Category: philosophy of mind

The Argument From the Impossibility of Singular Consciousness

By R.N. Carmona

The following argument is based on an obvious truth and also on a theistic assumption. The obvious truth comes from John Mbiti who in his African Religions and Philosophy (1975) said: “I am because we are, and since we are, therefore I am.” This isn’t the Cartesian view many people operate from: “I think, therefore I am.” Consciousness, in other words, isn’t born in and doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It isn’t, as it were, a location on a map that can be identified in isolation of other locations; it is like a location that’s identified only in its relation to other locations. I know where I find myself only because I know where all other minds in my vicinity are. Even deeper than that is the unsettling fact that my entire personality isn’t a melody, but rather a cacophony; I am who I am because the people in my lives are who they are and they are who they are because of the influence of others and the circumstances they’ve faced, and so on and so forth. As Birhane explains:

We need others in order to evaluate our own existence and construct a coherent self-image. Think of that luminous moment when a poet captures something you’d felt but had never articulated; or when you’d struggled to summarise your thoughts, but they crystallised in conversation with a friend. Bakhtin believed that it was only through an encounter with another person that you could come to appreciate your own unique perspective and see yourself as a whole entity. By ‘looking through the screen of the other’s soul,’ he wrote, ‘I vivify my exterior.’ Selfhood and knowledge are evolving and dynamic; the self is never finished – it is an open book.

Most people, given the Cartesian view, look at the self through the lens of what Dennett calls the Cartesian theater. There is, to our minds, a continuity between the self when we are children and the self now as adults. We point to attributes, even if only loosely related: our temperament, our competitive nature, the fact that we’re friendly or not, and so on. Few of us consider the circumstances and the people who played a role in molding these seeming consistencies. Where many of us see a straight continuous line, others see points on a graph, and yet, even if there’s virtual consistency in one’s competitive edge, for instance, there are milieus to consider, from the school(s) one attended, to one’s upbringing, to the media one was exposed to. The self is indeed an open and ever-changing book. The Cartesian theater, like the Cartesian self, is a convenient illusion; there is no self without other selves.

The Cartesian view is problematic on its own. “I think, therefore I am” was Descartes’ conclusion, but one can imagine saying to Descartes: “okay, but what do you think about? What is the content of your thoughts?” So even on the Cartesian view, Mbiti’s truth is found. It is, in fact, a tacit admission contained in Descartes’ view because in order to think one must be thinking about something or someone. Some thoughts are elaborate and involve representations of places one is familiar with whether it be one’s living room or local grocery store. Even the content of Descartes’ thoughts acknowledged other people and things, so Descartes didn’t conclude “I think [full stop], therefore I am.” In truth, it was more like “I think [about x things and y people represented in z places], therefore I am.” He identified himself only through other selves.

The theistic assumption is the idea that the mind of god(s) is like ours. On Judaism and Christianity, we were fashioned in his image. This doesn’t apply so much to our physical bodies, but more so to our minds because on the theistic assumption, the mind proceeds from an immaterial, spiritual source rather than from a physical source like our brains or the combination of our brains and nervous systems.

On the assumption that god’s mind is like ours and given the truth expressed by Mbiti, it is impossible for a singular consciousness to have existed on its own in eternity past. In other words, before god created angels, humans, and animals, there was some point in eternity past in when he was the only mind that existed. Yet if his mind is like ours, then there was never a point in where he existed on his own. The only recourse for the monotheist is therefore, polytheism because the implication is that at least one other mind must have existed along with god’s in eternity past.

Muslims and Jews, if Mbiti’s truth is accepted, will have no choice but to concede. Some Christians, on the other hand, will think they find recourse in the idea of the Trinity. Some might try to qualify the notion that the minds of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinct from one another. The obvious issue with that idea is that that would undermine the unity their god is said to have. In fact, that has been at the core of much philosophical dispute since the Muslim golden age. As Tuggy explains:

Muslim philosopher Abu Yusef al-Kindi (ca. 800–70) understood the doctrine to assert that there are three divine persons, three individuals, each composed of the divine essence together with its own distinctive characteristic. But whatever is composed is caused, and whatever is caused is not eternal. So the doctrine, he holds, absurdly claims that each of the persons isn’t eternal, and since they’re all divine, each is eternal.

Whether or not these contentions hold is still a matter of dispute and is not our present focus. The Trinity on its own wouldn’t be sufficient because it would require a milieu to exist within. Given this, then there would be other things that also existed in eternity past. Plato’s Forms might be those sorts of things because god’s mind, being like ours, would require a number of things to experience and to assist with maintaining god’s self, per se. Mbiti’s truth applies to cognitive and psychological aspects about humans and other animals even, especially mammals. It also applies, more broadly, to consciousness and as such, the Problem of Other Minds as it is so-called is only a problem if one were to assume that the Cartesian view is the case; other minds and other things are the reasons a self forms and can come to identify itself as distinct. Cognitive and psychological aspects about us don’t exist in a vacuum, but neither does consciousness. The same, on the assumption that god’s mind is like ours, applies to god’s mind.

Ultimately, a singular consciousness could not have existed in eternity past absent other consciousnesses and things. Unless one continues to obstinately assume that Descartes’ “I think, therefore I am” is true over and above Mibti’s “I am because we are, and since we are, therefore I am,” there’s no recourse outside of polytheism. Either there were two or more gods that existed in eternity past or there are no gods. What should be clear from what’s been outlined here is that a singular consciousness that once existed in a vacuum at some point in eternity past, i.e., the monotheistic conception of god, is impossible.

Musings on the Mind of God

By R.N. Carmona

Far above the claim that Christians have the truth, there’s one claim that has been overlooked by many non-believers: the claim that Christians understand the will and thoughts of an immaterial consciousness. This arrogant claim got me thinking quite a bit about our understanding of human consciousness and the consciousnesses of other organisms. As in other cases, a Christian may be cocksure about their pet theory, Cartesian dualism. They might be quite convinced of their theory of consciousness. Less common is the atheist who thinks they have consciousness figured out. Despite these haughty pretenses, none of these people understand consciousness; nor have they ironed out a viable theory of consciousness.

One well-known theory of where the idea of gods came from posits that humans simply created an ideal and then began to believe that the ideal exists. In other words, humans can be loving, good, strong, and knowledgeable, so given that, there must be a being who’s like us and yet perfect in every respect in which we are not. This they called god. When one considers a cross cultural approach, taking, for instance, Greek and Roman demigods into account, the theory holds an ocean of water. This is perhaps the reason why monotheists, Christians most specifically, think they can comprehend god’s thoughts and will.

Why must an immaterial mind resemble our demonstrably material mind? How can you understand a supposedly infinite consciousness if you can’t even comprehend your own finite consciousness? You also can’t understand the finite consciousnesses of other living things. The fact is that if such an immaterial mind existed, it would be beyond comprehension and certainly not as capricious, malicious, jealous, vindictive, and bloodthirsty as the Judeo-Christian or Islamic gods.

On top of that, the idea of an all-loving being is questionable because love is literally reducible to chemical reactions in the human brain. As Shermer explains:

I find it deeply interesting to know that when I fall in love with someone my initial lustful feelings are enhanced by dopamine, a neurohormone produced by the hypothalamus that triggers the release of testosterone, the hormone that drives sexual desire, and that my deeper feelings of attachment are reinforced by oxytocin, a hormone synthesized in the hypothalamus and secreted into the blood by the pituitary. Further, it is instructive to know that such hormone-induced neural pathways are exclusive to monogamous pairbonded species as an evolutionary adaptation for the long-term care of helpless infants. We fall in love because our children need us! Does this in any way lessen the qualitative experience of falling in love and doting on one’s children? Of course not, any more than unweaving a rainbow into its constituent parts reduces the aesthetic appreciation of the rainbow.

Shermer, Michael. The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies–How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths. New York: Times, 2011. 186. Print.

This isn’t to undermine the experience of love. Rather, this is to highlight the fact that what we call love is very specific to our neuroanatomy–a neuroanatomy that differs from even our closest cousins. I would argue that the jury is still out on whether chimps and gorillas feel or conceptualize anything like love, but one thing’s for certain, an immaterial mind may not even be capable of love or empathy, especially since the latter is dependent on social bonding and care of kin.

All this taken together and it becomes even clearer that humans created an ideal and started to believe that such an ideal must exist. Yet if there were such a thing as a immaterial mind that created the universe as we know it, it would be nothing at all like human beings. There’s more philosophical evidence to consider.

Consider the assertion that god is omniscient. In order for god to be omniscient, he would have to be able to calmly enter the waters of David Chalmer’s important question: what is it like to be a bat? In addition, he’d have to know what it’s like to be a velociraptor, a neanderthal, a wooly mammoth, a dolphin, and a dog. He’d have to be able to fully grasp the somatosensory, auditory, and olfactory experiences of every living being. If you’re persuaded by panpsychism, then god would have to understand what it’s like to be a chair or a blender. So clearly this is an incomprehensible consciousness far exceeding our own and there’s no way we were created in his image.

The fact is that many philosophers have strived and are striving to understand human consciousness; some have tried and are attempting to understand non-human consciousness. We admittedly do not fully understand our own consciousness or the consciousnesses of any other organisms and yet, billions of people claim to be privy to the thoughts and desires of an immaterial consciousness. It is this claim that should drive people away from belief. The claim is highly dubious and certainly wrong. If there were such a thing as immaterial minds, we wouldn’t be able to comprehend them and god being such a mind, is incomprehensible and the so-called revelations rendered to us thus far are woefully inadequate, for it is clear to anyone lacking the deep-seated need to believe that such a mind cannot be like ours, capable of both our feats and our faults.

Print is Now Live on Amazon.com!

Book is now available for purchase here! Here are the Table of Contents to whet the appetite:

Introduction

Chapter 1: Philosophical Approaches to Atheism

Chapter 2: Refuting the Kalam Cosmological Argument

Chapter 3: The Moral Argument Refuted

Chapter 4: Refuting Plantinga’s Victorious Ontological Argument

Chapter 5: On Qualia and A Refutation of the Argument from Consciousness

Chapter 6: Refuting the Fine-Tuning Argument

Chapter 7: The Failures of Aquinas’ Five Ways

Chapter 8: Transcendental Arguments and Presuppositionalism Refuted

Chapter 9: The Argument from Assailability

Chapter 10: The Arguments from History and The Multiplicity of Religions

Chapter 11: The Argument from Cosmology

Chapter 12: On the Leibnizian Cosmological Argument

Conclusion

I hope you guys enjoy!

The Moral Algorithm

By R.N. Carmona

There are two ways in which morality can be viewed as an algorithm. One way is individualistic, which will be briefly discussed. The other way is pluralistic. Prior to moving forward, it will be useful to define what an algorithm is. It is a set of rules that defines a series of operations such that each rule is definite and effective and such that the series ends in a finite span of time.1 From an individualistic view, some knowledge of the philosophy of mind is necessary–in particular, a knowledge of Computational Theory of Mind (CTM).

Hilary Putman was the first to propose CTM–which is the view that likens the mind to a computer.2 Since its inception, CTM has been developed further. A notable contribution, for example, is Guilio Tononi’s Integrated Information Theory of Consciousness.3 If one assumes that CTM is correct, then the mind is computational. If the mind is computational, there might exist a number of algorithms within the mind. The moral algorithm would be among these algorithms. An interesting feature of morality is that the moral agent doesn’t think about moral action. The algorithm develops along with an individual’s theory of mind and as it develops, it learns to put out the correct solutions with increasing accuracy. This is because the algorithm starts off at an initial state in where it’s first input is received. This roughly correlates with parents teaching children right from wrong and instilling their cultural values into them. Harold Stone stated that “for people to follow the rules of an algorithm, the rules must be formulated so that they can be followed in a robot-like manner, that is, without the need for thought.”4 Therefore, an individualistic moral algorithm would be one built for automated reasoning, which roughly aligns with how humans reason when concerning morality. Far from the careful exercise of deduction or mathematical abduction, moral behavior does appear automated. It appears intuitive if not impulsive. Whether or not the mind aligns with CTM Is an open question. Assuming that’s the case, whether or not morality is an algorithm in the mind is another open question. Therefore, it is better to approach the idea of a moral algorithm from a pluralistic angle.

Algorithms, for one, are given instructions–an initial input. If applied to an individual, then this works just as well for a group. Without intending to endorse normative relativism5, it is interesting that cultures differ from one another in their moral values. Though they differ, however, a moral algorithm, assuming it is given sufficient distribution (D), it will eventually sift out moral values that aren’t conducive to the good of the individual or the group. With that said, if the moral algorithm is viewed as an instance of crowdsourcing, as pluralistic, then it will be self-improving. A good example of a self-improving algorithm is the one belonging to Google’s search engine.6 An advantage of crowdsourcing is that it rules out the idiosyncrasies of certain individuals and groups.7 Marcus, a character in Rebecca Goldstein’s Plato at the Googleplex: Why Philosophy Won’t Go Away, states the following:

There’s some ideal algorithm for working it out, for assigning weights to different opinions. Maybe we should give more weight to people who have lived lives that they find gratifying and that others find admirable. And, of course, for this to work the crowd has to be huge; it has to contain all these disparate vantage points, everybody who’s starting from their own chained-up position in the cave [Plato’s cave analogy8]. It has to contain, in principle, everybody. I mean, if you’re including just men, or just landowners, or just people above a certain IQ, then the results aren’t going to be robust.9

The crowd this algorithm can draw from consists of over seven billion individuals and thousands of groups–cultural, religious, ethnic, etc. In theory, the algorithm has significant D stemming from billions of individual agents and thousands of groups. Furthermore, it won’t face the issue of unknown since the contents of morality are generally understood. That is to say that even a run-of-the-mill psychopath understands right from wrong though he chooses not to adhere to moral norms. Given that it has substantial D, it’s running time has already been optimized. The next step is machine learning nature, which is pivotal to self-improvement.10 Also, the algorithm can use extraneous information to improve performance. Thus, the moral algorithm can use information gathered from a group like the Nazis to improve performance. This would be a perfect example of unacceptable behavior. Unlike Goldstein’s EASE (Ethical Answers Search Engine), which like the individualistic moral algorithm, is one built for automated reasoning, the pluralistic moral algorithm would be one built for data processing. Like Google’s search engine, it will use data to self-improve.

The notion of a pluralistic moral algorithm and consequently, an individualistic moral algorithm can be related to procedural realism. Procedural realism states that “there are answers to moral questions because there are correct procedures for arriving at them.”11 Korsgaard adds that because people are rational agents, they have an ideal person they want to become and they thus guide their actions accordingly. What’s most important on her view is that moral agents self-legislate.12 Self-legislation aligns perfectly with the notion of both an individualistic and a pluralistic moral algorithm. It also aligns perfectly with Kant’s autonomy formulation of his categorical imperative which states that one should act in such a way that one’s will can regard itself at the same time as making universal laws through its maxims.13 Arguably, something much simpler than Kant’s formulation can be at play when speaking of autonomy and self-legislation. However, Kant’s formulation of the Kingdom of Ends takes us from individualistic to pluralistic because the formulation states that one should act as if one were through one’s maxims a law-making member of a kingdom of ends.14 Morality, as a self-correcting algorithm, will, like Goldstein stated, cancel out the peculiar views some individuals hold. Thus, an agent can’t will an immoral law–let alone an immoral universal law. Self-governance, like knowledge, would be subsumed by crowdsourcing–thus becoming the self-government of the people rather than just this or that individual. This is Kant’s Kingdom of Ends.

Ultimately, though morality can be considered an individualistic algorithm, it is best to view it as a pluralistic algorithm. In other words, it isn’t agent-specific but rather species-specific. Compelling arguments can be made defending an individualistic moral algorithm, especially in light of CMT. However, even if CMT isn’t the case, given how people have crowdsourced knowledge and given that humanity can be viewed as something akin to a computer network that allows for the sharing of data among individuals, a pluralistic moral algorithm could be the case even if an individualistic moral algorithm is not. That is to say that a pluralistic moral algorithm doesn’t require an individualistic algorithm to emerge. A pluralistic moral algorithm can easily explain moral universals; furthermore, it can explain the common discomfort one feels when being exposed to moral values that differ drastically from one’s own. In other words, disapproval and approval can be explained from the lens of a pluralistic moral algorithm. From that, it need not follow that there is a pluralistic moral algorithm, which processes moral data so to speak. Nevertheless, morality does appear to have an inherent feature of self-improvement, which could arise from agent-specific autonomy, individual self-legislation, and the self-legislation of the general population. This idea can also transfer to law, which also features self-improvement (e.g. Constitutional amendments).

Works Cited

1 Harold S. Stone. Introduction to Computer Organization and Data Structures, 1972, McGraw-Hill, New York. Cf in particular the first chapter titled: Algorithms, Turing Machines, and Programs.

“The Computational Theory of Mind.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 1 Jul 2003

3 Tononi Guilio. “Integrated Information Theory of Consciousness: An Updated Account.” Archives Italiennes de Biologie, 150: 290-326, 2012 

4 Ibid. [1]

5 Pecorino Philip. “Chapter 8 Ethics: Normative Ethical Relativism.” Queensborough Community College. 2000

6 Goldstein, Rebecca. Plato at the Googleplex: Why Philosophy won’t Go Away, p.105. New York: Pantheon Books, 2014. Print.

7 Ibid. [6] (p.102)

8 Cohen, Marc. “The Allegory of the Cave.” University of Washington. 2006

9 Ibid. [6]

10 Ailon Nir, et. al. “Self-Improving Algorithms.” SIAM Journal on Computing (SICOMP), 40(2),pp. 350-375. 2011

11 Korsgaard, Christine M., and Onora Neill.The Sources of Normativity, p.36-37. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996. Print.

12 Ibid. [11]

13 Pecorino Philip. “Chapter 8 Ethics: The Categorical Imperative.” Queensborough Community College. 2000

14 Ibid. [13]