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Generally I appreciate how Sam Harris can express atheist ideas in novel ways that are clear and often also funny. But it also seems to me that he does better in debates than in books.

I found that The Moral Landscape didn't live up to the hype. It succeeds in showing that a morality could be developed by objective, "scientific" means, and that may be important news to some, but I think that for anyone familiar with the philosophy of morals, it just seems like slightly tweaked utilitarianism. Sure you can develop a morality based on maximum human flourishing, but Sam doesn't even attempt to justify why we should accept maximizing human flourishing to be the basis of morality. He says something like "I can't imagine anyone reasonable to disagree" which, if it was supposed to be an argument, is an incredibly weak one.

The core argument is that some lives are objectively "better" than others. He contrasts a woman in the jungle about to be murdered after a lifetime of degradation with a rich and successful philanthropist busy changing the world for the better. From this he deduces that we can objectively determine which actions are conducive to "good" lives, and he calls such actions moral.

It seems to me that just adding "during all this, her faith never wavered" to the "bad" life story would change some people's opinion on which life is preferable. So like all moralities, this one hinges on whether one accepts the initial premises.

But thinking further on this, I'm wondering if trying to "justify" morals is not doomed from the start. If, as Hume says, an "ought" cannot be derived from an "is", it follows that morals cannot be based on any aspect of reality. Moral duties can only be asserted. If not, they fail to be morals and become something else. If we pursue Plato's summum bonum because we believe it desirable , then we are pursuing desires, not acting morally. If we obey the commandments for fear of Hell or for the rewards of Heaven, we are acting on self-interest, not morals.

So in Sam Harris' scheme, I'm not clear on which is supposed to justify which; to paraphrase the Eutyphro: are actions moral because they promote human flourishing, or do actions promote human flourishing because they are moral? I don't see how the second option could possibly make sense. If an action promotes human flourishing today but did the opposite yesterday due to changing circumstances, then we can say that the action was immoral yesterday but has become moral today. We know this ONLY because we can determine that it no longer promotes human flourishing. I simply can't see how the reverse could be possible; that we determine by some non-consequentialist means that an immoral action has become moral and will now promote human flourishing. If we decide today that vaccines are immoral, they won't suddenly become harmful to human flourishing. But if we found through research that the anti-vaccine crowd is right after all, surely vaccines would then be recognized as immoral.

Sam Harris is saying that those actions are moral that promote human flourishing. In other words, "human flourishing" becomes the touch-stone of morality, which seems to become a circular argument: we should promote human flourishing because doing so is moral, and we should be moral because it promotes human flourishing. What is the added value of the concept of "morality" in this chain of reasoning? Morality is supposed to tell us how we should act. If morality is justified by something else (eg human flourishing) then isn't it really that something else that is telling us how to act? Couldn't we just call this "human ecology" or something and not link it to "morality" at all?

On a different track, I think that "morality" may be a category error, in that it covers many different categories of things. Indeed, to believe that "how we should live" can be not only independent of circumstance, but derived from a single source or principle, strikes me as stark madness. The philosophical attempts to reduce "morality" to a single source, be it virtues or categorical imperatives or socially constructed conventions or intentions or consequences, may just be a lingering superstition from an age of belief in divine law-givers, and dropping it could probably resolve many seemingly insoluble moral difficulties.
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I keep coming across versions of the kalaam cosmological argument lately, and while there are a lot of good refutations around, most of them focus on the "cosmological" nature of the argument. I haven't seen any that address the causal basis directly.

For those who might not remember, the most common formulation (as used by both Christian and Muslim apologists) is like this:

1) Everything that has a beginning must have a cause
2) The universe has a beginning
3) Therefore; the universe has a cause
4) Therefore; Jehovah/Jesus/Allah/Flying Spaghetti monster

Most refutations focus on the following points:
- the current space/time continuum began at the big bang, but we don't know if "everything that is" had a beginning.
- quantum stuff can appear out of "nothing"
- 4 totally doesn't follow from 3

I would instead like to look at point 1 in more detail, which has nothing to do with cosmology per se.

Unlike what many philosophers seem to think, causality is not a law of nature or even a scientific theory. Real science doesn't say things like "gravity is the cause of falling apples", but rather things like a=Gm/r².

Cause-and-effect is rather a framework we use to conceptualize the world, much like "things" and "events" which are more or less arbitrary constructs our minds use to make sense of the world. Like any conceptual frameworks, it has its limitations - infinite regress being the most obvious one. What the kalaam argument tries to do is to base claims about reality on playing with the limitations of the causal conceptual model. It's a bit like insisting that, because "it rains" there really exists some entity engaged in the activity of raining, rather than allowing the "it" to be just a spook created by rules of English grammar.

We may also note that "Every thing that has a beginning must have a cause" is not the most straightforward formulation of causality. The weaselly wording is deliberate, because in step 4 the arguer wants to claim that Jesus/Allah/FSM has no beginning and therefore the argument doesn't apply to them.

But that this is not at all how normal people reason causally can be seen by simple examples like:
- Everything that has a beginning must have a cause
- Your cancer had a beginning
- Therefore; your cancer had a cause
- Therefore; smoking exists

Even a rephrasing as minor as "every event must have a cause" can be seen to throw a major wrench into the argument - because then they need to explain what caused the FSM to decide to create the universe at that specific point without being able to hide behind "but the FSM always existed". That's before we even bring in the other Aristotelian causes. If the universe is an Aristotelian "thing" then it must have:
- a material cause: it must be made of something, like a chair is made of wood.
- a formal cause: there must exist an ideal universe in the world of Platonic Ideas.
- an efficient cause: something fashioned the universe, like the carpenter fashioned the chair.
- a final cause: the universe is made for some purpose.
But "everything there is" can't be a thing in that sense, because then its causes wouldn't be. Now what?

So in short, I think the kalaam can be refuted without bringing cosmology into it, by observing that:
1. Causality is a model to organize our observations of reality (I'm wet because it rains). There is no basis to assume that the model constrains reality in the way the argument presupposes.
2. Even granting that presupposition, the argument depends crucially on obscurity through weasel words.
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Erich Fromm wrote that love is the capacity to engender love in others. I'm not sure I agree with that definition; it seems facile to say "if they don't love you back then that means you don't really love them" - so Jesus didn't really love his enemies because they nailed him to a stick anyway? It also seems wrong, somehow, to insist that love must always be returned to the point of making it part of the definition of love. Then what about love for a plant or a goldfish or a fictional character or the planet or humanity in general?

"it's better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all"

I'd be inclined to say "depending on what's meant by 'loved and lost" - for some meanings of "lost", all love relationship will be "lost" eventually; they end sooner or by death, and even then they won't stay the same. People who've been together for a long time often say they actually had a succession of different relationships with the same person.

So one take on lost is in the sense of a love relationship that was, but ended or changed into something else. In that case the statement is fairly obviously true, like saying "it's better to live and die than never live at all".

Another sense, the one I'm personally thinking of when I hear the phrase, is not about relationships, but where "to love" is when you commit a serious part of yourself to something or someone, essentially taking a risk, making a leap of faith that the effort will contribute to their happiness. And then "to lose" in that context would be when you misleap, misjudge, like when your very existence causes suffering to the one you love, and you can do nothing to change that. I think what Tennyson is trying to say is that, even if in a particular situation it might seem that it would have been better to "not have loved at all", that doesn't mean it's better to lose courage in general, to never take the risk of reaching out and being affected by someone else. At the risk of sounding woowoo, I think avoiding love is a spiritual dead end, it's as much an extreme as becoming codependent...
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I was watching a lecture on morality by prof. Sandel when some questions occurred to me (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kBdfcR-8hEY&feature=share&list=PL597DA5F21A55365E)

Most students chose the option to divert the trolley on a track with only one person, thereby avoiding five. But most students didn't want to save the five by pushing a fat man in front of the trolley car.

Sandel is a Kantian, so he theorizes that pushing the fat man in front of the trolley is "using a conscious entity as a means" and we instinctively shy away from that. But what intrigued me was the (all to brief) explanation from one of the very few students who didn't want to divert the trolley in the first scenario - in my opinion it was basically a similarly Kantian argument; the student said that by diverting the trolley you are sacrificing the one to save the five, and that is something one should categorically never do. Sandel asks, almost sarcastically "even if it means five people are killed instead?" yet doesn't ask this from people who don't want to push the fat man.

Personally I think Kant's maxim is flawed because it's totally fuzzy what "treating a person only as an end in itself" even means. I think you can *always* find a perspective that says you're using someone "as a means". So I was probably not going to be convinced by that anyway, but I think the student's position shows how subjective and arbitrary Kant-like arguments are applied.

An interesting idea then occurred to me: look at what the choices *avoid* rather than what they select. In the first scenario people don't actually choose to kill the one person; they choose to avoid running over the five others. What of the second scenario? You avoid either (1) pushing the fat man in front of the trolley, killing him; or (2) standing by and doing nothing while five people die.

I think we can explain the reaction to the second scenario by stating that people would vastly prefer to stand by and do nothing rather than get involved, deciding who lives or dies, and run the risk of criticism for it. The difference with the first scenario is I think that there, we are said to be at the steering wheel of the trolley, and one could argue that steering one way or the other is anyway our choice so we can't really escape blame either way. But if we DID push the fat man, the trolley would stop, the fat man would be dead, the five would never know they were in danger, and it'd be left to us to explain why pushing someone onto the tracks seemed like a good idea.

It seems to me that the student who objected to diverting the car in the first scenario basically declined responsibility for steering, he wanted to let the car run as it would rather than bear the moral consequences of making a choice. He preferred to be a bystander, it seems.

So I don't think this shows that we somehow instinctively obey Kant's moral maxims. Rather I think it may show our penchant for what is called the "bystander effect".

But knowing that humans have a proven tendency to shirk responsibility in emergencies, what are we to make of our instinctive reluctance to push the fat man in front of the train, thereby saving five lives? Can we trust it as a "moral intuition" telling us what's right? Or are we merely finding justifications for our unwillingness to do the right thing and take responsibility for it?

Attachment

Apr. 16th, 2013 07:33 pm
foliumnondefluet: (Default)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Attachment_in_adults

I find it reassuring that attachment modes change due to circumstances - fairly obvious I guess, when you think about it... I feel different about attachments now than I did... some time ago, before stuff happened; clearly negative experiences will affect one's style. On the other hand, that should mean that positive reinforcement should increase one's feeling of security - again fairly obvious, but I've seen people claim otherwise (to excuse their own dismissive-avoidant tendencies, perhaps). Attachment styles are not determined forever in your first year of life. (Well, perhaps the tendency towards anxious vs avoidant is, but not the security itself.)

I think in our present culture, there is a wide-spread sentiment that being dismissive-avoidant is more laudable than being "clingy" - in part this probably sits into the larger context of glorification of cynicism and nihilism and avarice and violence. I hate the larger context, and I dislike this instance, too. Aside from the larger context, I think there is also a tendency - excusable, but misguided - to conflate the anxious attachment style with teenage existential angst. Perhaps there is a correlation between kids being emo and being clingy, but it doesn't follow that anyone who gets passionate about closeness does so out of existential confusion, and it certainly doesn't follow that being avoidant and emotionally stunted is somehow more mature.

Being dismissive-avoidant is also a coping mechanism, and also less rewarding than being secure, so it's not somehow "better" than being anxious-preoccupied, I think. The preoccupied ones are still fighting, the avoidant ones just gave up! I sometimes wonder if being anxious-preoccupied causes more suffering in the short term but is perhaps easier to recover from than being dismissive-avoidant. I don't see how you could go from avoidant to secure.

If nobody can be relied on to respond positively, there is no way one will be able to develop (or maintain) a secure attachment style. "People with secure attachment styles may trust their partners to provide support because their partners have reliably offered support in the past." and "Relationships that frequently satisfy the desire for intimacy lead to more secure attachments. Relationships that rarely satisfy the desire for intimacy lead to less secure attachments."

(I like the definition of intimacy as "a special set of interactions in which a person discloses something important about himself or herself, and a partner responds to the disclosure in a way that makes the person feel validated, understood, and cared for.")

If attachment is a combination of anxiety regulation, support, and intimacy then it seems only natural to be anxious and preoccupied as long as these three needs are not adequately met. On the other hand, once they *are* reliably met I don't see why the anxiety couldn't lessen in time. Sometimes people say things like "I gave you a chance but you were still anxious so it's all in your head" but that sort of implies the support was conditional to begin with, and one can hardly feel secure about conditional support....
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There's a saying going "in the land of the blind the one-eyed man is king" and I think that's so wrong.

In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is utterly lonely. The blind will be happy to make use of his sight to their advantage, but they won't ever understand him, and the one-eyed man will have nobody to share his experiences with - the language spoken in the land of the blind won't even have words for him to talk about what he sees. The man may even wish at times that he were blind like everyone else, for which the blind will accuse him of selfishness. Nobody will be able to offer any guidance in how he's supposed to make ethical use of his 'gift'. In other words, he'll be more like a reluctant superhero than a king...

Dreaming

Jul. 20th, 2012 07:36 am
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One of the audiobooks I listened to in the car recently was about dreaming. I learned some interesting things.

One observation (by me, not made explicitly in the book) is the great extent that science is subject to prejudices and superstitions, particularly regarding what is considered "noteworthy" enough to study. Modern dream research only really started well into the 20th century, even though the bulk of misconceptions about dreaming could have been dismissed by the Ancient Greek if they had bothered to closely observe sleeping people (infants or even cats would have worked) and to record their own dreams accurately.

The biggest hindrance to dream research has been the persistent superstition that the content of dreams are messages from the gods (or the subconscious in the case of Freud) which kept people from really looking at the form of dreams. Current scientific opinion holds that the content of dreams is largely a side effect of brain recalibration activity during sleep, a lot of it having to do with temperature regulation (apparently all endothermic animals dream much the same way as humans do).

A little surprising was that for all the importance Freud gave to dreams, he never studied them scientifically. He cherry-picked bits out of dreams reported by patients to include in his writings because they supported his conclusion, but he never even recorded their whole dreams, or his own for that matter. The few dream reports found in his notes are significantly shorter than the average dream report, indicating he edited his data.
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The following is a report on a virtual Milgram experiment, of interest to the topic of emotional involvement with fictional entities:

http://www.plosone.org/article/fetchArticle.action?articleURI=info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0000039
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Early this week a small article in the news caught my attention. Apparently when a 49 year old driver noticed he was caught speeding by a manned camera, he turned around and rammed the policecar, mostly destroying it. He then assaulted the injured police officer that tried to arrest him and had to be subdued by a resident from the neighborhood. No traces of alcohol or drugs were found. He was driving more than 80kmh in a 50kmh zone.

When I read stories like this, I wonder what goes on in the mind of the person who seemingly lost all contact with reality. Being caught speeding 30kmh over the limit can create a big hassle, but I don't think that even in that guy's own little universe attacking a police officer was going to make it less of a hassle. Of course, there's the fact that the guy was a Walloon, and in Belgium some animals are more equal than others (and in fact he's been released already), but that only goes so far as an explanation.

Anyway. What I think happens in such cases is that the subject is experiencing negative emotions triggered by the situation that are too intense to cope with. Not having been raised to take responsibility for one's triggers (like most of us weren't), the subject is retaliating against the situation in an attempt to make the negative emotions go away. The pain is too much to bear and he just wants it to stop at any cost. It was just his luck that his actions didn't trigger the police officer into triggering something else, though.

For me, the moral of the story is that it's important to try to learn to cope with my triggers rather than try to run away from them like I usually do...
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I think a lot has been said about the reality of fiction, but not so much about the fiction of reality. I may have mentioned before that I believe "reality is fictional", but I should probably qualify what I mean by that. When I say "fiction" I do not mean it in the sense of "the opposite of real" but rather, an imaginatively created, made-up story. What I mean with reality is what is true and has meaning.

I do not propose to deny the existence of a physical reality. But a lot of what we tend to think of as hard physical facts are for the most part based on abstractions that do not *actually* correspond to anything that has concrete existence. For example, when I say "according to the wall thermometer, the temperature in my kitchen now is 19°C", this may seem like an objective, factual, "real", and true statement. It is, in the sense that I do not lie about it. I just went into my kitchen and looked at the thermometer. But it is also largely fictional, in that almost everything in the phrase corresponds to made-up concepts that have no concrete existence, and I don’t just mean the obvious observation that temperature refers to a statistical average of molecular motion. Even the simple concept of "my kitchen" is based on at least three fictions: the space partially enclosed by walls (which themselves are mostly empty space with some agitated atoms in it), and largely cluttered by appliances is not "a kitchen" in any concrete, intrinsic sense; neither is the cluster of transient processes that I refer to as "me" a concrete existence (All phenomena, including persons, are empty of any unchanging, isolated essence because of their dependence upon a network of causes and conditions from which they cannot be separated); and the "kitchen" belongs to "me" only in the context of an elaborate set of made-up social conventions.

It has behavioural implications also: if someone says something that they don't mean to be nasty, but I read it as nasty, is it nasty or not? It has no inherent value of nastiness. But I have perceived it as being nasty, so it is. Also, they have perceived it as being not nasty, so it isn't. There's only nasty-to-me and nasty-to-them, no inherent property that one can verify with one's senses. I think getting along with someone is in a large part a question of willingness to synchronise your story with the other person's story. If they say they didn't mean to be nasty, you can integrate that in your story, even though you were hurt by what they did. Or if something is a big deal to them, you can try to see what makes it so important even though it might not be a big deal to you...

What I’m saying is that "physical reality" is devoid of truth and meaning. If I remove all the made-up fictionalization of my statement, I remove all meaning from it at the same time. Point x in space at time t has a temperature of T – this doesn’t *mean* anything. So how can it be true, how can it be real? Only by "fictionalizing" can facts acquire truth and meaning. "It’s freezing outside but I’m cozy" is not fact. It’s a story. It therefore has meaning. Insofar as I am able to tell it well, its truth and meaning would be all the stronger and more poignant.

A winter morning,
A lone rimed rose,
I long for hot tea.

Another way to look at it is through the relation of "reality" to time – not ask "what is real" but "when is real". The past exists only as history – story. We can only relate to the past through story, accounts fictionalized of necessity, if only by limited scope and viewpoint. The future exists only as a dream, a promise… a fiction. The only "reality" we can experience is the infinitely fine edge between past and future. And by the time you’ve seen it, it’s gone already. People sometimes refer to "consensus reality", but the reality about which a consensus exists already belongs to the past.

Almost everything of meaning is fictional; faith, hope, love… Chemical states in our brains do not have intrinsic meaning, but the stories we make up about them do. And much of our interpersonal success seems based on finding people willing to hear our story, suspend their disbelief, and take part in it... whereas much conflict and sorrow results from not acknowledging others as having stories that are very compelling and meaningful to them.

Even if I died today, nothing "factual" of importance would change. I certainly wouldn’t be there to notice. Some made-up ownership claims would be shuffled. Anybody else would only notice my absence by referring to past memories – history, story, fiction. And it would only mean anything insofar as anyone cares about a made-up story in which my existence features in some meaningful way. If everyone forgot about that part of their stories, that would be the end of my existence; the fictional one, the one that has meaning, therefore the only one that is real.

Perhaps it is possible to look at the world without making up stories about it. One of the main tenets of Buddhism, as I understand it, is that suffering is caused by attachment to made-up stories. If we could just stop getting attached to our made-up stories about reality, or even just stop making up stories at all, we’d be forever at peace, free of joy and sorrow, pleasure and suffering… In that case I'll probably never be a good Buddhist, because I believe making stories is what humans do. Or maybe that's putting it a bit too simplisticly; the tenet is rather something along the lines that frustration arises from clinging to delusional notions about reality and thereby expecting impossible things. So our stories themselves shouldn't be a problem as long as we known them for what they are.
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Something about Maslow's hierarchy of needs bugs me:

"Humans want to be accepted and to belong, whether it be to clubs, work groups, religious groups, family, gangs, etc. They need to feel loved (sexually and non-sexually) by others, and to be accepted by them. People also have a constant desire to feel needed. In the absence of these elements, people become increasingly susceptible to loneliness, social anxiety and depression."

And I am wondering, how can the "need to feel loved" ever be non-neurotic? If you do not feel loved "(sexually and non-sexually)" by others, how could you ever go about satisfying this need in a non-pathological way? Maslow makes a distinction between "deficiency love" where you make friends to try to get your need met, and friends you make because you actually appreciate them as a person. According to him, the second is only possible *after* the need to feel loved is satisfied. Making friends and being a good person are healthy when done for their own sake, but according to Maslow, this is only possible when you already have enough friendship and love to get your needs met. Otherwise you're being nice as an attempt to manipulate people into loving you more.

Also, it would seem to me that "being loved by others" is a subjective feeling entirely in the heads of other people, and impossible to share by the object. And it would appear that there can be only the remotest causal connection between "being loved by others" and "feeling loved by others". Feeling accepted is wonderful - yet it has happened to me that this feeling later turned out to be wishful thinking on my part. I imagine that it is likewise possible to feel rejected when one is not - it is almost impossible to make a depressed someone feel loved, for example.

We want to *feel* valued/loved/accepted - we try to satisfy this need by trying to make others value/love/accept us, but will that really work? Even assuming that is possible, will that make us *feel* it, too? It almost seems like it would be more effective if we could just delude ourselves into believing we are valued/loved/accepted. Since it is impossible to control the amount of love others feel for you, it would seem that the healthy way to satisfy this need is to be content with whatever amount of love, understanding, etc. you get from others. But in that case, are they "nonproductive needs that do not promote health or growth" or can they ever be satisfied? Perhaps the best way to fill the need to be loved is learning to love yourself more. Maslow doesn't mention self-love...

On further reflection, I think the same may be true for the level below - "safety needs". Knowing you are cared for and made safe. Knowing that there are people in your life that will help you pick up your pieces, should you fall apart; until you do fall apart, the need is met by "knowing" you will be cared for, regardless of whether this is actually true... and if you don't know anyone who would care for you (or are too paranoid to trust them), how could you go about getting that need met in a non-crazy-manipulative way?
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From http://www.skepdic.com/zombies.html, this sort of reflects my stance about souls:

There is another kind of zombie, however: the philosophical zombie. A philosophical zombie (p-zombie, for short) would be a human body without consciousness which would nevertheless behave like a human body with consciousness. To some philosophers (e.g., Daniel Dennett) this is a contradictory notion and thus an impossible conception. If it behaves like a person and is indistinguishable from a person, then it is a person. Other philosophers (e.g. Todd Moody and David Chalmers) argue that a p-zombie would be distinguishable from a person even though indistinguishable from a conscious person. It is distinguishable, say these philosophers, because it is stipulated that it is not conscious even though it is indistinguishable from a conscious being. In case you are wondering why philosophers would debate whether it is possible to conceive of a p-zombie, it is because some philosophers do not believe or do not want to believe that consciousness can be reduced to a set of materialistic functions. Important metaphysical and ethical issues seem to hinge on whether there can be p-zombies. Can machines be conscious? If we created a machine which was indistinguishable from a human person, would our artificial creation be a "person" with all the rights and duties of natural persons? To the p-zombie advocates, consciousness is more than brain processes and neurological functions. No adequate account of consciousness will ever be produced that is "reductionist," i.e., completely materialistic.

I think it is possible to conceive of a machine which "perceives" without being aware of perceiving. In fact, they already exist: motion detectors, touch screens, tape recorders, smoke alarms, certain robots. An android which could process visual, auditory, tactile, olfactory and gustatory input but which would lack self-consciousness, i.e., would not be aware of perceiving anything, is conceivable. We can even conceive of such machines resembling humans in the flesh. How would we distinguish such automata from persons? The same way we do now: by the imperfect and fallible methods of conversation and observation. But that is not what would make the two distinct; self-consciousness or the lack of it would distinguish the automata from persons. "Visual perception" by a motion detector is unlike visual perception by a person just because of the difference in awareness of perception, i.e., self-consciousness. A smoke detector might "smell" certain chemicals, but it does not process odors the way a person does. In my view, the only conceivable p-zombie would be a machine which perceives but has no awareness of perceiving, i.e., no self-consciousness. Such machines are essentially distinct from conscious persons.

For what it's worth, I side with Dennett and those who think that the concept of the p-zombie is a logical absurdity. If the "zombie" exhibits all the symptoms of consciousness, then the "zombie" is not a zombie; for to exhibit all the symptoms of consciousness is to have consciousness, which the zombie is denied by definition.

Anyway, this reminds me of a story by Raymond Smullyan, the great logician and paradoxer. A man wants to commit suicide but does not want to cause his family any grief. He finds out about an elixir he can take which will kill him, i.e., separate his soul from his body, but leave his body intact to wake up, go to work, play with the kids, keep the wife satisfied and bring home the bacon. But before he takes the elixir, a well-intentioned friend sneaks in during the night and injects his suicidal friend with the stuff, thereby killing him, i.e., releasing his soul. The man wakes up and doesn't know he's dead (i.e., that he has no soul), so he takes the elixir. He can't kill himself, since he's already dead. But he thinks he can kill himself and become a p-zombie. However, he is already a p-zombie. Question: if the p-zombie can't tell the difference between a real person and a p-zombie, why would we think that we real persons could tell the difference? In fact, since the conception of the "soul" makes absolutely no difference in either the nature of a person or a p-zombie, the concept of the "soul" is superfluous. If persons are indistinguishable from p-zombies then they are not two distinct concepts, but one concept manipulated by language to mislead us into thinking there are two distinct concepts here.

As to the ethical questions regarding how we should treat androids which are behaviorally indistinguishable from natural persons, I think that if we stipulate that such creatures are persons with rights, then they will be persons; otherwise, they will not be persons. The concept of a person is not a matter of discovery, but of stipulation. I would argue, also, that the same is true of the concept of "soul." But it is not true of the concept of "consciousness": anyone who is conscious should be able to tell the difference between a dead body and a living person. Dead bodies which act like persons, and bodiless souls which perceive like conscious persons, exist only in the movies or in the minds of certain philosophers and other fantasy writers.

Personally I don't believe in souls, or should I say, I think the concept of "souls" obscures the mystery by giving it a name as though we know what we are talking about.

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In the byzantine rite of the first Kathisma, the first 8 psalms are said to follow the ascent from Malkuth to Binah.

Read more... )

for future reference, or in other words I have no idea what use this could be. But I compiled it so I'm saving it :p

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