Home > Uncategorized > Weekly QuEST Discussion Topics, 7 Sept

Weekly QuEST Discussion Topics, 7 Sept

QuEST 7 Oct 2016

We want to continue our discussion of consciousness – our colleague Mike Y will continue where he left off – cap will admit to be a computational Alchemist with respect to consciousness –

Using the approach from Cowell:

Minds, Machines and Qualia: A Theory of Consciousness
Christopher Williams Cowell
A dissertation submitted in partial satisfaction of the requirements for the degree of
Doctor of Philosophy in Philosophy
in the

  • consciousness is the experiencing of qualia, a term I will define momentarily.
  • A system must continue to experience qualia if it is to remain conscious; any periods during which no qualia are experienced are periods in which the system has lost consciousness.
  • However, this slipping in and out of consciousness is not problematic. We do it every day when we fall into and out of dreamless (hence qualia-less) sleep.
  • There are many ways to use the terms \conscious” or \consciousness” that conform to this definition.

What do I mean by \qualia”? The term is thought to have originated with C. S. Peirce,1 but only fairly recently has it gained wide currency among philosophers of mind.  Charles Sanders Peirce. Collected Papers, vol. 6 of Scientific Metaphysics. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1898, 1935. Charles Hartshorne and Paul Weiss, eds.

  • Discussions of qualia often begin with the claim, made in a weary and despairing tone, that it is impossible to describe what qualia are.  Any efforts at description or definition are then traditionally abandoned in favor of ostensive gestures toward individual qualia. Witness
  • two classic examples of this strategy, the first by Ned Block (using the term \phenomenal consciousness” essentially synonymously with \qualia”), and the second by David Chalmers

Chalmers:  I cannot define phenomenal consciousness in any remotely non-circular way. I don’t consider this an embarrassment. The history of reductive definitions in philosophy should lead one not to expect a reductive definition of anything. But the best one can do for phenomenal consciousness is in some respects worse than for many other things because really all one can do is point to the phenomenon. [9, p. 230]

  • What is central to consciousness, at least in the most interesting sense, is experience. But this is not a definition. At best, it is clarification.
  • Trying to define conscious experience in terms of more primitive notions is fruitless. One might as well try to define matter or space in terms of something more fundamental. The best we can do is give illustrations and characterizations that lie at the same level.  But I do not understand why it is considered so difficult to define the general nature of qualia. Providing a complete description of an individual quale (singular of \qualia”) seems well nigh impossible, I agree. But I just want to show what sort of things I’m talking about when I raise the topic of qualia, and that task doesn’t seem so onerous.
  • Unfortunately I can only define qualia using a series of phrases that will be excruciatingly familiar to anyone versed in contemporary philosophy of mind, but so be it.
  • A quale is the particular way it seems to a person to see something, taste something, or get sensory input from any of his three other sensory modalities. Qualia are the raw feels associated with experiences; they are what make different experiences seem or feel different from one another.

A quale is what it is like to undergo an experience. A quale is what gives an experience its subjective element. Qualia are thephenomenal contents of experiences. Or to borrow a sublimely simple illustration of the concept from Stubenberg, \the fact that there is something it is like to be you consists in the fact that you have qualia.”

All ‘conscious’ mental states involve qualia

  • Note that so far I have defined qualia purely in terms of sensory experience|all of the examples of qualia I have given are brought on by sense perception. However, I will eventually argue that all mental states that we would prephilosophically consider to be conscious (i.e., all of those states that are not deeply and permanently unconscious in some Freudian sense) involve qualia.
  • For instance, I claim (and will later demonstrate) that common, everyday thoughts such as \that chair is orange” or \it’s often windy in Boston” essentially involve qualia just as sense perception does. But for the sake of simplicity I now want to discuss only this thinner, perhaps less controversial notion of qualia.

Now let’s take the Cowell comments on Self:

  • Second, I will not tackle the topic of the self in any significant detail. Consciousness is often described as requiring a subject|sometimes called a \self” or \ego”|that bears conscious states.
  • While I agree that the notion of there being some entity which has or experiences conscious states is intuitively very appealing, there are a number of problems that arise with such a view.
  • To take just one example, it would seem to require that the self is independent of consciousness in some sense, and is capable of existing with no conscious states at all or perhaps even when disembodied.

This raises all sorts of questions and worries about the exact ontological status of such a self, which often lead in turn to vague and unsatisfying claims about the self being \spiritual” or \soul-like.”

The QuEST position on Self was a real turning point – it is the quale evoked when the stimulus is the agent generating the qualia – it is no more mysterious than the red you consciously experience

While I do think that a full understanding of consciousness will ultimately require some resolution to the question of whether a self is required for consciousness to take root in, and if so, what sort of thing that self might be, those are not questions that my project demands answers to.

  • I think I can make helpful observations about what consciousness is without necessarily taking a stand on the relation between consciousness and a putative self.

And if we “can make helpful observations about what consciousness is” – what are the implications of those observations to the current technology trends like virtual reality:

We’ve previously discussed the ‘body-swap’ illusion – illusion that either a mannequin or another person’s body is their own – a concern/idea to be exploited as we make great strides in virtual reality!  A real understanding of the nature of self may be key.  The key to the illusion is receipt of simultaneous and synchronized visual and motor input (recall the feather stroking and hammer example …

One study analyzes the rubber-hand illusion, an old parlor trick. A subject sees a rubber hand plausibly positioned to extend from her arm while her real hand is hidden. If the fake and real hands are stroked simultaneously, she may feel the stroking in the location of the rubber hand, not the real one. Henrik Ehrsson of University College London and colleagues performed the trick on a group of subjects and scanned their brains This finding suggests that the activity in these areas reflects the detection of congruent multisensory signals from one’s own body, rather than of visual representations. We propose that this could be the mechanism for the feeling of body ownership.

If you let them touch and rub the rubber hand and you stroke the real hand in unison it locks in the self quale.

This shows how cross sensory prediction plays a role in our perception you feel what you predict – the attribute of the location of the stimuli is trumped by the prediction of where you expect to feel it

Then Dr. Ehrsson grabbed a hammer. While people were experiencing the illusion, he pretended to smash the virtual body by waving the hammer just below the cameras. Immediately, the subjects registered a threat response as measured by sensors on their skin. They sweated, and their pulses raced. They also reacted emotionally, as if they were watching themselves get hurt.

I recall this video also where a dog chewing on a bone started snarling and then snapping at its back paw – my assumption was the dog had lost the sense of self associated with that appendage – thus it calculated another critter was coming for hits bone.

The world model (qualia) also has a unity about it in that everything is from the one perspective of the qualia system generating the world model.   All Gists that are generated are taken from the qualiarization system’s sensors that are unique to that system and to that system’s embedding.  That world model is embodied within a system that is equipped with sensors to observe the world and it is embedded within the world it is modeling.

  • The world model (qualia) are a useful and consistent representation of the world from the perspective of the qualiarization system (example – visual aspects of the representation are as ‘seen’ from the qualiarization system angle of its visual sensors)

Draw a letter on the palm facing away from you, then make the same drawing on the palm facing towards you – note the same sensory input is perceived differently based on perspective.  RECENT BODY SWAP ILLUSIONS based here!

The body associated with your mind can be swapped so you perceive the

mannequin as your body – this shows the power of UNITY in qualia – even the

rubber hand idea – all make your world model accept the inplausible narrative

that something is part of you when it clearly isn’t

Your body is mine

A new experiment indicates that, under the right circumstances, people feel like they have swapped bodies with someone else

By Bruce Bower

December 6th, 2008; Vol.174 #12 (p. 16)

In the mannequin situation, an experimenter simultaneously touched the participant’s belly and the mannequin’s belly with separate probes. So the volunteer felt a poking in the abdomen but saw the poking happen as if he or she were the mannequin. In the real-person situation, participant and experimenter shook hands. Thus, while volunteers felt the sensation of hand shaking, it appeared to them that they were shaking their own hand. After 10 to 12 seconds of abdominal touch or hand-shaking, male and female participants spontaneously had the experience of looking out from the body of the male mannequin or the female experimenter. They literally felt that they were in the mannequin’s body getting poked or had embodied the female experimenter and were shaking their own hands.

“In the body-swap illusion, we can see that multisensory information powerfully affects the brain,” says neuroscientist Patrick Haggard of University College London, who was not part of the research team.

Petkova and Ehrsson first confirmed that 16 male and 16 female volunteers experienced an illusory body-swap with a mannequin. After undergoing the procedure, participants indicated on a questionnaire that they had experienced the mannequin’s body as their own. They didn’t feel that they had become plastic like a mannequin, Petkova notes. Volunteers reported having had an expectation that, if they moved, the mannequin’s body would move accordingly.

I recall writing  in the tenets a discussion about how we represent definitions of anything – for example in Second Look we never could capture in numbers an adequate definition of breast cancer – defining cancer in terms of feature definitions (size, opacity, texture, …) is very unappealing in the sense of the resulting requirement for gathering enough data to completely distinguish any cancer for any non-cancer in any woman – we need a better representation or the perfect set of features or infinite data – all are impossible unless the problem is trivial which breast cancer is not


In response to matt’s question yesterday – how are we ever going to do ‘self’ – my response wasn’t a good one – again the answer has to be in terms of whatever representation we are using – so if we are using Adam’s dynamic link sets to represent then it is our task to come up with the characteristics that an embodiment of self in that representation must have.  So for example one of the characteristics of ‘self’ was continuity – the concept of a narrative – the idea that there must be some means in your representation of self to capture past, present, and future.  (by the way in our view time is a quale and thus its representation must also have defining characteristics like the qualia theory of relativity).


Will a representation of self that captures sensory data and does so in a form that maintains relationships between  past, present and future expectation of data achieve self –


of course not –




Sense we are defining self as not a thing – it is a quale which as all qualia is evoked by a set of other qualia (we wrote it is a process that involves a set of processes) – when our representation (like the link set one) evokes enough of these constituent processes we hope to get an engineering advantage.   So our task is to come up with a defining set of processes (qualia) that will achieve a useful implementation of qualia like ‘self’.


No ant ‘knows’ it is part of the colony (no neuron knows it is part of a sentient being) – but the colony computes self (as does a colony of neurons)– the assumption in what is below is that there is a genetic sensing ability of the members of the colony – our task is to be able to have a process (a kernel) that explores and forms a world model (what is in the environment) and as part of that world model also inserts what makes up ‘self’ as distinct to what is the rest of the world – this computation is critical to ant survival – and if we are right is the key computation that will allow vehicle health assessment and cyber health assessment and in fact the key breakthrough in medical processing.

Genetic Differences Lead to Ant Warfare

Friday , December 01, 2006

By Sara Goudarzi

When it comes to differentiating a friend from a rival, invasive ants have it easier than humans: They can spot genetic differences, a new study shows.

Invasive Argentine ants form large supercolonies in California. These colonies stretch for hundreds of miles and include millions of nests.

Ants from different nests of the same colony rarely show aggression toward each other. But those of different supercolonies clash often and engage in battles that result in the death of many workers.

The largest supercolony in southern California extends some 600 miles and borders three smaller colonies.

The researchers collected dead workers at the territory borders of one of the smaller colonies at Lake Hodges each week for six months. Battles in that area killed at least 15 million worker ants.

But when they placed ants from a distant location of the same colony next to each other, they didn’t fight.

The ants from the same supercolony were genetically similar no matter what their geographical distance was from each other. But they were genetically different than those in the neighboring supercolonies, the researchers note.

“Our results are strong evidence that lack of genetic diversity permits supercolonies to arise,” said study co-author Melissa Thomas, now a researcher from at the University of Western Australia. “Workers cannot differentiate between nestmates and non-nestmates if they all seem the same. So ants from different nests in the same colony do not fight with each other.”

According to the researchers, keeping peace with their kin allows the ants to devote more resources to breeding.

“Territory defense is expensive both in time and workers,” Thomas said. “If nests invest this time and workforce into collecting resources and raising larvae instead of defending territories, then colonies should grow at a much faster rate.”

The study is detailed in the December issue of the journal Molecular Ecology.

Copyright © 2006 Imaginova Corp. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed

We also want to discuss Plants – they can generate action potentials – do they satisfy our Agent construct?  Yes!


  • Plants cannot “think and remember,” but there’s nothing stupid about them: They’re shockingly sophisticated
  • The BBC News story is based on a study set for publication in The Plant Cell. Co-author
  • Stanislaw Karpinski of the Warsaw University of Life Sciences in Poland recently presented
  • his research at the annual meeting of the Society for Experimental Biology in Prague, Czech
  • Republic http://www.plantcell.org/content/early/2010/07/16/tpc.109.069302.full.pdf+html
  • … These borrowed terms do not accurately describe how plants function. However, like most organisms, plants can sense the world around them, process information from their environment, and respond to this information by altering their growth and development. In fact, plants respond to changes in their environment in ways that many would find surprisingly sophisticated, although botanists have known of these abilities for centuries.  I’d much rather say a plant senses and responds, rather than the plant ‘knows.’ Using words like ‘intelligence’ or ‘think’ for plants is just wrong. Sometimes it’s fun to do, it’s a little provocative. But it’s just wrong. It’s easy to make the mistake of taking a word from another field and applying it to a plant.“
  • *** the way QuEST uses these terms is ok to use with plants – they manipulate their representation – thus they think – they story ‘knowledge’ – **


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