Archive for April, 2009

What Should We Do with Our Brain?

Tuesday, April 28th, 2009

My review of Catherine Malabou’s What Should We Do with Our Brain? is now up at Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews.

Melville’s Neurophilosophy

Monday, April 27th, 2009



Moby-Dick or, The Whale.

“Moreover, while in most other animals that I can now think of, the eyes are so planted as imperceptibly to blend their visual power, so as to produce one picture and not two to the brain; the peculiar position of the whale’s eyes, effectually divided as they are by many cubic feet of solid head, which towers between them like a great mountain separating two lakes in valleys; this, of course, must wholly separate the impressions which each independent organ imparts. The whale, therefore, must see one distinct picture on this side, and another distinct picture on that side; while all between must be profound darkness and nothingness to him. Man may, in effect, be said to look out on the world from a sentry-box with two joined sashes for his window. But with the whale, these two sashes are separately inserted, making two distinct windows, but sadly impairing the view.”

–Herman Melville Moby-Dick, ch 74

The Varieties of Externalism

Friday, April 24th, 2009

externalism, the view of the mental states of an individual that they (the mental states) may have, as their physical SUPERVENIENCE bases, something of greater spatiotemporal extent than the individual himself or herself. Alternately, any view that holds that either mental states themselves or the factors determinative of a state’s CONTENT, extend beyond the physical boundaries (skull and skin) of the individual who possesses the mental states. This latter construal of externalism allows us to sort externalistic theories into two sorts: VEHICLE externalism and content externalism (see CONTENT/VEHICLE DISTINCTION). Another way of sorting externalistic theories, a way that cuts across the content-externalism vs. vehicle-externalism division, sorts externalistic theories in terms of whether they apply to QUALIA (see CONSCIOUSNESS, PHENOMENAL) or instead to only non-phenomenal aspects of the mind, e.g., allegedly non-phenomenal intentional states such as beliefs (see BELIEF). The four kinds of externalism generated by these two cross-classifying distinctions (content-vehicle, intentional-phenomenal) may be usefully labeled as follows: (1) intentional content externalism, (2) intentional vehicle externalism, (3) phenomenal content externalism, and (4) phenomenal vehicle externalism.

Intentional content externalism is probably the most discussed in the literature. One version of it may be described as follows. Individuals that have the same intrinsic physical properties may nonetheless diverge in the content of the thoughts they express when they say ‘this is water’ if the substance called ‘water’ in their respective environments is chemically distinct (H2O in the one and XYZ in the other). Content viewed as the intentional content externalist views it is oft described as “WIDE CONTENT”. (See SWAMPMAN; TWINEARTH; XYZ.)

One version of intentional vehicle externalism has been defended by Andy Clark and David CHALMERS under the heading of the “extended mind hypothesis” (see EXTENDED MIND).

Contemporary defenders of phenomenal content externalism, such as Michael Tye and Fred DRETSKE, identify qualia with the contents of certain kinds of MENTAL REPRESENTATION and then are led to externalistic conclusions via an embrace of an externalistic theory of content such as a version of the CAUSAL THEORY OF CONTENT or TELEOSEMANTICS. Such phenomenal content externalists also embrace FIRST-ORDER REPRESENTATIONALISM about CONSCIOUSNESS as well as the thesis of that experience is transparent (see TRANSPARENCY (OF EXPERIENCE)).

Phenomenal vehicle externalism is perhaps the least popular of the four kinds of externalism so far. But it does have advocates, notably Alva Noë and Susan Hurley. Advocates of this approach frequently emphasize the role of EMBODIMENT in structuring our PHENOMENOLOGY.
See also INTERNALISM.

Mind Spill in Aisle Nine

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2009

I’m going to side with Fodor a bit in the following remarks about Andy Clark’s response to Fodor’s LRB review of Supersizing the Mind.
 
There’s a worry of Fodor’s, or kind of like a worry of Fodor’s, that seems to me insufficiently addressed by Clark. To put it in a very cute and short way, the worry is that too much attention is given by the externalists to the “where” in “where is my mind?” and insufficient attention is given to the “my” in “where my mind?”.
 
To spell this out a bit more, let’s start with the role of functionalism/multiple realizaility in the externalists’ arguments.
 
Clark runs a quick little version of that old functionalist gem, the silicon chip replacement thought experiment. Clark writes:
 

Diva can now divide just as before, only some small part of the work is distributed across the brain and the silicon circuit: a genuinely mental process (division) is supported by a hybrid bio-technological system. That alone, if you accept it, establishes the key principle of Supersizing the Mind. It is that non-biological resources, if hooked appropriately into processes running in the human brain, can form parts of larger circuits that count as genuinely cognitive in their own right.

 
What Clark is here calling the key principle looks like functionalist multiple realizability to me. From there, Clark builds up to iPhone etc. playing the same functional roles that brain circuits do. That’s one way to start getting a mind to supervene on more than a brain. But there’s a much older way to do it, a way that predates 1990’s-style mind extension.
 
Consider the functionalists’ “Systems Reply” to Searle’s Chinese Room: The Chinese-understanding mind supervenes on a larger system of which Searle is a proper part and of which other parts include the remaining contents of the room. But on that story, presumably, Searle’s monolingual English-understanding mind just supervenes on Searle’s brain.  A mind has leaked out into the room, it just happens not to be Searle’s.
 
Here I think worries can be raised about violations of physicalist supervenience, especially a version I call “fine-grained supervenience,” which I won’t spell out much here but have explored in my paper, “Supervenience and Neuroscience”: [link]. The Chinese understanding mind has parts which have supervenience bases overlapping with supervenience bases of Searle’s mind. Things get even weirder when we add the extended mind thesis and let Searle’s mind leak out into the whole room. Now the room-system as a whole serves as a supervenience base for two distinct minds. That looks to violate a principle of “no mental differences without physical differences”. It also raises very worrying questions of how to tell who’s mind is who’s. Arguably, all we have to go on, being neither Searle nor the Chinese AI, is the physical stuff, right?
 
So part of what I take to be worrying Fodor, or should count among his worries, is the question of how to count minds if they start leaking out all over the place.
 
Fodor writes:
 

 [T]ry this vignette: Inga asks Otto where the museum is; Otto consults his notebook and tells her. The notebook is thus part of an ‘external circuit’ that is part of Otto’s mind; and Otto’s mind (including the notebook) is part of an external circuit that is part of Inga’s mind. Now ‘part of’ is transitive: if A is part of B, and B is part of C, then A is part of C. So it looks as though the notebook that’s part of Otto’s mind is also part of Inga’s. So it looks as though if Otto loses his notebook, Inga loses part of her mind. Could that be literally true? Somehow, I don’t think it sounds right.

 
I don’t think it sounds right either. Can a principled reason against it be given? I think something along the following lines needs to be sorted out. Part of what matters about mental states is who’s mental states they are states of. Internalist brain-lubbers have a straightforward way of sorting that out: one per customer. I’m not sure how the externalists propose to cope with this concern.

Transcending Zombies Draft

Thursday, April 9th, 2009

I’ve posted a draft of my paper, “Transcending Zombies,” (link) which had previously been serialized as Brain Hammer posts. I’m very grateful to those of you who left comments, they will be reflected in a later draft. I’m pretty happy with how these serializations have been going, and will be doing it again soon. Stay tuned!

Previous Posts:
1. Introducing Transcending Zombies
2. Anti-Skeptical Maneuvers
3. I Know I’m Not a Zombie
4. Some Remarks on Phenomenal Knowledge
5. The Egocentricity of Phenomenal Knowledge
6. The Knowing and the Known
7. My Physical Properties Fix My Conceptualized Contents
8. My Physical Properties Fix My Egocentric Contents
9. TZ & AEI
10. Raffman’s Rainbow Unraveled
11. Over the Rainbow
12. Ending Transcending
13. Postscript on Diachronic Discrimination Failure

What is a Transcendental Argument?

Thursday, April 9th, 2009

transcendental argument, a kind of argument, most closely associated with Immanuel KANT (though, arguably, there are examples that pre-date Kant’s) that has (1) as one of its premises an allegedly obvious claim about EXPERIENCE, KNOWLEDGE, or some other feature of one’s own mind (for example, the grasp of certain CONCEPTS or the capacity to entertain some kind of THOUGHT), (2) as another premise a claim about a necessary condition on the truth of the allegedly obvious claim in (1), and (3) a conclusion that the necessary condition in (2) is satisfied. Transcendental arguments often have anti-skeptical conclusions (see SKEPTICISM). For example, a transcendental anti-skeptical argument famously associated with Kant may be paraphrased as having premises (1) I am aware of my mental states as having an order in time and (2) it is a necessary condition on my awareness of anything being ordered in time that there be objectively existing entities undergoing alteration. A contemporary anti-skeptical argument is due to Hilary PUTNAM and utilizes a version of EXTERNALISM to establish knowledge that he is not a BRAIN IN A VAT. A crucial premise of Putnam’s argument is that he could only coherently conceive of the possibility of being a brain in a vat if there really was an external world containing brains and vats (see also CAUSAL THEORY OF CONTENT). P.F. Strawson developed a transcendental argument against skepticism about other minds (see OTHER MINDS, PROBLEM OF). Employing an early version of the GENERALITY CONSTRAINT, Strawson argued that I can only coherently conceive of myself as being in PAIN if I could likewise conceive of beings other than me being in pain. Not all transcendental arguments target skepticism. For example, Martin Davies has developed a transcendental argument for the existence of a LANGUAGE OF THOUGHT. Not all transcendental arguments postdate Kant. Arguably, the cogito of Descartes can be regarded as a transcendental argument with its premises as follows: (1) I think, and (2) it is a necessary condition on my thinking that I exist.

Postscript on Diachronic Discrimination Failure

Monday, April 6th, 2009

This postscript to the Transcending Zombies series is primarily a follow-up to the remarks on Raffman-style nonconceptualism. Would my objection to the Raffman-style case against conceptualism be defeated by an experimental design that tried to better control for possible context effects of the presentations of the colors? The sort of redesign I here have in mind might go as follows. The stimuli presented in each distinct presentation in the diachronic discrimination case would be one of figures 1 and 2.

colors1

figure 1.

colors2
figure 2.

The task put to the subject is to make a “same as before, yes or no?” judgment about colors appearing on the right side of each display. Synchronic discrimination tasks could use just one of figures 1 and 2 and ask, say of figure 1, if the left and right regions contain the same color.

Such an experimental design is aimed at avoiding the accusation that the colors presented in the synchronic and diachronic contexts are colors presented in different contexts and it thus may not be assumed that there is a color-appearance that is constant across contexts. In this new experiment, the color context of the right-hand color in figure 1 is arguably the same as the color context of the left-hand color in figure 2 since figures 1 and 2 are just spatial rotations of each other.

Does such an experimental design help to defeat the conceptualist? One point in favor of the conceptualist is that in the experiments using figures 1 and 2, there may no longer be a failure of diachronic discrimination. The subject, in being presented with figure 1, is in a position to conceptualize the color on the right as the lighter of the two. Further, the subject may re-conceptualized the diachronic task as, in seeing fig 2 after fig 1, judging whether the lighter of the two has changed its relative spatial location.

Ending Transcending

Friday, April 3rd, 2009



Escher’s shiniest bowling ball.

In this, the final post of the Transcending Zombies series, I close with some brief responses to a possible objection.

One line of resistance to the current argument will come from people who attribute phenomenal consciousness to babies and non-human animals but do not attribute concepts to them. However, such a line overlooks the evidence that lots of non-adults and non-humans have states that satisfy the criteria for conceptualized egocentric contents. I will not review that evidence here. (Although, see my “The Neural Accomplishment of Objectivity”). I turn instead to a different response.

My response is that while I grant that babies and non-humans no doubt lack the very concepts I use in my experiences of chairs and coffee mugs, I refuse to grant that babies and animals lack concepts altogether. While lacking concepts of chairs and mugs as such, they likely have, e.g., a concept of an object. And such concepts will suffice for the Allocentric portions of implementations of the Allocentric-Egocentric Interface theory.

My opponents would have a serious objection on their hands if they could show that, despite applying different concepts than the concepts that I apply in my experience, babies and non-human animals can have experiences phenomenally identical to my own. Another way they could have a serious objection would be if they could show that babies and non-human animals have absolutely no concepts whatsoever but nonetheless have phenomenally conscious states. However, I really don’t see how they could show either of these things. And if my imagined objector is simply asserting that such things are possible, then the imagined objection is simply question-begging.

Previous Posts:
1. Introducing Transcending Zombies
2. Anti-Skeptical Maneuvers
3. I Know I’m Not a Zombie
4. Some Remarks on Phenomenal Knowledge
5. The Egocentricity of Phenomenal Knowledge
6. The Knowing and the Known
7. My Physical Properties Fix My Conceptualized Contents
8. My Physical Properties Fix My Egocentric Contents
9. TZ & AEI
10. Raffman’s Rainbow Unraveled
11. Over the Rainbow

Ten Facts

Wednesday, April 1st, 2009

1. If you taste something while listening to a high pitched noise, it will taste sweeter and a low pitched noise will make it taste bitterer.
2. If you chew asparagus in the dark while looking in a mirror, you can see that it glows in the dark
3. Technically, Manhattan is a part of New Jersey
4. Archery was independently invented by eighteen different ancient cultures, but all haberdashery stems from a single source.
5. If heated under appropriate conditions, a solid chunk of ice can reach a temperature of 57 degrees Fahrenheit before melting.
6. Ten percent of all males and twelve percent of all females are born with a tiny pair of vestigial teeth in their elbows.
7. Even though cheetahs are the fastest animals running forwards, the fastest animal running backwards is the hippopotamus.
8. It is logically impossible to express the idea of a doorknob in French, German, or Spanish.
9. For any given year, there is a reliable statistical correlation between the average price of a six-pack of beer in the United States and the average amount of rainfall measured in inches.
10. Many people have a so-called “third nipple” but the first recorded case of a “second penis” belonged to none other than Benjamin Franklin

Over the Rainbow

Wednesday, April 1st, 2009



Remember these colors?

The recent dialectic has gone something like this. A crucial aspect of the Transcending Zombies argument is the identification of phenomenal character with a kind of conceptual content. I interpret Raffman’s (1995) argument as attacking such conceptualism on the grounds that there are perceptual discriminations that can be made but not across a memory delay. I have countered that such an argument makes the unwarranted assumption that a color is perceived the same way when presented in distinct contexts. It is open to the conceptualist, then, to maintain that the differences in the concepts applicable in the distinct contexts determine experiential differences. One way of describing this kind of conceptualism is as saying that experience is only as determinate as we have determinate concepts to bring to bear in experience.

Raffman (1995) presents an argument designed to block the sort of move I am here trying to make. She argues that it won’t do to say that our experience is only as determinate as we have determinate concepts for (we do have determinate concepts of the unique hues green, blue, red, and yellow), and merely determinable otherwise (we have only determinable concepts for non-unique hues like dark-reddish-orange). Raffman points out that there’s no introspectible difference between the ways in which unique and non-unique hues appear with respect to their ‘determinateness’ despite the radically different ways we have to conceptualize them. (Raffman 1995 pp. 301-302).

Raffman’s argument concerning determinateness seems to overlook a powerful resource available to the conceptualist. Raffman overlooks the possibility that the failure of seeming differences with respect to determinateness may simply be due to a failure to apply a concept of determinateness. Just as the conceptualist will model differences in apparent darkness in terms of the application of a relational concept of one color being darker than another, so may the conceptualist model differences in apparent determinateness in terms of the application of a relational concept of one hue or one experience of hue as being more determinate than another. Thus, the failures of appearance with respect to determinateness that Raffman refers to may be regarded by the conceptualist as due to normal perceivers simply failing to apply any such concept of determinateness to their experiences.

Previous Posts:
1. Introducing Transcending Zombies
2. Anti-Skeptical Maneuvers
3. I Know I’m Not a Zombie
4. Some Remarks on Phenomenal Knowledge
5. The Egocentricity of Phenomenal Knowledge
6. The Knowing and the Known
7. My Physical Properties Fix My Conceptualized Contents
8. My Physical Properties Fix My Egocentric Contents
9. TZ & AEI
10. Raffman’s Rainbow Unraveled