Thursday, May 1, 2008

Sources of Driving Functions

Can they depend on time or timing or time dependant phenomenon? For example: How long it takes for recognition to occur? Can they be aspects of the memory trace or the lack of counter evidence in other memory traces? I am very certain about my name, I am currently certain now about the time of day, the year, perhaps many other things. What is the nature of this psychological. which is to say, physiological, certainty? What is the driving function if I assert, or acknowledge, certainty here?

Notice that I cam assert the certainty or merely acknowledge it. Is this the same process, the same driving functions with just potentially variable output states? Is the driving function mnemonic or something else? Am I certain about my name because no one has ever suggested that it is something else? Is their a “doubt” state or process and is my confidence in a proposition a result a low level of activity somewhere or a greatly reduced state of doubt?

I wonder sometimes about the possibility of a post economic society, one in which money is no longer relevant. This doesn’t seem quite possible to me, not everyone can have a house in Malibu or an original Picasso, so it seems we would have to retain some measure of value or a means of exchange. On the other hand, how can we know what the world will be like 1000 years hence, or 10,000 years from now? Doubts both ways? What is the nature of these doubts? There seems to be a feeling associated with them. What is it, anxiety, a fear of being wrong?

Meaning: The Strawman

Do we suppose that when we learn a language we learn the meanings of words? Meanings are sometimes given explicitly as when we define words for children, e.g., answer the question “What does X mean”?. But most of the words we learn are not learned through explicit definition. Does a word have to have a meaning (or a referent) to be comprehended or used successfully? Are meanings what makes language work? Many analysts of linguistic behavior seem to suggest that this is the case. Let us call this the simplified strawman theory of meaning. (SSTM)

Is it supposed that words without specific referents must have meanings and that these meanings are somehow formulated and internalized when we learn a language and serve as determinants of semantic aspects of linguistic behavior. Somehow, evidently, we are suppose to abstract the meanings of non-referential words and utilize these meaning things in our subsequent linguistic behavior. But maybe e just rely on multiple exposures to a word, numerous instantiations of correct usage and base subsequent performance on this.

Monday, April 7, 2008

What is Philosophy?

As noted before, on the surface we are doing psychology, not philosophy, because we seem to be concerned with cause not reasons or justification. This is wrong because we are concerned ultimately with the consequences, the meaning, the significance of what we now know to be the cognitive psychology of human agents. We are concerned with the implications of this psychology, not of the specific content. If you ignore human psychology, human capacities and limitations then you are doing something other than human philosophy. There may be a more generic philosophy of agents, but we can’t do it yet.

Human philosophy is exhausted by the possibilities of human cognitive psychology. If there is no ghost in the machine then we are left with only the mechanics of the machine and that is the end of it. Once you reject the ghost you must acknowledge the limits. This has not yet been done, it is what we are trying to do. We cannot escape with the normative escalation because this is still subject to the theory of limits. The desirable must include or is limited by the possible. Similarly the theory of philosophy as meaning, as referents of universal terms, of conceptual analysis, all must be based on what are cognitive capabilities really are.

The dogmas of meaning are probably especially important to consider here. The idea that meaning is essential to language, that meaning is what is important, what is to be analyzed or discovered ignore the fact that meaning is a theoretical term that has no known experimental referent in cognitive psychology. Meaning is what we say its all about, what it is really, however, is process. Meaning has become the cover term, the mask, the mystery for and about our cognitive functions, the modern philosophical equivalent of coloricfluid or the physicist’s ether.

What is the case, what ought to be the case. The universe of possible discourse outside the area of purely formal systems like logic or mathematics is pretty well exhausted by these two possibilities.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Advancing the Theory of Driving Functions

How is it possible to answer a question like “Do you hear anything?’ We can imagine a test in which a screen flashes this question to a subject wearing headphones who is suppose to press a button, yes or no. This audiologist test does not require that the sound be identified, only that the subject knows that there is a detectible sound. His responses then are not being determined by a recognition network but by some network capable of determining the level of activity in the auditory cortex, let us assume. We can imagine other minimal level of stimulus tests for the other sensory modalities as well. How is a driving function generated in situations like this?

Consider also responses determined by quantitative variations in the stimulus. How do we know, which is to say : How can we say…that the amplitude of a stimulus has changed even if the stimulus has no name, does not trigger a particular recognition network? Perhaps this reflects some pattern of activity in the sensory organs, something is switched on or off as the quantity of stimulus changes. But we can probably judge variations. Values along a continuum as well, so on/off theories are problematic. We imagine we can do this for stimuli which are not dangerous or painful so that protection mechanisms are not triggered.

There is no reason to think a priori that only specific stimuli or memories can serve as driving functions. We note here that driving functions are convenient abstractions or simplifications, macroscopic summations on microscopic events, somewhat analogous to Newtonian forces. Consider a pressure or impact force in Newtonian mechanics, they are summations of the large numbers of electro-magnetic the point(s) of contact. Newtonian forces are somewhat of a fiction. Driving functions are more real.

Epistemic Processes

In what sense, to what degree can our cognitive processes be said to differ from the fundamental information processing operations in the brain. Finally, after all, this is what is driving the response networks, these operations are the source of the driving functions. Is cognition nothing more than reduction and summation? Is this confusing the media with the message, the process with the product? Are these anything more than modes of transmission, principles of conduction?

Finally, we need a theory of cognitive affect. The affect for the subject effect, i.e., cognitive behavior. These would have to be sensory states, states of the sensory processing systems and other states of the CNS not currently known. Certainly our emotional states are elements here. We also need a theory of a” truth value” state. What is it that determines whether or not I regard a proposition as true? Is this anything more than an emotional tag associated with the content of the proposition? Positive for true, negative for false? How do they acquire these tags? I believe 2 + 2 = 4 but I’m not emotionally involved with the issue. But I’m upset if someone denies it, generally- maybe this is the clue.

Terms like “knowing”, “ understanding”,” believing” also have driving functions which are difficult to discern but which must finally come down to some system operation, perhaps not currently identifiable. Here’s what’s going on: We have at some output stage, say the premotor cortex, a network, an engram which if activated, driven by the appropriate sort of neurological activity will generate a particular element of behavior. I deny, agree, say “I don’t know”, whatever. The question is: What can I use to drive this response network, and what difference does it make?

Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Theory of Judgment

Predication, truth values, all judgments or reflections of knowledge or opinion are determined internally unless we are responding to an immediate sensory experience in which case the information in our response is determined by the sensory information. What’s happening in these other cases? In these other cases, justification for our judgments can have many forms and involve many reasons, ideas, thoughts, recollections etc., but they all have one thing in common, they are determined by our internal neurological states. Sometimes these states are determined by prior immediate sense experience, sometimes not. In all cases we can seek to determine the information contained in the behavior and determine its ultimate source. Frequently these will be auditory recollections, their remnants or related neurological phenomenon. Much of what we say is determined only by what we have heard before, novelty is difficult and rare.

We tend to think our judgments are determined by some other process, something deep and “cognitive”, something more than acquiescent recollection. But what evidence do we have for this? If I acknowledge that “Democracy is the best form of government..” is this because at the time of the acknowledgement I have reviewed all other forms and calculated their relative desirability. But is their really time for this?. Perhaps I have thought about this before and come to this decision and my current judgment is a reflection of these past efforts. More likely this is a reflection of an unconsidered but internalized prejudice. Is the linguistic history of an individual typically the result of informed, reasoned opinion at the time of performance or something else? What can this something else be?

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Intelligence as Reactive Behavior

So, the difference between programmed and unprogrammed action is in reactivity. It is not behavioral change simpliciter, because programming can change behavior, over time intervals for example. It is behavioral change caused by changes in the external situation, (external to the behavior generating component) but not just by any aspect of the external change. Plants can change their growing patterns because of changes in the environment, if we fertilize them for example. .I can be walking along and fall into a hole, these are not intelligent reactions to the external world, they are mechanical or biochemical reactions. Reactive, information based, behavior is required for intelligence. But is this enough? Clearly not, my computer meets this standard, and it does not seem at all intelligent..

Is motive, intention, desire required for intelligent behavior? We think these half the causal nexus for human action, some of the non-specific excitation required for behavior. What do or would non- biological system, putative agents, require? Syntactic behavior at least requires a plan, a model or some other overall control or directive to determine the course of the behavior. It would seem generally to require some representation or formulation of an end state, though whether or not his is a goal is another question. If the behavior has no end state marker or criteria then it goes on forever until the system fails or runs out of energy. It could have a mechanical stop, the arm pushes out until it reaches a wall for example. But purely mechanical limits on behavior would tend to put it out of the cognitive realm.

So the first component of the external analysis of the concept of intelligence or since it is an external judgment , of intelligent behavior, is the bifurcation between the internal and the external, where the external is not necessarily the external world but rather the world external to the supposed cognitive unit of the system under consideration. The behavior must be reactive and reactive in an information sensitive manner. Secondly the behavior must be end state determinate, even if that end state is a continuous ongoing process or condition. What else is required? Variability, if you can only do one thing you aren’t or al least need not be very smart.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Intelligent Behavior

(Wikipedia) Definitions:

Intelligence comes from the Latin verb "intellegere", which means "to understand". By this rationale, intelligence (as understanding) is arguably different from being "smart" (able to adapt to one's environment), or being "clever" (able to creatively adapt).

At least two major "consensus" definitions of intelligence have been proposed. First, from Intelligence: Knowns and Unknowns, a report of a task force convened by the American Psychological Association in 1995:

Individuals differ from one another in their ability to understand complex ideas, to adapt effectively to the environment, to learn from experience, to engage in various forms of reasoning, to overcome obstacles by taking thought. Although these individual differences can be substantial, they are never entirely consistent: a given person’s intellectual performance will vary on different occasions, in different domains, as judged by different criteria. Concepts of "intelligence" are attempts to clarify and organize this complex set of phenomena. Although considerable clarity has been achieved in some areas, no such conceptualization has yet answered all the important questions and none commands universal assent. Indeed, when two dozen prominent theorists were recently asked to define intelligence, they gave two dozen somewhat different definitions.[1]

A second definition of intelligence comes from "Mainstream Science on Intelligence", which was signed by 52 intelligence researchers in 1994:

A very general mental capability that, among other things, involves the ability to reason, plan, solve problems, think abstractly, comprehend complex ideas, learn quickly and learn from experience. It is not merely book learning, a narrow academic skill, or test-taking smarts. Rather, it reflects a broader and deeper capability for comprehending our surroundings—"catching on", "making sense" of things, or "figuring out" what to do.[2]

Can we define intelligent behavior, give an analysis, norms, criteria? This is important if we want to get epistemology beyond the definition or conceptual analysis stage. Maybe epistemology – “The Theory of Knowledge”- is really, or should be regarded as a non- anthropomorphic theory of intelligent behavior, or more generally as theory of “intelligence” per se. But all these terms are prejudiced epistemologically , what do we do to get around this?

The Turing test is a test, an interactive communicative test.(It was for computers after all.) Can we not define intelligence without interactive communications? Can we have a purely observational test for intelligence, involving no interaction? Deciding on the basis of actions is hard. Suppose we have a really good robot that makes car parts and assembles cars, does this make it intelligent? Suppose it starts with raw materials, iron ore, silica, raw rubber and produces a Ferrari, does this make it smart or just well programmed and capable? Could it not pass all the Wikipedia tests above and still not be intelligent. It could be adaptive, it could learn, modify its behavior, even be said to grasp abstract ideas.. These are performance criteria which could in principle be met by machines not much more advanced than those that exist today .Didn’t Big Blue, the chess playing program grasp, in effect, the abstractions in chess?

A system can evidence something we might, primitively, want to call intelligence, via its external behavior ,i.e., behavior we can observe without reference to the internal states of the system. Why would we call this intelligent behavior?. Probably because we observe that it is reactive, the systems performance depends on the external situation. (We actually generally do this on inference maybe, if it acts like us its smart.) If we don’t know its reactive we have a problem. Imagine an mechanical arm coming through a wall making marks on paper, a simpler Turing test.. Whether or not we think it intelligent depends what we make of the marks on the paper whether we think they are wrote learning or creative, assuming we can make any sense out of them at all.. It is impossible to determine externally whether the system is intelligent or not unless it is reactive. And this reactivity must be information based.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Phenomenal Properties (IMPD): Revised Summary -3/9/08

Explaining a difference requires a difference, but how much difference is enough, and when do you know if you have the right kind of difference?

The most fundamental fact about sensory experiences, aside from the fact that we have them, is that they are all qualitatively different. Hearing the violin is nothing at all like seeing it which is nothing at all like touching it or smelling the varnish on it. Sensory modalities are fundamentally different experientially, yet this is hard to explain on the neurological level. Let us call these differences: Inter- Modal Phenomenal Differences, or IMPD. It is easy to explain IMPD if you don’t know much- e.g., seeing is different from hearing because eyes are different from ears; easy and obvious.

This “explanation” becomes a little less obvious if we learn some physiology however and even more difficult to hold if we adopt a theory of the brain as an information system.. (Scientific developments produce new philosophical problems? Not unheard of- quantum mechanics.) Neurological activity is all basically ionic flow through semi- permeable membranes. The patterns may change, but so what? Is this suppose to account for IMPD? Why, if IMPD is basically a cortical phenomenon, is a pattern of activity in the auditory cortex so different at the experiential level from a pattern of activity in the visual cortex? The sensory organs are different off course, but we are not aware of the states of our sensory organs without higher level neurological activity. Further, from brain stimulation experiments, it looks like we can have sensory experience without sensory organ simulation. (Is there retrograde activity out this far –to the sense organs- with direct electrical simulation of the brain?) So there is a suggestion here that experience is a cortical phenomenon.

“ Cortical only” theories are a problem since they fail the “difference tests”. “Transducer/sense organ only” theories fail also perhaps because, at least, I can’t know what’s going on without cortical operations. But it is not at all obvious that this counts. Having a sensation and being aware of it or being able to respond to it are two different things. But other problems with transducer theory abound. First of all, moving the experiential level out to the sensors does no good. Its still the same sort of neuro- biochemistry out there; this too fails the difference test. Combining the two, holding that sensation involves both transducer and cortical neurological activity doesn’t help if their both basically the same thing.

Am I directly aware of the state of my sensory organs? This would seem hard to maintain-who is this “I”?. Our operating hypothesis is this: I am the sensation in that having the sensation is a state that I’m in, I am the sensing thing and the sensation. The total state of the organism is that of having or being aware of the sensation. If –sense organ and central neurological activity apart, each separately, or together are not enough for experience, which seems likely. So the sensation is a totals state of the system which involves the transducers which are different from one another, e.g. organ of corti, cones in retina, and the required difference now lies at the sense organ or transduction level.. (This is a great philosophical position since it is confusing, and explains nothing and with luck is irrefutable!)

. Including the interface level would seem to be required. Right now I’d say that the interface is were its happening, where the sensation is, or what it is but I find this close to incomprehensible. One problem is that sensation involves more than commutable aspects, more than information type operations and I seem to be aware of non-informational aspects of the process in sensing. At the sense organs, at the interface with the external world information is converted and phenomenological aspects of sensation are eliminated. (An important question here is : Is the cortex , or the nervous system in total, an information (only) system or not.)

((Note that we think that are visual world perceptions or experiences mirror or reflect in some sense optical reality or that they reflect actual aspects of it, e.g., spatial relations, colors, depth of field. Are their analogous views for the other modality? ))

Can brain stimulated people know that their current experience is different from that which occurs due to external stimulation? They can figure it out by consideration of their total situation –“I’m in an operating room now, not out in the woods listening to a bubbling brook”, but can they sense the difference?.

This is the best argument yet for the ghost in the machine, but the ghost has to have a really great home entertainment system for presenting the external world show. Introducing the ghost here really only ends the explanation; metaphysics as the terminator of enquiry rather than as an initiator- a god of the gaps introduced at some electro-physiological level.

The problem again is that it is not clear what sort of account of the variations in neurological activity, and especially in neural network activity could be seen as sufficient explanation for IMPD. IMPDs are as different as different gets, comparisons are impossible, yet the underlying physiology does not seem to admit to this order of qualitative difference.

Sense Data

A casual inspection of sense data theory suggests that the IMPD problem is not central, nor perhaps even considered. Does any one ask why sense datum have the secondary properties they do?

Dualism will not survive on quantum-mechanical tricks (Popper –Eccles), little miracles going on inside our heads against an informative theory of network function. Network operation is the key problem, especially the problem of syntactic (timed, structured, sequenced, controlled) behavior. The problem with the single photon response example is that in order to get this sensitivity, a whole lot of other things have to be going on, everything else has to be shut down or inhibited. Banging on a single receptor on a single neuron won’t do it, this selectivity, concentration, focus, whatever has to be generated by a whole lot of other activity. Focus or sensitivity has to be dialed in, that’s the problem, the system is too sensitive and has to be globally inhibited, that’s why we have GABA all over the place.

( The theory ((a theory?)) of IMPD is important because this will be the last refuge of serious mentalism (dualism). But the theory –I am the sensation; not I have the sensation- must accommodate other aspects of our mental life.)

Information and Qualia

Information has no qualia, no phenomenal properties, it is pure causation. More specifically, in the case of the aptly named action potential, it is a causation vector, a potential cause of a particular origin. This is another aspect of the problem of IMPD, since the information stream in the brain has no phenomenal characteristics, it cannot explain how variations in them can arise. It can have no phenomenal characteristics as a matter of empirical fact because action potentials of different sorts, say visual and auditory can impinge on single cell and we don’t have a see/hear sensation, we see and hear at the same time, but we don’t see/hear. Seeing is because of visual tract activity, but it is not that activity, this because seeing is more than having the information associated with seeing, it is an experience.

Not only can’t information theory explain IMPD, it can’t explain why qualia very within the modality. It can’t explain why orange is different from red, much less why red is different from loud or sweet. The problem is not that we know their different, the problem is that they look or are experienced as different. The problem isn’t that we can know, say or think they’re different; the problem is the difference in the qualia. Saying, knowing, realizing, acting as though, being aware of…these are cognitive, information based, cortical. Orange and red are different wavelengths, this can be picked up by the nervous system, but the fact that they look different is not a CNS phenomenon. Knowing that they’re different is CNS, seeing them differently is not..

Friday, February 29, 2008

We are Process

We are process although we tend not to realize it. This is one of the problems we have in understanding sensory experience. We tend to view ourselves as discrete entities with essentially episodic existences. This because memory and reactive (conscious?) experiences involve discrete and non-continuous incidents Understanding ourselves as ongoing processes is physiology, modern and not inherent to a natural language. Saying we are process, if metaphysics be damned- no mentalism- is trite. The question is: What are the philosophical implications of this scientific insight.

So to say we are the experience (of) as opposed to saying we have the experience (of) sounds strange. So what? It’s a philosophical insight. But does it explain anything? We have all the information, at least in terms of kind, that we are ever going to get concerning IMPD. It is hard to see how greater understanding of transducer operation , network operations, information flow or details of the biomechanical processes would be of any explanatory value. Somebody might say that some new facts explain it, but why should we believe them? We would have to adopt so new sort of criteria, but based on what? Do we have a theory of possible criteria? It seems silly to say we do, but again, epistemology is primary. It tells us what can be said by things like us. ( It’s always about the driving functions.)

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Information and Qualia

Information has no qualia, no phenomenal properties, it is pure causation. More specifically, in the case of the aptly named action potential, it is a causation vector, a potential cause of a particular origin. This is another aspect of the problem of IMPD, since the information stream in the brain has no phenomenal characteristics, it cannot explain how variations in them can arise. It can have no phenomenal characteristics as a matter of empirical fact because action potentials of different sorts, say visual and auditory can impinge on single cell and we don’t have a see/hear sensation, we see and hear at the same time, but we don’t see/hear. Seeing is because of visual tract activity, but it is not that activity, this also because seeing is more than having the qualia of seeing..

Not only can’t information theory explain IMPD, it can’t explain why qualia very within the modality. It can’t explain why orange is different from red, much less why red is different from loud or sweet. The problem is not that we know their different, the problem is that they appear different. The problem isn’t that we can know, say or think they’re different; the problem is the difference in the qualia. Saying, knowing, realizing, acting as though, being aware of…these are cognitive, information based, cortical. Now, noting the difference assumes there’s a difference to be noted. But this difference is not the phenomenal difference, this difference associated with the qualia it is the difference in the physical phenomenon. Orange and red are different wavelengths, this can be picked up by the nervous system, the fact that they look different is not a CNS phenomenon. Knowing that they’re different is CNS, seeing them differently is not.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

“Ought” is Subordinate to “Is”

Epistemology is subordinate to ontology, because “ought” is subordinate to “is” . The question of primacy in epistemology is settled easily –ought is again subordinate to is (possible) , or to what can or could be. Any word must have a driving function whose fundamental nature can be delineated. For words not immediately related to experience of the external world, the menu is limited to neurological operations, to combinations and variations of parameters related to various neurological and neurological system states. There are only so many things I can put behind words such as true, explanation, knowledge etc., the question then becomes what are these things now, and what should they be.

A given speakers epistemology then becomes a question involving an individual lexicon at a given moment.

How does language work? As it is internalized either visually or audibly we convert from the sensible to the neurological. What is the next level- syntactic? Notice that “Colorless green ideas sleep furiously. “ is at some sense comprehensible just as it is simultaneously meaningless. What is the evidence that semantics follows syntax? That the processing isn’t simultaneous? Syntax and semantics maybe logical as opposed to neurological distinctions. There maybe some neuro- research on this. Fmri’s on the difference.

Grant that I comprehend a proposition and that it is meaningful, e.g. it is syntactically and semantically acceptable. Does it convey information? Can it do so outside of a wider context? “The cat is on the mat.” Is this informative unless I know what cat and what mat is being talked about? I need to know something about the referenced entities. “Lincoln was a great president.” Maybe, maybe not, perhaps I have a theory to the effect that he could have prevented the civil war, or that he put the union above the abolition of slavery and thus was morally deficient.

The Lincoln proposition is a value judgment, I understand it as such if I know English and importantly, history. I know that somebody who asserts it, if I understand that they are asserting it; they could be doing something else; is making a value judgment and is probably in their view representing a fact.


Tuesday, January 22, 2008

How Does the Nervous System Work?

I know what the brain does, I just don’t know how it does it. Why is it not enough to know what the brain does- namely generates behavior and determines experience? Why do we have to know how it does it? I don’t have to know how my car or computer works to know what they can or will do based on my controlling inputs; this because they are not agents. I know or can determine all behaviors, capacities, performance limits, modes of operation… based on experience, and a few fundamental realizations. I don’t really have to know how they work. I know that my car can’t fly, and probably won’t float well, and I don’t have to be an expert to know this. The ”fly in the bottle” problem for philosophy is that we haven’t applied this simple observation to human beings.

The fact that people are agents reduces predictability and allows for novelty, but it doesn’t introduce transcendent possibility. You will never fly by flapping your arms, swim like the dolphins naked or jump into outer space. We simple haven’t realized that same biologically based limits apply to cognitive activities also. Nor do we understand what these limits are.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Information Based Science

Can an information based science do analysis, prediction, or cosmology? How far can we get without invoking rules, principles or laws or mathematical analysis.. Consider the rollbar problem –does the rollbar fail on ground contact?. Contemporary multiphysics- FEA computes stresses on an itinerative basis using geometric constraints mechanical principles and kinematics. Can I get the same results without mathematical analysis?

Engineering issues can always ((?)–what about space craft?) be resolved by testing, indeed the point of modern simulation techniques is ultimately to eliminate testing. But I could test until I got close enough from some point of view. Can I adequately determine performance without mathematical analysis however? How much testing would I have to do to establish performance on the basis of comparative results?

An information based epistemic technology comparable to our science and engineering would have to know something about the properties of materials. This could be gotten experimentally, but how do you normalize it ? E.g., how do you get something like our nominal tensile strength numbers in pounds per square inch. You could adopt a particular sample as a norm or standard unit and work from that- scale up or down. (Note this systems information is not limited to the visually apparent- it has chemical knowledge/information extraction techniques also or it can’t do much steel metallurgy.)

What’s the information based alternative to itinerative mathematical analysis? It probably depends on the required level of accuracy or certainty. If were smart we can do a worse case scenario. Proof it doesn’t fail (e.g., exhibit plastic hinge failure ) in the most difficult case and you have a successful design. But I still want to optimize- so I work backwards, reducing weight and cost. Most engineering can be done this way. Analysis is more an economic consideration than an epistemic one in applied science. The “understanding” aspect is psychological. Why can’t my understanding be based on countless experiments and observations?

Still, analysis is quicker and more cost efficient, but this doesn’t mean epistemic exclusivity.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Aspects of the Theory of Agency

So what are agents, and why do we need a theory of them? We need the theory for ethical, meta -ethical , social and political philosophy and the theory of history. We need the theory as a meta- theory for psychology. Psychology as an aspect, a derivative of the theory of agency. What must be the case –agency- how its done, what is the case for human beings- psychology. Different paradigm, if we know what agents are, what they require. Then the question becomes: How do human beings effect their agency? ( Another question: Is human nature exhausted by the concept of agency, is that all there is to it?) This apposed to the current approach which lacks a theory of what is to be done. Saying you want to explain something is not enough, the concept of an explanation is not enough to determine a would be science.

So, what a are agents? Agents are a type of system (another definition), systems which are self determining, self regulating, information sensitive, and effective, capable of changing the exterior world. Humans and multi-cellular animals are agents. Are plants? Computers, a species of potential artifact agents, are not today anyway. The fundamental science of agency is physics, chemistry and biology may or may not be relevant for artifact agents.

The theory of artifact agents is different from a theory of automaton or robots. Agents don’t have to be spatially contiguous, they might have parts all over the place connected by information technologies.

Agents have de-facto desires, they try to do things or act like they are trying to do things. And their desires have more than one object.- e.g., maintaining operational status and performing a task.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Agency and Ethics

We have to distinguish between evolved and manufactured agents (those produced by evolved agents). They don’t necessarily have the same features, e.g., no reason to think a manufactured agent comes with a survival instinct. This is a fundamental distinction in ethics and political theory. While a manufactured agent, an automaton or really smart computer, might have some “rights”, these aren’t necessarily the same as those of an evolved system even if the cognitive and overall capabilities are the same.

This might seem obvious, but it really isn’t. When C3PO or R2D2 got smashed up, everyone was upset, More so perhaps with R2D2 than C3PO, the latter was kind of annoying, even while R2D2 was less anthropomorphic. While it was OK, i.e., not troubling, to destroy the Imperial Storm Troupers who were evidently human, at least while there faces weren’t visible; bashing the droids was disconcerting. (Wasn’t it?) Ethics may start in sentiment, but we really have to go beyond it.

Star Wars as a morality play is troubling and problematic. While I may be disturbed by the wanton slaughter of the Imperial forces, most of whom were probably unwilling conscripts, and view their destruction as being in fact a more serious ethical issue than killing the droids; this is a reflected view, a personnel prejudice, and something which must be defended, at least from the point of view of the droids. Why do I hold it? Why do children not hold it?

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Information Systems- Causation- Meaning

Design or intention do not determine what is or is not an information system, it’s a matter of function. A broken computer is a paper weight, not an information based system.

Verbal behavior, even prepositional behavior, is not information, it’s a potential source of information, it can be converted into information, may contain information but is in itself not information at the cortical level. This because not ever causal event in an information based system is an information caused event. Suppose I hear a proposition in a language I don’t understand. My auditory system will function pretty much as usual, especially if the phonemes of the language are similar to those of a language I do understand, but after auditory processing everything is different. Conventionally we would say that I didn’t know the meaning of the utterance. What we need is an information theoretic explanation of the difference.

The response envelope for the uncomprehended utterance is different. In particular, the cognitive response envelope (non emotional component ) is different. (Quine’s radical translation –how is this done? Certainly below the level of ontological commitments it has been done. Consider the problems of the first European arrivals on American shores. The natives point at a rabbit, yell “gavagi”, “gavagi”, and then shoot it with their bows and arrows, you get the idea quickly. “Gavagi” is rabbit or food or something, they throw it into a pot with other edibles with apparently different names. So “gavagi” is not target, or animal or food ….it means rabbit

Wednesday, January 2, 2008


We deny that all consciousness is consciousness of something. There is consciousness and the current content of consciousness. It is possible but unlikely that I would be conscious but conscious of nothing. (Holding your breath in a flotation tank is probably as close as you can get without artificiality.) Consciousness is the underlying background, non-specific cortical neurological activity that is necessary for experiential and behavioral processes.

Thus anything with a nervous system is conscious. But consciousness is of no particular significance in and of itself, it is merely a biological substrata for awareness, a powering up of the system so that it can be aware and reactive. What distinguishes organisms is not consciousness, but its content. The difficult question is why we associate consciousness with cortical activity.

I don’t seem to be conscious of what’s going on in my cerebellum or lower brain centers even if they serve as more than relay centers, i.e., they do information processing or are involved in the production of syntactic behavior.