thanks for inviting my photo to your party

Strange Loop -- book coverIn “I am a strange loop” (2007) Douglas Hofstadter proposes that the self, personal consciousness, is a pattern. Hofstadter notes that patterns exist at different levels of resolution, ie at different points on a spectrum of granularity, from coarse-grained to fine-grained.

Here’s an example: Jack and Jill are persons who know each other. Per Hofstadter’s idea, the knowledge of Jill in Jack’s mind is as much a valid part of Jill as Jill’s physical body is part of Jill. But the knowledge of Jill in Jack’s mind is “low res.” compared with the knowledge of Jill in her own mind — the former is “lower res.”, the latter is “higher res.”

Extending the idea: A photograph of Jill is part of Jill. A biography of Jill is part of Jill. Letters written by Jill are parts of Jill. Clothes worn by Jill are parts of Jill. After Jill’s death, memories of Jill in the minds of people who knew her in life, are parts of Jill. Every part and aspect of reality touched by Jill in any way, is part of Jill — the “Greater Jill”, the total, aggregated footprint of Jill upon Reality.

Perhaps the most significant difference between the various parts or aspects of Jill is the extent to which each is subject to change. Everything is subject to change, but some things change less than others. A digitized photograph of Jill uploaded to the internet is less subject to change than Jill’s physical body.

A useful way to think about it is in terms of process vs pattern. What’s the difference between a pattern and a process? Answer: change/movement. A process is a dynamic pattern. A pattern is a frozen process, a static process. The self, personal consciousness, in life is a process and in death is a pattern. After Jill’s death, the dynamic process “Jill” is frozen and what remains is the static pattern “Jill”, which resides in the minds of people who remember her and in photographs and other records.

Every process needs a substrate on which to “run”, on which to deploy itself. Computer software runs on a substrate of computer hardware. The process of delivering energy into the homes of people (currently!) runs on a substrate of metal wires. The process of removing personal waste from the homes of people runs on a substrate of pipes in the ground. The process of being a person runs on the substrate of a flesh-and-blood body. Consciousness/mind is a process that runs on the substrate of the brain.

Consciousness is a verb, not a noun.

A person is a composite monad comprising “software”, “hardware” and “data”. Mental content, the software, is deployed on a flesh-and-blood hardware substrate, the brain. The person’s experiences and interactions with the world are data.

When the substrate ends or is destroyed or vanishes into the mist, the process stops and can run no more. In the case of the process of being a person, when the body dies there’s no substrate on which the person can run, so the person runs no more. When the brain dies, consciousness/mind stops and can run no more unless and until another appropriate substrate takes the place of the brain.

But there’s nothing in principle preventing a process from running on multiple substrates, serially or in parallel. The death of the body does not necessarily mean the final and irreversible death of the personhood associated with that body. In principle, if and when another suitable substrate becomes available, the process of being that person could run again (as long as it had been appropriately stored in the interim!). Reincarnation is what happens when a new substrate becomes available on which the process of being a particular person can run again.

OK, but what happens to the process while it’s waiting for a new substrate to turn up? I don’t know. Perhaps it runs on the fundamental substrate on which the whole of reality runs: the Higgs Field? Could a process run on itself as substrate? Could a process itself give rise to a virtual substrate on which the process could run? Don’t know.

In principle, the substrate on which runs the process of being a person need not be organic, ie based on molecules of carbon. The substrate can be anything on which the process can successfully run. The substrate could, for example, be silicone-based (as in the case of the computer). But the substrate need not be material at all; it could be a “virtual substrate” comprised of abstract principles of internal logic.

There are many different types of immateriality, as many as the number of angels that can dance on the head of a bindu.

This post should be read as part of the suite of posts on "personhood" including: ""Getting even more personal", "How many people are you today?", "Living arrangements", and "Getting personal"."


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mgeorge said...

This is in line with morphic resonance [Rupert Sheldrake, 1981], the hypothesis that past forms or operations influence the present in some unknown way, as seen in mitosis, convergent bio-evolution and the synthesis of new compounds.

We naturally continue to hanker for physical substrates etc. despite the counter-intutive reality of quantum mechanics.

Nessa said...

You always give us so much to think about.

masterymistery said...

mgeorge, thanks for your comments --- insightful and informative, as ever. Do you think that homeopathy could be an example of morphic resonance at work, whereby "the memory of water" carries information about the original solute even where it has been so diluted that not even molecular traces remain?

Re quantum mechanics, I understand you to mean that nothing is material, not even matter, and that matter and energy are superficially different aspects of the same underlying reality. Please correct me if I have misunderstood.

masterymistery said...

Hi Nessa, thanks for stopping by and for your comment, which I find very encouraging. I'm delighted that you find the content thought provoking.

mgeorge said...

mastermystery, homeopathy has more modest claims - that relevant medical aspects of a substance are not only retained but enhanced when it is diluted. This is completely against current science. I use homeopathy while I fear mainstream medicine. I find it a good challenge to scientism - kneejerk dependence on science.

As to substrates, yes. "Ether" was postulated for a long time as conducting light in space, before quantum came along. However, we don't know whether quantum is the "truth". Prof. Neils Bohr said that if you are not shocked by quantum theory, you have not understood it. Of the little I have read, there is the e.g. of non-locality, paired sub-atomic particles diverging but behaving in synchrony. At the other end of the scale, in classical physics as Arthur Koestler pointed out, every mass in the universe is acting on every other to mutually produce gravity - as demonstrated by the Foccault pendulum in the lobby of the UN HQ.

mgeorge said...

I replied the next day. Perhaps it got lost in the works. So here it is again:

- Compared to morphic resonance, homeopathy has more modest claims, merely that the medically relevant properties of a substance increase with dilution. This is unscientific, a challenge to current science, especially to those who use it as a religion (scientism) to make unwarranted claims. I personally use and prefer homeopathy.

- Yes, that is what I meant on quantum theory. Prof. Neils Bohr joked that you don't understand quantum theory if it does not confuse you. Until it came along, there was the long-standing theory of ether as the medium (substrate) through which light travels in space. From the little I have read, there is as the prime example of pairs of subatomic partilces; beginning from one nucleus, they mirror each other's movements though they are moving apart.

At the other end of the scale, there is gravity. At any point, its effect is the net result of all matter in the universe (as Arthur Koestler pointed out). This is what the Foccault Pendulum in the lobby of the UN HQ demonstrates.

- Reincarnation may be one approach to the need for redemption, an salve to assauge guilt as one continues with plunder and terror. "After all, there will be another chance", you tell yourself. Note: That brings to mind a black-and-white movie called "Seconds" I saw long ago, on a related theme.

Gregory Sams said...

Well, that woke up my head this morning...or was it my mind or was it my brain?

Your wise usage of "don't know" reminds me of my analogy to water molecules in a mountain lake wondering if there is life after vapour.

And there is the curious issue NDE's to address here too with consciousness being aware of what's going on when the substrate is dead, or biologically inactive.

masterymistery said...

Hi mgeorge, sorry about the lost comment. Appreciate your taking the time to do it over again.

I take your point on reincarnation. My intent was not to state reincarnation is real, but rather to suggest that if it were real,the mechanism whereby it would work would go something like this [the post].



masterymistery said...

Hi Greg, thanks for your comments. Life after vapour? Maybe plasma, the fourth state.

Don't know what NDE's are --- Non ... Entity --- but the question of whether individual consciousness is (individually) conscious without a functional substrate is a hard and slippery question. I have not been able to come to an opinion.

Some folk think that when you are subsumed into "The All" that nothing remains of personal consciousness. That would not, of course, necessarily mean that personal consciousness subsumed into the all can never rise again and run on a new substrate.