Saturday, January 16, 2021

On Consciousness

I found the following link on Complexity Theory particularly interesting and enlightening :

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=71n4GSM1jhw&list=PLsJWgOB5mIMDRt8-DBLLVfh-XeKs2YAcg

One of the statements in the series of lectures is that Consciousness is an emergent property of complexity which, in our case, I take to be the biological complexity of our brains.

In spite of our inability to agree on a definition of consciousness; not to mention our lack of trust in others' answers, it still seems that we know that we are individually conscious.  We may suspect that others are also conscious given that we can ask them whether they are but what we don't know is whether we experience this as an individual or if we are all partaking in a collective consciousness (dualism) which exists independently of our physical form. Furthermore when looking at other species we don't have the luxury of being able to ask them so we try to infer from their behavior whether they are conscious or not.

Thinking of consciousness as being an emergent property of complexity takes it one step away from us as individuals and enables us to think in terms of different species having different levels of consciousness.  So consciousness may not be the binary question that I have thought it to be and by, theoretically at least, being able to measure the biological complexity of a brain, we may be able to determine how conscious a particular species is when full grown.

Not only do we have this problem inter-species but even within a species; as the organism develops from inception to adult at which point does the organism become conscious.  Maybe it is something like a gradual development from not having consciousness at all at inception to knowing that one is conscious when an adult.  Could this be different for different species where some species never attain the complexity required to be conscious whereas others are dimly conscious while others, ourselves included, attain self-awareness that we are conscious?

Does emergence hint at some kind of dualism in that, although dependent on the physical, consciousness exists in a sense independent of the physical?  I would argue that, no, the concept of emergence shows that it is possible for properties that are immaterial to arise from the material and this makes the rationale for dualism difficult to support.

Lastly, if consciousness is an emergent property of complexity then in the world of AI it would seem that it would be plausible for something inorganic to attain consciousness.  Not only would it be conscious in a way that is fundamentally different to us, we would be able to determine the level of consciousness beyond simply having to ask the AI entity whether it is conscious or not and simply having to believe the answer.

Saturday, January 02, 2021

Propositional Relationships

I have been doing some thinking about how we know and what we know especially given my last post regarding "Roland's Flock" and the ongoing debate about "Show me the evidence" in various groups I am in.

Firstly, I would like to view the belief/knowledge divide as a relationship that individuals have with a proposition rather than a property of the proposition itself. Further I would also like to define knowledge as "Justified belief" just so that it can be distinguished from belief without getting into what counts as justification and finally, I would also like to leave the True/False debate alone for a little bit because I think that it is property of the proposition rather then part of the relationship that an individual has with that proposition.

Taking the following statements representing peoples' positions on a proposition which in this case is "Odin exists" : 

  • Person A has a belief that "Odin exists"
  • Person B has no belief that "Odin exists"
  • Person C has knowledge that "Odin exists"
  • Person D has no knowledge that "Odin exists"

Justification, to my mind, may take many forms. It may be evidence, revelation, intuition, reason, logic or anything else that may be regarded as persuasive to the individual noting that what may be persuasive to one individual may not be to another.

Working through some use cases involving the relationship of an individual to a proposition : 

  • Some justification of a proposition is presented to an individual and the individual, after assessing the justification, decides that, for her, the justification is not persuasive so her relationship to the proposition can be categorized as D above. Having decided that it isn't persuasive there is a second step that she undertakes which is to decide whether in the absence of persuasive justification she is going to take the position of person A or that of person B above as her position relative to the proposition. She may choose A in which case she has a belief in the proposition even while acknowledging that the justification that she has isn't persuasive, even to her. Alternatively she may choose to take Person B's position and since the justification available has been found unpersuasive, she simply has no belief in the proposition. 
  • Some justification of a proposition is presented to an individual and the individual, after assessing the justification, decides that, for her, the justification is persuasive so her relationship to the proposition can be categorized as C above. Having decided that it is persuasive there is no second step; by finding the justification persuasive she automatically takes on the stance of Person A in addition to keeping the stance of Person C given that knowledge is defined as "Justified belief".
  • A proposition is presented to an individual without any justification of that proposition. In this case, since there is no justification (evidence, revelation, intuition, reason, logic or anything else), she may choose from Person A's or Person B's position and given the absence of any justification it is simply a choice that she makes as an individual.

Working through some positions and their relationships.

  • Position A is mutually exclusive with Position B; one can't hold both A & B at the same time.
  • Position C is mutually exclusive with Position D; one can't hold both C & D at the same time.
  • Position A may be held at the same time as Position C, Position D or neither Position C nor D.
  • Position B may be held at the same time as Position D or without Position D.
  • Position C implies holding Position A as well.
  • Position D implies holding either Position A or Position B.

When is it valid to challenge anothers' perspective : 

  • Asking an individual holding Position A to justify their belief only makes sense if the individual holds Position C as well. If the individual doesn't hold Position C but holds either Position D or neither Position C nor Position D, the question seems a little moot.
  • Asking an individual holding Position B to justify their no belief only makes sense if the individual holds Position D as well. If the individual doesn't hold Position D as well, the question seems a little moot.
  • Asking an individual holding Position C to justify their belief is a reasonable question to ask.
  • Asking an individual holding Position D to justify their no belief is a reasonable question to ask.

Some might point out that my definition of knowledge as "Justified belief" reduces knowledge to personal interpretation i.e. that knowledge is relative to the person holding that knowledge.  This is indeed the case but I draw a distinction between knowledge as held by an individual with a single perspective and Knowledge as seen from an infinity of perspectives.  Knowledge (absolute) with respect to a proposition can be identical to knowledge (personal) but because an infinity of perspectives isn't available to us; we have no way of knowing if one's own knowledge is in reality Knowledge.  This leads directly to the seemingly obvious position that knowledge (personal) can be incorrect.

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Roland's Razor

In an online discussion group we stumbled on something that just seems like common sense but which none of us have come across anywhere else and which has come to be dubbed "Roland's Razor" by Paul.  I think he just liked the alliteration but thanks anyway.

If Proponenta uses an argument to come to Conclusiona and Proponentb uses the same argument to come to Conclusionb and Conclusiona and Conclusionb are incompatible or mutually exclusive the the argument itself is not able to be used to distinguish between Conclusionsa and Conclusionb. It is not that the argument is invalid, it can be a perfectly valid argument, but if it can be used to come to mutually incompatible conclusions then the argument can't be used to distinguish between the conclusions.

By way of example, suppose that a party is trying to decide between goda and godb both of whom make the claim that they are the one and only god. So Proponanta makes the argument that "She prayed for someone to be healed, and she was healed therefore goda exists" while Proponantb makes the argument that "She prayed for someone to be healed, and she was healed therefore godb exists". For the party trying to decide between goda and godb the argument "She prayed for someone to be healed and she was healed" can't be used to decide between goda and godb.

Saturday, December 26, 2020

Roland's Flock

Lately, I have been coming across references to Gettier and his article "Is Justified True Belief Knowledge?" and what this has to say about a proposition being absolutely true.  The example below isn't the one's involving Smith and Jones in Gettiers article but, I think, it illustrates the same point.

An Observera views a paddock and sees a sheep and makes a statement to the effect that "There is a sheep in the paddock" given the evidence that she is able to see that there is a sheep in the paddock. Unbeknownst to her what she is looking at is a target that looks like a sheep but there happens to really be a sheep in the paddock, just not where she is looking. In this case, she has expressed a justified, evidence courtesy of sight, true i.e. there really is a sheep in the paddock, belief. She is not wrong in her statement but the reasons she uses to justify the statement are divorced from the truth of the statement.

For me, this calls into question how we can use evidence, sight in this case, to make pronouncements on what is true or not; are we left in a quandary where we can't know anything because we have to distrust any evidence provided as a reason for justified belief?

I would like to extend the example a little at a time:

Another Observerb views the same paddock and also sees a sheep and makes a statement to the effect that "There is a sheep in the paddock" given the evidence that she is able to see that there is a sheep in the paddock. Unbeknownst to her what she is looking at is a wolf in sheep's clothing but there happens to really be a sheep in the paddock, just not where she is looking. In this case, she has expressed a justified, evidence courtesy of sight, true i.e there really is a sheep in the paddock, belief. She is also not wrong in her statement but the reasons she uses to justify the statement are again divorced from the truth of the statement.

And so on but no matter how much evidence piles up from different observers and different perspectives the justification of the statement that "There is a sheep in the paddock" still doesn't lead to proof that there actually is a sheep in the paddock as it is all co-incidentally true rather than causally true.

There is an implied third observer that exists in the examples above which is the Observern that is making the statement "There really is a sheep in the paddock but not where the other Observers are looking". So how do we know that the third Observern themselves aren't mistaken and, in reality, there may or may not even be a sheep in the paddock.

Now we have called into question not only evidence as a means of determining if something is true but whether it is even possible to know if something is true in an absolute sense.

My take on this is that we have no way of determining what is absolutely true because it seems to me that in order to do so one would need to view the paddock from all possible perspectives and through the lens of all possible evidence(s) and that, as humans, I don't think is possible. Perspectives and evidence that are impossible at the current time to access could very well become possible in the future but we are only able to work with what is currently possible and available to us at the moment.

As uncomfortable as that may make us I don't think that all is lost and that the example points a way to, while not being certain, at least being confident, that there is or is not a sheep in the paddock by combining our perspectives and evidences so that we can state with confidence that "There is a sheep in the paddock" even though we can't be absolutely certain that there is one there.

As new evidence or perspectives become available to us we can revisit the question and potentially, the answer may change. So in the example Observera,b,n get together and walk around to their respective perspectives to see how things look. When gathered at Observera's perspective the target will look like a sheep, the actual sheep looks like a sheep but the wolf in sheep's clothing becomes clear for what it is. When gathered at Observerb's perspective the wolf will look like a sheep, the actual sheep looks like a sheep but the target becomes clear for what it is. Finally, when gathered at Observern's perspective the sheep looks like a sheep but the target and the wolf in sheep's clothing are clear for what they are.

In the example, Observern's perspective isn't in some way a privileged perspective but it is the one that what is observed remains a sheep from both Observera's, Observerb's and Observern's perspectives but the introduction of Observerc's perspective could potentially show them to all be wrong but not that there really is a sheep in the paddock! 

So as counter-intuitive as it feels, it seems that we are able to "know an absolute truth" i.e. "There is a sheep in the paddock" but unable to know whether "There is a sheep in the paddock" is an absolute truth or not. 

Comments 

 A friend pointed out that "It seems to me that you're arguing for corroboration as a form of validating what we take to be true" which isn't quite what I was intending but I think I need to explore the point a little bit.

On the "Yes" side of corroboration as a form of validation I was pointing out that having Observera, Observerb leave behind their perspectives to take on Observern's does strengthen Observern's claim that there is a sheep in the paddock and that it can be a justified belief albeit not a proven belief.

On the "No" side, the competition is between perspectives and not about the number of people sharing the same perspective but, that being said, perspectives are only held by people so, in the end, numbers do seem to count by virtue of holding a particular perspective and not another. Numbers are useful in determining the dominant or consensus perspective but not when it comes to determining which perspective, if any, is absolutely true.

Come to think about it, I think that we mostly base our beliefs on consensus perspectives simply because it is not possible for us to each be a cosmologist, a philosopher, a biologist, a mathematician, a physicist etc, etc so we use a heuristic of consensus on a perspective without going any deeper into the topic.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Kalahari Rest Camp to home.

Breakfast only started being served at 07:00 so we couldn't start at the crack of dawn and we had what was probably the best breakfast that we've had on this trip.  And best of all, really good strong coffee.

The trip itself was rather uneventful other than seeing three cows, one donkey and a cerval cat all killed by traffic and we couldn't have missed all of them on the way up so these must have been killed in the last couple of weeks.  After a couple of hours I started feeling tired so Caron drove from Jwareng to the border while I had a nap.

We stopped in at Kalahari Kofi again for some more really good coffee and pancakes and marvelled how we missed the main road on our way up and effectively took a detour through Lobatse before joining up with the main road again.

The border was a breeze and by about 13:00 we were back in South Africa and decided that we would head for home instead of staying in Zeerust like we had planned.

We messaged Sam to say that we were arriving a day early but he only got the message later because he was asleep by which point we were busy buying pizza for supper and were only 20 minutes away.  Too late to clean the house up properly so, for the first time, we arrived home to a not-so-clean house.

True to form when we arrived home, something isn't working.  Normally it is the internet connection but, for a change, it was the DSTV so we didn't get to see the rest fo the Springboks vs Argentina which we had started to watch while we were waiting for the pizza.

We didn't bother to unpack leaving that task for tomorrow but just had a long hot shower and enjoyed having our own bed and pillows.

End of another sojourn into africa.  Starting to look forward to the next one already ... possibly up the western edge of Okavango, into the Caprivi strip, Zambia and then back into Botswana at Kasane and then home.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Spitzkoppe to Kalahari Rest, Kang in Botswana.

We woke up at 05:45 to the pitter patter of raindrops on the tent, surely it couldn't be but it was ... rain in the desert. Fortunately, for us and obviously not so fortunate for the plants and animals, the rain didn't last long and after a quick cup of coffee we were on the road at 06:50.

While taking the tent down we were hit by a really strong gust of wind which flattened the tent even with all the guy ropes still attached.  The gust broke at least two of the sections of the tent poles so now I need to fix the poles as well as the front zips which no longer work so well and one of them not really at all.

The moutains were still under shadow as we left and I was hoping that, now we were departing, my luck from the previous two days would change and that that I could get some decent photographs.  It was not to be and I departed without any really good photographs of Spitzkoppe.

We knew that today was going to be a long day in the car and we were not disappointed.  From Spitzkoppe to Okahandja was pretty quick but from Okahandja to past Windhoek took forever because of the roadworks as well as just the sheer amount of traffic and it was about 13:00 before we finally got out of Windhoek only to find that we couldn't find anywhere to get something to eat.

As it happens the road ran past the international airport so we ducked in there to have a toasted sarmie and coffee which wasn't half bad actually.

From then on it was a straight drive to the border which we arrived at just after an overland group of 25 people and, thankfully, they were a little disorganised and we managed to squeak in at the front of the queue.  This didn't stop one of the people pushing in front of us which led to Caron chastising him and his wife obviously felt bad because she went right to the back of the queue.  As we were leaving, passports stamped, another overlander arrived so now there was a 50 strong queue that we just avoided.

Botswana is quite different to Namibia and 'feels' a lot poorer.  I am not sure that it really is but the level of infrastructure in Namibia is a big step up on what there is in Botswana but for some reason, I prefer Botswana.  I'm not really sure why but I definitely felt a little like I had arrived home which is pretty wierd because I have no connection whatsoever with Botswana.

Overlanding in Botswana and Africa in general one has to be quite vigilant for goats, cows, warthogs, people and ostriches because the locals don't teach them road safety when they are young.  We had a near miss with a juvenile desert chicken who tried to cross the road but then shied away and we missed him by inches.  Fortunately I had already slowed down a lot but trying to 'read' the intentions of wild animals is a hit and miss affair if you will pardon the pun and if there is a group that is on both sides of the road, be very cautious.

Night fell and we still had about an hour to go and the old adage about driving after nightfall in africa which is "don't do it" is entirely appropriate.  It is just about impossible to see the cows sometimes.  Sometimes the light picks up an eye but mostly one doesn't see them until it would be too late if they walked onto the road.  I was torn between the desire to go as fast as possible to minimise the amount of time spent driving at night and driving as slowly as possible to enable one to see the danger and avoid it.  There is no right or wrong here just more or less risk and I ended up driving at 80km/hr which I felt gave me a reasonable chance if something was to walk onto the road.

We arrived in Kalahari Rest near Kang at 19:45 after 12 hours of driving and I was feeling quite tired.  Our requirements were, did they have a room, could we pay by card and did they have a restaurant that was open.  They answered in the affirmative to all three which was a relief.  Murphy was not however done with us for the day.

Since the lodge runs off solar power they use donkey boilers to create hot water and because we had arrived so late the boilers were all cold so while we went off to the restaurant before it closed and'someone' was tasked to start the boiler up.
When we arrived back at the chalet there was no rosy glow under the boiler so I went back to the reception to ask what had happened and almost got very lost on the way.  It is truly confusing trying to drive in the bush at night when there are no landmarks and lots of tracks.  I was told that the infamous 'someone' was there now so I drove back to check and sure enough there was nobody in sight so I drove back, sense of humour starting to fail, to reception only to be told that he was now there.  This time the the duty officer came with me and when we arrived at the, still dark, boiler he shouted the name of the 'someone' who replied from about 50m away where he was chopping wood in the pitch dark.  Having now established that there genuinely was someone attending to the boiler the duty officer departed and it turned out that 'someone' didn't have firelighters so I found some in the back of the car and 30 minutes later we had hot water.  Not a lot of it because the pressure was really low but it was at least hot and we could wash some of the day away before collapsing into bed.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

The last real day of holiday.

Today was more or less the same as yesterday, only less.  Put my head out of the tent at 06:00 to find that it was cloudy again so I went back to sleep.

The zips on our tent have given up so we have to close them really carefully and hope that there isn't a really big wind.  I am not sure where we can get them fixed but we have to do it, these zips are really broken.

We hid under awning again for most of the day and I am really happy with how the awning is turning out. It isn't as difficult to erect as I thought it would be and because it is 100% shade cloth doubled over it give really deep shade.  I spent most of the time reading the "Language instinct" and finding it really heavy going but I soldier on.

We went for another drive on the same route as yesterday only in the opposite direction and it was all going very well until the sun set behind a cloudbank depriving me of the the colourful sunset on the reddish granite of Spitzkop.  Again we saw some interesting birds, today it was a Dusky sunbird, a Rock Kestrel and a Rosy faced Lovebird.


So that it is pretty much it, back at camp we started packing up what we could and found the mouse had come of visit again.