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George Mobus
Associate Professor, Computing & Software Systems, Institute of Technology, University of Washington Tacoma
Interests: Systems Science: systems science is the science of understanding how the world works. it is at the core of every other science. Given our energy and material consumption, and governance of our systems will we be able to sustain all life for the long-run. The Human Condition: the human brain has evolved , our capacity to share abstract/conceptual information, and our ability to cooperate in complex ways have advanced us to dominate the Ecos. but, should we confiscate nature to our selfish purposes? Do we have the wisdom to find a balance between our own desires, and the good for the whole earth?
Recent Activity
Prior Postings in the Series Exploring Consciousness Who is “I” Talking to Myself, Who is Listening? The Epitome of Consciousness Toward Self-Aware Robots What would it even mean that a robot could be self-aware? In my last several posts I... Continue reading
Posted Jun 27, 2014 at Question Everything
... For another year. It's the Solstice, one of my five days of reflective observation, so a happy holiday to all. What I tend to reflect on with the Summer Solstice is peaks. It seems we are seeing a lot... Continue reading
Posted Jun 21, 2014 at Question Everything
@UniverseWeAre, Acknowledge the fact that the "unit" of survival is the whole social system. However, all the external things that you say are as much a part of us seems to me to be overstating the relations. In systems science we deal with explicit external relations as flows into and out of the system of interest's boundary. An individual communicates with the external world and those communications do indeed alter both, but the strength of interconnection between the external and between components on the internal are quite different. We are loosely coupled with the entities in our environment but strongly coupled with respect to our own insides. The sense of self started long before humans or even mammals evolved. In my first posting on this subject I show how a very simple brain can monitor self vs. other. Your statement that consciousness emerged from the whole system must certainly be true in the evolutionary sense. However, it also emerges in individuals with brains competent to support it in the development sense. It takes both individual consciousness and the interactions between individuals to push it further evolutionarily. Not sure about the flowers! George
Toggle Commented May 24, 2014 on The Epitome of Consciousness at Question Everything
@Aboc, ... appears to be disagreeing with you. And this is why we will never agree on anything and eventually the whole will shrink bottom-up. Honestly I can't tell (see below). But you are right about the kind of discourse that we see in the world. Our own congress is an excellent example of the worst kind. ---------------------------------------- @Tom R., Thanks. I will do my best! ---------------------------------------- @Robin, I am having great difficulty understanding what you are trying to convey. Take for example: That concept, like all concepts, lacks awareness. If you and I are using the words 'concept' and 'awareness' with the same meanings then I am puzzled as to what this could possibly mean. I don't think I or anyone has said something like "concepts have awareness." It might be inferred that since concepts are instantiated in neural assemblages and since those neurons are themselves responsive to the messages that arrive at their synapses (i.e. have a kind of awareness perhaps) and become activated, bringing the concept to mind or conscious awareness, then the whole concept possesses some biological level of awareness. However, I suspect your definition of awareness precludes this kind of inference. Any effort to intellectually manipulate the concept called "consciousness" will miss it altogether. Perhaps Aboc is right. You seem to be disagreeing with my "intellectual" exercise as being a fools errand. And your link to a Vedic scholar's web site confirms my suspicion that your claims are based on teachings rather than scientific investigations. Well that is fine. I remind you that I have had a dip in the Vedic literature myself and found it unsatisfying (nor did the mere practice of meditation satisfy my insatiable curiosity about what was going on in the mind). We read, for example, the Rig Veda, Mandala Nine, over and over. We were told not to try to interpret the meanings of the verses but to simply let the images "play" in our minds - that the deeper meanings would emerge in our consciousness. I guess I was a failure at that exercise. I kept on wondering what those deeper meanings might be and never really found out. So I prefer the scientific route to understanding. The knower that you claim cannot be known becomes an article of faith (if it cannot be known). The route I pursue has actually done quite well in coming to understanding of what this "knower" is and how it operates. Not by introspection alone, but by scientific exploration combined with introspection. I'll leave the Vedic understanding to the Vedic scholars. George
Toggle Commented May 21, 2014 on The Epitome of Consciousness at Question Everything
@Robin, Don't you think you should explain this claim? What exactly do you mean by invoking a "thing" called consciousness in the "functions" of the brain? What do you mean by an "abstraction" of mind? Recognized by whom? What evidence? As you can see by this meager bibliography the scientific study of consciousness is well advanced and none of these authors have made any similar claim to my knowledge. The prevailing scientific theory is that the brain, in its normal functioning, produces a phenomenal experience of being aware of the world and the self and the interactions that transpire between. Lower animals have lower degrees of consciousness and humans have some unique higher degrees of consciousness. Please cite the science that backs up your proclamation. George
Toggle Commented May 18, 2014 on The Epitome of Consciousness at Question Everything
The Origin of Self In the prior three postings on the subject: Exploration of Consciousness Part 1 - Exploring Consciousness Part 2 - Who is I? Part 3 - Talking to Myself: Who is Listening? I have been developing a... Continue reading
Posted May 17, 2014 at Question Everything
@Bruce P., Good question! For the moment I will just point to Damasio's theory that mirror neurons are involved in what he describes as the brain's capacity to build models of self and others. He posits that mirror neurons (among other facilities) are involved in what he originally described as an "as-if loop" in which the brain processes somatic milieu images (and their changes) as if they were really happening in the body but actually aren't. That is the brain is simulating a body state change that would happen if the organism had actually been affected by an external event (e.g. an emotional evocation). His explanation is that this is an efficient form of anticipation that can prime the motor circuits but not actually activate them. The basis is, presumably, that the neocortex's model of the world is predicting an impending state change and rather than wait for the actual event before reacting the as-if loop preps the circuits to respond more quickly when confirmation arrives via, say, the limbic inputs. How this relates to the development of language, etc. is an interesting domain to explore. In future postings I intend to start exploring actual brain structures and functions. I am doing this in preparation for developing my simulated brain-based robot system. I have explored the role of mirror neurons in empathy in my working papers on sapience, but perhaps a more explicit exploration in line with your question would be fruitful. Meanwhile, if you have any ideas please feel free to post. George
The Story of Me We are a chatty lot! Is there a point to all of this verbiage? Why do we talk to others and to ourselves? We can do something that other animals can't do, or can't do nearly... Continue reading
Posted Apr 30, 2014 at Question Everything
The Semantic Trap It seems nearly impossible for a writer tackling the consciousness problem to avoid a linguistic trap. Ultimately, when we describe consciousness as an act of ‘observing’ ourselves in the act of observing the environment and our physical... Continue reading
Posted Apr 19, 2014 at Question Everything
The Multiple Threads of My Interests The last several months have been really exciting for me. The book project is wrapping up and we should be getting the final manuscript draft to the publisher in early June. But several other... Continue reading
Posted Apr 13, 2014 at Question Everything
Scientists Find a 'Hole' in Most Human Brains I thought I would share this with readers. I have been busy working with some neuroscientists to test a hypothesis regarding the lack of sapience in the majority of human beings. This... Continue reading
Posted Apr 1, 2014 at Question Everything
It's good to be alive! Spring is my absolutely favorite time of year. The leaves are starting to bud on most of the understory bushes, the cherry blossoms are bursting out, the days are generally warmer... What isn't to love... Continue reading
Posted Mar 20, 2014 at Question Everything
@Jerry, Indeed this has been my speculation re: the evolution of sapiens coinciding with the evolution of eusociality (some are now using the term hyper-sociality). My further speculation is that sociality that has a stronger sense of WE (the I as part of the whole) is going to be more strongly selected in the future. That would be nice to see. ------------------------------------- @BC, Interesting conversation. I've read Marcus' work and know one of the others from references. Still, I think that conversation clearly demonstrates the difficulties with the subject. But science has tackled many difficult subjects. So.... ----------------------------------- @Cantab, If, by "QE" you mean Question Everything, I'm not abandoning questions. Its just that I have asked the questions I was interested in about the consequences of the human condition. And the answers seem to be pretty well set so no need to rehash old news. -------------------------------------- @~PM, I took a quick look and will pursue it when I have a bit more time. Thanks for the link. -------------------------------------- @St. Roy, I won't swear on a bible that I'll never say another word about collapse. But it will have to take some really new developments to catch my interest again! Sorry. I just want to enjoy doing my research while I can. -------------------------------------- @Robin D. The "meat robot"/zombie arguments have been repeated many times without shedding much light on the subject. I and a number of other researchers are thinking it is a strawman argument. Yes, of course the experience of consciousness is personal/subjective. Nevertheless there are neural correlates with the experience of people that can be understood. Moreover, what we seek is an evolutionary mechanism for consciousness' emergence. I am perfectly happy to experience my own consciousness without worrying about whether others are or are not similarly conscious. The claim is that any sufficiently complex information processing entity capable of adaptation/learning can exhibit all of the properties that would lead me to "believe" they are conscious of their environments and themselves. I don't need to directly experience their consciousness to have sufficient evidence that they are experiencing something like what I experience. ------------------------------------- To all readers, News on the book progress. We got the final green light and have a firm date to deliver the final draft to the publisher. It's been a long haul. I will never write another textbook again!!!! George
Toggle Commented Mar 1, 2014 on Exploring Consciousness at Question Everything
@Ruben, Thanks for the quotations and link. The issue of "conscious control" is a complex one. There is a lot of evidence that most of our actions are generated subconsciously and only several milliseconds later comes to conscious awareness, giving the illusion of the conscious self having "willed" the action. However, that doesn't mean that conscious awareness does not have a more profound role in behavior control. I will be going into this in a future post. The short answer is that conscious awareness provides a long-term feedback control over learning in the subconscious (tacit knowledge). I don't have an immediate link, however I suggest looking up the work of Hanna Damasio (Antonio's wife and co-worker). She has done a lot of the imaging studies. A. Damasio's book, "Descartes' Error" contains a lot of overview. Strongly recommend it. ---------------------------------------- Everyone else, Interesting comments. I said this was perilous territory to explore. Humans have been marveling at their experience of consciousness, probably since before we were even fully sapiens. And we have inherited many "stories" and conceptualizations about it. There seem to have emerged two basic schools of thought that place the origin of the phenomenon of consciousness. One school considers consciousness as having origin in the Universe as a whole; that is it is a property of the Universes itself and not emergent from biology. The other school holds that consciousness (whatever it is) is a property of sufficiently complex brains or material analogs (e.g. a sentient computer). How to resolve this dichotomy? I doubt that consciousness studies will ever actually resolve it to the "liking" of everybody. This is one of those areas that is guided by belief (ideology if you will). And those who hold a belief are not likely to be persuaded by argument even when backed up with evidence (look at the religious disbelief in evolution). In my future posts I will likely steer clear of these more philosophical musings. I am interested in what we can find out about consciousness by observing how it seems to come out of complex brains and to test those ideas by building complex simulations that might support the "materialist" version. Demonstration of the emergence of consciousness from biology cannot preclude that there is some grander property of the Universe that, perhaps, nudges biological evolution toward the end we see in humans. But that is, as far as I can see, speculation. PS. In my prior post I did say I was done with proselytizing re: the end of humanity. So please, can comments be kept to the scope of the issue I am talking about. There are still plenty of blogs out there that deal with collapse, etc. I've said all I have to say about the issue. George
Toggle Commented Feb 23, 2014 on Exploring Consciousness at Question Everything
Dangerous Territory? Perhaps fools do rush in where wise men fear to tread. The territory we call consciousness studies is fraught with dangers, intellectual as well a professional (for a scientist). Philosophers have never felt any danger (sometimes quite the... Continue reading
Posted Feb 17, 2014 at Question Everything
What follows is actually something that has been brewing for a while. I started writing this a little over a year ago. A recent e-mail list exchange with some other people who have been blogging, mostly about things like climate... Continue reading
Posted Feb 3, 2014 at Question Everything
The Formulaic SOTU You know the drill. The POTUS starts by spotlighting some highlights of what s/he thinks is going well in the US. Here are our strengths, as a country - Blah, blah, blah - look at us, we're... Continue reading
Posted Jan 27, 2014 at Question Everything
Joseph Tainter's Thesis In The Collapse of Complex Societies Tainter posits that many historical civilizations have collapsed due to a very subtle phenomenon, one hard to perceive for both those who live through it and those historians who later study... Continue reading
Posted Jan 10, 2014 at Question Everything
@RE, Can't help you further. Got other chores to take care of. My suggestion is that you go to a library that subscribes and read the article further. Besides who said this one model promises to have all the answers. Maybe you could build a model that clarifies.
@Tony, Thanks for the pointer. -------------------------------------- @RE, The article I refer to is the Nature (primary) article, not the HuffPo article. It points out how a dehydration effect, due to warming, at lower altitudes allows solar penetration further into the atmosphere and thus increases heating. Please just click on the link! George
@Tom, I prefer not to think of these as "predictions" as much as simply focusing on the trends as well as exposing the underlying forces. The world, our civilizations, and even all of us as individuals are chaotic systems, inherently unpredictable. Yet we can say something useful about the attractor basin we seem to be caught in. ----------------------------------- @Molly, I STRONGLY disagree here. I am NO mental genius but I have understood… Or, having met you and reading some past comments, may I suggest that you are above average in sapience! Ergo, you can grasp the systemeness of it all. I know several certified geniuses who, in my oh-so-humble opinion can't see the forest for the bark on the single little tree that they study. It isn't intelligence per se that causes someone to step back an look at the whole. It might help when it comes to linking details together. But it isn't a prerequisite for grasping the significance of major patterns. When I claim that people are stupid I also mean that they are so low in sapience that they don't even think to step back. They haven't the wisdom. They can still be clever but definitely not wise. In my mind, "willful" ignorance implies that they actually do know the reality but are stubbornly ignoring it for some other purpose. Or they might suspect there is some truth to what is being said, but refuse to look at the evidence for fear of discovering that truth. Either way the cause is a lack of wisdom. And it is that lack that I have claimed all along is the reason for our situation. Furthermore, what I am saying is that lack is not a willful act, but the result of coevolution of our cultures and our species resulting from the advent of agriculture. Ergo, I cannot "blame" people like Inhofe or Dimon for their stupidity any more than I can blame someone with an IQ of 60 for not learning calculus. We need to be careful in assessing blame by projecting a supposed attribute (like stubborn refusal to accept a scientific model as possibly correct) without actually testing that attribution. Take Inhofe for example. I have read some of his correspondences with a former aid who was in charge of orchestrating the testimonies of several global warming deniers, about six years ago. In those he earnestly laid out his strong belief that god's plan was at work and that humans simply were too puny to cause it. Since these were supposedly private communiques I suspect he was being completely honest (but who can really know, right?) My point is that a more parsimonious (and in my view more likely) explanation is that the vast majority of people are really like Inhofe in that they simply, as a result of being low on the sapience scale, fell victims to early ideological (religious and political) beliefs and are inherently unable to extricate themselves no matter how much science you throw at them. At least that's my take. -------------------------------------- @Tony, Referring to your article: First thanks for the referal! And thanks for introducing Kahan. I will have to follow up there. To other readers, if you haven't already done so, I recommend you take a look at Tony's link. My problem with this idea of scientific literacy (or sufficient scientific literacy) comes from my own experiences trying to teach computer and systems science. My general impression is that the majority of minds I encounter are really not capable of obtaining what I would consider sufficient literacy. I have not completely ruled out the possibility that this incapacity is inherent, but neither am I convinced that it is instilled via our education system, which teaches subjects in disciplinary silos as opposed to holistically. Perhaps it is a combination of both. But the fact is that the vast majority of people coming through the American education system do not either voluntarily or mandatorily get exposed to a sampling of all of the natural sciences. Moreover, they never get exposed to systems science which could actually help them integrate the other sciences into a holistic picture of how the world works. I have come to accept the likelihood that naught but a handful of people in this world are able to, on their own recognizance, pursue an education sufficient to allow them to treat all of the sciences as an integrated whole of knowledge. And by knowledge I mean "understanding", not just an accumulation of facts and figures. BTW: I don't think this is a Republican vs. Democrat (or associated ideologies) thing, or as you characterize them, as Hierarch Individualists vs. Egalitarian Communitarians. Liberal minded people are more willing to accept what others, especially scientists, say where conservatives are generally skeptical of anything said that goes against their ideology. But in my experience neither mind-set is really cognizant of the actual science. That is, neither is truly scientifically literate especially. I hang more with liberals than conservatives, and I assure you that does not mean they are broadly educated in the sciences. --------------------------------------- @Robin L. Good sentiment, nicely put. But to me the issue isn't one of merely accepting what good people say, it is understanding what they mean. The issue of scientific literacy isn't just about understanding the efficacy of science as a way of knowing, but of being able to make legitimate judgments about science-based claims. Science, and scientists, are not automatically right about every claim. When new claims emerge (like my hypothesis about sapience), the public needs to be able to judge for themselves or be skeptical until more evidence is provided. This is especially true in fields that have political or health implications. The public should not act on a mere conjecture just because a bonafide scientist claims it (and this is especially the case for claims communicated through the media!) With adequate scientific literacy comes tacit knowledge to apply to judgment of such claims. The conservatives were skeptical of global warming for the wrong reasons. They reacted against the issue because they did understand the implication that shutting down the burning of fossil fuels would put an end to their precious capitalism-profit-growth economy -- the basis of their wealth production. They translated their beliefs into the rhetoric of skepticism but not because they were judging based on their scientific knowledge. In the case of global warming, someone who did understand basic physics and chemistry would have been skeptical in the early days because the open question was still, could the measured increases in warming be due to human-base causes. The models were still crude. Many of my (non-climatologist) scientist friends held back acceptance of the thesis on the basis that the link was insufficiently made at that time. This was, I think, the proper form of skepticism. As Carl Sagan said, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence -- too true. So what happened. The scientists (geologists, climatologist, archeologist - you name it) got to work digging deeper, for physical evidence as well as improved models. And the developments of evidence painted an increasingly clear picture of the dynamics of climate and found extraordinary evidence of humans holding the smoking gun. That kind of skepticism is healthy and drives science as a enduring process. But it comes from adequate scientific literacy. And, again, I think there are only a handful of people on this planet who have the capacity to develop it. I am glad that there are many people who are accepting of what science tells us about the nature of the universe and can live their lives without necessarily completely understanding the science. But, as you point out, it really then becomes a matter of politics and dueling ideologies and the Republicans have the bigger guns. ------------------------------------- @BC, Don't get me wrong. I am a big "fan" of Nietzsche. However the claim that crowds and epochs are generally insane must count as a personal observation of his. I know of no scientific study that purports to provide evidence of the efficacy of this observation. OTOH: If the vast majority of individuals are of low sapience (in my observation space) then the aggregate failures of judgment must, in hindsight, make it appear that the crowds of that time were insane. If one parses history carefully they can find evidence that actors carried out what, in the context of the moment, seemed rational, perhaps even just and noble to the beneficiaries. But the end result for the world as a whole was insane. For example take Harry Truman's decision to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki. To many Americans this act put a rapid end to WWII in the Pacific and saved many American lives. Not so much for the Japanese. And it put the Soviets on notice resulting in the nuclear arms race. That was truly insane (MAD - mutually assured destruction!) --------------------------------------- @RE, The link was in the post. Remember, that is the thing about science; it often shows our intuitions are inadequate! George
You Are Here It's that time of year again for reflections on the past year, assessment of our current situation, and projections into the new year. The truth is I've grown weary of writing the same thing over and over... Continue reading
Posted Jan 1, 2014 at Question Everything
I've been working on something for New Year's morning. If you want to have a happy day - don't read it until much later. OTOH: if you can handle a bit of sobering reality at the start of what should... Continue reading
Posted Dec 30, 2013 at Question Everything
My Ritual This is one of my four ‘holidays.’ Most years it is cloudy on Dec. 21 (or whichever day the Solstice comes on) in my part of the world. When it isn't, by some miracle, I have a little... Continue reading
Posted Dec 21, 2013 at Question Everything
Of course I am saddened by the passing of Nelson Mandela. In my opinion he was one of the wisest leaders on this planet for a very long time. I am heartened to see the global reaction and broad acknowledgement... Continue reading
Posted Dec 6, 2013 at Question Everything