Stanford EE Computer Systems Colloquium

4:15PM, Wednesday, November 13, 2013
NEC Auditorium, Gates Computer Science Building Room B3

On The Origin Of Experience
The Shaping Of Sense And The Complex World

Steven Ericsson-Zenith
Institute for Advanced Science & Engineering
About the talk:

In every form of material manifestation, there is a corresponding form of human thought, so that the human mind is as wide in its range of thought as the physical universe in which it thinks. Benjamin Peirce, Linear Associative Algebra, 1870.

How are we to explain the presence of our experience in the world and its many forms? This book is the product of a research journey to answer this question that begins for me in the corridors of the University of Arizona in conversations with Oxford mathematician Roger Penrose. In March of 2003 we participated in a meeting that asked whether advances in quantum mechanics and biophysics informed us concerning the nature of the mind.

Relying primarily upon the work of Kurt Gödel (1906-1978) and Alan Turing (1912-1954), Penrose argues that a mathematical solution to the problem of describing experience in nature is impossible, more precisely he says the solution deals with the non-computable.

It has always been my intuition, however, that the limits of logical description he refers to are not limits of the world or failures of mathematics in general. They are, rather, indications of a failure in the foundations of mathematical logic, they are failures of a particular method. It seemed to me, therefore, most likely that resolution could be found by an inquiry into the nature of computation.

I am especially concerned that the immediate continuous transformation of structure, as holistically conceived by a mathematician and evident throughout biophysics, is not reflected naturally in any of Turing's methods of systematic computation. This fact passes unnoticed at the scale of computing familiar to most of us. And this has seduced many to believe that computation is invincible. But it is now clear that the efficiency of Turing computation decreases as the problem size increases with physically limiting consequences at large-scales. These consequences will ultimately lead me to exclude Turing's models of computation from biophysics.

As a keen scholar of recent biophysical results, funded for other causes often far from basic research, I had long suspected that the attempt to mathematize biophysics promised to inform the foundations of logic. It seemed to me impossible for biophysics to make progress without an exact account of experience as sense. And so as I listened to Penrose's ideas and concerns a contrary approach to the problem came to mind.

My approach then is simple to state, it is to ask what methods are required to enable a mathematical description of the different forms of sense, how they are modified, and the role that these actions play in the operation of biophysical structure. Sense in this case is simply the variety of experience.

Specifically, the goal of such an approach is to illustrate how a particular sensation is formed and modified in biophysical structure and the role that this action plays in the selection and performance of directed and non-directed response. And further, to describe how this basic mechanism combines to construct the entire experience of individuals and the operations of the familiar mind.

Such an approach is the first step toward reasoning about the many forms of experience, its place in nature, and its place in the considerations of physical science. It leads us to ask what may be missing from our physical conceptions and models of mathematical computation. With respect to these conventions, in terms of mathematical logic, it asks What remains for the living mind?[1]

In addressing this question I illustrate in exact terms how my solution takes its place in the physical sciences.

The purpose here is to present the theory in sufficient detail to a broad audience, across disciplines. It includes the mathematical framework of the theory and its immediate implications to physics in general, logic, and computation. In the process I treat logic as a natural science whose mandate is to construct the bridge between pure mathematics and the physical sciences.

[1] Charles Sanders Peirce. Logical Machines. The American Journal of Psychology. (1887).


There is no downloadable version of the slides for this talk available at this time.

About the speaker:

Steven Ericsson-Zenith holds a doctorate (1992) from the University of Pierre and Marie Curie (Paris 6), traditionally the science department of the Sorbonne. He completed his thesis at the invitation of the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Mines de Paris (now ParisTech) and given a senior research position in that institution. He is currently the Principal Investigator and Research Scholar at the Institute for Advanced Science & Engineering (IASE).

His doctoral thesis considers the structure of computation in large-scale parallel systems. This work evolved from his industry experience and brief research experience at Yale University at the invitation of Professor David Gelernter. He was a senior member of the computer architecture team at INMOS (now STMicroelectronics) under Professor David M. May, FRS.

Dr. Ericsson-Zenith is a veteran of Silicon Valley. In 1998 he established The Kiss Principle, Inc. a Silicon Valley start-up company undertaking advanced large-scale computation and human factors research and development in partnership with Microsoft Corp. and others. In 2006 he licensed that technology to Microsoft and the proceeds were donated to IASE. With former colleagues from Yale University and INMOS (now STMicroelectronics) IASE is established as a nonprofit science institution. IASE was founded to pursue basic research benefiting from the new data becoming available from biophysical disciplines. This explosion of new information promised to inform the theoretical foundations of logic and apprehension. Since that time Dr. Ericsson-Zenith has been dedicated full-time to the fulfillment of that promise. It is his defining commitment.

Dr. Ericsson-Zenith lectures occasionally at Stanford University and elsewhere on his research. His first public presentation of his research program and his developing approach was given in a Stanford University talk entitled A New Kind Of Positivism in 2008. In 2011/2012 he was an active participant and contributor to the celebrations of Alan Turing's Centenary. He spoke then on relevant aspects of his work as they effect computational structure at Stanford University, the Issac Newton Institute's Incomputable event at the Royal Society's Chicheley Hall, and at Cambridge University in England. In November 2013 he will give his first readings from the volume On The Origin Of Experience at Stanford University. In January 2014 he will lecture, also at Stanford, on the life and work of Charles Sanders Peirce.

This instigating volume in the IASE series, Explaining Experience In Nature, is the first formal publication of his results.

Contact information:

Steven Ericsson-Zenith
Institute for Advanced Science & Engineering
16770 Redwood Lodge Road
Los Gatos, CA 95033