It’s easy to be unaware of the fact that notions similar to, if not identical with, the concept of the “extended mind” were in circulation before, say, 1998. Yet there were writers advocating active (as opposed to philosophical) externalism before that date. I have noted before that Tuomela 1989 is one such source:
“The main arguments in [this] paper are directed against the latter thesis, according to which internal (or autonomous or narrow) psychological states as opposed to noninternal ones suffice for explanation in psychology. Especially, feedback-based actions are argued to require indispensable reference to noninternal explanantia, often to explanatory common causes.” — Methodological Solipsism and Explanation in Psychology, Raimo Tuomela, Philosophy of Science Vol. 56, No. 1 (Mar., 1989) , pp. 23-47.
But there is an even clearer statement of the thesis dating back a decade before that, in Aaron Sloman’s The Computer Revolution in Philosophy (available for free here):
“Because these ideas have been made precise and implemented in the design of computing systems, we can now, without being guilty of woolly and unpackable metaphors, say things like: the environment is part of the mechanism (or its mind), and the mechanism is simultaneously part of (i.e. ‘in’) the environment!” — Aaron Sloman, The Computer Revolution in Philosophy: Philosophy, science and models of mind, Harvester Press, 1978, Section 6.5.
Here we have not only the extended mind, but situatedness as well!
Admittedly, not everything Sloman says in that book is friendly to an externalist perspective on mind, but I doubt he would take that to be a criticism.
David Leavens reminded me of Gregory Bateson saying similar things in 1972:
“… we may say that ‘mind’ is immanent in those circuits of the brain which are complete within the brain. Or that mind is immanent in circuits that are complete within the system, brain plus body. Or, finally, that mind is immanent in the larger system — man plus environment .”
In “Intelligence as a Way of Life” (2000), I note, in precisely this context (the precursors of active externalism), that Bateson’s 1971 “The Cybernetics of ‘Self’: A Theory of Alcoholism” says “the mental characteristics of the system are immanent not in some part, but in the system as a whole”, and also:
“The computer is only an arc of a larger circuit which always includes a man and an environment from which information is received and upon which efferent messages from the computer have effect. This total system, or ensemble, may legitimately be said to show mental characteristics”.
I then explicitly link his remarks to Tuomela 1989 and Clark and Chalmers 1998. Thanks again, David.
This morning, Tad Zawidzki drew my attention to the publication on Tuesday of this paper: Multisensory Integration in Complete Unawareness. What Faivre et al report there is exactly the kind of phenomenon that Ryan Scott, Jason Samaha, Zoltan Dienes and I have been investigating. In fact, we have been aware of Faivre et al’s study and cite it in our paper (that is currently under review).
Their work is good, but ours goes further. Specifically, we show that:
- a) Cross-modal associations can be learned when neither of the stimuli in the two modalities are consciously perceived (whereas the Faivre et al study relies on previously learned associations between consciously perceived stimuli).
- b) Such learning can occur with non-linguistic stimuli.
Together, a) and b) really strengthen the case against accounts that assert that consciousness is required for multi-sensory integration (e.g., Global Workspace Theory). Some defenders of such theories might try to brush aside results like that of Faivre et al by revising their theories to say that consciousness is only required for higher-level cognition, such as learning; and/or by setting aside linguistic stimuli as a special case of (consciously) pre-learned cross-modal associations which can be exploited by unconscious processes to achieve the appearance of multi-sensory integration. Our results block both of these attempts to save (what we refer to as) integration theories.
The principle of embodiment in cognitive science emphasises that the main object of cognition is to reason about systems which the agent itself is part of and can affect through its actions. I propose that particular real-world circumstances can undermine the assumption that the process of reasoning does not affect the systems being reasoned about, and explore why this is a problem for typical conceptions of rationality. We will also discuss how Sorensen’s concept of epistemic blind spots could affect mathematical reasoning, in light of the Lucas-Penrose argument about human transcendence of mechanism. But it will come as a surprise.
Wed 9th Apr, 1:30-3:00, Keith Wilson, ‘The Argument from Looks: A Plea for Representational Humility’
The assumption that perceptual experience (seeing, hearing, and so on) is fundamentally representational is common in much recent philosophy and cognitive science. It is an assumption, however, that is rarely argued for or examined in detail. According to this assumption, perceptual experience (as distinct from judgement or belief) represents the world as being, or as seeming to be, some particular way. That is, each experience has a determinate set of truth conditions. In this paper, I present an argument, inspired by Travis (2004), that aims to challenge this orthodoxy, instead claiming that there is no single representational content of experience. Consequently, whilst the argument does not entirely rule out the existence of perceptual representations, it does highlight a fundamental tension in the way philosophers and scientists of perception have thought about such representation that severely constrains its explanatory role, raising a number of questions that have yet to be satisfactorily answered by proponents of the representational view.
Wed 12th March 12:30-14:00
‘Epistemic and Inferential Consistency in Knowledge-Based Systems’
One way to understand the knowledge-based systems approach to AI is as the attempt to give an artificial agent knowledge (or give it the ability to act like a human that has that knowledge) by putting linguaform representations of that knowledge into the agent’s database (its knowledge base). The agent can then add to its knowledge base by applying rules of inference to the sentences in it. An important desideratum for this process is that only true sentences are added (else they cannot be knowledge). Since typical rules of inference would allow the addition of any sentences, including false ones, to an inconsistent database, care must be taken to ensure that knowledge bases are consistent. Much effort has been expended on devising tractable ways to do this (e.g., truth maintenance systems, assumption-based truth maintenance systems, partitioned paraconsistent knowledge bases that are locally consistent but may be globally inconsistent, etc.) I argue that for certain kinds of knowledge representation languages (autoepistemic logics), a further constraint, which I call epistemic consistency, must be met. I argue for the need to check for epistemic consistency despite the fact that, unlike for consistency simpliciter, failing to meet this constraint is not a logical possibility. The most basic form of checking that this constraint is met is to ensure that there are no sentences in an agent’s knowledge base that constitute what Sorensen has called an epistemic blindspot for that agent (e.g., “It is raining, but Hal doesn’t know it”, for the agent Hal). This constraint must be maintained both when initialising the knowledge base, and when applying rules of inference, a fact which requires generalising from Sorensen’s notion of an epistemic blindspot to the concept of epistemic blindspot sets (a move that is independently motivated in applying Sorensen’s surprise examination paradox solution to the strengthened paradox of the toxin). In addition, and along similar lines, I argue that another form of consistency, which I call inferential consistency, must be maintained. Inferential consistency does not involve epistemically problematic sentences, but rather epistemically problematic inferences, such as ones concerning the number of inferences one has made. I consider one way of dealing with such cases, which has the alarming consequence of rendering all rules of inference strictly invalid. Specifically, I argue that the validity of a rule of inference can only be retained if a semantic restriction (that of excluding reference to the inference process itself) is placed on the sentences over which it can operate.
Fellow Sackler member Jim Parkinson brought to my attention the fact that this year’s Flame Challenge – explaining science to 11-year-olds in less than 300 words – is on the topic “What is Color?”. I decided to take up the challenge; here’s my entry (299 words!):
The question “what is color?” is tricky. Understood one way, it hardly needs answering for people with normal vision, who have no problem learning how to use the word “color” and what the names for different colors are: color is just part of the way that things look. But that answer would be of little use to a blind person, since for them objects don’t “look” any way at all. Science should try to explain things for everyone, so here’s an explanation of color that works for all people, sighted or blind.Light is a collection of extremely small particles called photons. A photon might begin its journey at a lamp, bounce off an object (such as a book), and end its journey by being absorbed by one of the cells that line the back wall inside your eye. Photons wiggle while moving – some wiggle slowly, some quickly.The color of an object is the mixture of wiggle speeds of photons the object gives off in normal light.Sighted people can see an object’s color because the way a photon affects their eye cells depends on its wiggle speed. For example, if your eye absorbs a slow wiggling photon, you see red; a fast wiggling photon, you see blue. Mixtures of wiggle speeds have a mixture of effects on your eye cells, letting you see a mixture of colors. Something colored white gives off photons of all wiggle speeds.If you shine red light on a white ball it looks red, but its actual color is still white because if it were in normal light it would give off photons of all wiggle speeds. Similarly, a blue book in the dark is still blue because it would still give off fast wiggling photons were it in normal light.
Working on thesis.
Working on Joint Session talk. Thought my subject – panpsychism and the composition problem – would be a welcome change from natural kinds and downward causation, but it turns out that deproblematising composition and adding the idea of the mind being composed of multiple virtual machines is a good way of arguing for non-reductive, downwardly causal mental properties.
Working on talk for E-int and Joint Session.
Went to 1st person approach conference in Berkeley – changed plan and gave a response to Susan Stewart’s criticism of synthetic phenomenology work.
Gave talk last week to philosophy faculty research progress meeting.
Going to Sweden on Monday till August.
Supervising MSc student – implementing web browsing advisor built on architecture inspired by Bernard Baars global workspace theory.
Preparing for presentation & working on thesis.
1 – The philosophy of mind reading group (see http://www.ifl.pt/index.php?id1=3&id2=8) had a meeting on a draft chapter of my book: Cognitive Technologies in Everyday Life: Tools for Thinking and Feeling. It generated some interesting discussion and it was very nice for me after all the time I’ve put into this.
2 – I’ve started organizing a research in progress group modelled on … you’ve guessed it E-I which will hopefully meet for the first time next week.
3 – Trying to finish a review for JCS of The Crucible of Consciousness by Zoltan Torey which is supposed to be in Friday.
Working on Joint Session talk.
- Wrote paper with Blay for “What Makes Us Moral?” conference in Amsterdam at month’s end and submitted it to the conference website. Presented the paper at a seminar here for last-minute feedback before submission.
- Re-wrote Chapter 5 of my thesis “The Limits of Concepts and Conceptual Abilities” into a standalone paper for a course I’m attending of the SweCog National Research School in Cognitive Science. Planning to submit it somewhere by month’s end.
- Doctoral thesis went lost in the (registered) post. So far neither Sweden nor the UK want to claim responsibility. Annoying as this may complicate my pay-grade change to postdoc status (seriously). Did I mention that the first time the bookbinders bound my thesis, they got my name wrong? :-P
Apologies for the delay.