Monday, 30 April 2012

Friday, 27 April 2012

Monday, 2 August 2010

Consciouness as emergent in a Newtonian sense

Landscape (C) Tom Tomos 2010
Here's an hypothesis which treats brain states as analagous to Newtonian motion:
(1) Brain states are distinct at any given moment in time
(2) Brain states are different at times t1, t2 ... t n
(3) In virtue of (1) brain states at any time t could be said to be in ‘position’ p
(4) In virtue of (2) and (3) brain states can be said to be in 'positions' p1 at t1, p2 at t2 ... pn at tn.
(5) Substituting these terms into Newton’s standard laws of motion we can obtain equations for ‘velocity’ of brain states and even ‘acceleration’
(6) The equations can be obtained, one from another by standard processes of integration (and differentiation)
(7) Here’s the speculative bit; perhaps consciousness is what ‘drops out’ of the process of integration. Perhaps it is just what the constant of integration is.  Another view of the equations would say that the first integration yields consciousness and a second integration yields self-awareness and perception of phenomenal aspects of the world.
(8) I have no idea what the SI units would be!
(9) It seems to me to be a not implausible idea, after all we are aware of our thought processes sometimes ‘speeding up’ and ‘slowing down’
(10)  The absolute value of the constant of integration depends on the initial conditions.  Perhaps there is a threshold in terms of brain complexity (numbers of neurons*) and the levels at which consciousness and then self-consciousness (including awareness of phenomenal aspects of the world) emerge.
(11)  This approach has the advantage of being empirically testable in this world.
(12)  There would be implications in this model for 'machine' consciousness and for the consciousness of large 'virtual' machines such as the web.
* See New Scientist 31 July 2010 p.38 'It's not what you've got...' for more on neuron numbers.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Teleological doubts

Karen Neander's summary exposition of Teleological Theories of Mental Content at the Stanford site is a very good introduction to what is, after all, a complex topic.

Regarding teleological explanations generally, I find that, especially when we get to the 'belief' level of explanation (Millikan, Dretske, Price et. al.) that the explanations (which are usually of behaviour) are invariably post hoc; and hindsight is a wonderful thing! Now there's nothing wrong with behavioural analyses per se, but I do not think that they get us close to a real sense of telos. At risk of a poor mixed metaphor, they tell us why the cart follows the horse and nothing about why the horse is going that way in the first place. These 'behaviourist' explanations seem always to be 'back-propagating' in ascribing 'causes' to observed 'effects'. I would be happier with a theory which could accurately predict 'effects' from 'causes', which seems to be a more scientific approach (rather than a social scientific approach).

Apropos this point, Neander puts forward a scenario described by Paul Pietroski (1992), which I’ll quote.

In the beginning, the kimu are simple-minded, color-blind creatures. Then Jack is born with an internal mechanism that produces a certain brain state, B, in response to certain wavelengths of light. Jack enjoys the resulting sensation as do those of his descendants who inherit the mutation and the mechanism. As Pietroski wants to describe the case, B has the content, red. Jack's descendants see red and are attracted to it, which leads them to climb to the top of the nearest hill every morning to see the rising sun. As luck has it, they consequently avoid the dawn-marauding predators, the snorf, who hunt in the valley below, and as a result (and solely as a result of this) there is selection for the mutation. The point of the story is that Millikan's theory does not allow the story to be told this way. On her theory, Jack's descendants do not represent red, and so cannot see red or desire to see it. For it wasn't the mapping between B and red, but between B and snorf-free-space that was most crucial for the fitness of Jack and his descendants. Thus, on Millikan's theory, Bs mean snorf-free-space (or fewer snorfs this way, or something of this sort) and there is no representation of red by the kimu.1

On this point Neander ascribes a certain position to Carolyn Price (2001), which seems to raise problems for the Millikanian approach.

Carolyn Price (2001), who offers a detailed teleological theory that closely follows Millikan's in some respects, also defends Millikan's interpretation of the kimu's representation. She claims that this interpretation does a better job of explaining their behavior by making it seem rational. In doing so, she endorses the idea that the point of making content ascriptions is to rationalize behavior. The thought is that a desire to avoid snorf is a better reason for climbing to the top of the hill than a desire to watch the sun rise is. A number of responses are possible. One is to contend that a desire to watch a sun rise is a good enough reason for climbing to the top of a hill. One might also argue that, while her interpretation explains why the kimu climb to the top of the hill, it provides a peculiar explanation of why the kimu crowd into snorf-infested spaces when the snorf are near red: i.e., on this interpretation, the kimu reliably mistake snorf-infested spaces that are near red for snorf-free spaces. Which interpretation best rationalizes the behavior can therefore be disputed. A different response is to question whether it is the role of content ascriptions to rationalize behavior. 2

The question is, do teleological theories of meaning content offer a sufficiently rigorous explicatory framework?

1. Neander, K. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

2. Ibid.


Pietroski, P., 1992, "Intentional and Teleological Error", in Pacific Philosophical Quarterly, 73: 267-81.

Price, C., 2001, Functions in Mind: A Theory of Intentional Content, Oxford, Clarendon Press.

Image: ‘The Wood for the Tress’ © Tom Tomos 2010

Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Not the όλ story

My starting point is the assertion that words in everyday languages have indeterminate meanings, with meaning dependent on the lexical ‘bubble’ in which each individual utterer and hearer lives. I live in a predominantly English ‘bubble’ with smatterings of American, Welsh, French, German, Latin, Greek... and perhaps ending up with little Elvish and less Orc. None of ‘my’ words mean precisely the same as any of ‘your’ words. And that is exactly what you would expect if you were a subscriber to the holistic philosophy implied by the first-order logic expounded by W V Quine and others. But if you do so subscribe, most of what I’ve so far written would be nonsense, or unintelligible at any rate. For Quine’s first-order logic will only allow for the existence of material things – those which we label with nouns. In order to describe the properties of things he should have to allow second-order logic. Then we could accommodate descriptive words such as Welsh and Elvish. But Quine does not admit of second-order logic in his scheme of things. Now, the indeterminacy of meaning and the fact that the meaning of no individual symbol can be identified until the meaning of the system as a whole has been identified may be true of arbitrary ‘natural’ languages within the propositions of a logical system. But that is not the way in which normal language (as a means of communicating) works. As Peter Winch says, ‘ is speakers of a language who attempt to say what is true, to describe how things are. They do so in the language they speak; and this language attempts no such thing, either successfully or unsuccessfully. [...] [Languages] do not attempt to describe anything at all. If we do want to speak of a ‘relation between language and reality’, this is not a relation between a set of descriptions and what is described...’ (Winch, P., (1987) p.196 Trying to Make Sense, Blackwell, Oxford, UK.) It is just this final point which causes H P Grice’s claim that there is a triangular relationship between reality, language and a speaker to collapse.

A better approach to meaning is to learn the lessons of second-generation cognitive science and to approach meaning on the basis of (1) the embodiment of concepts and of mind in general, (2) the cognitive unconscious, (3) metaphorical thought and (4) the dependence of philosophy on the empirical study of mind and language. In short, the principles espoused by Lakoff and Johnson in Philosophy in the Flesh, if you know what I mean!

Image: Indeterminate Landscape © Tom Tomos 2010