Podcast No. 37 Posted 4/07/2011   Leave a comment

Podcast No. 37 Posted 4/07/2011

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TITLE:  Truths of Terasem – The “What” of Terasem  2.5 – 2.5.6

SUB TITLE:  Consciousness is the “Who” of Terasem

SUMMARY:  In this podcast we discuss why Terasem holds “consciousness” to be sacred, and why the philosophy that science will conquer death, is a basic Terasem belief.  Since the concept of consciousness is one for which our current science has yet to settle on an agreed upon understanding and definition, we look some of the prevailing ideas in this area.

Music  – “Earthseed” fades out, as the voice recording begins.

(Fred)  Hi, we’re Fred & Linda Chamberlain, with podcast 37 on the Truths of Terasem.  Today, we take a look at consciousness – what makes those of us who are alive and aware of ourselves and each other, so different from other entities in the universe.  Also, we need to talk about why the philosophy that science will conquer death is a basic Terasem belief.

(Linda)  Well, the first part of that isn’t going to be easily done in 20 minutes since current researchers in fields like neuroscience don’t agree about what consciousness really is.  They don’t even have a basic definition for consciousness that is generally agreed upon.

(Fred)  True.  But since we start this expansion with 2.5 “Sacred is consciousness, above all else, says Terasem” we do need to bring at least some kind of closure here so we can make sense of the rest of Truths for this week.

(Linda)  Okay, when I was in my early twenties and grappling with the question of consciousness, I was most impressed by the ideas of Ayn Rand.  Even though that was nearly half a century ago, and neuroscience has made major strides toward understanding this mystery since then, I can’t think of a better place to start.  So, speaking through John Galt, in her great novel Atlas Shrugged, here’s Ayn Rand’s view of this concept.  Quote:

“Existence exists—and the act of grasping that statement implies two corollary axioms:  that something exists which one perceives and that one exists possessing consciousness, consciousness being the faculty of perceiving that which exists.

“If nothing exists, there can be no consciousness:  a consciousness with nothing to be conscious of is a contradiction in terms.  A consciousness conscious of nothing but itself is a contradiction in terms:  before it could identify itself as consciousness, it had to be conscious of something.  If that which you claim to perceive does not exist, what you possess is not consciousness.

“To exist is to be something, as distinguished from the nothing of non-existence, it is to be an entity of a specific nature made of specific attributes.  Centuries ago, the man who was—no matter what his errors—the greatest of your philosophers, has stated the formula defining the concept of existence and the rule of all knowledge:  A is A.  a thing is itself.  You have never grasped the meaning of this statement.  I am here to complete it:  Existence is Identity, Consciousness is Identification.”

(Fred)  Aw, yes.  Inspiring, indeed.  But Jeff Hawkins, who founded the Redwood Neuroscience Institute and started the Palm hand held computer back in the 1990s, with a more modern view of how the brain works, reminds us, in his book On Intelligence, Quote:

“The brain is an organ that builds models and makes creative predictions, but its models and predictions can as easily be specious as valid.  Our brains are always looking at patterns and making analogies.  If correct correlations cannot be found, the brain is more than happy to accept false ones.  Pseudoscience, bigotry, faith, and intolerance are often rooted in false analogy.”

(Linda)  That is definitely a must read book!  In fact, I’d like to quote a little from it, too.   Hawkins recounts a casual conversation with other scientists at dinner after a conference as a way to portray the difficulty any one, including neuroscientists, have with even discussing the subject of consciousness.  Quote:

“A British scientist was holding forth on her ideas about consciousness and said, “Of course, we’ll never understand consciousness.”  I disagreed, saying “Consciousness is not a big problem.  I think consciousness is simply what it feels like to have a cortex.”

“A silence fell on the group, then an argument quickly ensued as several scientists tried to educate me on my obvious error. I don’t think I changed anyone’s mind about the existence and meaning of consciousness.  But I was trying to get them to realize that most people think consciousness is some kind of magical sauce that is added on top of the physical brain.  You’ve got a brain, made of cells, and you pour consciousness, this magical sauce, on it, and that’s the human condition.  In this view, consciousness is a mysterious entity separate from brains.  That’s why zombies have brains but they don’t have consciousness.  They have all the mechanical stuff, neurons and synapses, but they don’t have the special sauce.  They can do everything a human can do.  From the outside you can’t tell a zombie from a human.”

“The idea that consciousness is something extra stems from earlier beliefs in elan vital—a special force once thought to animate living things.  People believed you needed this life force to explain the difference between rocks and plants or metals and maidens.  Few people believe this anymore.  Nowadays we know enough about the differences between inanimate and animate matter to understand that there isn’t a special sauce.  We now know a great deal about DNA, protein folding, gene transcription, and metabolism.  While we don’t yet know all the mechanisms of living systems, we know enough about biology to leave out magic.  Similarly, no longer do people suggest it takes magic or spirits to make muscles move.  We have folding proteins that pull long molecules past one another.”

(Fred)  Okay, here’s another good thinker.  In the introduction to the book Daniel C. Dennet co-authored with Douglas Hofstadter, called The Mind’s I (like “me”, not the little round things on your face) Dennett tells us, quote:

“You are a center of consciousness.  But what in the world is consciousness?  Consciousness is both the most obvious and the most mysterious feature of our minds.  On the one hand, what could be more certain or manifest to each of us than that he or she is a subject of experience, an enjoyer of perceptions and sensations, a sufferer of pain, an entertainer of ideas, and a conscious deliberator?  On the other hand, what in the world can consciousness be?

“So far there is no good theory of consciousness.  There is not even agreement about what a theory of consciousness would be like.  Some have gone so far as to deny that there is any real thing for the term “consciousness” to name.

“The mere fact that such a familiar feature of our lives has resisted for so long all attempts to characterize it suggests that our conception of it is at fault.  What is needed is not just more evidence, more experimental and clinical data, but a careful rethinking of the assumptions that lead us to suppose there is a single and familiar phenomenon, consciousness, answering to all the descriptions licensed by our everyday sense of the term.”

(Linda)  Yes, as important and central as this very concept of consciousness is, it is definitely wrapped in a shroud of confusion!  So, rather than just keep adding to the pile of quotations, I suggest we look at what Martine Rothblatt has to say about all this in her wonderful blog on Mindfiles, Mindware, and Mindclones, the specific issue is dated July 14, 2009.  Martine discusses consciousness at great length, not just the physical attributes, like the folding of proteins, but the philosophical significance of consciousness.  We can’t read that whole blog to you today!  We can only dredge out some of the best jewels.  But, by all means, do go to that issue and read it.  Let me quote from Martine:

“The biggest problem with discussions of consciousness is that people are not sure what they are talking about. This is because consciousness is what Marvin Minsky calls a “suitcase word.” Such a word carries lots of meanings, so there are constant problems of comparing apples to oranges in debates about consciousness. For example, most people speak of consciousness as if it was one thing, self-awareness. Yet, surely baby self-awareness is different from adolescent self-awareness. The self-awareness of an octopus (if it exists) may well be quite diminished – or advanced — compared to that of a cat (if it exists).”

“To determine if software will become conscious we need a tighter definition for consciousness than self-awareness. We also need a definition that requires sentience, but is not satisfied with it alone. Most people will not be satisfied that a software being is conscious simply because there is something “that it is like to be” that software being – any more so than we think a fish is conscious because there may be something “that it is like to be a fish”, or a bat, or any other being. Experience, per se, is not what most people really mean by consciousness. There must also be an independent will – something akin to what is thought of as a soul – and also an element of transcendence – a conscience. Finally, we need a definition that can span a broad range of possible forms of consciousness.

The Continuum of Consciousness

A comprehensive solution to the consciousness conundrum is to adopt a new approach – “the continuum of consciousness” — that explains all of the diverse current views, while also pointing the way for fruitful quantitative research. Such a “continuum of consciousness” model would encompass everything from seemingly sentient animal behaviors to the human obsession with how do others see me. It would provide a common lexicon for all researchers. Hence, the definition of consciousness needs to be broad but concrete:

Consciousness = A continuum of maturing abilities, when healthy, to be autonomous and empathetic, as determined by consensus of a small group of experts.

Autonomous means, in this context, the independent capacity to make reasoned decisions, with moral ones at the apex, and to act on them.

Independent means, in this context, capable of idiosyncratic thinking or acting.

Empathetic means, in this context, the ability to identify with and understand other beings’ feelings.

Feelings, in this context, mean a perceived mental or physical sensation or gestalt.

Small group of experts means, in this context, three or more individuals certified in a field of mental health or medical ethics.

This definition says a subject is a little conscious if they think and feel a little like us; they are very conscious if they think and feel just like us. It is a human-centric definition because when people ask “is it conscious?” they mean “is it in any way humanly conscious?”  In other words, conscious is a shorthand way of judging whether a subject “thinks and feels at all like people.”

(Fred)  Great!  We finally have a useful definition of consciousness.  So now we can move on into the rest of the expansion for this week.  The good news is, that with all the time we’ve spent trying to develop a definition and an understanding of what consciousness is, the following truths speak pretty much for themselves and need no further elaboration.

2.5 “Sacred is consciousness, above all else, says Terasem”.  Some may feel more comfortable by replacing the word “sacred” with the word “revered” giving this a more secular tone without changing the meaning or the importance.

2.5.1   “Sacred consciousness is respected by Terasem’s commitment to diversity, unity and joyful immortality”.  I think that one pretty well stands alone.

In 2.5.2 we find “Athanophy, the philosophy that science will conquer death, is a basic Terasem belief”.  This is the whole hub or cornerstone of this podcast, yet we must not get lost in arguing that science alone can conquer death, or that it is inevitable that it will do just that.  We’ll simply take it as self-evident that in a constructive sense, nothing that has ever been conquered has been conquered any other way.

Martine Rothblatt’s blog on Mindclones together with Mike Perry explanations in Forever for All of a “continuer” as a valid form of identity survival seem sufficient.  In this Truth, “Rational conviction” might be a better term, than “belief,” for the idea that science will conquer death.  I’ll add only what I think may be the most profound, reality-based philosophical position I’ve ever seen, on the nature of life.  It comes from the same source quoted earlier by Linda, from Galt’s speech in Ayn Rand’s novel, Atlas Shrugged.

“There is only one fundamental alternative in the universe, existence or non-existence – and it pertains to a single class of entities: to living organisms.  The existence of inanimate matter is unconditional, the existence of life is not: it depends on a specific course of action.  Matter is indestructible, it changes its forms, but it cannot cease to exist.  It is only a living organism that faces a constant alternative: the issue of life or death.  Life is a process of self-sustaining and self-generated action.  If an organism fails in that action, it dies; its chemical elements remain, its life goes out of existence.  It is only the concept of “Life” than makes the concept of “Value” possible.  It is only to a living entity that things can be good or evil.”

Ayn Rand’s entire series of novels pointed to the human mind as the creative furnace from which everything of value would come, and death itself being conquered, by the philosophical position of the above quote, would be its ultimate achievement.  Perhaps this, among many other ideas about life and death, will help to illustrate why the idea of death being conquered by science is such a fundamental belief of Terasem’s.

2.5.3    “Commitment to diversity ensures the precious individuality of consciousness”.  Again, we have stressed the importance of diversity vs. homogeneity many times.

2.5.4     “Regulated unity gives us the strength to protect consciousness against the many forces of chaos”.  Even though diversity is one of Terasem’s highest principles, it is still understood and appreciated that such mechanisms as affirmations, celebrations and goal directed gatherings help us to grow conceptually and not lose sight of our principles and our goals.  Processes like yoga and meditation keep our minds and our physical bodies in their peak condition.  These are all discussed at length in other podcasts, too.

2.5.5     “Eupsychic joy arises from the sacredness of consciousness, which forges an ethical society devoted to self-actualization”.  Can’t think of anything that could add to that beautifully wording.

2.5.6      “Distributed intelligence, via dividualization and universal self-replicating systems, honors the sacredness of consciousness with immortality”. That takes us full circle, to 2.5.2   “Athanophy, the philosophy that science will conquer death, is a basic Terasem belief”.

These sub-elements are, in themselves, a fascinating entryway to further exploration along the lines suggested in the Terasem Pledge’s principle of “education persistently”.  For example, under “Athanophy”, in “everything squared” on the Internet, we find: “Neologism for a philosophical system that offers a possible means of overcoming death scientifically, coined by Michael Perry in 1991.”  Other hits point to the same source.  In any case, that’s about as much depth as we have room for, this time!

(Linda)  Next week, we’ll discuss Terasem’s immortality theology, creation theology, reality theology, meaning-of-life theology. behavioral theology, and moral theology.

(Fred)  Find out more about joining Terasem at terasemfaith.net. “Waking up in cyberspace” can be pursued by way of CyBeRev.org or LifeNaut.com, no fees to participate.  And if you want to preserve your DNA very inexpensively, you can do that at LifeNaut.com, too.

(Linda)  Again, as we said last week, but can’t say often enough, big kudos to Mike Clancy, at Terasem, who created the new maze based game for the Android that you may find surprisingly addictive. It works very well on a touch screen device and, in fact, it’s a very natural match for the new Android tablets coming out – it will take advantage of the larger screen resolutions to generate bigger and even more intricate mazes. Right now, the difficulty ramps up pretty quickly with multiple layers, “motor neurons”, plaques that obstruct your path and macrophages to hunt you down.

(Fred)  Here’s the premise from the introduction to the app: “You are an artificial intelligence charged with controlling a nanobot inside a human brain. The brain belongs to a person who has just been resuscitated after being cryonically stored for almost 50 years. You have been chosen because, ironically, the person being restored to life is the same person on whom you (the AI) were based! Their mannerisms, personality, recollections, feelings, beliefs, attitudes and values were recorded and stored with the CyBeRev project and later coupled with mindware to create your digital persona.

(Linda) And if you still need to blow a few more of your neurons, go to   mindclones.blogspot.com for fascinating discussions about mindclones, mindfiles and mindware.  And if you want to read the text of our podcasts, to help to dig deeper into the details, and maybe find websites that you weren’t able to write down, go to truthsofterasem.wordpress.com.

(Fred)  If you’ve been enjoying the music that we use on this podcast series, it’s called Earthseed.  It’s the Terasem Anthem.  It was written by Martine Rothblatt, who also plays the flute and the keyboard.  If you’d like to experience that music in a video, with spectacular astronomical artwork, go to the Join! tab on the terasemfaith.net website.

(Linda)  Join us, and our quest for an endless future…

(Fred)  Come with us – into Tomorrow!

 Closing music – no fade – full length.

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Posted April 24, 2011 by Truths of Terasem - Podcasts in Uncategorized

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