Danielle Perszyk is a cognitive scientist, and co-founder and lead scientist at Oscillations who is using neuroscience theory of synchrony in order to make predictions for how to direct attention and tell stories using body and gestures without any traditional narrative components. We explore her research as well as the fundamental nature of consciousness through a debate and dialectic where she represents the tradition of Aristotle & empirical science where I represent the tradition of Plato mathemathics, and Platonic metaphysics. Consciousness is one of the biggest open questions in science, and it is possible that virtual reality may provide new empirical ways to test different strategies for operationalizing consciousness.
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This conversation was informed by the recent article in Scientific American titled “Coming to Grips with the Implications of Quantum Mechanics,” which argues that mind could be a fundamental part of reality rather than simply emergent from physical reality. Specifically, the delayed-choice quantum observer experiment seems to show anomalous retrocausal behavior where a quantum measurement of an entangled particle in the future seems to impact it’s state in the past. Ashok Narasimhan & Menas C. Kafatos propose a framework that has an observer with non-local consciousness that is able to make a quantum measurement. The entire community of scientists are still trying to reckon what the mathematics of quantum mechanics says about the nature of reality, but some more panpsychic, idealistic, and cosmopsychic explaination that are from the Platonic tradition seem to potentially coming back into favor.
Here is the keynote that I gave at the beginning of the VRTO conference in Toronto that gives some more context for this discussion.
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[00:00:05.452] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast. Hello, my name is Kent Bye, and welcome to The Voices of VR Podcast. So we are in a really fascinating and exciting time in history right now, just with the emergence of virtual reality technologies and what that is going to mean to be able to do all sorts of new research when it comes to neuroscience and really trying to tap into the deeper dimensions of the nature of reality, the nature of consciousness. We're opening up new opportunities to be able to ask questions in a way that we weren't able to do so before. And so I had a chance to talk to Daniel Persik. She's a cognitive scientist as well as the co-founder and scientific director of a company called Oscillations. And they're looking at performance artists to look at how they move their bodies through space, but to be able to actually look at the neuroscience of how people are paying attention, how you're directing attention, as well as synchrony and different neuroscientific theories as applied to experiential design. And so I talked to Danielle about some of the research that she's been doing. And we also, in the second half of this interview, do a bit of a deep dive into the nature of consciousness. Now, consciousness is one of the biggest open problems in science. And so I think we each have our own specific take on it. And at the very beginning of this conference at VRTO, I gave a keynote that was really trying to lay out the philosophical foundations of experiential design. really leveraging the work of Richard Tynes in The Passion of the Western Mind, which is really casting the history and evolution of Western thought as this dialectic between Plato representing this mathematical approach that is allowing for these ideal forms to be able to be interfacing with reality, and you see Plato really represented in the mathematical traditions, And then the Aristotelian tradition is really what you see in empirical science, which is what is useful, what is practical, what can you predict, what is actually gonna be usable within this concrete reality, rather than something that may be isolated and more philosophical in some sort of transcendental realm that can't be necessarily falsified. So in terms of consciousness, I think it is perhaps either something that is completely emergent from our neurology, and the Aristotelians are correct that all of consciousness is an illusion, or we may be on the cusp of a new scientific paradigm given some of the latest research that's coming from quantum mechanics that may be leading us towards this more panpsychic world that has this concepts of the universal mind. So that's what we're covering on today's episode of Voices of VR podcast. So this interview with Danielle happened on Sunday, June 17th, 2018 at the VRTO in Toronto, Canada. So with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.
[00:02:43.262] Danielle Perszek: My name is Danielle Perzyk. I am a cognitive scientist, and I'm also the co-founder and scientific director of a company called Oscillations. We create performance art for immersive technologies, and we also do research on the content that we create and also on other immersive content so that we can better understand how to direct attention and how to enhance engagement.
[00:03:08.751] Kent Bye: Yeah, it seems like that virtual reality technologies are going to be a boon for neuroscience, especially when you start to connect it with the brain control interfaces and EEGs. And so maybe you could talk about, from your perspective, what is so compelling about connecting up neuroscience with virtual reality technologies? Like, what is that enabling you to do as a researcher?
[00:03:28.556] Danielle Perszek: Yeah, so in virtual reality, we try to direct people's attention and give them a sense of agency at the same time, and sometimes that can be paradoxical. How do you make somebody feel like they spontaneously want to turn around and explore without giving them an over-the-head, very obvious cues? If you use things like EEG or other devices that are picking up on subtle physiological cues of the user, you can give them a sense of agency so that they feel like they're more connected to the experience. And that makes your cues for how you're directing their attention feel all the more seamless. Now, you can also do subtle things like use audiovisual synchrony, which we know even if you're not connected to a BCI has a powerful effect on the brain and can direct attention. But if you have even just a tiny degree of contingency, such that if somebody is looking somewhere, then the auditory input that is synchronous with that particular visual input is amplified and that's contingent upon where they're looking but also their degree of focus as measured by their EEG. It feels disproportionately more powerful and more connected.
[00:04:49.560] Kent Bye: In your talk here at VRTO you were talking about the multimodal nature of the mind and showing the McGurkin effect where your body is basically like this GPU taking in all this parallel data whether it's all your sensory information and at some point your brain is kind of fusing it together and there can be disconnects between the visual information and auditory information that you're getting and that's the McGurkin effect of showing how, depending on whether or not you're listening or hearing it, that you're able to process and have biases towards, you know, how you're actually taking in this information. But it seems like this multimodal nature of processing all of this information means that when we see those types of what you're referring to as synchrony, so if you were to have a spatial environment, but then Amplify the audio from a certain region and then have a visual correspondence to that then I guess that's what you are kind of defining as that synchrony of having a Correspondence to the sound design with the visual input and that as people sort of guide their attention there when they see those things match up together Then what are the signatures you see from a neuroscience perspective?
[00:05:49.952] Danielle Perszek: So you see an amplified brain response. You can see this in the bold signal from fMRI and also enhanced ERPs. You see if things are even a couple of milliseconds off, if there's a latency so that you see something and then you hear something afterwards or vice versa. That can even be irksome and people subjectively report that things feel off you really see a massive effect of that when it's something like speaking because our brains are so tuned to the social signals of other humans and to a lesser degree you see that aesthetically people just prefer things that are more synchronous.
[00:06:28.200] Kent Bye: And so it seems like Oscillations, your company, you're doing some really interesting things in terms of doing the neuroscience research, but also collaborating with artists. So maybe you could describe to me, like, how are you taking these artists and then doing neuroscience research with the kind of, I guess, embodied art that they're doing?
[00:06:46.078] Danielle Perszek: So this is a really big question that I could answer in several different ways. I'll give you the short answer first. Movement artists, so that would be dancers and athletes, are trained to intuitively direct attention with their bodies. They have a built-in kinesthetic awareness and they know how to engage people. That's what they're in the business of doing with their bodies. And so they're a natural fit for studying attention and engagement in virtual reality. But my interest in working with movement artists goes back a lot further than that. I study the evolution of human communication and one of the strategies that we use for communicating is obviously language. Another strategy that we use is gesture and some, you know, you could call gesture part of language. And what we're seeing in the world right now Because it's the modern information age and because of platforms on social media that enable people to post their skills and exchange their skills, we're seeing essentially the evolution of different movement styles in real time. So people are exchanging their movement skills, innovating new ones, pushing the limits of the human body, and this gives us a window into the evolution of one aspect of human communication. And it's an incredible scientific opportunity that we have if we can bring these people together and see what spontaneously emerges. Will we be able to categorize basic units of human movement? Will we be able to essentially come up with a grammar of movement, kind of like a universal grammar? We talk about that in terms of language and it's controversial, but it's an open question. It's definitely one that we're trying to explore.
[00:08:36.447] Kent Bye: Yeah, back in 2008, I started hula hooping. So I was a part of the hoop dance community where there was this whole community of people who were innovating different moves and different styles. And then, you know, there'd be these different hoop dance gatherings where people would teach each other these different techniques that they were learning. But there was this process of people really pushing the edges of the different styles and I guess that's what I hear you saying is that this is still continuing today with all these different dance communities of people who are really pushing the boundaries and the edges of what the human body is capable of and these different styles and dance moves that as a researcher you're kind of studying it through the lens of being able to communicate some sort of deeper emotional content it sounds like.
[00:09:16.744] Danielle Perszek: Yeah, I love that you do hooping object manipulation. I think it's the umbrella category for that right now, and we're working with some people who do object manipulation. So you brought up emotional connection, and that's a really interesting concept. I've actually pushed some of our artists on this and asked them, what is the experience that you're having when you're getting into your own body or when you're actively communicating and improvising, fusing, building with other bodies if they're doing a similar style or something different? And some of them report totally losing themselves into what they might call an emotional experience, sort of pure experience. And others say that it's extremely cognitive and they are being very intentional and it's not emotional for them. They are planning each subtle thing that they're going to do. And so I think that it's variegated. What people are tapping into at the very high level, people who have this extreme kinesthetic awareness and talent, they all have different ways of getting into it. Ultimately, I think all of them are able to tap into what we might call a flow state where they lose time and it's more of their unconscious driving their ability. It's so overlearned and they don't have to necessarily think too much about it.
[00:10:33.118] Kent Bye: Often shy away from the word emotional just because I don't necessarily know if we're all using it in the same way Yeah, and well, I guess there's a part of like symbolic communication I guess that's part of the body movement is trying to perhaps and the receiver of that embodied communication invokes some sort of emotion I think that music somehow mysteriously evokes emotions in different ways and I think I You had mentioned something about like there's been a lot of research in terms of gestures and how gestures are trying to communicate some sort of meaning or signifier in some way and like what is the taxonomy for the movement of the human body and how do you even start to begin to break that down and to form a more formalized objective pattern for breaking down if there's a universal gesture language or if there's cultural differences or how you even start to approach something like that.
[00:11:21.632] Danielle Perszek: I love that question, and it's a little bit outside of my area of expertise. There are researchers in the gesture space who would be better able to answer that question, but I can say that in terms of people coming together and inventing languages, like sign languages, it seems to be the case that there are certain constraints that we might be able to label as basic units. But other than that, it's kind of arbitrary. People will use gestures that are functional and that are able to be understood by their communicative partners. And if you expose children to these gestures, they will make them even more structurally sound and that doesn't have to happen in any particular way necessarily. Expose children to that more structurally sound version and they'll make it even more structurally sound. So what I'm describing right now is, at this point, a well-documented process of the evolution of Nicaraguan Sign Language, where a community of scientists have been studying this group for 40 years now. But it's kind of a microcosm of what we expect happens in the evolution of spoken language as well. And it's very controversial as to whether there are universal elements of this or whether it's all sort of a dynamic system that emerges more or less arbitrarily.
[00:12:43.868] Kent Bye: Yeah, one of the other really interesting points that you're making is the role of ritual and how ritual is bringing people together and they're sharing a shared experience with music and rhythm and that creates a certain amount of synchrony and that as that synchrony happens that there's something happens in their brain that they actually have less like social bias or racial bias gender bias maybe the the judging part of their brain maybe turns off a little bit and they become more Immersed into the rhythm of the music and that they have this shared experience I guess at the end of it I would imagine that people have this feeling of unity in some way and so maybe you could talk a bit about like the neuroscience of ritual and what you're looking at in regards to this
[00:13:24.908] Danielle Perszek: There are so many different layers of what we might call ritual. There's the, just the perceptual layer where people might form in groups because they look similar, whether that's because of some feature of how they actually look, how they're embodied, or something arbitrary like body paint or clothing. moving in sync with one another and rhythmically seems to be another layer of ritual and it powerfully induces social bonding. We see this even in infants as young as 14 months of age, even younger than that I think now, when you have infants moving in sync with adults, other agents, they're more likely to act pro-socially and help those adults. And that seems to be something, I don't know if I want to say that's innate in us, but something that's there at least from a very early age. Then at an even higher level, there are stories that a particular cultural group might subscribe to, myths, beliefs, and that too functions to sort of create a group, an in-group, a group bond. and all of these things can be integrated into a single social ritual. In terms of the neuroscience of that, I'm more familiar with the perceptual side and, you know, the moving in sync together and that allows us to be on the same neural wavelength. I would suspect, actually there is research that shows that when people are interpreting stories in the same way, this is the fMRI research, that their brain activation is similar. So it seems like social ritual at all of these different levels has the effect of eliciting similar brain activity between individuals and that scaffolds their communal representation of the world.
[00:15:19.070] Kent Bye: Yeah, one of the things you said at the beginning of your presentation was that there's a bit of a paradigm shift that's happening within neuroscience right now when it comes to the recent research and breakthroughs, when it comes to seeing that communication happens when people are on the same neural wavelength. I mean, people metaphorically talk about, like, are we on the same wavelength? But this is sort of a literal, like, your brains are actually vibrating at similar frequencies. And so moving from studying just individuals, but looking at how people are related to each other in group situations. And so maybe you could. give a little bit more context as to what's that mean to be on the same neural wavelength.
[00:15:52.465] Danielle Perszek: So if you're using EEG and measuring people's brainwaves, they can be in phase or out of phase. And it seems like when people's brainwaves are in phase, they are more likely to be understanding one another. When their brainwaves are out of phase, they're not understanding one another.
[00:16:10.570] Kent Bye: Are they actually sort of synchronized in real-time communication, like some sort of heartbeat-like synchronization? Is that what that means? Is like, if they're out of phase, they're not vibrating at the same frequency?
[00:16:20.607] Danielle Perszek: Yes, yes, that's exactly what that means. And we're thinking, the people who study language and the neuroscience of language, that when, so our brain has these rhythms just endogenously. And when you hear somebody speak, it happens to be that the rhythm of speech, no matter what language that you're speaking, matches the rhythm of these endogenous brainwaves. And when this incoming speech signal sort of hits the brain, it resets the phase of these endogenous rhythms. And it's thought that this sort of sparks the cascade that ultimately culminates in decoding the speech signal. So the sort of mechanism for being on the same wavelength starts with resetting the phase of the brainwaves when we're talking about speech specifically.
[00:17:12.504] Kent Bye: Yeah, and it seemed like in Oscillations that you were doing different experiments with virtual reality, where you were trying to take almost a heat map or detection of what people were looking at, and to be able to maybe track and show people as they were watching the experience what other people were looking at, in some ways maybe trying to do an asynchronous depiction of what other people were looking at, paying attention to, resonating with, or on some frequency. And so what were you trying to show, and what did you find with doing this type of thing?
[00:17:40.736] Danielle Perszek: So we're still actively doing this and planning all of the different iterations of this experience, where we're feeding people's neural activity and their attention, their eye gaze, into a virtual reality experience.
[00:17:53.026] Kent Bye: Are they getting real-time biofeedback of their own biometric data in the experience, or is this looking at other people's?
[00:18:00.020] Danielle Perszek: Both. We're starting with getting an individual's own biofeedback and changing the content. But ultimately, so our hypothesis is that we will be able to enable a new type of social interaction. One of the big themes in the virtual reality community is that you put on a headset and it's a very isolated experience. And we know that social experiences are where it's at, so to say. we're really trying to figure out how to make virtual reality more social. And Oscillations is thinking that, well, maybe we can create a new type of social interaction. Maybe just the awareness of other minds being represented by modifications of the content that we can program in arbitrary ways. But like I mentioned in my talk, maybe you see something in the 360 landscape and it's brighter and that brightness is reflective of other users having experienced that and been engaged with that particular part or moment in the content. So if you're actively viewing a piece of immersive content and you're getting this feedback from what other people were experiencing, will that shape how you respond? It's an open question, but I strongly suspect that that awareness of how other people were engaging with content will have some sort of effect, and we don't know what that effect will be, but it should be interesting.
[00:19:28.763] Kent Bye: Yeah, and there's a couple times during your presentation where you said something along the lines of, well, neuroscience theory would predict that this would happen. So you're taking a little bit of a data-driven, hypothesis-driven approach to doing these little experiments within virtual reality. And so what are some of these hypotheses and experiments that you're doing? You have something that is coming from a prediction from the neuroscience. How are you translating that neuroscience into some sort of insight into either experiential design or insights about the nature of human consciousness and the neurology of that?
[00:19:58.332] Danielle Perszek: Yeah, so we are using our understanding of the mind that comes from neuroscience, from neuroscientific evidence and also theory on the front end to actually design our content because we want it to be as engaging as possible, but also because we want to be able to test certain things. And then on the back end, we are actually running experiments to see where we were correct or where we weren't. And one of the specific things that we're thinking of testing that's based in neuroscientific theory is based on this idea of the brain as a prediction machine. So we know that the brain is constantly computing deluge of information and it's assimilating models of the world that are essentially the best guess of what the world is at any given moment and what's causing what. One cue that the brain uses for causal relationships is temporal synchrony. And what we're doing in our experiences is building in temporal contingencies, usually with music and movement, audiovisual synchrony. And we think that if we do that to a very precise degree, especially if there's a sufficient degree of complexity, so polyrhythms and intricate movements that are very very tightly linked in time that we will be able to trick the brain into thinking that There's a sort of causal relationship between the auditory input and the visual input that would be essentially the brain's best guess that that's what's happening because it's Integrating this information and the information is synchronous. So for example, if you're seeing a dancer and the dancer is bringing out certain elements of the music and when you're focusing on that, those elements become even louder, your brain would be tricked into thinking that that dancer is creating that aspect of the music.
[00:21:52.272] Kent Bye: Yeah, it reminds me of both visual storytelling in terms of creating narrative tension through different visual techniques, as well as music that has a combination of dissonance and consonance and trying to create, in the end of it, harmony. But you're able to, what it seems like, by maybe using some of this neuroscience theory, you're able to potentially modulate the synchrony of different aspects. And if you really wanted to create that, peak harmony maybe right before that harmony you have some dissonance in some way where there's things that are out of sync that then you create this sort of rhythm over time that can create this almost like narrative tension but that narrative tension is coming from an experiential part where you're actually able to connect the spatialized audio with the video and everything else so it sounds like to some extent you're kind of proving out perhaps some of the foundations of narrative design when it comes to like being able to operate all these individual aspects of the empirical nature of the experience that is able to perhaps create this emotional feelings.
[00:22:45.457] Danielle Perszek: That is really cool. I had not thought of that before. So playing with tension and release, whether it's from temporal synchrony or the features of the music and timing that over the entire experience you can kind of get oh, this is actually really cool because one of the things that we're trying to avoid actually is narrative storytelling because we don't know, we being the VR community, we don't know how to direct attention consistently yet. But it sounds like what you're suggesting is that we can use a very low level principles of the brain and our understanding of tension and consonants and dissonance to simulate the narrative arc without actually having to have a plot. If that's what you're saying, I think
[00:23:29.154] Kent Bye: Yeah, that's what I'm saying. We're creating in the moment. I think that just studying the geometry of music, for example, trying to look at the underlying structures of music by taking the 12 notes and putting it in a circle of fifths and then actually plotting out the lines, you start to see a spatial representation of that music. And studying that and also studying alchemy and these different polarity points of these different esoteric traditions, you get this consistent through line, which is that the underlying essence of all storytelling is this process of going from one polarity point to another polarity point. And it's like this connection of those opposites. That resolution of those polarity points is what creates that harmony that comes in the end. there's only a handful of things that are actually in harmony because of the way that Western music is structured, but that there's so many other ways of creating that dissonance. And so through that, you're able to get these, you know, flavors of experience that come from the different keys, the different, you know, there's something kind of mysterious about music about how there's individual notes, but then they are connected to a chord structure, but then also there's melodies, and then there's rhythm, and then all these things are kind of like the brain, perceptually, is somehow putting this whole thing together, but the individual parts are kind of mysterious in terms of trying to describe, from a reductive point of view, like orchestration within music is something that is kind of something that is difficult to try to pin down exactly what is happening, and I think this opportunity with virtual reality technologies is that using some of these metaphors from music as analogical reasoning to be able to design overall like a spatial and visual storytelling that is fully sensory not only just the visual and audio but also haptics and smell and taste eventually.
[00:25:06.314] Danielle Perszek: Yeah, I think music theory in particular will be able to offer so many profound insights into what we're doing and also just into the mind. That's been on my list for a couple of years now and I just haven't had the time to delve in, but I think you're absolutely right. And the scientists who are doing research on music cognition absolutely are finding really compelling things about the relationship between the human mind and music. Really mysterious things that we're still trying to sort of grapple with because we don't know how to make sense of them, but there's a kind of magic to Music and the holistic effect that it has on the brain and we're trying to figure it out Music and story I think stories as well I don't know like if you've looked at the neuroscience of story like what happens in someone's brain when they're listening to a story like why is storytelling so compelling Yeah, so there's a framework that I think was popularized actually by a literature professor. He wrote a book called The Storytelling Animal and made a really persuasive argument that what differentiates humans from other animals is our ability to take noise in the environment and organize it into stories. And that not only helps us make sense, but remember things. What that looks like in the brain, I'm not actually sure. There probably is work on that. The bit that I do know is what I shared earlier, that when people are interpreting stories in similar ways, their brain activity holistically is similar. And this kind of goes back to what I was saying before about rather than studying the individual brain, we can look at brains of multiple people at the same time and at least ask, are they similar or are they different and to what degree?
[00:26:56.120] Kent Bye: Yeah, and we're here at VRTO, and I gave a talk yesterday about the philosophical foundations of experiential design, as well as some more esoteric elucidations of virtual reality, looking at how we can look at maps of reality both from more of an Aristotelian perspective of the concrete reality, empirical reality, but also from a platonic tradition of maybe some of the more esoteric neoplatonic traditions that we can use for maybe the quality of experience rather than the quantified aspects of experience. And so, I know that you've looked at the nature of consciousness to some extent. Do you consider yourself a consciousness researcher? What is consciousness and what is the nature of consciousness?
[00:27:33.911] Danielle Perszek: Wow, that's a lot of fun. I should say a couple of things, so there are a couple of questions there. First, when I hear Aristotle and Plato, I'm not sure that I'm representing them in the same way that you are. I know you mentioned a book on the history of Western thought.
[00:27:49.370] Kent Bye: Yeah, The Passion of the Western Mind by Rick Tarnas, yeah.
[00:27:51.453] Danielle Perszek: Yes, that is now on my list to read. But when I think of Plato, I think of the association between nativism and so things being programmed before birth over the course of evolution in a mind. Usually it's in the context of a human mind if we're talking about psychology. And then the Aristotelian perspective would be the opposite, that we learn everything, that we are blank slates. and that our experiences in the world wire our cognitive systems and our neural systems to form the structures that we observe in the adult. So those are the two I think of nativism and empiricism. Sorry, empiricism is the Aristotelian perspective. I'm not sure if that's how you're talking.
[00:28:34.305] Kent Bye: I'm not familiar with that specifically. I think the big thing that Plato was advocating for was that there was like some sort of like non-spatial, temporal, non-local field of ideal forms. So it's sort of a timeless realm of ideal forms in that the Plato's cave allegory was that when we see reality, we're just kind of seeing the shadows of reality. That the actual reality is kind of like this mysterious holographic reality that when you boil down to sort of the smallest levels, that this is kind of an illusion that we see this thing. I mean, this goes into Buddhism, but the idea of the platonic realms of ideal forms has been preserved through the mathematical traditions, mostly. So in the philosophy of math, there's two basic philosophies. One is mathematical realism versus the mathematical fictionalism. The realism is basically saying, like, when you ask the question, is a mathematical object discovered or invented? So a mathematical realist or mathematical Platonist would say, well, I'm discovering these objects that are already there. And so with Aristotle, he had this four different causations, and one of them was a formal causation. And that formal causation, to some extent, preserves this possibility for a transcendent non-local field of mathematical patterns that are somehow interfacing with reality. And the Quine-Putnam indispensability argument that is in favor of this mathematical realism is saying, Hey, you know, if you're going to use science to describe ontological reality, then mathematical objects are kind of indispensable for this venture of science. And so you might as well give ontological reality to those. And what that's saying is that there's these sort of transcendent mathematical objects that are interfacing with reality. we can't falsify it. And the mathematical fictionalists from more of an Aristotelian perspective would say, well, give me the evidence. How do you know that you're actually interfacing with it? And that platonic epistemology is something that would say, well, because we don't know for sure, then we're not going to give any ontological reality to anything that we can't directly observe or falsify. So I think there's this perspective as to whether or not you're going to imagine by looking at the mathematics of things versus whether or not you're going to look at your direct experience. And so you see this tension play out in the string theorists who are more platonic and saying, we're going to use math to be able to use these 11 dimensions. And then there's the Aristotelian physicists who are like, no, no, no, that doesn't work. That's ridiculous. That's not even wrong because you can't falsify it. So I think you see this battle that plays out on all different dimensions of both our culture for 2,500 years, but also in our current levels of science. But also people have a temperamental bias as to whether or not they tend to be a little bit more Aristotelian or a little bit more platonic. Or the dream is to be able to balance both equally, but I think people tend to have a center of gravity of one or the other.
[00:31:08.269] Danielle Perszek: Yeah, I think people who think about it and who are even aware of some of these dichotomies, you hit it exactly on the head, have a temperamental bias towards one or the other. And it's really interesting to me why people lean one way or another, why people are more nativist or empiricist or platonic or Aristotelian. But one of the questions that I keep coming back to, especially as it relates to the nature of consciousness and how we're operationalizing consciousness and all of these other associated psychological terms, is are we just talking about artifacts of language? Are there true dichotomies? Is there really a there there to what we're talking about? Or are we able to do all of these mental acrobatics because we have words for things, but we don't actually have fleshed out concepts that are associated with these words. These words are more or less hollow and we can kind of pit them against one another. It remains unclear to me whether or not people who are using these terms are actually having the same conversation. And I think a lot of things that we take for granted in everyday conversations, for example, emotions is one big can of worms. The way that we talk about them and even to some extent experience them might, to a certain extent, be a byproduct, an artifact of the words that we use. And this is one of the reasons why I study language and I'm so fascinated by language and the intersection of language and consciousness. And I don't even know how I'd begin to start disentangling some of these issues.
[00:32:39.849] Kent Bye: Well, you should look into mathematical fictionalism because you basically articulated that very argument that would say that mathematics is a semantic description that is not real. It's just like something that's useful to tell the story of reality. It's like saying that the number one is equivalent to like Santa Claus. that Santa Claus isn't real but in the mythology of this story, this context of Christmas that sort of has a functional part in this relationship that we have to this story and that the mathematical fictionalists would say that is the same thing as the number one. And so there's a guy named Field who's trying to remove all mathematics from all of science and normalize like quantum mechanics. And if he's able to do that, then to some extent, he's going to be able to prove that, yes, maybe these are some sort of artificial constructs that we don't need to rely upon. But at this point, most mathematicians I talk to are mathematical Platonists, both because they have the direct phenomenological experience of feeling like they're actually discovering something. And that could be like a mythology or story that they're telling themselves that gives them this sense of ego disillusionment that allows them to surrender from control. to be like, hey, I'm not in control. I need to sort of allow my unconscious psyche to sort of allow myself to discover something that is already there. So, or they could actually have some sort of a tonic epistemology where they literally are interfacing with their consciousness in some sort of non-local way into this transcendent realm that is coming back with information that is useful. And I think that is also a possibility. So there's this tension between like, I would lean, based upon my looking into the philosophy of math, I would lean towards against that semantic argument just because of the Quine-Putnam indispensability argument, which is this really compelling, like, if this is a semantic description, then why does it work so well?
[00:34:17.787] Danielle Perszek: So I want to offer a potential reconciliation. Correct me if I'm missing something. Maybe we can have our cake and eat it too here. Could it be the case that there isn't a there there, that some of these things that we're talking about don't actually exist until they exist in our mind? And it depends upon how we're defining what's real. Would we say that something that only exists as a representation in our mind is real? if we grant that operationalization of real, then it could be the case that something doesn't exist until we assimilate information just so, you know, sort of merge different representations in our mind into a new representation, that that becomes available and that corresponds to a feeling of discovery. And moreover, that possibility for assimilating representations in that particular way is in some way available from environmental input such that different individuals could simultaneously come to the same discoveries, could construct, could build the same mental representations where there was no thing that they could point to in the environment, but they sort of build derivatives, derivative structures from something that's basic in the environment and they all converge on the same thing, whether it's a mathematical concept or a phenomenological concept, and they all then report this same feeling of discovery, but really that's just a byproduct of the feel-good chemical release when opportunistic assimilation happens in the brain, when we have this unconscious incubation and connect all of the dots, which is actually a scientifically documented phenomenon.
[00:36:05.826] Kent Bye: Yeah. Yeah. So, you know, this is sort of the Daniel Dennett, like everything is an illusion in terms of a consciousness. It's all part of the mechanics of our brain. And well, what I would say from the philosophy of math, because I went to the joint mathematics meeting and talked about 37 different mathematicians exploring this. And the thing that I found was that there are some mathematicians who have really looked and thought about this deeply and have come to the conclusion that it could be some strange combination of discovery and invention. There's maybe a part of, like I think of it as like a metaphor of a community garden. So there may be a seed that is like an internal form, but that seed doesn't take root and actually grow and produce anything useful until the community that is socially constructed is able to actually plant it and then come up with all the rules and axioms and prove things out. But there could be some strange thing of collective belief. that comes there. In the realm of mathematics, that's easy because you have axioms. As long as you have axioms and rules, then you can have all sorts of widely varying different types of philosophical metaphysical assumptions. But as long as you agree on the axiomatic assumptions, you can have whatever crazy beliefs that you want as long as you follow those sets of rules. So if you have a set of rules, then what does it mean to be able to agree upon those rules? And is there some strange combination where once you have a collective consensus around those rules, then does it have some deeper sort of ontological reality in some sort of platonic realm where now there's this strange feedback loop between like reality of something that is actually interfacing with the fabric of the structures of reality in some sort of formal causation way or that there's a sort of the collective consciousness of collective belief that is actually interfacing with reality.
[00:37:43.650] Danielle Perszek: So my question there would be, correct me if I'm misinterpreting you, but if a group of people converges upon a particular mental representation then that mental representation gains some sort of truth or veridicality independent of the collective representation? Is that what you're saying?
[00:38:08.495] Kent Bye: Well, that it's some sort of weird, yeah, it's like a feedback loop cycle. when you have enough people believe in something, then it becomes like real in some way. And I think mathematics is such an interesting use case because mathematics has this mysterious connection as to the fabric of reality. I mean, quantum electrodynamics has like a level precision down to 12 decimal points, right? And so there's something about like, well, how do you reckon that? How do you reckon that these things that could be constructed from the mind actually have empirical evidence that is kind of stretches the limits of credulity? Like, how does that actually even work?
[00:38:39.415] Danielle Perszek: So I would ask how we're operationalizing real. And I know that I think that's probably the third time that I'm bringing that up, but it sounds, what's that mean?
[00:38:47.438] Kent Bye: What's maybe you can, yeah. What's what's it mean to operationalize either consciousness or reality? What do you mean by that?
[00:38:52.679] Danielle Perszek: So operationalized come up with a working definition. So it's basically a functional meaning that maintains its consistency throughout a particular framework of a conversation. So if we are saying in this conversation that something gains veridicality because it has utility, because it can predict, it's consistent with other observations that we make, and maybe even observations that we wouldn't have even ventured to look at, then it feels like it's got some sort of realness to it. But I would ask whether we couldn't subsume that concept of real under just functional, you know, once we've constructed a new way of looking at things, that new representation is useful for forming other representations. It's not that it exists independently of our minds, it just allows our minds to look at things in different ways.
[00:39:49.723] Kent Bye: I would say that math and science are completely different in the way that they're made. Science is all about making a prediction, and then if you find something to be true, it's kind of conditionally true because you're really trying to falsify that, and so you're kind of always conditionally waiting for new paradigms and new evidence. You can never really fully prove something because it can always have contradictory evidence that either you have to ignore as anomaly, or if there's enough anomalous data, then you have to shift your paradigm as to what the nature of reality is. You shift your model. In math once you set the axioms and once you prove something true It's eternally true until you find an inconsistency in your overall system, or you've proved one of your axioms wrong so truth and math there's a certain amount of like truth that comes and this is why most of mathematicians are platonic because in The realm of math there is this realm of having this ideal form of this absolute truth now anything that interfaces with reality has like information loss this is sort of this concept of going from the ideal form into reality is like you can never really draw a quote-unquote perfect circle because it's always going to be sort of off from the constraints of empirical physical reality. So when I think of from a platonic sense that real is that from a math perspective that these mathematical structures have this truth validity within the constraints of those rules.
[00:41:07.614] Danielle Perszek: So aren't you just saying that mathematicians operationalize truth in a different way that scientists do?
[00:41:12.657] Kent Bye: Yeah, they do.
[00:41:14.338] Danielle Perszek: So it's a semantic thing.
[00:41:16.407] Kent Bye: What do you mean?
[00:41:18.230] Danielle Perszek: I mean that they mean different things when they use the word truth.
[00:41:21.720] Kent Bye: They do.
[00:41:22.020] Danielle Perszek: OK. That's really interesting. I don't think that I appreciated the extent to which that was true.
[00:41:31.888] Kent Bye: So I mean, I think I have working definitions of consciousness. And I'm leaning upon these different natural philosophies, hermetic philosophies. But what, from your perspective, do you believe that it's impossible to even operationalize consciousness? Or there's a tension here as to whether or not On the one hand, people that are the reductive materialist Aristotelian point of view, people like Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, a lot of these more neuroscientists that I've met are typically in this camp where they feel like consciousness is emergent from all of material reality and that there's no sort of transcendent form of interaction in that the more Eastern philosophies, hermetic philosophies, or panpsychic philosophies, these ideas that consciousness is either fundamental or universal, that there's a certain amount of metaphysics that can't be falsified. And there's certain dimensions of us not really actually knowing for sure. But what I see as the nexus point is what's happening in quantum mechanics and to whether or not we're going to have a consistent story as to what quantum mechanics means. does it mean that mind is primary and that consciousness actually does collapse a quantum wave function in some way or is the many worlds hypothesis true at that level or is quantum mechanics only true at small scales and doesn't scale up to large scales and that we can't use it to be a deterministic model of everything or to have a Universal wave function to be able to say that this actually does apply to large scales as well as small scale So I think when you look at the quantum mechanics I see that there's these open questions that may actually tip us towards one of these two Past whether it points us to reductive materialism or towards some of these more ancient ideas of panpsychism that are coming back in this modern context So there was a lot there when I think about consciousness.
[00:43:17.001] Danielle Perszek: I often don't at the same time think about quantum mechanics So I'm just gonna for the moment talk about what I think about when I think about consciousness so I think the question that you're getting at is is there some sort of primacy that we can grant to phenomenological experience. And I think that that's how you're using the word consciousness. And that's fine. We can, for the sake of this conversation, operationalize consciousness as phenomenological experience. If we do that, then I am going to appeal to, I think, experiences that we can all talk about and agree upon, because that's all that we can really do. in a conversation to get anywhere at least. And I would say, well, there's a lot of experiences that we have that actually don't feel like anything. For example, when you're on autopilot and you feel like you got from point A to point B, without actually experiencing the travel between point A and point B? What was happening to the mind then? You would agree that that phenomenologically didn't feel like anything.
[00:44:25.474] Kent Bye: Where was... I would disagree. I would say that from my sort of framework, there's like the four elements. So fire element is active presence. Air element is mental presence as well as social presence. the water element is emotional presence, and the earth element is embodied presence. So I'd say that that is a dissociative air presence, like mental dissociation, that that is actually a quality of presence, that just because you're not aware of what happens in your body, or that you're aware of emotions and how emotions are kind of a marker of how things evolve over time, that there's still like a quality of presence there that I would characterize as a sort of a mental presence, like a dissociation that happens there.
[00:45:04.014] Danielle Perszek: But I would say that we can experience what it feels like to be dissociated from a lot of different sensory input. And that is a type of experience. And then you can also experience things feeling integrated. That's also a type of experience. But they're both types of experience. They're both things that you can report, oh yeah, it felt like something, right? But there are also moments I mean, when we're sleeping, we have moments where there is presumably no experience if we're not dreaming, right? So when I think about being able to report about the quality of an experience, I find myself going down a rabbit hole of associations, of analogies. And when you look at the case of sort of degrees of awareness, that is expertise, when people are able to report increasingly fine-grained abilities to make differentiations for a particular percept, I think that that can be particularly elucidating on what the nature of experience is. And I'll give you an example. So are you a wine drinker?
[00:46:11.389] Kent Bye: Not as much. No, I don't really drink alcohol. But I have drank in wine before. So I appreciate the sensory experience of it when I do have it.
[00:46:18.058] Danielle Perszek: OK, well, I'll go with this example because I think a lot of people will appreciate it. People who maybe enjoy their boxed wine don't have a refined palate. If you asked them what their experience of wine was, I don't think that they would have very many tools to describe that experience. They might say, oh, it's sweet or it's dry. It's tasty or it's not. In contrast, if you ask somebody who has become expert in wine perception, so a sommelier, they are able to describe in much more detail what their experience is. And I would make the argument that we could believe that they also have, or we can assume that they also have, a different type of experience. a qualitatively different type of experience. And the way that we can understand that experience is by the analogies that they provide for us. For example, oh, I tasted whetstone on the wine. Was there whetstone in the wine? Of course not. What I interpret that to mean is that their mental representation of wet stone, wherever that is in the brain, was co-activated with their sensory experience of the wine, and that co-activation in the brain is what we call a conscious experience, an experience of that thing. And when you push this further and think about all different ways that you could describe an experience, at least I personally find that the more analogies that I have to talk about, the more co-activations in my mind, the richer the experience is. And that makes me wonder, could experience, could phenomenological consciousness just be the different associations that are available to us, the different mental representations that become co-activated, elicited by a particular stimulus? I'd like to turn it back to you and ask if that makes any sense or resonates with what you're thinking.
[00:48:18.534] Kent Bye: Yeah, I think that's, I think Kant talks about, and also Lakoff especially, you know, but I think Kant started putting forth this a priori principle of, you know, having in your brain concepts and mathematics, I think would fit into that. But in terms of Lakoff, I think that some of the work that neuroscientists, as I understand it, That there's a certain amount of the way that our brain Understands things is through metaphor and through analogy and that's sort of a primary function of how our brain works And so that what I imagine is that you know I've done over like 2,000 VR experiences with this kind of like mental model framework of looking at these different elements and I think that to a certain extent like active presence of agency expression and mental social presence how much puzzle solving and the cohesion of the how it stimulates my brain in different ways or if I'm interacting with other people or the emotional presence of the the rhythm and the music and the song and being able to really you know drive a narrative and really evoke an emotional response or an embodied presence which is much more contemplative and much more focused on like cultivating this sense of embodied presence through like these practices of actually paying attention to the haptic experience or my avatar representation. So from those, I kind of see that those have been like the flavors, like the primary flavors. And you know, there's also other dimensions that I think that you can use all sorts of other different types of traditions, whether they're from esoteric traditions, meditation, contemplation, the tarot, these archetypal dynamics of symbols, like there can be other aspects that come into the experience that is the content of the experience. So for me, I kind of separate it into like four or five different things. So you have the context. So what context are you in? Are you at home? Are you being entertained? Are you in the doctors getting some sort of medical advice? Are you with a partner in some sort of romantic relationship context? Are you in death and grieving like at a funeral? Are you at church at some sort of religious context or travel or at work or with your friends and family? Are you isolated in prison? Are you in your body in some way? Are you at the bank with your economic situation? Or are you in short distance travel? Are you talking about a context of early education? So I think there's many different types of context that you could try to come up with that. So you have the context of the experience. That's the primary. And that context sets what happens after that. And some sort of combination of all the four elements are all happening at the same time. So there's some combination of active presence, mental and social presence, embodied presence, as well as emotional presence. And then there's actual content of the experience, of what is the story, of what is happening. And then what is the dynamics of that? And then how does that change over time? And then how are you changing over time so that you're in relation to that story, so that you have a synchrony in that way? So to me, if I was an operationalized consciousness, As I go through experiences, I'm thinking about all those different aspects.
[00:51:06.540] Danielle Perszek: So could you say that the different contexts and the different types of presence that you listed are just different mental representations?
[00:51:16.547] Kent Bye: I think that in some ways there's an environmental connection. So the context is being set by where I'm at.
[00:51:23.192] Danielle Perszek: But isn't the context being represented in the brain somehow?
[00:51:27.726] Kent Bye: I think that there's I think there's gonna be as people are operating in there. I don't know actually I have no idea what happens But I know that there's a contextual dimension in communication and perception and that's just kind of like my experience
[00:51:41.292] Danielle Perszek: So I actually think, unless I'm misunderstanding the core of what you're saying, I think a lot of the different elements that you're putting out there as bearing on your operationalization of consciousness could just be operationalized as different mental representations. So you are mentally representing the context that you are in. You are mentally representing your degree of presence or emotional engagement. The emotional quality is another type of mental representation. So if you have a co-activation of different mental representations, the quality of the experience will feel one way. If you have a co-activation of different mental representations, it will feel another way. And when you put it that way, I think conscious experience really is just a relative thing. It is the particular combination of mental representations that you have at any one given moment. And those mental representations can be, you know, emotional, contextual, more cognitive, mathematical, whatever it is.
[00:52:40.985] Kent Bye: Well, I think there's two primary metaphors that we can think about what's happening with consciousness at least as I understand this differentiation between the Consciousness being emergent from body versus either being fundamental or universal and the one what's if it's an emergent the brain is the whole body is kind of like a computer and that there's taking all the sensory input and in the brain and the whole body is sort of Processing it and somehow translating that sensory input into consciousness. That's one metaphor. The other metaphor is that the body is some sort of antenna and that there's some sort of transcendent consciousness that we are receiving, but it's sort of dependent upon where we're at in our context, but also everything else of who we're around, but that there's some sort of like distributed consciousness that is not just distributed within the environment, but also distributed, you know, potentially into some sort of like transcendent platonic realm. So I guess the big question is whether or not the reductive materialists have been able to close that gap and to be able to fully explain all of what's happening in our phenomenal sort of experience of the narrative and the visuals and this sort of synthesis of everything and why our brain is kind of narrating at the same time. If David Chalmers says that this is a hard problem, and I'm just curious if you believe that's a hard problem or if you believe that it's not a hard problem, that everything can already be explained with the neuroscience that we have today.
[00:53:55.517] Danielle Perszek: I don't think the neuroscience that we have today is going to get us all the things that we care about with consciousness, but I think that it will one day. And I think that that's the question that you're ultimately interested in. I don't know of any evidence, and I'm curious what evidence you're thinking of when you say that there might be
[00:54:12.605] Kent Bye: Another realm with which we are I think that if you if you look at the quantum mechanics Interpretations and what's happening at the level of quantum mechanics? Perception could be required in order to construct reality in order to do an observation at the quantum level it could actually require a perceiver and the the study that I would refer to is the delayed choice quantum erasure and And the delayed choice quantum erasure shows that they're sort of taking these quantum particles, and they're sort of getting split up in time. And they're either going to be one of two things. They're either going to be showing that the quantum wave function collapsed and that there's basically these two discrete panels, or they didn't collapse and that there's an even distribution. And they are delaying the time. And so the person who is observing it isn't looking at it until later. And that even if they look at it later, it's always quantum entangled in what we would presume to be a retrocausal way. So it either changes our understanding of space or our understanding of time, or it's showing these types of evidence that there's some sort of interface from consciousness into material reality at the quantum level.
[00:55:14.351] Danielle Perszek: So I'm ignorant. What evidence do we have that we can borrow observations from quantum mechanics and apply them to our understanding of large scale phenomenon?
[00:55:27.855] Kent Bye: I think that there's been a long time in the quantum community that these were only happening at small scale. But in this article that just came out with Bernardo Kotstrup and Henry Stapp and another co-author in the Scientific American saying we have to come to grips to what the implications of quantum mechanics are. It was published on May 29th of 2018, scientifically American. So what they were arguing was that there was enough evidence that is leading towards this. And I think that, I don't know the exact studies, but there have been some entities that are at larger biological complexity that have been shown to be quantum entangled. So quantum entanglement is this concept that Einstein had a huge problem with. He was like, look, this is spooky action at a distance. This is actually implying that there's information that's being transferred at a distance that is greater than the speed of light. So that's impossible, unless it changes our concept of what space and what time is. And so over the last summer, they've been able to do this spooky action at a distance, to do this quantum entanglement of these particles that are at a distance that is greater than the speed of light. So they're able to basically prove out what Einstein was afraid of, which is that this is implying that there's some other type of interface of, like, what is the mechanism of quantum entanglement? If something is a non-local field, there's no space and time so that it can instantaneously be the mechanism by which to prove out some of this entanglement. And there's some theories that allow for hidden variables within quantum mechanics and that there's others that don't. And those that don't imply that there's sort of a higher dimensional actuality of what reality is. And so this concept of quantum entanglement is a metaphor that is violating our understanding of like the spatial temporal experience and is implying that there's some sort of non-spatial and temporal non-local existence of reality. that could provide some of that mechanism for interfacing into reality. And that is what the panpsychists are kind of leaning upon is this concept of like, well, if there are these implications from quantum mechanics that allows philosophically for us to go down this more platonic realm, which is more mathematical, non-falsifiable existence of this realm that we can never fully observe, but we can see the artifacts of through these quantum mechanics experiments.
[00:57:34.329] Danielle Perszek: I'm still struggling with Leaving quantum world. It seems like what you're describing the evidence is still in quantum world.
[00:57:41.654] Kent Bye: No, there's what I'm saying Is that there's some that have biological complexity that's that's more than just sort of like and I that's my impression I don't have the I'll have to look and see and I could be wrong and I'll update myself as to whether I am but I I'm sort of looking at what some of these articles that are coming out in Scientific American saying hey This could be all is mine like there's a universal mind You know at the moment the quantum measurement problem is an open problem in science like there hasn't been a consensus and so there's these different camps that are in the many worlds camp and the Copenhagen interpretation there's the relational mechanics interpretation as well as the consciousness collapse the wave function interpretation which is the minority but it sort of allows for this capability for a Mechanistic way for consciousness to interface with reality through the evidence of the quantum wave function if it collapses or the many worlds people say doesn't collapse and that we split off into parallel worlds and that the people who do say that it collapses says that it could be through mind or through consciousness or through perception and
[00:58:38.613] Danielle Perszek: So it seems like we might be confounding a couple of different concepts here. We're going from quantum mechanics and the collapse of the wave function to what you're calling mind. And I thought earlier we had operationalized mind just as phenomenological experience.
[00:58:53.218] Kent Bye: Well, no, this is like all of reality is mind. So when I say that consciousness is emergent, when I say consciousness is foundational, that means that all of reality is mind.
[00:59:05.622] Danielle Perszek: Well, then why don't we just call it reality?
[00:59:07.838] Kent Bye: Well, it's because there is a consciousness or some sort of participation or some sort of awareness of being. I mean, that's from the Eastern philosophies. Eastern philosophies would say that there's a layer of general awareness and being, and they refer to it as awareness.
[00:59:21.884] Danielle Perszek: Could you also just use the word experience?
[00:59:24.145] Kent Bye: Yeah. I mean, I think that it could be something like pan-experientialism could be something that they would say all is experience.
[00:59:30.383] Danielle Perszek: So now we've got reality plus experience.
[00:59:34.325] Kent Bye: So all- It could be, actually, so Alfred North Whitehead said that he's got process philosophy. So he's like, everything is just a happening. Everything is just an occurrence. So Whitehead has this process philosophy that is, I think, in some ways, up to speed with what was happening with quantum mechanics. And he was a mathematician. He wrote, with Bertrand Russell, like the Principia Mathematica, basically this huge, essay in mathematical logic that then spurred the girdles of incompleteness theorem. But Alfred North Whitehead went off into philosophy and became this amazing philosopher who wrote this book called The Process Philosophy, where he sets forth the philosophical foundations that is basically like a complete paradigm shift from our Newtonian, Euclidean reality. And he's saying that things are these happenings, these occurrences, like it's all, everything's a process.
[01:00:21.747] Danielle Perszek: That sounds great without knowing a lot about it. I, on the surface level, say that I could get behind that, but that's also semantics. And I'm still losing where what Alfred Whitehead is proposing or what he proposed interfaces with phenomenological experience and consciousness.
[01:00:40.535] Kent Bye: He was a panpsychic in a way that he's saying that all is sort of mind. Like he was back also like in the early like 20th century. And so in this last couple of years, there's been some people that came together and put out a series of essays in Oxford that was called panpsychism. So it was basically going through all the metaphysics. So this is where physics turns into metaphysics because these are all metaphysical ideas that like the overarching sort of mathematical and philosophical frameworks is inherently non-falsifiable. And the only way that we can actually empirically observe any of these artifacts as at the quantum mechanical level in these experiments. And so that is I think where it's at is like we have these experiments and what do they mean? And so what are the philosophical frameworks that would create a universe that is like this? And then once you get to that level, everything else is going to be in the realm of the platonic realm of mathematics.
[01:01:32.679] Danielle Perszek: So it seems like in order to solve a problem that we observe in quantum mechanics, we are coming up with new frameworks, but using words that already have loaded connotation.
[01:01:46.205] Kent Bye: Math, using math as well. Math is a symbolic language, so it's not just, I mean, I don't know if words are equivalent to math in your mind.
[01:01:53.698] Danielle Perszek: Right, but then we're going from math to the conclusion that mind is reality or all things are mind. Mind has a particular connotation and we've used it over generations to refer to something as that characterizes humans or maybe humans and animals, maybe agents. I mean, that too depends upon how you're operationalizing it in the context. But I guess what utility do we get from borrowing a word that already has a meaning and applying it to a new philosophical framework? Why don't we just invent a new way of talking about it rather than making some pretty extreme claim that you're admitting we can't falsify and just applying that word in a new way?
[01:02:35.175] Kent Bye: Well, Chalmers would say that in his essay he talked about how there's this dialectic between materialism and dualism, where dualism has mind and materialism, from his perspective, doesn't. And that he says that you're never going to get there, philosophically. He's like, good luck. But he says that's a dead end.
[01:02:52.921] Danielle Perszek: equating mind with phenomenological experience?
[01:02:55.463] Kent Bye: I mean, I think that he calls it the hard problem of consciousness. He gave a whole TED Talk. I can't speak for him. I haven't talked to him, so I don't feel comfortable sort of giving his view. But I would say that from my impression from hearing him talk at the TED Talk, he's basically like, we're at a dead end. We need to be radical in our metaphysics. And he's also saying, hey, Daniel Dennett is being radical as well. We need somebody who is a strict determinist who doesn't believe in, I don't know if you believe in free will, but sort of like living in a deterministic universe versus something that allows for this experience of maybe the illusion of free will.
[01:03:27.322] Danielle Perszek: So it seems like what we have are a couple of really difficult to reconcile observations of the world, namely quantum mechanics. And then we have a lot of people trying to make sense of them. And I'm wondering if they're speaking next to each other or if they're speaking within the same framework. I wonder if they're using words in the same way. That's my, the big thing that I, find so challenging when I'm reading about these different interpretations, these speculations about the nature of reality and the nature of consciousness. Are we using the words and our concepts in consistent ways?
[01:04:02.013] Kent Bye: Well, I think that's been the problem as to why quantum mechanics was discovered, you know, over 90 years ago. And the math is there, that's the thing. Like the math is solid and like, just to give you an example, it's an infinite dimension Hilbert space and this wave function potentially is collapsing from that infinite dimension Hilbert space into like a four-dimensional Pseudo Riemannian space into like our experience of reality like that's sort of the mathematical metaphors and like there hasn't been a consistent narrative as to translating something that is so abstract as to what that means into a story and an analogy that we can wrap our mind around because you can understand the mathematics of it and But what's it mean? And I think that's been the dilemma. And I think that it could be as we do more experiments of trying to look at all these various different questions, I think what my sense is is that there may be a convergence as to what that means within the scientific community. And I think one of the things they're saying is that all is mind. That's what some people are saying. Not everybody, but this is what some of the people that are on one polarity point of the Hegelian dialectic are saying, look, reductive materialism is dead. This is where we're going now.
[01:05:09.992] Danielle Perszek: So if we say that all is mind, then I think we would have to revise our usage of minds as it applies to individuals and individual inner experiences, because now we're reserving that meaning of the word mind for something that's totally different.
[01:05:25.747] Kent Bye: Yeah, like universal mind. I think there's different people that are trying to explore this, but yeah, I think that's where things are at.
[01:05:33.283] Danielle Perszek: all very interesting. And I think in a lot of the things that you're saying, you're bringing up a lot of different factoids. And it's hard to in any one, I mean, all we could go down so many different rabbit holes in any one segment that you're that you're talking about. Yeah, no, I just I enjoy the the conversation and just to kind of wrap things up here I just wanted to ask you like what do you personally think is kind of the ultimate potential of virtual reality and what I might be able to enable I Think what we should aim for would be something like the movie what dreams may come where that movie depicts the afterlife either heaven or hell as what you make of it and I think if neuroscience continues to develop, you know, in parallel with with these incredible technologies, we will be able to basically deconstruct to read what's in people's minds and portray that using machine learning in immersive environments around them. And of course, that's got all sorts of implications. Some of them are beautiful and some of them are scary. I think we should aim for the beautiful and the inspiring. And that's what my company is doing. And I think that if we aim there, we'll definitely get somewhere that is pretty cool.
[01:06:51.008] Kent Bye: Awesome. Is there anything else left unsaid that you'd like to say to the immersive community?
[01:06:58.154] Danielle Perszek: Let's just work together to be as inspiring as we can to create things that resemble a world that we would want to live in together.
[01:07:07.281] Kent Bye: Awesome. Well, Danielle, I just want to thank you for joining me today on the podcast. So thank you.
[01:07:13.726] Danielle Perszek: Thank you so much. It's been a pleasure.
[01:07:15.481] Kent Bye: So that was Danielle Perzek. She's a cognitive scientist and a co-founder and scientific director of a company called Oscillations. So I have a number of different takeaways about this interview is that, first of all, synchrony when it comes to neuroscience is a really fascinating concept, just in terms of being on the same wavelength. I think metaphorically, we've always kind of talked about like, hey, we're just not on the same wavelength, or we are on the same wavelength, and that there actually is some sort of frequency and phase correlation between whether or not people, if they're understanding each other, tend to be in the same wavelength of how they're resonating in their minds. So that is a really fascinating insight and looking to these different concepts of ritual and how these group processes that you're all moving in the same synchrony and you're looking at the correlations between movement and sound it just starts to maybe tune into different parts of your brain that maybe turn off some of the more judging aspects of the things that are trying to differentiate categories, but also just this process of sharing rhythm and music where it gets you into a certain state of mind that allows you to feel more connected. And there was this really interesting moment in the interview where Danielle was talking about this process by which you can kind of create this consonance or dissonance when it comes to having things that are either in sync visually as well as the audio. So because our whole bodies are like these multimodal sensory processing GPUs that are just taking in all these parallel inputs at the same time and then kind of fusing it together, the more that those signals are aligning, then that tends to be a little bit more satisfying. We have a little bit more brain coherence. And so there's ways that you can create that dissonance between those different signals, whether or not you have things maybe out of phase or out of sync when it comes to the sound. as a way of potentially creating some type of narrative tension. As you go through music, you have the dissonance, and then after the dissonance, you have the consonance, and then that creates this overall feeling of harmony. But that is the essence of those polarity points that you have either in storytelling or in music. And so it's interesting to hear that there's a whole other branch of neuroscientists that are looking at music cognition and trying to discern how is it our brain that actually constructs from all these individual components, having the experience of music. So doing this deep dive into consciousness is really fascinating to me and it really mirrored debates that I've seen within the philosophy of math, which is to say that mathematical fictionalists do say that perhaps math is just a semantic description and that it doesn't have anything that is ontologically real beyond that, but it's just kind of categories in our mind that we use that serve a functional and pragmatic purpose, but that we shouldn't necessarily assign any sort of deeper ontological reality to it. And I could totally see how that line of argument would be completely valid for consciousness, especially when it comes to this wine tasting, which was really fascinating to hear that the more that you're able to, I guess, train your palate to be able to discern all sorts of different tastes, when you actually taste these wines, you have this full sensory experience that is able to stimulate all those different categories in your mind. So the basic takeaway of that is to say that the more analogies that you have in your brain than the more Co-activations that you'll have in your brain when you have an experience and the richer and deeper your experience is and it's possible that consciousness is merely just all these different associations that are available to us based upon these Category schemas and metaphors and analogies that we'd be able to form in our mind So I do think that just from, you know, this other line of, you know, looking at all these different esoteric traditions, that there is this process of trying to kind of refine these specific categories of qualia that are a little bit more archetypal. When it comes to archetypes, the thing that are interesting about archetypes is that they have fundamental characteristics and boundaries, but yet they're ambiguous and they're loose in the sense that they're like a paraconsistent form of mathematics. where they have this capability to deal with a little of ambiguity and paradox and inconsistencies. And I know that in the course of this conversation, we talked about consistency a lot. And when it comes to consciousness, it could very well be that is going to be impossible to try to come up with a consistent mathematical system that completely describes all of human consciousness and our experiences because there seems to be some dimension of the human experience that is able to deal with paradox and inconsistencies and to be able to kind of reckon it in different ways. Whether it's that we have these inconsistencies of our values and our behaviors, or unconscious behaviors and habits, or if we're working out a trauma, or there's all these things that we don't necessarily fully comprehend or understand, but that if you try to just use a simple process of mathematics to try to describe the nature of reality and human experience, I think it's going to be challenging. So I think that looking to something like paraconsistent logic or something like archetypal cosmology, as it comes to like trying to operationalize consciousness, you have this problem of actually trying to pin things down and to define things. And so just as a case of the course of this conversation where Danielle was saying, well, this dissociative state is a state where I don't feel like there's anything happening. Well, in the case of the air element, that could be like, oh, well, this is something that I'm saying in this way of forming this bucket that it's in this bucket that I have for this already. And for Danielle's perspective, there wasn't a bucket that she had already. And so I think that's the challenge, is that trying to figure out how to actually come up with all those different buckets. Because qualitative experiences are so broad and wide ranging, then how do you actually come up and define what those boundaries of those buckets are? And I think that that is part of the challenge of trying to both define what consciousness is but then try to make a prediction that is going to actually try to test it out and I think that to some extent is really interesting that what VR technologies provide is this opportunity to actually do that feedback loop of to have like a definition of you saying, hey, this is how I'm going to operationalize consciousness. Here is my experiential design framework. Here is different experiences that I'm going to give to these various different people and kind of test it out and see whether or not you're able to get any closer towards some deeper insights into the nature of consciousness. But if you take a step back and look at this larger debate that Daniela and I were having around the nature of consciousness is that to some extent she was saying that, well, maybe it's all these different semantic descriptions, and that's fine for describing phenomenal experience if that's how we want to operationalize consciousness is through the direct phenomenological experience of what it feels like. But that doesn't necessarily hold up when it comes to the philosophy of math, that same type of analogy of that semantic descriptions. field is in the process of trying to normalize quantum mechanics by taking out the abstractions of mathematics and Depending on how his venture goes if he's able to do that Then he may find that there is just a matter of these different categories that we're able to come up with that We don't necessarily need these different abstractions of mathematics and that you know mathematics may prove out to be Have no real deeper ontological reality than just a mere semantic description. But the opposite side, which is that these mathematical Platonists say that actually I think there is a deeper ontological reality to this and that maybe these structures of reality do exist outside of our experience of space-time and that part of the most convincing evidence is the fact that there is some sort of mysterious connection between mathematical objects and the nature of reality. There are some levels of math predictions like quantum electrodynamics that is able to describe reality to a level of precision that is like to 12 decimal points. And so how could you possibly have some sort of thing that came from the human mind that is able to then interface with reality in that way? Or, you know, the synthesis between those two polarity points between whether or not math is invented or discovered is that there is some sort of really strange combination between the process of discovery and the process of invention. And that perhaps it is possible that there is some sort of collective belief that if you believe these axioms to be true, that that somehow does have this interface into this type of collective reality that we have. So, and that is just personally informed by a little bit more of a panpsychic view that if it does turn out that at the very quantum level, and I think that is a little bit of an open question in terms of as you increase in complexity, like what is the degree to which this quantum mathematics is able to actually describe all of reality? That's not something that is certainly been settled at this point in that the thing that they have been looking at is looking at some of these insights in terms of being able to have a witness that is actually looking at something like the delayed choice quantum erasure experiment where there is these different delays through trying to quantumly entangle and delay, whether or not there's a quantum observation or not within the system. And then that choice is made later to make that observation. And then somehow that later choice is having either a retro causal interaction with things that had already happened in the past, or there's some sort of non-local field of consciousness that is able to interface and kind of like make that correspondence in a way that transcends our experience of space and time. And so it's that type of time paradoxes that come from the delayed choice quantum eraser that are leading towards some of these metaphysical models that are leading towards having consciousness or mind be at this foundational or universal place outside of just being a function of something that's emergent from our physicality. So, a lot of these are huge open questions, and I think to a certain extent, I need to still talk to a lot of these experts in the field that are on the cutting edge of some of this research, and hopefully I'll be able to talk to Bernardo Castro up here soon, just to get a sense of some of the research and insights of really trying to fuse together some of these different stories. Because like I said, mathematically, quantum mechanics is something that is pretty well said over the last 80, 90 years or so. And that it's really kind of the narrative in the story as to what the implications are, what the meaning is, what is the underlying structure of reality that's able to make sense of a lot of these different predictions and anomalous information when it comes to what our paradigm is of what the nature of reality is. And I think that there was these different definitions of what true is and what proof is. Once things are proved true within mathematics, they're always kind of eternal and true until the axioms are shown to be false or there's an inconsistency that's found within that mathematical system. And in the realm of science, you have this concept of a paradigm and this is what Thomas Kuhn, his structure of scientific revolutions in 1962 was really putting forth was that, hey, if you're going to have like a scientific method that is relying upon falsification, then What does it mean to prove something in science? That proof is, you know, some early indications of evidence that is indicating towards a certain paradigm to try to create a story to describe the nature of reality, but that we should always kind of hold our stories within science a little loosely because at any moment you could come up with incontrovertible evidence that's going to completely change your paradigm into a new reality structure and I think that's kind of what we've been at is this long process of looking at quantum mechanics and Trying to look at these really complex higher dimensional mathematical structures and to be able to you know try to reduce them down into our direct empirical experience and to formulate a whole range of various different experiments trying to understand and all these different dimensions of what the underlying structure of reality could be. And I think as we move forward, we're getting closer and closer to that. But at the same time, there's a certain dimension of this that is starting to get in the realm of metaphysics and non-falsifiability. And so, you know, what I've learned from talking to mathematicians was that at the end of the day, if you have a set of mathematical assumptions, then what science is trying to do is to make predictions about the nature of reality. I don't think that when I say something like, you know, reductive materialism is a failure, I don't mean that it's not going to be useful. There's going to be plenty of different predictive capabilities of reductive materialism. It's just that to certain contexts, when it comes to dealing with human consciousness and human behavior at a certain level of complexity, there may be limits to which you could both repeat something and falsify it. And if it can't be repeated or falsified, then maybe you need a little bit more nuanced approach when it comes to looking at science when it comes to human consciousness and human behavior and collective behavior. But that overall science has still got a very strong predictive capability for us to be able to create maps and models of reality. I think that having some sort of consensus, a baseline as to what is real and what is not, that is very useful in trying to organize lots of people in a society. And to completely throw that out, I don't think it's going to necessarily be such a great idea. So we have to figure out a way to improve our ability to be able to adapt and evolve and to perhaps increase the predictive power of some of these different metaphysical assumptions that then create a little bit more of a robust concept of the nature of reality. But everything starts at the level of physics, especially in the way that our entire scientific community is structured right now is that, you know, from the physics, it goes up to chemistry and biology and psychology, sociology, and basically everything that we've created. And I think that the direct human experience could have some sort of direct connection to the nature of reality. And I think that, you know, that is where this is leading and what that is implying. And then how do you actually account for that? So there's so many more open questions than answers. But I think that I really enjoyed this conversation with Danielle, because I think that I think it's completely possible that Danielle's right, and that Daniel Dennett will end up being right, and that it is only just a mere, you know, semantic description that comes from our But I think that looking at mathematics, being able to describe the philosophy of math, and to see how, to me, that is, I guess, some of the most convincing evidence to look to some of these more, I guess, platonic ideas of these metaphysics that are in a realm that can't necessarily be falsified. You know, maybe Daniel is correct in saying that this feeling of discovery is, is nothing more than a feel good chemical release when opportunistic assimilation happens in the brain and that there's a series of unconscious incubation that happens that connects all these different dots. And then you have this phenomenal experience of discovery when it's really just the process of your brain sort of integrating all these different. Unconscious insights and kind of connecting the dots. So that's all that I have for today. And I just wanted to thank you for going on this deep dive with me today, especially if you've listened to this whole podcast all the way through. And if you enjoy these types of conversations and want to hear more, then please do consider becoming a member to the Patreon. This is a listener supported podcast, and I do rely upon your donations in order to continue to bring you this coverage. So you can donate today at patreon.com slash voices of VR. Thanks for listening.