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David Hoffman's work on consciousness

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David Hoffman's work on consciousness
Answer
4/22/16 12:48 PM
This cognitive scientist is putting up some formal modeling and mathematics to suggest that consciousness, not matter, is the fundamental basis of reality. I am intrigued. For one, it gets closer to addressing the mind-body problem of consciousness. However I am also skeptical, it seems like his ideas are a little bit ahead of what he has actually demonstrated in his research. I look forward to see how he fleshes it out moving forward. Here are some links to...

a recent magazine article

https://www.quantamagazine.org/20160421-the-evolutionary-argument-against-reality/?utm_content=buffer93e5a&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

An interview

http://meaningoflife.tv/videos/32997

His website

http://www.cogsci.uci.edu/~ddhoff/

RE: David Hoffman's work on consciousness
Answer
4/22/16 3:39 PM as a reply to Jason Snyder.
Yes.

I've read all of that material and have seen the video a few times. Very impressive work, and seemingly quite plausible, if not likely, to explain the universe as we experience it.

RE: David Hoffman's work on consciousness
Answer
4/23/16 8:35 AM as a reply to Jason Snyder.
The interviewer here, Robert Wright, did a set of lectures for Coursera comparing Buddhist thought with the latest cognitive science. It was about a year ago. I found it quite interesting. One of the people he brought into the discussion was Gary Snyder. 

RE: David Hoffman's work on consciousness
Answer
4/23/16 9:28 AM as a reply to Jason Snyder.
Fascinating write-up, inspiring and poetic.

But it has absolutely nothing to do with quantum mechanics. Statements such as "quantum systems don’t seem to be definite objects localized in space until we come along to observe them", which is repeated here and there in various forms as a fundamental building block of this "model", is, strictly speaking, meaningless from the point of view of physics.

http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Not_even_wrong

RE: David Hoffman's work on consciousness
Answer
4/23/16 10:21 AM as a reply to neko.
But it has absolutely nothing to do with quantum mechanics. Statements such as "quantum systems don’t seem to be definite objects localized in space until we come along to observe them", which is repeated here and there in various forms as a fundamental building block of this "model", is, strictly speaking, meaningless from the point of view of physics.


I think many of the accepted pieces of quantum theory involve the very things you say it doesn't. Non-locality and entanglement, for example. The very act of observating has been proven experimentally to affect the behavior of matter. To say that observation does not play a part in quantum mechanics is just not accurate.



RE: David Hoffman's work on consciousness
Answer
4/23/16 10:50 AM as a reply to Chris Marti.
Define "observation".

RE: David Hoffman's work on consciousness
Answer
4/23/16 10:57 AM as a reply to Chris Marti.
Chris Marti:

I think many of the accepted pieces of quantum theory involve the very things you say it doesn't. Non-locality and entanglement, for example. The very act of observating has been proven experimentally to affect the behavior of matter. To say that observation does not play a part in quantum mechanics is just not accurate.




Also: "non-locality" and "entanglement" are just buzzwords gibberish until one specifies the equations, the experimental conditions, the magnitude of the effect, the context in which those effects is physically relevant. Just because there are some effects that are non-local or there is something called entanglement does not mean that someone can run away with those terms and use them as an "explanation" for whatever ill-defined theory about some non-measurable phenomenon they want to corroborate with, I repeat, buzzwords gibberish.

(EDIT: buzzword -> gibberish)

RE: David Hoffman's work on consciousness
Answer
4/23/16 11:10 AM as a reply to neko.
I don't believe Hoffman is using these as just buzzwords but I'm not interested in being his defender here, either. I spent a fair amount of time reading his work and was interested in it. It's an alternative theory that is fascinating to ponder. Hoffman is willing to subject his theory to experimental validation. If that plays out maybe we'll have something, or not, depending on the results. The rest, the comments about quantum mechanics not having anything to do with observation, cannot be dismissed just by asking me to define it. You can look here for all the definitions you might need:


http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Quantum_mechanics

http://public.lanl.gov/mparis/talks/paris-sfprep-anim.pdf

RE: David Hoffman's work on consciousness
Answer
4/23/16 11:20 AM as a reply to Chris Marti.
Finally (and sorry for the multiple answers):
Chris Marti:

The very act of observating has been proven experimentally to affect the behavior of matter. 

This statement is strictly speaking completely meaningless unless one defines what is meant by "act of observing", "behaviour", and "matter". Depending on the definitions, the statement will either be true, false, or most likely, devoid of meaning (see above on "not even wrong"). Granted, there does exist one possible choice of meanings for which the statement of yours is true. My claim is that this choice of meanings is not the one used in the link provided by OP. In fact, my claim is that no choice of meaning for those words is made in that text.

In fact, I will make a more general claim.

In practically all cases in which I have read a text that contained both the words "quantum" and "consciousness", the text belonged to the category "devoid of meaning" from all the points of view for which quantum mechanics was put forward as relevant for the discussion. That does not mean that all statements made in all those texts were wrong; just that taking away all the parts on quantum mechanics would have increased the signal-to-noise ratio of the text proportionately, by decreasing the noise without affecting the signal in any meaningful way.

There is only one exception that I can think of: Roger Penrose. In the case of his books, the role of quantum mechanics for consciousness that he proposes is either true or false in a measurable manner. Sadly, it is likely that it is false, which is still leagues better than meaningless. (I say sadly because his hypothesis is beautiful.)

RE: David Hoffman's work on consciousness
Answer
4/23/16 11:27 AM as a reply to neko.
I think you should take this up with David Hoffman  emoticon

RE: David Hoffman's work on consciousness
Answer
4/23/16 11:39 AM as a reply to Chris Marti.
Chris Marti:

The rest, the comments about quantum mechanics not having anything to do with observation, cannot be dismissed just by asking me to define it. You can look here for all the definitions you might need:


http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Quantum_mechanics

http://public.lanl.gov/mparis/talks/paris-sfprep-anim.pdf
I know you do not mean the links sarcastically, so thank you. However, I have a PhD in physics and QM was my main area of specialisation. emoticon

Clarifications:

1) I never stated that "quantum mechanics has nothing to do with observation". I state that OP's link uses words from QM out of context, making them effectively meaningless.

2) I was not asking you to define those words, that would be stupid of me. I was trying to point out that using words from QM in a grammatically correct phrase which might be interpreted as true with a gazillion caveats can be fine; the problem is when someone neglects the gazillion caveats, runs away with the idea, and tries to get something out of something that is, strictly speaking, meaningless.

Anyway, this forum is not the right place for a technical discussion of quantum mechanics, so it was probably not skillful of me to intervene. Bad science triggers in me some kind of identification with my scientific self that I feel that I have to protect... the result is mostly just a waste of time for all the people involved, so I should just have let it go. emoticon

I will try not to post anything more on the topic, unless further replies make it absolutely irresistible. emoticon

RE: David Hoffman's work on consciousness
Answer
4/23/16 11:42 AM as a reply to Chris Marti.
Chris Marti:
I think you should take this up with David Hoffman  emoticon

Right, we agree, see my other post. emoticon

To be fair towards David Hoffman, my problem is with the magazine's rendition of his theory. I haven't read his papers, so it is possible that quantamagazine does not make it justice emoticon

RE: David Hoffman's work on consciousness
Answer
4/25/16 3:14 PM as a reply to neko.
I know you do not mean the links sarcastically, so thank you. However, I have a PhD in physics and QM was my main area of specialisation. emoticon

Nice! And no, I had no idea you were a physicist, though I think that's very cool.

I would be interested in how you contrast what Hoffman is asserting against a more accepted version of QM, but you're right, this is not the place. And I agree that any real critique or comparison should be based on Hoffman's own words, not those in a magazine that is "kind of sort of" interpreting his theory.

RE: David Hoffman's work on consciousness
Answer
5/1/16 4:04 AM as a reply to Jason Snyder.
re: Jason Snyder (4/22/16 12:48 PM)

"
This cognitive scientist is putting up some formal modeling and mathematics to suggest that consciousness, not matter, is the fundamental basis of reality."

Mr Hoffman does state (last paragraph of interview, emphasis added):
"The formal theory of conscious agents I’ve been developing is computationally universal… As a conscious realist, I am postulating conscious experiences as ontological primitives, the most basic ingredients of the world."

So much hype and spin, sensationalist rhetoric… One give-away being the fall back on the ontological bias. This guy throws around impressive terms, hazily if at all defined. Posts by neko effectivly demonstrate the tendency in one specific area.

Further examples (again quoting Hoffman from the interview):
"the fundamental fact about evolution, which is that it’s about fitness functions — mathematical functions that describe how well a given strategy achieves the goals of survival and reproduction. The mathematical physicist Chetan Prakash proved a theorem that I devised that says: According to evolution by natural selection, an organism that sees reality as it is will never be more fit than an organism of equal complexity that sees none of reality but is just tuned to fitness. Never."

"That’s the key idea. Evolution has shaped us with perceptions that allow us to survive. They guide adaptive behaviors. But part of that involves
hiding from us the stuff we don’t need to know. And that’s pretty much all of reality, whatever reality might be. If you had to spend all that time figuring it out, the tiger would  eat you."

Another point, the basic give-away for me, is the reductionist depiction of "evolution". I would counter citing the perspective of Antonio Damasio, namely  that neurology and human expereince are seen to develop on multiple levels and time spans. Reducing "fitness function" to comic-book reproductive dominance ignores the evidence that human (and neural) development also involves increased ability for reflective, deliberative reasoning, and survival values related to increasingly complex and critical social cultural phenomena – extreme case where the individual gives his/her life (and/or reproductive potential) for some other level of value, e.g. "common good". To contrast with Hoffman's characterization, the human quest involves a far more nuanced understanding and practical adaptation to "stuff we don't need to know", and considerations well beyond becoming tiger fodder.

Illustrative example (from Damsio, in "Self Comes to Mind: Constructing the Conscious Brain"): A 4-armed research study observing the neurological correlates to the experiences of 1) empathy/compassion – in terms of both responses to observed ( 1A ) physical duress and ( 1B ) mental/emotional duress; and 2) admiration – in terms of, analogously, ( 2A ) for physical prowess(e.g. athletic), as well as ( 2B ) for cultural/artistic excellence. Findings: responses in arms 1B and 2B both evoked neurological activity of similar nature and at related loci (in the brain), i.e. genetically conditioned, BUT rather slower in effect, reflecting newer, less deeply ingrained and optimized structure and function. On the other side, responses in arms 1A and 2A were also located together (and disparately from 1B and 2B ), but significantly more rapid, efficient, reflecting older, deeper optimization of structure-function.

Perhaps reacting to his father's religiousity,  Mr Hoffman fabritcates his own -- "... simple formal foundation…" (reductionistic fundamentalism).

So much for the free-and-easy moniker "cognitive scientist".

20160430 minor edits/corrections

RE: David Hoffman's work on consciousness
Answer
4/26/16 6:56 AM as a reply to CJMacie.
Hoffman featured in an article in the Atlantic - so there's more fodder for some folks to be hatin' on:

http://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2016/04/the-illusion-of-reality/479559/

The formal theory of conscious agents I’ve been developing is computationally universal—in that sense, it’s a machine theory. And it’s because the theory is computationally universal that I can get all of cognitive science and neural networks back out of it. Nevertheless, for now I don’t think we are machines—in part because I distinguish between the mathematical representation and the thing being represented. As a conscious realist, I am postulating conscious experiences as ontological primitives, the most basic ingredients of the world. I’m claiming that experiences are the real coin of the realm. The experiences of everyday life—my real feeling of a headache, my real taste of chocolate—that really is the ultimate nature of reality.

RE: David Hoffman's work on consciousness
Answer
4/26/16 11:54 AM as a reply to neko.
neko:

Anyway, this forum is not the right place for a technical discussion of quantum mechanics, so it was probably not skillful of me to intervene. Bad science triggers in me some kind of identification with my scientific self that I feel that I have to protect... the result is mostly just a waste of time for all the people involved, so I should just have let it go. emoticon

I will try not to post anything more on the topic, unless further replies make it absolutely irresistible. emoticon

What a great place this is. You wouldn't see this kind of personal reflection or restraint in any of the buddhist Reddit forums. 



RE: David Hoffman's work on consciousness
Answer
5/5/16 3:38 AM as a reply to Jason Snyder.
Thanks for sharing. I read some of his papers and watched videos. Very interesting ideas.
I'm glad I didn't listen to some of the comments and actualy took time to explore. Great stuff!

Edit:
Let me add a link to a video where some of the best consciosness researchers on opposite fields
discuss their views on "hard problem". Dennet, Chalmer and Hoffman. Narated by Hammerof(Orch OR).
I find the discusscion (~1:55) particulary interesting.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JoZsAsgOSes&feature=youtu.be&t=1

RE: David Hoffman's work on consciousness
Answer
5/9/16 9:22 AM as a reply to Connie Dobbs.
Thanks a lot for the link! I especially enjoyed Hoffman's part and the following debate with Dennett (Chalmers kept pretty quiet).

Connie Dobbs:
... I read some of his papers and watched videos. Very interesting ideas.
I'm glad I didn't listen to some of the comments and actualy took time to explore. ...

So am I. It's strange how quickly people sometimes jump to conclusions on topics that really need some deeper diving. I'm about to order the book Observer Mechanics which he co-authored with two mathematicians (it's also avialable for free on Hoffman's website). Looks like a rather interesting read (pretty technical though, which is fine with me but might keep a lot of people from going into it). I hope I'll acutally get around to reading it.

RE: David Hoffman's work on consciousness
Answer
5/11/16 7:41 AM as a reply to -- Timus --.
That discussion was a turning point to actually dig deeper into his ideas.
It takes guts and knowledge to contradict D.Dennet in a way he did. emoticon

That book is very expensive. Glad it's free online.
Btw, I heard somwhere he's writing a  book for "the mases". 

RE: David Hoffman's work on consciousness
Answer
5/11/16 10:16 AM as a reply to Connie Dobbs.
It's very easy to pick at Hoffman's work but not so easy to read through it and try to grok what it's about. I remain interested in it  - and thanks for the link to the fee book.