Just until quite recently, before having read Dennett more carefully, I was confused about consciousness.
Dennett’s central attack is against Cartesian materialism, the idea that after early unconscious processing occurs in various relatively peripheral brain structures “everything comes together” in some privileged central place in the brain – which Dennett calls the Cartesian Theater –for “presentation” to the inner self or homunculus. There is no such place in the brain, but many theories seem to presuppose that there must be something like it.
Even I, who had been introduced to the concept of Anatta –the doctrine of non-self in Buddhism– at a relatively young age, and personally experienced the intended cognitive shift through sustained contemplative practice over the course of months – even then, I didn’t fully retain the insight that there was no place of presentation once I reverted back into this world of conceptual analysis.
Eliezer Yudkowsky’s understanding in Timeless Identity is more woke than all but a dim scatter of the humankind. And it is so because he actually just bites the bullet on physicalism.
He illustrates what is made of us by this timeless universe without wave-function collapse:
All the heads are already there, each thinking and feeling themselves to be flowing in the now.
The heads are not fundamental objects. It is easy, but incorrect to think spheres have fundamental identities. It is easy, but incorrect to think a head has a fundamental identity, and is then simply pushed around. Every state of the universe is different. With different configurations of all its components.
And yet experience remains. Experience always remains because it is not something “extra.” It is already there where it is. This experience is not asleep because it is nothing more than this experience which is necessarily located here, in this informational neighborhood of configuration space which contains “reading these exact words.”
Experience will always be located within the bounds of experience because it is defined by nothing more than its internal structure. You only get away with real death, i.e. eternal nonexistence, if your ontology posits that consciousness is extra-physical stuff.
The arrows aren’t pushing around separate soul streams. Rather, they hint at the continuity of identity which exists in relatively similar observer-moments.
Now, if you have that picture, you are already doing amazing. If you have never encountered these notions before just sit back and digest that for a few months. Try to prop up closed individualism on the ground of physics until you realize that it’s impossible.
Now you are ready to know that picture isn’t perfectly accurate, and Yudkowsky doesn’t claim that it is. One last thing has to be removed: That is the notion that there is really a now. There aren’t a bunch of frozen nows, with cool, sharp, icy boundaries.
Thinking that there really ought to be a well-defined observer-moment is to be possessed by the mistakes of Dennett’s nemesis, Cartesian dualism. Much like the Selfless Aggregate Model in Buddhism, Dennett explains:
- The work done by the imaginary homunculus in the Cartesian Theater must be broken up and distributed in time and space to specialized lesser agencies in the brain.
- Once these specialists have done their work, that work doesn’t have to be done again in a central re-presentation process. That means that the content involved doesn’t have to be perceived again, discriminated again, enjoyed again, abhorred again (if it is, for instance, a pain) nor does it have to be moved somewhere and presented again in order to be stored in memory.
A sight achieving fame in the brain and becoming the object of consciousness is not something which precisely happens. A conscious sight is never a datable event. A conscious taste is never a datable event. It is also not composed of sub-events which are themselves datable, since this would lead to the mind dust problem.
It was the case that I didn’t understand the multiple drafts model and hence automatically assumed it was obviously wrong. It seemingly couldn’t solve the binding problem. The only way to get a unified percept seemed to be by recourse to a unitary object, namely, the wave-function itself. David Pearce advocates that view.
But I now see that it is, indeed, not necessary to come at the problem from that direction immediately – We all know calculus right? Don’t just break the homunculus into sub-homunculi, take the limit to infinity as the sub-agent approaches 0 for 1/sub-agent. Now you are left with continuity.
“Exactly when did I (as opposed to various parts of my brain) become informed, aware, conscious, of some event?” (Dennett, 1998, p105) It is a trap in the sense that it may not have, or need, an answer because it has false presuppositions.
Exactly when did epsilon become small enough to yield a smooth curve?
The other various parts of my brain can also ask, “exactly when did I (as opposed to various parts of my brain) become informed, aware, conscious, of some event?”
You can now let 1 not just represent a classical brain –which physics immolated… No, let 1 represent the entire universe of experiences embedded in the sum-branches of the wave-function. Now let the limit rip, and see that you are God.
In the Buddhist tradition it is important to listen carefully and ask, “Who is listening?”
One attains enlightenment when one realizes.
One realizes listening is listening. No one is listening.
When asking if experience will go on forever, not just for all intents in purposes, but really forever, we must consider set theory in a universe containing infinite points of experience.
We take the definition: A cover of a set is a set such that
S=ℝ and the cover is composed of the intervals (-n,n) Any subcover of this cover remains a subcover if you omit one of its elements.
But please, let’s be more formal… for the occasion:
A set S⊂ℝ is open if for every n∈S there exists a δ>0 such that S ⊃ (n − δ, n + δ).
The entire set of real numbers ℝ is obviously open, and the empty set ∅ is open since it satisfies the definition vacuously (there is no n ∈ ∅).
As was noted in a previous post: Empty Individualism = Open Individualism in the sense that matters.
The divide is aesthetic. Neither lens actually solve any of the difficult problems about causality and continuity.