Dr. Donald DeGracia, NIH Medical Scientist Talks Yoga and Consciousness |388|

Discussion in 'Skeptiko Shows' started by Alex, Sep 4, 2018.

  1. Don DeGracia

    Don DeGracia New

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    Hi again Dan!

    The manifest world is vibrations of consciousness.

    I try to point out in the book that materialism and idealism are actually the exact same viewpoint. We are conscious of "stuff" that includes the world we perceive, the emotions we feel, the thoughts we think, the desires and motivations that drive us. All of the stuff we are conscious of is the screen of our consciousness. If someone takes the world we perceive to be the "source" of the other stuff we are conscious of, they are a materialist. If they take our thoughts and mind as the source of the other stuff we are conscious of, they are idealists. In either case, they only know of what is on the screen of consciousness.

    This is the value of learning the yogic view of consciousness and of the nature of the mind. It teaches that the screen is only the surface of the mind and that the mind goes very deep. Most of what the mind consists of is hidden from our consciousness and is what I call the cave of consciousness. The cave is the mind in its totality. At the heart of the mind, at its center, like the center of a cyclone, is the bindu, the link between what is in the mind and what is outside of it. The outside of the mind is the Absolute.

    The model is like training wheels. It is only meant to help visualize what yoga teaches for newbies. As you learn more and more about it, you see that the model is a nice overlay, but it is not the beginning nor the end of understanding. As your understanding deepens, it becomes less and less important to be intellectual about any of this. It becomes more and more important to understand your own mind and to pull back the darkness hiding its depths, and to discover and become conscious of what's in your own mind. The more you do this and the deeper you go, that is what matters. This is the transition from someone who doesn't do yoga to someone who does do yoga.

    Remember, yoga is not sitting funny on a blue mat. It is not exercise. It is not even meditation. Yoga means "to join" and it refers to joining yourself to the Source of your being, which I call the Absolute, using van der Leeuws word. It is recognizing you are the Absolute. And I am the Absolute. And everything you are conscious of is the Absolute. And where the sliding scale comes in is that some parts of the Absolute seem to be aware they are the Absolute, and other parts are less and less aware they are the Absolute. Metaphorically, it is a sliding scale between the light of self-awareness, and the darkness where self-awareness is lacking. It is a sliding scale between awareness of one's true being, and ignorance of one's true being. The light of consciousness or the darkness accompanying lack of the light of consciousness and all the shades of grey in between.

    As Buddha said, Buddhism is a boat you use to get to the other side, after which you no longer need the boat. This is a metaphor of the role of our intellect. You need the right intellectual understanding to act as a boat to move you in the correct orientation to life and existence. But once the orientation is achieved, there are other things you need to do that are more important, and the intellectual constructs get set aside, being recognized as the training wheels they were to get you where you needed to be.

    So, yes, your intuition is spot on from what I can see, and its just a matter of orienting your thoughts properly so you can see beyond the ideas themselves and on to the important business of doing the joining. I hope this is not self-assuming on my part to have said it in this fashion, but it is the perception I got from reading your posts.

    All my best and off to dinner now!

    Don
     
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  2. Steve

    Steve Member

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    Intuition is an under-appreciated gift.
     
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  3. David Bailey

    David Bailey Administrator

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    Multi-layer networks were certainly around in the 90's, but training them was quite expensive - possibly 'deep networks' refers to a better training method - I am a bit saturated with mental tasks right now(!!), so I will follow up that suggestion later!

    My impression back then, was that neural nets could perform some useful tasks that were very much analogous to the non-conscious processing that goes on in the brain - e.g. cleaning up the visual information coming from the retina and audio data from the ears, and turning it into useful information - faces with names attached, words etc. As you say, this has shown some success. To me there is quite a sharp break between that sort of processing and the operation of the conscious mind. Traditional AI was meant to mimic the mind and interestingly, that seems to be the part of AI that isn't going to work.

    I am excited because I think the hype of AI has seeped into so much of life that when it fails it may finally make people re-think their ideas about the mind, and maybe science in general.

    I mean imagine the day when all the infrastructure planners realise that there just aren't going to be driverless cars operating in a remotely useful way! I have even seen suggestions on TheRegister that some GOOGLE demonstrations may not have been what they seemed, or were even total fakes! If true, this would seem an act of desperation.

    It was the failure of AI in about 1990 that really started me down the path away from materialism.

    Every time I drive, I try to spot complexities that would probably defeat a driverless car, and they aren't hard to find. Roadworks present a host of such features!

    David
     
    Last edited: Sep 14, 2018 at 2:07 AM
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  4. Steve

    Steve Member

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    AI seems to be hyped up. So far I’m relatively unimpressed.
     
  5. Michael Larkin

    Michael Larkin Member

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    Something clicked when I read this. Here's me, thinking of myself most of the time as an individual, one of many, when according to this the only true individuality is the absolute. One can't lose individuality as long as the absolute exists -- which is is to say forever. It kind of wheels around one's whole viewpoint like a gigantic horizontal Ferris wheel, bringing focus on the absolute rather than on the usual conception of individuality.

    I'm not sure I'm getting this across, but I am feeling it right now. We don't become Brahman, the absolute, God, MAL (Mind-At-Large), TWE (That-Which-Experiences) or whatever one's preferred term is for what is "on the other side of the bindu"; no, we've never not been the absolute. The absolute is the sole source of individuality, of "I-ness". It is the same "I-ness" in you and me and everyone else, and what we usually take as being individuality is mostly illusion, though sometimes the mask slips.

    An example of it slipping was when my niece and I were playing songs on a CD player for her mother (my sister), then in a hospice bed dying from the big C. When one song came on, just for an instant she was her old self and joined in with the song. She had a quite distinctive way of singing, a certain facial expression: it's difficult to describe, but just for one fleeting moment she was as we'd often experienced her when she was well and enjoying herself.

    It's not that her mask slipped (although I think it did, as it happens -- see the next para), so much as that when my niece and I saw her sing, our masks slipped. We glanced wordlessly at one another, a tear glistening in both our eyes, as if we were experiencing the same thing. For that moment, it was as if we weren't different people, so much as one person having the same experience at the same time. No sooner had it arisen, than the experience departed, and we've never spoken of it since (though now I've remembered it I may talk to my niece about it when I ring her this weekend, and find out if she remembers it as I do and whether she agrees with my analysis).

    I've mentioned a couple of times in the past an observation I've made: that when people are doing things they really like doing, you get a glimpse of their truest selves. Could be anything -- fishing/pottering in the garden for my dad, eating out for my mother, singing for my sister, playing for young kids in general. Why should this be? It strikes me a possible explanation is that when people do things they really like doing, they let the mask slip, and for as long as it does, they're not playing ego games. Ego recedes and they're closer to their truer natures.

    What then of psychopathy? Why are some people almost wholly devoid of genuine empathy? Why are they almost totally identified with their egos, rarely if ever letting the mask slip? As if they are practically all mask and little if any true self? I'd love to hear Don's opinion about this: for me, it's a bit of a fly in the explanatory ointment.
     
  6. dpdownsouth

    dpdownsouth Member

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    Me too. I think everything beyond the strictly material should be placed on a 1 - 100 'Truth-O-Metre' and adjusted accordingly as new data points come in. :)
    Was it Terence Mckenna who said, "An idea is worth entertaining if it's entertaining"? This way lies the truth.
    You're far from sounding like an idiot! Time may be a product of our minds, but I still feel process seems self-evident and somehow fundamental in life (at all levels). Even the act of inner realisation and hopping off the Dharma Wheel is a process, and process is sorta linked to time, no?

    But, please, I don't want to take up anymore of your time (illusion or not).... you've been very gracious in your replies, thanks.

    Re: The philosophy thing: Yes, I know it's the Hindu stance, and I hope my 'philosophy hitting a wall' phrase didn't come across as sarcastic or pompous..... it really wasn't intended to.

    I genuinely get the 'unitary absolute' concept, I just kinda rail against the illusion part, preferring to go with Niels Bohr's Complementarity, ie. this is real, but only at the correct level of application and description. Maybe I'm missing the nuance. :)

    This reminds me of a much overworked African concept called Ubuntu. It's often expressed as: 'People are people through other people.' Always struck me as a wonderful balance between individualism and community.

    Thanks again.

    Beautiful. Maybe it kinda ties in to what I was trying to get across with the idea of mind and matter as abstractions of a single projection from a higher order (ditto with entangled particles).
     
    Last edited: Sep 14, 2018 at 6:19 AM
  7. Don DeGracia

    Don DeGracia New

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    So true!
     
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  8. Don DeGracia

    Don DeGracia New

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    Hi David

    Yes, your impression of neural nets is correct. They mimic certain associative abilities that our brain and memory systems also share. These very much fall under the heading of "non-conscious processing". This is the kind of stuff I was referring to in the previous post. For sure computers will get better and better at these kinds of tasks as time goes on and as computer power increases and can better simulate the sheer number of computational elements operating in our nervous system.

    And yes, again you are correct that there is a quite sharp break between this and conscious processing. This distinction has been recognized for some time in the neurosciences, since at least the 1960s, if not long before in other academic contexts. I wrote an article about it on my blog you may be interested in: https://dondeg.wordpress.com/2014/10/31/the-beginning-and-the-end-of-consciousness-in-the-brain/ . This discusses Wilder Penfield's views. He was a neurosurgeon and one of the greatest neuroscientists of the 20th century (and of all time in my opinion).

    Yeah, a few people might re-evaluate after this round of AI hype fails. But it will cycle back around eventually. These things always move in loops of a sort.

    And finally...driverless cars. What a totally stupid idea!

    Best wishes,

    Don
     
  9. Don DeGracia

    Don DeGracia New

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    Hi Michael

    That was really interesting and really moving. Yes, it sounds like you are "getting it". I can take it one step further even. You're consciousness IS the Absolute. You have to distinguish between the contents of consciousness and consciousness per se. Consciousness per se is the expression of the Absolute in the Relative. It is never not present. It is the most immediate thing we experience:being conscious. In fact, being conscious is redundant. It is more like: being = conscious. There is no such thing as a big, dead, unconscious universe that is, that exists, that has being, and then there are conscious organisms here and there scattered through the galaxies. That is not what is going on here at all. To be is to be conscious. So, by the mere fact of existence, there is consciousness. All the things we perceive via are senses are conscious, even if we are not aware of it.

    As for pathology, you need to separate the contents from consciousness. The contents are always relative whereas consciousness per se is eternally the same. The contents are relative to structure, time, place. An atom is conscious but its structure and ours engender very different contents. Similarly, the contents vary among us humans, across age groups, across cultures, across history. What today might be pathological may in the past have been normal. What is pathological is a relative term completely. I am guess what you are calling psychopathology is behavior relative to, what? the average in 1st world Western nations today? Who has the psychopathology? The Midwestern farmer who believes in God and the Bible, or the San Fran tranny who is a biological man that believes he is a woman?

    van der Leeuw has a great discussion of the relative nature of morals and ethics in his book, where he points out that there are ALWAYS morals and ethics AT A GIVEN LEVEL. The moral relativism of post-modernism is just plain wrong. There is right and wrong that is true for each level. But what is right and wrong changes as one passes from level to level, say from childhood through teen, through adult and into old age. What is right for an adult may kill an infant, for example.

    There is one other level of relevance to your point that I know a lot about: if there is an organic disease or a brain disease. Alter your thyroxine levels and that can drastically alter your behavior and make it pathological. Destroy your prefrontal cortex and you may loose the ability to empathize. These are very real circumstances and are due to a broken human body, what we normally call a "medical condition". I like to distinguish these from the type discussed above that revolves around culture and belief systems. People with broken parts in their body do not bear the same moral responsibility as do people who are deluded by bad ideas but otherwise have a normal functioning body.

    So to summarize: consciousness per se vs the contents within consciousness. Consciousness per se is like light except instead of illuminating, it gives being. The contents are the shadow patterns that move and swirl within consciousness, creating the illusions that, taken collectively, Hindus call "maya" or "avidya".

    Thanks again for the really provocative and moving post, Michael.

    Best wishes,

    Don
     
  10. Michael Larkin

    Michael Larkin Member

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    Yes, this is primarily what I was thinking about: people who are psychopaths, who exhibit a brain defect. They're not all mass murderers; some appear superficially quite charming and able to fake being empathetic because they've learnt it's a desirable trait if they are to get on in life. They could hold very responsible jobs such as surgeons and do more good than harm, but not because they really care about others so much as to fulfil a narcissistic urge to be considered to excel.

    The really interesting point here is that you framed it in almost materialistic terms: the cause is a brain disease; as if consciousness originates in the brain, and if the brain is diseased, that may cause psychopathy. I'm not suggesting that you are in the least materialist: only that -- perhaps only for ease of communication -- that's the way you seemed to frame it.

    I'm inclined to Bernardo Kastrup's version of Idealism, in which the brain wouldn't be the cause of anything: it's an appearance of processes occurring in mind-at-large (MAL), just as we human beings on the whole (as dissociated alters of MAL), are. Everything is an appearance (on our screen of perception) of processes occurring in MAL. Some "things" (aka processes) appear animate, and some inanimate. Bernardo is very much against panpsychism; this from one of his papers, downloadable in PDF format from here:

    Abstract: I argue for a coherent idealist ontology that explains the facts of nature
    in a more parsimonious and empirically honest manner than mainstream
    physicalism and micropsychism. This idealist ontology also offers more
    explanatory power than both physicalism and micropsychism, in that it doesn’t
    fall prey to either the ‘hard problem of consciousness’ or the ‘combination
    problem,’ respectively. It can be summarized as follows: there is only universal
    consciousness. We, as well as all other living creatures, are but dissociated alters
    of universal consciousness, surrounded like islands by the ocean of its
    mentation. The inanimate universe we see around us is the extrinsic view of
    thoughts and emotions in universal consciousness. The living creatures we share
    the world with are the extrinsic views of other dissociated alters of universal
    consciousness. A physical world independent of consciousness is a mistaken
    intellectual abstraction.

    He refers to panpsychism here as micropsychism, viz. the idea that everything, even down to subatomic particles, is conscious. He vigorously rejects this. Everything is contained in MAL's (aka TWE's) consciousness, but not everything itself experiences consciousness. Only MAL's dissociated alters, viz. animate forms, do: each at different levels according to the degree of their complexity. Inanimate processes may appear extremely ordered and predictable (think of the periodic table of elements for example). Bernardo isn't denying the many exquisite patterns in nature, nor the value of science in modelling them (trouble is, science tends to reify the models and mistake them for the way the world actually is, as if external to and separate from consciousness).

    Incidentally, have you read any of Kastrup's work? The gateway to it (downloadable academic papers, YouTube videos, articles and books) is his website at https://www.bernardokastrup.com/. I suspect that much of what he says is compatible with your ideas on yoga, but you do have differences: for instance, your apparent view on panpsychism, and also you way of thinking of materialism and Idealism as equally mistaken concepts. I'm not so sure I agree with you on this last point. It could be that you simply aren't familiar with the flavour of Idealism that Bernardo promotes, which could be rather more subtle than other formulations.

    At any rate, and before I stray too far off the reservation, my point is that if psychopathy of the type we are discussing here is the appearance of a particular (animate) process occurring in MAL, then it's all part and parcel of that. Or, more in your sort of terms, part of the projection on this side of the bindu of Brahman includes the possibility of psychopathy. Or, in religious terms, God sanctions or at least allows a degree of evil in the world. Maybe this is the real meaning of original sin: the process of projection this side of the bindu seems inherently imperfect and flawed in relation to how we'd ideally like it to be.

    We have an urge to explain sin and evil. Just as we have to explain anything else that appears on our screen of perception, such as the apparent patterns and regularities of the universe (using the methodology of science). Could be our interpretation is neither here nor there, but rather a reflection of the way we model the world, which is always just that, a model.

    In the consciousness of the Absolute, maybe there are no patterns and regularities, no sin and evil. There's just the way the Absolute can't help but be. It's a way that allows some of us to occasionally glimpse reality when we are able to put aside our conditioning, which includes what we think of as reason, logic and language. This may involve meditative practices, contemplation, life experience, or sometimes pure serendipity, but no matter. It's all yoga: a way that could be not so much thinking "outside the box" as not thinking at all and instead liberating the direct perception of reality sans the overlay of conditioning.
     
    Last edited: Sep 15, 2018 at 12:57 AM
  11. David Bailey

    David Bailey Administrator

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    Don,

    Still on the subject of neural nets, from time to time I see it pointed out that a real neuron is more complicated than the standard model neuron in which inputs are weighted (positively or negatively) and then the neuron fires if the sum of the weighted inputs exceeds a threshold.

    I am unsure if that would make much difference - it certainly wouldn't make the setup transcendental - but do you think a higher quality neuron simulation would be of any additional value (particularly given that you would need considerable extra computer power per 'neuron' - so you would be trading 50 (say) simple neurons for one super one)?

    David
     
  12. Wormwood

    Wormwood Member

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    Thanks for taking the time to respond to everybody. It’d be fantastic if more guests did this!
     
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  13. dpdownsouth

    dpdownsouth Member

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    Psychologists call these experiences 'flow states'.
    Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flow_(psychology)

    Interestingly, these states seem to open a window to the miraculous. This is when inspiration descends, solutions are found, and sporting prowess can achieve the level of art. So, I suspect the perfected human nature is quite naturally miraculous.

    And I know the age of miracles has not past: This morning South Africa beat New Zealand (at home) in the rugby. I believe. :)
     
    Last edited: Sep 15, 2018 at 5:41 AM
  14. Don DeGracia

    Don DeGracia New

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    Hi David

    That is a really smart question and hard to address in a quick answer. I do a whole 2 hr lecture about the nuances of the nervous system along the lines you raise. Two key points:

    1. Real neurons are insanely more complex than any software coding method we've developed, and
    2. Neurons are only one of about a dozen specific space and time scales on which the nervous system functions.

    The two points are interlinked. A neurons is not only its synapses but the entire rest of the cell. A single (cortical) neuron has (on average) ~6000 synapses and seems to have as precise control over each synapses as Federal Express trucks do getting any conceivable item from an online vendor to your house. Each synapse has many mechanisms for acting as an individual entity. In fact, I teach that the neuron is not the computational unit of the nervous system: the single synapse is.

    But even then, synapses consist of way complicated molecular machinery, a lot of which we know about, and a lot that we still don't understand. So, in a nutshell, for real synapses on real neurons in real brains I can think of more questions about what we don't know than I could give answers.

    A rough outline (from my class notes) of the space-time levels is

    SYSTEM SCALE DESCRIPTION
    1. Single synapses 0.001 mm connection between neurons
    2. Synaptic microcircuits - 0.01 mm several synapses form a functional entity
    3. Dendritic subunits Functionally isolated regions of dendritic tree
    4. The whole neuron 0.01-0.1 mm
    5. Traidic circuits - 1 mm Local interactions of neurons within a region
    6. Bigger local circuits 0.4 - 1 mm Cortical columns ~ 100 neurons
    7. Topographic maps 10 mm organized based on sensory appartus
    8. Dedicated regions 100 mm Brodmann areas e.g. v1

    And even this breakdown is arbitrary, and we could go smaller and larger if we wished.

    The point is, each of these levels is its own computational level. There is by far no complete reductionist understanding of how lower levels are related to higher levels. Each level has to be taken in its own terms at present. How all these levels work together and interact with each other is a major challenge in modern neuroscience.

    In a nutshell, all of this neuroscience completely dwarfs anything in computers or computer science. There is not any comparison really.

    So, probably more than you asked for, but you know the old adage: "Watch out what you ask for when you ask a neuroscientist". (Haha, joking...just made that up, but it applies!)

    Best wishes,

    Don
     
    Last edited: Sep 15, 2018 at 7:49 PM
  15. Don DeGracia

    Don DeGracia New

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    It's my pleasure, Dan. I have tons of fun engaging with people intellectually.
     
  16. Don DeGracia

    Don DeGracia New

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    Hi Michael

    Thanks for the very interesting letter! A couple replies:

    >>you framed it in almost materialistic terms
    I perhaps wasn't as clear as I could be on this point. There is the interpretation about the link between physical structure and mind/consciousness/behavior that most people think of as dualism. The body is a machine or instrument through which consciousness enters the physical realm. The physical doesn't cause mental stuff, but does condition how the latter behave. Simple analogy: shorted out wires will not let electricity flow properly. The wire does not cause electricity, but is just the medium through which the electricity flows. A flaw in the wire will affect the behavior of the electricity. Similarly, a flaw in the body will affect the flow of consciousness.

    People consider this way of thinking dualism because it seems to imply a physical level, and some nonphysical level of mind. However, yoga is not a dualistic philosophy. It is more like panpsychism than any other Western philosophy viewpoint. Every level that exists is made of the same "stuff", which is in fact consciousness. But, by means that I do not pretend to know, and that are generally only alluded to in Hindu teachings, the stuff of consciousness compounds on itself producing ever more "dense" levels of being and energy. (The being and energy dualism is important in Hinduism and is called Shiva Shakti, whose dual structure is found at all levels). One of the claims of yoga is that, as one gets more and more advanced in the practices, the answers to how consciousness manifest into the physical become increasingly revealed. I've personally only traveled a very small way along the spectrum of these practices, but I've not encountered anything to contradict this claim.


    >>Everything is contained in MAL's (aka TWE's) consciousness
    Sorry, I don't know what MAL and TWEs are. And in fact, I am always wary of people who use acronyms. Believe me, being a working modern biologist, I am in the heart of Acronym Land on the mental plane! At least when we say DNA, or BSA, or GFR (and a million more I could write! LOL!) there is something concrete I can present that the acronym represents!

    No, I've not followed Kastrup's work so I don't want to say anything one way or the other about it. But I have had my run ins with the "Consciousness Studies" crowd. I will just say that I have a minimal desire to fraternize with this group, in general.

    As to my assertion that materialism and idealism are the same philosophical view, this holds for all the various shades of each I have encountered. The key to understanding my viewpoint is the idea of screen of consciousness vs the hidden depths of consciousness. I spent a lot of pages in Yogic View discussing the apparent self-contradiction of the term "unconscious", but nonetheless, it is real, and is present at every stage except Kaivalya. Anyway, my point is, the terms materialism and idealism in Western philosophy are just different ways to characterize the screen of consciousness, and that is why they are the same. Each simply emphasizes different aspects of what occurs on the screen.


    >>We have an urge to explain sin and evil.
    There is no sin or evil or bad in Hinduism. This point, in fact, is a major difference with Western traditions in both religion and philosophy. The Hindu word "dharma" indicates that each thing has its proper place in the whole. There is thus no sin or evil to explain. Again, what are taken as sin and evil in the West are seen in Hinduism as caused by taking something's dharma to be what it is not, of trying to have something be what it is not. Trying to fit a round peg into a square hole. When this occurs, there is disharmony, which is neither good nor bad, but simply one of the condition of the gunas (vibrations).

    For example, in Christianity, there is the idea of the Devil, and one finds all kinds of debate as to why God, if he is so perfect, would create evil. Even no less a genius than Leibniz spent brain power on this issue. However, in Hinduism, there are the Gods and the Demons who constantly fight. But one is not good and the other bad. Both exist and have a place and purpose in Creation. What the Hindu myths show over and over is that things get bad in the world when either the Gods act like the Demons or the Demons think they are the Gods. Again, such myths are conveying the idea of dharma, that all things have their rightful and proper place and when dharma is not respected (or understood), disharmony results.

    Of course, there is the fact that bad things happen to good people. Or so it seems. It is kind of simple minded to believe things can be framed so simply. I, for one, don't know everything about everybody. Therefore, I can't really go around and judge what happens to others. Even Jesus warned us about judging. Yoga teaches a three tiered morality: (1) be compassionate to those of lesser rank or who have misfortune, (2) be collegial with your equals, and (3) respect your betters. I've found this morality works really well for coping with day to day life. The trick to using it effectively comes in recognizing who in your life falls into each of these three categories. Sometimes it is obvious but sometimes not.

    Again, Michael, thank you for the very stimulating conversation!

    Best wishes,

    Don
     
  17. Michael Larkin

    Michael Larkin Member

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    Bernardo regularly uses only two acronyms. MAL (Mind-At-Large) is one, and TWE (That-Which-Experiences) is actually synonymous with it (contrast that with the many Sanskrit terms you frequently use). Bernardo started out using the first but now tends to use the latter. MAL isn't actually his concept: it originated in Aldous Huxley's Doors of perception:

    Each person is at each moment capable of remembering all that has ever happened to him and of perceiving everything that is happening everywhere in the universe. The function of the brain and nervous system is to protect us from being overwhelmed and confused by this mass of largely useless and irrelevant knowledge, by shutting out most of what we should otherwise perceive or remember at any moment, and leaving only that very small and special selection which is likely to be practically useful. According to such a theory, each one of us is potentially Mind at Large.

    The bolded part in particular seems to me to be consistent with the notion you've stated, that only the absolute possesses true individuality. So it appears that Bernardo, in using the term, is agreeing with you. I should note, however, the idea that the brain is a "thing" made of "stuff" that has a "function" isn't what I take from Bernardo's work, and (I opine) nor does he, notwithstanding his use of the the term MAL. I'd say that the brain isn't a thing with any inherent function. It's simply how a ("constrictive") process (one might almost say a thought) occurring in mind at large appears to human perception. The reifying of the brain as a functioning organ is just a somewhat convenient (though ultimately misleading) thing to do. Correlation ain't causation, as they say.

    In my understanding, nothing (no-thing) has any inherent function whatsoever. Everything is rather the appearance to perception of processes happening in MAL -- whether "animate" or "inanimate". This is why Idealism is a monistic concept. There's no place in it for materialism (also a monism), dualism, panpsychism, or naive interpretations of Hindu thought (gods and devils, etc.) or of any other religion.
    I can't tell you how much your saying this dismays me. It's so very dismissive, which wouldn't be so bad if you'd actually gone into what Bernardo says. However, as you admit you haven't, and seem to have no intention of doing so, I'm sorry to have to say it seems evidence of prejudgement and bias. It's actually a genetic fallacy, by dint of associating Bernardo with a crowd you frown on despite never having seriously studied what he has to say.

    Hence I suppose you'll have to trust me (since you probably won't be reading his work) when I say that Bernardo isn't part of the "Consciousness Studies" or any other crowd. He's a highly articulate and profound thinker -- at least your equal (besides being a philosopher, he started off his working life at CERN, having gained a phD in computer engineering), and deserves much more respect.

    I hope you'll understand that I've been making genuine efforts to converse with you, but I fear it hasn't really been a two-way process. You don't seem interested in what I've been trying to put across about Bernardo's work, or willing to at least think about it. On the other hand, I've been listening to you with an open mind. I particularly liked the insight -- nay actual experience -- I gained from the idea that the absolute is the only true individuality.

    I'm not saying our "conversation" has been totally useless, but it has been somewhat lopsided, and I feel truly deflated and cheesed off about that. 'Nuff said.
     
    Last edited: Sep 16, 2018 at 12:29 AM
  18. David Bailey

    David Bailey Administrator

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    Thanks for that - in a way that typifies all of biology - an almost unending mass of complexity. I don't know where you stand on this (and the question may be too loaded for you to answer before retirement), but I ceased to believe that all this complexity was created by natural selection a long time ago - partly as a result of discussions with Lone Shaman. It is feasible to imagine very simple systems evolving by NS, but as the complexity goes up, that only remains viable if lots of intermediate viable creatures walked this earth.

    The fundamental problem is that a new anything (protein, neuron, organ etc) only becomes selectable by NS when it has started to become useful. A half formed gene for a protease confers no advantage to the organism (but consumes some resources when it is transcribed), and when it first appears in active form, it needs a ready built control mechanism otherwise it destroys the cell that contains it! Thus much of evolution can't be guided by NS, and faces an impossible combinatorial hill to climb

    I know that has gone a bit off topic, but talk of the sheer absurd complexity of biology always raises the question, 'how could that have come about'.

    BTW, you didn't quite answer my original question as to whether you thought simulating more of the neuron complexity would produce a better artificial neural net. My hunch would be that an ANN with NF fancy simulated neurons would do the same job as an NN composed of traditional 'neurons' only somewhat larger - say 10*NF. Thus it might be easier to simulate 10*NF simple neurons rather than NF complex ones.
    David
     
    Last edited: Sep 16, 2018 at 2:09 AM
  19. Don DeGracia

    Don DeGracia New

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    Dear Michael

    I have offended you and I apologize for that. If you took me to belittle Kastrup's work and its importance to you, that was not my intention. I was expressing my weariness at the, as I say in Yogic View, facades of academic respectability that has been my experience in the consciousness studies writings. You are correct to say that I made the mistake of dint by association. If Kastrup does not fit into that framework, then I was mistaken and I am happy to stand corrected. Yes, it is certainly evidence of bias and prejudgement on my part, which I do not deny because, as my comments indicated, I am definitely biased against some things. It appears my bias was mistaken in this case and again, I apologize.

    I will leave it at that for the moment and save engaging in other issues if you wish to continue talking.

    Best wishes,

    Don
     
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  20. Don DeGracia

    Don DeGracia New

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    Hi David

    Those are very interesting points. I'll tackle them in reverse order.

    The question is: what aspects of the other complexity of neurons would you simulate? There are some factors that may enhance neural nets, such as simulating the higher order structures that synapses form, such as microcircuits. On the other hand, other complexities wouldn't add anything, for example, the genetic regulation of synapses that modulate the plastic behavior in the first place. The plastic behavior is already accounted for in the ANN models and adding an additional layer of the molecular details of how plasticity arises will only make the programming much more complex with basically no gain in functional output. You would have to go on a case by case basis and make a judgement if some additional form of complexity added anything new to the ANN functionality.

    Regarding natural selection (NS). I am part of a relatively small group of biologists who see dynamics as more important than natural selection. The dynamical behavior of physical matter sets the limits on what is possible to form in the universe. Natural selection is only a modulating factor on top of the dynamics. NS does not create form or function per se, but sculpts the forms or functions that dynamics allow.

    As to your specific example about intermediate forms, it is now well-known that genes are modular. They are called introns and exons, the exons being the coding modules. By the process of genetic recombination, you can shuffle exons and produce functionally new proteins pretty much de novo. This means that there is not a gradual transition from one functionality to another, but a discreet jump from one to the other. So, the idea of "transitional forms" is, for the most part, moot nowadays.

    Another issue, still quite unresolved, is how body forms arise from the genes. There is a lot known about structure and patterning in say Drosophila or nematodes, but the general principles behind the specific - and very complex - details are still not clear. I think this problem will be solved over the next decade or two though, and should shed a lot of light how genetic changes lead to the formation of new species. There is already good mounting evidence that speciation too is an abrupt process, like a bifurcation, and not a gradual processes with a continuum of transitional forms.

    Just as I have mixed feelings about spiritual stuff, so too do I have them with biology. Biology is still very primitive compared to modern physics. It is still mostly descriptive and lacks the generality of physics. This is changing however as more and more physicists take notice of and study biology. I am collaborating with a physicists and those guys consider biology to be "soft condensed matter" physics and are applying their formidable toolbox to biology. Once this approach hits a critical point, I think biology will topple and yield just as physics and chemistry have. Biology today is in the same condition of chemistry circa 1875 when it too was mostly just descriptive. Shortly thereafter the quantum revolution occurred and now, technically, chemistry is just a branch of physics.

    But, in the end, I am of the opinion that it is just as your intuition is indicating...what we are as living beings will always be beyond our ability to mimic in technology. We will mimic this aspect or that aspect, but life and especially mind, and double especially what we call "creativity" will always be beyond the grasp of not only our technology, but our complete understanding. Technology only produces automatons. They may appear to do some amazing things (for example music composing software) but behind the scenes, the programming creates rigid limits the program cannot transcend. On the other hand, humans transcend themselves all the time, as history attests.

    Thanks for the interesting conversation, David!

    Best wishes,

    Don
     

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