Wednesday, January 13, 2021

3/4_Hoffman, Objects of Consciousness, questions + replies (18-21)

Defending Physical Reality.  Because, apparently somebody needs to.  
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This is the third installation of my review of Hoffman/Prakash’s responses which are attached to their 2014 Objects of Consciousness paper, specifically #18 to #21.  The open source Q and A was copied and pasted, complete, no edits.  I simply added my two cents worth.

I don’t pretend to be any sort of scholar or self made expert, not even, this is a student’s exploration and discovery.  Since I like homework more than most, I want to make my trail of discovery and adventures in critical thinking available for busy students who relate to these themes and want to better understand the dark art of scientific deception for fun, power and profit.


Objections and Replies (#18 - #21 of 21)

Cc: The objections are printed in blue, author’s responses in mauve, my comments in dark green.  Supplementary information is clearly marked.  Most titles are linked to original sources.

Hoffman:  Here we summarize helpful feedback from readers of earlier drafts, in the form of objections and replies.

(18) Their treatment of the combination problem is worth reading. There is however a very large problem with their model: It relies on the Cartesian product of X1 and X2 (this is right after Conjecture 3). The Cartesian product is not conducive to real combination (this problem is all over mathematics, by the way—mathematicians don't care about it because they only care about high level abstractions). In section Objections and Replies, where they discuss objections to their model, they discuss this very objection (objection 10). 

Unfortunately, their resolution to this objection is mere handwaving: But as the conscious agents in the combination continue to interact, the decisions become less and less independent. This is mere wishful thinking. The authors have no reason to believe this less and less business and they've given the reader no reason to think this either. In fact, if this less and less business were true, their model wouldn't require the Cartesian product in the first place. Frankly, this objection and their failure to handle it guts their model. 

In this same paragraph, in the next couple of sentences, the authors just assert (using proof by blatant assertion) that in some undefined limit, a true new conscious entity emerges. This makes the complex presentation of their model otiose. Why not just write a haiku asserting that the combination problem is not a problem?

The limit we speak of (for the emergence of a new combined conscious agent) is the asymptotic limit. Asymptotic behavior is a precise technical concept in the theory of Markov chains (see, e.g., Revuz, 1984, chapter 6). 

The defining characteristic of a Markov chain is that no matter how the process arrived at its present state, the possible future states are fixed.

“Precise technical concept” - but is it proof when there’s no accompanying physical evidence?

We have given, in sections First Example of Asymptotic Behavior and Second Example of Asymptotic Behavior, concrete examples of undirected joins for which, asymptotically, a new combined conscious agent is created that is not just a Cartesian product of the original agents.

Intuitively, the reason that the undirected combination of two agents creates a new agent that is not just a product is that there is feedback between the two agents (this is illustrated in Figure 2). Thus, the decisions and actions of one agent influence those of the other. This influence is not fully felt in the first step of the dynamics, but in the asymptotic limit of the dynamics it completely dominates, carving the state space of the dynamics into various absorbing sets with their own periodic behaviors, in a fashion that is not reducible to a simple product of the original two agents.

The degree to which the new conscious agent is not reducible to a simple product of the original agents can be precisely quantified using, 

What is being precisely defined?  Beyond imaginary coordinates.

for instance, the measure of integrated information developed by Tononi and others (Tononi and Edelman, 1998; Tononi and Spoorns, 2003; Tononi, 2008; Tononi and Koch, 2008; Barrett and Seth, 2011)

It is straightforward to compute, for instance, that the new agent in Second Example of Asymptotic Behavior has 2 bits of integrated information, i.e., of new information that is not reducible to that of the two original agents. 

“Two bits of integrated information.”  How’s that relate to the nonstop flood of integrated information that our real world senses and brains process?

Thus, there is a precise and quantifiable sense in which the undirected combination of conscious agents creates a new conscious agent with its own new information.

Without experiences how is relevant information acquired?

We should note, however, that our use here of Tononi's measure of integrated information does not imply that we endorse his theory of consciousness. 

Tononi’s measure is merely convenient for your narrative?

Tononi is a reductive functionalist, proposing that consciousness is identical to integrated information and that qualia are identical to specific informational relationships (Tononi, 2008). Consistent with this view he asserts, for instance, that spectrum inversion is impossible (Tononi, 2008, footnote 8). However, a recent theorem proves that all reductive functionalist theories of consciousness are false (Hoffman, 2006).

Okay, so a purely reductive functionalist approach remains an unsatisfactory final answer, it doesn’t follow that Hoffman’s notion fills the gap.  

Are we close to solving the puzzle of consciousness?  -  David Robson, March 26, 2019

The question of whether other brains – quite alien to our own – are capable of awareness, is just one of the many conundrums that arise when scientists start thinking about consciousness. When does an awareness of our own being first emerge in the brain? Why does it feel the way it does? And will computers ever be able to achieve the same internal life?

Tononi may have a solution to these puzzles. His "integrated information theory" is one of the most exciting theories of consciousness to have emerged over the last few years, and although it is not yet proven, it provides some testable hypotheses that may soon give a definitive answer.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Neuroscience Readies for a Showdown Over Consciousness Ideas  -  Philip Ball, March 6, 2019

Some problems in science are so hard, we don’t really know what meaningful questions to ask about them — or whether they are even truly solvable by science. Consciousness is one of those: Some researchers think it is an illusion; others say it pervades everything. Some hope to see it reduced to the underlying biology of neurons firing; others say that it is an irreducibly holistic phenomenon.  … 

Now a new project currently under review hopes to close in on some answers. It proposes to draw up a suite of experiments that will expose theories of consciousness to a merciless spotlight, in the hope of ruling out at least some of them.  (Templeton World Charity Foundation is coordinating the endeavor)

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The Neuroscience of Consciousness  -  Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Oct 9, 2018

Conscious experience in humans depends on brain activity, so neuroscience will contribute to explaining consciousness. What would it be for neuroscience to explain consciousness? How much progress has neuroscience made in doing so? What challenges does it face? How can it meet those challenges? What is the philosophical significance of its findings? This entry addresses these and related questions.

To bridge the gulf between brain and consciousness, we need neural data, computational and psychological models, and philosophical analysis to identify principles to connect brain activity to conscious experience in an illuminating way.  . A challenge for an objective science of consciousness is to dissect an essentially subjective phenomenon.

 A fortiori, Tononi's theory is false. His measure of integrated information and his analyses of informational relationships are valuable. But his next move, of identifying consciousness with integrated information, is provably false. He could fix this by making the weaker claim that consciousness is caused by or results from integrated information. His theory would no longer be necessarily false. But then he would need to offer a scientific theory about how integrated information causes or gives rise to consciousness. No such theory is currently on offer and, we suspect, no such theory is possible.

Keep in mind Hoffman’s penchant for disingenuous claims and gross omissions before lending too much weight to his assessment.

A cornerstone of scientific dialogue is honestly representing your opponent’s evidence and arguments.  Google, “how integrated information causes or gives rise to consciousness,” to find out how vigorous an area of study it is and how much we've learned.  

It wouldn't hurt to worry about better processing what we've learned, do a bit of intellectual digesting, before racing forward with yesteryear's under-informed notions.

‘Outlandish’ competition seeks the brain’s source of consciousness  -  Sara Reardon, Oct. 16, 2019

Brain scientists can watch neurons fire and communicate. They can map how brain regions light up during sensation, decision-making, and speech. What they can't explain is how all this activity gives rise to consciousness. Theories abound, but their advocates often talk past each other and interpret the same set of data differently. "Theories are very flexible," says Christof Koch, president of the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle, Washington. "Like vampires, they're very difficult to slay."

Now, the Templeton World Charity Foundation (TWCF), a nonprofit best known for funding research at the intersection of science and religion, hopes to narrow the debate with experiments that directly pit theories of consciousness against each other. The first phase of the $20 million project,

… The first two contenders are the global workspace theory (GWT), championed by Stanislas Dehaene of the Collège de France in Paris, and the integrated information theory (IIT), proposed by Giulio Tononi of the University of Wisconsin in Madison.  …

I’m ready to place a bet.

You can be sure new data will ultimately recognize aspects of both are valid and that expecting simple answers is unreasonable.  

Plus, other factors will be found to participate in this choreography of the physical body in producing the mind.  Some things already suspected and others will be surprises and all of it more complex, yet poetic and harmonic, then we’re capable of imagining today.

Beyond that I want to note, it'd be good for all to better recognize how much the framing of our questions constrains the answers we receive.  


The Origin of Consciousness in the Brain Is About to Be Tested

By Shelly Fan - October 29, 2019

… The “outlandish” project is already raising eyebrows. While some applaud the project’s head-to-head approach, which rarely occurs in science, others question if it’s all a publicity stunt. “I don’t think [the competition] will do what it says on the tin,” said Dr. Anil Seath, a neuroscientist at the University of Sussex in Brighton UK, explaining that the whole trial is too “philosophical.” Rather than unearthing how the brain brings outside stimuli into attention, he said, the fight focuses more on where and why consciousness emerges, with theories growing by the numbers every year.

Then there’s the religion angle. The project is sponsored by the Templeton World Charity Foundation (TWCF), a philanthropic foundation that tiptoes the line between science and faith. Although spirituality isn’t taboo to consciousness theorists—many embrace it—TWCF is a rather unorthodox player in the neuroscientific field. ….

(19) The paper explicitly commits a fallacy: it privileges the authors' take on reality while denying that there is any such thing as reality. 

For example: The authors say “There are no public physical objects. Lions and kids are no more public and observer independent than are headaches. Lions and kids (and space-time itself) are useful species-specific perceptions that have been shaped by natural selection not to report the truth but simply to guide adaptive behavior. We must take them seriously, but it is a logical error to conclude that we must take them literally.”

Natural selection, which the authors clearly think is the truth, is just as susceptible to their arguments as headaches or truth itself. 

Sure, change over time can be debated till the cows come home, if that’s what you want to do with your time.  In the end, it still happens, and every thread of evidence we’ve gathered points in that direction.

He evades the fact that modern scientific understanding of natural selection goes way beyond human notions of survival of the fittest, selection and simple progression. 

So by their own reasoning, natural selection is not true; neither are their computer programs/models. So the reader doesn't have to take natural selection or their models either seriously or literally. So their paper is now exposed as self-refuting.

Here we see some excellent examples of playing by the Lawyer’s no-holds-barred debate method, as opposed to a Constructive Debate following science’s rules of honesty.

With the lawyer's goal being winning regardless - and the constructive debate's goal of arriving at a more complete and accurate understanding.

If we indeed proposed a “take on reality while denying that there is any such thing as reality,” we would of course be self-refuting. However, we do not deny that there is any such thing as reality. We cheerfully admit that there is a reality. We simply inquire into the relationship between reality and the perceptions of a particular species, H. sapiens. Such inquiry is surely within the purview of science.

Within the purview of science?  What’s been measured or observed?  Using complex rigorous math isn’t enough to quality as serious science.

Moreover all currently accepted theories in science, including evolutionary theory, are appropriate tools for such inquiry.

NO!  Not when referring to a questionable rendition of an evolution theory.  Particularly when used with intent to deceive about the state of understanding.

We find that evolutionary theory entails a low probability that our perceptions are veridical, and thus a high probability that reality is not isomorphic to our perceptions, e.g., of spacetime and objects. 

Here, Hoffman is pretending to discuss actual evolution when in reality he’s discussing his computer-game driven “theorem.”

This prompts us to propose a new theory of reality, which we have done by defining conscious agents and proposing conscious realism, viz., that reality consists of interacting conscious agents.

Science demands evidence!  Hoffman hasn’t produced any evidence beyond some computer game that may be totally precise and self-fulfilling, but it doesn’t relate to our physical world.  That’s not science!

This proposal invites us to revisit evolutionary theory itself. The standard formulation of evolutionary theory, i.e., the neo-Darwinian synthesis, is couched in terms of spacetime and objects (such as organisms and genes), which we now take to be a species-specific perceptual representation, not an insight into reality. But we are not forced into self-refutation at this point. It is open to us to formulate a new generalized theory of evolution that operates on what we now take to be reality, (namely), interacting systems of conscious agents.

A key constraint on our new evolutionary theory is this: When the new evolutionary theory is projected onto the spacetime perceptual interface of H. sapiens we must get back the standard evolutionary theory. 

Simple life has been around for the last 80% of Earth’s existence, modern humans have been around for less than 0.001%.  Yet Hoffman comes off sounding like he thinks evolution is all about us and what we think.

Thus, we do not take the standard evolutionary theory to be true, but instead to be a “boundary condition” on the new evolutionary theory. Standard evolutionary theory is simply how the new evolutionary theory appears when it is shoehorned into the perceptual framework that H. sapiens happens to have.

Empty words since there’s no attached evidence.

The process we are describing here is standard procedure in science. We always use our current best theory as a ladder to a better theory, whereupon we can, if necessary, kick away the ladder. However, we needn't take our best theory to be true. It's simply the best ladder we have to our next theory. We are here adopting a philosophy of instrumentalism in regards to scientific theories.

Now he drifts into condescension to lend himself an air of authority.

The development of a new generalized theory of evolution is not just an abstract possibility, but is in fact one of (Templeton’s) current projects. We are investigating the possibility of keeping the core ideas of standard evolutionary theory that are sometimes referred to as “Universal Darwinism,” ideas that include abstract notions of variation, selection and retention. We plan to apply Universal Darwinism to interacting systems of conscious agents to model their evolution.

Seems to me the better way to spell “Universal Darwinism” would be “Utilitarian Darwinism”?

 The new limited resource that is the source of competition would be information, which is the measure we use to quantify the channel capacity of conscious agents. This is a promising direction, since information is equivalent to energy, and information can be converted into energy (Toyabe et al., 2010). Limited energy resources, e.g., in the form of food, are a clear source of competition in standard evolutionary theory.

How seriously should we take the quantifying of the “channel capacity of conscious agents” when conscious agents are metaphysical figments of math, sans all physical evidence?  

“Information is equivalent to energy” - Okay sure in the world of theoretical physics, and math, but here on Earth, during the nitty gritty of creatures living their day to days through the generations, it’s a hazy concept since everything about living is about energy.

Consciousness is a result of interacting with an environment.

Hoffman’s conscious agents are metaphysical entities that can only interact according to a mathematical algorithm.  No physical touchstones offered.

How can they relate to physical entities and our experiences?

The new evolutionary theory that we construct should explain why the standard evolutionary theory was a good ladder to the new theory, and why we are justified in kicking away that ladder.

What new evolutionary theory?  

All Hoffman has presented us is these conscious agents that do our thinking for us and a dubious "theorem".  Where does Evolution come into it?  Or out of his explanation?  

(20) The authors say, “In short, natural selection does not favor perceptual systems that see the truth in whole or in part. Instead, it favors perceptions that are fast, cheap, and tailored to guide behaviors needed to survive and reproduce. Perception is not about truth, it's about having kids.” This is a false dichotomy.

The distinction between truth and fitness, between truth and having more kids, is not a false dichotomy to evolutionary biologists. It is a distinction that is central to their theory. The same objectively true world can have an infinite variety of different fitness functions, corresponding to the variety of organisms, states and actions. A steak that conveys substantial fitness benefits to a hungry lion conveys no benefits to a cow. Each distinct fitness function drives natural selection in a different direction.

Creature perceptions are about physical senses gathering incoming information (photons, sonic energy, molecules, touch), all of that data gets trimmed and transported to the brain, so it can be processed for fitness points, information, that can be projected within the mind.  

The mind further processes and calculates fitness points, information, before responding with action commands to the body.  

It’s not that complicated, well okay it is way more complicated, but the basics are simple and straight forward.  Check it out, How many senses do humans have?

Serious understanding flows from acknowledging that foundation.  

Making our physical senses hostage to metaphysical Conscious Agents is Hollywood pill popping and does nothing to improve our conception of the world around us.

(21) In response to the claim that “Your definition of conscious agents could equally well-apply to unconscious agents; thus, your theory says nothing about consciousness.” the authors reply that “Even if the definition could apply to unconscious agents, that would not preclude it from applying to consciousness, any more than using the integers to count apples would preclude using them to count oranges.”

However, the very fact that the integers can be used to count apples and oranges and peace treaties, etc., is precisely WHY the integers are not a theory of either apples or oranges or peace treaties, etc. The same is true of definitions. If my definition of integer applies equally well to the complex numbers as well as to the integers, then I do not have a definition of integers. Instead I have a definition of complex numbers. So their definition is useless; all they've done is define an agent. Consciousness is not present, except accidentally.

The integers are not considered a theory of peace treaties because they don't have the appropriate mathematical structure to model peace treaties—not because they can be used to count apples and peace treaties.

If one has a mathematical structure that is rich enough to provide a useful theory of some subject, this does not entail that the same structure cannot be a useful theory of a different subject. The group SU(3), for instance, models an exact symmetry of quark colors and an approximate symmetry of flavors. No physicist would insist that because SU(3) is a useful theory of quark color it cannot also be a useful theory of flavor. A given Markovian kernel P can model a stochastic dynamics, but also a communication channel. The fact that P applies to both does not entail that it's a theory of neither.

Similarly, a measurable space X might properly represent the conscious color experiences of a human observer, and also the unconscious color judgments of a robotic vision system designed to mimic that observer. No vision scientist would insist that because X properly represents the unconscious color judgments of the robotic vision system that therefore X cannot model the conscious color experiences of the human observer.

Scientists do not reject a model because it has multiple domains of useful application. They do reject a model if its structure is inappropriate to the domain, 

Wouldn’t conflating a simplistic mathematical theorem with eons old Evolution be an inappropriate conflation of domains?  More akin to self-delusion than serious science.

or if it makes predictions that are empirically false. These are the appropriate grounds to judge whether the formalism of conscious agents provides an adequate model for consciousness. The possibility that this formalism applies well to other domains does not entail that it cannot apply to consciousness.

What model for consciousness has been provided?  That is, beyond inscrutable mathematical games with geometric coordinates, kernels and vectors?  

Theorem1_Objects of consciousness 2014 - Hoffman Prakash 

Not an observation to be found.

Think about our complex living consciousness that’s built around our own individual experiences through our body.  How do these outside “agents” combine to form coherent useful thoughts?

Beyond that, where is the structure of the connections between Hoffmanian Conscious Agents and our varied and complex biological brain structures and processes?

Worth recalling at this point is that the human side of science has often seen struggles between constructive intensions following their noble rules, conflicting with egos taking short cuts and attempting end-runs for power, fame and fortune.

This is where 'truth' steps onto the stage of our Mindscape.  Honest observations, frank honest debate, allowing all the known facts to be honestly presented and heard, remaining open to new facts and constructive learning that drives our understanding.  Using knowledge to enable critical thinking habit to recognize a snow-job.  That's were sanity and hope is to be found.

In the final installment we will look at Hoffman’s revealing conclusion.


Cc’s Students’ Guide

Donald Hoffman Playing Basketball in Zero-Gravity, a critical review of, The Case Against Reality: Why Evolution Hid The Truth From Our Eyes, by Donald Hoffman, ©2019, W.W.Norton Company

The Prelude, Prof Donald Hoffman Playing Basketball In Zero-Gravity

Chapter 10a, Community: The Network of Conscious Agents (1/3)

Chapter 10b, Community: The Network of Conscious Agents (2/3)

Chapter 10c, Community: Network of Hoffmanian Conscious Agents (3/3)

Chapter 1, Mystery: The Scalpel That Split Consciousness

Chapter 2, Beauty: Siren of the Gene

Chapter 3, Reality: Capers of the Unseen Sun

Chapter 4, Sensory: Fitness beats Truth

Chapter 5, Illusory: The Bluff of the Desktop

Chapter 6, Gravity: Spacetime is Doomed

Chapter 7, Virtuality: Inflating a Holoworld

Chapter 8, Polychromy: Mutations of an Interface

Chapter 9, Scrutiny: You Get What You Need, in Both Life and Business

Appendix,  Precisely: The Right to Be (Foolish)


Hoffman/Prakash’s Objects of ConsciousnessObjections and Replies

Frontiers in Psychology - June 17, 2014

4/4_Hoffman, Objects of Consciousness,  (conclusion)

1/4_Hoffman, Objects of Consciousness, questions + replies (1-12)

2/4_Hoffman, Objects of Consciousness, questions + replies (13-17)

3/4_Hoffman, Objects of Consciousness, questions + replies (18-21)

Further background information:

Paul Mealing considers Hoffman's "Objects of Consciousness.”

The Case For Reality: Because Apparently Someone Needs to Make One

Sabine Hossenfelder in Defense of Scientific Realism and Physical Reality

Student Resource - Frontiers in Psychology - profits über alles? A closer look. 

Student Resource - physical origins of mind - Dr. Siegel, Allen Institute Brain Science, Tononi, Koch.

More to come . . .

Feel free to copy and share


Students Introduction to Reality Based Brain/Consciousness Research

The Mind as a Complex Mathematical System with Emergent Properties, Daniel Siegel

A Scientific Explanation of the Human Mind | Daniel Siegel

Dan Siegel: The Neurological Basis of Behavior, Mind, Brain and Human Relationships, Part 1 to 3 

Allen Institute for Brain Science

Giulio Tononi on Consciousness

Consciousness: here, there and everywhere?  Giulio Tononi and Christof Koch

Video, Giulio Tononi on Consciousness

The Integrated Information Theory of Consciousness, Dr. Christof Koch,

Allen Institute for Brain Science

Allen Brain Observatory: Visualizing the brain in action

Allen Cell Types Database: Understanding the fundamental building blocks of the brain

Allen Institute for Brain Science,  Coding & Vision 101, 12-part undergraduate-level lecture series

Brain Expansion Microscopy, Harvard Medical School,

Lattice light-sheet microscopy

Gut bacteria and mind control: to fix your brain, fix your gut!

New center advances biomedical and brain imagingUniversity of Delaware,

Stunning Brain Map Reveals Tiny Communication Network

Brain Research: New Discoveries and Breakthroughs at UC Davis


Some Elements of an Evolutionary Theory of Perception

Perceptual Systems, Historical Background, Innate And Learned Classical perceptual phenomena, Broad theoretical approaches, Current research/future developments.


Ecological approaches to perceptual learning: learning to perceive and perceiving as learning

Agnes SzokolszkyCatherine ReadZsolt Palatinus, et al., 2019

The Essential Elements of an Evolutionary Theory of Perception

Eric P. Charles, 2017,

The evolution of early symbolic behavior in Homo sapiens

Kristian Tylén, Riccardo Fusaroli, Sergio Rojo, et al. PNAS 2020

The Evolution and Fossil History of Sensory Perception in Amniote Vertebrates, March 21, 2018 

Evolutionary Specialization of Tactile Perception in Vertebrates

Eve R. SchneiderElena O. Gracheva, and Slav N. Bagriantsev, 2016

Evolutionary Psychology and the Emotions

Leda Cosmides & John Tooby, Handbook of Emotions, 2000

The evolution of modern human brain shape

Simon Neubauer, Jean-Jacques Hublin and Philipp Gunz, 2018:

Intrinsic Multiperspectivity: Conceptual Forms and the Functional Architecture of the Perceptual System

Rainer Mausfeld, PhD.

Perceptual Worlds and Sensory Ecology

By: Stephen Burnett, PhD, Nature Education Knowledge 3(10):75

Ch.17. A Hierarchical Model of the Evolution of Human Brain Specializations

H. Clark Barrett

Surroundings and Evolution Shape Human Sight, Smell and Taste

by: Andrea Korte, February 19, 2017


The bottom line, courtesy of:

Mysteries of Modern Physics by Sean Carroll

Jan 29, 2020  -  Darwin College Lecture Series

Sean Carroll,  10:45

. . .  these are the particles that make up you and this table and me and this laptop and really everything that you have ever seen with your eyes touched with your fingers smelled with your nose in your life. 

Furthermore we know how they interact with each other and even better than that, the most impressive fact is that there will not be a discovery tomorrow or next century or a million years from now which says you know what there was another particle or another force that we didn't know about but now we realize plays a crucial role in our everyday life. 

As far as our everyday life is concerned by which I really mean what you can see with your eyes touch with your hands etc we’re done finding the underlying ingredients. That is an enormous achievement in human history one that does not get enough credit, because of course as soon as we do it we go on to the next thing.  

Physics is not done.  I'm not saying that physics is done, but physics has understood certain things and those things include everything you encounter in your everyday life - unless you're a professional experimental physicist or unless you're looking of course outside our everyday life at the universe and other places where we don't know what’s going on. … 


Peter Miesler

aka citizenschallenge

email:  citizenschallenge at gmail

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