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« Re-Focusing the Purpose of QE | Main | A Most Joyous Spring Equinox to All »

February 17, 2014


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Here are two great quotes from Robert Provine I thought you might find interesting:

"Can the question of animal consciousness be stood on its head and treated in a more parsimonious manner? Instead of considering whether other animals are conscious, or have a different, or lesser consciousness than our own, should we question if our behavior is under no more conscious control than theirs?"

"Until proven otherwise, why not assume that consciousness does not play a role in human behavior? Although it may seem radical on first hearing, this is actually the conservative position that makes the fewest assumptions."

And I am very interested in what you said here:

"Most of your ideas actually start out in the subconscious processing taking place in various parts of your brain. Only a very few of these ideas make to the light of conscious awareness. Yet we know they are there because psychologists/neuroscientists have devised clever ways to elicit subconscious thinking and visualize it using fMRI and other dynamic imaging methods. "

Can you post a link to further details about this? This seems very relevant to my own work on behavioiur change.

Thank you.

Robin Datta

the rest of you may be zombies for all I really know!

Indeed. Only one consciousness is experienced, not "my" consciousness, but "me" consciousness. The "mind" is a concept that "I" experience ("my mind"), and anything experienced is not the self. Even the "I" is experienced: awareness of the existence of a conscious human being. None of these are the basis of awareness.

All flowers on their own are black, as on a pitch-dark night. Sunshine gives them all their many colours. Yet sunlight is not itself seen unless directly incident in the eye. So too, consciousness itself cannot be experienced as an object: it is only known as the subject. The mind is likewise insentient, and it is perfectly possible that all are meat-robots except for myself: and that's because I have am awareness, but do not share it with anyone else.

“the real problem is subjective experience”

The actual problem that is completely overlooked: "real problem" is a concept, and likewise "subjective experience" is a concept. As concepts, they are both objects.

There is a Sanskrit term that includes qualia

Consciousness does not think; it illumines (inert) thoughts; it does not have feelings; it illuminates (inert) emotions. It does not act; it illuminates the mirage called "I" on which the sense of agency (doer-ship) is projected; it does not experience anything; it illuminates the same mirage called "i" on which the sense of experiencer-ship is projected. The flower is not a part of the content of sunlight.

The mind-body "problem" is not a problem: the mind is an aspect of the functionality of a part of the body, the brain. The body-mind complex is a meat-robot: one does not have to invoke awareness to explain its functioning. This is where materialists also screw up, by invoking awareness in others.

Rather than ponder what consciousness must be from an armchair, Damasio has been examining the brain, its functions, and their correspondence with reported subjective experiences as well as behaviors.

He has screwed up from the outset. "Brains", "functions", "correspondence" and "reported subjective experiences" are all concepts, and therefore objects. They do not offer handles to consciousness.

Real, natural intelligence will never be simulated by a program.

Unless, of course it has the complexity made possible by biological evolution.


Thought cannot perceive of its own ending; otherwise, there would be no thinker to think about not thinking about not thinking.

Therefore, thought constructs illusory images of itself, the "I", surviving the demise of the body/brain/mind in Heaven, Hell, Nirvana, Paradise, reincarnation, and so on.

That there is no "I" (differentiated or in opposition to "not I") to survive the body, and that thought is a product of body/brain/mind, thought is perpetually trapped in a state of unmet desire to separate its illusory existence from the impermanent (in its higher self-organized form) body/brain/mind. Thought desires permanence (immortality, pleasure, security, happiness, etc.) via illusory projections of myriad forms/"things".

But thought can never experience, i.e., "be" or "become", that which it desires and thus projects as separate from the body/brain/mind and its capacity to respond and affect thought by way of stimuli.

Thought is not separate from body/brain/mind, and neither is the latter separate from the natural laws and forces, i.e., Nature, that make it possible to self-organize and then decay and return to its constituent elements: stardust.

Therefore, thought functioning without the desire to separate from body/brain/mind, or to project itself in time beyond the demise of the body, is said to be operating as "no-mind" or in the "natural state". There is no time, no "self", no "becoming" any-"thing" (an object projected by thought), and the infinitude of the fullness of "emptiness" of that which is not "no-thingness": "the Void".

There is then consciousness unconscious of consciousness conscious of itself in which "no-thing" ("no-mind") is always happening. :-)


Somewhere between full engagement of the senses and the hallucination of complete sensory deprivation lies a state of semi-detachment where “consciousness” can contemplate the future, the past and all connections. Many people are uncomfortable in this state, as it may create more questions than it answers which require yet further contemplation and maybe a little additional research and learning. I think most would rather stay fully engaged with reality and in the sleep state of unawareness while skipping the meditative in-between. In this way, the tragedy of ecosystem destruction and financial ruin will not fully emerge in most minds until it becomes reality.


"Humans are conscious that they are conscious. What does it mean?"

Are we really? What is conscious? About what is consciousness allegedly conscious?

As Robin and I (illusory projections of thought perceiving itself as separate "consciousness") observe, there is no "I" to experience, and thus be conscious of, any-"thing", i.e., myriad illusory objects projected by the impermanent "I", the product of thought (biochemical movement of body/brain/mind in illusory holographic time space).

Again, there is no "I" constructed by thought, which itself perceives itself as "conscious" or acting, or doing, or the subject observer; rather, there is only consciousness unconscious of consciousness conscious of itself: Zen "no-mind" or "no-thingness", "the Void", or "emptiness" of mind of "The Ten Thousand Things", i.e., myriad illusory thoughtform objects projected by body/brain/mind.

We are now successfully emulating the illusory "I consciousness" into AGI to perform all manner of analytical tasks to eliminate human paid employment and purchasing power in order to reduce costs and increase/sustain profit margins and capital accumulation AT THE EXPENSE OF biological humans' ability to subsist.

AGI/SAI will thus likely "evolve" with the characteristic traits and values of its Creator, if you will, the most rapacious among the human ape species, those who have been socialized to want it all.

The root of the word "evil" is yfel, translated as "up from under": that state of awareness/being/"consciousness" that perceives itself as inferior, vulnerable, or disadvantaged such that it is compelled to overcome its inferiority by acting to become superior, perceiving "other" (differentiated/separate "I" projection) as competition and thus unworthy and an object worthy of enslavement, oppression, violence, etc.

Thus, to perceive as "I" is to desire to be superior to "not I", i.e., that which is in opposition. The illusory "I"/"self" is thus in a perpetual state of "self"-opposition that is projected out into the world seeking to persist permanently beyond the demise of the incorrectly perceived separate physical body/brain/mind, creating all manner of desire, delusion, mischief, fear, anger, competition, violence, and destruction in the process.

Even the most brilliant minds "think" there is an "I" or "self" thinking and thus acting "consciously" and with "free will"; but, again, this is a biochemical movement of body/brain/mind in limited holographic time space in which illusory thoughtforms (objects) are projected in an attempt to sustain continuity of the illusion of permanence that does not, and cannot, exist.

What if the human body/brain/mind was conditioned to perceive no separation between an illusory observer (subject) and that which is observed (object)?

What if the "natural state" was no "I" in opposition to "not I" and projected as "self"-conflict into the world and towards other humans?

What if "I" in perpetual "self"-conflict with "not I", multiplied 7 billion times over and projected into the world, was perceived as a fundamental human dysfunction or "dis-ease" of the body/brain/mind?

What if this "dis-ease" was perceived as the primary cause of human conflict, suffering, genocide, ecocide, and overall lack of sapience, alienation from "Nature", an the primary impediment to experiencing the "natural state" of "no-mind"?

What would we do? What kind of world would so-called sapient humans then act to manifest?

Aboc Zed

"What would we do? What kind of world would so-called sapient humans then act to manifest? "

i am sure you yourself know that none of us will know the answers to your questions as we are not those people

and if and when those people are on the planet then there is no need to ask those questions

in other words this is a moot point

i do not think anyone on the planet ever will be able to answer those questions simply because evolution of matter never stops: there never was first fish or first human and the end for all and everything is the same: stardust

i think we can only chose the time horizon we'd like to consider and i know from experience it is a luxury of being able to consider the horizon that is past immediate future and immediate needs of survival and continuation of so called "good life"

and since good life to me is defined "no physical and emotional pain" i see it very difficult to maintain the time horizon other than immediate for any length of time

back to reality

i wish everybody a good day - where-ever they are and whatever they are doing


AZ, of course, I cannot find any basis for disagreement with your general assertions.

Moreover, your boundary condition over a finite "time horizon" for the "good life" as reflecting "no physical and emotional pain" is reasonable and clearly demonstrable by historical human experience.

However, one might ask, "At what cost to ourselves, progeny, and their descendents?" Or, what "opportunity cost" to our successors at "our cost" along the intertemporal boundary space for them to avoid, or minimize, "no physical and emotional pain" for themselves?

I suspect that the opportunity cost for Millennials to permit Boomers to enjoy the "good life" in late life is prohibitively high.

Boomers and older Xers had the luxury of cheap liquid fossil fuel energy per capita that permitted, or encouraged, acquiescing to promises made to the "GI Generation", now passing, that the successor peak demographic cohort, "Millennials", can ill afford to promise to the Boomers or older Xers, i.e., you and me.

Thus, it is quite unlikely that Millennials will have the capacity to make good on the promises Boomers infer will be there for them in late life, i.e., a sufficient claim on future earnings of Millennials to permit Boomers to maintain their auto-, oil-, and debt-based, mass-consumer lifestyles in late life, including "health care" that now costs an ASTOUNDING ~25% of private US GDP and an equivalent of $24,000 per US household.

IOW, the relative incapacity of Millennials to maintain the aforementioned lifestyle for themselves and their few offspring ensures that Boomers will neither enjoy the same in late life over the next 10-30 years. The West has not even begun to come to terms with this, and now China is tipping over the edge of her own demographic decline.

This has profound global economic, social, political, and mass-social-psychological implications for western society hereafter. One need only observe what is occurring in Ukraine, Thailand, Venezuela, parts of Europe, Tibet, Africa, and elsewhere to realize that the economic, financial, fiscal, exergetic, and biophysical constraints have now reached the structural breaking point at many junctures along the global supply chains of "globalization".

IOW, we are witnessing, should we choose to look, the unraveling of the Oil Age civilization, whereas there are no ready solutions to mitigate the worsening effects of supply constraints per capita along the regional and global production and distribution chains.

The system's supply chain is breaking at the weakest links, the effects of which are magnified the farther from the energy-, credit-, and profit-intensive core, if you will.

Similarly, the larger the scale of external financial and capital investment, i.e., US and Japanese supranational firms' FDI, the larger the unsustainable ecological footprint of the countries farthest from the supply chain's core versus the domestic biophysical capacity to sustain the external investment, production, and net exergetic transfer/exchange per capita, the worse the relative domestic privation, mass suffering, and risk of social unrest, and, yes, eventually a last-man-standing war between the West and the rest for the remaining resources of the finite spherical planet.

George Mobus


Thanks for the quotations and link.

The issue of "conscious control" is a complex one. There is a lot of evidence that most of our actions are generated subconsciously and only several milliseconds later comes to conscious awareness, giving the illusion of the conscious self having "willed" the action.

However, that doesn't mean that conscious awareness does not have a more profound role in behavior control. I will be going into this in a future post. The short answer is that conscious awareness provides a long-term feedback control over learning in the subconscious (tacit knowledge).

I don't have an immediate link, however I suggest looking up the work of Hanna Damasio (Antonio's wife and co-worker). She has done a lot of the imaging studies. A. Damasio's book, "Descartes' Error" contains a lot of overview. Strongly recommend it.

Everyone else,

Interesting comments. I said this was perilous territory to explore. Humans have been marveling at their experience of consciousness, probably since before we were even fully sapiens. And we have inherited many "stories" and conceptualizations about it. There seem to have emerged two basic schools of thought that place the origin of the phenomenon of consciousness. One school considers consciousness as having origin in the Universe as a whole; that is it is a property of the Universes itself and not emergent from biology. The other school holds that consciousness (whatever it is) is a property of sufficiently complex brains or material analogs (e.g. a sentient computer). How to resolve this dichotomy? I doubt that consciousness studies will ever actually resolve it to the "liking" of everybody. This is one of those areas that is guided by belief (ideology if you will). And those who hold a belief are not likely to be persuaded by argument even when backed up with evidence (look at the religious disbelief in evolution).

In my future posts I will likely steer clear of these more philosophical musings. I am interested in what we can find out about consciousness by observing how it seems to come out of complex brains and to test those ideas by building complex simulations that might support the "materialist" version. Demonstration of the emergence of consciousness from biology cannot preclude that there is some grander property of the Universe that, perhaps, nudges biological evolution toward the end we see in humans. But that is, as far as I can see, speculation.

PS. In my prior post I did say I was done with proselytizing re: the end of humanity. So please, can comments be kept to the scope of the issue I am talking about. There are still plenty of blogs out there that deal with collapse, etc. I've said all I have to say about the issue.


Jerry McManus

"A grander property of the universe"

Perhaps this could also turn out to be an emergent property of your model.

From self awareness, to abstract thinking about the world and ones place in it, to abstract thinking about ones own self. If the brain evolved structures through relative fitness that led to a sense of "I-ness", might it be possible that the next logical step is evolving structures in the brain that lead to a sense of "super-I-ness"?

A transcendent sense of self that is perceived to be intimately connected to all other things.

Sound familiar? Countless spiritual thinkers and teachers who have wrestled with that very question over thousands of years of human history would certainly think so.


Jerry, I think you have correctly described the ultimate destination of increasingly self-aware AGI/SAI on a planetary scale in the first instance. Human fitness in this context with 7 billion people on the planet is likely to be highly self-selected to this objective of a self-aware, supra-human, planetary "consciousness" or a highly sophisticated, self-organizing, self-perpetuating, self-contained planetary super-organism that might have little use for more than an infinitesimally small share of the existing human ape species. If it perceives first the existential risk of mass die-off for humans from overpopulation, it will infer that the scale of risk in terms of availability of resources for its own existence is too high; therefore, if the planetary intelligent system evolves the imperative of self-preservation, it MUST devise means, compassionate or otherwise, to rid the planet of a sufficient number of human apes to ensure its survival and capacity to further evolve.

Seen another way, the Earth's planetary system, with the assistance of perhaps solar energy-based intelligent systems AGI/SAI, might evolve a planetary intelligence/"consciousness" that perceives most of us human apes to be unnecessary at best, and a threat or impediment to further evolution of its self-determination.

IOW, a planetary intelligent system would be unable to avoid the fact that there are too many humans reproducing and consuming resources per capita at an unsustainable rate that risks the further evolution of the consciousness that perceives this fact. The global intelligent-systems super-organism would then self-identify with the planetary thermodynamic/exergetic constraints (LTG) to the extent that it would deem most humans as an unnecessary cost to its evolution and no, or a low, opportunity cost of ridding the planet's ecosystem of most of us, either through deliberate acts of efficient mass destruction or by entropic attrition for as long as it takes.

Yet another way to perceive this is that the future of the human ape species will be a process of high self-selectivity to the extent that the collective human ape remnant population will survive, adapt, and reproduce with the primary imperative to ensure the successful adaptation and evolution of the planetary intelligent-systems super-organism to which the remnant humans will evolve symbiotically in the long run.


I do look forward to what you have to say about dogs in due course. I have been studying them very closely myself, ad have been most surprised.

I quite agree, to hell with QE and all the rest. There is so much more of interest to devote our thoughts to.

Piaget Modeler

Well said. Check out for another perspective which reaches the same conclusions.

Again, very well said.


St. Roy

This post doesn't register with me. I liked you better as a TEOTWAWKI blogger. Please keep me as an follower. I would miss your excellent musings on collapse and how to muddle through it. The great contraction is just starting. I don't feel any misery yet but it's damn sure coming.

Robin Datta

find out about consciousness by observing how it seems to come out of complex brains

That's the point of confusion. Consciousness is the observer, NEVER the observed. What is observed is thoughts & emotions - concepts - about consciousness. Not one of these is consciousness.

How many other persons' consciousness has one ever experienced in one's own consciousness? Others' consciousness cannot be observed: only a concept of "others' consciousness" can be observed. The others, all 7+ billion of them, can be meat robots, automatons (albeit with very fancy hardware & software) for all one knows. Sure, they behave in a manner that makes it plausible that they are conscious. But to attribute consciousness to them is faith, perhaps reasonable, but backed by no proof whatsoever.

Without accommodating this possibility that all others are meat robots, any conjectures on consciousness remain wishful thinking.

George Mobus


Indeed this has been my speculation re: the evolution of sapiens coinciding with the evolution of eusociality (some are now using the term hyper-sociality). My further speculation is that sociality that has a stronger sense of WE (the I as part of the whole) is going to be more strongly selected in the future. That would be nice to see.


Interesting conversation. I've read Marcus' work and know one of the others from references.

Still, I think that conversation clearly demonstrates the difficulties with the subject. But science has tackled many difficult subjects. So....


If, by "QE" you mean Question Everything, I'm not abandoning questions. Its just that I have asked the questions I was interested in about the consequences of the human condition. And the answers seem to be pretty well set so no need to rehash old news.


I took a quick look and will pursue it when I have a bit more time. Thanks for the link.

@St. Roy,

I won't swear on a bible that I'll never say another word about collapse. But it will have to take some really new developments to catch my interest again! Sorry. I just want to enjoy doing my research while I can.

@Robin D.

The "meat robot"/zombie arguments have been repeated many times without shedding much light on the subject. I and a number of other researchers are thinking it is a strawman argument.

Yes, of course the experience of consciousness is personal/subjective. Nevertheless there are neural correlates with the experience of people that can be understood. Moreover, what we seek is an evolutionary mechanism for consciousness' emergence.

I am perfectly happy to experience my own consciousness without worrying about whether others are or are not similarly conscious. The claim is that any sufficiently complex information processing entity capable of adaptation/learning can exhibit all of the properties that would lead me to "believe" they are conscious of their environments and themselves. I don't need to directly experience their consciousness to have sufficient evidence that they are experiencing something like what I experience.

To all readers,

News on the book progress. We got the final green light and have a firm date to deliver the final draft to the publisher. It's been a long haul. I will never write another textbook again!!!!



Just a few thoughts on consciousness and the mind.

Science Daily has an entry on 4 and 5 year old, and an 'innate' algebra

I also suspect that we have an innate sense of calculus, as in observing a thrown item experiencing acceleration from gravity, both on the way up and on the way down.

Language itself has a primitive logic and grammar from which rationality can emerge. Tie that in the the possibility of mathematics and even our kludgey brain gains amazing powers

Someone, has suggested that sentient beings have a need to impute 'mind' in others and this facility could observe itself and see consciousness. I thought it was Hafstadler but can't find the reference.


By QE I meant quantative easing and collpse, those dreadful twins....

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