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The Nature of Identity Part 3
(Drawings not reproduced here — contact the author for copies)
We have seen how the identity is defined by the 0,0 point – the centroid or locus of perception.

The main problem we have is finding out how neural signals translate into sensory signals – how neural information is translated into the language we understand – that of perception. How does one neural pattern become Red and another the Scent of coffee. Neurons do not emit any color nor any scent.

As in physics, so in cognitive science, some long cherished theories and explanations are having to change.

Perception, and the concept of an Observer (the 0,0 point), are intimately related to the idea of Identity.

Many years ago I was a member of what was called the Artorga Research Group – a group including some of the early cyberneticists – who were focussed on Artificial Organisms.

One of the main areas of concern was, of course, Memory.

One of our group was a young German engineer who suggested that perhaps memories were in fact re-synthesised in accordance with remembered rules, as opposed to storing huge amounts of data.

Since then similar ideas have arisen in such areas as computer graphics.

Here is an example,

It shows a simple picture on a computer screen. We want to store (memorize) this information.

One way is to store the information about each pixel on the screen – is it white or is it black. With a typical screen resolution that could mean over 2.5 million bits of information

But there is another way….

In this process one simply specifies the start point (A) in terms of its co-ordinates (300 Vertically, 100 Horizontally); and its end point (B) (600 Vertically, 800 Horizontally); and simply instructs – “Draw a line of thickness w between them”.

The whole picture is specified in just a few bits..

The first method, specifying bit by bit, known as the Bit Mapped Protocol (.BMP), uses up lots of memory space.

The other method, based on re-synthesising according to stored instructions, is used in some data reduction formats; and is, essentially, just what that young engineer suggested, many years before.

On your computer you will have a screen saver –almost certainly a colorful scene – and of course that is stored, so that if you are away from the computer for a time it can automatically come on to replace what was showing, and in this way “save” your screen.

So – where are those colors in your screensaver stored, where are the shapes shown in it stored? Is there in the computer a Color Storage Place? Is there a Shape Storage Place?

Of course not.

Yet these are the sort of old, sodden concepts that are sometimes still applied in thinking about the brain and memories.

Patterned streams of binary bits, not unlike neural signals , (but about 70 times larger), are fed to a computer screen. And then the screen takes these patterns of bits as instructions to re-synthesise glowing colors and shapes.

We cannot actually perceive the binary signals, and so they are translated by the screen into a language that we can understand. The screen is a translator – that is its sole function.

This is exactly analogous to the point made earlier about perception and neural signals.

The main point here, though, is that what is stored in the computer memory are not colors and shapes but instructions.

And inherent in these instructions as a whole, there must exist a “map”.

Each instruction must not only tell its bit of the screen what color to glow – but it must also specify the co-ordinates of that bit. If the picture is the head of a black panther with green eyes, we don’t want to see a green head and black eyes. The map has to be right. It is important.

Looking at it in another way the map can be seen as a connectivity table – specifying what goes where. Just two different ways of describing the same thing.

As well as simple perception there are derivatives of what has been perceived that have to be taken into account, for example, the factor called movement.

Movement is not in itself perceptible (as we shall presently show); it is a computation.

Take for example, the following two pictures shown side-by-side.

I would like to suggest that one of these balls is moving. And to ask — which one is moving?

If movement had a visual attribute then one could see which one it was – but movement has no visual attributes – it is a computation.

To determine the speed of something, one has to observe its current position, compare that with the record (memory) of its previous position; check the clock to determine the interval between the two observations; and then divide the distance between the two positions, s; by the elapsed time, t; to determine the speed, v,

s/t = v.

This process is carried out automatically, (subconsciously), in more elaborate organisms by having two eyes spaced apart by a known distance and having light receptors – the retina – where each has a fast turn-on and a slow (about 40 ms) turn off, all followed by a bit of straightforward neural circuitry.

Because of this system, one can look at a TV screen and see someone in a position A, near the left hand edge, and then very rapidly, a series of other still pictures in which the person is seen being closer and closer to B, at the right hand edge.

If the stills are shown fast enough – more than 25 a second — then we will see the person walking across the screen from left to right. What you see is movement – except you don’t actually see anything extra on the screen. Being aware of movement as an aid to survival is very old in evolutionary terms. Even the incredibly old fish, the coelacanth, has two eyes.

The information provided is a derivate of the information provided by the receptors.

And now we ought to look at information in a more mathematical way – as in the concept of Information Space (I-space).

For those who are familiar with the term, it is a Hilbert Space.

Information Space is not “real” space – it is not distance space – it is not measurable in metres and centimetres.

As an example, consider Temperature Space. Take the temperature of the air going in to an air-conditioning (a/c) system; the temperature of the air coming out of the a/c system; and the temperature of the room. These three provide the three dimensions of a Temperature Space. Every point in that space correlates to an outside air temperature, an a/c output temperature and the temperature of the room. No distances are involved – just temperatures.

This is an illustration of what it would look like if we re-mapped it into a drawing.

The drawing shows the concept of a 3-dimensional Temperature Space (T-space). The darkly outlined loop is shown here as a way of indicating the “mapping” of a part of T-space.

But what we are interested in here is I-space. And I-space will have many more dimensions than T-space.

In I-space each location is a different item of information, and the fundamental rule of I-space – indeed of any Hilbert space – is,

Similarity equals Proximity.

This would mean that the region concerned with Taste, for example, would be close to the area concerned with Smell, since the two are closely related.

Pale Red would be closer to Medium Red than to Dark Red.

Perception then would be a matter of connectivity.

An interconnected group we could refer to as a Composition or Feature.

Connect 4 & legs & fur & tail & bark & the word dog & the sound of the word dog – and we have a familiar feature.

Features are patterns of interconnections; and it is these features that determine what a thing or person is seen as. What they are seen as is taken as their identity. It is the identity as seen from outside.

To oneself one is here and now, a 0,0 reference point. To someone else one is not the 0,0 point – one is there — not here, and to that person it is they who are the 0,0 point.

This 0,0 or reference point is crucially important. One could upload a huge mass of data, but if there was no 0,0 point that is all it would be – a huge mass of data.

The way forward towards this evolutionary goal, is not to concentrate on being able to upload more and more data, faster and faster – but instead to concentrate on being able to identify the 0.0 point; and to be able to translate from neural code to the language of perception.

The vulnerability of the bio body is the source of most threats to its existence.

We have looked at the question of uploading the identity by uploading the memory contents, on the assumption that the identity is contained in the memories. I believe this assumption has been proved to be almost certainly wrong.

What we are concentrating on is the identity as the viewer of its perceptions, the centroid or locus of perception.

It is the fixed reference point. And the locus of perception is always Here, and it is always Now. This is abbreviated here to 0,0.

What more logical place to find the identity than where it considers Here and Now – its residence in Space Time.

It would surely be illogical to start searching for the identity where it considers to be Somewhere Else or in Another Time.

We considered the fact that the human being accesses the outside world through its senses, and that its information processing system is able to present that information as being “external.” A hand is pricked with a pin. The sensory information – a stream of neural impulses, all essentially identical — progress to the upper brain where the pattern is read and the sensation of pain is felt. That sensation, however, is projected or mapped onto the exact point it originated from.

One feels the pain at the place the neural disturbance came from. It is an illusion — a very useful illusion.

In the long slow progress of evolution from a single cell to the human organism, and to the logical next step — the “android” (we must find a better word) – this mapping function must be one of the most vital survival strategies. If the predator is gnawing at your tail, it’s smart to know where the pain is coming from.

It wasn’t just structure that evolved, but “smarts” too… smarter systems.

Each sensory channel conveys not just sensory information but information regarding where it came from. Like a set of outgoing information vectors. But there is also a complementary set of incoming vectors. The array of sensory vectors from visual, audible, tactile, and so on, all converge on one location – a locus of perception. And the channels cross-correlate. The hand is pricked – we immediately look at the place the pain came from. And… one can “follow one’s nose” to see where the barbecue is.

Dr Shu can use both his left hand and arm; and his right hand and arm in coordination to lift up the $22M Ming vase he is in the process of stealing.

Left/right coordination — so obvious and simple it gets overlooked.

A condition known as Synesthesia [ ] provides an example of how two channels can get confused — for example, being able to see sounds or hear movement.

Perhaps the most interesting example is the rubber hand experiment from UC Riverside. In this the subject places their hands palm down on a table. The left arm and hand are screened off, and a substitute left “arm” and rubber hand are installed. After a while, the subject reacts as though the substitute was their real hand.

It is on Youtube at

This phenomenon has been attributed to neuroplasticity.

A simpler explanation would be changed coordinates — something that people who row or who ride bicycles are familiar with — even if they have never analysed it. The vehicle becomes part of oneself. It becomes a part of the system, an extension. What about applying the same sense on a grander scale? Such a simple and common observation may have just as much relevance to the next step in evolution as the number of teraflops per second.

So, we can get the sensory vectors to be re-deployed. But one of the fundamental questions would be – can we get the 0,0 locus, the centroid of perception, to shift to another place?

Our environment, the environment we live in, is made of perception. Outside there may be rocks and rivers and rain and wind and thunder… but not in the head. Outside this “theater in the head,” there is a world of photons and particles and energy and radiation — reality — but what we see is what is visible, what we hear is what is audible, what we feel is what is tangible … that is our environment, that is where we live.

However, neurones do not emit any light, neurons do not make any sound, they are not a source of pressure or temperature so what the diddly are we watching and listening to?

We live in a world of perception. Thanks to powerful instrumentation and a great deal of scientific research we know that behind this world of perception there are neurons, unknown to us all the time working away providing us with colors and tones and scents….

But they do not emit colors or tones or scents – the neuronal language is binary – fired or not fired.

Somewhere the neuronal binary (Fired/Not Fired) language has to be translated into the language of perception – the range of colors, the range of tones, the range of smells … these are each continuous variables; not two-state variables as in the language of neurons.

There has been a great flurry of research activity in the area of neurons, and what was considered to be “Gospel” 10 years ago, is no longer so.

IBM and ARM in the UK have (summer 2011) announced prototype brains with hyper-connectivity – a step in the right direction but the fundamental question of interpretation/translation is side-stepped.

I hope someone will prove me wrong, but I am not aware of anyone doing any work on the translator question. This is a grievous error.

(To be continued)

I have been asked to mention the following.
The Nature of The Identity — with Reference to Androids

The nature of the identity is intimately related to information and information processing.

The importance and the real nature of information is only now being gradually realised.

But the history of the subject goes back a long way.

In ancient Greece, those who studied Nature – the predecessors of our scientists – considered that what they studied – material reality – Nature – had two aspects – form and substance.

Until recent times all the emphasis was on substance — what substance(s) subjected to sufficient stress would transmute into gold; what substances in combination could be triggered into releasing vast amounts of energy – money and weapons – the usual Homo Sap stuff.

You take a block of marble – that is substance. You have a sculptor create a beautiful statue from it – that is form.

The form consists of the shapes imposed by the sculptor; and the shapes consist of information. Now, if you were an unfeeling materialistic bastard you could describe the shapes in terms of equations. And if you were an utterly depraved unfeeling materialistic bastard you could have a computer compare the sets of equations from many examples to find out what is considered to be beauty.

Dr Foxglove – the Great Maestro of Leipzig, is seated at the concert grand — playing on a Steinway (of course) with great verve, (as one would expect). In front of him, under a low light, there is a sheet of paper with black marks – information of some kind – the music for Chopin’s Nocturne Op. 9, no. 2.

Aahh! Wonderful.


But … all is not as it seems….

Herr Doktor Foxglove thinks he is playing music.

A grand illusion my friend! You see, the music – it is, how you say — all in the heads of the listeners.

What the Good Doktor is doing, and doing manfully — is operating a wooden acoustic-wave generator – albeit very skilfully, and not just any old wooden acoustic-wave generator – but a Steinway wooden acoustic-wave generator.

There is no music in the physical world. The acoustic waves are not music. They are just pressure waves in the atmosphere. The pressure waves actuate the eardrum. And that in turn actuates a part of the inner ear called the cochlea. And that in turn causes streams of neural impulses to progress up into the higher brain.

Dr Foxglove hits a key on the piano corresponding to 440 acoustic waves per second; this is replicated in a slightly different form within the inner ear, until it becomes a stream of neural impulses….

But what the listener hears is not 440 waves or 440 neural impulses or 440 anything – what the listener hears is one thing – a single tone.

The tone is an exact derivative of the pattern of neural impulses. There are no tones in physical reality.

Tones exist only in the experience of the listener – only in the experience of the observer.

And thanks to some fancy processing not only will the listener get the illusion that 440 cycles per second is actually a “tone” – but a further illusion is perpetrated – that the tone is coming from a particular direction, that what one is hearing is Dr. Foxglove at the Steinway, over there, under the lights – that is where the sound is.

But no, my friend….

What the listener is actually listening to is his eardrums. He is listening to a derivative of a derivative … of his eardrums rattling.

His eardrums are rattling because someone is operating an acoustic wave generator in the vicinity.

But what he is hearing is pure information.

And as for the music ….

A single note – a tone – is neither harmonious nor disharmonious in itself. It is only harmonious or disharmonious in relation to another note.

Music is derived from ratios – a still further derivative — and ratios are pure information.

Take for example the ratio of 20 Kg to 10 Kg.

The ratio of 20 Kg to 10 Kg is not 2 Kg.

The ratio of 20 Kg to 10 Kg is 2 – just 2 – pure information.

20 kg/10 kg = 2.

Similarly, we can also show that there is no colour in reality, there are no shapes in reality; depth perception is a derivative – and just as what one is listening to is the rattling of one’s eardrums – so what one is watching is the inside of one’s eyeballs – one is watching the shuddering impact of photons on one’s retina.

The sensations of sound, of light and colour and shapes are all in one’s mind – as decodings of neural messages – which in turn are derivatives of physical processes.

The wonderful aroma coming from the barbecue is all in one’s head.

There are no aromas or tastes in reality – all are conjurations of the mind.

Like the Old Guy said, all is maya, baby….

The only point that is being made here is that Information is too important a subject to be so neglected.

What you are doing here is at the leading edge beyond the leading edge and in that future Information will be a significant factor.

What we away back in the dim, distant and bewildered early 21st Century called Information Technology (I.T.) will be seen as Computer Technology (CT) which is all it ever was – but there will be a real IT in the future.

Similarly what has been referred to for too long as Information Science will be seen for what it is — Library Technology.

Now – down to work.

One of the options – the android – is to upload all stored data from a smelly old bio body to a cool Designer Body (DB).

This strategy is based on the unproven but popular belief that one’s identity is contained by one’s memory.

There are two critical points that need to be addressed.

The observer is the cameraman — not the picture. Unless you are looking in a mirror or at a film of yourself, then you are the one person who will not appear in your memory.

There will be memories of that favourite holiday place, of your favorite tunes, of the emotions that you felt when … but you will only “appear” in your memories as the point of observation.

You are the cameraman – not the picture.

So, we should view with skepticism ideas that uploading the memory will take the identity with it.

If somebody loses their memory – they do not become someone else – hopping and skipping down the street,

‘Hi – I’m Tad Furlong, I’m new in town….’

If somebody loses their memory – they may well say – ‘I do not know my name….’

That does not mean they have become someone else – what they mean is ‘I cannot remember my name….’

The fact that this perplexes them indicates that it is still the same person – it is someone who has lost their name.

If a person changes their name they do not become someone else; nor do they become someone else if they can’t remember their name – or as it is more commonly, and more dramatically, and more loosely put – “cannot remember who they are”.

So, what is the identity?

There is the observer – whatever that is – and there are observations.

There are different forms of information – visual, audible, tactile, olfactory … which together form the environment of the observer. By “projection” the environment is observed as being external. The visual image from one eye is compared with that of the other eye to give depth perception. The sound from one ear is compared with that from the other ear to give surround sound. You are touched on the arm and immediately the tactile sensation – which actually occurs in the mind, is mapped as though coming from that exact spot on your arm.

You live and have your being in a world of sensation.

This is not to say that the external world does not exist – only that our world is the world “inside” – the place where we hear, and see, and feel, and taste….

And all those projections are like “vectors” leading out from a projection spot – a locus of projection – the 0,0 spot – the point which is me seeing and me tasting and me hearing and me scenting even though through the magic of projection I have the idea that the barbeque smells, that there is music in the piano, that the world is full of color, and that my feet feel cold.

This locus of projection is the “me” –it is the point of observation, the 0,0 reference point. This, the observer not the observation, is the identity … the me, the 0,0.

And that 0,0 may be a lot easier to shift than a ton and a half of squashed memories. Memories of being sick; of being tired; of the garden; of your dog; of the sound of chalk on the blackboard, of the humourless assistant bank manager; of the 1982 Olympics; of Sadie Trenton; of Fred’s tow bar; and so on and on and on –

So – if memory ain’t the thing — how do we do it … upload the identity?
(To be continued)

Most of the threats to human survival come down to one factor – the vulnerability of the human biological body.

If a tiny faction of the sums being spent on researching or countering these threats was to be used to address the question of a non-biological alternative, a good team could research and develop a working prototype in a matter of years.

The fundamental question does not lie in the perhaps inappropriately named “Singularity”, (of the AI kind), but rather in by what means are neural impulses translated into sensory experience – sounds, colors, tastes, odours, tactile sensations.

By what means is the TRANSLATION effected?

It is well known that leading up to sensory experience – such as music – that it is not just a matter of neural impulses or even patterns of neural impulses, but patterns of patterns – derivatives of derivatives of derivatives – but yet beyond that, translation has to occur.

Many of the threats to human existence, including over-population and all that it brings – can be handled by addressing the basic problem, instead of addressing each threat separately.