Abstract: Critique is directed against lingering philosophical Idealism and its counterpart, namely rationalistic physicalism. The remarkable discoveries of quantum physics invalidate them both, findings that have largely been ignored. The objective world constitutes of both mind and matter, and so does the subject. There exists no metaphysical barrier. Rather, subject and object are interactive and partake of the very same substance of reality. This has complementary nature, that is, manifests either as mind or matter.
Keywords: philosophy of color, theory of mind, ontology, epistemology, Idealism, Orch OR, qualia, reprentationism, artificial intelligence, AI, machine-human, physicalism, rationalism, complementarity, wave-particle duality, Kant, Descartes, Roger Penrose, James J. Gibson, Peter Russell.
Complementary world Realism and mind Realism
Descartes’s faulty dictum, that our only certainty is that the subjective mind exists, is repeated interminably. Yet, since his time, science has confirmed the autonomous reality of matter. Quantum physics has verified that quantum phenomena are dual, that is, they both come to expression as mind and matter. So there are two foundational and objective phenomena in the universe, namely mind and matter. But among the majority, these findings are still not digested. Many still think in Cartesian terms and believe that mind is subjective whereas matter is objective.
We have to get used to the idea that mind is also an objective phenomenon. Light is indeed material. However, in its complementary aspect it is an objective mind-phenomenon. Although light is a “colourless wave” — a mathematical function — it is also a coloured photon (cf. Wiki here). It manifests in material reality as soon as the wave function “collapses” in connection with observation by a mind. Although only minds can observe colour, it is an intrinsic property of light which only minds can “extract”. Mind-entities are actually surrounding us. Since we are endowed with subjective mind, we are capable of experiencing objective mind in the form of colour, because “only like can know like”, as Aristotle said. The mind aspect of light is perceived objectively. The grass really is green and the heavens really are blue.
It is generally argued that bioelectric signals go from the retina to “the mind”, a.k.a. “the soul”, which then fabricates a world from the meager input of data (representationalism). This is essentially an 18th century concept as professed by Immanuel Kant. Descartes thought that the pineal gland at the center of the brain was the seat of the soul, where all our thoughts are formed. But science has long since abandoned the concept of a little spiritual homunculus seated in the brain, who is taking care of business.
In fact, there is only a neural system and nothing else. So this means that as soon as the retina is stimulated, the stimuli is already in the brain, because the eye and the optical nerve are merely extensions of the brain. Indeed, bioelectric signals are propagated in the brain, but this is all that science can give evidence to. The signals don’t go to a mind faculty, there to be reinterpreted as a world. Facts are that bioelectric signals equate with intelligence and ‘psyche’.
Since sunrays are also electromagnetic signals, brain activity could be said to exist even beyond the eye. It extends all the way to the sun! So the notion of an outer world clearly demarcated from the subject is a primitive model that doesn’t hold water. If a person pokes with a stick in a dark room, the stick functions as an extension of the neural system — the brain. If he pokes on a pillow, softness is detected. It is because it is soft. If he pokes on a table, hardness is detected. It is because it is hard.
The brain stands in direct contact to the outer world and its quantum phenomena. If a blue photon stimulates a photo receptor, blueness is detected. It is because it is blue. If a red photon stimulates a photo receptor, redness is detected. It is because it is red. If it weren’t so, insects couldn’t fare in the world, because they lack recourse to an enormous brain capable of “creating” a world. We are all part and parcel of the world. It doesn’t exist on the “outside”.
Deeper levels of physical reality are accessible to experimental physicists despite the fact that these realms, as such, are not perceptible to our eyes and therefore never before had been conceptualized. Scientific development has established the veracity of the connection between our sensory experiences and the outer world (e.g., heat, sound, smell, colour). Our mental perception of quantum phenomena are on a par with the findings of the experimental physicist, although the latter often describes them in different terms.
If the mind had invented its own reality not properly in agreement with physical reality, then it would have depreciated the animal’s survival value. Our senses depict reality as it is, more or less. So it is a matter of exactitude rather than correctness. For instance, we could have had a better resolution in our colour seeing, being capable of seeing more hues. But the fact that we, unlike many an insect or bird, cannot see all the hues of a flower, does not mean that our perception of the flower isn’t truthful. It’s only that it could have had better resolution.
Indeed, the human visual cortex does a lot of “image editing” in order to provide better visual grasp. It performs contrast equalization, colour reinforcement, noise filtering, etc. That’s why human beings have such great visual understanding; better than any animal. This is what occupies the visual cortex. But it is not involved in the fabrication of a fictional world. The notion that colour is a figment created by a mysterious and emergent “soul substance” is professed all over the Internet. But this is a horrible misconception. Colour is indeed objective mind.
Light, since it is a quantum phenomenon, is also generative of mind. Colour is the mind phenomenon that comes from light. How is such an ontology possible? It is just because mind is a quantum phenomenon. It is not an emergent quality of neural complexity, although the human psyche and intelligence are. Quantum phenomena inside each neuron are generative of mind. In cooperation, they give rise to intelligence. So mind exists already at quantum level. Physicist Roger Penrose argues that the computer cannot have intelligence because it is an algorithmically deterministic system. The human brain, in contrast, harbours non-algorithmic processes responsible for the emergence of consciousness, predicated on countless quantum events in the microtubules (cf. Winther, 2014, here). Although Penrose’s theory (1999) is not yet verified, experiments are underway to verify neural quantum effects (cf. Hameroff & Penrose, 2014, here).
We are not machines
The theory of knowledge according to which the world is sharply divided into subject and object is outdated. In reality, both perception and cognition are very much a cooperative effort, that is, meaning emerges from subject-object relations. According to philosopher James J. Gibson (1904-1979), the environment and the animal are not separable items (cf. Wiki, here). Does the bird fly on the wind or does the wind fly the bird? In fact, they are at one. Thus, an artificial intelligence cannot understand the meaning of the information it processes, on account of not being in a continual cognitive and perceptual relationship, that of “moving around in the world”. It cannot understand the meaning of “wind”. Nor can it understand the meaning of human motives, because it does not exist in human reality. It has no sense of artistic beauty, sexual excitement, or existential Angst. It is an entirely autistic creation that has no human characteristics whatsoever.
Human nature is not logical. It is not possible to emulate a human neural network, because a computer cannot produce consciousness, intrinsic to the human network. In fact, the brain is a chaotic system. Research finds that the human brain lives “on the edge of chaos” (cf. ScienceDaily, 2009, here). This has in psychology become apparent in the relation between unconscious and conscious. The chaotic unconscious is the nourishing earth of orderly consciousness, from where ideas arise and without which consciousness could not prevail.
A computer, since it builds on logic, is not a chaotic system where order emerges spontaneously from an unconscious realm. It lacks this dichotomy, which is why it cannot possibly emulate the human mind. So, as has happened so many times before in science and philosophy, the premises are faulty. It builds on a misconception of the human brain and its functioning. It is not a system building on formal logic but on chaos. The human intellect grows on the fertile earth of randomness.
Presently, no proper artificial network exists because researchers do not have recourse to artificial neurons firing randomly, which is the chaotic grounds for human consciousness and intellect. Nor can they emulate the quantum effects in the microtubules, which, according to Stuart Hameroff, effectively turns each neuron into a quantum computer — truly nonlinear (cf. Winther, 2014, here). Artificial Intelligence (AI) hasn’t reached insect level. They cannot even copy insect vision, which is quite sophisticated, although insect brains are the size of a pinhead. They are capable of recognizing human faces. Moreover, insects can navigate in space and accomplish marvelous feats of architecture. They are also capable of individual communication, and many more things. Had AI attained insect level, then we would already have useful androids proper. Entomology sheds light on perceptual cognition, which proves to be interactive. Research finds that ants do not create an internal image of the world. This rhymes with Gibson’s view. An entomologist exlains:
Counter-intuitively, years of bottom-up research has revealed that ants do not integrate all this information into a unified representation of the world, a so-called cognitive map. Instead they possess different and distinct modules dedicated to different navigational tasks. These combine to allow navigation. (Scientific American, 2013, here)
The notion that a computer could become conscious is hard to swallow. Then Charles Babbage’s mechanical computer could have become conscious, too. In principle, there is no essential difference between a modern computer and a mechanical — it is only the matter of representing 1 and 0 differently and using mechanical levers instead of electronic circuits. The concept that mechanical calculation equates with consciousness is indefensible.
Ever since Newton found that planets move according to mathematical equations (although not perfectly), rationalistic thinkers have been obsessed with the thought that everything can be reduced to simple equations. Not only the human brain and consciousness, but the whole of society can thus be reduced to simple ideological and mechanistic tenets. It is like a plague that Western society has suffered from ever since the times of Enlightenment. This continues to the present day, despite the fact that chaos and complex systems theory have thoroughly refuted the one-dimensional algorithmic and mechanistic paradigm that has its roots in the 17th century. The discovery of quantum complementarity has decidedly disproved the rationalistic and algorithmic view of reality. Although reality is inherently mathematical, i.e. physicalistic, it is also mental.
Regrettably, scientists seem unable to interpret their own findings in philosophical terms, for the education of the people. This makes evident that philosophical reason has an important function to fulfill, namely to put a curb on errant ways of thought that lack foundation in reality. To grasp the true nature of reality is important because misconceptions nurture the ideological mindset. It gives rise to well-nigh religious beliefs that mislead people and stifle the growth to maturity. So pervasive is physicalistic rationalism become that “machine ethics” has emerged as a serious topic of research (cf. Wiki, here). But a machine cannot learn human value judgment because it lacks feelings. Morality is predicated on feeling (sentiment), in accordance with David Hume’s theory (cf. Stanford Encyc., 2010, here).
Feeling is mental and not algorithmic. It is the feeling function which evaluates what’s good and bad. If we try to pass judgment merely by recourse to the logical function, we become entangled in an intellectual web that we cannot get out from. This follows from the dialectical nature of the intellect (“On the one hand…but on the other hand…”). Although a computer can learn through an artificial neural network (and therefore provide valuable assistance), it cannot motivate its judgment according to human premises. So machine ethics is a red herring, because human nature cannot be algorithmically emulated. Stanford Encyclopedia highlights critics of machines as moral agents (cf. Stanford Encyc., 2016, here).
Human consciousness “moves around in the world” and is an interactive agent. It is the question of comprehending the meaning of information, something which an artificial network cannot achieve. In fact, it suffices to apply common sense to realize that it is undoable. It cannot even know what “shake hands” means because it has no hand to shake. Nor does it have a conscious perception of the experience. It can learn to play a good game of Go, but this is a little logical universe, which has nothing to do with human and moral life.
It is remarkable that consciousness and its interaction with the environment are among many still regarded non-essential factors. It’s rationalism out of whack. Such thinkers really think that we live in an algorithmic universe and that human beings are programmed robots. In fact, a Go machine that applies neural learning is entirely dependent on algorithmic logic. It just calculates and learns the principles from very many games and from mistakes. There is nothing mysterious at all.
As of today there exists no nonlinear artificial neural network that attempts to mimic the human brain. It is a theoretical product building on the “artificial neuron”, a mathematical function conceived as a model of a biological neuron (cf. Wiki, here). Simulations of nonlinear processing has been performed with CPUs functioning linearly. Such pseudo-nonlinear systems can perform certain tasks like image recognition at an enormous cost in processing power.
So there exists no bottom-up nonlinear network functioning at the level of a mosquito. People who believe in the science fiction fantasy of a world peopled with androids are caught up in an illusion. They should throw out their misconceptions and invest their time and energy in something worthwhile, instead.
When dipping a finger into water, we actually experience the molecular motion as “temperature”. When experiencing colours, we do in fact have direct insight into a quantum phenomenon. This all has a bearing on the theory of qualia or sense-data, which philosophers have wrecked their brains over for decades (cf. Stanford Encyc., here). It is essentially an Idealist conception referring to the introspectively accessible, phenomenal aspects of mental life. Yet, it turns out that qualia has an objective foundation at the quantum level in the form of directly perceivable mind events, which manifest as the complementary aspect of their physical correlate. Despite these findings, philosophical Idealism (“it is all in the mind’s eye”) keeps returning. These unworldly philosophers just refuse to give up. They choose simply to ignore the findings of physical science, namely that we have immediate knowledge of quantum phenomena. I have suggested that it depends on a religious function constitutive to the human psyche.
Physicist and philosopher Peter Russell (“From Science to God”) belongs to this ilk. He holds that mind (consciousness) is light and light is All (cf. YouTube, 2011, here). But it seems to me that this is just plain old Idealist philosophy. There is nothing essentially new. Perhaps he has presented a new slant toward subjectivistic philosophy — that’s all. The very same subjectivistic ideas have been preached during centuries but been refuted by science. Russell says that the outer world is totally unknown, like a black box that we cannot know anything about — the Kantian noumenon (cf. Wiki, here). Allegedly, our knowledge derives exclusively from conscious experience. But this is false. Science knows very much about the “black box” that is matter. It can explain our sensory experiences as generated by atomic and molecular factors. So, for instance, our sense of heat is generated by molecular movements. Presently, we understand it very well, unlike in Kant’s days. A blind physicist can determine the colour of an object by investigating its chemical and structural properties. Today we comprehend the causal factors in material objects that generate our sensory experiences. Contrary to what Immanuel Kant believed, they are not subjectively constructed from something totally unknown. Subjectivistic transcendental Idealism has long since been refuted.
It is surprising that philosophers can continue peddling dead ideas, and yet people are buying into it. So there must be something to it — there seems to be a longing for a spiritual conception of the world. We cannot rule out that a subjective comprehension of life, i.e. a religious worldview, is essential to human beings — for our well-being and for social cohesion, etc. So it probably has to do with our instinctual foundation. We are drawn to such conceptions like moths to the flame. Yet, philosophical subjectivism has had deleterious consequences in Western culture. I discuss it in my article ‘Critique of Neo-Hegelianism’ (here).
Since Peter Russell is an accomplished physicist he knows that mind inheres in light. However, by some trick of reason he manages to sweep its material aspect under the carpet, formulating a kind of Idealist perspective. Science has proved that some form of Realist epistemology is necessary, so Idealism (i.e., Kantianism et al.) is dead. However, we cannot rule out an ontological Realism of Platonic hue, and that’s why many a scientist subscribes to Platonism.
Physicalism and representationalism, along with philosophical Idealism, have been deprecated and should be regarded defunct. Let them rest in peace.
© Mats Winther 2017
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