depistemology



I. The fundamental currency in all physical and cultural transactions is certainty based on either evidence or belief.


II. The demand for certainty, within any moment, is always greater than the supply of evidence.


12.09.2011


A general epistemology of cognition and consciousness
V.8.9  5/27/2016

 Why do we not understand the nature of consciousness? Why do we not know how our mind is integrated with our brain and body? Why do we find it hard to explain how we subjectively experience sensations? Why can’t we prove that we have free will despite the intuition that we have it? Why is there no consensus on a definition of consciousness? Do we have intrinsic biases that prevent us from understanding the totalized fundamental processes that constitute a mind evolving in nature?

 Our body, brain and mind are the evolutionary results of natural selection, the adaptations of our species to environmental conditions. Those evolving fundamental conditions have set the parameters of our physiological and cognitive adaptations. Our conscious cognition of fundamental conditions is a subset of our adaptation to an evolving environment.

 The existence of a species is dependent upon its successful coevolution with other species in a biome of relatively consistent environmental conditions. The survival of a species depends upon the successful conception, development, adaptation and reproduction of at least some of its organisms and the eventual death of all. The existence of an individual organism depends upon the previous successful conception, development, adaptation, reproduction and death of all of its ancestors and its survival depends upon a cooperative family or community within a biome of coevolving species. The consciousness of an individual originates within that cooperative tribe and is sustained within a community's language and culture. Our conscious cognition of those fundamental social conditions is a subset of our adaptation to an evolving environment.

 The scientific process of proposing a hypothesis, testing predictions, evaluating results and reformulating theories has produced a set of fine regularities that help us define specific and fundamental conditions. However scientific process limits physical and temporal variables in order for theories to be testable and for experiments to be replicable. Limiting physical and temporal scales implicitly assumes that the laws of nature are fixed and do not evolve or change. The cosmological implication of that assumption denies the existence of time. The results of evidence based scientific process is therefore limited to producing a gradually increasing probability of accuracy in defining subset processes within static fundamental conditions. Scientific inquiries must also be evaluated with statistical mechanics and the whole system models of system theory and quantum field theory. These models can be used to form hypotheses of dynamic whole systems which can be tested within subset processes.

 Biomes, species and organisms are defined in system theory as open systems within a closed system universe, a framework that integrates Newtonian thermodynamics, information theory and evolutionary theory. Biological open systems paradoxically conform to the Second Law of Thermodynamics by using free energy (energy in the environment available to perform thermodynamic work) to decrease entropy within their boundary and increase entropy outside their boundary. The fundamental condition of the non-equilibrium evolution of free energy to a generally higher entropy state includes areas of relatively constant temperature and pressure where autocatalytic chemical processes used free energy to lower entropy and instantiate order in prokaryotic organisms. Evolving prokaryotic organisms used free energy to symbiotically incorporate other prokaryotes or archaea within themselves to form complex cells. These cells use free energy to lower entropy and instantiate order in eukaryotic organisms of emergent levels of genetically reproducing species.

 Species and their organisms are maintained over time in a condition of homeostasis; the ongoing body regulation that decreases internal entropy so that internal states maintain relative constancy. Species and their organisms maintain homeostasis by updating internal states with sensory information, a process that can be modeled by Bayesian statistical inference. A prior probability distribution determined by genetics, epigenetic experience and conditioning is factored with a likelihood function determined by current sensory evidence to produce a posterior probability distribution or an updated working hypothesis of the world.


A theory of knowledge 

Premise 1: Time is real, the Second Law of Thermodynamics implies an irreversible arrow of time so the laws of nature are not fixed, they evolve. (Unger and Smolin)

Premise 2: Homeostasis is the distributed organizing principle of species and organisms that produces the reduction of entropy within those systems. Homeostasis is maintained over time within an environment of increasing entropy by a process that can be modeled by Bayesian inference. Sensory and motor inferential process prioritizes unpredictable events in the environment. (Friston)

Premise 3: The fundamental homeostatic bias of living bodies is the demand for regularity; the on-going necessity for the re-establishment and re-balancing of internal constancy and the agency to maintain that internal stability and reduction of entropy.

Premise 4: Genetic replication, reproduction and development is the process of molecular instantiation of order over time and intrinsically reduces entropy within organisms.

Premise 5: Memory is the cognitive instantiation of regularity and the precursor to the reduction of entropy in the species. Fixed intrinsic memory is the expression of molecular and genetic order. Dynamic intrinsic memory is the epigenetic instantiation of patterns of regularity with a homeodynamic valence. Working memory is the short term inference of regularity with a homeodynamic valence.

Premise 6: The narrative self process, a default mode network, is the constant internal inferential justification of intrinsic memory with working memory and the serial construction of optimized predictions of the immediate future. 

Premise 7: The accumulated prediction errors of the narrative self process are thermodynamically consolidated during sleep and this instantiates patterns of regularities of the environment into intrinsic memory. (Hobson and Friston)  

Premise 8: The instantiation in intrinsic memory of regularized symbolic objects and a regularized embodied syntax for procedural memory of tool use are the necessary precursors for human cognition and language.

Premise 9: Language and culture are the offloaded instantiations of memory and order into the social environment. Technology is the instantiation of cultural memory and order in the physical environment and reduces entropy within the species. 

 If homeostasis is the distributed organizing principle of living bodies and homeostasis is maintained and entropy reduced in an environment of increasing entropy by a process that can be modeled by Bayesian statistical inference then how is homeostasis coordinated and Bayesian information communicated across the whole body? What are the molecular mechanics of the organic reduction of entropy?

 Are organisms organized at the highest level by synchronized oscillations in the quantum electromagnetic field that synthesize distributed interoceptive and exteroceptive information? How do epiphenomenal probabilities become real possibilities of conscious reflection and action?

Fundamental and cognitive bias

 Homeostasis is the foundation of emotion, the physiological response to immediate or potential disruption of internal constancy. Physiological emotion is unconscious but it is expressed as instinct subconsciously and as feeling consciously. When an organism is ill or feels threatened by something in the environment emotion signals the initiation of a survival response and the restoration and maintenance of homeostasis. Emotion in that sense grounds all cognitive processes in biologic value, prioritizes cognitive attention, motivates action and gives memories a dynamic valence. (Damasio)

 The fundamental emotional bias of homeostasis is the demand for certainty; the on-going need for the re-establishment and re-balancing of internal constancy as well as a sense of agency that can maintain that internal stability. Anxiety is the demand for certainty exceeding the supply. This basic emotional bias to maintain our biological integrity and constancy shapes the nature of our perceptions, memories, motivations and actions. Our conception of reality is perceived through the lens of the homeostatic necessity to reduce internal entropy and maintain our biological integrity over time.

 On the other hand the natural cognitive bias of our sensory and motor inferential process is the constant sensory search and detection of unpredictable or novel process in the environment. Boredom is the demand for novelty exceeding the supply. 

 The emotional demand for constancy conditions the prior beliefs of sensory and motor inferential process with a bias for regularity. The cognitive bias of seeking and detecting novel or irregular processes insures that organisms at least factor that emotional bias with relevant evidence from the environment in order to produce updated beliefs about the environment. The emotional demand for constancy and the cognitive demand for novelty are contrary in nature but the cognitive bias is in service to the emotional and fundamental survival requirement of homeostasis.

 The Bayesian inferential relationship of biased prior beliefs with our curiosity and constant search for novel experience in the environment is repeated within the history of human culture and within the scientific method. We emerged from prehistory as from the womb with the predilection to believe that the world revolves around us and with a desire for the world to be orderly. We unconsciously test that world in our waking state and when it does not conform to our biased predictions then we become conscious of change and we alter our theories of the world. The scientific process makes the testing of hypotheses conscious and social. That rapidly increases the spread of adaptive beliefs but the fundamental bias for certainty remains. 

 Our biased conception of reality is based on the classical mechanics of Newtonian physics with assumptions of locality, causality and determinism. The molecular realities of quantum mechanics are not perceptible to us because of the temporal and physical scale of molecular change but the causal uncertainties of quantum superposition embody the time bound possibilities of probability distributions. In our classical Newtonian perspective possibilities are merely epiphenomenal but in quantum mechanics possibilities are the real manifestations of the probabilities of quantum superposition. If time is fundamental and not just an emergent manifestation of relativity then the probability distributions of sensory Bayesian inferential process are grounded in the non-deterministic possibilities in quantum superposition. But our cognitive bias for the detection of novel process originates within molecular perceptual processes that measure quantum events and collapse the wavefunction so our experience of reality remains classical in nature.

 We try to understand our consciousness based on beliefs that are conditioned by our fundamental emotional demand for certainty and agency. We are conditioned to assume our minds exist in an environment where the laws of nature are constant and those laws define predictable processes. Religious, artistic and scientific endeavors express our collective and individual demand for certainty by constantly striving to find and elucidate timeless laws and truths. The cognitive bias for novelty is evidence that we in fact have evolved within an environment of increasing entropy where irregular and quantum processes exist in combination with regular and predictable processes.

 The fundamental emotional bias for certainty and agency also leads us to believe that we are physiologically and cognitively autonomous. We do have degrees of freedom to act within the non-equilibrium probabilistic thermodynamics of increasing entropy and the non-deterministic possibilities of quantum mechanics. But we are also constrained by the biological imperative to conform to species homeostasis and our consciousness originates and is sustained within a symbiotic web of social cooperation, language and culture.

 It is in our fundamental nature to think that the laws of nature are constant and that we are autonomous beings. We find it difficult to understand consciousness because it is a socially emergent adaptation to a complex and fundamentally uncertain quantum reality that we cannot consciously experience in it's totality.


Animal models

 The cognitive task of all biological organisms is the maintenance of internal homeostasis within a physical environment of increasing entropy evolving in time that is a mixture of predicted, unpredicted and unpredictable random processes. As elements of a species organisms also have the cognitive task of adaptation to social homeostasis and the facilitation of reproduction within a social environment evolving in time that is a mixture of predicted, unpredicted and unpredictable processes.

 If adaptation to predictable process is unconscious and adaptation to unpredictable and random process is conscious then biological organisms have individual cognition, individual consciousness, social cognition and social consciousness. Humans have all those types of cognition along with an extended social consciousness.

 A.  Individual cognition is the neurological expression of an individual organism's adaptation to predictable processes in the environment. It is the inference of perception and autonomic motor control acting with intrinsic memory for orientation in the physical environmental present. Individual cognition is unconscious although it is experienced by individual consciousness proprioceptively.

 B.  Individual consciousness is the cognitive expression of an organism's adaptation to uncertainty and increasing entropy. It is the cognition of reactions to unexpected or random events in the physical environment; attention, inferential experimentation, learning within working memory and action. Individual consciousness is active when a physiological imbalance determines that a change in cognitive attention is required in order to maintain homeostasis.

 C. Social cognition is the individual cognitive expression of adaptation to predictable social processes. It is a function of inference of social perception acting with intrinsic memory for orientation in the social environmental present. Social cognition is unconscious although it is experienced by social consciousness proprioceptively.

 D. Social consciousness is the individual cognitive expression of a species adaptation to increasing entropy.  It is the cognition of socially modified adaptive behavior that requires communication or cooperation between individuals at any level. Social consciousness is the dynamic inference of social perception with working memory based on a socially constructed virtual reality. It is driven by the emotional response to immediate or potential social disruption of homeostasis or a hormonally induced homeodynamic imbalance in the organism naturally selected to provoke and reward instinctual procreative, parental and subsistence co-behavior. Social consciousness is active when emotion determines that a change in cognitive attention is required in order to maintain social homeostasis.


Ontogeny of cognition

 The precursors of working memory and intrinsic memory develop in utero in a relationship that is the origin of sleep; a developing working memory is detached from sensory input and dynamic intrinsic memory is fluid in the process of thermodynamic consolidation of developmental cognitive processes. Fixed intrinsic memory expresses the instantiated order of genetic information that guides natal development.

 After the organism is born and is exposed to sensory information in the environment outside of the womb the accumulated prediction errors of motor inferential process in working memory are used in slow wave and REM sleep to thermodynamically consolidate new associations in intrinsic memory and instantiate updated patterns of regularity about the environment. This is subjectively experienced as dreaming; a narrative self disoriented in place and time (because there is no external sensory input) within a virtual reality of re-consolidating memories.

 Consciousness is initiated upon waking by synchronizing external sensory and motor inferential process with dynamic working memory and anchored in fixed intrinsic memory. That synthesis is subjectively experienced as a narrative self acting within a virtual reality of memory but oriented to place and time with the serial ability remember past scenarios or to attend and act on sensory input. That facilitates the potential to internally simulate actions before initiating them in the environment. Immediate feedback from actions in the environment effectively enables real time learning and adaptation.

 Learning occurs at two levels; in conscious working memory from ongoing predictive inference with the environment and in unconscious intrinsic memory from thermodynamic consolidation of prediction errors in sleep. Transforming knowledge learned from predictive inference into unconscious intrinsic memory enables organisms to react to predictable and unpredictable processes simultaneously.





Evolution of human extended consciousness

 The co-evolution of tool-use and social cooperation in the three million year epoch preceding the emergence of pre-modern hominids out of Africa around 100,000 BC created a set of genetic and epigenetic adaptations that are the precursors of human extended consciousness. Those adaptations are; 1) the symbolic vocalization of absential cognitive objects, 2) an embodied syntax for the procedural memory of motor interaction required by walking, tool-making and tool use; right hand/subject, action/verb, left hand/object, 3) the subconscious (proprioceptive and mimetic) social sharing of embodied tool making syntax, 4) the dropping of the larynx to enable complex vocalizations and symbolic speech structured by embodied tool making syntax. These adaptations enabled hominids to survive the changing environments of the Ice Ages with the use of tools and complex social cooperation facilitated by the development of a proto-language. Those adaptations did not in themselves result in human consciousness, neoteny was required for the development of an extended social consciousness.

 As brain size increased the limited pelvic opening required by bipedalism enforced premature birth and neotenous child rearing. The neotenous infant required constant protection and attention, only possible within a cooperative social system.

 The neotenous infant’s sensory and motor interaction with the environment is primed by fetal cognition of maternal speech to predict patterns of vocalizations. These patterns are given value by the child's projection of intentionality and reproduced by mimesis. When left alone the child rapidly learns that their vocalization results in maternal attention and they are simultaneously motivated to construct absential cognitive objects. Motor and sensory development thus become dedicated in part to the manipulation of vocalization and language becomes a primary tool for the development of agency and action in the environment. (Torey)

 The sleeping neotenous child gradually instantiates regularized symbolic representations of absential objects and the regularities of embodied syntax into intrinsic memory. As those two parallel but separate abilities develop the waking infant begins to use tool making syntax within the virtual reality of memory to construct abstract ideas and scenarios with symbolic cognitive objects. Playing and learning with objects in the environment is mirrored internally with playing with abstract objects in the narrative self process. That is the process that the child uses to create a model of a self acting within a virtual reality of memory that is based on the external model of the parent (origin of theory of mind).

 The child gradually internalizes the parental model until it is incorporated into the child’s homeostatic state and it then represents the child’s sense of identity and agency. The perception of self and the perception of time are mutually interdependent artifacts of this virtual self. The greater the contents of memory the greater the potential expanse of virtual time and thus the greater the sense of self. Infants have the proto-conscious element of internal inferential potential in utero but lack the memories of environmental engagement to construct time and self.

 Neoteny is required for extended social consciousness because an embodied syntax is directly integrated in early natal senso-motor development into memory and that becomes the subconscious social substrate for language acquisition. As the child develops a vocabulary of symbolic objects an embodied syntax also serves as an internal substrate in memory for the construction of abstract ideas and an internal virtual reality. The natal developmental synthesis of social and cognitive applications of embodied syntax with symbolic objects becomes the autocatalytic engine of dynamic human cognition, language, culture and technology.






The adaptive advantage of consciousness

  An environment with the fundamental property of increasing entropy presents a particular challenge, a particular opportunity and a particular constraint for organisms. The challenge is the unpredictable nature of increasing entropy. The opportunity is the freedom of action that is possible within the non-equilibrium probabilistic nature of increasing entropy and the real possibilities within quantum mechanics. The constraint is the biological imperative for individuals to conform to social homeostasis and the species adaptation to increasing entropy. Consciousness is an adaptation to increasing entropy that uses the opportunity of freedom of action to mediate the challenge of unpredictability within the constraints of species homeostasis.

 Adaptive narratives of trusted predictions become instantiated in intrinsic memory and embodied in the manufacture and use of tools so parallel processing of predicted conditions is unconscious and embodied within technology. That frees up cognitive resources to adapt to random processes by constructing physical and social predictions in the form of a self narrative within the virtual reality of working memory interacting with intrinsic memory. The virtual self is in a constant predictive and corrective cycle with sensomotor inferential process and that initiates the chain of learning that eventually instantiates order in technology and reduces entropy within the species.

 Consciousness serves to promote and maintain homeostasis within the individual and the species by focusing attention on unpredicted events in the environment, evaluating threats to homeostasis, formulating predictions based on memories of past events, acting on those predictions, receiving feedback from actions and learning from feedback. All of those processes require the transmission of information over time. Consciousness mediates uncertainty by channeling unpredicted percepts into an internal virtual reality of stored information to form a constant waking feedback loop of perception, error correction, prediction, action and perception.

 Consciousness is subjectively experienced as the maintenance of an ordered present that recursively attempts to create a reality of an ordered future with a narrative of optimized predictions. The stochastic nature of increasing entropy allows an organism the ability to impose order on a disordered environment with a serial narrative of relatively accurate and self correcting predictions. That has been the radically adaptive strategy that has allowed Homo sapiens to thrive and reduce entropy within the species.

The hard problem

 Chalmers: “It is undeniable that some organisms are subjects of experience. But the question of how it is that these systems are subjects of experience is perplexing. Why is it that when our cognitive systems engage in visual and auditory information-processing, we have visual or auditory experience: the quality of deep blue, the sensation of middle C? How can we explain why there is something it is like to entertain a mental image, or to experience an emotion? It is widely agreed that experience arises from a physical basis, but we have no good explanation of why and how it so arises. Why should physical processing give rise to a rich inner life at all? It seems objectively unreasonable that it should, and yet it does.” … “The really hard problem of consciousness is the problem of experience. When we think and perceive there is a whir of information processing, but there is also a subjective aspect.”

 Subjective experience is the quality that is produced by the grounding of all cognitive processes in a homeodynamic valence. Every conscious and unconscious process necessarily is an expression of the emotional demand for internal constancy and sense of agency. Sensory experience and memory have emotional and thus subjective value in relation to the degree that they directly or indirectly impact the internal stability of the organism. Subjectivity is the effect of proprioceptive and conscious emotional cognition and emotion is not simply an innocuous side-effect of physiological process. It is the fundamental expression of homeodynamic integrity and biological health. Consciousness must be subjectively grounded in emotion in that sense in order to promote the survival of the organism.


Derived from the theories of Antonio Damasio, Daniel Dennett, Karl Friston, J. Allan Hobson, Stuart Kauffman, Lee Smolin, Michael Tomasello, Zoltan Torrey and E. O. Wilson.

8.11.2011

Globalization is undermining the basic stability of nation states. The globalization of labor markets hollows out the middle class in developed nations and spurs the rise in incomes among the poor in developing nations. But the corporate class that benefits the most from the economies of scale of globalization has no allegiance to any nation state anymore, labor is disposable and subject to arbitrage. So there is no incentive to pay for the physical and institutional infrastructure that nation states provide, corporations can just hop to the next developing nation willing to bid down the price of labor.

Global supply chains turn nations into specialized units in the chain so whole sectors of a nations economy are decimated in the interest of global efficiency but the result is that nations become less self-sufficient and more dependent on globally supplied commodities and services. Then nation states have less control over their economies, are less able to generate dependable revenues and less able to provide basic services to their citizens.  

But the external costs of doing business - pollution, infrastructure, social disruption and resource depletion - are only external to the quarterly balance sheets of global corporations. Those costs get passed on to the economies of nation states subject to global arbitrage. In a globalized economy there are no externalities, only delayed costs. And now we are all beginning to pay for those costs.

Workers in a globalized economy are expendable. People who work for a living are being devalued, whether they have a job or not and whether they live in a developed country or not. And the governments who represent those people have been bought off by the 1% and refuse to see the problem. 

3.04.2010

Evidence-based certainty uses rationality to gradually prove or disprove theories based on empirical evidence. Belief-based certainty works in the other direction, the desired certainty is already known and rationality is abused to build on carefully selected evidence to “prove” that belief.


Belief-based certainty will always have a higher value socially and politically in the short term because it satisfies the immediate need for certainty. If a belief is repeated within a media echo chamber and supports the desire for absolute certainty then it becomes a political certainty for those that need it.


Evidence-based inquiry is a process that only produces a gradually increasing probability of certainty in the long term. Facts will lose the news cycle but quietly win the cultural war.


Markets mediate the uncertainty of survival and governments mediate the uncertainty of markets. The uncertainties of competition in the market motivates individuals to create efficiencies and innovations in order to enjoy the greater certainties of wealth. Government regulates the market to insure competition where it works to create opportunities and replaces the market where it restricts opportunities and exploits inequalities.

So the uncertainty of competition is both the bull that drives the economy and the bear that everyone seeks shelter from. Government has to both enable and disable the uncertainty of competition for the greater good.

Those on the left seek shelter from uncertainty in public sector employment, labor unions and government programs that provide a safety net where markets fail as in education and health care. Those on the right seek shelter from uncertainty in government contracts, government regulations that protect businesses from competition and public funding of the externalities of business which includes the costs of infrastructure, pollution and periodic market failures of the financial system.

Neither side wants to pay for the other side’s protection racket. Both sides have to be kept in check and both are prone to their own particular kind of corruption.

But when multinational corporations cooperate to pit one country against another to create a regulation free global business environment then those corporations have the upper hand and that only creates certainties for a tiny minority at the top and cascading waves of uncertainty and disruption for everybody else.

3.03.2010

An individual's political perspective can be roughly determined by two interacting factors; wealth or privilege and tolerance for uncertainty. When one has much to gain and few advantages to lose from political change they are open to reformers and populist policy change. When they achieve a certain level of wealth or advantage they begin to fear they have more to lose from change than what they would gain. 

That point varies from person to person depending on their own particular tolerance for uncertainty. if one has little tolerance for uncertainty and they perceive they have any amount of advantage to lose then they resist any change. If they have tolerance for uncertainty then they can be wealthy but not reflexively hostile to those who promote political change. 

So poor workers with little tolerance for change who feel they have a marginal advantage from racial privilege will resist change. And young professionals with little tolerance for change find they no longer agree with the reformers of their college days.

1.03.2007

If God is what we do not know then prayer is curiosity, love is faith and sin is acting as if we know what God is.

12.14.2006

Analysis deals with a set of knowns and ignores everything outside of the set. But when we consider context first, including what we do not know about a situation, we are confronted with the assumptions that we use to deal with the unknown; religion, superstition, folklore, conventional wisdom and the prevailing cultural norms. So when we consider context before analysis it becomes clear that the underlying currency of our cultural transactions is certainty based on either evidence or belief.

Those are two interconnected sets of certainties, our physical limitations within our environment and a cultural set of shared symbols and values. Our language and shared beliefs help us mediate the uncertainties of our physical existence. Those beliefs are embedded in a personal narrative.

If you were to closely observed someone throughout one day you would find that they acted in ways that reflected a broad range of beliefs. Survival requires adaptability, sometimes we need to be absolutists (to respond to challenges that threaten our welbeing) and sometimes we need to be relativists (to understand the challenges in order to learn from them). However if you asked that person to explain their actions throughout the day you would probably find that they defined their behavior in a narrow singular sense. We like to have a narrative that we can wrap all of the uncertainties of the world—and perhaps more importantly, the uncertainties of ourselves—into a compelling story.

The emotional context of our experience may determine the narrative of how we mediate the unknown. If we feel our past was chaotic then we seek absolute explanations of problems and solutions. If we feel our past was restricted we resist singular deterministic explanations. We all use absolute and relative judgements but explain those judgements in partisan terms to maintain our consistency.

Our narratives do determine many of our decisions but they do not limit our choices. The danger lies when our narrative overrules our intuition, when absolutists impose their judgements upon everyone else and relativists refuse to judge themselves.

12.02.2006

If God is what we do not know then we are as God to the experience of others and others are as God to our experience.