Thursday, 27 July 2017

Is Brain a Digital Computer?

John R. Searle, an effective critic of the materialist and dualist theories of the mind, conclusively refutes the idea of brain being a digital computer with his famous “Chinese Room” argument. But I think he offers stronger arguments on this subject in his paper, “Is the Brain a Digital Computer?”

According to the computer model of the mind, the mind is to the brain what a program is to hardware. This model argues that the human beings have a computational system in which the mind is the program and the brain is the hardware.

Here’s the logical structure of the argument that Searle uses (in his paper, “Is the Brain a Digital Computer?”) to refute the computer model of the mind:

1. On the standard textbook definition, computation is defined syntactically in terms of symbol manipulation. 

2. But syntax and symbols are not defined in terms of physics. Though symbol tokens are always physical tokens, "symbol" and "same symbol" are not defined in terms of physical features. Syntax, in short, is not intrinsic to physics. 

3. This has the consequence that computation is not discovered in the physics, it is assigned to it. Certain physical phenomena are assigned or used or programmed or interpreted syntactically. Syntax and symbols are observer relative. 

4. It follows that you could not discover that the brain or anything else was intrinsically a digital computer, although you could assign a computational interpretation to it as you could to anything else. The point is not that the claim "The brain is a digital computer" is false. Rather it does not get up to the level of falsehood. It does not have a clear sense. You will have misunderstood my account if you think that I am arguing that it is simply false that the brain is a digital computer. The question "Is the brain a digital computer?" is as ill defined as the questions "Is it an abacus?", "Is it a book?", or "Is it a set of symbols?", "Is it a set of mathematical formulae?"

5. Some physical systems facilitate the computational use much better than others. That is why we build, program, and use them. In such cases we are the homunculus in the system interpreting the physics in both syntactical and semantic terms. 

6. But the causal explanations we then give do not cite causal properties different from the physics of the implementation and the intentionality of the homunculus. 

7. The standard, though tacit, way out of this is to commit the homunculus fallacy. The humunculus fallacy is endemic to computational models of cognition and cannot be removed by the standard recursive decomposition arguments. They are addressed to a different question. 

8. We cannot avoid the foregoing results by supposing that the brain is doing "information processing". The brain, as far as its intrinsic operations are concerned, does no information processing. It is a specific biological organ and its specific neurobiological processes cause specific forms of intentionality. In the brain, intrinsically, there are neurobiological processes and sometimes they cause consciousness. But that is the end of the story.

Searle has also argued against the mind being a digital computer in the Chapter 9 of his famous book, The Rediscovery of the Mind

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

John Searle on Materialism and Dualism

In his essay, "Why I Am Not a Property Dualist," John R. Searle says that "the mind-body problem, so construed persists in philosophy because of two intellectual limitations on our part. First, we really do not understand how brain processes cause consciousness. Second, we continue to accept a traditional vocabulary that contrasts the mental and the physical, the mind and the body, the soul and the flesh, in a way that I think is confused and obsolete."

Towards the end of the essay he sums up his ideas on materialism and dualism. Here's the excerpt:
“Both materialism and dualism are trying to say something true, but they both wind up saying something false. The materialist is trying to say, truly, that the universe consists entirely of material phenomena such as physical particles in fields of force. But he ends up saying, falsely, that irreducible states of consciousness do not exist. The dualist is trying to say, truly, that ontologically irreducible states of consciousness do exist, but he ends up saying, falsely, that these are not ordinary parts of the physical world. The trick is to state the truth in each view without saying the falsehood. To do that we have to challenge the assumptions behind the traditional vocabulary. The traditional vocabulary is based on the assumption that if something is a state of consciousness in the strict sense – it is inner, qualitative, subjective, etc. – then it cannot in those very respects be physical or material. And conversely if something is physical or material then it cannot in its physical or material respects be a state of consciousness. Once you abandon the assumptions behind the traditional vocabulary it is not hard to state the truth. The universe does consist entirely in physical particles in fields of force (or whatever the ultimately true physics discovers), these are typically organized into systems, some of the systems are biological, and some of the biological systems are conscious. Consciousness is thus an ordinary feature of certain biological systems, in the same way that photosynthesis, digestion, and lactation are ordinary features of biological systems.”

Monday, 24 July 2017

Yet Another Autopsy of Orthodox Objectivism by Greg Nyquist

Greg Nyquist has posted a new blog on his website Ayn Rand Contra Human Nature. He has nothing new to say in this blog—basically he is offering for the umpteenth time the same old dirty laundry from Orthodox Objectivism’s Augean Stables.

Here’s an excerpt from the post titled, “Orthodox Objectivism: An Autopsy, Part 2”:
Peikoff's stewardship of  Objectivism veered from one disaster to another, each worse than before. The first crisis was brought about by a biography of Ayn Rand published by Peikoff's cousin, Barbara Branden. If Peikoff had any notions of seeking to transform Objectivism into a respectable system of thought, he immediately threw all that overboard after the publication of the Passion of Ayn Rand. Under his leadership, the cultish aspects of Objectivism, which had been there from the start, became even more pronounced. This development became a stated point of doctrine when, a year or so later, he excommunicated David Kelley from the movement. In fairness to Peikoff, it's not clear he set out to give Kelley the boot. It is more likely that his minions, particularly Harry Binswanger and Peter Schwartz, set him to it. It's long been thought that the real reason why Kelley was thrown overboard stemmed from his endorsement of Branden's biography. But I've always suspected the primary reason stemmed form sheer envy. Schwartz, Binswanger, and others within the Objectivist elite resented Kelley's intelligence and scholarly credentials. They recognized Kelley as their superior and hated him for it. Hence their attempts to incite Peikoff against Kelley. 
Whether the ire of orthodox Objectivists against Kelley was motivated by envy and resentment and/or Kelley's endorsement of The Passion of Ayn Rand and/or some other factious reason, Peikoff was persuaded to write a screed against the perceived Kelley menace. In the essay "Fact and Value," Peikoff insisted that Objectivism was a closed system, on the grounds that the philosophy referred solely to doctrines originating, or at least endorsed, by Rand herself. This essentially mummified Objectivism into an Ayn Rand personality cult. The philosophy became largely restricted to Rand's known views, as sanctioned by Peikoff himself. Objectivists were allowed to apply those views to their own lives. But they were not allowed to revise or amend such views. Criticism of Rand's personal behavior was not tolerated. ARI became a kind of Objectivist Vatican, with Rand the principle deity and Peikoff its Pope. Excommunications followed. Not only Kelley and his followers, but ARI board members George Riesman, Edith Packer, and John McCaskey. Because of criticism directed against the Ayn Rand Institute and Peikoff for continuing Rand's policy of dramatic breaks with people over minor doctrinal differences, Peikoff and ARI often preferred to silently and discreetly ostracize those they no longer wished to be associated with. This, in any case, appears to be what happened with Tracinski, among others. 
Intellectually, Peikoff left orthodox Objectivism worse than he found it --- which is an accomplishment of sorts, though not in a positive way. As an intellectual movement, Objectivism was already veering towards its inevitable crack-up when Peikoff took over from Rand in 1982. His decision to close the system sealed the philosophy's fate. Unable to take in and adapt new discoveries in the cognitive and psychological sciences, Objectivism became increasingly difficult to regard as a serious, rational, science-friendly philosophical movement. Meanwhile, Peikoff was busy developing the worst aspects of the Randian creed. His specialty had always been one of the weakest parts of the system, the philosophy of history. Peikoff had come to believe that Rand's vague and scientifically dubious speculations about the role of philosophy in the course of history could provide special insights to the future of the United States and Western Civilization. Assuming that history is determined by the most fundamental ideas developed by the greatest philosophers, he came to the conclusion that the United States was heading towards a theocracy.

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Friedrich Nietzsche on Beethoven

“At a certain place in Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, for example, he might feel that he is floating above the earth in a starry dome, with the dream of immortality in his heart; all the stars seem to glimmer around him, and the earth seems to sink ever deeper downwards.”

~ Friedrich Nietzsche in 'Human, All Too Human'

Perspectives on Mind-Body Relationship

The philosophy of the brain is of great interest as it seeks to find the answer to the greatest puzzle of mankind, the puzzle of man’s nature.

In Some Questions about Language, Chapter III, “Solution of the Primary Problem,” Mortimer J. Adler offers his answer to the question: Can meaningless notations acquire referential significance without the intervention of the mind?

Adler’s answer runs across 6 pages, but in this blog I look at only the perspective on mind-body relationship that he offers while presenting his answer. Here’s an excerpt:
It is necessary to explain the question before attempting to answer it. The word “mind” is here being used in the broadest possible sense to cover acts of perception, memory, imagination, and thought, and also to cover acts that are voluntary as contrasted with the involuntariness of the purely reflex or automatic behavior. This use of the word “mind” does not commit us initially to any view of the relation of mind to brain as somehow distinct from one another. It does, however, preclude the complete reduction of the mind to brain.  
If (i) brain states or processes are regarded as being nothing but neurochemical conditions or events, and if (ii) they can be described in no other terms, and if (iii) it cannot be said that brain states or processes involve or give rise to acts of perception, memory, imagination, and thought (acts which are at least analytically distinct from brain states and processes described in neurochemical terms), then “mind” is just another word for “brain,” and the use of it is misleading for it tends to suggest the addition of something somehow distinct. 
If, however, mind is regarded as somehow distinct from brain, so that brain states or processes, in addition to being described in neurochemical terms, can be said to involve or give rise to acts of perception, memory, imagination, and thought, then mind can be appealed to as a factor in explaining the acquisition of referential significance by meaningless notations. This is the case whether brain states or processes are both the necessary sufficient condition of acts of perception, memory, imagination, and thought, or only the necessary but not the sufficient condition of their occurrence.

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Free Society Versus The Totalitarian Progressives

Lying as a Way of Life: Corruption and Collectivism Come of Age in America 
Alexandra York
Futurenow Press (May 2016) 

Why did the mainstream media fail to predict that Donald Trump was going to win the 2016 presidential election? I think that is because mainstream journalism has become centered around the editorial offices and newsrooms that are secluded from the “real world” and are generally dominated by socialites, celebrities, intellectuals and the political elites who have a totally leftist worldview. The journalists have lost touch with what is going on inside the minds of many normal people who actually go out and vote.

Alexandra York’s monograph gives a glimpse of the level of anger and distrust that people feel for the establishment political candidates. She does not mention Donald Trump even once in her monograph, but when she explains the massive societal and political damage caused by the Barrack Obama presidency, her eye might have been on the next presidential election in which she may have been hoping that anyone with the will to undo Obama’s progressive policies would win. It is worth noting that York’s monograph was published in May 2016, when most opinion polls were vociferously proclaiming that no conservative-leaning candidate had the chance of getting past the Hillary-Obama juggernaut.

In her Introduction, York notes that Barack Obama is an Alinsky-method-trained Community Organizer, virtually unknown politically when he ran for office, and that his election as President was like a “meteorite from out of nowhere.”

“In certain regards, [Obama’s] election to America’s highest office may be a blessing because his consistent behavior bent on weakening this nation has proven so bald and bold that few can any longer deny his overweening purpose; thus, his presidency may be a beneficial wake-up call for thinking citizens who care about the future of freedom.”

In the above paragraph York seems to be suggesting that the American people are so frustrated with Obama that they are ready to support any candidate who is not infected by the malaise of political correctness and welfarism. When she calls Obama’s presidency a beneficial wake-up call, she seems to be saying that the situation is now ripe for total political change.

But the scope of the monograph is not limited to an analysis of the Obama presidency. York believes that Obama represents the climax of the efforts that the leftist intellectuals have been making during the last 100 years to rob Americans of their individualism and liberty and turn the country into a collectivist totalitarian state.

The thesis that she offers in the monograph is that lying is a way of life for most third-world nations that are ruled by collectivist regimes. These third world countries are massively corrupt—not only their politics but also their culture in general is based on lies. She points out that Obama spent his early formative years in Islamic Indonesia where she has spent time and personally witnessed lying as the norm. In contrast, America, in the early years of its existence, had a culture of individualism and liberty which led to the development of a healthy political environment. But in the last many decades, collectivist ideas have made deep inroads in American culture, many if not most American politicians have become as venal and corrupt as those in third-world countries.

In Chapter One, “Morality,” York focuses on amorality as the culprit in all lying societies. Within this thought-provoking, in-depth examination of the mental mechanics behind lying, she notes that Islam has always been a “religion driven by an all encompassing totalitarian social-political ideology.” Without dwelling exclusively on Obama—she gives due time to the then presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and others--she does present a list of instances like the Iran “deal” where the Obama administration sacrificed American interests to support Islam.

She also admonishes Obama’s support of the climate alarmists and the United Nations: “Even more dead serious and truly lethal to America’s sovereignty, however, was Obama’s signing the United States on to the UN’s 2030 resolution that affectively relegates our country to the status of a follower and will transfer our wealth to “emerging nations” without any say from us.”

Lying as a Way of Life, however, is not a politically motivated work. With a much broader brush, York spends considerable time on the intellectual corruption that the The Frankfurt School scholars brought to American culture during the 1930s. They played a major role in creating an intellectual environment that deluded millions of people into supporting a leftist candidate as Obama and, later, Hillary Clinton. The Marxist leaders of The Frankfurt School were determined to destroy much more than American politics. They strove to destroy the very premises of free will, freedom, and individualism on which the Western civilization is based:

“It was this group of European scholars first coming together at the University of Frankfurt, who later insinuated the whole concept of Political Correctness into America by adroitly mixing Marxist economics with Freudian psychoanalysis. Using the innocuous name “The Institute for Social Research,” they infiltrated Columbia University’s curricula by design and invitation for the express purpose of initiating collectivism into our liberty-loving country through various, susceptible cultural channels.”

But how was the Frankfurt School able to execute its plans for societal-political change in USA? York says that The Frankfurt School received its intellectual sustenance from the powerful leftist scholars in Europe and America, people like H. G. Wells for example. Regarding Wells, she says, “By taking Darwin’s biological theory of natural selection of the fittest into the practical-political human realm, he persuasively advanced the idea of a scientific elite class (the fittest because scientifically educated) to be in control of the world via this global governance…”

York also refers to the work done by Herbert Croly, the founder of leftist The New Republic. In 1909, he published his book The Promise of American Life which has served as a blueprint for liberal progressive movements in America ever since. And in 1912, Theodore Roosevelt started the Progressive Party which “initiated the political expression of these new intellectual persuasions into the expansion of administrative power in the federal government along with a host of “changes” for transformation.”

Philosophy and politics were not the only means for The Frankfurt School to spread a collectivist mentality in America. They also made good use of art by promoting the works of leftist painters, filmmakers, novelists, and other artists. “Picasso, for example, was a communist, and his artistic brand of Cubism certainly deranged normal thought patterns into at least a state of uncertainty, which is the first step in preparing the mind for new and unfamiliar ideas.”

In the 1930s, Saul Alinsky started disseminating his ground-breaking innovations for cultural discord. His book Rules for Radicals is still a go-to handbook for leftist progressives. York says that the best way of understanding the significance of Alinsky’s methods is to look at his most influential present-day student, Obama. “In his early adult life after college… Barack Obama became an active and successful Community Organizer in Chicago and went on to teach the Alinsky methods to others.” She also notes that after Hillary Clinton wrote her college dissertation on Alinsky, she remained friends with him until his death.

In Chapter four, “American Politics: The President, His Administration, Congress, and More,” York puts the presidency of Barack Obama under the lens again because she sees that he exemplifies the progressive transformer psychology and is clearly not leaving the scene after his terms are over. Here’s an excerpt:

“As the ‘leader’ of the free world, Mr. Obama shepherds not only American citizens toward dictatorship by the elite, he also encourages citizens of other countries to ignore the requirements for freedom by rhetoric. While visiting Argentina recently, for only one example among many, he included the following passage while speaking to a youth group there: ‘So often in the past there has been a division between left and right, between capitalist and communist or socialist, and especially in the Americas, that’s been a big debate. Those are interesting intellectual arguments, but I think for your generation, you should be practical and just choose from what works. You don’t have to worry about whether it really fits into socialist theory or capitalist theory. You just decide what works.’”

York says that by blurring definitions and encouraging pragmatism, Obama and others of his ilk are championing amorality—lying as the norm without conscience or consequence—as the path to success.

After talking about the intellectual, political, and whole-cultural challenges that America faces, York, in Chapter 6, “The Future—What To Do?” offers a list of 19 steps that citizens who are aware of the challenges and are willing to do something about it can take to combat not only big government but what she calls “Tiny Tyrannies” of strangling local regulations and help enable their declining culture to free itself from the stranglehold of progressive leftist thought.

Overall, Lying as a Way of Life is an informative monograph.  It tells you about the past influences and the present intellectual and cultural struggles in America as well as giving a sense of the consternation and frustration that many Americans feel regarding the blatant attempts to divide and conquer their country by institutionalizing progressive policies at many levels. It also explains the rise of an outside-the-established-elite person like Trump to power (even though he was not elected at the time of writing the monograph) and the expectations that his supporters have from him.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Jordan Peterson: Humans are a cancer on the planet? What a hell of a thing to say!

Jordan Peterson: "Humans are a cancer on the planet? What a hell of a thing to say!" 

The Pragmatist Meaning of Truth

While it was C. S. Peirce who first formulated pragmatism, it was William James who popularized it. For James, pragmatism was not a way of fixing our beliefs cognitively—it is a way of settling metaphysical disputes that otherwise might be interminable. He basically believed that truth is that which works, and there is no such thing as objective truth.

Here’s an excerpt from William James’s 1904 lecture, “What Pragmatism Means” (2nd lecture in his book, Pragmatism):

"The pragmatic method is primarily a method of settling metaphysical disputes that otherwise might be interminable. Is the world one or many?—fated or free?—material or spiritual?—here are notions either of which may or may not hold good of the world; and disputes over such notions are unending. The pragmatic method in such cases is to try to interpret each notion by tracing its respective practical consequences. What difference would it practically make to any one if this notion rather than that notion were true? If no practical difference whatever can be traced, then the alternatives mean practically the same thing, and all dispute is idle. Whenever a dispute is serious, we ought to be able to show some practical difference that must follow from one side or the other's being right.”

Further, he says:

“A pragmatist turns his back resolutely and once for all upon a lot of inveterate habits dear to professional philosophers. He turns away from abstraction and insufficiency, from verbal solutions, from bad a priori reasons, from fixed principles, closed systems, and pretended absolutes and origins. He turns towards concreteness and adequacy, towards facts, towards action and towards power. That means the empiricist temper regnant and the rationalist temper sincerely given up. It means the open air and possibilities of nature, as against dogma, artificiality, and the pretence of finality in truth.”

Monday, 17 July 2017

The Magazines Which Ayn Rand Published

For some reason the Ayn Rand Institute (ARI) is not selling digital editions of the magazines which Ayn Rand co-published and edited during the 1960s and 1970s.

I am talking about these three magazines:

The Objectivist Newsletter (co-published by Ayn Rand and Nathaniel Branden from Jan 1962 to Dec 1965)

The Objectivist (co-published by Ayn Rand and Nathaniel Branden from January 1966 to mid-1968, and then by Rand alone from mid-1968 to Sep 1971)

The Ayn Rand Letter (published and edited by Ayn Rand from Oct 1971 to Feb 1976)

Most philosophy institutions offer past issues of their magazines for free on their websites. But the ARI is charging for its 50 year old magazines—I have no problem if they charge, but they should at least offer the readers the convenience of having these magazines in a digital format.

A hardbound copy is not only costlier as compared to a digital edition, it is also difficult for the readers to handle if the book has too many pages. For instance, the hardbound edition of The Objectivist which the ARI is retailing for $54.95 on its eStore has 1120 pages. It is a torture for the hands to handle this book while reading.

Perhaps the ARI can learn something from the website of the Mises Institute which offers all the works of Mises and many other scholars in a digital format. 

Sunday, 16 July 2017

The Concept of Mind

The Concept of Mind
Gilbert Ryle
Routledge (2009; First published: 1949) 

Gilbert Ryle’s main target in The Concept of Mind is Descartes’s doctrine of dualism, which states that the mind (which is not in space and is not subject to mechanical laws) and the body (which is in space and obeys the mechanical laws) are two separate entities, and that the mind may continue to exist and function after the body dies. Ryle says that the Cartesian doctrine is essentially preaching that a non-material mind inhabits the body as a “ghost in the machine.”

The Cartesian doctrine leads to all kinds of ontological, epistemological and semantic problems. Its ontological commitments lead to the mind-body problem, and its epistemological commitments lead to the semantic problems and the problem of other minds.

According to Ryle, the Cartesian doctrine makes a basic category-mistake, when it analyzes the relationship between “mind” and “body” as if they are part of the same category. He points out that the other theories of mind also make basic category-mistakes—the idealist theory makes a basic category-mistake when it tries to reduce physical reality to mental reality, and the materialist theory of mind makes a basic category-mistake when it attempts to reduce mental reality to physical reality.

The mental processes cannot be rejected from the physical processes. The operations of the mind are not merely represented by the intelligent acts; they are the intelligent acts. The acts of learning, remembering, imagining, knowing or believing are not just the pointers to the intellectual operations and mental processes; they are the intellectual operations and mental processes.

In chapter 2, “Knowing How And Knowing That,” Ryle tackles the problem of distinction between theory and practice. He writes: "Efficient practice precedes the theory of it; methodologies presuppose the application of the methods, of the critical investigation of which they are the products.” You don’t need to have an encyclopaedic knowledge of how a motor vehicle works in order to be a vehicle mechanic.

The idea that intelligent action is based on intelligent theory can lead to infinite regression of theorizing. “The regress is infinite, and this reduces to absurdity the theory that for an operation to be intelligent it must be steered by a prior intellectual operation.” Ryle points out that human understanding can be best explained as a form of “knowing how.”

“To be intelligent is not merely to satisfy criteria, but to apply them; to regulate one’s actions and not merely to be well-regulated. A person’s performance is described as careful or skilful, if in his operations he is ready to detect and correct lapses, to repeat and improve upon successes, to profit from the examples of others and so forth. He applies criteria in performing critically, that is, in trying to get things right.”

Ryle deals with the knotty subject of “will” in chapter 3, “The Will.” He says that if we accept Cartesian dualism we are led to believe that the mind or soul has three parts—thought, feeling and will. This in turn leads to the idea that “the Mind or Soul functions in three irreducibly different modes, the Cognitive mode, the Emotional mode and the Conative mode.This traditional dogma is not only not self-evident, it is such a welter of confusions and false inferences that it is best to give up any attempt to re-fashion it. It should be treated as one of the curios of theory.”

He rejects the idea of “volition” which he believes leads to the problem of infinite regress. If a case of volition, or an act of choosing, is describable as “voluntary," than it must be the result of a prior choice to choose, and that from a choice to choose to choose and so forth.

Gilbert Ryle's Portrait by Rex Whistler
While proving that dualism is a myth invented by Descartes, Ryle proposes that the doctrine known as philosophical (and sometimes analytical) behaviourism offers a better solution to the problem of mind-body relationship. He says that the mind is incorporated with various abilities or dispositions which explain behaviour such as learning, remembering, knowing, feeling, or willing. He warns that personal abilities are not the same as mental processes or events, and to evaluate abilities as if they are mental occurrences is to make a basic kind of category-mistake. However, he also criticizes the behaviourist theory for being rigid and mechanistic like the Cartesian theory.

In chapter 4, “Self-Knowledge,” Ryle offers an interesting perspective on the widely believed concept of introspection which makes the claim that it is possible for mind to observe and analyze its own working, and that we are conscious of what is happening to us and at the same time we are able to introspect about what is happening to us. He points out that it is not possible for the human mind to focus on two things at the same time. If I am conscious of something, then I cannot be conscious of the fact that I am conscious of that thing. You can either laugh or introspect about why you are laughing. Therefore introspection is a post-event phenomenon—to be accurate it should be called “retrospection.”

“The fact that retrospection is autobiographical does not imply that it gives us a Privileged Access to facts of a special status. But of course it does give us a mass of data contributory to our appreciations of our own conduct and qualities of mind. A diary is not a chronicle of ghostly episodes, but it is a valuable source of information about the diarist’s character, wits and career.”

First published in 1949, The Concept of Mind is regarded as a great classic. The book is worth reading primarily because of the radical arguments which it offers for refuting the Cartesian doctrine of dualism.

Friday, 14 July 2017

Telepathy Versus Philosophy of Mind

Mary Lou Jepsen, a former Google employee, has founded a startup called OpenWater which aims to develop technology for enabling people to communicate with other individuals and even computers through the medium of thoughts. (Here and Here)

But the idea of mind-to-mind communication, or telepathy, is a violation of the law of causality which says that only material entities can have interactions with other material entities.

It is not clear what is Jepsen’s understanding of the mind. In the articles that I have read, there is no information about her view of mind-body relationship or the method by which she believes the mind can communicate its thoughts to computers and other individuals. She says that her startup needs to file for patents before it can provide any proof of feasibility.

According to Jepsen, telepathy technology will make it possible for human beings to download their thoughts, dreams and inspirations, and send the digital version to the printer.

If telepathy becomes a reality, our understanding of the mind will be revolutionized—the entire philosophy of mind will have to be rewritten. If it is conclusively proved that a non-material mind can directly communicate with material entities then that will certainly grant a new lease on life to traditional theories like  Cartesian dualism. Our understanding of the human society and basically the entire universe will undergo a sea change.

Jepsen claims that OpenWater will develop technology for telepathy in less than eight years. If she is right then we can rest assured that an authoritarian dystopia is only eight years away.

Also, OpenWater is not the only company pursuing the odd idea of telepathy—Elon Musk's Neuralink is also in the fray. Musk claims that within eight to 10 years healthy people could be getting brain implants as new computer interfaces. My own assumption is that now it is a race between Jespen's OpenWater and Musk's Neuralink—who gets bankrupt first!

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Without Free Will, Nothing is Possible

By Jim Ashley

Many people who question the existence of free will--volition--have some concern that if a person strongly believes that free will exists he or she will be unduly and harshly judgmental of others. So to ensure that they themselves will not be, they want to be sure that the existence of free will is doubtful, unproven, illusory or certain not to exist.

I don't know where this concern comes from, though I suspect with some people it comes from a fear that they themselves will be morally judged by a believer in free will or will be found out to have done something wrong; their motto might be: "Judge not, lest ye also be judged!" But in this post, I will argue that a belief in the existence of free will is not only necessary for one's spiritual health and for achieving one's values, but also that the existence of free will is a certainty.

I dispute the idea that a person can be free to escape the physiology or physics of the brain. In fact, I hold that it is metaphysically impossible. But "free will" does not mean being free of one's biology. It is BECAUSE of Man's physical nature that he has free will. His physical--and metaphysical--nature give him the ability to make choices, which is what free will simply is. It is as if he was born with a "free will mechanism"; it is a mechanism only he can engage--by choice--but which does not make him a robot or, as Anthony Burgess would have put it, a "clockwork orange". (As a character put it in an old OUTER LIMITS episode: "Maybe that's what the soul is: choice.")

Without the possession of free will, life would be bleak and hopeless. One would have no measure of control over one's own destiny.

Yet some people fear people who they know might have a strong belief in free will. They see such people as morally self-righteous, so if they themselves have done something that might be seen as sinful, immoral or cowardly, they fear being judged and condemned for their weaknesses. Whatever their motivations might be, they may have something to fear from their own conscience perhaps, but there is nothing to fear from others who happen to believe in free will, not if one is independently-minded, and certainly not if one has forgiven him- or herself.

In order to be forgiving of oneself for past mistakes or even misdeeds (up to a point) while accepting the idea of free will, one must recognize and acknowledge the fact of one's own mental CONTEXT.

Moral relativism and what I would call "moral contextualism" are two different things. The former upholds the idea that moral values are relative to a situation or to what a person has experienced ("situational ethics"); the latter upholds the idea that moral values spring from a person's knowledge and ideas up to the present moment.

Free will does not make people moral super-humans, but it does mean that a person can correct his or her mistaken ideas and build new awareness from the corrections. Thus, over time a person can change their mental context. If someone has made a mistake which they regret, they can either keep punishing themselves or they can resolve to change the thinking that was responsible for the mistake. But the only way they will feel they have the right to do that is if they first forgive themselves, and the only way to do that is to acknowledge to themselves that at any moment of their life, their context is their context. A is A.

All you have to work with in life is your mental context; that's it. People must recognize that so they can understand themselves, see themselves objectively and achieve perspective. Then they can make any ideational changes that may be necessary. I would even argue that once a person has accepted the fact of their prior context--and thus accepted themselves--they will be more willing to atone for any wrongdoings toward others and to strive to be a better person; their renewed self-esteem and the awareness that it would be in their own rational self-interest make it possible.

Moral contextualism is the only way to achieve a "God's-eye view" of oneself. By a "God's-eye view" I mean the ability to look at yourself and at your whole life from its beginning to its potential conclusion the same way a literal God would look at them--with complete detachment and a sort of cosmic objectivity, giving appropriate weight to both your moral flaws and your virtues.

But just as important as learning to accept oneself and perhaps even to forgive oneself is to hold oneself as being responsible for oneself. The day one can say to him- or herself "I and only I am responsible for everything I have ever thought, said, done or failed to do" is the day one has become fundamentally free. Once an individual has taken responsibility for his or her past, they can then direct the course of their life from then on. Barring accidents, they can achieve their most important goals and values. But such responsibility-taking is not possible without free will.

Free will is fundamental to human life. And to ask "What causes a person to make a certain choice?" is equivalent to asking "Who or what created the universe?" Both are invalid questions. Just as the universe never was created or began--it simply exists, and always has--so a person simply has the ability to focus his or her mind and make a concrete choice, and always has. Just as existence itself is the cause of metaphysical events in the universe, volition itself is the reason human choices exist.

In every minute of every day of our lives, we make choices--choices of what to think, say and do. It is as if through the course of our lives we always have a highway intersection or the beginning of a river's tributary before us, and though we can evade a particular choice out of fear, we cannot evade the fact that a choice must be made. Free will does not exist in a vacuum; it exists in a surrounding context consisting of time and place. Within that context, we travel in a certain direction, meet new opportunities in work, in potential relationships, in ways to enjoy our lives. The film CAST AWAY, starring Tom Hanks, concretized this fact very well. It tells the story of Chuck Nolan, a systems engineer for FedEx who, after the company plane he is on crashes, killing the pilot, is stranded on an uninhabited island for four years. When he returns home, he finds that he was assumed to be dead. Everything is changed; in a way, he feels more lost than when he was out in the middle of the ocean for four years.

He resumes his work, despite being extremely dispirited. But in the process of making ground deliveries, he learns while being out in the middle of nowhere again that there are still choices before him that present possibilities. His spirit is renewed simply by the awareness of the fact that he still DOES have choices. The final image of the film is of Nolan standing on the corner of a rural intersection, contemplating what direction he will drive in now--depending on a single long-range choice he makes.

A highway intersection is a perfect metaphor for choice. Since we will always have an "intersection" before us, we need to know that we have free will.

Two Questions on Free Will

Is free will a voluntary act of the mind or is it an involuntary act of the mind?

Does the mind volunteer to use free will or is it conscripted?

Monday, 10 July 2017

Ten Philosophical Mistakes Which Plague Modern Philosophy

Ten Philosophical Mistakes
Mortimer J. Adler
Touchstone [1996]

In Ten Philosophical Mistakes, Mortimer J. Adler identifies the ten critical mistakes which plague modern philosophy. He examines the origins of these mistakes, the pernicious impact that they are having on contemporary politics and culture, and offers his ideas for offsetting these mistakes.

The book’s Prologue begins with a quote from Aristotle: “The least initial deviation from the truth is multiplied later a thousandfold.” Adler informs that this observation has also been echoed by Aquinas who came sixteen centuries after Aristotle.

But Aristotle, Aquinas and other philosophers of antiquity are not responsible for most of the ills in modern philosophy. According to Adler, “these mistakes are typically, if not wholly, modern in origin and in the serious consequences to which they have led in modern thought.” He holds thinkers like Descartes, Locke, Hume, Kant and their modern followers liable for these mistakes.

In Chapter 4, “Knowledge and Opinion,” Adler has this to say about Immanuel Kant: “How anyone in the twentieth century can take Kant’s transcendental philosophy seriously is baffling, even though it may always remain admirable in certain respects as an extraordinarily elaborate and ingenious intellectual invention.”

The book has 10 chapters, and a prologue and an epilogue. The ten philosophical mistakes are dealt with in the ten separate chapters. Here’s a description of the ten philosophical mistakes that Adler has identified:

1. The failure to understand the relationship between consciousness and reality
2. The failure to distinguish between perceptual and conceptual thought
3. The failure to recognize that concepts have an exact definition in any given context
4. The failure to understand the difference between knowledge and opinion, and to recognize that the contributions of philosophy are as important as that of science.
5. The mistake of putting all judgements about moral values on the side of mere opinion
6. The failure in identifying the nature of happiness
7. The failure to counter the ideas of the determinists, and understand the grounds on which the case for free will and free choice rests.
8. The failure to recognize man’s nature.
9. The failure to recognize that the basic forms of human association are both natural and conventional.
10. The metaphysical mistake of reductionism

Adler, with his impressively lucid style of writing, makes it easy for a general reader to understand the technical issues in metaphysics, epistemology and ethics. I think, there are two kinds of benefits that people look for in philosophy books—some intellectual enlightenment and some practical ideas about how to be wise in one’s own life. Adler offers both in his book.

But the book also has some problems. Adler’s treatment of the philosophical mistakes is superficial—he does not offer complete arguments while investigating the nature of the philosophical mistakes and their solutions.

For instance, in the chapter 10, “Human Existence,” he talks about the mistake that philosophers make when they indulge in reductionism. He points out that the reductionist thinkers claim that solid objects are not quite solid because they are made out of numerous atoms.

He tries to counter the reductionist argument by proposing that “the physical constituents of a physical body cannot be the same when these constituents exist in isolation and when they enter into the constitution of an actual body. Thus, when the chair exists actually as one body, the multitude of atoms and elementary particles which constitute it exist only virtually.”

But Adler’s arguments against reductionism are not convincing. By his logic it can be deduced that the leg of a table is a virtual table leg when it is attached to a table, and it becomes a "real" table leg only when it is broken off and separated. But that is not the case in reality—the leg of a table is what it is whether it is attached to the table or separated from it.

In the book’s final paragraph, Adler talks about the necessity of revisiting the philosophers of antiquity. “To make a fresh start, it is only necessary to open the great philosophical books of the past (especially those written by Aristotle and in his tradition) and to read them with the effort of understanding that they deserve. The recovery of basic truths, long hidden from view, would eradicate errors that have had such disastrous consequences in modern times.”

As the book is too short for this kind of a subject, it is possible that Adler may have left out a few critical observations. In a number of instances he refers readers to his other works for having more detailed treatment. But overall, I found Adler’s polemical survey of philosophy quite rewarding. He provides lot important information on the issues that modern philosophy faces.

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Donald Trump Asks The Right Questions

I saw the YouTube video of Donald Trump’s Warsaw speech. It is a fascinating speech. He asks all the right questions and I hope that his government has the right answers to these questions. Here’s an excerpt:

“The fundamental question of our time is whether the West has the will to survive. Do we have the confidence in our values to defend them at any cost? Do we have enough respect for our citizens to protect our borders? Do we have the desire and the courage to preserve our civilization in the face of those who would subvert and destroy it? ” ~ Donald Trump (Poland, July 6, 2017

Friday, 7 July 2017

Barbara Branden on Objectivism and Rage

Barbara Branden spoke in the TAS 2006 Summer Seminar (July 4, 2006) on the topic of "Objectivism and Rage". Here's an excerpt:
Objectivists are by no means immune to this rage. On the contrary, I find it to be increasingly prevalent among Objectivists. We see everywhere—particularly on the Internet—the spectacle of supposed supporters of reason and free inquiry erupting in fury at the least provocation and hurling abuse at anyone who opposes—even questions—their convictions. 
But what I call “Objectivist Rage” has a peculiar twist to it, unlikely to be found anywhere else except, paradoxically, in religion. It is almost always morally tinged. Those who question our ideas and those who oppose them, we are told, are not merely unintelligent, ignorant, uninformed; they are evil, they are moral monsters to be cast out and forever damned. 
The full lecture by Branden is available on The Objectivist Living forum

Thursday, 6 July 2017

My Question to Objectivists

Is Objectivism the philosophy of “reality and reason” or is it the philosophy of Ayn Rand? You can’t have it both ways—you need to decide if your ideas will be judged on the basis of “reality and reason” or on the basis of what Rand has said.

Here's the Link to the Discussion on Facebook

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

The Philosophy of Mind-Body Relationship

Philosophy of Mind 
Edward Feser 
Oneworld Publications, (Revised edition, 2006) 

Edward Feser’s Philosophy of Mind offers a detailed treatment of various approaches that are central to mind-body relationship. Feser’s focus is on making a case for the dualist and hylomorphic theories of the mind, but he also sheds light on the materialist positions. Being a Thomist, he is a dualist—he rejects Cartesian dualism and is in favor of Thomistic Dualism.

In the book’s nine chapters, Feser explores topics such as perception, materialism, qualia, consciousness, thought, intentionality, and reason. He conducts an interesting survey of the work of thinkers like Daniel Dennett, John Searle, Jerry Fodor, and Paul Churchland. He answers the critical questions such as—“Can computers think”; “Is mind a software”—and shows that a computer or software is not the right analogy for the human brain or mind.

Feser develops his major arguments for Thomistic Dualism in chapter 8, “Persons”. Thomistic Dualism is a form of hylomorphism, which states that a concrete substance is a composite of “matter” and “form,” and it can only be understood as such. But Feser differentiates the hylomorphism of Aristotle and Aquinas from the hylomorphic doctrines preached by the materialists and the Cartesian dualists.

He points out that “In the classical hylomorphism of Aristotle and Aquinas, a full explanation of a material substance involves identifying at least four irreducible causal components: its material cause, its formal cause, its final cause, and its efficient cause.”

Further, he writes:

“Materialism and Cartesian dualism alike eliminate formal and final causes from the explanation of material things, replacing the classical hylomorphic conception of material substances as inherently purposive composites of matter and form with a conception of them as collections of particles or the like devoid of either intrinsic purpose or objective, irreducible form, and explicable entirely in terms of efficient causation.”

In the hylomorphic view, just as the form of thing is not that thing, the material of a thing is also not that thing. A thing comes into existence only when the material and the form come together. In case of a living thing, the form is the soul, and a person is essentially a composite of the body and the soul. However, in principle, the soul is capable surviving the destruction of the body in Thomistic hylomorphism.

To give a general flavor of the book’s arguments, here’s a summary of the seven key problems in mind-body relationship which according to Feser are solved by Thomistic Dualism:

1. Thomistic Dualism suggests a possible solution to the problem of how the soul and the body interact with each other and thereby it takes care of the most important objection to dualism.

2. It solves the problem of re-identification because when the body and soul are so close, a body won’t be a body without the presence of its soul. In the hylomorphic view, the soul won’t be a soul unless it is conjoined to its body, and a soul is necessarily always the soul of a particular body that it is, or was, the soul of.

3. Cartesian dualism seems open to the objection that if the mind is independent of the brain, then a brain damage should not impair mental functioning. But in Thomistic dualism, the brain and mind are as close as the form and material in a thing, and this implies that the mind cannot be immune to an injury to the brain.

4. Thomistic dualism offers a solution to the problem of other minds. According to hylomorphism, someone’s body will not be a body at all if it has no soul, and in particular it will not be that person’s body if it does not have that person’s soul. Therefore there is clarity about how we can know that a specific mind is present when the body is present.

5. Thomistic dualism undermines the materialist argument related to someone’s body being duplicated molecule by molecule. According to the Thomistic model, the new body won’t count as a living body as long as it does not have a rational soul.

6. According to Descartes, the soul is outside space but not in time, whereas the materialists argue that whatever is in time must also be in space. Thomistic dualism avoids this problem because as the soul is in a sense a fundamental part of the matter (the body), it cannot be said to be completely outside the space.

7. For Descartes, consciousness is of the essence of an immaterial substance; it thus becomes mysterious how such a substance, and the self it is identical with, could ever become unconscious (as we surely sometimes do). But in the Thomistic view this problem is nullified because a soul, being the form of the body, does not cease to exist when the person it is the soul of becomes unconscious. 

Feser suggests that the hylomorphist view of the soul as the form of the human body provides the best possible support to the idea that mind identifies with the organizational structure of the brain.

Philosophy of Mind is an important book for enabling the reader to understand the major arguments of various theories on mind-body relationship.  However, we do not find conclusive arguments in favor of any theory in the book’s pages, and that is because the final word yet to be said on this subject. The philosophy of mind is still a work in progress. 

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

A philosopher’s loyalty is to the truth

"A philosopher’s loyalty is to the truth no matter where it resides, not to the claims of truth he has made for his own doctrine. If the ultimate objective of a particular individual is to maintain the truth of his own doctrine at all costs, then he is no philosopher.” ~ Mortimer J. Adler in The Great Idea of Dialectic

Bertrand Russell on The Flag

Bertrand Russell was a philosopher of anarchism, collectivism and mysticism. In 1963, this is what he said about the national flag:

"Every school, with hardly any exception, has as one of its objects the deception of children. They teach them patriotism, to salute the flag. But the flag is a murder symbol, and the state is a pirate ship, a gang of murderers who have come together. When they salute the flag, they salute the symbol of bloody murder."

Monday, 3 July 2017

Paul Krugman is Wrong Again

In his column, "The Economic Fallout," on November 1, 2016, Paul Krugman made the following points:

"It really does now look like President Donald J. Trump, and markets are plunging. When might we expect them to recover?

Frankly, I find it hard to care much, even though this is my specialty. The disaster for America and the world has so many aspects that the economic ramifications are way down my list of things to fear.

Still, I guess people want an answer: If the question is when markets will recover, a first-pass answer is never."

Krugman is wrong again. The reality is opposite of what he predicts in his column--the markets are not plunging ever since Donald Trump became president; the markets doing quite well. 

Sunday, 2 July 2017

Trump Body-Slams CNN

I am not sure about the ethics of this tweet by Donald Trump, but I confess that it feels great to see "FAKE LEFTIST MEDIA" being body-slammed.

The leftist media organizations are a disgrace to journalism. For too long they have been getting away with spreading falsehoods about capitalism, and indulging in socialist and environmentalist propaganda.

It is good to see these "elitist liars" being exposed and humiliated. It is good to see them being body-slammed. They do not deserve any credibility or respect.

Can anyone estimate the damage that the leftist media has caused by their non-stop propaganda for Global Warming and Climate Change! Lives of millions of people around the world has been destroyed in the name of environmentalism—the media must accept at least a part of the responsibility for the havoc that has been caused. They are the biggest drummer boys of this environmentalist nonsense.

This Trump tweet is a good experience for all those who are fed up of the toxic socialist, environmentalist, anti-individual rights and anti-free markets propaganda that the mainstream media dishes out 24/7.

Saturday, 1 July 2017

Book Reviews by Nathaniel Branden

Nathaniel Branden reviewed lot of books during the period when he was a major force in Ayn Rand’s philosophy circle during the 1950s and 1960s. Some of his book reviews have been published online by Roger Bissell in the “Nathaniel Branden Corner” at the Objectivist Living forum.

The books to which Branden introduces the readers are, I think, some of the best contemporary works in philosophy, psychology, history and economics. These books are of great interest.

I have learned about several important books after reading Branden’s reviews in the Objectivist Living forum. I read the books by Mortimer J. Adler, Arthur Koestler, Brand Blanshard and a few other writers because I was influenced by Branden’s comments on these works.

Every book review by Nathaniel Branden is not available in the Objectivist Living page. But thanks to Roger Bissell, Branden’s reviews of some of the most important books can be found here.  Bissell has also posted a complete list of the books that Branden reviewed. This list is quite useful for learning about the books that were being read by the philosophers in Ayn Rand's circle during the 1950s and 1960s. 

Thursday, 29 June 2017

The Philosophical Problem in Teleporting the Mind

In the movie Star Trek, the characters use a teleportation device to instantly beam themselves from one point in the universe to another. The teleportation system works by breaking up the “physical components” of a man’s body in one chamber and beaming the information to the second chamber.

When a man enters the teleportation chamber, a supercomputer scans his body and records every information down to the last atom. After that the man’s body breaks down into sub-atomic particles and the information is beamed at the speed of light to another chamber, located in a different part of the universe, and the same (or similar) body is instantly reassembled.

Star Trek type of teleporting device gives rise to a number of biological and philosophical problems: Is the man who gets created in the second chamber the same man who entered the first teleportation chamber? Does he have the same body? Obviously he doesn't because his original body is broken up into sub-atomic particles in the first chamber. But the crucial thing is--does he have the same mind?

If the mind is regarded as a non-material attribute or aspect of the human being, then it cannot be scanned and translated into information by the teleportation system. Therefore the information possessed by a non-material mind will certainly be lost and the person who emerges from the second teleportation chamber will be someone else.

But if we consider the mind to be a totally material entity which is either the brain as a whole or exists in a physical form in some part of the brain, then it might be possible for the teleportation system to scan it down to the last atom and collect all the information. Therefore the outcome of a teleportation system is based on the nature of man's mind.

Here are the three possibilities:

1. If the mind is “pure consciousness” and exists like a ghost in the machine (the human brain or body), then it can’t be scanned and teleported. 

2. If the mind is an “attribute” of the human organism then also teleportation will not be successful because this kind of an attribute is non-material and it cannot be scanned.

3. If the mind is an “entity” (either the brain or a material component residing within the brain) then in theory it is possible to scan and teleport it.

This, by the way, is a fun post, but the science fiction idea of teleportation does have some very serious philosophical implications.