Archive for ‘cognition’

July 17, 2016

Animals and abstract thought

by Neil Rickert

There’s recently been something of an argument between Michael Egnor and Jeffrey Shallit, over whether animals can think abstractly.

Egnor’s most recent post is here:

and it contains (near the beginning) links back to he earlier posts on the topic.  Shallit’s most recent post is here:

and the last line links to his earlier post in the dispute.

There is a simple answer to the question.  Humans are animals, and humans can think abstractly.  But that misses the point.  The argument was really about non-human animals.

Abstract thinking

For myself, I don’t really have an answer.  The problem that I see, is that we do not have a clear definition of “abstract thinking” that we could attempt to apply to animals.  There’s a good chance that Egnor and Shallit are talking past one another, using incompatible meanings of “abstract thinking.”

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September 1, 2014

The simulation argument

by Neil Rickert

In a recent post over at Scientia Salon

Mark O’Brien asks a question and gives his own answer with:

Could a computer ever be conscious? I think so, at least in principle.

As O’Brien says, people have very different intuitions on this question.  My own intuition disagrees with that of O’Brien.

Assumptions

After a short introduction, O’Brien presents two starting assumptions that he makes, and that he will use to support his intuition on the question.

Empirical assumption 1: I assume naturalism. If your objection to computationalism comes from a belief that you have a supernatural soul anchored to your brain, this discussion is simply not for you.

Personally, I do not assume naturalism.  However, I also do not believe that I have a supernatural soul.  I don’t assume naturalism, because I have never been clear on what such an assumption entails.  I guess it is too much metaphysics for me.

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March 9, 2014

Identity theory skepticism

by Neil Rickert

Identity theory or, in full, mind-brain identity theory, is the philosophical thesis that the mind can be identified with the brain.  This is often stated in the form “mental states are identical to brain states.”

I find the thesis puzzling.  Perhaps that’s partly because it doesn’t make sense to me.  That’s because I have trouble making sense of “mental state” and of “brain state”.  I find it far from clear what either of those means.  So I am puzzled that people want to say that there is an identity between two confusing things.

Presumably, part of the motivation for identity theory, is to have an answer for proponents of dualism.  But we surely don’t need identity theory for that.  It should suffice to claim that activity normally attributed to the mind is the result of what is happening in the brain.

A music analogy

Here’s a somewhat analogous situation.  We often discuss music in terms of the pitch (or note) being played, or the combination of notes in a chord.  We might perhaps talk of that as the harmonic state of the music.  If the music is being played on a piano, we could also talk of the physical state of the piano.

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June 2, 2013

Consciousness 4: Knowledge

by Neil Rickert

In an earlier post in this series, I wrote:

In short, it is the problem of knowledge that needs to be explained, rather than the problem of experience.

So today I will begin discussing the question of knowledge.

Empiricism

My starting point is a kind of empiricism.  That is to say, I take the view that we acquire knowledge through experience.  Or, said differently, knowledge is not inherited.  The empiricism of John Locke seems in about the right direction, though of course Locke left much unexplained.  Locke talked about ideas, and I take that to be about the same as what we mean when we talk of concepts.  The question of knowledge, for Locke appears to be one of how we acquire our ideas or concepts.

By the time we get to Hume, the discussion has changed.  Empiricism, to Hume, seems to be a question of how we decide which statements are true.  Now that’s a huge change.  You cannot even have a statement until you have the necessary concepts.  So an account of how we decide which statements are true will fall far short of explaining how we acquire concepts.  My version of empiricism is closer to that of Locke than to that of Hume.

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April 14, 2013

The intelligibility of the world

by Neil Rickert

As I recently mentioned, I intend taking some quotes from Nagel and presenting my position.  I’ll start with a comment on intelligibility:

The intelligibility of the world is no accident. Mind, in this view, is doubly related to the natural order. Nature is such as to give rise to conscious beings with minds; and it is such as to be comprehensible to such beings. Ultimately, therefore, such beings should be comprehensible to themselves. And these are fundamental features of the universe, not byproducts of contingent developments whose true explanation is given in terms that do not make reference to mind. (p. 17 of “Mind and Cosmos”).

When I look at that quote in my Kindle software, I see a note that 94 readers have highlighted that particular text.  So this is not merely Nagel’s opinion.  It is a view that is enthusiastically shared by a number of readers.

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January 13, 2013

On belief and trust

by Neil Rickert

Over at the “Triangulations” blog, Sabio Lantz has a new post “Believing Mind vs. Religious Mind” on why he now thinks that “believing mind” is the better of the two terms.  In explaining his preference, Sabio writes:

Believing without evidence is our default mode. Well, I shouldn’t call it “without evidence” because believing something because someone in authority said it or because it intuitively makes sense to us, is indeed a sort of evidence — though it is a very low level of evidence.

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January 8, 2013

Perception – categorization

by Neil Rickert

I have mentioned categorization in earlier posts, suggesting that it is important.  The trouble with the words “category” and “categorization” is that people use them in different and conflicting ways.  And that is perhaps why the importance of categorization is not well appreciated.

Ian, over at his “Irreducible Complexity” blog, has just posted something about categories that illustrates the different ways that categorization is used.

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January 3, 2013

Perception – discrimination

by Neil Rickert

Perceptual discrimination is the act of distinguishing between different items that are in the perceptual field.  In this post, part of my series on perception, I will look at barcode scanning to illustrate what discrimination is, and its role.  And I will use this example to further clarify the distinction between direct perception and indirect perception, at least as I use those terms.

These days, we see bar codes on many of the items that we purchase.  And the store clerk typically uses a scanner to read that bar code and identify which item we are purchasing.

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August 13, 2012

Symbols and categories

by Neil Rickert

In earlier posts, I have preferred the Shannon notion of information, according to which information is a sequence of symbols.  And I have emphasized that symbols are abstract objects.  The symbols are usually considered to be intentional objects, because it is only on account of our intentions that we consider them to be symbols.

In this post, I want to relate the idea of symbol with that of category.  I’ll start by assuming that the readers have at least an informal idea of what we mean by category.

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July 30, 2012

Intentionality

by Neil Rickert

Some of the readers of this blog are of a scientific inclination, and are probably confused, or even troubled, by my mention of “intentional objects” in my last post.  I am not a real philosopher (except in the broad sense that everybody is a philosopher), so I have some understanding of why readers might be troubled by the terminology of intentionality.

In this post, I will attempt to clear up some of the possible confusion.  That’s not all that easy to do, but I shall try.

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