A list of my writings I find particularly important:
A theory spanning Buddhist tanha, the Bayesian brain, physical and mental tension, and how VSMCs are the central regulating force on neural computation.
A distillation of my 2016 book, Principia Qualia. Same thesis, much shorter, slightly updated structure & arguments.
Lately, I’ve been thinking of the “autistic bundle of symptoms” as naturally arising from having a nervous system whose dimensionality parameter is maladaptively high. The following is an attempt to explain what I mean by this.
Beautiful philosophy takes the messy and complicated, and leaves it clean, simple, and obvious. … The approach I’ve found works best here is to put energy into distilling philosophical confusion into binary yes/no scenarios we can all agree on. To find X’s such that “either we live in a universe where X is exactly true, or we live in a universe where X is false.” (This heuristic is partly inspired by Wheeler’s brilliant “it from bit” frame, from which I’ve also shamelessly stolen my title.) The goal is to redirect energy away from dissipative high-dimensional confusion and channel it toward evaluating definite scenarios; binary questions where it’s clear some fact must be either true or not true, with no muddled middle. … Today, I have ten binary questions about consciousness.
The problem facing neuroscience in 2018 is that we have a lot of experimental knowledge about how neurons work– and we have a lot of observational knowledge about how people behave– but we have few elegant compressions for how to connect the two. CSHW promises to do just that, to be a bridge from bottom-up neural dynamics – things we can measure – to high-level psychological/phenomenological/psychiatric phenomena – things we care about. And a bottom-up bridge like this should also allow continuous improvement as our understanding of the fundamentals improve, as well as significant unification across disciplines: instead of psychology, psychiatry, philosophy, and so on each having their own (slightly incompatible) ontologies, a true bottom-up approach can unify these different ways of knowing and serve as a common platform, a lingua franca for high-level brain dynamics. [6000 words]
Traditionally, neuroscience has been concerned with cataloguing the brain, e.g. collecting discrete observations about anatomy, observed cyclic patterns (EEG frequencies), and cell types and neurotransmitters, and trying to match these facts with functional stories. However, it’s increasingly clear that these sorts of neat stories about localized function are artifacts of the tools we’re using to look at the brain, not of the brain’s underlying computational structure.
What’s the alternative? Instead of centering our exploration on the sorts of raw data our tools are able to gather, we can approach the brain as a self-organizing system, something which uses a few core principles to both build and regulate itself. As such, if we can reverse-engineer these core principles and use what tools we have to validate these bottom-up models, we can both understand the internal logic of the brain’s algorithms — the how and why the brain does what it does — as well as find more elegant intervention points for altering it. [13000 words]
Philosophers have been wondering about the nature of consciousness (what it feels like to have subjective experience) and qualia (individual components of subjective experience) for as long as philosophy has existed. Advancements in physics and neuroscience have informed and constrained this mystery, but have not solved it. What would a systematic solution to the mystery of consciousness look like? [35000 words]
Philosophy has lost much of its energy, focus, and glamor in our modern era. What happened? [2000 words]
Functionalism (“consciousness is the sum-total of the functional properties of our brains”) sounds a lot better than it actually turns out to be in practice. In particular, functionalism makes it impossible to define ethics & suffering in a way that can mediate disagreements. [6000 words]
I think Buddhism does a really good job at telling a coherent and useful story about how the mind works — and the difficulty of telling stories about the mind that are both coherent and useful is, I think, drastically under-appreciated. Major credit to Buddha here. But Buddhism is also incomplete: it talks about what the big-picture dynamics of subjective experience are, but is silent about how these dynamics are implemented. Put simply, Buddhism says a lot about the mind, but nothing about the brain, and this is ultimately limiting. We need ways to connect what’s going on in the mind during meditation to neuroscience and information theory … In other words, we can attempt to describe what’s going on during suffering & during meditation at multiple levels of abstraction, and the more stories we can identify and weave together and cross-validate, the better our understanding will get. [5000 words]