« Making Sense with Sam Harris

#96 — The Nature of Consciousness

2017-09-10 | 🔗

In this episode of the Making Sense podcast, Sam Harris speaks with Thomas Metzinger about the scientific and experiential understanding of consciousness. They also talk about the significance of WWII for the history of ideas, the role of intuition in science, the ethics of building conscious AI, the self as an hallucination, how we identify with our thoughts, attention as the root of the feeling of self, the place of Eastern philosophy in Western science, and the limitations of secular humanism.

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This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
Today, I'm speaking with the philosopher Thomas Metzinger, Thomas is a full professor and director of the theoretical philosophy group and the research group on neuroethics and neurophilosophy at Johannes, Berg University in Germany. He is who is the founder and director of the mind group and adjunct? Fellow at the Frankfurt Institute of Advanced studies? Also in Germany,. His research centers on the analytic philosophy of mind and applied ethics and the philosophy of cognitive science. And he is the editor and author of several books- he edited the neural corliss of consciousness and he wrote being no one and the ego tunnel. And in addition to being a philosopher of mind, Thomas, is also a long term meditator,
as you can hear, we have many many interests in common. Our conversation starts on a political note: the significance of world war, two for the history of ideas and the connection between Nietzsche Holocaust Thomas, gives us the german view of current: U Dot s politics, but then we go deep into questions of consciousness and the self. We talk about the role of intuition and science, the ethics of building, conscious, ai, the self as a hallucination, how we identify with our thoughts and the paradox of doing that attention as the root of the felt sense of self and the place of eastern philosophy in western science, as well as the limitations of
secular humanism. So it's a very rich conversation, and it is the conversation that many of you asked for many of you have requested that I get Thomas on the podcast, so I bring you Thomas Metzinger. I am here with Thomas Metzinger, Thomas thanks for coming on the podcast. How good to me Yeah, it was never met, but I have followed you. Some time now, I've been a a reader of your books and the anthologies you've edited you've done really great in the philosophy of mind and This has been an area that I've been interested in for sometime. We might have been at the same conference at some point and just didn't get a chance to meet, but it's a pleasure to meet you. Virtually I've had to live with emails by people telling me Thomas SAM Harris this guys, like you
I like your website. I wouldn't wish that on anyone. Probably so Thomas tell our listeners what you're focus has been philosophy in general and what work you're doing now and then we're going to get into obviously questions of consciousness and AI and the self, all your areas of interest? But how do you summarize what you do as a philosopher at this point? Well, my core competencies in something that's called analytical philosophy of mind. That's where I come from done that for about three decades. But what one thing that is special about me is that I have done it in very strong cooperation with neuroscientists cognitive science, say hi people for about thirty years, so my job has been to open up an analytical philosophy of mind. Armor for deeper and more productive. Interdisciplinary cooperation cause a lot of resistance for this. In my life it was
bad for my academic career, but now five years younger. There were four people in Germany like myself, and now it's just like a people's movement, all of the good. Young philosophers have one empirical area like dreaming social, cognition, predictive coding, weather pretty good and combine this, but in this I got all the resists yet what form to the resistance taken. When what specifically was it focused on many different types? in Germany philosophy. He has very strongly meant history of philosophy, and, secondly, he something like naturalism has always had a bad press. People who thought at least I have learned this as a student- that empirical scientists could contribute anything like bottom
constraints for conceptual work, just hadn't understood what philosophy was in the first place, because it was purely a priori theorizing, but then there's also this territorial thing. I think you have recently had it, for instance, to take this example of a freedom. The will debate too. We had a very hot one, a little earlier in the public and a typical event was that prominent nuro scientist said there is no such thing as freedom of the will and it got to a point where philosopher said: listen. This is not to be decided and hard sciences at all. This is a fill so fickle problem and there will be a philosophical solution and then my friends from the neuroscience said you're beginning to understand it? It's not your problem anymore.
We have solved it, and then all of the humanities just rose in protests. You know so also question who is allowed to answer which questions so introduce yourself as an analytic, philosopher is usually contrasted with continental philosophy is: has the european to what is known, perhaps mostly in the states as continental philosophy. Is that part of the problem? Here It's part of the problem. Now there is pretty much of a peaceful coexistence. It has gone through many stages, but you must also see the history. Kill situation. You know in world war, two we have either murdered or driven out of the country. All of the jewish intelligentsia, so many teacher disciple decide for relationships were completely cut off and I'm very
grateful to the generation of analytical philosophers who came before me? To reconnect us you know to the global discussion again to mankind's philosophical conversation. That was something that had to be established. First, after World WAR two because there were many people who thought the hottest and most recent stuff is hide. Who had more than a superficial connection with the trends that got so many people murdered and exiled, of course, yeah. Well, so that's a fascinating moment of intellectual history, an it's not something? I'm someone has written about it in Germany, but in English I haven't read much about the way in which the war affected philosophy, but it's interesting to picture those teacher student relationships been severed and Germany becoming isolated. As a result, Deeper dimensions,
I mean one is every german child at one age discovers what has happened. I still very precisely know the moment when I discovered the atrocities my tribe had connected. I don't know if want to hear the story. Oh I would love to. But how old are you Thomas? I'm fifty nine So it's so how old are you? I was ten under rules coli in me was awakening and I was getting. Interested in the books. In my parents' shelves- and I saw there was one book they put up very high because they didn't want me to see it and, of course, the next time they were out. I put a chair on my father's writing desk and crept up there and was a photo book called the Yellow STAR
and now I saw bulldozers, pushing piles of corpses into mass graves and I saw photo documentation of medical experiments on Jews swiss Phospho burning away the flesh and stuff like this and then That's the moment when my childhood ended. You know uh, until then is living in a world. You know cowboys and Indians and fairy tales, and I didn't know that something like this existed in reality. So as you grow up when I was when I was sixteen years old, I was still firmly and honestly convinced that I had been born in the worst country of the whole world. You know with that tribe that history Ann. This is after Mars, where you ask your parents. How much did you know
and they alltel you. We didn't know anything, and then you ask the other school children in the schoolyard I'll see, my parents also say they didn't know anything of this. And then you ask your history teacher, and I said they tell you. Don't let yourselves be fooled. Almost everybody knew at what point in school do children begin to learn about the Holocaust. Is it somewhere between ten and sixteen? Is there? Is there a standard year where this I wouldn't know the curriculum? Maybe one thousand four hundred and fifteen, you get it in history uh at that time, and then I'm coming back to philosophy. Of course, young intellectuals, if you study philosophy for us, the whole thing was completely different than, you, because we were all trying to find out what's in our own intellectual tradition, made this possible. Where did this come from
teach the genealogy of morals you because we have been a great philosophical nation with german idealism and everything, and then a very urgent question is how could this happen so Studying, philosophy meant something else for us. Yeah it's like intellectual and moral autopsy come up with any answers there are there. Are there any answers that are agreed apon? How was it PASA oh well, there's a century long, european tradition of Anti Semitism and uh. What many people don't know in this year is that Martin Luther, for instance, was a hate pundit. He was the first person to explicitly in his writing, set at the synagogues have to burn
and for many people also don't know is that the price was high. Enough actually was a birthday present for you who had his first day. It was like celebrating a birthday party into his birthday is: was a gift the manage to you know the founder of Protestantism, so there is a deep connection to the church over the centuries, but then there's also plain old ray, This is a man some philosophical contributions. The story on Niti, as far as I know, is that basically he was, misused by his sister and the Nazis and that his fellow if they really is only in its misinterpretation, something that could be useful to the worldview of Nazism. I must say: I've never been totally convinced of that. Given some, the ranting one encounters in nature. What's your view of that, of course,
long story, but of course he couldn't be a fascist and you couldn't be a Nazi, because you couldn't be that I also would technically- I don't regard him as a philosopher, because he, in my view, doesn't have a serious interest in the growth of knowledge. She's, more racist writer, but if you look at the genealogy of morals, and you imagine you're, a young German, then what you take away from it We are a warrior race. The Jews are smarter than we are. The Jews have come up with something voting to poison our blood. They are poised getting all blood with christian morals and they have done this and the only thing. We can do is remember that we are stronger, not smart, about strong. Because we are a warrior race, so we have to get rid of this. You know christian moral of the slaves and so forth, and that was
pasta preparation, because imagine you're a young intellectual at that time, and this is presented to you as one of your best philosopher that was and that was not in a sentence, and that was certainly a preparation. Work forward came afterwards, but that's fasten and I want to go again. This is a topic I was not aware. We were going to stumble on, but I just I can't leave it. This is great it's. Not often I get a direct window onto this experience or that people even have this experience, so your description of what it was like to be a child's tumbling on that book and the evidence of the Holocaust that had not yet reached you and then the experience of talking about this with parents in French who talk about it with their Para. And getting a kind, denial. Really, it sounds like, blanket denial that anyone where at
time what was happening and yet the official story from your history? friends and in your teachers of history is no, of course, more Everyone knew this was happening and the the whole culture is complicit on some level. How do you reconcile those two pieces because, inter Germany's reputation? It is much more of the latter The Germany has has quite famously really lived in a kind of purgatory of self criticism. Since World WAR Ii, So, in a way that austria- hasn't and Japan hasn't been in Austria in Japan you have a more or less official denial of just how morally dark. There behave became but Germany you everyone to acknowledge that there has been an impressive
so then, and perhaps even sufficient degree of hand wringing over the Holocaust and over World WAR two, but it's like your your experiences, one of where, where the grown ups are. Living in total denial about that. How do you square those two things? Well, some the last witnesses are dying right now right now many have finished their lives in denial. They have also being psychologically traumatized. For instance, my father had to go. To war with Seventeen- and he wrote a book about things he couldn't talk about, they have seen horrible things as children and he told me when they saw eight hundred American airplanes fly over the Rhine Valley in bra, call, Jayla it using the Rhine Valley and counted them as children, and they came back without their bomb load and then
it was the first time the dawned on them that they might not be winning this war, like everybody, told him um so Actually I didn't want to go this direction at all an but now it of course connects to Trump and your political situation, because I think, as a German, we can bring a unique perspective on to what you are living through right now, so I'm I'm so very grateful. For the US for the thousands of beautiful young man that you have sacrificed. You know to defeat the generation of my grand father and my father. You brought us democracy, the Marshall Plan and everything and now see how this has played out. Seventy years later, you are lying on the ground in a very serious situation
and we are one of the most stable democracies in the whole world. It's completely bizarre to be a german right. Now everybody is tapping on your shoulder and saying: hey, you are the leaders of the civil Bizworld world now. Are you aware of this? Do something all the young people come to. You know to Germany want to study here the financial miles from London, are starting to relocate to Frankford, even the in italian mafia is in Stuttgart and in southern Germany everybody likes it. Everybody thinks this is one of the most people, countries in the world and now on the other side of it. Everything is crumbling apart. Seventy years later, on the other side of the Atlantic, and one of the many things I think we can bring to the table is there,
will be an aftermath, and you should think about this. To Trump is not going to last, very long, but there will be an aftermath to this children will ask their parents questions. What have you voted? Have you stood your ground um. What have you done daddy? What where, where are you in this decisive? Yes, this is not going to be over when it's over. There will be a deep intergenerational rift in the society, it will be a major threat to social cohesion, in that you may need decades to get over so there will be an aftermath to this is our from episode right now and you better think about it now how you want to go about it and then
there will be no aftermath to climate change. You know, climate change is going to go on for centuries, even in the best possible scenario. There's not going to be. This episode is not going to be over, and you know the usr now what I would call a climate Roque stayed there completely isolated from the rest of mankind. Uh. And you know your children and grandchildren will have to deal with that too, and it's difficult. We just went through this last seventy years. Yeah, it's interesting to hear that perspective. I can tell you that what you just said about how dire. It appears from the german point of view that we have elected a person like Trump to run this country. That will seem like sheer delusion, too
anyone who is at all sympathetic with Trump or or at least thought Clinton was terrible enough that it was. I just kind of ordinary judge, call to pick trump over her and it will. It will seem hyperbolic, I think, to most people who are even worried about Trump. I don't want to spend any time on him because I don't know how much you've listened to this podcast, but I probably have twenty hours of me shrieking about Trump on this podcast and even those who agree with me or are probably sick of it by now. So I have to sort of pick my moments here on this topic, but I take point? I think you know we happily all the chaos that we see in the government at government the moment hasn't been much concrete consequence to Trump's tenure and his
incompetence and his narcissism, the way in which he's eroded the norms of our politics and civil society. It's been a fairly quiet, Saint PETE, we had in human history, despite the fact that N Korea keeps testing, Bms and Russia keeps hacking the electoral process of democracies throughout the W. But I completely take your point that there's no telling how bad it could get with a person like him in charge. I am not at all complacent on that topic and you know I can do anything on this podcast. I have made noise about this to the limits of even my fans. Patience but I want to move on to. Six of our our our mutual philosophical concerned and and scientific concerned, because it's just so much to talk about here. Well, may I just briefly interrupted or we leave that topic altogether and
I mean. I went to your website when I got all these emails and said. Okay, this looks good It- was probably one of these American Self marketing robots and then I had no time read any of your books. Now you invited me and during workouts I now have a in too many of your podcasts costs and I think you're doing a great job and it's fantastic and in bringing up this ugly hobby horse. Again and again I mean I just want to say I'm saying and then we can leave the topic because we're not completely impartial and we have a good to stick motors to. I don't want to insult anybody, but it's one thing: if you guys write down your own country completely, that's one thing: it's far away, But the other thing is, of course you know. We all know the moron is hard to predict I don't know who he will pick a fight with butt,
I'm very much afraid that he underestimates China when he wants to incinerate North Korea or something like this. You know this is a very, very dangerous situation, and I find this is the last thing I want to say, and then we can leave that topic. I find myself in a I never thought that I would have thought something like this, but my whole is actually with the higher ranks of the american military. I know that there are some very conservative people who are decent will have some decency, and I think that's our main hope now that day, if the day has come peacefully, take him out of office and do not follow that order, and I think that's that's the people we have to hope for now
and that there are some you know, senior persons. Maybe we have combat experience and who know what that really means that that is not a golf course in Florida or something like that and that they will act, yeah! Well, obviously you as a a german and a scholar of the relevant history or any position to warn our society, what it means to text, somebody who is not disposed to pay attention to constitutional or democratic norms in Germany in particular, is aware of just how, as Timothy Snyder. The historian said on this podcasters, how you know that people go to the polls not knowing that they're voting away? their freedom or that they're voting last time, and yet this is a experience that democracies have had and we haven't had that in the USA. There is an assumption that our institutions are strong enough and that
the stakes are always low enough, that you know nothing terra Will happen when we put a selfish imbecile of this magnitude in charge, but I just think it's not a safe assumption and I'm as I miss I've expressed. My worries again, a more less ad nauseam on this podcast, but you know, I hope, he gets reigned in by everything, it can rain him in and the military. Nationals included. So Thomas start with consciousness that we have question of intellectual and moral interest that will outlive us and have you know, outlive Plato, they outlived the boot. They outlived everyone who is touched them and I think they will endure, but the mystery of conscious, How do you think about consciousness? Well, I've been in this uh
four hundred and thirty years now you may know that I'm one of the people who founded the association for the scientific study of consciousness twenty two years ago, and I think the first thing we have to understand that consciousness is not one problem, but that it's a whole bundle of problems. Some more conceptual month, some more empirical and that's the first step. It's not that one big mystery out there there's a tension, a sensory discrimination, their conceptual issues about what may be conceivable and so forth, and I think the consciousness community in the last two decades has really made breathtaking progress, we're getting somewhere and in this
one popular book that you go turn alive, actually predicted that by two thousand and fifteen we will have to global neural correlate of consciousness. We will isolate that in humans and that's only a very first step, but I think it will not be a mystery. Life is not a mystery anymore, but one hundred and fifty years ago many people thought, but this isn't irreducible mystery, so you're not a fan anymore. If you ever were of the framing David Chalmers of the hard problem of consciousness. No, that's So boring I mean that's last century I mean you know we all respective, and we know he's very smart and he's got a very fast mind is no debate about that, but consider ability arguments are just
some very, very weak. If you have an ill defined folk, psychological umbrella term like consciousness, then you can pull off all kinds of scenarios and zombie thought experiments. It doesn't really. It helped to clarify some issues in the mid 90s, but the consciousness community has listened to this and just moved on. I mean nobody of this serious researchers in the field thinks about this more, but it has taken on like a folkloristic life of its own as a lot of people. Talk about the hard problem wouldn't be. Able to stage what it consists in. Or maybe we should just state it just so that those listeners Who didn't hear me speak with David podcast or haven't read my book waking up. Basically, the issue is this: that consciousness
If you define it as a to follow Thomas Nagel here, the fact that it's like something to be You are the fact that it that a brain of sufficient complexity or a creature at a certain point in evolution terms? Has a subjective, qualitative active on the world. The lights go on this formulation, many variants of it, but famously the philosopher, Nagel wrote a paper very influential paper in early 70s, titled? What is it like to be a bat, and he said we may never know about experience could be towed unlike our own, but if it is like something to be a bad, if, if you switch places with uh, that that wouldn't be synonymous with just the canceling of experience, but you would be laid bare to a different domain of experience. Well, that is the fact of consciousness. In the case of
or whether we ever understand it or not. The fact that the lights are on the there is a perspective liable, qualitative character, there. That is what we mean by consciousness and I've always thought that that is a good definition. It doesn't answer any of what Chalmers called the easy problems of consciousness. Those are separate. What does the I, in the visual cortex transduced light, G into a visual mapping of the visual scene. The hard problem on trial This account is always this bit the fact that it's like something to do any of that because It is the transition from unconscious scene which human brain do and robots due to the conscious experience of in which we know humans accomplish, and at the moment we there's no good reason to think are robots or computers do, and a coral to this framing, is that any explanation
we get about consciousness. And, let's just say, we open the back of the book of nature and we get the right answer about consciousness, and it turns out that you need exactly you know. Ten now as an information processing units of a certain character. Have to be wired in a certain way. They have to. Firing at a certain hurts and lo and behold. That is what gives you consciousness and if you change any of those parameters, well, then the lights go out. Let's say we knew that to be true, it's still wouldn't explain, I mean the emergence of consciousness in a way that is intuitively graspable. It still would seem like a and- and that's not the way most any satisfying scientific explanation works out when I give you an excellent Shin for any higher level, property,
fluidity of water or the brittleness of glass in terms of its micro constituents? Well, then, that explanation actually does run through and conserves your into? about how things function at a lower level so as to appear as they do on a higher level And so it is, I would argue, even with the exam, Well, you just gave of life, so you said that three years ago or even seventy years ago. Perhaps let me get my dates right. It's more like Eighty years ago, people felt that, we would never have a satisfactory explanation of what life is or how life energy of life relates to physical structure how heredity could be a mere mechanism and how you know the healing of disease or from wounds could be just a matter of chemistry but, of course, with the advent of molecular biology and other insights we fit.
All of that out, without really without remainder and therefore vitalism or a notion that there has to be any kind of life. It in matter that has out the window that's another analogy that doesn't really get at how mysterious consciousness is because something reproduction or growth or healing from injury. That really can be explained. Mechanistically and the and our our intuitions run through there. So they can see the billet e issue for me, with the hard problem isn't so much a statement about what is true is not that I doubt that Khan business can be an emergent property of information processing, because it's so difficult to conceive or impossible to conceive how that works. But it is, A statement about the seeming limits of explanation. It sounds to me that it, whatever put in the space provided, will still sound like the,
statement of a miracle which is it really analogous to how to take a nap cosmology. The idea that everything including the laws of nature, emerge. Just out of nothing right like just the things that loaded into being now. That may, in fact, be true, but I would argue- or at least it seems to Maine that it's inconceivable or uninterpretable, or it's not understandable. It's it's is the statement of a miracle, and so that's it's really my my fondness for the hard problem is, as a matter of pissed Amala g more than it is ontology useful for your no mention so many in Horton points that I don't really know where to start. So maybe we should just start say technically, My problem is that phenomenal properties only normal
logically supervene on functional properties, but not logically, that is the conscious properties of sweetness or redness or whatever the bad perceives Is determined by information flow in its brain in this world, under the laws of nature holding in this world there are other worlds where we could imagine that the bed is a zombie or with exactly that information flow in its brain, that there could always be a functional Isomorph to SAM right, some some entity that, the same functions on a certain level of granularity but which instantiates, no phenomenal properties, Thomas, I I want to jump in here for one second 'cause. I want people to understand the distinction you're making and you used. Some turn terms, that will lose most people who are not Phyllis quickly train. So you, I think you you get on that consciousness, Norma logically supervenes upon the physical or something like that you should.
Pack. That, and also logically means under the laws of nature holding in our universe, now It could be other universes, logically possible worlds in which these laws of nature do not hold. So the idea is that conscious. This is determined from below from the brain. May only hold in this world with these laws of nature, but it's not conceptually something that may hold across all possible worlds. That's the idea that that is the mystery that you are trying to isolate at the mystery consists in the fact that we can always imagine that SAM Harris is a zombie. Is that he would talk. He won't even talk about his emotions and his color experiences, but he would not have any
spectre. That's the idea, that's the miss! Well, I would strike Addi slightly different emphasis here at Thomas just to catch people up. There is this argument. That is a I don't know that originates with Chalmers and he certainly made good use of it in his book, but that this idea that we can conceive. Of a zombie which is a being that functions, an appears exactly like a human being, but it has no conscious experience. The lights are not on in a zombie. It's just a perfect. A humanoid robot that has no subjectivity or qualitative experience. Now the fact that we can Imagine such a thing does not not even slightly suggests that such a thing is possible. It just maybe that in order to get something that functions like a human being and seems like a I mean from the outside consciousness, is always going to be necessary or will always come along for the ride and I'm just eggnog. Take us to whether or not that's the
and you know I think, as we develop ai, we may learn more and more about whether or not that's the case or cease to find it intellectually interesting. So I'm not arguing from the side of it's conceivable that there could be a zombie SAM and therefore there's a hard problem of con this is more that whatever I imagine the explanation to be the idea that you know the the lights are not on, and then they come on by virtue of some complexity in the system. Some complexity doesn't explain anything Exit is not good, but then you can keep change. I mean you keep changing the now and whether it's information, integration or or yeah sure sure sure so, whatever the answer is, and there have been various answers proffered in recent decades, it still sounds like a just a brute fact that does
actually explain anything, and that's that again, it's not the way other sign civic explanations, even with respect to life function. Well, the last point may not be right so, but what you're actually getting it? is what is the value of intuitions? Can We demands of a good theory of consciousness that it gives us an intuitive, feeling. This is right now, I understood it. We would never ask this of a theoretical physicists if they tell us something about but eleven dimensions in string theory. Nobody would say this is completely counterintuitive. This has nothing to do with my life world. This is just brute facts. There stipulating We just trust these people, they know mass. They have theories with high predictive how are they are very smart and we don't dim- and this intuition
I would say we actually do. This- has been fame Lee, what has been so unsafe, satisfying about quantum mechanics which is today that no one you're, not not even Richard Feynman, can pretend to understand it. All the physicist can say is that the math works out and has immense predictive value, but it's still. That is the you know, it weigh it, it could be enough. It could be enough it, and I take your point about the limit of in mission in that in our intuitions were not designed by evolution for us to grasp reality as it is. Our intuitions were were designed to avoid getting hit over the head by another eight or to mate, with his sister. Our intuitions are very crude, but again we use search, intuitions that we have. You know whether mathematical or otherwise till average ourselves into areas where our intuitions or incense, intuitions and certainly our folks, psychological intuitions are not good. So I can
follow you there, but it's still just seems to be the case. That consciousness provides some kind of extra impediments here. So take something like platform, pendant so like if we assume that there's nothing match cool about, having computer made of meat and consciousness. Is as mind is as intelligence is clearly platform independent and therefore we could, in principle build such as computers that were non biological. How would we move in your you from having characterized the neural correlate of consciousness in people into being confident that the computers that seem to emulate that functionally and informational e or themselves conscious. What I'm imagining the future of ai will very likely look like is that we will build computers that pass the turing test.
With flying colors whether or not we figured out the neural correlate of consciousness in apes like ourselves, we will build computers that pass the turing test and it seemed conscious to us, but unless we fully understand how consciousness emerges. We won't know whether they're conscious, they might say their conscious, they might seem even more conscious than we are and we will sort of inside of the problem, and I know you think that as I do that the fact of the matter, whether or not they are conscious is hugely important ethically speaking, and it would be monstrous to create computers that could suffer. So, let's perhaps bring the platform independence issue into this conversation, and I know I've, been talking a lot, I just I would want to kind of give you the full landscape of my prejudice and confusion. So the can you run over it. It's all very interesting and of course I fully understand what you mean, but we have to you know, have to think about. Intuitions
I'm a little bit. They have a long, evolutionary history. If I have an intuition that an explanation is satisfactory, it is, it is itself a kind of conscious experience. Unless you've ever thought about this there's not only a phenomenology of redness, there's also Phenomenology of I just know this. But I don't know for what reason I know it or where the knowledge comes from and in many cases intuitive knowledge is fantastic. It comes from
This knowledge from the world of our ancestors just think about social cognition. You know, if you have to accept this intuition, this car is dangerous or is she is a good person? This is a way of computing itself. It doesn't generate sentences in your head, but intuitions. Now the question is: could we ever be intuitive? You set us all right. I think we can not because our theory of Khan's, This will also tell us what is selfish and water from space asking prospective, and that is something we will not be able to ever crossed into Egypt. You what's coming out right to come back to your question. You know that for a number of years on strictly argued against even risking and all
all states in machines. We should in no way try attempt to create conscious machines or even get close, because we might cause a cascade. You know of suffering. We might think increase the overall amount of suffering in the universe, and just because of this reason it's very important to have a theory consciousness. We must have one. So what would we do if we had to go on or a correlate of consciousness? That was your question, hardware doesn't matter. We need to know the flow of information. What is the computation that is carried out? Then we have to describe this on the right level of conceptual grammar, granularity, meaning watch corresponds to my experience of rightness watt in that information flow is minimally sufficient for my into it.
Sing that we will never understand consciousness. What is minimally sufficient for my sense of self and so forth, and if we have that map from our own phenomenology too fine grained, computational descriptions. Then we can see Is this instantiated in a machine or not the problem. Brother is that machines could have forms of suffering or forms of cell food that we cannot even grasp because they're so million and so different from our biological form of you know, conscious experience or emotion maybe they would develop it and we wouldn't see it. Maybe it is already there and we wouldn't discover it so there's, certainly a great problem in you know across spaces spaces of consciousness. Conscious experience
just as with the bat you're never going to understand? What does it feel like to be the bad? I mean to hear the echo of your own ultrasonics calls? Is it like hearing. I've heard people say no, it's the dominant modality for the bed, it's for the bad. It's like seeing other people say no, it's scanning a surface. It must be a tactile experience for the bad. It's like feeling a surface to fly through that echo, and that is if it has data formats, as I call it internal data formats that we don't have in sensory processing. That is something we will never how it feels to instantiate these data formats and that may be may be happening with your machines as well right just on this point of echolocation.
Don't know if this is analogous to what a bad experiences but contrary to what most people assume, we can echolocate to some degree. If you, if you just hold your hand in front of your face, an hum and then move your hand back and forth you'll. You will notice that you're humming reveals to you, the nation of your hand, so you can be a. You can be a very bad bat if you want to try this at home. So little. Let's talk about the self because, for example, you raised the the topic of the self, which is another thing that people find inscrutable and it of course relates to con. And it is quite different and I want to you know you written a lot about the self and I haven't read everything you've written, but I feel like there's some significant agreement here between the way review it and
the way I didn't even traditional views that one meets in in the east, so I can be in Buddhism or invite to Vedanta that the self, as most people conceive of it is an illusion, so I just want to I put that I think we want. We want to distinguish between the whole person. I would not say that people are illusions, but most people walking around with a sense that they have a self inside their heads that there's a subject in the head. A thinker of thoughts and answer of experience, this is kind of an unchanging, rider on the horse of consciousness that just get scary. Through from one moment to another and has various adventures but is in some sense, never quite changed by them, the center of the whole drama. How do you
think about the self and in what sense, are people confused about it? Well, when I looked at the problem of consciousness, I thought if I was an anti reductionist, the most interesting the most pressing problem is, is what is a first person purpose active and what would it mean for me, information processing system to have a sense of self food and a first person perspective originating from it. This is the really difficult problem to solve. I think- and I have just as you been guilty of this illusion- Talkin popular writings in the past. Of course it is conceptual. Nonsense to say the self is an illusion, because, as a term, illusion means that there is a sensory misrepresentation something where an outside stimulus actually exists,
hello summation is something where there's no stimulus and you still have a misrepresentation, but this sense of self hood is only partly a sense experience. Of course, it is grounded in what I call the intercept itself model in inner sensations in the body in effect, stone in the emotions in country by or regulation all these are important layers, but we have this robust misrepresentation of Trans temporal identity, and I have always firmly said you know uh, probably that none of your listeners ever was or had itself and that we can explain
and everything we want to scientifically explain about self consciousness in a much more parsimonious way with much simpler explanations, assumptions much simpler, structural assumptions. So for me the question is in assists that very obviously has no immortal soul or no self. We don't find anything like that in the brain. How does this robust sense of self Hood image, because that is really counter intuitive right. Imagine people would try to believe that there is no such thing as a self. You cannot believe this and if you want to believe this, nobody can believe it. Well, let me let me stop you there, because I not only yeah yeah yeah, I mean I, I not only believe it I experienced it. I don't know if you have any significant experience with.
Station or psychedelics or have you have you gone down that path to see if you could confirm any of the the claim here. Oh I thought you knew that what I I do. I just I don't know how far it's gone. Well, I'm uh regular practitioner for almost forty one years. I've done many retreats so on the Month of September, of your regular meditator, four hundred and forty one years, I've been in many ashrams monasteries in Asia, Asia done long retreats. What practice have you done? principally on retreat? Well, basically, just classic straight possono Shama so the the whole um classical thing, You can imagine that if one is into this for four decades, what has phases and tries out things and experiments too, but it's just the classical thing here and I've got.
So many Buddhist silent, retreats friends, yeah yeah great so then when you say that no one can believe or imagine that the self is illusion or that the self doesn't exist or that it's a hallucination to use your other term. What do you mean because clearly, people haven't experienced people claim have an experience of losing their sense of self losing the sense that there's think thinker in addition to thoughts or that there's a here behind their eyes this thinker, if that is that it? If that's the whole thing, if it's just the cognitive self model coming to rest, if you just mean this, your experience of effortless mindfulness, seeing out of emptiness is that is enough for selflessness, then I know what you're talking about, but I think there's a much deeper problem behind it.
So somebody really reports about selflessness and states where there was no self and your this conservative, stubborn analytical arm shirts for loss of her who cannot imagine consciousness without self consciousness. There will always say this is a powerful normative self contradiction. If you weren't there, why do you have an auto body? graphical memory of it, if you will, there? This is not an episode of your life, so actually I don't have to you know, believe your phenomenological reports about this, because they contain a logical contradiction. That's one aspect, Another aspect: is you, don't you may not imagine how many philosophers I have,
It's a lack of imagination that they always conflate self consciousness and consciousness. There are so many people who think that this perspectival centeredness is a necessary aspect, but I can give a technical reason for this. If you try to mentally imagine a selfless experience. That is a mental action, the act of imagination and it creates a sense of effort, subtle sense of effort and that's the Selfina's, that's where the selfhood sits in Indy ACT of trying to imagine it. So you cannot imagine it it's just like Thomas, how do in this beautiful one thousand nine hundred and eighty six folks view from nowhere thought he could imagine the universe from nowhere. But of course this wasn't it I don't think this was not a mystical experience. This was just an arm chair, thought, experiment of a philosopher
where he never lost the sense of self. So I mean I'm absolutely certain that these experiences six this over the centuries and that they're also, probably the most valuable states of consciousness human beings, can experience. I also think that I could explain a major role in getting many people on to take this dimension. Sirius many of the meditation teachers in America has taken the stand. Art route which for us to start with LSD in the sixties, then see this is not sustainable, go to it. Asia become monks and then return and become teachers here that was the standard route for many tool for us in it experience Eagle dissolution was a pharmacological studios and then suddenly
You see the depth and the meaning that Astaire, but at the same time, see this is a little risky and it's not sustainable, go about it in another way. That was certainly my route. I did it later, but I basically re capitulated. The 60s curriculum for myself in the 80s. Yes, we both have. You are, I think, not so much aware of the commonalities, but we've had rough It is on for Carol Egg, but I wasn't aware of that. Yet I hope I hope yours weren't as rough as mine for people want the details of mine. They can see my book waking up you putting in a difficult situation because you asked me to admit to it it's just us, Thomas I'll, just put it like that either you're a
researcher or you are not. And of course there are many many people who are just academic onto a plane errors. You know in consciousness research, but I think anybody who has a serious Anna, deep interest in these issues. They will not talk, they will just try but everything you know classical hallucinogens, as well as serious as ST meditation practice. That's how you tell, nobody has a serious interest in the growth of knowledge and not only an interest. An academic career and that's also a part of the problem with a lot of the academic research, but that's another podcast. So Sousa Thomas. I want to backtrack to something you said before you made a distinction between the cognitive self and and other things you might mean by self, and so, when I'm talking about the dissolution,
of the sense of self it comes with station or can come with meditation. You said that it will, if that's just the self you mean well, then of course you can, you can experience selflessness, but there's it runs quite a bit deeper than that. But what do you mean? How are you, how are you demarcating the cognitive self from other forms? Well, so I have this theory. It's called the self model theory of subjectivity There's a seven hundred page unreadable book called being no one with MIT press it's not not unreadable. It's it's a if you are a student of philosophy. It's a wonderful book to read, it is very thick. However, I can get through Chalmers they can get through. You start with section eight two before we do anything h2 right, so I'm saying is, is that you have no self, but that you have a self model active in
in your brain and naturally evolved representational structure, and that is transparent, transparent means that you cannot experience it as a representation. That is right now, as you're listening to me and to SAM. You are identifying yourself with the content of your own self model and you're completely glued into it as an organism. So what I've been interested in is: is this phenomenology of identification? How is the attachment created the attachment to a thought? The attachment to an effective state yes attachment to a body, and in the last thirty years I've treated this you're ready as a research program and shield in many different layers of the human so model in my research. Now, the last four pay papers, I've written where on mind wondering and the cognitive self model, and so the structure that
I have developed a theory about what it actually means to fall into this issue, of being a mental agent, a thinker of thoughts, but before this I've worked for many years on embodiment and I've asked the question which is maybe even more important. What is actually the most simple form of self. Would I don't know if you've ever asked yourself this SAM? What is the simplest form of having the selfie feeling? and I think, if say, you were sitting in meditation and you're in an emotionally neutral state and there is complete quiet yes. In your mind, this is seeing out of emptiness there still spotty sitting there.
So I think there is an elementary sense of self hood that we call spatial temporal self location and I've we've try to manipulate in virtual reality, experiments and done a lot of empirical work on. So even with the completely quiet man mind, there is still bodily self identification and there's a deep bodily sense of self, and the question is what forms of meditation or what hallucinogens actually dissolve this this bodily here and now Well, that's much more fundamental fundamental. Of course the thinker of thoughts can go. If that is enough to say the self is dissolved. I think that's a pretty accessible thing that many people can have it's a great question What is the most rudimentary form of self and For me, I think it is a matter of
feeling like a locus of attention or really just attention? It's like in the tibetan tradition, in the dogs, in tradition, in the tibetan tradition, they talk about dualistic fixation. You know kind of subject, object perception an this. In my experience can cyst, even if the feeling of the body disappears. So if you're in meditation and your body just van is your eyes are closed, say in the most people if they close their eyes now they still, they still feel all of the perceptual sign things that they have a body, they'll feel the heaviness of their body in space, or they feel tingling and or pressure or temperature, but in various states of meditation is- when you get very concentrated you can lose the feel the body is certainly the sense of bound dissolves and you're no longer that there's no shape at all to your body and there's no pain or, sensations. So one thing that supports the:
where you're going is a very interesting research from dream research. There is a rare sub category of dreams, bodyless dreams and what we find is there are dreams where you just experience yourself as an extension. This point in space, but the interesting thing, just as you just said it is the sense of self- is stable and you can control your visual attention in the dream, so I think, the most simple form of mental agency way below a symbolic thought is actually this experience of controlling the focus of attention. That's a way of interaction and in my last four papers, I've written a lot about this and in meditation I think.
If should take the standard bending has income model of the personal meditation. You alternate between mental action and let it go so your mind wandering phase one phase two there's better awareness suddenly realized. Oh I've lost it again. Then you act. Then you control your attention and go back to your breath. But then you have to do two more things. One is you have to let go of the subtle negative feeling of discipline It meant with yourself I'm never going to learn. This is I'm just. I probably have a good genetic deficit or something like this, and the other thing you have to let go is the sense that sense effort that was involved in bringing your attention back to the breath and if you then can rest
or a certain while in a non fragmented state in an effortless form of mindfulness, then you have no sense of self and you will be disrupted out of this by the next mind wandering face this. Is this cycle? Is the usual cycle for the Pasona Meditator, and the interesting thing is that you you do just what you say: there is a sense of self there is this the biggest problem, meditation is the meditator. As everybody knows, the person that has set down once a reward has read interesting books by SAM Paris and now there's this goal stage. You know and now is trying to cokes or manipulate him or herself into something that is rewarding and that's that's a form of self and its efforts
and I think you are actually very right- the most subtle form of sell food on the non bodily level is at what I call attentional agency in my writings. From the little experience of agency that is created when controlling your attention of and, of course, in meditation that eventually has to go. You know it has to go. It strikes me that Identification, with anything from the point of view of Tension is fairly paradoxical, like how is it that we come to feel identical to thought that has arisen, and then you know we haven't seen it arrives and it'll say you don't know how to meditate. The default experience is to feel identical to the neck, what what is in fact an object in consciousness. It is, it is something
that is being known from outside itself. Otherwise you couldn't know it your consciousness or your attention couldn't be aware of it. You know first it isn't there and now it's there, whether it's an image or a piece of language. In the mind I mean you say something so say. I say something that you don't agree with the voice in your head head, so that's not right or or he's made a mistake there or and, and that feels like you, and yet it is just an appearance in consciousness. How do you think out I identification well, it's end. It is a horrible source of fragmentation. I don't know if you've notice is there is this. If you let it be, there's this whole, six quality of the wholeness of the moment and the moment this identification is there there's this fragmentation of the space of consciousness in it, it starts to break apart,
in two different elements. So I have a theory about it. It's called the cognitive affordance theory um. So there's this old there's a a neuro scientist in the US is called porch music, and he has a wonderful theory saying that what the brain actually does is it navigates an affordance landscape? Now affordances is an old chips. Onion SIRI from psychology which says what you actually perceive is not the chair, but this is something I could sit on and you don't perceive perceive the glass of water. But this is something I could reach, for that is the actual content of the perception and that there is a lot of neuroscientific data that actually supports that now what I'm saying is that the mind wandering network, which is
becoming known in the brain right now is actually it it's not entirely in overlap with the default mode network icon. The Dmn plus Network, but we don't have to go into neuroscience here, so it actually sends set up an internal affordance landscape. That is the biological function So all these faults that you see a rise in meditation are actually pro. Two cells are prone to thoughts that are Coleman or words to you. First soon me I am the last of my current. I will never come again.
If you don't see me right, so the idea is that prefrontal cortex executed fair enough latch on to elements from the default mode network just continuously confused in you, and then you are a dentist, to put it differently. To give you an image, I think when I'm sitting in meditation Ann one thought after another comes. It is like a long line of children queuing up standing in front of you in every child raises his arm and it wants to be seen. I wants to be briefly
being hugged else. They won't go away. You know they won't go away and what you actually have to do is you have to notice every single one of these proto thoughts and as it were briefly press pick them up, hold them to your chest and then let them go and then the next child stands in line, and if you do this for a certain, while just observing them without an observer in a quality of choiceless awareness, let them come let don't press them, no effort just see them. Then they also wither away. That's the classical wisdom. That is what human beings have discovered centuries ago, and if you do this for a certain wild after a couple of one thousand children there. Maybe you know
look in the lion suddenly. So I think there is something like an affordance landscape in the brain, and these are affordances foreigner action. It's not like the chair or the glass of water, but the cognitive or an effective state. That says feel me now: memory, when she said to you, can we not just be friends and then the next thought comes and says. Think me attach me so there's this internal competition for attention, And if you can break that mode of latching onto then you can break the identification and you can see that what people call conscious thought actually is. At least I claimed that a sub personal process. It is something like your breath or your heartbeat. It's
a local process in the brain, and if you manage to see it without catching entangled in it, I can't a new way of seeing emerges. But I guess you understand all of this very well yeah. Well, it's so interesting, again just to connect with where most people, certainly people who haven't spent a lot of time practicing meditation will be they'll more or less just be taking it on, our authority, that any of what we're talking about now makes sense. There is a there there as far as experiencing a LOS of a sense of self, but I've often thought that people act really lose their sense of self. But I'm much more often than we give them credit, for. We have a phrase like to lose oneself and one's work. You know you're concentrating on something and there's no,
distance between you and the thing you're fixated on, and then you know the time flies and this happens in athletics. It happens in many kinds of peak experiences and these have been called flow experiences, but even in just the ordinary experience of being distracted, even most fragmented way. I feel like that. The sense self is often dimmed to the point of Nothing is because it's not like there is a self there and meditation destroys it. There is no self there, there's nothing to destroy, and so people without the experience being vivid to them they're often experiencing this interruption of the self sense, and and again when they get, diverted into anything whether it's by a thought or by use of attention they get fixated on something it's only retro. Spec Tive Lee that when they come back to themselves that they feel so that they have a self that has been carried through in each of those moments. In fact,
We use the somewhere, you you draw the analogy to Anna's nosy aware you know people can be paralyzed and based neurological injury, usually to the happens in women. Strangely, the the neurologist Vs Ramachandran has written about this a lot, but in usually to the the right parietal cortex will lead to. Legion on the left. The person will not be able to move her arm, but there can be a denial of this ability It has to be a bit more more and more injuries than just the pride. All that you know you need frontal injury there as well, but there's a denial seems to come with the bridal injury, so you have people who are completely unaware of this deficit and can be made aware of it for the briefest amount of time. But you draw the analogy from Ennis Ignazia this denial of paralysis, to
kind of denial of just what it's like to be us in terms of the self model. Yes, I mean it's beautiful to bring this up in very interesting question. Just to continue your line of thought this. Could we suffer from something like introspective neglect? Could we have systematically blind spots in built blind spots in not noticing the disk She annuities in our sense of self worth, and they are everywhere. That's what's so beautiful about this explosion of work on mind wondering now, because it shows that so many things that philosophers have thought about what thought he is our false. We are all losing it hundreds of times every day I will never forget. I gave a talk to
eminent analytical philosophers about mind ordering and how and we have these spontaneous tasks in their unrelated thoughts, and this really excellent she says, what do you mean? I've been listening to your talk for one hour. Are you saying I've not been an epistemic subject all the time, time. Is it oh yeah, you lost lost it hundreds of times briefly for three hundred microseconds and it just didn't compute. You know, and it got to the point. I told him there all these empirical data. If you test people we are off target for two thousand two hundred and fifty percent of our daytime, and we don't realize it. We have introspective neglect and we are off target for completely out of control mentally for two slash three of our conscious lifetime. If you take your dream life as well and then
got to this point at this. Other wonderful, american philosopher is actually completely denied the empirical data and said I know what this is we are intellectual athletes only normal people. Have this, and actually just the opposite is true. You know they are as top notch intellectuals, so unaware and so immersed in their cognitive activities, that they don't and see this and uh
booty of this new mic. Wondering research is that it shows how discontinuous this metal level of self would actually is. I have formulated an empirical hypothesis. I call it the self representation of blink. So I'm saying there must be these black shutters and that it must be possible to experimentally detectors, but you don't have to do science or meditate. Every normal person can see this if you're sitting on the bus stop, and you just watch your thoughts between two thoughts. There is something between two hundred What is seeing that? It's not the singer, it's not the attending. So what is it? That is it's as simple as that. That is aware of the gap between two thoughts. It's
analogous to what happens with a visual suppression during a sick, but you know you're moving your eye from point to point in your visual field. And in that movement, and we have as as just our default mechanism, we suppress data from the visual core. So the the visual scene isn't continually lurching around with every eye movement. We essentially are fun only blind in those moments, it's analogous. It seems to me what you describe with thought we're not noticing the breaks in the chain, exactly automatic, filling, and less were training to notice them. Yes, an isn't it important to train that yeah. It's amazing. I mean this this to speak culturally and as a matter of the the strange history of ideas it is, amazing lack, facility and lack of awareness we have managed to accomplish in the west. On this point, the interest
action really never got off the ground in the west. You know we had a brief moment with people like William James who seem to think there was something to be learned by paying attention to the flow of conscious experience, but then, with the dawn of behaviorism and the way in which we Standable reasons trying to, and the mind by understanding the brain and behavior merely we really have to import some this methodology and some of these ideas from the east? It's perhaps not an accident that science as we know it was born in the west, but in the e there really has never been any question that there's something of import both psychologically and ethically, to be understood, and it can only be understood directly by turning
are powers of awareness, Appan themselves, ipon experience directly. We also have to see I mean the human self. Modeled is a product of evolution of millions of years, but it opened the door as opposed to the chimpanzee self model. To cultural evolution, but this process is not in our interest. It also creates a lot of suffering. The self model we have as human beings is really something that brings a lot of conscious suffering into the world, and it was not optimized to make us happy. It was optimized to make his greedy to have many children to continuously compete and there are many nasty inventions of mother nature that have been embedded into our self model like, for instance, self esteem? This sense of self worth
Is that drives human beings forward? You know and and make some follow, religions and stuff like that, so it is really important also to understand the foundations of this process. That has thought us here from two perspectives. At the same time, from an internal first person perspective and from the perspective of science and what is actually better is if we could have a zero methodology. That's one step ahead, and I think that is the great contribution at asian cultures and asian from the. So if you have made, but we also have to admit I mean I understand you have traveled in Asia Alot just like I have done these countries are all in terribly bad shape. You know in terms of funeral hospitals, freedom of speech, Democrat
make a culture, it hasn't served him well in certain other aspects where So we have all the technology and rational thinking and are burning out with acquired attention deficit disorders here in an ever accelerating nano technological environment. So the question actually is KEN one. Get this together in a secular way, in a really productive way in an evidence base and rational yeah. I fully agree that the culture has not yet been created that fully embodies the total play human wisdom. At this point I mean clearly we need rationality and Empiricism third person. I'll western empiricism of the sort that is typical of western science
and we also need an understanding of where third person methods stop or or their cash value can only be expressed by being paired with. More and more clear Observ, nation of what it's like to be us in a first person sense and in all This has to be wrapped up in an ethical worldview which prioritizes what we want to prioritize. And what does it mean to live a good life? And what does it mean for seven billion people to attempt that project, but we're not there politically economically really, but I view it as a kind of you know. It just has to be an ongoing conversation that does not respect cultural and
graphical and linguistic boundaries? We have no right to be provincial anymore and we just have to take the best ideas wherever we find them. That's very nice you put, but I think I mean if you want to take a little walk on the darker side to that This is happening. What you've just described is happening. There are hundreds of thousands, probably millions of people on, planet already trying in their own way to do what you just said, but then again, I think mankind really has to go to a sort of bottleneck in the next two centuries. There are all these things happening in the outer world? Everybody knows this climate change, population, growth and so forth, but there are, a lot of difficult things also happening in the inner world. So what science springs is
for instance, insight into our own mortality and we are all deeply. Eighty percent of humankind on this planet are deeply anchored in systems of mortality, denial and I think many of the spiritual traditions that you've mentioned that have developed as practical knowledge of meditation are also um systems of March if you do not, and and that's just something that moves and fascinates me for a long time, how you can one hand you can house a super for loss of jurors, who are just so smart and have perfect, cultivated intellectual honesty and rationality and on the side, logical level are really crippled human beings. You know eating
live by their own ambition somewhere on the autism spectrum, not able to feel their own body. But then, on the other hand, you can meet. As I have done, you can meet these monks and nuns with fifteen thousand hours of practice and they say come come come to us. Tell us about your with open. Tell us about your consciousness philosophy in the west. We want to know all about it, and then you say well We don't believe in reincarnation and then not on the shutters go down, and all that. Open minded ness is suddenly gone and it is very difficult. There are many Buddhists in the West now who pose as secular Buddhists in a certain sense, but am I suspicious Is that I don't know I'd really be interested in your opinion about to set
for many long term. Practitioners, serious practitioners- there some delusional court threw it because they need something to motivate themselves to sustain a systematic practice for so many years. There is something on touch will always some irrational belief system. So there are often not liberated from tradition and I've received this as a problem. I don't know if you have the same XP yeah. Well long ago, I wrote a short article in a boot magazine in the Shambhala magazine, titled, killing the Buddha and there. I argue that you know with the Buddhists, insofar as that there's wisdom to be brought from Buddhism at the current moment, Buddhists or fans of it teaching and fans of meditation practice,
to get out of the religion, business, and It's not it's still not a very popular position, although I would point out that, let's say you believed in the doctrine of karma and rebirth as a boot, The logic of it is really counter too to what most people assume it's not that rebirth is a good. It's not actually classical death denial it's not that people want there to be rebirth. If you, if you told it tibetan Lama, we prove there was such thing as rebirth and when you're dead, you're dead. That would actually be good news from a buddhist point of view, because they conceive of this wheel of becoming to be musically unsatisfactory, and that the project is of getting off this wheel of rebirth no law, grasping at experience. Actually, this connects nicely to the final topic. I think we should touch here, because you sent me this wonderful short essay that you wrote, which I think is still unpublished, titled, but
artificial antinatalism. This is a hard phrase for most people to parse here, but it connects here because there is a what is what you call a an existence bias that we all have, which is we assume that exist, is a good thing and what you do is it describe what you do in that essay, and this connects. Really everything we've talked about here. Matters of life and death: artificial intelligence. The prospect of building conscious artificial intelligence give us the summary of of your thinking there. I have been involved a little bit in the ethics of artificial intelligence, There's a lot going on here, constant public debate, but I think this debate is just about to become stale everybody parrots each other and it's the same old arguments, but there's a much deeper dimension to it and we actually have a noted it so
this bond scenario, short forbidden and artificial engine engine is a kind of a thought experiment. You goes like this. Let's suppose the full blown super intelligence has come into existence. It's also more autonomously. So. Optimizing itself as an enormous, factual knowledge and general domain Indypendent intelligence. It has irrevocably become much more intelligent in german use. All of the internet, all of mankind. Scientific knowledge is continuously expanding its database now uhm. We accept this. We are its creators. We acknowledge this fact. It's an epistemic authority to us, but it is also that follows from that and epistemic authority in moral cognition, so
we also recognize. This aspect is much better in thinking about ethics in an analytical way. So for us it's an established fact that the Super intelligence is an epistemic authority in the field of ethical and moral, read, nsp, never land, that is, there is no value alignment problem. It will never try to dominate us. It doesn't compete with us. The system fully respects our interests and devalues we originally gave to it Fundamentally altruistic supports us, including political counseling. Social engineering do what you're describing is the absolute best possible case. This is exactly
We do everything correctly in building artificial intelligence. This is where we would hope to arrive. Yes, but the whole point of the thought experiment is, is that even this may present us with a grade risk Becaus, For intelligence knows many things which we don't know about ourselves, for instance about introspective neglect and things like that. Knows many things. We don't understand, sees the patterns. Behavior ask extract abstract. Features of our brain dynamics and so forth, I also has a deep knowledge of the cognitive biases that evolution has put into our cognitive self model. This is why we cannot really think in a rational evidence based manner about ethics. But it also know something else:
it knows that the conscious states of all sentient beings which emerged on this planet, if you look at them from the outside, are much more frequently characterized by suffering and frustrated preferences And these things would ever be able to discover themselves. So it knows that evolutionary mechanisms of our self modeling itself, deception that is built into our nervous systems. We cannot discover this. So he concludes. We are unable to act in our own enlightened, best interest and- and it also discovers that we met,
We shouldn't only maximize happiness, but that we should actually reduce suffering, because that is much more urgent. It just covers philosophical points that negative feelings and bio systems are not just a mirror image of positive feelings that there's a much higher sense of urgency. For change and suffering and so on and so forth that there's a phenomenology of losing control and using coherence of the self and it just to the conclusion in the end uhm that, because of this asymmetry between suffering and joy, isn't even a higher value, namely minimizing suffering and all sentient creatures. So it's an ethical super.
It's not only in terms of processing speed, but it comes to quality, new results. What altruism actually means, and now it comes to the result that it would be in our own best interest to not. Conceptually. It knows that no entity can suffer from its own non existence, and it certainly concludes that non existence is in the best interest of all future self conscious beings on this. It knows empirically that we are
unable to realize this fact, because we have this thing existence bias, and that is what you asked about. I find this one of the most fascinating topics. I've dubbed it existence bias because that may be actually the core of self hood um. This craving for eternally continued existence. A superintelligence had no difficulty imagined to turn itself off if it came to the rational conclusion,
you know it would be best to normally do not exist anymore. A superintelligence would do that. But we are these biological anti entropic systems which have this horrible craving for existence and fear of death spilled into us, and this makes us unused able to see certain very important truths about our own conscious way of being in this world and the interesting project, I think, would be to understand what that exists. Inspired
is if we look at the best computational models of the human brain. We have right now, there's a continuous prediction going on the top down prediction that you will still exist in one hundred milliseconds and that you will still exist in five minutes and then, through a process, that's technically called embodied active inference. We changed the world to make this hypothesis come true, and that is really. I think that is the core of self Hood in beings like us, this craving for existence- and I think it's very important scientifically, as well as in terms of spiritual practice to arrive at
a deeper understanding of what that actually is. What is this a craving for existence? Have you thought about it? Sam, not much frankly, I I I see Aubrey say it in myself, but it is paradoxical. For instance, when you Think about what worries you about death. Most people assume that losing experience in having the lights go out is part of the problem, but of course we do that every night we fall asleep There are very few people who are clutching the sheets in terror as they drop off to sleep because they don't want to lose their seeing hearing smelling, tasting touching thinking, experience an in fact those nights. You can't lose it, and you're suffering from insomnia know that becomes its own torture. You just want the lights to go out, you know as quickly as possible
so we're not afraid of being subjectively canceled. I would leave aside for the moment whether or not sleep is analogous to truly losing consciousness. I'm actually not so sure, but there's no question that, from the point of view of most of us, it seems to be an experience or your your life is totally interrupted, which is to say you don't subjectively exist any longer, at least for the periods of deep sleep. So. We're, not worried about that, and then in to get a handle on. What does worry us? We have to think all of the things will be missing. We think about the people. We love being bereaved and missing us, and then we think about the future states of the work. That we won't be around to see
But again that is somewhat I mean you know just to follow that the logic of your a I hear. You know we a nonexistent people can't suffer, and so we won't actually be suffering our own absence anymore than we suffered over the fact that we weren't around one thousand years ago or one hundred years ago, I mean the fact that you and in Paris in the year. Eighteen fifty doesn't bother you, presumably. So why should bother you that you won't be there a hundred years, hence Why should it bother you that you're not there right now? You know Paris is getting along without either of us at the moment perfectly well and we're not to experience it so this existence biases somewhat paradoxical, though I certainly feel it Yes, there's two things. I want to ask you about in this thought experiment, because there are a couple of assumptions there that seemed to motivate it. One is that there is asymmetry between the ethical significance of
suffering and well being right, so that suffering is much worse. And well being is good, or at least potentially good. You don't really open the door to the possibility that weather Not there is this: it rain now, in terms of the creatures that exist. It may not be something that need, be there for all time because presume. So. There is some way of creating minds that are far are happier than our own. You know some future generation of humanity. That is more integrated with its machines or has genetic engineered itself to suffer less and spend more time in awe at the beauty of the cosmos, there's some way improving our circumstance. With the help of this very Monday, I that would take life
more reliably worth living. Are you actually sceptical about that for the large number of sentient beings on this planet? Yes, so there is an empirical promise in the thought experiment about which I've just given you some parts in the part of the premise is that the AI discovers the functional architecture of our brain. Is so rigid that it cannot be changed. I mean another possibility is, of course, in a I help us to all to become enlightened. I mean this sounds much to California. For me, I don't like to go there, but one impurity and her co premise is that this can be done. And to change the suffering to happiness ratio in human beings in an interesting way, but this may be just false
We might be able to do it and a I might be able to help us. Maybe we've had in a super intelligence on this planet. Two thousand five hundred years ago I mean you're just buddhist. Maybe you have noticed that what I'm asking for here actually is a normal computational model of the craving for existence, and this has been mentioned as far but Anna in the second noble truth, the source for existence. This has been conceptually isolated in the core of the Buddhists teachings. So I think this will be a highly relevant topic for computational, modeling and so forth, But I don't want to avoid your question. I think uh. I think there are three circles of suffering on this planet. That's the way, I think it for myself. There seven point three billion human beings that suffered error, sixty billion um
farm animals in factory farming that suffered for human beings. We don't know how much number of wild animals suffering most of the conscious wild animals have true preferences. One is too live as long as possible, and the second is to procreate, but more than ninety percent of them get eaten before they can even procreate. So there's massive pressure his frustration and one could argue that, even if CA, I would make all human beings into enlightened vegan buddhas. So all the factory thing would stop and all human beings would start to suffer. There would still be this ocean of suffering around us, the wild animal suffering. So I think your phone goes deeper into this. This world is really a very problematic place to be and and the early Buddhist. I think have said that too, but I won't
to add one more point that took be up your alley to uhm. I think the human self model has something like a chasemore. Riff so we have this low level self model that implements these high biological imperatives, which say you must not die under no circumstances. We are survival machines optimized for millions of years, and post to everybody else on the planet. We have this brand new carpet herself model that tells us your predicted Verizon will shrink to zero. You will die so we information gets into ourselves model that should not be there. You know it creates a constant internal,
conflict, the explicit, conscious knowledge about our own march. How would she with the deeper levels in the human cell model- and that's, I think, has to do with the evolution of religion? I think religions are what I call it at that just usual systems that help human beings immortality. Do not And I think also that, like the criticism of the jihadi fundamentalist as somebody who's very irrational, is actually a bit superficial, because what is actually happening is we calls unconscious fear of in these other cultures. That is why they are ready to sacrifice themselves it's not only that they need a little bit off. You know rational argument and evidence. It's a very deep mechanism. In their self model that gets touched unconsciously if they
how we live, and what science tells you about the brain and all that I would just add there, though, that if you we believe in Paradise, in this case, to connect with the example of of a jihadist who's willing to sacrifice his life. Well, then, it becomes a perfectly rational thing to do. There's not much to overcome if your denial of death is so explicit and persuasive to you that you, because you have a belief that death isn't real right. It's a denial of the signal. Of life, this life is meaningless when you weigh it against eternity. I think it is psychologically normal person who would be in the of death, denial and suffering. This existence bias. You discussed in this other contacts with a different belief system, is quite happy to die,
as he knows that he's going somewhere better. That's what worries me about the consequences of these specific ideas. I mean these memes are contagious, it's possible to acquire belief even we late in life, and it changes the operating destructions of human life- totally it's just. It makes it completely rational to sacrifice your life and you've been in this case, kill as many infidels or apostates as you can in the pro process and it remains rational. Given certain assumptions, I fully agree with everything you say is excellent that you bring it up, but I think in this historical phase, that is actually one of the deepest problems we have as human kind. That about eighty percent of us are still somehow anchored in metaphysical worldview's images of men in some delusional system that works for them as their form of mortality, denial.
And now science and modern philosophy is taking all this away from us. As a matter of fact, it already has taken it away and that's the problem. That's also the bottleneck. I've been talking about for the next two hundred years, because against these viruses. This contagious delusional models of reality, you just as you've analyzed it National argument doesn't help, and the big question is, of course, What will help and maybe, understanding their suffering and what really drives them into the identifying. With these, I like to call them alternative ontologies too, that would help but you've already you're, already suspicious, I'm pretty pessimistic that week. Achieve this on a global level, and you know that I'm active
in the Jordano Bruno Foundation in Germany said like the brights in America, and I think, don't you agree that a lot of secular humanism this day is a bit superficial. I mean you get these people who proudly declare I'm an atheist. I don't believe in God, I believe in evolution are not afraid of dying, and then there think there cool, then there's a certain complacency, and I think that is enough already, and it's not enough. I think we need something sxu on the rise, spiritual tradition, or something like that. I've been thinking about this for for many years ever been really. I kind of stumbled into my identity as a as an atheist, because it was my first book. I wrote a book a very critical of real
but I actually never use the word atheism in the book, a in the end of faith, and it was only after that book was published, and you had this phenomenon of that really started in publishing. First, with a new, a yes and you had me, and and Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens and Dan Dennett, being treated as a kind of four headed atheist in terms of the reception. Are books got It was only then that I got inducted into this conversation: about atheism per say. But yes, I'm on my account is really just a way of clearing the space for better conversations. It's not itself philosophy. It's not an ethics is not a worldview an and it certainly doesn't select for people who are especially in touch some of the things we've been talking about. Let's say you know the utility of meditation say or the
who are most sensitive to the prospect of radically transforming conscious experience moment to moment the people who have sought out various spiritual technologies, whether it's psychedelics or meditation or yoga, or something have tended, do that in a context which is it's riddled with religious fusion. You know you ate sweaters new age, philosophy or or some traditional contempt of context. They become Buddhist. They become christian Contemp. What is a grab that you know the concepts from half a dozen traditions that they find attractive and jettison the rest and they wind up with something like you know: what D Pok, Chopra petals to people, and it's philosophically and scientifically the indefensible in many respects and then therefore becomes object of ridicule by atheists, who are very here in what they don't want to endorse. But, yes, there's.
Clearly, what we need is a spiritual for have a better word and I always use that word in scare quotes and ethical worldview and methodology to put in place of all of the indefensible versions that have come to us courtesy of religion? It has to be embraced in the spirit of science and logical and empirical rigor, but clearly there's more to the story than just understand in the brain and the mind in third person terms, and we have to figure out what we mean by a life worth living, what, horizons of the well being of conscious creatures actually encompass. How good is it possible to feel personally and collectively, as a human being given our circumstance, and how do we bill
a civilization that maximizes for the flourishing of conscious creatures like ourselves and make it could be that you that the thought experiment you just gave us is in fact true, and we are now stumbling toward a future, where we will discover that the wisest source of ethics in the universe we know about, tells us that it's better to pull the plug and that's an interesting scenario, but I suspect that it's. Possible that our our navigation of the space of possible experiences open ended than that and it's just it. We to find out how to nap the gate in a land cape of mind and possible minds where it's possible to suffer excruciating and pointless misery for a very long time and it's possible to move as far away from that, as we can conceive into spaces of just
purely creative aesthetically, beautiful intellectually rewarding contact with the cosmos. Both within us and without us and you know what whether we can drag the hyenas and the rats and the squid along with us into to do to do more than just suffer. I you know I I'm skeptical, but Jon, you know maybe we'll just be yeah putting MDMA in the water supply, but as we leave this planet and wish them well well yes, you know it's true the wrinkle all the things you have just said is where the two, is really converged. I think where we really see things in the same way, I think the mindfulness movement worldwide now has has a real superficiality,
problem and the mirror images ready. The secular humanism movement has a superficiality problem two, and I mean one question why one might ask is if we don't need something like a consciousness: ethics, that's caught term. I've coined so We complement traditional ethics, not only by asking what is a good action, but that we systematically asked what is a good state of consciousness. What states of consciousness. We want to foster or cultivate in our societies, which states of consciousness can we so our children, which should we for supon animals or not, should any states of consciousness be legal in our society or I don't know if how many of your listeners have ever ask themselves questions in what state of consciousness
so would I eventually like to die. That's also an important question, and maybe a discussion about the value of different states of consciousness could get us where we, to go. There's much more to talk about. We. We really have just scratched the surface of our areas of common interest here, but see that we are at the end of about two hours and I'm getting to the end of my studio time here, so I I think we should just table it for next time, Thomas, because there that we've got more to do and I'll have you back on the podcast and we will get into the details. Ok, it was really great to get to meet you, but I haven't. Search, does two things. I really need to say, because I've listened to your podcast and I think, you've really achieved something here. You've created a novel public space where there previously was none and in difficult times like this, is, I think, quite an achievement, and the second thing I wanted to say is the way that
you are organizing and orchestrating. Intellectuel resistance against the moron is really admirable. I believe from our european perspective. I just want to say you should have no misperception I've got my bit of media attention in my life too, and I know how this field, mail, all the the track, the trolls on twitter, but there's something you should never forget and that there's very large, silent majority of us out here I agree with your initiative people whom you will never meet and who never say anything even in remote countries like Germany we're all on your side. So just please keep going full steam ahead. Well, thank saying that it's great to hear and I will and I'll be back and we'll do it together. Alright, thanks for having me thank you so much if you find
podcast, valuable. There are many ways you can support it review it on Itunes or Stitcher or wherever you happen to listen to it, you can share, on social media with your friends. You can blog about it. Discuss it on your own podcast or you can support it directly and you can do this I subscribe in through my website at Samharris, DOT, org and there find subscriber only content which includes my ask me anything episodes you also get access to advance tickets to my live events as well as streaming video of some of these events, and you also get to hear the bonus questions from any of these.
Transcript generated on 2019-10-31.