All posts for the month January, 2005

Still working my way through Searle, but reading a 1952 booklet of essays by William Hubben on Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Dostoevsky and Kafka. “Easily the most straightforward and easily understandable introduction to existentialism” says William Barrett (author of Irrational Man 1958, covering pretty much the same subjects).

Kierkegaard said …
“Life must be understood backwards, but lived forwards”
“Irony is the keenest medium for truth”
“Papers … published contrary to the will of the author”
(by a pseudonymic alter-ego, Phaedrus ?)
“The more concrete and positive we are in speaking about [it], the lower is the level of comprehending [it]”
(Wordsworth – “We murder to dissect” ?)
(Dostoevsky – “The lullness and death of order” ?)
“Belief is something to be lived, not comprehended in abstracto
(Some things have to be believed to be seen ?)

I’ve now read about 40% of Searle’s “Mind”.

For most of the first third he is outlining Philosophy of Mind issues, mainly stemming from Descartes (and other disasters, as he puts it). He outlines the classic mind / matter problems, the standard refutations, and his arguments against the refutations and alternatives. I found myself screaming “No!” at the pages; all just a bit too pat and naive I thought. In one or two places he is very dismissive of alternatives views (Stapp’s quantum based mindfulness for example) and very anti the motives of many arguments – clinging to the defense of religiously held beliefs, etc, rather than positing credible new arguments, he says.

My main disagreements with the arguments so far, has tended to be too naive a view of “physics” and narrow (poorly defined) use of terms like mental, conscious, physical, material, substance, etc. Basic stuff, and over simplified Turing-machine brain-as-computer, mind-as-software metaphors. Schoolboy errors. (I have loads of notes to document my alternative views of the problems, refutations and arguments, but it seems futile, given …

… anyway – good news – in “Consciousness Part I”, ” … forget about history and traditional ways of thinking” he says, let’s just look at what we know. I say history is useful for understanding why things are in the mess they are, and the (religious) intentions behind many of the traditional mind-matter distinctions, but whilst helping avoid pitfalls, it can actually block progress in understanding. Effectively he is saying many of the problems and arguments around Philosophy of Mind are semantic misunderstandings around the traditional terminology. So we’re agreeing there.

He says the solution to the mind-matter problem really is that simple … mentality really is neuro-biological, with chemical / phsyical explanations. The only problem ever was what we though we meant by the mind-matter ontological split.

I still think I’m a “physicalist”, but not “reductionist” (effectively a good old “materialist”, but with a wide definition of “physical”), an epiphenomenologist, but without abandoning causation – roughly, mental is emergent from physical. As a self-proclaimed “biological naturalist” he makes some distinctions worth recognising however ….

Ontological distinctions, classifications, whilst binary, need not be exclusive in terms of entity membership – what is being classified is “aspectual” – an entity is being classified “in terms of” some aspect or properties, or “in some respect” – ie there is a “basis” for its classification.

For “mental” things, a first-personal, subjective ontology exists, whch may not map usefully to any third-personal, objective ontology – (ref qualia, spectrum reversal conundrum). This first person ontology includes “meaning” as well as intrinsic properties.

Identity remains a key knotty problem, given multiple ontological descriptions of the “same” thing. There are functional, intentional distinctions, as well as intrinsic properties, but these are really the first-person ontological distinctions

Causation is not all about sequencing of distinct events – there is an emergent simultaneous causation of underlying continuous micro-effects – like force fields.

Many descriptions are “logically possible” but not “interesting”, not likely to be of any use. (Motorcycle engine made comprising and arrangement of atoms, etc.) There are appropriate “levels” of description. (Interesting + appropriate = pragmatic IMHO)

(He excludes any possibility of “consciousness” existing separate from any material substrate … unnecessarily in my view … but I’d need to expand of “consciousness” to make sense. I’m tempted to use an “ethereal vs substantial” ontology rather than the traditional “mental vs physical”. Substantial is pretty much res-extensa, but the complement is not res-cogitans.)

I’ve just started reading John Searle’s latest, “Mind – A Brief Introduction”.
Interestingly, David Chalmers (see two posts earlier) is credited as a reviewer and also appears in the bibliography.

So far I’ve just done the 7 pages of introduction, and already getting that impatient “Oh fer chris’sakes get on with it” feeling – but hang on a minute …

When he says “How can something subjective like pain exist in a world of physical particles … How can your intention, not part of the phsyical world, cause your physical arm to move … ?” I can’t help jumping in with the observation that the world hasn’t existed as fundamentally comprising physical particles in any physicists mind for a century or more, let’s move on. Thought and particles are surely equally manifestations of the same world of physics – emergent from disturbances in the chaotic void or whatever. Why contemplate anything more mystical ? Although he hints at the significance of recent neurobiological research into consciousness, he doesn’t give any clue as to the significance of “new” physics later in the book – but here’s hoping.

When he talks of subjectivity and qualitativeness he is getting closer. In fact he goes on to make his main distinction between apects of the world that are observer-dependent and observer-independent. I’ve been heard to utter the mantra “objectivity is over-rated” on one or two occasions. A second distinction he sets up is between intrinsic (original) intentionality [eg of a map maker] and derived intentionality [eg in the information symbolicaly represented on a map]. Crucially he concludes his introduction with the point that these two binary classifications are systematically related – derived intentionality is always observer-dependent. Hooray, perhaps we will navigate our way to San Jose after all.

(Aside – As part of neutral information modelling activities, I’ve long been an advocate of the essential [intrinsic] vs functional [intentional] human artefact axis of taxonomy or “deemed” ontology. Intent is THE key dimension of any knowledge model in the real human world, IMHO natch.)

(HOLD – read a negative review of Galdwell’s Blink in the NYT, courtesy of the UK’s Daily Telegraph – too much sloppy intuition – link & comments to follow.)

When I saw this picture it said something.

(Susan Blackmore and David Chalmers, picture courtesy of David’s archives on the conferences of the Centre for Consciousness Studies, Tuscon, Arizona. That centre is currently run by Stuart Hameroff. David Chalmers, the original director, is back in Canberra, running the ANU Centre for Consciousness.)

Interesting review of this conference here by Charles Whitehead in the Journal of Consciusness Studies – very critical of lack of progress. Something I see all the time – people peddling their own canoes, people analysing and finding fault, even the reviewer, but no-one synthesising constructively. Totally binary – everyone is wrong or right – no-one partly right.

In this case Whitehead is complaining about the lack of mainstream social anthropology in the proceedings, peddling his own story of course. He concludes …

[Quote] There are many reasons why social anthropology has a crucial role to play in
consciousness science, but I have only space to mention two:

(1) Universals of human mentation and behaviour can only be established
by cross-cultural research.
(2) Cross-cultural data reveal that it is the job of human culture to obfuscate
our view of ourselves and the world we live in.

Science is, at least potentially, a metacultural project. The great power and value
of science lies in its ability to emancipate us from the negative aspects of our own
cultural heritage, including the collective deceptions that created the ?problem of
consciousness? in the first place. As that problem has a deceptive origin, then
consciousness science is not really a science at all, since its ultimate goal must be
to render itself obsolete, or claim all other sciences as its own. [Unquote]

ie my idea of social anthropology is better than my definition of your view of science – yah, booh, sucks – grow up. Who cares whether it’s called science or anthropolgy – what is being sought is credible explanation, useful for prediction. Obviously the “problem” of consciousness lies in is its original deception – but how can someone say that whilst dismissing (say) memetics out of hand in the previous breath. Gimme constructive synthesis, not destructive analysis.

” … if consciousness cannot affect the body … ” do me a favour. Who could hold such a dumb idea, without some perverted definition of consciousness ?

Interesting summary / review, none-the-less.

I’ve had an angle for some time (since before the manifesto) that adding technology to a system that is not already reasonably automatic, almost invariably makes matters worse. Introduction of new IT systems for example bring new process constraints whose downside may often outweigh the value of the system itself, since the value of ad-hoc human processes are easily overlooked in the formal system design. (Dr James Willis work has documented many examples of this in healthcare.) Another thread in this blog is that communications immediacy means misinformation that is easily communicated can prevail over “better” (truer) information that is less easy to communicate (ie the spread of toxic memes. For Blackmore, objectivism itself is the toxic meme.). This has always been part of my motivation to find knowledge models that adapt to the softer, subjective human components of knowledge, like motivation to name but one.

Anyway, having re-acquainted myself with Brian Josephson’s web-site, in the previous post, I find a row concerning the “arxiv” physics paper pre-print archive hosted at Los Alamos on behalf of the theoretical physics community. Apparently the upload of contributors papers can be banned by an administrator simply switching a flag based on the author’s name or the source of the paper, prior to any review of validity of content – quite the antithesis of anonymous peer review. Brian is one of a number of Nobel Laureates fighting against that kind of prejudice. Was it Mark Twain who said “A man with a new idea is a crank until he succeeds”

I was interested by this quote on the Archive Freedom home page, from physicist Louis deBroglie, as long ago as 1974 … “The new ideas here triumphed; but, in proportion as the organization of research becomes more rigid, the danger increases that new and fruitful ideas will be unable to develop freely.”.

Increasing control of organisation through technology is dangerous. Enabling and decision support can be technological, but control should remain human (or fail-safe) in anything but the simplest of contexts.

Well maybe not. I picked-up on this paper on the “Technosophy” site of Terry Alden’s, because of a search hit on the 22 in my Catch-22, only to find a whole culture of synchronicity around the number 22 (and 23 ?). Anyway, some of it is probably too mystic and new age, but the particular paper linked has a neat folksy expose of first principles philosophy and its relevance to information, evolution and technology (McLuhan’s “Medium”), and in a religious context too. (Dualism of bio-info-mental technology and external technology too.)

Also has an essay called “Occam’s Electric Shaver” – though I can only find an outline, not the text ? Anyway, a neat turn of phrase and a neat concept – warning that complexity is a valid part of any world description, despite Occam’s original adage.

Following-up Alden, I see a crossover with Digital Falcon (in the side-bar), and links leading ever deeper into “occult” areas – aliens & reptiles etc – common references to the works of Robert Anton Wilson, Timothy Leary and Christopher Hyatt to name a few. Read with caution, but even this Reptilian Agenda (full of politically motivated paranoia) is built on germs of reality – the evolved brain having distinct animal (reptilian) lower stem, social (limbic) mid-brain and intellectual (cortex) higher brain motivations – this is Jung, Maslow, Pirsig, etc al.

Feel a bit like Josephson again and his paranormal interests. This stuff may well contain an overwhelming dose of bad science, and doubtful motives, but that shouldn’t make it taboo to study with an open mind. (The Nobel Prize-winning Josephson is campaigning against bad science used to refute paranormal phenomena, which expose prejudice in science itself – scientific propaganda in fact.)

…. were the words of Robert Kilroy-Silk leaving the UK Independence Party yesterday.

Don’t know why I blogged that, since I sympathise with neither he nor UKIP, but it’s a week or two since I blogged and I had to start somewhere …

Been a tough couple of weeks, not least because I had another Spyware / Trojan attack, that I could only fix by a complete re-build. Still, the home PC needed a bit of housekeeping.

Talking of which, my latest news is that whilst I have the same vision and strategy, the family and I have some new plans. I’m starting work with a new employer based in Perth, Australia, more on which later, but for now I have one or two things to get organised.