Category Archives: mind

The Tortoise and the HareLoon


Achilles glanced up from his writing atop the Tortoise[1] and exclaimed, “Look! The Hare has caught up.”

“No,” said the Tortoise apprehensively, “that isn’t the Hare, but the Hare’s all too clever cousin, the HareLoon.”

“A real HareLoon! I’ve only ever seen them in pictures.”

“Don’t get so worked up. She is always in a hurry but I can never tell if she is coming or going.”

“Ah, but you should know the HareLoon coming and the HareLoon going are one and the same,” said the HareLoon. She then faced Achilles, “I heard that Tortoise had you write many logical steps after starting with a mere three.”

With a wan smile Achilles murmured, “We’ve moved on from that now…”

“Yes” said the Tortoise firmly. “Have you heard of Moore’s Proof of the External World? It is just as short as the three lines of Euclid:

(A) Here is a Hand.
(B) Hands are external things.

(Z) The external world exists.

Achilles said, “We are now in agreement that Z follows logically from A and B. But…”

“But only if we accept A and B, does Z follow,” the Tortoise interjected. “However, I’m skeptical that hands are real at all.”

“Whatever do you mean?” asked the HareLoon, looking rather concerned for Achilles.

“Well, I might just be dreaming that there is a Hand in front of me. Or I could have eaten something disagreeable that is making me imagine things. Or someone is playing a trick on me.” The Tortoise continued, “I need a further statement to guarantee A:

(C) I am not being fooled into thinking a Hand is here.

Achilles cringed, palm to face.

“Fair enough, and I think I know where you are going with this,” said the HareLoon. “But before we worry about the External world, have you a proof of the Internal World?”

“What do you mean: Proof of the Internal World?” asked Achilles.

The HareLoon queried, “Let me ask you first: Would you know a HareLoon if you saw one? If so, please tell me how.”

In an official sounding voice the Tortoise recited: “The chief characteristic of a HareLoon is that it appears to be a Hare at some times, and appears to be a Loon at others.”

“Excellent,” replied the HareLoon. “Would you agree that the HareLoon does not itself change when it takes on these different guises? That is: the appearance of the Loon and the appearance of the Hare are in the thoughts of the beholder.”

“I suppose… The change is in the onlooker,” agreed the Tortoise.

“Then,” continued the HareLoon,

(A’) Here is a HareLoon.
(B’) HareLoons are internal things.

(Z’) The internal world exists.

“I distinctly remember Moore talking about hands and not HareLoons,” grumbled the Tortoise.

“Perhaps, but unlike hands you cannot be fooled into thinking HareLoons exist! We exist when, without change, we can appear to be a Hare or a Loon. Since we have agreed that this change is in your head, you can’t be mistaken about us switching in appearance between Hare or Loon. Hence when you think you see a HareLoon, you do see a HareLoon!

“Very Clever!” returned the Tortoise. “But what we want is the external — not internal — world. You’ve just argued yourself into my head and out of external existence. If you are only in my thoughts, it is a quick matter of logic to say that you aren’t anywhere eles.”

“Why Tortoise, that is the nicest thing you’ve ever said to me! To think, you’ve kept me in mind and maintained my existence, all these years. I should be flattered — or flattened, like you. I would take this paper thin existence (Cogito me papyrum esse, ergo sum)[2] but I don’t think I need to any longer.

“Answer me this: Who lives in this internal world? I’m here, and so are you! We have just agreed that I exist by you thinking, Cogito Ergo Es, and this is just the same as you existing by you thinking, Cogito Ergo Sum. So if I am a figment of your imagination, then so are you.”

“I am most certainly not a figment of my own imagination! You always were Loony, using Hairy reasoning.” said the indignant Tortoise.

“I don’t want to deny my existence any more than you yours, but if, as a quick matter of logic, you exclude others from existing, it loses its sense to say that you exist, either[3]. The only other thing that could have gone wrong is B’, that HareLoons are internal things. So we now have:

(A’) Here is a HareLoon.
(B’’) HareLoons are external things.

(Z) The external world exists.

Achilles shook his head, “You should have known, Tortoise… you can be in your house, but you’re still outside. If only your cousin were here, the Mock-Turtle would say: that while Achilles skill kills and the Tortoise disorders us (what tsuris!), the HareLoon’s Hume’s heir.”

[1] Carroll, Lewis. (1895) What the Tortoise Said to Achilles. Mind 4, No. 14: 278-280.

[2] Bouwsma, O. K. (1949). Descartes’ evil genius. Philosophical Review 58 (2):141-151.

[3] Wittgenstein, Ludwig (1953/2003). Philosophical Investigations: The German Text, with a Revised English Translation. Malden, Ma, Blackwell Pub.
Relevant section §398 quoted below.

Philosophical Investigations §398

(Bold Added)

“But when I imagine something, or even actually see objects, I have got something which my neighbour has not.” — I understand you. You want to look about you and say: “At any rate only I have got THIS.” — What are these words for? They serve no purpose. — Can one not add: “There is here no question of a ‘seeing’ — and therefore none of a ‘having’ — nor of a subject, nor therefore of T either”? Might I not ask: In what sense have you got what you are talking about and saying that only you have got it? Do you possess it? You do not even see it. Must you not really say that no one has got it? And this too is clear: if as a matter of logic you exclude other people’s having something, it loses its sense to say that you have it.

But what is the thing you are speaking of? It is true I said that I knew within myself what you meant. But that meant that I knew how one thinks to conceive this object, to see it, to make one’s looking and pointing mean it. I know how one stares ahead and looks about one in this case — and the rest. I think we can say: you are talking (if, for example, you are sitting in a room) of the ‘visual room’. The ‘visual room’ is the one that has no owner. I can as little own it as I can walk about it, or look at it, or point to it. Inasmuch as it cannot be any one else’s it is not mine either. In other words, it does not belong to me because I want to use the same form of expression about it as about the material room in which I sit. The description of the latter need not mention an owner, in fact it need not have any owner. But then the visual room cannot have any owner. “For” — one might say — “it has no master, outside or in.”

Think of a picture of a landscape, an imaginary landscape with a house in it. — Someone asks “Whose house is that?” — The answer, by the way, might be “It belongs to the farmer who is sitting on the bench in front of it”. But then he cannot for example enter his house.

You’ve tossed the grin out with the cat.

Posted in metaphysics, mind, philosophy.

Risky Kakanomics

Gloria Origgi writes:

This is an application of the theory of kakonomics, that is, the study of the rational preferences for lower-quality or mediocre outcomes, to the apparently weird results of Italian elections. The apparent irrationality of 30% of the electorate who decided to vote for Berlusconi again is explained as a perfectly rational strategy of maintaining a system of mediocre exchanges in which politicians don’t do what they have promised to do and citizens don’t pay the taxes and everybody is satisfied by the exchange. A mediocre government makes easier for mediocre citizens to do less than what they should do without feeling any breach of trust.

She argues that if you elect a crappy politician, then there is little chance of progress, which seems like a bad thing. People do this, though, because maintaining low political standards allows people to have low civic standards: if the politicians are corrupt, there is no reason to pay taxes. Likewise, the politicians who have been elected on the basis of being bad leaders have no incentive to go after tax cheats, the people who put them in office. Hence there is often a self-serving and self-maintaining aspect to making less than optimal decisions: by mutually selecting for low expectations, then everyone cooperates in forgiving bad behavior.

This account assumes that bad behavior of some sort is to be expected. If someone all of a sudden starts doing the ‘right thing’ it will be a breach of trust and violating the social norm. There would be a disincentive to repeat such a transaction again, because it challenges the stability of the assumed low quality interaction and implied forgiveness associated with it.

I like Origgi’s account of kakonomics, but I think there is something missing. The claim that localized ‘good interactions’ could threaten the status quo of bad behavior seems excessive. Criticizing someone who makes everyone else look bad does happen, but this only goes to show that the ‘right’ way of doing things is highly successful. It is the exception that proves the rule: only the people in power — those that can afford to misbehave — really benefit from maintaining the low status quo. Hence the public in general should not be as accepting of a low status quo as a social norm, though I am sure some do for exactly the reasons she stated.

This got me thinking that maybe there was another force at work here that would support a low status quo. When changing from one regime to another, it is not a simple switch from one set of outcomes to the other. There can be transitional instability, especially when dealing with governments, politics, economics, military, etc. If the transition between regimes is highly unstable (more so if things weren’t that stable to begin with) then there would be a disincentive to change: people won’t want to lose what they have, even if it is not optimal. Therefore risk associated with change can cause hyperbolic discounting of future returns, and make people prefer the status quo.

Adding high risk with the benefits of low standards could make a formidable combination. If there is a robust black market that pervades most of the society and an almost certain civil unrest given political change (throw in a heavy-handed police force, just for good measure), this could be strong incentive to not challenge an incumbent government.

Posted in economics, game theory, mind, philosophy. Tagged with , , , .

The Rationality Cone

There are different sorts of constraints on thought.  We forget things, we fail to infer consequences of our beliefs and we have features of perception, like blind spots, that affect our understanding of our surroundings.  We also can be greatly affected by our emotions: when we are angry — when we see red — we are unable to see the anything but the things that are making us mad; when we are infatuated we are, conversely, unable to see anything wrong with our object of desire.

This account of emotional states — moods — is interesting because moods affect our overall reasoning ability.  Given one mood, we will be able to make certain inferences; given another, we will make different inferences.  Moreover, what seems to be a rational inference in one mood may be irrational in another mood.

At this point we have thought, which is comprised of our knowledge, perception and deductions we make, and mood, which modifies and constrains thought.  If we consider the situation over time, then at any point a person has a history of thoughts and moods, which has led up to the current state, and a potential future of moods and thoughts based on where that person is now.   Going from one mood to another, or one thought to another, can only be done within a limited range, i.e. no thoughts or moods can be completely detached from prior thoughts or moods.  This gives us a perspective on the relation between rationality, consciousness and thought:

Considering a person’s consciousness at some point, we can map what we consider rational and irrational based upon the potential mood and thought changes.  Any possible future belief (a combination of thought and mood) will be a combination of changes in prior moods and thoughts.  Beliefs that require too great a change in both thought or mood may be outside the realm of rationality for a person, while beliefs that require little effort will fall within the realm of rationality.  Hence, the rationality cone

Rationality Cone Diagram

The Future Rationality Cone illustrates how, given changes in thought or mood, a person’s beliefs can become different from their current beliefs.  The edge of the cone is the limit of what that person could possibly rationally believe:  anything outside the edge requires too great a jump in thought or mood from where they currently are.  Any point inside the cone represents a set of beliefs that the person could rationally have, given different circumstances.  The bottom half of diagram shows the past rational states that could have led up to the current state, as represented by the Past Rationality Cone.


If the above scheme is familiar, it is because it is modeled on the Light Cone from physics; the diagram is from the linked Wikipedia page.  I always found it fascinating that the light cone implies that there is part of the universe immediately surrounding each of us that we can never physically access.  Likewise, there are thoughts and moods that are just like our own that appear irrational to us—even if they are not—because they fall outside our capabilities.  Other people could, however, have these thoughts because their rationality cones are not exactly aligned with our own, or they started from another location, which enabled them to access that part of the mental universe.

Posted in metaphysics, mind, philosophy, physics.

Consciousness Dilemma, take 2

Back in January I wrote up a post on what I believe to be a major problem in the study of consciousness. Now, with the introduction of Consciousness Online (started by the estimable R. Brown), I feel my dilemma should get some renewed attention.

Here’s the argument:

  1. Assume someone knows what consciousness/mind is.
  2. If someone knows something, then it is part of his or her consciousness.
  3. If someone knows what consciousness is, then his or her consciousness has a part that contains consciousness.
  4. Therefore someone has a consciousness that contains consciousness.

Up until this point I am willing to grant that all this is possible. Our consciousness may be able to contain itself within itself. But could we write it down?

  1. We can only write or say finite things.
  2. If someone’s consciousness contains consciousness, then their contained consciousness contains consciousness itself and so on ad infinitum; this person’s consciousness has a self referential infinite regression.
  3. Writing down what consciousness is would require us to write something infinite.
  4. Therefore we cannot write down/ say what the consciousness is.

One might think that we would still be able to figure out pieces and put them together to get the full picture, and use terms like ad infinitum to represent some infinite, but comprehensible, process. However this would require us to know that the picture that we were putting together was an accurate one.  The only way to know that we were putting together an accurate picture would be to already have an overall theory of consciousness that we knew to be correct. Hence the piecemeal approach begs the question.

With no bottom up method possible, nor any top down method available, even if someone were to discover what consciousness is, she wouldn’t be able to tell anyone.  Therefore we will never have a full understanding of our consciousness.

So the dilemma is to come up with a story about philosophy of mind (and associated disciplines) while necessarily lacking a story about consciousness. Anyone have anything to say?

Posted in mind, philosophy, science. Tagged with , , , .

Where Does Probability Come From? (and randomness to boot)

I just returned from a cruise to Alaska. It is a wonderful, beautiful place. I zip-lined in a rain forest canopy, hiked above a glacier, kayaked coastal Canada and was pulled by sled-dogs. Anywho, as on many cruises, there was a casino, which is an excellent excuse for me to discuss probability.

What is probability and where does it come from? Definitions are easy enough to find. Google returns:

a measure of how likely it is that some event will occur; a number expressing the ratio of favorable cases to the whole number of cases possible …

So it’s a measure of likelihood. What’s likelihood? Google returns:

The probability of a specified outcome.

Awesome. So ‘probability as likelihood’ is non-explanatory. What about this ‘ratio of favorable cases to the whole number of cases possible’? I’m pretty wary about the word favorable. Let’s modify this definition to read:

a number expressing the ratio of certain cases to the whole number of cases possible.

Nor do I like ‘a number expressing…’ This refers to a particular probability, not probability at large, so let’s go back to using ‘measure’:

a measure of certain cases to the whole number of cases possible.

We need to be a bit more explicit about what we are measuring:

a measure of the frequency of certain cases to the whole number of cases possible.

OK. I think this isn’t that bad. When we flip a fair coin the probability is the frequency of landing on heads compared to the total cases possible, heads + tails, so 1 out of 2. Pretty good.

But notice the addition of the word fair. Where did it come from, what’s it doing there? Something is said to be fair if that thing shows no favoritism to any person or process. In terms of things that act randomly, this means that the thing acts in a consistently random way. Being consistently random means it is always random, not sometimes random and other times not random. This means that fairness has to do with the distribution of the instances of the cases we are studying. What governs this distribution?

In the case of of a coin, the shape of the coin and the conditions under which it is measured make all the difference in the distribution of heads and tails. The two sides, heads and tails, must be distinguishable, but the coin must be flipped in a way such that no one can know which side will land facing up. The shape of the coin, even with uniform mass distribution, cannot preclude this previous condition. Therefore the source of probability is the interdependence of physical conditions (shape and motion of the coin) and an epistemic notion (independence of knowledge of which side will land up). When the physical conditions and our knowledge of the conditions are dependent upon each other then the situation becomes probabilistic because the conditions preclude our knowing the exact outcome of the situation.

It is now time to recall that people cheat at gambling all the time. A trio of people in March 2004 used a computer and lasers to successfully predict the decaying orbit of a ball spinning on a roulette wheel (and walked out with £1.3 million). This indicates that after a certain point it is possible to predict the outcome of a coin flipping or a roulette ball spinning, so the dependence mentioned above is eventually broken. However this is only possible once the coin is flipping or the roulette ball is rolling, not before the person releases the roulette ball or flips the coin.

With the suggestion that it is the person that determines the outcome we can expand the physical-epistemic dependence to an physical-epistemic-performative one. If I know that I, nor anyone else, can predict the outcome until after I perform a task, then the knowledge of the outcome is dependent upon how I perform that task.

This makes sense because magicians and scam artists train themselves to be able to perform tasks like shuffling and dealing cards in ways that most of us think is random but are not. The rest of us believe that there is a dependence between the physical setup and the outcome that precludes knowing the results, but this is merely an illusion that is exploited.

What about instances in which special training or equipment is unavailable; can we guarantee everyone’s ability to measure the thing in question to be equal? We can: light. Anyone who can see at all sees light that is indistinguishable from the light everyone else sees: it has no haecceity.

This lack of distinguishability, lack of haecceity (thisness), is not merely a property of the photon but a physical characteristic of humans. We have no biology that can distinguish one photon from another of equivalent wavelength. To distinguish something we have to use a smaller feature of the thing to tell it apart from its compatriots. Since we cannot see anything smaller, this is impossible. Nor is there a technology that we could use to augment our abilities: for us to have a technology that would see something smaller than a photon would require us to know that the technology interacted at a deeper level with reality than photons do. But we cannot know that because we are physically limited to using the photon as our minimal measurement device. The act of sight is foundational: we cannot see anything smaller than a photon nor can anything smaller exist in our world.

The way we perceive photons will always be inherently distributed because of this too. We cannot uniquely identify a single photon, and hence we can’t come back and measure the properties of a photon we have previously studied. Therefore the best we will be able to accomplish when studying photons is to measure a group of photons and use a distribution of their properties, making photons inherently probabilistic. Since the act of seeing light is a biological feature of humans, we all have equal epistemological footing in this instance. This means that the epistemic dependence mentioned above can be ignored because it adds nothing to the current discussion. Therefore we can eliminate the epistemic notion from our above dependence, reducing it to a physical-performative interdependence.

Since it is a historical/ evolutionary accident that the photon is the smallest object we can perceive, the photon really is not fundamental to this discussion. Therefore, the interdependence of the physical properties of the smallest things we can perceive and our inherent inability to tell them apart is a source of probability in nature.

This is a source of natural randomness as well: once we know the probability of some property that we cannot measure directly, the lack of haecceity means that we will not be able to predict when we will measure an individual with said property. Therefore the order in which we measure the property will inherently be random. [Assume the contradiction: the order in which we measure the property is not random, but follows some pattern. Then there exists some underlying structure that governs the appearance of the property. However, since we are already at the limit of what can be measured, no such thing can exist. Hence the order in which we measure the property is random.]


If I were Wittgenstein I might have said:

Consider a situation in which someone asks, “How much light could you see?” Perhaps a detective is asking a hostage about where he was held. But then the answer is, “I didn’t look.” —— And this would make no sense.

hmmmm…. I did really mean to get back to gambling.

Posted in biology, epistemology, evolution, fitness, independence friendly logic, logic, measurement, mind, philosophy, physics, Relativity, science, Special Relativity, technology. Tagged with , , , , .

A note on epistemology

Justified true belief does not yield knowledge, and everyone should know this by now. Beyond Gettier’s argument, is this tack I heard given by Jaakko Hintikka:

You may believe something, fine, and have whatever justifications you wish. But how do you know the thing is true?

The point he was making was that far beyond the issue of problems in having the right sort of justifications is the problem of having truth as well. Whenever the Justified-true-belief scheme is used for knowledge the truth of the thing in question is whitewashed over: all the focus is put on the justification and the truth is assumed to exist separately.

For example if I make a claim P, then I clearly believe P, I will need to give justifications x, y, z, etc., and P needs to be true for me to count P to be part of my knowledge. The first two conditions are easy enough for me to demonstrate according to some standards, even if skepticism is still an issue. However, I, nor anyone else, has any ability to demonstrate the truth of P in ways over and above whatever I have given as my justification. Therefore Justified-true-belief reduces to Justified-belief, which no one accepts as knowledge.

Between this argument and Gettier, I see the Justified-true-belief scheme of knowledge as beyond saving. To recover some sense of knowledge, we can focus on this idea:

If you know something, then it is not possible to be mistaken.

There are two ways of dealing with this conditional. First, you can make your definition of what it is to know something always correspond with whatever you cannot be mistaken about. Besides being ad hoc, this sliding scale for knowledge does not correspond very well with what we generally take to be knowledge.

Secondly, we can make what it is not possible to be mistaken about correspond to our knowledge. Although you have already called foul, hear me out. If you were to find out certain things were wrong you might start to doubt your own sanity. For example if you were to find out all the basic things you ‘know’ were wrong – there is no such place as the United States, water is not comprised of oxygen and hydrogen, subjects and verbs are one and the same, you are currently not reading, etc., – you would have reason to worry (at least I would).

Therefore I suggest that knowledge is comprised of things that if they were to be false, then we would not be able to claim we were sane. This definition makes a distinction between things we can be mistaken about and things we cannot be mistaken about. To be mistaken about this second type of thing would entail an unacceptable consequence: if you are insane then you cannot claim to have knowledge.

Is this ad hoc, as above? No, because the definition of what would classify you as insane does not refer to knowledge specifically. For example take the statement, “If x, y and z are false then I am crazy.” No mention of knowledge whatsoever. Therefore this definition is not ad hoc.

Does this definition of knowledge correspond to our intuitions? Very much so: it is based specifically upon the everyday experiences we have and our most established theories of the world.

What about skepticism: can’t we always be mistaken? The skeptic here is asking us to imagine the unimaginable. If we do as the skeptic asks, then we would be required to imagine ourselves to be insane and tell the skeptic what we think as insane people. I can’t do this- I don’t even have a guess as to how to go about trying to do this.

In the end you are wagering your sanity in order to have a claim to knowledge. However, there is no danger in this bet because you hold all the cards: you know what you can imagine to be different. Therefore you gain a theory of knowledge and lose nothing.

Posted in argumentation, epistemology, mind, philosophy, wittgenstein. Tagged with , .

Psychopharmacological Enhancement

The only ways to enhance the mind is to learn or evolve. Since evolution is out of our hands, all that is left is to learn.

Drugs that purport psychopharmacological enhancement do not do what their name states: they may change certain psychological factors but there is no drug that will make you smarter. This would be to eat from the tree of knowledge.

However drugs may be able to let you do things that you were unable previously, but this is nothing mysterious. If you do not breath enough oxygen, you will not be able to run. You get enough oxygen, you will be able to do more things. Now is oxygen a performance enhancing drug? It depends: the World Anti-Doping Agency recently ruled on oxygen tents (tents that vary the amount of oxygen inside) because using these tents can affect red blood cell counts. This example illustrates two things: that there is nothing inherently special about any particular chemical, be it oxygen or a newfangled drug, and secondly, that drugs only affect intermediary situations, not the final outcome.

The first point is that there is no moral dimension associated with the chemicals themselves. If it is possible to use the most fundamental of chemicals required for our survival in a way that could be seen as inappropriate, then any other chemical could be equally accused. If any chemical can be equally accused, then there is nothing unique about any individual chemical that makes its use morally wrong.

The second point is that drugs only have a specific range of effects. In the above example, the oxygen tents affect red blood cell count. An increased red blood cell count can be used to boost endurance, but this benefit will only appear under certain situations. The tents themselves do not increase endurance: they merely increase red blood cells. If a different drug was consumed to weaken the muscles, then the two ‘drugs’ would counteract each other and there would be no change in ability. Therefore it is not a drug that gives people an ability, such as endurance, but a drug may change how an ability is expressed.

The question is (and always was), “What do you want?” Since drugs have no moral dimension nor imbue the user with unknown (super-human) ability, the only issue is of fair play. Fair play in terms of other people and with your own goals. If you want to be able to lift heavy things, then you can use a machine, you can use drugs or you can work hard. Using a machine or drugs is to use someone else’s technology to assist whatever ability you have. If you use discipline to achieve the same results, then the technology that is being used is your own. Therefore if you are trying to play fair with others, then you have to ensure everyone has access to the same technology, be it machine or drug. If you are trying to achieve something yourself, then only you know whether or not using drugs makes a difference.

As we learn what is safe(r), we are going to have a fun future. Nothing changes our natural born ability or the hard work we have put in, but that has never stopped us from trying. Better drugs are on the way and this means options will be open to us that weren’t possible in the past. Good luck, be safe, have fun.

Posted in biology, ethics, evolution, fitness, mind, philosophy, technology. Tagged with , , , , .

Computers, Intelligence and the Embodied Mind

This interview with Hubert Dreyfus (just the parts about computers: part 1, part 2. via Continental Philosophy) briefly outlines one of the major criticisms leveled against artificial intelligence: computers will never be intelligent because our intelligence is based upon our physical interactions in and with the world. Very briefly, our intelligence is fundamentally tied to our bodies because it is only through our bodies do we have any interaction with the world. If we separate our intelligence from the body, as in the case with computers, then whatever it is that the computer has, it is not intelligence because intelligence only refers to how to bodily interact with the world.

As Dreyfus says this problem is attributed to a Merleau-Ponty extension of Heidegger and the only proposed solution is to embody computers by providing them with a full representation of world and body. I don’t think there is generally much faith in this solution; I certainly don’t have much faith in it.

However, this bodily criticism is a straw man. Computers have ‘bodies,’ they are definitely physical things in the world. But what of the physical interactions required for intelligence? Computers interact with the world: computers are affected by heat, moisture, dirt, vibration, etcetera. The only differences are the actual interactions that computers have as compared to humans: we experience humidity one way and they experience it differently. So yes, computers will have different interactions and hence they will never have the same intelligence that we have, but that does not imply that computers cannot have an embodied intelligence. It only means that computer embodied intelligence will be significantly different than our own intelligence. Therefore the above argument against computer intelligence only applies to those people who are trying to replicate perfect human intelligence and does nothing against people trying to create intelligence in computers.

For example, light-skinned and dark-skinned people have very slightly different physiologies. Now I see the above argument as saying that someone of different skin color cannot have the same sort of intelligence that you have because their interactions with the world are inherently different. Sure, everyone experiences things slightly differently due to having different bodies, but to claim that this creates incompatible intelligences is obviously wrong: No one on the face of the earth would be able to communicate with each other due to everyone being physically unique.  Computers may be physically different to a greater extent, but this does not impact intelligence.

The criticism of computer intelligence based upon the need for a body is no more than subtle techno-racism.

Posted in metaphysics, mind, philosophy, science, technology. Tagged with , , , , .

Intentionality is Dead

After Buddha was dead, his shadow was still shown for centuries in a cave–a tremendous, gruesome shadow. God is dead: but given the way of men there may still be caves for thousands of years in which his shadow will be shown.–And we–we still have to vanquish his shadow, too.
~F. N.

If want to study the mind, we believed that we needed to understand intentionality:

Intentionality is the power of minds to be about, to represent, or to stand for, things, properties and states of affairs. —SEP

However intentionality is nowhere to be found. Intentionality is supposed to give us everything, it is the power of the mind, but in giving us everything, it itself is nothing.

These are the cases:

  1. Intentionality is the mark of all mental states.
  2. Intentionality is the mark of some mental states.

If intentionality exists in every mental activities, it’s then on par with ‘It’s raining or it’s not raining,’ and just as vacuous: any and every mental activity would be intentional implying that ‘mental activity’ = ‘intentional activity’. It is a distinction without a difference.

On the other hand allow for some mental things being intentional and other mental things not being intentional, i.e. the intentional is a subset of some greater mental activity. Then we’ve conceded that we aren’t asking about what we are or how we do what we do, but labeling a subset. I’m all for getting things labeled correctly, but we’ve thrown out the baby with the bathwater.

Intentionality is dead. Whatever use we have gotten out of it in the past we should be thankful for but it is time to move on.

Long live Commitment

I stated in my metaphysics that conscious things make commitments. We are committed to doing certain things at certain times and other things at other time because of other commitments we have made. If we are committed to remembering someone’s birthday, then we take steps to ensure that we know what time of year that person was born. If these steps include some power of the mind ‘to be about, to represent, or to stand for, things, properties and states of affairs,’ so be it, but all these things are secondary to the commitment initially made.

Some may call foul at this point: The objection to intentionality above applies to commitment and hence I am not practicing what I preach. If everything is a commitment then commitment is just as vacuous a concept as intentionality was accused of being.

Yes commitment is fundamental and hence may appear vacuous to some, but commitment comes with an internal structure that intentionality lacks. Intentionality is a power of the mind. Powers lack any internal structure: they act without having a more fundamental thing causing them to act, else that thing would be the power.

Say I am committed to my friends’ happiness and because of this commitment I send them cards on holidays. Commitments allow for structured derivative commitments, e.g. being committed to my friends’ happiness means I am committed to sending out letters and a commitment to sending out letters means a commitment to remembering and recording addresses. This food chain of commitments that is created, where the smaller commitments become part of bigger commitments which are part of even bigger commitments (with all sorts of interrelations between chains), gives us plenty of relations to investigate. Therefore it is true that analyzing a single commitment alone will get you no nowhere (e.g. analyzing a commitment to recording addresses) but analyzing groups of commitments will be far from vacuous.

Understanding ourselves and how we do what we do requires us to have a perspective on commitment, which I’ve discussed in briefly in my metaphysics. As meager an analysis as I am currently able to provide, it is still more than I felt we had before. Commitments determine our perspectives on certain situations and our perspectives likewise determine our commitments. Through analysis of our commitments and our perspective on things, we can understand how and why we do what we do. I don’t mean this to be a merely theoretical point but a practical one as well: we try to accomplish different things for specific reasons and when asked, we are able to give those reasons. Sometimes we have to preface our explanations with a description of how we perceived the situation to justify actions that seem unreasonable in hindsight, but this is all part of how we actually do and explain things.

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Are Paradoxes Meaningless?

Aaron Cotnoir has suggested that people think that paradoxes are meaningless.  I think they are lucky that they hadn’t suggested that to me unless they wanted to see me freak out.

It was my good fortune to have my first real exposure to the work of Frege, Russell and Wittgenstein be from Thomas Ricketts.  I can’t remember verbatim what he said, but this is close:

No one knows how long it took Frege to understand what Russell had written in his letter (Russell’s Paradox), be it a few seconds, a minute, ten minutes or a few hours.  But we do know that at that moment his entire universe collapsed.

Only out of gross ignorance of history can anyone believe that paradoxes are meaningless.  Frege’s project up until Russell came along and spoiled everything was, at least in part, to give a firm foundation for mathematics based solely upon logic.  With just a few laws coupled with his newfound quantification he was able to provide a seemingly consistent theory and then also provide sophisticated philosophy of language to bolster his views.

There was probably a moment when Frege allowed himself to dare to think he’d solved one of the greatest mysteries of the universe.  Not only had he legitimately and demonstrably changed mathematics forever, but the ramifications of his theory were obviously far-reaching into philosophy and science.  Then Russell sent him that letter that struck at the very axioms of his theory.  It was a jugular shot and I can’t see Frege feeling other than like all the blood had been drained from his body.  Everything he had worked for was put in jeopardy.

So if anyone believes that paradoxes are meaningless, I suggest to go read some history.  Paradoxes can destroy. Any theory that comes along and says paradoxes are meaningless, is garbage.

Posted in logic, metaphysics, mind, philosophy. Tagged with , , , , , , , .