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Old 02-28-2012, 07:23 PM
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Default The Purpose of nonordinary states of consciousness (dreams, psychedelics,...)

I have a question for you, mostly the rationalists, sceptics and followers of scientism

What do you think is the purpose of nonordinar states of cinsciousness? In the line of spirituality, religion or other non-scientific areas of thought, there are many suggestions ranging from experiencing god, the conscious universe, other dimensions or distant places, the future or the past, a spirit world,... and so on. What does "science" think? In evolution as science sees it, there is little room for stuff that is without purpose to evolve - so why do you guys thing that we can experience strange feelings of connectedness, of unity, of seeing scenes from other places that even turn out to be real, hallucinations, talking to spirits and so on. Do you think this is just a "fluke", random firing neurons that are malfunctioning? Or do you see an evolutionary purpose in it?
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Old 02-28-2012, 10:44 PM
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I don't think there's a "canonical" reason yet - evolution being as complicated to unravel as it is - but it would make sense that dreaming evolved as a "screensaver" for the brain. Since the brain can't be shut down cleanly, then there's 8 hours per night its not processing the body's input. During that time, it invents scenarios to, I suppose, "exercise it." There might also be something going with advanced learning, such as re-organising knowledge or concepts. That one's hard to say.

Of course, because this is evolution we're not talking about, this is pretty much the diametric opposite of a rigorous unit test - and so dreams are, usually, the epitome of bizarre.
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Old 02-28-2012, 11:04 PM
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When you sleep your brain powers down, screen savers commence.



When you're high, you've messed up your brain chemistry. Interesting thoughts and feelings commence.


Neither is all that important.
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Old 02-29-2012, 01:32 AM
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Purpose? None. Nothing has to have one - evolution is only around phenotypes which have an effect when selectionary pressures are applied (even human sexual preference is a selctionary pressure).

On how it works - I'd say it's the same as reading from random addresses in programming languages that work with memory directly - disjoined data can be interpreted as it it was valid data, the results are just unpredictable (e.g. 37215 is 1001000101011111 - selecting 1000101011 from that gives 555) - dreams tend to represent things that have been on a person's mind to some degree, likely aided by the fact that a majority of them are not recalled the next day.
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Old 03-01-2012, 04:21 PM
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Well evolutionary speaking, almost all characteristics that any being expresses are in a way beneficial or they would go away because it is a drawback to have them. They take up capacity. Sleeping would have been eliminated by evolution if it was not needed and to confuse a being with dreams would be a slightly disadvantageous property if you only look at the brutal "fight for survival". Yet sleep and dreams still exist. And not only that, there are also states of consciousness that can be reached by trance, rhythms and psychedelics. And they do not just produce funny lights but they invoke in those who experience it a deep sense of meaning. Why would that be? Why would the brain be distracted like that and not evolve to be resistant against such influences. If it would be a self-defense mechanism of the plant, it utterly failed as it makes them actually more attractive to be consumed. Also it does not have to occur with plants (or mushrooms or animals) that are consumed.
If you think it is all just "random noise" that is rather sad, but it would also post the question why we perceive it. Why not completely forget it. Because we are all "broken machines"? Interestingly, evolution does rarely produce broken things. Some minor issues like a small intestine aside (and that would be gone given a few tens of millennia if it is not needed). But dreams and psychedelic experiences remain and actually played a massive role in past cultures. It is not a minor issue that is in remission, it seems...
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"Humans are storytellers. These stories then can become our reality. Only when we loose ourselves in the stories they have the power to control us. Our culture got lost in the wrong story, a story of death and defeat, of opression and control, of separation and competition. We need a new story!"
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Old 03-01-2012, 05:33 PM
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I don't think there's any specific evolutionary drawback to dreaming. Also, what do you mean by "capacity"?
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Old 03-01-2012, 06:12 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by auroraglacialis View Post
Well evolutionary speaking, almost all characteristics that any being expresses are in a way beneficial or they would go away because it is a drawback to have them. They take up capacity. Sleeping would have been eliminated by evolution if it was not needed and to confuse a being with dreams would be a slightly disadvantageous property if you only look at the brutal "fight for survival". Yet sleep and dreams still exist. And not only that, there are also states of consciousness that can be reached by trance, rhythms and psychedelics. And they do not just produce funny lights but they invoke in those who experience it a deep sense of meaning. Why would that be? Why would the brain be distracted like that and not evolve to be resistant against such influences.
Because it isn't a big enough factor to be selected out. Evolution isn't an engineer in the sense that it will remove imperfections or quirks in biology just because; the only things that will be removed by evolution are things that actively make it harder to breed. For a more concrete example, see that the human optic nerve is installed backwards, thus generating a blind spot on the retina. This is, by all accounts, a detriment, but it isn't big enough one that evolution has selected it out, despite it being there since, AFAIK humans broke off from other primates. (>100k years)

If there happen to be odd quirks in the way that the brain is built, then they won't disappear unless they have a very severe effect on one's ability to breed. (or, by extension, one's ability to socialize)

Quote:
If you think it is all just "random noise" that is rather sad, but it would also post the question why we perceive it. Why not completely forget it. Because we are all "broken machines"? Interestingly, evolution does rarely produce broken things. Some minor issues like a small intestine aside (and that would be gone given a few tens of millennia if it is not needed). But dreams and psychedelic experiences remain and actually played a massive role in past cultures. It is not a minor issue that is in remission, it seems...
Because it isn't detrimental enough that we evolved to forget about it. See above.

Also, human psychology is far from perfect. (Yay, evolution! ) We attach all sorts of meanings to patterns like the man in the moon or the "order" in the universe, despite the fact that they're essentially random. Dreams seem meaningful, just like intuitions seems correct, but it's incredibly unwise to trust either without investigating more rigorously.
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Old 03-01-2012, 09:45 PM
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I have lots of zombie dreams. Am I going to be a zombie?
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Old 03-03-2012, 02:52 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by auroraglacialis View Post
Well evolutionary speaking, almost all characteristics that any being expresses are in a way beneficial or they would go away because it is a drawback to have them. They take up capacity. Sleeping would have been eliminated by evolution if it was not needed and to confuse a being with dreams would be a slightly disadvantageous property if you only look at the brutal "fight for survival".
There's no such thing as 'limited capacity'. Most DNA does not code for anything as it stands; these are the regions that are used in genetic testing. Not all disadvantageous traits are or have to be eliminated, only that the tendency is lower. A good example would be lactose tolerance - it's an advantage, and common among many groups of humans, but rarer among some.
Sleep is still heavily affected, particularly since humans, when not given any source of accurate time and only access to controllable artificial light, tend to drift to a 26-28 hour cycle, and in many people this also becomes a biphasic cycle, so it's an example of how sentience allows people to override traits based on convenience. Multiphasic sleep takes this further - the most extreme examples allow someone to function comparably to a 'normal' cycle on approximately 2 hours per day (in 20-30 minute sleep intervals), although this is very dependent on tight timing and obviously impractical - yet this shows that it doesn't need to be 'eliminated by evolution'. As I have said before when clarifying misunderstandings of evolution, it is not a sentient process, there is no 'goal' or 'endpoint' that any lifeform is heading towards. As for survival, humans never have survived truly on their own outside of specific nonrepresentative cases, and will likely never be able to without true post-scarcity resources.

Quote:
Yet sleep and dreams still exist. And not only that, there are also states of consciousness that can be reached by trance, rhythms and psychedelics.
Undocumented functionality. When a system (biological, digital, even mechanical) works on arbitrary input to produce output, by definition, any input can produce something, often in an unexpected manner.
See Garbage In, Garbage Out - the vast majority of inputs of any kind do not check WHAT it is, and will attempt to get a meaning out of it anyway.

Quote:
And they do not just produce funny lights but they invoke in those who experience it a deep sense of meaning. Why would that be?
Why do people who take drugs like them? That doesn't make them intended functionality, or good, just an effect. The same goes with alcohol, physical sensations, even thoughts and their associated emotions. While as such, behaviours that are conducive to survival can become rewarded, this itself is also arbitrary.

Quote:
If it would be a self-defense mechanism of the plant, it utterly failed as it makes them actually more attractive to be consumed. Also it does not have to occur with plants (or mushrooms or animals) that are consumed.
Yet it works with the vast majority of other animals, humans just have the learned cultural ability to enjoy effects that would be found negative if introduced to them with no context. A non-drug example would be Capsaicin.

Quote:
If you think it is all just "random noise" that is rather sad, but it would also post the question why we perceive it. Why not completely forget it. Because we are all "broken machines"?
Something that WOULD be beneficial doesn't mean it WILL happen, unless it was somehow engineered. Humans WOULD benefit from greater intelligence, but that doesn't cause it to spontaneously occur overnight. Pandas WOULD benefit from not being almost completely uninterested in sex and having to eat several tonnes of highly specific food per day, yet this does not suddenly change, not even to save them from impending extinction. As you said, even minor changes can take tens of millennia - humans are not that different evolutionarily from the first beings to discover fire, or that hitting things with a sharp rock kills them more easily than a blunt rock, or that different grunts could covey different meanings. Traits that change are primarily on the basis of sexual selection as traits considered desirable become more common by people possessing those being more likely to successfully reproduce, yet that does not stop individuals who do not posses those from also doing so.

Quote:
Interestingly, evolution does rarely produce broken things. Some minor issues like a small intestine aside (and that would be gone given a few tens of millennia if it is not needed). But dreams and psychedelic experiences remain and actually played a massive role in past cultures. It is not a minor issue that is in remission, it seems...
...because nothing is broken. There's no disadvantage or cost, not even opportunity cost. The input is processed, and the scale of humanity is such that people who overdo such and suffer negative effects are capable of being absorbed by the population at large, especially with the memetic component of such interest.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Clarke View Post
Because it isn't a big enough factor to be selected out. Evolution isn't an engineer in the sense that it will remove imperfections or quirks in biology just because; the only things that will be removed by evolution are things that actively make it harder to breed. For a more concrete example, see that the human optic nerve is installed backwards, thus generating a blind spot on the retina. This is, by all accounts, a detriment, but it isn't big enough one that evolution has selected it out, despite it being there since, AFAIK humans broke off from other primates. (>100k years)

If there happen to be odd quirks in the way that the brain is built, then they won't disappear unless they have a very severe effect on one's ability to breed. (or, by extension, one's ability to socialize)


Because it isn't detrimental enough that we evolved to forget about it. See above.

Also, human psychology is far from perfect. (Yay, evolution! ) We attach all sorts of meanings to patterns like the man in the moon or the "order" in the universe, despite the fact that they're essentially random. Dreams seem meaningful, just like intuitions seems correct, but it's incredibly unwise to trust either without investigating more rigorously.
Well said. Defects are not eliminated 'just because' if they do not have an actual detrimental effect, particularly since modern humans love to compensate for deficiencies by giving those individuals a much greater chance of survival than they would have historically had.
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