The "cosmic nervous system": response to Joscha Bach

Image by NASA.

MIT Research Scientist Joscha Bach has written a blog post criticizing my suggestion that the universe as a whole is, in a sense, akin to a cosmic nervous system. I've made this suggestion in a recent paper and two videos (video 1, video 2). In the videos, I have also used an image comparison showing the similarity between the structure of the cosmos and that of biological nervous systems. Bach zooms in particularly on this image comparison to criticize my thesis. In this essay, I rebut Bach's criticisms.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should point out that Bach and I have engaged, only a few months ago, in an extensive email exchange discussing precisely the points he brought up in his blog post. I am somewhat surprised that he chose to make his criticisms public now, whilst ignoring the many clarifications I sent him by email back then. Be it as it may, here is my reply.

Bach's criticisms are straw-men; every single one of them. And it is rather easy to demonstrate it. Bach begins by showing the image comparison I originally used in my videos. He then zooms out in an attempt to show that the comparison was misleading: at a larger scale, he claims, the image shows that the universe looks nothing like a brain, but like foam rubber instead. Sarcastically, he implies even that the comparison was deliberately meant to mislead:

This image sends a clear message: if we squint a little, then a well-chosen cutout of a false colored image of a golgi stained pyramidal neuron will look like a red down feather, and a well-chosen cutout of a differently false colored galaxy cluster also looks like a purple down feather, and therefore it is extremely likely that the universe is a giant brain.

Anyone going by this alone will likely conclude that I am not only wrong, but also stupid and dishonest. What Bach fails to point out, however, is that in the very video where I showed the image comparison, I took pains to acknowledge that image comparisons are misleading—for exactly the reasons he points outand cannot be relied upon. See the video insert below starting at 14:56 minutes. Here is direct quote from the video, which you can compare to Bach's quote above:

An image comparison is misleading, because you can always crop the image in a certain way and highlight certain sections and play with colors so they look alike.


More importantly, Bach fails to mention that what based my argument wasn't the image comparison, but a mathematical analysis of the structure and growth patterns of the cosmos, done at the University of California at San Diego (UCSC).  I would have never made the claim if all I had to go with were image similarities. For good measure, here are the references again: Network Cosmology, by Dmitri Krioukov et al., published by Nature. See also a related press release by the UCSD. And here is a direct quote from the press release:

The structure of the universe and the laws that govern its growth may be more similar than previously thought to the structure and growth of the human brain.

Bach also implicitly suggests that we know exactly why the universe has the structure it has, and that it has nothing to do with consciousness or cognitive activity. He writes:

Universes are created by rapidly expanding a superdense plasma that glomps [sic] together through the wonders of gravity, while lots of expanding vacuum makes space between the galaxy clusters.

But the UCSD researchers don't agree that we understand the reasons for the structural similarities observed. From the UCSD press release:

Structural and dynamical similarities [between the cosmos and brains] suggest that some universal laws might be in action, although the nature and common origin of such laws remain elusive.

Only after I was backed up by the objective UCSD analysis, did I feel free to add the image comparison in order to convey a visual intuition that mathematics alone could never convey. The image comparison was a bonus aid, not the basis of my argument. And although Bach knew this quite well, for some reason he chose to overlook it.

Moreover, Bach's post deliberately and explicitly suggests that the cosmos is not structurally like nervous systems. "Brains totally do not look like foam rubber," he writes rather sarcastically. What he is suggesting is verifiably wrong in at least one significant sense, unless one can refute the results of the UCSD paper above.

Bach's misrepresentation of my position goes further. He writes that I

suspect that the universe might be self-aware, i.e. that the structure given by its stars, galaxies and galaxy clusters might lend itself to a giant information processing architecture.

Two positions are attributed to me in this quote. Both of them are wrong, as anyone tangentially familiar with my output will know. The first is that I allegedly posit the universe to be self-aware. Well, the body of my work emphasizes precisely that the universe is not self-aware. Let me be clear: the universe is not self-aware. I claim, instead, that the universe as a whole is conscious. Consciousness does not necessarily entail or imply self-awareness. Indeed, I argue that only living beings, like us humans, have the potential to develop the self-reflective configuration of cognition that enables self-awareness.

The second attribution is my alleged contention that the universe functions like a brain, by processing information at a full cosmic scale. I've never made such a claim. So let me be very precise, as I was in my private emails to Bach: I contend that the universe as a whole is akin to a nervous system insofar as it is the extrinsic image of conscious inner life at a cosmic level, much like a biological nervous system is the extrinsic image of conscious inner life at the level of a living creature. This does not imply that the universe should function like a brain. As a matter of fact, it is a direct implication of my position that it shouldn't: brains are the extrinsic images of dissociated complexes of a universal mind, evolved to survive within an Earthly ecosystem external to them. The universe as a whole is not dissociated and does not need to survive within any ecosystem external to it. Ergo, for my thesis to hold the universe should precisely not function like a biological nervous system, despite being akin to one in a certain sense.

The similarity between the cosmos and biological nervous systems that I allude to, and which was shown by Krioukov et al, is a structural one, not a functional one. This structural similarity is compelling circumstantial evidence that the cosmos as a whole, just as biological nervous systems, is the extrinsic image of sentient cognitive activity.

Bach spends most of his post doing an analysis of the time it would take for information to be communicated and integrated at a cosmic level. His goal is to show that there hasn't been enough time since the Big Bang for the universe to integrate nearly enough information for the rise of consciousness. The implicit assumption, of course, is one or another variation of the Integrated Information Theory (IIT) of consciousness, which asserts that consciousness is the product of global information integration. Naturally, this begs the question. My point is precisely that consciousness is not produced by patterns of information flow. I contend that patterns of information flow are just the extrinsic image of certain cognitive configurations. What the IIT calls 'consciousness' is, in my view, merely a self-reflective configuration of consciousness, which is restricted to human beings as far as we know today. My position entails that the universe as a whole is not self-reflective and, therefore, should not display the patterns of information flow associated with self-reflectiveness. So by showing that the universe hasn't had enough time to develop these patterns, Bach doesn't contradict my position at all; on the contrary.

Indeed, I feel so confident in my refutation of Bach's straw-man arguments that I will even expose myself by speculating: the conscious inner life of the cosmos as a whole is, experientially, comparable to a brief moment of human cognition, just as Bach argues. But in that brief experiential moment the universe is still conscious, in a way qualitatively incommensurable with human experience. You see, if the inanimate universe is the extrinsic image—the 'neural correlates,' if you will—of the cosmos' conscious inner life, the fact that the laws of nature are so stable suggests precisely that the whole of our cosmology represents a very brief snapshot of the cosmos' thoughts. Otherwise, we would expect more fluidity and variation in the patterns and regularities of nature, for the same reason that the thought patterns of a person tend to be rather unstable in the course of time. The scales are simply different: what we humans experience as a life-time is, from the subjective point of view of the universe as a whole, an intangible moment; so short that the pattern of universal thoughts within it remains stable. And none of this, of course, implies that the inner life of the universe is impoverished, in the sense of being experientially less rich than that of humans. It may be very short as far as time-equivalence is concerned, but the spatial scale of the universe is mind-bogglingly larger than that of human brains. So in that brief experiential moment since the Big Bang, the universe may still have had rich conscious inner life.

I trust the above lays out my case with sufficient clarity.

Copyright © 2016 by Bernardo Kastrup. All rights are reserved.

Comments

  1. Bernardo, this may seem off topic, but if "Mind At Large" is ultimately "beyond" (or transcendent to) time and space, do you see the level of self-awareness of the "transcendent Mind At Large" as the same as the universe as a whole - so would the universe be conscious but not self aware, but MAL be conscious in a way that is "superior" to or beyond human self awareness?

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  2. hmmm, sorry, that was not clear: Here's the question again split into several parts:

    1. Do you see MAL as simply identical with the universe (in traditional terms, a pantheistic view) or transcendent and immanent (a panentheistic view)
    2. If you view MAL as having a transcendent (non spatio-temporal) aspect, is the consciousness of the "transcendent" MAL the same as the way you describe the universe - conscious but not self -aware?)
    3. If you view MAL as having a transcendent aspect, do you accept the possibility that it may be conscious in a way that is beyond or superior to human self awareness?

    Thanks. Interesting article by the way. My sense is that Bach's problem with your view is not at all intellectual but primarily psychological.

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    1. Hi Don,

      1) I take the Panendeistic/Panentheistic view, believing that the default alternative is that the universe is not the _complete_ extrinsic image of MAL. I do think, however, that this is more an epistemic than an ontological question (http://www.bernardokastrup.com/2011/03/reader-knuje-asked-me-to-comment-on.html)

      2) I would still be inclined to think of the transcendent aspects of MAL as non-self-reflective, since self-reflection appears to correlate with life (I made this case in Why Materialism Is Baloney).

      3) Certainly, though that 'beyond and superior' doesn't necessarily need to include self-reflection/self-awareness.

      Thanks for the encouragement, Don!

      Bernardo.

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  3. Bernardo, an obvious follow-up question is: how would the Universe have a rich, conscious inner life if it is not reflectively self-aware?

    I presume you are implying that the Universe as seen is the contents-in-consciousness of an invisible Source, i.e. the image of what it looks like to be reflectively self-aware (in the same way that our brains are the second-person image of our whirlpooled minds).

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    1. Self-reflection is powerful and useful, but certainly not necessary for broad and rich experiences. In many of our nightly dreams, for instance, we are not self-reflective. We don't think about our thoughts in the dream. We just flow with the twists and turns of the dream, like leafs in the wind. Yet, the experiences we have during the dream can nonetheless be rich and intense. As a matter of fact, self-reflection tends to focus our awareness in a small area, obfuscating everything else. It is as restrictive as it is enriching.

      I think the inanimate universe is the extrinsic view of non-self-reflective thoughts and emotions in mind-at-large, while living organisms are the extrinsic view of dissociated alters of mind-at-large.

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    2. At the risk of being cited as a member of your Chopraesque claque, I think in that last response to Mr Bach, you excelled yourself, Bernardo.

      So far as your previous reply to me goes, I should have thought that the Universe might well be self-reflective in its eternal (invisible, transcendent, ideal) mode because of the existence of order, evolution and the laws of nature.

      Laws may have evolved by way of natural selection after aeons of immanent cosmic dreaming, I suppose, but I'm not sure I find that idea intuitively satisfying without a self-reflective component. Perhaps I'm too restricted by my alterdom.

      Incidentally, I've noticed that I do sometimes self-reflect in dreams (I remember a lot of my dreams) - even though the ideas I entertain may seem rather flaky upon awakening.

      Anyway, yours is a wonderful evolving philosophy.

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    3. Thank you Ben. I am open to the possibility that there may be hierarchical levels of dissociation in a multiverse that transcends the perceivable cosmos. I discussed this speculatively in Why Materialism Is Baloney. So I am not closed to the possibilities you bring up. But since only reports from meditative states seem to suggest it, and the objectively available empirical evidence doesn't, I choose to restrict my argument to what the measurable evidence justifies. This may be limiting, but it helps keep the discussion focused on points materialists cannot dismiss. Cheers, B.

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  4. Bernardo, you misconstrue my little blogpost as a refutation of your theory, which was not my intention. It merely addresses Ethan Siegel's article in Forbes, which makes the much simpler claim that the material structure of the universe might support an information processing architecture that could be conscious. You were mentioned mostly because of a superficially similar claim (that the universe is conscious) and your suggestive use of the misleading image. I should have made this clearer.

    I think that it is highly desirable to formulate a modern, epistemologically clean and metaphysically sound version of idealist monism, and thus, I applaud your project. Your main thesis of a 'mind at large' does not depend on the fallacious argument of a structural similarity between brains and stellar matter distributions, and it hopefully does also not suffer if I point out that a structural similarity is irrelevant, if it is not mirrored in a functional one (as the foam rubber analogy serves to show). I think you should not weaken your theory by such questionable struts.

    At your insistence, let me point out that the paper you cite does not lend support to your thesis. The sentence in question is from the introductory paragraph of the university's press release and has been written by their press person, likely a layman. The very next sentence IS attributable to the authors, and says explicitly: “By no means do we claim that the universe is a global brain or a computer". Did you really literally stop reading the press release after the first sentence, or did you just forget to mention that the authors of a study that is meant to support your thesis explicitly say that it does not? I am not implying that you are "stupid" or "dishonest" as you mention above – I just do not understand why you use this press release as support.

    The study itself does not make the claim at all. It does not talk about the distribution of stellar matter, but about a conformant field theory, a tensor network that can be shown to be mathematically equivalent to a simplified version of Einsteinian spacetime, the Anti-de-Sitter space. This tensor network is a graph that in the course of the development of the universe grows new links (entanglements). Other graphs do that as well, which the authors illustrate with a quick list of seven footnotes, among them neural growth and traffic networks. There is NO interesting structural similarity in the tensor network of the CFT and an actual brain or nervous system, any more than a brain is similar to the subway map of Boston. There is also no similarity in the increase of entanglements in the CFT during the evolution of the universe to the change of neural connectivity in a brain over its lifetime.

    Btw, I have no leaning to IIT whatsoever, because it neglects the highly differentiated functional constraints and preconditions for the genesis of mental activity. (I also suspect that it is actually an unsuccessful attempt to find a mathematical disguise for Tononi's panpsychism.)

    I have not yet gotten around to carefully analyzing your paper that I gratefully received. I will read it, but I do not think that we have discovered a productive mode of discussion. I get the sense that you construe arguments against your thoughts as attacks on your personal integrity. No such thing is intended.

    Last time, we seem to have parted with the mutual feeling of not having learnt anything from each other, and having wasted each others time. I regret that I cannot contribute to the development of your ideas, and would like to suggest that instead of cultivating a Chopraesque claque of people that feed their spiritual needs on your poetic metaphors and coddle your ego in return, you publish your thoughts in a suitably reviewed journal.

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    1. Joscha,

      You explicitly attributed several claims to me, by name, which were not my claims. How you ended up doing it is not my problem, but setting the record straight is.

      While I agree that my argument does not depend even on a structural similarity between biological nervous systems and cosmic configurations, the structural similarity is there, unless one can refute the UCSD study. To say that it is not there is, in my view, just wrong.

      I agree that the structural similarity is a much more compelling argument if accompanied by a functional analogy at some level of abstraction. I haven't insisted on it before because I can't yet defend it robustly. But in the last paragraph of my post above I do reveal my thinking: there can still be a functional analogy, even within the time restrictions you point out. I will expand on this in future work.

      I don't claim the universe _is_ a brain. I never claimed it. Obviously the universe isn't a brain: it's not made of carbon-based neurons coated in fat and exchanging neurotransmitter molecules. My claim is that there is a sense in which the universe is _akin_ to a brain. I think this has been abundantly clear from the start, to anyone who impartially reads/listens to me. The structural and growth similarity shown in the UCSD study is non-trivial and not yet explained. As such, it is compelling at least at a circumstantial level. Claiming not to see this seems disingenuous to me.

      I stand by my claims as articulated in the post above, because the UCSD article concludes exactly what I claim it to conclude, and what it concludes is all I need in circumstantial support of my thesis. I don't see how I can be clearer about this.

      You contend that the UCSD study does NOT conclude that there is a structural and growth similarity between the brain and the universe. I find this claim, well, rather astonishing. Your attempt to bury this conclusion under technical language doesn't change what the paper says. Both the brain and the universe were modeled as networks in the paper, and the similarity between these networks was shown. See Figure 4 here: http://www.nature.com/articles/srep00793/figures/4. Compare 'de Sitter' spacetime structure and 'Brain' structure. Are the captions of this figure in any way ambiguous? This is the structural similarity I have been claiming all along. Why do you struggle with accepting this? In all honesty, I find myself confused about your true motivations here.

      You suggest that these similarities have no bearing on the distribution of matter and energy in the universe. Even if this were the case, my point would still hold. But it isn't true, as any cosmologist could tell you. Although the bridge between the two is non-trivial, it is there. Consider this quote from the UCSD paper itself, whose implications I am sure you're technically able to understand:

      "Our results may also have important implications for cosmology. In particular, de Sitter causal sets have exactly the same graph structure that maximizes network navigability. Translated to asymptotically sparse causal sets, does this property imply that the expanding portion of de Sitter spacetime (t > 0) is the spacetime that maximizes the probability that two random Planck-scale events have an ancestor in their common past? If it does, then this uniqueness of de Sitter spacetime may lead to a different perspective on the cosmic coincidence problem, as well as on dark energy, possibly casting the latter as a phenomenon emerging from certain optimization principles encoded in the causal network structure."

      (to be continued...)

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    2. (...continued from above)

      What I find most peculiar in your comment is the contrast between two subsequent paragraphs. First, you write:

      "I have not yet gotten around to carefully analyzing your paper that I gratefully received. I will read it, but I do not think that we have discovered a productive mode of discussion. I get the sense that you construe arguments against your thoughts as attacks on your personal integrity. No such thing is intended."

      Then you write:

      "[I] would like to suggest that instead of cultivating a Chopraesque claque of people that feed their spiritual needs on your poetic metaphors and coddle your ego in return"

      So much for no ad hominem intended. I cannot help but find this rather suggestive of your underlying motivations when it comes to your interactions with me.

      You also wrote:

      "publish your thoughts in a suitably reviewed journal."

      I find peer-review very important when it comes to experimental results, reliability of methodologies, etc., but none of this applies to philosophy. Peer-review has much less value-add when it comes to philosophy (which is what I do). Moreover, publishing my work in journals would likely prevent me from re-using the text in my books, restrict its circulation through paywalls and unreasonable fees (one journal article costs the equivalent of ~5 copies of my books), and allow others to profit from my efforts without adding value. Finally, I do not feel encouraged by the peer-review scandals on the past few years. Having said all this, I have been asked to make exceptions and the paper I sent you may become the first exception to this. We will see.

      All in all, I find your style quite peculiar. You have a disarmingly polite, friendly and sober tone at first, which you then unexpectedly (at least for me) spice up with misrepresentation, uncalled for sarcasm, deliberately misleading assertions coated in authoritative language, and subtle ad hominem. Having seen through your game, I find it rather regrettable. Alas we can agree on at least one thing: I do have a "feeling of not having learnt anything from each other, and having wasted each others time. I regret that I cannot contribute to the development of your ideas."

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    3. Bernardo, we seem to have quite different and probably incompatible goals. I have nothing to win by engaging with the "metaphysical speculations" of a new age amateur philosopher on his blog, except finding new perspectives and arguments. It appears that you have too much skin in this game to allow you ideas to be questioned.

      Here are a few things that annoy me: You falsely claim that you never said that the universe is a brain. This appears to be untrue (cf. Bernardo Kastrup: The Universe is a Brain https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_tGBzjwLpcE "God's brain" etc.). You claim the universe MUST be conscious. Since it should be impossible to present hard evidence, the claim is speculative, not definite. Calling alternative philosophical perspectives "inferior" or "baloney", or leading physicists like Stephen Hawking "silly" is... a bit bold (at the same time, you seem to have completed no formal education in physics or philosophy, nor any properly published research in these fields; please correct me if I am wrong). Your interpretation of a physics paper on graph properties as evidence for a conscious universe is quite clearly invalid; do you really think such a conclusion would be supported by the paper's authors? I challenge you to get their affirmative response.

      Here is what I like: I find many of your perspectives refreshing and interesting, and it should be worth developing them not in the context of new age meetups, self-published books and your blog, but together with real philosophers and physicists (i.e. not me). You won't believe my counterarguments anyway, which is why I encourage you to submit to properly peer reviewed arenas. Many journals do not have paywalls any more, or never had them to begin with.

      But perhaps scientific insight is really not your goal, and your project is really directed on finding meaning and purpose by creating a wonderful narrative. I cannot see anything wrong in that.

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    4. Joscha,

      I love your latest comment because it's so revealing in a way you obviously didn't intend. Your reaction evokes in my mind the image of a spoilt child who loses a game fair and square, but can't accept it.

      You have "nothing to win by engaging with ... a new age amateur philosopher." Yet you are here, aren't you? You sent me multiple of emails and posted multiple times in my forum, haven't you? I had never heard of you before you contacted me. I've never forced you to interact with me or write about me. I, for one, get no value from interacting with you. I find myself here merely because I've had to defend myself against your misrepresentations.

      The video you linked to, in case you haven't noticed, isn't by me. Its title, which is what you quote and attribute to me, wasn't chosen by me but by someone on the Internet. I obviously have no control what titles people give to their videos. Is this the level of deceit you are prepared to descend to in order to save face?

      My claim that the universe must be conscious arises from a methodical, rigorously constructed argument whose summary I not only pointed you to, but cordially sent to you by email before you started publicly criticizing me (https://www.academia.edu/20313118/On_why_Idealism_is_superior_to_Physicalism_and_Micropsychism). For your information, this has indeed been reviewed by other philosophers whose names you would recognize. But since you acknowledge you haven't read it yet, you are criticizing an argument you aren't at all familiar with. Why do it?

      Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow (Hawkin's co-author in the book in question) are disasters of philosophical speculation, yes. I criticize their _philosophy_, not their physics. They make ontological and metaphysical claims and conflate them with physics. I don't mind at all that they don't have any "formal background" in philosophy, which appears to be important for you. I argue against them on the merits of their assertions; i.e. on content, not background. And I walk the walk, having confronted Mlodinow publicly, face-to-face (https://youtu.be/JhFK-p7nqbo).

      Your allusion to publication has already been addressed in my previous comment. You add nothing new now.

      Yes, the UCSD paper's authors clearly agree with what they explicitly assert in their own paper (duh): there is a similarity between the spacetime structure of the cosmos and brains. It's silly of you to continue to insist on this. I don't need to get the authors' "affirmative response," because it's already written on their paper.

      None of my books has been self-published, and neither have I ever paid even a cent to have them published. Your desperation to find something -- anything -- to use against me is painfully evident and rather sad. I am sorry for you that you couldn't make your case on honest grounds, but that's not my problem. What is my problem is that you are now lying about me in a defamatory manner. That can become an issue.

      Your entire comment, in my view, reflects the desperate and malicious face-saving attempts of someone who has simply been shown to be wrong. I wonder how you would react if I started talking about your own work: about the philosophical silliness of your attempt to manufacture consciousness out of information processing in a computer. And I so happen to have the "formal background" to talk about AI, as you well know.

      But fear not. You're a poor sport and I have spent sufficient time with you.

      Have a good life. B.

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  5. Bernardo, in your reply to Joscha, you say:

    "It's obvious to any honest reader/listener that my comparison between the universe and brains is about a certain kinship, not identity. The claim is that the universe is _like_ a brain in a certain way. This is the last time I will repeat this because it's now becoming ridiculous."

    Your last sentence in the video he referenced (you didn't post it, but it's definitely you speaking), you say:

    "I myself would say that the universe looks like a brain because that's exactly what it is: it is the external aspect of the cosmic inner life of a cosmic intelligence."

    Now I know that you don't mean that the universe is actually a brain, and that you occasionally say things like "...for exactly the same reason that..."; and I also think that many of the objections that Joscha makes, particularly casting aspersions on your scientific and philosophical credentials, is uncalled for. But I can see he might conclude that you are saying that the universe *is* a brain, (albeit from the 2nd person perspective).

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    1. "I myself would say that the universe LOOKS LIKE a brain..." (i.e. it isn't one, it looks like one. If I thought it were a brain I wouldn't say it looks like one.)

      "...because that's exactly what it is, [NOT LITERALLY A BRAIN BUT, LIKE A BRAIN,] the external aspect of the cosmic inner life..."

      Unless one is disingenuously trying to act like a lawyer, I think it's abundantly clear what I mean. Even if I would have said once or twice that the universe "is" a brain, I think my writings give enough context to qualify unambiguously what I mean with this kind of shorthand. I am not in a court of law here but trying to reach people with ordinary language. As long as I provide sufficient context to qualify my statements, I believe it is entirely legitimate that I continue to communicate with shorthands occasionally.

      And no, I don't see any way Joscha could have been confused about what I mean, since I have discussed this extensively with him in my forum and through personal emails since months before he wrote his post. At this stage, I feel personally convinced that his point is deliberately rhetorical and maliciously intended.

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    2. Joscha is not confused about what you wrote Bernardo. His points are clearly maliciously intended. He is vile and petty at best. He is trying to champion a paradigm (materialism) who time has passed. He is a tool plain and simple of the AI community. From his recent blog post, " Artificial Intelligence is our best bet at understanding who we are, and it is time to continue Marvin's work, to recognize and describe the the richness of our minds, and to build machines that think, feel, perceive, learn, imagine and dream." This statement says it all about Joscha's world view and it also says why he must attempt to destroy thinkers like Bernardo.

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    3. Yes, Jack, Joscha is invested in a paradigm. He's worse than a materialist: he's a computationalist, one of those who believe that both mind and matter emerge from computations in a completely abstract information space. It's the ultimate in scientific-sounding delusion; amusing if it weren't taken seriously by a few people of influence. Because my philosophy equates the attempt to create consciousness by simulating brain function in a computer with that of trying to have the computer pee by simulating kidney function in it, he has an invested interest in trying to poke holes in what I say. I don't mind sharp arguments on content, but I won't provide Joscha with a platform to lie about, and defame, me. Cheers, B.

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    4. My "worse" investment is quite immaterial. It is indeed the case that I currently consider computation to be the best paradigm to explain mind and universe, but since I kept changing my mind in the past, it is quite likely that I will keep changing it in the future. (Also, philosophy has little bearing on my practical work.) I have no ill will towards you, but sometimes, I might be a little too impatient with people that rush to declare things "the ultimate scientific-sounding delusion", "silly", not based on sound arguments, but merely because they are part of another stance. So far, this was not related to computationalism, but to other stances (materialism, panpsychism, ...) that I do not share, but would never feel a need to deride as "baloney" etc.
      From where I stand, your mind-at-large theory is one of about five flavors of idealism I am aware of, and it is hard for me to quantify the metaphysical, epistemological and predictive debt of your approach (unrelated to our standing and unpleasantly argued disagreement above). I think can see the tradeoff that makes you prefer your theory to, say, materialism, but my tradeoff comparison looks differently than yours. That will not make me discard your ideas, or those of the materialists. My mind, and my confidence in its powers are too small to rule things out just because they look a bit less plausible right now.

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  6. It's obvious that every computation that has ever been made was done by or initiated by consciousness. Without consciousness no computation has any meaning. To say computation can be primary is superstition.

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    1. This is exactly the understanding of terminology and depth of reasoning that I find problematic among Bernardo's commenters.

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    2. "My mind, and my confidence in its powers are too small to rule things out just because they look a bit less plausible right now." This may be the most salient thing you've written. It seems like it does take certain internal realizations or experiences to understand what is going on. Perhaps this is why you consider totally unworkable concepts to be simply "less plausible".

      I'm still waiting for you to give me an example of computation that is not performed by or initiated by consciousness.

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  7. I can't understand why anyone would think that the way information is processed could create (or rather, be identical to) consciousness. Isn't information just an abstract idea, and not a quality of the thing we see around us? If a bunch of electrons flowed in a "computational" manner, they're still the same as electrons flowing in a random manner. Why would one create/be identical to consciousness, and the other one not?

    Btw, listening to Moby's "God moving over the face of the waters" while reading your blog posts is really a nice experience.

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