Friday, 26 June 2015

Notes (1)

(1) Christof Koch Admits There's a Mind-Body Problem

Even hardcore “reductionists” admit that there's a problem with providing a scientific account of subjective states.

For example, Koch admitted to John Horgan that

all science can do is provide a detailed map of the physical processes that correlate with different subjective states” (182).

Moreover, Koch said: “I don't see how any science can explain [the mind-body problem].”

Koch admitted it's a problem. Or perhaps he simply responded without thinking to Horgan's use of the phrase “mind-body problem”. In other words, it isn't a problem as such, only something that can't be achieved. (Though isn't that a good definition of a problem?) In addition, perhaps this particular expression of the “problem” is simply a conceptual or theoretical impossibility. In other words, it's impossible in principle to offer more that the “physical processes that correlate with different subjective states”. What more can be offered? What else is there?

(2) Consciousness is Off-limits to Science

Daniel Dennett gives a rather simple and commonsensical explanation as to why so many people are never satisfied with any - or even all - theories of consciousness/mind. He says that “[w]e can't explain anything to everyone's satisfaction”. And then Horgan gives some examples.

He says that “many people are dissatisfied with science's explanations of, say, photosynthesis or biological reproduction” (179). However, it's still the case, Dennett says, that “the sense of mystery is gone from photosynthesis or reproduction”.

This isn't to say that Dennett's theory of consciousness is rejected for these reasons. Or that all of them are rejected for these reasons. However, regardless of Dennett's own theories, this may explain the problem which many people have with all theories of consciousness. Perhaps they don't think what Dennett calls the “mystery” has been truly solved. More tellingly, many don't want the mystery of consciousness to be solved. Or, as Dennett himself says about Colin McGinn and other 'mysterians', they “don't want consciousness to fall to science”. They also “like the idea that this is off-limits to science”. But when they think or say this (if they ever do admit it), then they aren't really doing either science or philosophy: they're doing religion, morality or even politics.

(3) Alan Turing & Computers which Learn

In the 1940s Alan Turing tried to create a machine with “intuition” or with “initiative”. He attempted to achieve this by introduction a random element into the machine or computer.

This has been achieved.

To put it how John Horgan puts it:

Proponents of artificial intelligence rebut Penrose's Godel argument by contending that one can always design a computer to broaden its own base of axioms to solve a new problem; in fact, such learning algorithms are rather common (although they are still extremely crude in comparison to the human mind).” (177)

Of course even though there are computers which contain axioms which enable them to solve their own problems by broadening their own base of axioms (learning algorithms), that may not mean that this automatically refutes Penrose's “Godel argument”. Or, alternatively, that it actually displays genuine artificial intelligence. It does mean, however, that computers learn. What else could it be called other than learning? Still, can it be called 'artificial intelligence'? Of course it can; though that would depend – as it always does – on definitions. Does it mean that a computer is conscious? I would intuitively say: absolutely not!

Added to this one can add the examples which Daniel Dennett offers. He says that there are

software-writing programmes and software-debugging programmes and code that heals itself, you create new artefacts that have a life of their own” (180).

(4) Subjective States: Functional & Physical States

John Horgan wrote the following words in 1996 (or at least that's when the book was first published):

Given the rate at which neuroscientists are learning about it, within a few decades they may have a highly effective map of the brain, one that correlates specific neural processes to specific mental functions – including consciousness as defined by Crick and Koch.” (188)

Well, we are nearly two decades on from 1996: has this been achieved? Have neuroscientists been able to “correlate specific neural processes to specific mental functions”? Which functions is Horgan referring to? Seeing a blue object? Making the calculation 2 + 2 = 4? Finding one's way around a cluttered room? Or even listening to Brian Ferneyhough?

Clearly these correlations between mental functions and neural processes (bits of the brain) don't immediately bring on board “subjective states” or consciousness. Nonetheless, they all involve subjective states and consciousness. Even a mental calculation clearly involves subjective states and consciousness. A mental computation - if not the equation itself - will even involve subjective states and what philosophers call qualia. Nonetheless, they can be studied as functions and as correlations with neuronal states and processes. Consciousness and subjective states are another, if related, problem.

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