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Man Of The World
Saturday, 13 January 2007

This blog format is too slow. It's hard to create posts, it takes forever to load, and i'm sure at least one person among the mostly bots thought about leaving a comment but didn't have until next month for the interface to come up.

 So I'm moving to

Posted by gadianton2 at 7:10 PM
Wednesday, 27 December 2006
random stuff
Topic: Mind

Hope all the bots out there had a good christmas. I put a better write up of what I was trying to say in my last post here:

 it's long but more clear than my last post here which i won't bother to edit. so far, everyone seems to agree with me. hahahaha.

 I'm about 60 pages into Chalmer's, I like his writing and presentation style. I would say that if someone had to read one book on mind it should be this one just for the care he takes in clearly spelling out by the various philosphical concepts he makes use of.

One note I did want to make on supervenience since that's the chapter on now and a related issue arose on Clark's blog. I'd written months ago that many take issue with the zombie argument on the grounds that they only care about what's possible in this world (nomic), not what's "logically possible". But this intuition I think can be countered by proposing the logical possibility of a one for one physically identical world where Hitler's actions were moral. To say that's absurd, requires us to buy into logical supervenience.

Posted by gadianton2 at 8:41 AM
Tuesday, 19 December 2006
I haven't had time to get any topics together in the last few days. Every day is a hangover, got to sober up a little so it's not so much work to think. haha. I'm a few pages into Chalmers' "The Conscious Mind." I like his writing so should be smooth sailing.

Posted by gadianton2 at 10:34 AM
Monday, 11 December 2006
Bridging the Gap
Topic: Mind

For all you bots out there, I've been meaning to finish Dennett's consciousness explanation but no time. Where I left it, there was the issue of getting from something like, the best case scenario of blindsight proto-consciousness to normal color vision consciousness. His answer is basically to either increase sample rates or to lower expectations. He talks about a totally gay looking device built in the 70's that blind people can put on their eyes which then translates the visual input to taps on the stomach. Supposidly the subjects who used it got very good at navigating around. But surely, they didn't "see" anything like we see things. To drive the point home, he noted that when viewing a Playboy, it didn't do much for them. I think what Dennett meant to say here, is that the 20th generation device of that kind might give an experience similar to normal vision. That sounds kind of crazy, but imagine bats echolocating. If we could echolocate with the precision of the bat, what would that be like? Is it possible the experience would be something akin to "seeing"?

The other possibility is lowering expectations. Could someone get used to that level of experience and eventually be "turned on" by a lower sample rate? Well, anyone who's been 13 (or 23!) and discovered that on older tv's, tuning in between channels when connected to basic cable can result in a very snowy cinamax adult movie experience, which nevertheless can be quite exciting. Expectations are probably built up in other ways independent of "raw input." Someone blind from birth with now fully restored vision and brought up let's say in an culturally isolated environment and presented with an adult magazine after a sight restoration surgery might not experience what we expect.

Finally, I want to mention he brings up a very important point about the continuity of experience - this of course factors in to the above when talking about the right bit rate in order to achieve a full, conscious life. To put it in my own words, if your eye was shaped like a keyhole, you'd be oblivious to any keyhole-like experience. There is no reason to believe we'd experience anything but a flowing, continuous-like representation of the world no matter how disjointed the input is objectively. And he gives a number of experiences to show just how clumsy human vision really is. But absent something to compare it too, there is no reason to think experience would be anything but continuous. And a higher bit-rate isn't necessarily the key to a more intense experience. If we could be operated on an achieve such intense vision that we could see on a microscopic level from a few feet away, gawking at a supermodel would completely loose its appeal. In fact, cultural norms of beauty rest somewhere below our maximum bit-rate abilities to perceive. We like flesh represented with some airbrush and music with reverb.

Of course, I still haven't found the direct answer to my minimal consciousness quesiton. He's imaginary interlocutor, Otto, brings up good points, but always misses calling him on "seeming".

Posted by gadianton2 at 2:16 PM
Wednesday, 6 December 2006
D's Qualia from another angle
Topic: Mind

One of the things about Dennett is that he insists his theory is just a sketch. That might be important to remember because, where there seems to be unresolved issues that needs answers, perhaps he's just offering any more details leaving his words open to reading things in he didn't intend. I've jumped around in the second half of "..explained.." still looking for an explicit denial of what I'd call "minimal qualia" or, "the phenomena is in the mistake". Obviously, he denies "redness" and so on. But as Searle insists (and it's an obvious concern I'm sure many have), what is the mistake of thinking one is perceiving red? Can computers for instance, mistakenly think they are perceiving something red? Again, trashcaning the formal project of phenomenology, of a science that rigidly grounds objective perception, is far easier to accept than denying that two seconds ago I at least SEEMED to feel a pain in my arm. That's the point Searl attacks Dennett on, the obvious point to attack him on, but I don't see where he explictly makes this case. In favor of this case, from his words, the most important part of the book is in the first couple chapters where he's making the case that there's no central place in the mind where it all comes together in a unified stream. If this is true, then there is no single place for "redness" to come together, or even the "seeming" of redness to come together. BUT, he frequently  uses the language, "it only seems that way" when talking about colors and sensations. How does it "seem that way?" If there is a single narrative track at the top of the heap, can something "seem that way" to "it" even if we'd deny that there is "anything it is like to be" a person - who is at best the "center of gravity" of numerable narratives?

I haven't said anything new there, just yet another summary of what I've said a few times now. To add a few brush strokes to Dennett's incomplete picture, we have to talk about what consciousness is to Dennett - the positive case. There is in animals and computers the ability to calculate, to take inputs from the environment, process them, and respond. But this isn't consciousness. It might be thinking. But consciousness is "second order" thinking. Or, thinking about thinking. When you're driving, your brain is doing all kinds of calculations, taking in all kinds of visual information which isn't part of that narrow "stream" we like to think of as our conscious experience. And that would-be stream also just happens to be the supposed "what it is to be like" of other philospers. Qulia is then a subset (or perhaps the entirety) of this "what it is to be like." So that means, the positive case for what the "mistake" of qualia is, will be encompased by second order thinking. If we understand second order thinking, we'll understand the mistake we call qualia.

Now Dennett doesn't have a clear answer for what second order thinking is, but he's got a research project for trying to understand it. We can get almost to the end of Dennett's thesis by his considerations of blindsight. I've talked about that before as perhaps the archtypical case for phenomenal consciousness. A person with damage to visual centers in the brain for a certain sweep of visual input can't "see" anything but can report with surprising accuracy simple stimula present in that field. Dennett's star subject is a guy who can track the motion of a fast pinlight and mimick its path by hand gestures. When asked if he's conscious of the motion, he replies (something like), "of course I am, how else could I show you what it's doing?" So Dennett argues this special case of blindsight is different than the general case, and the difference turns on this second order awareness, which becomes the crude link between thinking and the "mistake" of qualia.

The last thing I'll probably have to report about this book is the section where he talks about the difference between this special case of blindsight and normal vision. This blindsight example is the foot in the door, but there has to be a fuller version to account for the most clear examples of would-be quale that we think we perceive. And I think at that point, there won't be much else to go on in reconciling "minimal qualia" with computation.


I realize that last sentence could be misconstrued as reductionist which isn't Dennett's goal, he wants to eliminate qualia altogether. But there has to be some way of maping the discussion in the language on both sides of the fence and that's what I'm trying to do. When Ammon stood before King Lamoni, he inquired,

"believest thou in a Great Spirit?"


"This Great Spirit is God!"

Even though Ammon believed God is a super powerful extraterrestrial, not a great spirit, he had to find a way to couch his thesis in the language of his audience. So even if we want to be eliminative towards "Great Spirit" or "Qualia", I think the language can be taken with a grain of salt for instructional purposes.

Posted by gadianton2 at 12:21 PM
Monday, 27 November 2006
Intents and Drafts
Topic: Mind

I braved a fairly long and boring stretch of Dennett's book over the last few days, things are picking up a little now. He's been exploring the "architecture" of the mind. This has him talking about virtual machines, neural nets, and schemes by which "drafts" rise to power. A lot of this stuff I've covered in other posts. The one thing I found interesting was his discussion of intentions and how that fits into multiple drafts. Since there is no center "where it all happens" there is no single entity standing in an intentional relation to something else.  He's attacking the (obviously oversimplified) idea that we always mean what we say. Sometimes we just say, and then later invent a story about how we meant it. There are two important things going on in these cases. In a Freudian slip, for instance, there is intuitively not a single producer, but (at least) two producers which blend their voices. And then he notes we are not always intending and then picking out the right words, but often pick out the words, er, "memonically", the "real intent" never to be found.


Posted by gadianton2 at 2:14 PM
Thursday, 16 November 2006
Topic: Mind

Not having a lot of reading time lately, but I've got a little farther in Dennett's book. Now, I knew Dennett was a fan of Dawkin's "meme" theory (not many professional philosophers are btw), but I hadn't really considered before to what end. Sure, it would be tied to modularity, but he's explicit that memes are in fact what consciousness is. The mind is, as he says, a bunch of memes and the brain, a sufficient hardware platform to download them. Wild. And convenient. Of course, here we're talking about access consciousness, not phenomenal, which Dennett thinks either doesn't exist or is meaningless (as I've said, I can't pin him down on this one, despite what others say about him). So memes make up the kind of consciousness that solves problems, makes decisions, and so on.

More interesting to me was his argument for the brain as a machine.  It's similar to Fodor's but instead of focusing on language, he's talking computation. Fodor says that thinking resembles language (hence LOT) which then resembles formal logic which of course can be reduced to recursion, or computing. Dennett talks about Turing's project as an introspection into mind and the computing hypothesis as the end result. So to Dennett, computing follows directly when sitting down and plotting out what thinking is step by step. It's an interesting argument, I'll give him that. To put it another way, people normally think about computers as one thing and psychology or minds as another. Somewhere along the way, somone had the bright idea to use computers as a model of the mind, or to mimick what the mind can do. But Dennett is saying that the very idea of computing fell out naturally when Turing made his attempt to understand the mind. So the two things were closely related from the beginning.

Posted by gadianton2 at 12:41 PM
Wednesday, 8 November 2006
Multiple Drafts
Topic: Mind

I'm about 150 pages into Consciousness explained. It's a little harder to follow than I expected. I also have to say I'm enjoying it less than his online essays. He drags out the points he's trying to make to the extant that, if you have a bad memory like me, by the time you finish an argument you've got to go back to see what was at stake in the first place. I get the feeling this was calculated. He's trying to build up expectations of a gut-busting feast to come by relishing, with great arrogance, the appetizers. Well, some of that frustration is exaggerated by reading a one-time controversial book 15 years later. At any rate, the mundane parts of the book, as I can get through them, are well worth it. And by that I mean his history of cognitive science to that point. The experiments that he's drawing off of and explains in detail are fascinating enough in their own right and deserve a book for non-experts.

Dennett's belief is that within all branches of knowledge that feed into cognitive science from neuroscience to philosophy, the language of consciousness is permeated by what he calls "Cartesian materialism" even though virtually no one official adheres to such a doctrine. He argues that the standard working model of consciousness is like a filmstrip. The movie you watch on the weekend has the content that it does because it was filmed, and the places where it drifts from reality could either be because of something like, inserting propts into the movie before hand, or editing the rough product. If I've got Dennett right, then get rid of the studio, the director, and the stage crew, and let the reels and microphones run live. Why would we not just do that anyway? The problem raises its head in numorous counter-intuitive psych experiments. For instance, a device is put on the wrist, elbow, and upper arm. The device taps the wrist a few times, then the elbow, then the upper arm. The brain "interprets" (notice the guy in the studio sneaking in to watch, to do the "interpreting") this as taps moving up the arm and so the subject reports something like a rabbit hopping up his arm rather than taps localized at the wrist, and then some more localized at the elbow and so on. For Dennett, get rid of all the talk in the middle about the brain making calls. You have multiple input and calculation streams going on, and you have reports from the "subject". The editing room version of this story would take the first set of taps, wait, then get the second and third set of taps in, do some splicing and touch ups and then give a final presentation to the "subject" for reporting. But Dennett's point seems to be since there is no movie project, there is no one in the editing room to know in this case we've got to wait for the second and third set of reels. And how could that be known anyway? The brain doesn't know that two more set of taps are coming up. And the experiments show that if those don't follow, the subject feels the taps merely on his wrist as expected. Now, getting rid of the "Cartesian" language is hard to do and visualize what's going on and this makes following Dennett a little difficult because he keeps the heavy onslaught of verbiage coming. They key, I guess, is to get rid of any temptation to describe the experiments in terms of "I" felt this and then that, because the "I" already presupposes a single, pure stream of post-editing room consciousness running. So imagine two streams, say audio and video that sometimes run slightly out of sync, and that's all there is to the story. Don't imagine watching and listening and trying to put the two tracks together, because now you're innocently falling into the trap. And once you've gone down that road, you can't stop. You must imagine another guy in the head of the first guy in your head to worry about how the audio and visual inputs are being sorted out in his mind. There is no way to make the story first-person comprehensible.

Well, none of that on its face could possibly be that disputable. It's the implications Dennett supposidly draws. But like I've asked before, is he arguing for radical phenomenal skepticism or is he trash-caning phenomenology? Most people will come away from a basic modern philosophy class having come to believe grounding knowledge is impossible, but still believe they know things. I don't see why phenomenology would be any different. I think the same people who make it through philosophy 102 and still believe they know something can still believe, rationally, that they feel pain even if they come to disbelieve pain exists in real, discrete quantae that can be formally described. I'm not yet convinced Dennett is arguing the strong thesis. Every summary I've read of Dennett presents him this way, but I haven't found the smoking gun yet in his own words from my own reading of him. Dennett presents the common sense view most people hold to as typified in Descartes pineal gland, the mysterious unknown and very, very small part of the brain that connects disembodied mental with physical. I wonder though if that isn't on its surface just symptomatic of a deeper problem, and one that would encompass Dennett's view as well, Descartes introduction of representational knowledge. Anyway, that's for another post.

The last thing I want to mention is when I read Dennett, as I've posted before, I try to think of experiences I've actually had which have something to do with the points he makes. A strange thing used to happen to me frequently a few years ago (trying hard to embellish as little as possible). I'd wake up, open my eyes, and then fear I'd woke up right before my alarm goes off. My alarm isn't loud, but it's nerve grinding, and I prefer to wake up before it goes off so I can flick the switch and not hear it. In these cases, I wake up, open my eyes, fear, and then within a subjective second, have my fears confirm and the alarm goes off. After it happened a couple of times, I thought to myself, "How can I be so unlucky?" Or, how can my wake/sleep cycle be that precise? This was before I had read anything about cognitive science. After it happened a few times though I decided that the alarm was waking me up but somehow there was a delay in my perception of it. And that last sentence is loaded with the mistakes Dennett is talking about.

Posted by gadianton2 at 10:53 AM
Friday, 3 November 2006
Dennett and Pinching
Topic: Mind

Trying to keep pace on breadth, I'm about 100 pages into Dennett's "Consciousness Explained." I'm not big into long books and Dennett just drags on - his online essays are much better for me. He spends a lot of time talking about how our intuitions are often wrong, perhaps more wrong than right. Following his friend Richard Rorty, he wants to destabalize "indubitibility", specifically by showing how scientific third person accounts cast doubt on first person reports. The question though of course, and one I still have after reading his essays online, is how far he intends to take this. If qualia become meaningless, does that mean we really don't feel anything? There is a huge gap between a scientific phenomenology project like Husserl's and feeling anything - absolutely anything. A parallel problem people might be more familiar with is found in epistemology. No one has succeeded at solving to problem of knowledge. No one has succeeded at defining what science is. But does that mean there is no such thing as knowledge, do we become radical skeptics? Most people who reject the project of modern philosophy still believe they know things or believe that science works differently than religion. Is it any surprise that a formal phenomenology would also fail in a similar way to epistemology? And if it does, do we become radical phenomo-skeptics who quit believing we "feel pain"? More to the point, is that what Dennett is asking us to do?

This is important, because Searle, for instance, rejects Dennett by asking us to pinch ourselves and then demand, "now say there is no such thing as qualia!" Searle insists on what I'd call minimal qualia, that the phenomena is in the mistake. But there is a huge difference between that minimal thesis and phenomenology. There is certainly no guarantee either that if the minimal thesis is true, that phenomenology is possible. So by buying something akin to Meditation two it doesn't necessarily follow we can get to three, four and five. So the question is, does Searle (and others) create a strawman or is this really what Dennet thinks? Dennett hasn't tackled this issue head on from what I can tell.

Posted by gadianton2 at 8:35 AM
Final Final Searle..(for now)
Topic: Mind
One more thing I wanted to say about Searle is he got me thinking about a couple very important issues, I just didn't post much about them because I don't feel like I have enough of a handle on them (and limited time lately). One of those things involves the relation between causality and functionality, and apparently this is a big one for Searle given the guy buys multiple realizability, brain function as connectionist (and digital), and claims the brain is just a machine - but yet thinks functionalism is insanity. I touched on this in the last post but it needs a lot more space. I think this might be a case of therapeutic analysis, that is, to show why Searle is for all intents and purposes a functionalist - or even a computationalist.  A functionalist with perhaps the right externalist account that perhaps doesn't yet exist. David Chalmers and Ned Block have both provided some framing for Searle's problems that given Searle's refutations of Roger Penrose's anti-AI arguments, I have a hard time seeing how he can refuse. Chalmers for instance argues that if you get the computation tuned right, the causality falls into place. Anyway, that's all flagged for follow up - I can't shed any more light on the problem now.

Posted by gadianton2 at 8:33 AM

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