August 9, 2018

Consciousness — thinking

by Neil Rickert

Today’s post is about thinking, and about what thinking really is.

People broadly agree that we think about ideas, and somehow we make decisions about those ideas.  But, beyond that, there does not seem to be a consensus on what thinking really amounts to.

I will be discussing my own view on that.  I don’t doubt that some people will disagree with my view.

What is thinking?

I see thinking as rehearsal of behavior or rehearsal of possible behavior.

The idea that it is rehearsal of behavior is not original with me.  I read that recently, but I don’t remember where.  I had previously been thinking of it as a simulation of possible behavior, which is a similar idea.  But I really like the term “rehearsal” here, as it better captures my ideas.

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August 1, 2018

Interacting with the world

by Neil Rickert

Here’s something to try:

With your eyes closed, touch the tip of your nose with your finger.  You will probably find that you are fairly good at it.  Not perfect, but still pretty good.

Or try to touch your ear lobe, again with your eyes closed.  Or try to touch your eyebrows with your eyes closed.

Monitoring your actions

What is happening there, is that your brain is tracking your finger even when you cannot see it.  And your brain is also tracking your nose, eyebrows and ear lobes.  The brain is monitoring your activity.  And a good part of your abilities to interact depend on this monitoring.

While walking, you step on a banana peel, or something else that is slippery.  Maybe you will fall.  But, most of the time you are able to recover your balance without falling.  And that’s because of the monitoring that your brain is doing.  As you begin to transfer weight to that foot, the brain detects a problem and you are able to react before you have fully transferred weight to that foot.

Proprioception

Much of this has to do with proprioception, which is that part of our perceptual system that handles such monitoring.

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July 18, 2018

On ontology and materialism

by Neil Rickert

Recently Dan Kaufman and Massimo Pigliucci had a discussion about ontology, materialism and related topics.

Here’s Massimo’s blog post, where he introduces the video.  And you can find the discussion video on that page:

Ontology is part of metaphysics.  And I have never seriously studied metaphysics.  So I watched the video all of the way through to see what I could make of it.

Generally speaking, I’m a skeptic of metaphysics and of ontology.  After watching the video, I am still a skeptic.  But I did enjoy the discussion.

Some comments

I’ll add some of my own comments on what was discussed in the video.  I’m calling them comments, because this is not an attempt to review the video or to make serious arguments about what is discussed there.  It is just comments or reactions to what I am seeing and hearing.

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July 16, 2018

Alternative math

by Neil Rickert

Jerry Coyne posted this video at his blog:

Presumably Coyne was making a point about alternative truths.  The video clip is quite exaggerated.  I don’t expect anything like that to actually happen.   But, of course, exaggeration is often a good way of making a point.

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July 11, 2018

Patterns and lumps

by Neil Rickert

Many people, both philosophers and AI proponents, talk about patterns.  They typically suggest that we start by finding patterns in the world.  We then build up perception and knowledge based on the patterns that we find.

Sometimes people talk of “regularities” rather than of “patterns”.  The term “regularity” implies some sort of rule following.  And that fits with our ordinary idea of pattern.

So let’s examine the idea of starting with patterns or regularities

Patterns

What’s a pattern?

I’m stumped already.

I know what’s a pattern in mathematics.  I know what’s a pattern in a drawing.  But I don’t know what’s a pattern in the world.

We often find patterns in representations, whether those representations be descriptions or pictures.

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July 4, 2018

Consciousness and experience

by Neil Rickert

One of the questions that people raise about consciousness, is that of how it is possible to have experience.  By experience, here, I mean things like pain, color, smell, etc.  These are often discussed as qualia.  I don’t find qualia talk to be useful, and perhaps I’ll say why in a future post.  But there is still the question of why we experience something, rather than nothing at all.  And that’s my topic for this post.

Can a material object have experience?

It would seem strange to say that a chair or a table can have experience.  If you think of people as material objects, then you have to wonder how they could have experience.

Personally, I do not think of people as material objects.  Rather, I think of them as processes.  I’m not made of atoms, because the atoms come and go, while I stay who I am.  To me, the question of experience is to be looked at in terms of processes rather than material objects.

Before we look at processes, I should mention panpsychism.  That’s the view that everything has a little bit of psychology and a little bit of consciousness.  So a panpsychist might believe that atoms have some sort of experience.

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June 27, 2018

Consciousness — an introduction

by Neil Rickert

I’ve been planning to discuss consciousness.  Today’s post is just a gentle introduction to the topic.  I expect to have further posts on this topic in coming weeks.

In a sense most of my posts have been about consciousness, though that probably was far from obvious to my readers.  Consciousness turns out to be a very difficult topic to discuss, as I have discovered.

Idealization

Much of philosophy appears to depend on idealization.  A person is treated as if an ideal rational agent, where “rational” is understood in terms of using logic as the means of reasoning.  To a first approximation, ontology appears to be a study of the logical objects that can be reasoned about.  And epistemology appears to emphasize the use of logic in reasoning about these objects.

The problem, however, is that the world is far from the assumed ideal place.

I have nothing against idealization.  I’m a mathematician, and mathematics is mostly idealization.  But you need to understand the limits of the idealizations that you use.

What is consciousness?

People disagree on what they mean by “consciousness”.  That’s one of the difficulties of discussing this topic.

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June 20, 2018

Crossword puzzles

by Neil Rickert

This post is not about how to solve a crossword puzzle.  It’s about what we can learn about truth by looking at those puzzles.

Let’s suppose that you have been working on a crossword puzzle.  And you think you have it solved.  So how can you tell whether you have the correct solution?  That is the question that I wish to examine.  And since “correct” is closely related to “true”, it is a question about truth.

Sudoku puzzles

Before looking more closely at crossword puzzles, let’s take a quick peek at Sudoku puzzles.  They make a good contrast with crossword puzzles.

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June 14, 2018

The scientific and manifest images

by Neil Rickert

In 1960, Wilfrid Sellars gave some lecturers on the Scientific Image of Man and the Manifest Image of man.  These were later published, and seem to be available on the net as a pdf file.  Roughly, the scientific image is how the world looks to science (particularly physics), while the manifest image is how it looks to us.

Right now, I am looking at a table (actually, my desk).  And it presents itself to me as a solid object with a smooth surface.  That solid object can be said to be part of the manifest image.  However, science describes it as mostly empty space, but with an array of atoms.  The atoms are separated by space.  To science (that is, to physics), there really isn’t a surface nor anything particularly smooth.  This array of separated atoms in space is part of the scientific image.

Why the difference?

I will mainly be looking at the differences between those images, and discussing why there is such a difference.

In recent posts, I have been discussing how we get information about the world by means of carving it up into parts.  The way that we carve up the world gives us the manifest image.  The way that science carves up the world gives us the scientific image.

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June 3, 2018

Truth and reference

by Neil Rickert

I recently posted this in a comment on another blog:

We cannot just take a sentence and ask if it is true. We first have to inquire about everything referenced by that sentence. If people don’t agree on the references, they won’t agree on the truth of the sentence.

It’s a rather obvious point.  Yet it is often overlooked.

Earlier this year, I proposed a modest theory of truth, in which I suggested that we judge the truth of a sentence based on whether it conforms with standards.  What I mainly had in mind, and what my example illustrated, were the standards that we follow for settling questions of reference.  Likewise, my posts about carving up the world are really all about how we go about finding ways to reference parts of the world.

Consciousness

In a way, the problems of consciousness are also closely connected with reference.  The so called “hard problem” arose because people thinking about AI (artificial intelligence) did not see how a computer could possibly be conscious.  Well, of course it cannot be conscious.  For to be conscious is to be conscious of something, to be conscious of a world.  Consciousness depends on reference.  Or, as philosophers usually say that, it depends on intentionality.

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