Does DNA provide the blueprint to produce qualia?

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Does DNA provide the blueprint to produce qualia?

Postby Dave_C on December 3rd, 2017, 10:50 am 

I'm throwing this against the wall to see what sticks. There’s a number of undiscussed conclusions that one must accept in accepting the standard paradigm of mind (ie: computationalism). As far as I know, this one’s not been discussed in the literature let's pick at it...

Consider all the possibilities and ask yourself, why does one particular computation produce the experience of blue while another computation produces the experience of pain or love or other subjective experience? And how can we know what those computations might be?

Computationalism proposes that we have subjective experiences because very specific physical changes in state (ie: neuron interactions) occur in our brains. For some changes in state, we experience color. For others we experience noise, odors, sensations of hot, cold, tickles, pain, and any others. For yet others we experience love, hate, jealousy, fear, anger, etc… For simplicity, let’s talk about the experience of the color blue.

What computationalism claims is that the experience of colors supervenes on those neuron interactions in the brain which we can call a ‘computation’ for lack of a better term. I think the concept of ‘physical changes in brain state’ should be sufficient and I mean that when referring to neurons performing a computation. So whatever neurons are changing state and producing the experience of color, computationalism calls that a ‘computation’ and by doing so, we can use numbers & equations to stand in for the physical changes in state.

Now there’s 2 possible sets of neurons on which our experience of color might supervene. The color blue might supervene on a small set of neurons in the brain or it might supervene on the entire brain as a whole. Let’s look at both of these possibilities.

The qualia we experience throughout life, including the experience of color do not seem to change. Note this is also true of other qualia had by different parts of the body such as pain but I’ll stick with the experience of blue for now. When I close one of my eyes and look at blue and then close that eye and open the other, I see the same blue. Whatever computation (changes in physical state) occur that produce the experience of blue in one eye, that computation must also occur for the other eye.

It’s self-evident that the neurons involved between my left and right eye are not the same, at least back to some point in the brain. One might hypothesize that there is only one set of neurons in the brain, often referred to as neural correlates of consciousness (NCC), on which the experience of blue supervenes. If this is true, then there is only one set of neuron activity in the brain that creates this experience and that set can’t also produce other phenomena such as the experience of sound or tactile sensations or smell, etc… unless perhaps that NCC produces blue one moment and a different qualia another moment when in a different physical state.

Another argument would be that there is no specific set of neurons that only produce the experience of blue, but rather the experience of blue supervenes on ALL the activity occurring in the brain. In this case, all of our various subjective experiences supervene on the entire brain state. For this to be true, I would expect there are an infinite number of brain states that produce blue.

Now consider that brains undergo changes in neuron structure throughout our lives. Some neurons die off and some are added, and over our lifetime and due to the brain’s plasticity, we can assume the structure of those neurons that are experiencing blue change but the actual subjective experience does not. The color does not seem to change from blue to red or green or even a slightly different shade of blue. Furthermore, the experience of the color does not seem to become a noise or a pain or another bodily sensation. The color remains a color and it remains the same color. Thus, the standard paradigm of mind must accept that there are an infinite number of different computations that produce an identical subjective experience.

Now if we were to set up a computer that would output, “That color is blue” by having an input that measured the wavelength of light, we could do it in a myriad of ways. There’s no single way to do this and I’d propose there are in fact an infinite number of ways to do this just as there are an infinite number of ways of calculating any number. So the computationalist will take some satisfaction in knowing that there is a corollary between what the brain is doing and what any computational system can do – there are an infinite number of ways to design a computation that produce a given output just as there are an infinite number of ways the brain can be arranged to produce the subjective experience of blue.

There are many problems with this logic, not the least of which is epiphenomenalism, but I’ll move on to another issue that seems to be to be at least as eerie. The question is, how does the brain set up this computation? How do the physical states, the arrangement of neurons or the computation if you will, come into being? Because clearly, nature has determined how to produce the subjective experience of blue when a given computation occurs but humans have not yet figured that out. We don’t know what infinite set of computations among the infinite number of sets available will produce the subjective experience of blue. There’s a recipe of sorts that produces that infinite set of computations which can produce the subjective experience of blue. It’s one question to ask, “How can nature even know what that recipe is?” That’s a terrific question. But a more simple question is “How can nature pass this recipe down from one generation to another?” I think this latter question is self-evident. The recipe for the computation must be encoded in our DNA.

If an infinite number of different computations can produce the experience of the color blue, then similarly there must be an infinite number of computations that produce each of the myriad of different qualia. There’s an infinite set of computations that produce yellow and red, pain and tickles, sweet and salty, etc… If there are an infinite number of different animals then perhaps there are an infinite number of different computations that produce a given qualia. So there are an infinite number of sets of computations, each set having an infinite number of computations within it.

In addition, there has to be an infinite set of computations that do not produce any kind of experience at all. This also touches on the symbol grounding problem. Per Steven Harnad, “How can the meanings of the meaningless symbol tokens, manipulated solely on the basis of their (arbitrary) shapes, be grounded in anything but other meaningless symbols?” In other words, how can the meaning of meaningless neuron interactions, manipulated solely on the basis of their (seemingly) arbitrary interconnections, produce anything more than just more meaningless interactions? How can those neuron interactions produce qualia? Those computations need to be special in some way, able to produce qualitative experiences.

Apparently, nature has this all worked out and has passed down all the information for these sets, or at least the sets that we can experience, by passing down the codes in DNA. Our DNA is what has to provide the ‘blue-print’ of those computations that can produce the given qualia. Or at least, that’s what a computationalist must believe, no? At the very least, DNA has to be the information carrier for the computations that produce qualia. But it must somehow also have encoded within it, all of the various alternate computations that compute the experience of blue. It must encode a large, perhaps infinite number of variations so that it can always create a neuron structure that produces blue as that structure changes over the course of time.
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Re: Does DNA provide the blueprint to produce qualia?

Postby Braininvat on December 3rd, 2017, 11:56 am 

Hmm. Am not sure about.....

Thus, the standard paradigm of mind must accept that there are an infinite number of different computations that produce an identical subjective experience.


Despite variation in morphology of individual neurons and synaptic links, I'm not convinced that the computation for "blue" must vary so much. The functionalist would ask, I guess, why some simple algorithm that will elaborate into "see blue" couldn't be found? Hardware could have near-infinite variations, but the signaling could be one consistent underlying series, couldn't it? I.e. the software is the same, for all human seers of blue, and developed from very simple algorithms triggered by DNA?

I don't see small variations, small snatches of noise, slight path deviations, in different human observers as necessarily meaning we must distinguish an infinite number of different computations. Could be something like a strange attractor which always pulls the signals from blue-sensor retinal pigment cells towards a very limited set of values, or something entirely different, but still all about a very finite singular algorithm at the core.

I'm not writing this very clearly. Hope some of it makes sense.

Great OP!
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Re: Does DNA provide the blueprint to produce qualia?

Postby Dave_C on December 3rd, 2017, 8:49 pm 

Braininvat » December 3rd, 2017, 10:56 am wrote:Hardware could have near-infinite variations, but the signaling could be one consistent underlying series, couldn't it? I.e. the software is the same, for all human seers of blue, and developed from very simple algorithms triggered by DNA?

I don't see small variations, small snatches of noise, slight path deviations, in different human observers as necessarily meaning we must distinguish an infinite number of different computations. Could be something like a strange attractor which always pulls the signals from blue-sensor retinal pigment cells towards a very limited set of values, or something entirely different, but still all about a very finite singular algorithm at the core.

Excellent thought. The Earth's atmosphere has an infinite variety of physical states that it can undergo but we consistently see tornados and hurricanes. Those phenomena are so consistent that we have names for them despite the fact they can come about in an infinite number of varieties.

There are those in the nonlinear dynamics crowd who have already made points along the lines of attractors being key to understanding how the brain works. Perhaps there's something to it but I've generally felt lost trying to read their material, and I don't believe any of them have tried to make the point that qualia are products of attractors (strange attractors? not sure the difference). or that our subjective experiences somehow depend on attractors. I did check a couple of papers just now and saw some things I hadn't before but still didn't see anyone suggesting qualia are a product of, or are related to, attractors.

The concept might be that our experience of colors supervenes on neurons whose interactions are governed by attractors. Perhaps we could say that the 'shape' of the attractor correlates to a specific qualia. Something along those lines might help explain how DNA could provide a single blueprint instead of having to provide an almost infinite number of algorithms. It would say that DNA's blueprint was for an attractor, not for the nearly infinite number of various computations that might exist.

I do see an issue though. Attractors produce similar phenomena, not identical phenomena (ex no two tornados are identical). Why wouldn't our experience of the color blue vary just as a tornado varies over its lifetime? How could attractors be used to produce identical phenomena?
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Re: Does DNA provide the blueprint to produce qualia?

Postby BadgerJelly on December 3rd, 2017, 11:07 pm 

Already "liked" because of the first line :)

Nice to see a post from you again Dave! Will chew on this one later ...
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Re: Does DNA provide the blueprint to produce qualia?

Postby wolfhnd on December 4th, 2017, 1:50 am 

The question is always how does the limit information in DNA result in organization. The answer is it creates the environment for re-evolution. Reality is sufficiently deterministic that given a particular base genotype a environment will evolve a particular phenotype, with variation.
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Re: Does DNA provide the blueprint to produce qualia?

Postby Braininvat on December 6th, 2017, 2:13 pm 

The concept might be that our experience of colors supervenes on neurons whose interactions are governed by attractors. Perhaps we could say that the 'shape' of the attractor correlates to a specific qualia. Something along those lines might help explain how DNA could provide a single blueprint instead of having to provide an almost infinite number of algorithms. It would say that DNA's blueprint was for an attractor, not for the nearly infinite number of various computations that might exist.

I do see an issue though. Attractors produce similar phenomena, not identical phenomena (ex no two tornados are identical). Why wouldn't our experience of the color blue vary just as a tornado varies over its lifetime? How could attractors be used to produce identical phenomena?


First paragraph there makes total sense to me, and very little on this subject does. I would fully expect that our experience of blue does vary somewhat, just as a tornado does. It certainly varies between different brains, as that famous Scottish wedding dress made clear a couple years ago. I will have to think about what your "identical" requirement entails.
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Re: Does DNA provide the blueprint to produce qualia?

Postby BadgerJelly on December 6th, 2017, 6:55 pm 

Biv -

It does vary from person to person and more prominently from culture to culture. I cannot exactly, but Europeans have a different sense of red than Asians. Something like what we'd call the reddest red they'd view as not quite the reddest red.

A great deal is to do with environmental exposure. We're all sensitive to mistaking blues from greens.
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Re: Does DNA provide the blueprint to produce qualia?

Postby Dave_C on December 6th, 2017, 9:14 pm 

Braininvat » December 6th, 2017, 1:13 pm wrote:I would fully expect that our experience of blue does vary somewhat, just as a tornado does. It certainly varies between different brains, as that famous Scottish wedding dress made clear a couple years ago. I will have to think about what your "identical" requirement entails.

What I mean by identical might be understood by asking, does the color blue vary between one eye and the other and does it vary over time to one person. Perhaps our experience of blue varies over time, but does it vary sufficiently for us to actually perceive that it’s changing over time, just as we might perceive a difference between one eye and another? My left eye and right one seem to produce the same color experience for me. And as I sit here looking at a color, I don't see it changing. It doesn't get darker or lighter, more red or more brown, more pastel or more neon, etc... Imagine tripping out on LSD (I have to imagine that - maybe that's a good thing or maybe I should give it a go one day) but you might imagine a color changing to the point where you realize there's a perceptible difference from one moment to another. That blue isn't identical. So what I mean by identical is that the blue isn't noticeably changing but patterns (phenomena) created by attractors DO vary over time… don't they?

I think we can have slightly different experiences of the same color blue when those swatches of color are placed in different surroundings or different lighting, etc... There's that famous optical illusion involving shadows for example, where a checkerboard has a shadow cast over it. One square (in the shadow) is perceived as being lighter than a dark square (not in the shadow). Then when we place a paper (mask?) over the entire picture with just a small hole to isolate the actual shade, we realize the two grays are identical. Let’s ignore those types of issues - if we look at a color with no distractions, it doesn't seem to vary. It remains unchanged. (Identical)

What happens in the brain when you're looking at the color? Let's assume there's an attractor at work. If there were a set of neurons (NCC) which repeatedly underwent an identical set of physical state changes, then there you have it - we have neurons undergoing identical physical changes in state over the same time interval that we experience the color blue so we can correlate that color experience to that set of physical changes of state. (we would need to do other things to make that assessment but let’s just say we did those other things and we found that every time those neurons underwent that very specific change in state, we’d experience the same color blue) If that set of identical physical state changes in the neurons were an ‘attractor’ then perhaps we’d believe the attractor was responsible.

But that’s not how attractors work, as far as I know. Given any set of initial conditions that vary by some degree, we obtain slightly varied results (or potentially an exceedingly different result – sensitive dependence on initial conditions). As an example, for a tornado, we can have a set of conditions (a physical state) that generally produce a tornado, but those tornadoes are only similar, they are not identical. Furthermore, the physical state varies over time, it doesn’t stay the same.

If we say there is an attractor that DNA sets up, one that produces a phenomenon in the brain, then I don’t think we should expect it to produce the same, identical set of neuron firings every time, just similar ones. My understanding is that’s what an attractor does in nature, an attractor produces or is correlated with a similar set of phenomena, not identical. So as we’re laying in a wheat field on some hillock looking up at the blue sky (trying to impress the girl with the different shapes we see in the clouds), why shouldn’t the blue sky vary as much as those neuron firings in the brain? An attractor could be at work, but shouldn’t it produce constantly changing sets of neuron firings? The pattern (physically measurable changes in state) might be similar over time as they may be ‘controlled’ by an attractor, but we still haven’t said why different neuron patterns should produce identical phenomenal states.
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Re: Does DNA provide the blueprint to produce qualia?

Postby Dave_C on December 6th, 2017, 9:20 pm 

BadgerJelly » December 6th, 2017, 5:55 pm wrote:Biv -

It does vary from person to person and more prominently from culture to culture. I cannot exactly, but Europeans have a different sense of red than Asians. Something like what we'd call the reddest red they'd view as not quite the reddest red.

A great deal is to do with environmental exposure. We're all sensitive to mistaking blues from greens.

Hi Bj. How do we know that those people are actually experiencing different colors as opposed to simply having a slightly different concept of what yellowish purple should be called when compared to red? In other words, when we have colors that are off a bit and different cultures call those more red or more purple, how could we know if those people actually experience different things as opposed to simply calling them different things?
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Re: Does DNA provide the blueprint to produce qualia?

Postby BadgerJelly on December 6th, 2017, 10:26 pm 

Dave C -

Same difference. You mentioned the illusion above.
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Re: Does DNA provide the blueprint to produce qualia?

Postby wolfhnd on December 7th, 2017, 12:20 am 

https://www.qualitymag.com/articles/851 ... sees-color

Machines see color more accurately than humans because they use an objective analysis that isn't confused by things like adjacent colors. The trick to making the machines superior abilities useful to humans is in the translation.

The similarities between machines and parts of the visual process are fairly transparent but those "mechanical" processes also have to be translated by the brain into actionable interpretations to have survival benefit. We are not designed for high precision but rapid accuracy. We are close enough creatures not designed by random evolution to have high resolution. Our color recognition need only be accurate enough to detect difference not precise enough to recognize millions of variations in wave length.

Evolution general works on the keep it simple stupid principle. It is possible that color precision increases when communication has a fitness advantage. If so then the need for precision in DNA would also increase. A comparative study of different species may shed some light on the original question.
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Re: Does DNA provide the blueprint to produce qualia?

Postby Dave_C on December 7th, 2017, 8:12 pm 

Thanks for the comments Bj, Wolf. I don't understand how they address the issue though. Yes, humans can be tricked by illusion. Machines can be more accurate. I don't see how any of those insights address the issue that DNA has somehow encoded the phenomenon of experience. The experience of blue for example. There are cameras that can easily identify blue to a much higher degree of accuracy and we humans can be tricked by our senses. But that doesn't enter the discussion because the camera hasn't been given the 'instructions' to have a phenomenal experience of blue and our illusions are still governed by a natural code of some sort that we as humans have not figured out yet - the code that produces the phenomenal experience of blue (or any other phenomenal experience for that matter, including illusions). To make matters worse, it appears DNA also encodes (somehow) not just one computation that produces the phenomenal experience of blue, but multiple computations, possibly an infinite number.

It may be we've entered the tower of Babble and can't communicate effectively... discussions of phenomenal consciousness often lead to the Babble tower.
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Re: Does DNA provide the blueprint to produce qualia?

Postby wolfhnd on December 7th, 2017, 9:20 pm 

Consciousness isn't an issue really. Animals that communicate with color are I suspect only nominally conscious in your view.
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Re: Does DNA provide the blueprint to produce qualia?

Postby BadgerJelly on December 8th, 2017, 3:09 am 

Dave C -

I don't see how you can say DNA instructs at all? There is just a lot of chaotic things going on and DNA is not really the driving force behind this at all. The level of complexity we're talking about is immense.

There are a number of issues I have with such points you make like this that are worthy of a completely separate thread. I simply cannot glide past them all to even begin to make a sensible response to whatever it is you're actually trying to ask/say.
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Re: Does DNA provide the blueprint to produce qualia?

Postby BadgerJelly on December 8th, 2017, 3:14 am 

I would also add that it is nonsense to talk about an "experience of blue" as an isolated experience. We know that "blue" induces many different emotional responses and that we generally have an ancient evolutionary process involved that ties into sleep cycles and general need for UV light. In a blue environment time seems to move more quickly too (subjectively). These are all experiences tied into spacial references.

To extrapolate why "blue"? Why not say the experience of "width" or "height"? Same difference. Simply being able to see an object encompasses a very large range of neural processes. I tend to think of "qualities" as gap fillers and "quantities" as gap fillers. I think the accurate measure is qualitative not quanititive. We just happen to be culturally primed to give more and more "weight" (even in language) to quantity measure.
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Re: Does DNA provide the blueprint to produce qualia?

Postby wolfhnd on December 8th, 2017, 3:49 am 

BadgerJelly » Fri Dec 08, 2017 7:14 am wrote:I would also add that it is nonsense to talk about an "experience of blue" as an isolated experience. We know that "blue" induces many different emotional responses and that we generally have an ancient evolutionary process involved that ties into sleep cycles and general need for UV light. In a blue environment time seems to move more quickly too (subjectively). These are all experiences tied into spacial references.

To extrapolate why "blue"? Why not say the experience of "width" or "height"? Same difference. Simply being able to see an object encompasses a very large range of neural processes. I tend to think of "qualities" as gap fillers and "quantities" as gap fillers. I think the accurate measure is qualitative not quanititive. We just happen to be culturally primed to give more and more "weight" (even in language) to quantity measure.


Exactly we can't have this discussion without discussing physical and cultural evolution.

I have argued elsewhere that language is an evolved tool, we often find ourselves trying to cut a board with a hammer instead of a saw.
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Re: Does DNA provide the blueprint to produce qualia?

Postby wolfhnd on December 8th, 2017, 4:42 am 

I want to add an additional thought BadgerJelly. I know you are not a fan of Dennett but I think his kind of gross oversimplification is appropriate until we have more information.
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