Why String Theory Still Offers Hope We Can Unify Physics

Dec 25, 2014

Illustration by John Hersey

By Brian Greene

In October 1984 I arrived at Oxford University, trailing a large steamer trunk containing a couple of changes of clothing and about five dozen textbooks. I had a freshly minted bachelor’s degree in physics from Harvard, and I was raring to launch into graduate study. But within a couple of weeks, the more advanced students had sucked the wind from my sails. Change fields now while you still can, many said. There’s nothing happening in fundamental physics.

Then, just a couple of months later, the prestigious (if tamely titled) journal Physics Letters B published an article that ignited the first superstring revolution, a sweeping movement that inspired thousands of physicists worldwide to drop their research in progress and chase Einstein’s long-sought dream of a unified theory. The field was young, the terrain fertile and the atmosphere electric. The only thing I needed to drop was a neophyte’s inhibition to run with the world’s leading physicists. I did. What followed proved to be the most exciting intellectual odyssey of my life.

That was 30 years ago this month, making the moment ripe for taking stock: Is string theory revealing reality’s deep laws? Or, as some detractors have claimed, is it a mathematical mirage that has sidetracked a generation of physicists?

***

Unification has become synonymous with Einstein, but the enterprise has been at the heart of modern physics for centuries. Isaac Newton united the heavens and Earth, revealing that the same laws governing the motion of the planets and the Moon described the trajectory of a spinning wheel and a rolling rock. About 200 years later, James Clerk Maxwell took the unification baton for the next leg, showing that electricity and magnetism are two aspects of a single force described by a single mathematical formalism.

The next two steps, big ones at that, were indeed vintage Einstein. In 1905, Einstein linked space and time, showing that motion through one affects passage through the other, the hallmark of his special theory of relativity. Ten years later, Einstein extended these insights with his general theory of relativity, providing the most refined description of gravity, the force governing the likes of stars and galaxies. With these achievements, Einstein envisioned that a grand synthesis of all of nature’s forces was within reach.


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17 comments on “Why String Theory Still Offers Hope We Can Unify Physics

  • Experimental evidence is the final arbiter of right and wrong,

    That quote, brilliant in it’s simplicity, is buried in the main body of the article, which almost opened a glimmer of understanding for me about string theory, gravitons, and multi-vurses. Repeat, almost.

    But the quote I will tuck away for use when I am told that the bible, or similar, is “right”.



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  • 2
    jabberwock says:

    The final (fundamental) arbiter of right and wrong (truth and falseness) is reality. Reality is what it is independent of consciousness, any consciousness. The concepts of right and wrong exist only in conceptual consciousness and, like all valid concepts, are dependent upon objectivity, which itself is dependent upon reason and, ultimately, volition. An idea is right to the extent that it identifies a particular aspect (or aspects) of reality, and wrong to the extent that it misidentifies that aspect (or aspects).



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  • The final (fundamental) arbiter of right and wrong (truth and falseness) is reality.

    Why reinventing the wheel? “Reality” is too vague a concept, and to define it you have to go to unreal lengths (as your comment brilliantly demonstrates). It’s better to leave “reality” alone and stick to experiments.

    An experiment can be repeated. An experiment doesn’t lie. If your theory says things that do not match the experiments, then there’s a bin waiting for it. It works spectacularly well, and it’s very simple. If it ain’t broken…



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  • 4
    jabberwock says:

    Reality is existence (the totality of that which exists), and that which exists is what it is (identity) and acts in accordance with what it is (causality) independent of any consciousness. There is nothing antecedent to existence (reality); it is fundamental – an irreducible primary. All scientific experimentation is a means to identifying aspects of reality, and all evidence is evidence of reality. Any truth is an identification (or recognition) of some aspect of reality. If an idea or proposition accords with reality, it is true or right; if it does not, it is false or wrong. Thus the final or ultimate arbiter of right and wrong – truth and falseness – is reality.



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  • Okay, let’s do it.

    Reality is […] independent of any consciousness

    The brain is real, isn’t it? I hope it is. It’s certainly true for most mammal, with the exception of some politicians out there… Good. The brain is made out of neurons, isn’t it? It’s been proven, many times. All of the brain activity is given off by the exchange of signals betweeen those neurons, isn’t it? Is consciousness brain activity?

    a) Yes, it is.

    b) No, there’s something superimposed to the brain so that it produces consciuosness.

    First the easy one, b): so, either that superimposed thing is real or is nonexistent -according to your own definition! If it’s real, then see below. If it’s not, your statement reads as “reality is independent of a very specific aspect of what’s not real/doesn’t exist”. Which is a tautology and, really, not very constraining. No real progress there… furthermore, this path of reasoning seems to imply a soul of some sort and then cast it off what exists, which sounds paradoxical.

    More interestingly, a): if it is, since it’s brain activity, which in turn is neurons doing their business and so on, consciousness is real, because all of its components do exist and are real. Consciousness is an aspect of reality. Thus, your definitions reads as “reality is independent of any example of a specific aspect of itself“. Bells should already ring but let’s go on: it’s fun. You now have a problem: how do you justify your set of independence -conscoiusnesses? Why aren’t those specific examples stones, or fireflies? You can again go down two roads here:

    1) you surrender and don’t prefer anything, so you have to correct your statement as “reality is independent of any aspect of itself”, which I find more agreeable than the original definition, but it became more of an axiom rather than a definition. Like “a point is a point”, so we’re back to a reality which is self evident.

    2) you give a reason for favouring consciousnesses -which will hardly be independent form consciousnesses themselves. So you have “consciousnesses say that reality is independent from a very specific aspect of itself”. Reordering the terms, then, you need the set of selves to state what’s independent from those selves. In conclusion, what this all means is: reality can be anything, as long as that opinion is shared. Which is either useless or absurd. And takes a whole lot of words thrown at it to make even the slightest of senses. Ockham is not happy.

    ~~~~~

    On the other hand (on the contrary?), if you say that only experiments can validate a theory, you are only using the fact that an experiment needs to be repetible. Which means that, if you interrogate an array of similar systems in compatible ways, you get an array of compatible answers. It’s straightforward, it has no loopholes and any attempt to undermine it will invariably crash into the fact that the Sun tends to rise every morning, if you put a mug on a table it won’t jump off it and if you let a stone in mid air it will fall down and not up.

    And so, the value of a theory resides in the fact that its predictions tend to happen over and over again, thus you can expect some things and, finally, use those things to make stuff and generally make your life more interesting.



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  • jabberwock Dec 26, 2014 at 8:58 pm

    Reality is existence (the totality of that which exists), and that which exists is what it is (identity) and acts in accordance with what it is (causality) independent of any consciousness.

    The physics of reality is independent of human consciousness, although human perceptions of it are clearly not! Human perceptions are simply a part of the electro-biochemistry of the brain, – which is part of the physics of the universe.

    The mistaken supernatural belief, is to assume the reverse! Reality is not dependent on human perceptions, and indeed, human perceptions can be grossly mistaken or totally delusional.

    There is nothing antecedent to existence (reality); it is fundamental – an irreducible primary. All scientific experimentation is a means to identifying aspects of reality, and all evidence is evidence of reality.

    . … at least as far as we know – from the Big-bang onward.



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  • 7
    jabberwock says:

    Lorenzo Dec 27, 2014 at 6:26 am

    Is consciousness brain activity?

    Consciousness does not equate with brain activity. Consciousness is dependent upon brain activity, but it does not reduce to it. One cannot get beneath consciousness. Consciousness, like existence, is an irreducible primary.

    Consciousness is self-evident and undeniably a part of existence as a whole. But its existence is necessarily dependent upon other existents – for example, a physical body incorporating sense organs, sensory cells, neurones and a brain (or at least some centrally organised collection of neurones), and there must be entities external to consciousness for it to be conscious of (since a consciousness conscious of nothing is a contradiction in terms). Without these other existents no consciousness would be possible. Consciousness is thus dependent upon existence – the existence of entities apart from itself.

    Existence (reality, the totality of that which exists, the universe) must first exist before any consciousness can come into existence (as a product of biological evolution). Existence thus exists independent of any consciousness; but any consciousness is always dependent upon existence. Consciousness is a product of biological evolution, and as such it exists not to create existence ex nihilo or to control it directly by mere acts of will, but to perceive and identify it, in order to better sustain the lives of the organisms of which consciousness is an integral and inseparable part. All of these facts together give rise to a principle known as the metaphysical primacy of existence.

    In the consciousness-existence relationship it is the primacy of existence over consciousness – the fact that existence is what it is independent of the direct wishes or whims of any consciousness – that enables epistemological objectivity. In a hypothetical universe in which consciousness held metaphysical primacy over existence – a universe governed, for example, by an omnipotent God – existence would conform to the direct wishes, whims or desires of consciousness, and epistemological objectivity would be impossible.

    Fortunately, we live in a universe (the only universe) in which existence holds metaphysical primacy over consciousness, and thus where epistemological objectivity, by means of the process of reason, is achievable, and consequently where the concepts of right and wrong, truth and falseness, valid and invalid all have meaning for us. It is because reality is what it is independent of the direct wishes, whims or desires of any consciousness that reality is the final arbiter of right and wrong, truth and falseness, etc. In the hypothetical universe governed by an omnipotent God, the final arbiter of right and wrong, truth and falseness, etc., would be the will or whim of God itself.



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  • 8
    jabberwock says:

    Alan4discussion Dec 27, 2014 at 6:46 am

    The physics of reality is independent of human consciousness, although
    human perceptions of it are clearly not! Human perceptions are simply
    a part of the electro-biochemistry of the brain, – which is part of
    the physics of the universe.

    The mistaken supernatural belief, is to assume the reverse! Reality is
    not dependent on human perceptions, and indeed, human perceptions can
    be grossly mistaken or totally delusional.

    Consciousness is a product of coordinated electro-chemical processes in the brain, but it does not reduce to those processes. Consciousness as such is an irreducible primary.

    Perceptions are the form in which a consciousness achieves direct awareness of entities in the outside world. Since the nature of any particular perception is determined by the particular object being perceived, the particular ambient conditions obtaining at the time of perception, and the automatic electro-chemical processes of the sensory-neural system involved in generating the perception, the perception as such is entirely deterministic and thus inerrant, and evaluative concepts such as right, wrong, valid, invalid, mistaken, etc., are inapplicable to it. Such evaluative concepts can apply only to the contents of conceptual consciousness, conceptual consciousness by its nature being volitional. One’s perceptions, being metaphysically given or deterministic, are unjudgeable; one’s conceptualisations of them – how one interprets or evaluates them – being under volitional control, is subject to error. In short, the perceptual level of consciousness is deterministic and therefore inerrant, whereas the conceptual level of consciousness is volitional and therefore subject to error.

    There is nothing antecedent to existence (reality); it is fundamental
    – an irreducible primary. All scientific experimentation is a means to
    identifying aspects of reality, and all evidence is evidence of
    reality. . … at least as far as we know – from the Big-bang onward.

    There is no alternative to existence (by which I mean reality, the totality of that which exists, the universe). If a thing exists, it is part of existence; if it does not exist, it cannot be the cause of existence. Thus existence does not have a cause. Nothing antecedes existence; existence is an irreducible primary.

    If a Big Bang event did occur, it did not mark the beginning of existence, but merely a change in the form of existence. Existence did not begin. All beginnings and all endings occur in time. Time is the measurement of change of entities in relation to some chosen standard unit of change (for example, a single orbit of the earth about the sun, which we call a year). Time thus presupposes entities that exist and change. Thus there can be no time outside of existence, and therefore no beginnings or endings outside of existence. Existence (reality; the universe; the totality of that which exists) is outside of time, beginnings and endings and is thus eternal. All concepts relating to time are meaningless outside of existence; and of course there is no “outside of existence”.



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  • the perception as such is entirely deterministic and thus inerrant, and evaluative concepts such as right, wrong, valid, invalid, mistaken, etc., are inapplicable to it.

    We can’t say it is inerrant if we can’t say it is valid.

    I agree perceptions cannot be judged valid or invalid. Our Bayesian brains though will make a good enough call on this for everyday life.

    Richard Gregory long ago alerted us to the fact that what we perceive is driven strongly by what we expect to see. This evolved technique is hugely efficient in brain energy costs. Running a model of the outside world allows us to devote energy-expensive attention to where we need and gives the added benefit of throwing up error quickly when we get a model mismatch.

    But perception, eg visual perception, is built upon a huge vertical stack of inferences of inferences, starting in the data compression processes in the retina to make the optic nerve manageable. More importantly these inferential processes are developed as an infant by the process of maximising utility and pruning away less useful inference production. Our cognition is configured to maximise its utility in our infant environment. Of still greater import, visual cognition proceeds along two separated paths fairly early on giving us in each both conscious and non-concious experiences that are evaluated for salience and result in creating say a sense of unease or a sense of familiarity or of bigness etc. etc. At no point are all these experiences reliably or consciously summed into a formal report of what has been seen, allowing them to be evaluated. Evolution has seen to it that little modules identifying (often from the crudest of Bayesian signifiers) particular properties of the visual field were developed independently as needed in our evolutionary past. The inferences of these modules are evaluated at their own level and drive behaviours even before the data is finished with by other modules, creating behaviours (eg redirecting attention) that confound any kind of objectivity even in the process of seeing.

    There is not in any sense whatsoever a “perception” that precedes evaluation. Even the processing equipment used for perception was configured by a utilitarian pruning (that is an evaluating process based on functional needs.)

    Nor is there a single shred of evidence for consciousness to be a primary attribute. No data in the brain is seen to be unsourced or non-causal. All data is produced only from identifiable other data. The vividness of our wakeful experience is something we can report on. It is data in our heads produced by brain states and it makes us say “Wow!”. An experience that is not a brain state has no means by which it can generate reports of itself. The panpsychist position adds no practically useable concepts and fails at this task of generating reports of itself as it requires the spontaneous generation of information and that as we know falls foul of the laws of thermodynamics.

    We know our everyday perceptions are riddled with illusions, some obvious, some not. The conscious experience is quite possibly the grandest of these.



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  • jabberwock Dec 27, 2014 at 9:57 pm

    I think we are largely in agreement on several issues, .

    But:-

    Consciousness is a product of coordinated electro-chemical processes in the brain, but it does not reduce to those processes. Consciousness as such is an irreducible primary.

    I would disagree. There is no evidence of consciousness existing prior to the evolution of brains, and no evidence of individual consciousness persisting after the death of brains.

    Perceptions are the form in which a consciousness achieves direct awareness of entities in the outside world. Since the nature of any particular perception is determined by the particular object being perceived, the particular ambient conditions obtaining at the time of perception, and the automatic electro-chemical processes of the sensory-neural system involved in generating the perception, the perception as such is entirely deterministic and thus inerrant,

    The perception, as you point out, is determined by a combination of inputs from the particular object, but also by various sensory mechanisms (sight, sound, smell, instrumentation, etc.) and is then subject to neural processing, which is its self subject chemical corruption, misfiring etc.

    and evaluative concepts such as right, wrong, valid, invalid, mistaken, etc., are inapplicable to it.

    In a moral sense, they would be arbitrary and based on perceived group and individual interests and objectives. In a mathematical or physical “right or wrong” (ie accurately calculated or in error), these would provide the predictions on which other more arbitrary judgements can be based, but if they are in error any subsequent conclusions will also be in error.

    Such evaluative concepts can apply only to the contents of conceptual consciousness, conceptual consciousness by its nature being volitional. One’s perceptions, being metaphysically given or deterministic, are unjudgeable; one’s conceptualisations of them – how one interprets or evaluates them – being under volitional control, is subject to error.

    Which is why independent repeat-testing is used in science, and codes of conduct are worked out by professional groups.

    In short, the perceptual level of consciousness is deterministic and therefore inerrant,

    I can’t see how any sensory process can claim to be “inerrant”. No sensory processes work independently of physical transmission or neural processing, both of which can be disrupted.

    whereas the conceptual level of consciousness is volitional and therefore subject to error.

    You seem to be trying to describe the difference between objective observations, and theoretical extrapolations, but I don’t think inerrant measuring processes actually exist, so we will always have error bars.



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  • 12
    Lorenzo says:

    Consciousness does not equate with brain activity. Consciousness is dependent upon brain activity, but it does not reduce to it. One cannot get beneath consciousness. Consciousness, like existence, is an irreducible primary.

    Now, this is not even wrong.
    In particular, what exactly may be something that is clearly produced by the brain (brain damage can chip or delete consciousness) does not reduce to brain activity. Are you implying a consciousness’ monad floating in the 12th-and-a-half dimension and the brain is just a big consciounsess antenna? Or an alien parasite? It may be an “alien” parasite. There’s a very interesting brief novel of Asimov’s about the subject, perhaps you’re talking about that… It’s called “Hostess”.
    Furthermore, you can get beneath it -you do it on a nightly basis and there’s a whole working discipline founded on the fact that what happens at a conscious level can influence what’s beneath and vice versa. And it’s not irreducible, precisely because it has evolved (and even you state that). More than that: there are various stages of consciousness development alive right now out there.

    But, actually, none of that really matters to the sake of the argument: you just follow the path “b), go to a)”, since you claim consciousness does not reduces to brain activity but it’s real. The point you had to make is “consciousness is to be chosen as the independence point of reality because a reason independent of consciousness“. You didn’t, so my previous argument stays in place.

    Existence (reality, the totality of that which exists, the universe) must first exist before any consciousness can come into existence (as a product of biological evolution).

    I hope you realize you’re not speaking just of consciousness here, but of any aspect of what you call reality. Wood burning stoves, for example. Or slugs: Existence must come before any slug, thus existence is indipendent from slugs. And wood burning stoves. And wood. And stones. And so forth, until you bang your head against the “undeniable fact” that Existence, since it exists, must have come after itself just in order to exist, which means it can’t exist. This bugged a lot of philosophers, who felt the need of a god to have something to put before Existence so that it can exist and that can be called out the rules of the game to save the game istelf -and to avoid being burned at stake. And it’s laughable.

    epistemological objectivity

    Why would you ever need that? You really don’t. It’s a waste of time. Because you have something a whole lot simpler out there: there are some experieces that are repetible. I’ll come to that in a second.

    Fortunately, we live in a universe (the only universe) in which existence holds metaphysical primacy over consciousness[…]

    The concept of “only universe” is getting increasingly meaningless in science. Both Cosmology and elementary interaction theories seem to poin at a universe which is not unique (and String Theory is one of the biggest sources of other universes). I explain: evidences out there point to a Big Bang which is statistical in nature -in other word, a fluctuation. If it is so, it would be unfathomably improbable to have a unique universe, like it’s unfathomably improbable to have a single inhabitable planet when you have a universe filled with 100 billions of galaxies averaging 100 billions of stars each (which amounts to 10 to the 22nd stars. Consciousness has to do with 10 to the 10th neurons and 10 to the 15th synapses… just to put things into scale. If the universe were a braink, it would be considerably smarter and more aware of itself that ours. But damn slow).

    ~~~~~

    The concept you’re dancing around is, I think, not independence of reality from whatever, but the invariance of Nature with respect to some experiences (that is: experimentation). Nature does seem to be a higly organized and regular system and, more than that, this organization seems to be very constant over time. When all goes terribly wrong is the moment one begins to ask “why is that so?” and “who or what guarantees me that?”. I shall quote Dawkins on this: “this is a stupid question”. A tautological answer to them is “if Nature were caotic or non-constantly organized, we wouldn’t be here”. And it’s the only non nonsensical one out there, sadly, because those questions look for a purpouse in facts and not in actions. It’s a mismatch, and it’s bound to backfire.

    So, to summarize: it’s not the indepedence of reality from a very particluar and not very special aspect of itself that allows Science to work very well, it’s the fact that Nature is invariant under some repeated experiences at different space-time coordinates that allows Science to work both at explaining and predicting and tool manifacturing. Which is just a very ampollous way to say “experiments needs to be repetible and a theory is valid (valid, not true) if its predictions are in accordance to those experiments”.

    Does that mean that you can only know how Nature works by means of fitting models and you don’t have access to The Truth? Yes. And… that’s it, really.



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  • David, I think you have laid my life bare with this…..Thanks.

    My crowning achievement (or so I thought) was a product called “Exo-Sweat” for a west coast executive toy company and aimed at the jogging market at the end of the eighties. I’d just done a vinyl beer can you could throw at the TV set to turn it off. (Big seller for election broadcasts and the Superbowl.)

    This thing cost five cents to make and was a three cavity polythene bag configured as a headband with blue water in small pouches over the temples and a piece of blotting paper over the brow in the third bag. If you rolled your fingers forward over the temples you broke two seals that allowed the water to seep onto the blotting paper, creating a very cool feeling on your forehead as it evapourated through the perforations in the front in the breeze made by running.

    I reinvented sweat. I could see them sold for a buck a piece down on Venice Beach and used as giveaways with corporate branding on the blotting paper. I thought I was going to be rich. They thought I was soon going to be locked up soon and canned it.



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  • I’m delighted to have access to sites like this and the fascinating work of scientists like Brian Greene. And who knows what will happen with the new-and-improved LHC in 2015? The (space) times they are a changing . . .



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  • 16
    jabberwock says:

    Consciousness as an irreducible primary:

    When I say that consciousness is an irreducible primary I do not mean that consciousness is capable of independent existence. Far from it. Consciousness is causally dependent upon a number of things, such as physical objects in the outside world (the world outside of consciousness), some form of sensory-perceptual apparatus for receiving, directly or indirectly, physical stimuli from those objects, and some form of brain to process those stimuli and to generate consciousness in the forms of sensations, perceptions, conceptions, memories, emotions, etc. And when the physical brain dies, the consciousness dependent upon it goes out of existence. But how the brain specifically generates consciousness, including sensations and perceptions (which are particular forms of consciousness), has no bearing on the point I am trying to clarify here: the point that consciousness neither equates with nor reduces to the physical brain processes that underlie it. One can reduce a house to bricks and mortar because bricks and mortar are the constituent parts of houses, but one cannot reduce consciousness to physical brain processes, because physical brain processes are not the constituent parts of consciousness (I can isolate the bricks and mortar in my house, but I cannot isolate physical brain processes in my consciousness). Consciousness has no constituent parts; it is an inseparable and irreducible whole; it cannot be analysed into anything more basic, and in this sense it is primary, and consequently defies definition (Try defining “consciousness” without using synonyms such as “awareness” and “experience”). Consciousness has many aspects, such as conception, imagination, memory, emotion, the various modes of perception, etc., but every one of these aspects is conscious and thus inseparable from consciousness as such. Consciousness and brain processes, although undeniably causally related, are quite different phenomena, and their relationship is perhaps most closely analogous to that between an electric current in a wire and the resultant magnetic field. Although the magnetic field is caused by the electric current, it is quite different in nature from it and neither equates with nor reduces to it; there is simply no electric current in the magnetic field. And there are no physical brain processes in consciousness.

    Perception as inerrant:

    If I chose to look at, for example, a mature tree standing thirty metres in front of me, my particular perception of the tree (the particular form in which I was conscious of the tree) would depend partly upon the ambient conditions (such as the light quality and intensity, and the weather conditions, etc.) obtaining at the time of my looking. It would also depend partly upon the precise nature of my eyes (for example, whether I had normal vision or some form of ocular impediment, such as color-blindness or uncorrected myopia). And it would also depend partly upon the precise nature of my optic nerves, my optic chiasma and a host of neuronal pathways and associated physical processes within my brain, any part of which may or may not be damaged in some way. But whatever the ambient conditions and the precise nature of my eyes, etc., obtaining at the time of my looking at the tree, these factors would be what they were and my perception of the tree would be entirely determined by them. My perception of the tree, even if it happened to be slightly blurred owing to my myopia, would be produced automatically by entirely physical and deterministic processes, and consequently since the tree does not err, neither would my deterministic perception of it err, and nor would it be mistaken. In other words, it would be inerrant. The concept “error” is not applicable to any perception, and nor are such evaluative concepts as right, wrong, true, false, valid and invalid, and there can be no such thing as “misperceiving”.

    If on the basis of my slightly blurred perception of the tree I had identified the tree as a sycamore, when in reality it was a horse chestnut, I would have made an error of judgement, an error that I could perhaps have corrected by walking close enough to the tree to gain a perception of it that was good enough to enable my correct species identification of it. My misidentification of the tree would have occurred at the conceptual level of my consciousness, the level of consciousness that is under my direct volitional control, unlike the perceptual level which, being entirely the product of automatic physical and deterministic processes, is beyond volitional control. Indeed it is the contents of the perceptual level of one’s consciousness, i.e., one’s perceptions – one’s direct contact with the reality that exists outside of one’s consciousness – that set the standard against which all judgments of truth, falsity, validity, invalidity, etc. – judgments that are under one’s volitional control at the conceptual level of one’s consciousness – are made. If one makes an error of judgment, one’s only means of correcting it is by volitionally focusing one’s mind, engaging one’s rational faculty and logically checking one’s premises, all of which ultimately are conceptualisations of one’s deterministic sensory perceptions of reality. And if one’s perception of an aspect of reality is inadequate to enable one’s correct conceptual identification of that aspect, one can always try moving closer, so to speak – i.e., changing one’s perspective.

    We know our everyday perceptions are riddled with illusions, some
    obvious, some not. The conscious experience is quite possibly the
    grandest of these.

    Perceptions may be misleading, but there are no illusions in perceptions. Illusions are errors of identification, and since identification is a conceptual process, illusions always occur at the conceptual level of consciousness. And how can consciousness be an illusion when illusions are entirely conceptual and thus contents of consciousness? Do you know what concept stealing is? Furthermore, to correctly identify an illusion, one must first know reality – i.e., that which is not an illusion – and to know reality, one must first be conscious.



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  • jabberwock Dec 29, 2014 at 9:41 pm

    But how the brain specifically generates consciousness, including sensations and perceptions (which are particular forms of consciousness), has no bearing on the point I am trying to clarify here: the point that consciousness neither equates with nor reduces to the physical brain processes that underlie it.

    Actually it reduces to less than the total brain functions. The brain has autonomous and subconscious functions in addition to generating conscious perceptions.

    One can reduce a house to bricks and mortar because bricks and mortar are the constituent parts of houses, but one cannot reduce consciousness to physical brain processes, because physical brain processes are not the constituent parts of consciousness (I can isolate the bricks and mortar in my house, but I cannot isolate physical brain processes in my consciousness).

    This is just a poor forced analogy. With improving scanners, physical brain processes are being increasingly tracked.

    Consciousness has no constituent parts; it is an inseparable and irreducible whole; it cannot be analysed into anything more basic, and in this sense

    This is just a mistaken assertion which illustrates a lack of understanding of the electro-biochemistry of brain functions. Consciousness can be identified as a combination of the firing of individual neurons.

    http://faculty.washington.edu/chudler/synapse.html

    The numbers are huge and the complexity is vast, but personal incredulity is no challenge to the basic physics and biology.

    it is primary, and consequently defies definition (Try defining “consciousness” without using synonyms such as “awareness” and “experience”). Consciousness has many aspects, such as conception, imagination, memory, emotion, the various modes of perception, etc., but every one of these aspects is conscious and thus inseparable from consciousness as such.

    This is like denying that computing is based on electrical circuits and electronic switching on chips, because of the complexity which overlies such basics.

    Consciousness and brain processes, although undeniably causally related, are quite different phenomena,

    There is no evidence to support this assertion.

    and their relationship is perhaps most closely analogous to that between an electric current in a wire and the resultant magnetic field.

    Brains are indeed electrical circuitry.

    Perception as inerrant:

    Mistakes and distorted transmissions may be objectively explainable in terms of material influences. but that does not make a description of “inerrant” valid.

    If I chose to look at, for example, a mature tree standing thirty metres in front of me, my particular perception of the tree (the particular form in which I was conscious of the tree) would depend partly upon the ambient conditions (such as the light quality and intensity, and the weather conditions, etc.) obtaining at the time of my looking. It would also depend partly upon the precise nature of my eyes (for example, whether I had normal vision or some form of ocular impediment, such as color-blindness or uncorrected myopia). And it would also depend partly upon the precise nature of my optic nerves, my optic chiasma and a host of neuronal pathways and associated physical processes within my brain, any part of which may or may not be damaged in some way. But whatever the ambient conditions and the precise nature of my eyes, etc., obtaining at the time of my looking at the tree, these factors would be what they were and my perception of the tree would be entirely determined by them.

    Indeed – the distorting effects would make both the inputs and your internal concepts inconsistent with the reality of the tree even if they were internally self consistent illusions.

    My perception of the tree, even if it happened to be slightly blurred owing to my myopia, would be produced automatically by entirely physical and deterministic processes,

    Deterministic processes causing distortion of inputs during transmission simply explain the causative basis of the errors. Explaining an error does not eliminate it.

    and consequently since the tree does not err, neither would my deterministic perception of it err, and nor would it be mistaken.

    This is simply wrong! Your deterministic distorted perception of the tree would be inconsistent with the physical nature of the tree, and would therefore be in error!

    In other words, it would be inerrant. The concept “error” is not applicable to any perception,

    I think what you are saying, is that the internal illusory concept arising from a corrupted input, makes an individual unable to recognise the error generated by the corrupted transmissions, and therefore falsely claims to be inerrant despite inconsistency with the underlying physical reality.



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