Category: consciousness


January 6th, 2013 — 6:53pm

John Searle, the philosopher who does not believe that computers will ever manifest artificial intelligence, is constantly stating that textual computation, or syntax, isn’t semantic, or meaningful. It seems disingenuous to me, since syntactical interactions are the dynamic structures within which semantics occurs, and semantics can be entered into any system through the use of a feedback loop that relates to a larger environment. But his arguments are always floating around in one way or another if the possibility of artificial intelligence is being discussed, and so the supposed lack of semantics in digital content naturally comes to mind while studying up on CSS3, or the most recent development in Cascading Style Sheets for HTML, which is the way that web designers are able to separate the structure of a website, it’s HTML, from the content and the presentation of that content.

By using the design aspects of CSS, the HTML that remains is left to better describe the structural semantics of the content by labeling it as something like Headline, or Aside, or Emphasized Text, etc. Which means that as the web develops, textual content will more and more manifest itself in semantic terms, a feature that seems to emerge naturally as an outgrowth of the human desire for efficiency and clarity. Not that this is a new idea or anything, but the concept of the semantic web as a naturally occurring emergent refutation of Searle’s arguments against the possibility of computational intelligence is interesting. It’s like the universe itself is telling the guy he’s wrong.

el-placer-del-poetaBut since CSS is being used as a presentational layer over the structural semantics of HTML, I was thinking that it is also evolving into a separate emotional overlay of the content. The designer is not only making things pretty by using CSS, but also helping to better define the emotional semantics of the content in the same way that our brains overlay emotional semantics over everyday situations. When you look at a DiChirico painting there is a weird, lonely, nostalgic quality that comes from an emotional relationship to the content that would be invisible to an entity that did not know what it was like to stand alone on an empty flat area as the sun has begun to set. This is probably accentuated by hardwired evolutionary associations of danger that come from being caught out in the open as the sun goes down, making one a target of predators or in danger from the elements.

So I was thinking you could scan a document for emotional content by creating a lookup table of the relationship of single words or word groups to a particular emotion, perhaps FEAR. Then use CSS to attach each word group to a background shade of perhaps red, from 0% to 100%, depending on how FEAR-related they were. Then by quickly scanning through the lookup table a browser could extract the content, apply new CSS rules, and the user could see the amount of FEAR in a document immediately, without having to read it, the way we feel an emotion by looking at an image. If the lookup tables were extracted from an individual’s writings algorithmically, then the extraction could be personalized. You could probably do that with Google glass, overlaying shades of color as a user reads, to personally accentuate the emotional content.

Comment » | consciousness, design, language

The Airport

January 5th, 2013 — 3:26am

There is a paranoid fear that I have while standing in line at the airport, and it is like a recurring nightmare, because all of a sudden I remember… I wake up into consciousness in the middle of this thought in which I realize that there are no planes and there will be no destination, but that this line is all an elaborate hoax, or rather a concrete plan organized by the people who control our lives, and that when we tell ourselves that we are going on a trip, whatever it might be, we are really reporting to a large scientifically-monitored and controlled slaughterhouse, because we have outlived our usefulness …or else that we are regularly sent to these places and enticed to stand in long, miserable lines because we are about to be reprogrammed, that our memories are to be wiped and replaced with more modern memories, or else that our personalities and those of all the people we wait in line with have been determined to have gone slack, to have become tired and unproductive, and so they will have to be wound back to an earlier more useful point in time, a point when the days of aimless toil in service of whatever sad and unpromising careers we are now on vacation from will seem less soul-crushing, more amenable to change, or just slightly less tedious, because the memory of the defeats and disillusionment will have been wiped away.

And I half expect that when we finally pass one by one through the metal and plastic archways that are always just around the corner, that everything will go white and suddenly we will be returning from vacation refreshed and eager to face another year of work.

But these fears are groundless.

Comment » | anxiety, consciousness

Not Thinking About That Thing

April 24th, 2010 — 4:15pm

Learning C is like reading one of the ancient philosophy books I ignored back in college. Now I’m reading about Pointers. Pointers are interesting because they are not concepts (variables/functions/things) but locations where those concepts may be found. By switching back and forth between a manipulation of the thing and the location where that thing may be found, you can work on data without having to ‘know’ the data. It’s abstraction at its most basic.

But even abstractions have a location. There is nothing you can think, no matter how removed from the physical world, that itself does not have a mental footprint. And so functions (which are like verbs that act upon the undefined nouns of variables), themselves have pointers. A pointer to a function will tell you the point in memory at which you can begin the operation of a function, but without having to ‘know’ what the function is.

The first thing that occurred to me when reading about function pointers is that this means we do not have to be enslaved to our unwanted thoughts. The phrase ‘don’t think about snakes’ is self defeating. You can’t help thinking about snakes. But “don’t think about the function beginning at…” is safe.  This would have been helpful to know as a kid when I would wake up sweaty and anxious after another dream of trying unsuccessfully to avoid thinking the thought that would drive me insane…

Comment » | C, consciousness


December 20th, 2009 — 6:12pm

A barrier of consciousness wears away as sleep begins to dismantle the mind. Suddenly there are multiple, simultaneous monologs …and occasionally, hovering on the boundary of sleep, bits and pieces of that narrative are rescued and I find myself hearing my dead father’s voice.

If I were superstitious I’d believe in ghosts, but it’s more likely just a model of my father in my head. In the same sense, my wife can walk into a room while I’m reading, say something funny, then predict what I would say in response, to mock me. She knows exactly what words are rising unspoken in the back of my mind and says them before I do.

I imagine there are hundreds of these in constant operation within everyone. These agents would certainly predate the evolution of consciousness. An entity would need to evolve the ability to create such models as a means of efficiently predicting its environment.

Perhaps the brain of early man was an ever larger complex of small-scale agents, which became more complex as simple vocalizations grew into a language. But at some point there had to come a moment at which the model of that entity which was the self became the self that we think of when we say we are self-conscious.

And then the light of that illumination drowned out the other voices, pushing them back behind the wall of sleep, to creep out in dreams, or to filter their cacophony up through the levels of the brain in the form of intuition and prediction, or to reach through to conscious thought in a rare moment, when the self is preparing to rest, and our dead fathers reprimand us for some long forgotten, long forgiven fault.

This is what goes through my head as I lay awake with these splitting headaches. I think I’ve been staring too hard at the computer screen, as my right eye constantly aches. I am writing this from my computer in the living room, unable to sleep but not wanting to wake my wife.

On the brighter side of things, the Austrian doctor called this afternoon. Apparently her project is going well and they’re going to need more work. I must have been groggy because it actually took a while to remember who she was, and the woman has a very distinctive voice.

Comment » | consciousness, science

neo-ironic reattachment

July 10th, 2008 — 5:10pm

In the late ’80s irony was the primary hipster discourse, followed closely by sarcasm followed by antagonism and anger. Then came a wave of anti-ironists, who promoted a New Sincerity, which seemed a blessing to those of us steeped in a decade of saying the exact opposite of what we meant, nearly always with an upward lilt to suggest a sense of life’s enduring hopelessness. A negative ironic tone gets cloying after a few years, first becoming familiar then tedious, and finally as mind-numbing as that person absentmindedly tapping a finger against the water heater. Ironic negativity left us with the cognitive equivalent of a repetitive stress disorder; ultimately, it’s just as precious and false as the precious falseness of our parents that had prodded us into a state of ironic detachment in the first place. Also, it became apparent that hopelessness and futility only further a plutocratic agenda. Rich people are quite happy to have a bunch of bitter, over-educated slackers around to work for $15 an hour; they love that even more than they love Ayn Rand.

But the New Sincerity never really worked for me —there’s just something creepy about it. We evolved to parse complexity, that subtle shifting of tall grass that signals a lurking tiger… Just saying what you really mean is suspicious. Go ahead and be sincere, but do it and move on, dude. A female friend told me of a moment with her boyfriend when they were having sex, and in the middle of it he stopped, leaned in close, and gently whispered, “I love you.” She shivered with revulsion as she told me. “Boy, did that ruin the mood.” This is not to say she doesn’t love him, but was that really the time to broach the subject?

Thankfully, there now seems to be a hybrid in the air, call it participatory irony. This is most evident in a wave of alternative music that seems to be saying, yes you’re an idiot, so am I; let’s act like idiots together and have a good time. It takes the objective separation of a humorous ironic outlook and combines it with the positivism of acceptance. There is a liminal area where an ironic appreciation of kitsch blends seemlessly into a genuine appreciation for that which people label as kitsch. Hopefully this blend will stick around for a while, because the purity of the two alternatives is fucking annoying…

Comment » | consciousness, Uncategorized, Whining

must go back to work now…

June 24th, 2008 — 4:26pm

The human brain is a bi-lobed control system, either side of which, in an emergency, can operate the entire body. Those few people who have had one half of their brain removed are usually able to regain control of their bodies with the exception of the arm opposite the excised lobe, often with no discernable loss to the personality. The American political system is a bi-lobed system of control, and one of the two parties seems to always have control of congress at any given time. After a switch such as the one recently, the opposing party innevitably begins investigations into the excesses of the previous administration. So this leads me to wonder if there is an analogous operation at work between the two lobes of the brain. An iterative program rewrites itself constantly, but the easiest way to rewrite a program is to do so from outside the program. Perhaps the bi-lobed brain allows for a better means of checking the ongoing development of the overall human running system by switching between its two control lobes, each one in turn corroborating and addressing change issues in the other. This might be testable by measuring the extent to which neural firing from one side of the brain addressed activity in the other side…

Comment » | consciousness, science

Von Neuman is Unintuitive

June 17th, 2008 — 12:20pm

A Von Neumann machine is linear processing. First one thing happens, then another. It is the way of rigid logic or geometry proofs, and seems more or less to form the foundation for western thought.

A parallel processing machine is one that uses simultaneous and independently operating algorithms. The brain is a parallel processing machine. But consciousness feels as if it is a Von Neumann machine: Consciousness appears as a stream, always possessing a direction. But beneath conscious thought there are simultaneous streams of semi-consciousness  knitted together, sometimes long after the fact, to provide what seems to be linear narrative. The self is a Von Neumann machine simulated on a parallel processing machine.

But there are benefits and limitations to each form, and often I see brilliant people who have come to rely so much on Von Neumann logic that they can talk themselves into blatantly absurd positions. The smallest inaccuracies in initial conditions, after multiple operations, can lead to absurd results.

A logical chain of reasoning can lead to amazing and yet counter-intuitive results, like General Relativity, but it can also lead you down rabbit-holes of craziness, like the reviewer for The New York Times who managed to convince himself that “Don’t Mess With The Zohan” was funny because its politics and humanism were admirable.

Intuition seems to me the ability to allow the brain’s parallel processing aspects to operate below the level of consciousness to avoid the limitations of a simulated Von Neumann architecture. The Myers Briggs psychological test divides human personalities into four sets of polarities: Introvert/Extrovert, Sensing/Intuiting, Thinking/Feeling, and Perceiving/Judging. They seem to have done pretty well for themselves with the success of that test, so I assume that they are at least partially accurate. Here are their ideas on intuition:

Extraverted Intuition: Sees possibilities in the external
world. Trusts flashes from the unconscious, which can then be shared
with others.

Introverted Intuition: Looks at consistency of ideas and
thoughts with an internal framework. Trusts flashes from the unconscious,
which may be hard for others to understand.

Comment » | consciousness, science

My New Painting(s): parthenogenesis

June 16th, 2008 — 11:53pm

Desperate to come up with new art, I pulled one of my unsuccessful paintings from the garage and decided to turn it into a triptych. I scratched out with a pencil the areas that will become the three new paintings I hope to make from this single crappy one. It’s a close up of a woman’s face, with agrammatical text (which seemed more interesting when I wrote it) “fruits of an eye where mouth can’t speak.”

I am fascinated with agrammatical text, but I seem to be the only person in LA who sees it as anything other than a gimmick. This non-sentence was supposed to define the concept for an audience, but it seems cloying in retrospect. The point of it all is that we are bound by the strictures of our thinking, which itself is bound by the structures of our language. So by breaking that structure and forming sentences that are incorrect in standard English, we can on occasion reach thoughts that would be unattainable in any other fashion. For this to make sense you have to believe that thought is composed of language or at least that language is a requirement for conscious thought to exist. Most people don’t believe this.

Most people assume that language is a way of describing an inner life. They think they have thoughts that are TRANSLATED into language. This, I believe, is bullshit. There is a reason why transcendental meditation requires you to clear your head of words. Without language, it would be impossible to understand the concept behind this very sentence. Your understanding of that sentence is different than the thought OF the sentence. In other words, you have a feeling that you sense as you understand a sentence like the one earlier, but that feeling is the result of conscious thought composed of words, it could not give rise to the words that created that feeling.

All of this doesn’t make my original painting any less crappy. I created it on a computer and then had it painted in oil in Vietnam (along with 12 more of varying degree of success). An interesting point, or criticism, that no one has bothered to make because no one really likes the idea, is that this concept—that words CREATE thought—is denied by the manufacture of the painting itself. That’s because with this series of paintings the ideas did come first; the idea (or Platonian original form) was created in the computer. This expression of the idea (created by Vietnamese laborers) is merely the playing out of that generative force.

None of this has any bearing on the fact that the original painting is lame. But now it will become three paintings. Hopefully one of them won’t suck.

Comment » | art, consciousness, language, Whining

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