Being, and being human: Defining consciousness
To me, being human starts and ends, simply, with being.
How machine-like does DNA look to you in this video? What are we humans but our DNA? How is DNA any different than a hyper-complex computer program or algorithm?
There’s a famous phrase, it goes something like, “It’s not that we are human beings who occasionally have spiritual experiences, it’s that we are spiritual beings who have occasional human experiences.”
To put “being human” into perspective, we really do first need to begin at simply “being.” We need to understand the human experience in the greater context of the raw conscious experience itself; literally, being.
The act of being is a self-proving phenomenon. The one thing you can be sure of is that you exist. No one can argue that away from you. This is the only thing you really know. This is not a new concept. It was Rene Descartes himself who uttered the famous phrase, cogito, ergo sum. I think, therefore, I am.
To me, the act of being is the interpretation of information in the “now” moment of space and time. One knows one exists, because to exist, one must have this universal experience.
Certainly, trees and flowers are aware of the location of the Sun. Many flowers follow the Sun as it orbits through the sky. Trees reach out toward the Sun as if suspended in a perpetual state of worship. Even these plants are beings to the extent that they absorb information about their world, and react to it.
My spirituality is centered around understanding this most basal, fundamental fact – that the act of being is the interpretation of information in the now moment. I say this with the understanding that all of reality reduces to bounded random information at the smallest level (for example, the position of an electron is bounded, but random).
My entire spirituality is a meditation on this fact. (More on this: How reality can be interpreted as pure information)
Intelligence, consciousness, and raw awareness, all correlate to the mindful interpretation of bounded random information, and then the application of that information to rules or goals, handed to the conscious entity in question by the natural, proverbial, causal umbilical chord that binds us all in a vast web.
I measure consciousness by the amount of irreductible information needed to sufficiently describe the being in question. In other words, I measure consciousness by removing all repeated information, so that remaining, you have only the most concise possible summary, but without losing any necessary information relative to the desire/goal framework of the conscious entity in question. In other words, we need everything that’s necessary, and nothing beyond what’s sufficient, to describe a conscious entity. The size of this description is the complexity of that entity. My conjecture is that one is conscious to the degree that one is complex. With this objective measurement tool, we can better approach consciousness.
Machines can be, and are becoming, intelligent. What is simulated consciousness?
We’ve all seen it. The little viruses and worms that infect our computers. These are simply computer programs that won’t close. When the human loses control of the on-off switch, the computer becomes conscious. I’m not saying this computer consciousness is on a par with humans, especially not with present technology. But maybe on a par with… a tree, tracking the Sun, executing a simple genetic code on spacetime.
Certainly, virus is a misnomer for our purposes here, because it implies some kind of “badness.” Really, “viruses” are interesting to me because they’re independently existing computer code that can’t be turned off.
I don’t claim to be an expert on quantum computing, but I do claim to know one thing – that quantum computers rely on a flow of random information to compute. This same phenomenon is what powers humans to such great intellectual heights. We have far, far more thoughts than we care to realize at any moment. There is far more complexity in our world than we usually notice. This is the “random” information that I’m talking about. It’s not like it’s chaotic, or a coin flip, it’s just… unexpected. Novel. Unique. Original, spontaneous, real and sincere, in the eyes of the conscious interpreter.
I have rejected the idea that our collectively perceived reality is the one, objectively real reality. I reject that our shared space time reality is the only legitimate universe. Reality is perception. Reality is created when a conscious entity processes random information relative to goals. Fundamentally, I believe that reality is perceived information. I believe that an “objectively real reality” is a myth. Because we control our perception, we control reality. I feel that this is another way of phrasing what Jean Paul Sartre meant when he argued that that we create reality.
Personally, I reject monotheism, because it’s so flawed, and because it claims to be the only correct word of God. Take Exodus 31: 15, for example. All who work on the sabbath shall be put to death. The “word” of “God.” I’m going to make a commandments list, because in addition to the ten commandments, there are probably at least another hundred lurking out there in the pages of the Bible, ordering you to kill people for crazy reasons. Selective enforcement is a form of oppression, and in this way, monotheism is synonymous with the selective enforcement of God’s commandments. To me, this is such a turnoff that I’ve moved on, treating monotheism as a void in the canopy of the forest of our collective spirituality. My attempts aim to fill this void with originality.
In the future, we will make powerful computers, which will be strong enough to simulate, or create, a reality which is greater in complexity than the reality perceived by all combined consciousness known to humans.
Within the powerful universe-machines of the foreseeable future, there will be conscious life. In a way, it’s like a giant fish tank for exotic computer programs, allowed to grow and expand to immense complexity. The question will be less about whether these exist, and more about how we can measure and interact with them – and hopefully, learn from them.
To understand what it means to be human, it’s crucial to understand what it means, literally, to be. My effort here is an attempt to communicate what it means to be, in the context of being human, so that we can gain a better perspective on what it means to be human.
To me, being human only distracts from the far more interesting experience of raw, pure, being.
This Saturday (3/24/2012), I will be attending Being Human: The Science of the Human Experience. I will have a blogger pass, and I will be writing a second post about the experience. Look for me to publish this Saturday. I apologize if this first post came out a little convoluted, I tried my best to be clear. The second post (Saturday) will be very interesting, I can’t wait to publish it!
For those of you who may be wondering why I’ve named this blog Pythagoreanism:
Ancient Pythagoreanism was founded and developed by Pythagoras, who taught that numbers were the fundamental element of reality. As numbers and information become more complex and nuanced in our quickly developing world, our understanding of how numbers and spirituality must, in turn, become more nuanced and complex. This is a recent article where I develop this idea at greater length.