Category: Mind

Chaos in the System

As an argument against iCub’s ability to understand humans, I wanted to appeal to the work of Robert Rosen because I think it makes for a compelling argument about AI generally. To accomplish this, however, my project would start to go in a new direction which renders it less cohesive overall. Instead, the Rosen discussion is better served as a stand alone project because there is a lot of explaining yet to do, and maybe some objections that need discussing as well. This will need to wait but I can at least upload the draft for context on the previous post. There are a few corrections I still need to make but once it’s done, I will update this entry.

Instead, I will argue that the iCub is not the right system for social robots because its approach to modelling emotion is unlike the expression of emotions in humans. As a result, it cannot experience nor demonstrate empathy in virtue of the way it is built. The cognitive architecture used by iCub can recognize emotional cues in humans, however, this information is not experienced by the machine. Affective states in humans are bodily and contextual, but in iCub, they are represented by computer code to be used by the central processing unit. This is the general idea but I’m still working out the details.

That said, there is something interesting in Rosen’s idea about the connection between Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem and the incompleteness between syntax and semantics. In particular, what he identifies is the problems generated from self-reference which leads the system to produce an inconsistency given its rule structure. The formal representation of an external referent, as an observable of a natural system, contains only the variables relevant for the referent within the formal system. Self-reference requires placing a variable within a wider scope, one which must be provided in the form of a natural system. Therefore, an indefinite collection of formal systems is required to capture a natural phenomenon. Sometimes a small collection is sufficient, while other times, systems are so complex that a collection of formal systems is insufficient for fully accounting for the natural phenomenon. Depending on the operations to be performed on the referent, it may break the system or lead to erroneous results. The chatbot says something weird or inappropriate.

In December, I presented this argument at a student conference and made a slideshow for it. Just a note: on the second slide I list the titles of my chapters, and because I won’t be pursuing the Rosen direction, the title of Chapter 4 will likely change. Anyway, the reading and writing on Rosen has taken me on a slight detour but a worthwhile one. Now, I need to begin research on emotions and embodiment, which is also interesting and will be useful for future projects as well. The light at the end of the tunnel has dimmed a bit but it’s still there, and my eyes have adjusted to the darkness so it’s fine.

This shift in directions makes me think about the relationship between chaos and order, and systems that swing between various states of orderliness. Without motion there would be rest and stagnation, so as much as change can be challenging, it can bring new opportunities. There is a duality inherent in everything, as listed as one of 7 Hermetic Principles. If an orderly, open system is met with factors which disrupts or disorganizes functioning, the system must undergo some degree of reorganization or compensation. The explanatory powers of the 7 Principles are not meant to relate to the external world in the way physics does, but relate to one’s perspective of events in the outside world. If one can shift their perspective accordingly, they operate as axioms for sense-making, their reality pertaining more to epistemology than ontology. We can be sceptical as to how these Principles manifest in the physical universe while feeling their reality in our lived experience of the world. They are to be studied from within rather than from without, and are thus more aligned with phenomenology than the sciences.

Metaphorically speaking, chaos injected into any well-ordered system has the potential to severely damage or disrupt it, requiring efforts to rebuild and reorganize to compensate for the effects of change. The outcome of this rebuilding process can be further degradation and maybe even collapse, however, it can lead to growth and better outcomes than if the shift had not occurred. It all depends on the system in question and the factors which impacted it, and probably the specific context in which the situation occurred, but it might depend on the system in question. Anyway, we substitute the idea of ‘chaos’ for ‘energy’ as movement or potential, thus establishing a connection to ‘light’ as a type of energy. Metaphorically, ‘light’ is also associated with knowledge and beneficence, so if the source of chaos is intentional and well-meaning, favourable changes can occur and thus a “light bringer” or “morning star” can be associated with positive connotations. Disrupting a well-ordered system without knowledge or a plan or good reasons is more likely to lead to further disorder and dysfunction, leading to negative or unfavourable outcomes. In this way, Lucifer can be associated with evil or descent.

This kind of exercise can help us make sense of our experiences and understanding, but they also give us into a window into the past and how other people may think. Myth and legend from cultures all over the world portray knowledge in metaphors which inspire those who come upon them for generations since. The metaphysics are not important, it’s the epistemology from the metaphors which can explain aspects of how the world works or why people think certain things or act in certain ways. It exists as poetry which needs interpreting and there is room for multiple perspectives, so not everyone appreciates it which is understandable. It is still valuable work to be done by someone though, and the more people the better.

Rothschild Canticles p. 64r (c. 1300)

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 dictionary.com 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, https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2020/entries/structural-realism/.

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, https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2020/entries/hegel-dialectics/.

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. DOI.org (Crossref), https://doi.org/10.1142/11404.

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, https://doi.org/10.1002/j.1538-7305.1948.tb01338.x.

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

Subjects as Embodied Minds

Last year I wrote a paper on robot consciousness to submit to a conference, only to realize that there is a better approach to establishing this argument than the one I took. In Sartrean Phenomenology for Humanoid Robots, I attempted to draw a connection between Sartre’s description of self-awareness and how this can be applied to robotics, and while at the time I was more interested in this higher-order understanding of the self, it might be a better idea to start with an argument for phenomenal consciousness. I realized that technically, iCub already has phenomenal consciousness and its own type of qualia, a notion I should develop more before moving on to discuss how we can create intelligent, self-aware robots.

What I originally wanted to convey was how lower levels of consciousness act as a foundation from which higher-order consciousness emerges as the agent grows up in the world, where access consciousness is the result of childhood development. Because this paper is a bit unfocused, I only really talked about this idea in one paragraph when it should be its own paper:

“Sartre’s discussion of the body as being-for-itself is also consistent with the scientific literature on perception and action, and has inspired others to investigate enactivism and embodied cognition in greater detail (Thompson 408; Wider 385; Wilson and Foglia; Zilio 80). This broad philosophical perspective suggests cognition is dependent on features of the agent’s physical body, playing a role in the processing performed by the brain (Wilson and Foglia). Since our awareness tends to surpass our perceptual contents toward acting in response to them (Zilio 80), the body becomes our centre of reference from which the world is experienced (Zilio 79). When Sartre talks about the pen or hammer as an extension of his body, his perspective reflects the way our faculties are able to focus on other aspects of the environment or ourselves as we engage with tools for some purpose. I’d like to suggest that this ability to look past the immediate self can be achieved because we, as subjects, have matured through the sensorimotor stage and have learned to control and coordinate aspects of our bodies. The skills we develop as a result of this sensorimotor learning enables the brain to redirect cognitive resources away from controlling the body to focus primarily on performing mental operations. When we write with a pen, we don’t often think about how to shape each letter or spell each word because we learned how to do this when we were children, allowing us to focus on what we want to say rather than how to communicate it using our body. Thus, the significance of the body for perception and action is further reinforced by evidence from developmental approaches emerging from Piaget’s foundational research.”

Applying this developmental process to iCub isn’t really the exciting idea here, and although robot self-consciousness is cool and all, it’s a bit more unsettling, to me at least, to think about the fact that existing robots of this type technically already feel. They just lack the awareness to know that they are feeling, however, in order to recognize a cup, there is something it is like to see that cup. Do robots think? Not yet, but just as dogs have qualia, so does iCub and Haikonen’s XCR-1 (Law et al. 273; Haikonen 232–33). What are we to make of this?

by Vincenzo Fiorecropped

Works Cited

Haikonen, Pentti O. ‘Qualia and Conscious Machines’. International Journal of Machine Consciousness, World Scientific Publishing Company, Apr. 2012. world, www.worldscientific.com, https://doi.org/10.1142/S1793843009000207.

Law, James, et al. ‘Infants and ICubs: Applying Developmental Psychology to Robot Shaping’. Procedia Computer Science, vol. 7, Jan. 2011, pp. 272–74. ScienceDirect, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.procs.2011.09.034.

Thompson, Evan. ‘Sensorimotor Subjectivity and the Enactive Approach to Experience’. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences, vol. 4, no. 4, Dec. 2005, pp. 407–27. Springer Link, https://doi.org/10.1007/s11097-005-9003-x.

Wider, Kathleen. ‘Sartre, Enactivism, and the Bodily Nature of Pre-Reflective Consciousness’. Pre-Reflective Consciousness, Routledge, 2015.

Wilson, Robert A., and Lucia Foglia. ‘Embodied Cognition’. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, edited by Edward N. Zalta, Spring 2017, Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University, 2017. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2017/entries/embodied-cognition/.

Zilio, Federico. ‘The Body Surpassed Towards the World and Perception Surpassed Towards Action: A Comparison Between Enactivism and Sartre’s Phenomenology’. Journal of French and Francophone Philosophy, vol. 28, no. 1, 2020, pp. 73–99. PhilPapers, https://doi.org/10.5195/jffp.2020.927.

Filling the Void

Combined, the ideas in the texts The Political: the Rational Meaning of a Questionable Inheritance of Political Theology and An Awareness of What is Missing by Jürgen Habermas suggest the maintenance of peace and stability in postmetaphysical liberal democratic societies requires both a freedom of expression and a way to defer to religious content within political debate. Overall, Habermas articulates the causal relationship between secularized political spheres and societal destabilization, where a lack of connection to faith, spirituality, and religious meaning increases the potential for a culturally disconnected, and thus less cooperative, populace.

In An Awareness, Habermas provides recommendations which aim to establish a position for religion in postmetaphysical societies. He remarks that despite general historical developments in human knowledge and various cultural practices, religious thinking seems to remain a crucial component of human life in secular liberal democracies (Awareness 16). Habermas demonstrates that although postmetaphysical societies have rejected religion as a source of truth, nations and political parties still appeal to religion to gain support from voting citizens (Awareness 19-20). In general, not only does this suggest that religion remains a source of meaning for some, but these meanings are often appealed to within political discourse. Habermas is concerned about the tendency of postmetaphysical societies to reject the significance of this source of meaning, stating it risks enabling a “naive faith in science” to take its place, one which suggests a lurking sense of defeatism (Awareness 18). These situations threaten societal conceptions of morality and justice as the binding-agent necessary for ensuring harmony among communities no longer exists (Awareness 19). This missing link between human societies results in a broad destabilization of the relationship between religious communities (Awareness 20). To remedy this situation, Habermas suggests that the state ought to remain neutral toward religious groups and institutions while also recognizing their significance for citizens and their families (Awareness 21). This imposes a requirement for religious individuals and groups to acknowledge the secular epistemic environments in which they reside, and engage in reflexive scrutiny as a means of situating their ideology within this context (Awareness 21). Simultaneously, secular individuals must remain open to considering the content of religious perspectives, acknowledging and translating these contributions during political discussions (Awareness 22). This cooperation, created from the state’s open engagement with religious content and support for freedom of expression, stabilizes the relationship between various groups within society.

The Political discusses the current destabilization of societies in terms of their relation to human history and our shared cultural heritage. In a period of ancient history known as the Axial Age, politics were tightly coupled with religion such that emperors and rulers were believed to be connected to otherworldly entities and forces, considered divine by those over which they ruled (Political 17). With modernization, developments in human understanding removed the connection between the spiritual and the political, as kings were no longer viewed as incarnates of divine will or law, but just as human as their subjects (Political 18-19). In the following “era of statehood”, communities formed around identities, a topic Habermas discusses by appealing to the works of Carl Schmitt (Political 20). While Schmitt believes this depoliticization occurred during the period of modern history, Habermas argues that instead, it was the early modern period which saw this shift, due to the Reformation movements away from the Catholic Church (Political 20-21). Habermas also wonders whether modern political settings render religious content obsolete or simply alter the way it is used within political discourse (Political 21). Suggesting the latter, Habermas appeals to John Rawls’s public reason to articulate how liberal democracies can come to accept the potential significance of contributions which happen to originate from religious content (Political 23-24). Although this requires cooperation between secular and religious communities to translate various ideas into language suitable for public reason (Political 27), this dialectical process aims to generate a pluralistic society tolerant to the views and ideologies of distinct peoples (Political 28).

On page 17 of An Awareness, Habermas states “the cleavage between secular knowledge and revealed knowledge cannot be bridged”. Can artistic works and other cultural projects serve as a bridge since the creation of artistic works, a process, aims to use scientific knowledge to represent subjective perspectives? Could public policy which secures funding for the arts or other, similar cultural projects further tolerance? If citizens are able to freely engage with representations of the perspectives of unique individuals as expressive, situated subjects, are individuals more likely to empathize with this perspective, thus increasing understanding, acceptance, and tolerance over time? Acknowledging Derrida’s philosophical contributions, we can consider artistic works and similar cultural products as entities with lives of their own. Representing a rich history of human heritage and development, do artistic works serve as a good mediator between individuals and collectives? Habermas focuses on translating language to uncover meaning, however, some knowledge cannot be adequately expressed in words.

The work below demonstrates the artist’s knowledge of colour mixing is required to produce an image which evokes a certain feeling, in addition to his ability to apply colours in such a way where the final product successfully communicates the message or idea as intended by the mind of another person.

Mother with a Child by Arnold Peter Weisz-Kubínčan, 1940.

Works Cited

Habermas, Jürgen. ‘Religion in the Public Sphere’. European Journal of Philosophy, vol. 14, no. 1, pp. 1–25.

—. ‘“The Political”: The Rational Meaning of a Questionable Inheritance of Political Theology’. The Power of Religion in the Public Sphere, by Judith Butler et al., Columbia University Press, 2011.

Information Warfare

It seems we are in the midst of a new world war, except now it aims to lurk in the forms of soft power, coercion, and psychological manipulation. The Cold War essentially hibernated for a few years until Putin became powerful enough to relaunch it online by using Cambridge Analytica and Facebook, targeting major western superpowers like the United States and the United Kingdom. We are witnessing the dismantling of NATO as nations erode from the inside through societal infighting. War games are not mapped out on land and sea but in the minds of groups residing within enemy nations (Meerloo 99). By destabilizing social cohesion within a particular country or region, the fighting becomes self-sustaining and obscured.

Information is key for psychological operations; as sensing living beings, information is what allows us to make good decisions which allow us to achieve our goals and keep living as best as possible. Since information has the capacity to control the behaviours of individuals, power can be generated through the production and control of information. Today, a number of key scientific organizations and individuals are drunk with power as they are in positions to control what should be considered true or false. For the sake of resource management, and likely a dash of plain ol’ human greed, the pragmatic pressures of the world have shaped what was once a methodology into a machine that provides people with purported facts about reality. As a result, we are now battling an epistemic dragon driven by collecting more gold to sit on.

This suggests that the things we believe are extremely valuable to others around the world, in addition to being one of the most valuable things you possess. The information and perspective you can provide to others is valuable, either to the society you belong to or to those interested in seeing your society crumble. The adage about ideas “living rent free in your head” seems appropriate because cultural memes are causally effective; they shape the way you think and act and such, introduces a potential psychological harm. Critical thinking and introspection are important because they are processes which counteract the influence of other people, because by forcing individuals to dig deeper from their subjective point of view, one ends up consolidating and pruning their beliefs.

Collateral damage has shifted from bodies to minds and communities will continue to be torn apart until we develop a system for individuals to combat these external influences. Socrates has shown us that philosophical inquiry tends to irritate people, and the fact that mere scientific scepticism today is being met with ad hominems suggests we are on the right track. Remember, the goal is discourse rather than concrete answers, and an important component involves considering new and conflicting ideas. Be wary of what incentivizes other people but do not judge them for it. Compassion will be the most challenging part of this entire endeavour, but I believe in you.

Bayeux Tapestry Scene 52

Works Cited

Meerloo, Joost A. M. The Rape of the Mind:  The Psychology of Thought Control, Menticide, and Brainwashing. The World Publishing Company, 1956.

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.