robots and consciousness

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

6:15 AM. About robots. I am going to do a workshop on reprogramming robots at the end of next month, but my view of things is expanding and changing so quickly that I can’t imagine what my theoretical framework will be by that time. I don’t know how long ago it was, but it wasn’t all that long ago that I was thinking of robots as a problem. Then they became seen as more symptoms than the problem itself. Then I started to see them as easily self-correcting, then as an opportunity. Now I see them as not robotic at all, but aspects of consciousness functioning at a different level, with us ourselves perhaps being the robots that a higher level of consciousness has to deal with. Time to change the metaphor?

Time anyway to do more thinking about the subject – that is, to recalibrate consciousness, which in a way is what thinking is, or to reprogram yourself (as we shall explain) which is also what thinking is, except that this is a particular kind of thinking done in a particular way.

In all this, you’re going to have to realize that you are not reinventing the wheel. Are not, should not, and in any case could not. An attempt to do so would be futile and misleading and ultimately discouraging to anyone who tried to follow that new truth. We are saying, in short, you should–

That was getting away from me.

The use of the word “should” in a directive way always has that effect on you. No harm. We merely point out that religion, medicine, psychology, all the social sciences and hard sciences, all religious and metaphysical thought is to be considered a resource, not an obstacle. Think of them as containers of symbols that you can unpack and then re-pack, with a great gain in processing power.

I hear you intending to say that we can come to a much more sophisticated and powerful understanding of what you are telling us if we will look into the accumulated wisdom of various disciplines to find examples of what they know that we can profitably reinterpret in light of this material, and so come to the same material from more than one viewpoint, in more than one context.

As before, it seems to us that this is just what we said. Very well.

Now. Let us move away from the analogy of robots. Just as we first used strings-and-rings, as you call it, in order to loosen previous concepts, and are now humanizing the concept by referring to person-groups, so we used robots to loosen your connection to automatic behavior and will now proceed to humanize the concept by tying it in to other things.

You will bear in mind that we said you deal with three layers of being at once, a larger group of which you are but a thread, your own group that you often think of as “I” and the smaller groups each of which you experience as one thread in your own group. (This disregards the fact that you may at times see more than one layer up or down the chain, and also may sometimes hold in consciousness both the layer above and that below. Such experiences happen; for the moment we disregard them for the sake of conceptual clarity and simplicity.)

The other thing that you will have to remember is that “up” and “down” are spatial analogies. (For that matter, so are “inner” and “outer.”) There is no practical way to discard their usage and still say anything meaningful, but bear in mind that a thing may be both “bigger than you” and “smaller than you” at the same time. In fact, it may be at the same time bigger, smaller, and the same. There is no way to cram that fact into a spatial analogy, but it is no less true. One of your friends asked if it is “turtles all the way down,” and another brought up fractals. In both cases, that is an example of considering the information in different contexts, which, as we say, is a good way to come to more clarity. Not turtles and, for that matter, not “down.” But fractals are a pretty good modern concept like the theory and production of holograms, that illustrate in real terms what we’re saying.

It’s one thing for us to hear new concepts, but it becomes a far different thing when we can associate that concept with something we already know. Fractals started, I gather, as a mathematical abstraction. Computers are able to use the principle to produce very interesting artwork, for the effect is very pleasing to the eye. Therefore fractals as a concept, as a coherent mathematical relationship, become more graspable to us because they can be seen. Wikipedia or somewhere on the web must have a simple explanation of fractals and holograms. Probably it would be worthwhile to look at the definitions – keeping this context in mind – unless you already know about the theory behind them.

As to “turtles all the way down,” the difference between the very ungrounded nature of that pseudo-explanation of the world and this attempt at coming to analogies that we can grasp should be evident. (It occurs to me, some may not know about it. Someone once pretended to explain things by saying that the world actually rested on a huge turtle, which is why and how it moved. But then, what did that turtle rest on? Another turtle. And that one? “It’s no use, it’s turtles all the way down.” A good example of an explanation both nonsensical in itself and entirely useless and incapable of being given a context in our everyday lives.)

You see, we have you doing ever more of our work. Very restful. To proceed:

Your consciousness as it exists – that is, what you have available to work with, moment by moment – is neither stable nor uniform nor consistent nor self-aware. And spelling this sentence out in detail will occupy the rest of the time available in this session.

If you had your person-group – your various active threads – welded into a unit, or (to use a more biological analogy) functioning as a team under your continuous awareness, your experience of consciousness would be a very different thing, and you would be – will be – in effect a different, more effective, more fulfilled, person, with greater potential opening up as you gained greater control.

As it is, you function haltingly, partly paralyzed, scarcely a unit in function at all. This is not the fault of moral flaws, and therefore cannot be corrected by moral laws or attempts at “self-improvement.” (Such attempts will have their own effects and rewards, but not this one.)

It is not the result of ignorance, and therefore cannot be corrected by the acquisition of knowledge. (The acquisition of knowledge may be good in itself – including the perception of the nature of good and evil, for instance – but can only act as catalyst, at best.)

It is not the result of “karma” in the sense of paying for past sins, (though we can see how it may look that way, in that as you judge your progress you say to yourself, “if I had been born as a better package I’d be further ahead.” This is entirely incorrect and at any rate irrelevant. Your aunt, not having wheels, is not a tea cart.)

Least of all is it the result of chance, which plays no part in any meaningful way.

So then, you ask, why is it?

Is because you are a work in progress, as are we, and as our each of your constituent sub-consciousnesses.

We’d better explain your use of that word, or people are going to latch on to the conventional psychiatric use of the term subconscious.

That wouldn’t be so misleading, but for the chance associations anyone may have. That is, it is unpredictable what associations any given person may have to the word and concept of the subconscious, as used in Freud etc. We are open to suggestion for an alternate term, given that you know our meaning.

Well, I don’t know, but it ought to be a term that can be adopted to higher or lower levels and remain obviously connected, as Freud did with id and superego.

Let us, then – at the price of some imprecision that will come back to haunt us after a while, an acceptable price – let us refer to higher and lower consciousnesses, higher meaning the consciousness of the group to which you are a strand, lower meaning the group that is in itself but a strand of yours.

Or maybe something that will imply more complex or less?

In either case it will be misleading, as the consciousness of a “lower” level may actually be more developed than that of a “higher” one, and may have to contend with other strands of quite varying consciousnesses.

I see. But subconscious still seems practically designed to cause misunderstanding.

Let us, then, experiment with saying strand-consciousness. No, better, strand-mind, person-mind, group-mind, meaning the consciousness of lower, “individual” and higher levels, respectively.

Hmmm. A relative concept. That may work. Relative to whatever layer you’re examining, there will always be a strand below or a strand above, or your own level.

See it thus:

Group-mind – the consciousness of the higher group – your guys upstairs – of which you as a person-group are one strand.

Person-mind – the consciousness you experience day-to-day as a person-group.

Strand-mind – the consciousness of the lower-level person-group that seems to you only a strand in your web.

This creation of a specialized jargon is in a way regrettable, but cannot be avoided if we are to pack enough concept into symbol to continue your education.

Understood, and you and I together ought to be able to keep it pretty simple.

Yes. Too simple, in some ways. But a start, anyway. To understand A you have to understand B, but —

As Bob Monroe used to say, you do the best you can.

To move back several paragraphs – your person-mind is a work in progress, as is our group-mind, and each strand-mind.

Yes, much clearer.

The progress of any given “level” does not depend upon, or affect, any other “level” – and yet it does.

Care to explain that?

Not in a word, and not today. We’ve accomplished something. Let’s rest.

You were going to spell out the implications of the sentence about how our consciousness as experienced – our person-mind, I guess – “is neither stable nor uniform nor consistent nor self-aware.”

Yes, but other things had to be cleared up, as it turned out. Let us say this: That sentence is true continuously at all levels – strand-mind, person-mind, group-mind – because everything is alive and moving and everything affects everything else (there being no “units,” but only one thing). As the consciousness of any one level fluctuates, so everything it connects to is affected; and so reciprocally. Enough for now.

Yes, I am pretty tired; I can always tell because my handwriting becomes painful to do – and, for that matter, painful to decipher. Next time.


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