Sunday, October 25, 2015

David Chalmers Nature, Part I

This is part I of a review of Chalmer’s paper, " The title alone raises several questions, “What is consciousness,” “What is nature,” “Is consciousness a part of nature.” The most urgent of these is, “What is consciousness?” Since consciousness relates to an individual, does it have any direct role in Nature at all?

Chalmers states his view in the first paragraph as that of a revisionist. He realizes that clear definitions of consciousness and nature already exist that place them orthogonally.

{ Phenomena of mind } = { Phenomena of consciousness },.”The central problem is that of locating mind with respect to the physical world.” Therefore, mentality = consciousness. Therefore, for Chalmers, all consciousness problems reduce to physical vs. mental problems, “At the end, three views are left standing: those on which mentality is an emergent characteristic of either a physical substance or a neutral substance, where in the latter case, the physical might be either emergent or delusive.”

In this paper Chalmers is a reductionist, “approaching the problem of consciousness by a strategy of divide-and-conquer.” The discussion is meant as an overview, in which he states that views A through C see consciousness as a physical process, while views D through F all require an “expansion or reconception of a physical ontology”. Chalmers also states that he favors non-reductive views of consciousness, although he believes in an “empirical science of consciousness”, apparently meaning cognitive science..While the potential link-up with “hard science” is reassuring, we still haven’t answered the question of why consciousness, in the sense of a phenomena remains an issue.

Chalmers wants an answer to the question, how any physical system could become conscious. What would be the minimum requirements, for example? Obviously, he is thinking in terms of robots in one case, and “bigger, faster, smarter” in the case of existing biological species. Taken in the second sense, this is the philosophy of the discontent, like the Buddha, he is implying dissatisfaction with consciousness taken as it is.

Certain states are outlined as trivial cases, discrimination of stimuli, reporting information, monitoring internal states, and controlling behavior. He is interested here in isolating the difficult side of consciousness at issue as subjective experience.

To do this, Chalmers says that phenomena have to be describable, “A mental state is conscious when there is something it is like to be in that state.” In a footnote, Chalmers states that he ‘merely’ uses qualia as conscious states characterized by what it like to have them. This implies that these are descriptions, but that the descriptions have to be shared experience, otherwise two persons discussing a single qualia could not agree on the ‘likeness’ of that qualia.

Chalmers wants to ask a series of cognitive science philosophical questions he calls ‘the central mystery of consciousness”, “There is no question that experience is closely associated with physical processes in systems such as brains. It seems that physical processes give rise to experience, at least in the sense that producing a physical system (such as a brain) with the right physical properties inevitably yields corresponding states of experience. But how and why do physical processes give rise to experience? Why do not these processes take place “in the dark,” without any accompanying states of experience? This is the central mystery of consciousness.” These are the philosophical underpinnings of why he is so interested in brain science. He cannot posit an experiential mind (or has been trained not to), so he believes that the “properties of the brain” are responsible for our states of mind. Then he asks how experience can arise from physical processes. Unsatisfied with his materialist quandary, he demands that the gaps in cognitive functionality be explained. In a sense, what he is asking, why is there, ‘dark’, matter in the brain? Or in Thomist terms, what is being hidden, and why?

His definition of an “easy” problem is one that can be deduced from causality which is explainable. Habit, for example, a) We derive a situational context from our senses, b) We match a set of qualia with other contexts in our memory, c) We find a good match, and proceed to behave in a similar fashion to what our memory discloses. (There would be a good argument here that we don’t care what the memory tells us about past outcomes. It would be quite possible and probably that we need no more than the implicit information, that we survived because we are now alive, to accept that our past behavior was the right one.) He distinguishes this sort of problem from one which requires the parameter called experience, and thus mystifies it to the point where it cannot be counted as reductive. “Reductive explanation requires only that a high-level phenomena can be explained wholly in terms of low-level phenomena. This is compatible with the “multiple realizability” of high-level phenomena in low-level phenomena.” By this, I suppose he means that hitherto unknown low level phenomena may explain multiple phenomena. Thus David Chalmers wants a materialist, or physicalist answer to the physical question of how a physical system, such as the brain,becomes conscious, but I suspect he is only leading us along.

It seems that Chalmer’s main argument is that consciousness not fall easily into what we call, “the natural world”. It is as if he was beaten with a stick and told, “It’s not natural”. This falls on a falacious argument he presents outright, “And one can argue as above that explaining structures and functions does not suffice to explain consciousness. If so, no physical account can explain consciousness.” If A (all existing explainations) fails, then B (no physical explainations of consciousness may exist.) He is arguing for this conclusion, “then materialism about consciousness is false, and the natural world contains more than the physical world.” There is no room here for an admission that both physical and nonphysical explanations of things can exist simultaneously.

He then proves that by positing Zombies as a method for proving that materialism is false.First one has to believe in God, then posit a zombie universe that he decided to create to prove that zombies don’t have consciousness in a physical universe. The knowledge argument is similar, in it, the knowledge that can only be gained through experience seems proof that physical facts, if known, are not enough. That one has to experience the color red in order to know it. I would say that this is more a proof that any limited set of facts are not enough, not just physical facts only.

Friday, July 3, 2015

The Transhumanist Spirituality, or How Religious Bunkum Knows No Bounds

Terasem Faith is the clearest manifestation of, "Scientology", yet for transhumanists, though offered as an "add-on" faith, that would be expected to compete with the previous existing core-beliefs of adherents. As such, it may not be far from what transhumanists actually believe, but what they believe, even though, "sciency", may not be reasonable at all.

Terasem/Transhumanist idea I. LIFE IS PURPOSEFUL.

Life has as many purposes as there are species. Only a few of these collaborate exceptionally well together, among these humans. Nevertheless, all of these 'purpose-machines' contribute more than biomass to their purpose and to who we are. Creative individuals can, "pick their poison," of course, resulting historically in vastly different purposes among humans and human groups. This fact alone, seems to mandate that the individual alone must be willing and responsible to choose and define his own purpose, not any organization, movement, or religion.

Terasem/Transhumanist idea II. DEATH IS OPTIONAL.

It's not: Even the sweetest sounding science fiction book you might take to bed, will only tell of artificial life delays, extensions, and 'uploads'. An upload could signify a democratization of death in a sense, in which one would have the possibility to contribute 'infinitely' to human capacities, without having to write a work of literature or art, innovate a technique or technology, or be remembered in some other way available to us now.  - However, any such 'upload' would still need to be controlled and filtered (even if that filtering is determined commercially, and not by merit). "Infinite life", is an easy out, a simple and bland path for the future of people who think their lives will be inconsequential, and/or wish to have no intention of achieving consequence, of never having to accomplish any of the things that have made immortality reasonable in the past.   

Terasem/Transhumanist idea III. GOD IS TECHNOLOGICAL.

Correct me if I've said this before, but gods are mythical creations, though useful at times, even as a personal bucket (where we can hide away all of our "good stuff", as we go along with our "normal business"). Why would someone want to make technology mythical? Technologies are the things that are appropriate and useful for a purpose. This is the part where you really need to start looking around for the usual suspects.

Terasem/Transhumanist idea IV. LOVE IS ESSENTIA

As far as I can tell, love is a congruence of an emotion and concomitant concern for others reflected in behavior. Humans have many competing emotions, which they reflect 24/7, including negative emotions reflected in behavior towards others in significant relationships, not only "love". Regardless of one's emotional composure and psychological makeup, each of us has bagfuls of concerns that range everywhere, most often edging out that "most perfect" quality a very few poets have aspired towards. The essential takeaway from this is that in our caring about the world, it is our intelligence, taken broadly (not as an emotion), that drives our many purposes positively forward, and not a single confluence of attachments.

Does anyone want a bad religion? Pick a card, any card, I've got lots of them...

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Spinoza’s Ethics

Baruch Spinoza living, as he did, in the 17th century, did not find it as easy being an independent thinker as many of us do today. Spinoza lived Amsterdam, a city known for religious tolerance, as much as for its thriving capitalism. However he was excommunicated from his synagogue at the age of 23, and his books were put on the Catholic Church’s Index of Forbidden Books. His views provide a bridge between the religious myths of the past and the psychology and freedom of thought we enjoy today.

In Spinoza’s universe, nothing happens by accident and everything has a reason. If circumstances are seen as unfortunate, it is only because of our inadequate conception of reality, which he believed was infinite and eternal. As a lens maker by profession, he believed that our senses were so imperfect that nothing like universal truth could possibly be discovered through the senses.

In his Treatise on the Improvement of the Understanding, he held good and evil to be relative concepts. This means that nothing is intrinsically good or bad except when related to a particularity. I would rate his Treatise as “R”, because in the opening, he starts with the mental quiescence that results from sex and other sensual endeavors, and relates that to the effects of Riches and Fame, stating that these, too become a preoccupation of the mind. Another name for fame is “honor,” and these values were generally held as important, since they were named in Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics.  Here Spinoza clearly amplifies Aristotle’s critical demeanor, “… the attainment of riches and fame is not followed as in the case of sensual pleasures by repentance, but, the more we acquire, the greater is our delight, and, consequently, the more are we incited to increase. Fame has the further drawback that it compels its votaries to order their lives according to the opinions of their fellow men, shunning what they shun, and seeking what they seek.”

One of the things he’s concerned with here is that men he has seen, who are rich or famous, are placed in danger of their safety, “Examples are no less numerous of men, who have endured the utmost wretchedness for the sake of gaining or preserving their reputation.” Spinoza realized that benevolence was limited by the economy of scale; while one person could not feed all of the poor, the state might be large enough to do it.

For Spinoza, when people discuss good and bad, they mean, “That’s good for humans,” or, “That’s bad for humans.” Nothing is perfect or imperfect in itself, but only the eternal order of nature can determine their place. Presaging Huserl, Spinoza believes that humans cannot cogitate the order of nature itself, but rather their own knowledge of the union that exists between the mind and nature.  In the Ethics, Part III, his position is that human dominion over nature is an illusion,

Here, Spinoza may have been the first philosopher to realize that the function of the mind was not to override the emotions. The emotions rather, for Spinoza, are a passivity of the soul, or perhaps as we say today, human instincts. While he calls a man driven by instinct, one in “bondage”, he carefully replaces the terms, “good and bad”, with, “good, bad, and indifferent”. The opposite of this attitude is the Stoic, which believes that the emotions depend on our will, and that we can govern them.

The ethical imperative, then, for Spinoza is to find the character that best knows nature, emulate that character, and build a society that is the most conducive to the attainment of this character and forge a social order in which this character may be attained by the maximum number with the least difficulty and danger.

Rules of Life from the Treatise
  1. Speak intelligibly to the maximum number of people. (The logic here is that we gain large advantages from the multitude.)
  2. In regards to pleasures, only indulge in those which are healthful.
  3. Get enough of the money necessary for life and health, and follow economic customs.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

How one regards prayer when one doesn't "pray"

I haven't ever been too concerned with this issue, since I’m not a theologian. I have studied the Bible rather heavily, though, having been an atheist from a Christian background, and needing, or wanting to ‘close the loop’, so to speak, on what my former beliefs were. Prayer, however, other than as a form of meditation, only appeared in my life occasionally, such as when an obnoxious theist would say to me that they would, “pray for me,” or were, “praying for me.” I was able to accept this in the way I accepted the notion of being blessed by someone else’s deity, as in, “God bless you!” It may not matter to me at all that I am blessed in such an imaginary way, but I can easily accept that the believer might have had good intentions in expressing it.

However “prayer” is different, since it is, in a way, a caring activity. One “prays” as an intercession for something, either a better world, a better existence, a better self, or for another person. The thing one prays for is always known only to them, and only to others to the extent that they have prayed publicly. This is what came up for me recently when I was told by my son, that my wife had just messaged him that she was at that moment, “praying for me.” I immediately had the smug feeling that atheists always have regarding the relative uselessness of human involvements with the imaginary, however, it did occur to me that there was something else involved here, regardless of the fact that she had made it public to my son, and my son in turn made it public to me, and that is that “prayer”, regardless of what it represents as a deficient form of caring, in that unless it is public, is always a pushing of care towards the imaginary, or towards the self, and not towards the others or the things named in the prayer. By making it public, she and my son, together, were, ‘closing the loop,’ as it were, and making something that otherwise could have been a typical selfish “intercessory prayer” an actual form of communication, and therefore a real form of care, if only by the “miracle” (or coincidence) of my son’s real care for me.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Captive Beauty, or Victims of Curiosity?

I often find myself asking these questions: Are zoos ‘sanctuaries’ for animals, or are zoos merely cross-species prisons? Of course, sometimes animal sanctuaries are necessary, and even a zoo can serve more than one purpose and be an artificial habitat for scientific study, and protective area for breeding species whose natural territory has been harmfully encroached upon in some way, usually by human expansion or other anthropogenic effects.

Are animal sanctuaries that are primarily structured for the needs of humans warranted? Is human curiosity so strong that it demands that locally non-essential species be included into the lifestyles of the species most removed from them, or are zoos merely an accident of history, a cruel accident, perhaps, but one that can be rectified nevertheless?

Obviously human curiosity is very strong and often demands from us sums of money and ‘memberships’ to pay for our urge to partake in the viewing of species offered from a diverse network of continents. For the price of traveling inside my own continent, I can pay for my entire family to view animals from many other continents. What a bargain! This becomes almost a kind of primordial religion, in which one will bear up under substandard concession food offerings and other sufferings, and offer hope that ones favorite animal species has not been removed from display for some reason. Somehow it all seems worth it, though, when the Sun Bear, or Octopus finally makes his appearance.

For most of the existence of modern humans, which science tells us should go back thousands and possibly millions of years, we have lived in a hunter-gatherer relationship with the other species of the biomes we roamed or inhabited, and shifted our locations with the seasons and flow of our needs and that of our prey. In this environment, we hunted another species, used it, or competed with it, or else we would only care about it as an object of curiosity or study. Once agriculture was born, there became less need for people to be nomadic, and the growth of fixed anthromes, areas of human species dominance began to emerge. Human dominance had both beneficial and destructive effects on the existence of other species in their range. Once humans became entrenched in great cities, the die was cast. Large numbers of people would live most of their lives without access to the live animals that were once features of their ancestors’ daily existence.

A funny thing happened to me while I was compiling the material for this essay: I found out that there is no single word for care of animals. This flabbergasted me. There are two words, ‘animal husbandry’, but there is not one word that suffices to describe the care and preparation of animals for market in the way that agronomy describes the care of plants and the soil, and that agriculture describes all of it. I’m not a linguist, and don’t know much of the classics, but this fact makes me suspicious. Does the absence of specific terminology for the preparation for consumption of animals and their products suggest an ancient desire to hide this provision from speech? Was ‘animal husbandry’, meaning the preparation of animal products, including slaughter, considered a vulgar term in the way that ‘butchery’ is? Then the absence of terminology is completely explained. We can keep these animals, harvest their offspring, kill them, and eat them, but those of us who receive those products, the educated populations of the cities, must not talk about it.

Thus the curiosity: Is curiosity towards exotic animals intensified by our new lifestyle of living in a city? Obviously, for city dwellers, our former capacity and will to acculturate or hunt animals was not simply a matter of curiosity, it was a matter of what constituted our proper survival. Nor is it only a matter of ‘simple curiosity’, if we yearn to ‘reinvoke’ that experience by hunting, or otherwise traveling to wilder areas to have new experiences in the vicinity of animals. But to what extent do zoos ‘reinvoke’ the experience of being hunter-gatherers, or even those whom manage animals, whatever we are to call them, by viewing live animals brought into our focus from the wild by an intercontinental network of animal gatherers? I think the answer is that zoos do it minimally, or highly artificially, if at all. Only our curiosity is satisfied in the shallowest way possible. Our viewing and pleasure experience is only a ‘reinvoking’ of these primordial experiences to the extent that the illusion of a natural setting, elected by ourselves voluntarily can be promoted. The rest of it is mere ‘curiosity’, not at all the domain of the noble and knowing homo sapiens, in the way we prefer to portray ourselves, as a species with its own purpose, and a mandate to dominate, in the manner in which we do.

If zoos cannot serve the noble purpose they pretended to, we are still left with many questions. Shouldn’t animals be allowed to compete for existence, as long as they are not endangered? Many biomes are affected by man. Could we at least pass laws that prohibit animals whose biomes are not threatened and whom can be viewed locally and naturally to not be kept in zoos? What about home aquariums? Are these the next to go, or do aquariums constitute a significant aesthetic advance over zoos, warranting their survival on our ethical must-have list?  

If home aquariums and pets are to be phased out, shouldn’t this be a choice of individuals, not that of a government, a choice of personal conscience, in other words? The same applies to zoos. If a zoo provides an adequate service of demonstrating an animal’s existence to humans, isn’t that a ‘humane’ application of captivity?

In much of the world, an opportunity exists for animals to be viewed and/or experienced in the wild. Most of these animals are not dangerous to humans. Wouldn’t it be best if these animals were always experienced in a natural habitat, or on film, and not as a captive subpopulation?

What about certain aspects of the ecology of humans? Humans exist in areas of nature where humans have sustained themselves, which we may call anthromes. It appears that the total of these anthromes are immense and cover a large percentage of the entire land mass of the planet, but this has not always been the case. “Anthropogenic biomes provide a framework for integrating human systems with the biosphere in the Anthropocene.” Anthromes explain the connections and separations that man has with nature better than other distinctions, and they do so historically. Anthromes also show that man has only separated himself from nature by virtue of where and how well he has established himself in his habitat. According to Earl Ellis, one of the founders of the new science, “If we want to live in an environment that is desirable for all of us, it’s up to all of us to make that happen. It’s not going to happen ‘out there’, somewhere, it’s the nature ‘around us’ that matters now.”

Humans are truly interested in the ecology of other animals, and many care for all of them, at least some of the time, as evidenced by the alarm expressed in media regarding extinctions. If harm comes to a species or individual, we might reflect, sympathetically, that we wouldn’t want that harm to fall on us. This is not a weakness, or anything like it, but rather a manifestation of our caring nature as a species, a nature which distinguishes us boldly as a species from most others. Our caring nature is what allows us to sympathize with species and animal individuals under attack, whether by predators, or our own carelessness as the dominant species on the planet.

If humans are on an aesthetic quest, as many of us believe, aren’t we on a mission to turn a mere representation into an entire experience? Perhaps it is not so difficult to understand how the experience of observing animals became an issue of their artificial capture and housing, and how curiosity, and potentially greed, but rarely aesthetics, motivates it? What is there in our ecological conscience, then, that enables us to continue the static exhibit of ‘other’, ‘lesser’, and ‘exotic’ species, if not a passive acceptance and projection of the same exact static and stationary animal stereotypes, and our habit of always automatically forgiving our ‘human’ curiosity, no matter what the cost?  

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Beware: Critique tends not to be Self-Critical

A friend who has over time tended toward criticism, wrote me recently stating that, “... you can't study one philosophical idea without studying all of philosophy, as Arthur C. Danto pointed out.” I realized right away, of course, that this was some sort of fallacy based on appeal to authority, but also having to do with the words, 'one' and 'all'. Since what poor Danto actually wrote, tearing into Wittgenstein, was, “To do philosophy at all means doing all of philosophy at the same time. That means that philosophers cannot be specialists.” (Letter to Posterity) Though this seems a little fallacious in itself, however, it’s much better than the second-hand version.

Now let’s look at the fallacies. Contextomy is the tearing of a quotation to suit a specific purpose. However, here it is based on an appeal to authority, not only based on citing, “all of philosophy”. But here the appeal to authority is strengthened and extended by the imperative, “you can’t study…” 

There’s an important difference in intentions between a student and a philosopher trying to create new definitions, such as was poor Wittgenstein. Let’s even look further by focusing on Danto’s phrase. It seems he has created a false dilemma, the idea that one must be active in all areas, or only one, the fallacy of the excluded middle. It creates a false choice between doing everything, or doing less than that, and being wrong and culpable. So many of our great philosophers, especially the Ancient Greeks indulged in only one or two areas, Plato in ideals and debate, Aristotle in science and language, Kant in sufficient reason and then in absolute morality. Yes, there are great philosophers with products in more than one area, but these philosophers chose freely, after treating one discreet topic acting as, “specialists”, to choose another one. 

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Further on Marx

It was interesting writing something in my last post about what I see as the obvious limitations and failure of Marx's program from the standpoint of the theoretical historical paradigm it was intended to address. One thing I left out was a small yet very important philosophical distinction made by Marx through association with the philosophies of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel and Ludwig Feuerbach. 

Marx continued Hegel’s explicit attack on a priori knowledge. The idea that there were first principles in thinking or principles that didn’t correspond to phenomenology was implicitly rejected by Hegel and marked the beginning of the shift into Marx’s analysis of history occurring in stages based on material causes, including types of ownership, wealth and class struggle.

Interestingly, this most important issue, wealth, was left out of Marx’s writing, because wealth was, to the economists of the time, only considered as an entirety, that measured the results of all of mans activities within a nation. It didn’t matter what individuals accrued, since their wealth was part of what their nation owned anyway. Marx was interested in building a large movement, the International, which needed to attract wealthy individuals as members and donors.

Today we have the internationalist view of wealth, where it doesn’t matter where an individual of a nation invests his wealth; he can send it to other countries, as long as he has earned it. This corresponds directly to a continuing wider distribution of the planet's resources, which more and more include wealth, life styles, and education. 

Yet capitalism is as firmly in place as it ever was, with international programs already aimed at restricting consumption, health and population. Countries like Peru get money from the United Nations for not providing electricity directly through grids to their native peoples, for example, while people die in countries like Ethiopia where governments are currently being paid off for not using pesticides.