[extropy-chat] Re: Qualia Bet

gts gts_2000 at yahoo.com
Tue Jan 3 20:13:16 UTC 2006

On Tue, 03 Jan 2006 11:35:25 -0500, Dirk Bruere <dirk.bruere at gmail.com>  

> All that is required is new physics.

Could be.

I was thinking about something I wrote to Acy. He suggested that  
observation is an act. I replied something like, "Here I will disagree  
with you... perception seems passive. The objects of our awareness are the  
actors. They act or our senses."

Traditional empiricists like Locke might agree with my thought, but lately  
I've been studying evolutionary epistemology and am struck by the idea  
that observation is fundamentally aggressive.

If we trace sensory awareness back through the path of evolution, we find  
ourselves in a quagmire when we reach the level of simple microbes. As Stu  
and I agreed, they seem to be "aware," but it also true that they have no  
obvious sense organs. As I mentioned, one species of paramecia uses a  
plant (Chlorella) to 'see'. It literally eats the plant, but then holds it  
hostage in its cytoplasm, using the Chlorella's photosynthesis mechanism  
as an 'eye' for finding more light and more food. Is it correct to call  
this primitive process "vision"? Probably not. It's more a form of  
sightless *cognition*.

So we can trace cognition back to the simplest organisms, but not  
sensation. And this cognition is an *active* process. The normal  
paramecium cognates when in searches blindly for food via trial and error  
locomotion. Our human eyes and other sense organs are analogous to radar  
towers, constantly searching the environment and reporting information  
back to 'headquarters'. This information ultimately saves us physical  

It is no coincidence that we see only a very narrow band of  
electromagnetic radiation. It so happens that things that reflect visual  
light are generally impenetrable. Unlike the blind paramecium we don't  
have to bounce into walls to know they exist.

Also our use of visual light is ultimately related to light as food. It  
may be no coincidence that our eyes use the pigment retinal, and that we  
obtain the necessary nutrition through plants. Plants and animals may  
share a common ancestor that used beta carotene, a precursor to both  
animal retinal and plant chlorophyll.

In our branch of evolution, we lost the ability to eat light but retained  
the ability to detect it.


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