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.8.1   2/3/2016

Why do we not fully 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 culture and language. Our conscious cognition of those fundamental social conditions is a subset of our adaptation to an evolving social 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 the statistical mechanics and dynamic whole system models of systems 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 systems 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 chemical processes can use free energy to lower entropy and instantiate order in prokaryotic organisms. Evolving prokaryotic organisms use free energy to symbiotically incorporate other organisms 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 with the internal property of homeostasis, the tendency of bodies to regulate variables and decrease internal entropy so that internal states maintain relative constancy. 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 past 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.

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.

Premise 2: Homeostasis is the distributed organizing principle of low entropy organisms which are maintained over time within an environment of increasing entropy by Bayesian inferential process.

Fundamental and cognitive bias

Homeostasis is the foundation of emotion, the physiological response to immediate or potential disruption of homeostasis. 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. Emotion in that sense grounds all cognitive processes in biologic value, prioritizes cognitive attention, motivates action and gives memories a dynamic valence.

The fundamental emotional bias of homeostasis is the demand for certainty; the on-going re-establishment and re-balancing of internal constancy and the sense of agency that can maintain that internal stability. Anxiety is the demand for certainty exceeding the supply.

The natural cognitive bias of sensory and motor inferential process is the constant search and detection of unpredicted 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 cognitive inferential process with a regularity bias. 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 bias and the fundamental survival requirement of homeostasis.

We try to understand our consciousness based on beliefs that are conditioned by our emotional demand for certainty and agency. We assume our minds exist in an environment where the laws of nature are constant and those laws define predictable processes. Cultural, religious, artistic and scientific endeavors express our collective  and individual demand for certainty by constantly striving to find and elucidate timeless truths. The cognitive bias for novelty is evidence that we in fact have evolved within an environment of increasing entropy where irregular and random 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 are in fact dependent upon our species for our physical existence and our consciousness originates and is sustained within a social web of cooperation and language.

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 disordered reality that we cannot consciously experience in it's totality except in moments of insight or inspiration.

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.

Memory is the cognitive instantiation of order. Working memory is the short term inference of regularity with a homeodynamic valence. Fixed intrinsic memory is the unconscious molecular and genetic instantiation of regularity. Dynamic intrinsic memory is the unconcious epigenetic instantiation of regularity with a homeodynamic valence.

The narrative self process is a default mode network, the constant internal inferential justification of intrinsic memory with working memory. In sleep working memory is detached from sensory input and dynamic intrinsic memory becomes fluid in the process of thermodynamic simplification and instantiation of learned regularities. Upon waking all of intrinsic memory is fixed and working memory is fluid and synchronized with sensory and motor inferential processes in homeodynamic adaptation to the environment.

That synthesis of fixed intrinsic memory and dynamic working memory synchronized with sensory inferential process produces consciousness: the ongoing serial construction of optimized predictions in adaptation to the fundamental condition of increasing entropy.

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 simplification 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 simplify the associations of intrinsic memory and instantiate new associations 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 simplification of learned associations in sleep. Transforming knowledge learned from predictive inference into unconscious intrinsic memory allows 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 adaptations that are the precursors of human extended consciousness. Those adaptations are; bilaterally asymmetric functionality of motor interaction required by tool making and use, the social sharing of an embodied tool making syntax (right hand/subject, action/verb, left hand/object), and the dropping of the larynx to enable complex vocalizations and symbolic speech structured by embodied 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 focused on the parent and is utilized by the child to predict patterns of vocalizations. These patterns are given value by the child's projection of intentionality and then reproduced by mimesis. Motor and sensory development thus become dedicated in part to the manipulation and expression of embodied syntax and language becomes a primary tool for the development of agency and action in the environment.

The sleeping neotenous child gradually instantiates the regularities of embodied syntax into intrinsic memory. The waking infant then begins to use language in the internal inferential justification of working memory with intrinsic memory to construct a model of a self acting within a virtual reality of memory that is based on the external model of the parent (theory of mind).

This model of a self originates in the parent and the child gradually internalizes it 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.

In the context of communication between individuals this internal virtual reality is both the source and product of species consciousness which instantiates order in emergent levels of cultural and technological complexity.

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 nondeterministic random nature of increasing entropy. 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. That virtual self in constant predictive and corrective cycle with sensomotor inferential process is consciousness. That synthesis initiates the chain of learning that eventually instantiates order and reduces entropy within the species with technology.

Consciousness is subjectively experienced as the maintenance of an ordered present that recursively attempts to create a reality of an ordered future with optimized predictions. The random nature of increasing entropy allows an organism the freedom 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.

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.

Free will

The nondeterministic nature of increasing entropy gives organisms the freedom to impose their will upon a disordered environment if an individual can mediate unpredicted and random processes with constant self correcting predictions and project a efficacious dynamic narrative into the physical and social environment. That freedom is constrained by the biological imperative to conform to social homeostasis and the species adaptation to increasing entropy. Individuals have the freedom to be unsociable or sociopathic but at the possible cost of disrupting social homeostasis and failing to pass on their genetic information.



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

8.11.2011

Globalisation is undermining the basic stability of nation states. The globalisation 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 globalisation 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.

So 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 externalities of doing business - pollution, infrastructure, social disruption and resource depletion - are only externalities within 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. That is what Occupy is about.

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

Politics can be mapped with just two variables - wealth and tolerance of uncertainty. When an individual accumulates a certain amount of wealth their orientation shifts from seeking change to benefit themselves to seeking security to protect what they have accumulated. That point varies from person to person depending on their individual tolerance for uncertainty, the more tolerance for uncertainty a person has the less they seek security from their fellow citizens.

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.