AI, Consciousness, Science, Art & Understanding – Joscha Bach

Here Joscha Bach discusses consciousness, it’s relationship to qualia and whether an AI or a utility maximizer would do with it.

What is consciousness? “I think under certain circumstances being conscious is an important part of a mind; it’s a model of a model of a model basically. What it means is our mind (our new cortex) produces this dream that we take to be the world based on the sensory data – so it’s basically a hallucination that predicts what next hits your retina – that’s the world. Out there, we don’t know what this is.. The universe is some kind of weird pattern generator with some quantum properties. And this pattern generator throws patterns at us, and we try to find regularity in them – and the hidden layers of this neural network amount to latent variables that are colors people sounds ideas and so on.. And this is the world that we subjectively inhabit – that’s the world that we find meaningful.”

… “I find theories [about consciousness] that make you feel good very suspicious. If there is something that is like my preferred outcome for emotional reasons, I should be realising that I have a confirmation bias towards this – and that truth is a very brutal vector”..

0:07 Consciousness and it’s importance
0:47 Phenomenal content
1:43 Consciousness and attention
2:30 When AI becomes conscious
2:57 Mary’s Room – the Knowledge Argument, art, science & understanding
4:07 What is understanding? What is truth?
4:49 What interests an artist? Art as a communicative exercise
5:48 Thomas Nagel: What is it like to be a bat?
6:19 Feel good theories
7:01 Raw feels or no? Why did nature endow us with raw feels?
8:29 What is qualia, and is it important?
9:49 Insight addiction & the aesthetics of information
10:52 Would a utility maximizer care about qualia?

Principles of Synthetic Intelligence - Joscha BachJoscha Bach, Ph.D. is an AI researcher who worked and published about cognitive architectures, mental representation, emotion, social modeling, and multi-agent systems. He earned his Ph.D. in cognitive science from the University of Osnabrück, Germany, and has built computational models of motivated decision making, perception, categorization, and concept-formation. He is especially interested in the philosophy of AI and in the augmentation of the human mind.

Joscha has taught computer science, AI, and cognitive science at the Humboldt-University of Berlin and the Institute for Cognitive Science at Osnabrück. His book “Principles of Synthetic Intelligence” (Oxford University Press) is available on amazon.

Physicalism & Materialism – John Wilkins

Materialism was a pre-socratic view that for something to be real it has to be matter – physical stuff made of atoms (which at the time were considered hard like billiard balls – fundametal parts of reality).  The reason these days the term physicalism is used is because it can describe things that aren’t matter – like forces, or aren’t observable matter – like dark matter, or energy or fields, or spacetime etc..  Physicalism is the idea that all that exist can be described in the language of some ‘ideal’ physics – we may never know what this ideal physics is, though people think that it is something close to our current physics (as we can make very accurate predictions with our current physics).

If magic, telepathy or angels were real, there would be a physics that could describe them – they’d have patterns and properties that would be describable and explainable.  A physicist would likely think that even the mind operates according to physical rules.  Being a physicalist according to John means you think everything is governed by rules, physical rules – and that there is an ideal language that can be used to describe all this.

Note John is also a deontologist.  Perhaps there should exist an ideal language that can fully describe ethics – does this mean that ideally there is no need for utilitarianism?  I’ll leave that question for another post.

Interview with John Wilkins on Materialism & Physicalism.

Here are some blog posts about physicalism by John Wilkins:

Is physicalism an impoverished metaphysics?

Every so often, we read about some philosopher or other form of public intellectual who makes the claim that a physicalist ontology – a world view in which only things that can be described in terms of physics are said to exist – is impoverished. That is, there are things whereof science cannot know, &c. A recent example is that made by Thomas Nagel [nicely eviscerated here by the physicist Sean Carroll], whose fame in philosophy rests with an influential 1974 paper that there is something like being a bat that no amount of physics, physiology or other objective science could account for.

Recent, Nagel has argued that the evolutionary view called (historically misleadingly) neo-Darwinism, is “almost certainly” false. One of the reasons is that “materialism” (which Nagel should know is an antiquated world view replaced by physicalism defined above; there are many non-material things in physics, not least fields of various kinds) does not permit a full account of consciousness; the subjective facts of being a particular individual organism. Another is that the chance that life would emerge from a lifeless universe is staggeringly unlikely. How this is calculated is somewhat mysterious, given that at best we only have (dare I say it?) subjective estimates anyway, but there it is.

But Nagel is not alone. Various nonreligious (apparently) thinkers have made similar assertions, although some, like Frank Jackson, who proposed the Knowledge Argument, have since backed down. What is it that physicalism must account for that these disputants and objectors say it cannot?

It almost entirely consists of consciousness, intentions, intelligence or some similar mental property which is entirely inexplicable by “reductionist” physicalism. [Reductionism is a term of abuse that means – so far as I can tell – solely that the person who makes such an accusation does not like the thing or persons being accused.] And that raises our question: is physicalism lacking something?

I bet you are dying to know more… you’ll just have to follow the link…
See more at Evolving Thoughts>>

Is Physicalism Coherent?

In my last post I argued that physicalism cannot be rejected simply because people assert there are nonphysical objects which are beyond specification. Some are, however, specifiable, and one commentator has identified the obvious ones: abstract objects like the rules of chess or numbers. I have dealt with these before in my “Pizza reductionism” post, which I invite you to go read.

Done? OK, then; let us proceed.

It is often asserted that there are obviously things that are not physical, such as ideas, numbers, concepts, etc., quite apart from qualia, I once sat with a distinguished philosopher, who I respect greatly and so shall not name, when he asserted that we can construct natural classifications because we can deal first with the natural numbers. I asked him “In what sense are numbers natural objects?”, meaning, why should we think numbers are entities in the natural world. He admitted that the question had not occurred to him (I doubt that – he is rather smart), but that it was simply an axiom of his philosophy. I do not think such abstract objects are natural.

This applies to anything that is “informational”, including all semantic entities like meanings, symbols, lexical objects, and so on. They only “exist” as functional modalities in our thoughts and language. I have also argued this before: information does not “exist”; it is a function of how we process signals. Mathematics is not a domain, it is a language, and the reason it works is because the bits that seriously do not work are not explored far[*] – not all of it has to work in a physical or natural sense, but much of it has to, or else it becomes a simple game that we would not play so much.

So the question of the incoherence of physicalism is based on the assumption (which runs contrary to physicalism, and is thus question begging) that abstract objects are natural things. I don’t believe they are, and I certainly do not think that a thought, or concept, for example, which can be had by many minds and is therefore supposed to be located in none of them (and thus transcendental), really is nonphysical. That is another case of nouning language. The thought “that is red” exists, for a physicalist, in all the heads that meet the functional social criteria for ascriptions of red. It exists nowhere else – it just is all those cognitive and social behaviours in biological heads…

Yes, I know, it’s a real page turner…
See more at Evolving Thoughts>>

In philosophy, physicalism is the ontological thesis that “everything is physical”, that there is “nothing over and above” the physical, or that everything supervenes on the physical. Physicalism is a form of ontological monism—a “one substance” view of the nature of reality as opposed to a “two-substance” (dualism) or “many-substance” (pluralism) view. Both the definition of physical and the meaning of physicalism have been debated. Physicalism is closely related to materialism. Physicalism grew out of materialism with the success of the physical sciences in explaining observed phenomena. The terms are often used interchangeably, although they are sometimes distinguished, for example on the basis of physics describing more than just matter (including energy and physical law). Common arguments against physicalism include both the philosophical zombie argument and the multiple observers argument, that the existence of a physical being may imply zero or more distinct conscious entities. “When I lost my belief in religion I had to decide what I needed to accept as a bare minimum. I decided that I needed to believe in the physical world. I never found the slightest reason to accept the existence of anything else. To this day I am a physicalist only because I never found the need to be anything else. The principle of parsimony suggests that one should not believe in more than one needs to. Even if it does make you feel comfortable.”


Let’s get physicalism!

See John Wilkin’s Blog ‘Evolving Thoughts

#philsci #philosophy #science #physics

Is Infinity Real?

There is an interesting discussion at Quanta “Solution: ‘Is Infinity Real?’” – Is infinity a real physical phenomenon outside our models? Max Tegmark doesn’t think so – while admitting it is indisputably useful for mathematical models of physics, he believes that nothing is truly continuous – including space and time.
infinity_500Would an infinitely X* phenomenon be amenable to observational evidence? Perhaps not – and if so, we can never count one infinity, making it difficult to assign a likelihood that infinity exists in the territory and not as just convenient approximations in our maps.
Max believes also there are good philosophical reasons to ditch infinity and pitfalls in assuming infinity in mathematical models. Four points that should be understood (which are detailed in the linked Quanta article):
1. The map is not the territory.
2. Infinity is valid in mathematical models and can be very useful.
3. In the physical world, there are compelling practical and philosophical reasons to reject infinity as a default assumption.
4. There will be limiting cases where the mathematical infinity assumption and the physical absence of infinity result in different answers.
Finite models are proposed as solutions to replace infinite solutions for a few mathematical problems: Hilbert’s hotel, the 100, 200, 300 Triangle, and the Elliptical Pool Table.
“So the bottom line is: Infinity is permissible in mathematics applied to physics because it makes things convenient and tractable in most cases. However, we must be alert for limiting cases where our models are bound to fail, and we will then need to apply different methods.”
*X could represent huge, small, powerful etc..
I had a discussion about this with a friend Adam Karlovsky – and I was surprised when this just came up on my radar – it’s an interesting read.  We discussed the possibility that infinite randomness would produce an infinite amount of copies of Adam Karlovsky – doing an infinite amount of things.  He said that at one stage this thought kept him up at night.  I have had my doubts about the realism of infinity.

So what do you think?

Is Infinity Real?

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Grand Unifying Theories in Physics with Sundance

Sundance describes particle physics and covers two grand unifying theories: super string theory and quantum loop gravity, then discusses the distribution of beliefs among experts on grand unifying theories and concludes by emphasisng the need for a wider research program in physics (and science in general) – as well as the funding to back it up.

Interview Video link:

Sundance at Ceres (2 of 16) headshotSundance Osland Bilson-Thompson is an Australian theoretical particle physicist. He has developed the idea that certain preon models may be represented topologically, rather than by treating preons as pointlike particles. His ideas have attracted interest in the field of loop quantum gravity, as they may represent a way of incorporating the Standard Model into loop quantum gravity. This would make loop quantum gravity a candidate theory of everything. At the time he was a Visiting Academic at the University of Adelaide. From 2006 to 2009 he was a full-time academic at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. From 2010 he held a Ramsay Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of Adelaide, Australia.

Photos taken at Interview

Cyclists Party

Sundance is currently running for the Cyclists Party in South Australia.

BloSundance at Ceres (2 of 16) smlg:

Finding Value & Beauty in Fundamental Physics – Interview with Physicist Sundance

In this interview, Sundance covers his background in physics, the value of fundamental research in physics (and science in general), and finding physics aesthetically pleasing.

Sundance at Ceres (2 of 16) headshotSundance Osland Bilson-Thompson is an Australian theoretical particle physicist. He has developed the idea that certain preon models may be represented topologically, rather than by treating preons as pointlike particles. His ideas have attracted interest in the field of loop quantum gravity, as they may represent a way of incorporating the Standard Model into loop quantum gravity. This would make loop quantum gravity a candidate theory of everything. At the time he was a Visiting Academic at the University of Adelaide. From 2006 to 2009 he was a full-time academic at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. From 2010 he held a Ramsay Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of Adelaide, Australia.

Photos taken at Interview

Cyclists Party

Sundance is currently running for the Cyclists Party in South Australia.

BloSundance at Ceres (2 of 16) smlg:

Brian Greene on Artificial Intelligence, the Importance of Fundamental Physics, Alien Life, and the Possible Future of Our Civilization

March 14th was Albert Einstein’s birthday, and also PI day, so it was a fitting day to be interviewing well known theoretical physicist and string theorist Brian Greene – the author of a number of books including, The Elegant Universe, Icarus at the Edge of Time, The Fabric of the Cosmos, and The Hidden Reality!
Think-Inc-logo2Many thanks to Suzi and Desh at THINKINC for helping organize this interview & for bringing Brian Greene to Australia for a number of shows (March 16 in Perth, March 18 in Sydney and March 19 in Melbourne) – check out for more info!

Audio recording of the interview:

About the Interview with Brian Greene

Brian Greene discusses implications Artificial Intelligence and news of DeepMind AI (AlphaGo) beating the world grand champion in the board game Go.  He then discusses physics string theory, the territory of opinion on grand unifying theories of physics, the importance of supporting fundamental science, the possibility of alien life, the possible future of our space-faring civilization and of course gravitational waves!

In answer to the question on the importance of supporting fundamental research in science, Brain Greene said:

I tell them to wake up! Wake up and recognize that fundamental science has radically changed the way they live their lives today. If any of these individuals have a cell phone, or a personal computer, or perhaps they themselves or loved ones has been saved by an MRI machine.. I mean any of these devices rely on integrated circuits, which they themselves rely on quantum physics – so IF those folks who were in charge in the 1920s had have said, ‘hey you guys working on quantum physics, that doesn’t seem to be relevant to anything in the world around as so were going to cut your funding – well those people would have short circuited on of the greatest revolutions that our species has gone through – the information age, the technological age – so the bottom line is we need to support fundamental research because we know historically that when you gain a deep understanding of how things work – we can often leverage that to then manipulate the world around us in spectacular ways! And that needs to be where our fundamental focus remains – in science!


Layered art of Brian Greene, background and series titleBrian Randolph Greene is an American theoretical physicist and string theorist. He has been a professor at Columbia University since 1996 and chairman of the World Science Festival since co-founding it in 2008. Greene has worked on mirror symmetry, relating two different Calabi–Yau manifolds (concretely, relating the conifold to one of its orbifolds). He also described the flop transition, a mild form of topology change, showing that topology in string theory can change at the conifold point.

Greene has become known to a wider audience through his books for the general public, The Elegant Universe, Icarus at the Edge of Time, The Fabric of the Cosmos, The Hidden Reality, and related PBS television specials. He also appeared on The Big Bang Theory episode “The Herb Garden Germination“, as well as the films Frequency and The Last Mimzy. He is currently a member of the Board of Sponsors of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.


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Lawrence Krauss – An update on Cosmology – How Big Bang Gravitational Waves Could Revolutionize Physics!

Lawrence Krauss – An update on Cosmology and thoughts on Education – Cosmologist with Attitude

How Big Bang Gravitational Waves Could Revolutionize Physics! Lawrence is well known for his critical thinking and promotion of science. He has appeared on Q & A among other shows. Lawrence Krauss is Director of the ASU Origins Project at Arizona State University and Foundation Professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration and the Department of Physics.
Described by Scientific American as a unique scientific ‘public intellectual’, Krauss is a renowned theoretical physicist as well as one of the most well-known advocates for science worldwide. In addition to over 300 scientific publications, He has written nine books for a general audience, including the international bestsellers The Physics of Star Trek and A Universe From Nothing, with translations into over 20 languages. His research has focused on the intersection on cosmology and elementary particle physics, including general relativity and quantum gravity, the early universe, the origin of mass, neutrino astrophysics, and the long term future of the universe. He is the winner of numerous international awards, and is the only physicist to have received the major awards from all three US physics societies. In 2012, he was awarded The National Science Board’s Public Service Award for his many contributions. He frequently appears on TV and radio and contributes to newspapers and magazines, and is the subject of a new full-length feature film, The Unbelievers, which follows Krauss and Richard Dawkins around the world as they discuss science and reason.

The evening was put on by the Vic Skeptics & was held at Graduate House Conference Centre, 220 Leicester Street Carlton on Friday 29 August with proceedings beginning at 6:30pm.

Lawrence Krauss Vic Skeptics

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Can Spiritual Experience be Scientifically Validated?

At a Melbourne skeptic’s meeting in Australia, theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss was asked whether spiritual experiences could ever be scientifically validated.

Lawrence Krauss – Can Spiritual Experience be Scientifically Validated _“The spiritual things — the exotic phenomena people experience — in general violate the things we know to be correct on the basis of experiment, so they’re highly likely to be wrong,” Krauss answered.

“I can’t say to someone who’s heard God in their ears that they’re not hearing God,” he continued. “But I can say that it’s much more likely that they’re hallucinating, based on what we know.”

As for the existence of extraterrestrial life, he said that accounts of alien encounters are “much more likely to be due to the irrationality of humans than the rationality of aliens.”

“When you think about the likelihood that a space-craft would come here,” Krauss said, “almost anything you can think about is more likely. And what science deals with is not ‘true’ and ‘false,’ it’s ‘likely’ and ‘less likely.’ And some things are so unlikely, you just chop them off.”

“So I can’t tell someone that what they’ve heard, or what they’ve seen, or [have had] some mystical experience — I can only say that it’s likely a coincidence,” he concluded.

“But none of us like to believe that things that happen to us are coincidences. We’re all hard-wired to believe that things that happen to us are significant.”

This video was recorded by Adam Ford. The full video of Lawrence Krauss’s presentation is available here soon.  Please subscribe to the YouTube Channel for further updates.

Note this article has been adapted from an article ‘Physicist Lawrence Krauss: God is a byproduct of your hard-wired narcissism‘ that appeared on Raw Story.

When you think about the likelihood that a space-craft would come here,” Krauss said, “almost anything you can think about is more likely. And what science deals with is not ‘true’ and ‘false,’ it’s ‘likely’ and ‘less likely.’ And some things are so unlikely, you just chop them off. Lawrence Krauss

Lawrence KraussLawrence Maxwell Krauss (born May 27, 1954) is an American theoretical physicist and cosmologist who is Foundation Professor of the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University and director of its Origins Project. He is known as an advocate of the public understanding of science, of public policy based on sound empirical data, of scientific skepticism and of science education and works to reduce the impact of superstition and religious dogma in pop culture. He is also the author of several bestselling books, including The Physics of Star Trek and A Universe from Nothing.

Initially, Krauss was skeptical of the Higgs mechanism. However, after the existence of the Higgs boson was confirmed by CERN, he has been researching the implications of the Higgs field on the nature of dark energy.

Krauss mostly works in theoretical physics and has published research on a great variety of topics within that field. His primary contribution is to cosmology as one of the first physicists to suggest that most of the mass and energy of the universe resides in empty space, an idea now widely known as “dark energy”. Furthermore, Krauss has formulated a model in which the universe could have potentially come from “nothing,” as outlined in his 2012 book A Universe from Nothing. He explains that certain arrangements of relativistic quantum fields might explain the existence of the universe as we know it while disclaiming that he “has no idea if the notion [of taking quantum mechanics for granted] can be usefully dispensed with”. As his model appears to agree with experimental observations of the universe (such as of its shape and energy density), it is referred to as a “plausible hypothesis”.

The Future of Life in the Universe – Lawrence Krauss at the Singularity Summit Australia 2011

Prof. Lawrence M. Krauss is an internationally known theoretical physicist with wide research interests, including the interface between elementary particle physics and cosmology, where his studies include the early universe, the nature of dark matter, general relativity and neutrino astrophysics. He has investigated questions ranging from the nature of exploding stars to issues of the origin of all mass in the universe. He was born in New York City and moved shortly thereafter to Toronto, Canada, where he grew up. He received undergraduate degrees in both Mathematics and Physics at Carleton University. He received his Ph.D. in Physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1982), then joined the Harvard Society of Fellows (1982-85). He joined the faculty of the departments of Physics and Astronomy at Yale University as assistant professor in 1985, and associate professor in 1988. In 1993 he was named the Ambrose Swasey Professor of Physics, Professor of Astronomy, and Chairman of the department of Physics at Case Western Reserve University. He served in the latter position for 12 years, until 2005. During this period he built up the department, which was ranked among the top 20 Physics Graduate Research Programs in the country in a 2005 national ranking. Among the major new initiatives he spearheaded are included the creation of one of the top particle astrophysics experimental and theoretical programs in the US, and the creation of a groundbreaking Masters Program in Physics Entrepreneurship. In 2002, he was named Director of the Center for Education and Research in Cosmology and Astrophysics at Case.
Video of talk:

Videoed at the Singularity Summit Australia 2011:

Lawrence Krauss - Singularity Summit 2011

Lawrence Krauss – the Universe is Really Really Big!