Do societies posses Identity, Subjectivity, Qualia?

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Do societies posses Identity, Subjectivity, Qualia?

Postby neuro on November 13th, 2015, 1:38 pm 

My proposals:

Yes, Societies possess an Identity: they evolve a cognitive and emotional shared content, which is relatively independent of the Identity of their constituents and which actually influences the cognitive and emotional life of its constituents.

Yes, Societies possess a Subjectivity, in that any fact and/or event in the world can be differentially perceived by distinct societies and commonly perceived within a society; also, they produce different behavioral responses.

Yes, Societies possess Qualia, in that internal and external facts and events become cognitively and affectively colored in a specific way in each Society.

In addition, each Society evolves its perception of itself and of the world in a continuous and mutable way, expresses such perception in its cultural and artistic products and in its political and social constructs, undergoes a process of growth, development and generally of involution and senescence.

Can this be seen as a form of consciousness?
In what all this is strictly analogous to consciousness, in what it is intrinsically distinct and different from consciousness?
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Re: Do societies posses Identity, Subjectivity, Qualia?

Postby TheVat on November 13th, 2015, 2:11 pm 

I have to go with Neri on this one: subjectivity can only be applied metaphorically to a society. Only individual brains can have subjectivity in the philosophical/phenomenological sense of the word. I'd say the same about qualia. Or intentionality. Or perception.

In common parlance, sure, people are always saying things like "American sees itself as the policeman of the world," or "England sees the States as less civilized" or "Italians really know how to enjoy the finer things of life." But this doesn't mean there is a conscious being called Italy or England or America. It really just means, "Many of us who are residents of this country share an idea or meme between our individual brains, in a collective sort of way."

Analogy is okay. Like the old saying "The law is an ass." All the people in our system of justice do not actually comprise a continent-spanning animal with big ears and a propensity for braying loudly.
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Re: Do societies posses Identity, Subjectivity, Qualia?

Postby Serpent on November 13th, 2015, 2:27 pm 

I believe all those observations are true and correct as regards 'organic' societies - that is, collectives that have been geographically and ethnically stable for at least 10 generations; +/- 200 years.

New world societies, with the hodge-podge of original population and frequent large influxes of ethnic blocs, and fast-changing economic and social arrangements may be said to have a describable character in any given decade, but not a permanent identity.
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Re: Do societies posses Identity, Subjectivity, Qualia?

Postby wolfhnd on November 14th, 2015, 2:44 am 

Does a beehive have a collective "consciousness"? Swarm intelligence is just not some abstract play on words but an established principal. There seems to be the same kind of reversed anthropogenic psychology at work here as in many areas where people fell their "human uniqueness" or individuality is threatened.

You are a colony of individual cells with the illusion of oneness get over yourselves.
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Re: Do societies posses Identity, Subjectivity, Qualia?

Postby Forest_Dump on November 14th, 2015, 10:40 am 

There was a relatively long-standing debate in anthropology whether peoples could or should be best studied and described in terms of a "culture", which treats groups as living as somewhat bounded entities (i.e., cultures) or as groups of individuals (societies) who may share many traits. To a large degree this was resolved with the recognition that anthropologists and other social scientists were emphasizing groups of people as bounded entities for heuristic reasons and also to define their "turf". While thinking about groups as bounded entities still has some heuristic value for some kinds of studies this is giving way to recognizing that discrete "cultures" do not exist now because of processes resulting from globalization and probably rarely ever existed because virtually no group ever really existed in isolation although some studied by some of the great classic ethnographers did to some degree in places like the south Pacific islands. Others on larger areas, especially on continents, were always in contact with others and virtually all posses(ed) traits in clinal distributions.
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Re: Do societies posses Identity, Subjectivity, Qualia?

Postby Serpent on November 14th, 2015, 11:27 am 

How do massive social movements, revolution and civil wars factor into the "hive" mentality of humans?
Or, for that matter the disaffection and ill-treatment of minorities, or the incidence of clinical depression, or crime and [extreme] punishment?
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Re: Do societies posses Identity, Subjectivity, Qualia?

Postby TheVat on November 14th, 2015, 12:25 pm 

Just for clarity: is Neuro asking if a society can actually be conscious in a literal way, akin to Gaia being a planetary mind? Or are we just exploring the boundaries of an analogy here?
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Re: Do societies posses Identity, Subjectivity, Qualia?

Postby wolfhnd on November 15th, 2015, 12:01 am 

Serpent » Sat Nov 14, 2015 3:27 pm wrote:How do massive social movements, revolution and civil wars factor into the "hive" mentality of humans?
Or, for that matter the disaffection and ill-treatment of minorities, or the incidence of clinical depression, or crime and [extreme] punishment?


I agree with Forest that no culture exists in isolation nor could any be said to have a single identity. Lacking an identity that is clear it is hard to see how a culture could be conscious. That doesn't however tell us much about how they function. Poorly defined identity is also a characteristic of individuals as personality is extremely flexible and malleable in adjusting to external events. Personalities change and often those changes are more apparent to external observers making self something of an illusion. Under severe stress personalities could even be said to fracture in some ways analogous to societies during say a civil war.

Society being analogous with Gaia or a planetary mind is not what Nero is suggesting I'm sure. On the other hand our failure to adequately define consciousness leaves us asking if a bee colony is more "conscious" than an individual bee? Whatever consciousness is it is obviously not equivalent to being aware. A plane on autopilot has a great deal of "awareness" of it's state and the state of whatever external guidance system it interacts with it is also aware of other external environmental factors such as wind speed, direction, density etc. There are different levels of consciousness with the plane on autopilot perhaps representing the lowest level, less than an individual bee but more than calculator.

The way some groups of animals react to outsiders from the same species seems very analogous to the way humans react to minorities or how societies mobilize for warfare. We often think that humans are too conscious to behave in this manner but try asking someone to explain a prejudice and they soon are reduced to incoherent associations having received information socially at some unconscious level on which the prejudices are built.

We often think of hive intelligence as being beneficial to a colony but that is not necessarily the case. Nature is full of examples of parasites causing behavioral changes in their hosts that benefit the parasite. Perhaps the human bee relationship is the best example of swam intelligence being exploited to benefit the parasite. By the simple mechanism of determining where the colony will locate the beekeeper is able to exploit a large percentage of the energy expended by the hive. In humans it has been proposed that religion and other social phenomenon are cultural parasites that spread like viruses without any obvious benefit to the host culture. Like a virus a social phenomenon can take on a life of it's own by exploiting the exchange of information between members of a society surviving and reproducing for generations without any significant self awareness only mutating slowly to take advantage in changes to the host culture.

One important difference between swam intelligence in other animals and humans is that information need not be transmitted directly. Information can be stored externally for transmission as it is needed. A library is an example of swam intelligence stored externally. Just as with insects the potential exist for parasitic or non beneficial information to be stored along with the useful. You can find a copy of Min Kamp in most library which history shows is a potentially deadly infectious form of information. None the less the journey from stone tools to relativity did not take place inside the consciousness of Einstein. Einstein clearly had a brain indebted to stone tools and cultural transmission was critical to his work. Einstein himself may have on occasion been completely unaware of the relationship between his work and the work of others. Illustrating the principle that cultural evolution need not be conscious to be effective. In fact Einstein's reluctance to share credit for his discoveries could lead us to question how "conscious" or at least conscientious he actually was.

As long as we use two poorly defined terms, intelligence and consciousness, a good deal of confusion will result. As I have shown a swarm need not be conscious to be intelligent. Cultures seem to transmit a great deal of intelligence while being only minimally conscious or self aware. On the other hand it is possible to imagine a future of human cyborgs that have extreme collective consciousness. Cultural evolution like physical evolution is hard to predict because mutations are "random".
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Re: Do societies posses Identity, Subjectivity, Qualia?

Postby Serpent on November 15th, 2015, 12:45 am 

Thanks; I get the analogy.
But I suspect it's more of a metaphor than an actual description. Sounds good, has some recognizable features, as long as you don't prod too hard.

For example, the hive identity evolved to be good for the long-term survival of bees. That doesn't mean immunity to infection - or to any other organism that evolves alongside and uses it as an ecological niche. Bees didn't foresee a species that could exploit them? Well, of course they couldn't have, and they couldn't have, even if each individual bee were as autonomous and intelligent as a dolphin, 'cose they didn't see us coming, either. Heck, we didn't even see us coming!

If human societies had a collective consciousness, they would function more reliably than they do. The stresses that you describe tearing apart an individual human's identity are mostly, if not entirely, caused by dysfunctional societies. That shouldn't be able to happen. It wouldn't happen in an ant colony.
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Re: Do societies posses Identity, Subjectivity, Qualia?

Postby wolfhnd on November 15th, 2015, 1:16 am 

Serpent » Sun Nov 15, 2015 4:45 am wrote:Thanks; I get the analogy.
But I suspect it's more of a metaphor than an actual description. Sounds good, has some recognizable features, as long as you don't prod too hard.

For example, the hive identity evolved to be good for the long-term survival of bees. That doesn't mean immunity to infection - or to any other organism that evolves alongside and uses it as an ecological niche. Bees didn't foresee a species that could exploit them? Well, of course they couldn't have, and they couldn't have, even if each individual bee were as autonomous and intelligent as a dolphin, 'cose they didn't see us coming, either. Heck, we didn't even see us coming!

If human societies had a collective consciousness, they would function more reliably than they do. The stresses that you describe tearing apart an individual human's identity are mostly, if not entirely, caused by dysfunctional societies. That shouldn't be able to happen. It wouldn't happen in an ant colony.


It isn't just an analogy it is the nature of life. Your existence is dependent on more individuals with their own DNA than you have human cells in your body. At the other end of the scale you are dependant on society for your existence. The illusion of self is just so powerful it is hard to shake. It's a magic trick you just were not conscious of how you consciousness was molded during development by cultural influences. Just as individual brain cells are not conscious you would have only low level consciousness without the thinking tools culture transmits. The evidence is limited but it is there for anyone who wants to look.

Ant colonies can and do become dysfunctional due to changes in behavior caused by viruses and fungus. I don't want to get into the detail because most of the time as you would expect ants have evolved mechanism to deal with parasites just as most of the time societies have mechanism to deal with unwanted parasitic or dangerous ideas.

I don't want to repeat myself but... Cultures have low level consciousness and high level intelligence. If you want to say a bee hive is conscious fine but it doesn't really matter as long as it behaves "intelligently".
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Re: Do societies posses Identity, Subjectivity, Qualia?

Postby Serpent on November 15th, 2015, 1:00 pm 

I don't think a beehive is conscious in anything like the same way that a dog is conscious. The individual cells in a dog are not individually conscious, nor is the dog aware of each cell: it has/is an identity made up of all the cells, plus the life experience, memory, learned behaviours, relationships, of which the cells are unaware, plus the evolutionary baggage of senses, drives instinct and hard-wired responses.

Each bee in the hive is made up of cells that have no consciousness and of which the bee is unaware; yet each bee has an individual identity, experience, senses and responses. It also belongs to the hive, but is not part of the hive as cells are part of the bee: there is no central control, except that of instinct. All the bees have to co-ordinate their efforts through overt, external communication, which is not foolproof. They have very limited functions and thinking capability, and even so, can go wrong, get lost, fail in their task.

Human societies are far less cohesive. Our communication is more complex and far more error-prone.
Interdependent, sure. Intimately connected, sure - not only to our clans, ethnic roots, species and landscape, but the ecosystem as a whole. Unable to survive outside the web, sure.
Human societies - at least to the extent that, in the age of global communication, commerce and travel, any society can still be said to be a discreet unit - have identifiable and describable character - well, okay.

Collective consciousness, I just can't buy.
I think the vital missing component is telepathy.
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Re: Do societies posses Identity, Subjectivity, Qualia?

Postby Dave_C on November 15th, 2015, 11:55 pm 

@ BiV: I think saying something has subjectivity and qualia means that something has a phenomenal conscious state.

@ Serpent: Single cell theories of consciousness have been proposed and at least overcome some of the problems with computationalism.



The concept of extended consciousness suggests phenomena such as subjective states should supervene on the combination of both the brain and also on physical stuff out there in the world so it's not a stretch to suggest phenomenal states supervene on societies. Block of course suggested this in his thought experiment commonly referred to as the China Brain. If we accept computationalism, we may be forced to accept phenomenal states supervene on all sorts of physical systems to the point we must accept panpsychism.

The question I always have is how we could possibly know? Are societies telling us they have phenomenal states as they speak through individuals? If that was true, how could we possibly know since there is a perfectly valid physical reason for the statements people make? But for that matter, how can we know a PERSON is having a subjective experience since there is also a perfectly physical reason for everything a person says (assuming causal closure). How any phenomenon that isn't objectively observable can possibly make itself known in a world where causal closure is true seems to be a problem for many and is a common issue that we really haven't resolved.
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Re: Do societies posses Identity, Subjectivity, Qualia?

Postby wolfhnd on November 16th, 2015, 4:59 am 

Serpent » Sun Nov 15, 2015 5:00 pm wrote: It also belongs to the hive, but is not part of the hive as cells are part of the bee: there is no central control, except that of instinct. All the bees have to co-ordinate their efforts through overt, external communication, which is not foolproof. They have very limited functions and thinking capability, and even so, can go wrong, get lost, fail in their task.


Well that is the point isn't it in so far as the analogy goes cells also have very limited functions, thinking capability and often go wrong, get lost and fail in their task. Those cells are then eliminated perhaps more efficiently than arrant bees but the arrant or anti social bee and human are also eliminated fairly rapidly in many cases.

The point isn't so much that societies are perfectly analogous to organisms but rather that consciousness in humans is a collective enterprise just as it is in an organism. You could be raised in an environment with perfect physical care but without emotional stimulation, transferred information, and other forms of social interaction you would be physically retarded, at least according to the limited evidence. My point being that the consciousness of individuals is often exaggerated and the "consciousness" of societies underestimated because of the illusion of self that we hold so dear.
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Re: Do societies posses Identity, Subjectivity, Qualia?

Postby wolfhnd on November 16th, 2015, 8:45 am 

I'm going to quote from a paper MTB posted in another thread over the course of several posts.

"The observed patterns of activation and of overlap with language circuits suggest that toolmaking
and language share a basis in more general human capacities for complex, goal-directed action. The
results are consistent with coevolutionary hypotheses linking the emergence of language, toolmaking,
population-level functional lateralization and association cortex expansion in human evolution."

Neural correlates of Early Stone Age
toolmaking: technology, language and
cognition in human evolution


Hints at the relationship between language and general intelligence. This is important for two reasons language is obviously only relevant to social animals and it also leads us to consider language as a cognitive tool.
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Re: Do societies posses Identity, Subjectivity, Qualia?

Postby Serpent on November 16th, 2015, 11:40 am 

wolfhnd » November 16th, 2015, 3:59 am wrote:[

Well that is the point isn't it in so far as the analogy goes cells also have very limited functions, thinking capability and often go wrong, get lost and fail in their task. Those cells are then eliminated perhaps more efficiently than arrant bees but the arrant or anti social bee and human are also eliminated fairly rapidly in many cases.


The bee gets eliminated, yes, because her society is cohesive and has simple operating principles; there is no room for anomalous behaviour. Human societies thrive on non-standard behaviour, like invention, creativity, skepticism and self-esteem.
The most outrageous rogue human isn't eliminated - he gets to be emperor, with the power to eliminate thousands or millions of properly-functioning units.
That's the crux of my objection.
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Re: Do societies posses Identity, Subjectivity, Qualia?

Postby TheVat on November 16th, 2015, 12:51 pm 

Anyone who think a group or societal mind is a good thing should spend time in the Middle East.

Or Jonestown, in the 70's. Drink the koolaid. Yum.
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Re: Do societies posses Identity, Subjectivity, Qualia?

Postby wolfhnd on November 16th, 2015, 4:23 pm 

Braininvat » Mon Nov 16, 2015 4:51 pm wrote:Anyone who think a group or societal mind is a good thing should spend time in the Middle East.

Or Jonestown, in the 70's. Drink the koolaid. Yum.


Serpent » Mon Nov 16, 2015 3:40 pm wrote:
wolfhnd » November 16th, 2015, 3:59 am wrote:[

Well that is the point isn't it in so far as the analogy goes cells also have very limited functions, thinking capability and often go wrong, get lost and fail in their task. Those cells are then eliminated perhaps more efficiently than arrant bees but the arrant or anti social bee and human are also eliminated fairly rapidly in many cases.


The bee gets eliminated, yes, because her society is cohesive and has simple operating principles; there is no room for anomalous behaviour. Human societies thrive on non-standard behaviour, like invention, creativity, skepticism and self-esteem.
The most outrageous rogue human isn't eliminated - he gets to be emperor, with the power to eliminate thousands or millions of properly-functioning units.
That's the crux of my objection.


You are both making the mistake of assuming that society exists for the benefit of it's individual members. Just as in nature aspects of a culture exist without purpose having evolved independent of the host minds. A cultural institution or even a idea may represent a symbiotic, mutualistic, commensalistic or parasitic relationship with some or all members of a society. Not only can the individuals be looked as as host but the culture may host numerous ideologies withing a society that have no apparent purpose in terms of long term survival.

The illusion of direct cultural evolution is similar to the illusion of self. In biological terms you exist because of and for reproductive success. You may harbor some mutation that helps you survive and pass along your genes just as you may have some unique idea that helps your culture propagate. The important point is you did not choose those mutations nor in most cases can you control the way your ideas are propagated or their long term effect. Neither you genes nor the ideas you generate our conscious they are just information in relationship to society, information that will largely be selected randomly based on environmental accidents.

To illustrate the undirected nature of cultural evolution consider the absurdity of the following examples. Our ancestors didn't design stone tools with the idea in mind that someday technology would advance to the point that we could escape our dying sun. Stone tools enable the brain capable of designing space ships but in no directed manner. It is just as true that we did not invent agriculture so our brains could shrink to save energy. As our knowledge grows our collective "consciousness" grows and we are starting to merge biological and cultural evolution by way of genetic modification and planning for the future.

The key point here is that consciousness involves information. Without information you could be extremely aware but unconscious of your relationship to the things you are aware of. I'm leary of splitting consciousness into multiple forms but clearly there are two components, awareness and computational power. I prefer to think of it in terms of degrees of awareness and degrees of comprehension. You can be fully aware and incomprehensive or completely unaware and "fully" comprehensive and every combination in between. As it relates to this discussion awareness is your biological inheritance and comprehension is your cultural inheritance.

The reason that the idea of the illusion of self is an important concept is partially related to language. You didn't acquire language consciously you become aware of it only after it has developed sufficiently to allow you to conceptualize using it's own symbology. While there was some disagreement in an earlier thread early childhood amnesia illustrates the relationship between acquired symbology and consciousness. In older threads I have related how admittedly weak but interesting evidence suggesting that language effects problem solving ability differences in various cultures. In the paper linked by MTB we see that language and tool making share a basis in more general human capacities for complex, goal-directed action. In a very fundamental way you are conscious of who you are in relationship to your environment and that consciousness is directed by that same environment. The same is true of societies in so far as they are self conscious in relationship to their environment and that consciousness is a product of the environment. Part of that environment is related to thinking tools that are transmitted over time and space by way of language. Consciousness can then be seen as dependant on the quality and quantity of those tools and other information.
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Re: Do societies posses Identity, Subjectivity, Qualia?

Postby Serpent on November 16th, 2015, 5:55 pm 

Next, you'll be saying memes are real.

Okay, I see a thesis of which I don't begin to know enough background information or development to argue properly. So I'll back down, with just one feeble parting shot.

I get it that society doesn't exist for the benefit of the individual, but I can't see how the frequent malfunctions which cost thousands and millions of productive individual benefit the collective. If societies keep self-destructing from collective craziness (or the craziness of an anomalous clique in power), why hasn't a corrective mechanism evolved to counteract this tendency?

Language is full of bugs and pitfalls. I'm holding out for telepathy.
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Re: Do societies posses Identity, Subjectivity, Qualia?

Postby wolfhnd on November 16th, 2015, 8:39 pm 

Serpent » Mon Nov 16, 2015 9:55 pm wrote:Next, you'll be saying memes are real.

Okay, I see a thesis of which I don't begin to know enough background information or development to argue properly. So I'll back down, with just one feeble parting shot.

I get it that society doesn't exist for the benefit of the individual, but I can't see how the frequent malfunctions which cost thousands and millions of productive individual benefit the collective. If societies keep self-destructing from collective craziness (or the craziness of an anomalous clique in power), why hasn't a corrective mechanism evolved to counteract this tendency?

Language is full of bugs and pitfalls. I'm holding out for telepathy.


I don't see why it is so hard to understand that just as most mutations are not beneficial cultural mutations need serve no purpose and are in most cases deleterious. Perhaps the obstinate separation of humans from the rest of the animal kingdom is a artifact of religion.

As for telepathy who needs it if you have a cell phone.
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Re: Do societies posses Identity, Subjectivity, Qualia?

Postby Serpent on November 17th, 2015, 1:12 am 

I don't have a cell phone. And I don't see how looking at other people's lunches or genitals would help me perform whatever action is most appropriate for the good of the tribe. Even if you organize a whole revolution via social media, that doesn't guarantee greater long-term success than earlier, low-tech revolutions enjoyed. Maybe someday, some central brain will be able to direct concerted constructive human activities through the cell network - implants, I suppose - but it's far more likely to promote the interest of a parasite than that of the social entity.

No, my problem isn't with separation from the animal kingdom. I think that's a by-product of civilization. From the onset of farming, men have been at war with nature. Most of the other animals - plus their own females and young - fell on the wrong side of the battle-lines, and many are still there.

My problem is not with human ego or individual identity.

It's with the malfunction of human societies. They're non-adaptive. They're badly regulated, wasteful, sick and crazy. They don't work! That makes me think they're not organisms at all, let alone conscious ones.
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Re: Do societies posses Identity, Subjectivity, Qualia?

Postby wolfhnd on November 17th, 2015, 1:23 am 

Serpent » Tue Nov 17, 2015 5:12 am wrote:It's with the malfunction of human societies. They're non-adaptive. They're badly regulated, wasteful, sick and crazy. They don't work! That makes me think they're not organisms at all, let alone conscious ones.


They haven't had much time to evolve and adapt to humans ;-).

I will try and post more research and less opinion because we are just repeating ourselves. The subject has been something I have considered for a while but recently I have focused on other things. I need to dig deeper into the research and that takes a lot of time and effort.
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Re: Do societies posses Identity, Subjectivity, Qualia?

Postby vivian maxine on November 17th, 2015, 10:02 am 

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/20 ... ce+News%29

Information is contagious among social connections - memory of one individual can indirectly influence that of another via shared social connections. New research sheds light on how behaviors may become "contagious" in large groups. (from Science Daily)

I hope this fits in here.
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Re: Do societies posses Identity, Subjectivity, Qualia?

Postby Serpent on November 17th, 2015, 12:35 pm 

wolfhnd » November 17th, 2015, 12:23 am wrote:
Serpent » Tue Nov 17, 2015 5:12 am wrote:It's with the malfunction of human societies. They're non-adaptive. They're badly regulated, wasteful, sick and crazy. They don't work! That makes me think they're not organisms at all, let alone conscious ones.


They haven't had much time to evolve and adapt to humans ;-).


Human societies haven't had time to adapt to humans? Isn't that like being born with an allergy to one's own liver and hoping to outgrow it?

There is no time for societies to evolve. Humans rose to dominant species in a mere 500 or so generations. In another 200, they're ready to self-destruct. Compared to grass, or ants, this is a flash in the pan; even compared to cats, its a very poor showing.
No, there isn't any meta-organism. Just a defective - though highly imaginative - monkey.
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Re: Do societies posses Identity, Subjectivity, Qualia?

Postby TheVat on November 17th, 2015, 12:38 pm 

Viv, the fact that societies foster connections and information exchange among members is not at issue here. This is about the possibility that a society could become a self-aware unitary organism. Several posters are tossing out memes and groupthink and fads, but these shouldn't be confused with an actual organic consciousness that resides in an entire society. These are metaphors that get at the way many individual conscious minds share and connect, and do not lend any support to a true hivemind or what have you. If we really had such a thing, what on earth would we need politics and law for??
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Re: Do societies posses Identity, Subjectivity, Qualia?

Postby vivian maxine on November 17th, 2015, 1:06 pm 

All right, BIV, but please tell me what gives a society identity, subjectivity and qualia. Especially qualia. Identity I can see. Subjectivity I question. But qualia which I almost equate with subjectivity only it's deeper.
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Re: Do societies posses Identity, Subjectivity, Qualia?

Postby TheVat on November 17th, 2015, 1:24 pm 

Given that subjectivity and qualia go hand in hand, I have no idea what would give a society those things. That was part of the point I was trying to make. When we get to the point where France sees a dog stealing someone's Christmas ham, and craves a glass of grenadine at 11:42 AM, and feels an itchy spot on its rear two minutes later, then I guess a society will have achieved all that. Until then, as far I can tell, society is just an idea we each develop inside our heads in an effort to get along with other people.
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Re: Do societies posses Identity, Subjectivity, Qualia?

Postby wolfhnd on November 17th, 2015, 3:35 pm 

Braininvat » Tue Nov 17, 2015 5:24 pm wrote:Given that subjectivity and qualia go hand in hand, I have no idea what would give a society those things. That was part of the point I was trying to make. When we get to the point where France sees a dog stealing someone's Christmas ham, and craves a glass of grenadine at 11:42 AM, and feels an itchy spot on its rear two minutes later, then I guess a society will have achieved all that. Until then, as far I can tell, society is just an idea we each develop inside our heads in an effort to get along with other people.


How much consciousness is involved in getting along with each other is debatable :-)

If there were no clear examples of swam intelligence then you may have a point about individual awareness not translating into collective awareness. Just as with an individual there are different levels of awareness. Obviously a sleep walker is aware of objects they negotiate around but only part of their brain is awake. In a society only a portion of the individuals may be aware of something but that awareness can spread. When a sleep walker is awakened the awareness analogously spreads to the "conscious" mind. When the dog steals the ham and someone shouts a warning that a thief is about that information can spread rapidly to other people who then become aware of the dog without ever seeing it. Similarly the preference for grenadine is a cultural idea that spread because certain individuals became aware of it's "wonderful" qualities and transmitted that awareness. The important point is that you are assigning purpose to a pheromone that may not have any. After the dog has stolen the ham the whole village may become aware of the event even if it is unlikely to happen to anyone else. It is equally true that society exist independent of any conscious idea of getting along with each other.

I think it is easy to make the same mistake people make when assigning purpose to physical evolution. Cultural evolution proceeds without any conscious adaptive purpose. While serpent makes a point that societies are very poorly adaptive collectives part of the difficulty in comparing cultural and physical evolution is the difference in time scales. Organism may appear to be "perfectly" adapted but viewed over geological time there are more failures than successes. Cultural evolution can or does proceed at an order of magnitude more rapid pace than physical evolution making it's failures more obvious. Still over any individual lifetime cultural change can seem very slow relative to our desires but give it a few hundred thousand years and it may refine itself.

Of course cultural evolution is somewhat directed or intentional but the confusing part is that it happens within a complexity that obscures the interrelationships of it causative or selective, physical, conceptual, and cultural elements. I don't want to stretch the analogy too far but considering society as a conscious organism even if only an abstraction is a useful thinking tool.
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Re: Do societies posses Identity, Subjectivity, Qualia?

Postby wolfhnd on November 17th, 2015, 6:02 pm 

I'm not sure why I'm failing to communicate here but I think I need to clarify.

It may be better to think of society as an ecosystem than an organism. There are two types of ecosystems global and sub global. Sub global ecosystem can then be broken down into terrestrial and oceanic. Each of the sub divisions can be further broken down into local components and considered as discrete entities. Ultimately however the planet has one ecosystem and the subdivisions are a convenience for study. Just as no sub ecosystem exists in isolation neither does any society, sub culture, group, family, or individual. It is not necessary to accept the gaia hypothesis to recognize interconnectedness of life and societies. Two forms of the hypothesis are however widely accepted Coevolutionary Gaia and Influential Gaia.

In the current discussion it is the coevolution of humans, their cultures and society that is of interest. It is best to think of ecosystems in terms of information exchange. While we are just beginning to explore how information is exchanged at the subatomic level as we go up the size scale there is a continuum of interactions where information is exchange all the way to the level of societies and the world community. Coevolution is not just limited to organism as organism change the physical environment and there are feedback loops. We have examined some of these feedback loops and found them to be non directed the examples offered were the effects of stone tools in enabling an increase in brain volume and the reduction in brain volume following the introduction of agriculture. The link between physical evolution and culture is undeniable.

When we think of a society in isolation as a sub ecosystem it is just a convenience to deal with complexity. The important thing is to examine how information is exchanged and stored. Just as organisms store information about their environment distributed across their DNA societies story information in a distributed network with many components. There is "junk" information in both systems but there are also selection mechanisms at work in response to "information" from the environment. In the past the selection has been directed without foresight and could be said to be random. Going up the scale of complexity of organism however that selection could be said to be influence by how well information is processed and varying degrees of randomness are removed from the system. Information at some point over comes random selection and in the case of humans leads to genetic engineering and cybernetics. The continuum is not broken but influences become more or less inverted.

What we can expect is that as societies evolve they will follow the same pattern in so far as randomness is reduced in the system. It is not unreasonable to expect that at some point they will take on the attributes of consciousness whether or not they are actually "conscious". At the moment they have the equivalence of the consciousness of a bacterium and are mostly randomly reacting to their environment but that need not be the case. Societies will never escape the influence of random events within their larger global ecosystem due to interconnected dependence. There are also inherent limitations on information and how it is processed. Ignoring the interdependence however destroys the power of information.
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Re: Do societies posses Identity, Subjectivity, Qualia?

Postby Serpent on November 17th, 2015, 9:20 pm 

All right! I can go along with ecosystem.
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Re: Do societies posses Identity, Subjectivity, Qualia?

Postby TheVat on November 18th, 2015, 1:30 pm 

Have you read the Medea Hypothesis, wolf? It looks at ecosystems as not conscious and not tending to favor the continuance of life generally. (Medea, you may recall, killed her children in the old myth) Peter Ward, and other adherents, offer it in opposition to both forms of Gaia hypothesis.

Your ideas, in the above essay you wrote, seem to have much in common with the field of memetics. It's a good side topic, but I think the OP question has been answered. If we are saying that a society could have the "consciousness of a bacterium," that sounds like a "no" to qualia and subjectivity...and really, a no to consciousness.
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