Sunday, August 13, 2006

The atoms will have the last laugh

ray harris Says: August 12th, 2006 at 3:19 pm Hi Andy, Two thoughts: Do atoms exist without humans? I’d suggest, but this is of course speculation, that any sentient being at the same cognitive level would perceive atoms. This is because the data leads one to that conclusion. For me there’s a balance. Sentient beings still have to contend with a real, physical cosmos. They can imagine all sorts of possibilities but that imagination is always tested by what really happens.
I firmly believe that tomorrow the sun will rise in the north and it will be green (but I might be wrong about that). The cosmos is reasonably predictable which means that sentient beings will generally be able to arrive at similar conclusions. 1+1=2. The creation of an intersubjective space is predicated on a certain degree of common experience. Even if a remote tribe encounters others and they have a magical view of the world, we can find enough common experience from which to build an intersubjective space. Without such a common ground we could not learn each others languages.
As for free will - how someone will react is not predictable. Yes, you can create a chain of events that - in hind sight - can be said to have caused a certain decision, but you will never be able to predict a decision. If there is no ‘free will’ then theoretically all decisions can be predicted assuming you have all the relevant information. Human behaviour is not completely predictable, there is a randomness to it. But then, I have never assumed that free will is a decision made free of any contributing factors. When asked why a decision was made people will give a reason which necessarily includes a causal chain. We do exercise choice and sometimes the choices we make are extraordinary and with an equally extraordinary causal chain and reasoning.
Are atoms aware of the causal chain and do they reason? You are right about complexity. I would say that the idea of agency and interiors only has real meaning at a certain level of complexity, namely that at which holons can create and participate in an intersubjective space. And given that I’m not an atom whisperer the idea of an atom having an interior has no meaning for me. It’s just an intellectual slight of hand.
David Swedlow Says: August 12th, 2006 at 10:09 pm Very nice discussion with the relevent points brought into focus. I’d like to caution the reader toward skepticism of understanding interiority simply because we can understand the language of another. I very much like the “degrees of freedom” argument for sentience. This weeks New Scientist has a story on Quantum Loop Gravity which seems to support the notion of some kind of interiority of fundamental-like particles.
We think that we can infer a bit about what is going on in the mind of a dog, and even more in the mind of an ape that can use rudimentary sign-language. I think we must remember how common it is to misinterpret the interiors of those with whom we share the same primary language and many years of co-habitation. Married couples would argue pretty vehemently that the success rate of gauging another’s interiors even with a common contextual framework is pretty low. Trying to infer the interior of quarks or galaxies is so far removed from our native contextua framework that it can seem like nothing more than alien randomness, though perhaps sometimes beautiful.
I recall a story someone recounted about the experiments to talk with dolphins. We try to get them to repeat our signals, as in “me Human, you Dolphin.” But when the Dolphin’s make unique noises not in the lexicon we are trying to fashion, we stupidly interpret it as failure for them to comprehend our linguistic structures, rather than wondering if the dolphins aren’t responding with their own tests of our lexical flexibility.
Which further reminds me of Albert Hoffman’s notes from his first animal trials of LSD-25, when he noted that it apparently had no effect on dogs. After he later deteremined that there was an effect, he justified his previous observations of lack of significant response as meaning that dogs lacked any kind of substantive interiority. How weird is that? How would he expect a dog to communicate “oooh, wow, the floor is melting into rivers of kibbles.” It seems that the true expression of anthropocentrism is something closer to: since I can’t infer that your interior is in any way similar to my own despite the phenomenally reduced perspective I have based on my interpretations of your exterior, I can only conclude that you have no interior. And we wonder why we go to war? The atoms will have the last laugh.

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