General Forum

Welcome to the general forum! This is a place for anyone to ask or discuss anything related to consciousness. It need not be about any particular presentation at the conference this year.

Discussion in this forum will be moderated but with a looser hand than in the regular sessions. Please have fun and have at it!

Advertisements

3 Comments

  1. Hello Theoreticians,

    It seems to me the biggest problem in this field is communication. There are now more than 20K “peer reviewed” publications in this field, which just scares people away from this field, considering it mere “philosophy of men” rather than the critically important theoretical science field it should be. I believe we need to take all the so called ‘schools of thought’ and put them in a system where we can organize and collaboratively build consensus around the best theories and rigorously measure for the best ones, and track these as ever more improved arguments and scientific evidence comes in – rather than spending all of our time in childish infinite yes / no debates that completely fail at communication. Simply put, we need to find a way for EVERYONE to communicate concisely and quantitatively, so the conversation can move forward, and a rigorous and measurable way.

    Dr Dennett has already, at least passively, agreed to have his camp, now supported by multiple supporters ‘canonized’ as the “Dennett’s Predictive Bayesian Coding Theory” camp: (see: http://canonizer.com/topic.asp/88/21 ). To continue our attempt to further clarify what Dennett, and what everyone else believes on this topic, I submit the below question to Dr. Dennett, and anyone else interested in knowing, building, rigorously measuring so we can start communicating, concisely and quantitatively, with everyone.

    Hello Dr. Dennett,

    As I believe you know, at Canonizer.com, we’re working on an open survey of this field, with the goal of building a real time representation of the best general theories, including a rigorous measure of consensus for each which can be tracked in comparative to each other ways as new falsifying arguments and scientific evidence emerge. Hopefully, science will force most of us into the same camp some day, and we’ll be able to riotously track such as it does or doesn’t happen.

    Till recently, the “Representational Functionalism” set of theories, primarily supported by David Chalmers has been in the lead most of the time. The competing set of theories know as “Material Property Dualism”, lead most famously by Stuart Hameroff, has occasionally taken the lead, but currently slightly trails the “Functional Property Dualism” set of theories.

    However, recently a new “Dark Horse” camp has been rapidly emerging and is revolutionizing the existing structure, primarily supported by fans of, and including the sub camp named: “Denett’s Predictive Bayesian Coding Theory” which references this paper as its primary source. The “Representational Functionalism” set of theories currently has 7 expert supporters, compared to Chalmer’s and Hameroff’s roughly 5 supporters each.

    Given all that, I have a question about the current camp structure, and would like to know if you disagree with what it implies you believe. All 3 of these general camps are being considered sub camps of the very general, what is currently being called “Representational Qualia Theory”. This is basically the simple idea that a “redness” quality, is not a quality of the anything like a strawberry reflecting 650NM light, nor is “redness” a quality of any of the intermediate representational, such as the 650 NM light, but instead, if it is a quality of anything, is only a quality of our knowledge of the strawberry, somehow associated with various different classes of neural correlates of such experiences. While “dualists” consider qualia to be an essential part that must be focused on, “Representational Functionalists” tend to define it in a “light” way, or think it should be “quined” or ignored altogether. But other than that, it seems they may agree to some degree.

    Most people would argue, from this paper and video of yours, and what you’ve said, that you would agree with this general “Representational Qualia” idea. But it seems to me, others could argue that you do not agree with it. So, my question to you is, do you think the “Dennet’s Predictive Bayesian Coding Theory” name is a good one and that it being placed in a supporting sub camp position to the current very general “Representational Qualia Theory” camp is appropriate – indicating you and your supporters agree with what it currently states? Or do you think the RQT camp would require some changes before you would support it?…

    Upwards,

    Brent Allsop

  2. Scientific experimentation/engineering design, argumentation and philosophy in the science of consciousness

    Colin Hales

    In my project, (the Bionic Brain project, a development of specialised neuro-morphic chip technology), because of the subject area it tackles, I find myself encountering vast numbers of outwardly scientific books and journal papers investing much energy in a discourse of philosophical categories such as XYZism. In my career as a scientist/engineer I find this situation unique and disturbing enough to want to write about it. Yes, the subject area has attributes unlike other areas of science and technological development. And yes, it certainly has implications well beyond the shores of the basic scientific and engineering challenges it targets. Ordinarily I wouldn’t be concerned at the involvement of such discourse. It can imbue otherwise mundane topics with nuance, and my involvement in it is totally optional. It has no practical impact.

    But this is different. It is the scale of the activity that concerns me. It is as if XYZism discourse itself has taken on a role as a source of scientific knowledge in the area. My understanding is that philosophy is a source of disciplined argument about potential knowledge. Somehow, knowledge of philosophical XYZisms, and their argumentation, has become accepted as in some way informing the scientific understanding of the natural world. This situation needs to be explicitly redressed.

    My concern is that, in an area long overdue for it – the science of consciousness, the endless philosophical XYZism cartoon-cloud-fight process is mixed in with science in a way that, to some extent, has become problematic. The science of consciousness is perhaps the most complex scientific challenge ever. It will tell us what the universe is made of, and how it began. These numinosities may have been reason enough to widen the net of discourse. Indeed, I have bought in to various XYZism discussions myself. But that reason is disappearing, and frankly, as interesting as it can be, life is too short to be forced to wade through reams of irrelevances to find/not find the elusive potential scientific gem inside. That gem does not exist and never could. Instead, the scientific content has become the philosophy. This has to stop.

    My area of interest is in artificial/machine consciousness, artificial cognition and artificial general intelligence. Progress over the last half century can be argued to be almost zero. The main progress is that we have realised (though philosopher David Chalmers) it is a ‘hard problem’. This is good progress! However, following a centuries-old era of custodianship by philosophy, so overwhelmed are we by discussions of XYZisms, that the real process of empirical exploration has been lost to some extent. For example, the field of AI is now so unaware of scientific method that for its entire lifetime, it has been working under the unchallenged assumption that the word ‘artificial’ in ‘artificial intelligence’ mandates the use of computers. When you read this, the likelihood is that you will be taken aback by the very idea of AI without computers or computing. But this presupposition is a modern affliction of the last half century. This is the contribution of philosophical ‘computationalism’ to the grand dream of artificial general intelligence. Not only that, the failure is glaringly unique in the history of science and yet remains largely invisible because living memory has been lost in the midst several generations of bifurcating science specialisations.

    The fundamental problem is that the subject area involves the scientific explanation of consciousness. This has had centuries of controversy and exile in the realm of the science pariah. During this era of pariah-hood, if a scientist explicitly addressed consciousness, the hapless soul would be directed to the philosophy department, and that command was overtly pejorative; almost a definition of unscientific, with career-limiting (or certainly fund-limiting) implications. Something to be spurned with disdain. I have experienced this attitude myself, more than once, in the last 10 years. Usually it is exhibited by the older generation of scientists. Thankfully, as these people leave the field the attitude goes with them . In retrospect, we scientists only have ourselves to blame. The taboo of consciousness was an unmanaged abdication of responsibility for a science of consciousness, and we have got the science we asked for. Now we must make amends.

    As Max Planck is oft quoted: “Science advances one funeral at a time”.

    The further back in time one goes, explicit scientific interest in consciousness wanes and its funding was terminologically camouflaged, lest funders get wind of it. But last century that changed. Since approximately 1990, explicit attention to consciousness, and a viable publicly funded empirical paradigm (the ‘neural correlates’ of it) has found its feet. Having secured an empirical paradigm and climbed back aboard the consciousness ‘boat’, we scientists find ourselves in the company of unexpected pirates of our own making: philosophers whose activity was created by centuries of our own neglect and prejudices. The philosophical discourse assumes something scientific is being delivered. Therein are the seeds of this article, and the nature of my gripe. So overdeveloped is philosophy’s sense of entitlement to the subject area, that I am forced to involve myself in it explicitly for the purposes of ensuring that I no longer have to.

    In a career as an engineer, never once has a philosophical category played a part in a design. I was never trained in philosophy. But I have read a lot. Engineers and scientists probably need more philosophy, with its discipline in logic, specificity in language and innate grip on argumentation. What scientists and engineers do not need is philosophy as explanation of the natural world. Science/engineering is a particular form of practical argumentation that is unlike philosophy. As a form of argumentation, the scientific experimentation process has its own problems. But these are unlike the problem of philosophical positions, such as XYZism, as a form of knowledge of the natural world.

    XYZisms are merely opinions about the meanings of words. You can argue the meanings, and the outcome may be fascinating and engaging, but in the end they are just a bunch of abstract symbols spewed out in response to a prior stream abstract symbols, which meet more in reply, and so forth. As fascinating as they can be (if you submerge yourself in them), no philosophical position ever informed a review of my engineering/scientific choices. Evaluation of performance involved no reference to philosophy. Nor do I ever expect it to. In science and engineering, designs are started, evaluated, built, tested and variously worked or didn’t, and are abandoned or redesigned as needed. And all of this proceeded without any philosophical aspects. Indeed the great bulk of participant engineers and scientists wouldn’t even know what a philosophical category is (thereby adding to the malaise). As merely opinions, and therefore as ephemeral as the shifting sands of the meanings of words, XYZisms are not something you can build. They are not a design. They are not a description of anything real. They predict nothing. They explain nothing. They solve no problem. They are devoid of practical guidance.

    As an engineer on a mission to build something as part of a scientific exploration, imagine my surprise when I find philosophical discourse masquerading as science. Imagine what it must be like to encounter legions of people who think that discourse is telling them anything at all about the natural world. Imagine my irritation at the expectation that I must engage this discourse in some way prior to my acceptability as a contributor in certain areas of the scientific literature. I am surrounded by such cultish behaviour.

    My project seeks to build artificial (inorganic) brain tissue, thereby providing the basis for a bionic brain. In principle, such a brain, when suitably embodied and embedded in an environment, could replicate the complete suite of intelligent behaviours found in biology, including humans. The basis for claiming access to this potentiality is the basis for all designs I have ever carried out: the basic ‘argumentation’ that is the process of scientific exploration. I will build it to find out if it can become what I think it can be come. This is the argumentation process I seek to reassert.

    More generally, and in a possibly confusing self-referential way, scientific method can be empirically demonstrated to have been established by the trial and error of the kind it specifies: and, as an ‘argument’, it is complete because scientific behaviour, as a means to acquire new knowledge, has been likewise empirically proved to work. I am writing this document using many of its successes. Science can arise and function without the a-priori classification as any kind of XYZism. Having arisen, science may be categorised as an XYZism, (say radical pan-positivist enactivist armchair-psychoempiricism), but that categorisation changes nothing. We did not wait for a formal theory of combustion before cooking dinner with it.

    Despite its involvement in a scientific explanation of consciousness, the particular challenges of the bionic brain project provide no additional evidence that philosophical positions are somehow uniquely poised to assist. Recent scientific results, the history of engineering design, and the technology that resulted from it, are literally the argument that the bionic brain project can proceed as usual, with zero practical involvement of philosophy. This does not mean that critical argument is absent. A great deal of critical argument, both informal and formal (peer review), is part of the process. However, such argument is directed at comparative design choices, the logic of claims, the distillation of causality, and the accuracy of results. An belief in XYZism can contribute nothing to this. Philosophy can assist through training in the rigors of logic, and the definition of concise terms, and the teasing out of potentialities. But there is where philosophy stops. It can say nothing about the natural world because it is fundamentally disengaged from it by definition.

    A technological design is a collection of choices; an experiment to test a hypothesis that the natural world, when initially configured in a certain way, will exhibit an expected behaviour. The argument is settled empirically. Did it work or not? There is no necessity for anything beyond complete ignorance of the subject area. The process of experimentation creates or increments the necessary knowledge. Indeed, if all you can do is point and grunt, you can argue to be in a position to create technology (we will now see the emergence of a new philosophical category ‘pointandgruntism’).

    There is a deeper issue. In science and technology, the mere holder of an opinion devoid of potential empirical substantiation is, by definition, the loser of an argument that also loses the right to be involved any further in the process. Nothing on offer by an XYZism has any basis in verified fact, or is testable because I could change the meaning of a word and refute the ‘XYZism science’ every time. This is the position of the climate-denier in climate science. They have no argument, and therefore should not be in the debate at all. Nor is an XYZism directed at making choices or otherwise resolving the ‘argument’ that is literally the completion of a technology or an experiment design. In any given project, if you lose the argument or have no argument, you simply remain silent until there is an argument that may change a design. In the field surrounding the bionic brain project, philosophy never does this, and therefore their presence in the realm of explanation of the natural world at the coal-face of scientific enquiry, is forfeit.

    Instead, the science of consciousness can proceed along the millennia old tradition of trial and error. It can proceed on the basis of building/using X to understand X. It proceeds on the basis that if you can’t build it, you don’t really understand it. Artificial fire is a technology. We got it by burning things (experimentation). Artificial flight is a technology. We got it by flying (experimentation). Artificial cognition will likewise be understood by building artificial brain tissue thereby replicating the natural physics of brain tissue. We will understand consciousness by building it. These three processes are identical and no involvement by philosophy was or is required. Philosophers will recognise this as an ‘argument by analogy’, a form of induction called analogical inference. There is no conclusive argument produced by anyone that the mere holding of an opinion about XYZism offers logically superior access to knowledge of the natural world.

    Furthermore, I have no obligation to calibrate my investigative process in terms of philosophical XYZisms, I certainly don’t have to justify my choices to philosophers. Nor should any funding be contingent on the espousing of philosophical XYZism. Empirical work speaks for me. Once the problem is solved, there will be a post-hoc summary of what philosophical categories the solution seems to present. There can be a great analysis of who was right and wrong. And it too will be interesting but just as irrelevant. This is the reason that I will not invest any more of my time in the XYZism business. Perhaps philosophy can go dream up an –ism that categorises a complete lack of interest in –isms. And I can ignore that too.

    This presentation may seem a little overly strident. And it is, for a reason. The reign of philosophy as a determinant of matters of knowledge of the natural world in general, and in artificial general intelligence technology in particular, needs to end. Journal articles and conference articles purporting to deal with scientific accounts of consciousness need to cease or delete discussions of XYZisms and let the experimental component shine through. Defining yet more XYZisms, thinking that one has created knowledge of the natural world needs to stop. I’m sure there will be protest of the kind ‘but philosophy never did that!’ Well just look at the scientific literature….do a search of the –ism in the context of science of consciousness. You will be buried in what passes for scientific knowledge that can now be seen to have been a waste of energy, in an ever increasing multiplicity of journals.

    One final way of thinking of the relevance of the philosophical dialogue in the science literature is that of an argument about the colour of a fish’s bicycle. Even if you could make an argument, and even be ‘right’, it doesn’t matter. Remember, this argument is empirically based. I have literal observational evidence of the discussed syndrome: the journal system. Sadly, I have even contributed to the malaise myself by thinking that a refutation of computationalism might have a scientific impact. Empirical evidence to the contrary is the form of an argument against this proposition: a single instance where an XYZism clearly and uniquely resulted in a practical choice or a verified prediction that can only be attributed to the meaning of the word XYZism. You will not find this.

    We need to get this area of science and technology reconnected with its point-and-grunt roots. We have a mere two decades of embryonic science under our belt. This area of science and technology is emerging from an eternity in exile, and is in an unwell state. I know change will take time. I only hope that by ‘poking the bear’ in this manner, the normalisation of the science and engineering may be streamlined. We’ll see. Like Forrest Gump said ‘that’s all I have to say ‘bout that’.

Comments are closed.