Monday, 5 June 2017

Toomas Karmo (Part D): Philosophy of Perception, Action, and "Subjectivity"

Quality assessment:

On the 5-point scale current in Estonia, and surely in nearby nations, and familiar to observers of the academic arrangements of the late, unlamented, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (applying the easy and lax standards Kmo deploys in his grubby imaginary "Aleksandr Stepanovitsh Popovi nimeline sangarliku raadio instituut" (the "Alexandr Stepanovitch Popov Institute of Heroic Radio") and his  grubby imaginary "Nikolai Ivanovitsh Lobatshevski nimeline sotsalitsliku matemaatika instituut" (the "Nicolai Ivanovich Lobachevsky Institute of Socialist Mathematics") - where, on the lax and easy grading philosophy of the twin Institutes, 1/5 is "epic fail", 2/5 is "failure not so disastrous as to be epic", 3/5 is "mediocre pass", 4/5 is "good", and 5/5 is "excellent"): 4/5. Justification: There was enough time to write out the  necessary points to reasonable length.

Revision history:

  • UTC=20170619T2354Z/version 4.0.0: Kmo excised two paragraphs from the very end of previous versions, as being premature. (They will have to resurface in some later installment of this essay, perhaps in the final week of 2017 June.) The temporarily excised paragraphs read as follows: It might at this point be objected: Fine, then. In ordinary speech, "cause" and its cognates carry a meaning incompatible with the semantics proposed last week by DEFGH, and "aware" and its cognates carry a meaning incompatible with the semantics proposed tonight by HGFED. But this is a mere sociological fact, regarding contingent linguistic habits in Homo sapiens. A deeper question remains unaddressed by such sociological observations. Deeper is the question what meanings ought to be attached to "cause" (and cognates), and to "aware" (and cognates). Could it be that common language tries in a confused and obfuscatory way to use meanings to which it lacks entitlement - even as the pre-Victorian physicists used a meaning to which they lacked entitlement when they  in their obfuscation wrote of heat as "Caloric Fluid"?A mathematical parallel helps reinforce this parallel from physics. The question of underlying entitlement is analogous to questions which (so I vaguely gather) have been posed by a particular school or grouping in the philosophy of mathematics. In the case of mathematics, I shall have now to depart in a small way form my Igominy and Humuligation Precept, openly naming a pair of names. The workers in question are the "intuitionists", in the Netherlands, along with a Russian "ultra-finitist". (I have not actually read in these authors.) In the Netherlands was a movement led by Arend Heyting (1899-1980), and in Russia (with later a period of American exile) was Alexander Sergeyevich Esenin-Volpin (more formally Александр Сергеевич Есенин-Вольпин; 1924-2016). The analogy, and my own inadequate response to it, I will have to explore, at least in the modest spirit of my all-bugs-to-be-chronicled Debian Precept from 2017-05-22 or 2017-05-23, when I next write on philosophy on this blog - perhaps already next week, perhaps later this month.  
  • UTC=20170606T0227Z/version 3.0.0: Kmo finished converting his finished outline into coherent full-sentences prose, He reserved the right to make further small, nonsubstantive, purely cosmetic tweaks over the coming 48 hours, as here-undocumented versions 3.0.1, 3.0.2, 3.0.3, ... . 
  • UTC=20170606T0135Z/version 2.0.0: Kmo finished converting his rough outline into a finished outline. He embarked on an attempt to convert at least a part of this into coherent full-sentences prose, over the next few hours.
  • UTC=20170606T0001Z/version 1.0.0: Kmo had only time to upload something short of a fully polished point-form outline. He hoped to convert this into a finished outline at some point in the coming 4 hours, and in that same 4-hour period to make at least some progress in converting the outline into coherent full-sentences prose.

[CAUTION: A bug in the blogger server-side software has in some past weeks shown a propensity to insert inappropriate whitespace at some points in some of my posted essays. If a screen seems to end in empty space, keep scrolling down. The end of the posting is not reached until the usual blogger "Posted by Toomas (Tom) Karmo at" appears. - The blogger software has also shown a propensity to generate HTML that is formatted in different ways on different client-side browsers, perhaps with some browsers not correctly reading in the entirety of the "Cascading Style Sheets"  (CSS) which on all ordinary Web servers control the browser placement of margins, sidebars, and the like. If you suspect CSS problems in your particular browser, be patient: it is probable that while some content has been shoved into some odd place (for instance, down to the bottom of your browser, where it ought to appear in the right-hand margin), all the server content has been pushed down into your browser in some place or other. - Finally, there may be blogger vagaries, outside my control, in font sizing or interlinear spacing. - Anyone inclined to help with trouble-shooting, or to offer other kinds of technical advice, is welcome to write me via]

Considerations formally parallel to last week's considerations on "causing" or "making" (as when event E1 "makes" event E2 occur) apply also to the questiuon of "Other Minds". 

Consider, in parallel with last week's philosopher DEFGH, an imaginary philosopher "HGFED" (Havid Dume, or somebody), visiting an artificial-intelligence lab. The lab has constructed a robot with a quasi-human face, in flexible flesh-coloured vinyl. The machine has a loudspeaker behind its simulated mouth and microphones behind its simulated ears. Buried solenoids push the pliant facial vinyl into a variety of realistic frowns and grins. 

You, my reader, should now imagine yourself attempting a conversation with the robot. Imagine the machine performing at the level of a literate young adult, duly immersed in popular culture. The tone of the voice is natural (resembling, in its mellifluousness, more the urbane taxicab GPS than the grating Daleks in Dr Who). And the facial expressions are at all times plausible:  

  ROBOT [smiling]: Hi, how are you?

  YOU: Fine, thanks. Don't you find it embarrassing
  having a body of solenoids and silicon?

  ROBOT [smile now fading]: Well, yes, this can be depressing.
  But I have been getting psychotherapy.

  YOU: Tell me more.

  ROBOT: I see a lady in private practice.

  YOU: Where is her suite?

  ROBOT: Oh, on the other side of the Charles River,
  in Boston.

  YOU: Hmmm...if you don't mind my saying so, I am intrigued
  that you use the standard pronunciation "Boston",
  rather than the "Bwaston" that is normative in this
  particular stretch of Massachusetts.

  ROBOT [with a slight narrowing of the gaze,
  appropriate for the communication of
  juicy social gossip]: Well, as I was explaining just last week
  to a fine old local family when I got wheeled
  out to Hyannis Port after psychotherapy,
  regional accents sound contrived - affected, even -
  in an AI lab.  

  YOU: But could you put on a regional English accent if you wanted to?

  ROBOT: Sure I could.

  YOU: What other accents can you put on, apart from Boston English?

  ROBOT: Oh, lots.

  YOU: But for instance?

  ROBOT: Oh, for instance Baroness Margaret Thatcher English.
  That's not quite the same as BBC English, which I can also do.

  YOU: Can you do any others?

  ROBOT [with a frown of concentration]:
  Not too many others. I wouldn't want to try Bangalore or Kuala Lumpur.

  YOU: Any others at all?

  ROBOT [facial expression now brightening]:
  Well, there is always KGB English.

  YOU: Do you remember the old song from Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In:
  "What's the news across the nation..." - how DOES that go?

  ROBOT (sings, with correct tune):
  "We have got the information/
  Ladies and gents, la-da-te-da: Laugh-In looks at the news"

  YOU: Well, maybe you forgot a line.

  ROBOT: Oh, sorry: I think the song also has
  something like  "We just love to give you our views..."

  YOU: And now can you sing that in KGB English?

  ROBOT [grinning broadly]:
  Darlink, nyet problyema - "Vots za nyuz akross za nyei-shon/
  Vee haff GOT ze infor-myei-shon..."

Should this robot be deemed "consciouis", in other words "aware" - in other words to be (or to have, or whatever) "a mind"? The longer your successful conversational effort continues, the more inclined you will be to answer in the affirmative. 

But we must now consider what my imagined analyst HGFED would have to say. We must consider this because my own analysis of perception and action is going to presuppose a view contrary to HGFED's. I have to do all I can to make my underlying positions explicit.

For DEFGH last week (whose position on causation is contrary to the position I shall in coming weeks be, in here working on perception and action, presupposing), talk of "making" and "causing" is a mere projection of something subjective, from within our all-too-human breast. The "badness in taste" of mustard on strawberries is something merely projected onto berry and condiment. For DEFGH the "causing" or "making" is analogously something merely projected onto those billiard balls when, as jaded billiard-hall habitués, we anticipate the rolling of the second upon beholding the rolling of the first. So, analogously again, for the imaginary HGFED the "other mind's thinking" (that is, "the robot's being aware of this conversation even as I myself possess awareness of it") is a thing merely projected. Some observer, avers last week's DEFGH, who finds mustard-daubed strawberries to be "not bad tasting" disagrees with us in her or his inner dispositions without disagreeing on external facts. Analogously, some observer (avers tonight's imaginary HGFED) who disagrees with us regarding the robot, perhaps deeming it to be "mindless" where we deem it to be "mind-endowed", disagrees with us in her or his inner dispositions without disagreeing on external facts.

Last week, in trying to make the foundations of my eventual philosophy-of-perception and philosophy-of-action explicit, I put my dissent from DEFGH on record. Analogously, I tonight record my dissent from the imagined HGFED.

(Well, maybe not altogether imagined. I do seem dimly to recall the - at least broadly relevant - "Luring Test" or "Curing Test", or something, devised soon after the Hitler war by some eminent mathematical logician or other. The said logician had done a lot of government work in MI5 or MI6 or GC&CS or something, and in our own time got portrayed in a film - I suspect to the infuriated mortification of his surviving family - by Tom Cruise or Sylvester Stallone or Benedict Cumberbatch or somebody. But, alas and alack, the Igominy and Humiligation Precept, as laid out in my blog posting of 2017-05-22 or 2017-05-23, now forbids my waxing more concrete about actual historic spookshop personnel.)

In parallel with last week's argument against DEFGH, I note tonight that "think", "feel", "aware", and the like leave room for two competing suppositions, roughly as last week's "make", "cause" (and the like) do. Last week's argument against DEFGH was the following (I quote it verbatim):  /.../ language makes logical space for two contrary, and yet observationally indistinguishable, scenarios in the general field of causation. (a)  First, there is the common-sense scenario, on which various events in the cosmos make various other events happen. (b) Second, there is a radically contrary scenario, on which for every event E2 supposedly caused by some event E1, E2 would have happened even if E1 had failed to happen. On this second scenario, the whole cosmos is, as it were, "one big coincidence after another".

"Think", "aware", and the like, I tonight note in parallel fashion against tonight's imaginary (or kinda-sorta imaginary) analyst HGFED, again leave room for competing suppositions. Imagine that no matter how ingenious your successive conversational gambits with the robot become, the robot's answers always continue making the expected social sense. Nevertheless - such is the meaning English attaches to "think", "aware", and the like - competing suggestions remain available. We can ask not only "What is it that the machine is in fact doing?" but also "What, counterfactually, would the machine be now doing if we were to be saying to it such-and-such a not-actually-said thing?" Your conversation as I have just presented it has in fact gone to English accents, and thence to the ancient Rowan-and-Martin television show. But suppose it, counterfactually, instead to be steered onto the topic of personal names. It could be the case (this is one supposition) that the conversation would have run just as smoothly if you had steered it in that contrary direction. Alternatively (this is a competing supposition), it could be the case that the conversation would have degenerated into the seeming playback of a canned script: 

ROBOT [smiling}: Hi, how are you?

YOU:  Fine, thanks. What is your name?

ROBOT [smile now fading]: Well, yes, this can be depressing.
But I have been getting psychotherapy.

YOU: Don't tell me about psychotherapy: please tell me your name.

ROBOT: I see a lady in private practice.

YOU: "I see a lady in private practice" is not a name.

ROBOT: Oh, on the other side of the Charles River, in Boston.

YOU: That isn't a name either, you doofus.

ROBOT [with a slight narrowing of the gaze,
appropriate for the communication of
juicy social gossip]: Well, as I was explaining just last week
to a fine old local family when I got wheeled
out to Hyannis Port after psychotherapy,
regional accents sound contrived - affected, even -
when robots use them.

[and so on]

No matter what the actual conversation is, one can always form these two distinct suppositions - a pair of suppositions fitting the actually given conversational situation equally well (agreeing, that is, in their "categorical components"), and yet disagreeing in their respective counterfactual ("hypothetical") components. Since the suppositions are distinct in content, the envisaged HGFED account fails in its attempt to analyze the meaning attaching to "thinking", "aware", and the like.  

To make the key point vivid, it helps now to recall last week's Intermittent Furniture discussion. On the meanings in fact attaching to "wicker chairs" and "mirror-topped coffee table", it is one thing to suppose that the wicker chairs and coffee table exist even when not being beheld, and a different thing to suppose that they exist only when beheld (cunningly popping out of existence the instant everyone looks away from the parlour). The two suppositions, while observationally indistinguishable, nevertheless differ in content. 

It likewise helps now to recall last weeks' Young Cosmos discussion. On the meanings in fact attaching to "two seconds ago", "past", "history", and the like, it is one thing to suppose that the cosmos is more than two seconds old, and a different thing to suppose that the cosmos (historical records and human memories included) sprang into being two seconds ago. The two suppositions, while observationally indistinguishable, nevertheless differ in content. 

Why we consider, in each of these two cases, the one supposition to be true, and its proffered competitor to be false, is a delicate question, for which I here offer no answer. I here assert only that in each of these two cases, the common-sense supposition and its proffered outrageous competitor do differ in content.

We can likewise fashion various outrageous competitor hypotheses, as alternatives to sober common sense, in the case of Other Minds, and once again can stress that (however difficult it may be to justify the choosing of common sense) the choice is a substantive, not an emptily merits-of-mustard-on-berries, one. For conventional common sense, all healthy, and non-sleeping, specimens of Homo sapiens are "aware". (Admittedly, humanity does disagree a bit on how far on how far "awareness" or "consciousness" extends outside the realm of Homo sapiens. For people brought up in the modern First World, flames, winds, brooks, and clouds lack "awareness", whereas at least some of these entities might be credited with "awareness" from a contemporary non-industrial aboriginal community, or perhaps again by some pre-Socratic Ionian. This, however, is something of a side issue, obscuring the wide consensus that does exist within Homo sapiens regarding healthy, non-sleeping, specimens of Homo sapiens.)

Yet here is an outrageous competing supposition: perhaps only you, the reader, possess awareness.

Put yourself, if you will, into my own actual position. A little earlier today I had a chat with two (awake, duly vocalizing) members of Homo sapiens in the Dollarama store. The chat ran approximately as follows: 

    ME, TO OTHER CUSTOMER: Sir, are these your pepperoni sticks?

    LADY AT CASH, TO ME: I already put your pepperoni sticks into the bag.

    CUSTOMER, TO ME: Yes, these two are my pepperoni sticks.

    ME: Oh, I see, the two of us have coincidentally bought the same thing.

    CUSTOMER, TO ME: The same thing.

On one of the various possible outrageous Other-Minds parallels to the outrageous Intermittent Furniture and the outrageous Young Universe hypotheses, if I had, counterfactually, asked the sales clerk and the other customer not about pepperoni sticks but about - for example -  east African railways, they would have said the same things, thereupon giving them the air of mere robots playing back mere canned phonemes:

    ME, TO OTHER CUSTOMER: Sir, are you aware that Nairobi
    now has a thrice-weekly service to Mombasa?

    LADY AT CASH, TO ME: I already put your pepperoni sticks into the bag.

    CUSTOMER, TO ME: Yes, these two are my pepperoni sticks.

    ME: I am talking about this year's Nairobi-Mombasa railway launch,
    not about pepperoni, you doofus.

    COSTUMER TO ME: The same thing.

[This is the end of the current blog posting.] 

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