Archive for ‘consciousness’

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.

read more »

Advertisements
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.

read more »

Tags:
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.

read more »

March 14, 2018

Does consciousness exist?

by Neil Rickert

To answer the title question, of course consciousness exists.

Galen Strawson has an article in the New York Review of Books (h/t Brian Leiter):

I doubt that I am on Strawson’s list of deniers, but perhaps only because he doesn’t know who I am.

What is the silliest claim ever made? The competition is fierce, but I think the answer is easy. Some people have denied the existence of consciousness: conscious experience, the subjective character of experience, the “what-it-is-like” of experience.

Given that introduction, I would probably fit right in with Strawson’s deniers.

read more »

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.

read more »

October 2, 2013

Brain and mind

by Neil Rickert

What’s the relation between brain and mind?

That question came up yesterday, in a post on Jerry Coyne’s blog website.  Jerry was discussing a recent “60 Minutes” segment on schizophrenia, and took exception (Jerry called it a quibble) about the wording used:

After seeing this, the pair have this exchange:

Kroft: This is really a disease of the brain, and not a disease of the mind.

Lieberman: Absolutely.

That’s not good; for the mind is, as Pinker says, “what the brain does.” In the case of schizophrenia, if there is a genetically (or environmentally) based pathology of the brain, it also causes a pathology of the mind: racing thoughts, voices in the head, and desires to harm.  So it’s a disease of both the brain and the mind. Television shouldn’t perpetuate this duality.

Okay, it was only a quibble.  But it seems a rather strange quibble.

read more »

July 23, 2013

AI Skepticism

by Neil Rickert

I am sometimes asked to explain why I am skeptical about the possibility of AI (artificial intelligence).  In this post, I shall discuss where I see the problems.  I sometimes express my skepticism by way of expressing doubt about computationalism, the view of mind that is summed up with the slogan “cognition is computation.”

Terminology

I’ll start by clarifying what I mean by AI.

Suppose that we could give a complete map or specification of a person, listing all of the atoms in that person’s body, and listing their exact arrangement.  Then, armed with that map, we set about creating an exact replica.  Would the result of that be a living, thinking person?  My personal opinion is that it would, indeed, be a living thinking person, a created twin or clone of the original person that was  mapped.

Let’s use the term “synthetic person” for an entity constructed in that way.  It is synthetic because we have put it together (synthesized it) from parts.  You could summarize my view as saying that a synthetic person is possible in principle, though it would be extremely difficult in practice.

To build a synthetic person, we would not need to know how it functions.  Simply copying a real biological person would do the trick.  However, if we wanted to create some sort of “person” with perhaps different materials and without it being an exact copy, then we would need to understand the principles on which it operates.  We can use the term “artificial person” for an entity so constructed.

My own opinion is that an artificial person is possible in principle, but would be very difficult to produce in practice.  And to be clear, I am saying that even if we have full knowledge of all of the principles, we would still find it very difficult to construct such an artificial person.

As I shall use the term in this post, an artificial intelligence, or an AI, is an artificial person built primarily using computation.  In the usual version, there are peripheral sensors (input devices) and effectors (output devices), but most of the work is done by a central computer so can be said to be computation.

read more »

July 9, 2013

Consciousness 6: why it cannot be designed

by Neil Rickert

In an earlier post, I wrote: “To me, it seems very unlikely that a designed robotic system could ever lead to consciousness.”  I have received some push back in the comments.  In this post, I shall attempt to explain why I doubt that design of consciousness is possible.

Design

When we design something, we typically start with an idea of what we want.  That leads to a stage of planning where we examine the requirements.  We use that planning to prepare a design.  Typically, a design is a set of specifications on how to build the final product out of component parts.

“Design” then, pretty much means mechanical design.  It means specifying how the components are put together mechanically to achieve the intended result.

read more »

Tags: ,
June 28, 2013

Consciousness 5: Emergence

by Neil Rickert

It should be evident from this series of posts, that I take consciousness as emergent from the way that the neural system works.  It is not enough to simple say “emergence” and treat it as if magical.  I do not consider it at all magical.  Rather, I see it as consistent with the principles that I outlined in an earlier post, “A semantic conception of mind.”

My view is that the way the brain works is simple in principle, but complex in detail.  So I see it as pretty much certain that consciousness would evolve, though the kind of consciousness that emerges might not be identical to human consciousness.  So I see all mammals as being conscious, with perhaps their consciousness being somewhat similar to ours, though lacking the enrichment that language gives us.  Other complex creatures such as an octopus or a bee are surely conscious in some way or another, but it is a little hard for us to imagine how they would experience that consciousness.

So why is there a “hard problem” of consciousness?  This is because people are looking at it in the wrong way.  They are trying to understand how to design consciousness, instead of trying to understand how it would evolve.  To me, it seems very unlikely that a designed robotic system could ever lead to consciousness.  I expect our designed robots to all be zombies.

This brief posts completes my series on consciousness.  I will continue to post on other topics, such as knowledge and perception, that are related to consciousness.  I realize that many will find my series unsatisfactory, in that it failed to explain to them what they wanted explained.  Philosophy seems to be dominated by a kind of design thinking, and an explanation of consciousness does not fit with design thinking.

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.

read more »