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philosophy/​mind directory


“Perception in Real-time: Predicting the Present, Reconstructing the Past”, Hogendoorn 2021

2021-hogendoorn.pdf: “Perception in real-time: predicting the present, reconstructing the past”⁠, Hinze Hogendoorn (2021-12-29; ; backlinks; similar):

  • We feel that we perceive our environment in real-time, despite the constraints imposed by neural transmission delays.
  • Due to these constraints, the intuitive view of perception in real-time is impossible to implement.
  • I propose a new way of thinking about real-time perception, in which perceptual mechanisms represent a timeline, rather than a single timepoint.
  • In this proposal, predictive mechanisms predict ahead to compensate for neural delays, and work in tandem with postdictive mechanisms that revise the timeline as additional sensory information becomes available.
  • Building on recent theoretical, computational, psychophysical, and functional neuroimaging evidence, this conceptualization of real-time perception for the first time provides an integrated explanation for how we can experience the present.

[cf. Bachmann 2013] We feel that we perceive events in the environment as they unfold in real-time. However, this intuitive view of perception is impossible to implement in the nervous system due to biological constraints such as neural transmission delays. I propose a new way of thinking about real-time perception: at any given moment, instead of representing a single timepoint, perceptual mechanisms represent an entire timeline. On this timeline, predictive mechanisms predict ahead to compensate for delays in incoming sensory input, and reconstruction mechanisms retroactively revise perception when those predictions do not come true. This proposal integrates and extends previous work to address a crucial gap in our understanding of a fundamental aspect of our everyday life: the experience of perceiving the present.

[Keywords: perception, time, prediction, real-time, neural delays]

Postdiction reconstructs the perceptual past: A key feature of this proposal is that the perceptual timeline can be updated, revised, reinterpreted, and overwritten as new information (sensory or otherwise) becomes available. This means that the subjective experience of past events can be affected by later events. Importantly, in this account, these postdictive mechanisms do not violate the law of causality because it is the represented past, not the physical past, that is revised.

Figure 1 illustrates how this allows the presentation of a second disc to affect the perception of events leading up that event in the Colour Phi effect⁠. In this phenomenon, observers view 2 differently coloured discs presented in different positions in quick succession (Figure 1A). This creates the percept of a single disc jumping from one position to the other, changing colour midway. As in Box 1, rows in Figure 1B indicate the contents of the perceptual timeline at the 3 (physical) timepoints t0, t1, and t2. Broken squares indicate timepoints for which sensory input is not yet available, and asterisks mark the represented present.

At t0, the first available sensory evidence indicates that a disc has been detected. This is represented at the appropriate moment. Future representations may also be activated, depending on prior expectations of the disc’s duration. At t1, subsequent sensory evidence suggests the disc was an isolated flash. Any earlier prediction is discarded and empty space is represented for the moments following the flash. When the second disc is detected at t2, the timeline as a whole is postdictively reinterpreted as a moving disc. The timeline is revised, such that the disc is represented in intervening locations at intermediate moments.

Figure 1: Postdiction.

…A final implication of the current proposal is that there is no hard natural boundary between perception and memory. Rather, there is a continuum between the 2: as perceptual representations become older, they become degraded, compressed, or summarised, gradually becoming experiences of a past event in a way that is typically called episodic memory⁠. This continuum between perception and memory is consistent with previous discussions of consciousness more broadly 26 and postdiction specifically [14], where retroactive revisions of past events are known to take place on timescales ranging from subsecond [14,27] to months or years [28].

“Why Computers Don’t Need to Match Human Intelligence: With Continuing Advances in Machine Learning, It Makes Less and Less Sense to Compare AI to the Human Mind”, Lee 2021

“Why Computers Don’t Need to Match Human Intelligence: With continuing advances in machine learning, it makes less and less sense to compare AI to the human mind”⁠, Kai-Fu Lee (2021-12-16; ; backlinks; similar):

Speech and language are central to human intelligence, communication, and cognitive processes. Understanding natural language is often viewed as the greatest AI challenge—one that, if solved, could take machines much closer to human intelligence.

In 2019, Microsoft and AliBaba announced that they had built enhancements to a Google technology that beat humans in a natural language processing (NLP) task called reading comprehension. This news was somewhat obscure, but I considered this a major breakthrough because I remembered what had happened 4 years earlier. In 2015, researchers from Microsoft and Google developed systems based on Geoff Hinton’s and Yann Lecun’s inventions that beat humans in image recognition⁠. I predicted at the time that computer vision applications would blossom, and my firm made investments in about a dozen companies building computer-vision applications or products. Today, these products are being deployed in retail, manufacturing, logistics, health care, and transportation. Those investments are now worth over $20 billion. So in 2019, when I saw the same eclipse of human capabilities in NLP, I anticipated that NLP algorithms would give rise to incredibly accurate speech recognition and machine translation, that will one day power a “universal translator” as depicted in Star Trek.

…What is the nature of this NLP breakthrough? It’s a technology called self-supervised learning…Are we about to crack the natural language problem? Skeptics say these algorithms are merely memorizing the whole world’s data, and are recalling subsets in a clever way, but have no understanding and are not truly intelligent. Central to human intelligence are the abilities to reason, plan, and be creative.

One critique of deep-learning-based systems runs like this: “They will never have a sense of humor. They will never be able to appreciate art, or beauty, or love. They will never feel lonely. They will never have empathy for other people, for animals, or the environment. They will never enjoy music or fall in love, or cry at the drop of a hat.” Makes sense, right? As it turns out, the quotation above was written by GPT-3⁠. Does the technology’s ability to make such an accurate critique contradict the critique itself?

…I believe it’s indisputable that computers simply “think” differently than our brains do. The best way to increase computer intelligence is to develop general computational methods (like deep learning and self-supervised learning) that scale with more processing power and more data. As we add 10× more data every year to train this AI, there is no doubt that it will be able to do many things we humans cannot do.

Will deep learning eventually become “artificial general intelligence” (AGI), matching human intelligence in every way? I don’t believe it will happen in the next 20 years. There are many challenges that we have not made much progress on—or even understood—such as how to model creativity, strategic thinking, reasoning, counterfactual thinking, emotions, and consciousness.

I would suggest that we stop using AGI as the ultimate test of AI. Soon deep learning and its extensions will beat humans on an ever larger number of tasks, but there will still be many tasks that humans can handle much better than deep learning. I consider the obsession with AGI to be a narcissistic human tendency to view ourselves as the gold standard.

“Psychedelics Alter Metaphysical Beliefs”, Timmermann et al 2021

“Psychedelics alter metaphysical beliefs”⁠, Christopher Timmermann, Hannes Kettner, Chris Letheby, Leor Roseman, Fernando E. Rosas, Robin L. Carhart-Harris et al (2021-11-23; ; similar):

Can the use of psychedelic drugs induce lasting changes in metaphysical beliefs? While it is popularly believed that they can, this question has never been formally tested.

Here we exploited a large sample derived from prospective online surveying to determine whether and how beliefs concerning the nature of reality, consciousness, and free-will, change after psychedelic use.

Results: revealed statistically-significant shifts away from ‘physicalist’ or ‘materialist’ views, and towards panpsychism and fatalism⁠, post use. With the exception of fatalism, these changes endured for at least 6 months, and were positively correlated with the extent of past psychedelic-use and improved mental-health outcomes. Path modelling suggested that the belief-shifts were moderated by impressionability at baseline and mediated by perceived emotional synchrony with others during the psychedelic experience.

The observed belief-shifts post-psychedelic-use were consolidated by data from an independent controlled clinical trial⁠.

Together, these findings imply that psychedelic-use may causally influence metaphysical beliefs—shifting them away from ‘hard materialism’. We discuss whether these apparent effects are contextually independent.

…We compared NPB scores before attending a ceremony involving psychedelic use (baseline) with NPB scores 4 weeks and 6 months after the ceremony. Pooling scores for the NPB factor, analyses revealed a statistically-significant shift away from physicalism at 4 weeks compared with baseline (t(121) = 3.66, p = 0.001, d = 0.33, 95% confidence interval [0.12, 0.39]). These changes were sustained 6 months after the ceremony (t(121) = 5.07, p < 0.0001, d = 0.46, 95% CI [0.22, 0.50]) (Figure 1a). Larger effect-sizes were found for respondents who were embarking on their first psychedelic experience (the so-called ‘psychedelic naïve’), with statistically-significant changes found at 4 weeks (t(52) = 3.85, p = 0.001, d = 0.53, 95% CI [0.21, 0.66]) and 6 months (t(52) = 5.32, p < 0.0001, d = 0.73, 95% CI [0.36, 0.80]) (Supplementary Figure 1a). Analyses of each individual item for the NPB factor revealed increases in notions of transcendentalism, mind-body dualism, and panpsychism—among others, with some changes remaining statistically-significant for 6 months (see Figure 1b-left and Supplementary Figure 1b for findings for ‘naïve’ respondents). Additionally, a statistically-significant positive correlation was found between previous psychedelic use and shifts away from the hard-materialism pole of the hard-materialism vs. hard-dualism spectrum (Figure 1b-right) at baseline (r = 0.223, p < 0.0001).

Validation with data from a controlled clinical trial: To test the validity and replicability of our findings, we included items corresponding to the NPB in a double-blind randomized controlled trial comparing a group (n = 30) receiving psilocybin therapy with another undergoing a 6-week course of escitalopram (n = 29) (See “Methods” for details of trial design).

Results replicated well across the independent studies. That is, a statistically-significant drug versus time (before treatment and 6 weeks after) interaction was observed (F(56) = 3.13, p = 0.041, one-tailed). More specifically, post-hoc tests reveal that shifts away from hard materialism were evident in the psilocybin group only (Z = 2.28, p = 0.02, d = 0.45). The escitalopram group showed no changes in NPB (Z = 0.24, p = 0.33, d = 0.2). (Figure 5a). Importantly, consistent with the above-reported findings of a relationship between belief shifts and positive mental health outcomes, statistically-significantly greater shifts away from hard materialistic beliefs (the NPB factor) were found for those patients who showed a clinically meaningful response to psilocybin only (response is defined as at least 50% reduction in depression scores from baseline to week 6), versus those who showed a response to escitalopram (Z = 1.74, p = 0.041, g = 0.56, 90% CI [−0.17, 1.26]) (Figure 5b). Finally, we found that the belief-shifts in the psilocybin condition were largely correlated with positive endorsement of an unifying spiritual principle (measured at the same timepoints as metaphysical beliefs; see “Supplementary Methods” for the items used), indicating that changes in metaphysical beliefs are related to changes in spiritual beliefs, and are specific to the action of psychedelics versus a conventional antidepressant drug (Figure 5c).

Figure 5: Consistent shifts away from physicalism after psilocybin therapy for depression: (a) statistically-significant shifts away from hard physicalism were only seen for psilocybin and not the escitalopram condition at the 6 week endpoint versus baseline (Bonferroni-corrected; p-values and Cohen’s d effect-sizes shown). (b) Greater belief-shifts in the predicted direction were found for treatment responders in the psilocybin condition versus responders in the escitalopram group (p value and Hedges’ g effect size shown). (c) Shift in non-physicalist beliefs were statistically-significantly associated with increases in ‘Spiritual Universality’ (STS scale) at the 6-week endpoint versus baseline, and this was specific for the psilocybin group (ie. it was not seen in the escitalopram group).

“The Psychology of Philosophy: Associating Philosophical Views With Psychological Traits in Professional Philosophers”, Yaden & Anderson 2021

2021-yaden.pdf: “The psychology of philosophy: Associating philosophical views with psychological traits in professional philosophers”⁠, David B. Yaden, Derek E. Anderson (2021-04-27; ⁠, ⁠, ; similar):

Do psychological traits predict philosophical views?

We administered the PhilPapers Survey, created by David Bourget and David Chalmers, which consists of 30 views on central philosophical topics (eg. epistemology, ethics, metaphysics, philosophy of mind, and philosophy of language) to a sample of professional philosophers (n = 314). We extended the PhilPapers survey to measure a number of psychological traits, such as personality, numeracy, well-being, lifestyle, and life experiences. We also included non-technical ‘translations’ of these views for eventual use in other populations.

We found limited to no support for the notion that personality or demographics predict philosophical views. We did, however, find that some psychological traits were predictive of philosophical views, even after strict correction for multiple comparisons⁠. Findings include: higher interest in numeracy predicted physicalism, naturalism, and consequentialism; lower levels of well-being and higher levels of mental illness predicted hard determinism; using substances such as psychedelics and marijuana predicted non-realist and subjectivist views of morality and aesthetics; having had a transformative or self-transcendent experience predicted theism and idealism.

We discuss whether or not these empirical results have philosophical implications, while noting that 68% of our sample of professional philosophers indicated that such findings would indeed have philosophical value.

Table 5: Pre-registered hypothesized relationships between psychological traits and philosophical views. The Anti-Naturalism factor consists of the following items (from Bourget & Chalmers 2014): Freewill: Libertarian, Mind: Nonphysicalism, God: Theism, Meta-Philosophy: Non-Naturalism, Zombies: Metaphysically Possible, and Personal Identity: Further Fact. statistically-significantly correlated items from the Anti-Naturalism factor are shown indented and in italics, whereas non-significantly correlated items from the Anti-Naturalism factor are not shown. As these hypotheses were planned (and pre-registered), they are not corrected for multiple comparisons. ✱p < 0.05. ✱✱p < 0.01.

“The Cartesian Folk Theater: People Conceptualize Consciousness As a Spatio-temporally Localized Process in the Human Brain”, Forstmann & Burgmer 2021

2021-forstmann.pdf: “The cartesian folk theater: People conceptualize consciousness as a spatio-temporally localized process in the human brain”⁠, Matthias Forstmann, Pascal Burgmer (2021; ; similar):

The present research (total n = 2,057) tested whether people’s folk conception of consciousness aligns with the notion of a “Cartesian theater” (Dennett⁠, 1991).

More precisely, we tested the hypotheses that people believe that consciousness happens in a single, confined area (vs. multiple dispersed areas) in the human brain, and that it (partly) happens after the brain finished analyzing all available information. Further, we investigated how these beliefs are related to participants’ neuroscientific knowledge as well as their reliance on intuition, and which rationale they use to explain their responses.

Using a computer-administered drawing task, we found that participants located consciousness, but not unrelated neurological processes (Studies 1a and 1b) or unconscious thinking (Study 2) in a single, confined area in the prefrontal cortex⁠, and that they considered most of the brain not involved in consciousness. Participants mostly relied on their intuitions when responding, and they were not affected by prior knowledge about the brain. Additionally, they considered the conscious experience of sensory stimuli to happen in a spatially more confined area than the corresponding computational analysis of these stimuli (Study 3). Furthermore, participants’ explicit beliefs about spatial and temporal localization of consciousness (ie. consciousness happening after the computational analysis of sensory information is completed) are independent, yet positively correlated beliefs (Study 4). Using a more elaborate measure for temporal localization of conscious experience, our final study confirmed that people believe consciousness to partly happen even after information processing is done (Study 5).

[Keywords: Cartesian Theater, neuropsychology, consciousness, lay theories, philosophy of mind]

“Loyal to the Group of Seventeen’s Story—The Just Man”, Wolfe 2018

1983-wolfe-thecitadeloftheautarch-thejustman: “Loyal to the Group of Seventeen’s Story—The Just Man”⁠, Gene Wolfe (2018-01-20; ⁠, ⁠, ⁠, ⁠, ⁠, ; backlinks; similar):

Short story on the limits of propaganda and ‘Newspeak’ using a constructed language; from Chapter 11 of Gene Wolfe’s The Book of the New Sun, volume 4, The Citadel of the Autarch.

“Loyal to the Group of Seventeen’s Story—The Just Man” is a philosophical short story told in Chapter 11 of Gene Wolfe’s The Book of the New Sun, volume 4, The Citadel of the Autarch, on the topic of the Ascian language & political control of language for brainwashing.

The story is told by a prisoner of war from a totalitarian society based on Maoist China, which has gone past Orwell’s Newspeak to speak only in quotations from propaganda texts. The prisoner is nevertheless able to flexibly order & reuse quotes to tell a story about the struggle of a good man oppressed by injust officials, criticizing the government and his society’s failure to uphold its ideals.

This story demonstrates the hope that control of thought by control of language is necessarily weak, because a new language can be constructed out of the old one to communicate forbidden thoughts.

“What Insects Can Tell Us about the Origins of Consciousness”, Klein 2016

“What insects can tell us about the origins of consciousness”⁠, Andrew B. Barron and Colin Klein (2016-04-18; ; similar):

[rebuttal] How, why, and when consciousness evolved remain hotly debated topics. Addressing these issues requires considering the distribution of consciousness across the animal phylogenetic tree.

Here we propose that at least one invertebrate clade, the insects⁠, has a capacity for the most basic aspect of consciousness: subjective experience. In vertebrates the capacity for subjective experience is supported by integrated structures in the midbrain that create a neural simulation of the state of the mobile animal in space. This integrated and egocentric representation of the world from the animal’s perspective is sufficient for subjective experience. Structures in the insect brain perform analogous functions. Therefore, we argue the insect brain also supports a capacity for subjective experience.

In both vertebrates and insects this form of behavioral control system evolved as an efficient solution to basic problems of sensory reafference [sensory signals that occur as a result of the movement of the sensory organ] and true navigation. The brain structures that support subjective experience in vertebrates and insects are very different from each other, but in both cases they are basal to each clade. Hence we propose the origins of subjective experience can be traced to the Cambrian⁠.

“Surprisingly Turing-Complete”, Branwen 2012

Turing-complete: “Surprisingly Turing-Complete”⁠, Gwern Branwen (2012-12-09; ⁠, ⁠, ⁠, ; backlinks; similar):

A catalogue of software constructs, languages, or APIs which are unexpectedly Turing-complete; implications for security and reliability

‘Computers’, in the sense of being Turing-complete, are extremely common. Almost any system of sufficient complexity—unless carefully engineered otherwise—may be found to ‘accidentally’ support Turing-complete somewhere inside it through ‘weird machines’ which can be rebuilt out of the original system’s parts, even systems which would appear to have not the slightest thing to do with computation. Software systems are especially susceptible to this, which often leads to serious security problems as the Turing-complete components can be used to run attacks on the rest of the system.

I provide a running catalogue of systems which have been, surprisingly, demonstrated to be Turing-complete. These examples may help unsee surface systems to see the weird machines and Turing-completeness lurking within.

“The Last Magic Show: A Blind Brain Theory of the Appearance of Consciousness”, Bakker 2012

2012-bakker.pdf: “The Last Magic Show: A Blind Brain Theory of the Appearance of Consciousness”⁠, R. Scott Bakker (2012-04-17; similar):

According to the latest estimates, the human brain performs some 38 000 trillion operations per second. When you compare this to the amount of information that reaches conscious awareness, the disproportion becomes nothing short of remarkable. What are the consequences of this radical informatic asymmetry?

The Blind Brain Theory of the Appearance of Consciousness (BBT) represents an attempt to ‘explain away’ several of the most perplexing features of consciousness in terms of information loss and depletion. The first-person perspective, it argues, is the expression of the kinds and quantities of information that, for a variety of structural and developmental reasons, cannot be accessed by the ‘conscious brain.’ Puzzles as profound and persistent as the now, personal identity, conscious unity, and most troubling of all, intentionality, could very well be kinds of illusions foisted on conscious awareness by different versions of the informatic limitation expressed, for instance, in the boundary of your visual field.

By explaining away these phenomena, BBT separates the question of consciousness from the question of how consciousness appears, and so drastically narrows the so-called explanatory gap. If true, it solves the hard problem. But at what cost?

“RE: After 4th Path: What Do To?”, Ingram 2012

“RE: After 4th Path: What do to?”⁠, Daniel M. Ingram (2012; backlinks; similar):

…let me state here what I mean by 4th path, regardless of what anyone else means by it. It has the following qualities:

  1. Utter centerlessness: no watcher, no sense of a watcher, no subtle watcher, no possibility of a watcher. This is immediately obvious just as color is to a man with good eyesight as the old saying goes. Thus, anything and everything simply and obviously manifest just where they are. No phenomena observe any others and never did or could.
  2. Utter agencylessness: meaning no agency, no sense of doing, no sense of doer, no sense that there could be any agent or doer, no way to find anything that seems to be in control at all. Whatever effort or intent or anything like that that arises does so naturally, causally, inevitably, as it always actually did. This is immediately obvious, though not always the forefront of attention.
  3. No cycles change or stages or states or anything else like that do anything to this direct comprehension of simple truths at all.
  4. There is no deepening in it to do. The understanding stands on its own and holds up over cycles, moods, years, etc and doesn’t change at all. I have nothing to add to my initial assessment of it from 9 years ago.
  5. There is nothing subtle about it: anything and everything that arises exhibits these same qualities directly, clearly. When I was third path, particularly late in it, those things that didn’t exhibit these qualities were exceedingly subtle, and trying to find the gaps in the thing was exceedingly difficult and took years and many cycles. I had periods from weeks to months where it felt done and then some subtle exception would show up and I would realize I was wrong yet again, so this is natural and understandable, and if someone claims 4th as I define it here and later says they got it wrong, have sympathy for them, as this territory is not easy and can easily fool people, as it did me many, many times over about 5 years or so. However, 4th, as I term it, ended that and 9 years later that same thing holds, which is a very long time in this business.

“Deep Intellect”, Montgomery 2011

“Deep Intellect”⁠, Sy Montgomery (2011-10-25; ; backlinks; similar):

[Discussion of the remarkable abilities & intelligence of octopuses, despite being small, fragile, asocial beings. With hundreds of millions of neurons (most in its arms, which appear to be able to think and act independently, coordinating with the other arms/​mouth, with their immensely-strong suckers), octopus are able to recognize individuals and bear grudges (squirting water at the foe), somehow imitate color despite being color-blind, use tools, solve puzzles, and manipulate rocks to create shelters, they are noted escape artists: one octopus was found breaking out of its aquarium at night to feast in other tanks, sneaking back before humans returned.]

“Why Philosophers Should Care About Computational Complexity”, Aaronson 2011

“Why Philosophers Should Care About Computational Complexity”⁠, Scott Aaronson (2011-08-08; ⁠, ⁠, ⁠, ⁠, ; backlinks; similar):

One might think that, once we know something is computable, how efficiently it can be computed is a practical question with little further philosophical importance. In this essay, I offer a detailed case that one would be wrong. In particular, I argue that computational complexity theory—the field that studies the resources (such as time, space, and randomness) needed to solve computational problems—leads to new perspectives on the nature of mathematical knowledge, the strong AI debate, computationalism, the problem of logical omniscience, Hume’s problem of induction, Goodman’s grue riddle, the foundations of quantum mechanics, economic rationality, closed timelike curves, and several other topics of philosophical interest. I end by discussing aspects of complexity theory itself that could benefit from philosophical analysis.

“Decapitation in Rats: Latency to Unconsciousness and the ‘Wave of Death’”, Rijn et al 2011

“Decapitation in Rats: Latency to Unconsciousness and the ‘Wave of Death’”⁠, Clementina M. van. Rijn, Hans Krijnen, Saskia Menting-Hermeling, Anton M. L. Coenen (2011-01-04; ; similar):

The question whether decapitation is a humane method of euthanasia in awake animals is being debated. To gather arguments in this debate, obsolete rats were decapitated while recording the EEG, both of awake rats and of anesthetized rats. Following decapitation a fast and global loss of power of the EEG was observed; the power in the 13–100 Hz frequency band, expressing cognitive activity, decreased according to an exponential decay function to half the initial value within 4 seconds. Whereas the pre-decapitation EEG of the anesthetized animals showed a burst suppression pattern quite different from the awake animals, the power in the post-decapitation EEG did not differ between the two groups. This might indicate that either the power of the EEG does not correlate well with consciousness or that consciousness is briefly regained in the anesthetized group after decapitation. Remarkably, after 50 seconds (awake group) or 80 seconds (anesthetized group) following decapitation, a high amplitude slow wave was observed. The EEG before this wave had more power than the signal after the wave. This wave might be due to a simultaneous massive loss of membrane potentials of the neurons. Still functioning ion channels, which keep the membrane potential intact before the wave, might explain the observed power difference. Two conclusions were drawn from this experiment. It is likely that consciousness vanishes within seconds after decapitation, implying that decapitation is a quick and not an inhumane method of euthanasia. It seems that the massive wave which can be recorded ~1 minute after decapitation reflects the ultimate border between life and death. This observation might have implications in the discussions on the appropriate time for organ donation.

“If a Lion Could Talk: Animal Intelligence and the Evolution of Consciousness”, Budiansky 1998

“If a Lion Could Talk: Animal Intelligence and the Evolution of Consciousness”⁠, Stephen Budiansky (1998-12-13; ; backlinks; similar):

[Excerpts from If a Lion Could Talk: Animal Intelligence and the Evolution of Consciousness⁠, Budiansky 1998 (ISBN 0684837102).]

How many of us have caught ourselves gazing into the eyes of a pet, wondering what thoughts lie behind those eyes? Or fallen into an argument over which is smarter, the dog or the cat? Scientists have conducted elaborate experiments trying to ascertain whether animals from chimps to pigeons can communicate, count, reason, or even lie. So does science tell us what we assume—that animals are pretty much like us, only not as smart? Simply, no. Now, in this superb book, Stephen Budiansky poses the fundamental question: “What is intelligence?” His answer takes us on the ultimate wildlife adventure to animal consciousness. Budiansky begins by exposing our tendency to see ourselves in animals. Our anthropomorphism allows us to perceive intelligence only in behavior that mimics our own. This prejudice, he argues, betrays a lack of imagination. Each species is so specialized that most of their abilities are simply not comparable. At the mercy of our anthropomorphic tendencies, we continue to puzzle over pointless issues like whether a wing or an arm is better, or whether night vision is better than day vision, rather than discovering the real world of a winged nighthawk, a thoroughbred horse, or an African lion. Budiansky investigates the sometimes bizarre research behind animal intelligence experiments: from horses who can count or ace history quizzes, and primates who seem fluent in sign language, to rats who seem to have become self-aware, he reveals that often these animals are responding to our tiny unconscious cues. And, while critically discussing scientists’ interpretations of animal intelligence, he is able to lay out their discoveries in terms of what we know about ourselves. For instance, by putting you in the minds of dogs or bees who travel by dead reckoning, he demonstrates that this is also how you find your way down a familiar street with almost no conscious awareness of your navigation system. Modern cognitive science and the new science of evolutionary ecology are beginning to show that thinking in animals is tremendously complex and wonderful in its variety. A pigeon’s ability to find its way home from almost anywhere has little to do with comparative intelligence; rather it is due to the pigeon’s very different perception of the world. That’s why, as Wittgenstein said, “If a lion could talk, we would not understand him.” In this fascinating book, Budiansky frees us from the shackles of our ideas about the natural world, and opens a window to the astounding worlds of the animals that surround us.

“Simon Browne: the Soul-murdered Theologian”, Berman 1996

1996-berman.pdf: “Simon Browne: the soul-murdered theologian”⁠, David Berman (1996-06-01; ⁠, )

“Writing Is a Technology That Restructures Thought”, Ong 1992

1992-ong.pdf: “Writing is a technology that restructures thought”⁠, Walter J. Ong (1992; ⁠, ; backlinks; similar):

…Here, then, are some of the ways in which writing separates or divides.

  1. Writing separates the known from the knower. It promotes ‘objectivity’. (Knowledge itself is not object-like: it cannot be transferred from one person to another physically even in oral communication, face-to-face, or a fortiori in writing. I can only perform actions—produce words—which enable you to generate the knowledge in yourself.)

  2. Whereas oral cultures tends to merge interpretation of data with the data themselves, writing separates interpretation from data. (Asked to repeat exactly what they have just said, persons from a primary oral Culture will often give an interpretation of what they originally said, insisting and clearly believing that the interpretation is exactly what they said in the first place.)

  3. Writing distances the word from sound, reducing oral-aural evanescence to the seeming quiescence of visual space.

  4. Whereas in oral communication the source (speaker) and the recipient (hearer) are necessarily present to one another, writing distances the source of the communication (the writer) from the recipient (the reader), both in time and space.

  5. Writing distances the word from the plenum of existence. (The immediate context of spoken words is never simply other words.)

  6. By distancing the word from the plenum of existence, from a holistic context made up mostly of non-verbal elements, writing enforces verbal precision of a sort unavailable in oral cultures.

  7. Writing separates past from present. (Primary oral cultures tend to use the past to explain the present, dropping from memory what does not serve this purpose in one way or another, thus homogenizing the past with the present, or approximating past to present.)

    …By freezing verbalization, writing creates a distanced past which is full of puzzles because it can refer to states of affairs no longer effectively imaginable or can use words no longer immediately meaningful to any living persons.

  8. Writing separates ‘administration’—civil, religious, commercial, and other—from other types of social activities. (‘Administration’ is unknown in oral cultures, where leaders interact non-abstractly with the rest of society in tight-knit, often rhetorically controlled, configurations.)

  9. Writing makes it possible to separate logic (thought-structure of discourse) from rhetoric (socially-effective discourse).

  10. Writing separates academic learning (mathésis and mathéma) from wisdom (sophia), making possible the conveyance of highly organized abstract thought structures independently of their actual use or of their integration into the human lifeworld.

  11. Writing can divide society by giving rise to a special kind of diglossia, splitting verbal communication between a ‘high’ language completely controlled by writing even though also widely spoken (Learned Latin in the European Middle Ages) and a ‘low’ language or ‘low’ languages controlled by speech to the exclusion of writing.

  12. Writing differentiates grapholects, those ‘low’-language dialects which are taken over by writing and erected into national languages, from other dialects, making the grapholect a dialect of a completely different order of magnitude and effectiveness from the dialects that remain oral.

  13. Writing divides or distances more evidently and effectively as its form becomes more abstract, which is to say more removed from the sound world into the space world of sight.

  14. Perhaps the most momentous of all its diaeretic effects in the deep history of thought is the effect of writing when it separates being from time.

…The oral world as such distresses literates because sound is evanescent. Typically, literates want words and thoughts pinned down—though it is impossible to “pin down” an event. The mind trained in an oral culture does not feel the literate’s distress: it can operate with exquisite skill in the world of sounds, events, evanescences. How does it manage? Basically, in its noetic operations it uses formulaic structures and procedures that stick in the mind to complement and counteract the evanescent: proverbs and other fixed sayings—that is, standard, expected qualifiers (the sturdy oak, the brave warrior, wise Nestor, clever Odysseus), numerical sets (the 3 Graces, the 7 deadly sins, the 5 senses, and so on)—anything to make it easy to call back what Homer recognized were “winged words”.

Primary oral culture also keeps its thinking close to the human life world, personalizing things and issues, and storing knowledge in stories. Categories are unstable mnemonically. Stories you can remember. In its typical mindset, the oral sensibility is out to hold things together, to make and retain agglomerates, not to analyse (which means to take things apart)—although, since all thought is to some degree analytic, it does analyse to a degree. Pressed by the need to manage an always fugitive noetic universe, the oral world is basically conservative. Exploratory thinking is not unknown, but it is relatively rare, a luxury orality can little afford, for energies must be husbanded to keep on constant call the evanescent knowledge that the ages have so laboriously accumulated. Everybody, or almost everybody, must repeat and repeat and repeat the truths that have come down from the ancestors. Otherwise these truths will escape, and culture will be back on square one, where it started before the ancestors got the truths from their ancestors.

“Geoffrey Sonnabend: Obliscence, Theories of Forgetting and the Problem of Matter—An Encapsulation (Fourth Edition, Abridged)”, Worth 1991

1991-worth-geoffreysonnabendobliscencetheoriesofforgettingandtheproblemofmatter.pdf: “Geoffrey Sonnabend: Obliscence, Theories of Forgetting and the Problem of Matter—An Encapsulation (Fourth Edition, abridged)”⁠, Valentine Worth (1991-01-01)

“Against Neural Chauvinism”, Cuda 1985

1985-cuda.pdf: “Against Neural Chauvinism”⁠, Tom Cuda (1985-07-01; similar):

John R. Searle (2) has argued that functional equivalence to a human being, even at the level of the formal structure of neuron firings, is not a sufficient condition for an organism’s having conscious states…To begin this argument we must imagine that we have access to a large pool of homunculi that know a great deal about neurophysiology, and that each homunculus is equipped with a tiny device that can both read the state of a neuron, and change the state of a neuron. Now, one day we talk someone, call him Fred, into undergoing the following series of operations: During the first operation Fred’s skull is opened up and one of his neurons, call it the A neuron, is removed. But right before the neuron is removed, a homunculus is placed in Fred’s skull to take over its functional role. [and so on]

…This paper has, I hope, supported the conclusion that functional equivalence to a human at a very fine level, is a sufficient condition for an organism to have conscious states. It has done this by arguing that the contrary position entails a proposition (ie. (2)) that we have good reason to believe to be false. The fine level of functional organization alluded to, involves reproducing the functional role of each neuron in a normal human brain. Call this circuit functional equivalence.

However functional theories are more attractive, if they do not require as a necessary condition for conscious states, anything as fine grained as circuit functional equivalence. So one thing that would be worth doing would be to show that functional equivalence at some coarser level is sufficient for having conscious states. And I think that this paper can help do this by weakening one’s beliefs to the contrary. (By a coarser level, I mean any level of description X, such that circuit functional equivalence entails equivalence at the X level but equivalence at the X level does not entail circuit functional equivalence.)

To be more specific, consider some of the arguments of Block, Searle and others to the contrary (1 and2). In these arguments, creatures are described which are, at some level coarser than the circuit functional, functionally equivalent to a human, but which are, according to these authors, such that they lack conscious states.

However, there seem to be at least two reasons why one might believe that these creatures are not conscious. One reason might be based on the belief that the functional equivalence that the creatures share with a human, is not at the relevant level of organization. The other reason, and I believe the dominant reason, is that one feels at first glance, that they are just not made of the right kind of stuff (eg. they are made of homunculi).

This paper then, should help to weaken intuitions that are based on what the organisms are made of. I say this because I think it has been shown that what is important is not what an organism is made of, but rather functional organization at some level. Hence, if one wishes to maintain that such organisms do not have conscious states, then one is going to have to do this on the grounds that the functional equivalence that they share with a human is not at the relevant level, and not on the grounds that they are not made of the proper material.

“Can the Self Divide?”, Perry 1972

1972-perry.pdf: “Can the Self Divide?”⁠, John Perry (1972-09-07)