The Mind-Technology Problem - Investigating Minds, Selves and 21st Century Artifacts
We invite chapter contributions for the volume “The Mind-Technology Problem – Investigating Minds, Selves and 21st Century Artifacts” forthcoming in the book series Studies in Brain and Mind (Springer). This book explores the relation between philosophy of mind and emerging technologies. Technologies that only recently seemed to be science fiction are becoming part of everyday life. Our life is increasingly saturated with 'smart' artifacts. The ubiquitous and mobile Internet amounts to a radically new epistemic and cognitive environment which we already inhabit. This smart environment is saturated with artificial intelligence systems that not only guide us to information on the Internet, but are transforming the way we inhabit the non-virtual realm: the home, the urban environment and beyond.
In the process, these technologies may be viewed as a form of rapidly evolving cognitive enhancement (Schneider, 2016, Heersmink, 2015). They may also be radically changing the human cognitive profile (Schneider and Mandik, 2016, Clowes, 2015; Clark, 2007) including the possibility of mind uploading (Corabi and Schneider, 2012). Some see these trends as deeply worrying, undermining a raft of our cognitive and social capacities (Carr, 2010; Turkle, 2011). Others see the relationship as a more of a continuum with the long history of artifactually led, cognitive evolution of human beings (Malafouris, 2013; Clark, 2003).
These technologies appear to have important implications for the human mind, sense of identity and even perhaps what we think human beings are. Other technological tendencies may stretch our ideas further toward super-intelligence, (within the skin) cognitive enhancements, and more distantly perhaps, machine consciousness. Yet while ideas of artificial general intelligence, cognitive enhancements and a smart environment are widely commented on, a serious analysis of their philosophical implications is only now getting started.
In this edited volume, we seek the best philosophical analysis of what current and near future 21st technology means for the metaphysics of mind. Some of the questions still open include: Should the adoption or incorporation of current technologies, such as smart phones or wearable gadgets be viewed as enhancements or diminishments of the human mind? Or is such a framework too restricted? Might they transform the sorts of self-knowledge available to us, or what self-knowledge is? Might the use of such gadgetry force us to rethink the boundary between human beings and technology, or indeed enduring philosophical questions such as personal identity or what the self is? According to various theories of personal identity, are radical cognitive enhancements even compatible with personal survival?
In thinking about minds, there is a common tendency to define the ontological status of the mind in terms of whatever is the latest technology. The computational model of mind has certainly been one of the most influential and is currently undergoing important challenges and challenging reinventions (Schneider and Mandik, 2016). Is the notion that the mind or self as a program, which often guides public and philosophical discussions, metaphysically well founded? Whether or not our minds are actually computational, our ability to interface with machines, from virtual reality technologies such as Oculus Rift to our smart-phones and wearable gadgetry, are undergoing a profound shift and are rapidly reshaping the metaphors and concepts philosophers use to think about minds and the conclusion they draw (Metzinger, 2009; Chalmers, 2007).
As a follow up of our “Minds, Selves and 21st Century Technology” meeting in Lisbon (http://mindandcognition.weebly.com/mind-selves-and-technology.html), we seek high quality submissions that investigate the philosophical implications of the engagement between 21st century technology, metaphysics and the philosophy of mind. We are especially interested in submissions that do not indulge in extensive futuristic speculation but focus on current or near-ready technologies which are already changing the shape of the human (and machine) cognitive landscape and our philosophical understanding of mind. Research question include the following:
Extended Mind, Extended Cognition, Distributed self:
· How should we think of distributed and extended memory in the context of 21st century technology?
· Can artifacts make possible new forms of extended self-knowledge? What are the consequences of artifacts—for instance, the ubiquitous smart-phone—for notions such as the minimal self, the narrative self, or the distributed self?
· What is the role of cognitive artifacts in the cognitive enhancement debate?
Metaphysics of the mind:
· Does the current state of the art of machine consciousness, brain enhancement or smart ambient technology warrant predictions and extrapolations on questions like personal identity, privacy, super intelligence, etc. many want to make?
· Does current work in this realm tell us anything about phenomenal consciousness? The organization of mind? The possibility of artificial minds?
· Do hierarchical predictive processing systems support the theoretical literature on the metaphysics of mind (mind, big data, minds online, deep minds)?
Radical Brain Enhancement and Uploading:
· Would an uploaded mind be me? Is mind uploading a myth?
· Does radical brain enhancement challenge our sense of self, personal identity and / or humanity?
Susan Schneider (University of Connecticut)
Gualtiero Piccinini (University of Missouri – St. Louis)
Mark Bickhard (Lehigh University)
Paul Smart (University of Southampton)
Richard Heersmink (Macquarie University)
Ron Chrisley (University of Sussex)
Georg Theiner (Vilanova University)
Keith Frankish (University of Crete)
Gerald Vision (Temple University)
Papers should not exceed 8,000 words.
We especially encourage researchers who are women and/or underrepresented minorities to submit
For further questions please contact the editors: Robert W. Clowes (firstname.lastname@example.org), Klaus Gärtner (email@example.com), or Inês Hipólito (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Please send your contributions to email@example.com.
Deadline: 31st of January, 2018
Carr, N. (2010). The Shallows: How the internet is changing the way we think, read and remember. London: Atlantic Books.
Chalmers, D. (2007). Forward to Supersizing the Mind Supersizing the Mind: Embodiment, Action and Cognitive Extension. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Clark, A. (2003). Natural Born Cyborgs: Minds, Technologies and the Future of Human Intelligence. New York: Oxford University Press.
Clark, A. (2007). Re-inventing ourselves: The plasticity of embodiment, sensing, and mind. Journal of Medicine and Philosophy, 32(3), 263-282.
Clowes, R. W. (2015). Thinking in the cloud: The Cognitive Incorporation of Cloud-Based Technology. Philosophy and Technology, 28, Issue 2,(2), 261-296.
Corabi, J., & Schneider, S. (2012). Metaphysics of Uploading. Journal of Consciousness Studies, 19 (7):26.
Heersmink, R. (2015). Extended mind and cognitive enhancement: moral aspects of cognitive artifacts. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences, 1-16.
Malafouris, L. (2013). How Things Shape the Mind: MIT Press.
Metzinger, T. (2009). The Ego Tunnel: The Science of the Mind and the Myth of the Self: Basic Books.
Schneider, S. (Ed.). (2016). Science fiction and philosophy: from time travel to superintelligence. John Wiley & Sons.
Schneider, S., & Mandik, P. (2016). How philosophy of mind can shape the future. Philosophy of Mind in the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries. London: Routledge.
Turkle, S. (2011). Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less from Each Other. New York: Basic Books.
Empedocles is the first to bring forth a theory of color. In color vision, he says, the eye somehow takes in, or physically ‘ingests’ material effluences emitted by the distal object. Demokritos further attempted to explain the characteristics of particular colors by reference to the characteristics of the atoms constituting them. Like Demokritos, Plato also reckoned with self-radiating objects; but Plato thought that their rays meet and mingle with the pure fire (rays) placed in all human eyes by the gods. In the Timaeus, Plato states that particles coming from other bodies fall upon the sight. Thus seeing (or not seeing) depends on the size, strength and speed of the rays emanating from the objects, while perception of the various colors depends also on that process (see Benson, 2000).
Aristotle rejected the notion that a fiery ray emanated from the eye and reflected back from the objects to create sight—on the grounds that if this were so, night vision would be normal. By the same token he objected to the theory of emanations from objects, since the eye does not perceive them when the objects are pressed against the closed eye. He postulated the necessity of a medium between the eye and its percept, and reached back to the Presocratic translucence (diaphanes), which exists in water, air and translucent objects. Light is the agent (energeia) that reveals translucence as an incorporeal state ranging from bright to dark. Insofar as this flows into objects it ceases being mere light and reveals color as well as their substantiality. The color of the object in turn puts the medium itself in motion and this is transmitted to the eye. Obviously, the role of light is to make this process possible, but Aristotle attributes no movement to it, whereas the resulting color is an activator (kinetikon) of the medium (Benson, 2000). Aristotle’s theory of color contrasts thus with Empedocles and Plato, in the sense that “the assimilation of the sensible form without the matter of the perceived object” is how Aristotle defines perception: “color is a power to move, or alter, what is transparent”. He draws a clear distinction between the physiological activity in the eye and the sensory presentation of color to the perceptive part of the soul. Aristotle conceives of light as incorporeal activity. It is a state of a potentially transparent medium, a state akin to, or equivalent to, a state of illumination.
For Aristotle, a substance together with its accidents forms a certain whole. The whole would seem to be such that substance is the first part, after which come quality, quantity, and the other accidents (Metaph. XII, in init.) (Brentano, 1981, p. 82). Aristotle is convinced that whole and part can never be actual simultaneously. At the root of his theory of categories is a theory of the relation of whole and part. If the whole is actual, then the part is merely potential. How does this applies to a thing extended in space? Conceptually, the accident always contains the substance, hence the real unity of the accident. Concept red contains, in Aristotle’s view, the concept colored, and the concept colored contains the concept sensibly qualitative. What is in question in Aristotle’s theory of categories is thus that it is not the plurality of individual parts; rather all attributes entering into the definition determine one and the same individual. Like any other scientific terms, “category” as undergone several changes of meaning in the course of history, Brentano himself disagreed in several arguments with Aristotle (see Brentano, 1981, part II pp. 81-89). Nevertheless, “this much is certain: he [Aristotle] thought that there was a sense of the term being for each category; and in making the classification, he wanted to distinguish as many different senses of being” (Brentano, 1981, p. 90). Thus, to arrive at the true understanding of perception, we must see the distinction between a subject and that which the subject underlies, such as sensible, quality, place, real time, extension, shape, – in fact, substantial determinations.
 For a detailed analysis, see Kalderon, M. E. (2015). Form without matter: Empedocles and Aristotle on color perception. OUP Oxford.
Aristotle, (1998). Metaphysics translated with an introduction by H. Lawson-Tancred. Penguin.
Benson, J. L. (2000). Greek color theory. Greek Color Theory and the Four Elements, 6. Art, Architecture & Art History at ScholarWorks@UMass Amherst.
Brentano, F. (1981). The Theory of Categories. Melbourne International Philosophy Series, Vol. 8. London: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers.
In this ingenious paper, Michael Kirchhoff and Daniel Hutto argue that the metaphysical commitments of the hard problem require a firmer foundation that denies the metaphysical distinction between the physical and the phenomenal that stimulate the neurophenomenological method of first- and third-person distinctive and complementary phenomena.
The hard problem results from a fusion between the continental tradition of phenomenology and the sciences of mind and brain. It constitutes the attempt to show how one can coherently imagine phenomenal and physical coming apart, since physical descriptions neither adequately characterize nor capture everything that can apply to phenomenal consciousness (Nagel, 1974; Jackson, 1982; Chalmers, 1996).
Kirchhoff and Hutto start of the paper by explaining in which sense neurophenomenology, as classically formulated by Varela, endorses a form of non-reductionism that assumes, rather than dissolves the hard problem, and, consonantly, cannot close the gap. Building on the radical enactive and embodied approaches to cognitive science (Hutto and Myin, 2012), they intend to make clear how the only way to deal with the hard problem is by denying of the metaphysical distinction between the physical and the phenomenal, generally endorsed by non-reductionists that include neurophenomenologists.
In Varela’s perspective (1996), the problem of consciousness cannot be articulated in a purely third-person cognitive scientific model of theory. Varela’s central problem, in agreement with traditional analytic non-reductionism, emphasizes the irreducible nature of first-person phenomenal experience, which is not exhausted by physical, third-personal description. Therefore, his enactive project endeavours to expand neuroscience to include original phenomenological investigations of experience (Thompson, 2004, p. 383). For non-reductionists, thus, the solution to the hard problem resides in the relation between phenomenal and physical, without the former collapsing into the latter. The neurophenomenological method suggests, in this direction, the promotion of a practical method that combines neuroscientific data and first-personal data, pertaining to subjects’ own conscious experience, as complementary partners in the joint pursuit of a science of consciousness. Drawing on the structure of human experience itself (Varela, 1996), it is hence possible to show how the physical and the phenomenal are integrated.
REC shares a number of theoretical commitments with neurophenomenologists alike emphasize the relational nature of consciousness, rejecting representationalism and neurocentricism. Also, both take a dynamical system theoretical approach to the study of cognitive activity as naturally fit with anti-representationalism.
What Kirchhoff and Hutto disagree with is the fact that “neurophenomenology’s non-reductionism, as reflected in formulations that fortify a schism between first- and third-person phenomena, tacitly accept the terms of the hard problem in a way that makes it impossible to close the epistemic and metaphysical gaps in the way neurophenomenology hopes to” (2016, p. 3). Thus they accentuate that even if neurophenomenology,
it keeps digging the gap between first- and third-personal metaphysics, and so it does noting to deal with the hard problem. According to Bayne (2004), the working hypothesis of neurophenomenology only reflects an epistemic principle. In demanding the equal status between first-person and third-person data, neurophenomenology promotes “an epistemic principle not an explanatory principle”, leaving us wandering in the realm of correlations without providing explanations. Furthermore, Kirchhoff and Hutto point out that reciprocal causality, denoted as bi-directional emergence, although advocating dynamical systems frameworks, presents two problems:
The method: psychophysical identity theory
Kirchhoff and Hutto hence argue for a strict identity thesis, one that acknowledges that differences in description are in fact different ways of describing one and the same physical-phenomenal activity. That is to say, phenomenal and physical data are different ways of getting at features of one and the same phenomenon.
Phenomenal experience, on an REC view is a kind of organismic activity, and as such, it can be given a physical description. They introduce the example of someone holding a book between both hands, and asked, “how are you engaging with the book?”, to which a mechanical description will suffice as a reply. However, when asked “what are you experiencing in the process?”, here the reply certainty includes expectations involved in a certain motor intentionality of active engagement. Thus, Kirchhoff and Hutto tend to agree with the psychophysical identity theory that rejects “the absolute binary distinctions that carve nature at the joints: mind/matter, inner/outer, self/world, subjective/objective, etc.” (Silberstein and Chemero, 2015, p. 186). Setting against a reductive physicalism of the sort that assumes that everything that exists can be fully and adequately described in the vocabulary of physics. The “phenomenal might just be the physical described differently ¾ under a different guise or mode of presentation” (p. 7). To sum up, REC refuses to allow the hard problem to get up running. The main arguments for that being,
The paper concludes that phenomenality should not be thought of as denoting qualitative properties of our experiences, but should be understood as the character of engaging with the world in different ways.
 For a full account of motor intentionality through the predictive engagemnt model, see Bizzari and Hipólito (forthcoming/2017); and also Predictive Brain, special issue by Synthese.
Bayne T. (2004) Closing the gap? Some questions for neurophenomenology. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 3: 349–364.
Chalmers D. (1996) The conscious mind: In search of a fundamental theory. Oxford University Press, New York.
Hutto D. D. & Myin E. (2012) Radicalizing enactivism: Basic minds without content. MIT Press, Cambridge MA.
Jackson F. (1982) Epiphenomenal qualia. Philosophical Quarterly 32: 127–136.
Nagel T. (1974) What is it like to be a bat? Philosophical Review 83: 435–450.
Silberstein M. & Chemero A. (2015) Extending neutral monism to the hard problem. Journal of Consciousness Studies 22(3–4): 181–194.
Thompson E. (2004) Life and mind: From autopoiesis to neurophenomenology. A tribute to Francisco Varela. Phenomenology and the cognitive Sciences 3(4): 381–398.
Varela F. J. (1996) Neurophenomenology: A methodological remedy for the hard problem. Journal of Consciousness Studies 3(4): 330–349.
But soft, what light through yonder window breaks?
It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.
Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon,
Who is already sick and pale with grief
That thou, her maid, art far more fair than she. . .
The brightness of her cheek would shame those stars
As daylight doth a lamp; her eye in heaven
Would through the airy region stream so bright
Your brain visualizes words contained in sentences in this screen. The eye takes the words as physical stimuli of light rays and transduces them into electrical and chemical signals that can be interpreted by the brain to construct physical images. Light waves enter through the cornea, processing through the pupil to the center of the iris and retina. The neural signals initially processed by the retina travel via the axons of the ganglion cells through the optic nerves, dividing and partially crossing over into the optic chiasm and then travelling via the optic tracts to the lateral geniculate nucleus of the thalamus. Finally ending up in V2, V4, V5 and V6. These are then mapped onto a word form and the corresponding semantic representation within a syntactic framework.
The reason why, sometimes, a salty fluid chock full of proteins, water, mucus and oil is released from the lacrimal gland in the upper, outer region of your eye when one understands some passages of very good literature, is, however, still to be comprehended. The human ability to interpret and apprehend the imaginative vision of Shakespeare’s keenness expressed in this passage of aesthetic mental energy is very difficult to be accounted for the physicist’s objective. In fact, if those very same words were written in a foreign language to the reader, she would be able to read the words, without the understanding, since there would be visual stimulation and the cognitive function of reading without the elicitation of subjective experience.
The reader might argue that perchance if the physicist had broader understanding than he has about the anatomy, physiology and function of the nervous processes involved in reading, she might be able to explain such qualitative phenomena. Well that is fair enough, but let us further consider for instance the aesthetic experience of perceiving Michelangelo’s frescoes in Sistine Chapel. Subjective experience is beautifully described by James Joyce’s as aesthetic arrest, that is, “[t]he instant wherein that supreme quality of beauty, the clear radiance of the esthetic image, is apprehended luminously by the mind which has been arrested by its wholeness and fascinated by its harmony is the luminous silent stasis of esthetic pleasure, a spiritual state very like to that cardiac condition called the enchantment of the heart” (Joyce, 1993). Why would visual stimulation be accompanied by aesthetic experience and inspire Joyce’s insight on it? Such conditional experience remains yet unknown explanandum among the sciences of the brain and the mind. Can the study of neurons help us to understand what art creation is? Can the study of acoustics help us to understand Beethoven’s music? Truth is even if we were able to explain how perceptive sensory information is discriminated, integrated and reported, we would not be able to explain how it is experienced since those seem to constitute two different problems. Besides, “[t]here is no cognitive function such that we can say in advance that explanation of that function will automatically explain experience” (Chalmers, 2010, p. 7).
In fact, what does challenge the venture of the understanding of the qualitative aspects of experience through an exclusive neurophysiological filter is possibly the conspicuous fact that we still don’t know how to bridge, the easy problem of for instance, the cognitive function of reading, with the hard problem of, for instance, the ability to interpret pragmatic cues. In fact, why is the performance of cognitive functions, such as attention, perception, memory, language, accompanied by experience? Gretel Erlic’s vision acutely describes the well-known dichotomy between the easy and the hard problem,
“bodies of thoughts swim in the synaptic lake, sliding over receptors . . . How odd that we walk around with this bodies, live in them, die in them, make love with them, yet know almost nothing of their intimate works . . . Up to this point my living and breathing had been an act of faith. I existed but I didn’t know how (2010).
Likewise, we do not know what is the relationship between subjective experience and sensory stimulation. In Chalmers’ words, we do not know “[w]hy is it that when electromagnetic waveforms impinge on a retina and are discriminated and categorized by a visual system, the discrimination and categorization are experienced as a sensation of vivid red” (Chalmers, 2010, p. 6). Furthermore, truth is after decades of concerted effort on the part of our neuroscientists, psychologists, and philosophers, we yet have not a clue on how the brain gives rise to sensation, feeling, subjectivity, such as the feeling of redness of red (Noë, 2010).
Our place in the universe seems to rest someplace between the material world of trees and sound waves and light radiation, and the mental world and its subjective experience, such as the one we commonly have while interpreting and engaging in a literary text, listening to a masterpiece of music, or perceiving the colors of a painting. In fact, as John Eccles understood it, “[t]he more we discover scientifically about the brain the more clearly do we distinguish between the brain events and the mental phenomena and the more wonderful do the mental phenomena become. Promissory materialism is simply a superstition held by dogmatic materialists” (Eccles, 1994).
In the material world, there are shapes, sizes, surfaces, and textures that obey Euclid’s and Galileo’s laws, and those are commonly designated as the primary qualities. However, it is also true that we do not objectively perceive according to those geometrical laws, since, objects illicit in our perception conscious experiences. In fact, the reader does not see words written over a plain white paper, but subjectively interprets Shakespeare’s words. Nor do we hear independent auditory stimulus as notes, but we perceive the whole song.
We do perceive qualities subjectively that seem to result from what can be seen as conjunction between the physical properties and our modes of perceiving. For example, the colors shapes, sizes, surfaces, and textures in Michelangelo’s ceiling, --however clearly related to the primary qualities inherent to the physical stimuli that elicit our qualitative perception--, seem to differ both from the Euclidean rules that the physical stimuli obeys and from the anatomical and functional rules the visual system obeys, while agreeing with the aesthetic qualitative experience. This seems to be so because we certainly do not see those physical properties in isolation in the Sistine Chapel, but we do perceive Micheangelo’s masterpiece. In other words, we do not plainly see fragmented colors and geometrical measurable shapes, sizes, surfaces, and textures, but we do integrate those colors, shapes, sizes, surfaces, and textures subjectively in a qualitative experience that is meaningful to us. If this is correct we shall ask then, where to locate the qualities of experience?
It seems, on first sight, very tempting to localize them in the brain. However we do have to acknowledge qualitative experience as distinct in nature from physical processes. The ontological actuality of the mind might somewhat shelter qualitative aspects of subjective experience. Although mind and brain are distinct in nature, subjective qualities are a product of the physical ones. Therefore, the mind has to maintain intimate relations with the physical world and, consequently, with the brain. What comes promptly to mind is how can such qualitative phenomena be scientifically attended. Does subjective experience belong within the domain of science? Are observable physical objects and properties only those things that are measurable on well-defined physical variables such as length, duration, wavelength, mass, and energy? What is the place of experiential phenomena within the realm of science? What are the best methods to study it?
In this systematic thesis we take as a starting point that:
Empirical observation and philosophical thinking should be combined to address both components.
The idea that science and philosophy are dichotomous realms with their own methods and criteria is questionable. Science is not discontinuous with broader human concerns. Nor is philosophy a free-for-all of opinion. In fact philosophy and science share a common aim: understanding (Noë, 2010). The conditions of the lifeworld can, for instance, seduce us into thinking that only the measurable is the real.