Blindsight – the ability to respond to visual stimuli without consciously perceiving them, a condition which can occur after certain types of brain damage.
Podcast transcript Blindsight review.txt
Four types of eye movement
Two months since the stars fell…
Two months since sixty-five thousand alien objects clenched around the Earth like a luminous fist, screaming to the heavens as the atmosphere burned them to ash. Two months since that moment of brief, bright surveillance by agents unknown.
Two months of silence, while a world holds its breath.
Now some half-derelict space probe, sparking fitfully past Neptune’s orbit, hears a whisper from the edge of the solar system: a faint signal sweeping the cosmos like a lighthouse beam. Whatever’s out there isn’t talking to us. It’s talking to some distant star, perhaps. Or perhaps to something closer, something en route.
So who do you send to force introductions on an intelligence with motives unknown, maybe unknowable? Who do you send to meet the alien when the alien doesn’t want to meet?
You send a linguist with multiple personalities, her brain surgically partitioned into separate, sentient processing cores. You send a biologist so radically interfaced with machinery that he sees x-rays and tastes ultrasound, so compromised by grafts and splices he no longer feels his own flesh. You send a pacifist warrior in the faint hope she won’t be needed, and the fainter one she’ll do any good if she is. You send a monster to command them all, an extinct hominid predator once called vampire, recalled from the grave with the voodoo of recombinant genetics and the blood of sociopaths. And you send a synthesist–an informational topologist with half his mind gone–as an interface between here and there, a conduit through which the Dead Center might hope to understand the Bleeding Edge.
You send them all to the edge of interstellar space, praying you can trust such freaks and retrofits with the fate of a world. You fear they may be more alien than the thing they’ve been sent to find.
But you’d give anything for that to be true, if you only knew what was waiting for them…
Phenotype refers to an individual’s observable traits, such as height, eye color and blood type. A person’s phenotype is determined by both their genomic makeup (genotype) and environmental factors.
According to Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection, organisms that possess heritable beneficial traits will be more likely to survive, reproduce, and pass more of their genes on to the next generation.
The term natural selection is most often defined to operate on heritable traits, because these directly participate in evolution. Note however that natural selection is “blind” in that it has no purpose in mind. It has no mind and no mind’s eye. It does not plan for the future.
Sarasti shook me. ‘Are you in there, Keeton?’
My blood splattered across his face like rain. I babbled and cried.
‘Are you listening? Can you see?’
And suddenly I could. Suddenly everything clicked into focus. Sarasti wasn’t talking at all. Sarasti didn’t even exist anymore. Nobody did. I was alone in a great spinning wheel surrounded by things that were made out of meat, things that moved all by themselves. Some of them were wrapped in pieces of cloth. Strange nonsensical sounds came from holes at their top ends, and there were other things up there, bumps and ridges and something like marbles or black buttons, wet and shiny and embedded in the slabs of meat. They glistened and jiggled and moved as if trying to escape.
I didn’t understand the sounds the meat was making, but I heard a voice from somewhere. It was like God talking, and that I couldn’t help but understand.
‘Get out of your room, Keeton,’ it hissed. ‘Stop transposing or interpolating or rotating or whatever it is you do. Just listen. For once in your goddamned life, understand something. Understand that your life depends on it. Are you listening, Keeton?’
And I cannot tell you what it said. I can only tell you what I heard.
You invest so much in it, don’t you? It’s what elevates you above the beasts of the field, it’s what makes you special. Homo sapiens, you call yourself. Wise Man. Do you even know what it is, this consciousness you cite in your own exaltation? Do you even know what it’s for?
Maybe you think it gives you free will. Maybe you’ve forgotten that sleepwalkers converse, drive vehicles, commit crimes and clean up afterwards, unconscious the whole time. Maybe nobody’s told you that even waking souls are only slaves in denial.
Make a conscious choice. Decide to move your index finger. Too late! The electricity’s already halfway down your arm. Your body began to act a full half-second before your conscious self ‘chose’ to, for the self chose nothing; something else set your body in motion, sent an executive summary—almost an afterthought— to the homunculus behind your eyes. That little man, that arrogant subroutine that thinks of itself as the person, mistakes correlation for causality: it reads the summary and it sees the hand move, and it thinks that one drove the other.
But it’s not in charge. You’re not in charge. If free will even exists, it doesn’t share living space with the likes of you.
Insight, then. Wisdom. The quest for knowledge, the derivation of theorems, science and technology and all those exclusively human pursuits that must surely rest on a conscious foundation. Maybe that‘s what sentience would be for— if scientific breakthroughs didn’t spring fully-formed from the subconscious mind, manifest themselves in dreams, as full-blown insights after a deep night’s sleep. It’s the most basic rule of the stymied researcher: stop thinking about the problem. Do something else. It will come to you if you just stop being conscious of it.
Every concert pianist knows that the surest way to ruin a performance is to be aware of what the fingers are doing. Every dancer and acrobat knows enough to let the mind go, let the body run itself. Every driver of any manual vehicle arrives at destinations with no recollection of the stops and turns and roads traveled in getting there. You are all sleepwalkers, whether climbing creative peaks or slogging through some mundane routine for the thousandth time. You are all sleepwalkers.
Don’t even try to talk about the learning curve. Don’t bother citing the months of deliberate practice that precede the unconscious performance, or the years of study and experiment leading up to the gift-wrapped Eureka moment. So what if your lessons are all learned consciously? Do you think that proves there’s no other way? Heuristic software’s been learning from experience for over a hundred years. Machines master chess, cars learn to drive themselves, statistical programs face problems and design the experiments to solve them and you think that the only path to learning leads through sentience? You’re Stone-age nomads, eking out some marginal existence on the veldt—denying even the possibility of agriculture, because hunting and gathering was good enough for your parents.
Do you want to know what consciousness is for? Do you want to know the only real purpose it serves? Training wheels. You can’t see both aspects of the Necker Cube at once, so it lets you focus on one and dismiss the other. That’s a pretty half-assed way to parse reality. You’re always better off looking at more than one side of anything. Go on, try. Defocus. It’s the next logical step.
Oh, but you can’t. There’s something in the way.
And it’s fighting back.
Evolution has no foresight. Complex machinery develops its own agendas. Brains—cheat. Feedback loops evolve to promote stable heartbeats and then stumble upon the temptation of rhythm and music. The rush evoked by fractal imagery, the algorithms used for habitat selection, metastasize into art. Thrills that once had to be earned in increments of fitness can now be had from pointless introspection. Aesthetics rise unbidden from a trillion dopamine receptors, and the system moves beyond modeling the organism. It begins to model the very process of modeling. It consumes ever-more computational resources, bogs itself down with endless recursion and irrelevant simulations. Like the parasitic DNA that accretes in every natural genome, it persists and proliferates and produces nothing but itself. Metaprocesses bloom like cancer, and awaken, and call themselves I.
Consciousness is intelligence and self-awareness stuck in counterproductive lock-step for half a million years.
Read the book’s Notes and References appendix, especially the Sentience/Intelligence section for more insights.
|1||Reaction Time||(RT)||the time in seconds from the presentation of the inkblot to the beginning of the first response|
|2||Rejection||(R)||score 1 when subject returns inkblot to examiner without giving a scorable response; otherwise score 0|
|3||Location||(L)||tendency to break down blot into smaller fragments. score 0=use of whole blot, 1=large area, 2=smaller area|
|4||Space||(S)||score 1=true figure-ground reversals; score 0 otherwise|
|5||Form Definiteness||(FD)||the definiteness of the form of the concept reported, regardless of the goodness of fit to the inkblot. a 5-point scale with 0=very vague and 4=very specific|
|6||Form Appropriateness||(FA)||the goodness of fit of the form of the precept to the form of the inkblot. Score 0=poor 1=fair, 2=good|
|7||Color||(C)||the apparent primacy of color, including black, gray and white, as a response-determinate. score 0=no use of color, 1=secondary to form, 2=primary determinant with some form present, 3=primary determinant|
|8||Shading||(Sh)||the apparent primacy of shading as response determinant. 0=no use of shading, 1=secondary to form, 2=used as primary determinant but some form is present, 3= primary determinant|
|9||Movement||(M)||the energy level of movement or potential movement ascribed to the percept, regardless of content.0=none, 1=static potential, 2=casual, 3=dynamic, 4=violent movement|
|10||Pathognomic Verbalization||(V)||degree of autistic, bizarre thinking evident in the response as rated on a five scale.|
|11||Integration||(I)||score 1=organization of 2 or more adequately perceived blot elements into a larger whole|
|12||Human||(H)||degree of human quality in the content of response|
|13||Animal||(A)||degree of animal quality in the content|
|14||Anatomy||(At)||degree of “gut-like” quality in the content|
|15||Sex||(Sx)||degree of sexual quality in the content|
|16||Abstract||(Ab)||degree of abstract quality in the content|
|17||Anxiety||(Ax)||degree of anxiety or fantasy content as indicated by emotions and attitudes, expressive behavior, symbolism, or cultural stereotypes of fear.|
|18||Hostility||(Hs)||signs of hostility or fantasy content|
|19||Barrier||(Br)||reference to any protective covering, shell, membrane or skin that may be symbolically related to the perception of body image boundaries.|
|20||Penetration||(Pn)||concept that may be symbolic of an individual’s feeling that his body exterior is of little protective value and can be easily penetrated|
|21||Balance||(B)||overt concern for the symmetry-asymmetry feature of the inkblot.|
|22||Popular||(P)||percept occurred at least 14% of the time among normal subjects|
The necessity of consciousness for effective communication is illustrated by a passage from the novel in which the linguist realizes that the alien creatures can’t be, in fact, conscious because of their lack of semantic understanding:
“Tell me more about your cousins,” Rorschach sent.
“Our cousins lie about the family tree,” Sascha replied, “with nieces and nephews and Neanderthals. We do not like annoying cousins.”
“We’d like to know about this tree.”
Sascha muted the channel and gave us a look that said Could it be any more obvious? “It couldn’t have parsed that. There were three linguistic ambiguities in there. It just ignored them.”
“Well, it asked for clarification,” Bates pointed out.
“It asked a follow-up question. Different thing entirely.”
Rorschach is a ‘Chinese Room’, an echo chamber where information you put in is fed back to you in some form that suggests self-awareness / conscious thought.
In doing do, Rorschach learns more about the subject than the subject learns of it.
Note the reference to Apple Siri.
Siri Keeton: “I knew all about Chinese Rooms. I was one.”
Imagine you are a synthesist. You deal in the behavior of systems at their surfaces, infer the machinery beneath from its reflections above. That is the secret of your success: you understand the system by understanding the boundaries that contain it.
The six levels of cognition
In chemistry, to synthesize is to artificially recreate a substance. A synthesizer is an electronic music instrument that creates sounds by mixing and filtering waveforms.
jobs ending in -er -or -ist -ian.pdf Professions ending in *ist are experts in the field of (botanist, physicist, scientist, business analyst). Operating tools or music instruments ending in *ist suggests the person is a skilled operator (cyclist, violist).
A cognitive synthesist is someone who attempts to get a sense of a complex system by observing, studying and integrating individual interactions and behaviors.
Siri Keeton: “I don’t know what any of it means.”
By the time I get home, I could be the only sentient being in the universe.
If I’m even that much. Because I don’t know if there is such a thing as a reliable narrator. And Cunningham said zombies would be pretty good at faking it.
So I can’t really tell you, one way or the other.
You’ll just have to imagine you’re Siri Keeton.
Imagine a microscopic multi-cellular organism or metabolic process functioning on the macroscopic scale we sentient beings function. The raw intelligence, the speed and reflexes it would possess as a result of diminished consciousness whilst remaining outwardly fully functional.
But I’m pretty sure the scramblers went up along with my own kin. They played well. I admit it freely. Or maybe they just got lucky. An accidental hiccough tickles Bates’ grunt into firing on an unarmed scrambler; weeks later, Stretch & Clench use that body in the course of their escape. Electricity and magnetism stir random neurons in Susan’s head; further down the timeline a whole new persona erupts to take control, to send Theseus diving into Rorschach‘s waiting arms. Blind stupid random chance. Maybe that’s all it was.
But I don’t think so. Too many lucky coincidences. I think Rorschach made its own luck, planted and watered that new persona right under our noses, safely hidden—but for the merest trace of elevated oxytocin— behind all the lesions and tumors sewn in Susan’s head. I think it looked ahead and saw the uses to which a decoy might be put; I think it sacrificed a little piece of itself in furtherance of that end, and made it look like an accident. Blind maybe, but not luck. Foresight. Brilliant moves, and subtle.
Not that most of us even knew the rules of the game, of course. We were just pawns, really. Sarasti and the Captain—whatever hybridized intelligence those two formed—they were the real players. Looking back, I can see a few of their moves too. I see Theseus hearing the scramblers tap back and forth in their cages; I see her tweak the volume on the Gang’s feed so that Susan hears it too, and thinks the discovery her own. If I squint hard enough, I even glimpse Theseus offering us up in sacrifice, deliberately provoking Rorschach to retaliation with that final approach. Sarasti was always enamored of data, especially when it had tactical significance. What better way to assess one’s enemy than to observe it in combat?
They never told us, of course. We were happier that way. We disliked orders from machines. Not that we were all that crazy about taking them from a vampire.
And now the game is over, and a single pawn stands on that scorched board and its face is human after all. If the scramblers follow the rules that a few generations of game theorists have laid out for them, they won’t be back. Even if they are, I suspect it won’t make any difference.
Because by then, there won’t be any basis for conflict.
(Vampires – not the meek- will inherit the earth. No room for baselines.)