Archive for the ‘Philosophy of Mind’ Category

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.

Consciousness Without Subjectivity

Friday, April 18th, 2008

Consciousness Without Subjectivity, the PowerPoint from my Toward a Science of Consciousness 2008 talk, appears in my updated talks section. This represents the 20-25 minute version of the talk. The version I’ll be presenting at Churchlandpalooza in May is scheduled for a two-hour slot. A draft of the paper should materialize from the ether sometime June-ish.

Also: There’s Swampthing about Mary.

Also also: Dave Chalmers has his pics up here and here.

Introducing Pete Mandik’s Philosophy of Mind MetaResource

Monday, March 31st, 2008

Pete Mandik’s Philosophy of Mind MetaResource available here: [link].

Precedents of Pan-x-ism

Thursday, March 13th, 2008

I’m no fan of panpsychism, but I’m not going to let that stop me from posting on it. I’d like to raise questions about theories of which panpsychism is but one instance. Call such theories “pan-x-isms”. My main question is whether there are any non-controversial examples in which a pan-x-ism turned out to be a good idea.

One of the main problems that any pan-x-ism runs into is to explain the apparent differences between x’s and non-x’s. Thales’s panhydrism invites the question of what’s the difference between water and the glass that contains it. Is glass merely slow water? Another is that once everything is alleged to be explainable in terms of x, you pretty much give up hope of explaining x.

But back to my main question. When has pan-x-ism been a good idea? Post-Aristotelian conceptions of space where there aren’t distinct spaces for distinct substances (“fire goes here”) I think are pretty clearly improved conceptions, but should they count as pan-x-isms?
Pancomputationalism gets kicked around now and again but it’s about as controversial as panpsychism.

When, if ever, has there been a pan-x-ism that obviously didn’t suck?

What Dualism and Materialism Have in Common

Wednesday, February 27th, 2008

In “Giving Dualism its Due“, William Lycan maintains his materialism while also stating that there are few convincing arguments for materialism and against dualism. Two things I find oddly missing from Lycan’s discussion are any mention of Quine (who gave many arguments for materialism) and any mention of idealism (against which both the materialist and the dualist must defend their belief in physical bodies).

Current dualists and materialists would do well to reexamine their common belief in the reality of the kind of physical ontology denied by idealists. In our “Type-Q Materialism“, Josh Weisberg and I write:

Most discussions in contemporary philosophy of physicalism, qualia, and other issues pertinent to the mind-body problem proceed against a seldom discussed yet shared background assumption of the existence of physical objects, while what’s debated is whether to affirm the existence of anything else, for instance, qualia. However, contemporary thinkers would do well to examine the grounds for belief in physical objects and question whether existing considerations in favor of so-called qualia are consistent with such grounds.
Another way of framing the issues we would like to examine in the current section would be to ask what reasons for not being a phenomenalist (a person who believes only in experiences and their properties) wouldn’t also lead to being a full-blown physicalist (a person who believes only in physical objects and their properties). If one wanted to consider such a question and some of the best answers to it, it would be no idle exercise to retrace the thoughts of Quine on precisely these issues.

Swampman in the News

Wednesday, January 16th, 2008

Donald Davidson’s Swampman, a physical doppelganger of a cognizer lacking the requisite history to have any memories but false ones, is in the news, though under the guise of “Boltzmann Brains”.
New York Times article
Wikipedia entry
Mind Hacks post

Free Dennett

Monday, January 14th, 2008

The following is from an email announcement sent by Shaun Gallagher:

The special double issue of Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences (Vol 6, #1-2, 2007) on Dennett’s heterophenomenology, edited by Alva Noë, is available for free download until the end of March at

The issue includes papers by Taylor Carman, Roberto Casati and Elena Pasquinelli, Jérome Dokic and Elisabeth Pacherie, John Drummond, Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Kelly, Uriah Kriegel, Eduard Marbach, Alva Noë, Jean-Michel Roy, Eric Schwitzgebel, Charles Siewert, Gianfranco Soldati, Evan Thompson, Max Velmans, and Dan Zahavi; and a response by Dan Dennett.

Also the most recent issue (Vol. 7 #1, 2008), a special issue on Moral Phenomenology, edited by Uriah Kriegel, has just been published.

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 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?