Monday, November 9, 2009

The Philosophers’ Carnival is Here

Welcome to the Carnival! This is a biweekly summary of interesting Philosophy blog posts submitted from around the net. Each installment is hosted on a different blog, and this time around it's my turn. So here goes!

At the Experimental Philosophy blog, Hagop Sarkissian outlines a case that people generally are not moral objectivists. Specifically, when thinking about clashes between different cultures' norms, people tend to skew (apparently) relativist. I'm not sure they're actually being relativist—they may just be more inclined to consider it possible there are mitigating factors when people from other cultures do apparently horrendous things—but go read the post and see what you think.

MandM make an argument that religious considerations shouldn't be excluded from political thought just because they may be infallible. Sounds obvious? They attribute the opposing view to Audi, so who knows…

Thom Brooks provides a must-read essay about publishing as a grad student. I really need to get on that.

Kenny Pearce suggests that loose speech is "an attempt to express truth by uttering falsehood." If it's the uttering of a falsehood, is it dishonest? Kenny thinks not. I think it depends on how firm a grasp on the truth you're trying to express you really have. If you can't give a non-loose account of that truth, can you really attempt to express it at all? How would you know?

At the Florida Student Philosophy Blog, Andrew Brenner argues that in On Miracles, Hume failed to distinguish between the claim that miracles couldn't possibly be identified, and the claim that in fact no miracles have had strong evidentiary support, though one could have such support in principle. Quotations support both readings, so he could be onto something.

The Uncredible Hallq offers a definition of physicalism, and has something to say about whether physicalism implies that all facts can be deduced from the laws of physics and the present state of the universe. Hallq thinks not. Questions about what counts as what are not settled by physicalism, and neither are philosophical questions about thinks like explanation, causality and identity.

Diana Hsieh casts podly about objections to design arguments for the existence of God. With apologies to Diana, I confess I have not listened to the podcast, having had no access to headphones today. But hey, it's a discussion about objections to design arguments. What's not to like? Go listen!

Finally, as usual, we have Chaospet, this time giving a nice exposition of a paradox concerning causation—the one where two people take actions sufficient to bring about some wrong, yet because both did so, arguably neither actually caused the wrong. Huh? Go read it, it makes sense, it's funny, and it will asplode your head in the Philosophically virtuous sense.

That is all we have for this installment of the Philosphers' Carnival. Read all and comment!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Swampman, Meet the Turing Test

Not directly related to extended cognition, but these remarks spun out of my thinking about Swampman, which spun out of my thinking about extended cognition.

Too long to put here, but here's a link:

Swampman Takes The Turing Test

The linked document is an organized collection of remarks shaping into an argument. I wouldn't even call it a "draft" yet.

Basically, I argue that the Turing Test provides no evidence that a machine is thinking, because in order for it to provide such evidence to us, we'd have to make certain assumptions which either trivialize or cancel out any conclusions we might have drawn from our observations during the test. The Turing Test provides no evidence for psychology in the same way that an examination of Swampman provides no evidence for biofunction.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Extended Cognition and Personal Fission

This post deals with implications Ex-Cog may have for the philosophical topic of Personal Identity.

Just suppose that there is a kind of close causal coupling (between a cognizing system and its environment) which does issue forth in the constitution of a cognizing system encompassing the coupled environment.

Say cognizing system C1 engages in this sort of coupling with its environment, thereby causing a cognizing system C2 to exist.

C2 has parts, and one of those parts seems to be, simply, C1. The system C1, after all, doesn't cease to exist just because it has coupled with its environment to form C2. Rather, C1 persists, as part of C2.

The physical system C1 persists as part of C2. But suppose that, at least before the coupling, C1 is a person. Call her Carla. There are now two cognizing systems—C1 and C2—which seem to have a prima facie case to be the continuation of Carla. For example, should C2 cease to exist, this would not seem to be a case of Carla's destruction. Rather, Carla continues, in that case, as C1. This is a prima facie case that C1 is the proper continuation of Carla and not C2. Yet, who Carla is seems to have much to do with how Carla cognizes. And once C1 couples with its environment to form C2, it seems as though C2's cognitions have the better claim to be continuations of Carla's own cognitions. For what C2 is trying to cognize its way through is what Carla is trying to cognize her way through. She does this (per the hypothesis stated at the outset of this post) by causing C1 to couple with its environment to form the cognitive system C2.

(The case for C2's being Carla's continuation may seem to assume a Psychologistic account of Personal Identity. I prefer such an account, but I don't want to presume it. In fact, similar arguments for C2's status as Carla-continuer can be built on other accounts of Personal Identity. For the kind of close causal coupling that is supposed to support the formation of an extended mind would seem also to support the formation of an extended cognizing body. Insert difficult discussions about biofunction here, but I think it's clear how, given the Ex-Cog picture, the physical boundary between body and environment is just as indistinct as that between mind and environment. Indeed, the body/environmental blurriness is probably more obvious than the mind/environment blurriness.)

A lot has been skipped over here, but suppose I'm right that both C1 and C2 can lay an equally valid claim to be Carla's continuation. In that case, an interesting situation arises. We have here a case of personal fission—that strange sort of event usually found only in philosophical thought experiments and science fiction stories. Two objects lay equal claim to being the same person as some past personage.

I'm pointing this out because I find it interesting—and kind of exciting—to think that, if the extended mind hypothesis is true, it turns out personal fissions aren't a hypothetical logical possibility that can serve only to jog our rarified philosophical intuitions. Rather, it turns out personal fissions happen regularly, as a matter of course, here on the ground. Our data for working through problems in Personal Identity don't have to be intuitions about what we would or should say given the actualization of various improbable fantasies. Rather, we can work through Personal Identity issues by looking at what people actually do, in the real world, in their day to day persistence as cognitive agents.

My Long Absence

I considered simply not addressing my long absence at all. But it seemed likely people would wonder why I would have been gone for so long from a blog I myself created. Yet, the reasons for my absence are not particularly interesting, and do not have anything to do with the topic of this blog. So with this post, I acknowledge my absence, and register an intention not to let there be so long an absence again. If anyone really wants to know what happened, they can contact me privately. But fair warning: the response will be boring.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

ZiF Conference on Extended Mind

The Extended Mind Thesis in Theory and Applications

Date: November 23 - 25, 2009

Venue: ZiF Bielefeld, Germany

Workshop on Rob Rupert's new book

Cognitive Systems and the Extended Mind (November 26, 2009)

a one-day conference hosted by the Institute of Cognitive Science, University of Osnabrueck, organized by Sven Walter.

Speakers include:

Ken Aizawa (Centenary College of Louisiana)

Miriam Kyselo (University of Osnabrueck)

Holger Lyre (University of Bielefeld)

Robert Rupert (University of Colorado at Boulder)

Mark Sprevak (King's College, Cambridge)

Sven Walter (University of Osnabrueck)

The conference mainly focuses on Robert Rupert's critique of the Extended Mind Hypothesis in his forthcoming book Cognitive Systems and the Extended Mind (OUP 2009), but is also devoted to a discussion of the related more general work he has done in the philosophy of mind and cognitive science in the past.

Participants will also be able to attend to the ZiF-conference on The Extended Mind Thesis in Theory and Applicationto be held at the university of Bielefeld, from November 23 to November 25 (for more information see .

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Noe gets around

First at Salon magazine here, then in a recent podcast on the Brain Science Podcast here. (The latter also has an interview with Patricia Churchland.)

Episode #36 here also has an interview with another of the EC folks, Arthur Glenberg.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Clark on Coupling-Constitution & Corporeal Consciousness

At the (very enjoyable) Metaphysics of Consciousness conference this past week at Edinburgh, Andy Clark gave a great talk, “Locating the Conscious Mind.” In it, he presented an interesting challenge to the thesis of the extended conscious mind (TXCM). Most striking to me was Clark’s willingness to invoke, first, something like a distinction between causation and constitution and, second, something like a “mark of the conscious”. This is a great development (from my perspective), since they are the kinds of ideas Adams and I have been pushing. It also represents a break from the kind of party line denial of the plausibility of a causation-constitution distinction one typically finds in the extended cognition literature. Clark also appreciates how these developments make his earlier views on extended cognition a bit less secure. (More good news from my perspective.) Alas, I was chairing the session, so I did not get to press Clark on these matters. But, readers of this blog will want to keep an eye out for Clark’s paper.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

SPP & Extended Cognition Highlights

I'm still making my way home from the Society for Philosophy and Psychology. The SPP had a good showing for extended cognition.

In a session on Embodied Cognition, Carlos Zedik of Indiana University, had a nice review of different sorts of dynamicist approaches to cognition in his “The Varieties of Dynamicism.” Such a review is helpful in breaking down the idea that there is just one moral one might draw from the application of the mathematics of dynamical systems in cognitive science.

David Michael Kaplan, WashU, tried to formulate a radical version of the embodied perception approach that does not rely on the claim that perception constitutively depends on action. I don’t think that he was entirely successful, but the problematic and its execution were clear. It begins as a way of trying to avoid the coupling-constitution fallacy.

Marcus Avran, U. British Columbia, presented a reply to Justin Fisher’s contention that everything mental is just in the head.

In a separate session, Rob Wilson discussed social cognition and extended cognition.

There were also two posters, one by Teed Rockwell, Sonoma State, and Shannon Spaulding, Wisconsin-Madison, taking Adams & Aizawa (and Rupert) to task. Zoe Drayson, Bristol, and George Theiner, Alberta, also had posters. (Alas, I didn’t get to talk with Zoe. I’m a conference slacker!)

So, SPP is extended cognition friendly and worth thinking about for presentations for next year.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Clark on the Mark of the Cognitive?

I started (once again) working through Andy Clark’s Supersizing the Mind. In Chapter 1, I was struck by the following:
The mathematics of a system of interlocking differential equations can (at least in simple cases) accurately capture the way two or more systems engage in a continuous, real-time, and effectively instantaneous dance of mutual codetermining interaction. But it is a burden insofar as it threatens to obscure the specifically intelligence-based route to evolutionary success. That route involves the ability to become apprised of information concerning our surroundings and to use that information as a guide to present and future action. As soon as we embrace the notion of the brain as the principal (though not the only) seat of information-processing activity, we area already seeing it as fundamentally different from, say, the flow of a river or the activity of a volcano.

This seems to me to point out that the dynamical systems approach to extended cognition needs to take into account a distinction between cognitive processes (which Clark here treats as information processing processes) and other non-cognitive causal processes. I couldn’t agree more. In fact, this is one way of making one of my favorite points, namely, that the advocates of ExCog in general need a plausible theory for distinguishing cognitive and non-cognitive processing. They need a mark of the cognitive.

Another Noe Question

Here is a simple Flash demo of amodal completion:

While the black square occludes the white thing, I do not, strictly speaking, see a circle, but I visually perceive a white circle. I think this is common ground.

Ok. Now, no matter how long I look at this demo-no matter how long I take in the sensorimotor contingencies this demo affords, (I’m assuming that) I will continue to visually perceive the white occluding thing as a circle. Contrary to what Noe seems to me to predict, we apparently have a case in which SMK does not influence my visual perception. Contrary to what Noe seems to me to predict, even though I expect that white thing to be revealed as a non-circle, I still visually perceive a circle during the maximal occlusion.

How about this?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Orig/Deriv pt 2nd: When I read, must the words I’m reading have meaning for me only derivedly?

When I read written text, I am using the representations in the text for their content. Could this content be original, as opposed to derived?

Different writers have made the distinction between original and derived content in different ways. For our purposes, it will serve to make the following two points about the distinction.

  1. In general, a representation's content is supposed to be derived if it has that content by virtue of intentional agents' handling of the representation. In general, a representation's content is supposed to be original if it's not derived.
  2. Whatever the distinction between original and derived content is, that which marks the distinction can be cast in terms of the present causal powers and dispositions of representations, and not just in terms of the histories of representations.

1), or something near enough, is true, I think, of all the original/derived distinctions that people have made over the years.

What about 2)? At least in the discussion over Extended Cognition, the original/derived distinction seems to be treated as what I'll call a technological distinction. Many people think that not all distinctions in Science need to be castable in terms only of present causal powers. (So, for example, many philosophers think that the distsinction between biologically functional and nonfunctional objects rests not on their present causal powers, but on their [for example, natural-selectional] histories. Two things could be causally identical, in causally identical environments, yet one be a heart, and the other fail to be a heart.) But if we are concerned to know what we can do now, what we can build, what we can do with this or that tool, then we are going to be concerned centrally about technological distinctions and not (directly) with scientific ones. I hope I've gestured sufficiently in the direction of "technological distinction" to give you an idea of what I mean by it. For a definition, I think it will do in a pinch to say that a technological distinction just is a distinction between kinds that can't be cast except in terms of present causal powers and dispositions.

As I said, in the discussion over Ex-Cog, it seems to me that the original/derived distinction is a technological one. On this very blog, for example, Adams began his response to my first orig/deriv post by making a claim about the significance of original intentionality for the project of building (my emphasis) a mind out of a machine.

But why have written texts been supposed to be paradigmatically derived in their intentionality and not original? One idea is that they have derived content because they have had their meanings assigned to them by a community of readers. But that is to mark a distinction based on history, not based on present causal powers or dispositions.

Another idea might be to claim that when we read, as we are reading, we are assigning meanings to symbols. But is this so? Possibly not. For though we must obviously represent words as symbols and choose which meanings to apply to them as we are learning to read, once we know how to read, it's not so clear that we are applying meanings to the text anymore. Rather, it may be that by learning how to read, we've made ourselves such that texts now simply trigger meanings, rather than our in any sense assigning those meanings as we read. The assignment happened in the past, as we were learning—but that in itself doesn't make the text's meaning "derived" in the sense relevant to the Ex-Cog discussion, relying as it does only on a consideration of the history of the habit of assigning that meaning to that symbol.

If a representation has meaning for an agent without that agent representing the representation as a representation and explicitly applying a meaning to that representation, then, I suspect, that representation has its meaning for that agent originally. And I also suspect that when we read texts in our native language with facility, the symbols in those texts have meaning for us without our representing those representations as representations or our explicitly applying meanings to those representations. I suspect these texts have their meaning for us "automatically" in a way which makes them, for us, original rather than derived meanings.

These posts always turn out longer than I expect. I want to invite discussion of what I've said so far, and in a few days, I'll follow up with reasons that I suspect that when we read written texts, they have their meaning for us without our representing them as representations and applying meanings to them.

Questions that could be discussed about the present post are the following. Am I right to insist that in the discussion about Ex-Cog, the original/derived distinction must be understood in terms of present causal powers? Am I right to suggest that what it means for something to have derived content for an agent in this sense is for the agent to be representing the representation as a representation to which it might apply any of a number of possible meanings? Can my use of terms like "trigger" and "assign" be sharpened in some way in order to make it clear whether I'm onto something or off my rocker? I've set up a dichotomy between representations having their meaning via representation as representation on the one hand, and on the other hand representations having their meaning "automatically" or by a simple "triggering" for an agent. Is this dichotomy valid? Or could there be other ways for representation to have their meaning, and which count as constituting a representation as having its content derivedly?

Noë and Norm

Since there has been so much interest and informed discussion of Noe, let me venture another post on this idea that perception depends on the possession, rather than exercise, of sensorimotor knowledge.

Here’s the opening move in an objection …

Consider, Norm, a normal college student who is familiar with the game of ping pong. Take two white ping pong balls and cut a ¼” hole in one of them Set the two ping pong balls side by side on a table and have the hole facing away from the door to an otherwise empty windowless room with standard incandescent lighting suspended from the middle of the ceiling. Let Norm enter the room at t0 and stand erect on a spot marked with an “X three feet from the ping pong balls. Given his past experience with ping pong balls, at t0 Norm believes that both ping pong balls are the same and that neither has a hole in it. Presumably at t0 the two ping pong balls look the same. They will give rise to the same ping pong ball like experience. One, of course, will be experienced as on the left and the other on the right, but they will be otherwise alike. But, how can this be on Noe’s theory? Norm possesses tacit sensorimotor knowledge of one of the balls, but possesses mere tacit sensorimotor beliefs about the other. Norm knows what will happen if he moves around to the other side of one ping pong ball, but does not know what will happen if he moves around to the other side of the other ping pong ball. Differences in one’s tacit sensorimotor knowledge should give rise to differences in experience (right?), but they presumably don’t. Call this the Problem of Naïve Norm.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Does the reasoning that leads to ECH also lead to EBH?

By "ECH" I mean the Extended Cognition Hypothesis.

By "EBH" I mean something that we might call the Extended Body Hypothesis.

EBH is the hypothesis that some of the things that happen outside the boundary drawn by our skin, hair, nails and so on, are things that are happening in our body.

We could enlist something akin to the Parity Principle to argue for EBH. The Parity Principle says that: If X happens outside the head, but is such that were it done in the head, X would be cognition, then X is in fact cognition even happening as it does outside the head.

Here's a variation on the Parity Principle. If Y happens outside Z's skin/nails/hair boundary, but is such that were it done within that boundary, Y would count as Z's bodily activity, then Y is in fact Z's bodily activity even happening as it does outside the traditional body.

By "Z's bodily activity" I mean Z's normal biological functions such as heartbeats, walking, breathing, and so on.

Probably ECH is simply a special case of EBH.

My question is, if the reasoning that leads to ECH is sound, then does this suggest that a parallel line of reasoning that leads to EBH is also sound?

Would the reasoning used to arrive at ECH also suggest that Bruno's prosthetic leg in some sense really part of Bruno's body?

(A relevant text here would be Andy Clark's Natural Born Cyborgs, of course.)

I am led to ask this question because of my interest in the implications ECH has for issues in personal identity. If ECH implies (or suggests by analogous reasoning) EBH, then it seems like extending the mind must be an example of extending the self also, on both Psychologist and Somatist accounts of personal continuity. There's much more to say about that, but I'm curious to know what people think about EBH first.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Noë's new book, Out of Our Heads

I've been reading (and re-reading) Alva Noë's new book, Out of Our Heads this past week (as I'm sure many others will be in the future). It is a popular, accessible introduction to his version of embodied, extended theory of consciousness and cognition. It is a much easier, less technical read than was Action in Perception. Part of this ease lies in the fact that it is not a Darwinian “long argument,” but a series of short vignettes that illustrate one or another feature of his views. The little stories are great, though I, of course, disagree with many of the morals or conclusions Noë draws from them.

Some conclusions, however, I find just puzzling. Here is one example from Chapter 1. On the one hand, Noë tells us that

Consciousness is more like dancing than it is like digestion” (p. xii).

The phenomenon of consciousness … is a world-involving dynamic process (p. xiii).

we should be thinking about [consciousness] as something we do, as a kind of living activity” (p. 7)

On the other hand, after describing a patient in an apparent permanent vegetative state, he writes,

Obviously, the mere absence of the normal behavioral markers of consciousness does not entail the absence of consciousness” (p. 15).

The tension, to my mind, lies in his saying, essentially, that consciousness is a kind of bodily activity, but that it does not require bodily activity. How can Noë reconcile this idea of consciousness being constituted by bodily activity with his claim that behavior is a “marker” of consciousness? I'm kind of scratching my head about this one.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Original/Derived Distinction in Criticisms of EMH--Part the First

One criticism of the Extended Mind hypothesis (EMH) turns on the idea of a distinction between “original” and “derived” content. (Adams and Aizawa offer an important argument against EMH along these lines in The Bounds of Cognition.)

A representation has “derived” content inasmuch as it has the content it has because of the way intentional agents regard it. The paradigmatic example is written text. It is supposed to be that written text has its meaning derivedly, because it has its meaning as a result of intentional agents’ having developed and applied conventions to the text that are meant to determine its meaning.

Meanwhile, a representation has “original” content inasmuch as it has its content independently of the way any agent regards it. Many people suppose that brains make use of internal representations that have their content, not because someone interprets them as having that content, but rather, simply “originally.”

How there can be original content is the subject of some dispute, but most people agree that there must be original content. Haugeland (Having Thought, p128) argues for this very succinctly. “Derivative intentionality, like an image in a photocopy, must derive eventually from something that is not similarly derivative; that is, at least some intentionality must be original (nonderivative).”

Dennett, of course, argues that there is no original intentionality. (How can he answer Haugeland’s succinct argument just quoted? That’s a bit beyond the scope here but briefly, in my view, he doesn’t think there’s any such thing as derived intentionality either. Taking the intentional stance toward something doesn’t make anything exist—intentionality, representation, or anything else—that didn’t before. He’s something of a fictionalist about these things. Yet he thinks the terms can be used in a way that is responsive to real patterns in the world. I’ve said too much, and too much that is confusing, so I’ll just leave off.)

What does the original/derived distinction have to do with the Extended Mind? Take the famous example of Otto from Chalmers and Clark’s original paper. (See description in previous blog post). Otto uses his notebook by writing in it and reading from it. These are paradigmatic examples of the use of representations for their derived content. Yet many people think that it is a mark of the mental that it involves original content. Arguably, a normal person recalls the kinds of things Otto recalls using representations in her brain that have original content, and that’s why what she’d be doing would really be thinking. What Otto is doing, involving derived content in the way that it does, can’t count as real thinking. It is a substitute for thinking, but it’s not the real thing.

One might quibble over whether normal cases of remembering always involved original content in the relevant way. Can’t it be that we human organisms develop and apply natural conventions toward many of our mental states, making them into representations with derived intentionality? Wouldn’t Otto’s notebook activities be relevantly like this?

I don’t want to take that tack, though. Rather, I want to suggest that when Otto reads from his notebook (or when any of us reads naturally in our native language) he’s (we’re) using the written representations for original content, not derived content. I want to suggest, in other words, that our use of written symbols in the normal reading and writing process uses meaning had by those symbols independently of the way intentional agents treat or regard them. How can I say this? It seems blatantly wrong!

Since this post has become longer than I expected, I’ll have to beg off until I make my next post. (Preview, to maintain plausibility: It’s important in the development of scientific and technological concepts that they not turn only on the history of a system, but also on its present causal powers. This runs afoul of certain popular views esp. in the philosophy of biology, but I’ll address that too. Anyway, note that the sense in which written texts have derived intentionality might turn only on these texts’ history.)

In the meantime, the present post perhaps provides fodder for discussion of the place that these kinds of criticisms (one’s starting from the original/derived distinction) have in discussions of EMH. Or perhaps it could be interesting to discuss whether Dennett’s view escapes the kind of criticism stated succinctly by Haugeland as quoted above. Adams and Aizawa think not—they think Dennett “nowhere comes to grips” with what they call the problem of the “lone thinker.” (You can probably guess from the context what a problem like that of a “lone thinker” would amount to for a view that says there is no original intentionality. I'll clarify in comments if need be, but I don't want to take up any more space here.)

I’ll post again soon.


Welcome to the Extended Cognition Blog. (I’ve racked my mind, extending it beyond all recognition, trying to come up with a more clever title. Nothing happened. Suggestions are welcome!)

This is a blog dedicated to discussion of the hypothesis of the Extended Mind.

The basic idea concerning the Extended Mind is this: Some of our thinking is done outside the head—indeed, outside the body.

A classic example, from Chalmers and Clark’s “The Extended Mind,” is Otto, who has a degenerative disorder which affects his memory. To make up for this, he writes down everything he learns in a notebook, and always consults his notebook in order to bring these things back to his mind. If he needs to know where the museum is, he looks in his notebook, where previously he had written “The museum is on 53rd street.” Chalmers and Clark argue that by doing this, Otto is remembering where the museum is. If remembering is a kind of thinking, then Otto’s activities with the notebook, taking place as they do externally to his body, are nevertheless part of his thinking.

I’ve got a few things to say about the hypothesis, and I’ll be posting them in the next few days or weeks in order to kick of discussion. I will be inviting others who work in this area to also join the blog as authors, and post their own current thoughts. The blog is supposed to act as an informal forum for discussing ideas about the Extended Mind. This is both for the edification of readers of and authors on the blog, and also just for the development of the ideas themselves.
Welcome once again to the blog. Please enjoy!