Ask A Genius 390 – To Know You Know and To Not Know You Know, You Know?
September 22, 2018
[Beginning of recorded material]
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: We were talking for some time off-tape about explicit and implicit forms of knowledge. What were you thinking in terms of the distinctions and definitions there?
Rick Rosner: Yes, particularly as they apply to consciousness, Minsky has a model of consciousness, which is not bad: the society of mind. You have either evolved expert subsystems or subsystems that have arisen in an individual brain via experience and cultural imprinting.
Lisa Feldman Barrett in her book, How Emotions Are Made, argues from a constructivist point of view. She argues the emotions that we feel are basic and inherent to humanity are created in people, person-by-person via cultural imprinting and experience.
But regardless of whether our expert systems are inherent and evolved or whether they have arisen due to life experience, it is not unreasonable to look at consciousness as being, in part, a dialogue or a sharing of information among various expert subsystems – a whole bunch of them.
That is, informationally, problematic or, rather, a big pain in the ass because, generally, when we as individuals or as humans communicate and pass the information along to each other; we do it via some language, in general.
Either words or math, but we use language to communicate, there are more direct forms of communication. Forms of communication more directly sensory, like pictures, where you send somebody a picture or a video clip.
They can see what you’re trying to communicate; although, they may not get exactly what your meaning is, because we use language to be specific about meaning. Then if you extend the idea of language to the communication among the subsystems in your brain, that seems like a huge informational burden.
That every subsystem has to be communicated within a language it understands from every other subsystem. That seems like a lot of information flying around in addition to what the language is describing.
It also implies a language of the brain, which exists in the brain and not anyplace else.
Jacobsen: Linguists talk about a surface complexity of language, which really lies on a very similar substructure where, basically, all languages come from. It is a dominant theory, I think, in linguistics.
Rosner: You are saying there is a similar substrate all human languages stem from, and a constructivist, like Lisa Feldman Barrett, would be skeptical of it. She would say, “No, there is not an evolved language system for verbs and nouns. That we’re ready to have those based on a structure in the brain. Those, rather, arise via cultural imprinting.
Jacobsen: What about the ability of some people to speak at six months to one year?
Rosner: Even so, it does assume there is some underlying language structure, where you could add a second premise. The brain speaks to itself using some form of language substrate or something.
The signals need to be passed from every expert subsystem to every other expert subsystem using some carrier of information, which would be some form of language. But I suspect that there is a difference between explicit information and implicit information in the brain.
That much of what constitutes consciousness is an effective implicit information, which communicates information on an as-if basis among the various parts of your mind without that information being shared explicitly.
To start off, I claim, and I think a lot of people agree, you can know stuff without explicitly naming it. For instance, if somebody gave us a plate of food, we would think this is food or dinner.
Words pertaining to food would pop up into our heads. You put a bowl of food in front of a dog. The dog does not have words, but the knowledge pertaining to there being a plate of food in front of the dog pops into the dog’s head.
But it is not codified into a language. The dog knows the food is there. The dog, which I believe is conscious because I believe you can have consciousness without language, is conscious about the food, excited about the food, anticipating how the food will taste, smelling how the food smells, but the dog is not using language descriptors.
In fact, if you lost the language center of the brain, you would still know there is food in front of you. But you would not be able to characterize it in words.
Jacobsen: Let’s do a thought experiment, two people speaking two different languages, say romance languages, trying to communicate the dinner to one another. It seems like the similar case.
You have taken the language out of their brains, functionally, inasmuch as they cannot communicate directly to one another, but there is enough isomorphism between the way they process information and have an understanding of the world in order to communicate.
Rosner: So, one could say a bunch of stuff and describe things with their hands. If somebody was trying to tell someone else that they were having spaghetti, they could make noodle gestures and eventually get the message across.
Jacobsen: It is less efficient, but it is a form of language. The question then arises: if you bring people from different cultures together, but they could come to the same conclusion in the thought experiment, how constructivist? To what extent do constructivist perspectives, such as Lisa Feldman Barretts, provide an answer to that universality in information processing to allow in-species communication?
It does some form of argument for some inbuilt stuff in terms of a general information processing.
Rosner: I think her constructivist argument is the information we use to construct our consciousnesses is mostly received through experience rather than through previously evolved specialist systems.
Jacobsen: What if language and its structures is an evolved specialist system?
Rosner: I think a constructivist would argue against that. They would argue for a minimalist program, I do not know the various levels of an argument for in-built language. We, more than any other species, can manipulate the passage of air through our mouths to make a bunch of different sounds that form words.
There are birds that can imitate almost any sound that they hear. But they are not, as far as we know, doing that to communicate specific ideas or things about the environment. We use our repertoire of sounds to communicate using many tens of thousands of words.
There may be something that is evolved in us. Certainly, the architecture that facilitates speech is something that is evolved. But how much of the software behind speech is evolved, and how much is received culturally or experientially, is open to debate.
Jacobsen: There could be a hybrid argument.
Rosner: Yes. Regardless, you don’t need words to understand stuff. Because there are plenty of conscious species that are almost entirely lacking or would be in their natural state almost entirely lacking words.
That is entirely fair because, probably, among wolves. They have 20 or 30 different woofs or howls or whatever, which signal different things. But 30 different howls or woofs is not the average person’s vocabulary of 20,000 words.
Jacobsen: It could be an in-built thing. The greater level of cognitive flexibility of the human mind. Something like an emergentist-constructivist argument.
Rosner: You can understand things without having the ability to assign words to them, even something like a red light. If you had a stroke, and could no longer know any words whether speaking or hearing them, you are not aware of words being a thing anymore.
But you could still see a red light and understand what it is; something to regulate traffic. Although, you would not have words for “regulate” or “traffic” or anything. But you might still have memories in which red lights are an ingredient in those memories.
You would understand the red of the light as being equivalent to other reds or close to the red of an apple. You could understand all that without having to facilitate those concepts, memories, or ideas.
That is simply an appetizer before we get to the idea that, maybe, information is shared on a tacit as-if basis. We act as if we know things without those things being expressed explicitly, which would save a lot of information transmittal in the brain.
I suspect it is that kind of information-transmission that has things in common with the efficiency of quantum computation. Quantum computation computes things as if an entire set of things are true without those things all being expressed explicitly.
Jacobsen: Does that amount to a pseudo-true or a tacit true?
Rosner: I do not know enough to not be full of shit at this point. But! Quantum computers are best at processes where it is implicitly running a bunch of related cases in parallel.
The computer is basically straddling a bunch of different possible worlds. It is a kind of hyperbolic way of expressing it. But what comes out of a quantum computation are the things that would be true regardless of however many worlds or scenarios; some things are true regardless of which set of particulars the computation exists in.
A quantum computation, you can argue, exists in a bunch of small parallel worlds or in a set of parallel worlds that different from each other in some tiny, concrete ways. You only get the stuff out of the computation that would true in 8 different worlds or something, or given 8 different instances.
It is due to the quantum architecture of the linked qubits, computational bits, that let it function as if it knows each of these worlds. I would suspect that a lot of knowledge within consciousness is the knowledge that is shaped by the informational architecture of the mind so that what comes out is thoughts that are built from as if knowledge.
To put it into practical terms or more concrete terms, I don’t necessarily think each photon transmits an individual chunk of information like a bit does. That each photon is a yes-or-no proposition or an answer to a yes-or-no question.
I have a feeling photons may transmit information in the aggregate. As the energy that comprises them is lost to the structure of space with the structure of space encoding tacit information, which, and here’s another area in which my ignorance means that I am bullshitting, it sounds, to me, holographic.
That the information is there, but it is distributed and shared and is encoded in space as a whole.
Jacobsen: Some things localized but represented everywhere, tacitly.
Rosner: Yes, your mind knows specific things. You can know today is Hitler’s birthday. It is also the anniversary of Columbine. It is also 4/20, which is stoner day. Those are all really specific things. The knowledge of those things as they exist in your awareness may not be encoded in the transmission of specific photons in the way that information would be encoded in a computer through the opening and closing of logic gates.
Jacobsen: If you take the parallelism there, the mapping of your own thoughts onto the universe or the way the universe encodes information and your own or other minds, the assertion is the way the information is encoded is then reflected in the universe’s distribution.
I have a question. If we encode certain things in our mind. Certain forms of knowledge only relevant to human beings but not to lizards, dogs, to squirrels.
Does that, in a way, get holographically distributed to the rest of the universe in a way that is not locally represented without, for instance, is encoded in a specific photon? It is presented as if true without having a realized manifestation in the world. That form of knowledge or information encoding.
Rosner: I don’t know. I am not sure I am even speaking to what you’re talking about. I am not sure. In an extreme case, individual photons may not exist; unless they are singled out via some process. In other words, we are hit with light all the time, which involves being hit with quadrillions of photons in the course of a day or something.
I am not sure how much individuality those photons have in terms of passing on information. Unless you have an apparatus designed or that has evolved to pick out individual photons.
Or another way of putting it, all the information conveyed by photons locally in the course of a day. Much of that information is, maybe, erased by not being specifically noted. If individual photons do not cause individual events that are part of something ending up being noted or recorded, or changing something in a macro sense, I am not sure those individual photons can be said to exist in the way a famous individual photon, say in a double-slit experiment, with notification by scientists or something.
If the individuating information in those photons does not create discernible outcomes, I am not sure those photons exist as individuals. Similarly, but not really, there’s no way to tell electrons apart under a lot of circumstances.
I believe, and I don’t know for sure because I’m ignorant, there are plenty of electron-electron interactions, where it’s not legitimate quantum mechanically to talk about which electron is which after the interaction.
All you can say is two electrons went in and two electrons came out. That’s it. The electrons are identical. Not only do you not have information of which electron is which; there may not be a “which is which,” because they may be indistinguishable no matter how far down you go.
There are probably other experiments that you can design so you can tag electrons by giving an electron a distinct spin, a distinct trajectory. For instance, you can shoot two electrons across the room two meters from each other.
There would be almost no question as to which electron was which or shoot the electrons ten seconds apart from each other. You haven’t done anything to muddle which electron is which.
The odds that they have somehow switched and are indistinguishable are low. Anyway, I have a feeling information is transmitted in the mind, in a way that isn’t as discrete and localized as information being processed in a computer.
There are two long-distance transmitters of information: photons and neutrinos. I am lumping anti-neutrinos in there too. They may transmit different forms of information. I don’t know. There is a lot talking out of my butt here.
Even though what we are talking about is important, I am super ignorant about what I am trying to talk about. But neutrinos have a tiny bit of mass; photons have no rest mass. Neutrinos have a tiny bit of rest mass and travel some miniscule speed less than the speed of light.
But for practical purposes, they travel at the speed of light. They, maybe, have a billion times more kinetic energy than they do rest mass. They still have a little rest mass.
It means that, say, a neutrino traveling across the universe for 10 billion lightyears will lose the same fraction of its kinetic energy that a photon would lose, but also that a neutrino cannot lose all its energy to the curvature of space in the way a photon travelling to the ends of the universe would because there is still the rest mass that doesn’t get lost to the curvature of space.
Which, I would suspect has something to do with different types of information sharing. Taking a wild guess, it’s not even right to call it a “guess” because I am also guessing that it’s almost entirely wrong; that neutrinos reflect a deeper change in the matter of the universe.
Because if you put a neutrino, a proton, and an electron together, you get a neutron. That event is generally associated with fusion, where that neutron ends up being linked. You start with two protons, two electrons; you end up with deuterium, for instance, which is one proton, one electron, one neutron.
The neutron is now electrically neutral and is not interacting electromagnetically with the rest of the universe. It has entered this partnership with a proton, where it is part of a deuterium nucleus.
The neutron interacts with the proton as part of a nucleus, but the neutron has quit interacting with the rest of the world electromagnetically. It is a deep structural change.
Perhaps, the questions being asked and answered by neutrino-mediated processes – fission and fusion – are deeper and, perhaps, less implicit than photon information communication.
Perhaps, photons are really the ones that do the lions share of implicit describing of the world because they are better able to share information implicitly by losing information to the curvature of space.
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American Television Writer
Scott Douglas Jacobsen
Editor-in-Chief, In-Sight Publishing
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