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Daniel Rourke (M, 35)
London, UK
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All things would be visibly connected if one could discover at a single glance and in its totality the tracings of an Ariadne’s thread leading thought into its own labyrinth.
- Georges Bataille
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    The Significance of Consciousness is Exponential
    Current estimated human population of Earth: 6.64 billion people

    Taking a rough guess that around 40% of the world's population is asleep or unconscious at any one moment, it follows that:

    • Since you started reading this post roughly 2527 human years have been consciously perceived on Earth (3.98 billion people perceiving 20 seconds of time each).

    Current estimated age of the Universe: 13.7 billion years

    • According to these calculations, for every 3.4 revolutions of the Earth around the Sun the ENTIRE age of the Universe is consciously lived out by the humans on its surface.

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    sjef     Mon, Jan 21, 2008  Permanent link
    What is the significance though? Even added up all together, those 4billion consciousnesses have only perceived an infinitely small part of the events of the universe.
    The amount of raw data processed may be incomprehensibly large to us, but relatively still a drop on a hot plate. Especially considering the fact that for millions of years already, almost all that perception has been lost, left to us only in the form of some tablets, drawings and legends.

    As we now start to more heavily document our experiences this data will amass more steadily, but even if the stream of consciousness could be completely recorded, the data is still useless until something is done with it. At that point it's significance would increase. As we would need supplemental technology to record & data-mine these streams, their usefulness would be coupled to technological development, which does have an exponential curve, so the growth of accessible consciousness certainly would be exponential.

    Still not sure how that would work out for us though, I guess we would realize the significance with time through use, but it's not easy to get your head around now...
    Yu Jie     Mon, Jan 21, 2008  Permanent link
    What is the significance though? Even added up all together, those 4billion consciousnesses have only perceived an infinitely small part of the events of the universe.


    Absolutely. It's not like all of the 4 billion people are employing their consciousness for some greater purpose and can contribute to the world somehow.

    When you say consciously lived out, obvious, so you refer to being conscious of your own existence while events unfold around you?

    The human consciousness can only be utilized to a certain extent, it's not like a computer network or rack where the more conscious activity there is, the more information we can gather or the better we can make the world.

    All the statistics are just there, and play no significance. So what if
    According to these calculations, for every 3.4 revolutions of the Earth around the Sun the ENTIRE age of the Universe is consciously lived out by the humans on its surface.

    Humans would still have the same consciousness and probably wouldn't even be aware of the events around them outside of their small societies.

    I agree though, that there is the possibility of much more. If the consciusness of humans can be collectively "harvested" in a sense, then we could accomplish much much more.



    meika     Mon, Jan 21, 2008  Permanent link
    In the technological singularity consciousness will include more and more of that data, first out of habit and instinct, but then as lived experience, (reduced, contracted, composed) as memory, that in which the past endures into the present as stories, excuses and comingled meaning. The poets return as the engineers retire.
    Rourke     Tue, Jan 22, 2008  Permanent link
    I was not necessarily commenting on the collective potential of consciousness, per se, I am more overwhelmed by the inherent complexity of reality it uncovers. The universe is perceiving itself, and doing so in ever more complex and expansive ways. Each one of those 6.4 billion minds has a different model of reality ticking away inside it, the universe itself is given greater definition by that kind of multiplicity.

    I also indirectly meant to open the discussion on matters of entropy, or the apparent reduction of it in this (very) particular part of the universe. Is there a case to argue that consciousness is a necessary consequence of exponentially increasing levels of organisation?

    As we build new, self-aware technologies, the matter to consciousness ratio will increase i.e. a greater percentage of matter and energy in this part of the universe will be devoted to the production of consciousness. Is there a limit on this exponential rise? or is the entire solar system, galaxy, universe destined to be self aware in some, far flung future, state?
    sjef     Tue, Jan 22, 2008  Permanent link
    Is there a case to argue that consciousness is a necessary consequence of exponentially increasing levels of organisation?

    Good point, there sure is. See Stuart Kauffmanns' ideas on complexity theory and the role self-organization has played in the origin of life.

    My point was kind of related to that, as I see it though, the fact that there are currently no connections between all those nodes of consciousness means the entropy isn't really decreasing, as all their perceptions are lost. Once they start to get linked together in some form of network with near instantaneous connections between them (a growth that, in tandem with the technology, will be exponential), then we may hit the sharp rise into an exponential phase transition curve, and the network of consciousness could self-organize into a new mode of existence currently unimaginable to us.
    After the sharp rise phase transitions tend to level out, so I think there would be a limit to this particular next step, but there are bound to be others after it...

    *edit - In light of Robokku's comment I just realized I should have dropped emergence in there somewhere.
    Robokku     Tue, Jan 22, 2008  Permanent link
    I loved this post, although I didn't understand it the way it seems others did. I took this to be a reminder of limitations rather than an imagining of possibilities.

    We try to gather the meaning of the "age-in-years" of the universe. The obvious thing to do in getting our heads around this is to take some passage of time we are familiar with - our conscious life - and extrapolate. Naturally, we would first imagine stringing together lifetime narratives one after the other until we get the length of time the universe has existed - and it's like a really, really long story. But what Obvious pointed out is that you can and do have that many full lifetimes' maximal interpretations of the universe in just three and a half years.

    (The same habit kicks in now and we all make mental leaps to three birthdays ago so that we know how long a time we're talking about.)

    A theory of the universe - a world-view - builds relentlessly and inevitably in every healthy human as it lives. In the case of any person, that process necessarily could not be any more extensive within the same lifetime. That is, nobody could get through a lifetime with less than a lifetime's worth of perceiving the world.

    The entirety of one person's lifetime's perceiving of the universe is absolutely tiny, but it is nonetheless the limit of what is available to a person.

    In populations considered together, there could be more, but no one person could actually have more. A collective can grow beyond its parts, but the parts may not be able to grow at all themselves.
    Rourke     Wed, Jan 23, 2008  Permanent link
    From how people have commented on this post there seem to be two ways of looking at the importance of minds (or in this conversation, 'complex systems'):

    1. Complex systems are important simply because of their content. That is, the activity which makes up the data flow within a complex system is an end in itself. Human conscious systems lay down, over time, a ream of data which has inherent value. Any data a mind processes which does not add to this archive is valueless.

    2. Complex systems are important because of their capacity to become more complex. That is, the activity which occurs within a complex system has no inherent meaning, but is merely a means to a higher level of convolution. The continual emergence and renewal of ever greater systems of complexity is therefore where the value of this convolution lies.

    I realise that trying to come up with a philosophy of value is a whole other conversation, but surely there is something missing in the binary model of opinion I just outlined.

    All that "exponential phase transition curves" are made up of is billions of separately located systems of value. There can be no holistic value without singular value. What use is our ebbing towards ever greater levels of complexity if we don't first express the value of the complex reality we already subsist in?

    (P.S. I didn’t talk about ‘minds’ in this comment because reducing them to ‘complex systems’ devalued them in much the same way that a lot of transhumant/singularity thinking does. Some conversations have more inherent value than others.)
    meika     Wed, Jan 23, 2008  Permanent link
    Obvious'
    What use is our ebbing towards ever greater levels of complexity if we don't first express the value of the complex reality we already subsist in?


    Probably because it is unconsciously assumed at a fairly basic level in our organic social selves and we rarely query it, even when we do not suppress it, such that, that which make us self-conscious self-organizing self-creative is an urge we do not bother to express consciously (very often).

    This urge, this bias, this inclination, this preference, this egoism, could produce a moment of epiphany, a morning of reverie or the nostalgic long now wherein memory subsumes nearly everything.

    "We don't first express the value" because we are young and inexperienced, we thus seek experience in a youthful enthusiasm, fools out and about seeking their fortune like wind-scattered dandelion seeds, "we don't first express the value" because it is obvious on our fresh faces, "we don't first express the value" because we are not yet weary enough to complain, "why did no one tell me?"

    And when we are tired, and thinking about a face-lift, we wonder, "Why don't they listen?"
     
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