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Grokking illusionism

(tl;dr: I think a lot of this is about one-way (read-only) vs. two-way communication)

As a long-term meditator and someone who takes contents of phenomenal consciousness as quite "real" in their own way, I enjoyed this post -- it helped me clarify some of my disagreements with these ideas, and to just feel out this conceptual-argumentative landscape.

I want to draw out something about "access consciousness" that you didn't mention explicitly, but that I see latent in both your account (correct me if I'm wrong) and the SEP's discussion of it (ctrl-F for "access consciousness"). Which is: an assumed one-way flow of information. Like, an element of access consciousness carries information, which is made available to the rest of the system; but there isn't necessarily any flow back to that element. 

I believe to the contrary (personal speculation) that all channels in the mind are essentially two-way. For example, say we're walking around at night, and we see a patch of grey against the black of the darkness ahead. That information is indeed made available to the rest of the system, and we ask ourselves: "could it be a wild animal?". But where does that question go? I would say it's addressed to the bit of consciousness that carried the patch of grey. This starts a process of the question percolating down the visual processing hierarchy till it reaches a point where it can be answered -- "no, see that curve there, it's just the moonlight catching a branch". (In reality the question might kick off lots of other processes too, which I'm ignoring here.)

Anyway, the point is that there is a natural back and forth between higher-level consciousness, which deals in summaries and can relate disparate considerations, and lower-level e.g. sensory consciousness, which deals more in details. And I think this back-and-forth doesn't fit well in the "access consciousness" picture.

More generally, in terms of architectural design for a mind, we want whatever process carries a piece of information to also be able to act as a locus of processing for that information. The same way, if a CEO is getting briefed on some complex issue by a topic expert, it's much more efficient if they can ask questions, propose plans and get feedback, and keep them as a go-to-person for that issue, rather than just hear a report.

I think "acting as an addressable locus of processing" accounts for at least a lot of the nature of "phenomenal consciousness" as opposed to "access consciousness".

Search versus design

Also, on your description of designs factorizing into parts, maybe you already know this, but I wanted to highlight that often "factorization", even when neat, isn't just a straightforward decomposition into separate parts. For example, say you're designing a distributed system. You might have a kind of "vertical" decomposition into roles like leader and follower. But then also a "horizontal" decomposition into different kinds of data that get shared in different ways. The logic of roles and kinds of data might then interact, so that the algorithm is really conceptually two-dimensional.

(These kinds of issues make cognition harder to factorize)

Search versus design

Thanks for the thought-provoking post, Alex.

Thinking about how exactly design stories help create trust, I came upon what might be a useful distinction: whether the design is good according to the considerations known to the designer, vs. whether all relevant considerations are present. A good design story lets us check both of these. The first being false means the designer just did a bad job, or perhaps is hiding something. The second being false means there are actually just considerations the designer didn't know about -- for example because they live implicit in some other human's head -- and spelling things out in a story lets us recognize that, and correct it.

The latter use of stories lets you catch honest mistakes around issues that are unknown unknowns to you, but knowns for someone else. And when I think intuitively about trusting an AI -- or another human for that matter -- this is a big part of what I care about: beyond them being competent, and not actively deceiving me, I should also trust that they'll communicate with me enough to fill in all the blind spots they might have about me and the things I care about.

Degrees of Freedom

On the first, more philosophical part of your post: I think your notion of "freedom-as-arbitrariness" is actually also what allows for "freedom-as-optimization", in the following way.

Suppose I have an abstract set of choices. These can be instantiated in a concrete situation, which then carries its own set of considerations. When I go to do my optimizing in a given concrete situation, the more constrained or partisan my choice is in the abstract, the more difficult is my total optimization. Conversely, the freer, the more arbitrary the choice is in the abstract, the less constrained my optimization is in any concrete situation, and the better I can do.

For example, if I were hiring a programmer for a project, then (all else equal) I'd rather have someone who knew a variety of technologies and wasn't too strongly attached to any, so that they could simply use whatever the situation called for.

You could state this as system design principle: if you're designing a subsystem that's going to be doing something, but you don't really know what yet, optimize the subsystem for being able to potentially do anything (arbitrariness).

I feel there's much more to say along these lines about systems being well-factored (the pattern of concrete-abstract, as above, is a kind of factorization (as in lambda abstraction)), but I'm having trouble putting it into words at the moment.

Why do Contemplative Practitioners Make so Many Metaphysical Claims?

Cool. I've had one brief, spontaneous experience, while circling, of that sort of concept -> vision 'synaesthesia': seeing dark halos around people, that I think represented their anxiety and desire to avoid talking about certain things.

But I'd never imagined working deliberately with vision in that way.

Why do Contemplative Practitioners Make so Many Metaphysical Claims?

So is this a fair summary?

Contemplative practitioners sometimes have great psyche-refactoring experiences, "insights". But, when interpreting & integrating them, they fail to keep a strong enough epistemic distinction between their experience and the ultimate reality it arises from. And then they make crazy inferences about the nature of that ultimate reality.

Why do Contemplative Practitioners Make so Many Metaphysical Claims?
When this happens with parts of the network that are involved with the visual system, for instance, the visual field can actually dissolve into a bunch of vibrations temporarily as you refactor parts of the network related to extremely low level things like edge or motion detection (this is also where 'auras' come from imo)

Wow, I've never heard of this, and it sounds really interesting. Would you care to elaborate, on what kind of refactoring is going on, and what the resulting 'auras' are / mean?

Player vs. Character: A Two-Level Model of Ethics

You can get into some weird, loopy situations when people reflect enough to lift up the floorboards, infer some "player-level" motivations, and then go around talking or thinking about them at the "character level". Especially if they're lacking in tact or social sophistication. I remember as a kid being so confused about charitable giving -- because, doesn't everyone know that giving is basically just a way of trying to make yourself look good? And doesn't everyone know that that's Wrong? So shouldn't everyone just be doing charity anonymously or something?

Luckily, complex societies develop ways for handling different, potentially contradictory levels of meaning with grace and tact; and nobody listens too much to overly sincere children.

On Rationalist Solstice and Epistemic Caution

Yeah, I think costly signalling is definitely part of it. I think there's really several different things going on in the birthday example. One, the friend knows that you decided to spend the evening with them, so they can infer that you want to perform friendship, and/or anticipate having a good time with them, enough to make you decide that. This is the costly signalling part. But then there's also the stuff that actually happens at the party: talking, laughing together, etc. I think this is what actually accounts for most of the "feeling closer". (Or perhaps these two effects act on different levels of "feeling closer").

Anyway this is maybe getting unnecessarily analytical.

On Rationalist Solstice and Epistemic Caution
A ritual is about making a sacrifice to imbue a moment with symbolic power, and using that power to transform yourself.

I'm really curious where you're getting the sacrifice part from! Or how important you think it is. Because my experience with rituals doesn't generally include sacrificing anything; and the bits of sociology I've read about ritual (mostly Randall Collins' book Interaction Ritual Chains) don't mention it much. It does resonate with perhaps a western-magical perspective?

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