Updates for 30 November

  • Proofreading a paper on internalism vs. externalism about moral judgments. I am amused, with respect to this particular debate, to find myself coming down on the “internalist” side.
  • Received my viva date: 11 January.
  • Working out details of my postdoc position with the Centre for Cognitive Semiotics. I am to meet with the director on Thursday.
  • Making preparations for Blay’s (three!) talks next week.
  • Catching up listening to E-I talks: Ron’s, Simon’s, and Blay’s.
  • Took part in a “research slam”, like a poetry slam. I had ten minutes to present my thesis research in a “popularized format”. I didn’t win (in fact I came last ;-‘)), but I got some good consolation prizes.

A holistic defence of the Knowledge Argument?

It was mentioned in the most recent set of updates that I have been thinking about Jackson’s Knowledge Argument, with some ideas coming up in the UG seminar I recently led on the topic. One idea seems to be a holistic defence of Jackson. Here’s what I was thinking:

People like Lewis and Nemirow reply to Jackson’s Knowledge Argument by claiming that knowing what it is like to see red is an ability (such as the ability to recognise or imagine red), and therefore the fact that Mary gains this knowledge after seeing red for the first time casts no aspersions on physicalism.

People like Tye reply that this objection doesn’t work, since we can have an experience of, say, red35, and thus know what such an experience is like, without being able to re-identify, recognise, imagine, etc. that shade. That is, colour experience “outstrips” our abilities.

In the seminar, a student (Nicholas Courtney) proposed that the relevant abilities might not (only) be offline, recognitional ones, (like all those Tye considers, I believe, though I haven’t checked), but rather online, discriminative ones. Unlike the offline abilities, it is hard to make sense of having an experience of red35 without having these online abilities. This argues against Tye, and thus against Jackson.

He’s my idea: “Perhaps,” the holist defender of Jackson reasons, “we do have these discriminative capacities, and perhaps they are even necessary for certain kinds of colour experience. Nevertheless, our experience of red35 on its own (RED35-SOLO) is not the same as our experience of it in the context of red34, say (RED35-CONTRAST-RED34). So the above response to Tye fails. That discriminative capacities may be necessary for having the experience RED35-CONTRAST-RED34 does not show that they are necessary for having the experience RED35-SOLO. So it may still be maintained that at least some of our experiences outstrip our abilities, and thus the Ability response to Jackson fails – Mary acquires something other than an ability when she first sees red (on its own) for the first time.”



Updates 23/11/2010


Preparing E-Intentionality talk.


Mulling over feedback from last week’s talk, particularly the response to the supervenience claim.


Gave Harrow talk.

Working on paper for human.mente.

Started work on paper on ‘superintelligence’.

Abstract accepted for conference in Tilburg in April.


Attended CEP committee meeting as secretary – theme for next years conference: crisis and consciousness.

Next week – going to San Sebastian to speak to Ezequiel about postdoc position.


Submitted research proposal.

Reading Zahavi – subjectivity and self.


Working on machine consciousness conference.

Following up interesting claims re. the knowledge argument.

Adding to list of arguments against internal representations.


  • Helping plan out a paper with Mathias Osvath here in the department, for submission to Current Biology, based on new evidence that Santino has a theory of mind; otherwise continuing to do proofreading jobs.
  • Giving a talk tomorrow (Thursday) to the Centre for Cognitive Semiotics (my future employers) titled “Representations, Symbols, Icons, Concepts… And Why There are No Mental Representations”, based on material from Ch. 2 of my thesis.

E-Intentionality, November 23rd 2010: Blay Whitby

Tues 23 Nov 15.20
Arundel 209

Speaker: Blay Whitby
Title: “Better People: The Ethical Challenges of Transhumanism”

The so-called “transhuman” technologies of human enhancement have serious
ethical implications. Technologies now under development, including
cognitive enhancement by pharmacological methods, direct brain implants,
advanced prosthetics, and genetic selection are seen by many writers as
moving us to a “posthuman future”. The World Transhumanist Association, for
example, claims that within 50 years the differences between enhanced
humans and natural humans will be as great as that between humans and

What should be our response? Can we stop this technology? Should we? Is
this a better future or a dystopia? In the 21st Century the field of
metaethics is under new scrutiny. Do we need new moralities or do our
existing ethical approaches give answers to these problems? The challenge
is clear. Can we be better people in the moral sense of better? Yes we can.


Updates 16/11/2010

Tom B

Reading up on pain, which is a problem for a Campbell style relational view of experience.


Working on E-Intentionality talk.


Making progress with writing paper with Tom F.

Working on Harrow school talk for Thursday.


Submitted abstract with Joel: cfp for what makes us moral.

Giving talk at biotech think-tank BioCentre.


Writing code.

Looking at anti-representationalist positions.


Invited to conference next September in Birmingham.

Mainly working on follow up to E-Intentionality talk.


Submitted an abstract to "What Makes Us Moral?" conference with Blay talking about artefactual moral agency and conceptual spaces theory.

Discussing other possible joint submissions with Blay.

I noticed that the abstract deadline for Toward a Science of Consciousness has been extended. So I am going to submit an abstract based on Chapter 5 of my thesis.