Awakening From the Meaning Crisis by John Vervaeke, Ep. 10 — Consciousness (Summary & Notes)

Most people know that consciousness is a mystery, but most people don’t realize that what consciousness does is also a mystery.

(In case you missed it: Summary & Notes for Ep. 9:

Ep. 10— Awakening from the Meaning Crisis —Consciousness [56:31]

  • “Most people know that consciousness is a mystery, but most people don’t realize that what consciousness does is also a mystery.”
  • You do most things without consciousness. You have no awareness of what your brain is doing that allows you to generate speech, for example.
  • Global Workspace Theory — the idea that you consciousness functions much like the desktop of your computer. You can activate files by bringing them to your desktop, and then use (broadcast) back to existing files. Involves ideas of ‘working memory.’ (It’s a theory associated with Bernard J. Barrs, and has increasing evidence to support it.)
  • The idea with this theory is that consciousness helps you zero in on relevant information. Putting information together in a relevant manner, and using it in a relevant way. “To realize relevance”
  • Measuring the brain function of someone conscious looks similar to the brain activity of people when they’re “chunking” information — restructuring it like an insight.
  • Tononi’s integrated information theory (from his book “Phi”) — his model of consciousness is around how tightly integration information is. A “complexification” of information.
  • Consciousness can be reduced when a problem has become well-defined, doesn’t have as high degree of novelty, and doesn’t require insight. (But if those things are required, then consciousness is needed)
  • This theory explains why when you have an insight you have a “flash” — a sudden brightening of consciousness.
  • Part of what consciousness is doing is it’s creating a salience landscape. Featurization. You’re not paying attention to everything in the room — you can’t — but you foreground some of it. And you gestalt what’s foregrounded into a figure. (e.g. we use the phrase “figuring out”) And then you frame problems.
  • This salience landscape — these 4 features of feature → foreground → figure → frame (the arrows go both ways) allow you to get an optimal grip on things. An affordance opens up in a presence landscape. It becomes graspable by you. You don’t see colors and shapes, you see affordances (e.g. that this is walkable, that this is where I can place things; I am a grasper, and this is graspable, etc.)
  • Your brain is figuring out causal patterns vs. merely correlational patterns in a depth landscape. So to recap: when you transform a salience landscape into a presence landscape and identify an affordance (something you can interact with an use) you then test its causal patterns in a depth landscape. This is what consciousness is doing for you.
  • “Part of the way in which you become wiser than the child […] is because you’ve trained your salience landscape to zero in on the relevant information in the relevant way.”
  • When you can process salience → presence → depth landscapes “you create a significance landscape that protects you from bullshitting.”
  • Some altered states of consciousness can bring you to this profound perception of consciousness (not in consciousness) but others actually lead to the opposite: an illusory relation with reality that you perceive to be false. Why is this?
  • People have reached these higher states of consciousness, and when they do they have the sense that “that’s the way the world really is” and “this is who I really am.” Vervaeke calls this the problem if ontonormativity.
  • These higher states of consciousness are called “higher” because they’re challenging you to change because they’re presenting you more realness.
  • So why is ontonormativity a problem? Because unlike dreams, we go into these higher states of consciousness and come back and think reality is less real than what we just experienced.
  • Why do you reject your dreaming as unreal? What happened in your dream doesn’t cohere with the rest of your life. And HSC (“higher states of consciousness”) also don’t cohere, but this difference is so great you don’t reject the HSC you reject reality! And these HSC experiences don’t even contain intelligible content as dreams do — they’re ineffable, transrational. So this is a perplexing situation.
  • These higher states should be what we MOST reject, since they contradict so much of our actual reality, but we don’t. We promote them as the really real. This gets to the heart of the axial revolution, and still informs our cognitive way of being today.
  • Here’s the thing: those that encounter/experience these HSC: their lives get better. Through all kinds of measures: meaning, relationships, etc. Are they actually, philosophically, justifiable? Or are they just an illusion?
  • Part of doing good cognitive science is integrating different descriptive levels in our account. Cognitive processes, information processes (drawn from AI, machine learning), & neuroscientific accounts of what’s happening in the brain — combining all of these into a plausible integration.
  • Vervaeke will argue in this series that this integration provides rational justification for these higher states of consciousness. Not that these states provide us with any special knowledge, but rather that they change your functioning. You’re not gaining knowledge you’re gaining wisdom.
  • “You’re gaining skills, sensibilities, and sensitivities of significance landscaping that radically transform your existential mode.”
  • So this is not about getting supra-scientific knowledge, this is about getting extraordinary wisdom and transformation.

Next up: Awakening From the Meaning Crisis by John Vervaeke, Ep. 11 — Higher States of Consciousness, Part 1 (Summary & Notes)

List of Books in the Video:

  • Bernard Baars — A Cognitive Theory of Consciousness
  • James Gibson — The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception
  • Wallace Matson — Sentience
  • Andrew Newberg and Mark Robert Waldman — How Enlightenment Changes Your Brain: The New Science of Transformation
  • L. A. Paul — Transformative Experience
  • Steve Taylor — Waking From Sleep: Why Awakening Experiences Occur and How to Make Them Permanent
  • Giulio Tononi — Phi: A Voyage from the Brain to the Soul
  • Philip David Zelazo, Morris Moscovitch, and Evan Thompson (Editors) — The Cambridge Handbook of Consciousness

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