Category Archives: Science

Is your mind physical?

That it is is a necessary assumption for those who accept that minds exist, but equate it with either the central nervous system or its encapsulating body.

Much of the issue around physicalism vs. the question of minds’ existences may have less to do with the nature of reality than with what we mean by certain words. If anything and everything is physical, then “physical” is a unifying rather than polarizing or distinguishing concept; there is no contrast class to it (that is: nothing non-physical exists). 

The project for physicalist cognitive scientists and philosophers of mind–those who, in short, believe that everything (including the mind) is physical–is, perhaps, simply to extend the language of physics to also accommodate “mind”. (And physicalism could well have to change, itself, in order to be able to do so!)

It may be convenient for a field like cognitive neuroscience especially to have a common framework for its studies of neural and cognitive (mental) systems, which have traditionally–a la Descartes and his successors–been regarded as more ontologically separate than they are, these days. Still, people’s mileages vary with respect to whether physicalism is the right unifying ideology for reality even aside from this possibility.

[The discussion from which this post arose took place on INTJforum, at: https://intjforum.com/topic/175287-if-physicalism-how-is-it-that-we-can-trust-our-cognitive-abilities/ ]

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Descartes and Musk – On Dreams and Simulation

I’ve just begun reading through a paper of Tom Campbell’s which appeared in this video [link redacted]. In this post, though, I only aim to liken the popular simulation theory with Rene Descartes’ older “dream argument”. The former states that at least some of us are living in a virtual simulation. The latter runs as follows:

Premise 1 – If I know that I am awake, then I can eliminate as false the competing hypothesis that I am dreaming.

Premise 2 – I cannot eliminate the dreaming hypothesis.

Conclusion – I do not know if I am awake.

Elon Musk seems sympathetic toward the type of conclusion above. However, Musk’s interest has been not in dreams, but in whether a given person’s reality is provably virtual or actual. Descartes’ dream argument could be adapted in light of Musk’s challenge that we don’t know whether we’re living in virtual reality (VR):

P1′ – If I know that I exist in actual (non-virtual) reality, then I can eliminate as false the competing hypothesis that I exist in VR.

P2′ – I cannot eliminate the VR/simulation hypothesis.

C’ – I do not know if I exist in actual reality (as opposed to VR).

Testing the simulation hypothesis would minimally involve two steps. The first would be running participants through VR simulations. Following, the essential question for these subjects would become: “Did you know when your reality shifted between actual and virtual?” Naturally, experimenters could not give anything away until the end of such a study for it to be meaningful. If participants were consistently aware of when their reality changed kinds, then Musk’s simulation hypothesis would not apply: for their case, it would have to be ruled out as false. On the other hand, if subjects were generally unaware of their reality becoming actual or virtual, then Musk’s simulation hypothesis would hold true.

Campbell notwithstanding, this question presently remains unresolved.

A little back-and-forth on psychology (mostly)…

[Source: http://intjforum.com/showthread.php?p=5418403#post5418403]

SS=me
T=correspondent

T: I feel like psychology is too weak on its own…

SS: Ironically, actually, it is psychology’s over-reliance on the other, more established sciences (viz., biology) that has done it a disservice in the past century. Its dominating attempts to imitate precisely traditional empiricism and its methods have left it theoretically underdeveloped and disunited, so that there are a number of sub-disciplines making up ‘psychology’, without any coherent framework making their connections–and, thus, the status of psychology as a grounded and self-consistent science–clear, to either its insiders or those looking from without.

T: I don’t see over-reliance being an issue. Fields separate because of expertise and imaginary divisors of what is connected to what (it’s all connected). The brain is small, so it’s easier to understand by partitioning.

SS: It’s fine that studies of the brain be partitioned, and additionally for disciplines to look toward others in figuring out how to best proceed themselves. But over-reliance, for psychology’s case, has made it such that it has no clear idea of what mind’s ontological status is, which is highly relevant to the extent that it should want to precisely characterize and explore the phenomenon (or, perhaps more accurately: its sub-phenomena) on its own terms.

Mind is not–in any obvious, or hitherto successfully argued-for way–‘physical’ in the same sense that every other physical object that has been studied scientifically has been shown to be. On the other hand, if its operations and contents actually are directly (i.e., not relying solely on measures of brain activity) detectable via physical methods, then it must be admitted that we currently lack the technology with which to achieve such. (Whereas for formerly-discovered phenomena of at least a somewhat similar nature, w/r/t their raising for us measurability problems–e.g., the invisible parts of the electromagnetic spectrum–further technological advancement was needed in order to actually establish their physical reality.)

Gravity, of course, would be another example of a postulated force with causal potency in relation to the known-about physical realm, but that is still undetectable in a way that has prevented us from knowing exactly what kind of physical substance it is or is made up of. (Assuming that it is, indeed, ‘physical’ in the traditional sense of possessing measurable energy or discrete constituents of matter.)

T: I’m hoping computational cognition becomes a field in the future, once we have cracked the puzzle, which will be accomplished in the next few years.

SS: Cognitive science is already computational.

T: That’s true, but it’s not authentic, nor is there even a basic mind that’s capable of meaningful use by means of artificial self-awareness.

SS: I’m not really sure what you mean by cognitive science’s treatment of mind not being “authentic”, though it certainly is incomplete at present. Perhaps that we haven’t (yet) established sentience/self-awareness in artificial/computational models of mind? If this is what you are getting at, the intellectual or empirical proof of any entity being sentient/self-aware is a highly complex problem, particularly the more we look at species (or, perhaps and for some, things like computers) that are not human.

T: Deep learning is about as sophisticated as it gets, and it’s not really even that impressive. The brain is highly parallel and we’ve only just begun to get the hardware that is matching it. Graphics cards follow this structure.

SS: Yes, and neural nets. Though those have been around for quite a while, and are extremely simplistic when compared to the actual human brain.

Again, though, the mind’s computational aspects have been overemphasized (since at least the cognitive revolution of the ’70s–though the story may well have started earlier, solidifying most definitively during psychology’s behaviorist phase) at the expense of a rigorous and fully-general understanding of what mind actually is. For the most part, cognitive psychologists don’t study and have not studied philosophy, which has also meant that they are largely unaware of 1) just how relevant the mind-body problem is to their work, and 2) how multi-faceted and complex mind truly is.

T: We are going to have to agree to disagree. I see nothing special about the mind that differs from any model of computation. Are you not in favor of the Turing Machine model that’s theorized to compute anything that a human brain can?

SS: Well, independent of my own views on mind, that a Turing machine can compute “anything” a human brain can is so far promissory note, at most. (How do we come up with an exhaustive list of all of the computations the human mind is capable of performing? At what point or how could we know whether such would be complete?) As is the general assumption that mental phenomena are, or will be found to be governed by the same natural laws that physical ones are.

T: As far as what is computable by the human brain, it is mostly assumed at this time.

[…]

T: Philosophy or philosophical approaches is/are useful in any discipline. Consciousness is a problem for metaphysicians. The “study of behavior” is not deep enough, but it’s a good starting point.

SS: Consciousness has become a problem for quite a few more groups than metaphysicians, hence its currently being a highly interdisciplinary field (consisting of researchers from A.I.; phenomenology; cognitive neuroscience; philosophy; physics; computer science…). As metaphysics has for so long proven incapable of solving the hard problem of consciousness (or even characterizing it in a way that would make it more amenable for other disciplines), it makes more sense now than ever that the problem should be treated in such a multi-plural manner.

T: All of those prior to the precomputational era are exempt. Metaphyisicans up from the 1900s are the only ones that count. To date, none of them are particularly impressive. As philosophy has been phased out somewhat, it’s slowly coming back, for good reason.

[…]

SS: No cracking the puzzle of mind without understanding just what it is and how it works, which may hinge on the extent to which progress is made on the question of how subjective experience (which has to be central to any complete science of mind) and the body are related: in addition to how the former is even possible, and what its nature (history; universal scope; dynamics…) is. We are not close to an answer to this ‘hard problem’, at present, and so the hope that it will be answered successfully “in the next few years” seems preposterous to the extreme.

T: I refuse to believe it’s as difficult as people make it out to be. Humans are emotionally driven, it’s not that hard. Emotionally Oriented Programming as a humorous analogy. After that, it’s simply an amalgam of networks that are extremely, extremely complex.

SS: You can refuse it all you like, but the fact is that it really has been so difficult for the vast majority of people who have studied and are studying mind.

Emotion is a part of the puzzle (and one that has been pretty neglected by psychology, and especially by cognitive science), but it is not by any means the only or necessarily biggest part of it.

T: Emotions are an evolutionary advantage, a synthetic approach would be a network that precedes and influences the logical network and determines how well it functions based on the load (whether too high or low) in its various sub-networks put on this artificial emotion network.

SS: I haven’t studied the question of interactive emotional-logical computational systems much myself, but here is something related in case you are unaware of it: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Affective_computing

[…]

T: Subjective and objective are really not any different. It’s an elaborate illusion.

I can’t believe no ones figured that out yet.

SS: Believe it.

The subjective/objective question is still more in the domain of philosophy, and less within consciousness studies and cognitive science (though it is significantly more present in the former of these two than the latter).

Re. the subject-object split being an “illusion”, Eastern traditions (e.g., Buddhism) have held this view for centuries, and Western thought has recently begun to catch on to it, as evidence continues to mount in disfavor of Descartes’ original material body-immaterial soul(/mind) separation.

It is still an open question, however, whether or not subjective and objective may still be meaningfully distinguished in certain ways (or for certain reasons).

T: Dualism is just [stupid]. I won’t dismiss it though when dealing with whatever a “soul” can be, but for everything else, it’s unnecessary. Not including it won’t even compromise computation.

You can give the credit to any previous schools of thought, but the fact is, they’re not necessary for solving this puzzle. Plenty of people have said wise things, yet those wise things on their own are meaningless until given proper application.

[…]

T: Subjectivity is not much more than an internalized world shaped by language processing of that mind/body and feeling of mind/body. Due to diversity of parameters, each of us differs.

SS: If subjectivity really were “not any different” from objectivity, as you asserted above, then it would be much more than a mere “internalized world”. In consciousness studies, the problem of subjectivity is the ‘hard problem of consciousness’:

“The really hard problem of consciousness is the problem of experience. When we think and perceive, there is a whir of information-processing, but there is also a subjective aspect. As Nagel (1974) has put it, there is something it is like to be a conscious organism. This subjective aspect is experience. [emphasis added] (Chalmers, 1995: Facing Up to the Problem of Consciousness)

[…]

T: Of course, all of this is meaningless without a proper model for a basic mind, which is achieved after stripping the senses. Adding them back on simply adds potential for freedom and further learning.

SS: How could the senses possibly be 100%-stripped in a way that would leave what would presumably be left of the mind intact? It seems dubious that the (self-aware) mind as we are familiar with it could exist at all in this purely ‘senseless’ kind of manner.

T: A mind would be intact, but if the mind in this example would be mirrored from birth, it’s not a worthwhile exercise. A baby with no senses would lead to much at all. Not much would be learned.

It’s simply a process akin to reverse engineering, by trial-and-error. It’s kind of cheating, since adults have already accumulated lots of data (through experience/time).

The major issue is mostly “what is reality?”, not “what is subjectiveness?”. “What is mind?” is what naturally follows thereafter. Tying the t[w]o together, “what is complexity?”. “What is emerging complexity?” Although they are related, it’s clear to me at least, that subjectivity isn’t the right starting point, but rather a red herring.

[…]

SS: Personally, I think cognitive neuroscience (which has largely come to subsume psychology’s studies of mind) and cognitive-behaviorism (psychology’s current ‘paradigm’, if one may roughly speak of one) will have a lot to learn in particular from quantum physics; philosophy; and consciousness studies (e.g., phenomenology), if psychology and cognitive science are to have any hope of meaningfully contributing toward solving the mind-body problem. Computational theories have helped and conceivably will continue to do so, but their limits–which one need only look at artificial intelligence’s history from the past century to appreciate–will have to be acknowledged, before mind can be defined as accurately, and characterized as faithfully as it will ultimately need to be for our genuine understanding.

T: Quantum computers offer specialized processing for different areas of computation. Whether that relates to the mind or not remains to be determined. I suspect that the processes it would help are nonetheless not important for our starting goal, but essential for reaching higher peaks of intelligence.

SS: Intelligence is a problem I won’t go into, here; but, it will be interesting to see what potential new possibilities quantum computing will open up for cognitive science, as the former becomes more developed and as the two fields are synthesized.

T: Intelligence is one of the most key factors in solving this issue, but what the word encapsulates is clearly its own problem.

[To be continued…?]

Textual analysis (or hermeneutic work) as “all subjective”

This belief is rather easily explained away (though, sadly: not so easily disposed of, for the complacent offenders and “their” n=30 “subjects”!). It stems merely from a lack of correct understanding of differing methodologies, and their correspondences with prima facie differing practices.

Take my words, here. You are reading them. But are you reading me–my intent, my desires; and so on? If not, you are committing what I take to be the essential fallacy of the most literalizing scientists and analytic philosophers, who all fail to appreciate the proper way to arrive at another person’s meaning. For, if one does not understand what something means to the speaker–or, indeed, to any of their possibly-billions of listeners–one will forever be trapped and mired in his, her, or hir own “subjective” (in this case, impoverished as-such) meaning, distinct from and un-legitimized by one’s fellow beings in the world. Indeed: what a “meaning”!

For such a person, inter-subjectivity forever remains a mystery; coherent sociality at all willfully mystifies them, and what is left to mystify one will ultimately block one from becoming the best they can possibly be–whether “for themselves, or others”. (These quotes are necessary: for they hint at the absolute absurdity of the classical I-,-rather-than-thou formulation!)

In short, the one who instinctively dismisses hermeneutic work as “all subjective–and therefore useless” operates with a distinct lack of empathy: of caring for the immeasurable relativity of meaning among their “fellow” beings; of enriching subjectivity, generally; of truly understanding and connecting–and, henceforth, of caring for “him-, “her-, or “hir-self”.

Cling not to the dreaded “to the man!” “fallacy” quite so dearly, my friend–dialogical achievement is necessarily both art and science! Admit to a broader set of fallacies than have been so thoughtlessly inculcated: and tuck away that dirtied monologizing monocle, if only for the mere moment, good madams and sirs–

Artificial Intelligence: Can Science Truly Recreate You? [Daily Nexus//Science & Tech, 8.28.2014]

With the unprecedented rise of millennial computing, lightning fast telecommunication, vibrant social media and virtually limitless access to information, our lives are consumed by a torrent of powerful technological influences.

The gap between who we are at a deeper, more philosophical level and who we appear to be on our various web profiles is simultaneously widened and blurred by recent scientific and technological advancements. “Who we are” has become a vexing and tiresomely complex concept, and in our push toward increasingly more efficient modes of survival, we seem to have run out of collective patience with it.

Yet in spite of this, debates over what makes us who we are continue today. The age-old question of how our minds interact with our bodies has been passed off from philosophers to computer scientists and engineers. Some of the latter figures claim that the advent of robotics and more sophisticated computing methods has made inevitable what Google engineering director Ray Kurzweil refers to as our “next stage of evolution”— by which he means artificial intelligence. A.I. is, in simplified terms, a rapidly accelerating field that tries replicating human functions and capabilities in machines to the fullest extent that current technology allows.

But is it possible for machines to exhibit complete human intelligence and consciousness?

UC Santa Barbara Psychology professor Stan Klein, whose research focuses on issues related to social knowledge representation, said that mainstream psychology believes that humans are machines, and thus can be understood from principles that comprise the backbone of modern applications in machine technology.

“The materialist dogma of modern science threatens to remove the [mind-body] issue from discussion, since it does not fit their metaphysical presumptions,” Klein said. “Perhaps they are right — or perhaps one can intelligently widen the scope of physicalism to encompass experience.”

At the forefront of such “physicalist” groups today are neuroscientists, many of whom believe that the mind can be fully reduced to electrochemical and mechanical bodily functions. From this perspective, replicating human consciousness in machines may prove less difficult than expected.

This possibility once pondered only in science fiction thrillers (in which the robots typically end up rebelling against their creators and destroying humanity) is becoming more compelling with the integration of technology and automation into nearly every facet of our lives, and may even become perfectly natural.

But is it scientifically feasible?

Albert Shin, a UC Santa Barbara Philosophy doctorate alumni and visiting assistant professor at Villanova University, said that even if we can explain the various workings of the brain, we are still missing something in our explanation of day-to-day conscious experience.

“With recent developments in cognitive and neuroscience, it is easy to think that all there is to the mind is a collection of brain cells,” Shin said. “Admittedly, the evidence suggests that there is a much closer relationship between mind and body than was argued by dualists like Descartes. But it would be a mistake to jump to the conclusion that all there is to the mind is simply matter.”

How these debates will pan out is still yet to be determined. But in proceeding, we should not forget to keep asking ourselves two basic questions. Who are we? And to what extent can — or more aptly, should — we allow science to answer that question for us?

[Feature image courtesy of Christine Daniloff/MIT]

Inspiration

Apologies for the delay. I haven’t been feeling inspired enough to produce worthwhile content, over the past week.

Speaking of which, today’s blurb-esque post will be about inspiration. (How uninspired, you say? Balderdash! Poppycock! Gibber-flabber, gobbledygook, pishing-posh, …!)

It’s a tricky, capricious thing, inspiration. Bedevils and frustrates just about everyone who consistently engages in projects requiring it. Indeed, in order to create something, one must first be sufficiently inspired to act on forming that very thing. So, naturally, inspiration is very important in a variety of task-related contexts.

To help get us started, a quick run over to Google Search yields:

in·spi·ra·tion
noun
1. the process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, especially to do something creative.
synonyms: creativity, inventiveness, innovation, ingenuity, genius, imagination, originality; …

Very broad starting base, this. By the above definition, inspiration is a process that is directly involved in both motivation and the intrinsic stimulation required to do or feel something.

When I sat down and looked at this (then-empty) text-space last night, I thought: “I’m just not inspired enough to write anything.” But can inspiration not happen along the way during a project, rather than right at the start? Who’s to say when exactly inspiration will hit during an activity? In general, inspiration is not very finely traceable (for those without the appropriate neuroscientific tools with which to scan their mental processes in a visible format, that is). All too often, those of us who rely on inspiration (and everyone does) are very much at its unpredictable mercy.

I shall offer up a theory: that for those of us more regularly involved in the so-called creative arts–e.g., writing and the calligraphic arts–inspiration does, and should happen when we least expect it. This is because inspiration knows no master: its fickle nature occurs precisely because of our desperate attempts to capture and put a lid on it. Inspiration has a mind of its own: you could almost hear it taunting from across the room where you can’t reach it, “nuh-uh–I’ll call you!” as your pay-deadline for a project approaches nearer and nearer.

Why should things be so frustrating and complicated? Because by its very nature, inspiration’s product–namely, art–is all about relinquishing control and surrendering one’s sensibilities to the work being considered. Whether it’s nature, a painted masterpiece, or a perfectly eloquent line in a book that enthralls one’s imagination, the most genuine inspirations occur when one is falling in love with the object of his or her appraisal.

And love, that greatest work of art one could possibly create or become engrossed in, involves the ultimate in letting go of one’s usual controls and defenses. Inspiration hits when we are so inexplicably struck by the beauty of a thing, person, or idea, that one simply must “do or feel something–especially something creative”, for the purpose of an unequivocal, irrefutable, and undeniably-felt love.

And I say that’s the way inspiration should be.

Approaching the noble art (and sublime science) of communication

Apparently, this has become an “art of” blog. Perhaps soon, it will become a pure art blog!

Today, I want to talk about communication. What accounts for the often vast and perplexing discrepancies invisibly at play as (apparently goodhearted) individuals attempt to successfully communicate?

Broad question, Suraj! Yeah, yeah, I recognize that. Actually, a (very dear) reader of mine said so first. Perhaps she will grace us with her insightful perspectives and charmingly elegant presence in a follow-up comment here, sometime.  [ 🙂 ]

Right, then: let’s narrow this down. What variables are at play when it comes to the observable and commonplace nuances in human communication?

Here’s a piecemeal set to help get us started:

  • Personality— A favorite pastime of mine to study, and an endlessly fascinating subject in general. See here for more.
  •  Cognition— How do people think? For more on individual differences in this vein, consider the scientific (albeit simplistic) Cognitive-Experiential Self-Theory (CEST).

Naturally, there are plenty more factors to discuss than the mere two I’ve just listed. This is simply to get the slow ball rolling on my blog’s gently-sloping hill. Communication is important for obvious reasons, yet it’s frequently and inconveniently misconstrued at best, inexplicably and woefully understudied at worst.

Here’s a link to expand our current scope–one that I hope will provide worthwhile and interesting enough to flesh out accordingly in a future post.