Category: Biology

Math and Logic: software running on a kernel?

One of my favourite stories from human history involves the discovery of the relationship between mathematics and logic in the early 20th century, the one that ends in bitter disappointment and the birth of the computer. While I must admit that a portion of my appreciation for this topic is the direct result of a particular story-teller’s sparkling charisma, the mystery uncovered by Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorems has become a kind of meme-parasite that keeps eating at my cognitive energy. It’s one of those topics that I like to think about when I can’t sleep, and while it is on my to-do list of research projects, unfortunately its rank is pretty low for now. Since I have done little research in this area, the questions and propositions I am about to present are probably wrong or misguided to some degree, but here they are.

Could formal logic, as a representational format with axioms and guided by rules, provide us with a language for articulating laws of metaphysics? From a folk-theoretic perspective, we do this when we talk about whether something is or is not the case, or whether something could be possible given certain conditions. These yes-no questions return a boolean value which may influence further processing or decision-making, like whether or not to bring an umbrella. Our behaviour is governed by events in the real world occurring or failing to obtain, and while our neocortex may like the details of these events, our embodied, animal selves ultimately needs to make a decision about something. Examining simpler organisms, it seems the biological norm tends to involve a limited set of behavioural responses to environmental stimuli, like “fight or flight” for example, which are executed when certain conditions are met. It seems as though the nervous system operates similarly to the way computers use bits, in that if something is or is not the case, then a command can be executed. Notice how these operations are reliant on causation, events generated by physical regularities.Since these binary values serve as a foundation for formal logic more generally, we can identify a connection between tracking physical regularities and modern formal logic.

Being a naturalist, I’m inclined to think the universe works in strange ways and humans have been clever enough to capture some of that strangeness and represent it in accurately through formal systems like math and logic. Although these systems are human creations, they are able to correctly represent the aspects of our physical universe as a result of thousands of years of development. We know this because we have successfully sent humans to the moon and back again; if our formal systems were flawed in any way, such a trip would have made this fact more than apparent.

So what isthe difference between math and logic, aside the fact that there will be unprovable mathematical statements (Raatikainen)? I’m wondering if the devil is in the generativity mathematics provides and the pressure that puts on verification as a result. While logic can handle the processing of quantities, mathematics is like a specialized expansion pack that runs on top of logical systems. With the development of agriculture in early human history, we moved away to relying on the environment to a new type of self-reliance, one which requires physical records for accounting and bookkeeping. While aspects of this new formal system are isomorphic to rules and axioms in logic, mathematics creates a space for explaining physical laws and regularities. Mathematics can track aspects of the environment that logic cannot, like rates of change and probability, and provides us with more information about the details of our physical universe. Physics, as a modern topic of study, provides an epistemic foundation for human societies because it explains both ‘what’ and ‘how’, using the scientific method as a vetting process to inch us toward a decent understanding of reality.

Humans will always notice patterns in systems because that is what our brain has evolved to do, which means the act of verification requires the creation of a separate system because our questions abstract away from the particular to the general. If we want to know whether some local phenomena applies to the system globally, like whether the existence of twin primes continues on indefinitely, we need a separate system, perhaps one built on formal logic, to verify this. These systems contain properties and rules which map to versions in the other, however, their separation is a feature, not a bug, to the chagrin of David Hilbert (Zach). By adding a naturalized epistemological dimension to this discussion on the relationship between math and logic, we can start to see the strengths and weakness of each for human knowledge and understanding. Although logic provides us with a degree of certainty, it necessarily comes at a cost. Mathematics, on the other hand, may allow us to understand our universe in greater detail, however, there will always be patterns or phenomena which will evade certainty or a complete understanding.

What about quantum mechanics? All I will say on the matter is this domain seems to involve probabilities, the space between 0 and 1. Could the strange phenomena seen at this physical level defy some aspect of logic we take for granted in physics? Are we dealing with a new formal system here? If math is like software and logic is like a kernel, what would the electricity in this metaphor be? I have more food for the parasite I guess.

Works Cited

Raatikainen, Panu, “Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorems”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2021 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2021/entries/goedel-incompleteness/>.

Zach, Richard, “Hilbert’s Program”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2019 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2019/entries/hilbert-program/>.

Anxiety in Creation

Thanks to my partner, I am now interested in learning to paint. I used to like to draw but painting has always been a daunting task. There are so many parameters to worry about, like colour, strokes, light, proportionality; I think it overwhelmed me. From my perspective, drawing is a little simpler; you have lines and some shading if you’re good. I think the thing that I found the most daunting, however, was picking subject matter. Why do people draw or paint the things they do? Most of the time, I couldn’t think of anything to paint, and would always worry about how the final product would turn out. My fearful immature mind would think something like “if mediocrity is the enemy, then it’s probably best that I stick to what I’m good at.” How lame is that? So, it’s time to tackle the fear of colour-matching and start by just making a mess. That’s what toddlers do with paint, so that’s what I shall do too, but a little less literally because my sensorimotor cortex has a better grip on how to move my hand. It’s not a lot better, but it’s something.

The idea for what to paint came to me, luckily, one day as I was thinking about time and reading about Cézanne. I was thinking about all the versions of still-life fruits and flowers that exist in the world, and then realized that these images were a snapshot of the object’s life, and that at one point, that one apple might have been green rather than red, for example. What if one were to paint all of the snapshots of the apple? In that moment, my mind produced a weird multi-coloured snake inside a tesseract, and it was at that point that I knew I had to try to externalize this image.

With my limited skills in visual representation, I knew I would need to take this slowly and plan every step of the image-creation project. I know I will make mistakes, but planning ahead and determining the steps I need to take beforehand helps to reduce the impact of the errors on the final product. The dimensions were the first thing to plan out: how is this going to fit within the canvas? Next, it was making sure the components of the foreground were properly set in relation to each other. Now that I am working on colour and detail, the real challenge begins.

To take a representation from the mind’s eye and depict it with high fidelity on a piece of paper or canvas is the hardest step. This is made explicit in Derrida’s Memoirs of the Blind, and when I read segments of this book earlier in the year, it reminded me of the art I used to make as a kid and the feelings I had back then. That feeling of anxiety as the brain and body work together to represent a trait or idea (Derrida 36) is quite familiar, and perhaps it was this book that subconsciously rekindled my interest in creating visual art.Since skill is built up as the hand translates what the mind sees into line segments, angles, and shades of colour, I knew I would need a set “training-wheels” to get me going. By appealing to my experiences of drawing, I knew my pictures looked best when I could copy an image in front of me, as the external image is more concrete, visually, than my internal depiction. Existing still-life images act as my guide-dog as I feel around in the dark for ways of bringing this image to life. I know the vase needs to reflect light, but how? Fortunately, a quick internet search provides plenty of examples, but I am still looking for the right image, one that looks as close as possible to the scene in my imagination. I need to copy existing visual elements in order to articulate the ones produced by my neurons.

The lesson? More practice, less fretting. The expectations I place on my “art” are nothing but my own ideals, and after I challenge these ideals, the pleasure comes back. What ideals am I referring to? Productivity and achievement for the sake of bolstering one’s prospects or status, along with other notions that tend to suck the delight out of our endeavours. My partner often reminds me to enjoy the process and think less about the painting as a final product. Focus on the verb, not the noun. I am doing this for myself, not for the blog, not for my career, and certainly not for money. It’s an exercise in phenomenology, nothing more. Will thoughts of hustle-culture sneak up on me when I’m vulnerable? Yes, but that’s why this is about my inner representations, including those that make me doubt myself.

Works Cited

Derrida, Jacques, and Musée du Louvre. Memoirs of the blind: The self-portrait and other ruins. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993.

What Mary Learns

Frank Jackson’s famous thought experiment about qualia asks whether there are subjective facts about the colour red that are distinct from the physical facts produced through scientific inquiry (Jackson 291). The story involves an individual named Mary who grew up in a black-and-white room and has never seen any colours, but has studied everything there is to know about “redness” and how the brain processes light. As a neuroscientist, her studies have provided her with a robust theoretical understanding of colour perception without ever having experienced colour herself, leading us to wonder whether she learns anything new about the colour red after she sees red for the first time. The claim Jackson is interested in making is that there is no information about the experiences of others that Mary had not learned about while in her room. If Mary were to be released only to “realize how impoverished her conception of the mental life of others has been all along” Jackson suggests this generates a problem for physicalism (292).

William Lycan believes Mary would learn something new upon leaving the room because she is now presented with a new form of representation, namely, one produced by the act of introspection (Lycan 389). Building on Nagel’s ideas about what-it-is-like to experience things from a certain perspective, Lycan suggests the mind presents objects or features of the environment in a “special, uniquely internal point of view” (Lycan 390). More interestingly, Lycan goes on to suggest that the contents of these introspective representations are “non-physical pieces of information” (Lycan 391). This is because these internal representations are not synonymous with English words, or any other natural language words, because the internal monitors present within our bodies do not rely on linguistics. What I am assuming he means by this is that although we may use language for inner speech or verbalized thought, representations for qualia or phenomenal experiences such as redness or pain do not use language, but are intrinsic to the body and are relatively ineffable (Dennett 385). Lycan also suggests that these representations are non-physical because neuroscience is unable to provide information on introspective content, and as such, Mary could only represent other people’s experiences of red from a public, neuroscientific perspective (Lycan 393).

While this thought-experiment might pose problems for certain physicalist views, our general understanding of the world at this point in time can start to account for why Mary learns something new upon leaving the room. As she learns about how her own body generates experiences of red from a first-person perspective, she is now able to understand how others must use these internal representations as well. Since neuroscience is only interested in the functional organization of the brain and nervous system, Mary does not know how red appears to subjects engaging with particular wavelengths of light. Prior to her release, Mary could theoretically understand how individuals shop for tomatoes, but without the ability to see red, how this selection process is experienced from an individual’s perspective is still a mystery to her. The inner, subjective details of how people generally go about searching for the ideal tomato were previously off-limits, as her abilities to discriminate colours had yet to be developed. As such, Mary’s understanding of what redness means, especially when fruit shopping, would have been incomplete. Her own, internalized associative network of red objects and their commonalities would be absent or piecemeal, therefore limiting her understanding of how we collectively think about and interact with redness or red objects.

What do you think, are my tomatoes ready?

Works Cited

Dennett, Daniel C. ‘Quining Qualia’. Consciousness in Modern Science, Oxford University Press, 1988, pp. 381–414.

Jackson, Frank. ‘What Mary Didn’t Know’. The Journal of Philosophy, vol. 83, no. 5, JSTOR, 1986, pp. 291–95.

Lycan, William G. ‘Perspectival Representation and the Knowledge Argument’. Consciousness: New Philosophical Perspectives, OUP Oxford, 2003, p. 384.

Artificial Consciousness

With fewer courses this term, I’ve had a lot more time to work on the topic I’d like to pursue for my doctoral research, and as a result, have found the authors I need to start writing papers. This is very exciting because existing literature suggests we have a decent answer to the Chalmer’s Hard Problem, and from a nonreductive functionalist perspective, can fill in the metaphysical picture required for producing an account of phenomenal experiences (Feinberg and Mallatt; Solms; Tsou). This means we are justified in considering artificial consciousness as a serious possibility, enabling us to start discussions on what we should be doing about it. I’m currently working on papers that address the hard problem and qualia, arguing that information is the puzzle piece we are looking for.

Individuals have suggested that consciousness is virtual, similarly to computer software running on hardware (Bruiger; Haikonen; Lehar; Orpwood) Using this idea, we can posit that social robots can become conscious like humans, as the functional architectures of both rely on incoming information to construct an understanding of things, people, and itself. My research contributes to this perspective by stressing the significance of social interactions for developing conscious machines. Much of the engineering and philosophical literature focuses on internal architectures for cognition, but what seems to be missing is just how crucial other people are for the development of conscious minds. Preprocessed information in the form of knowledge is crucial for creating minds, as seen in developmental psychology literature. Children are taught labels for things they interact with, and by linguistically engaging with others about the world, they become able to express themselves as subjects with needs and desires. Therefore, meaning is generated for individuals by learning from others, contributing to the formation of conscious subjects.

Moreover, if we can discuss concepts from phenomenology in terms of the interplay of physiological functioning and information-processing, it seems reasonable to suggest that we have resolved the problems plaguing consciousness studies. Acting as an interface between first-person perspectives and a third-person perspective, information accounts for the contents, origins, and attributes of various conscious states. Though an exact mapping between disciplines may not be possible, some general ideas or common notions might be sufficiently explained by drawing connections between the two perspectives.

Works Cited

Bruiger, Dan. How the Brain Makes Up the Mind: A Heuristic Approach to the Hard Problem of Consciousness. June 2018.

Chalmers, David. ‘Facing Up to the Problem of Consciousness’. Journal of Consciousness Studies, vol. 2, no. 3, Mar. 1995, pp. 200–19. ResearchGate, doi:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195311105.003.0001.

Feinberg, Todd E., and Jon Mallatt. ‘Phenomenal Consciousness and Emergence: Eliminating the Explanatory Gap’. Frontiers in Psychology, vol. 11, Frontiers, 2020. Frontiers, doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2020.01041.

Haikonen, Pentti O. Consciousness and Robot Sentience. 2nd ed., vol. 04, WORLD SCIENTIFIC, 2019. DOI.org (Crossref), doi:10.1142/11404.

Lehar, Steven. The World in Your Head: A Gestalt View of the Mechanism of Conscious Experience. Lawrence Erlbaum, 2003.

Orpwood, Roger. ‘Information and the Origin of Qualia’. Frontiers in Systems Neuroscience, vol. 11, Frontiers, 2017, p. 22.

Solms, Mark. ‘A Neuropsychoanalytical Approach to the Hard Problem of Consciousness’. Journal of Integrative Neuroscience, vol. 13, no. 02, Imperial College Press, June 2014, pp. 173–85. worldscientific.com (Atypon), doi:10.1142/S0219635214400032.

Tsou, Jonathan Y. ‘Origins of the Qualitative Aspects of Consciousness: Evolutionary Answers to Chalmers’ Hard Problem’. Origins of Mind, edited by Liz Swan, Springer Netherlands, 2013, pp. 259–69. Springer Link, doi:10.1007/978-94-007-5419-5_13.

Qualia Revisited

I wrote a rhetorical post a while ago that attempts to motivate a new perspective on qualia and why we ought to consider it as something philosophically valuable. My appeals to art and cultural products aim to be persuasive by connecting qualia to everyday experiences, however, I think it still comes across as too abstract or unclear because the arguments are not well articulated. One of my supervisors has been instrumental for pushing me to abstract away from the science and evidence, and I now have a general idea of where I went wrong in my previous attempts to clarify my own perspective. Emphasis on ‘general’ because there is a lot of work to be done before I fully understand the difference between where I was and where I want to go.

Qualia, ultimately, are just concepts, which essentially boil down to information. This information is applied to the lived experience of one’s own sense data, as received from the environment, either internally in the form of bodily feelings, for example, or externally, as generated by features of the physical world. When we notice this sense data, which I consider similar to phenomenal experiences or Chalmers’ registrations (Chalmers 214), we often need a way to conceptually organize it. As a functional system, the brain receives incoming signals and processes them through various functions or streams, subsequently creating perceptions from sensations (Wolfe et al. 3). Our perceptions, however, are malleable based on information the individual has access to. This ranges from subtle, unconscious shifts in perspective to deliberate thought processes aimed at rethinking the situation at hand. As the body turns data into information (Computer Hope) through functional biological processes, qualia serve to facilitate the mind as the body’s owner or central processing unit by providing additional information which structures and curtails the process of perceiving.

Qualia as information can be passed from human to human as expressions of subjectivity as a means of connecting with others, in addition to making sense of the world. If qualia seem to be illusory or unreal, perhaps it’s because the significance of this information is lost as we try to make sense of what the mind is really doing from a scientific perspective. It probably doesn’t help that ‘information’ is abstract, conceptual, and invisible, as its inherent subtlety enables one to easily overlook or neglect its importance for structuring human thought and behaviour. Perhaps we take our theory of mind for granted and ignore subtle forms of communication, deeming the exchange of knowing glances as something less significant than a well-formed linguistic phrase. Though the information expressed through these channels may not demonstrate a high degree of fidelity to the thought as it exists in the mind of the communicator, our mere ability to communicate this way suggests that additional information already exists in the mind of the receiver, information which can contribute to shaping of the act of perceiving data about body language.

Through qualia, we are better equipped to separate the signal from the noise to determine its meaning, however, we are also reminded through the sharing of these experiences via various mediums that even in our private subjectivity, we are not alone. The “what-it-feels-like” inherent in qualia may be unique to a particular body, but similarities may also exist between individuals. The knowledge of these similarities supports our endeavours to make sense of our feelings and sensations, ultimately allowing us to accept ourselves and our experiences as they are. Although the act of sharing personal, subjective experiences serves a practical social purpose like fostering cooperation and empathy, qualia are useful for individuals as well. The exploration of our subjective selves, along with some act of expression, also allows us to feel more comfortable as we process the deluge of sense data as received by various sensory organs within the human body. Through qualia, we are reminded that the body we inhabit is not a boundary between our inner selves and the subjectivity of others, but a structure that creates and presents information based on our experiences of incoming sense data. This information may be elusive, but it still exists and is significant for structuring human consciousness.

Works Cited

Chalmers, David J. The Conscious Mind: In search of a fundamental theory. Oxford university press, 1996.

Wolfe, Jeremy M., et al. Sensation & perception. Sunderland, MA: Sinauer, 2015.

https://www.computerhope.com/issues/ch001629.htm

Rescuing Qualia

In Quining Qualia, Dennett states “conscious experience has no properties that are special in any of the ways qualia have been supposed to be special” where qualia are considered “special properties, in some hard-to-define way.” His appeals to intuition aim to defend these ideas, however, the examples he provides may fail to convince the reader as objections can be drawn based on an understanding of nervous system functioning and through examining human behaviour. Here, I’m interested in providing an explanation for qualia which does not rely on some intrinsic property of the mind, but a product of culture which influences, and is influenced by, individual humans and their subjective experiences.

To be facetious for a moment, if qualia did not exist, how could one explain why it is that humans feel compelled to spend energy, time, and money on creating, sharing, and experiencing art? Dennett might appeal to the nature of subjective experiences or perhaps to our motivation for seeking pleasure, however there is much more to subjective experiences than one’s feelings or mental representations evoked by some stimulus. Knowledge surrounding a particular stimulus may shape the way it feels or appears from a first-person perspective; for example, mistaking a benign object for a threat of some kind. A coat and hat hanging on a wall hook inside a dark room may be mistaken for a person, perhaps causing one to feel threatened or startled by the apparent intruder, only to discover the truth after turning on the lights. The subjective experience prompted by the sight of the coat and hat is different than if the illusion had indeed been an unexpected guest, primarily due to the relief one is likely to feel at discovering the reality of the situation. In the case of experiencing art, subjective experiences may change over time or with repeated exposure, but our minds are also influenced by the minds of others. The ability to communicate our feelings to others introduces additional perspectives surrounding a particular stimuli, potentially altering one’s own perception and subsequent experiences. These shared ideas or experiences are then represented through cultural artifacts, practices, or beliefs, and aim to depict associations between sensations and perceptions. In this way, qualia are a features of the natural world insofar as they are a result of evolution and human intelligence, becoming “real” as they shape the ways individuals experience and interact with various stimuli.

Not all subjective experiences become qualia though, as some perceptions are more difficult to articulate than others. How to articulate one’s visual experiences of red? It may remind you of something, but it doesn’t necessarily feel like much to merely look at a red object. I can infer that you probably see the colour red like I do when I consider your behaviour around colourful objects. If someone were to indicate their inability to distinguish colours in the same way that I do, I might perform a quick test to verify the experiential discrepancy. Regardless of individual perception however, there is still “something it is like” to see the colour red as most of us do and are able to create representations appealing to this visual quality. Articulating the nature of ‘red’ on its own is rather tough because its qualities aren’t a composite of other visual qualities per say, at least not in the way that ‘orange’ is. From this perspective, qualia emerge through the act of communicating our experiences to others and through identifying the various phenomenological aspects they contain. Qualia feel real to humans because we use them to engage with artistic practices, almost like Dawkins’ memes but saturated in visceral associations to various sensations and perceptions.

If qualia aren’t real, then why does a collection of piano chords remind Debussy and other listeners of clouds? Language enables us to describe our subjective experiences using similes, where one environmental feature reminds us of something else. These associations are likely to follow certain regularities given the laws and constraints of our universe and our physiology, resulting in a similarities between subjective and shared experiences. I doubt any listener will associate Debussy’s pieces with the eruption of Krakatoa, but it seems reasonable to assume some individuals may think of water rather than the sky when listening to Nuages. Thus, it could be suggested that stimuli may evoke a potential set of qualia that humans may refer to when considering their own subjective experiences. Exactly which qualia are included and excluded is roughly determined by how a stimulus affects individuals as a result of their physiological functioning.

Qualia are products of human culture, not biology. The evolution of primates along with their tendency to socialize and enjoy participating in shared activities gave rise to a shared experiences and various ways to depict or describe them. Human cultures create classifications, distinctions, and ontological categories as way to explain natural phenomena and to share knowledge. This collective idea on how our subjective experiences appear to others facilitates bonding as humans learn they are able to relate to the private experiences of others.

Works Cited

Dennett, Daniel C. “Quining qualia.” Consciousness in modern science. Oxford University Press, 1988.

Postmodern Famine

I recognize this post will seem a bit tin-foily but I think it’s time we start acknowledging the consequences of a disrupted global supply chain. Perhaps things won’t get as bad as I am predicting but I think the underlying message will be relevant at some point. Ultimately, the standard of living we grew up taking for granted is about to change to some degree.

The majority of foods we consume and enjoy are dependent on global industries which are currently altering production and transportation protocols as demand and supply continue to change. Regardless of whether shortages arise due to nations restricting exports or locusts ravaging farmlands, it seems likely that by midsummer we will lose access to a variety of foods. Today, we see restaurants only offering take-away or delivery options in an attempt to find a balance between remaining open and upholding distancing measures. Grocery stores are either running out of products or limiting which items they order, as I hear shelves tend to be more empty these days. Before long, the service workers who prepare this food are likely to disappear too, as they themselves become sick or simply refuse to continue to put themselves at risk. Facilities where ready-made meals are prepared may also see a shortage of workers, limiting options for those who do not prepare their own food. We will be required to make everything ourselves, and before you call my a whiny millenial, remember that this is just the beginning. Processed foods will be next, including frozen meals, baked goods, canned soups and sauces, cookies, chips, crackers; anything that is not considered an ingredient. Eventually, however, personnel involved with all levels of the supply chain will be impacted in some way, leading to shortages of produce, dairy, and meat. I have been working on this post for a few weeks, and recently the talk of meat shortages has only increased. While we may not see wide-scale shortages until the end of the year, the decline in numbers of human workers is approaching and it will impact access to most foods.

While you may be able to survive a year without a decent burrito, these effects are not short-term as the entire world is in the midst of readjusting. You may have heard the stories of vegetables rotting in the fields or milk being dumped, but what you may not realize is these were ingredients for future foods too. The downstream effects will be a reduction in selection, and by selection I’m not talking about brands but categorical options. The only milk you may have access to is homogenized milk and cream; no skim, no 2%, and certainly no 1%. If you’re lactose intolerant, you may only be able to buy soy beverage given the recent nature of the American agricultural economy. Unilever or Kraft may have to cut production of certain items given these shortages, and suddenly we are in the midst of a type of food shortage in a time where emotional eating is at its height.

When you no longer have access to the things you love, the things that comfort you, what will you do? There are other forms of escapism and sugar comes in many forms, but we take variety for granted. We have become dependent on satisfying our appetites to some degree, regardless of whether it’s through alcohol, sugar, fat, or caffeine. We cope by consuming these substances and take pleasure in their effects, but there may also be other associations with these foods which contributes to societal well-being. Families and mealtimes go hand-in-hand all over the world, and it is difficult to determine how changes to supply chains will impact social relations.

Another option for coping is through various forms of media, as it entertains us and distracts our minds from the horror of reality. The problem arises from the tight coupling of food and visual media, irrespective of advertising. Since food is a cultural activity enabled by peak globalism, and a source of human happiness, we may suffer if this shared experience has been diminished to some degree. This may become especially apparent if images of our favourite foods are continuously popping up in our attempts to distract ourselves. Currently, social media posts include pictures of homemade creations or recommended recipes, and scrolling through staged photos may enrage us if we can’t have what we are seeing. It will remind us of a time when we had it all but didn’t even know it.

Until then, we will begin to value normalcy as type of currency, where our motivations aim to meet a luxurious set of basic needs. First-world lifestyles are built on options and variety in the things we consume, from Netflix shows to vegetarian alternatives. Notions of scarcity in a postmodern society seem ironic because it implies a reduction in standard of living, not necessarily a threat to survival. As we take our current way of life for granted, the more we put ourselves at cognitive and emotional risk. We have to acknowledge our personal dependency on this consumeristic environment we grew up assuming was normal. This has produced a level of entitlement which is about to be threatened or at least thrust into the spotlight, and perhaps leading to a reduction in emotional well-being. Some are frustrated by the actions of those who believe their freedoms are being restricted, and those protesting lock down orders inspire others to demand things “return to normal.” I don’t see it happening. Will this lead to societal unrest, especially as unemployment numbers grow? Of course it’s difficult to determine how society will adjust to this new normal, but I don’t like the way things are going today. Throw a change of available coping mechanisms into the mix and ask yourself, how are we going to handle this adjustment to a new normal? Maybe we won’t feel it until this time next year, but I believe our collective emotional well-being is about to deteriorate, for a number of reasons.

Why Science Needs Philosophy

My peers within the department often joke about life after university, considering the whole world seems to scoff at those interested in pursuing arts and humanities (A&H) degrees. This opinion piece by Laplace, however, is an important reminder of the value of our discipline, regardless of how much money we end up making in the future. As institutional funding is reallocated to support students pursuing more profitable degrees like computer science and engineering, A&H departments are likely to suffer, unable to hire new faculty and limiting course selection for example. Unless philosophers can market their skills to assist with projects from a variety of sectors, I don’t see how society will continue to support our endeavours, perspectives and concerns. Although notions of “anti-elitism” seem to continue to grow in the United States, perhaps Canada will challenge my pessimistic attitudes on this subject and find innovative ways to support their A&H graduates, but we will see. This suggests philosophers may need to do their own advocacy demonstrating the financial value of creativity and scepticism, especially within business, science, and technology. Consider this entry as my early attempts at convincing you, dear reader, that philosophy is much more than writing about central figures such as Kant, Aristotle, or Frege.

Although Laplane discusses many important points throughout, the end of the article is quite interesting as it suggests ways to foster the relationship between science and philosophy. Now, I’m not quite sure who said this to me, but they presented the idea that philosophy and science are able to discuss the same topic in different ways. While science may prefer ‘what’ questions, philosophy tends to ask ‘why’ and perhaps even ‘how’ concepts, principles, or processes emerge. Though this generalization may oversimplify the relationship between the two, I merely wanted to point out their approximate differences. Laplane herself states “…we see philosophy and science as located on a continuum.” (3950) which suggests both an overlap and a distinction in the questions each discipline asks. It is important to remember the common ground, in addition to the diversity in perspectives, between science and philosophy as we consider new ways to unite these two fields of inquiry.

While I agree with all six recommendations on page 3951, the fourth and fifth stood out to me as the most important especially when it comes to developing this program in the future. The marriage of science and philosophy can only be as good as its thinkers, where education serves a central role for this relationship to be harmonious and fruitful. From primary school to post secondary, it will become increasingly important to teach both arts and sciences of various types to foster the integration of the two. I say ‘arts’ rather than ‘philosophy’ because developing a love for the arts may inspire individuals in ways philosophy is unable. Artistic expression, regardless of medium, allows one to improve their sense of self, and when combined with educational goals, is likely to facilitate personal and professional growth more effectively than either alone. Whether it is sculpting, poetry, or dance, artistic expression provides mechanisms for new approaches within the sciences as one remains in touch with their creative side. Although it might be difficult to understand how theatre may inspire work in civil engineering, the human brain is quite powerful in its abilities to “fill in the blanks” and synthesize concepts, if the opportunity arises. Most exciting of all is how access to information via the internet and online relationships can further assist individuals in their efforts.

Returning to philosophy though, Laplane makes an important point about why philosophical inquiry is so appropriate for science. On page 3950 after the excerpt mentioned above, she states:

“Philosophy and science share the tools of logic, conceptual analysis, and rigorous argumentation. Yet philosophers can operate these tools with degrees of thoroughness, freedom, and theoretical abstraction that practicing researchers often cannot afford in their daily activities.”

It is exactly this freedom which inspired me to move away from studying psychology to studying philosophy of mind. Of course, too much of a good thing can lead one astray, which is why empirical evidence and the methodologies which produce it must never be overlooked by philosophers. The ability to defer to experts is a powerful bidirectional tool which carries so much potential for the future, and maybe one day those interested in A&H subjects will find their niche within capitalistic economies.

Works Cited

Laplane, Lucie, et al. “Opinion: Why science needs philosophy.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 116.10 (2019): 3948-3952.

Update: Phil of Bio

The University of Guelph has a Philosophy of Biology course and it was everything I was hoping it would be. Jointly taught by Dr. Stefan Linquist and Dr. Ryan Gregory, our focus on arguments surrounding epigenetics led many to agree there isn’t really a lot of new information. The book Extended heredity: a new understanding of inheritance and evolution turned out to be hilariously contradictory, as many of the concepts it presented can be easily explained by existing biological theories. I had an opportunity to receive feedback on ideas I have about Chalmers’ “bridging principles” and how biological processes produce subjective feelings. As I suspected, an incredible amount of work needs to be done to get these ideas together, but I have a direction now. The project is being placed on the back burner though and so is my attempt to work on consciousness at school. I’m not too worried, I’ll get to it later.

For now, I’m going to work on an argument for an upcoming need to reconsider our conception of robots and our relationships with them, particularly as they begin to resemble subjects rather than objects. There is a growing demand for robotic solutions within the realm of healthcare, suggesting certain functionality must be incorporated to achieve particular outcomes. Information processing related to social cues and contexts such as emotional expression will be important to uphold patient dignity and foster well-being. Investigating Kismet‘s architecture suggests cognition and emotion operate in tandem to orient agents toward goals and methods for obtaining them. The result of this functional setup, however, is it requires humans to treat Kismet like a biological organism, implying a weak sense of subjectivity. I’m also interested in considering objections to the subjectivity argument and reasons why our relationships with robots will remain relatively unchanged.

My original post on the philosophy of biology cited the entry from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy which is authored Paul Griffiths. I learned earlier this term that Dr. Linquist studied under Dr. Griffiths, a fact that should not be surprising but is still quite exciting.

I’m looking forward to working on this project and the outcome of the feedback and learning, but I am going to get knocked down many levels over the next six months or so. I mean, that’s why I am here.

Works Cited

Bonduriansky, Russell, and Troy Day. Extended heredity: a new understanding of inheritance and evolution. Princeton University Press, 2018.

Programming Emotions

Last summer, I was introduced to the world of hobby robotics and began building an obstacle-avoidance bot as a way to learn the basics. Once classes started last September, all projects were set aside until I graduated, allowing me to focus on school. Now that I have free time, I’ve been thinking about what kind of robot to build next. It will probably still have wheels and an ultrasonic sensor, but I want it to behave based on its internal environment as well as its external environment. Not only will it detect objects in its path, but it will also move about based on its mood or current emotional state. For example, if it were to be afraid of loud noises, it would go to “hide” against a nearby object. This specific functionality would require the robot have a microphone to detect sounds, and is something I have been thinking of adding. Otherwise, the only input the robot has is object-detection, and producing or calculating emotions based on the frequency of things in its path is kind of boring. I have also been interested in operationalizing, codifying, and programming emotions for quite a while now, and this project would be a great place to start.

One helpful theory I came across is the Three-Factor Theory (3FT) developed by Mehrabian and Russell in 1974 (Russell and Mehrabian 274). It describes emotions as ranging through a three-dimensional space consisting of values for pleasure, arousal, and dominance. For example, a state of anger is associated with -.68 for pleasure, +.22 for arousal, and +.10 for dominance (Russell and Mehrabian 277). After mulling on these averages for a second, I feel these are fairly reflective of general human nature, but let’s not forget these values are dependent on personality and contextual factors too. However, the notion of ‘dominance’ doesn’t feel quite right, and I wonder if a better paradigm could take its place. Personally, the idea of being dominant or submissive is quite similar to the approach/avoidance dichotomy used in areas of biology and psychology. ‘Dominance’ is inherently tied to social situations, and a broader theory of emotion must account for non-social circumstances as well. The compelling argument from the approach/avoidance model centers around hedonism, motivation, and goal acquisition; if a stimulus is pleasurable or beneficial, individuals are motivated to seek it out, while undesirable or dangerous stimuli are avoided in order to protect oneself (Elliot 171). Furthermore, this also works well with the Appraisal Theory of emotion, as it argues that affective states indicate an individual’s needs or goals (Scherer 638). Therefore, I will be using a value range based on approach/avoidance rather than dominance. While human emotions tend to involve much more than a simple judgement about a situation, the Appraisal Theory should suffice for a basic robot. One last modification I would like to make in my version of the 3FT is changing ‘pleasure’ to ‘valence’. This is merely to reflect the style of language used in current psychological literature, where positive values are associated with pleasure and negative values are associated with displeasure. I also like this because robots don’t feel pleasure (yet?) but they are capable of responding based on “good” and “bad” types of stimuli. ‘Arousal’ is perfectly fine as it is, as it reflects how energetic or excited the individual is. For example, being startled results in high arousal due to the relationship between the amygdala, hypothalamus, and other local and distal regions in the body, which typically prepare the individual to run or fight (Pinel 453-454).

To summarize, the three factors I will be using are valence, arousal, and approach/avoidance. As much as I would love to find a term to replace ‘approach/avoidance’, for the sake of a nice acronym, I have yet to find one which encapsulates the true nature of the phenomenon. Anyway, this modified 3FT seems to be a good start for developing emotional states in a simple robot, especially if it only receives a narrow range of sensory input and does not perform any other sophisticated behaviours. While this robot will possess internal states, it won’t be able to reflect upon them nor have any degree of control over them. Heck, I won’t even be using any type of AI algorithms in this version. So if anyone is spooked by a robot who feels, just know that it won’t be able to take over the world.

Works Cited

Elliot, Andrew J. “Approach and avoidance motivation and achievement goals.” Educational psychologist 34.3 (1999): 169-189.

Pinel, John PJ. Biopsychology. Boston, MA: Pearson, 2011.

Russell, James A., and Albert Mehrabian. “Evidence for a three-factor theory of emotions.” Journal of research in Personality 11.3 (1977): 273-294.

Scherer, Klaus R. “Appraisal theory.” Handbook of cognition and emotion (1999): 637-663.