Plato’s weekend suggestions

readingsHere it is, our regular Friday diet of suggested readings for the weekend:

Chomsky’s theory of language dying by many small empirical cuts, as it often happens in science.

What does it feel like when we die?

The complexities of raising geniuses.

Medical vs religious “miracles.”

On the weird notion of panpsychism (commentary coming soon…).

Crackpots are just as curious as real scientists, but they don’t have the means to succeed.

Hoping that the whole idea of cultural appropriation is a passing fad.

Do yourself a favor, don’t trust research funded by the food industry. Or any industry, really.

217 thoughts on “Plato’s weekend suggestions

  1. synred

    Yes there might be things that we don’t know about that are necessary for consciousness

    I agree with Coel this time. DM: There might be mini-ghost that are attached to matter. Attaching them to matter explains nothing. Why not let them float free and find any suitable neural net they care to infect?

    In MUH what would their mathematical properties be? Would they not follow algorithms?
    (This has always been my problem with ‘spirit’. If you add something that we don’t know about, but it doesn’t obey any rules, it can explain nothing).

    Electrons and photons are such simple ‘waves’ that it’s hard to imagine what them having some proto-consciousness would mean. It’s silly. If pressed I’ll take plain old fashioned spirits. They explain nothing just as well.

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  2. Coel

    Hi DM,

    Your position on whether such a system is conscious is agnosticism. You have no idea. Which to my mind means that you have no idea whether consciousness is functionally inert.

    I think I’d reject any scheme in which consciousness is both distinct and functionally inert. If it is anything it is an intrinsic part of the behaviour.

    As an analogy take fluid mechanics. Fluid flow can be either smooth and laminar, or it can be turbulent. Both are in accord with fundamental physics and the behaviour is distinctly different in the two cases. I’d suggest that a physical system that is “conscious” is then behaving differently in a way analogous to the fact that a flow that is turbulent is different. (And hence, if this is right, an indistinguishable p-zombie is impossible.)

    From some functional perspectives the smooth versus turbulent flow might be equivalent (for example in terms of flow rate in litres per second). I don’t claim to know, though, which attributes are necessary for consciousness, and thus which functional equivalences would preserve consciousness or not.

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  3. synred

    If someone created a replica of a human neural-network brain, but built it out of metal and semiconductor and similar non-biological stuff, such that each and every neuron and dendrite and synapse was replicated so that ions flowed along them just as in a normal brain, then I would say — just reporting my intuition — that yes it would be conscious (and I’d be tempted to add an “obviously”).

    That wouldn’t disprove Panpsychism. Nothing can. Que Popper.

    Nor would it disprove spirit. ‘God’ might just decide to implant souls in suitable pieces of machinery as Thomas Aquinas has him doing in embryos (not single fertilized eggs).

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  4. Disagreeable Me (@Disagreeable_I)

    Hi Coel,

    I don’t claim to know, though, which attributes are necessary for consciousness, and thus which functional equivalences would preserve consciousness or not.

    That’s reasonable.

    But you don’t know whether a computer system that simulated all functional equivalences would need to be conscious — e.g. by performing a simulation even at the level of the elementary particles, so that absolutely nothing is left out. That’s the problem.

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  5. Thomas Jones

    Well, I cited the Chalmer’s article because the SEP article doesn’t really go into detail regarding his views. At the same time, I happen to agree with DM that we needn’t be dismissive of a subject about which there are so many approaches throughout history. BTW, the IEP article is pretty good too. Granted, Massimo, you have provided your thoughts on Chalmers and the so-called hard problem of consciousness in the past. Personally, I don’t have a dog in this race, but they all seem to be chasing a fox that has thus far eluded them. Good for the fox.

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  6. SocraticGadfly

    Per Thomas’ Existential Comic, and the explainer at bottom, I disagree with Chalmers from the start. I see no reason to believe that it’s impossible to explain consciousness using nothing but scientific ideas (as properly guided by non-dualist philosophy as needed).

    As for the second half of the first paragraph of the explainer? Chalmers likes creating strawmen. Massimo, myself, and many others support consciousness as embodied cognition without believing that means a dualistic “substance” extends outside the human brain.

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  7. Massimo Post author

    Socratic,

    I have this weird feeling that EC has started doing so many Stoicism stories since I began following him… But it may be paranoia on my part.

    Everyone,

    As I mentioned above, hold off the discussion on panpsychism until tomorrow morning!

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  8. garthdaisy

    Robin,

    As Synred pointed out, I was quoting him, not you with “we stole their land.” And the “white guilt” I am referring to also comes from that same statement.

    “But what you appear to be saying is that if someone kicked you out of your house and started living there and stole all your property and money then you wouldn’t mind one bit because, hey there is no us and them. Just us.”

    No, that is not what I appear to be saying. I have bee quite clear that I am referring to the “we stole their land” claim which obviously refers to the invasion of the Americas by Europeans centuries ago, not to any current day home invasions. I acknowledge the crimes of those ancient Europeans, but having not been alive at the time I do not have any guilt over it, nor do I use the word “we” to refer to Europeans of the 16th century and their descendants. I use the word “we” to refer to all humanity.

    “The people who stole my great grandparents’ property had the same skin colour as me.”

    As did the people who kidnapped and tortured by grandparents to death in Russian gulags for the crime of being ethnic Germans. My suggested solution to these horrors of the past is to “acknowledge” the ignorance under which they occurred and to no longer divide the world by race, ethnicity and nationality like the phrase “we stole their land” does.

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  9. synred

    There is certain sense in which the scientific project is circular, i.e., we try to explain ‘consciousness’ with theories we developed based on the data of ‘consciousness’, right? We don’t have any other ‘input’.

    I think this is related to what ‘continental’ philosophers (existentialist, Phenomolgist and such) are trying to get at, but they explain themselves so obscurely that I’m not sure. “The World as Will and Idea” and that sort of thing.

    -Traruh

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  10. Coel

    Hi DM,

    But you don’t know whether a computer system that simulated all functional equivalences would need to be conscious — e.g. by performing a simulation even at the level of the elementary particles, so that absolutely nothing is left out. That’s the problem.

    I would see the term “computation” as being a description about a physical system, and thus to me the only way of simulating absolutely all functional equivalences would be a full-scale exact physical replication — and such a thing would indeed, as I see it, be conscious.

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  11. Daniel Kaufman

    Coel is absolutely right, on this front. As Massimo has explained umpteen times, substrate matters when it comes to matters mental.

    I would also argue that one would would need to replicate certain social relations and facts — social embededness, so to speak — as they too are necessary in order to have mental states with content (as per Wittgenstein).

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  12. synred

    Perhaps Synred could clarify who “we” refers to in the phrase “we stole their land.”

    In the case of the Americas Europeans.– Also, Australia, New Zealand, African too.

    It’s not that ‘we’ are particularly evil, but ‘we’ stumbled on the means — weapons and ideas — first or at least made good use of ’em.

    And the current generation are not responsible for doing the injustice, but are guilty of letting it stand — a lesser crime certainly; A bit of ‘white liberal guilt’ is reasonable; it doesn’t cost much.

    Yeah, some went west and some went east and some went round about, and as a result they became different groups. DNA as precious little to do with it.

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  13. Robin Herbert

    Hi Coel,

    I would see the term “computation” as being a description about a physical system, and thus to me the only way of simulating absolutely all functional equivalences would be a full-scale exact physical replication — and such a thing would indeed, as I see it, be conscious.

    The term “computation” has a specific mathematical meaning. All our descriptions of physical systems are computations. The physical system itself (or any exact replica) is not a computation in this sense (at least as far as we know. Nature itself might be discrete and computational but the indications are that it is not).

    However there is no reason why an incomplete computational model together with a simulation environmental details for sense input, at some granularity, could not replicate all the externally observable behaviour – including language – just as any computational model of nature does.

    And so a computational model ought to be able to simulate a human brain to the level that it can answer questions – like “Are you conscious?” and “Do you feel nauseous?”.

    So the incomplete computational model – modelling the physics of our brains would answer as a human would. It would claim to be conscious, to feel nausea, to feel pain. If you suggested to it that it was not conscious – that it was a p-zombie then it would react as though this was absurd.

    Do you agree?

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  14. Robin Herbert

    Hi garth,

    No, that is not what I appear to be saying. I have bee quite clear that I am referring to the “we stole their land” claim which obviously refers to the invasion of the Americas by Europeans centuries ago, not to any current day home invasions

    As I pointed out, I didn’t make the “We stole their land” claim. You are interspersing those words with things I am saying, which is obviously confusing. Separate the discussions or it becomes confusing.

    So you will agree that the British invading Australia and stealing the land of the Guringai (for example) was a crime, just as someone stealing your own home would be a crime?

    Would you cease to regard this as your home after some stretch of time, say ten years and then say that it no longer belongs to you?

    If you had a child would you say that your death marked the end of your ownership of the house and that it now belonged to the squatter? Or would you want your child to get the house that you hoped to pass on to him or her?

    Can you answer this without any reference to “we” and “them” or skin colour?

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  15. Robin Herbert

    You have to then imagine that you are living on the land that you still regard as your own – that would have been your own if not for the invasion.

    In order to live you are forced to work for the person who claims to own the land and that person does not pay you, just gives “rations” (which means table scraps the dogs didn’t want are dumped on the ground for you). You live in a humpy which you have to crawl into and in which you cannot stand up. The person who claims to own the land lives in a mansion and has vast wealth.

    Now, what is a proper reparation? Someone comes and says “yes, I acknowledge that there was a crime committed against your ancestors”. Then plop – you get the day’s rations?

    Well, no – obviously just an acknowledgement is not good enough. So the union comes along and says that you should be paid a wage and not just rations – that you should be paid what any person would get for that work.

    So you walk off the job and strike and some people come and lend support and the person claiming to own the land pays you a fair wage for the work you are doing.

    Sure, that is better. But Is that enough? Wouldn’t you then say – no – that is not enough. This is my land. This is the land of all the descendants of those from whom it was stolen.

    Would you regard that as unreasonable? Why?

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  16. Robin Herbert

    Finally, if some people offered to help you get your stolen property back – would you call that “guilt” or would you call it a sense of fairness, decency and willingness to help?

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  17. synred

    would you call that “guilt” or would you call it a sense of fairness, decency and willingness to help?

    Or would you perhaps not care what motivated the ‘helpers’? Justice, guilt or some mixture? As long as they actually helped…

    I’m guilty enough. I just spent ~1K$ on my dying cat and sent 25 to the Rock Ridge Sioux and a received a torrent of email appeals (oh the agony -{/;_(= )…

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  18. synred

    I miss the panthers. Their theater was our last best hope of getting gun control. Seeing ‘N’s [a] carry rifles around the state legislature in Sacramento scared the shit out of the legislature and they actually banned a few things.

    [a] JHC! … got me using euphemisms. . The word in the mind of our honorable representatives was likely ‘nigger’.–the scare quotes

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  19. garthdaisy

    Hi Robin,

    “So you will agree that the British invading Australia and stealing the land of the Guringai (for example) was a crime, just as someone stealing your own home would be a crime?”

    No. A house that I bought in this century is not analogous to an entire continent belonging to the descendants of the first people who arrived there in perpetuity. To say they “stole the land” is to imply the descendants of the first people to arrive in a land “own” it forever. Do you really think the world can work like that? Shall we go back over every parcel of land on the planet and find out who’s bloodline got their first and pay the descendants off or give them back the land their ancestors first squatted one? I honestly can not think of a more primitive way to divide up our world.

    The crime I am referring to was killing them and treating them badly. Taking over control of the land without giving the aboriginals a say. No race of people owns that land. It wasn’t stolen. New people found it, and they had every right to move in and use the land. They had no right to treat the people who were already there very badly, and kill them, and to claim ownership of the land. The fix is not to give the blood descendants of those who were treated badly ownership over the land. The fix is for everyone to share the land, like democracies do, or are supposed to do. You might notice that the majority of aboriginal cultures actually hold the belief I am espousing. That no one owns the land. I agree with that.

    “Would you cease to regard this as your home after some stretch of time, say ten years and then say that it no longer belongs to you?”

    You’ve got to be kidding me that you think this scenario of someone stealing my house is analogous someone stealing my ancestors land. Here’s the real world analogy. My great grand parents were ethnic Germans living in Poland and were removed by force from their land and taken to Russia and tortured to death in a gulag. Do I think the great grandchildren of the Russians who did that to my great grandparents owe me reparations? Does that land they were kicked off belong to me? Can I knock on the current owner’s door and say get off my land? No, no, and no. The lesson I learn from all of those things that happened in the past is that the root of the problem is othering. Ignorant othering. We know better now. We need toy stop acting like bloodline and land rights go together.

    “If you had a child would you say that your death marked the end of your ownership of the house”

    I’m in favour of a world where people don’t own houses. I think that world will be here before you know it. The sharing economy is taking over everything in case you hadn’t noticed. Ownership rights are so passé.

    “You have to then imagine that you are living on the land that you still regard as your own – that would have been your own if not for the invasion.”

    No I don’t because I don’t believe in bloodline ownership of land.

    Now, what is a proper reparation?

    Proper reparation is repairing the world so it’s not broken into bloodline groups who own the parcel of land their ancestors first inhabited. End that nonsense so no more people suffer from it.

    “Wouldn’t you then say – no – that is not enough. This is my land. This is the land of all the descendants of those from whom it was stolen.”

    No. I would never utter such a primitive statement as that.

    “Would you regard that as unreasonable? Why?”

    I would regard it as misguided. See above for why.

    “Finally, if some people offered to help you get your stolen property back – would you call that “guilt” or would you call it a sense of fairness, decency and willingness to help?”

    I would call it compassion that is misguided. I would think those people mean well, but are making an intellectual error and advocating something that will perpetuate the problem rather than solve it.

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  20. synred

    http://www.dailywire.com/news/4540/professor-defends-students-right-free-speech-now-james-barrett#

    Dan, Is this an example of the kind of ‘political correctness’ you are referring too?

    I know McAdams from JFK Buff land. It’s unlikely things are quite a simple as he presents them to be. The article does not give the other side a fair hearing. It’s almost exclusively McAdams perspective. Quotes he attributed to the philosophy Prof. involved are taken from him; they are likely to be distorted and/or cherry picked.

    He is anti-conspiracy, but I still think him one of the nuttier ‘buffs.’ Cherry picking is one of the chief activities of both sides in the JFK ‘research’ community.

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  21. synred

    No. A house that I bought in this century is not analogous to an entire continent belonging to the descendants of the first people who arrived there in perpetuity. To say they “stole the land” is to imply the descendants of the first people to arrive in a land “own” it forever. Do you really think the world can work like that? Shall we go back over every parcel of land on the planet and find out who’s bloodline got their first and pay the descendants off or give them back the land their ancestors first squatted one? I honestly can not think of a more primitive way to divide up our world

    –>Murder and concentration camps (a.k.a, reservations) are less primitive? You do know that Australia was not purchased by the English?

    And the Spanish did not buy Bolivia, etc. but Massacred the Inca and pushed anybody left off anything of value,

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Five_Civilized_Tribes

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  22. Robin Herbert

    Hi garth,

    “No race of people owns that land”

    I never said they could. Race, I said, has nothing whatsoever to do with it. So any point you make that depends upon the concept of “race” has nothing to do with what I said. I have no idea why you keep bringing it up.

    To say they “stole the land” is to imply the descendants of the first people to arrive in a land “own” it forever.

    Not at all. It is to say that they owned it at the time at the time it was taken from them. Are you now saying that it was never their land?

    Also, you say ownership rights are so passe.

    So we are back to somebody taking everything you own away from you and you saying “fine, I have no problem with that because ownership rights are so passe”. Yes or no? You need to make this clear. Would you have a problem with that or not?

    And, again, can you stop invoking the irrelevant concept of race, which I have not mentioned. Race has nothing to do with the case.

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  23. Robin Herbert

    No. A house that I bought in this century is not analogous to an entire continent belonging to the descendants of the first people who arrived there in perpetuity.

    Whoever said anything about an entire continent? The Guringai or the Gurindji did not own any continents, they owned specific lands. They continued to consider that they owned the land and that the invading forces and the government formed by the invading forces did not own those lands.

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  24. Robin Herbert

    So the Gurindji are living on a particular area of land which they have been working for about 10,000 years and which they consider theirs.

    The British come in and, with superior forces, take the land and they claim that it is theirs.

    So, about 200 years ago, we have two competing claims to ownership of that land. Neither party ever concede. The Gurindji do not in any way concede that the British have a claim over the land and continue to consider it theirs.

    We fast forward nearly 200 years to 1966 and we have the Gurindji people who still consider that the lands they have occupied for all that time are theirs.

    And we have the Vestey company who’s claim to the land is based on the original claim of the invading forces to have owned the land (and the various gifts and sales that came after that).

    So are you saying that the the fact that the Gurindji still don’t concede that the land ever belonged to anybody but them is misguided, but that the Vestey company’s claim that the land does belong to them is not misguided?

    Why is one of these competing claims to ownership of this land misguided and the other not?

    Or are you saying that no one owns the land – that it is open slather to whoever wants to try and make use of them?

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  25. Robin Herbert

    So this guy is living in your house because you would never utter such a primitive statement as “hey, that is my house you are living in!”.

    You are both nearing the end of your life and the guy who is living in your house has a son who will continue to live in the house after his father is dead. But your own son would not in any way be entitled to the house that you bought and paid for? And you would be totally fine with that?

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