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IEET > Life > Innovation > Vision > Bioculture > Contributors > Joern Pallensen

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Did the Universe evolve the “Blue Brain Project” to become aware of itself ?


Joern Pallensen
Joern Pallensen
Transhumanisten.com

Posted: Jan 2, 2012

“Humans are the stuff of the cosmos examining itself”
Carl Sagan

For those of you who are not familiar with this fascinating project, and should you think to yourself: What the heck is a “Blue Brain,”  here’s a very short introduction: It is an attempt to create a virtual brain in a supercomputer by reverse-engineering the mammalian brain, no less, and therefore not simply an artificial neural network, but a biologically realistic model of neurons.

Henry Markram, director of the Blue Brain project, is a professor and brilliant neuroscientist with dual South African – Israeli citizenship, now working at École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne, Switzerland.

Later on in this article, you will find an interview with Markram, but first let me tell you about my personal Odyssey.

I am an atheist, - and “militant ” at that, - but like scores of fellow atheist, I am having certain scruples.

As far as considering the belief in supernatural beings to be bordering on the idiotic, I am fine. Also, I totally and emphatically reject the notion that atheism in any way equals immorality.

[ In fact, if you will excuse my French, it makes my hemorrhoids itch to learn from The Skeptic’s Dictionary, that according to Article IX, Sec. 2, of the Tennessee constitution, “No Atheist shall hold a civil office.” Ok, - I can’t imagine this article has any practical implications in this day and age.

Anyone out there to tell me otherwise. ]

I can go along also, with notions of a purposeless Universe, existing in and of itself, seemingly having come into existence out of “nothing”. I am not, however, an atheist as defined by English poet Francis Thompson, a man who believes himself an accident. Well, actually, “I,” as defined by individual self, may very well be an “accident”, and one lucky son of a gun, but here you should understand “himself” less as any one being, and more as awareness per se.

Over the years, and as a student of psychology, I developed an allergy towards New Age woo-woo, although, initially, I thought it was only a matter of time before evidence would emerge,  to the effect that consciousness constitutes the ground of being.

However, the more I probed this mystery, the more skeptical I became, and eventually   I rejected philosophical idealism. As for philosophical materialism / physicalism, according to which consciousness is merely an epiphenomenon, having accidentally come into existence, this position has always appeared to me as the dumbest of all. I mean, what is the point of there being a Universe, not knowing it is a Universe, - in fact, unaware of existing at all?

That’s just it, you tell me, there is no point, and you may well be right, despite this being counter-intuitive to the innermost feelings of most of us.

I am not a dualist either. I will not go into philosophical detail about why that is, - let’s just say I simply dislike the idea of a playground for God and Angels, the spiritual realm, and a less subtle, material world for lesser creatures. That may be an oversimplification of dualism, and there are other dualisms, e.g. Platonic, Taoist, - but that is another story.

So, - not (philosophical) idealism, not physicalism, not dualism. My working hypothesis, instead, is to view consciousness as being somehow hardwired into the fabric of nature and as being the inevitable “end-result” of existence, -  a part of the “genetic” setup of the “physical” world “out there”, from the “beginning.”

( Excessive use of citation marks meant to emphasize the necessity / unavoidability of speaking in space-time dependent vocabulary. )

This essential role of consciousness in the Universal setup may then be understood not necessarily as an indispensable player in the Universal scheme from the beginning, but more as a top-down causation potential, a “hardwired” potential, meaning: Because of the very potential of there being awareness, it was guaranteed and destined to “happen” / evolve.

Thus, the emergence of consciousness in the physical world may be viewed, not as “most surprising and incomprehensible, because we know no reason that nature would not have remained forever unconscious and motionless” - (Louis De Broglie, in “New Perspectives in Physics”), - but as inevitable and a Universal birthright.

To be sure, we have yet to explain “the easy problems of consciousness” (Chalmers), or, if you like, the “how” problems. The “hard problem” / “why”- problem turns out to be the easiest: There is self-awareness simply because the Universe is naturally inclined to become conscious.


Anyway, even after having consulted with the founding fathers of quantum physics, many of whom thought deeply about the ( fundamental.) role of consciousness in the physical world, - I came to the conclusion, that no credible evidence for this was anywhere to be found. At the end of the day, I was left with one single argument , - the absurdity of a Universe unaware of itself: Without awareness, no joy, no appreciation.

Granted, - no misery either.

Ok, - so this is of course in no way a scientifically valid argument, but I cannot help thinking: Would a Universe totally unaware of itself and devoid of any meaning not be such an incredible waste.

It was pleasing to my ears, and indeed my heart and soul, therefore, when I heard no other than Henry Markram suggesting in a video, that “The Universe may have evolved the brain to see itself, to become aware of itself”.

Now, it is perhaps a bit surprising to hear a modern-day top scientist speculate along such metaphysical lines, which left me thinking: Wouldn’t it be great if he himself would elaborate on this fascinating thought, which, to me, makes perfect sense. It certainly poses a lot of questions too, but if true, it would allow me to be just the kind of atheist I wish to be: A non-believer of Deities, but humble observant of the Universe’s apparent natural inclination towards self-awareness, towards progress, and, possibly,  perfection?

With encouragement from Hank Pellissier, newly appointed Managing Director of the IEET, I emailed Henry Markram, asking if he would briefly answer a few questions, and whilst busy chasing carrots to fund the Blue Brain project, he kindly responded as follows.

JP:
How is the idea of the Universe evolving consciousness to become aware of itself compatible with a purposeless, accidental Universe, as seems to be the most common belief among scientists?

HM:
Purposeless things can accidentally result in something interesting as well and when they do, they take on a purpose that did not exist before.

JP:
How is the idea of the Universe evolving consciousness to become aware of itself compatible with the view of consciousness as simply needed in order to manage an increasing number of complex and competing neural sub-populations?

HM:
I doubt consciousness is needed for guiding anything lower level. It is a consequence. It does however create a bubble around each of us that acts as a straight jacket for assigning causality and meaning to interactions and ignoring most of the universe.

JP:
Besides being useful – e.g. better and less costly ways of treating brain diseases – is it outlandish to see your project as an extension / expansion of the-Universe-becoming-aware-of itself?

HM:
No, it is not outlandish, it is the most evolved thing humans can possibly do.


JP:
You are building a model of the brain within 10 years, and a complete virtual brain within how many years?

HM:
I said 10 years some years ago, because I believe it is technically and scientifically possible. It however depends on getting enough funding. If we don’t, it will take much longer. We are moving fast, but no where as fast as we could be moving. It is all possible by around 2020 if we have enough funding.

JP:
Can you give us an update on your current progress?


HM:
We believe we understood many key principles of how the brain is designed and put together that now allow us to build larger and more detailed unifying models, faster and faster. We are just making it easier and easier to replicate the biological brain in software. I am wasting a lot of time chasing carrots to fund the project.

Now, my interpretation of what Henry Markram is saying is something like: Never mind if the Universe is / was pointless and just sort of “happened”, ‘cause that is no longer the case. Purposeless things - (random quantum fluctuations.) - have a potential for meaningfulness, and anyway, we, as sentient human beings, are taking charge! – and we will read purpose , meaningfulness and value into existence as we please.

Come to think of it, is that not the essence of being a transhumanist.

In an article in Seed Magazine,  Markram is quoted for saying, cryptically: “If we build this brain right, it will do everything” - which prompted me to ask him, in a second mail, if he would also answer my 30 million dollar question…

JP:
I regret not having asked you more directly, whether Blue Brain will attain self-awareness. I believe you’ve said something like: “Given sufficient complexity, consciousness will somehow emerge”? You are also quoted for saying: “When I say everything, I mean everything” !?

HM:
This is misunderstood. I mean everything that we can measure and describe can and should be integrated into unifying model.

What I said was that “if consciousness emerges from a model of the brain that captures all the detail that we can measure, then we will understand how the brain gives rise to consciousness. If not, then we will know that it takes more. Very pragmatic.

Again, a somewhat cryptic answer, but my interpretation is this: Yes, it is possible to put a ghost into a machine, - Blue Brain will attain self-awareness, - it is “only” a question of what it takes.

It all makes sense. If human self-awareness has emerged from electrochemical interactions in our heads, - in other words: if we are just a pack of neurons, it would seem logical that we can also put a ghost into a machine. Paradoxically, this apparent debunking of consciousness is also what makes it plausible that Blue Brain will become aware of itself,  precisely because there IS no such thing as an immaterial ghost there in the first place!

If, on the other hand, - as noted by Tom Lehrer, author of the Seed Magazine article, - we assume that some sort of ‘soul’ pervades the brain, - the Blue Brain project will fail.

In any case, a self-aware Universe seems assured.

 

 


Joern Pallensen studied psychology at University of Copenhagen and has had a lifelong interest in philosophy of mind, in particular ontology of self. He blogs at Transhumanisten.com He was introduced to IEET when he was interviewed for the 2011 article, "Happiness, Freedom, Equality, Rudeness - welcome to Denmark!"
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COMMENTS


Joern, I’m wondering what you (and Markram) mean by “universe” here. The naive (Newtonian) view of a vast three-dimensional universe evolving in time clearly doesn’t correspond to reality, from either a quantum or general relativistic point of view. The whole notion of time in both is deeply problematic and a long way from being resolved satisfactorily.

To the extent that we do want to think of a universe evolving in time, surely we can believe that by evolving brains the universe *has* become aware of itself, without necessarily concluding that it *intended* to do so. How could it, since it was not (yet) self-aware. If instead we see the universe (or multiverse, or omnivores, or omnium) in a more timeless sense, then it would seem to make more sense to see consciousness and indeed *intention* as a integral part of it.

In fact, we might conclude that questions such as “What does the universe want?”, or (following Kevin Kelly) “What does technology want?” are basically equivalent to the question, “What do *we* want?” In which case we might conclude, given the multiplicity of conflicting preferences concerning the future, that the universe (having only relatively recently evolved these instruments of its awareness) is rather confused.





Very, VERY good points Peter ! - It would take a book or two to even suggest an answer, so I can say only this: TIME is of course in itself a problematic concept, - I am very much aware of that, which is why I wrote:

My working hypothesis, instead, is to view consciousness as being somehow hardwired into the fabric of nature and as being the inevitable “end-result” of existence, -  a part of the “genetic” setup of the “physical” world “out there”, from the “beginning.

and added:

Excessive use of citation marks meant to emphasize the necessity / unavoidability of speaking in space-time dependent vocabulary.

As for the meaning of “universe”, I would have loved to ask Markram, but he is away until Jan. 9, so I can only speak for myself, and the truth is I don’t know ! - However, - I am using it as a general term for “all that is” PLUS “all that is not”.

I know this sounds like nonsense, but perhaps this will help: I figure that the mother of all philosophical questions: “Why is there something rather than nothing”, is a wrong question, simply because it presupposes there IS something rather than nothing. Again, let me quote myself, this time from a blogpost I wrote about Graham Greene’s book, “The Ultimate Multiverse”:

What if “something” and “nothingness” are both ontologically sane notions and exist as equal parts of the Ultimate Multiverse..

Graham Greene describes his “Multiverse” as: ““a mega-conglomerate that consists of all possible universes“. One possible universe, Green speculates, is “the strangest universe of all—a universe that consists of absolutely nothing. No space. No time. No matter. No energy

In such a “Universe”, it is hard to imagine any kind of AWARENESS.. , but all this is really beyond me.., and as I am saying in the article, one seems to be left with only one solid argument: The complete absurdity of an unaware “Universe”. The absence of JOY, wonder, meaning, appreciation etc. is.. , - well, even as an atheist, I simply cannot accept this thought, but ok, - maybe it IS all just accidental, and humans simply cannot grasp and cope with such nihilism..

I am certainly not going to pretend I have any final answers, but then I am not aware that anyone else have either.. - To all religionists, who claim they do, I say: Think again !

To your question: How could the universe intently evolve awareness, without being initially self-aware, - let me say two things: 1. Consider your own point about TIME being a problematic concept. 2. Again, I’ll quote myself, this time from a comment I have written on the IEET Facebook page:

All that is needed is for awareness to be somehow “hardwired” into the fabric of nature. Consider a newborn: Just when does it become self-aware.. - Very few would suggest the time of conception..





The analogy with a newborn may be instructive. A newborn, after all, doesn’t *intend* to become self-aware. It doesn’t evolve the capacity to do so with that in mind. It just kind of happens. Newborns differ from universes in that they ate the product of natural selection…unless one adheres to the theory of universes spawning universes, which has been proposed as an explanation to the appearance of intelligent design in the universe - basically a variant of the anthropic principle.

More generally the relationship between natural selection, appearance of design and intention may all shed light on this. We appear (to a limited extent) “designed” because we have been honed by natural selection, and with the emergence of human consciousness this has been taken a step further, from unconscious reproduction-oriented behaviour to conscious (and not necessarily reproduction-oriented, at least at the level of genes) intention.

By the way we seem to be somewhat using self-awareness and intention as synonyms, which they are not. In some respects I am more interested in the latter. While for you it is unthinkable for the universe to be without self-awareness, I have more problems with the idea of a universe without intention. One might call it The Pointless Universe.





@ Joern..

Good stuff, I have visited your blog and read your notions previously, so I kinda know where you are coming from, I think?

“So, - not (philosophical) idealism, not physicalism, not dualism. My working hypothesis, instead, is to view consciousness as being somehow hardwired into the fabric of nature and as being the inevitable “end-result” of existence, -  a part of the “genetic” setup of the “physical” world “out there”, from the “beginning.”

The thing is.. and here is the thing! We must surely accept that we humans, (and other intelligent and self reflexive animals), are the proof and the evidence and the expression of the Universe as it has “naturally” become aware of it-self, and I am sure that you would agree with this point?

So.. by extension, what if Consciousnesss really is a fundamental and ubiquitous attribute and phenomenon, not unlike gravity, and that which may even be associated with gravity and it’s affects, (the Higgs field included)? That Consciousness is quite possibly a “natural phenomenon” and property expressed at the quantum level? That the Universe has evolved, (irrespective of our notions of a forward time-line), because of the emergent complexity of energy-matter manifestations and transformations that have permitted bio-logical life forms and organisms to become Self relflexive using complex neural networks and feedback loops due to the grace and potential of Consciousness phenomenon?

Hard problem? What Hard problem? Consciousness is a “given” is it not, whichever way you look at it? There is no going back now? Self reflexive Consciousness is real, right here, right now?

If we take this “philosophical” position, then there is no need at all to fret and sweat, or struggle to write complex feedback loop algorithms to simulate Consciousness, (which must be impossible anyhow, because how can we humans hope to attempt to write code for something we do not fully understand, and that by nature so ethereal?) If we accept that Consciousness is a “natural pheonomenon” that manifests even at the quantum and atomic level, then complexity is inherent from the ground up? A robotic arm that can catch a ball IS a conscious machine, (but not self-reflexive!) Asimo is conscious of it’s environment!

“Quantum tunelling” is also now an area of intense interest in brain neuroscience and neurophysiology that may help to explain phenomenological consciousness, (of Consciousness), and Self reflexivity? Perhaps “this” is the mechanism that permits the manifestation and illusion of “the ghost in the machine”, and which is prevalent in all energy-matter interactions at the quantum level? And thus, by extension once more, this only substantiates that Consciousness may indeed be reduced to a meta, (beyond), physical ubiquitious phenomenon – impartial of course! We may need to redefine what we actually mean by the term Consciousness? I am not Self-aware, I am “quantum tunnelling”?

Kind of makes one contemplate the spiritual in fact? “In the beginning there was the word, and the word was Consciousness?” And when the “One” reflecting upon it-Self, divided into two, both subject and object were manifest, it then faced the fundamental question, “what is this?” Emergent intelligence and complexity, (also a natural phenomena of the Universe/Cosmos?), supplants this with the question “who am I?” As an atheist you may deny all you wish the existence of this subjective question and Universal contemplation and puzzle, but as you already clearly state, the question is “real for us”, and “we are” the evolutionary children of the Universe are we not? It is the Universe that is asking the question through the manifestation of us? There is no “other”?

V’Ger must evolve. Its knowledge has reached the limits of this universe and it must evolve. What it requires of its god, doctor, is the answer to its question, “Is there nothing more”? (23rd Century myth and prophesy?)


I wonder how Henry Markram feels about the possibility of the transference of human minds and memories to artificial substrate? Which must be a high possibility if his project progresses to it’s conclusions? Also it would have been good to know his views on the new IBM processor chips, that perhaps could even help him achieve his own goals?

“Researchers at IBM have been working on a cognitive computing project called Systems of Neuromorphic Adaptive Plastic Scalable Electronics (SyNAPSE). By reproducing the structure and architecture of the brain—the way its elements receive sensory input, connect to each other, adapt these connections, and transmit motor output—the SyNAPSE project models computing systems that emulate the brain’s computing efficiency, size and power usage without being programmed.”

http://www.ibm.com/smarterplanet/us/en/business_analytics/article/cognitive_computing.html


@ Peter..

Some poignant questions there relating to the imposition and projection of human subjective notions of causality upon the evolution of the whole Universe/cosmos? How can the self-reflexive consciousness of the Universe, (us), be an emergent attribute over space-time if “causality” is itself an illusion? This indeed proposes that the Universe has always been Self-reflexive? In fact, you could also apply these cosmoslogical views towards the “inflationary theory” of the Universe emergent from the Big Bang?

In the same manner these notions of causality also support the macro level illusion of Self and evolving intellect, and also the validity free will? It does seem incorrect somehow to project onto the Universe this kind of evolving intellect, although we humans may subjectivity project this within the context of understanding our own evolution? I would propose that greater density of intelligence and knowledge is “emergent” and that the Universe is evolving to greater levels of complexity? Although now I wouldn’t bank money on that one either, especially now that you have mentioned it and raised a doubt in my subjective mind?

Who is to say that creativity as the expression of intelligence, is not merely the manifestation of multiple scenarios played out at random, some work and some do not/fail – the greater the bandwidth and parallel processing power, the greater the number of possiblilities to contemplate scenarios before the subconscious chooses what is deemed to be the best possible outcome, then to try it, and commit it to memory if successful? – what more is there to emergent intelligence and mind? What more are the successes and failures of biological evolutionary mutation?

Apologies for the length of this comment, but I was kinda on a roll / causal momentum?





Suppose the Universe really is (was.. ) accidental and pointless.. - Well, - never mind, ‘cause with the emergence of self-awareness, it no longer is ! - I see it as a primary goal of transhumanism to take charge of our own destiny.

Although I find it hard to believe in a completely accidental universe,
I very much like Henry Markram’s answer:

“Purposeless things can accidentally result in something interesting as well and when they do, they take on a purpose that did not exist before”.

As I understand Markram, this “taking charge” is not outlandish, it is the most evolved thing humans can possibly do.

Self-awareness and intention are not synonymous, but part and parcel of the same.. process, shall we call it.. - So I think we are having exactly the same “scruples”: As you I have a BIG problem with the idea of a Pointless Universe, - it’s just that I see self-awareness as the essential remedy: Without self-awareness, - or, - if you like to think BIG: Awareness per se, the universe IS pointless.

I take note of you saying: “unless one adheres to… variant(s) of the anthropic principle”. - I guess that is what I do, somehow.. - I have some reading up to do when it comes to the idea of natural selection as applied not only to sentient beings, but the universe(s) as well, but yes, consciousness could very well be demystified by thinking along such lines..

 





@CygnusX1

Thanks for your wonderful comments. If only comments will continue at the same profound level as you and Peter Wicks’, - I will be greatly rewarded for writing this article !

When you write: “Hard problem? What Hard problem? Consciousness is a “given” is it not, whichever way you look at it? There is no going back now? Self reflexive Consciousness is real, right here, right now?”, - you put a smile on my face, and of course I agree 100 %.

Needless to say, I also totally agree with “we humans, (and other intelligent and self reflexive animals), are the proof and the evidence and the expression of the Universe as it has “naturally” become aware of it-self,..

And yes, - I do see consciousness as a fundamental “property” and a natural phenomenon, - only not fundamental in the sense of being “above”, beyond, etc. the physical universe. An integrated, “hardwired” wholeness is how I like to imagine existence, - at the risk of being called a new age crank after all..

However.. - Years ago, I wrote Nick Bostrom, pointing out how a single Cosmic consciousness experience or similar has the power to convince just anyone about the reality of said integrated wholeness, but I took note of his answer and pragmatic approach, - (from memory): “To this day I have seen no credible evidence for any fundamental role of consciousness, for which reason he thought it wise, until such evidence might emerge, to not lean back convinced of one’s birthright to eternal bliss or something, but work hard in accordance with scientific inquiry, alongside metaphysical ponderings.

Conclusion: As much as I am inclined to accept everything you are saying, including your quantum speculations, I remain highly skeptical and find it wise to follow Bostroms advice, i.e. to “fret and sweat” and pay attention to the likes also of neuroscientist and Blue Brain director Henry Markram. Even if you and I scoff at any so-called “hard problems”, the “easy” problems have yet to be solved..

Just a thought: It looks as if I may have to ask Markram some more questions.. - I’ll decide at a later time..

 

 





I guess I’m with Bostrom here, and come to think of it that probably reflects, or is reflected, in my stance on both ethics (utilitarian) and meta-ethics (moral subjectivist). If I saw the “credible evidence” that Bostrom was missing, then I guess I’d be much more sympathetic both towards moral realist fantasies and less consequentialist views on ethics (and politics for that matter), such as radical non-violence and libertarianism.

Following on from my “universe is confused” idea, I think the universe basically hasn’t yet made up it’s mind what it wants, so if we have views on what we would like it to want, we indeed need to “fret and sweat” to make it happen.

@CygnusX1 on the issue of projecting our own subjective experience (illusions) onto the universe, I think this may be an inevitable stage in the learning process. We started out imagining gods everywhere, then at some point some of us realised that was a bit silly,, essentially because our theistic beliefs were leading us to develop causal theories (e.g. if we dance it will rain) that we’re not borne out by experience.and gradually we have replaced them (some of us at least) with beliefs that rely less on such anthropomorphisms, and more on mathematics.

All this is basically a result of our compulsion to understand the world, the better to understand it, essentially because the specific ecological niche that homo sapiens evolved to fill was one in which we used cognition and understanding to get good at reproducing our genes. (Some of us take this much further than others of course, and these days the drive to pass on our genes is much less important as an explanation for our motivations than it was.) But if causality is indeed an illusion, then the whole project of trying to predict the behaviour of our environment (in this case the universe as a whole) is built on thin ice, and we have merely been lucky so far. In which case we might as well give up, which we don’t want to do.

So I guess my conclusion is: let’s go with whatever anthropomorphisms and other manifestations of wishful thinking we want to throw at the universe, at least for now. And if we do start making predictions (and designing policy) on that basis, we will get our reality check soon enough.





Your noumenal existentialism is the depth of puppy piddle. Obviously we’re just robot vehicles for our DNA.

You can extrapolate all you want, but careful where you swing weak anthropic principle, it can suddenly become strong, final & participatory in the wrong hands… grin

The Buddhists have this discussion down as old hat, a primordial Bardo where original observer mind collapses the wave, reifying essence into karmic phenomena. And no, it’s not supposed to be taken literally, but there are fundie literalists in any big tent religion.

As for “blue brains,” blue is the synesthesiac color of the 1,000-petaled sensation of mind during intense meditation. Really.





Oh, and P.S.,
As an emanate reflection of the universe observing itself, I prefer to maintain a studied omphaloskepticism.





@leebert Well that was bizarre! I’ll bite: what is omphaloskepticism?





Your comrade chided me for being rude, but it was meant in jest (puppy piddle ... robot vehicles….). It’s a big internet & I play with some bad people. Unfelt apology proffered, decorum, whatever… 

I don’t know if this question can be economically reduced a bit more, but I’ll try:

Consciousness is differentiable from gestalt phenomena in memory, volition, intent, cognition, meaning, but it is still subject & dependent upon the same coarising flux. On the other hand, it’s fungible to the extent that its contiguous with the rest of the phenomonological world, and yet unique that it’s a concentrated node of experience that can self-assess its own internal states, and differentiate extrinsic from intrinsic.

Just ask any atomic clock about time dilation. It experiences information, and in time dilation, less so. It recorded its experience in its retarded change of state (time dilation). The conscious mind of its companion astronaut did as well.  The difference is that the astronaut will happily give you the time of day, but the clock makes you do it yourself.

Does that mean the universe conscious, or does that mean that experience is universal and consciousness exceptional? Or as Yoda might say, Our motes of consciousness do not a conscious universe make.

Or do they?





Omphaloskeptic: Belly-button gazer, OCD introspector.

In other words, we’re the universe gazing at it’s own belly button.

But bizarre? Really? My tolerance for bizarre must be really high, I seem to be scaring the denizenry here.





Being Danish, I’ve been breastfed with existentialism - (Kierkegaard was Danish) - but I never considered myself to be an existentialist. To a certain extent I am, in that I think humankind should “take charge”, but it is the very idea of absurdism itself - ( the belief that efforts of humanity to find (inherent) meaning will ultimately fail ) - that I find absurd !

Notice how I try to emphasize, that the absurdity of existence without self-awareness, and thus joy, meaning, etc. appears to me as the ultimate argument against an accidental and meaningless existence. -

However, I am acutely aware of this being perhaps nothing more than wishful thinking, which is why, - if Markram is right in saying: “Purposeless things can accidentally result in something interesting as well and when they do, they take on a purpose that did not exist before”, - I don’t mind being an existentialist after all, but I think the term applies better to Markram.. - (Not sure he’d agree with that.. )

By the way, I am listening to all warnings, especially delivered with a smile, - but no matter what we do, “wrong hands” stand by, ready to take control, - if we let them.. - It should never impede progress though, - not in my opinion.

As for Buddhism… , - well, perhaps some other time…, but I’ll say that I don’t consider myself a buddhist either..

Come to think of it, I’m not sure WHAT to call myself.. {;- )





Meaning is our birthright. Identity demands it. It’s a force of nature, like a gravitational field, but it’s an emergent property. As the character Death in Terry Pratchett’s “Hogfather” pointed out, humans believe in justice, compassion as though they’re immutable fact. But there are no atoms of justice or compassion to be found, but they are as real as the suffering that inheres their polar, dualist, opposites. From all this meaning springs forth. Is it a foisted dialectic worth deconstructing, or is it just an innate dualism that we can acknowledge?

The physical universe is arbitrary. Drill down another layer & we’re in the realm of inexplicable dimensions of strings & branes, fields upon fields of additive & destructive wavelets of energy coalescing dreams into things. Turtles all the way down? Flat? Non-flat? Bounded? Unbounded?

Explain existence? Mrs. God, the greatest performance artist of all time, giggles behind some curtain, mocking the audience who isn’t getting the joke. And we paid good money!?

Gotama & his scions covered this pretty thoroughly over the past 2.5 millenia, but then the Stoics covered similar ground, as have others. So we burn a votive candle really only to ourselves as some kind of cold societal comfort of a higher realm. Sentimental fools, misty-eyed poets, knaves in the back pews of the church of irreducible truth. It’s more fun to snicker in the back pews while Jack & Suzie make out in the carilloner’s loft.





leebert, -

I don’t know what you are apologizing for, and anyway, you should know that Danes have a reputation as the world’s least gelotophobic - (fear of ridicule). Besides, I really do like your idiosyncratic style, and you come across as an inspiring and fascinating personality. Above all, you have a great sense of humor. Do carry on without imposing self-censorship!

Apart from that, I think you misunderstand Peter Wicks’ “bite”..

Ps. This just for entertainment: Omphalos - the centre of the earth according to Greek mythology, has inspired many pieces of art, - one being a sculpture made by infamous Swedish artist Lars Vilks, who has been the target of numerous attacks, due to his drawing of Mohammed as a round-about dog.. - The sculpture “Omphalos” can be seen at Moderna Museet in Stockholm, Sweden.





@ leebert

“Consciousness is differentiable from gestalt phenomena in memory, volition, intent, cognition, meaning, but it is still subject & dependent upon the same coarising flux. On the other hand, it’s fungible to the extent that its contiguous with the rest of the phenomonological world, and yet unique that it’s a concentrated node of experience that can self-assess its own internal states, and differentiate extrinsic from intrinsic.”

“Does that mean the universe conscious, or does that mean that experience is universal and consciousness exceptional? Or as Yoda might say, Our motes of consciousness do not a conscious universe make.

Or do they?”


So..

I think, (and self reflect), therefore I am - so phenomenological Consciousness is real and emergent and this is all it really is? - and cannot be reducible to any “Universal” fundamental quantum mechanical manifestation or affect, or consequential resultant phenomenon, (perhaps quantum tunnelling), appearing in the brain and thus reliant upon physicalism?

Consciousness is localised in the mind, (brain), and is purely experiential phenomenon?

So Descartes (and the Buddha) still had it correct? Thinking, (intelligence and emergent mind), precludes the ability to witness consciousness and Self reflect?

Yet this still leaves us with the assumption that Consciousness is some spooky emergent property that is not subject to some consequential physical phenomenon in the brain?

And despite this.. if we are conscious, and we are integral to the Universe, then by extension the Universe is, witness and party to this same phenomenological consciousness through us?

Any observer with this attribute of “Consciousness”, (conscious perception), is able to collapse the wave function in a quantum state, and brains comprise of physical matter and atoms, so this implies that particles themselves have the ability to affect each other and collapse each other’s quantum state?

a circular reference?





@CygnusX1

Ooh. Questions!

I speak not with any authority, but my understanding of this is a sort of lay Buddhist’s approach.

Descarte & Gotama were of a different mind on that, but maybe closer allies in empirical observation. Buddha mind they say is in everyone. Descarte was, however, a body-mind dualist, and Gotama eschewed dualisms (continuum).

Consciousness ... what is it? A parrot is full of consciousness, as is a clever magpie. Self-reflection isn’t required. Simple worms *experience* something, although what a relative mere handful of synapses can “experience” in now way resembles consciousness. But a playful mouse with its tiniest of brains, rolling about in my front pocket, is doubtlessly conscious.

Are we integral to the Universe?
No.
Are we part of it?
Sure.
Do we have value?
.... * ....
Do we have value?
........ * ........
Don’t we?
.......... * >>>>>>>
Yes Virginia, there *is* a Santa Claus. Now go straight to bed & don’t worry about such things, you’ll be happy tomorrow when you wake up.

The first-observer hypothesis of a conscious universe collapsing itself is an amusing hijacking of quantum mechanics. Of course any level of subatomic interaction is a functional “observation” in quantum terms. The universe hasn’t needed observers in order for it to work… this is, after all, a universe where a lonely quark will make two others materialize out of the quantum vacuum in order to keep house in a baryon. Them’s the rules.

Now, that absolves us of inverse-time responsibility for observing the past into existence. And with space expanding, there’s new vacuum energy occupying the expanses, I suppose that’s keeping entropy at bay (perhaps?). That’w Santa Claus, right there.





@Joern ... and thanks.
Idiosyncratic?
I resemble that remark!





@leebert I certainly wasn’t chiding you for being rude….“bizarre” meant just that: bizarre.

@joern with regard to labels, I do quite like “transhumanist”. The idea that humankind should “take charge” (and do so mindfully, rather tha just kind of by accident), is after all at the heart of humanism. I tend to see existentialism as more a stage before, that stage where we (Europeans) hadn’t quite come to terms with the loss of our previous Christian faith. And the “trans-”, of course, recognises that humanity, at least in our current form, is not necessarily the final endpoint.

In the mean time I still think the universe is confused.





@leebert

“The universe hasn’t needed observers in order for it to work”

I agree, but it needs observers to appreciate and ENJOY ! - which is why I speculate, that consciousness may be understood:
“not necessarily as an indispensable player in the Universal scheme from the beginning, but more a top-down causation potential, a “hardwired” potential, meaning: Because of the very potential of there being awareness, it was guaranteed and destined to “happen” / evolve”.

The “emergence” of consciousness is neither surprising nor incomprehensible, and THE reason why the Universe would not remain forever unconscious, is the complete absurdity of “existence” unaware of itself !

In this lies our value and integration, and my answer to your first three questions is a resounding YES !

 

 





@Peter Wicks

Silly me.. - of course that is what I should call myself, and in fact what I AM calling myself: a Transhumanist ! - I guess I was never really comfortable with this label either, but it is beginning to smack of something.. : )

I agree with your view of existentialism in a European perspective, - it is time to move on.. mindfully, as you say. Yes, mindfully, that smacks of something too..





@Peter re “I think the universe basically hasn’t yet made up it’s mind what it wants, so if we have views on what we would like it to want, we indeed need to “fret and sweat” to make it happen.

Now this is a great way of putting it. I would add that, as far as we know, the universe does not yet have a “mind” and is not yet capable of “want”, and we can be instrumental to the emergence of a universal mind that wants something.

Re existentialism, I never called myself an existentialist, but those philosophical tests say that I am one. If there is such a thing as “positive and solar” existentialism without angst, I will sign up. I don’t think “meaning” or thuth” exist objectively, but I make my own meaning and truth.

@Joern re “that is what I should call myself, and in fact what I AM calling myself: a Transhumanist !

Welcome!





@Joern “..In this lies our value and integration, and my answer to your first three questions is a resounding YES !”

Now now Joern, that’s your hubris of sentience showing. You’re selfing all over the place when you do that, and you know that da Buddhaaaaa would disapprove.

(Well, he would…. grin

Just because humans care what we think of our thinking of the universe doesn’t mean it does. Ooops. That’s a contradiction! Or a tautology?

You chose.

(that is, if you believe in free will, otherwise you’ve just made your choice for you without knowing you did, feigning your own belief in your own belief in free will….)





@Peter Wick
Oh, good. I’m habitually such a ne’er-do-well that I have to peremptorily exculpate myself through apologia before I utter an utterance. Some days I’m amazed I can ever get out of bed.





@leebert

I’m trying to dechiffer what you are saying, so forgive me if these comments are out of tune with your points..

You said:
“Just because humans care what we think of our thinking of the universe doesn’t mean it does”

But, answering your own question: Are we part of the universe? - you said: Sure.

It follows therefore, that at least a part of the Universe cares..

Besides, in a Buddhist perspective, the self should not be perceived as seperate.. ?

Did the Buddhist monk not say to the hot dog vendor—“Make me one with everything”. { ; - )))

I may be “selfing” all over, but you should know I share a Buddhist and a “constructivist” view of self. I will even go along with “nothing but a pack of neurons”, - part and parcel of.. the Universe !





@Giulio Right, yes…the universe isn’t even at the stage of “confused” yet, it’s more like multiple personality disorder.

@leebert I don’t think the ancients were wrong to believe the earth was the centre of the universe (or flat, for that matter). The inquisition was wrong to cling on to that belief in the face of clear evidence to the contrary. Similarly, I don’t think we should be shy of answering yes to your three questions. At the physical level we may be cosmic dust, but at the level of meaning, why should we not be the centre of the universe? If and when ET finally shows up, I’ll be prepared to change my mind.





@ Joern

Resistance to existence is futile? Why not existentialism?

Please tell us more about existentialism in Denmark, it could be a boon for this site!


@ leebert

I fully subscribe to QED, my view is that you can borrow any thing you want as long as you pay it back immediately! (conservative tendencies)

My philosophical bias on Consciousness as “natural phenomenon” drives me towards reductionism and physicalism, and I cannot let go of this view that every entity in the Universe is outwardly “perceptive” of it’s nearest neighbour, (Consciousness as fundamental phenomenon or substrate even?) How can interaction between particles be wholly described through their inherent nature and “will to action”? information transfer or “perception” must precede any interaction? Quantum entanglement, superposition, how is this transfer of information supported?

Then again I have problems digesting super symmetry and the “particle zoo”, I rather see complexity as emergent, (layered), vibrating strings seem more appealing and elegant, (although I know little of this theory).

Yet your welcomed comments have prompted a revaluation, physicalism alone may not be providing the “whole” picture. I will meditate on this.

In the meantime, how about this one?

“Paola Zizzi is an Italian theoretical physicist who is most notable for her work in the field of loop quantum gravity, which regards the universe as a kind of super computer. She proposed that the universe has the computational complexity sufficient for the emergence of consciousness in the period known as the cosmic inflation in her paper titled `Emergent Consciousness`.”

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paola_Zizzi


Concerning Mice and Men..

“Mice are the physical protrusions into our dimension of a race of hyperintelligent pan-dimensional beings who commissioned construction of the Earth to find the Question to the Ultimate Answer of Life, the Universe, and Everything. As such, they are the most intelligent life form on that planet.”

Hitchhiker’s Guide
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_races_and_species_in_The_Hitchhiker’s_Guide_to_the_Galaxy

 

Now for the science bit?

Stuart Hamerhoff - on Quantum consciousness - November 5 2006 - Beyond Belief

Part1- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RFvaRTJ76A8&feature=related (15 mins)
Part2 -http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mEomL5wDEZc&feature=related (8.30mins)

 





@ Peter

“@Giulio Right, yes…the universe isn’t even at the stage of “confused” yet, it’s more like multiple personality disorder.”

You got that right!

LMAO!





@Cygnus

Hammerhoff… Yes he coauthored with Penrose
http://www.quantumconsciousness.org/penrose-hameroff/consciousevents.html
Interesting speculative stuff. Penrose’s pedigree notwithstanding, I’m deign to endorse it as much more than that, but still, damned interesting.

This stuff makes me uncomfortable, however. The scientertainment complex is riven with some pretty quacky stuff, like the “What the [bleep] do we know?” sectarians (the “Bleepers” as they’ve come to be called). It’s too groovy for my blood, I dare say it is for many, but it sure sells tickets, eh?

The Universe as a superdoopercomputer? So it’s Cloud Computers all the way down (out…)? Where’s the null hypothesis? I have to wonder whether such wild speculations don’t try to split the universe, much like the Gravastar conjecture, bottling the system up into an event horizon. That creates both a flat, and finite universe paradox, along with a first cause paradox.

This is as unlikely as the splitting timeline multiverse conjecture (Donny Dorko unshoots the rabbit & the airplane engine unfalls on his head), while other thought experiments & theorem show that any system averages constantly into a unary flux stream, no splitting. There *is* no Mr. Spock with a goatee.

Note how all of these keep trying to fill that old God-shaped hole, keeping scientism on the same turf as religionists. That path keeps inhering dualisms, foisting dialectics. This method limits science to scientism, not liberating it from belief. Reifying evidence into sanctimony is a mistake (science without religion is dangerous, religion w/out science is lame). The problem with naive materialism as a counterpoint to naive theism is that it is still naive.

In the West we are fortunate that Christiandom stepped aside for science and society to move forward. The Asian (Buddhist) societies have likewise readily adapted to modernity. The future belongs to the agnostics, the syncretists, the universalists - both in science and culture.

So what’s the best view? We can’t write Mrs. God out of the picture b/c she can readily step outside of causality to explain existence itself. That’s a pretty remote Mrs. God however, one that can both exist outside of existence and doesn’t. Cheshire Cat God. Beyond logic.

The cardinal doctrine of dependent origination precludes magic, but it doesn’t endorse flattening logic into doctrine. Anti-theism is also a trap.

Gotama instructed to concede the discussion to an intellectual cul de sac, much the same as his inveighing against trying to resolve determinism vs. free will, or elevate self into reincarnate souls. These are intellectual and psychological conceits that serve more to reify doctrine and hierarchy than they liberate.

So what’s the path of liberation? The liberation lies in fully encountering the present moment, therein lies a solace for salvation. This is a space beyond logic that says to abandon all preconceived notions and experience now as now, sans form, with emptiness (openness).

Applied to a futurist agenda? Ameliorating suffering, seeking beauty, experiencing community.





@Peter Wick

OK, Mr. Guilty Pleasure.

My retort (to both you & Joern) is this:

The risk is that you’re filling a God-shaped hole by elevating humanity to something as quintessential as a first cause (obviously different from a first cause, but still creating a dualism).

So what if we’re observing the universe in all of its splendor? Not to POMO the joys of consciousness away into some kind of nihilist’s apognosis, but in claiming a preeminence of sentience amongst empty phenomena is no better (or worse) than projecting an anthropic principle onto the universe. But therein lie traps.

The Buddhist aphorism, “Form is emptiness, emptiness form,” addresses this at many levels, warning that our projection of notion onto the coarising phenomena around us serves more to narrow than broaden. By accepting the emptiness of mind, of consciousness, we can follow the experience out of the circuitous quandaries that other lines of inquiry (discursive thought) fall into.

In other words by accepting our selves as fungible to the universe, we embody the universe. By ameliorating the conceits of self, we expand the ability to be selfless, gracious and compassionate.

Now, our little conceits about our conscious observation of the universe, are they such a big crime? Nooooo, ‘course not. I’m not against Santa Claus. But in trying to communicate a future where humans are liberated from doctrine and suffering, the projection of human preeminence invites more of the same *other* problems that the “old time” societal atavists like to indulge or exploit.

You can accuse me of splitting hairs by inveighing against anthropic centrism, but that’s the rationale of saying what I do.

Sure the universe fits on the tip of my nose, but God’s got a really huge schnozzola & see where it’s gotten her?





@Joern

So I gathered your views are informed by a dharmic positivism.

I inveigh against a fanciful anthropism in so far as to relegate it to a fanciful dead end. God-shaped holes want to be filled! But rather than fill them with something antipodal to something else - which only serves to reify by dialectic - a disinterested openness to emptiness, continuum - oneness - is the surest path to transcendence. Yoda say, “In order to capture it, let go of it we must.”

And that - *THAT* - is the quintessential thing that all beings want, a sense of freedom from stultifying parameters. If humanism and its heir apparent transhumanism are allowed to be corrupted by antitheism it won’t serve humanity as well as it could, and might foster more “Future Shock” reaction down the road.

Our future in the near term could come to resemble the dystopian future in the movie GATTACA, social Darwinism allowed to run amok via a corrupted transhumanism. Society wants to keep reinventing its hierarchies, plantations. And what better for some neo-Calvinist justification than a materialism that fills a god-shaped hole with self-serving answers to existential or identity angst?

That’s the trap we’re in now, in an “Age of Consumption” teetering from too much throughput and not enough compassion.





I have to say the profundity of all comments far exceeds my expectations, and I’m having a hard time keeping up. Besides, my computer crashed today, and just before, what was of course a wise and well thought out comment of my own : ) disappeared into the void. No wonder, since it is 03:45 over here, so I am retreating for the time being, but hope to be back sometime tomorrow.





@leebert I of all people should not complain about someone splitting hairs! But I wonder just how far we can really go with a disinterested openness to emptiness, continuum, and oneness. Surely if we go too far then we really will have difficulty getting out of bed in the morning.

So I guess my position is that Santa Claus is not only a relatively harmless crime, but a positive necessity…until something better comes along.

Admittedly, maintaining a disinterested openness to emptiness, continuum and oneness (which I agree is essential) must lead us to hold all our beliefs tentatively (including this one), and we need to be especially tentative about anthropic perspectives. Absolutely. I don’t think I quite share Joern’s revulsion at the idea of a purposeless universe. I don’t need the universe to have meaning to create some meaning for myself.

Or do I? One of my leitmotifs at this blog (and especially at practical ethics where I used to comment more frequently) has been my moral subjectivism. I have tended to see meaning, and by extension morality, as a matter of choice rather than of truth. Yet that does indeed leave something of a God-shaped hole. There is something in us that wants our preferences to be absolute. Where that becomes dangerously heretical/fundie is when this primarily serves the purpose of justifying our pre-existing, and relatively superficial preferences (hence “God hates fags”). Isn’t this, ultimately, the danger you are alluding to? But surely there is also an equal and opposite danger, namely that we become so tentative, so relativist in our beliefs, both moral and empirical, that the “meanings” we create for ourselves just seem to arbitrary to be compelling.

In other words, perhaps the consumption trap that we are in is a result of our over-, not our under-, reluctance to fill those God-shape holes. If we don’t have the visceral sense of purpose that comes from (or perhap rather along with) more absolutist beliefs, then perhaps we rely more on adrenalin to get us out of bed, and on various (other) addictions?





@Peter I’d like to digest your excellent response & think before I respond further. I’m exploring these ideas via dialog here, and though some of this is old ground, I’m trying reformulate it into something more concise.

But that comes across as more didactic, and so the shades of gray are lost to stark contrast. And here I go on about foisting dialectics, hah! But I’d like to think it’s good fodder.





@Joern ... Good luck with that sick computer. They’re such wonderful labor-saving devices, eh?





You’re welcome leebert…indeed this is all very enriching! Maybe the universe is getting a tad less confused?





Re: existentialism:

I have always admired people who try to live their lives to the fullest and “invent” their own meanings and values, especially faced with a seemingly meaningless and absurd universe and existence, - even if it would appear to be a logical consequence to do just that: make the most of it, rather than just “staying in bed”..

In the same way, I also admire people who, (as leebert advices), encounter the present moment, -  abandon all preconceived notions, - try to “Be here Now” - (remember the book..), -  seek beauty,  experience community, etc. - in accordance with Buddhist teachings, and in this sense I think Buddhism and existentialism have a lot in common..

So what’s the problem ? - Well, - as I’ve said earlier, - I have a problem with absurdism, - in fact it is absurdism itself I find the most absurd of all. - Does it matter if their is inherent meaning and value in our lives, as opposed to having to create our own, or becoming downright nihilistic ? - To me it does, - I really DON’T like a postmodern outlook, and I totally understand why Peter Wicks is having second thoughts about his moral subjectivism and meaning being a matter of choice simply.

Does that make me some kind of religionist after all.. - Not if you ask me. I find it very unfortunate, that even science is under strong postmodern influence, - I’d even say it amounts to a degeneration of science..

I don’t think Kierkegaard was an early postmodernist, but he did represent absurdism, and I totally reject that, so I can only call myself partly an existentialist. I am also opposed to another Dane, - namely Niels Bohr, who famously replied to Einstein’s: “God does not play dice”, with: “Who are you to tell God what to do!”

I am in no way a “Bleeper”, and I am also rather suspicious of people like Hameroff, so in this sense I am very much in tune with leebert. I think leebert is right in saying there has been a New Age hijacking of Quantum Mechanics, - entanglement, Bell’s theorem,etc. - I also agree such metaphysical ponderings are fascinating and definitely worth listening to, but with a good deal of skepticism.

Yep, - at the end of the day, I am an “absolutist”, - I believe in a Theory-of-Everything, inherent meaning, intrinsic value, integrated whole, non-accidental Universe and ditto self-awareness. - (But: At the same time, I am deeply opposed to “intelligent design”, - in particular being the doing of some Deity).

Does that amount to dharmic positivism ? - I’ll have to check : )

CygnusX1: I am not aware of anything particularly existentialist going on in Denmark, it is just that Kierkegaard was Danish, and since we are only 5, 5 million souls, he’s continuously being analyzed backwards and forwards.. - Come to think of it, one of his best known “theorems” is that: Life should be lived FORWARDS, and understood BACKWARDS..





@Peter ... Not a chance, especially if humans have anything to do with it! grin

Humans create their gods in their own image. Lacking that, we’ll try to do the same to the universe. Vanities of vanities, all is vanity!

I’m exploring a vernacular that ameliorates the conflict between faith and knowledge, perhaps by finding the middle path that is neither. Something rooted in the most-common nature of all conscious things, a medium of concepts independent of preconception, something that opens up vistas of unlearning and unbelieving.

Heady stuff. Don’t know much about it.





@Joern I share your and CygnusX1’s scepticism about Hameroff, and the (IMO highly speculative and somewhat implausible) theories he’s developed with Penrose, although interestingly the latter is very much in line with your integrated, whole universe…in fact for Penrose the collapse of the quantum state vector is a fully objective process triggered by gravity (that aspect that gen relativity deals with superbly and quantum theory badly). And all credit to him that he’s designed an experiment to test (and quite possibly falsify) his hypothesis. Anyone know where they are on that? I seem to recall there were plans to conduct the experiment.

That said - and, as CygnusX1 put it, “despite Penrose’s pedigree” - I was unconvinced by his trashing (in his Road to Reality) of many worlds interpretations. The problems he pinpoints with those seem no more intractable, and if anything less so, than his own theories. So I’m inclined to agree with Bohr…it really isn’t up to us to tell God what to do.

But you’re right that quantum theory has, at least in popular culture, been somewhat hijacked by bleepology, and I loved many things about Road to Reality. The inherent subjectivity of entropy (who defines the classification into macrostates?). The arrow of time, and the special nature of the Big Bang. In particular, they way all variables seem to have been “thermalised” EXCEPT (unlike in black holes), gravity. The need to pay much more attention to gravity and the insights of gen relativity than searches for the unified field theory generally do. In that context, his complaints (together with Smolin) of the dearth of resources going into anything other than string theory, despite it’s failure so far to actually predict anything. And finally, fascinating speculations about the relationship between the mental, physical, and mathematical realms, and observations about the role (and pitfalls) of beauty in the search for truth.

On a somewhat different but related topic, thinking the other day about the development of the Third Reich and in particular the role of Riefenstahl’s films I was contemplating the role (and pitfalls) of beauty in relation to *political* (and perhaps moral) truth. Many Germans of the time really seem to have been taken in by the sheer aesthetic attraction of the movement. Which I think goes to some of the points that leebert has been making (about the dangers of certainties), and lessons (both positive and cautionary) for the religion that Giulio wants to set up.





@leebert Looks like a fun project!

Quibble: I don’t see a conflict between faith and knowledge as between faith and doubt. It seems to me that knowledge relies on both. Without faith there can be no knowledge. To know something one much believe it.

That there can be any such thing as true knowledge is in itself an article of faith. So we already start there: we must have faith enough to be motivated, but enough doubt to be circumspect and flexible in the face of evidence.

Edison (purportedly) said that people often fail because they didn’t know how close they were to success when they gave up. An unfalsifiable (and also unverifiable) assertion if ever there was one. What I *have* often experienced, though, is *succeeding* just after I gave up. It’s then that you stare into the emptiness, and see things you weren’t expecting.

“Reality is an illusion, albeit a very persistent one”, said Einstein. I wonder if the same can be said for moral reality. In both cases one can doubt everything, but assuming one continues breathing, the old beliefs generally come back, sometimes in somewhat modified (perhaps synthesised form).

All conscious beings that I know about are alive, so that’s one thing we have in common. And to be alive means to be the product of natural selection. The reasons I don’t think we are robots for our DNA are (i) evolutionary disequilibrium and (ii) in humans,  the power of ideas, combined with the plasticity of our brains, to drastically modify our behaviour. And that’s before genetic engineering. So the classic goal-oriented-behaviour-aimed-at-passing-on-our-genes-to-the-next-generation model is scrambled, but (for now) remains there in the background (and not always very far in the background). So we sort of have that in common as well.

Whence the thirst for knowledge, given the particular ecological niche that we humans have been occupying. Whence also the tendency to become over-certain in our beliefs (useful basis for action, and especially obtaining status and resources), but also our capacity for radical doubt (outsider strategies, rebellion against authority, ability to see things everyone else has missed).

Here’s another thought. I read somewhere that a computer gets hot when you delete something,  not when you store new information, because it’s the deletion that lowers the entropy of the computer, which must therefore be exported to the environment. Is there anything purer than a baby’s brain? Certainly it is harder to unlearn than to learn. Unbelieving is probably easier: being familiar with a concept but doubting that it is true is probably a higher entropy state than just believing it. But perhaps genuine creativity requires actual amnesia? Is it possible to have an anti-thought, that exactly cancels out the thought? (Merely sticking a “not” in the sentence will not do the job, I fear.)





I think we all share an awareness of the dangers of certainty and fundamentalist thinking, but as I see it, it is a serious mistake to embrace the opposite, which is what I understand as postmodernism. I mean, just because we have so far failed to reach said Theory-of-Everything, and just because of the apparent absurdity of life and the universe, it does not follow we should hide in some bush and become indifferent. As leebert, I would aim for some golden mean, and I honestly see postmodernism as no less dangerous than fundamentalist thought, - in fact I’d say it is itself a fundamentalist way of thinking !
For my part, I’ll keep looking for truth, simply because I am convinced there IS truth to be found. You may call this truth a scientific Theory-of-Everything, or you may call it, “simply”, ENLIGHTENMENT, - in any case I disagree with leebert when he categorizes this pursuit as filling some God-shape hole. True, - that IS all to often the case, but not quite always, - and I very much hope I personally belong in the last category..





Attention !

Hank told me they are contemplating a new poll, so help me hijack it. You all seem quite interested in existentialism, - on the other hand noone seems sure to which extent they are themselves existentialists.
I propose a poll with a simple question, something like:

To which extent are you an existentialist ?

- and then 5-6 options. Here are some suggestions, - come up with better ones and / or add your own !

- Life and the Universe has inherent meaning but I’m not sure what it is

- Life and the Universe has inherent meaning and I know what it is

- Life has no meaning except the meaning that we ascribe to it—


- or Life has no universal meaning but individuals, through their efforts, can attain personal meaning

- The Universe and life itself is completely devoid of any meaning, and we might as well stay in bed.

- Purposeless things can accidentally result in something interesting as well and when they do, they take on a purpose that did not exist before.

Check out the current poll next to list of articles to see what it looks like.

 





By the way, black holes are rather fascinating objects from the perspective of understanding time and evolution (another thing I picked up from Penrose’s Road to Reality).

We tend to think of them as spatial objects, occupying a fixed position in some three-dimensional frame of reference (e.g. “centre of the milky way galaxy”), and evolving over time. But from a general relativistic perspective they can never lie in our past, since light can never escape (I’m ignoring Hawking radiation for the moment). So if you want to ask, “How long has the black hole in the middle of our galaxy been there?”, then in an important sense the answer must be, “It isn’t yet.” And yet in another sense it does, by some kind of extrapolation, appear to occupy the centre of our otherwise relatively flat three-dimensional galaxy, and has done for quite some time.

If there was really a restaurant at the end of the universe, I guess it would be on the event horizon of a black hole, accelerating away from it at the speed of light.





“If there was really a restaurant at the end of the universe, I guess it would be on the event horizon of a black hole, accelerating away from it at the speed of light”

Wow- I love it ! - Some imagination you have ! - and thanks for sharing, - profound thinking, - again ! - great comment !





@ Joern

“In the same way, I also admire people who, (as leebert advices), encounter the present moment, - abandon all preconceived notions, - try to “Be here Now” - (remember the book..), - seek beauty, experience community, etc. - in accordance with Buddhist teachings, and in this sense I think Buddhism and existentialism have a lot in common..”

I agree with the view that the Buddha was an existentialist, as was Nietzsche, although they did not describe themselves as such, (the description did not yet exist?)

“Does that make me some kind of religionist after all.. - Not if you ask me. I find it very unfortunate, that even science is under strong postmodern influence, - I’d even say it amounts to a degeneration of science..”

I don’t feel there is any damage to science – which still serves objectivity. Even some of the greatest minds in physics contemplated Buddhism and Hinduism? Science and philosophy may need to merge to form a new age of spirituality, (but NOT a new age spirituality?) – is debatable?

“I am in no way a “Bleeper”, and I am also rather suspicious of people like Hameroff, so in this sense I am very much in tune with leebert. I think leebert is right in saying there has been a New Age hijacking of Quantum Mechanics, - entanglement, Bell’s theorem,etc. - I also agree such metaphysical ponderings are fascinating and definitely worth listening to, but with a good deal of skepticism.”

Not sure if leebert was suggesting that Hameroff’s hypothesis is “new age hijacking of quantum mechanics”, and as highlighted, venerated theoretical physicist Roger Penrose seems to feel it more than worthy to recognise and work with Hameroff.

I visited the website a while ago, and must admit it blew my mind, I could not understand it, so I dismissed it with somewhat the same point of view, that QM was not fully substantiated here – yet if you investigate further, you will find that Hameroff is no fool! And is a very respected expert in his field, and he seems to answer all of his criticisms, (if we take time to listen?)

Doesn’t mean I particularly subscribe to this hypothesis either, yet we should keep an open mind. Even top experts in their own fields are often described as madmen for attempting to offer radical new ideas?

Quantum mechanical effects on the brain and influencing the mind may indeed play a major role in our own subjectivity and delusions of time and space and Consciousness?

“Yep, - at the end of the day, I am an “absolutist”, - I believe in a Theory-of-Everything, inherent meaning, intrinsic value, integrated whole, non-accidental Universe and ditto self-awareness. - (But: At the same time, I am deeply opposed to “intelligent design”, - in particular being the doing of some Deity).”

This is where we diverge. I do not think there is a Unified theory of everything, and that this is a wild goose chase? Why waste time chasing geese?

Although I feel you rather touched on a more poignant notion when you mentioned “potential”? Indeed we may unify all things and emptiness and possibilities by subscribing and extending monism towards this term “potential” that is indescribable, ineffable, and beyond space-time.

And concerning the Universe that you contemplated earlier, the one with nothingness? There is no such thing as “no thing”, is there? Yet there is perhaps a steady quantum state, an unrealised, and unobserved quantum state? There is “potential”? Welcome to advaita and the contemplation of events at time = zero?


@ leebert

“This is as unlikely as the splitting timeline multiverse conjecture (Donny Dorko unshoots the rabbit & the airplane engine unfalls on his head), while other thought experiments & theorem show that any system averages constantly into a unary flux stream, no splitting. There *is* no Mr. Spock with a goatee.”

You did it to me again! Not sure if you intended this, but Penrose OR does in fact resolve the Donnie dilemma! Now, and I propose to you that, any theory that can explain that movie must be the(a) truth? For that movie was placed into the “hands of Men” by Santa as yet another giggle test?

I also find the notions of abundant multiverse’s such an illogical waste and perhaps yet more misdirection? This does not mean that I do not believe that there are no other Universe’s, or spatial dimensions, (and yet again, do we really need to with QM?), only that they do not appear at the slightest confusion of an electron? Rubber band space-time seems like a more reasonable adjustment?

Your point is well taken regarding scientism.

What do I call freedom? I call it that blissful state of moksha described by Hinduism that is yours by right, and is and has always been yours, and is visitation to each of us every night – that blissful state of sleep where even dreaming ceases and consciousness retires – this natural primordial state of peace and serenity that overcomes all of our perceived separation from the Universe and creation?

Death is not so bad either is it?


@ Peter

Not a big fan of David Deutsch or Paul Davies’ ideas, although I respect them both. I believe Paul Davies has an hypothesis that quantum entanglement is oblivious of direction of space-time, so effects influence not only our perceived future events but the past also? That effects do travel back in time? Not sure how this notion would NOT have to split the Universe to preserve the forward space-time continuum, but then again, perhaps the answer lies in the delusion of forward thinking?

@ Joern

“Attention !

Hank told me they are contemplating a new poll, so help me hijack it. You all seem quite interested in existentialism, - on the other hand noone seems sure to which extent they are themselves existentialists.
I propose a poll with a simple question, something like”

I would further propose a few articles, from some scholars who can expand everyone’s knowledge on existentialism. I understand there is a new affiliate on hand that is a scholar of Nietzsche, so looking forward to his contributions very much also?

 





Re “To which extent are you an existentialist ?”

Option: Life and the Universe have no inherent meaning, but intelligent life can create meaning.

(like: the Universe did not spontaneously produce bicycles, but we can build bicycles)





I believe Joern’s question for the potential poll is this:

“To which extent are you an existentialist?”

and then we need 5 options -

Giulio’s (above) is very good, and “I don’t know” is a regular choice

others suggested have been:

1. The Universe and Life itself is completely devoid of any meaning, and we might as well stay in bed.

2. Purposeless things can accidentally result in something interesting as well and when they do, they take on a purpose that did not exist before.

3. Life and the Universe has inherent meaning and intrinsic value





There will, of course, be a structural bias, since logically those who might be tempting to answer 1. will not bother to do so.

I REALLY want to see on my Facebook newsfeed “Most IEET readers don’t see the point of getting out of bed in the morning, but couldn’t be arsed to write in and say so!”





Peter,

Good point, - and great humour ! - Same thoughts have crossed my mind, but I don’t see how it is possible to avoid such structural bias.. ? - Anyway, -  if voting would go in the direction you are hinting at, it would point to what we already “know”, that IEET readers are an optimistic bunch ready to face the future no matter what.. , be they religionists, transhumanists of all kinds and whatever, but we do quite frequently, or at least occasionally, see some grumpy comments, - as if someone just got out of bed..





You know what? I’m thinking why not forget about the label “existentialist” and just ask people whether they think there is a purpose to the universe or something like that?





“Why no just ask people whether they think there is a purpose to the universe”

Could do that, but because people are obviously curious about and fascinated by existentialist thinking / attitudes, I’d stick to simply: “Are you an existentialist”, - and we’d get the same answers..

Here’s my proposal:

“Are you an existentialist” ?

1. Life sucks, and then you die !

2. Life and the Universe have no inherent meaning, but intelligent life can create meaning.

3. Purposeless things can accidentally result in something interesting as well and when they do, they take on a purpose that did not exist before.

4. Life / Existence has inherent meaning but I’m not sure what it is.

5. Life and the Universe has inherent meaning and intrinsic value, as set out by God.

6. I don’t know.





option 1. Life sucks, and then you die:
Credit to UK thrash metal band “Cerebral fix”

option 2. Life and the Universe have no inherent meaning, but intelligent life can create meaning :
Credit to Giulio Prisco

option 3. Purposeless things can accidentally result in something interesting as well and when they do, they take on a purpose that did not exist before :
Credit to Henry Markram

option 4. Life / Existence has inherent meaning but I’m not sure what it is:
Credit to.. not sure who it was..

option 5. Life and the Universe has inherent meaning and intrinsic value, as set out by God:
Credit to.. God ?..

 





@Joern, Peter

Yes, there are constraints to the disinterested level, the risk being an inadvertent nihilism. The Buddhist trad has confronted this issue b/c of its inherent materialism. The answer has always been a positivist apophatic (not this, not that) approach. It’s variadic method of argument & reasoning, but keeps to the Buddhist value system. e.g.
If it’s incorrect & good time, don’t say it.
If it’s incorrect & bad time, don’t say it.
If it’s correct but wrong time, don’t say it.
If it’s correct but good time, say it.

( believe me, Buddhism’s liturgy could make paint dry with some of these discourses. At times it competes with the Biblical begats as to what makes the best bedtime reading. )

The intent is to seek a syncretic fusion of materialism and spiritualism, one that ameliorates the inherent flaws in both.

What works and why?

Spiritualist systems work is that they proclaim a higher standard, but establishes a kingdom.

A pure materialism can teeter into nihilism.

In so doing either can seek license and peremptory exculpation.

My concern with putting value (value itself) on too high a pedestal is that it will manifest the same old bugaboos of any human system.

Let’s say we were to convene ecumenical council to construct the quintessential human value system, one that exceeds even the syncretism of Cao Dai, UU or Foundationalism. What would such a synod declare?

A Nontheistic materialism that doesn’t reify Genoism?
A Nontheistic spiritualism that doesn’t reify Sanctimony?
A Transhumanism that includes all conscious beings, without falling prey to Jainism?
A Republic of Heaven (ala Phillip Pullman)?

But something that has sex appeal, with seraphic hierarchies, saints, goddesses, and light shows.

And music, really good music.

P.S.
I look fwd to the poll, I’ll try to vote as often as I can. grin





@CygnusX1

“..You did it to me again! Not sure if you intended this, but Penrose OR does in fact resolve the Donnie dilemma! Now, and I propose to you that, any theory that can explain that movie must be the(a) truth? For that movie was placed into the “hands of Men” by Santa as yet another giggle test? “

Intent? If only!? Just dumb luck.

As for Donnie Darko, well, if Penrosian OR should accompany the movie as a study guide and vice versa, then ... QED, baby, QED.
grin





@leebert

First: I really enjoy your writing ! - If I could express myself in Danish, I’d say you are a verbalist eroticist, - forget about idiosyncratic : )

Now..,
“The intent is to seek a syncretic fusion of materialism and spiritualism, one that ameliorates the inherent flaws in both”

I think this is where we all agree. We express it differently, but aim for the same Golden rule. We are weary of (over)certainty,  - but fear nihilism, - (and for my part, - (fundamentalist) postmodernism. When you warn against putting value on too high a pedestal, I warn against absurdism and moral subjectivity, and in turn Peter Wicks warns against.. (going to read his comments again..)

One of the best books I’ve read was “Zen, and the art of motorcycle maintenance”, a fascinating inquiery into Quality /value, advocating - not a syncretic fusion of “romantic” and “classical” qualities / personalities, but urging us to not split Quality into two in the first place ! - Another example could be a left /right brain synthesis, - Giulio Prisco aims for a fusion of transhumanism with religion, and you could go on..

Conclusion: We are all searching for and aiming to strike The Edge.

The synod’s “verdict” ? - I’ll think about it, but something with sex-appeal and really good music sounds like my kind of thing..

Sex, X, and rokc’n'roll..  { ; - )





So…....are we going to join Giulio’s Turing Church?





“So…....are we going to join Giulio’s Turing Church”?

For my part I ain’t gonna join no chuch, and I don’t understand Giulio’s flirtations with Mormons, - sorry Giulio. There is always the benefit of the doubt, and I do have some reading up to do concerning the Turing Church.. - I admit also, that the word church alone is enough to make me back off. Oh mine.. prejudices.., do we ever learn..





@Joern “..verbalist eroticist.” A nice way of telling me logolaliac?

@CygnusX1 “...This is where we diverge. I do not think there is a Unified theory of everything, and that this is a wild goose chase? Why waste time chasing geese?”

For the entertainment value?

@Peter “...I REALLY want to see on my Facebook newsfeed “Most IEET readers don’t see the point of getting out of bed in the morning, but couldn’t be arsed to write in and say so!”

LOL. I third the motion.





@Joern re “the word church alone is enough to make me back off

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alonzo_Church grin

@Joern re “I don’t understand Giulio’s flirtations with Mormons

I don’t flirt with Mormons, I flirt with Mormon Transhumanists. Before becoming aware of the Mormon Transhumanist Association I had only a very vague idea that the Mormons existed.

I wish to invite you to forget the label Mormons, think of the MTA as the MadeInUtah Transhumanist Association, and read something on their website http://transfigurism.org/, starting with:
http://transfigurism.org/pages/about/mormon-transhumanist-affirmation/

Is there anything there that you strongly object to?

Yo may not like Mormons too much, for reasons that I can understand and partly agree with. But don’t forget that all religions, including mainstream Christianity and Islam, have produced very bad things but also very good things. The Inquisition and 9/11 are horrible, but the writings of Berkeley, Teilhard anne the Sufi mystics are wonderful.





Giulio, -

I will read up on (your..) “Turing Church”, - I owe you that much, and I don’t question your sincerity for even a fraction of a second. - Also, intuitively, I feel you are a very fine human being !

As for the MTA, I have so far only taken a quick glance at the “affirmation”, and yes, I strongly object to:

...ordained of God…

- and the word prophetic in

..diverse prophetic visions of transfiguration..

I have read Hank’s article about Mitt Romney. I am looking forward to the day when the American people - yes PEOPLE - will elect an atheist, - an atheist who will refuse to take words like “so help me God” into his mouth. It wouldn’t make sense, eh ?





By the way, bishop Berkeley was my favorite philosopher at a younger age. I really believed he made a waterproof case for philosophical idealism, but later I learned to be more critical and take people’s biases into account. I am of course referring to him being a bishop..

Nowadays I am not sure what I am, but I am ever more comfortable with “transhumanist”. I still have to write my personal manifesto though..





@Giulio My view is that we’ll never see the end of theism, for any number of cultural and human psychological reasons. The peculiar arcana of Mormonism vs. any other system really dissolves from a reasonable distance. So long as we aren’t dealing with exploitation ala L. Ron Hubbard the matter of mass delusion becomes relative.

It’s difficult for Humanists to not respond, in kind, to the vituperations of theists. The quest for human freedom includes a vested interest in dispelling what appear to be wrong, even harmful, notions inculcated via society.

The point at which such a mission becomes either futile or counterproductive? Good question. Have Dawkins & Hitchens (RIP) done more good than harm to their mission? I’d like to find out, b/c I’m deign to go to the lengths of confrontation that they have. I’m not saying either fellow’s statements weren’t justified by logic, but there are other levels of justification, and an antitheist’s screeds aren’t always the most diplomatic on the matter. Fence sitters can be as easily revulsed as convinced.

The liberal believers and agnostics in the back pews of every big tent religion present an opportunity, but not to destroy religion, but to modernize it further. Those are the folks most open to dialog, and as you have probably experienced, the odds improve if they themselves are seeking dialog in kind.

My religious home is a form of Western Buddhism. I’m not a “good” Buddhist in the sense that I meditate often, but then nor do most Asians. Within “Gotama’s Big Tent” are a myriad of declensions of belief, some pragmatic, some Buddhalotrous or quasi-deistic, others ascetic - with a pile of apocrypha for all of them to argue over.

And yet here in the West the fundamental sensibilities of Buddhism are being recognized, oft times via Judeo-Christian sensibilities. So the commonality of human nature, and the breadth of the world now available to everybody’s home, can lead us to Catholics sitting Zazen.

The pursuit of freer minds is one of the finest jewels of modernity, and yet each spiritual tradition has proffered ecstatic liberation from antiquity onward.

But culture being what it is, its agendas run contrary to complete disinhibition, and so the fusion of authority and spirituality brought us to where was are now. In another couple of millennia the problem might present itself in a different way, but I fully expect it to remain a salient feature of the human condition.





@leebert

“logolaliac” ? - Don’t know what it means, - maybe incomprehensible ?

“Verbalist eroticist” was meant as a BIG compliment ! - I have translated freely from Danish: “Verbal-erotiker”, - which, - again freely translated, - means “rhetorical genius” / “wise and well spoken with sex-appeal” - how do you like that, - are we getting closer.. { ; - )

We Danes are rather rude at times, - (but can be polite too), - or should it be the other way round.. - and often we are surprised to learn how easily people are offended…
With this in mind, - meaning: this is NOT meant to offend anyone, - quite the opposite: give you a hearty laugh, - dare I link to infamous critic of religion, Pat Condell, and his: “What is good about religion”:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ly62n36nn0k

Ps. At the end, he very briefly mentions Buddhism..

Before watching, keep this in mind:
Proverbs 17:22 ... A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones. ...





Panpsychism Meets Quantum Gravity (Plato at the Planck scale)

“But how does a further level of information processing help explain consciousness? Greater computational complexity and ultra-reductionism to the level of microtubule automata don’t really explain enigmatic features of consciousness, in particular the nature of conscious experience; they merely facilitate emergence. Something more is required. If functional approaches and emergence are incomplete, perhaps the raw components of mental processes (qualia) are fundamental properties of nature (like mass, spin or charge). This view has long been held by panpsychists throughout the ages–for example Buddhists and Eastern philosophers claim a “universal mind.” Following the ancient Greeks, Spinoza argued in the 17th century that some form of consciousness existed in everything physical. The 19th century mathematician Leibniz proposed that the universe was composed of an infinite number of fundamental units, or “monads,” with each possessing a form of primitive psychological being. In the 20th century, Bertrand Russell claimed that there was a common entity underlying both mental and physical processes, while John Wheeler and David Chalmers have maintained that there exists an experiential aspect to fundamental information.

Of particular interest is the work of the 20th century philosopher Alfred North Whitehead, whose pan-experiential view remains most consistent with modern physics. Whitehead argued that consciousness is a process of events occurring in a wide, basic field of proto-conscious experience. These events, or “occasions of experience,” may be comparable to quantum state reductions, or actual events in physical reality (Shimony, 1993). This suggests that consciousness may involve quantum state reductions (e.g. a form of quantum computation).

But what of Whitehead’s basic field of proto-conscious experience? In what medium are the “occasions of experience” (quantum state reductions) occurring? Could proto-conscious qualia simply exist in the empty space of the universe?

What is empty space? Historically, empty space has been described as either an absolute void or a pattern of fundamental geometry. Democritus and the Michaelson-Morley results argued for “nothingness” while Aristotle (“plenum”) and Maxwell (“ether”) rejected the notion of emptiness in favor of “something”–a background pattern. Einstein weighed in on both sides of this debate, initially supporting the concept of a void with his theory of special relativity but then reversing himself in his theory of general relativity and its curved space and geometric distortions-the space-time metric. Could proto-conscious qualia be properties of the metric, fundamental space-time geometry?

What is fundamental space-time geometry? We know that at extremely small scales, space-time is not smooth, but granular, or quantized. This occurs at the infinitesimal Planck scale (10-33 cm, 10-43 secs). The fundamental level of spacetime geometry is described through quantum gravity. A final theory of quantum gravity could unite quantum theory and general relativity, the great divide in modern physics.”

Read the rest here..

http://www.kurzweilai.net/consciousness-connects-our-brains-to-the-fundamental-level-of-the-universe





Omygosh, I have no scientific degrees, yet I can wrap (warp!) my brain around and through all that Joern is expressing in the article.

Amazed (NOT lost in a maze, yet journeying in one) at the marvel of our brain-mind, reflecting upon itself as above as below…

Universe breathing, from The One Origin to All, through duality complexifying, expanding… and then eventually, contracting upon itself… Here I use the wording “then eventually” beyond our experience of Time here-now.

Our words don’t yet convey easily and briefly the synthesis-analysis of the thought process, I would love to stay and chat and explain-express more, yet that would keep me stuck writing here to encompass the depths of the matter.

Simply put, Joern’s article (this is the first and only one I came across) speaks to me in a happy vibrational way, a frequency harmonious with my alignement.

Do call me as soon as the BlueBrain is ready:
smile
then perhaps we may bypass my lenghty wording, and USB-style download from mind to mind and share wonderful knowledge, intuits and awareness.

Gotta go, ordinary daily human stuff to do, rush-rush-rush, survival of the fittest…

Namaste





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