Noteworthy Articles on Philosophy of Mind

Here I am putting together a list of articles / resources on ‘Philosophy of Mind’ which I found worth reading:

Title Minding Matter
Subtitle The closer you look, the more the materialist position in physics appears to rest on shaky metaphysical ground.
Author Adam Frank (Professor of Astronomy at the University of Rochester in New York)
Date 13-Mar-2017 (read on 20-Mar-2017)
Excerpts “the unresolved democracy of quantum interpretations means that our current understanding of matter alone is unlikely to explain the nature of mind. It seems just as likely that the opposite will be the case.”
My summary The traditional conception of matter being fundamentally made up of tiny particles is replaced with a much more puzzling quantum world. The objective access to reality is lost in probability waves, essential uncertainties and the role of observer. There are various competing interpretations of this quantum weirdness presenting us with totally different views of reality. For instance, one of the interpretations posits existence of infinitely many parallel universes to account for the observer effect. All this shows that we have very little grasp on the real nature of matter. In such a situation to claim that consciousness is entirely material (or physical) doesn’t explain much.

Title The Dark Secret at the Heart of AI
Subtitle No one really knows how the most advanced algorithms do what they do. That could be a problem.
Author Will Knight
Date 11-Apr-2017 (read on 25-Apr-2017)
Excerpts We can build these models, but we don’t know how they work.
It might be part of the nature of intelligence that only part of it is exposed to rational explanation. Some of it is just instinctual.
How well can we get along with machines that are unpredictable and inscrutable?
My summary AI systems based on neural networks are probabilistic. Trained on a huge amount of data, they store relations between inputs and outputs in the form of neural networks. Given a new input, they predict the output which can go beyond the human capability of finding patterns. But AI systems cannot explain why they gave a particular output, they don’t reason like humans. Their inability to provide reasoning for their decisions is a problem that limits their utility and their ability to work together with human experts.
As AI systems don’t reason, they may produce strange outputs at times, see ‘There’s a Bit of a Flaw in the Way Artificial Intelligence Is Being Developed‘ (adversarial examples), ‘AI Can Be Fooled With One Misspelled Word‘ and ‘How Cellphone Camera Images Can Fool Machine Vision’.

Title Is consciousness just an illusion?
Subtitle The cognitive scientist Daniel Dennett believes our brains are machines, made of billions of tiny “robots” – our neurons, or brain cells. Is the human mind really that special?
Author Anna Buckley, Daniel Dennett
Date 04-Apr-2017 (read on 05-Apr-2017)
Excerpts In an infamous memo written in 1965, the philosopher Hubert Dreyfus stated that humans would always beat computers at chess because machines lacked intuition. Daniel Dennett disagreed. A few years later, Dreyfus rather embarrassingly found himself in checkmate against a computer.
We’re not just are robots. We’re robots, made of robots, made of robots.
Pressing icons on our phones makes us feel in control. We feel in charge of the hardware inside. But what we do with our fingers on our phones is a rather pathetic contribution to the sum total of phone activity. And, of course, it tells us absolutely nothing about how they work. Human consciousness is the same, says Dennett. “It’s the brain’s ‘user illusion’ of itself,” he says.
Descartes grossly underestimated machines. Alan Turing set him right.
My summary Humans are just machines, albeit complex. And consciousness is an illusion.

Title Daniel Dennett’s Science of the Soul
Subtitle A philosopher’s lifelong quest to understand the making of the mind
Author Joshua Rothman
Date 27-Mar-2017 (read on 07-Apr-2017)
Excerpts A running joke among people who study consciousness is that Dennett himself might be a zombie. (“Only a zombie like Dennett could write a book called ‘Consciousness Explained’ that doesn’t address consciousness at all,” the computer scientist Jaron Lanier has written.)
Along with Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and the late Christopher Hitchens, Dennett is often cited as one of the “four horsemen of the New Atheism.”
Chalmers accused Dennett and the Physicalists of focusing on the “easy problems” of consciousness—questions about the workings of neurons or other cognitive systems—while ignoring the “hard problem.” Since then, the “hard problem” has been a rallying cry for those philosophers who think that Dennett’s view of the mind is incomplete.
Dennett said, “that you can’t name a kind of experiment that would get at ‘first-personal data,’ or ‘experiences.’ That’s all I ask—give me a single example of a scientifically respectable experiment!”
My summary More biographical, but does go into how Dennett explains consciousness away.
Also describes a showdown between Chalmers and Dennett that happened a few years ago.
Dennett argues that if a machine is so sophisticated that you fall in love with it like you do with a human, not then you will consider the machine as conscious.
Author’s mother had a stroke last year and she lost many of her mental abilities. It seems to the author that she is now “sort of” conscious which makes more sense from Dennett’s perspective. That consciousness is not a light switch, rather it is layers of functions or interconnecting sub-systems.

Title Is The Universe Conscious?
Author Marcelo Gleiser
Date 12-Jul-2017 (read on 20-Jul-2017)
My summary Author explores the idea that universe might itself be consciousness, in the sense that it has a direction and purpose. There seems to be a progression from sub atomic particles to molecules to stars to living things to humans. Panpsychism, idea that mind is everywhere, has found quite a few proponents like David Chalmers. This idea was an essential part of ancient belief systems.

Mysteries of Quantum Mechanics are invoked in support of panpsychism, though there are no real grounds for it.

Title Pain in the Machine (video)
Subtitle Pain leads to empathy and self-preservation: should we make robots ‘feel’ it?
Date 17-Jul-2017 (read on 17-Jul-2017)
Excerpts Evolutionarily, pain exists to warn of potentially harmful and dangerous things in the environment, allowing us and other creatures to learn, respond and ultimately survive. Pain also triggers an emotional response in humans, which links the physical and the emotional experience in ways that are difficult to tease apart, though it does seem that empathy is one result of the emotional component of pain. For decades, scientists and researchers have constructed computers to mimic human neural networks. Recently, some advanced robots have been designed with self-preservation mechanisms that vaguely replicate a pain response. So to what extent should robots share in human pain? Combining interviews with experts from the University of Cambridge and elsewhere, together with clips from amusingly relevant science-fiction films and TV shows, Pain in the Machine explores whether there is a sense in which robots could come to experience pain, and probes the practical and ethical implications of equipping the next generation of robots with such a capacity.
My summary Prof. Peter Robinson (Professor of Computer Technology at University of Cambridge) says that we are a lot like machines but this analogy has limits. And to explain the rest, people come up with various ideas, but professor Peter finds the religious explanation that god created us and endowed us with these faculties to be simpler.

Rest of the experts mostly take a physicalist point of view, though few mention that there is no way to know whether a machine is conscious.

Title Your brain hallucinates your conscious reality (TED Talk)
Author Anil Seth (Cognitive neuroscientist)
Date Apr-2017 (read on Jun-2017)
Excerpts Right now, billions of neurons in your brain are working together to generate a conscious experience — and not just any conscious experience, your experience of the world around you and of yourself within it. How does this happen? According to neuroscientist Anil Seth, we’re all hallucinating all the time; when we agree about our hallucinations, we call it “reality.” Join Seth for a delightfully disorienting talk that may leave you questioning the very nature of your existence.
My summary When we are given general anesthesia, suddenly we are not there; and on becoming conscious, we are back. This is no less than magic. Anesthesia turns people into objects and then back again.

There is nothing to worry about because ultimately we won’t be there. As soon as we die, the consciousness goes away and only an object is left behind. Anil expresses this in more detail in his interview on Philosophy Bites.

Life was considered very mysterious when we had no idea about cells and DNA, concepts like a force of life were invoked to explain it. On learning more about actual workings of living organisms, the mystery faded away. The same should happen, author hopes, with Consciousness as Science is now advanced enough to explore the working of the brain in detail.

Think of consciousness in two different ways: experiences (inner movie) and self. Our common sense notions about both can fall apart.

The rich world, full of colors, shapes and smells, we see around us is a controlled hallucination created by our mind. Optical / Audio illusions tell us that our perception is the best guess of the world that mind conjures up for us. Basically, we are hallucinating all the time. We call it reality when we agree about our hallucinations.

The rubber hand illusion shakes our sense of self as an embodied organism.

So can our smartphones be conscious one day? Author’s research tells him that it might never happen because intelligence and consciousness are two separate things. You don’t have to be smart to suffer. Smartphones can be very intelligent, even more than humans but they are not living organisms.

Title Papineau vs Dennett: a philosophical dispute
Author Daniel Dennett and David Papineau, Introduction by Tim Crane
Date 2-Aug-2017 (read on 5-Aug-2017)
My summary This is a debate between the two about the latest Book by Dennett (From Bacteria to Bach and Back) and Papineau’s review titled ‘Competence without comprehension‘. Both are materialists philosophers so it might be puzzling to know that they differ. Time Crane summaries their debates as follows:

“There were two main lines of criticism in Papineau’s review: one concerns Dennett’s doubts about explicit understanding or “comprehension”; the other concerns his views about consciousness.

On comprehension, Dennett maintains that much animal and indeed human behaviour displays “competence without comprehension”, achieving ends without the subject’s understanding why. In a similar vein, he holds that human cultures can develop blindly, due to the natural selection of the “informational viruses” that Richard Dawkins has labeled “memes”, including some of the greatest products of human culture (hence Bach and bacteria). Papineau argues that Dennett fails to justify his downgrading of animal intelligence or his exclusion of deliberate design from cultural innovation, and hence that Dennett does not take sufficiently seriously the widespread role of intelligent insight. On consciousness, Papineau takes issue with Dennett’s view that consciousness is a kind of illusion (“illusionism”) and argues that materialists should have no difficulty accepting the reality of consciousness – the difficulty is finding the material basis of this reality in the brain.”

Title If I teleport from Mars, does the original me get destroyed?
Author Charlie Huenemann (Professor of philosophy at Utah State University)
Date 01-Aug-2017 (read on 01-Aug-2017)
My summary If a replica of me is created which is exactly same down to the last atom, would I be in two places at the same time. Obviously, this assumes that we are made up of matter only (cells, neurons etc.), there is no ghost in the machine.

This thought experiment raises doubt about our sense of self and makes the Author think that there is no inner, substantive me (or soul). Our bodies are going through change all the time and sense of self is an illusion created by our minds amidst this change. If a replica is created, both of them will have an illusion of self and there is no me anyway.

Title Can Integrated Information Theory Explain Consciousness?
Author John Horgan (Science Journalist)
Date 01-Dec-2015 (read on 03-Sep-2017)
My summary The author holds a position called Mysterianism that the hard problem of consciousness cannot be solved. Panpsychism strikes him as self-evidently foolish, even though Chalmers and Koch take it seriously.

IIT Postulate called ‘exclusion’ proposes the components of a system may have non-zero phi but they are not consciousness because the phi of the entire system exceeds that of its components, resulting in suppression of components’ consciousness. So a group of people communicating obsessively with each other might result in them losing their consciousness as the group itself becomes conscious.

Scott Aaronson, a critic of IIT, says that Phi may be a necessary condition for consciousness but not sufficient.  IIT “unavoidably predicts vast amounts of consciousness in physical systems that no sane person would regard as particularly ‘conscious’ at all: indeed, systems that do nothing but apply a low-density parity-check code, or other simple transformations of their input data.  Moreover, IIT predicts not merely that these systems are ‘slightly’ conscious (which would be fine), but that they can be unboundedly more conscious than humans are.”

John Searle in his review of Koch’s book complained that IIT depends on a misappropriation of the concept of information. “you can’t explain consciousness by saying it consists of information, because information exists only relative to consciousness”.

Title Does Consciousness Cause Quantum Collapse?
Author Kelvin McQueen
Date 01-Aug-2017 (read on 15-Aug-2017)
My summary The author describes the double split experiment and how the reality is explained by two different laws: Schrodinger’s equation and collapse postulate. Schrodinger’s equation enables us to calculate the exact state of the system, it’s wavefunction, while collapse postulate is probabilistic. Which of the two laws governs the physical state depends on whether the system is measured or not. This is the measurement problem at the heart of Quantum Physics.

One way to understand measurement puzzle is to consider it as effects of conscious observer, it is proposed by some physicists (many-worlds being another popular explanation). With this unsolved mystery about the possible role of consciousness in physical laws, the Causal Closure argument doesn’t look conclusive.

To explore the possible role of Consciousness in Quantum Physics, Author proposes to devise experiments based on Integrated Information Theory of Consciousness. If IIT is true, such experiments should tell us whether its Consciousness that causes the collapse of the wavefunction.