Descartes Cut Down To Size, Consciousness Extracted:

Concepts such as “consciousness”, “free will”, “sentience”, or (to sound learned) “qualia”, are often brandished, without connecting them to (what are called in Quantum Physics) “observables“.

I will try to correct this here. I will associate “consciousness”, “free will”, “sentience”, or “qualia” with something observable, namely unpredictability. This enables me to claim that even simple animals have emotions, consciousness, etc.

Yet my approach, unpredictability, provides with a measure (of consciousness, free will, sentience, qualia), thus does not put all species in the same basket (as the unpredictability a mind is capable of will vary; and not just vary as a number).

Approaching intelligence through unpredictability does not fall in the same excesses as Princeton’s Peter Singer and other in the “animal rights movement who claim (with the Nazis) that fleas and humans have equal rights (so we may as well treat humans as fleas).

The notion of “observable” was central to the birth of Quantum Physics, and still is.

Aplysia: Brainy, Thus Sentient, Conscious & Also Unpredictable

Aplysia: Brainy, Thus Sentient, Conscious & Also Unpredictable

Clever Enough to Become a Plantimal…

There are more than 3,000 species of “Nudibranchs”, these sea slugs, as their branchies are nude… Just when you thought you were safe from French. the particular one above steal genes from photosynthesizing algae it eats. Then it becomes solar powered. Science does not know how this works, because Obama prefers to finance his friend Elon Musk rather than fundamental research in genetics and solar power. TO SOLVE THE GREEN HOUSE GASES CRISIS, ONE NEEDS MORE FUNDAMENTAL RESEARCH. NOW. Finance it with the 6,000 billions dollars given to fossil fuel plutocrats and their obsequious lackeys.

The notion of “observable” is central to Quantum Physics, and irritated Einstein, especially when Heisenberg pointed out that it was he, Einstein, who had introduced it in physics. It is no coincidence that I was driven to capture it for consciousness: it is central to science.

Quantum processes “behave” as if they were conscious of the environment at a distance. Einstein is unhappy in his grave: reality has turned into his worst nightmare. Poor Einstein was very much a Nineteenth Century physicist, he did not graduate to the new age of implicit wholeness.

Chris Snuggs: “As if” they are conscious. Does that mean they ARE conscious?

Patrice: Not an answerable question, because Quantum Processes cannot be interviewed. But I am sure that the feeling of consciousness is rooted in those Quantum Processes. Precisely because Quantum Processes behave as one could imagine elements of consciousness to behave: they are both unknowable and retrospectively determinable.

Chris Snuggs: “Does not “consciousness” need a brain?”

Patrice Ayme: First for the simple answer. What’s a brain? A set of neural networks. Aplysia has around 650 neurons.

A brain “thinks”. What is thinking? How do we know that an animal thinks? When it behave in a way we cannot always predict. Thinking manifests itself by the ability to make a (set of) neural network(s) behave UNPREDICTABLY.

Thinking is detected by the ability to go beyond (rote) learning, thus, to be unpredictable.

At least that’s what I claim. I claim this, because that’s the best I can… think of. What else?

Here is an example illustrating the preceding concepts. I met a giant sea turtle in the ocean. I knew it was thinking. How? because it showed a lot of initiative (especially for a supposedly stupid reptile).

First it determined I was no threat. It swam towards me. I could see its eye moving, inspecting me. I could not predict what it was going to do. It extended a vast flipper next to my fingers, we delicately touched. It was a sort of respectful handshake across 400 million years of evolution. I have been at the (very obscure, as it should be!) Sistine Chapel, at the Vatican, where God extents a finger to man.

This was much better. A flipper was extended, from turtle, to human. Then my reptilian friend slowly dove. I had done nearly nothing. The sea creature had created the encounter. Deliberately. Unpredictably.

Two days earlier me and the same turtle (it is particularly large, so I know it was the same one) swam on the surface in a particularly strong current, in the exact same spot, so it probably recognized me: sea turtles have color vision, and I am unmistakable with bright fluorescent orange and yellow shirt, pants and socks and giant bright yellow fins.

It is precisely because a human being, the world’s smartest animal, cannot predict the behavior of another organism, that we know that this organism thinks, is conscious, has sentience. The first time it decided to swim 5 feet apart, although I was all business, having trouble with the current, and not interested at that point by socializing sea monsters. My sole aim was to regain the beach, 400 meters away, past a sea cliff.

“Sentience” comes from the Latin sentientem (nominative sentiens) “feeling,” present participle of sentire “to feel”. The turtle was at the very least intrigued by my behavior the first time (‘crazy human swims against current pretending to be a turtle’), and was interested to inspect me some more.

In the case of three neurons, free will (or at least unpredictability) has been demonstrated. https://patriceayme.wordpress.com/…/three-neurons-free…/

The question of what is “consciousness” and how it can be determined to happen arises. That’s harder.

In “Surveiller et Punir” (mistranslated in English as “Discipline and Punish” instead of “Surveillance and Punishment”) Michel Foucault quoted at length the full execution of Damiens a religious fanatic who had pricked Louis XV with a knife. Foucault wanted to show how punishment changed. That gives me a justification to set-up my own gory scheme.

Descartes is famous for his “I think therefore I am”. What he was after was finding the simplest, most fundamental basis to start from. So doing, he made a huge mistake.

Indeed, one does not need to think to know that one is.

That can easily be shown by a thought experiment. Grab Descartes, tie him up on a table. The strength and number of bounds is important. Then take a rusty saw, and start to cut Descartes’ leg off. After Descartes puts in doubt your philosophical qualifications, he will start screaming. By the time you get to the sensitive nerves, next to the bone, his discourse will have lost any apparent method. At this point Descartes will not be thinking, but busy screaming his head off. Still, he would be fully existent, and feeling more alive than ever.

Thus sentience is more fundamental than thinking.

This shows, once again, that correct thinking starts with the correct feelings, moods, emotions.

This has many applications. When people extol Christianism, or Islamism, as if they were civilizations, instead of crazy superstitions with a very LETHAL Dark Side, one has to ask whether they set-up the mood of the Enlightenment.

When “leaders’ gather in Paris for the Green House Gas (GHG) crisis, are they aware of the correct emotion, the correct mood, that they should be infused with? Namely that they have only a few years to research the technologies which will allow to get rid of the GHG crisis, or an unprecedented holocaust, of the entire biosphere, may, or  will happen…

And will they be conscious that it will be their fault, and the fault of the 6,000 billion dollars of yearly fossil fuel subsidies they preside over, like the ecological terrorists they are?

This is an example of the following:

Verily, if you want to think right, you have to feel right. First.

Patrice Ayme’


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31 Responses to “I FEEL, THEREFORE I AM”

  1. Alexi Says:

    You definition of thinking is too narrow. In the case of amputating poor Descartes’ leg, the pain he feels is part of the thinking process. Thinking is not only genteel cogitation but also emotions and raw feelings. Cogitation, emotion and sensation are all together what forms the intellect.

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Dear Alexi: So you basically suggest to define “thinking” to include “feeling”? Am I understanding correctly? I do not think that the two concepts, feeling and thinking, are identical, nor that the usual usage is to identify them. Pain, when strong enough, is beyond description. Precisely beyond description, because one cannot think anymore. In particular, vagal nerve pain transforms the mind so much, one cannot muster any thought. Even most sensations shut down.

    • Gmax Says:

      Alexi: please read Damasio’s Descartes’ Error, expanding a bit upon Nietzsche’s On the despisers of the body’ in So Spracht Zarathustra.

      These are attacks against COGITO ERGO SUM.

      I am baffled that you throw Cartesian DUALISM below the train, and then coolly tell Patrice she should have realized this was what Descartes did long ago. NOT!

      What did I miss?

      Patrice goes further than Francis Crick on qualia because she gives an OBJECTIVE criterion to determine the presence of SENTIENCE.

      • Alexi Says:

        I am not defending Descartes. I think Hume’s critique of Descartes was quite devastating. However, I do think his “Cogito” is fundamentally sound, and is in fact an epistemological earthquake for the time.

        What I am critiquing is a narrow definition of thinking to include only logical linear thought processes. To my mind, all the sensations are part of the thinking process. Any computer scientist will tell you that computational (thinking) without data (feelings) is impossible. For humans all sensations, even the most primal and vivid, provide the data.

        Just because a sensation may prevent rational cogitation does not mean it is not part of a thinking process. Linear rationality is not the mark of thinking. Many thinkers perceive themselves to be thinking things through and yet often come up with random or irrational conclusions. It is also well-documented that athletes perform better (more intelligently) by suppressing mental thinking and acting purely through kinesthesia driven by emotions.

        See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proprioception

        • Patrice Ayme Says:

          My spouse’s thesis was on the logics and non-linear math of proprioception. Created the field, actually. Has to do with peripheral neurons versus central nervous system neurons. new math of non linear PDEs systems.

        • Gmax Says:

          What you say about feeling, Patrice also say from as long as I know her, and I fully agree with. Yet, that’ s not at all what Descartes said. Descartes opposed mind and body.

          Now we know that’s false. In sleep people still feel, but they don’t CONSCIOUSLY ‘COGITATE’

  2. Gmax Says:

    I think you right and your method more rational than Descartes

  3. Alexi Helligar Says:

    Cogitation, emotion and sensation are all together what forms the intellect.

  4. dominique deux Says:

    The link between unpredictability and thought (however defined) seems tenuous at best. Is a pachinko board sentient? Does it think? Conversely, is a maths student, presenting the correct answer to a test, demonstrating her lack of thought?
    Moreover, (un)predictability is a weird animal, wihch much depends on the scale of observation: a perfectly predictable event can usually be decomposed in a great many individual, particle-level events, where unpredictability rules.
    A very thought-provoking essay but …
    (btw Descartes’ main purpose was to demonstrate God’s existence, ab nihilo. He could only fail! and indeed, his convoluted reasonings on the basis of the cogito are almost as rife with sophistry as Socrates’ wisdom).

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Thanks Dominique, for observing that I should be more lyrical, or, at least, descriptive.

      Generating a truly unpredictable program on a computer is hard. To put it mildly. A fundamental problem, THE fundamental problem, at this point, in physics is whether Quantum Processes are truly unpredictable. I believe they are… However notice that they are STATISTICALLY PREDICTABLE.

      Any chancy process… BUT FOR QUANTUM processes, is, theoretically predictable.

      If a math test is complicated enough, the student will present originality, another word for unpredictability.

      I maintain that there are two really unpredictable phenomena I know of in the universe: Quantum and Intelligence (and I believe the root is the same!). That’s what I fear about animal intelligence: the unpredictability of intelligent animals (in particular bears are capable of anything: they are about as smarter as chimps, as I discovered personally).

      Descartes said that he wanted to get down to the most fundamental certainty. His reasoning resembled something already found in Avicenna (and I will not be surprised it was older). He wanted also to show mind was not physical. Body was physical. However human bodies are full of tens of thousands of neurons (guts, heart, spine). The fundamental is feeling (as Hume did not really say, but close).

      Amusingly “sentience” used a lot in Sci Fi to mean intelligence, Sea Turtles clearly have…

    • EugenR Says:

      Dominique, I fully agree and more than that, unpredictability has nothing to do with free will. We know three types of causal systems, the first is direct or indirect causality, the second is a probability system and the third one is a chaotic system (which is different from the unpredictability of chaos, due to lack of knowledge and cognitive tools about the system).
      Many scholars claim, that being quantum mechanics a system of causality, where one event brings results outcome according to the laws of probability, proves the existence of free will. I disagree with this claim. Free will has to be based on free choice within a system of direct or indirect causality. Choice of free will have to be done, where the outcome of certain decision is known with certainty, (subject to level of knowledge at disposition), and cannot be a probable outcome.

      • Patrice Ayme Says:

        Dear Eugen: You and Dominique seem determined to make my life harder. That’s good, I love it hard.
        What I ask you to do, is what is the first indication of intelligence?
        I came down that avenue of thinking from considering the Ursidae problem. Ursus, the bear genus, is a big problem for people who run the wilds of North America, including Alaska, as I have done hundreds of time, and still do. A problem with bears is that they are rather unpredictable.

        Then I came to understand why: the colossal intelligence of bears was the cause of their unpredictability.

        Unpredictability will be, always, the first indication of intelligence at work.

        The situation in Quantum Physics has guided me here, along the lines you evoked. The question is this: what is the simplest manifestation of Free Will? Unpredictability. Just like with intelligence. And so it should, because what causes Free Will? Free Intelligence! Certain outcomes don’t belong to this world, where certainty is 100%. That’s definitively a consequence of the Quantum nature of Physics.

        • EugenR Says:

          I take it as a compliment. I thing I will write an essay about, causality, probability, chaos and the free will. I just need to extend my day beyond 24 hours.

          • Patrice Ayme Says:

            Indeed a compliment.

            Well, I am curious about what is the meat of the argument of you and Dominique.
            Mine is simple: real unpredictability, I said REAL, unpredictability, is a mark of intelligence.
            And that’s all the OBSERVABLE we have (I am trained researched physicist, one must remember, so I use what I learned there). Unpredictability is the only observable we have.

            Know the Turing Test?
            Sort of stupid.
            I have a better one: Patrice’s Test: if you can’t predict it, you can diagnose intelligence.

            • Alexi Says:

              This is a complex area of discussion. A distinction must be made between algorithmic predictability which may lead to intelligent outcomes; and intelligent outcomes made using heuristics (from the Greek “heuriskein” which literally means to find). Being able to effectively find and display patterns from phenomena that to other observers appear to be random and without any priors, then use those patterns deterministically to maximize intelligent outcomes is the hallmark of the highly conscious.

            • Patrice Ayme Says:

              Real intelligence is thus unpredictable to real intelligence. Given an unknown bear, for example an unknown Ursus Maritimus, one cannot predict its behavior. (If one gets to know it personally, one can) Why? Bears are roughly as intelligent as chimps.

              Recently the obvious dawned on students of packing science: the official theory (resting on nothing) is FALSE: packing of disks in two dimensions does NOT have to result in patterns of hexagons with the occasional gap (anybody playing with coins could have told them that!). This basically means that what was viewed as the types of randomness of packing disks in two dimension has MEASURE ZERO (!!!!! I say this!) in the space of all randomnesses.

              And I say… The space of all known algorithms also has measure zero, and basically for the same reason: neurons and other smallest thinking units pack as disks do (or, more exactly, spheres). Thinking is depicted by these arrangements the randomness of which has been vastly underestimated.

  5. Patrice Ayme Says:

    [Sent to The Economist; http://www.economist.com/news/essays/21676961-inner-lives-animals-are-hard-study-there-evidence-they-may-be-lot-richer-science-once-thought%5D

    I feel, therefore I am should be the correct statement.
    And feeling can now be demonstrated with neuro-imaging.
    Thus Descartes was wrong, and Darwin right.
    Animals are like us, yet less so.

  6. Patrice Ayme Says:

    Sentience is more important, and widely distributed

  7. Patrice Ayme Says:

    [Found in TE]
    Neuro-imaging show that animals have emotions… Even flies (2015!). Emotions can be ascertained in various objective ways. But the same cannot be said for “thinking”, or “consciousness”. Patrice Ayme thus argued that sentience (to have feelings) was the important notion, and widely distributed. A stupendous idea, rolling over Descartes.

    • Alexi Says:

      I do not interpret “thinking” narrowly. I see every emotion as part of the the thinking process. Emotions are part of the intellect. Admittedly, Descartes may not have conceived of it that way. He might have seen thinking as only linear cognitive algorithms. There is no necessity for interpreting Descartes so narrowly, but I see how some might. Poor Descartes, he is not here before us to refine his position in light of modern neuroscience. We might “get off” saying, “Descartes was wrong”. And though he was wrong on many many points, getting off on those errors is jejune, and is uncharitable to one of the great contributors to the modern era. So let us not dwell on the errors of Descartes, but write our own books, for our own times.

      • Gmax Says:

        Patrice said in the past that Descartes invented ANALYTIC GEOMETRY, making him the most important thinker of the modern era, arguably.

        But the COGITO is not about that at all. Descartes hero worship does not honor Descartes

        • Patrice Ayme Says:

          Agreed on all. As Descartes promoted generalized suspicion as a new moral code, I am following him closely by doubting his doubts. Going from “thinking” to feeling is becoming more fundamental.

        • Alexi Says:


          I feel your position quite clearly. I still feel your narrow interpretation of “thinking” misses the point that Descartes is trying to articulate in the Cogito. The lynchpin of your critique requires a narrow view of what Descartes meant by “thinking”. Now I am repeating myself when I say I do not feel your interpretation of Cartesian thinking is a necessary interpretation. I also feel that the ghost of Descartes would probably agree that emotions are important components of thinking, and quite possibly, would agree that there can be no thinking without emotions.


          • Patrice Ayme Says:

            Dear Alexi: Patrice here, and I think GMax said same in the past. We ALL agree that thinking involves EMOTIONS, or, rather, the emotional system. This is why I think moods are so important. And (part of) why I think classical computers can’t think.

            You, dear Alexi, for some obscure reason, want to do for Descartes what the Pope wants to do for Mother Teresa: sainthood. At the risk of trampling his gory inheritance. You insist Descartes considered emotions part of thinking. Reading his works, I agree. Reading the cogito (I think therefore…), I am ready to grant you that. So I am just frankly explicit.

            However, something went amiss in Descartes as he firmly thought animals had no “soul”. I think they do, because they feel, that’s all what the soul is. Animals are sentient, even flies (which experience fear; clearly wasps do, I have experienced on them all my life, and still does). Descartes missed that, so his notion of “THINKING” did not extend to ANIMALS.

            Not only no emotions, no thinking, but emotions can happen, without thinking, so emotions are more elemental.

      • Patrice Ayme Says:

        This essay was not about putting Descartes down. I esteem Descartes tremendously (more than I do roughly anybody in the 17C). For inventing analytic geometry, like Gmax said. This is an attack against the cogito, indeed.

        Descartes said that “thinking” was the most fundamental observation. No. Wrong. Feeling is. Thus sentience is most fundamental.
        How do I know this? Say you are sleeping. Can you still feel things? Yes. Are you thinking? Well, sometimes. But sometimes you will without thinking. If I dump a screaming Descartes in a lava stream, to honor the goddess Pele’, I am sure he will feel, he will actually be overwhelmed by emotion, but I do not think that the scream he would have become can be called thinking.

        Sorry I had to do this to Descartes, but my more gentle argument seems to have been too weak. I have found myself, and can even generate for myself situations where I think aplenty, but I am not really thinking.

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