The Philosophical Implications of the Urge to Urinate: Our Sense Of Free Will Diminishes When We Need To Pee Or Desire Sex.
You invest so much in it, don't you? It's what elevates you above the beasts of the field, it's what makes you special. Homo sapiens, you call yourself. Wise Man. Do you even know what it is, this consciousness you cite in your own exaltation? Do you even know what it's for?Dr. Peter Watts is no stranger to MetaFilter. But look past his sardonic nuptials, heartbreaking eulogies, and agonizing run-ins with fascists (and fasciitis) and you'll find one of the most brilliant, compelling, and disquieting science fiction authors at work today. A marine biologist skilled at deep background research, his acclaimed 2006 novel Blindsight [full text] -- a cerebral "first contact" tale led by a diverse crew of bleeding-edge post-humans -- is diamond-hard and deeply horrifying, wringing profound existential dread from such abstruse concepts as the Chinese Room, the Philosophical Zombie, Chernoff faces, and the myriad quirks and blind spots that haunt the human mind. But Blindsight's last, shattering insight is not the end of the story -- along with crew/ship/"Firefall" notes, a blackly funny in-universe lecture on resurrecting sociopathic vampirism (PDF - prev.), and a rigorously-cited (and spoiler-laden) reference section, tomorrow will see the release of
"The modern and contemporary philosophical tradition, which has emphasized the specialness and security of self-knowledge, especially self-knowledge of the stream of conscious experience, and in comparison the relative insecurity or derivativeness of our knowledge of the physical world around us, has the epistemic situation upside-down" - Eric Schwitzgebel (Previously)
Swimming around in a mixture of language and matter, humans occupy a particular evolutionary niche mediated by something we call 'consciousness'. To Professor Nicholas Humphrey we're made up of "soul dust": "a kind of theatre... an entertainment which we put on for ourselves inside our own heads." But just as that theatre is directed by the relationship between language and matter, it is also undermined by it. It all depends how you think it.
"The whole endeavour of the consciousness studies community is absurd – they are in pursuit of a chimera" - Peter Hacker on philosophy
If your brain and body were separated, which one would be "you?" Philosopher Daniel Dennett explores what might happen in that event. (Previously)
American philosopher John Haugeland has died. In dramatic fashion, he suffered a massive heart attack in the middle of a conference dedicated to his work on the occasion of his retirement. He made enormous contributions to the philosophy of mind and introduced many undergraduates to the very idea of artificial intelligence. [more inside]
Philosophy’s great experiment. "Philosophers used to combine conceptual reflections with practical experiment. The trendiest new branch of the discipline, known as x-phi, wants to return to those days. Some philosophers don’t like it." [Via]
How Google Is Making Us Smarter: Humans are "natural-born cyborgs," and the Internet is our giant "extended mind."
First Person Plural. "An evolving approach to the science of pleasure suggests that each of us contains multiple selves—all with different desires, and all fighting for control. If this is right, the pursuit of happiness becomes even trickier. Can one self bind another self if the two want different things? Are you always better off when a Good Self wins? And should outsiders, such as employers and policy makers, get into the fray?" [Via]
A New State of Mind. "New research is linking dopamine to complex social phenomena and changing neuroscience in the process."
Since 1993, the Institut Jean Nicod has awarded the annual Jean Nicod Prize to a leading philosopher or cognitive scientist for his or her work in the interdisciplinary study of the mind. The recipient is expected to deliver a series of lectures. The lecture series of this past year's winner, philosopher Stephen Stich, is entitled "Moral Theory Meets Cognitive Science: How Cognitive Science Can Transform Traditional Debates", and is now available online in video form. Also available is the lecture series of the previous year's winner, evolutionary anthropologist Michael Tomasello: "Origins of Human Communication". [more inside]
MindPapers - David Chalmers organizes, streamlines and expands his collection of papers related to mind and neuroscience.
The Philosophy and Neuroscience Movement (PDF). A paper by Andrew Brook and Pete Mandik on the relationship between neuroscience and philosophy. [Via MindHacks.] [more inside]
Victim of the Brain A 'docudrama' about Godel, Escher and Bach author, Douglas Hofstadter, and philosopher Dan Dennett produced in 1988. I'm not sure how to describe it, other than incredibly strange and fascinating.
Dr James Anderson, from the University of Reading's computer science department, claims to have defined what it means to divide by zero. It's so simple, he claims, that he's even taught it to high school students [via Digg]. You just have to work with a new number he calls Nullity (RealPlayer video). According to Anderson's site The Book of Paragon, the creation, innovation, or discovery of nullity is a step toward describing a "perspective simplex, or perspex [ . . . ] a simple physical thing that is both a mind and a body." Anderson claims that Nullity permits the definition of transreal arithmetic (pdf), a "total arithmetic . . . with no arithmetical exceptions," thus removing what the fictional dialogue No Zombies, Only Feelies? identifies as the "homunculus problem" in mathematics: the need for human intervention to sort out "corner cases" which are not defined.
Douglas Hofstadter says, "What troubles me is the notion that things that touch me at my deepest core -- pieces of music most of all, which I have always taken as direct soul-to-soul messages -- might be effectively produced by mechanisms thousands if not millions of times simpler than the intricate biological machinery that gives rise to a human soul.". That was prompted by his reception to the output of David Cope's project Experiments in Musical Intelligence.
The first Transhuman Conference On the Law of Transhuman Persons: Whether or not you believe humans are set to evolve into gods, or AI is destined to achieve self-awareness the idea of the Transhuman is a thought provoking concept. Philosophers have debated the nature of the self, of the human for millennia. Is it time to start drafting new laws to govern all possible sentient beings on this planet? or is it all just a science of fiction? a comfortable humanist illusion?
Online papers on consciousness from androids to zombies, compiled by David Chalmers. Need a primer before you jump into the heavy stuff? See his Guide to the Philosophy of Mind. [via The Curvature of the Earth is Overwhelmed by Local Noise]
Clay Shirky smacks syllogism around. Nice criticism of the semantic web and the present (and increasing) hype of the "semantic web revolution". The most damning part of the essay is the part about languages and categories being deeply intertwined with worldview and with culture—if there's no good definition for the word "bachelor" (see), how can there be an encoding of "friend", "lover" (see article for the classic AI example of "John loves Mary") or anything else that isn't zipcode?
I Feel, Therefore I Am. Consider the work of Dr. Antonio Damasio, humanist and neuroscientist, who has turned the Mind and Body debate between René Descartes and Benedictus de Spinoza upon its head--or at least the heads of Phineas Gage and one Elliott--via his research and writings such as The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness, Descartes' Error: Emotion, reason, and the human brain and Looking for Spinoza: Joy, Sorrow, and the Feeling Brain. He's influenced writers like Ian McEwan and David Lodge, and via his thoughts on the perception of music, inspired a composition. (More Inside)