Perfection as Asymptotic

Graphing the equation y=1/x produces some weird behaviour as x approaches 0; the limit is ∞ since it is impossible to divide by 0. The invisible line that seems to appear at x = 0 is called an asymptote, and therefore, anything that is asymptotic approaches “a given value as an expression containing a variable [which] tends towards infinity” (‘Definition of Asymptotic |’). Math jargon aside, the idea is that as the value of x becomes increasingly small, its corresponding y value will increase exponentially as the function seemingly “avoids” x = 0, where x can be either a negative and positive number.

This is what I imagine is taking place when reading about Kant’s idea of perfection in The Metaphysics of Morals. In part one of Doctrine of the Elements of Ethics, specifically Book II Section II §22, Kant explicitly states that ‘perfection’ refers to a continual striving toward an ideal, as he states that it is not possible to actually reach a final point or destination of some type (Kant 241). Therefore, we ought to orient our efforts toward the notion of betterment or personal growth, rather than actually achieving a state of perfection. As my partner puts it, “perfection necessarily includes the imperfections.”

Then by chance, if there is such a thing, some of Kant’s sentiments implicitly appeared in a book I finished recently about the work of Carl Jung by Mary Esther Harding. In the conclusion, she states “we should never forget that the world is made up of individuals, and that the one thing within our reach is our own development: it should not be neglected however much it may cost” (Harding 217). Personal growth is not easy, but it is the one aspect of our lives we have the most control over, despite how challenging it may feel in the moment. As such, we have a duty for striving toward a vague idea of perfection, all the while knowing that it is not meant to be achieved, which should come as a relief to many. One’s duty is to continuously try to do one’s best, and should that be insufficient or fail in some way, to reflect on it and accept it for its reality rather than feeling bad about it. According to Kant, this effort is what makes us more virtuous (Kant 242), and indeed, as one improves their skills in any domain, we are justified in having faith that our efforts do pay off eventually.

Although the word ‘virtuous’ is a quite rich and complex, or loaded, depending on one’s perspective, one way of thinking about it can be through the idea of a musician: Hilary Hahn is a virtuoso (virtuosa?) at the violin because she has this particular skill, but also because she “excels in musical technique or execution” (‘Definition of Virtuoso |’). Anyone who has trained in music or sports deeply understands that the only route toward improvement is practice, and as one continues to work, their abilities improve. Hilary will still make mistakes from time to time; she isn’t perfect but she understands that the only way to improve is to keep practicing until she can play Paganini or Sibelius as perfectly as possible on a given occasion. Never forget that the word ‘perfect’ is also a verb, as in “to perfect one’s skill”, and that because we will always be fallible and imperfect humans, are still vulnerable to making mistakes under certain conditions, like fatigue. Rather than worrying about “being perfect”, we ought to worry about striving toward betterment instead.

Maybe one poetic interpretation of the graph above is to view the x-axis as the number of mistakes made, while the y-axis represents one’s skill level: as the number of mistakes approaches zero, it can never actually be zero, and at the same time, one’s skill level only grows in value, approaching a never-ending concept like infinity, suggesting a boundlessness which is far more important, in my mind, than never making a mistake in the first place.

The moral of the story is that all the blood, sweat, and tears will pay off when one earnestly works toward one’s goals, provided acts of self-reflection about this progression are honest. If not, it will be difficult to determine just how to tailor one’s efforts in such a way which reduces certain mistakes or shortcomings. If one can accept that ‘perfection’ is not a final destination or state, but an activity, it seems as though just about anything is possible, albeit over an indefinite amount of time.

Works Cited

‘Definition of Asymptotic |’., Accessed 13 Oct. 2022.

‘Definition of Virtuoso |’., Accessed 13 Oct. 2022.

Harding, Mary Esther. The I and the Not-I: A Study In The Development of Consciousness. Princeton University Press, 1974.

Kant, Immanuel. The Metaphysics of Morals. Translated by Mary Gregor, Cambridge University Press, 1991.

Whitepill 4: Prayer

Part of a series on ways to survive this dystopian nightmare

It might be beneficial for secular individuals to incorporate a habit of prayer into their lives, ones which do not appeal to any system of beliefs. If there is no one listening, then you’re all alone to do and say what you must.

  1. Give Thanks – for the things you consume to keep you alive and happy. People grew the plants you eat, and different groups of people picked, processed, shipped, and ultimately sold them to you from a store or warehouse. Animals give you their bodies, children, or products like silk or honey. There doesn’t need to be guilt if there is acceptance and appreciation. Give thanks to yourself for cooking or preparing the food you eat, and be sure to always express your gratitude to others who make food for you. This type of prayer can probably be applied to anything, not just food and consumables.
  2. Apologize – because it’s all internal, there is nothing you can’t say or address. There may be incidents from 31 years ago involving people you haven’t spoken to since. Apologize for things big and small, accept a mistake or transgression was made, and tell the person using their name that you are sorry for hurting them. Ask for forgiveness and think about why they might hesitate. We all make mistakes but how we apologize makes all the difference.

These actions will likely help you feel better as feelings become externalized and accepted. Any effectiveness from prayer results from the inside, not the outside through events or situations. Prayer directs your attention to parts of the self that need recognition, both the good and the bad. This emotional grounding and releasing internal tension is where the magic happens.

The contents of religious texts and world-views offers all of humanity metaphors for ideas which relate to some aspect of the world as we know it. Because the human brain learns from narratives and stories, they can be used to form new conceptual connections for the purpose of depicting certain ideas. While the contents of the story may be fictional, their meanings or lessons may still contain objective significance to be yet uncovered.

Whitepill 3: Free Will

Part of a series on ways to survive this dystopian nightmare

According to neuroscience, free will is an illusion (Heisenberg 164), and those interested in preserving this notion argue that we can instead consider it a social construct (Feldman; Then & Now). This suggests it simply feels like we have free will, when in actuality, we are operating under a sort of probabilistic determinism. This feeling of free will is what Sartre describes in Nausea (Sartre 362), however, he summarizes the point nicely in Being and Nothingness as well: “nausea… is not knowledge; it is the non-thetic apprehension of the contingency which he is” (Sartre 366). By non-thetic, he is referring to one’s visceral, immediate experiences that conscious awareness can later reflect on. In a nutshell, the awareness of life’s fragility emerges from sickness at the thought of just how easy it is to terminate one’s existence in certain situations, like walking close to a steep drop or cliff side (Sartre 56). These bodily reactions indicate some degree of significance to possible courses of action, where their perceived reality influences how decisions are made. Our belief in free will enables us to act responsibly by motivating us toward some action or goal, and this belief is beneficial for self-esteem and personal growth.

From an objective or third-person perspective, reality likely operates under a probabilistic determinism, where events and decisions are roughly predetermined as an outcome of prior circumstances. To some, this determinism should be welcomed with open arms, as it frees individuals from over-focusing on their decisions and futures. This generally applies to those in industrialized societies with individualistic attitudes, as it may alleviate some of the emotional burden people face as they try to navigate such a complex and threatening world. That said, letting go of one’s need for control or fear of losing it must be met with balance, since passively relying on external factors for guiding action is likely going to lead to depression. Without an intrinsic drive and a goal, introduced by belief in free will, it becomes too easy to stagnate and fall into hedonistic patterns of living. Belief in free will introduces a beneficial responsibility for perspective and action.

In this case, and probably most, the cognitive dissonance that arises from this supposed paradox is a feature and not a bug. Believing in free will while knowing some alternative reflects objective reality creates a contradiction to be resolved, serving as an engine to drive reasoning. Equilibrium indicates a body at rest is not engaged in activity, and mentally, without a mismatch of some kind, there is no activity to fuel mental operations. When encountering paradoxes, they should act as cues to orient one’s perspective and consider things from a new point of view.

Because life is inherently lived from the first-person perspective, and because humans are able to reflect on the world from an abstracted, third-person perspective, we are able to choose different strategies based on the circumstances and their contextual factors. We can know one thing while simultaneously respecting the significance of an alternative idea, based on what is felt rather than as suggested by empirical consensus. To state that free will is an illusion is to suggest the subject matter of phenomenology is an illusion, and when we consider how effective these perceptions are for getting stuff done, I don’t know that the word truly applies. The pond in the distance is either water or a mirage based on whether you are able to approach the water, where the brain receives additional information to determine its reality. Biological organisms react to changes in the environment to mitigate their actions to ensure their survival, and therefore, subjective perceptions reflect aspects of the external world. Therefore, free will is not really an illusion because one’s choices and actions still impact others for better or for worse, even if they were likely to perform that action anyway. An individual is still the physical source of some action and must therefore take responsibility for their consequences.

Be the self-fulfilling prophecy you want to be. As probabilistic in nature, rather than fixed or logically necessary, determinism is still speculative and as predictions still have yet to obtain. In each moment, you have the capacity to do what you think is best for yourself and others.

Update (Aug 6):
Ultimately, however, it’s not up to you but that’s a good thing because we are all learning and growing.

Works Cited

Feldman, Gilad. ‘Making Sense of Agency: Belief in Free Will as a Unique and Important Construct’. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, vol. 11, no. 1, 2017, p. e12293. Wiley Online Library,

Heisenberg, Martin. ‘Is Free Will an Illusion?’ Nature, vol. 459, no. 7244, 7244, May 2009, pp. 164–65.,

Sartre, Paul-Jean. Being and Nothingness: An Essay on Phenomenological Ontology. Translated by Hazel E. Barnes, 2nd ed., Routledge, 2015,

Then & Now. Free Will Is Political. 2022. YouTube,

Whitepill 2: Morality

Part of a series on ways to survive this dystopian nightmare

Just as individuals are required to adopt meanings suitable for their lived experiences, they are also required to identify ways of acting which are beneficial for themselves as individuals as well as the groups they belong to. This involves a renunciation of utilitarian attitudes in favour of a naturalized deontological moral framework instead. Although utilitarian principles claim to support good intentions in their attempt to benefit as many as possible, when applied at the societal level in contemporary capitalistic environments, an incentive to cooperate with or assist only those within a particular community arises which negatively influence individual behaviours. Those outside their in-group may suffer as a result of this utilitarian framework, and when applied to structures of governance, threatens the reciprocal relationship required between the organization and the humans it involves or interacts with. Therefore, we ought to avoid appealing to these types of zero-sum moral frameworks if we are interested in establishing peace and harmony between diverse groups of people (Habermas, ‘Religious Tolerance as Pacemaker for Democracy’ 254).

This naturalized deontological framework is implicitly suggested by Habermas in The Future of Human Nature, where one’s moral duty requires a consideration for other human beings, from all walks of life, as autonomous individuals with an inherent capacity for self-governance (33-34). While Habermas appeals to a naturalized version of Kant’s deontological principles to provide a perspective on the future of genetic engineering (Habermas, The Future of Human Nature 55), this secularization of Kantian morality is suitable for guiding reasoning and decision-making within liberal societies as well. By instilling a feeling of obligation to consider another’s perspective, citizens in pluralistic societies engage in “regulated relations of mutual recognition” (Habermas, The Future of Human Nature34), where individuals learn to recognize themselves as members of an inclusive yet culturally diverse society (Habermas, The Future of Human Nature35). While Habermas is interested in this framework as it pertains to liberal democracies, it is also appropriate as a universal norm as globalization motivates us to consider humanity as a whole, rather than a collection of separate states or regions. This avoids negative outcomes associated with utilitarianism, as Kant recommends not to appeal to a “formula of ends” since doing so treats individuals as a means to an end, rather than “as an end in himself” (Habermas, The Future of Human Nature 55). Thus, pluralistic or globalized societies interested in developing cooperation, tolerance, and peace between diverse peoples must instead view its population not as a mass to be controlled, but as a collection of human beings with an innate capacity for self-governance (Habermas, The Future of Human Nature 56).

This duty to others, however, still requires one to balance the needs of the self with the needs of others. Once these prerequisites are met, one is then able to take care of others, just as recommended when fixing oxygen masks for others if an emergency were to occur while flying on an airplane. Alternatively, if one were to try to help a drowning person if they themselves were not a strong swimmer, one risks their health and safety if the person needing rescuing is thrashing about in desperation. Thus, in addition to concerning yourself with your duty to others, focus on building a habit of reflecting on your own needs, desires, and lived experiences. Drawing explicit boundaries in this way is beneficial, even if it does impose limitations, provided the reasoning for doing so is transparent to others. Similarly, one must be open to considering critical feedback from others in their acts of self-reflection, as the boundaries we draw for ourselves nonetheless remain in social contexts. As a result, these efforts contribute a source of meaning to the lives of individuals as they work to better themselves within a wider community, a notion similar to eudaimonia (Aristotle 234).

To finalize with one last Kantian idea, it’s important to keep the faith even when all feels hopeless. He reminds us that the human species is advancing, morally and culturally, and that while it may be “interrupted” at times, it is “never broken off” (Kant 88). Furthermore, the unselfish goodwill one must demonstrate to others must be performed knowing that the beneficial outcomes or returns may not be readily apparent, however, they will nonetheless manifest in due time (Kant 89). Moreover, Kant believes that practical moral reason will eventually triumph over evil (Kant 92), as attitudes which support cooperative efforts give rise to emergent phenomena as effects from humans working together. Although Kant may have originally been appealing to religious ideals for his claims, we are justified in maintaining these beliefs based on the mathematical brilliance of John Nash as demonstrated in game theory. In this way, it could be suggested that even the laws of nature support this type of moral framework, suggesting its suitability for contemporary human societies.

Works Cited

Aristotle. Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. Translated by Robert C. Bartlett and Susan D. Collins, University of Chicago Press, 2011.

Habermas, Jürgen. ‘Religious Tolerance as Pacemaker for Democracy’. Between Naturalism and Religion: Philosophical Essays, Polity Press. Ares.

—. The Future of Human Nature. John Wiley & Sons, 2003.

Kant, Immanuel. ‘On the Common Saying: This May Be True in Theory, but It Does Not Apply in Practice’. Kant: Political Writings, edited by H. S. Reiss, translated by H. B. Nisbet, 2nd ed., Cambridge University Press, 1991, p. 323. Ares.

Nu Metaphysics

Now that its semantic baggage has been disposed of, as suggested in Themes in Postmetaphysical Thinking by Jürgen Habermas, it’s time to rekindle our study of metaphysics. Going back to basics then, we can reconceptualize the word ‘metaphysics’ by thinking about what ‘meta’ actually means. A quick search on provides this definition: “pertaining to or noting an abstract, high-level analysis or commentary, especially one that consciously references something of its own type.” Given this, ‘metaphysics’ can be thought of as “the physics of physics” and since physics essentially just boils down to mathematics, can we not conclude that metaphysics is just more math? Furthermore, if physics aims to articulate patterns of cause-and-effect as observed in the natural world, ‘metaphysics’ then pertains to the field of study about the causal relations between these observed mathematical principles. All in all, rather than discussing entities, we ought to be discussing processes as they exist within and between physical systems.

Just as a quick note, however, I believe this idea originates in structural realism, specifically ontic structural realism (OSR), which suggests that the universe is made up of relations rather than entities like quarks and hydrogen atoms (Ladyman). The beauty of OSR is that the relata themselves exist as relations, albeit at a lower physical level. The energy produced by the Big Bang is what instigates the processes which gives rise to these structures, culminating into the reality we aim to measure in the sciences.

Now, I’m going to go out on a limb here, so bare with me. While Hegelian Dialectics aim to articulate an epistemic or cognitive process of comparing “opposing sides” or perspectives to uncover emergent products, in the form of ideas (Maybee), perhaps this notion can be extended to the physical world too. We know that as physical systems interact, the emergent phenomena is unlike anything present within the underlying components, as identified by Jaegwon Kim in Making Sense of Emergence (Kim 20–21). While Hegel appeals to a “thesis” and an “antithesis”, we can think of these as different systems interacting to produce novel effects. It is this process of combining, configuring, and rearranging elements within each “side” or system which can be considered metaphysical.

The idea of “magic” is just this: effects with obscure physical origins that are not immediately apparent to the observer. The example I appeal to is John Nash’s game theory which identifies how the cooperation between two individuals results in outcomes that are unlike those produced when agents operate separately. Nash identified a regularity within physical systems, namely humans, that produces an effect that is greater than the sum of its parts. Additionally, while game theory is theoretically subsumed by physics, insofar that it is a part of our physical world, the way it is articulated is through mathematics and procedures, rather than existing as an entity like an atom.

Although currently, there doesn’t seem to be much philosophical consensus on the metaphysical problem of the mind/consciousness, this issue can be resolved by naturalizing the works of Sartre and Merleau-Ponty. As biological creatures improved their sensorimotor capacities through [natural/sexual/etc.] selective processes, the brain evolved new ways of solving problems produced by aspects of the environment. By turning back to reflect on itself as an embodied agent, individuals become aware of their relative position in their environment and perhaps their life as an unfolding process. From phenomenal consciousness emerged access consciousness, and through similar reflexive processes, a wider “cosmic” consciousness will likewise spread throughout humanity. Once we realize what and where we are, we can understand how this relates to others, allowing individuals to see beyond their own needs and desires to act in the interest of others or the group. Through this cooperation, we all benefit by looking out for one another, just as game theory predicts. To do this, however, one must cultivate a self-awareness which facilitates the ability to speculate about other minds and the ways in which others may perceive the world.

Works Cited

Kim, Jaegwon. ‘Making Sense of Emergence’. Philosophical Studies: An International Journal for Philosophy in the Analytic Tradition, vol. 95, no. 1/2, 1999, pp. 3–36.

Ladyman, James. ‘Structural Realism’. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, edited by Edward N. Zalta, Winter 2020, Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University, 2020. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy,

Maybee, Julie E. ‘Hegel’s Dialectics’. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, edited by Edward N. Zalta, Winter 2020, Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University, 2020. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy,

iCub and Qualia?

After a few months of working with Dr. Haikonen on my thesis, I’ve come to realize that a previous post I made about iCub’s phenomenal experiences is incorrect and therefore needs an update. Before I dive into that, however, it’s important for me to state that we ought to be looking at philosophy like programming: bugs are going to arise as people continue to work with new ideas. I love debugging though, so the thought of constantly having to go back to correct myself isn’t all that daunting. It’s about the journey, not the destination, as my partner likes to say.

I stated that “technically, iCub already has phenomenal consciousness and its own type of qualia” but given what Haikonen states in the latest edition of his book, this is not correct. Qualia consist of sensory information generated from physical neurons interacting with elements of the environment, and because iCub relies on sensors which create digital representations of physical properties, these aren’t truly phenomenal experiences. In biological creatures, sensory information is self-explanatory in that they require no further interpretation (Haikonen 7); heat generating sensations of pain indicates the presence of a stimulus to be avoided, as demonstrated by unconscious reflexes. The fact that ‘heat’ does not require further interpretation allows one to mitigate its effects on living cells rather quickly, perhaps avoiding serious damage like a burn altogether. While it might look like iCub feels pain, it’s actually a simile generated by computer code that happens to mimic the actions of animals and humans. Without a human stipulating how heat → flinching, iCub would not respond as such because its brain controls its body, rather than the other way around.

As I stated in the previous post, Sartre outlines how being-for-itself arises from a being-in-itself through recursive analysis, provided the neural hardware can support this cognitive action. Because iCub does not originate as a being-in-itself like living organisms, but as a fancy computer, the ontological foundation for phenomenal experiences or qualia is absent. iCub doesn’t care about anything, even itself, as it has been designed to produce behaviours for some end goal, like stacking boxes or replying to human speech. In biology, the end goal is continued survival and reproduction, where behaviours aim to further this outcome through reflexes and sophisticated cognitive abilities. The brain-body relationship in iCub is backwards, as the brain is designed by humans for the purposes of governing the robot body, rather than the body creating signals that the nervous system uses for protecting itself as an autonomous agent. In this way, organisms “care about” what happens to them, unlike iCub, as ripping off its arm doesn’t generate a reaction unless it were to be programmed that way.

In sum, the signals passed around iCub’s “nervous system” exist as binary representations of real-world properties as conceptualized by human programmers. This degree of abstraction disqualifies these “experiences” from being labelled as ‘qualia’ given that they do not adhere to principles identified within biology. The only way an AI can be phenomenally conscious is when it has the means to generate its own internal representations based on an analogous transduction process as seen in biological agents (Haikonen 10–11).

Works Cited

Haikonen, Pentti O. Consciousness and Robot Sentience. 2nd ed., vol. 04, WORLD SCIENTIFIC, 2019. (Crossref),

Whitepill 1: Why Question?

Part of a series on ways to survive this dystopian nightmare

Socrates famously claims “the unexamined life is not worth living” during his trial in Plato’s Apology. Is this correct? Do humans need to examine everything in order to live well? Yes, and developments in philosophy since then demonstrates why this is the case.

Habermas nicely summarizes the progression of human belief and thought in Themes in Postmetaphysical Thinking, pointing out that modern empirical science operates through rational procedures of examining the world and its contents. Specifically, this way of thinking supplanted metaphysical and religious beliefs, resulting in a turning away from faith and the values identified by spiritual examination (Habermas, ‘Themes in Postmetaphysical Thinking’ 34–35). Although this development led to an improved understanding of the sciences, resulting in a growth in technology and mastery over the physical world, we introduced a conceptual void that cannot be filled by the same means or thought-processes that brought about improvements in our standard of living (Habermas, An Awareness of What Is Missing 19).

Luckily, existential philosophers like Kierkegaard and Camus show us how we can begin to reintroduce meaning within our lives, essentially by turning inward to examine one’s own perspective of the world. Through this process, one becomes better able to achieve an Aristotelian self-actualization which is not unlike Nietzsche’s ‘child’, as the individual is now secure within itself as a human, thus enabling the ability to create something new. The notion that happiness emerges from these processes is explicitly articulated in Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning as he shows us a way out of even the darkest caverns of life by reminding us that as subjects, we have the capacity to reframe our attitudes toward our perceptions. Though the responsibility we have for our actions and beliefs may make us feel nauseous (Sartre’s Nausea), by reflecting on our experiences, we can begin to understand and accept elements of our world in their multitude of forms. Human consciousness involves a capacity to reflect on phenomenal experiences, and by engaging in this self-reflection, one becomes better aware of precisely what gives their life meaning and how best to organize their conduct. This includes the participation in practices and communities to create cultural products and ways of contributing to society in various ways. Most importantly, these contributions may not be measurable in dollars or hours, much to the chagrin of those who are interested in reinforcing the values held dearly by the mindset adopted by industrialized societies.

The unexamined life is not worth living because one risks falling into a whirlpool of autopilot and materialism, and therefore a lack of meaning. Moreover, while meanings provided by others may seem to fit our own perspectives at times, it is the passive, unreflective application that renders one feeling empty inside. This has the capacity to leading to depression as one feels disconnected from and ineffectual to both themselves and others. Unfortunately, certain beliefs we hold as a result of this modern, scientific society and culture fosters unexamined living. You, as a human, however, have the capacity to turn away from blind faith into a relationship with yourself that allows you to both expand your knowledge and produce works or actions that are beneficial and purposeful.

Works Cited

Aristotle. Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. Translated by Robert C. Bartlett and Susan D. Collins, University of Chicago Press, 2011.

Frankl, Viktor E. Man’s Search for Meaning. Simon and Schuster, 1985.

Habermas, Jürgen. An Awareness of What Is Missing: Faith and Reason in a Post-Secular Age. Polity Press, 2010.

—. ‘Themes in Postmetaphysical Thinking’. Postmetaphysical Thinking: Philosophical Essays, MIT Press, 1994, pp. 28–53. Ares.

Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm, Mildred Mary Bozman, and A. Tille. Thus Spake Zarathustra. Dent, 1958.

Plato. Apology. Translated by Benjamin Jowett, Project Gutenberg, 1999,

Sartre, Jean-Paul. Nausea. Penguin UK, 2021.

Mary Continues to Learn

A while ago, I wrote a reply about Colorblind Mary given what we know about qualia today, but it’s such an interesting topic that I still think about it often. Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of reading about evolutionary biology and something that jumped to mind is that the sight of blood carries inherent meaning which is probably far more powerful than red fruit. It signals bodily damage which indicates a threat to the well-being of the individual, serving as an alert to attend to the source of the blood. As a result, the individual feels shock or fear due to this damage and it is this emotion which motivates behaviours aimed at preventing the injury from becoming more severe.

This leads us to an interesting point actually, as it indicates an amusing error in the thought experiment itself that could have been altogether avoided, but perhaps its existence indicates the realness of the confusion surrounding qualia back then. Mary will only have had a dozen or so years of black-and-white room living before her biological reality would have shown her what red means. Had Jackson entrapped a ‘Peter’ or ‘Paul’ instead, this self-pwn could have been avoided. Anyway, it’s an interesting reply to Jackson because it demonstrates why he is wrong about qualia and physicalism. Menstruating Mary would have either been alarmed or perhaps annoyed about the sight of her own “blood” depending on whether or not she understood what it signalled, what it means. Damage or injury? Shedding of the uterine lining? It depends on whether her education covered human reproduction, as it serves as the source of meaning in this instance of the colour red. If she doesn’t know what this red means, she’ll likely feel concerned and anxious, however, if she does, she’ll probably feel otherwise. If Mary is interested in having children, it signals a strong degree of unlikelihood that she is currently pregnant, perhaps resulting in feelings of disappointment from knowing what it means.

There is much more to be said about the various meanings of this example of red, but I’ll leave that for someone else to examine. Ultimately, for Mary to learn about what red means, she needs to study the human condition as examined by the arts and humanities, not the sciences. This does not indicate a problem exists within physicalism, as we can appeal to Claude Shannon’s conception of information as meanings embedded in structures (Shannon 379-80). Instead, the problem presented by Jackson’s thought experiment has to do with the way we understand ourselves as human beings, rather than our ability to scientifically explain subjective experiences.

Works Cited

Shannon, C. E. ‘A Mathematical Theory of Communication’. The Bell System Technical Journal, vol. 27, no. 3, July 1948, pp. 379–423. IEEE Xplore,

The blood of angry men
A world about to dawn
I feel my soul on fire
The colour of desire

Magic in Culture

Now is a good time to inject a little magic into every day life by examining and revelling in humanity’s vast history of cultural knowledge and practices. I encourage you to consider your capacity for creativity as a source of magic, where your ability to generate something more from something less is a special kind of wizardry. Moreover, our creations take on a life of their own as others are free to reference and expand upon these contributions. This is especially true today as the internet allows us to find like-minded individuals and communities which appreciate specific skills and the fruits of their labour.

In fact, it could be argued from an anthropological perspective, the internet is as magical as it gets. Although the term itself is used as a noun, the thing it references is more like a vague verb than a solid concept or object. We talk about a thing we don’t often think deeply about, especially due to its physical opacity and degree of technicality. Holding a hard-drive in your hand does not clarify this ambiguity and any resulting confusion, as there is nothing to suggest in these materials that an entire virtual world exists within. Without a screen and a means to display its contents, the information inside is rendered unknowable to the human mind. The amount of human knowledge, skill, and technological progress required to sustain life today is evidence of our power as creators, however, what seems to be missing is a sense of awe that ought to accompany the witnessing of supernatural events.

The causal powers of seemingly magical effects, like electricity for example, can more or less be explained or accounted for by applications of dynamics systems theory, as the interactions of environmental conditions over time is required for the emergence of new properties or products. These emergent products are generated by restructuring lower-level entities or conditions but are not reducible to them, nor are predictable from the lower level (Kim 20-21). Electricity is generated by transforming physical forces and materials into energy, emerging from the interaction of environmental variables like heat and air pressure for example. Alternatively, consider a simple loaf of bread as created by the interaction of flour, a leavening agent like yeast, time, and heat. The ingredients for the bread, like the flour, yeast, sugar, and salt, must be added in a specific order at a specific time in order for the final product to truly become ‘bread’.

Emergence can also be identified in game theory, as cooperation generates a non-zero sum outcome where individuals gain more by working together than if they were working alone (Curry 29). Human economies are founded on this principle of cooperation, as trading goods and services with others theoretically improves the lives individuals working to honour the agreement. From this perspective, it turns out that bronies have identified a fundamental principle of life: friendship is magick because cooperation generates something more from something less. Just as individuals are free to expand upon or reshape the ideas and contributions of others, and groups of individuals are able to combine their expertise to build something new altogether, like the internet. Not only can we establish conceptual connections between past, present, and future, we can connect with each other to expand our understanding of some portion of human culture.

Works Cited

Curry, Oliver Scott. ‘Morality as Cooperation: A Problem-Centred Approach’. The Evolution of Morality, Springer, 2016, pp. 27–51.

Kim, Jaegwon. ‘Making Sense of Emergence’. Philosophical Studies: An International Journal for Philosophy in the Analytic Tradition, vol. 95, no. 1/2, 1999, pp. 3–36.

Implicit Argument for Qualia

Steven Harnad provides an embodied version of the Turing Test (TT) in Other Bodies, Other Minds by using a robot instead of a computer, calling it the Total Turing Test (TTT). He states that to be truly indistinguishable from a human, artificial minds will require the ability to express embodied behaviours in addition to linguistic capacities (Harnad 44). While the TT implicitly assumes language exists independently from the rest of human behaviour (Harnad 45), the TTT avoids problems arising from this assumption by including a behavioural component to the test (Harnad 46). This is due to our tendency to infer other humans have minds despite the fact individuals do not have direct evidence for this belief (Harnad 45). This assumption can be extended to robots as well, where embodied artificial agents which act sufficiently human will be treated as if it had a mind (Harnad 46). Robots which pass the TTT can be said to understand symbols because these symbols have been grounded in non-symbolic structures or bottom-up sensory projections (Harnad 50–51). Therefore, embodiment seems to be necessary for social agents as they will require an understanding of the world and its contents to appear humanlike.

These sensory projections are also known as percepts or qualia (Haikonen 225), and are therefore required for learning language. While Harnad’s intention may have been to avoid discussing metaphysical properties of the mind, for the sake of discussing the TTT, his argument ends up providing support for the ontological structures involved in phenomenal consciousness. Although I didn’t mention it above, he uses this argument to refute Searle’s concerns about the Chinese Room, and the reason he is successful is due to the fact he is identifying an ontological necessity. Robots which pass the TTT will have their own minds because the behaviours which persuade people to believe this is the case are founded on the same processes that produce this capacity in humans.

Works Cited

Haikonen, Pentti O. ‘Qualia and Conscious Machines’. International Journal of Machine Consciousness, Apr. 2012. world,,

Harnad, Stevan. ‘Other Bodies, Other Minds: A Machine Incarnation of an Old Philosophical Problem’. Minds and Machines, vol. 1, no. 1, 1991, pp. 43–54.