Vos Cogito Ergo Sum Ego

Our sensory experience and our consciousness are (we presume) effects of the electrochemical activity of the brain. The “real” world we experience is an internal virtuality, a generated reality, literally computed by our brains. For example the light we think we see is a complex sensation that occurs due to the operation of the living flesh inside the skull case. Naturally we assume that our sensorium is modulated by an outer reality, a physical universe that we interpret, understand and predict on the basis of our internal experience, but how could we ever verify this? We can never be completely sure that there actually is an independent external reality. Perhaps all we can say with some degree of confidence is that we evidently inhabit an environment that may or may not be real. However even this conclusion is problematic.

There is a more subtle problem that calls the distinction between self and environment into question. The same computational substrate ie our brain tissue, that gives rise to our sense of self also generates the sense experience that we interpret as the effects of an environment, be it an external physical reality, an artificially computed Matrix, or indeed a pure hallucination of unknown source. This is all too convenient. Consider that there is an interactional dichotomy apparent in our ongoing experience of the “virtuality”, the construct that we believe to be the environment. There are aspects of the interactions that occur within the virtuality that seem to obey our volition, that react causally to us, for example the movement of our bodies, the sequence of our thoughts, those components we deem to be elements or extensions of the self. Then there are interactions that seem invariant to our will, that do not obey our volition as the elements of self do. For example our sense reactions to energy fields or inanimate matter, or our percepts conveying the agency of non self actors. These invariants we interpret as aspects of an environment in which self is embedded. The question arises as to whether there is in fact an environment  separate from self or are these merely alternate interpretations of the same underlying (computational) process, distinguished by some inherent information theoretic mechanism perhaps even a simple operator like direction of causal flow. Interactions that have an outward causal direction, that seem to obey volitional thought forms, come to underpin an  abstraction that holds as self. Interactions that have an inward affective direction, that are invariant to our volition, that we seem to have involuntary sense reactions to, come to underpin an abstraction we identify as non self, the environment. The distinction may be only in the direction or degree of causative reactivity of information flows that are interacting within the virtuality.

What would happen if the environment itself was to obey our volition? We anticipate now the creation of brain interface technologies that will give to us the ability to immerse ourselves in computationally generated environments entirely under our control, utterly fictitious realms that can be shaped at will, that will obey our volition and violate the causal invariances that perhaps underpin the mechanism for delineating self from non-self. Despite immersion in a rich sensory field, the net effect of having an environment completely malleable to ones volition might be to divorce the self from any sense of immersion at all, in effect placing the self in a disconnected void having no reference points by which to demarcate conscious from non conscious. The apparent distinction between self and non self might fade or be entirely erased. Paradoxically, a hive mind – a virtuality inhabited by many independent minds having unconstrained access to a free flow of thought forms originating independently of self, would provide frames of reference by which self could regain its subjective locality. Descartes in the hive must assert, “Vos cogito ergo sum ego”, You think, therefore I am.

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