The Evolutionary Argument Against Reality

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The Evolutionary Argument Against Reality

Postby Dave_C on May 28th, 2016, 10:16 pm 

Having read a number of popular articles regarding (allegedly) consciousness and science, and having heaved many a lunch, I was very impressed by Donald Hoffman's interview here:
https://www.quantamagazine.org/20160421 ... t-reality/

Donald Hoffman is a Professor of Cognitive Science at the University of California, Irvine.
http://www.cogsci.uci.edu/~ddhoff/

The article is actually fairly short though the web page is long because of the huge number of comments. Seems to be a very popular interview. Here's a few things I thought interesting:

But how can seeing a false reality be beneficial to an organism’s survival?

There’s a metaphor that’s only been available to us in the past 30 or 40 years, and that’s the desktop interface. Suppose there’s a blue rectangular icon on the lower right corner of your computer’s desktop — does that mean that the file itself is blue and rectangular and lives in the lower right corner of your computer? Of course not. But those are the only things that can be asserted about anything on the desktop — it has color, position and shape. Those are the only categories available to you, and yet none of them are true about the file itself or anything in the computer. They couldn’t possibly be true.

...

A mathematical model of consciousness.

That’s right. My intuition was, there are conscious experiences. I have pains, tastes, smells, all my sensory experiences, moods, emotions and so forth. So I’m just going to say: One part of this consciousness structure is a set of all possible experiences. When I’m having an experience, based on that experience I may want to change what I’m doing. So I need to have a collection of possible actions I can take and a decision strategy that, given my experiences, allows me to change how I’m acting. That’s the basic idea of the whole thing. I have a space X of experiences, a space G of actions, and an algorithm D that lets me choose a new action given my experiences. Then I posited a W for a world, which is also a probability space. Somehow the world affects my perceptions, so there’s a perception map P from the world to my experiences, and when I act, I change the world, so there’s a map A from the space of actions to the world. That’s the entire structure. Six elements. The claim is: This is the structure of consciousness. I put that out there so people have something to shoot at.

...


The world is just other conscious agents?

I call it conscious realism: Objective reality is just conscious agents, just points of view. Interestingly, I can take two conscious agents and have them interact, and the mathematical structure of that interaction also satisfies the definition of a conscious agent. This mathematics is telling me something. I can take two minds, and they can generate a new, unified single mind. Here’s a concrete example. We have two hemispheres in our brain. But when you do a split-brain operation, a complete transection of the corpus callosum, you get clear evidence of two separate consciousnesses. Before that slicing happened, it seemed there was a single unified consciousness. So it’s not implausible that there is a single conscious agent. And yet it’s also the case that there are two conscious agents there, and you can see that when they’re split. I didn’t expect that, the mathematics forced me to recognize this. It suggests that I can take separate observers, put them together and create new observers, and keep doing this ad infinitum. It’s conscious agents all the way down.

...


I suspect they’re reacting to things like Roger Penrose and Stuart Hameroff’s model, where you still have a physical brain, it’s still sitting in space, but supposedly it’s performing some quantum feat. In contrast, you’re saying, “Look, quantum mechanics is telling us that we have to question the very notions of ‘physical things’ sitting in ‘space.’”

I think that’s absolutely true. The neuroscientists are saying, “We don’t need to invoke those kind of quantum processes, we don’t need quantum wave functions collapsing inside neurons, we can just use classical physics to describe processes in the brain.” I’m emphasizing the larger lesson of quantum mechanics: Neurons, brains, space … these are just symbols we use, they’re not real. It’s not that there’s a classical brain that does some quantum magic. It’s that there’s no brain! Quantum mechanics says that classical objects — including brains — don’t exist. So this is a far more radical claim about the nature of reality and does not involve the brain pulling off some tricky quantum computation. So even Penrose hasn’t taken it far enough. But most of us, you know, we’re born realists. We’re born physicalists. This is a really, really hard one to let go of.
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Re: The Evolutionary Argument Against Reality

Postby uninfinite on May 29th, 2016, 12:19 am 

Dave_C » May 29th, 2016, 3:16 am wrote:Having read a number of popular articles regarding (allegedly) consciousness and science, and having heaved many a lunch, I was very impressed by Donald Hoffman's interview here:
https://www.quantamagazine.org/20160421 ... t-reality/



It's problematic to draw conclusions about macroscopic reality on the basis of principles of quantum physics; not least, for lack of a grand unified theory. The apparently deterministic, causal nature of macroscopic reality and the indeterministic nature of quantum phenomena are currently, diametrically opposed - and there is no prevailing explanation of either one in terms of the other. My instinct is that the ubiquitous, unquestioned assumption in quantum physics - that smallest equates to fundamental, is misconceived; that the seat of reality is macroscopic and causal - and that quantum effects can be explained by the loss and gain of existential properties on the ragged edge between something and nothing.
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Re: The Evolutionary Argument Against Reality

Postby Don Juan on May 29th, 2016, 1:32 am 

Dave_C » May 29th, 2016, 4:16 am wrote:Having read a number of popular articles regarding (allegedly) consciousness and science, and having heaved many a lunch, I was very impressed by Donald Hoffman's interview here:
https://www.quantamagazine.org/20160421 ... t-reality/

Donald Hoffman is a Professor of Cognitive Science at the University of California, Irvine.
http://www.cogsci.uci.edu/~ddhoff/

The article is actually fairly short though the web page is long because of the huge number of comments. Seems to be a very popular interview. Here's a few things I thought interesting:

But how can seeing a false reality be beneficial to an organism’s survival?

There’s a metaphor that’s only been available to us in the past 30 or 40 years, and that’s the desktop interface. Suppose there’s a blue rectangular icon on the lower right corner of your computer’s desktop — does that mean that the file itself is blue and rectangular and lives in the lower right corner of your computer? Of course not. But those are the only things that can be asserted about anything on the desktop — it has color, position and shape. Those are the only categories available to you, and yet none of them are true about the file itself or anything in the computer. They couldn’t possibly be true.


What is the structure that links the file, the interface and the observer? Is this structure consistent or not? Is it random? Does it mean that if I am using a model of the structure of the DNA, everything is false about that model. If this is true, should I doubt Dr. Hoffman? Doubt my doubt? Doubt my truth? Doubt truth? The fact that there is a blue rectangular icon on the lower right corner of the desktop is an indication of a stable structure - a pattern, alerting an observer's curiosity to exert effort to probe it and try to understand, leading to learning of hidden contexts (whether further abstractions or not) in the observer or outside of him. Things do not only have color, position, and shape so we may feel justified that these are the only things that can be claimed or asserted on the desktop regarding the icon (and yet we are talking of evolution which calls for both natural selection and self-organization - the icon has its history too) - context is inevitable background within and without. We do not only see a lion, neither we assume the lion and I are inside a drum that we are left with no options.
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Re: The Evolutionary Argument Against Reality

Postby Braininvat on May 29th, 2016, 9:45 am 

I'm leery of this analogy....

There’s a metaphor that’s only been available to us in the past 30 or 40 years, and that’s the desktop interface. Suppose there’s a blue rectangular icon on the lower right corner of your computer’s desktop — does that mean that the file itself is blue and rectangular and lives in the lower right corner of your computer? Of course not. But those are the only things that can be asserted about anything on the desktop — it has color, position and shape. Those are the only categories available to you, and yet none of them are true about the file itself or anything in the computer. They couldn’t possibly be true.


We are actually able to assert quite a bit more because the computer is a machine we can take apart, or rebuild, or reprogram, etc. We can know more about the file than it's symbolic representation. I feel like he's saying the only thing in a library that's available is the card catalog.
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Re: The Evolutionary Argument Against Reality

Postby Serpent on May 29th, 2016, 10:58 am 

I think we've had icons available for a lot longer than computers. We've had symbolic representations even longer. When Atuk yelled "Macha! Macha!" all the other cavemen knew that a great big dinosaur was coming.

But I think he means that there is an advantage in having a thought process which is able to make such connections between what is immediately perceived and the [much bigger, more complex] thing/concept/event that the symbol represents.
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Re: The Evolutionary Argument Against Reality

Postby DragonFly on May 29th, 2016, 3:15 pm 

Hoffman is saying that the dispositions underlying reality are of experiential nature. This covers the mechanics of the implementation, which we might call the 'messenger,if not the essence'. The 'message', or result, which may have sources than what Hoffman says—just as music has various ways of being produced, is that there is space and objects, or at least in Hoffman's case as if there were, which difference would seem to make no difference at the resultant level.

I still have to wonder about the 'consciousness is all' folks, but await their coming up with more.

My theory of the brain is that it evolved its own internal language of forming higher and higher symbols, with a quale being the highest symbol, and so it can very well sense its doings. Hoffman would have the brain be one of these symbols, too.
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Re: The Evolutionary Argument Against Reality

Postby uninfinite on May 29th, 2016, 4:43 pm 

DragonFly » May 29th, 2016, 8:15 pm wrote:Hoffman is saying that the dispositions underlying reality are of experiential nature. This covers the mechanics of the implementation, which we might call the 'messenger,if not the essence'. The 'message', or result, which may have sources than what Hoffman says—just as music has various ways of being produced, is that there is space and objects, or at least in Hoffman's case as if there were, which difference would seem to make no difference at the resultant level.

I still have to wonder about the 'consciousness is all' folks, but await their coming up with more.

My theory of the brain is that it evolved its own internal language of forming higher and higher symbols, with a quale being the highest symbol, and so it can very well sense its doings. Hoffman would have the brain be one of these symbols, too.



It's an indeterminate number of bollocks!
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Re: The Evolutionary Argument Against Reality

Postby dandelion on May 30th, 2016, 9:33 am 

[quote="Serpent » May 29th, 2016, 3:58 pm
.... But I think he means that there is an advantage in having a thought process which is able to make such connections between what is immediately perceived and the [much bigger, more complex] thing/concept/event that the symbol represents.

I haven’t read much of the view, and thought it was heading towards connections too, but now I'm not so sure.


If the view instead is something like- due to evolutionary laws perception gives no approximation- then it could be difficult to make a case that this view is worthwhile, or that anything the view depends on, like realism, or evolutionary laws, or ideas of accuracy, or something free of solipsism, could be, in order for the view to follow from them.

It might be more worthwhile to look at alternative views assuming approximation, and consider connections which might offer explanations that follow, for example, along the lines discussed here-
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PKPDRKg_0rA
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Re: The Evolutionary Argument Against Reality

Postby Dave_C on May 30th, 2016, 12:35 pm 

Thanks everyone for the comments. I think each of us interprets information such as the article posted in the OP from the perspective of our own experiences and knowledge. When we read a paragraph and try to understand the meaning, we may grasp some or much of what is meant, but I think our interpretations are often guided to some degree by what we know about the topic and what we believe to be true. I'm sure I do the same thing, so I think it's worth discussing what we think Hoffman means.

I looked around briefly and found a few additional bits of info on this. One is a TED talk here which largely follows the interview and helps considerably in understanding his point of view:
http://www.ted.com/talks/donald_hoffman ... #t-1154504

I don't think I would interpret his views as a computationalist view. Nor would I say he's got a purely physicalist interpretation of reality. He does seem to be a dualist, perhaps just a property dualist, maybe a substance dualist, I'm not sure.

I think he clearly points out that qualia / phenomenal experiences / phenomenal consciousness is not something out there in the world. It is a representation of reality. That doesn't separate his views from computationalism of course. What's interesting is his emphasis on the difference between evolutionary fitness and this view that the representation of reality we experience must accurately reflect reality. One point he wants to make from his study of mathematical models of evolution and fitness is that having a representation of reality is not necessarily beneficial to an animal - fitness is. Albeit, I don't understand how one makes this kind of model. Regardless, I see this point as being the difference between weak AI and strong AI. Weak AI, as long as it provides for 'fitness' is of more benefit that strong AI which provides for an internal representation / experience of reality. So I think he's concluded that having this accurate representation (accurate phenomenal experience) is not important. The important part is this 'fitness' characteristic he refers to, the ability to do the right thing and not the wrong thing, just as a chess playing algorithm needs to be 'fit' to beat a human chess player.

Having reviewed some of his other work, I'm not as sure any more about the rest of his thoughts. I'm still looking at a few things of his and will try to provide an update if I find additional interesting tidbits.

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Re: The Evolutionary Argument Against Reality

Postby Serpent on May 31st, 2016, 10:04 am 

http://www.ted.com/talks/donald_hoffman ... #t-1154504

I don't think I would interpret his views as a computationalist view. Nor would I say he's got a purely physicalist interpretation of reality. He does seem to be a dualist, perhaps just a property dualist, maybe a substance dualist, I'm not sure.

I didn't understand a word of it, except "No, not that..."

I think he clearly points out that qualia / phenomenal experiences / phenomenal consciousness is not something out there in the world. It is a representation of reality.

Well, yaaaa... I mean how could my experience be "out there"? But then again, how could I have any experience at all, if there were no reality out there to be experienced? The man was wearing clothes, sewn by another person, from fabric snatched and processed out of nature, that fits him and he can feel on his skin! How could I, or Hoffman, or Newton draw what he concedes are mathematical and logical inferences (that translate into functional ladders, steam engines and trousers) from our perceptions, if there were not an out there that we perceive with a high degree of accuracy?

One point he wants to make from his study of mathematical models of evolution and fitness is that having a representation of reality is not necessarily beneficial to an animal - fitness is. Albeit, I don't understand how one makes this kind of model.

Which unfit species died out because they perceived reality?

So I think he's concluded that having this accurate representation (accurate phenomenal experience) is not important. The important part is this 'fitness' characteristic he refers to, the ability to do the right thing and not the wrong thing, just as a chess playing algorithm needs to be 'fit' to beat a human chess player.

Okay, if your life depends on chess. Only slightly facetious. I mean, at a very sophisticated level of civilization, our decisions are taking place in a highly artificial environment. We are now many, many layers removed from living in nature. Two thirds of our communication and half of our work is symbolic, with little or no reality content. Even the currency in which we get paid is imaginary.
So, yes, in this kind of environment, a capacity for abstraction, for symbolic reasoning, for making intelligent nutritional choices from icons on a menu rather that actual produce, or self-preservatory decisions from the sound of a siren, rather than seeing a fire - this kind of thinking is an advantage.

But I very much doubt it's an evolutionary advantage. The ability to extrapolate and project our experience of reality into imaginative dimensions helped us to manipulate and change our external reality in ways we considered beneficial. To create civilization. The jury's still out on whether this was, indeed, beneficial to us a species (and if it has any sense, it'll stay out!)
I think we could slough off that top layer in a couple of decades, once the economy has collapsed, and be as savage and savvy in one generation as our ancestors were before they got whipped into building the first ostentatious tomb for the first symbolic god-on-earth.
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Re: The Evolutionary Argument Against Reality

Postby Braininvat on May 31st, 2016, 12:26 pm 

Which unfit species died out because they perceived reality?


I find Hoffman's attempt to divorce fitness from accurate internal representation of an external reality, a worthy one, but I agree that some concrete examples would help. In the article, his explanation rests on a sort of vague hypothetical creature that is looking for the right concentrations of usable water, IIRC. And "fitness" rests on finding water, in the right sort of condition and amount, not on an accurate perception of water and all its objective qualities. OK, here's part of that section....

Now the fitness function doesn’t match the structure in the real world. And that’s enough to send truth to extinction. For example, an organism tuned to fitness might see small and large quantities of some resource as, say, red, to indicate low fitness, whereas they might see intermediate quantities as green, to indicate high fitness. Its perceptions will be tuned to fitness, but not to truth. It won’t see any distinction between small and large — it only sees red — even though such a distinction exists in reality.


For me, he is making this point by conveniently ignoring the direction that more complex organisms take as they develop enhanced abilities to navigate their environs and extract resources from it. That direction seems to be, looking at actual evolutionary paths, towards better and better representations, "better" defined as having more accuracy and veracity in describing the world. We don't just code an inviting waterhole as a Friendly Green Dot and leave it at that. We represent size, depth, temperature relative to air temperature, algae content, fecal odors and droppings on the banks, tiger pawprints nearby, brackish taste, etc.

While it's certainly true that our "truth" about the waterhole could be undermined by abstraction (say, we are absent-minded professors wandering around thinking about modes of alienation in postmodern literature and we unobservantly dip a cup in something obviously vile....or stumble over some tiger cubs while mom's nearby....), we generally meter our levels of inwardness/outwardness towards perceptive accuracy....or die out.

I would have to think more about concrete examples of "fitness" strategies that extinguish "truth" with solid examples from nature.
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Re: The Evolutionary Argument Against Reality

Postby Serpent on May 31st, 2016, 5:03 pm 

For example, an organism tuned to fitness might see small and large quantities of some resource as, say, red, to indicate low fitness, whereas they might see intermediate quantities as green, to indicate high fitness.

Has anyone documented any living organism that functioned in this way? Some birds and animals might avoid large bodies of water because of dangers a big lake might contain, or too far to travel between islands or it's too cold for nestlings. They might perceive puddles as too small and temporary for their needs and keep searching for a Goldilocks pond. But no grebe would see water as red, or refuse to land on a puddle or lake, if it couldn't find a pond. Grebes have been around a long time; they have demonstrated a high fitness level, without a high abstraction level.
I just don't see it.
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Re: The Evolutionary Argument Against Reality

Postby Don Juan on June 2nd, 2016, 11:27 pm 

Dave_C wrote:Thanks everyone for the comments. I think each of us interprets information such as the article posted in the OP from the perspective of our own experiences and knowledge. When we read a paragraph and try to understand the meaning, we may grasp some or much of what is meant, but I think our interpretations are often guided to some degree by what we know about the topic and what we believe to be true.


This is correct I believe and I may add that ultimately we are after the content for evaluation whether this is derived from a hunch, bounded by the rational space of the person, or from thorough research from a highly specialized individual. In this forum, a majority of Hoffman's ideas is not new, I believe, and some of us I think by some other metaphors have discussed them. I for one have some versions of similar ideas, but the difference is I was not moving towards the claim that reality that we know is an illusion - because at the back of my mind, we have scientific evaluation of what an illusion is when we are talking of reality. For example, notice that in July 2012, I had this contemplation (http://www.sciencechatforum.com/viewtop ... 51&t=22238):

Notice that the linking verb ‘is’ is used to link additional information to God and the information is not about God per se, but about God’s manifestations in the form man can understand, thus a part of an interface. It basically suggests that our experience is like an encapsulating opaque bubble, an infinite carpet in which we are viewing from the inside and we cannot know what’s beyond this bubble. Still in other words, all we see is an infinite carpet in which we cannot know what’s underneath. The “creation” of man made him emerge in existence, but it is also a process of encapsulation, that is, the very organization he is made of… limits him as much as this give him the ability to know. When God “pokes” from the other side, we see it as “bumps” and we name these “bumps” love, light, consuming fire, rock, Christ, ourselves, etc, etc. This interface provides for flexibility and multiple manifestations (on God’s part) and yet maintains a unity in communicating God’s messages to man. If you have read the Bible in multiple glasses, it will not be that simple as you tried to say.


and in September 2012 (http://www.sciencechatforum.com/viewtop ... 55&t=22873):

I do not know if one can make an effective exploration of fundamental problems if he or she would not base it on empirical data to a degree. I do not know if one can even make a sensible thought if he is not naturally monitoring, or putting in effective relationship the elements of evaluation or comparison. We are "wired" to empirical data to a degree. A subjective individual roaming around a dangerous world would naturally rely on empirical data to survive long. So if all I can see are the primary colors, I must find a way to manipulate this kind of perception to match with some consistency some patterns in what is out there so that I can survive. So is philosophy subjective, to a large degree it is but observation can tie it to reality. In my balloon/carpet metaphor, the interface, its subjective nature is not its only property. It has also bumps and depressions, manifestations of what is out there that leaves marks to our point of views. Some of these are consistent so we can rely on them at least for the purpose of survival. If then you are subjective, it does not limit you to become empirical, because even if nature did not yet provide us a door to experience directly what is out there, it provides us many holes to peek into reality. So to a degree, philosophy is subjective, and to a degree it is also empirical because the processes underlying these can occur at different levels and can work in synchrony.


I have accepted reality and in my contemplation I realized its complex labyrinths, some of them illusions, some of them not. I refuse to jump into the hole of illusions in this aspect of generalizing the whole for it because if that will be so, I will cease to believe even science (including myself and my truths and doubts etc etc), so if we our perception links to fitness, then by some interconnections whatsoever, our biological makeup and its mapping have some grasp of what is, even if this is unconscious, useful for our survival. Reality has multilevels of complexity so that a detail maybe an illusion, but its context may remain true to the structure of what is out there, like say seeing an object as snake when in fact it is a necktie does not invalidate at least the unconscious observation that an object (that is confused pattern which is in fact the necktie) exist.

I think he clearly points out that qualia / phenomenal experiences / phenomenal consciousness is not something out there in the world. It is a representation of reality.


Possibly I can argue that neither it is within the observer alone, especially if we are talking real time, say seeing an apple out there. I tend to think of whole, observer-in-an-environment.

One point he wants to make from his study of mathematical models of evolution and fitness is that having a representation of reality is not necessarily beneficial to an animal - fitness is. Albeit, I don't understand how one makes this kind of model. Regardless, I see this point as being the difference between weak AI and strong AI. Weak AI, as long as it provides for 'fitness' is of more benefit that strong AI which provides for an internal representation / experience of reality. So I think he's concluded that having this accurate representation (accurate phenomenal experience) is not important. The important part is this 'fitness' characteristic he refers to, the ability to do the right thing and not the wrong thing, just as a chess playing algorithm needs to be 'fit' to beat a human chess player.


I have my discussion on this later, I would like to learn and research more about this "fitness" idea according to his theory.
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Re: The Evolutionary Argument Against Reality

Postby GaryCGibson on July 20th, 2016, 5:18 pm 

Some scientific fans of the negation of reality as real for quantum reasons are skeptics about God too and even nihilists. They are unfamiliar with Bishop Berkeley's Three Dialogues. The points about idea-ism aren't new. Berkeley wrote them in 1713. Plato described the phenomena in a different way in The Cave section of The Republic.

http://www.earlymoderntexts.com/assets/ ... ey1713.pdf

One can find a quantum basis for ideasim. Even so reality is a reference again to all of human experience perceptually. A mountain may have a foundation in the crust of a planet without negating the validity of its summit appearance. Relativity exists not only in plain matter and motion, it exists in all frames including the psychological. The Universe has time and motion as implicit attributes of matter. Perspectives of change occur within a changing paradigm. An ultimate, epistemological ground of being might occur only within spirit that transcends the relativistic virtual reality that's being and becoming.
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Re: The Evolutionary Argument Against Reality

Postby neuro on July 22nd, 2016, 5:24 am 

I seem to realize that the point here would be that, for fitness and survival, being able to build an effective logic / dynamic model of reality is more important than (a) correctly perceiving reality and (b) how accurate and precise the model is (provided it works).

Please correct me if I got it wrong.

Said with these words, I believe that this idea can be easily agreed with. Still, it does not seem to me that this :
- negates physical reality, or
- puts us more close to quantal approaches than to macroscopic physical approaches: actually, macro-physics are much more instrumental than quantum theory in helping us to model reality in an (arbitrary but) effective way, or
- moves consciousness toward a quantum rather than biological domain: consciousness clearly is immaterial - as mathematics and logics are - and is more properly seen as a process rather than an agent; in these terms, the biology (physiology) of neurons and neural circuits is much more informative, on how such process arises and works, than any quantum theory may be.
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