Not-Self in Sci-Fi: Blindsight by Peter Watts

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1 month 3 weeks ago #118568 by Chris Marti
I just finished an interesting and compelling sci-fi novel -  Blindsight by Peter Watts. Watts' book presents a first-contact scenario in which the human trait we call consciousness (sentience is mentioned, too) plays a pivotal role. It's not a positive role, but it is vital to the plot. This is interesting as the premise presented has absolutely nothing to do with Buddhism or spirituality. Rather, it's an examination of what intelligence might actually be, in and of itself, by itself. I don't want to get too far into the details lest I ruin the book for someone who wants to read it.

Be warned, the book includes vampires, but not the kind in Hollywood movies. It is based in the late 21st century and was written in 2006. Watts is a biologist by education, so expect a fair amount of biology.

The ending, the final resolution of the tension built throughout the book, is stunning. The beginning of the book does contain a lot of jargon and acronyms, so you have to be patient and just get through those first 50 pages. Then the book becomes a real page-turner.

Has anyone else read this book, perchance?

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1 month 3 weeks ago - 1 month 3 weeks ago #118569 by microbuddha
Last edit: 1 month 3 weeks ago by microbuddha.

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1 month 3 weeks ago #118570 by Chris Marti
Yes, that’s the one. It’s supposedly part of a three-novel series but this one stands alone nicely.

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1 month 3 weeks ago #118571 by Philip Stone
Thanks for this Chris, really enjoying it so far.

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1 month 3 weeks ago - 1 month 3 weeks ago #118576 by Chris Marti
If and when we all have this book fully read and digested it would be really fun to have a discussion about some of the assumptions Watts puts into it. For example, why is not-self oriented intelligence “better” automatically? Is there anything to be said for self-referential intelligence like humans have? Isn’t all intelligence collective, ie; made up of many parts (physical and chemical stuff)? So what’s the difference then?
Last edit: 1 month 3 weeks ago by Chris Marti.

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1 month 3 weeks ago #118584 by microbuddha

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1 month 3 weeks ago #118591 by microbuddha
Started reading and like the premise so far!  

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1 month 2 weeks ago #118600 by Chris Marti
Cool - let us know how it's going. No need to wait until we all finish the book to talk about it.

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1 month 2 weeks ago #118605 by microbuddha
In the first 40 pages of the book I am a bit confused by the use of the pronoun  " I "   There is the narrator, Siri.  Then there is a switch to " I " from the viewpoint of the deep space probe.  Is this to show that the deep space probe is sentient or are Siri and the deep space probe somehow the same? 

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1 month 2 weeks ago #118610 by Chris Marti
When I read through that passage I thought the use of "I" was to show that there was a lot of intelligence built into the probe. Expect more of that kind of thing - intelligence ubiquity.

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1 month 2 weeks ago #118613 by microbuddha
As I am reading through I am glad this is not a movie yet, or hopefully will never become one!   

The detailed biological backstory of vampires--- how they can see two perspectives at once, for instance is really fascinating. 

The character with multiple personalities being able to somehow translate the language of the Rorschach, Siri being able to understand the "Chinese Room " and them using this information to go in for a closer peek... not sure how you do that in a movie.   ( I am at the encounter with the craft right now )  There are so much packed into this book that is above my pay grade, yet it is still very enjoyable.  Not sure I have the time to take a deeper dive into semiotics right now, though!!

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1 month 2 weeks ago #118618 by Chris Marti
I'll say this much - be tuned into anything in the book that includes Siri's unique capabilities.

FYI for anyone interested in the " Chinese Room ."

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1 month 1 week ago #118669 by Chris Marti
Is a thing/alien with no self-awareness/consciousness/sentience actually possible? Would it be a being, or a machine? Is it possible for a consciousness-less thing to be anything but a machine? When does increasing complexity lead to consciousness, and is that inevitable? If there were to be no consciousness anywhere, does anything actually matter, or does anything even exist at all?

This has been nagging at me since I finished Blindsight weeks ago.

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1 month 1 week ago - 1 month 1 week ago #118671 by Papa-Dusko

Chris Marti wrote: Is a thing/alien with no self-awareness/consciousness/sentience actually possible? Would it be a being, or a machine? Is it possible for a consciousness-less thing to be anything but a machine? When does increasing complexity lead to consciousness, and is that inevitable? If there were to be no consciousness anywhere, does anything actually matter, or does anything even exist at all?

This has been nagging at me since I finished Blindsight weeks ago.


I have not read the book. No interest in reading it just now but I would like to offer a view in case you find it interesting. 

We know Terry from DhO, and if we choose to believe his claims then we can take into consideration that life and living is possible without being conscious. Like at all, and yet go about life as if fully conscious and functional. 

He claims that he experienced cessation for several weeks. Only when he was conscious again did he realise that he had no memory at all about anything within those several weeks. He asked friends and family if he was ok and behaving unusual but they replied he was very normal, going to work and socialising in a normal fashion. 

My cessation (not)experience , which was lack of consciousness, lasted short. But I can conclude that my body did not collapse due to unconsciousness but continued to walk on its feet dragging my son in his wooden cart. 

In my case we are likely talking part of a second (even though there was no time or anything when cessation) as I was doing exactly the same thing before and after. 

However if I was able to continue walking even for so short without consciousness then Terry maybe also able to continue functioning normally without consciousness taking place. Was he a robot during these few weeks? A zombie? 

So what is consciousness and is it necessary to live a normal human life? 

My apologies if I’m off. :) 
Last edit: 1 month 1 week ago by Papa-Dusko.

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1 month 1 week ago #118672 by Papa-Dusko
Let me add another experience of mine :) 

I was once or twice so drunk that I’ve done lots of stuff I absolutely dont remember! At all! A friend who was with me told me about what was happening. I could not believe but it seems it was true as I indeed had no trousers on that morning. … anyway. 

In this case we know alcohol has something to do with it. But still I have no idea what was going on and yet I was very much actively involved as if fully conscious. 

So what is consciousness and does it even exist if there is no memory to blab about it? 

Again sorry if im off :) 

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1 month 1 week ago - 1 month 1 week ago #118673 by Chris Marti
I suspect there's a difference between an entity that is totally incapable of being conscious/sentient/self-aware and never has been, and a conscious/sentient/self-aware human being that is rendered temporarily without one or more of those attributes. I assume that both you and Terry are of the latter type. 

:D
Last edit: 1 month 1 week ago by Chris Marti.

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1 month 1 week ago #118674 by Chris Marti
Dusko, I'd participate in a discussion about humans who lose consciousness temporarily or, maybe more likely, can't recall what happened for some period of time, mimicking the loss of consciousness for that period. But, can we keep this topic focused on the extra-terrestrial, non-human issues posed by the book Blindsight?

Thanks!

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1 month 1 week ago #118677 by microbuddha
Slowly trudging through the book, about half-way through and it appears that Rorshach has some weird tentacled lifeforms that are really not smart at all. ( according to the observations of the biologic structure ) The crew is analyzing one and is trying to understand its' inner workings.  It did not help that it was shot!   Things are getting a bit more interesting...  I have time for about 20 pages at night until the weekend.

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1 month 1 week ago - 1 month 1 week ago #118683 by Shargrol

Chris Marti wrote: Is a thing/alien with no self-awareness/consciousness/sentience actually possible? Would it be a being, or a machine? Is it possible for a consciousness-less thing to be anything but a machine? When does increasing complexity lead to consciousness, and is that inevitable? If there were to be no consciousness anywhere, does anything actually matter, or does anything even exist at all?

This has been nagging at me since I finished Blindsight weeks ago.


Ugh, okay I'm getting this book too...  In my ponderings, I have considered that consciousness creates existence, but it's the existence of consciousness --- very tautological, but I can't come up with a different explanation. In the same way that being on a drug creates a world that only exists when you're on the drug, when consciousness "see" the world, the world it sees isn't the dead physical reality that existed before consciousness, rather it's seeing a view of the world that is only possible through consciousness. 

(As a result, I think of human consciousness as a collection of smaller tautological consciousness, the tautology of smelling, tasting, the tautology of the three poisons/gates, the tautology of the 5 elements, the tautology of language, the tautology of 6 realms, the tautologies of the meaning-making-worlviews of spiral dynamics/ego development, ...  It seems to me that subject-object of any type of consciousness co-emerges, it's never that a new subject is created and it sees another separate object. And of course the $40,000 question, is there really a "central" consciousness that "has" these component tautological consciousnesses?)

There's the classic flip of the Chinese Room idea in the short story called "They are Made of Meat", basically saying "how on earth can anything made of meat be conscious?"  Short Stories: They're Made out of Meat by Terry Bisson (eastoftheweb.com)

"So who made the machines? That's who we want to contact."
"They made the machines. That's what I'm trying to tell you. Meat made the machines."
"That's ridiculous. How can meat make a machine? You're asking me to believe in sentient meat."
Last edit: 1 month 1 week ago by Shargrol.

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1 month 1 week ago - 1 month 1 week ago #118684 by Chris Marti
There is a totally free version of Blindsight available on Peter Watts' website. I wish I'd known this before I bought the book. But shargrol, you don't need to buy the book now:

Web reading version:

https://blindsight.bib.bz/prologue  

PDF version:

https://books.feedvu.com/nonscrolablepdf/blindsight-pdf-peter-watts.html 


(Also - I'd be happy to just give you my purchased copy if you're willing to meet up for coffee or lunch or something.)
Last edit: 1 month 1 week ago by Chris Marti.

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1 month 1 week ago #118686 by Chris Marti

 I have considered that consciousness creates existence, but it's the existence of consciousness 

This is a long conversation I had with Kenneth Folk a while back. We seem to have the same general take on this very interesting and complex topic, in that we both suspect consciousness/self-awareness/sentience is... well, that's what Blindsight is about.

:)

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1 month 3 days ago #118788 by Chris Marti
Kacchapa/Mark said:

About 1/3 of the way into Blindsight, Ch 5.  It's engaging and kind of fun. I definitely want to find out what happens next. I think most of the characters represent or personify some of the themes he wants to explore. Too tired to think/talk more about it now. Time for bed.   

Glad you like the book Mark. I agree that after the first few chapters it does become a page-turner.

Please, for those who are reading, let's discuss the book as you go along. It's so full of ideas about technology, AI, and various forms of consciousness (at least three, if not more) we should have lots to discuss.

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1 month 3 days ago #118790 by Chris Marti
So here's a question I have about the main character, Siri:

What's the deal? He's supposed to be like a human Chinese Box, but he's not, really. He's quite involved in the adventure, with clear preferences and emotions. Do you think that's intentional? Is Watt's use of Siri setting us up for something?

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1 month 3 days ago #118791 by microbuddha
I would like to know a little bit more about the procedures that were done to him.  Maybe I was half asleep when that was being described.   It is left pretty vague.  Part of his brain was removed. Which part?  He has the ability to understand underlying motives of people and describe why they are acting the way they are...

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