Lately I’ve been hearing a lot of talk about (philosophical) idealism. I qualify it as philosophical to distinguish it from casual meaning of optimistic. In philosophy, idealism is a metaphysical view about the nature of reality — one that I’ve always seen as in contrast to realism.
What caught my eye in all the talk was that I couldn’t always tell if people were speaking of epistemological or ontological idealism. I agree, of course, with the former — one way or another, it’s the common understanding — but I’m not a fan of the various flavors of ontological idealism.
It seems downright Ptolemaic to me.
Philosopher and cognitive scientist Dave Chalmers, who coined the term hard problem (of consciousness), also coined the term meta hard problem, which asks why we think the hard problem is so hard. Ever since I was introduced to the term, I’ve been trying figure out what to make of it.
While the hard problem addresses a real problem — how phenomenal experience arises from the physics of information processing — the latter is about our opinions regarding that problem. What it tries to get at, I think, is why we’re so inclined to believe there’s some sort of “magic sauce” required for consciousness.
It’s an easy step when consciousness, so far, is quite mysterious.
In debates (or even just discussions) people sometimes ask how we know the physical world is really there. A variation asks how we know that what we perceive as the real world is the same as what other people perceive. (One example of this is the inverted spectrum.)
The most accurate answer is: We don’t. Not for sure, anyway. There is at least one assumption built in, but it’s one we have to make to escape our own minds. According to ancient philosophical tradition, the only fact we know for sure is that we ourselves exist. (Although I think there’s an argument to be made about a priori knowledge.)
But, as with the excluded middle, accepting reality as an axiom seems almost necessary if we’re to move forward in any useful way.
Last week we took a look at a simple computer software model of a human brain. (We discovered that it was big, requiring dozens of petabytes!) One goal of such models is replicating consciousness — a human mind. That can involve creating a (potentially superior) new mind or uploading an existing human mind (a very different goal).
Now that we’ve explored the basics of calculation, code (software), computers, and (computer software) models, we’re ready to explore what’s involved in attempting to model a (human) mind.
I’m dividing the possibilities into four basic levels.
The weather has been gorgeous the last couple days, so the idea of sitting at the computer hasn’t been appealing. Plus, it’s occurred to me that I’ve just ended 29 years of sitting at a computer. My original plan was to spend this first retirement month getting solidly back into blogging again, but my brain is rebelling. It would rather just putter around for a while, enjoying life.
I do try to do what the voices in my head tell me. They seem to know what they’re talking about (at least, they’re quite convincing). I have managed to post more this month than any month so far this year, so I’m off to a fine start.
But I’m not going to work at much more this month unless the muse strikes me.
In my first post I mentioned René Descartes and his seminal statement, “Cogito ergo sum.” I think, therefore I am. Because this statement and the ideas that spring from it lie at the heart of my philosophy and interests, it is a fitting topic for my second post. I also mentioned beginnings; these beginning posts explore such core topics as form my core and inform my mind.
And mind is the topic at hand. “I think, therefore I am,” concerns one of the most central, most personal, most mysterious, most fantastic aspects of our existence. It concerns something each of us shares every waking moment, but which remains–thus far–completely unknown.
That every moment mystery is that we think and we experience. Each of us has a voice inside their head; an «I» that is us. It’s the driver of the car that says, “I’m hungry,” or “I’m going to the library.”
It’s the sound track running in your head right now as you read this. It’s the basis of your thoughts and experience.
We have no idea what it actually is. Continue reading
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was…”
Many of you will recognize that as the first words of John 1:1 in the Christian New Testament Bible. There’s also a cross-reference to the very first words of that Bible (Old Testament in this case), “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”
This is about words and about beginnings.
Others might recognize it as a conflation of the lead-in to a Moody Blues tune, OM, from In Search of the Lost Chord, and the title of a song from another album, In the Beginning, from On the Threshold of a Dream.
(Yes “album.” I’m old!)