thread, infinite in its potential and fragile in its design. Yet while connected, we are also merely individuals, empty vessels to be filled with infinite possibilities, an assortment of thoughts, beliefs, a collection of disjointed memories and experiences… Can I be me without these? Can you be you?

And if this invisible thread that holds us together were to sever, to cease, what then? What would become of billions of lone, disconnected souls? Therein lies the great quest of our lives, to find, to connect, to hold on. For when our hearts are pure, and our thoughts in line, we are all truly one, capable of repairing our fragile world, and creating a universe of infinite possibilities.

Thus spake Mohinder Suresh in”An Invisible Thread”, the season finale of ‘Heroes’.

And as if on cue, a large number of conversations and experiences popped up as conversations inside my head. Yes, those nice voices in the head. :)

I remembered the conversations that Mo and i keep having on the subject of identity, purpose, character and other stuff that she completely gets. Okay i get too, but muddled up. :) I remembered how, when I was reading Archer’s ‘Sons of Fortune’..again, I suddenly figured out why he is my favourite author. In addition to that amazing gift of story telling he has got, its his characters, and their character. Good or bad, they seem to have a moral code. They are noble – noble heroes and noble villains. (remember that word, shall come back to it in a while) Even when they come in contact with their character’s grey areas, they have a rationale they can apply to the situation. They make you aspire for such clarity in thought and deed, in being true to themselves and their character.

Meanwhile, I see around me, a lot of young people eager to emulate – even things that I hoped would question and better. And as i keep a watch on that, I sense that they do it to belong, at any cost. They are willing to take their lessons from second hand accounts – not accounts of mistakes, which could be argued as a good thing, but enriching experiences that would shape their character. Of course, not every young person I know is like that. I also come across quite a few who have more character and maturity than many people double their age. But I do see more of the first kind. It is a different kind of conforming than what i was have seen earlier – a  need to fit into their peer group’s collective terms.

On twitter and Facebook and all the services which connect us, I see this set, and more coming in every day to add to their number. And in this collective consciousness, I glimpse the desperation in the need to belong at any cost – even  at the cost of a character that is still being formed. A shared identity and a strong character, can it co exist? I wonder, if in this age of possibilities, they will be satisfied with this belonging, I also hope that they will not wake up, one day, years later and rue this conformity that they created for themselves.

And then, I remember what a smart young lady from that age group once told me “Manu, this is so archaic. Only you could use the word ‘noble’ in conversation”. So, I wonder whether there is something in this connectedness that I don’t understand, whether the ‘plan’ requires all kinds of characters – with or without a strong character, to maintain the balance,  or whether the kind of disconnectedness that I’m feeling now is one that characterises that thing we all do – ageing. :)

until next time, time for adages?