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RECENT POSTS IN THIS TOPIC

Don Limuti: on 3/22/17 at 22:40pm UTC, wrote Hi Ines, (I also posted on my blog) 1. Thanks for you review....much...

Robert Groess: on 3/22/17 at 4:08am UTC, wrote Hey Inés, Thank you very much for your detailed brainstorm, and I must...

Ines Samengo: on 3/22/17 at 0:59am UTC, wrote That's the dilemma, right? Should I write a fancy abstract, and later bore...

Ines Samengo: on 3/22/17 at 0:48am UTC, wrote Hi, Miles, thanks for reading and commenting! The entropy reduction of the...

Don Limuti: on 3/21/17 at 23:27pm UTC, wrote Hi Ines, Are you trying to hide! Your abstract is terrible....it confused...

Miles Mutka: on 3/20/17 at 19:38pm UTC, wrote Very vividly written, I especially like the use of the verb "arrogate"....

Ines Samengo: on 3/16/17 at 0:55am UTC, wrote Dear Vladimir, thank you so much for your comments. Sure, I will read your...

Vladimir Fedorov: on 3/15/17 at 13:23pm UTC, wrote Dear Ines, I estimate you essay exelent. Excellently written. You are...


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FQXi FORUM
March 23, 2017

CATEGORY: Wandering Towards a Goal Essay Contest (2016-2017) [back]
TOPIC: The role of the observer in goal-directed behavior by Ines Samengo [refresh]
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This essay's rating: Community = 5.5; Public = 6.3


Author Ines Samengo wrote on Mar. 1, 2017 @ 20:06 GMT
Essay Abstract

In goal-directed behavior, a large number of possible initial states end up in the pursued goal. The accompanying information loss implies that goal-oriented behavior is in one-to-one correspondence with an open subsystem whose entropy decreases in time. Yet ultimately, the laws of physics are reversible, so entropy variations are necessarily a consequence of the way a system is described. In order to reconcile different levels of description, systems capable of yielding goal-directed behavior must transfer the information about initial conditions to other degrees of freedom outside the boundaries of the agent. To operate steadily, they must consume ordered degrees of freedom provided as input, and be dispensed of disordered outputs that act as wastes from the point of view of the aimed objective. Broadly speaking, hence, goal-oriented behavior requires metabolism, even if conducted by non-living agents. Here I argue that a physical system may or may not display goal-directed behavior depending on what exactly is defined as the agent. The borders of the agent must be carefully tailored so as to entail the appropriate information balance sheet. In this game, observers play the role of tailors: They design agents by setting the limits of the system of interest. Their computation may be iterated to produce a hierarchy of ever more complex agents, aiming at increasingly sophisticated goals, as observed in darwinian evolution. Brain-guided subjects perform this creative observation task naturally, implying that the observation of goal-oriented behavior is a goal-oriented behavior in itself. Minds evolved to cut out pieces of reality and endow them with intentionality, because ascribing intentionality is an efficient way of modeling the world, and making predictions. One most remarkable agent of whom we have indisputable evidence of its goal-pursuing attitude is the self. Notably, this agent is simultaneously the subject and the object of observation.

Author Bio

Ines Samengo has a PhD in Physics, after which she switched to computational neuroscience, with a HFSP postoc with Prof. Alessandro Treves (Trieste), and then an Alexander von Humboldt fellowship with Prof. Andreas Herz (Berlin). She presently works in Bariloche, Argentina, as a researcher of CONICET, applying information-theoretical tools and dynamical-systems theory to the analysis of neural activity in behaving animals, aiming at disclosing the relevant features in the encoding and transmission of sensory information. She is also a professor in Instituto Balseiro, in charge of “Probability and Stochastic Processes” and “Information Theory” in Engineering in Telecommunications.

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Lee Bloomquist wrote on Mar. 3, 2017 @ 01:08 GMT
Professor Samengo,

I truly enjoyed reading your essay. I suspect that you would be interested in "apoptosis" in the olfactory system— which learns new smells, which is always learning new smells.

This system depends on the breath, begins with the scent of self, involves neurons, involves consciousness, involves intention. For example, a person whose olfactory system has not become...

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Author Ines Samengo replied on Mar. 3, 2017 @ 01:48 GMT
Thanks for your comments, I will follow the trails you mention about olfaction and informationalism. Best!




Kigen William Ekeson wrote on Mar. 3, 2017 @ 09:56 GMT
Dear Professor Samengo,

Thanks for your well written and insightful essay. Wonderful to read the perspectives of one in your field of research.

In your essay, you emphasize the importance of the observer in prescribing agency. However, in all of the examples you repeatedly mention, only the self-driving car is not itself an animate entity. But, i think that a strong argument can be...

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Author Ines Samengo replied on Mar. 3, 2017 @ 11:07 GMT
Hi, thanks for your thoughts! In my essay, I focused in systems exhibiting agency (those where entropy decreases) in general terms. I avoided focusing in animate systems, because outside religious beliefs, I would not truly know how to define them. Where to draw the line? A virus can be thought of as a type of robot, albeit not constructed by us: A small machine devoted to well-programmed actions...

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Kigen William Ekeson replied on Mar. 3, 2017 @ 12:49 GMT
Hi Ines,

Thanks for your reply.

Hmm. I had never thought of the term 'animate' as having religious connotations...i should check my bible more often ;) However, i do like your way of describing them as systems where entropy decreases...at least to an extent.

That is, don't viruses then qualify as systems exhibiting agency? Clearly, their action expresses regulation/control...

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Author Ines Samengo replied on Mar. 3, 2017 @ 19:42 GMT
I guess you focus goal on self-perpetuation, thereby imposing some qualitative constraints, whereas I work with just the quantitative constraint of entropy reduction. I do so, because I have no clear notion of what are the ultimate requirements to be alive, so I am not sure how to define survival. Is a single RNA molecule that self-replicates alive? Ideas and cultural traits can self-replicate,...

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Anonymous wrote on Mar. 3, 2017 @ 17:59 GMT
Professor Samengo,

Quite a cogent piece that profoundly raises deep questions about self, goals, and the relations of the animate and inanimate. "Physics does not make sense, observers make sense of it." and "Life may not even be fundamentally different from non-life." Your opening paragraph intermixes images of life (dogs, owls, soccer players and self-driving cars) and non-life, though...

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Author Ines Samengo replied on Mar. 3, 2017 @ 19:49 GMT
Hi, James,

> Generally, living organisms seek order, but as we age we lose order

I sadly agree...

> Reproduction is a way of sustaining a replacement order for your DNA which

> provides a solid foundation for storing and exhibiting order?

I would say yes, and add that we can not only reproduce biologically (making children), but also culturally:...

view entire post




James Lee Hoover replied on Mar. 4, 2017 @ 00:46 GMT
Professor Samengo,

Hope you check out my essay.

Jim

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Author Ines Samengo replied on Mar. 4, 2017 @ 12:07 GMT
I will certainly do so, just give me a bit of time, it's hard to keep up. Best! ines.




James Lee Hoover wrote on Mar. 3, 2017 @ 18:01 GMT
Me above

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Gary D. Simpson wrote on Mar. 4, 2017 @ 04:44 GMT
Ines,

GOOOOOAAAAAALLLLLLLL!

Many artists attempt to draw self-portraits. So they draw themselves. Then they draw themselves drawing themselves and they try to do this recursively. You have observed yourself observing yourself. Bravissima!

A concept I had not adequately considered is the ability of the observer to define the system boundaries ... as a chemical engineer, I have...

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Author Ines Samengo replied on Mar. 4, 2017 @ 12:06 GMT
Ha, ha! Touche'! You caught me in an infinite loop of recursive narcissism! I will look into your essay as soon as I find a bit of time...

best! ines.




Luke Kenneth Casson Leighton wrote on Mar. 4, 2017 @ 07:51 GMT
dear ines,

"Therefore, entropy reduction and goal-oriented behavior are in a

one-to-one correspondence."

hooray! it is a relief to find someone else who has this same premise also be part of their essay. also i love that you also use maxwell's demon as well: it's such a well-known and simple model that helpfully demonstrates how entropy can be beaten with simple...

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Author Ines Samengo replied on Mar. 4, 2017 @ 11:54 GMT
Thanks! More comments at your page. Best, ines.




Natesh Ganesh wrote on Mar. 4, 2017 @ 20:24 GMT
Professor Ines,

A very interesting essay. Enjoyed it a lot reading it. I do agree with you on the importance of observers and the observer's demarcation of what the system is. Thought the following line is very interesting "What is interesting in goal-directed behavior if the observer is allowed to engineer the very definition of the agent, in order to get the desired result? Plants grow...

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Author Ines Samengo replied on Mar. 4, 2017 @ 20:28 GMT
Hi Natesh, I actually read your essay, and liked it a lot. Congratulations, good work!




Author Ines Samengo wrote on Mar. 5, 2017 @ 11:31 GMT
Hi, Ganesh – I feel a bit like having 2 personalities, by writing here and also at your place. If the mapping between inputs and outputs loses no entropy, then it is injective (or has random components, which does not fit the idea of a goal). In injective mappings, the input is equal to the output, except perhaps for a reassignment of the names of the variables. I believe that an important characteristic of a goal is that it be flexible: the goal must be reached under multiple conditions, and circumvent obstacles. That is why I restrict goal seeking to non-injective mappings. In a way, the interesting computations are the ones where information is lost. Or to put it more constructively, where information is compressed, and you only keep the few aspects of the input data (or environment, or initial state, call it as you wish) that are relevant to achieving the goal. Very much related to your physical mechanism of learning. Any thoughts, for or against this argument?




James Lee Hoover wrote on Mar. 6, 2017 @ 16:33 GMT
Professor Ines,

Thank you for your kind words about my essay. You mention: "Do the forces of energy given off by plasma, a fourth stage of matter, in fact, about 99% of normal matter in the universe, replicate and restructure in the form of dark matter?" It seems like a wild speculative proposal and I don't think it has been proposed by those seeking the source of dark matter. Nevertheless, it represents the connection and utilization of mindless math laws and goal-oriented behavior.

I appreciate your interest in my ideas, considering some rate w/o reading, and I hope you rate them as highly as I did yours.

Jim Hoover

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Joe Fisher wrote on Mar. 6, 2017 @ 17:13 GMT
Dear Professor Ines Samengo,

Please excuse me for I have no intention of disparaging in any way any part of your essay.

I merely wish to point out that “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955) Physicist & Nobel Laureate.

Only nature could produce a reality so simple, a single cell amoeba could deal with...

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Satyavarapu Naga Parameswara Gupta wrote on Mar. 6, 2017 @ 23:12 GMT
Dear Samengo,

Nice essay on Neuron sciences ,

Your ideas and thinking are excellent… “Observers learn how to observe, and they do so within the framework of learning theory [7]. They are first exposed to multiple examples of the process, that act as the training set.”

……………………..There are observers in our brain, one form picture of pen thro eye, another...

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Robert Groess wrote on Mar. 8, 2017 @ 22:54 GMT
Dear Professor Ines Samengo,

Thank you for a delightful, creative and enjoyable essay. From your comment to me a few days ago I notice we share a few references that reveal a deep connection between thermodynamics and information processing. The perspective you provide on your multiple examples of goal directed behavior is thought provoking and have been wondering if there may ultimately be a fundamental connection with your conclusion and the measurement problem in quantum mechanics?

I just wanted to let you know I have voted for your essay - thank you again for the read.

Regards

Robert

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Author Ines Samengo replied on Mar. 9, 2017 @ 01:16 GMT
Wow, great question! Let me try to brainstorm a bit about it – all improvised, I confess.

Indeed, the two situations seem to have some similarities. The Copenhagen interpretation of QM claims that observation collapses the wavefunction. The act of observation, hence, produces a new reality that would not be there, had no observation been made. In my essay, I claim that agents are also a...

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Robert Groess replied on Mar. 22, 2017 @ 04:08 GMT
Hey Inés,

Thank you very much for your detailed brainstorm, and I must apologize for my tardy reply. (I was fully expecting the website to let me know when my questions are answered on forums. That should teach me!) I agree with what you are saying.

As regards your question at the end, "Is it not surprising that relativity, and QM, and thermodynamics all point out to an active role of the observer in what we so far had regarded as objective reality?":

It does beg the question about just how fundamental observers are in the physical world. It can be argued from the plethora of information that is distributed by a-biological processes (such as red-shifted spectra of galaxies to name one example), that all of that would be useless if not for observers who can process such information to make sense of the universe.

I also think the issue of time is intimately related to all of this, though my thoughts on it are far from developed. But I do like the perspective of if we can adjust the rate of time, so the rate at which information is transported, all the way to zero, then nothing would exist. So time, no matter how we look at it, is as fundamental as energy conservation itself.

I'm digressing, but I also believe that a few choice essays in this contest would provide the seeds of progress on the question that was originally asked - mindless math leading to intention - and take us a step forward in that direction.

Once again, my apologies for replying so late.

Regards

Robert

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Conrad Dale Johnson wrote on Mar. 9, 2017 @ 15:59 GMT
Ines,

This is a very interesting argument, clearly stated. I don’t doubt that you’re right – “Goal-directed behavior does not exist if we do not define our variables in such a way as to bring goals into existence.” Still, I feel this perspective is a bit one-sided. Though evolution is not goal-directed, it surely involves “a runaway escalation of sophistication,” as you...

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Author Ines Samengo wrote on Mar. 9, 2017 @ 16:35 GMT
Dear Conrad,

Thanks! If I understand you correctly, what you are saying is that there is an objective way to define the variables of the system so as to produce agency. In my essay, subjectivity was the central character. But in the end, I argue that observers detect agency because they learn to do so, so there must be something in the outer world that makes agency learnable. I claimed...

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Conrad Dale Johnson replied on Mar. 10, 2017 @ 15:08 GMT
Inés, thanks very much for reading my essay – I’ll respond to you also in that thread.

As to your note above, “that there is an objective way to define the variables of the system so as to produce agency”… I would not put it quite that way. “Objective” implies that we’re looking at nature from no point of view, as if we could be outside and “see” what every system...

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Author Ines Samengo replied on Mar. 11, 2017 @ 11:36 GMT
Hey, thanks again! I am aware (and fascinated!) by the quantum eraser experiments. I have not yet read, however, Carlo Rovelli's “Relational Quantum Mechanics” paper. I'll go through it, and then come back to you. I will then also answer the comments you posted at your essay, which I found very thought provoking. More soon!

inés.




Member Tommaso Bolognesi wrote on Mar. 10, 2017 @ 17:03 GMT
Dear Ines,

I have now read more carefully your essay.

Let me say that I find some of your thoughts rather original, and your prose quite effective, in most passages, in transmitting your ideas. The reading is mind-opening and amusing (e.g., the whole paragraph at the side of Figure 4). Often you manifest a talent for expressing your views by mental images that stick to the...

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Author Ines Samengo wrote on Mar. 11, 2017 @ 11:38 GMT
Hi, Tommaso, thanks for the detailed and insightful comments!

1. The mess left on the ground by Menelaus for achieving his objective was indeed enormous, but in this example of goal achievement it is not immediately clear to me, as an observer in charge of ‘creating’ agents, where entropy reduction took place.

The entropy reduction of the bacterium is instantiated by the fact...

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Héctor Daniel Gianni wrote on Mar. 11, 2017 @ 23:45 GMT
Dear Ines Samengo

I invite you and every physicist to read my work “TIME ORIGIN,DEFINITION AND EMPIRICAL MEANING FOR PHYSICISTS, Héctor Daniel Gianni ,I’m not a physicist.

How people interested in “Time” could feel about related things to the subject.

1) Intellectuals interested in Time issues usually have a nice and creative wander for the unknown.

2) They...

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Joseph Murphy Brisendine wrote on Mar. 12, 2017 @ 21:18 GMT
Hi Ines,

So first of all you have a lovely sense of langauge and if English is not your first langauge then that is really all the more impressive.

The basics of thermodynamics and information theory we cleary agree on, and you do a great job with Maxwell's demon. I might steal some of your phrases next time I teach about it!

OK and then you go and say something truly...

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Author Ines Samengo replied on Mar. 12, 2017 @ 23:53 GMT
Joe, I agree with every word you say, and you phrase it all crystal clear - you are surely a good teacher! - so I am afraid there is little I can add. Apart from saying I'm happy to receive these comments from someone who can write so well, and who produced such an excellent essay himself.

So good to know we are tuned!

best!

inés.




Laurence Hitterdale wrote on Mar. 12, 2017 @ 22:44 GMT
Hello Inés,

Thanks for a challenging and intricately reasoned paper, which is also well-written. My question is about the extent to which agency exists objectively in nature, before an observer imputes it to an entity. I understand that in your view “the interesting part of agency is the observer.” Nonetheless, you do indicate on page 6 that entropy in the world does not increase uniformly. Rather, there are local areas where entropy decreases. This fact, as you say, “allows observers to create agents.” Perhaps, however, in at least some cases the peculiar local conditions mean that the world itself is creating agents, independently of what observers do, and even in the absence of observers. This looks like an interesting question, whatever the answer might be.

Laurence Hitterdale

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Author Ines Samengo replied on Mar. 13, 2017 @ 00:25 GMT
I agree, the world provides the conditions for agency to be arrogateable. That is what I meant, in the essay, by "merits are shared". Indeed, the world has the merit of producing subsystems where entropy decreases. Moreover, those subsystems are repeated in space and time, and are nested in space and time. For example, if we choose a certain subsystem and declare it "prokaryote cell", it turns out...

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Stefan Keppeler wrote on Mar. 13, 2017 @ 11:24 GMT
Dear Inés,

this was enjoyable to read. I think my analysis largely parallels yours -- plus, you framed it nicely! -- and we come to similar conclusions. You say "Goal-directed behavior does not exist if we do not define our variables in such a way as to bring goals into existence." with which I agree -- it's a matter of at which scales we describe the world. I'd add that in order to make sense of the macroscopic world, we have not much choice but to use these "variables" which "bring goals into existence". You turn the latter into a statement about our brain, its purpose and how it evolved, which also makes sense. In this last step I also see connections between your essay and Sofia Magnúsdóttir's contribution.

Good luck, Stefan

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Author Ines Samengo replied on Mar. 13, 2017 @ 12:18 GMT
Thanks, Stefan, I've just read your essay and liked it a lot (comments there). And I was also very fond of Sophia's, I'm happy to see other people value her ideas too. Best!

inés.




Vladimir Nikolaevich Fedorov wrote on Mar. 15, 2017 @ 13:23 GMT
Dear Ines,

I estimate you essay exelent. Excellently written.

You are one of the few who directly answers the question put by the contest.

In my opinion, the "Maxwell's Demon" considered by you has an analog, in the form of a classical parametric resonance in a soliton wave, which operates on the principle of the action of a heat pump.

You might also like reading my essay .

Your essay allowed to consider us like-minded people.

Kind regards,

Vladimir

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Author Ines Samengo replied on Mar. 16, 2017 @ 00:55 GMT
Dear Vladimir, thank you so much for your comments. Sure, I will read your essay carefully, hopefully soon. Looking forward!

inés.




Miles Mutka wrote on Mar. 20, 2017 @ 19:38 GMT
Very vividly written, I especially like the use of the verb "arrogate". (The comparison of Menelaus to a bacterium on the other hand failed to enlighten me, I'm afraid)

I like the idea that something like metabolism, as a continuous redefinition of the boundaries of "self" helps agents rise above the determinism of the physical level. I guess the redefinition can sometimes be more discontinuous as well, like when a lizard detaches and discards its tail to escape a predator.

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Author Ines Samengo replied on Mar. 22, 2017 @ 00:48 GMT
Hi, Miles, thanks for reading and commenting! The entropy reduction of the bacterium is instantiated by the fact that no matter how nucleotides are arranged in the initial state, they become tidily arranged for DNA replication in the final state. The entropy reduction of Menelaus is larger. He manages to achieve DNA recombination not only irrespective of the initial spatial arrangement of...

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Don Limuti wrote on Mar. 21, 2017 @ 23:27 GMT
Hi Ines,

Are you trying to hide! Your abstract is terrible....it confused me to the extent that I needed to return to your essay after two weeks recuperation.

May I redo your abstract: "The main conclusion of this essay is that the interesting part of agency is the observer. Physics does not make sense, observers make sense of it. Life does not have a meaning, we give it a meaning."

Several essays mentioned Maxwell's demon as a place for agency to creep in. However, Your analysis of Maxwell's demon describing agency is so insightful I will repeat it here:

Arrogating purpose, in this case, is to assume that the gas—who takes the role of the agent—wants to shrink. Other verbs may be used (tends to, is inclined to, etc.), but the phrasing is irrelevant. Maxwell’s demon hid the initial conditions of the gas in its memory. As uncanny as it may seem, arrogating purpose to the gas is a rather accurate description of the gas’ phenomenology. Purposeful agents, hence, only emerge from sub systems that eat up order like Maxwell's demon.

There are a lot of good essays in this contest, this essay is monumental (IMHO). Please excuse me for being in a loop of delayed recursive narcism.

Do visit my essay,

Don Limuti

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Author Ines Samengo replied on Mar. 22, 2017 @ 00:59 GMT
That's the dilemma, right? Should I write a fancy abstract, and later bore readers to death? Or better a very obscure one, and later deliver an essay above their flattened expectations? Same as when choosing a photo for one's web page. Should we look good, and then disappoint people when they meet us? Or look terrible, and give some relief to the brave ones that dared to come anyway?

Anyhow, thanks so much for the help, your version of my abstract was very much improved. I'll keep it in mind for next time! And thanks also for the support.

Feel free to loop as much as you want, that's the whole point of consciousness, isn't it?

best!

inés.



Don Limuti replied on Mar. 22, 2017 @ 22:40 GMT
Hi Ines, (I also posted on my blog)

1. Thanks for you review....much appreciated.

2. You say "I myself argue that there are no goals per se, but that we choose to see them. Not exactly because their existence makes us happier, but rather, because their detection allows us to make predictions, and thereby, to be more fit to pass on our genes."

Yea, Darwin and Dawkins have highly regarded points about how genes foster evolution and are selfish respectively. I will not argue with Darwin, however, Dawkins is wrong. Genes are both competitive and cooperative (see Yaneer Bar yam's work on complexity).

Instead of using the words goals I will substitute "choice" and rephrase your sentence: ""I (Don L) argue that there are no goals per se, but that we (humans but perhaps not all life) choose to see them. These choices are made because they satisfy us emotionally, (in healthy individuals they tend toward happiness), and thereby, to be more fit to pass on our genes."

About Choice and Emotions: I posted on one of mad max's minion's blogs "your emperor is totally nude (in Italian)". This minion was a determinist but his emotion (aka greed) caused him to delete my post (followed by my score plummeting). Was his choice determined by mathematics? This minion was much less fit to pass on their genes than someone like yourself.

In spite of my stated intention, ha ha. I hope you win this contest.

Don Limuti

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