Archive for August, 2007

Apsychogenesis, Bacterial Cognition, and The Greatest Paper Ever Written

Monday, August 27th, 2007

1. Apsychogenesis
If “abiogenesis” is the hypothesized origin of life from non-living systems, then a good term for the hypothesized origin of mind from non-mental systems would be “apsychogenesis”. A question I find fascinating is: What were the relative times of occurrence of abiogenesis and apsychogenesis?

I’m aware of no non-religious defense of the view that apsychogensisis preceded abiogenisis (and I’m not totally sure there are any religious ones, either). My own money is on the theory that abiogenesis preceded apscyhogenesis. If I understand their positions correctly, in defending the thesis of “strong continuity of life and mind”, theorists such as Fransico Varela and Evan Thompson are thereby committed to the co-occurrence of abiogenesis and apsychogenesis. (See Thompson’s article “Life and mind: From autopoiesis to neurophenomenology. A tribute to Francisco Varela” and his book Mind in Life: Biology, Phenomenology, and the Sciences of Mind)

2. Bacterial Cognition
One front where the battle between the “life-first, mind-later” and the “life and mind: same time” folks will need to duke it out is over various competing and compelling claims concerning whether genuine cognition is instantiated in bacterial control systems.

Lots of defenders of smart bacteria gave talks in Australia this past July. (See here for various abstracts in the ASCS proceedings. See here for Kate Devitt’s detailed notes of Pamela Lyon’s talk.)

3. The Greatest Paper Ever Written

I have absolutely no idea what the greatest paper ever written is. I do know, however, that my “Varieties of Representation in Evolved and Embodied Neural Networks” gets more hits, month after month, than any of my other online papers. I know, additionally, that I much prefer that paper’s sequel “Evolving Artificial Minds and Brains”, (EAMB) wherein “apsychogenesis” was coined. Both papers defend the instantiation of genuine mentality in relatively simple control systems (such as those hypothesized to explain bacterial chemotaxis). (EAMB Links: pdf for the uncorrected proofs; html for the penultimate draft.)

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Embodiment in Consciousness and Realism

Friday, August 24th, 2007

Two newish papers on embodiment caught my eye whilst auto-googling the other day.

Jesse Prinz, in his “Is Consciousness Embodied?“, discusses, among other things, my “Qualia, Space, and Control“. Do motor outputs play constitutive roles in the contents of conscious experiences? To put things very simply: Mandik says “yes”, Prinz says “no”.

Tony Chemero, in his “Toward a Situated, Embodied Realism“, discusses, among other things, a paper I wrote with Andy Clark, “Selective Representing and World Making“. Is realism consistent with embodied approaches to cognition? To put things very simply: Mandik and Clark say “yes, definitely” and Chemero, who used to say “no” now seems to say “yes, sorta”.

Descartes

Brain Mods and Mind Mods

Friday, August 17th, 2007

Brain Mods at TimesOnline, here.

Mind Mods at Brain Hammer, here.

Neurophilosophy

Mr. Freeze, the Iced-Time Demon

Thursday, August 16th, 2007



Fear of a Blue Planet

Originally uploaded by Pete Mandik

1. Meet Mr. Freeze
Mr. Freeze is an iced-time demon. Mr. Freeze exists outside of my subjective time. He has the power to change the amount of objective time it takes for subjective time to pass. Among other things, Mr. Freeze can freeze my subjective time without my noticing. Mr. Freeze might freeze subjective time by not just freezing me, but also anything in my perceptual environment (clocks, etc.). Thawed time occurs when subjective time is in perfect step with objective time. Iced time comes in two flavors. The first occurs when subjective time is frozen relative to objective time. The second occurs when objective time is frozen relative to subjective time.

2. Iced Time: Flavor the First
Between any two subjective instants (subjective temporal units of zero duration) Sn and Sn+m, Mr. Freeze can insert a non-zero amount of objective time without my noticing. And he can insert two non-zero duration units of objective time without my noticing. And he can insert three. Leaping inductively, it follows that Mr. Freeze can insert an infinite amount of objective time between any two subjective units without my noticing. Suppose that it is now subjectively noon. How much objective time will pass before subjective noon+m? An infinite amount. Will I notice that noon+m objectively effectively never arrives? No, I will not. How much objective time needs to pass for me to have a subjective experience as of time passing? None at all. Effectively, no objective time needs to pass at all for me to have a subjective experience as of the passage of time.

3. Iced Time: Flavor the Second
Just as Mr. Freeze can insert units of objective time between my subjective units, he can remove them. Between any two subjective instants (subjective temporal units of zero duration) Sn and Sn+m, Mr. Freeze can remove a non-zero amount of objective time without my noticing. And he can remove two non-zero duration units of objective time without my noticing. And he can remove three…[insert inductive leap here]. Mr. Freeze can remove an infinite amount of objective time between any two subjective units without my noticing. Now it’s objective time that has been frozen and my own life can pass, in its entirety, in (objectively) no time at all.

4. Objective Time: Who Needs It?
If certain assumptions of multiple realizability and the computational theory of mind are true, then my entire mental life can be structurally isomorphic to a computer program which, when run, will have phenomenal consciousness just as I do. And if the stuff about Mr. Freeze and iced time in 1, 2, and 3 are true, then whatever structures are realized by objective temporal relations can be realized by non-temporal relations. Thus, the program doesn’t even need to be run. Just sitting, inert, written on a (very large) disc, the static un-run program suffices for the instantiation of the entirety of my time consciousness.

The Anti-Zombie Argument

Wednesday, August 15th, 2007



Phenomenally Vacant

Originally uploaded by Pete Mandik

Keith Frankish, posting on the Splintered Mind, summarizes very interesting Anti-Zombie Argument as follows:

Consider anti-zombies. These are beings that are physical duplicates of humans, and that have no non-physical properties, but which are nonetheless conscious. They inhabit an anti-zombie world, which is a physical duplicate of ours, but where no non-physical properties are instantiated. (Physicalists think that we are anti-zombies, of course.) Then we can run an anti-zombie argument for physicalism, as follows. Anti-zombies are conceivable and therefore, by the CP principle, metaphysically possible. And if anti-zombies are metaphysically possible, then physicalism is true. The last step may seem a big one, but it should be uncontroversial. In the anti-zombie world consciousness is physical, so the microphysical features of that world are metaphysically sufficient for consciousness, and any world with the same microphysical features will have the same distribution of phenomenal properties. But, by definition, our world has the same microphysical features as the anti-zombie world. Hence the microphysical features of our world are metaphysically sufficient for the existence of consciousness, which is to say that physicalism is true.

Here’s an excerpt of a response I left:

Consider a version of zombism that doesn’t seem touched by your argument. I don’t believe it, and I don’t know anyone who does, but it is worth considering.

On this version of zombism, consciousness is massively multiply realized. In some worlds—Berkeleyan ghost worlds—there are no physical properties, only consciousnesses. In those worlds, my mental doppleganger is realized by networks of non-physical ectoplasmic psychons, or spook-juice, or something. In other worlds—Cartesian fractured worlds—there exist both minds and bodies, and like the ghost worlds, conscious stuff is realized by non-physical spook-juice. In other worlds—anti-zombic worlds—consciousness is realized by solely physical stuff. In other worlds—zombic worlds–there’s all the same physical stuff as in the anti-zombic worlds, but absolutely no consciousness, perhaps because of different laws that operate there, or something.

So, I guess this imagined zombist would deny your statement that “any world with the same microphysical features will have the same distribution of phenomenal properties.”

I suppose you’ll need some reason why such a move wouldn’t be available to the zombist. What is it?

Reminder: Philosophy of Mind and Science Works-in-Progress

Monday, August 13th, 2007

Reminder: The online Philosophy of Mind and Science Works-in-Progress Sessions are accepting submissions. For editorial information and links to past WIPS, see here.

Subjective Brain Ch. 9

Thursday, August 9th, 2007

The ninth and final chapter of The Subjective Brain, “The Neurophilosophy of Subjectivity” is up.

Excerpt:

What, in the context of the philosophy of mind, is subjectivity? Subjectivity has something to do with consciousness, but it is not consciousness itself. Subjectivity has something to do with the so-called phenomenal character of conscious states, but it is not identical to phenomenal character. Subjectivity is an alleged property of phenomenal character, namely, the property of being one-way knowable. More specifically, the claim that phenomenal character is subjective is the claim that the only way to know some phenomenal character is by having a conscious experience that has that character. (This is a first pass and will be refined further later.) Whatever the relevant sense of “know” is here, it is the sense relevant to “knowing what it is like” to have some conscious experience.
[...]
A neurophilosophical proposal such as Beaton’s constitutes an attempt to provide a reduction of subjectivity to aspects of neurophysiology insofar as it seeks to identify properties such as one-way-knowability with certain aspects of the functioning of the nervous system. A different neurophilosophical approach, and the one advocated in this chapter, is one that attempts to eliminate subjectivity by arguing (1) that there are no aspects of neural function with which so-called one-way-knowability can plausibly be identified and (2) no reason for maintaining a belief in the irreducible existence of subjectivity.

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The Invisible Man is Blind

Wednesday, August 8th, 2007



The invisible Man

Originally uploaded by GabrielR

Pigments not only help make things seen, they help things see. Pigments in the eyes of creatures are crucial players in the transduction of light. The absorption of light is essential for sight and thus a perfectly transparent creature would be utterly incapable of seeing anything. (Ditto for Cartesian souls).

If eyes have to be visible, I wonder what generalizations we might make about other sensory organs. I recall hearing that ears make noise in a way that helps hearing, though I don’t recall the reference or whether this is a claim about an essential property of audition.

Tongues have flavor (which is why they’re at the butcher shop), but must they? Is their taste essential to their being tasters? Noses smell in at least one sense of the word “smell”, but must they smell in the sense of having an odor? I suppose that you couldn’t make chemoreceptors out of totally inert elements and thus, the ingredients of chemoreceptors, being reactive, must be detectable by at least some other chemoreceptors.

What are you conscious of when you have conscious experiences?

Tuesday, August 7th, 2007

[Moved up from March 21, 2005. See related posts at Splintered Mind and Philosophy of Brains.]

What are you conscious of when you have conscious experiences?

Various arguments in contemporary philosophical work on consciousness boil down to alleged conceptual connections between ‘conscious’ and ‘conscious of’. To wit, some philosophers hold as pre-theoretically obvious what we can call “The Transparency Thesis”:

When one has a conscious experience all that one is conscious of is what the experience is an experience of.

To explicate this thesis in terms of an illustration, it is the claim that when one has a conscious experience of a leafy tree one is only conscious of the leafy tree and need not be conscious of any state of oneself.

In opposition, other philosophers hold as pre-theoretically obvious what we can call “The Transitivity Thesis”:

When one has a conscious experience one must be conscious of the experience itself.

To explicate this thesis in terms of an illustration, it is the claim that when one has a conscious experience of a leafy tree one must be conscious of one’s own experience of the leafy tree and thus be conscious of a state of oneself. (Note this doesn’t rule out that you are conscious of the leafy tree. It says that in addition to being conscious of the leafy tree you are also conscious of a state of yourself.)

Since each of these claims is alleged to be obvious, and since they are in opposition, I’d be interested in hearing what others think of the matter: Which is more obvious than the other?

Subjective Brain Ch. 8

Tuesday, August 7th, 2007

Chapter 8 of The Subjective Brain, “The Neural Accomplishment of Objectivity,” is up.

Excerpt:

Philosophical tradition contains two major lines of thought concerning the relative difficulty of the notions of objectivity and subjectivity. One tradition, which we might characterize as “Cartesian”, sees subjectivity as comparatively less problematic than objectivity. On the Cartesian view, what we know best of all are the contents of our own minds and the major problematic is to pierce the veil of appearances and make contact with objective mind-independent reality. In contrast is a line of thought that reverses the order of difficulty. A pervasive materialistic and scientific mind-set takes objectivity as the unproblematic starting point. From this point of view, widespread through much of contemporary philosophy and especially explicit in the philosophy of mind, a world of physical, chemical, and biological events is taken as relatively given. The problematic here then is to make sense of any kind of genuine subjectivity within this physicalistic framework.

One might expect neuroscientists and neurophilosophers alike to belong exclusively to this latter tradition, given their proclivity for seeing the mind as being intimately tied to, if not identical to, the brain—a physical thing presumably exhaustively describable in the objective idiom of physicalistic science. However, this is not so. Many practitioners of things neural count among adherents of what I have described as a Cartesian line of thought. This is especially clear when we recognize that the neural equivalent of the subjective/objective distinction is the egocentric/allocentric distinction. Egocentric representations, associated especially with activity in Posterior Parietal Cortex, code for things in “self-centered” reference frames. Allocentric representations (alleged by many to be involved in Hippocampal activity) in contrast, code for things in “other-centered” reference frames. Cartesians in neuroscience and neurophilosophy cast the egocentric as the relatively basic and unproblematic of the two sorts of neural representation. From this view, then, the allocentric is seen as especially difficult, and, under certain descriptions, impossible. My purpose in this chapter is to review and ultimately counter this Cartesian line of thought.

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