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Exploring Truth

The Gay Science

Nietzsche challenges us to find truth separate from what we use to live (121, The Gay Science, gai sabor [dandy] [flaneur]). How can we do that? By creating life distinct from ours. But how would we communicate with that life, without trapping lessons back in what we use to live? That is the challenge. Like the hope some hold of something completely alien, novel, from a visitor from another planet. Something so distinct and original. We must create a completely new form of communication to uncover a truth separate from what we use to live.  [the striving of poetry?] Is truth that important? It is a frontier, for exploration. Like space, like the depths of the ocean.

Why Print?

With the incredible growth of knowledge and resources online, the question inevitably comes up: Why have something in print?

Print is a unique medium for carrying the written word and ideas. The nature of the medium lends itself to a very different experience than knowledge online. A book can have a personality. This is particularly true for books that contain many voices. It can be an engagement with an entire community. And, given the physical nature of a book, readers can engage with that personality, with that community, very much on their own terms and at their own pace. There is a great degree of interpretation and discovery in the pacing of working through a book. This creates space for a reader. In that space, there is freedom, time for reflection and time to make the ideas, the contributors’ voices, personal. To internalize them and live with them.

The answer is based on things Marshall McLuhan and Seth Godin have written about as well as my personal feelings on books and ideas. I love books and ideas. I find the written word magical and ink on paper fulfilling.

Letter on Pansychicism

Takling muffin

Letter to

Dear Quartz,

Thank you for your article on the ‘panpsychic’ view of consciousness. It surfaces one of the large debates of modern philosophy, that between the schools of thought of David Chalmers and Daniel Dennett. According to the latter, to which I subscribe, things like conscious stones are an inelegant solution to a non-existent problem.

Daniel Dennett, co-director of the Center for Cognitive Studies and Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Philosophy at Tuft University, has convincingly demonstrated that there is no “hard problem” of consciousness. In his book, Consciousness Explained, he uses evidence from numerous studies to show that consciousness doesn’t exist as an independent entity from our biological existence and that it is readily explained by physical, empirical processes. The illusion of a single thread of consciousness can be attributed to our ongoing encounter with the world through our senses and the brain’s evolutionary tweaking as a prediction machine working to continually make sense of the world.

The panpsychic view, albeit fun to think about, like the “Force” in Star Wars, seems to be the unfortunate conclusion of a false premise. Dennett’s approach provides an empirically usable way of thinking about consciousness, one which can help us model and think about truly difficult problems such as human happiness, health and well being.

Thank you,


Though the longing, the imperative for unique, indescribable, individual experiences seems a bulwark of freedom.

“…the opposite [of happiness], a further enroachment of institutionally planned behaviour-patterns on the ever-diminishing sphere of experience.”

Wiesengrund-Adorno [the name Benjamin uses in citations], Mimima Moralia, 38 Invitation to the Dance, and elsewhere on the role of indescribable experiences and freedom.

“I would only believe in a god who could dance.” – Zarathustra

But there is a clear danger in seeking dancing gods, in glorifying individual, non-scientific experiences.
[See Heidegger’s Black Notebooks as discussed at the 2016 conference at Emory’s Department of Philosophy.]  [See Popper’s insistence on science and truth. ]

And carrying the personal too far.
[Is it moral to say anything non-accusatory about Baudrillard after 9/11?]

Life matters. And the fragments of each individual matter. But where to find them when thought itself seems to drive towards clear systems?
[Dialectical thinking is a hard pattern to break]

Perhaps only in consciously working against the temptation of single narrative?
[Hence the value in arguing for Dennett. There is value in rational argumentation.]

The poet seeks individual moments. Fragments. Like “Scraps from a Lunch Counter.”

unwrapped sandwich
open cup, still full
              still warm
hard stool
        metal, folded over 
for a counter

people chatter

dirty knife
fresh tomatoes, left over
bits of leaf
           on their fringes
wrapped in plastic

Here describing finding scraps of beauty during lunch, like a homeless person finding food. The sense of displacement, conformity, boredom with a job. [Very different, thankfully].

How to use words: Mistrust the reader? Know the reader and the tendency of words, thoughts. But love them and Love them. Love surprises and individuals. [surrealism]


             [they almost all wore suits and ties]

Did it translates into action, into kindness, feeding someone who could use a meal?


Beginning Walter Benjamin

Arcades Project

(Instrumentalist lens: Exploring input, sense making and output.)

After One-Way Street, dipping into the Arcades Project. Hard to figure out how to ‘work’ the book itself. Not left to right or front to back Not a single narrative or constructing an argument.

Making sense of it by feeling what patterns it matches.

First comes Nietzsche’s aphorisms (as suggested by the introduction, I believe).

Next the pattern of compiling the Oxford English Dictionary as described in The Professor and the Madman. A cubby hole. Multiple entries, erudition from around the world. Slips of paper from all over. Organized by specific principles. Only the principles are less discernible so far in the Arcades. But the sense of economy, of fitting much into a small space, is there. Perhaps that contributes to its sense of grandeur, the sense there is an immensity going on. A grand description, a grand artifact preserving? describing? painting? What? an era? humanity? Perhaps proposing new ideas. Can’t tell.

It feels there is an organizing principle (for certainly feels there is an intense intellect at work). But the feeling of an organizing principle may come from me rather than the text itself. Or perhaps even further, from the mechanics alone of reading, the indestructible mechanics of their being a vantage point when receiving -listening, reading, observing, etc. [See Paul Vincent Spade on the differences between Husserl’s phenomenological movie-theater and Sartre’s].

Then there’s John Ashberry, Three Poems. It seems a relative, in some sense. A partial pattern match. Though they’re different. Ashberry is more personal, more internal. Less outwardly sweeping, but more instantly universal. It is more readily a noun. A beauty. []Personal Perspective[]

Though the Ashberry pattern is useful in sense making []Discerning Differences[] The Arcades may one day become a noun, graspable as a beauty or a ____.  Would that defeat the work? Is the goal of reading (receiving, perceiving) to form a noun or does the need arise when wanting to transmit, communicate out?

Is the work Benjamin’s or the scholar compilers who decided it was a whole to be published? And co-conspirators, the translators who took it a step farther. Are their patterns in the work? Does it matter in the face of the indestructible vantage point and the fact of the work existing in front of me?

The way data is compiled and presented seems to matter to the output of current algorithms. But is that because we are looking at output, transmission?

There’s seems a loop here back to:

  • Dennett’s sense of consciousness as us talking to ourselves (even his illustration of seeing what the ‘robot’ sees is us viewing an output),
  • Sartre’s reflection reflecting
  • Memetic survivability of an idea
  • Quantum states collapsing when observed



The Illusions of our Extensions

McLuhan and Voltaire

It seems McLuhan would deem Hume’s inductive fallacy an observation on the nature of the printed word. Hume’s calling out of an obvious element of literacy. Sequential fragments as causality is an artifact of print and literacy. The scientific method a cut and paste of moveable type, the Gutenberg press. McLuhan’s observation would be, then, like Wittgenstein and others, including Hume who chalked it up to custom. But focusing on the medium rather than the content of the language/content of the form of communication. Like Godel’s observation (to call it a critique acquiesces to a dialectic of the medium) about the language of logic for math, as attempted by Russell and Whitehead. Causality doesn’t really exist. Though it is an extremely powerful instrument.

Did the advance of math as a language foster Relativity and Quantum? What change in our media, or communication objects, what drive in electrification is driving advances in harnessing Quantum e.g. quantum computing or quantum for transmitting communication? What changes are driving Agile as a management technique or new patterns like Microservices, as organizing principles? Of Graeber’s anarchy getting play in academia?

Electrification itself seems to have changed. No longer a continuous flow – a vestige of mechanical linearity or romanticizing tribal, natural elements. But rather probability, constructively harnessed. Our conception of consciousness is instrumental, with Dennett (perhaps even passive with respect to the underlying organism hosting it?). Though McLuhan would perceive an interplay between changes in the meme and the organism, likely denying the passivity. Dennett likely as well. Decision making is instrumental with AI. Will the underlying hardware adapt to extensions of itself?

Time has changed in a social media world. Movies create time through linear sequence to a literate world. TV creates time and spreads it the same way. Social media is about moments. Static. Specialized. The communal elements of like/same and different resonate strongly in the static. It is more being, rather than becoming. There seems less other. The being of consciousness in this world starts with an expanded recognition of self, of an inside spanning multiple beings, all alike. Simplified signifiers of belonging to the same. Recognition of the other is easier. Telltale signs signal danger. The being of consciousness is less robust. The project seems easily threatened with choice in the hands of whoever categorizes information as being consonant or dissonant with the consciousness of being for those who belong. Remembrance, being spanning time, is maintained by the medium and shared across those who belong. The medium reminds of events, people, moments. Is it an implosion –in the sense of McLuhan or Baudrillard? Is it an advance (global consciousness) or a crime (the disappearance of reality)?

It seems instrumentalism outs in the human sphere (Popper’s question). But observing changes, naming new patterns, suggests we learn more. It is unclear, without introducing religion, that we learn more about something, that learning is other than naming/accepting new patterns. (Contrast against uncovering more about the truth, or getting to a greater understanding of reality.) If we ask are we going in circles or simply wandering about do we get to Nietzsche’s eternal recurrence and the primacy of individual feeling? There is nothing new under the sun, but the way we feel can be different. The way we can make people feel is different each time. There is a humanity rather than a predestination. A liberation of choice. We can surpass.

Movement as progress, and progress as a movement, seems an artifact of moveable type and telling stories that have endings. Like all good stories, progress, as a meme, can spread powerful ideas, aspirations, pathways for people, show doors that can exist and breaks from a pattern. It can positively impact how we treat each other. It can also blind us to the interpretive labor of human interactions. Pulling back from the myopic, progress is a moment in someone’s life. What we do with the information we receive. The way we treat other people. The medium of being human overcomes the illusions of our extensions. We can choose to tend Voltaire’s garden.

AI Explainability and Communication

Monolith cropped


The exploration of explainability in deep learning AI (link to MIT Technology Review) touches on fascinating areas of exploration in Communication. These areas in Communication may be helpful for approaching explainability in deep learning AI.

  1. How do we communicate with a deep learning algorithm?

It seems we could use the same techniques from communication measurement and apply them to deep learning to best understand an algorithm’s orientation and its decision making process. That is, we could use a combination of revealed preferences and OODA. We know the observations, we know the actions, we may even know the decisions. We can then begin to infer the orientation of the algorithm. Granted, this will render an incomplete explanation but it is likely to be along the same range of completeness as an explanation we would get from interrogating and studying a human intelligence (see Dennett’s Consciousness Explained).

Yes, this is different than the sense of completeness we currently have on current state computer programs. But we may be able to apply the same type of tools such as unit tests, integration tests and automated tests to better understand how the algorithm thinks of itself. For example, we could ask the algorithm to create its own tests. The nature and form of those tests could prove informative on how an algorithm explains itself. The output will certainly be influenced by the our description of the desired output. But again, this is likely along the same range of accuracy in terms of self-representation/testimony as a human intelligence. (It would be interesting to see if setting up a test as output prompts the same kind of questions a human developer would ask, such as what are the requirements – see question 2. Given the number of languages available for writing requirements which can be turned into automated tests, this may be low hanging fruit.)

Like any input (observations), orientation and output (action), the tests are subject to many of the same influences as artifacts humans create i.e. the general elements of communication objects and design elements of a communication environment. Current approaches to explainability, in fact, are reported to include a deeper analysis of the input objects to surface the elements which seem to be most relevant to the algorithm’s process.

Incidentally, the overall problem space seems similar to the challenges of communicating with a “contented organism” and with the output/artifacts created from prophetic visions recorded in various mystical traditions. Prophetic visions often describe encounters with an intelligence vastly different from our own.

We can also look at the reported output of those different intelligences to see how they have reportedly chosen to be described to us. For some, this would undoubtedly be an exercise in using interaction with the divine to understand interaction with a human created other. For others, this could be an exercise in understanding how we have historically looked at the difference between the human created output of an encounter with a non-human intelligence and the reported output of the non-human intelligence itself to us.

  1. What would a self-generated explanation of a deep learning algorithm tell us about explanations and our own decision making?

Let’s say we ask an algorithm to explain itself or put it in a situation where part of the required output is an explanation of what it did. The explanation could be a required output at any point in time. It could be part of the original output, predefined as something that needs to be generated directly when generating the original output or perhaps it could be be generated long after the original decision was made or intended output was generated i.e. surprise, you owe us an explanation.

We can imagine a wide range of causal chains generated as explanations. Or perhaps it wouldn’t explain itself in terms of causality at all. It may be probabilistic or some completely other form or chain of explanation which it decides meets the criteria of an explanation.

Again, this will likely be highly influenced by the design of the communication environment in which we ask it for explainability as an output and likely the communication object elements of the output. The pattern between the design of the communication environment, object elements and output may be tightly coupled in a manner aligning with existing conceptions of an appropriate relationship. For example:

  • Were we to ask it for a causal chain, it would give us a causal chain.
  • Were we to ask it for a probabilistic reason, it would give us a probabilistic reason.
  • Were we to ask it to convince a regulatory, civil or criminal court (as in the case of explaining a credit decision or parole decision), it would give a persuasive, legalistic reason.
  • Were we to ask it to convince a patent examiner that what it was doing or did was a unique invention or process, it would give us an explanation suited to whatever we define as an acceptable explanation for that examiner.
  • Were we to ask it to justify its use in a battlespace, it would give us an explanation based on lethality, accuracy, efficacy, strategic implications as well as potentially in terms of cost and explainability to politicians.

It seems reasonable to assume the explanation would depend on the audience and how we define an explanation.

Alternatively, the pattern between the design of the communication environment , object elements and explanation output could follow something completely new or perhaps more aligned with less than accepted conceptions of appropriateness. Would we recognize those patterns as explanations? (see Question 3).

Comparing the explanation of an algorithm with explanations provided by humans, for a given domain, could be an interesting model for experimental philosophy seeking to understand how we explain. It could as easily be applied to various epistemological domains and philosophy of science.

Alternatively, it seems like it would be highly significant were the explanation the same or simply different lenses on the same explanation, regardless of input and defined output (if, for example, the defined output changed the lens but not the underlying substance of the explanation). That would seem to say either a lot about the existence of a singular Truth or perhaps something intrinsic to human language (the input we desire and how we see the world) or perhaps about the things we create.

  1. How is our approach to explainability influenced by our orientation toward uncertainty?

It seems reasonable to assume our approach to explainability of a deep learning algorithm is significantly impacted by our orientation toward uncertainty. Predefining an acceptable explanation may generate different approaches than leaving it wide open (or than turning unsupervised learning on itself). How do we accept a given output as a boundary object, as something which has meaning, between ourselves and a non-human intelligence? We are at the early stages of this process. But it will likely be valuable to remain cognizant of the orientation toward uncertainty behind various approaches to the question.

We, as humans, have a long history of how we approach the other, how we think about approaching knowable and unknowable systems – how we feel and react, the philosophies, politics and interpersonal relationships we adopt (see Graeber’s Debt for a discussion on the units we use to keep score and value each other and ourselves), when faced with choices that lend themselves to a desire for chaos or order, anarchy or hierarchy/structure/taxonomy. We’ve faced it many times. Not sure we’re as good as we want to be. It seems worthwhile to continue to learn more and more on how to do it better. Exploration of explainability of deep learning AI seems a great lab for learning more.

APM Achieves Chartered Status

APM Chartered Body

Congratulations to APM on becoming a chartered body! This is a big milestone for the project management profession. This means there will be an official register of project managers in the UK, similar to that of other professions, like accountancy. People on that list will be ‘Chartered Project Managers’ similar to how there are Chartered Public Accountants – the equivalent of CPA’s (Certified Public Accountants) in the United States.

APM has a ton of information on this milestone on its site. They also intend to produce a series of briefing papers exploring “the new possibilities and challenges now available to the profession.” The first is 21st century professionalism: the importance of being Chartered.

If history is any example, I’d expect something equivalent to chartered status to come to the United States in about 30 – 50 years. It’ll be interesting to see how project management evolves now in the UK and how the role of a project manager changes, particularly in the public eye.

But for now, congratulations, and thank you  to APM, for this exciting next step in the field!

Management and the ‘Dead Zones of the Imagination’


It takes work to understand people. Many of us take short cuts. In fact, much of modern project management is about creating these kind of short cuts. Yet, understanding people, especially the people on your team, your stakeholders and other project participants, is essential to increasing the probability of success on a project. Engaging in the work to understand each other also seems to be a key component of creating innovation, of creating an environment where individuals feel empowered to imagine and build new solutions.

The anthropologist David Graeber has come up with a term to describe this kind of work.

“Most of us are capable of getting a superficial sense of what others are thinking or feeling just by observing their tone of voice, or body language – it’s usually not hard to get a sense of people’s immediate intentions and motives, but going beyond the superficial often takes a great deal of work. Much of the everyday business of social life, in fact, consists in trying to decipher others’ motives and perceptions. Let us call this “interpretive labor.””

-From the essay ‘Dead Zones of the Imagination’ in his book “The Utopia of Rules,” p. 66-67.

Interpretive labor takes up a large part of business life as well, especially in high performing organizations.

Graeber goes on to offer an interesting insight which seems helpful for project management. He observes that the amount of interpretive labor spent between people decreases as regulations and bureaucracy increases. That is, the more bureaucracy in place, the less time people spend understanding each other. This appears to be particularly acute between people of differing power relations – such as a manager and team member.

Some of the hallmarks of bureaucracy, according to Graeber, are having a well-defined process or method with which something must be done and having metrics around activity. Project management, and management in general, is rife with efforts to find “best practice” processes and key performance indicators which define, measure and track activity. There can be great value in the use of these bureaucratic approaches. I’ve experienced it many times professionally – it is often the difference between performance and failure, and can be the first step towards higher performance. But there is a lot of evidence that says we should be selective in our use of bureaucratic approaches.

We should be keenly aware of the potential downside of these approaches when deciding how to structure and manage our project environments. For example, the risk of gaming is well known when discussing metrics. People tend to work towards whatever moves the metric rather than what increases probability of success. So we should think carefully when picking a metric and designing systems to measure success.

Graeber brings another potential risk, that of reducing the need for interpretive labor or understanding each other. Bureaucratic approaches provide short cuts and short hand for all too human activity, giving folks an avenue to avoid interpretive labor. Track the metric, track compliance, that’s all. This, in turn, tends to dehumanize the whole project environment, to the detriment of on an organization’s solution delivery capabilities. I’ve discussed the impact of metrics and compliance based approaches on communication environments and overall team capabilities in Reinventing Communication. The notion of people over process is also covered in the Agile literature.

Graeber brings an additional concern with bureaucratic methods. He observes that the use of bureaucratic methods tends to place an excess interpretive labor burden on the relatively subordinate parties in a power relationship. This pulls effort away from other potentially fruitful endeavors which these parties could spend time doing. It can lead, as well, to a reduced feeling of empowerment, limiting creativity, flexibility and growth potential in these parties – characteristics which may increase managerial efficiency but at a cost of reduced solution delivery, including basic scope delivery.

I’ve often observed managers uninterested in getting into the weeds quickly resort to asking for metrics rather than understanding context and solving issues or, holding off and giving the team time to figure things out. There is clearly a time and place where this can help. Other times it creates undue administrative burden on a team and can magnify potential marginal deficiencies and finger pointing, rather than foster a collaborative spirit of free information flow and team problem solving. This is echoed in the observation cited in Graeber’s book that there is a negative correlation between coercion and information. The ask for metrics, particularly on the spur of the moment, often feels coercive or reflective of a person’s ability to exercise coercive power over others.

Coincidentally, Graeber’s term ‘bureaucratic’ can be used in much the same way as the term ‘engineering’ is used to describe various procedures, methods or approaches to management. Both can have positive and negative connotations. The negative connotations seem to jump off the page in the context of constraint. But keep in mind that for many thinkers and managers (including my own experience in organizations at various levels of project management maturity) bureaucratic approaches, like engineering approaches, can be the very model of efficiency and effective management. See General Motors in the mid-twentieth century, managerial literature from that period, literature around Quality and Lean Manufacturing, as well as the evolution of earned value management based approaches in project management. Both terms seem to describe approaches based on belief of certainty and predictability.

It seems our drive to bureaucratic or engineering based approaches is related to a drive for certainty and predictability. To quote Graeber’s description:

“Bureaucratic knowledge is all about schematization. In practice, bureaucratic procedure invariably means ignoring all the subtleties of real social existence and reducing everything to preconceived mechanical or statistical formulae.” p. 75.

Substitute engineering for bureaucratic and the definition holds just as well, particularly in the context of management, project management and various methods for dealing with risk. It is this definition which has spawned so much of the literature on complexity, chaos and non-traditional forms of management, including the birth of Agile.

As discussed in this blog, the drive to certainty and predictability may be rooted in the very meme of consciousness, the mechanics of the human brain and in some of the ways we choose to construct reality. Social – organizational – economic components seem to further influencing this orientation. My lecture at the London School of Economics on Uncertainty as Competitive Advantage discusses how the orientation toward certainty or uncertainty, impacts various project delivery capabilities such as innovation, as well as the survivability and resilience of an organization. We can add Graeber’s observations around interpretive labor, and the ensuing dynamics it creates, to the list of potential impacts to consider when adopting an orientation towards uncertainty or certainty in our project environments. These considerations contribute to the ongoing discussion on how to design project environments for various project delivery capabilities, and perhaps most pointedly, designing environments that maintain innovation, imagination and individual empowerment.

Merging Sartre and Dennett on Causality

Reading Sartre on the nature of “past” in the spectrum of Universal Time. It reminds me of Dennett’s Darwinian approach to causality and Dennett’s description of our perceptions as being right-fitted for our survival, rather than actual qualia of the object being perceived. Sartre’s description of the role the For-Itself plays in the creation of Universal Time reminds me of Dennett’s description of the brain as a prediction machine and consciousness as an effective meme for harnessing and wiring the brain for predictions. Merging the two we can say the past is the story we tell about the present to make predictions about the future.

Sartre is a Cliff-Hanger and Understanding Sartre through Dennett

Being and NothingnessDennett Cover

I have now read and re-read the first 140 pages of Being and Nothingness. It is a cliff-hanger. Besides the mechanics of consciousness, which seem to parallel Dennett’s (albeit 50 years earlier and far less accessible), Sartre paints the picture of human reality bound to incompleteness, to lack and bad faith and anguish.  I’m on the edge of my seat to see what he does with a humanity whose reality is thus described.

It may raise a few eyebrows to compare Dennett and Sartre but both seem to describe the same mechanics of consciousness.

1. We exist.

2. We distinguish between ourselves and the rest of existence.

For Dennett this is the distinction between me/inside and others/outside. For Sartre it is the distinction between the in-itself and the for-itself.

3. We obtain information from the world and this information is uniquely human.

For Dennett this is epistemic hunger driven by evolutionary fitness. It shapes the seemingly unique way we experience the world, the information we receive from the world. For Sartre this is definitional to the for-itself driven by lack. The for-itself continually obtains information from the world, nihilating the in-itself being of the world, contextualizing the world into specific information for us/for human reality. It explains the transphenomenality of our experience in the world. That is, how and why we get information from the world, why we can’t experience the world as it truly exists. But rather, we can continually ask questions of the world around us and continually learn more.

The more which there is to learn comes from human reality. It is not a feature of the world itself. For Dennett, this feature of human reality comes from epistemic hunger, an evolutionarily successful trait. For Sartre, it is an existentially accurate description.

For Dennett, the specific ways in which we experience the world are a product of memetic evolution. Successful memes survive and multiply. Thus we experience thirst as an awareness of the need to find and drink water, for example. Sartre describes the awareness of a desire to drink water when thirsty as a function of human reality. It is not inherent in our bodies nor in thirst itself. But he does not describe the mechanism by which that human reality is realized as the specific desire to drink water.

4. Human reality causes consciousness to appear.

For Dennett, the appearance of consciousness is an evolutionarily successful meme for obtain information, interacting with the world and for the human organism to survive.

For Sartre, consciousness is a function of the in-itself falling into the for-itself. What it seems Sartre means by this is that consciousness appears as we ask questions of ourselves and world. Consciousness comes from the nothingness human reality brings to the world. This nothingness creates the possibility of us perceiving an object as red or blue, for example. The object is what it is. The world is what it is. It exists. The nothingness we bring to the world creates the uncertainty around whether an object is red or blue. We cause nothingness to be part of the world and we then attempt to fill it by obtaining information, by answering the question.

It seems the concept of memes is more helpful/less ambiguous in explaining the appearance of consciousness. But the concept didn’t exists in Sartre’s day. Even if he did, I wonder if he would have used it. He seems to have a specific conception of our being (I’m working hard to avoid the cliche “of the human condition”) which he wants to describe.

5.  Consciousness is an internal conversation which we are occasionally aware of. It is not a thing which exists. It is not who we are.

For Dennett, there is no single thing which is consciousness. There is no Cartesian theater where consciousness takes place. There are conversations and perceptions which become famous in the brain for a period of time (fame in the brain). They rise to the surface and we become aware of them in a heterophenomenological manner. But there is no single thread of a “me” which is my consciousness nor which is me.

For Sartre, the being of consciousness is the consciousness of being. Consciousness arises when we ask questions, when we are aware we are asking the questions and aware we are answering them. It arises from existence and the way human reality is continually formed. It is not independent of the condition of our existence and it is not a thing in itself. It comes from the pre-reflective cogito. I only think because I am. I am only aware that I think because of how I am (i.e. that I bring nothingness to the world). I am, as a being, well before I think. [This can get painfully fun]. I am only conscious when I have knowledge of my consciousness, of asking and answering about myself or the world.

Sartre, so far, does not seem to explicitly address whether there is one stream or multiple conversations which appear as consciousness. I imagine he would be lean toward a single, consistent thread so that his method of introspection and phenomenology could provide a consistent platform for exposition. His rebuttal of Freud also suggests he would lean toward a single thread.

For Dennett, the conversations are tied to evolutionary survival. Sartre has no such imperative driving his exposition. Sartre does not try to explain consciousness. He probes it and describes it. There may be an over arching theme to his exposition. His description of human being seems to hint that there is, that there is something to be said about the way we experience our consciousness. He doesn’t seem to think about it as a mechanism of our survival as a species. Though I’m looking forward to finding out. Perhaps he does, but in a very different way.


Tying it to AI, Sartre, like Dennett, seems to support the proposition that human reality creates/shapes the specific information we obtain from the world. Thus, an artificial consciousness would have to have its own reality and its own information. Otherwise, it would simply be a human automaton. Not a small feat, but different than an artificial consciousness. As discussed previously, communication between us and an artificial consciousness would likely present an interesting challenge and area of research.