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

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3 months 2 days ago #118792 by Chris Marti
I believe Siri had one entire brain hemisphere removed. The other hemisphere was left intact. Then, in the now empty space in his skull, he was augmented in some way but what that augmentation did was left vague.

I'll take a look at the online book and see if I can find the passages where this was described.

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3 months 2 days ago - 3 months 2 days ago #118793 by Chris Marti
From the book's prologue:

But you could make a case for what he said. I do remember Helen telling me (and telling me) how difficult it was to adjust. Like you had a whole new personality, she said, and why not? There's a reason they call it radical hemispherectomy: half the brain thrown out with yesterday's krill, the remaining half press- ganged into double duty. Think of all the rewiring that one lonely hemisphere must have struggled with as it tried to take up the slack. It turned out okay, obviously. The brain's a very flexible piece of meat; it took some doing, but it adapted. I adapted. Still. Think of all that must have been squeezed out, deformed, reshaped by the time the renovations were through. You could argue that I'm a different person than the one who used to occupy this body.

I can find more references to this but if I post those parts they'll be spoilers. So I won't.
Last edit: 3 months 2 days ago by Chris Marti.

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3 months 2 days ago #118794 by microbuddha

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3 months 2 days ago #118795 by Chris Marti
So let me ask this question, a slight twist on my previous question: Why would Watts use Siri to carry the narration of the story in Blindsight? Is it because of what Siri is? Is it because of what Siri is not? Or?

Any thoughts?

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3 months 1 day ago - 3 months 1 day ago #118796 by Michelle Stone
I think initially because of what Siri is not. Essentially he is a viewpoint without any underlying views - he isn't really 'there' because the system he operates, his Chinese Room protocols, is the thing that becomes involved and interacts with the world and sends 'postcards' back to earth. In a way Siri isn't a person.

I can't figure how to mark the next bit as spoiler so I've done it in white, highlight with cursor to read:

But at the end the vampire sees that earth needs to be made to emotionally understand the risk posed by Rorschach and the 'system' can't really do that, so he drags Siri out of his detachment and forces him to become a person who can interact with other humans. The vampire can't do that himself because vampires scare the bejasus out of baseline humans, are seen to have ulterior motives and aren't really seen as human themselves.
Last edit: 3 months 1 day ago by Michelle Stone.

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3 months 1 day ago #118799 by Shargrol
So far I'm up to where they start to investigate the Ben thing.

To me the whole point of Siri is that he is Left Brained, so logical, emotionless, etc. His right brain was removed.

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3 months 1 day ago - 3 months 1 day ago #118801 by Chris Marti
Funny thing - I didn't take Siri as being emotion-less. More like emotion-suppressed. He clearly has a POV on everything and isn't really just passively observing and reporting. He's in it

All of the augmentations and enhancements that are featured in the book are interesting because they don't seem to change the basic nature of the people in the book. Yeah, they all have advanced, sometimes weird augmentations but they're still human beings in very basic ways. Still afraid of vampires. Still afraid of whatever it is with Rorschach and the (supposed) beasties inside. Still capable of taking refuge (hiding?) inside an artificial environment like Siri's mother does. Maybe you just can't take the human out of... the human.

And still the question haunts me - how can you have advanced intelligence and not have self-awareness/consiousness?
Last edit: 3 months 1 day ago by Chris Marti.

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3 months 21 hours ago #118802 by Shargrol

Chris Marti wrote: And still the question haunts me - how can you have advanced intelligence and not have self-awareness/consiousness?


is it just me, or does the question of whether it would not have self awareness… also bring into question “what really is self awareness”?  My mind gets stuck there. 

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3 months 9 hours ago - 3 months 9 hours ago #118803 by Chris Marti
Yes, I agree that it does.

My working definition of self-awareness is having an inner life, an inner presence. Some philosophers and neuroscientists say "it's something like... being a cat" or "It's something like... being me" to express what this means. I think they're describing the nature of self-awareness as being an inner experience - a unique consciousness, a singular entity with a specific (to that "thing") POV on experience that no other entity shares.

But what do I know?
Last edit: 3 months 9 hours ago by Chris Marti.

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2 months 4 weeks ago - 2 months 4 weeks ago #118804 by Kacchapa
I finished listening to the Audible version of the book and I wondered what the author's motives were. Maybe I'm projecting but I imagined that, aside from wanting the story to be entertaining, he wants to educate and maybe even challenge prevailing paradigms. I imagined that Siri might represent the traditionally dominant objectivist view which the author would like to shake out if its complacency. Probably just projecting but it can be frustrating to see such a calcified worldview continue to coast along framing how the culture talks about things. I was thinking he might have had fun grabbing and shaking it.
Last edit: 2 months 4 weeks ago by Kacchapa.

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2 months 4 weeks ago #118807 by Chris Marti

Probably just projecting but it can be frustrating to see such a calcified worldview continue to coast along framing how the culture talks about things.

Aren't most world views calcified?  :D

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2 months 4 weeks ago - 2 months 4 weeks ago #118810 by Kacchapa
I guess some calcium deposits seem more pleasing to me. :-)
Discussions about consciousness against a backdrop of naïve physical realism seem so stale they make me want to hold my nose.

This kind of questioning seems closer to the live source so that the calcium deposit is still fresh and moist. 
iai.tv/articles/donald-hoffman-spacetime...undamental-auid-2281   

www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-u...e-winners-proved-it/
Last edit: 2 months 4 weeks ago by Kacchapa.

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2 months 4 weeks ago #118811 by Papa-Dusko
You remind me of the calcification happening in my shoulders and causing pain every once in a while. 

Hate going to the doctors but will need to address this issue soon. 

Sorry! Tangent! Carry on! Sci-Fi! :D 

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2 months 4 weeks ago #118812 by Chris Marti

Discussions about consciousness against a backdrop of naïve physical realism seem so stale they make me want to hold my nose.

Mark, can you elaborate, please? Is this comment about the book or about something else?

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2 months 4 weeks ago #118813 by Kacchapa
I think I was mostly feeling chatty after my morning coffee. :-)   Then pushing and reacting to one of my own buttons, thinking about how the same old received dominant world view chugs along over the decades in the culture at large. (I think this is a leftover from my youth, feeling misunderstood and unappreciated by church, high school and college teachers.)  I thought maybe Watts was trying to lure readers into being interested in new perspectives woven into the plot and characters.  The book had so many things going on, that was one part I could pick out and comment on.

Actually, I thought the conversation you and Shargrol are having is a lot more interesting but I don't know what to say about it. 

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2 months 4 weeks ago - 2 months 4 weeks ago #118816 by Shargrol
I'm at the point where there is engaugement with the alien and the vampire forces Siri to see/learn...

I have to admit, the author really failed me. I could kind of tell that this theme was building up to something that couldn't quite be pulled off... and I was kinda feeling at some point something very unpalatable was going to be served up and I was going to be told to swallow it. This happened a little bit during the torture-ish scene (which is something I really don't get any value from anymore) and a bit more in the girfriend medical scene...but especially when he said about the ego/self:

"Don't even _try_ [emphasis by the author] to talk about the learning curve. Don't bother citing the months of deliberate practice that precede the unconcious performance, or the years of study and experiment leading up to the gift wrapped eureka moment. so what if your lessons are all learned consciously? Do you think that proves there is no other way? Heuristic software's been leaning from experience for over a hundred years..."

Right there, the author talk about the value/purpose of self: to create an organism that is adaptable and flexible in developing it's skills. Humans are a miracle in this way, able to survive in savanna and arctic and space, all the different professions, etc. All that is developed through individual selves/ego navigating their way through the environment and their lives. It's disingenuous to say it's not a valid reason for having "a self". 

So in a way, I kinda feel like the point of the book is to not very noble... it's mostly to poop on humans from a great height.

I also don't find Siri very compelling as a character... I'm not 100% done with the book, but the main think Siri does not do, is not capable of apparently, is "trying something". So I just feel a bit disgusted with the character. 

The book has provoked me pondering the "sense of self", which has been interesting... What is most interesting is that selfing seems very binary, the more I ponder it. On or off. And when it's on, it's with a kind of direction/orientation similar to the three poisons: I'm here and I want that, I'm here and I don't want that, I'm here and I'm bored with all of this. Self drops out in flow states when "working" the situation. There is self when I'm frustrated with a piece of woodworking machinery (I'm here, it's there, and it's not working and I don't like that), but I disappear when I'm pulling it apart and looking for the damage... 

I also attended a lecture on "lost person behavior" for search and rescue and one thing that struck me is that the lost person is loathe to admit they are lost. They explain away differenced between mentally-mapped world and experienced world... until they suddenly realize they are very very lost. It's like a switch that gets flipped. And then they often make a straightline attempt to get back to known terrain, just pursuing anything familar.

(I had an experience this week where I forgot which car I was driving, was sort of thinking I was in a different car, and then I could watch as my mind paniced and then nearly instantaneously remapped the world to include the correct car). 

I think "self" is the central worldview/orienting component of mind... but the tricky thing is that we can thing that it IS the who/what we are. If this self is uncomfortable, we are uncomfortable... unless we see/know the nature of the self. When we understand self-consciousness, we don't need it to be happy or content all the time in order to not suffer. We suffer more in our reaction to the suffering than the suffering itself, so to speak. It's clear, I think, that we are multitudes and one of our selves is this Orienting/Directional Self.

So the authors big theme of humans/consciousness not having a "consistent, essential true self" is correct, but then he kinda throws out the baby with the bathwater by saying self-consciousness is wrong somehow. I get the feeling that the author feels shame about the inadequacy of human "self", but this is the classic human problem of trying to assign too much to the self. It seems like the author has a perfection problem, unrelenting standards problem. Just because selves are imperfect, it doesn't mean they are not useful. But it seems like the author's theme is the self is a waste of mental bandwidth.

I'm looking forward to finishing the book and seeing if this holds up... just figured I'd drop this comment midstream in my reading.
Last edit: 2 months 4 weeks ago by Shargrol.

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2 months 4 weeks ago - 2 months 4 weeks ago #118817 by Chris Marti
As I've already said a few times, I'm not sure what the author has proposed (intelligence without sentience/consciousness) is even possible. Still, I found the book to be entertaining and interesting. It made me think, though the premise is depressing and the characters are weird.

I would find living in the universe Peter Watts created a living hell. Humans want to transcend their human-ness through augmentation or escape. The first contact we have with an extraterrestrial intelligence takes that to the extreme, from which I took Peter Watts to be saying, "Be careful what you wish for!" So rather than decrying the self, I think he may be doing the opposite.

Just another take on things  :)
Last edit: 2 months 4 weeks ago by Chris Marti.

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2 months 4 weeks ago #118818 by Kacchapa
I was thinking a few times while listening to this book that I'd rather read a book by a philosopher-scientist and or awareness teacher go into the ideas directly in depth. But as I was digesting what Shargrol said it occurred to me that with non-fiction the writer has an opportunity to express their ideas through the life of the characters, their feelings, actions, relationships, decisions, development. I guess that's a bit late-breaking insight, and a "Duh!" for folks who appreciate fiction. :-)

I can appreciate more that you're kind of putting your humanity on the line when you write fiction and in a way exposing yourself more perhaps. Blindsight has kind of a tortured feeling in that respect.

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2 months 4 weeks ago #118819 by Shargrol
Yeah, I think the book could fall into the "dystopia" genre --- a cautionary story rather than heroic/noble. But I've still got more to read...

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2 months 4 weeks ago #118820 by Chris Marti

I was thinking a few times while listening to this book that I'd rather read a book by a philosopher-scientist and or awareness teacher go into the ideas directly in depth.

Mark, I'll suggest this as your next read/listen:  Conscious

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2 months 4 weeks ago #118822 by Michelle Stone
Random (ethanol-fuelled) thoughts:

Transcending/escaping humanness through augmentation is Theravada? Embracing humanness/self is Mahayana?

The suggestion that scramblers are the honeycomb and Rorsach is the bee makes me think that we never really 'met' Rorschach. And in fact, if Rorschach is an incredibly sophisticated no-self organism/system then perhaps we could never meet it on any level?

Does an organism need a sense of self on some level to function? Even if it's a single cell, there's a differentiation between 'stuff inside this membrane' vs 'stuff outside'. Does that qualify as a primitive sense of self?

I found Siri frustrating initially because none of his interactions seemed to be founded on or linked to his back-story but then I realised it was probably deliberate to underscore his chinese room protocol approach to interaction.

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2 months 4 weeks ago - 2 months 4 weeks ago #118823 by Chris Marti

Transcending/escaping humanness through augmentation is Theravada? Embracing humanness/self is Mahayana?


!!!
Last edit: 2 months 4 weeks ago by Chris Marti.

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2 months 4 weeks ago #118824 by microbuddha
Things are speeding up, the central themes of the book are developing.  Now I don't want to put the book down!!   (75% through)   

But there is garage cleaning to do, pumpkins to be carved, costumes to be put together, belts on mowers to be fixed, patient notes to be completed.   Oh, the humanity!  The pull of this mortal coil.   

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2 months 4 weeks ago #118825 by Chris Marti
Maybe you need some augmentation.

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2 months 2 weeks ago - 2 months 2 weeks ago #118914 by Shargrol
Well I finished the book and I like how the climax scenes kinda blew up some of the assumptions of the story/characters. Nice feelings of surprise.

So ultimately pretty entertaining, but not exactly that insightful... except as kind of an appetizer for thinking about nature of mind/self. 

I kinda feel that the narrator is more of an exploration of not consciousness/interiority, but rather a kind of exploration of narcissim. The "removed observer" mode is kinda characteristic of the emotionally isolated manipulator mindset. There are scenes where this crumbles, revealing a kind of proto-humanistic person wanting/desiring to emerge from the sterile "objective" attitude. I even feel that the authors (intentional/unintentional?) framing of the story was a way to suck in sci fi geeks that are socially awkward... and give them (by the story) an experience of relationships and starting to wake up to an interior emotional life. Almost  like the author was working through some of the same feelings... but who knows?

But how is this for context: What comes to mind is that I wrote a similar kind of story in college about an alien who's "observe and do not manipulate and cause no harm " mode caused the alien to be trapped in an earth relationship. It was really similar to the "romantic" story in this book where the woman was more interested/attached and the alien didn't want to hurt the woman, so wound up passively going along with her desires until he realized that he was in a committed relationship .. and it was my exploration of how I was drawn into and felt trapped by romantic/emotional relationships! :)
Last edit: 2 months 2 weeks ago by Shargrol.

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