Thursday, November 20, 2014

Naturalness 2014-Weizmann Institute of Science

Information about the event was blogged by Professor Matt Strassler at, At the Naturalness 2014 Conference. See also his explanation on Naturalness and the Standard Model

Information about the event itself.

The discovery of a Higgs boson, with a mass around 125 GeV, at the LHC is a great victory for the Standard Model (SM). With its minimal scalar sector of electroweak symmetry breaking, the SM at short distances, well below the proton radius, is a complete weakly coupled theory. Even though the SM cannot explain several experimental observations such as neutrino masses, the baryon asymmetry of the universe and the origin of dark matter, one cannot deduce an energy scale at which the SM would be forced to be extended (with the exceptions of the Planck scale and the Landau pole of the hypercharge force). See: Naturalness 2014
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In physics, naturalness is the property that the free parameters or physical constants appearing in a physical theory should take relative values "of order 1". That is, a natural theory would have parameters with values like 2.34 rather than 234,000 or 0.000234. This is in contrast to current theory like the standard model, where there are a number of parameters that vary by many orders of magnitude, and require extensive "fine-tuning" of those values in order for the theory to predict a universe like the one we live in.

The requirement that satisfactory theories should be "natural" in this sense is a current of thought initiated around the 1960s in particle physics. It is an aesthetic criterion, not a physical one, that arises from the seeming non-naturalness of the standard model and the broader topics of the hierarchy problem, fine-tuning, and the anthropic principle.

It is not always compatible with Occam's razor, since many instances of "natural" theories have more parameters than "fine-tuned" theories such as the Standard Model.
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  Now that naturalism has become an accepted component of philosophy, there has recently been interest in Kuhn's work in the light of developments in the relevant sciences, many of which provide corroboration for Kuhn's claim that science is driven by relations of perceived similarity and analogy. It may yet be that a characteristically Kuhnian thesis will play a prominent part in our understanding of science http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/thomas-kuhn/
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A non-technical discussion of the naturalness criterion and its implications for new physics searches at the LHC. To be published in the book "LHC Perspectives", edited by G. Kane and A. Pierce. See: Naturally Speaking: The Naturalness Criterion and Physics at the LHC
(PDF)

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Nima Arkani-Hamed Public Lecture: Quantum Mechanics and Spacetime in the 21st Century



Dr. Nima Arkani-Hamed (Perimeter Institute and Institute for Advanced Study) delivers the second lecture of the 2014/15 Perimeter Institute Public Lecture Series, in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. Held at Perimeter Institute and webcast live worldwide on Nov. 6, 2014, Arkani-Hamed's lecture explores the exciting concepts of quantum mechanics and spacetime, and how our evolving understanding of their importance in fundamental physics will shape the field in the 21st Century. Perimeter Institute Public Lectures are held in the first week of each month. More information on Perimeter Public Lectures: http://ow.ly/DCYPc

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Consciousness as a Derivative of Reductionism?

The idea of a smallest length fell in line with the question of a measure as a derivative of reductionism with regard to consciousness. Going to length, the idea of a fundamental reality works its way into how a approach to consciousness is sought as some fundamental unit.
 The science and history of the minimal length has now been covered in a recent book by Amit Hagar:

Amit is a philosopher but he certainly knows his math and physics. Indeed, I suspect the book would be quite hard to understand for a reader without at least some background knowledge in math and physics. Amit has made a considerable effort to address the topic of a fundamental length from as many perspectives as possible, and he covers a lot of scientific history and philosophical considerations that I had not previously been aware of. The book is also noteworthy for including a chapter on quantum gravity phenomenology. See:Backreaction
Is there a smallest length?

The basis of this examination is to deduce whether or not there are fundamental units with regard to consciousness. This topic as it began as a question had been begun on a different forum in order to develope insight to this very question.

As an INTJ personality I have little patience for those who might get in the way of what I am seeking to accomplish.

Materialism is a form of philosophical monism which holds that matter is the fundamental substance in nature, and that all phenomena, including mental phenomena and consciousness, are the result of material interactions.
Materialism is closely related to physicalism; the view that all that exists is ultimately physical. Philosophical physicalism has evolved from materialism with the discoveries of the physical sciences to incorporate far more sophisticated notions of physicality than mere ordinary matter, such as: spacetimephysical energies and forcesdark matter, and so on. Thus the term "physicalism" is preferable over "materialism", while others use the terms as if they are synonymous.

I sought to explain that there is a limit with which the word measure could be applied and going toward a historical explanation of this demonstrates the responsibility that was put forth in this effort.
"I regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matter as a derivative of consciousness. We cannot get behind consciousness. Everything we talk about, everything that we regard as existing, postulates consciousness. Max Planck

So insightful to the progress is and was to identify a means with which consciousness "as experience" may have had some definition as to "being" the reducible element. So quickly cutting to the heart of the issue is whether measure could have been explained as a function? IN this case as said experience become that factor.

 I suggest that a theory of consciousness should take experience as fundamental. We know that a theory of consciousness requires the addition of something fundamental to our ontology, as everything in physical theory is compatible with the absence of consciousness. We might add some entirely new nonphysical feature, from which experience can be derived, but it is hard to see what such a feature would be like. More likely, we will take experience itself as a fundamental feature of the world, alongside mass, charge, and space-time. If we take experience as fundamental, then we can go about the business of constructing a theory of experience.
Nonreductive explanation-Facing Up to the Problem of Consciousness

To complicate the matters then is to say that while experience is fundamental, this then refers to some fundamental unit of expression? Experience had to be made up of something much more intricate as to suggest that given the length and determination of that measure which no longer exists, with regard to that length asks that the element still seeks to be expressed as a fact of consciousness?


Monday, October 20, 2014

Materialism

Materialism is a form of philosophical monism which holds that matter is the fundamental substance in nature, and that all phenomena, including mental phenomena and consciousness, are the result of material interactions.

Materialism is typically considered by many philosophers to be closely related to physicalism; the view that all that exists is ultimately physical. Philosophical physicalism has evolved from materialism with the discoveries of the physical sciences to incorporate far more sophisticated notions of physicality than mere ordinary matter, such as: spacetime, physical energies and forces, dark matter, and so on. Thus the term "physicalism" is preferable over "materialism", while others use the terms as if they are synonymous.
Contrasting philosophies to materialism or physicalism include idealism and other forms of monism, dualism and pluralism.[according to whom?]

 

Overview

Materialism belongs to the class of monist ontology. As such, it is different from ontological theories based on dualism or pluralism. For singular explanations of the phenomenal reality, materialism would be in contrast to idealism, neutral monism, and spiritualism.

Despite the large number of philosophical schools and subtle nuances between many,[1][2][3] all philosophies are said to fall into one of two primary categories, which are defined in contrast to each other: Idealism, and materialism.[a] The basic proposition of these two categories pertains to the nature of reality, and the primary distinction between them is the way they answer two fundamental questions: "what does reality consist of" and "how does it originate?" To idealists, spirit or mind or the objects of mind (ideas) are primary, and matter secondary. To materialists, matter is primary, and mind or spirit or ideas are secondary, the product of matter acting upon matter.[3]

The materialist view is perhaps best understood in its opposition to the doctrines of immaterial substance applied to the mind historically, famously by René Descartes. However, by itself materialism says nothing about how material substance should be characterized. In practice, it is frequently assimilated to one variety of physicalism or another.

Materialism is often associated with reductionism, according to which the objects or phenomena individuated at one level of description, if they are genuine, must be explicable in terms of the objects or phenomena at some other level of description — typically, at a more reduced level. Non-reductive materialism explicitly rejects this notion, however, taking the material constitution of all particulars to be consistent with the existence of real objects, properties, or phenomena not explicable in the terms canonically used for the basic material constituents. Jerry Fodor influentially argues this view, according to which empirical laws and explanations in "special sciences" like psychology or geology are invisible from the perspective of basic physics. A lot of vigorous literature has grown up around the relation between these views.
Modern philosophical materialists extend the definition of other scientifically observable entities such as energy, forces, and the curvature of space. However philosophers such as Mary Midgley suggest that the concept of "matter" is elusive and poorly defined.[4]

Materialism typically contrasts with dualism, phenomenalism, idealism, vitalism, and dual-aspect monism. Its materiality can, in some ways, be linked to the concept of Determinism, as espoused by Enlightenment thinkers.

During the 19th century, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels extended the concept of materialism to elaborate a materialist conception of history centered on the roughly empirical world of human activity (practice, including labor) and the institutions created, reproduced, or destroyed by that activity (see materialist conception of history). Later Marxists developed the notion of dialectical materialism which characterized later Marxist philosophy and method.

 

History

 

Axial Age

Materialism developed, possibly independently, in several geographically separated regions of Eurasia during what Karl Jaspers termed the Axial Age (approximately 800 to 200 BC).

In Ancient Indian philosophy, materialism developed around 600 BC with the works of Ajita Kesakambali, Payasi, Kanada, and the proponents of the Cārvāka school of philosophy. Kanada became one of the early proponents of atomism. The NyayaVaisesika school (600 BC - 100 BC) developed one of the earliest forms of atomism, though their proofs of God and their positing that the consciousness was not material precludes labelling them as materialists. Buddhist atomism and the Jaina school continued the atomic tradition.

Xunzi (ca. 312–230 BC) developed a Confucian doctrine centered on realism and materialism in Ancient China.[citation needed]

Ancient Greek philosophers like Thales, Anaxagoras (ca. 500 BC – 428 BC), Epicurus and Democritus prefigure later materialists. The Latin poem De Rerum Natura by Lucretius (ca. 99 BC – ca. 55 BC) reflects the mechanistic philosophy of Democritus and Epicurus. According to this view, all that exists is matter and void, and all phenomena result from different motions and conglomerations of base material particles called "atoms" (literally: "indivisibles"). De Rerum Natura provides mechanistic explanations for phenomena such as erosion, evaporation, wind, and sound. Famous principles like "nothing can touch body but body" first appeared in the works of Lucretius. Democritus and Epicurus however did not hold to a monist ontology since they held to the ontological separation of matter and space i.e. space being "another kind" of being, indicating that the definition of "materialism" is wider than given scope for in this article.

 

Common Era

Chinese thinkers of the early common era said to be materialists include Yang Xiong (53 BC – AD 18) and Wang Chong (c AD 27 – AD 100).

Later Indian materialist Jayaraashi Bhatta (6th century) in his work Tattvopaplavasimha ("The upsetting of all principles") refuted the Nyaya Sutra epistemology. The materialistic Cārvāka philosophy appears to have died out some time after 1400. When Madhavacharya compiled Sarva-darśana-samgraha (a digest of all philosophies) in the 14th century, he had no Cārvāka/Lokāyata text to quote from, or even refer to.[5]
In early 12th-century al-Andalus, the Arabian philosopher, Ibn Tufail (Abubacer), wrote discussions on materialism in his philosophical novel, Hayy ibn Yaqdhan (Philosophus Autodidactus), while vaguely foreshadowing the idea of a historical materialism.[6]

 

Modern era

The French cleric Pierre Gassendi (1592-1665) represented the materialist tradition in opposition to the attempts of René Descartes (1596-1650) to provide the natural sciences with dualist foundations. There followed the materialist and atheist abbé Jean Meslier (1664-1729), Julien Offroy de La Mettrie, the German-French Paul-Henri Thiry Baron d'Holbach (1723-1789), the Encyclopedist Denis Diderot (1713-1784), and other French Enlightenment thinkers; as well as (in England) John "Walking" Stewart (1747-1822), whose insistence in seeing matter as endowed with a moral dimension had a major impact on the philosophical poetry of William Wordsworth (1770-1850).

Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) wrote that "...materialism is the philosophy of the subject who forgets to take account of himself".[7] He claimed that an observing subject can only know material objects through the mediation of the brain and its particular organization. That is, the brain itself is the "determiner" of how material objects will be experienced or perceived:
"Everything objective, extended, active, and hence everything material, is regarded by materialism as so solid a basis for its explanations that a reduction to this (especially if it should ultimately result in thrust and counter-thrust) can leave nothing to be desired. But all this is something that is given only very indirectly and conditionally, and is therefore only relatively present, for it has passed through the machinery and fabrication of the brain, and hence has entered the forms of time, space, and causality, by virtue of which it is first of all presented as extended in space and operating in time."[8]
The German materialist and atheist anthropologist Ludwig Feuerbach would signal a new turn in materialism through his book, The Essence of Christianity (1841), which provided a humanist account of religion as the outward projection of man's inward nature. Feuerbach's materialism would later heavily influence Karl Marx.

 

Scientific materialists

Many current and recent philosophers—e.g., Daniel Dennett, Willard Van Orman Quine, Donald Davidson, John Rogers Searle, and Jerry Fodor—operate within a broadly physicalist or materialist framework, producing rival accounts of how best to accommodate mind, including functionalism, anomalous monism, identity theory, and so on.[9]

Scientific "Materialism" is often synonymous with, and has so far been described, as being a reductive materialism. In recent years, Paul and Patricia Churchland have advocated a radically contrasting position (at least, in regards to certain hypotheses); eliminativist materialism holds that some mental phenomena simply do not exist at all, and that talk of those mental phenomena reflects a totally spurious "folk psychology" and introspection illusion. That is, an eliminative materialist might suggest that a concept like "belief" simply has no basis in fact - the way folk science speaks of demon-caused illnesses. Reductive materialism being at one end of a continuum (our theories will reduce to facts) and eliminative materialism on the other (certain theories will need to be eliminated in light of new facts), Revisionary materialism is somewhere in the middle.[9]

Some scientific materialists have been criticized, for example by Noam Chomsky, for failing to provide clear definitions for what constitutes matter, leaving the term "materialism" without any definite meaning. Chomsky also states that since the concept of matter may be affected by new scientific discoveries, as has happened in the past, scientific materialists are being dogmatic in assuming the opposite.[10]

 

Defining matter

The nature and definition of matter - like other key concepts in science and philosophy - have occasioned much debate.[11] Is there a single kind of matter (hyle) which everything is made of, or multiple kinds? Is matter a continuous substance capable of expressing multiple forms (hylomorphism),[12] or a number of discrete, unchanging constituents (atomism)?[13] Does it have intrinsic properties (substance theory),[14][15] or is it lacking them (prima materia)?

One challenge to the traditional concept of matter as tangible "stuff" came with the rise of field physics in the 19th century. Relativity shows that matter and energy (including the spatially distributed energy of fields) are interchangeable. This enables the ontological view that energy is prima materia and matter is one of its forms. On the other hand, the Standard Model of Particle physics uses quantum field theory to describe all interactions. On this view it could be said that fields are prima materia and the energy is a property of the field.

According to the dominant cosmological model, the Lambda-CDM model, less than 5% of the universe's energy density is made up of the "matter" described by the Standard Model of Particle Physics, and the majority of the universe is composed of dark matter and dark energy - with no agreement amongst scientists about what these are made of.[16]

With the advent of quantum physics, some scientists believed the concept of matter had merely changed, while others believed the conventional position could no longer be maintained. For instance Werner Heisenberg said "The ontology of materialism rested upon the illusion that the kind of existence, the direct 'actuality' of the world around us, can be extrapolated into the atomic range. This extrapolation, however, is impossible... atoms are not things." Likewise, some philosophers[which?] feel that these dichotomies necessitate a switch from materialism to physicalism. Others use the terms "materialism" and "physicalism" interchangeably.[17]

The concept of matter has changed in response to new scientific discoveries. Thus materialism has no definite content independent of the particular theory of matter on which it is based. According to Noam Chomsky, any property can be considered material, if one defines matter such that it has that property.[10]

 

Physicalism

George Stack distinguishes between materialism and physicalism:
In the twentieth century, physicalism has emerged out of positivism. Physicalism restricts meaningful statements to physical bodies or processes that are verifiable or in principle verifiable. It is an empirical hypothesis that is subject to revision and, hence, lacks the dogmatic stance of classical materialism. Herbert Feigl defended physicalism in the United States and consistently held that mental states are brain states and that mental terms have the same referent as physical terms. The twentieth century has witnessed many materialist theories of the mental, and much debate surrounding them.[18]
—George J. Stack, Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy

 

Criticism and alternatives

 

Scientific objections

Some modern day physicists and science writers—such as Paul Davies and John Gribbin—have argued that materialism has been disproven by certain scientific findings in physics, such as quantum mechanics and chaos theory. In 1991, Gribbin and Davies released their book The Matter Myth, the first chapter of which, "The Death of Materialism", contained the following passage:
Then came our Quantum theory, which totally transformed our image of matter. The old assumption that the microscopic world of atoms was simply a scaled-down version of the everyday world had to be abandoned. Newton's deterministic machine was replaced by a shadowy and paradoxical conjunction of waves and particles, governed by the laws of chance, rather than the rigid rules of causality. An extension of the quantum theory goes beyond even this; it paints a picture in which solid matter dissolves away, to be replaced by weird excitations and vibrations of invisible field energy. 
Quantum physics undermines materialism because it reveals that matter has far less "substance" than we might believe. But another development goes even further by demolishing Newton's image of matter as inert lumps. This development is the theory of chaos, which has recently gained widespread attention. 
— Paul Davies and John Gribbin, The Matter Myth, Chapter 1
Davies' and Gribbin's objections are shared by proponents of digital physics who view information rather than matter to be fundamental. Their objections were also shared by some founders of quantum theory, such as Max Planck, who wrote:
As a man who has devoted his whole life to the most clear headed science, to the study of matter, I can tell you as a result of my research about atoms this much: There is no matter as such. All matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force which brings the particle of an atom to vibration and holds this most minute solar system of the atom together. We must assume behind this force the existence of a conscious and intelligent Mind. This Mind is the matrix of all matter.
— Max Planck, Das Wesen der Materie, 1944

 

Religious and spiritual objections

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, materialism denies the existence of both deities and "souls".[19] It is therefore incompatible with most world religions, including Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. In most of Hinduism and transcendentalism, all matter is believed to be an illusion called Maya, blinding us from knowing the truth. Maya is the limited, purely physical and mental reality in which our everyday consciousness has become entangled. Maya gets destroyed for a person when s/he perceives Brahman with transcendental knowledge. In contrast, Joseph Smith, the founder of the Latter Day Saint Movement, taught "There is no such thing as immaterial matter. All spirit is matter, but it is more fine or pure, and can only be discerned by purer eyes; We cannot see it; but when our bodies are purified we shall see that it is all matter."[20] This spirit element has always existed; it is co-eternal with God.[21] It is also called intelligence or the light of truth, which like all observable matter "was not created or made, neither indeed can be."[22] Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints view the revelations of Joseph Smith as a restoration of original Christian doctrine, which they believe began to be corrupted at the hands of post-apostolic theologians in the centuries after Christ. The writings of many of these theologians indicate a clear influence of Greek metaphysical philosophies such as Neoplatonism, which characterized divinity as an utterly simple, immaterial, formless, substance/essence (ousia) that transcended all that was physical. Despite strong opposition from many Christians,[23] this metaphysical depiction of God eventually became incorporated into the doctrine of the Christian church, displacing the original Judeo-Christian concept of a physical, corporeal God who created humans in His image and likeness.[24]

 

Philosophical objections

Kant argued against all three forms of materialism, subjective idealism (which he contrasts with his "transcendental idealism"[25]) and dualism.[26] However, Kant also argues that change and time require an enduring substrate,[27] and does so in connection with his Refutation of Idealism.[28] Postmodern/poststructuralist thinkers also express a skepticism about any all-encompassing metaphysical scheme. Philosopher Mary Midgley,[29] among others,[30][31][32][33] argues that materialism is a self-refuting idea, at least in its eliminative form.

 

Idealisms

An argument for idealism, such as those of Hegel and Berkeley, is ipso facto an argument against materialism. Matter can be argued to be redundant, as in bundle theory, and mind-independent properties can in turn be reduced to subjective percepts. Berkeley presents an example of the latter by pointing out that it is impossible to gather direct evidence of matter, as there is no direct experience of matter; all that is experienced is perception, whether internal or external. As such, the existence of matter can only be assumed from the apparent (perceived) stability of perceptions; it finds absolutely no evidence in direct experience.
If matter and energy are seen as necessary to explain the physical world, but incapable of explaining mind, dualism results. Emergence, holism, and process philosophy seek to ameliorate the perceived shortcomings of traditional (especially mechanistic) materialism without abandoning materialism entirely.

 

Materialism as methodology

Some critics object to materialism as part of an overly skeptical, narrow or reductivist approach to theorizing, rather than to the ontological claim that matter is the only substance. Particle physicist and Anglican theologian John Polkinghorne objects to what he calls promissory materialism — claims that materialistic science will eventually succeed in explaining phenomena it has not so far been able to explain.[34] Polkinghorne prefers "dual-aspect monism" to faith in materialism.[35]


 

Notes

a. ^ Indeed it has been noted it is difficult if not impossible to define one category without contrasting it with the other.[2][3]


Further reading

External links

Sunday, October 19, 2014

IRIS(Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph) and the Latest

Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph (IRIS) Graphic of proposed IRIS spacecraft. The IRIS instrument is a multi-channel imaging spectrograph with a 20 cm UV telescope. IRIS will obtain spectra along a slit (1/3 arcsec wide), and slit-jaw images. Credit: NASA

The Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph (IRIS) is a NASA solar observation satellite. The mission was funded through the Small Explorer program to investigate the physical conditions of the solar limb, particularly the chromosphere of the Sun. The spacecraft consists of a satellite bus and spectrometer built by the Lockheed Martin Solar and Astrophysics Laboratory (LMSAL), and a telescope provided by the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory. IRIS is operated by LMSAL and NASA's Ames Research Center.
The satellite's instrument is a high-frame-rate ultraviolet imaging spectrometer, providing one image per second at 0.3 arcsecond spatial resolution and sub-ångström spectral resolution.

NASA announced on 19 June 2009 that IRIS was selected from six small explorer mission candidates for further study,[3] along with the Gravity and Extreme Magnetism (GEMS) space observatory.[4]
The spacecraft arrived at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, on 16 April 2013[5] and was successfully launched on 27 June 2013 by a Pegasus-XL rocket.[6] IRIS achieved first light on 17 July 2013.[7] NASA noted, "IRIS's first images showed a multitude of thin, fibril-like structures that have never been seen before, revealing enormous contrasts in density and temperature occur throughout this region even between neighboring loops that are only a few hundred miles apart."[7] On 31 October 2013, calibrated IRIS data and images were released on the project website.[8] A preprint describing the satellite and initial data has been released on the arXiv.[9]
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NASA's newest sun-watcher, the Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph, launched in 2013 with a specific goal: track how energy and heat coursed through a little understood region of the sun called the interface region. Sandwiched between the solar surface and its outer atmosphere, the corona, the interface region is where the cooler temperatures of the sun's surface transition to the hotter temperatures above. Moreover, all the energy to power the sun's output -- including eruptions such as solar flares and the sun's constant outflow of particles called the solar wind -- must make its way through this region. See:
NASA's IRIS Helps Explain Mysterious Heating of the Solar Atmosphere

Black Holes, String Theory and the Fundamental Laws of Nature with Andrew Strominger



What are black holes? What are they made of? What is string theory? Is everything we see just vibrations of strings? How are string theory and black holes related? What are the fundamental laws of Nature?
For decades, since the discovery of quantum mechanics and Einstein’s theory of relativity, scientists have been trying to combine the two perspectives of the world into one single unified theory. One of the results was string theory: where the strangeness of quantum reality and the weirdness of relativity theory come together and create something even more puzzling - a world with extra dimensions
.
String theory says that there is only one fundamental object in the universe: the string. Much like the strings in a guitar give rise to different sounds when you pluck them, the strings of string theory give rise to the different constituents of the observed reality when you make them vibrate at different energies. Is everything in the world made of strings? If so, what is a black hole? SEE:
 Black Holes, String Theory and the Fundamental Laws of Nature with Andrew Strominger

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Information Technology



Who are we? And what is our role in the universe? Information technology is radically changing not only how we deal with the world and make sense of it, or interact with each other, but also how we look at ourselves and understand our own existence and responsibilities. Philosophy Professor Floridi ( @Floridi ) will discuss such impact of information technology on our lives and on our self-understanding; he will take us along the Copernican revolution, the Darwinian revolution, the Freudian revolution right up to speed with the Turing revolution: a world of inforgs in a global environment ultimately made of information. Floridi will talk about expanding our ecological and ethical approach to both natural and man-made realities, in order to cope successfully with the new moral challenges posed by information technology. Ready for some philosophy? You bet!

http://www.tedxmaastricht.com

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Hard Problem of Consciousness

The hard problem of consciousness is the problem of explaining how and why we have qualia or phenomenal experiences — how sensations acquire characteristics, such as colours and tastes.[1] David Chalmers, who introduced the term "hard problem" of consciousness,[2] contrasts this with the "easy problems" of explaining the ability to discriminate, integrate information, report mental states, focus attention, etc. Easy problems are easy because all that is required for their solution is to specify a mechanism that can perform the function. That is, their proposed solutions, regardless of how complex or poorly understood they may be, can be entirely consistent with the modern materialistic conception of natural phenomena. Chalmers claims that the problem of experience is distinct from this set, and he argues that the problem of experience will "persist even when the performance of all the relevant functions is explained".[3]

The existence of a "hard problem" is controversial and has been disputed by some philosophers.[4][5] Providing an answer to this question could lie in understanding the roles that physical processes play in creating consciousness and the extent to which these processes create our subjective qualities of experience.[3]

Several questions about consciousness must be resolved in order to acquire a full understanding of it. These questions include, but are not limited to, whether being conscious could be wholly described in physical terms, such as the aggregation of neural processes in the brain. If consciousness cannot be explained exclusively by physical events, it must transcend the capabilities of physical systems and require an explanation of nonphysical means. For philosophers who assert that consciousness is nonphysical in nature, there remains a question about what outside of physical theory is required to explain consciousness.

Formulation of the problem

Chalmers' formulation

In Facing Up to the Problem of Consciousness, Chalmers wrote:[3]

Easy problems

Chalmers contrasts the Hard Problem with a number of (relatively) Easy Problems that consciousness presents. (He emphasizes that what the easy problems have in common is that they all represent some ability, or the performance of some function or behavior).
  • the ability to discriminate, categorize, and react to environmental stimuli;
  • the integration of information by a cognitive system;
  • the reportability of mental states;
  • the ability of a system to access its own internal states;
  • the focus of attention;
  • the deliberate control of behavior;
  • the difference between wakefulness and sleep.

Other formulations

Various formulations of the "hard problem":
  • "How is it that some organisms are subjects of experience?"
  • "Why does awareness of sensory information exist at all?"
  • "Why do qualia exist?"
  • "Why is there a subjective component to experience?"
  • "Why aren't we philosophical zombies?"
James Trefil notes that "it is the only major question in the sciences that we don't even know how to ask."[6]

Historical predecessors

The hard problem has scholarly antecedents considerably earlier than Chalmers.
Gottfried Leibniz wrote, as an example also known as Leibniz's gap:
Moreover, it must be confessed that perception and that which depends upon it are inexplicable on mechanical grounds, that is to say, by means of figures and motions. And supposing there were a machine, so constructed as to think, feel, and have perception, it might be conceived as increased in size, while keeping the same proportions, so that one might go into it as into a mill. That being so, we should, on examining its interior, find only parts which work one upon another, and never anything by which to explain a perception.[7]
Isaac Newton wrote in a letter to Henry Oldenburg:
to determine by what modes or actions light produceth in our minds the phantasm of colour is not so easie.[8]
T.H. Huxley remarked:
how it is that any thing so remarkable as a state of consciousness comes about as the result of irritating nervous tissue, is just as unaccountable as the appearance of the Djin when Aladdin rubbed his lamp.[9]

Responses

Scientific attempts

There have been scientific attempts to explain subjective aspects of consciousness, which is related to the binding problem in neuroscience. Many eminent theorists, including Francis Crick and Roger Penrose, have worked in this field. Nevertheless, even as sophisticated accounts are given, it is unclear if such theories address the hard problem. Eliminative materialist philosopher Patricia Smith Churchland has famously remarked about Penrose's theories that "Pixie dust in the synapses is about as explanatorily powerful as quantum coherence in the microtubules."[10]

Consciousness is fundamental or elusive

Some philosophers, including David Chalmers and Alfred North Whitehead, argue that conscious experience is a fundamental constituent of the universe, a form of panpsychism sometimes referred to as panexperientialism. Chalmers argues that a "rich inner life" is not logically reducible to the functional properties of physical processes. He states that consciousness must be described using nonphysical means. This description involves a fundamental ingredient capable of clarifying phenomena that has not been explained using physical means. Use of this fundamental property, Chalmers argues, is necessary to explain certain functions of the world, much like other fundamental features, such as mass and time, and to explain significant principles in nature.

Thomas Nagel has posited that experiences are essentially subjective (accessible only to the individual undergoing them), while physical states are essentially objective (accessible to multiple individuals). So at this stage, we have no idea what it could even mean to claim that an essentially subjective state just is an essentially non-subjective state. In other words, we have no idea of what reductivism really amounts to.[11]
New mysterianism, such as that of Colin McGinn, proposes that the human mind, in its current form, will not be able to explain consciousness.[12]

Deflationary accounts

Some philosophers, such as Daniel Dennett,[4] Stanislas Dehaene,[5] and Peter Hacker,[13] oppose the idea that there is a hard problem. These theorists argue that once we really come to understand what consciousness is, we will realize that the hard problem is unreal. For instance, Dennett asserts that the so-called hard problem will be solved in the process of answering the easy ones.[4] In contrast with Chalmers, he argues that consciousness is not a fundamental feature of the universe and instead will eventually be fully explained by natural phenomena. Instead of involving the nonphysical, he says, consciousness merely plays tricks on people so that it appears nonphysical—in other words, it simply seems like it requires nonphysical features to account for its powers. In this way, Dennett compares consciousness to stage magic and its capability to create extraordinary illusions out of ordinary things.[14]

To show how people might be commonly fooled into overstating the powers of consciousness, Dennett describes a normal phenomenon called change blindness, a visual process that involves failure to detect scenery changes in a series of alternating images.[15] He uses this concept to argue that the overestimation of the brain's visual processing implies that the conception of our consciousness is likely not as pervasive as we make it out to be. He claims that this error of making consciousness more mysterious than it is could be a misstep in any developments toward an effective explanatory theory. Critics such as Galen Strawson reply that, in the case of consciousness, even a mistaken experience retains the essential face of experience that needs to be explained, contra Dennett.

To address the question of the hard problem, or how and why physical processes give rise to experience, Dennett states that the phenomenon of having experience is nothing more than the performance of functions or the production of behavior, which can also be referred to as the easy problems of consciousness.[4] He states that consciousness itself is driven simply by these functions, and to strip them away would wipe out any ability to identify thoughts, feelings, and consciousness altogether. So, unlike Chalmers and other dualists, Dennett says that the easy problems and the hard problem cannot be separated from each other. To him, the hard problem of experience is included among—not separate from—the easy problems, and therefore they can only be explained together as a cohesive unit.[14]

Dehaene's argument has similarities with those of Dennett. He says Chalmers' 'easy problems of consciousness' are actually the hard problems and the 'hard problems' are based only upon intuitions that, according to Dehaene, are continually shifting as understanding evolves. "Once our intuitions are educated ...Chalmers' hard problem will evaporate" and "qualia...will be viewed as a peculiar idea of the prescientific era, much like vitalism...[Just as science dispatched vitalism] the science of consciousness will eat away at the hard problem of consciousness until it vanishes."[5]

Like Dennett, Peter Hacker argues that the hard problem is fundamentally incoherent and that "consciousness studies," as it exists today, is "literally a total waste of time:"[13]
“The whole endeavour of the consciousness studies community is absurd – they are in pursuit of a chimera. They misunderstand the nature of consciousness. The conception of consciousness which they have is incoherent. The questions they are asking don’t make sense. They have to go back to the drawing board and start all over again.”
Critics of Dennett's approach, such as David Chalmers and Thomas Nagel, argue that Dennett's argument misses the point of the inquiry by merely re-defining consciousness as an external property and ignoring the subjective aspect completely. This has led detractors to refer to Dennett's book Consciousness Explained as Consciousness Ignored or Consciousness Explained Away.[4] Dennett discussed this at the end of his book with a section entitled Consciousness Explained or Explained Away?[15]

Glenn Carruthers and Elizabeth Schier argue that the main arguments for the existence of a hard problem -- philosophical zombies, Mary's room, and Nagel's bats -- are only persuasive if one already assumes that "consciousness must be independent of the structure and function of mental states, i.e. that there is a hard problem." Hence, the arguments beg the question. The authors suggest that "instead of letting our conclusions on the thought experiments guide our theories of consciousness, we should let our theories of consciousness guide our conclusions from the thought experiments."[16] Contrary to this line of argument, Chalmers says: "Some may be led to deny the possibility [of zombies] in order to make some theory come out right, but the justification of such theories should ride on the question of possibility, rather than the other way round".[17]:96
A notable deflationary account is the Higher-Order Thought theories of consciousness.[18][19] Peter Carruthers discusses "recognitional concepts of experience", that is, "a capacity to recognize [a] type of experience when it occurs in one's own mental life", and suggests such a capacity does not depend upon qualia.[20] Though the most common arguments against deflationary accounts and eliminative materialism is the argument from qualia, and that conscious experiences are irreducible to physical states - or that current popular definitions of "physical" are incomplete - the objection follows that the one and same reality can appear in different ways, and that the numerical difference of these ways is consistent with a unitary mode of existence of the reality. Critics of the deflationary approach object that qualia are a case where a single reality cannot have multiple appearances. As John Searle points out: "where consciousness is concerned, the existence of the appearance is the reality."[21]

Massimo Pigliucci distances himself from eliminativism, but he insists that the hard problem is still misguided, resulting from a "category mistake":[22]
Of course an explanation isn't the same as an experience, but that’s because the two are completely independent categories, like colors and triangles. It is obvious that I cannot experience what it is like to be you, but I can potentially have a complete explanation of how and why it is possible to be you.

References

  1. Stevan Harnad (1995). "Why and How We Are Not Zombies". Journal of Consciousness Studies 1: 164–167.
  2. See Cooney's foreword to the reprint of Chalmers' paper: Brian Cooney, ed, ed. (1999). "Chapter=27: Facing up to the problem of consciousness". The Place of Mind. Cengage Learning. pp. 382 ff. ISBN 0534528252.
  3. David Chalmers (1995). "Facing Up to the Problem of Consciousness"". Journal of Consciousness Studies 2 (3): 200–219. See also this link
  4. Daniel C. Dennett (2013). "The tuned deck". Intuition Pumps And Other Tools for Thinking. W. W. Norton & Company. pp. 310 ff. ISBN 0393240681. and also "Commentary on Chalmers": Dennett, Daniel C. (1996). "Facing backwards on the problem of consciousness". Journal of Consciousness Studies 3 (1): 4–6.
  5. Stanislas Dehaene (2014). Consciousness and the Brain: Deciphering How the Brain Codes Our Thoughts. Viking Adult. p. 197. ISBN 0670025437.
  6. James S Trefil (1997). "Chapter 3: Will we ever understand consciousness?". One hundred and one things you don't know about science and no one else does either. Mariner Books. p. 15. ISBN 0-395-87740-7.
  7. Leibniz, Monadology, 17, as quoted by Istvan Aranyosi (2004). "Chalmers's zombie arguments" (draft ed.). Central European University Personal Pages.
  8. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy on Panpsychism
  9. The Elements of Physiology and Hygiene: A Text-book for Educational Institutions, by T.H. Huxley & W.J. Youmans. Appleton & Co., 1868 p. 178
  10. Churchland, Patricia Smith (2002). Brain-wise: studies in neurophilosophy. MIT Press. p. 197. ISBN 0-262-53200-X.
  11. Nagel, Thomas. "What is it like to be a bat?". Retrieved 9 December 2013.
  12. Colin McGinn (20 February 2012). "All machine and no ghost?". New Statesman. Retrieved 27 March 2012.
  13. Peter Hacker (2010). "Hacker's challenge". The Philosopher's Magazine 51 (51): 23–32.
  14. Daniel Dennett (2003). "Explaining the "Magic" of Consciousness". Journal of Cultural and Evolutionary Psychology 1 (1): 7–19. doi:10.1556/jcep.1.2003.1.2. See also this link.
  15. Daniel Dennett (1993). Consciousness Explained (Paperback ed.). Penguin Group. ISBN 0140128670.
  16. Glenn Carruthers; Elizabeth Schier (2012). "Dissolving the hard problem of consciousness". Consciousness Online fourth conference. Retrieved 7 July 2014.
  17. David J. Chalmers (1996). The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  18. The HOT theory and Antitheories
  19. Carruthers, Peter. "Higher-Order Theories of Consciousness". Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
  20. Peter Carruthers (2005). "Phenomenal concepts and higher-order experiments". Consciousness: Essays from a Higher-Order Perspective. Oxford University Press. pp. 79 ff. ISBN 0191535044.
  21. Searle, J.The Mystery of Consciousness, p111
  22. Massimo Pigliucci (2013). "What Hard Problem?". Philosophy Now (99).

Further reading

External links