Posts tagged ‘consciousness’

February 6, 2018

Where philosophy goes wrong

by Neil Rickert

Here are a couple of assumptions that philosophers frequently make:

  • There is a certain way that the world is.
  • There is information all around us, telling us the way that the world is.

By “philosopher”, I really mean human.  We almost all philosophize to some extent.

I see those two listed assumptions as mistaken.

What is the mistake?

If your primary concern is getting around in this world, then the assumptions are not unreasonable.  The problem comes when we try to understand human cognition (or, roughly, what is it that the brain is doing?)

If we start with those assumptions, the ones that I consider mistaken, then there isn’t much for a cognitive system to do.  It just has to pick up the information that is all around us, and find out what that information tells us about the world.  That’s what leads to the idea of computationalism (“cognition is computation”).  And our experience with digital computers suggests that computation can be done in a way that is mindless and mechanical.

But a cognitive system has to be far more creative than that.

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January 30, 2018

Dennett’s book “From Bacteria to Bach and Back”

by Neil Rickert

This post will be mostly rambling notes, rather than a review.

The subtitle of the book is “The Evolution of Minds” and that perhaps better describes what Dennett is trying to do in this book.  I started reading this book almost a year ago.  And then I put it down to take a break.  I have recently resumed reading, starting again from the beginning.

I mostly disagree with Dennett.  Yet I see this as an important book, particularly for people with an interest in minds and consciousness.

Dennett is, himself, some sort of heretic.  He disagrees with conventional view of the mind.  But his disagreement is not enough for me, nor is it is a direction that fits my views.

Cartesian thinking

Dennett is critical of the dualism coming from Rene Descartes.  This is not particularly surprising.  Many philosophers and scientists have rejected dualism.  Descartes argued that the mind could not work in the mechanistic way that we see with human inventions (such as clocks, for example).  So he idea was that minds were constituted of an immaterial substance.

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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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