Posts tagged ‘consciousness’

May 27, 2015

Searle on direct realism

by Neil Rickert

As I hinted in my previous post, I want to discuss some aspects of Searle’s theory of perception.

Searle makes a good start with:

I believe the worst mistake of all is the cluster of views known as Dualism, Materialism, Monism, Functionalism, Behaviorism, Idealism, the Identity Theory, etc. The idea these theories all have in common is that there is some special problem about the relation of the mind to the body, consciousness to the brain, and in their fixation on the illusion that there is a problem, philosophers have fastened onto different solutions to the problem. (page 10).

I agree that those are mostly mistakes.  Searle continues with:

A mistake of nearly as great a magnitude overwhelmed our tradition in the seventeenth century and after, and it is the mistake of supposing that we never directly perceive objects and states of affairs in the world, but directly perceive only our subjective experiences.

That is Searle’s statement about his direct realism.  I do support the view that perception is direct, but I avoid the term “direct realism” because the word “realism” seems to carry some unnecessary metaphysical baggage.

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April 14, 2015

Philosophy of mind is weird

by Neil Rickert

More correctly, philosophy of mind seems weird to me. Perhaps that’s because I think more like a scientist than like a philosopher.

I have been reading “Intentionality and Myths of the Given: Between Pragmatism and Phenomenology” by Carl Sachs. In the first few chapters, the author reviews the positions taken by a number of philosophers, and I am already seeing weirdness.

Take this quote:

Perceptual experience is passive as opposed to active, in McDowell’s vocabulary, because he follows Kant in thinking of `activity’ in terms of freedom. I can freely endorse or withhold assent from judgements, but I cannot freely endorse or withhold assent from perceptual episodes — if what I see is a salt-shaker on the table, then I cannot not see that there is a salt-shaker on the table. My concepts of `salt-shaker’ and `table’ are passively actualized in the shaping of sensory consciousness as it relates to the objects experienced. (Kindle location 3164)

And that seems weird.

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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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July 17, 2014

More on my disagreement with analytic philosophy

by Neil Rickert

In a post earlier today at his new site, Massimo Pigliucci compares analytic philosophy with continental philosophy:

I found it an interesting post, and I suggest you read it.  Most of the philosophy that I have read has been in the analytic tradition, so I did learn something about continental philosophy.

The starting point

By way of distinguishing between the two traditions, Pigliucci describes analytic philosophy this way:

Analytic philosophy refers to a style of doing philosophy characteristic of the contemporary British empiricists, like G.E. Moore and Bertrand Russell, with an emphasis on argument, logical analysis, and language, and it is what one finds practiced in many (though by no means all) philosophy departments in the United States and the UK. Michael Dummett [2] famously said that the “characteristic tenet [of analytic philosophy] is that the philosophy of language is the foundation for all the rest of philosophy … [that] the goal of philosophy is the analysis of the structure of thought [and that] the only proper method for analysing thought consists in the analysis of language.”

And, right there, you see where I disagree.  The analytic tradition starts with language, and wants to make that the foundation for all philosophy.  I want to start far earlier.

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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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February 23, 2014

On David Snoke on Nagel’s book

by Neil Rickert

Physicist David Snoke has written a review of Thomas Nagel’s book “Mind and Cosmos” (h/t Uncommon Descent):

In this post, I shall discuss Snoke’s review.  I suppose that makes it a review of a review.

I have previously discussed Nagel’s book on this blog — you can find those posts with a search on the main blog page.  I clearly disagreed with a lot of what Nagel wrote in his book.  By contrast, Snoke seems to like the book.

While I disagree with Snoke about the book, I do think Snoke’s review is well worth reading.  Nagel’s book is not to everyone’s taste, and some might find it a hard read.  Snoke, in his review, gives a synopsis of what he sees are some of the important parts of the book.  So I’ll recommend that you read the Snoke review, particularly if you want to get an overview of what Nagel was arguing.

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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.

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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.

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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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May 26, 2013

Consciousness 3: Qualia

by Neil Rickert

I don’t much like the word “qualia”.  I don’t find it useful.  People who use that word (and its singular form “quale”) hope to be able to discuss questions about conscious experience.  In this post, I’ll try to address those topics without the assumptions that seem to be built into use of “qualia.”

I’ll start with a review of earlier posts in this series.

  • Experience: I have identified this with internal activity of homeostatic processes, such as are commonly found in biological systems.  In particular, I have identified “experience” (with the scare quotes) with internal event to which the system reacts, so can be said to be reactively aware.  How we become conscious, and not merely reactively aware, I take to be related to our ability to have thoughts.  I expect to discuss thought in a future post.
  • Information: I have suggested that an organism acquires information about the world, and represents this information as internal events of which the organism is reactively aware.  This reactive awareness of represented information mediates the organisms awareness or consciousness of the external world.  Perhaps one could think of information as being represented by biochemical events or by neural events.  I prefer to not be that specific, because I am discussing principles rather than implementation details.  AI proponents will want to consider whether computational events could be used instead of neural events.
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