Saturday, March 18, 2023

Fighting Back Against the Homophobic Religious Right's Misuse of Sacred Literature to Promote Hate

Deborah, Judge of Israel

There is a pattern in the religious right to use (misuse) religious texts and traditions to support their revanchavist, fascist agenda. It is important to understand this and have the tools to push back, because it is important to not let the religious right have a "copywright" on religion and spirituality. Real spirituality has always been about connecting better with one's fellow human beings, and becoming a more charitable person, and false political religion has always been about power and control, the opposite of real spirituality.

In particular, a tragedy is how white supremacist Evanglicals will twist and distort sacred texts for their own agenda, and use their false understandings of traditional literature to promote for example homophobia. If an LGBT person, especially a young person, hears from a religious authority that they are an "abomination" for instance, because they are gay, that causes untold emotional and spiritual harm, that often results in someone committing suicide, or turning to drugs or alcohol to cope. As an openly bisexual person myself, in my younger days I had to deal with much bigotry from various quarters that tried to use intentional misunderstandings of religion to promote homophobic agendas. I am fortunate in a way because as practioner of Reform Judaism, I don't run into homophobia within my own tradition like I would if I were a practictioner of some forms of Christianity, where homophobia is much more widespread, due in many cases, ironically, to Evangelicals (or at least many of them) taking Jewish literature and misrepresenting it for their own purposes.

A well-known passage in Leviticus, part of the Torah, that the religious right likes to misuse for its own bigoted purposes, is a text that as sometimes translated, reads, "do not lie with a man, as you lie with a woman, for that is an abomination". This is a part of ancient legal codes found in the Torah that deal with cleanlines rules that often do not apply to our current day, rules for example which call upon women to ritually cleanse (in what is called a Mikvah) following their period, something which only very few women do in our current day. To keep this brief, Rabbis in the Conservative denomination of Judaism (which is less traditional than Orthodox Judaism but more traditional than Reform Judaism) did a deep dive into the context of this controversial passage several decades ago, and determined that this was in the category of kosher rules ("kosher" being religious rules but not necessarily moral rules, rules such as, for example, not eating shell fish) dealing with cleanliness, specific to that period and place of the Iron Age in which this was written, and was not in the category of universal moral laws such as not stealing or not coveting someone else's spouse. Specifically, this disputed passage in Leviticus referred to one particular type of male-on-male sexual intimacy and did not remark upon or prohibit other forms of sexual intimacy other than this one particular type, nor did it comment on for example female-on-female sexual relations. And, again, even that one prohibition regarding that one particular form of male sexual intimacy was motivated by a desire to prevent the spread of disease, in a time period where there was little understanding of disease, and only the vaguest knowledge of how to prevent its spread. (In a similar vein, there were rules about avoiding touching dead bodies, and needing to ritually cleanse oneself if one encountered a dead body, to again prevent the spread of diseases.) So, long story short, the prohibition in Leviticus concerning itself with one particular type of male sexual intimacy which was motivated by a concern with preventing STD's, is a very far cry from saying "gay people are an abomination" which is what the religious right likes to twist this into. And the modern day application of this rule would be the self-evident understandings we in modernity have about obviously limiting sexual contact to consenting adults (of whatever gender they might be), being smart about practicing safe sex with partners that we may not know very well, and, just in general, treating ourselves and those with whom we have intimate relations, in a respectful manner. It is common sense stuff really, and it is sad the way the religious right takes texts written in the Iron Age and creates whole new meanings out of those texts in order to promote their hateful agenda.

Read with care, there are a number of persons in the Tanakh (which is what is called the "Old Testament" in Christianity) that from the context of the text we would consider to be representations of LGBT characters. Examples include: Mordecai (a relative of Queen Esther who is referred to with male pronouns but is also said to have nursed Esther as an infant, indicating an example of a non-binary or FTM transgender person), the prophet Daniel (whom many scholars believe to have been a eunuch in the Babylonian court, which is a close ancient world correlary to a non-binary, MTF type of transgender individual), as well as the Judge Deborah and her female companion Yael, who in the Book of Judges helped to repel an invasion from a rival tribe in the very early days of the Hebrew tribes prior to the establishment of the Kingdoms of Judah and Israel, and from the context, seem to be an example of a lesbian or bisexual couple. The list goes on - most famously perhaps, the early Judean King David is well known to have been at least bisexual, due to a relationship prior to his becoming King, with Jonathan, the son of King Saul, David's predessor. Of course these are literary characters, so it is a bit like arguing about (for instance) the sexuality of Sherlock Holmes - there can never be a final answer to questions of literary interpretation. But the point is, given an unbiased reading of ancient Jewish literature, it is clear that heternormativity was not, well, as normative in that culture and time period, as the religious right would like us to believe.

There are other issues beyond LGBT issues, in which the religious right intentionally misrepresents sacred literature for their own bigoted purposes, racism being another prime example of how sacred literature is falsely used to promote a hateful agenda on the part of the religious right. It is important to be educated on these issues so we can push back against the narrative of the religious right. "Any religion without love and compassion is false" as a character says in Stephen King's short story "Children of the Corn". This needs to be the starting point when dealing with attacks from the religious right, which cannot be allowed to hold a monopoly on religious discussions in the public square, which would be a bit like letting tobacco company executives run public health. Tobacco use is precisely the opposite of promoting health, just as misuing religious literature to promote hate is the precise opposite of real spirituality, in all of its varied and unique cultural manifestations.

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

How the White Supremacist “Movement Conservatives” of the 20th Century Broke America

Segregationist William F. Buckley

In history there are often reactionary movements to progress of all kinds. For example, the American Revolution dealt with Loyalists, who were colonists loyal to Great Britain, rather than joining in with the American Revolution. In the Russian Revolution of 1917, there was a backlash of supporters of the Czar that led to the Russian Civil War. Sometimes (as in the case with the American Revolution or Russian Revolution) the progressive element wins, however sometimes the reactionary element wins (such as in the Spanish Civil war) and sometimes some sort of long struggle and stalemate emerges, such as for instance after the American Civil War, the racist reactionaries established segregation which lasted for a century or so following the American Civil War. In the civil rights movement, there was of course unfortunately a backlash to that, starting in a small circle of academics in elitist, “country club” circles in the 1950’s, and growing into what is now known as the “conservative movement” that culminated in a racist backlash against civil rights which resulted some years later in the election of Ronald Reagan, and reached its ultimate crescendo of its aims of achieving a racist fascist regime in America with the 2016 election of Donald Trump. So in about 60 years, the conservative movement went from a racist reaction against civil rights largely confined to academia and to small parts of the Republican Party to completely taking over the Republican Party and the Presidency. (A difference between the Reagan and Trump administrations is that while both Presidents Reagan and Trump were motivated by racism, Trump did not bother to hide it as much as Reagan had, because his whole movement and appeal to his base was largely predicated on Trump’s making his misguided followers feel emboldened to express their racial resentments out loud, in a way they had not felt able to before. Sadly, for the Trump Administration, open racism was a feature, not a bug, and not even a subliminal feature as it had been in previous Republican Administrations).

Essentially what happened, beginning in the 1950’s in the Republican Party was a racist, segregationist, reactionary rump led by people like National Review magazine founder, segregationist William Buckley, which was largely motivated by race resentment, allied themselves with libertarians such as Senator Barry Goldwater. (This was an uneasy alliance as often the two groups did not like each other - for example the racist, xenophobic, and sexist Buckley disliked libertarian writer Ayn Rand (as she was herself a Russian immigrant) who in turn did not like Buckley much either, as her motivations were economic, not racial and cultural, however arguably misguided many of her ideas were in hindsight.) Nevertheless, segregationists such as Buckley strategically allied themselves with the libertarian wing of the Republicans, in order to squeeze out the more moderate elements, represented by people like Nelson Rockefeller, and even Richard Nixon. (For all his Machiavellian faults, it is ironic that Nixon was disliked by movement conservatives such as Buckley because they felt that Nixon was insufficiently racist, essentially.) This moderate - extremist tension within the Republican Party came to a head first in 1976, when the moderate President Gerald Ford beat the extremist Ronald Reagan for the Republican Presidential nomination that year, and then again four years later, when the result was reversed and the (relatively) moderate George H.W. Bush was beaten by Reagan for the nomination and the rest is sadly, history. Today, with President Trump essentially treating the Republican Party like his own personal fiefdom, driving (relative) moderates like Congresswomen Cheney or Senator Romney into the political wilderness, the “deal with the devil” that the 1960’s Republican libertarians made, has come to its full manifestation - the remaining beleaguered moderates in the Republican Party are all but extinct, and the libertarian element (which overlaps to an extent with the moderate element) is also relatively small and confined mostly to think tanks and academia, but the racist reactionary element that was once a fringe group lead by extremists like Buckley, is now almost wholly dominant in today’s Republican Party. This change, as I will here discuss, has had horrific consequences for America’s future, and dooms the younger generations (Generation X, Millennial, and Z) to economic hardship and depredation not experienced by the Baby Boom and earlier generations, and, indeed,  has brought about an end to the concept of America as being a land of opportunity, or even, increasingly, a particularly desirable place to live in the word as compared to its peer countries with similar economic output.

Due to tax cuts for the wealthy which rewards asset ownership, not work, that is, a tax structure that relies heaviest on income taxes on working people and not on capital gains taxes on the wealthy, such that people like Warren Buffet pay less taxes as a percentage of their income than their secretaries do, over the past several decades, the gap between the wealthy and the middle class and working class has widened to being the biggest gap in the developed world. This not only means that the top 1% own most of the wealth of the country, it also means that social mobility is the lowest in the developed world. Back in the 1960’s, it was a well known fact that if one were born into a working class family in the UK, the chances of that person acquiring wealth throughout their lifetime and winding up in the upper classes was very low. By contrast, in America one had a better chance of social mobility back then. There were education subsidies for lower income people, interest rates for savings accounts were higher, and the costs of living such as housing were lower. Now however the situation is reversed, people in America have the lowest social mobility as compared to people in the UK and Europe. America is no longer the “land of opportunity”. During the pandemic, the top 0.01% of the population in terms of wealth actually doubled their wealth. On the other hand, the bottom 50% of people collectively have essentially 0 assets, once debt is factored in. This is a result of a combination of tax breaks for the wealthy as well as artificially low interest rates for many years, which penalizes savings (because inflation rises faster than interest earned by savings) but rewards stock market speculation, so the wealthy get to keep more of their wealth due to a tax system biased in their favor, and they get to gain more wealth by stock market speculation which is paid for in a sense by making it harder for average people to earn wealth by savings accounts. The system is “rigged” indeed but it is “rigged” in the favor of the white and the wealthy.

An unforeseen consequence of this whole thing has been a plummet of birth rates, such that birth rates are very far below replacement levels (hovering in the U.S.,  around 1.6 or 1.7 children on average per couple, with population break-even level being about 2.1). This is because in addition to peoples’ “real wealth” (adjusted for inflation) falling over the decades as a result of unfair monetary and tax policies, there has also been a related issue of increase of rent and housing prices. This is due in part to inflation which has been encouraged by right-wing policy makers in order to “grease the wheels” of the stock market, which has eroded the value of people’s savings and driven up rent costs at the same time, such that for example in cities like Boston today, a studio apartment might cost $1,600 a month. Another factor here is that extremist policy makers have allowed big corporations to buy up housing to their heart’s content, driving average buyers out of the market. So if people cannot afford rent and cannot afford to buy a house (as they could more easily in for instance in the 1960’s and 1970’s), they naturally will not have the children that they cannot afford to have. Economic growth is always tied to population growth, so, as the population declines due to declining birth rates, the economy will also contract. Right-wingers say that artificial intelligence and other types of technology can keep up the GDP even as the number of workers goes down, but just look at Japan - they have a similar population problem, and they have the world’s most advanced and widely used robotics, but this has not stopped Japan from being in an economic morass for over the past 30 years. Expecting technology to make up for a falling population is like pumps on a sinking ship, it can buy time, but it won’t stave off inevitable decline.

These unfair policies which have made it impossible for many working people to have children, and are contributing to the decline of standards of living and ultimately to population decline, have the protection of the courts. This again goes back to the devious machinations of the movement conservatives of the 20th century. They created the Federalist Society which is a racist organization whose primary purpose is to get extremist judges appointed, and reached its zenith of power not long ago when Federalist Society approved Justices Kavanaugh, Gorsuch, and Barrett got on to the Supreme Court, giving the court an extreme reactionary tilt for probably a generation. Issues like fair housing will not get an equitable hearing in the courts due to their current makeup. There is a devious method to the madness here. Movement conservatives understood the fact that as the country diversified and grew, white majority rule was threatened, so they calculated that they could create white minority rule through the courts, which sadly has come to pass in many respects. The irony is that the extreme right is now being hoisted by their own petard: a shrinking economy hurts everyone, including the white elites whose interests movement conservatives have worked to promote for more than half a century. As the population declines as a direct result of right-wing policies, the economy declines, and this hurts the wealthy also, even if they are cushioned somewhat from the worst effects of economic decline.

Another aspect to all this is of course the environment. Extremist right-wing policies have led to climate change and a depletion of natural resources in general. It is estimated that, beyond the human cost, later in this century America may suffer up to 10 Trillion dollars worth of damage related to climate change (as areas of places like Miami and San Diego sink into the sea). I am putting this in dollar terms not to downplay the human cost of all this but to make the point that the movement conservatives who care about money, almost as much as they care about promoting white supremacy, have if you like shot themselves in the foot with their rolling back of environmental protections and wanton use of fossil fuels. The Trump Administration’s withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement was in a sense the final mistake, final in the sense that it was the major, pivotal mistake that has consequences that cannot now be avoided and will create disaster for everyone, including for those on the right who have been in denial about climate change, or think selfishly that they can avoid the consequences of the environmental catastrophe they have created.

In summary, in a couple decades or less, America will be in very steep economic decline, suffering the ravages of climate change and of population loss due to entirely self-inflicted extreme right-wing policies that came out of a small group of racists like William Buckley, who set out to remake the country in their image, starting back in the 1950’s.

I would make the following suggestions as to how to respond from a progressive standpoint to this tragic state of affairs. 

1) While big change on a federal level is not realistic due to the structural disadvantages presented by the U.S. Senate (which was originally constituted incidentally in order to protect the interests of slave states, and so disproportionately favors smaller, whiter states), it is still important to “play defense” at least at the federal level. This means not only is it important to try to win Presidential elections but (sometimes overlooked by progressives) it is Also important to put all efforts into winnable Senate contests because it is the Senate that determines the makeup of the judiciary. Winning the U.S. House of Representatives is “nice to have '' but the Senate is more important, due to its role in the judiciary, a fact the right-wing picked up on a long time ago, so progressives need to understand this also. 

2) If change at a federal level in a major, systemic way is right now unrealistic, progressives can still have victories at a state level, so more attention needs to be paid by the progressive grass roots to state and local elections, in order to make progress on important issues such as affordable housing and climate change. Again, this is a lesson long ago understood by the right wing, that piling up state-level victories can be a precursor to nationwide change, so this is another lesson that progressives need to learn as well. 

3) The movement conservatives as I mentioned above made temporary alliances with libertarians whom they did not much care for, in order to further their agendas long term. Similarly, progressives may at times need to make alliances with other factions within the Democratic Party that may be more hawkish in foreign policy than some progressives want, or who may indeed be more oriented towards globalist capitalism than some progressives want, in order to defend against the worst excesses of the newly resurgent fascism America is now dealing with. Indeed it may at times be necessary to work with some moderate Republicans in order to save our democracy. The movement conservatives came to dominance in part by a willingness to make temporary quarter with elements of the Republican Party they did not much care for, and also worked with some of the racist segregationist “Dixiecrats” of the civil rights era to further their agenda of taking over the Republican Party and ultimately the country, so by the same token progressives need to take heed of this and be willing to bite the bullet and compromise at times to prevent the current slide towards fascism. While generating voter enthusiasm and turnout in the base is always important, especially in the very polarized era we now live in, a willingness to work with people of different ideological orientations is often necessary, so this fact needs to be communicated effectively to the base activists.

4) Finally, the racist movement conservatives of the 1950’s and 1960’s played the long game. They did not truly achieve national power until Ronald Regan in the 1980’s and they did not in fact achieve total dominance at the federal level in terms of the Presidential, legislative, and judicial branches of power, until Trump took office in 2017. That was more than a half century-long arc of the rough beast of racist reactionaries, slouching towards Bethlehem to be born, to channel poet William Yeats. The movement conservatives succeeded in their devious machinations in part because they were patient, and were playing the game over multiple generations. Progressives must have the same mentality. If it took around 60 years for the movement conservatives to achieve their goals, it may take 60 years from now for progressives to roll them back. So there must be a willingness to pile up small victories here and there, slowly but surely, including at the state and local levels, and build up bigger achievements over time.

To end on an optimistic note, or at least a less pessimistic one, the movement conservatives broke the country and they did it while never operating from a majority support position. Hitler never had a majority support either even at the height of his power in mid-1930’s Germany. The anti-fascists Do have the advantage of numbers. So the key lesson here is that anti-fascists have to be as strategic, and as patient, as are the enemies of democracy. The hour is late indeed, but perhaps the bell has not yet tolled for the American experiment.

Saturday, December 5, 2020

How to Build a Conscious Computer (Step-by-Step Instructions)

This will be brief but perhaps may be expounded upon in future.

To build a machine - computer - that is *really* conscious even "a little bit" one needs the following ingrediants:

1) A set of real hardware neurons in the topology of a thermodynamic recurrent neural network such as Hopfield (1982). Specifically you need 5 neurons to have associated memory, maybe call it 6 to give some more flexibility to the network (4 neurons is sufficient to solve XOR problem, where it oututs "1" for an odd number of bits as input and outputs a "0" for an even number of bits as input). So for a proof of concept you should have 6 neurons I'd say. [By "neuron" in a hardware implementation I mean an electrical relay, which can serve as a threshold function to modulate current flow, either supporting or inhibiting, so there is nothing particularly challenging about the "neurons" in this context.]

2) This network connected ("wired") together via tubes of (say) salt water where the tubes are clear plastic (non-conducting and transparent for photons to go across) -  this is crucial - the charges need to be transmitted by ions (like salt in salt water) just as the brain transmits signals between its neurons via ions.

3) This network submerged into a liquid of some kind - could be more salt water, or even fresh water, but liquid to "trap" photons in and about the network and this "bath"  of a network enclosed in a Faraday cage (say a lead box) to isolate from environment (just as the human skull is an (imperfect) Faraday cage of sorts to protect the brain from environment signals).

4) One can connect this network via ordinary copper wiring to a power supply / input output device (like a computer) on the outside of the box it is in to give inputs and outputs and so long as there is a power running it will be in a certain sense animate albeit not always conscious - it is consious only when processing inputs and those inputs are "distributed" to the whole network, just as we are not always conscious but only when we are processing information that is globally distributed throughout our neocortex.

This link gives some more details on Hopfield network including some history:

Additional more technical / detailed links on setting up Hopfield network;

That is the whole thing. Consciousness is basically the electromagnetic field generated by a neural network but it is not just the EM field, it is the gravitational field also, because the "secret sauce" of consciousness is entropy (and, per Roger Penrose, entropy is in turn caused by the Weyl curvature of General Relativity). See this study showing link between entropy and consciousness  -

To make some philosophical remarks, the Ricci curvature in GR gives rise to matter, and if the Weyl curvature of GR gives rise to entropy, and hence consciousness, then that puts "matter" and "mind" on the same level if one wills, obviating the millenial-long debate about which is ontologically primal, matter or mind. Neither are primal, for they are both consequences of curvatures in GR. For Spinoza, he defined g-d as that outside of which nothing exists. (This is a similar tautology to Anselm I suppose if perhaps more all-encompassing, g-d being for Spinoza, not the "greatest thing" so to speak, but more "all things" - in fact Spinoza argued in a sense from Anselm, saying if g-d is the "greatest thing" and was separate from the universe or nature, then the sum (g-d + nature) would be "greater than" just g-d alone, so, to follow Anselm's tautology, one must say that g-d is in fact all of nature - actually I am not wholly certain if Spinoza specifically referenced Anselm, but this was his argument), so for Spinoza, g-d was the "universe" if you like, but very broadly in the sense of the totality of all that exists from past to present to future. This "all" or "substance" for Spinoza has infinite attributes. Well two of these attributes appear to be the Ricci and Weyl curvatures which give rise to matter, and mind, respectively. Gravitation plays two roles here. The Weyl curvature which gives you entropy which again is the secret sauce so to speak for consciousness, but also this same Weyl curvature solves the "continuity" issue. Recently Russian scientists revived worms frozen for 30,000 - 40,000 years in the Siberian tundra ( What was the "it" that "came back to life"? It was the Weyl curvature "pattern" associated with their nervous systems. Think of the Weyl curvature as the "scaffolding" which underpins the EM fields which are our conscious experience, and the Weyl curvature is also that which imbues these said fields with the entropy necessary to be, well, conscious. That is the whole thing, really. What is consciousness? It is EM fields underpinned by gravitational fields - specifically the so-called "gravitomagnetic" fields of the Weyl Curvature - existing in high states of entropy. (I having jokingly called this model in the past the "selfish microstate" picture of consciousness - microstates being a reference to entropy, and "selfish" beng a reference to selfish gene theory - just as in selfish gene theory animals are machines so to speak to copy and distribute genes, so in a sense concsiousness can be seen as a mechanism created by highly-entropic systems to create more entropy.)

This outline will build a *real* conscious entity say at the level of a sponge or a hydra. Not much, but a start, and then after that it can just be scaled up. Perhaps I will expound on all this at a future date with more details because here I have intentionally kept things brief, and there is more I could say specifically regarding the precise relationship of  the Weyl curvature to the EM fields of consciousness, but I wanted to just give an outline here. The question must immediately turn to how to approach this area in a ecologically responsible way - can we make the hardware components out of renewable materials at scale and ensure to be carbon neutral or even carbon negative while creating machines of this kind? These issues for now I will leave to others to decipher, but I think these are things that need to be considered from the outset.

The Wright Brothers' plane flew for 12 seconds, but it flew. The above outlined 6 neuron Hopfield net won't solve the P vs. NP math problem, but it will be, in that famous designation of Colin Clive as Henry Frankenstein, "ALIVE!" :)

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Consciousness as the Thermodynamic Process of a (complex) Wave Function (refining my notion of consciousness as "The Selfish Microstate")

I've written about consciousness before, based on a model of what I lightly refer to as "the selfish microstate", a nod to Richard Dawkins' "selfish gene". Essentially, what I have argued (as others have) is that consciousness is a mechanism which increases entropy. Now, of course, many things increase entropy - an internal combustion engine does for instance, but that does not mean my automobile is conscious (that I am aware of). This said, a conscious system is at least to be found in a subset of systems that are also entropy-increasing, would be the point. There is perhaps a "missing ingredient", which makes one entropy-increasing system conscious and another not-conscious. This, perhaps, relates to the wave function.

Let's define this with some history. Circa 1900, it was imagined that electrons orbit the nucleus of an atom much as a planet orbits a star. However, this was soon found to be incorrect, as calculations showed that the electron would fall into the nucleus of the atoms in about 1 / 100 billionth of a second. Clearly this did not happen, so the "planet-like orbit" model of an electron's motion was incorrect.  Around this same time, however, it was found that light (traditionally modelled as a wave) displayed particle-like properties referred to as "quanta" or, in modern parlance, "photons". Curiously,  something seen as a wave, light, could also behave as a particle. So, scientists thought, what if we went the other way? What if we have something we view like a particle, namely, an electron, that perhaps can also behave like a wave? The electron was then modelled, not as a very tiny point of mass in orbit around a nucleus of an atom, but rather as a sort of standing wave all around the nucleus of the atom. It also turned out that the square root of the height of the wave in a given place gave one the probability of detecting the electron (in the form of a particle) at that particular place. Hence "quantum theory" was born, named from the term "quanta" which described things - like electrons or particles of light - that sometimes were best viewed as waves, and sometimes as particles.

Later refinements, however, led to something quite curious. What if I have 2 electrons around my atom, not just one? Do I now have two waves? (Or "wave functions" which is just a fancier way of saying "waves"). It turned out that, no, one still had only one wave function - the 2 electrons would basically add together and form a composite wave function. The cool thing about this, however, is that - in theory - one could keep going like this, and basically add the wave functions for every single particle of the universe together into one giant composite wave function, known as the wave function of the universe. Of course, this is beyond any computer's ability to do, so this is just a theoretical operation, but the moral of the story is that one can treat even large systems (made up of trillions of particles) as their own composite wave functions. In practicality, for large systems, this is not a convenient or necessary thing to do, but it remains something one can do in theory. Indeed, we could perhaps take the brain (or neocortex) and say there is a composite wave function (built up out of all the wave functions for all the atoms in the neocortex, for example).

The famous Schrodinger's Cat experiment can help take us where we are going here. Imagine a cat in a box, and in that box is a radiocative nucleus with a 50% chance of decaying. If it decays it will trigger a weapon that will kill the cat. If it does not decay, the cat will remain unharmed. So, until one opens the box to check on the cat, the cat is in a "superposition", a mixed state of being if you will 50% alive and 50% dead. We can say the "wave function" of the cat gives us a 50% probability of finding it dead, and 50% probability of finding it alive. This is a well known thought experiment, with apologies to PETA.

Now, what would it mean to say that the entropy of the cat increases? Well, we could perhaps imagine that some of the atoms of the cat get re-arranged in some way (perhaps the cat is scratching itself and disheveling its fur). But this re-arrangement does not in fact trigger the decay the radioactive nucleus - it is in fact irrelevent to the broader setup, that is to say, we can imagine this re-arrangement to not impact the probability of finding the cat either alive or dead. No matter how dishevelled the cat in the box's fur gets, the probability of finding it alive or dead remains the same. It wave function, if you will, from the point of view of somebody outside the box, remains unaffected.

To "increase the entropy" of a wave function of a single particle is a rather simple affair - the wave simply "spreads out" over time, which is to say, as time passes, the probability of finding the particle in one location or another gets smeared out over a larger area. However, the *location* of a particle is only one possible property that a "wave function" can have. A wave function is not a "wave" in "space" - it is basically a mathematical function over Hilbert space, that is to say, over a space of probabilities for some quantity (such as position or momentum). To say a wave function "spreads out" does not mean something in our familiar space - we simply mean this particle gets more chances of have a certain quantity - such as its position say - varied, and the more time that passes, the more varied it gets.

By way of analogy, let's say I am a stock picker trying to create a well balanced portfolio. So "Hilbert Space" in this analogy would be all the possible stocks I could buy. The "wave function" is that subset of stocks I am likely to buy at a particular time. The longer that time goes on, the greater that subset becomes, that is to say, the longer I am in the market, the more likely it is that I will expand the range of stocks I am thinking about buying. So, you could say, the "entropy" of my stock picking operation increases, that is to say, the range of different types of companies, sectors of the market, and so on, increase as time increases.

This same principle applies, albeit in a more complex way, to wave functions for systems built up out of many different parts. It is basically a "state space" - the longer our cat is in the box, the greater its "state space" becomes, though from the outside of the box, one would not know the difference.

A conscious system, then, seems to be a complex system - a nervous system, say - undergoing an increase of its state space, an increase of its internal entropy, and there is some sort of interaction with the environment such that its interaction does not obviously indicate "the state of the state space" if one might clumsily phrase it thus.

As an example, if I am order coffee at a restaurant, I do not give two hoots what the internal monologue of my waitress is, so long as she correctly takes down my order and brings me my coffee - in my case, coffee without cream, and, if they have no cream, then coffee without milk (as the joke from the film "Ninotchka" goes, which of course has now been done to death in nearly everything Slavoj Zizek has ever written, ha ha).

The difference between a conscious waitress and a non-conscious robot, is there exists a wave function of some sort which can describe the "internal state" of the nervous system of the waitress, and there is a well defined way in which this wave function is increasing its "entropy" (or, "state space") wholly unbeknownst to the casual outside observer.

I understand this is a very preliminary and "hand wavy" approach at the moment, and hopefully with increases in neuroscience, physics, and so on, more precision may one day be had, but this picture is I think at least not wholly inaccurate.

To circle back to the cat, at some point, something happens which does impact upon the outside observer - and when she opens the box, finds the cat either alive or dead. But this so-called "collapse of the wave function" is in a sense a separate issue from the issue of the "entropy" of the wave function (and in an Everett Multiverse view the wave function never collapses anyway, but that is another story). Going back to the stock picker analogy, the fact that I buy, say, IBM stock on a Wednesday, as opposed to say Facebook stock, is immaterial to the "range" of stocks I had been considering on that Wednesday. When I say the "entropy of the wave function increased" I mean my "range" of stocks I am considering has increased on that Wednesday as compared to the previous day on Tuesday, and so forth. Somebody observing me purchasing IBM only sees me buying IBM and does not know nor care what particular range of stocks I may have been considering, just prior to purchasing IBM, just as I do not particularly care what my coffee shop waitress' internal monologue might have been, just before I ordered coffee without cream.

A conscious system must, basically, be treated as a unified system described by a single wave function. Just as a single wave function can describe any number of electrons for instance, a single wave function can describe - I would argue - any conscious system. It is the "increasing of the state space" of that wave function of the conscious system (be it a coffee shop waitress, a sponge, or an AI system of some sort) that is the "internal awareness" of the system. 

Consciousness is always a wholly private matter, as many philosophers have pointed out. I can only experience "my own" consciousness, not that of someone else. This model would give the reason for that. If concsiousness is really a wave function then it "exists" so to speak only in Hilbert Space, and is thus then really forever inaccesible to the "outside" observer, as much as anything in Hilbert Space.

"...and so forth, and so on" to once again channel Zizek. :)

Greta Garbo as "Ninotchka"

Unrelated Postcript: Slavoj Zizek discusses the "coffee without cream" joke :) 

Friday, May 29, 2020

Interrogating the Failures of Phinehas, the Weimar Republic, and America after the Murder of George Floyd

Pictured: an incorrect assumption 
I am reflecting on the tragic murder of an unarmed suspect, George Floyd, by a rogue police officer recently, the latest unfortunately in a series of such episodes of police brutality against persons of colour. There is an irony too that the crime for which Mr. Floyd was being detained when he was murdered (by being strangled, on camera, in broad daylight, in front of witnesses, for eight long minutes), was for passing of counterfeit money, and the officer who murdered him's own wife had been once in trouble for passing a fraudulent cheque, another example of the inequities of justice in America.

I try to put things into context, as to what the underlying error here is in America writ large today. Racism, obviously, but the question I have is why is this persisting, over four centuries after the first slave ship made its way to the New World in 1619?

To answer this, I need to interrogate the story of Phinehas.We must understand precisely the manner in which he was in error, in which he was, actually, a failure, to understand our present moment. To review, the story (certainly mythological, but still instructive, no less than the story by Aesop of the Tortoise and the Hare is instructive in other ways), is that of Phinehas, who was the grandson of Aaron, the Hebrew High Priest, and thus grand-nephew (or something to that effect) to Moses, the leader of the Hebrew people in Torah. Rabbinical scholarship suggests that Phinehas was an heir-apparent to Moses, until, as one might recall from Hebrew or Sunday school, he was not, and actually Joshua became the leader of the people following the death of Moses. What happened? Well, Phinehas is famous (infamous) for basically one thing - there was an episode of idol worship, apparently, in which some young men in the tribes carried on with some women from foreign cultures, and adopted their foreign religions which was contrary to the admonition against idol worship handed down by Moses - Phinehas, without consulting anyone, certainly not Moses, took the law in his own hands, and murdered one of the young men who was carrying on with one of the foreign women, along with the woman herself. (I should note the "issue" here was not so much regarding sexual relations with these foreign women or something to that effect, the issue rather that Phinehas was concerned with was idolatry, which ran contrary to the laws and customs of the day.) In any case, it is an interesting question to pose, why or how was Phinehas in error in this action? So fully in error, in fact, that though it is not stated outright in the text of the Torah, Rabbis in the years since feel it was because of this if you like "hot-headed" act of vigilantism that cost him his place as the heir-apparent to Moses? Well, on the face of it, it was precisely because he Was in this action being "hot-headed" and not consulting with others, but rather taking the law into his own hands, whereas Joshua by contrast always was consulting others (consulting with his friend Caleb, for example, who some consider actually to have been a convert to the Hebrew people from Canaan and so was helpful as he knew the territory they were about to enter, which is another story). Phinehas, while perhaps being correct in the letter of the law in terms of his concern with stopping idol worship, was more deeply incorrect because he did not seek justice but rather acted out of his own self-righteous emotions. He was acting for his own interests, ultimately, not the interests of the people. A deeper failure, one might say, is that he never questioned his own assumptions - he just acted without thought and thus became a minor footnote in the text, rather than a major character like Joshua, as a result. So the error - failure - of Phinehas, ultimately, was a failure to think twice, and question what assumptions he was making. (Nerd joke alert: we can thank goodness Phinehas was no mathematician, for if he had been, he may well have made the same mistake Euclid was purported to have made regarding not questioning his own axioms, in particular his infamous Fifth Axionm, ha! :) )

Carrying foward into history this theme of not questioning one's own assumptions, I am reminded of the great historical novel by Leon Uris called Armageddon: A Novel of Berlin about the partitioning of the city of Berlin by Allied forces at the end of World War II. There is an interesting side plot early in this story, about an African-American U.S. Lieutenant assigned to "reconstruct" a small German town following the war's end, and though the details of the novel are hazy to my recollection now, there is a fascinating passage where this Lieutenant is questioning a leader of that town who is a member of old German nobility, and basically asking this old Baron, WTF. That is, how could the people of the town not have seen what was going on? How did they somehow miss or purposely ignore the Holocaust which happened in a sense under their noses? The old Baron naturally dodges and weaves, playing the "I didn't know anything" and the Neuremberg "I was following orders" cards, and essentially follows the familiar post-atrocity theme of nobody taking responsbility for anything. At one point the old Baron says to the young American officer, "This could have happened anywhere", to which the officer replies, "But it never has." It was certainly a powerful scene, and provided much food for thought. One answer the novel speculates on is that the old Nordic mythology of races of gods fighting against "lesser" races of gods, fed into the subconscious pysche of the people. When a people grow up with mythology that glorifies bloodshed and death in battle (as evidenced in such concepts as Valhalla, a sort of heaven for Nordic heroes killed in battle), and when this mythology not only glorifies violence, but also mixes it in with false notions of belonging to some sort of superior bloodline and so on, it primes people on a subconscious level to accept false and evil ideas about racial superiority and wars against "lesser races", such that when a demogogue arises, they don't have the normal critical thinking skills or psychological defenses against it. There will always I think be an eternal paradox of how a country that could produce a Beethovan, a Schopenhauer, a Noether, an Einstein, could also have allowed the Nazis to take root. I think at least part of the answer - surely not a complete answer - but part of the answer, may well lie with how the mythology primed the pump so to speak for horrendously false and nihilistic ideology to gain a foothold. The people in Uris' story of post-war Germany had not questioned their assumptions. That was ultimately the start of the problems. Just as Phinehas never stopped to think, maybe I should ask Moses about this idol worship problem, never questioned his assumptions, so too is history sadly littered with episodes of individuals - or in the case of Germany - an entire people - not questioning their subconscious assumptions they had grown up holding.

But America has this same problem. We look in rightful horror at the murder of George Floyd, and hope his killer will be brought to justice. But we don't question the assumptions given to us by our own mythology. The basic American myth is that of the rugged (white) individual single-handedly taming the wilderness filled with "savages" (be those "savages" Native Americans, or African-Americans, or pretty much anyone who is not Anglo-Saxon). We grow up on stories of Col. David Crockett who won fame for fighting against Native Americans in Florida under the command of General (future President) Andrew Jackson, and who of course died at the Alamo (a conlict parenthetically started by white Texas slave-owners unhappy with Mexico, a largely religiously-influenced culture, banning slavery on moral grounds). In American mythology, the pro-slavery Crockett is the hero, and the deeply religiously devout General Santa Anna, Crockett's opponent in the Alamo, who saw it as his moral duty to root out slavery, is portrayed as the villian who was against "freedom" (namely, the "freedom" of the ranchers to own slaves). To be fair Crockett himself was more nuanced than his portrayals in American lore at times is, and in fact as a Congressman worked to establish more peaceful relations with Native Americans (he still supported slavery, but was, I suppose, like most of us, a mixture of good and bad, neither hero nor total villian).

The point is, I think, Americans (speaking as one myself) make tragically the same mistake that the Germans made, that of not questioning our assumptions, or seeking council from others. We need to develop a new "story", a new cultural consciousness, a new meta-narrative. No, America has not always been on the wrong side of history. After all, it was America who helped defeat the Nazis and Imperial Japan, and also fought a bloody Civil War to end the evil of slavery. America has had highlights and lowlights, like any other culture, but the problem we now face, more than four centuries after the dawn of the slaving era, is a continued failure to examine our own axioms, and find where they are wanting. I would like, for example, to remember the Congressman Crockett, who tried to make peace with the Native Americans, not the opportunist former-Congressman Crockett, who joined the slavery-defenders at the Alamo in order to revive a sagging political career. It is not that American history is "bad", it is that we need to focus on those aspects of it that serve to ennoble the national soul, and de-emphasize those aspects that do not speak to the better angels of our nature. I would like, as another example, to remember abolitionist Harriet Tubman, who led scores of people to freedom on the underground railway. I would even like to remember former Confederate Lt. General James Longstreet, who, following the Civil War, became a police officer in New Orleans and fought to destroy the Ku Klux Klan, proving in his own life that uniquely-emphasized American quality, the perpetual ability to re-invent and reform onself - it is Longstreet who should be remembered, not his commanding (and consistently overrated in terms of strategic ability) officer, the unrepentant racist General Robert E. Lee. If, in short, America cannot learn from the mistake of the German people in the years leading up to and including the Weimar Republic, where assumptions about national (read: racial) identity were never questioned, but rather festered in the background like a cancer on the national psyche, leaving the nation vulnerable to the worst, cartoonishly evil but frighteningly real demogogues ever produced by history, then I am afraid there will be many more George Floyds in the future.

The lesson of the wise, then, is that it is not enough to take a set of assumptions or axioms and base your behaviour upon them, but rather one must also question those assumptions and axioms, and seek council where needed, to ensure those assumptions contribute to the bending of Dr. King's "arc of history" towards justice. Moses, by the way, knew this. Another lesser-known vignette in Torah is the case of inheritance rules, which, originally, dictated that inheritance go to sons, not daughters. But then a man who had only daughters died, and Moses was faced with a decision, to change the rules to allow the daughters to inherit the property, and thus keep intact that particular allotment of tribal property, or let those rules go unquestioned, and face the oblideration of the tribal property lines that were at stake. Moses let the daughters inherit the property. He changed the rules. Because he had the wisdom to question assumptions. Wisdom which Phinehas did not have. Wisdom which would still seem to elude the broader American psyche even to this day. I would say to America, learn to re-evaluate your subconscious assumptions about your national identity. Have the wisdom of a Moses, not the folly of a Phinehas. The murder of the innocent like George Floyd demands no less.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

The Heavens beyond the Heavens: How ancient wisdom presages the Quantum Multiverse and its significance for the human individual

My recent thinking along the lines of cosmology has led me to agree with what is called "quantum monism" (though perhaps the term itself would not have occured to me), but when I read an article on it (here: ), I found that this had basically been -  more or less - my viewpoint for quite some time.

What even more recently occured to me, is that we have a nice literary analogy to quantum monism in Dt. 10:14, "Behold, to the Lord, your God, belong the heavens and the heavens of [beyond] the heavens, the earth, and all that is on it." (Source: .) I stress the word "analogy" here - I do not (obviously) suggest the authors of the Torah were quantum physicists, but I would argue there is a certain spirit that is similar, that is to say, the authors of the Torah, were they alive today,  would probably like quantum monism.

Let me explain. Quantum monism essentially is a updated rephrasing of an idea that has been around since the 1950's, which is that the wave function of quantum particles is primal, or fundamental. What does this mean? This means that if (for example) I have an electron that can be in two states, say, "up", or "down", and I measure this electron to be - say - "up", there is a "parallel reality" somewhere (in a higher dimensional space) where observers will measure that same electron to be "down", that is to say, all possible paths of particles are realized somewhere, in what is often (mis) labelled a set of "parallel universes". Why do I say this is mislabelled? Because these are Not "separate" universes, but rather are different dimensions in a deeper underlying reality. (This underlying reality can be given by Hilbert space that has an infinit number of dimensions, each dimension corresponding to a particle "possible configuration" of matter, but of course Hilbert space is just a model, and perhaps a final model is still yet to be elided.)

This is an artistic rendering of the notion of a quantum multiverse where anything that can happen does happen somewhere (so, in this picture, one of these black balls might correspond to a world where a particular electron we measure is in the "up" state, and another one of these black balls might correspond to a world where that same particular electron we measure is in a "down" state.

How I relate this by analogy to the above mentioned verse in Torah is that was positing that there was an underlying reality - in the case of the context of that passage, this reality being g-d, that unified all of all existence, so while there might be "heavens of the heavens" (i.e. in the context of the time, parts of the world even beyond or past the stars visible to the naked eye which were the "heavens", so here the author(s) are prescient enough to know  that there could well be parts of the world not visible to the naked eye which was very forward-thinking for its time, given that this was written perhaps up to 3,000 years ago) - even those parts of the world that could not be seen were in a sense "tied together" with the more familiar parts of the world by belonging to g-d (for the writers of this passage), or,  in modern parlance we might say, all aspects of the "world" - the universe, has some underlying reality or set of laws that govern it.

So, this notion that while there are different aspects of the universe that there is notwithstanding this something unifying everything, is old, and predates quantum physics. The Hindus had the Brahmin, Spinoza had his "Substance", the 1800's physicists had the luminferous ether. In different ages and cultures, the smart people of the time hit upon this basic truth, that however diverse the universe might be, there is something "underneath" that binds it together. So - it is not perhaps precisely right to say that there is a quantum "multiverse" - there is just one universe, but one within which all quantum possibilities are realized.

To go into my own "spin" on things here, and here I draw from reading Stephen Hawking's work, this is - for what it is worth - my own sort of understanding of this notion of a "quantum monism". I also draw from if you will my personal "bias" of being a relativist (in the sense of drawing my own thinking from Einstein's Relativity, a totally different sense of the word "relativist" than the sense of the word that arises in discussions of ethics). But, here goes. 

In my view, all possible metrics - solutions - of General Relativity exist, and the reality we observe, and, as importantly, can predict, is basically the average of these solutions. Hawking's No Boundary Proposal restricts the "possible metrics" to compact  ones, but that is more a minor, technical point. For the purposes of this discussion, we can think of "all of reality" is the summation of some subset, perhaps all, of the solutions of General Relativity, which have some - as yet not fully understood - way of being "averaged together" to form the world we live in. This can be modelled mathematically as a type of mathematical object called "the wave function of the universe", from which predictions can be derived for the universe we live in. The fact that we live in the universe alters how we do this, that is to say, we weight the contributive metrics which allow for observers more heavily than those that do not in order to make reasonable predictions from this "wave function" for the world we actually experience.

In this diagram the wave function of the universe is a kind of probability function (vertical line) and the horizontal line is the "space" of all possible metrics allowable, so in a sense we observe a universe that is "probable" in the space of all possible types of worlds, and this "probability function" is weighted towards accounting for those types of worlds that allow for observers to be in them.

To use an - always imperfect - sort of analogy,  the universe can be treated like a quantum partitcle that goes from one state to another through time. This abstract "particle" starts in a state - or a metric - that is small and dense, and goes at length into another metric that is expanding and large. So the "trajectory" of how the universe evolves through time can be modelled by treating "the universe" as if it were some sort of abstract (not real, but by way of analogy) "particle" that "travels" from one metric (or solution) to another, and this "trajectory" is simply the "average" path that "it" can take by "summing over" all possible metrics given by General Relativity (or the subset of those metrics that we have decided to include in our average).

This is an abstract diagram of treating the universe as if it were a particle moving from one type of metric to another through time. What is not shown in this diagram is that each region that it moves through is actually an "averaging out" of all possible metrics in each region.

So, long story short, the totality of reality is - again - something in which anything that can happen does happen in different if you will parallel timelines, which - just to complicate matters - may interact in some way (not now fully understood) so observers in any given "possible timeline" will always see there own "timeline" as an "average" of timelines in a similar way to the fact that any observer in an expanding universe will always see all other galaxies receding away from them relative to their position, so it "seems" as though they are at the "center of the universe" but that is simply an illusion given by being in an expanding universe - similarly - any observers in a given "timeline" (or "solution" or "metric" depending on your preferred terminology) will see their "timeline" as being the "average of all possible timelines", because the "average" is going to be different for different observers in different "timelines". "Clear as mud", I know, but I am hamstrung here by the fact that beyond not being a professional physicist myself, even were I, the details of all this are yet to be worked out (because you need a theory of quantum gravity - a quantum description of General Relativity in order to be able to do so, and this theory is "pending" and has been for about a century).

There is a simple take-away I think worth pointing out, and that is to say, that over the years (going, as I have argued, even all the way back to the time of the Torah) there has been converging streams of thought taking different forms over the years that while reality may be diverse and be greater than what we can ever even in principle observe, that, nevertheless, it is governed by the same underlying rules, and displays at the end of the day a deep unity, however complex it may seem to be. Call this deep unity what you like - for the writers of Torah, "G-d", for the Hindu writers of the Vedas, "Brahmin", for Spinoza, "Substance", for 19th century scientists "Ether", for today's scientists, "the wave function of the universe" or a "quantum object" but your end result is the same idea, a profound and beautiful if never wholly understood deep reality that binds everything together.

I  don't want to make this too long, nor do I want to get into deeper philosphical waters, but I will make very brief mention of the word "pantheism" which originally came about as almost an insult for people who didn't like Spinoza, but has re-emerged as a philosophical notion in its own right, and that is, essentially, this idea that the concept of divinity is bound up in some deep way with nature, and that these two concepts may in fact be the same, but at some far deeper level than the simplistic notions of nature given by most of the natural philosophers, so, not so much saying that "g-d is nature" but more saying "g-d is nature in the sense of nature as the total collection of those phenomena that are experienced in both the forms of matter and in the forms of mind, and is something that is deeper than both matter and mind as normally understood, and is something that can never be wholly apprehended by any particular model given by science, but is something that we are all a part of because it has a very profound unity out of which all things spring" (my words or take on it anwyay). So though the concept of "pantheist" began as basically an insult and even now remains inchaote, I think it worth pursing, and I think constitutes a sort of "third way" between the "hard core materialism" of traditional "atheism" and the "hard core mentalism" of traditional "theism". So I like to more or less consider myself a Spinoza-style "pantheist" while ever mindful that the notion demands more elucidation that it has yet been given, and hence I am here trying in a small way to do so.

I think there is one very simple and very crucial component of what I here call pantheism, the idea of an underlying reality that is the unity of the perhaps infinite number of spacetimes available from Relativity all woven together into some sort of unified whole, some sort of single "quantum object", and this simple observation I think separates what I am calling pantheism from traditional (Lucretius-style, "it is all atoms flitting about in the void") atheism, and that is that we are inside this "quantum object." You can never get outside of "reality" to observe it "objectively." Because you are in it. The fact that you are in it changes what predictions you can make about it (for instance, in Hawking's No Boundary Proposal you make different predictions than you would make if you ignored the presence of observers). So, actually, it is not "atoms flitting about in the void", it is also "observers made up of atoms flitting about in the void influencing themselves, other atoms and the void itself," so to speak. This is actually a very awesome conclusion - we are not "along for the ride" in a cold, heartless universe. We are co-creators with the universe. That "quantum object" I spoke of would not be the same without you, without me, without that gnat that crawled across my computer screen a few minutes ago. Even the word, "object," here, misleads somewhat, because reality is never static - it evolves through time - a better analogy than "quantum object" might be that of a river, where each "alternative timeline" is a "ripple" or eddy, which together build up to a larger whole, but one which continually changes and generates new realities and modes of existence, moment by moment. Yes, perhaps, "quantum river" is a better term.

Pictured: living in a van down by the quantum river

We are all in this together. That is the real take-away here, what smart people from the writers of the Torah to the writers of the Vedas to Albert Einstein to Stephen Hawking all understood. The universe may have infinite regions and even "alternative timelines" that we can never even in principle observe, but it is all at the end of the day one unified whole, a whole to which we each individually contribute, a whole which just would not be the same without each one of us. Now I think that is pretty cool. :)

This Phil Lockwood painting that combines some of the famous works by Edwin Hopper perectly illustrates the theme I am driving at here. Each room here is is own "world" but it is part of the greater reality of the city, so all these "worlds" are inter-connected, but this emergent totality would be different without each of these contributive "worlds". In a quantum multiverse, I argue, there is a plethora of "worlds" connected by a deeper reality, but is a reality we both belong to and contribute to, so there is immeasurable significance to each single human individual without whom this reality would not be same, for good, or for ill.


Appendix I: Two good introductory videos on Hawking's No Boundary Proposal (which is one possible approach to defining a "wave function of the universe") by science educator Athena Brensberger ( ):

Appendix II: Brief Discussion of Pantheism by Wesleyan University Professor of Religion Mary Jane Rubenstein ( )  (or specifically discussing the need to develop the concept of pantheism more fully):

Friday, June 28, 2019

The NET System: Proposed Model of Consciousness as (caused by) "the Selfish Microstate"

Here I propose a brief sketch of a model of consciousness I have developed which I give the catchy title "NET System" or "NETs" which stands for "Non-local Entropy-increasing Turing-complete Systems" which I purport are conscious systems. This is not necessarily a "complete" theory of consciousness. To have a "complete" theory one would need quantum gravity which is not there yet, and, beyond that, nothing can really said to be formally "complete" anyway, due to Godel's theorums, and similar sorts of issues. It is however I think a "good enough" theory to have a basic roadmap to work with, which can for example inform AI research.

Let me start with a concept from Daniel Dennett, of "becoming famous". For Dennett, a state of "being conscious" means an information pattern (like say, the pattern of a red apple, or the image or word thereof) being "famous" throughout the brain, that is, the brain has access to this pattern all across the neocortex - it is not localized, but is globally available. This, crucially, for Dennett is what it means to be in a conscious state. There is no "something else besides" - to be conscious (of, say, a red apple) is precisely to have the information associated with that red apple - sensory or conceptual - globally available in the neocortex, full stop. I agree with this idea, namely, that the only "difference" between conscious verus not-conscious information patterns is the global "availability" of that information. Taking this as the jumping-off point, I want to generalize about what it is we are talking about in abstract terms. If to be consciouss is to have information spread about in a nervous system, then we need to understand broadly what is going on, from a physics point of view.

Video of Dennett explaining his model:

A conscious system - human, jelly fish, whatever, is a system that is non-local, that is to say, it has an electromagnetic field whose state is in a sense digital with respect to inputs from the environment. Say, to be fully abstract, we have a nervous system similar to that of a sponge (i.e., very primitive) and has possible "states" red, yellow, green, blue which the system assumes based upon one or another inputs from the environment, and its own internal states. Say, if it is in state red, and it gets a certain environment stimulus - say food - it turns to state yellow (if say red means it is hungry, and yellow means it is in the process of eating food). The point is, the system is digital or non-local in that it is never in say half-green state, or half-yellow state. It is always one or the other of its possible states.

To move to a closely related point, of Turing-completeness, basically, to keep it simple, this simply means that the system can act like a "while" loop in a computer - while (a certain condition is the case), then (do a certain action) - example, while I am hungry, then I eat - while I am not hungry and I have just eaten, then I sleep, etc. Basically the system has an internal state that is always being updated by external inputs, or, put another way, the system interacts not only with its environment, but with itself (by eating the system changes its internal state also, not just the state of its environment, for example).

The trickier point is the "E" in the "NET" acronym, standing for "entropy-increasing". To explain in a simple way what I mean by this, let us go back to Dennett's "becoming famous" metaphor. To be conscious of Lisa Edelstein in a halter top (because I got tired of the red apple example) the information associated with that image needs to be globally distrubuted throughout my brain. To have this "global distribution" I need a concept of entropy. Basically I need a large number of "internal states" that correspond to my "external state" - take the simple sponge system that had abstract external states of red, yellow, green, blue (say). Each external state would correspond to N number of internal states (or "micro" states). To increase the entropy of this system, what I mean by this is I increase the number of internal states that correspond to each external state. Having a large number of internal states corresponding to external ("macro") states enables me to back-up information, to "globally distribute" information throughout the brain (or whatever kind of nervous system). Which of course answers the problem of sleep - why do we sleep? Because our skulls are only so big, and you cannot forever increase the number of internal states by say, strengthening certain celluar connections or weakening others. You need to hit the "reset" button now and again. To be awake ("conscious") means you have a non-local system that is doing computations and is increasing entropy and you can only do this so long, so much, before you sort of hit a maximum and have to start over (which we experience as sleep).

To build a AI system that is fully concsious, here is the basic outline. You have a neural network (such as a recurrent deep learning architecture like a Restricted Boltzmann Machine, for instance) made of real, physical processors (one processor unit or logic gate unit to be precise per "neuron") connected together inside a Faraday Cage (isolated from its environment) and you don't shield the EM field of these processors so there is a shared "external state" of the total EM field created by these processors, and these processors are set up such that they are "wasteful" - they are purposely not very efficient - so they have a large "error rate". But that is good, because they will distribute information across the network with better efficiency even if they are "slower" in terms of solving a particular problem. These processors are connected together with ion channels (not, say copper wires, but with, say, potassium ion tubes - or even good old fashioned salt water - i.e. each "neuron" - processor - exchanges current via ions, not electrons). This will cause the global EM field created by these processors to have an "imprint" of the information being computed in the processors themselves, and to have an electromagnetic concept of "entropy". So here "entropy" is both informational entropy in the design of the hardware neural network itself and also physical entropy in the electromagnetic field created by the movement of the ions between the pysical processors.

I propose that any - any - system that is "NET" is conscious - any Non-local, Entropy-increasing, Turing-complete system. So for example a proton is Not conscious - it is electromagetically non-local and (arguably) Turing-complete but it is too small to have any non-local sense of "entropy" associated with it. Your automobile is also Not conscious because while it has "entropy" in the sense of the internal combustion engine it does not have well-defined computational states. As argued elsewhere, I think a black hole is (a little bit) concious because it does have some notion of computational states, and as Stephen Hawking showed, it does have entropy. Certainly nervous systems are concious. Bacteria is a borderline case - they have some computational properties perhaps but likely not a lot of entropy.

However, here we come to a question. Just how much "entropy producing ability" does something need to "count" as being a concious system? Though much research would have to be done, I do think that basically a concious system both "increases entropy" AND at the same time increases the rate at which entropy is being increased. This is similar to the function y = e^x. The rate of change (first derivative) of this function increases with the value of the function - the rate of change is in fact the same as the value of the function. So, I'd argue, for a system to "count" as conscious it needs non-local computional electromagnetic properties - yes, all that - but it also needs to increase entropy (information and physical) and do so that is at an ever-increasing rate of increasing of entropy. So we can say a "conscious system" is "something that increases its own internal entropy at an ever increasing rate."

You might call this model, "The Selfish Microstate" model of consciousness - just as in selfish gene theory animals are machines used by genes to make copies of genes, or in meme theory (Blackmore, Dawkins) the psychological concept of "the self" is a mental construct created to make memes (another conversation, that!), so I might argue consciousness itself (call it awareness, being "awake", etc.) is an entropy-producing machine to make more micro-states (since by definition, "increasing entropy" means simply to increase the number of micro-states (internal states) of a system as compared to the number of macro-states (external states) of a system).

Now, I am leaving off the "main thrust" of my argument to get into more speculative matters, but it is the more speculative matters that led me to the model in the first place. Roger Penrose's "Weyl Curvature Hypothesis" states that cosmic entropy is caused by the Weyl Curvature of General Relativity. This is the type of curvature that distorts the shapes of objects caused by rotations of objects in spacetime. For example, the earth's rotation causes (a very tiny) distortion of space at the poles which can impact the orbit of golf-ball sized spheres in free-fall inside a space shuttle laboratory that have been used to measure this phenomenon. It also cause gravitational waves (which are basically waves or ripples in space caused by say two neutron stars colliding and which can be detected with very sensitive laser detectors that stretch miles across). I bring this up only to say that if one goes with the Weyl Curvature Hypothesis seriously, this takes you to interesting places. It means perhaps that entropy is in general caused by variations in the very geometry of space itself, and, if as argued here, that conscious systems are in a sense "entropy-producing machines" then consciousness also involves the very geometry of space itself. The Weyl Curvature is also of interest because it is conformally invariant - that is, it does not matter what your reference frame is, you will always be able to measure the Weyl Curvature. It is rather like the speed of light - you always agree on the speed of light, whatever your frame of reference. The Weyl Curvature is perhaps the one constant in all of nature in the sense of something that always endures. After all galaxies run out of energy and collapse into black holes, and those black holes themselves radiate away via Hawking radiation, such that in 10^100 (a google) years from now all that is left is the empty void, hydrogen atoms, and random photons of radiation, there is still yet another thing that is left over - the Weyl curvature. It is the one thing that is always there, even in the infinitely far future. So framing consciousness as being the "phenomenal experience" of a very objective process, that of systems that increase their own internal entropy at an increasing-rate, we leave open the door to the big questions that humans have always wrestled with. If the Weyl Curvature in a sense is always there in the history of the cosmos, never wholly absent other than being close to zero near the Big Bang, but is rather over the course of time changing some aspects here and there depending on reference frame, then perhaps what we call consciousness also is always there, and only changes aspects depending on "reference frame" (type of nervous system, environment, etc.).

As the topic for another post, I think Type Theory (specifically, Homotopy Type Theory) can help model a more formalized and complete picture of concsiousness and its place in the cosmos but I will leave that for another day. For now I think it enough to see conscious systems as being entropy-increasing machines of which we humans happen to be a certain sort. This opens the door in the first place, as discussed, to perhaps shedding light upon building conscious systems of our own, and in a broader arena, opens the door to showing at long last the true place of consciousness in the context of the broader cosmos.

One is tempted perhaps here to ask, what is the big-picture model of entropy, that is to say, is entropy something present throughout a multiverse model (thereby rendering it a "necessary" rather than a "contigent" part of Nature) but, lacking more developments in the area of quantum gravity and / or - as mentioned - a lengthier bit of spadework in the realm of Homotopy Type Theory, although I could certainly speculate here regarding our friend Weyl's place in a multiverse model, for now I shall simply punt the ball with Wittgenstein and say, "Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent." :-)

Less Boring Example of an "Information Pattern That Becomes Famous in the Brain" than a Red Apple ;)