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a theory of conscious ignorance


I. The fundamental currency in all 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.


a general epistemological theory of consciousness
 v.5.7  5/19/2015

We try to understand the world with our mind, it is our process of perceiving the environment and interacting with it. Yet we do not understand our mind. We do not understand how our mind is integrated with our physical brain. We find it hard to explain how we subjectively experience sensations. We cannot agree if we have free will or not. We do not have one definition of consciousness.
If we do not fully understand the process with which we perceive and interact with the world then our knowledge of the world is fundamentally limited. In order to accurately infer the nature of reality we have to understand the basic functions of the process with which we perceive it.

But obviously we understand many aspects of our environment despite this incomplete understanding of ourselves. We have evolved the ability to detect and exploit predictable natural processes and we manipulate those regularities to manufacture tools that help us survive. We have evolved the ability to share our knowledge of tools socially and we cooperate with each other in ways that have allowed us to thrive as a species. We have evolved these abilities in the effort to adapt to other natural and social processes that remain fundamentally unpredictable.

In order to elucidate the nature of human cognition as a product of natural selection the integrated mind and brain has to be understood as a process in relation to it's total context; physical, biological, developmental, social, and evolutionary in ontogenetic and phylogenetic perspectives.  

The cognitive task of all organisms is the maintenance of internal homeostasis within a physical environment that is a mixture of predictable and unpredictable processes.  Complex biological organisms also have the cognitive task of adaptation and reproduction within a social environment that is also a mixture of predictable and unpredictable processes.

Organisms must react to unpredicted events by focussing attention on ongoing interactions, experimenting, learning and acting in order to maintain homeostasis and predict future interactions.

Changing and focusing attention is the function of emotion, the physiological homeodynamic response to immediate or potential disruption of homeostasis. Emotion in that sense grounds all cognitive processes in biologic value, prioritizes cognitive attention and motivates action. Experimentation and learning from interaction is the function of dynamic predictive inference that updates working memory with error corrections. Acting requires an internal inference of memory as a prediction of the future or a virtual internal reality.

Adaptation to unpredicted physical processes requires a dynamic emotional and predictive engagement in sensory and motor interaction in the physical environment that enables active response for maintaining homeostasis. The adaptation to unpredicted social process requires a dynamic emotional and predictive engagement in symbolic interaction within in a social virtual reality that enables communicative or cooperative response for maintaining social homeostasis and reproduction.

The accumulated errors of predictive interactions are used by inferential processes in deep sleep and REM sleep to simplify the associations of working memory and transform them into unconscious but accessible semantic and procedural memory.

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 sleep. Transforming knowledge learned from predictive inference into unconscious memory allows organisms to react to predictable and unpredictable processes simultaneously.

Consciousness is the mediation of unpredicted process in the environment by homeodynamic management of attention to both external inference of the environment and internal inference of a virtual reality constructed of learned associations in semantic and procedural memory.

If adaptation to predictable 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 using inference and procedural memory guided by emotion. 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 socially modified time based virtual reality. It is grounded by emotional homeodynamic response to potential social disruption of homeostasis or selected hormonal imbalance.

The prediction errors of modeled social inference in the individual are used by internal inference in deep sleep and REM sleep to update the hypotheses of an internal virtual reality . That serves as the expectation set and belief premise of further inferential experimentation with the physical and social environment. This effectively creates an internal recursive Bayesian time series that is subjectively experienced as a self acting within a virtual reality. In the context of communication between individuals this internal virtual reality is both the source and product of a social virtual reality as an expression of species consciousness. The individual bootstrapping of error correction into cultural knowledge and transmission of cultural knowledge to the individual is the adaptive advantage of human extended consciousness.

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; 1) Bilaterally asymmetric functionality of motor interaction required by tool making and use, 2) The social sharing of an embodied tool making syntax (right hand/subject, action/verb, left hand/object) by mirror neurons, 3) 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.

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 Bayesian 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 and procedural 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 Bayesian 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 and procedural 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 a social consciousness as an expression of community virtual reality. Community virtual realities are both the source and product of a cultural virtual reality which is the expression of species consciousness.

Derived from the theories of Antonio Damasio, Zoltan Torey, Karl Friston, J Allen Hobson, Daniel Dennett and E O Wilson.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.