The Matrix and Qualia

February 17, 2007

In the Movie The Matrix, Cypher discusses how he monitors what’s going on inside the virtual world:

there’s way too much information to decode the Matrix. You get used to it, though. Your brain does the translating. I don’t even see the code. All I see is blonde, brunette, and redhead.

Whenever I think of computationalism I think about this scene. I don’t of course, think anyone could ever actually read “computer code” that fast nor would it make any sense to work in machine language if visual Basic will suffice. But, I think there are a ways in which the scene is instructive.

Let’s assume there is no such thing as qualia. It is reasonable to me that something like qualia or phenomenal experience would yet be reported anyhow. When laboring in everyday thinking about history and philosophy, we can describe many of our thoughts in a few sentences. But when it comes to the vast amount of information our sensory ASICs process, such as the visual field during freeway driving, we’d be helpless to communicate the details in language without some kind of shortcuts. As the relevant information density increases, the more would-be experiential terminology would be needed to communicate. An omniscient bicycle metaphysician who has never rode a bike and an omnipotent BMX racer who’s never studied physics would both have to take great shortcuts to coach an understudy, or even to think about coaching an understudy in concepts, and their programs I’d wager would be similar.

Returning to the Matrix, if Cypher really could translate all that code as it scrolls by, how else could he report it but as experience? I think there is a parallel in Dennett’s theory on blindsight. As the baud rate is turned up by the objects moving faster accross the visual field, the (star) subjects report “experiencing” it. Perhaps in a similar way, communicating in a foreign language with the aid of translation dictionaries is thinking – really hard thinking – but speaking naturally in one’s own language seems to have a subtle phenomenal aspect to it in addition to a thinking aspect.

One objection might be that Cypher clearly intended his remarks to be metaphorical and not literal. But one dimensional qualia, mistaken perceptions of mistaken perceptions to any order of iteration couldn’t be much more than metaphor anyway. Hitting my fingers with a hammer hurts like hell. There’s no better way to put it. We can match up these experiences but there is no intrinsic stability therin. And finally, there is the other side of the coin. Neo, the omniscient one. As Neo’s knowledge increases to superhuman proportions (think of Mary’s knowledge of color as she gulps down color equation after equation), instead of seeing “redhead” or “agent”, the phenomenal world disappears and he sees ‘reality’, the code. You know, everything is in slow motion. Slow down the baud rate of sensory input and the illusion of qualia becomes intuitively information processing.

Contemplating a zombie world devoid of “inner life” is supposed to be possible to do, according to the gap theorists, but it’s also suppose to be an exercise in absurdity. Ha-ha-ha, zombie A.G. hits his finger with a hammer and screams but doesn’t actually “feel” any pain. The above is a way to begin conceiving of a world that is exhausted by the psychological but where phenomenal reports are essential to the way it works.

Some Aspects

January 23, 2007

Main points I’m trying to work out in my understanding of mind:

1) How physicalism overcomes qualia theoretically. My intuition leads me in the directions of a) New Science b) Language and semiotics. In other words, a or b or combination will bridge the gap.

2) What is or isn’t qualia? I’m not shooting for elimitivism, but I’m interested in how informational complexity might play a strong role in what we think of as experience (while keeping the door closed for intelligent design).

3) All three of these points being related, what is the relation between tacit and propositional knowledge? Thought experiments strike me as absurd that gap between absolute metaphysical knowledge of bicycle riding and actually riding a bike.

My Theory

January 16, 2007

I wouldn’t normally consider myself qualified to have a theory on matters others far more capable than me have explored in minutia. But given the controversial nature of the subject matter, for better or worse, I’m left with my own abilities and by exploring one path rather than another implies I’ve taken a position. So this section will be to update, revise, and work out either my beliefs on mind or my gut feelings.