Posts tagged ‘consciousness’

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 »

Advertisements
Tags: ,
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 »

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.
    read more »

May 16, 2013

Consciousness 2: Phenomena

by Neil Rickert

Philosophers often use the word “phenomena” to refer to appearances.  Here is some text quoted from Wikipedia:

In modern philosophical use, the term ‘phenomena’ has come to mean what is experienced as given. In Immanuel Kant’s Inaugural Dissertation, On the Form and Principles of the Sensible and Intelligible World (1770), Kant theorizes that the human mind is restricted to the logical world and thus can only interpret and understand occurrences according to their physical appearances. He wrote that humans could infer only as much as their senses allowed, but not experience the actual object itself. Thus, the term phenomenon refers to any incident deserving of inquiry and investigation, especially events that are particularly unusual or of distinctive importance.  According to The Columbia Encyclopedia, “Modern philosophers have used ‘phenomenon’ to designate what is apprehended before judgment is applied.”

Kant’s point of view appears to have been that our investigation of the world begins with appearances, or phenomena.  What Kant saw as noumena, or the world in itself, was not accessible to us.  We would have to make do with phenomena.

read more »

May 11, 2013

Consciousness 1: How is experience possible?

by Neil Rickert

The Chalmers “hard problem” has to do with experience.  It seems that many people think of experience as something that requires explanation.  I never thought of it as a particular problem, perhaps because the way I am looking at consciousness is different from the way others look at it.

Chalmers was particularly concerned with explaining why experience has the particular form that it has.  Why do red things have the particular appearance that we experience.  I won’t be addressing that in this post, though I plan to revisit it in the future.  The concern, for today’s post, is why do we have any experience at all.  Or, in the terminology that Chalmers uses, why are we not zombies.

read more »

April 20, 2013

Why the hard problem is hard

by Neil Rickert

In short, the hard problem is hard because it is bogus.

The “hard problem” here refers, of course, to what David Chalmers has referred to as “the hard problem of consciousness.”  There was a recent post about this at the Rationally Speaking blog.

Lopresto starts by talking about location problems, and the “problem” of locating consciousness in the physical world:

My project here is to ask whether it’s possible to locate consciousness in the physical world. That is, can we locate phenomenal properties in the physical world? My thesis is that given our conception of the physical world, it is in fact extremely difficult to locate phenomenal properties within it.

Talk of “phenomenal properties” already sounds dubious to me.  For sure, philosophers have long used the word “phenomena” to refer to sensory experience.  But what is it that is supposed to make sensory experience a kind of property?

read more »

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.

read more »

April 8, 2013

Nagel’s “Mind and Cosmos” – not quite a review

by Neil Rickert

I have been reading Nagel’s book, “Mind and Cosmos:Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False“, so naturally I want to say something about it.  However, this won’t be the usual kind of review.  There’s no need for that.  There are already plenty of reviews available for this book, some of them scathing critiques and some of them offering high praise.

For myself, I disagree with much of what Nagel writes.  But I find it interesting nonetheless.  Readers of this blog will have noticed that I disagree with a lot of traditional philosophy.  And Nagel particularly emphasizes some of those parts where I disagree.  So, in a way, this highlights my disagreement.  If I were to suggest an alternative title for Nagel’s book, it might be:

  • “What’s wrong with philosophy” on steroids

read more »

February 15, 2013

Consciousness is unexplained; therefore Intelligent Design

by Neil Rickert

Of course I completely disagree with the claim that is suggested by my title line.  However, people are making that argument, so I want to comment.

Apparently, Thomas Nagel makes that kind of argument in his book “Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False“, or at least that is what I have gleaned from a recent review.  I have not read Nagel’s book myself — I don’t think I have the patience.  His reasoning in “What is it like to be a bat?” was already hard to take.

read more »

February 12, 2012

About measurement

by Neil Rickert

Having suggested that cognition is measurement, it is time to say a little about what measurement is.

The most common view seems to be that we passively receive data at sensory cells, and then use logic or computation as applied to that data.  When data is received from a sensory cell, I shall call that sensing (for want of a better term).  My aim will be to draw a distinction between measurement and sensing, though in ordinary language usage the two overlap somewhat.

read more »