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 epistemological theory of consciousness
 v.6.3  7/15/2015


Why do we not fully understand our mind and consciousness? Why do we not know how our mind is integrated with our physical brain? Why do we find it hard to explain how we subjectively experience sensations? Why do we deny that we have free will despite the intuition that we have it? Why is there no consensus on a definition of consciousness?

If we are not able to understand the fundamental processes of our cognition then perhaps it is because we have unstated premises or biases that lead us to misunderstand the totalized fundamental conditions that constitute the experience of a mind evolving in nature.

Our body, brain and mind are the product of natural selection, a set of adaptations to specific environmental conditions and processes. Those fundamental processes set the parameters of our physiological and cognitive adaptations. Our cognition of those conditions is the product of our adaptation to the environment. Our conscious cognition of fundamental conditions is a subset of our adaptation and cognition of our environment.

The scientific process - proposing a hypothesis, testing predictions based on the hypothesis, evaluating results and reformulating theories - has produced a set of regularities that define those specific conditions. However the scientific process limits physical and temporal variables in order to be testable and reproducible. The results of evidence based scientific process produce a gradually increasing probability of accuracy in defining subset processes of fundamental conditions.

Without the means to test theories in unlimited physical and temporal scales the product of scientific inquiry has to be evaluated with the statistical predictions of systems theory which can propose hypotheses about the totalized physical and temporal conditions that a mind evolves within. Then a hypothesis of the whole can be used to test specific processes to see if statistical models increase the probability of accuracy in defining subset processes.

Within systems theory organisms are defined as open systems within a closed system universe, a framework that integrates Newtonian thermodynamics, information theory and evolutionary theory. Biological open systems are maintained over time due to the property of homeostasis, the tendency of bodies to regulate variables so that internal states maintain relative constancy. This can be statistically modeled by Markov blankets in dynamical systems theory. Homeostasis is also a central concept in ecology, biology, psychology, technology and cybernetics.

Premise One: homeostasis is the distributed organizing principle of biological bodies. There are two primary tendencies that govern the maintenance of homeostasis in a biological body. The first is a preference for stability and internal constancy and thus a bias for regular and static process in the environment. I will call that Regularity Bias.

The second tendency is the predilection to detect irregular or novel process in the environment because unpredicted processes may pose a threat to internal stability and homeostasis. I will call that tendency Novelty Bias.

If given a choice between two environments that exhibit primarily regular or irregular processes the Regularity Bias overrides the Novelty Bias because predictable processes pose less of a threat to homeostasis then irregular or unpredicted processes.

We have tried to understand our mind based on unstated assumptions that are governed by the Regularity Bias. Those unstated assumptions are that the laws of nature are constant and they define predictable processes. The cosmological implication of that assumption is that time is an illusion of the mind. Although we acknowledge the existence of time our language and conscious beliefs within present moments imply that our choices are limited and the possibilities presented in the environment are constrained if not largely determined. If time is real then in fact possibilities are not determined and our choices are potentially infinite moment to moment. Our Novelty Bias, the uncanny ability to identify irregular or novel events, is evidence that we have evolved within an environment where irregular and unpredictable processes exist in combination with regular processes.

Our body, brain, mind and consciousness would be more understandable if the laws of nature were constant and the nature of reality was predictable. We have not been able to explain consciousness because it is an adaptation to a complex reality that we cannot consciously experience in it's totality.

Premise Two: Time is real. The moment to moment reality of potentially infinite possibilities and choices presents a profound challenge to biological bodies. Cognition becomes the task of sorting a barrage of sensory information, identifying relevant threats and opportunities and responding appropriately within a constantly uncertain and randomly changing environment. How do organisms navigate that constantly evolving chaos without being paralyzed by fear and uncertainty?

Consciousness adapts to complexity with an illusion of simplified choices. In that sense Regularity Bias is consciousness, the illusion that our conscious serial narrative of self represents a totalized experience of a predictable environment. The reality is that our unconscious parallel processing of environmental regularities is hidden from us so that our conscious mind can concentrate on synthesizing unconscious and social cues into a serial narrative of optimum choices for a chaotic environment. We not only have free will, we have radical free will that we deny in order to remain calm and sociable. Acting on our radical free will is not adaptive because it endangers either individual homeostasis or social homeostasis. The complexity of brain and mind exists in the synthesis of internal and external inference in order to mediate the uncertainty of evolution in time.

In order to understand the mind we need to build animal models of basic cognitive elements that evolve within accurate, specific environmental processes. I propose a general epistemological theory of cognition and consciousness that is based on the explicit premises that time is real and the distributed organizing principle of biological bodies evolving in time is homeostasis.

The cognitive task of all biological organisms is the maintenance of internal homeostasis within a physical environment evolving in time that is a mixture of predicted, unpredicted and unpredictable processes. Complex 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.

In order to maintain homeostasis organisms must react to unpredicted physical and social events by focussing attention on ongoing interactions, experiment with reactions and learn from feedback.

Changing and/or focusing attention is a function of discernment of irregularity (Novelty Bias) evaluated by emotion. Emotion is the physiological homeodynamic response to immediate or potential disruption of homeostasis and it is expressed as instinct subconsciously and as feeling consciously. Emotion in that sense grounds all cognitive processes in biologic value, prioritizes cognitive attention, motivates action and gives memories dynamic valances.  

Experimentation and learning from interaction in the environment is the function of dynamic predictive inference that updates working memory with error corrections. Working memory is the short term conscious inference of regularity with a homeodynamic valence. Intrinsic memory is the long term unconscious association of regularity with a homeodynamic valence.

The accumulated errors of external inferential process and working memory are used by internal inferential processes in slow wave and REM sleep to thermodynamically simplify and homeodynamically evaluate the associations of intrinsic memory and reconstitute them into updated unconscious but accessible semantic, episodic and procedural memory. This is subjectively experienced as dreaming; a core self disoriented in place and time (because there is no external sensory input) within a virtual reality of reconstituting memories.

The core self is the default mode network, the constant internal process of homeodynamic inferential justification of intrinsic memory with working memory.

Consciousness is initiated upon waking by synchronizing external sensory inferential process with the core self process in an internal virtual reality of memory. That synthesis is subjectively experienced as a self acting within a virtual reality oriented to place and time with the serial ability to imagine past and future scenarios (DMN) or to attend and act on sensory input (external inference).

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.

So learning occurs at two levels; in short term memory from ongoing predictive inference with the environment and in unconscious long term memory from internal inference of prediction errors in dreams. Transforming knowledge learned from predictive inference into unconscious memory allows organisms to react to predicted and unpredicted processes simultaneously along with the serial ability to imagine future scenarios or act on them.

If adaptation to predicted process is unconscious and adaptation to unpredicted 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 procedural 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 individual's adaptation to uncertainty. It is the cognition of reactions to unexpected events in the physical environment; attention, inferential experimentation and learning within working memory. Individual consciousness is active when emotion determines that a change in cognitive attention is required in order to maintain physiological 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 semantic 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 the collective adaptation of a species to 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 semantic memory based on a social virtual reality. It is driven by the emotional homeodynamic response to immediate or potential social disruption of homeostasis or a hormonally induced imbalance naturally selected to produce 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 internal and social homeostasis.

E. Extended consciousness is the individual cognitive expression of the collective human adaptation to entropy. Extended consciousness is continually active in the waking state and is a function of dynamic inference of social perception for predictive experimentation based on a time based socially constructed virtual reality. The use of the embodied syntax of language instantiates knowledge into technology and creates a shared consciousness of culture. It is grounded by emotional homeodynamic response to potential social disruption of homeostasis or selected hormonal imbalance.

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 70,000 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) by mirror neurons, 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 complex social cooperation and the manufacture and use of tools but those adaptations did not in themselves result in human extended consciousness. Neoteny is required for the development of extended 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 inferences of motor development of the neotenous infant is captured within the mother child relationship and utilized by the child to predict the patterns of vocalizations by the mother. These patterns are given value by the child's projection of intentionality and then reproduced by mimesis. This enables motor inference to be used primarily as a means of manipulating and expressing embodied syntax.

In the neotenous child the developing semantic memory is used by internalized Bayesian inferences (a process that originates in dreams) to provide context for sensory input and to create predictions for motor interactions with the environment (vocal exchange of embodied syntax with the mother). These internal inferences require an agent to distinguish them from external inferences and track the development of predictions in virtual time as they are tested by external engagement.

This agent acting on a constructed time continuum with semantic memory effectively creates a recursive Bayesian time series that is subjectively experienced as a self acting within a virtual reality. The perception of self and the perception of time are thus mutually interdependent artifacts of this virtual reality. 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 bayesian 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.



Derived from the theories of Antonio Damasio, Daniel Dennett, Karl Friston, J Allen Hobson, Lee Smolin, Zoltan Torey 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.