Author: Molly_G

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 Nature55). 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.

(still searching for the creator on r/philosphymemes)

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 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.

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, https://www.gutenberg.org/files/1656/1656-h/1656-h.htm.

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, 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

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, www.worldscientific.com, https://doi.org/10.1142/S1793843009000207.

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.

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.

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.

Weisz-Kubínčan, Arnold Peter. Mother with a Child. 1940, https://artvee.com/dl/mother-with-a-child-2/. artvee.com.

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.

Works Cited

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

Stafford, Zach M. at extrafabulouscomics.com