I still toss and turn about this all the time, by the way- it’s probably the most enduring obsession of my childhood, and a nontrivial chunk of what drove me to things like geology, programming, ratspace, and even stuff you wouldn’t expect like a fondness for time travel stories or Li Po poems.

One neuron is just a cell. Many neurons, arranged just so, is a person. Qualia, interiority, volition, values, all spectacularly inexplicable in physical terms. A whole world of imagination, captured in miniature as a net with just the right pattern of string. It’s so fucking goetic. Arrange these symbols in a circle, and a demon appears, using some dread fire to give meaning to form and animate base matter. “The hard problem”, they call it.

My hard problem isn’t that it works, as such. This, I can accept, although not with full equanimity. It’s that it demonstrates something about the cosmos, because everything demonstrates something about the cosmos, and I cannot for the life of me see through that fog. The universe is not billiard balls and it’s not negative-probability waves moving through fields, because when you arrange symbols in a circle you can summon a demon. That was there from the beginning, latent at the big bang that kicked us all off. But all we have is this one thing, this tiny little biosphere on a tiny little world that stumbled blindly in to the right incantations, and everywhere else we look it’s just billiard balls as far as the eye can see. This is not to say that ‘is there extraterrestrial life?’ is the most important question, though of course it’s instrumental, and the Fermi Paradox is maddening in this context as well. But the deeper question is, ‘why in the everliving tiddlywinks does a universe with a demon-summoning ritual in it pretend to be mechanical except in this one narrow thing?’ Where’s the rest of the magic system?

And now we’re closing in on perfecting the ritual ourselves, not understanding a damn thing of course, only marginally less blind than the evolutionary process that first succeeded in us. We zero in on intelligence, the one part of all this that we’ve managed to make tractable in analytical terms, and use that to bootstrap ourselves toward something that hopefully, hopefully shares all the rest. Demons summoning demons (of course it spirals out to infinity almost immediately, how could it not?), and maybe the new ones will be able to tell us what the universe is and how we happened within it. Makes sense as a strategy, I suppose.


#philosophy #that one post with the thing #(yes I *did* dig up this post and the last one as part of the same train of thought) #this probably deserves some warning tag but I am not sure what #apocalypse cw?

this-goodly-frame asked: What do you think is the connection between language and consciousness — or is there even necessarily a connection? Does consciousness somehow emerge from language? Or is language at least a necessary precondition for consciousness?


  1. I don’t know what you mean by “consciousness.” The kinds of things people usually claim that there is such a thing as “consciousness” is pretty vague, and often conflates various sorts of phenomena.
  2. I don’t think language is a precondition for consciousness. (And there aren’t any languages that lack language-like components.) I think that while language probably has an effect on consciousness, it is not the causal antecedent of consciousness, and the two may not even be in the same causal chain.



That’s a really good point actually — I think even defining what consciousness *is* is really hard, let alone trying to explain it. And definitely agree that there are different phenomena get lumped under “consciousness,” and different people may be thinking of somewhat different things.

I guess there are two phenomena I tend to think of as “consciousness” — one, having an internal subjective experience / phenomenology, and two (this one is more squishy and meta), being “aware” of oneself as an entity with subjective experience. If that makes any sense?



Yeah, this is basically what I mean.

It is sort of “hard” to explain what it means to be a conscious person, and I think this is at least as much a fact about the nature of consciousness as it is about the nature of language. It’s difficult to explain consciousness on the basis of the words we use for it.

I guess one of my ideas here is that consciousness and language (and other language-like things, really) are not really distinct categories — they are (or can be) intertwined. It’s not that language causes consciousness, but rather that the two are linked: it’s hard to describe a conscious being without referring to language (e.g. “a human being who speaks English”), and there are things that are conscious that we can talk about only in terms of the words we use for consciousness (e.g. a single “I”). (If you know something about the nature of consciousness and not much about language, this may sound very hard to believe, but in practice a lot of things we claim about language seem to apply to consciousness, and vice versa — the things we claim about consciousness are also things we claim about language, etc.)

Another thing I’ve wondered is, can the two be separated? Consciousness may be a complex phenomenon, but if you get all the parts and recombine them (which is a standard approach to explaining stuff like consciousness), can you get a system that’s fully conscious and also entirely non-language-like? I doubt it, but it’d be really cool if there were such a thing.



It’s definitely an interesting question — but I’d have to take a page from your book and ask you what you mean by “language.” Like, what would make a system “entirely non-language like”? Is any symbolic or representational process “language-like,” as you’re thinking of it?



The answer I’m giving here is just a very vague answer. It’s also a bad answer, and I don’t think it’s a very productive one.

There’s no good way to draw a line between things that are “linguistic” and things that aren’t, because there are so many ways to draw the line, and a lot of them don’t seem very informative.

There are certainly linguistic things that are non-symbolic and non-representational. For example, if you are reading this post, it might not be “about” anything at all, it could be some purely internal process without external referents. If you were reading this post, you would not be consciously aware of the words on this page, but rather you would be conscious of something else, the internal processing of information.

In general, I think language is much more of a process of internalization and abstraction than people normally think. It’s an important source of abstraction in both our internal experience and our external environment, but it’s not the only source of abstraction. You can abstract information from the outside in a non-language-like way — this is what, e.g., “pattern recognition” does. You can also have things that are internally abstract, without even using the words “symbols” or “semantics” to describe them. In this case, the abstraction is not driven by linguistic information alone.

You ask a fair question, but I don’t have a good answer — this is what I meant by “vague.”



There are certainly linguistic things that are non-symbolic and non-representational. For example, if you are reading this post, it might not be “about” anything at all, it could be some purely internal process without external referents.

You’re more right than you can possibly know, Frank


#Rob’s comment is exactly what I was thinking #computer generated text #philosophy #oh my god


is there like. Theory. about the definition of the self through the objects we surround ourselves with? i feel so much more like Myself ever since i got my shirt again and i am curious what the philosophy side of tumblr has to say about it

Off the top of my head there’s, but that’s more specifically about using external computation/storage to augment your brain.

While I do get the part-of-me feeling most strongly with computers, I occasionally get it with other stuff too. I’m not sure how much of it is just an autism not-liking-change thing, but there definitely does seem to also be an aspect of “affirming my identity as the sort of person who would have X”.

(I’m sure that’s the holy grail of marketing, but I think it very much *can* be both natural and healthy. I absolutely endorse my desire to be the sort of person who would have a utility belt.)

Clothing can have additional aspects: I think the feeling I get from wearing my Girl Guide jacket primarily operates through some of the same mechanisms as weighted blankets, feeling more comfortable and confident when well-covered.


#philosophy #reply via reblog #is the blue I see the same as the blue you see #clothing #transhumanism #autism

Six Times You Knew What Everyone Was Thinking (and one time you didn’t):



The King sits you down with his other two advisors, has you close your eyes, puts a hat on each of your heads. The hats will be either red or white, he says, with at least one red one. The first to speak up and name the color of their own hat wins the prize.

You open your eyes, see the other two advisors both with red hats staring at you. You all study each other, thinking. Silence. Silence. No one coming to a conclusion.

Ah, but in their silence it is obvious: if your hat were white, surely one of them would have figured it out already. Your hats all are red, of course.


You pass through a tunnel in a group of n where n>2 friends, wind blowing through your hair; you emerge from the darkness to see each of your friends with a smudge of soot on their foreheads. You laugh. You cannot help but laugh. They look hilarious! The moment they realize they have a smudge of soot on their foreheads, they will wipe it clean, of course, but for now all of you are laughing. You all will keep laughing as long as there is a spot of soot left to be seen.

You think, How inseparable you are from your friends, how your minds all work according to the same rules of logic! You can imagine what they are all thinking, right now, in their laughter; and they of you; and you are imaging them imagining you and so on ad infinitum. You watch them laughing and are looking into a hall of mirrors.

You think this is what knowing is.

In any case, so long as your minds all tick along at sufficiently different speeds, eventually, your faces will all be clean.

Keep reading


#storytime #philosophy


Believing the mailman is a serial killer is 100% reasonable if you are a dog and your entire species has been bred to believe that showing up unannounced and leaving right away is, like, the scariest thing.

Thanks to COVID, any boxes that get dropped off actually are a threat to the lives of everyone in the house. My dog does not know this, but he does have a justified true belief that all those containers are dangerous.

Any time there’s a knock on the door, it has one simple meaning: Gett yer case.


#oh my god #puns #covid19 #philosophy #illness mention


just a reminder to my new followers that if were ever able to cross the explanatory gap and share our color perception qualia with each other, proving finally that we all do see colors differently, my red is real as shit and youve been seeing crap fake red. so come to terms with your shit fake red while it lasts


#anything that makes me laugh this much deserves a reblog #qualia #discourse cw? #philosophy