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Friston vs Brogaard: Down the Rabbit Hole - part 1

HEAD TO HEAD: Is our experience real, or simply a construct of the brain?
Friston 48
He was using his power to get sex. Photograph: Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

Read part 2: Berit Brogaard asks, if we cannot trust our senses, where does this leave our beliefs?


All experience is the product of inference. All experience is a highly sophisticated, hierarchically interwoven story that is fabricated to explain our sensory impressions. In this view, experiences – from qualia to convictions – are basically hypotheses that are tested against sensory evidence. This ‘perception as hypothesis testing’ allows us to identify the most plausible explanation for our sensations. In this sense, experience, beliefs and hypotheses are all the same thing and only exist in our mind’s eye. They are internally consistent fantasies, generated by a fantastic organ; namely the brain. If true, there is no experience ‘out there’ and I could be a brain in vat.

The problem with this sceptical take on ‘experience as inference’ is that it presupposes the existence of a sensorium. In other words, if I am making inferences, there must be something out there to infer. More technically, the formal basis of the (essentially Helmholtzian or Kantian) notion of a fantastic organ rests upon some abstract (but relatively straightforward) maths that states the following: any dynamical system that possesses a boundary between its internal states and some external states must perform some sort of (Bayesian) inference about the external states.

Technically, this boundary is known as a Markov blanket. If a self-organising system exists over a period of time (i.e., does not dissolve or evaporate), then all its constituents must be flowing towards a particular states. Think of a drop of ink in a glass of water. Normally, the ink molecules will disperse throughout the container; however, if the ink is alive, it will gather itself together – to resist the dispersion. This self-assembly is essentially a form of reverse diffusion in which things flow up concentration gradients. Here, the concentration is simply the probability of being in a particular state at any particular time (e.g., having my morning cup of coffee at 11am). The key thing to note here is that increasing the probability of occupying states I typically occupy is exactly the same thing as maximising the probability of sensory data under some model of those data – which is what statisticians do. In short, if we don't evaporate or dissolve, we have to be statisticians and have to be performing some sort of inference.

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"The reality we experience is an inherent aspect of our own brains. It has no existence in any external sense."
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The problem is that the very argument that leads to the inference perspective on experience rests on the existence of external states, which means there is something out there. There is therefore an unavoidable ambivalence.

It is certainly the case that the reality we experience is an inherent aspect of our own brains (minds) and has no existence in any external sense – in the same way that our high-level beliefs do not exist physically (e.g., the tranquil beauty of a sunset is not an attribute of some metaphysical world). On the other hand, there must be something out there generating the sensory evidence for my beliefs – and my experience of reality.

Things get more interesting when we appreciate that most of our sensory information is generated by me and other people. In other words, we are the authors of our sensorium – and those authors include you. So do you exist? Strictly speaking, from my perspective you do not exist out there. You are a carefully crafted hypothesis based upon millennia of natural selection and neurodevelopmental processes in my brain. Interestingly, many people believe that entertaining hypotheses that other people exist is not always a gift of evolution and can fail horribly in some psychiatric conditions (e.g., severe forms of autism). In short, although you may be out there as some immensely complicated (weakly coupled, ergodic random dynamical attracting) set of biophysical states, you only exist as ‘you’ in my head (and, if this view is right, I only exist in your head).

The Down the Rabbit Hole debate closed with speculations about the implications of a fantastic brain for psychopathology. In other words, what would happen if my inference was in some way corrupted – leading to false beliefs and percepts, known clinically as delusions and hallucinations. Crucially, we experience these sorts of phenomena when deprived of sensory evidence; most notably during dreaming. This sequestering of self-evidencing fantasies from sensory constraints (in psychosis, sleep or psychedelic states) is important because it is thought to rely upon neuromodulatory mechanisms in the brain that, almost universally, are the targets of therapeutic and recreational drugs. In short, although these debates about the nature of reality may seem fanciful or even fantastical, they have important implications for our mental health – or my mental health, if it turns out, after all, that you don't exist.

 

Read part 2: Berit Brogaard asks, if we cannot trust our senses, where does this leave our beliefs?

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Dzen_o on 06/04/2016 12:26pm

A next typical mainstream-philosophical paper, when somebody puts forward some non-provable and non-testable assumption (more correctly – a speculation, though) and so makes some – quite inevitably non-provable and non-testable – inference from this assumption.

“…In short, … these debates about the nature of reality…have important implications for our mental health – or my mental health, if it turns out, after all, that you don't exist…”
- the next rather natural question seems can be (and is in some mainstream doctrines(!)) something as “if it turns out, after all, that I don't exist”.

When in the reality there exist always the absolutely real Essence – the information, when all what exists in our Universe and outside is/are some informational patterns/structures that are elements of the absolutely fundamental and absolutely infinite “Information” Set. (see the “the Information as Absolute” conception, http://vixra.org/pdf/1402.0173v3.pdf).

It can be simply but rigorously proven that any information cannot be annihilated and so the Set exists always – “in absolutely long time” and so, again – absolutely really; including our Universe, Matter, Earth, and humans on Earth as well, absolutely really exist also.

At that a human consists of the non-material human’s consciousness and practically material human’s body. Though both – the consciousness and the material body with material sensors, which “materially” interact with material external – are some informational systems, a human indeed behaves mainly being governing by the consciousness, which analyses the sensors’ signals; and at that indeed there exists the problem – to what degree the non-material consciousness’ inferences are adequate to the external reality, but this problem is principally non-fundamental – there is nothing surprising when one informational system correctly decodes some informational relations in an other informational system.

And for those who doubt in the existence of other humans seems would be useful to doubt that, say, the sellers and cashiers in a food shop don’t exist and to attempt to carry out something from the shop without paying…

Cheers

binra on 05/04/2016 12:58pm

Without personal rancour let it be obvious that if experience of anything and everything was a 'product' or effect, it would not be OF the brain - which is itself effect. It may be filtered, limited or distorted THROUGH the brain (in the total sense of the body as instrument). It would be of Mind - Soul - God or whatever name you choose for non physical, non local and non temporal causation - for awareness is not apart from its object - except in thought. Nothing is more than or less than IS - but you define it so - and focus in lifetime through your acceptance of your own 'word'.
But in the course of conditioning of our own unfolded experience, the purpose of our focus in the physical sense has drifted from a conscious exploration within limitation, to struggle to survive and prevail as a limited sense of autonomy. This fearfully conflicted, contracted, densified and defended sense of self 'meets' it reflection in a like world, that seems disconnected, un-conscious and blind to the Feeling of being that is integrity of being within wholeness - hiding in fear and hiding from fear - it thinks it thinks alone - in a mind enclosed by flesh and surrounded by a world that is treacherous, other, and untrustworthy. It recognizes itself NOT in everything but puts all that self-concept excludes down, and out away - as a negative projection - as if to get rid of hated, feared self. Mind is The Projector - but what we focus upon and accept into our mind is what we give or multiply by going forth - and receive in like kind.
When fear, guilt and division are accepted and believed and reacted from as a chaos to be limited, controlled or overcome, then this becomes our focus - our thought of self-definition - and this is what we then give and receive as our communication BUT just as coercive use of communication fails to communicate a wholeness - for the form belies a hidden agenda - so does a split mind come from the attempt to make yourself in your own image or concept.
Not recognizing our own thought reflected we see 'enemy' and adversary - action feeds on reaction and the seeming 'evolution' of technological abilities of control are in fact a devolution from a natural spontaneity of communioned being... BUT these learned abilities - which have as it were, fleshed out in complex interrelationship of structures and tools is transformed by the shifting of purpose for which they are used when the personality-structure and its reality break down in the results of attempting to manually operate Life and effectively enslave it under a loveless mentality that is revealed to be wrong about its own foundation and thus undone of it AS foundation.
This no longer operates to usurp a true foundation in Cause and the reintegration of the split focus into unified purpose, operates a different 'life' than what was before - but now more and more openly coming through what was taken to be a private mind - which is the knowledge or communioned sense of not being alone - and reflects in experience of relationship in which recognition of self in other and of other in self - opens a healing of ancient hate - as an undoing of what never ultimately done in the way our imprinting conformed us to believe - and so fresh perspective restores choice that was unknowingly hidden by frameworks of apparent choices that all serve the mind that is running away from intimacy of being.
The desire to know is the other side of the coin of desiring to love and be loved. Love of truth leads to truth of love. If you truly want to know, you have to open a real relationship and feel your way. It is possible to assert rigid self-definition in a way that holds your reality apart from communication and relationship while presenting yourself the judge and invalidating all else. But isolation is pain - no matter it is denied and distributed onto 'others'. Elitism of self-specialness believes itself to be first - but is the last to release a fear-driven sense of self accept true foundation - which must at first be experienced as humiliation.

Your body and brain serve you willingly - even while you ride your power in the world. The effects of abusing and toxifying our own mind, body and world are more and more Obvious - but still we deny and kill the messengers that are our own Call - unrecognized.

Without the feeling of what informs and structures thought - is a mere evaporation of thinking while undercurrent runs the denial of feeling as the leaking out of self-hatred in all we do.
Layers and layers over layers of pretence do not change the core. Whether we like it or not, our denied imprinting is reflecting back the very terrors and fears - and rage - that the self-in-the-world- was supposed to save us from. But one does not stand in the same river twice - and the recognition of need allows perspective where before was blind panic. The need to know is also the need for true sanity. But knowing is not the translations into image, concept or symbol.
having truly known and felt known perfectly - it is your re-cognized freedom to live your life as a gift of discovery - rather than tyrannously conformed by pain, fear and guilt.
There is nothing outside Consciousness - and Consciousness is not your brain - or even 'your' mind so much as the Movement of focusing within being in which you know and feel your existence perfectly - without need to go in search of an identity to 'validate' on others - for what you give sets the measure of your receiving - and so you cannot NOT be the recipients of my giving - though your freedom to accept in accord with your own choice is as inviolate as my own.
Aligning 'will on earth with will in heaven' is pausing the mind of reaction, in desire to truly feel and know within - as one's natural or innate inheritance. This is really about reopening a channel of communication with the quality of Life within this very instant that for whatever reasons has been covered over, lost, forgotten, mistaken as threat or source of shame and denied.
When one is simply in the flow of their being - they don't stop it to ask questions that no longer hold meaning - BUT if your questions are genuine - then of course you will be prompted to notice the more of You that is always here and which you are now welcoming - regardless that the personality mind gets freaked out for a while until you bring it through to a calmer perspective.

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