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Information, Dreams and Leaving Descartes’ Meditations

February 16, 2016

It seems a distraction to argue we create casual relationships in reality due to some interaction between consciousness or the mind and the quantum world. I find the applied implications unproductive in that there will always be someone who is not in-line with the desired state of consciousness and can use that to their advantage. As the joke goes, your AI is no match for my baseball bat. Further, attempts to change other people’s consciousness remove individual freedom and tend to empower tyrants. Tests and experimental research into changing consciousness seem to carry grave potential harm to those involved, coming from psychological or chemical experimentation.

Avoiding the first hypothesis -that consciousness creates causal reality, we’ll focus on the second -that there is something about the interaction between the information we extract from the quantum world and our minds which leads to a causal reality. From what we know so far of the quantum world, there is an interaction between reality, as it were, and observation by a consciousness. Quantum experiments show the effect of observation on subsequent observations and measurements of physical experiments. The cat is neither dead nor alive until we observe and make a conscious determination. Particles create an interference pattern, traveling through both, one and neither of two slits, until they are observed. Information in the future effects the past once the future measurement is taken.

One characteristic of the information we receive when the quantum state is broken is that it seems to be readily usable. With it, we can create causal theories that accurately predict future states of reality. The theories provide a basis for incredible feats of engineering. Engineering increases crop yields. Engineering sends people into space and back. Engineering produces lifesaving medicine. Engineering produces machines we use to probe deeper into the world to describe new theories enabling further feats of technological accomplishment. Valuing these types of accomplishments we can say the information is usable and useful.

Descartes’ Sixth Meditation describes different states of the human mind. He distinguishes between being awake and dreaming. Memory serves as a distinguishing factor between being awake and dreaming. While awake we connect perceptions with each other and with other event in our lives which happen while we are awake. Like Hume, Descartes notes that this is a habit. But he says this habit and connections does not occur while we dream. That is, our dreams don’t follow the same causal chains we follow while awake. He goes so far as to say that were reality to behave like a dream with say a person suddenly appearing and disappearing, he would believe the person was a product of his mind rather than truly existing in the external world.

I’d propose that memory is not unique to being awake. We certainly seem to be able to have the sensation of memory in a dream. We can feel as if something in our dream has happened before and that one event can lead to another. We can participate in a dream and feel impending joy or fear because of some understanding of the sequence of events and perceptions going on in the dream.

I’d suggest the difference is that our perceptions in a dream follow different causal paths than our perceptions when awake. The information we receive is not usable in the same way as the information we receive from our perceptions while awake. It is difficult to predict future states of what we’ll perceive in a dream. We’d likely find it hard to build a table with theories born from a dream. The habits of non-quantum, causal physics which we find while awake don’t seem to apply.

However, quantum realities seem quite at home in a dream. A person can exist and not exist at the same time. A ball can pass through a window and a door at the same time. We can perceive an event occurring one way than perceive it completely differently a few seconds later, in the future. Perhaps our mind is continually extracting both quantum and non-quantum information? Yet it is useful to retain and work with non-quantum causality through the regular course of our day. All the while waiting until we’re asleep to process the quantum world.

This suggests an imperative of utility of information while awake and going about the course of our day. I’m left with many questions.

Is there something about our world that necessitates extracting useful information? Will the nature of the information we extract change through some sort of extension transference loop when we harness quantum states in our tools such as quantum computing? Or, as seems to be the case so far, does the information need to fit into non-quantum causality to become useful? If there is something unique about the interaction between our minds and the information we extract, can we create a truly independent AI if we are locked into non-quantum causality, one which breaks the quantum state through its perceptions and extracts information with different characteristics? Or, as seems to be the case so far, are we pursuing AI’s that abide by the same non-quantum causality as us? Could we recognize an AI which did otherwise?

Descartes relies on useful conceptions to make his arguments and on conceptions which preclude certain alternatives. His conception of the Divine is useful for his argument about God’s existence, and ours. His conception of the intellect is useful for his arguments on our existence, God’s existence, existence of the external world and in how we come to truth. We haven’t dwelt on this but have mentioned the power of the natural light of intellect which paves the way to truth. Along similar lines, he distinguishes between conceiving and imagining. Whereby, conceiving holds truth and imagination, while powerful, is ultimately fancy. The function of a mental state determines if what it holds is true. Conceiving can hold truth. Imaging cannot.

Descartes speaks of the necessities of the world in the Meditations. He mentions them earlier but closes the Sixth Meditation remarking that “the necessities of action often oblige us to make a decision before we have had the leisure to examine things so carefully…” The Meditations are a break from the necessities of the world, a vacation, an experiment where Descartes cloisters himself and explores his inner terrain. He asks questions that he finds interesting. He follows paths he believe are truthful. I find finishing The Meditations leaves me with a feeling described by admirers of Thoreau finishing Walden. We’ve joined a powerful observer on a journey outside of the realm of the usual. We’ve participated in an experiment which inspires us to ask our own questions and apply the voyager’s curiosity and passion to those questions. We’ve seen in it and taken from it what we find appealing and likely, useful.

Echoing the practical discussion in this post, I’ve found The Meditations useful for exploring ways to think about artificial intelligence, mental states and how we process information in a quantum world – particularly in light of Hume’s Problem of Induction, as well as probing the political and social implications of various patterns of argument. Descartes Meditations leave me with a contagious nostalgia for its reasoning and arguments.

From → Philosophy

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