Category Archives: Philosophy of Mind

Notes on Aristotle’s “On the Soul”.

Book I

Ch. 1 (402.0)

What is the “Soul”?

  • By genus
    • nature – Is it physical , illusory, or supernatural?
    • form – is the soul a form?
    • matter – is it material?
  • By category
    • substance – Is it a separately existing being?
    • quality – Is it a property of a body?
    • quantity – Are there many souls, or is there ultimately just one “Oversoul”?
    • Is it an “affection” of the body? (Epiphenomenalism)
    • etc.
  • By potentiality/actuality (See Metaphysics Book IX)
  • Divisible or not?
    • Are souls discrete units, one per organism,
    • Or is it a subtle form of matter  that is fungible or not localized?

Questions for the study of the soul to answer.

  • Are all souls “the same”?
    • If not the same do they differ by species or by genus?
    • Most people tend to study the human soul only.
      • Are all animals a species of “animal soul”?
      • Or are each type of soul different in definition? “horse, dog, man, god”. (402.6-7
    • Are all souls separate of are they parts of one soul? (402.9)
  • The middle path between materialism and dualism.
    • “There is also the problem whether the properties of the soul are all common also to that which has it or whether they are peculiar to the soul itself; for it is necessary to deal with this, but not easy. It appears in most cases that the soul is not affected nor does it act apart from its body, e.g. in being away, being confident, wanting, and perceiving in general; although thinking looks most like being peculiar to the soul. But if this too is a form of imagination or does not exist apart from imagination, it would not be possible for even this to exist apart from the body.” (403.10)
    • For Aristotle, the separation of the soul and body is not like supernaturalistic dualism, but rather more like an abstract “software” for the hardware of the body.
      • For this reason, the Aristotelian “soul” is physically causal.
    • “It seems that all the affections of the soul involve the body – passion, gentleness, fear …for at the same time as these the body is affected in a certain way.  …  If this is so, it is clear that the affection of the soul are principles involving matter. Hence their definitions are such as ‘Being angry is a particular movement of a body of such and such a kind, or a part of potentiality of it, as a result of this thing and for the sake of that.’ And for this reason inquiry concerning the soul either every soul of this kind of soul, is at once the province of the student of nature.” (403d25-28)
    • “But the student of nature and the dialectician would define each of these differently, e.g. what anger is. For the latter would define it as a desire for retaliation or something of the sort, the former as the boiling of the blood and hot stuff around the heart. Of these, the one gives the matter, the other the form and principle.” (403d28ff)
      • Similarly, for the explanation of a computer system:
        • Physicist – As an electrical device
        • System analyst (“Dialectician”)-
          • Serves a function
          • Has form (software’s logical structure).
      • How similar is Aristotle’s soul theory to software?

According to G.M.A Grube (“Aristotle” page 97) the final cause of every organism is reproduction “after their own kind.” (415b26ff)

Question: Is this true? How similar is this to the modern evolutionary concept of adaptation? In the modern view, each organism is optimized to pursue a certain strategy of perpetuating its genotype.

Dialogue on Consciousness – Biology and Qualia

One of the major tenets of nonnaturalism with respect to phenomenal consciousness is the idea that “qualia” do not fit in anywhere in “nature”.  [Definition:”Qualia” is a coinage of recent analytic philosophy of mind. It refers to the purely subjective consciousness. “What it is like to be x.” It is generally agreed that rocks have nothing that it is like to be a rock, but there is something that it is like to be in pain, or to be angry, to be a fish or a human. This “what it is like” is called “qualia”. ]

We only have direct access to our own qualia, and have to infer or have indirect access to the qualia of others. According to many, this means that qualia cannot be interpreted as a physical process nor consequently as a biological process. I assume (but of course do not know) that there are enough people working on reverse engineering the mind such that a physical reduction will make decent progress in the next few years. In this post, I would like to discuss how this is a priori possible by interpreting qualia biologically. This will entail the basic ideas behind a theory that would be a candidate for a naturalistic theory of qualia and subjective consciousness.

First, a little background: according to my view (explained elsewhere in this blog), living creatures as such are essentially functional where ‘function’ is a combination of physical processes and information processing. Since I am not discussing the physical implementation of this function at all, I will ignore what Aristotle calls ‘material causes’ and ‘efficient causes’. Instead I will only deal with ‘formal causes’ and ‘final causes’. And these latter will be spoken of as “information processing” and biological “functions” respectively.  I will show how consciousness has a biological purpose (final cause) and how it serves that purpose ( formal causes ). More specifically, consciousness is a form of “data mining” of a person’s total accessible information, both conscious and subconscious, from the external world, metabolism and health.

Much of this analysis is derived from an online dialogue on this subject. First, there is a challenge from a non-naturalist “Q”, who denies that qualia have any biological function at all and cannot possibly be caused by any physical process.

Q: “Dennett and other naturalists claim that non-naturalism

“goes against literally mounds of scientific evidence that a functioning brain and mind (conscious experience) are one in the same and that consciousness is actually what an active brain state produces when it’s doing what it does. In some way, it’s similar to “roundness” and “rolling” of a ball down a hill. That’s what certain “round” things do when they are on a “slope” in a gravitational field.”

This analogy is ridiculous. “Roundness” and “rolling” are observable features of the physical world. “Consciousness” is not. You could run a million brain scans on me and, in the end, all you’d have is information about physical entities (neurons, electrical charges and so on.) You can’t observe my qualia in this way. Or, to put it another way: I could be a philosophical zombie and the brain scans wouldn’t pick this up. Consciousness is something above and beyond a feature of the physical world.”

A: To illustrate my response, let’s start with an example from settled science: the physics of weather. It seems natural for people to be non-naturalists concerning many natural phenomena, and among the most universal of these is the weather, especially lightning. But some humans are naturalists w.r.t. this and claim that lightning “is” static electricity. Since static electricity seems likely to be supernatural this contradicts the predominant opinion of the human race. While lightning is publicly observable, static electricity is not. Or is it? You cannot see static electricity itself, merely its effects. On the other hand, consciousness cannot be seen directly, only its effects…. unless you’re consciousness itself. But what if you were static electricity? Then would the analogy be exact?

Q: “This is a better analogy, when modified as you suggest. But then are you admitting that consciousness is not illusory or epiphenomenal — it is a force that causes effects, not an effect caused by forces?”

A: The reason I put “is” in quotes is to highlight the relevance of the Question of Being to this topic. What does it mean that one thing “is” another? That lightning “is” static electricity? Or that Earth “is” a planet? Or that humans “are” animals? Obviously being a human is not the same as being an animal, but yet the statement is true is it not? I think that same is true of the statement “humans are conscious”.

A similar problem exists with the statement “Mathematics is a human invention.”, which is either true or not depending on what you mean by “is”. Likewise with “x is consciousness”.

Q: “For the last one, I’d say that the problem resides more in what is meant by “human invention”. Still — good questions. Will give them some thought.” I think that it’s probably “real” it’s just real in a different way from other things. There is not one way to say “is”, but many, as Aristotle says. For example, lots of people say that “really” numbers don’t exist. Nonsense! What they really should say is that physical objects and numbers “are” in very different ways.

Q: I guess the central question at stake here is, “Is consciousness a causal force (or the manifestation of/effect of a causal force) that is distinct from and independent of deterministic physical forces, or is it not?” That sums it up pretty well, methinks.”

A: Yes it is a causal force; it’s much more physical than a number, but even a number has physical effects.

Q: “Am in total agreement with that — but I’m a bit puzzled. I thought you saw consciousness as, essentially, a higher-level emergent phenomenon arising from lower-level deterministic complexity. Have we been in violent agreement all along (like for the past 2 years, LOL?).”

A: That’s how I see it, all right

Q: “So if consciousness is reducible (in principle) to fundamental deterministic physical forces, in what sense can it ALSO be a causal force acting independent of them?”

A: I don’t care if physical forces are deterministic or not. It’s pretty obvious that we are physical beings who have consciousness.

How independent is “independent”? If we look at cultural concepts and memes, we see that they sort of take on a life of their own as “mass psychology” and can be said to really exist even though they are not independent of individual humans. Likewise qualia/consciousness takes on a life of its own even though it’s fundamentally dependent on matter and energy. All these things exist, they just exist in different ways.

Saying that some “x” is ultimately a “y” does not mean that x is not real. it’s a different sort of being, that can be referred to under two different aspects, one as functional adaptation, the other as qualia. As a functional adaptation, it is something which can be seen in its effects on the physical world. For the example of mathematics, one can refer to numbers as being created by humans, but you can also say truthfully that “2+2=4” was true long before humans evolved, by looking from within the “world of numbers”. From this aspect, numbers seem to be the supernatural entities revered by Pythgoras, since our very way of considering them abstracts from their physical substrate.

Abstraction from physical substrate” is exactly what makes them so useful, since the formal qualities are meant to apply to any physical situation that is formally congruent to the number, equation, shape, etc., not to something made of a certain material or in a certain location, or from a certain culture, etc., the latter all being more concrete but also more limited in scope.

From another perspective, according to Karl Popper’s ontology, there are three types of things:

1) First World- physical things

2) Second World- qualia, or subjective experience

3)Third World- memes, ideas, cultural artifacts like numbers, poems, theories, styles, techniques, etc.

Where is “consciousness” in all this? It seems that it is #2, except that for higher animals, there is overlap with #3. However, any particular creature’s experience of being aware of a number (#2) is not the number itself (#3). However, the quality of the Second World is greatly affected by what sorts of things are subjectively experienced; First World or Third World. Consciousness for animals is the existence of qualia (2nd world). Consciousness becomes human when the experience of 2nd world phenomenology because interwoven/imbued with 3rd world entities, schemas and ideas which go beyond the merely present and thus make possible both knowledge and error on a level greater than that possible for mere “non-human” animals.

You might reasonably ask about consciousness: “Why should it be good to enlarge the possibility for both knowledge and error?” The answer is to enlarge the domain of possibilities from which to select. Thus the realm of knowledge/ignorance is a special case of the Baldwin Effect and the “evolution of evolvability”. These are reasons why biological evolution follows an path of exponential growth much like Moore’s Law, where evolution proceeds at a faster pace as time goes on. We can see how consciousness reflects this because conscious creatures have much more individuality than unconscious; meaning they present a wider variety of phenotypes for selection to work with. But this ‘individuality’ is merely a by-product of consciousness, not its original function. In short this original function is to boil all the confusion of so many different stimuli from so many different levels of reality (merely physical, social, past memory, inner physical drives of sex, hunger, warmth, etc.) into a condensed form where it can affect the decision processes that define an animal’s actions. How else could all the myriad factors that go into a single decision be brought into relation with a decision other than by some form of data mining? And how else would it be implemented than by consciousness? Chalmers makes much of how “surprising” consciousness is as  the basis for non-naturalism, and I agree it is surprising. However, it is far less surprising once one sees its function. All biological functions are fundamentally information processing, so we should expect to see the essence of consciousness as a form of information processing. All that remains is to take this formal and functional analysis as the starting point for the reverse engineering of how consciousness performs this function. But this aspect of the subject is beyond my expertise.



Show me the Arkhe!


I would like to challenge you to try to think from first principles. This means you are searching for an explanation for your beliefs which is the most comprehensive and cohesive with known facts.

Thinking from first principles will eliminate dualism of any kind. While there have been dualisms proposed by the great Thinkers, Philosophy and Science can never ever be satisfied with an unbridgeable dualism.

For example, why should there be an “is/ought” distinction? Are their ANY cases in which we fell confident that this does not apply? Are their any things in this universe that have a purpose as a matter of undeniable fact? What is the purpose of bird’s wings? If I say that “A bird OUGHT to be able to fly.”, am I committing the naturalistic fallacy? What if I say that “Humans ought to talk to each other and think about things.”, is THAT justified any less than something I say about birds? I don;t think so.

Not only do wings have a purpose for birds, but birds also have an ecological purpose. They perform a function for the biosphere. What’s so mystical about that? There’s nothing supernatural or non-physical about purpose or function. Perhaps you might think that there is, but the fact that you think that way has a rather nifty explanation which is far more comprehensive and cohesive than the explanation you will give for why your life has purpose.

Dualism is the mind-killer. Face your dualism and let is pass over you. When it is gone, only the Arkhe will remain.

Long ago we thought there was two kinds of matter: celestial and terrestrial. But then we found they were the Same. Later on we had a dualism of matter and energy; those also were the Same.

What about Matter/Energy and Space and Time, are they not totally different?. Later on, we found out that is the Same as well.

What about the difference between Physical reality and Information, are they not totally different? Guess what? Later on, we found out that information is a physical phenomenon. (No kidding! Look it up.)

So if you come up with some tiny thing you think is so special that it could never ever be the Same as something else. I will laugh at you.

Any statement of the form “There are only two types of things: x and everything else.” is by definition unwarranted. Its very form violates the conditions of possible knowledge. This is because all explanation as such must subsume the explanandum under a genus as a new species with a difference from other species.

Formerly light was essentially the field of visibility and on the other hand there had recently been discovered “radiation”. One was visible and the other not; two things could not seem to be more different, could they? But in due course science explained radiation. How? Simple, we found that it was actually a form of light; invisible light, but light none the less. Now are you going to accept an argument that light qua light must be visible? In a very common sense way “light” is visible by definition, but science is not limited by common sense usage of any term. What physics has done with “light”, Philosophy must do with “consciousness” and “ethics”. Ethics is not necessarily ethical, and consciousness is not necessarily conscious.


Brains in Vats and the Simulation Argument

NOTE: One of the members of my Facebook group had some questions about Daniel Dennett’s dismissal of the possibility of “Descartes’ demon”, who could create virutal reality like the “Matrix” and fool the “Cogito” about the external world. We had a great discussion about it, which I have edited and posted below. While a lot of my blog posts are adapted from Facebook discussions, this one seems rather hard to change into a monologue. As a result, I am going to experiment with posting in this cleaned-up dialogue version.  Thanks to all my great interlocutors. Enjoy!

Q: There seem to be some problems with the following line of reasoning from Dennett: “Might you be nothing but a brain in a vat? Might you have always been just a brain in a vat?”

Dennett’s answer (in brief): “Descartes was wise to endow his demon with *infinite* powers of trickery. Although the task is not, strictly speaking, infinite, the amount of information obtainable in short order by an inquisitive human being is staggeringly large…Throw a skeptic a dubious coin, and in a second or two of hefting, scratching, ringing, tasting, and just plain looking at how the sun glints on its surface, the skeptic will consume more bits of information than a Cray computer can organize in a year. Making a real but counterfeit coin is child’s play; making a simulated coin out of nothing but organized nerve simulations is beyond human technology now and probably forever. One conclusion we can draw from this is that we are not brains in vats — in case you were worried.” ( Consciousness Explained, page 7)

(Facepalm..) Just seems like a non-sequitur. x would be very difficult to achieve, therefore not x, but there’s even a deeper fallacy here. Our brains are creating a simulation of the universe all the time…? So, clearly that can be done. However, the implicit part of the argument sort-of makes sense, to rephrase it “The universe is, like, really complex. So, it’d be, like, really a lot of effort to fake it”. You still need a universe, and universes are kinda big. Of course, it also raises the question – if our universe is simulated, what practical difference does it make?

Adam Voight’s Reply: This is a very good question and really gets to the heart of what separates modern and premodern scepticism / science.

Let’s start with skepticism: ancient skepticism simply doubted everything and found correctly that if you do this, then that means everything “can” be doubted and that therefore there is no knowledge. This is true and yet “trivial” as mathematicians say. It’s not “interesting” and  you can’t really do anything with it. Fortunately, natural selection tends to eliminate those who act in accordance with this trivial truth. Others ignore it in practice but pay lip service to it, and they are difficult to answer when they bring it up.

Modern skepticism takes many many forms, but all of them accept some form of modern science, meaning that while any one particular fact can be doubted, you cannot doubt everything at once. Every scientific theory accepts some set of truths as premises, but what they all accept are Aristotle’s Three Laws of Thought and all of their corrolaries, e.g. arithmetic, geometry, et cetera.

While it is logically permissible to doubt the reality of the external world, the truths of physics are true even if the external world is an illusion. For example, even if the Earth and Moon are “not real”, physics and engineering will still let you know how to get to the Moon and back. Even if the Moon is an illusion, you can still die from having your rocket miss it and go hurling through deep space. In either case, physics is just a well founded as it needs to be. There is no better-founded form of knowledge about the Earth and Moon available. It is useless to criticize it like some ancient skeptic or neo-Platonist. Useless, but not logically inconsistent. It is conceivable that someday someone can restate skepticism in an interesting form.

Now here is where we get to Dennett. Dennett is assuming that humans are living things, and that living things are physical objects and that physical objects “are” in the way that Aristotle or Descartes might define: subject to change, extended in space and time, et cetera. It’s logically possible to doubt the existence of the external world and all of these other premises, even though this would require redefining “existence”. Certainly a philosopher should at the very least entertain these thoughts, and if any theory could deal with them in a better way than Aristotle did, it would be one point in its favor.

However, physics can be true about physical objects regardless of the ultimate nature of these objects in the same way that evolutionary theory is true not only of “real” life but also virtual life existing in computer simulations. Even if it were found that we live in a simulation, physics and biology would still be just as true. Why? For the following two reasons:

1) Physics is not only the study of physical objects, it’s also the study of models of physical objects. Now if the our entire universe were shown to be model, then it would still fall within the purview of physics.

2) It is in fact possible that our universe is a simulation. However, the only way to prove that this is true or false is through the study of physics as it is currently done. Philosophy and physics can cooperate to define this question, and ask what sorts of answers are possible or satisfactory. Simulation theory is a possible physical theory, so long as it has practical effects. If it has no practical effects, then it’s meaningless. If it does have practical effects, then physics can study it.

Just because physics assumes the reality of the external world does not mean it is false if the world is a simulation. Newton’s theory of space and time were wrong, but his theory was good physics, because it consisted of well-defined concepts that were derived from experience. That’s why it led somewhere, and by “somewhere” I mean the NEXT theory.

Question: “My issue isn’t with Dennett’s “quasi-skepticism” (for lack of a better term) — it’s with his tautology. I do see your point, that if we want to get anywhere, we need to take *some* things for granted. Call them the Rules Of The Game. But to take data obtained using this method, and hereby try to prove that your founding assumptions are valid, is a tautology. All Dennett has really shown is the following: ‘If all possible worlds have the same physics, chemistry, biology and information science that ours does, then we are (probably) not brains in vats.’ (Actually, he hasn’t even demonstrated THIS very well IMHO — after all, he’s assuming that his imaginary mad scientists would be at our level of technological development, which seems odd given that, among other things, computing power doubles every decade — or is it faster now? But to continue…)
This is a perfectly valid conclusion, as far as it goes. But to extrapolate from this conclusion to the wider conclusion (that we are not brains in vats, full stop) is unwarranted and, moreover, misleading. After all, if we ARE brains in vats, then surely the validity of our scientific information is one of the first things we should be doubting! (I disagree with your conclusion that physics is physics; it’s trivially easy to invent a possible physics that differs wildly from ours — e.g. where an object initially at rest will gradually accelerate, or where both poles of magnets attract, or where “light speed” does not exist as an upper limit to velocity…) Essentially he’s using a clever sleight of hand to conceal a tautology from the unsuspecting reader, and all within the first seven pages, so as (I think) to dazzle them with his supposed brilliance before they have a chance to get their mental guards up. This is insidious, and unworthy of his training as a philosopher. An honest philosopher would explicitly spell out what he was doing (“For the purposes of argument, we will assume X”) and discuss the limitations of his conclusion. Dennett goes out of his way to hide them, like a magician pulling a carrot out of somebody’s ear. Unlike the magic trick, though, people read Dennett’s books (presumably) to seek truth and knowledge, not entertainment, and it’s dishonest to pull the wool over his audience’s eyes in this way.”

Adam Voight: “If it were me writing the same book, I would do it differently. He doesn’t really need to show that we’re not in a cosmic simulation, only that literal ‘brains in vats’ would not be lucid like we are now (they would not be able to read or write or think logically, for example), but I think that this section is very important to include because it looks at consciousness as a physical system, and you can’t do a science of consciousness without considering how mind is supervenient on life and life is supervenient on physics.

(Note to neophytes: “Supervenient” means based on but not reducible to the lower level. “Reducible to” means being an emergent phenomenon originating completely from a lower substrate while exhibiting characteristics that are physically impossible to deduce from the substrate.)

However, once you show that it’s physically impossible to create a single brain in a vat, this possibility becomes a LOT less interesting. It’s actually more likely that our entire universe is a simulation than that any single person’s qualia within a universe is. A true brain in a vat would not have access to the same consciousness that we do; it would be like a dream. Now they might not realize it that they were dreaming, but it is possible to know for sure that you are not dreaming if you’re awake, and he shows how this is true.

In conclusion, Dennett’s argument is not as circular as it might seem. With all of its assumptions openly stated, it goes like this: “Given our current knowledge of physics, it is impossible to implement ‘Descartes’ Demon’ within a Universe. So as far as we know, the way around this is for a civilization to implement an entire universe as a simulation. Since this is a radically different situation from a simulation at the individual level, Descartes’ thought-experiment becomes much less interesting and compelling.”



Against Chalmers on Identity and Supervenience


This post airs my thoughts concerning the relation of supervenience and the history of science, with bad results for certain criticisms of naturalist metaphysics. It will make sense to you if follow topics like supervenience, metaphysical zombies, twin earths and qualia.  It is also very relevant to debates concerning moral naturalism, the naturalistic fallacy, and G.E. Moore’s ‘Open Question’ argument.  I will make this connection in a future post, although my “God vs. the Fact/Value Distinction” already deals with this in preliminary way. This line of thought is necessary to defend “The Theory of Ethical Selection”, against the most powerful criticisms of moral naturalism.

Supervenience and reductionism.

Chalmers, myself,  and most other scientifically-minded people would admit that if you have a certain physical arrangement of atoms in possible world ‘W’, then all of that world’s positive biological facts follow necessarily from that arrangement. While life is not in some ways reducible to an arrangement of matter, but you can’t differ biologically without differing physically. This may not be identical with many ideas concerning materialist ‘reductionism’, but that’s what most biological naturalists believe, and I don’t really need anything stronger to justify my version of naturalism. Philosophers such as Chalmers sum this idea up thusly: “biological facts are ‘logically supervenient’ on physical facts”. This means that all possible worlds that are physically identical will also be biologically identical. Chalmers agrees with this and in my view is therefore a biological naturalist. However, he writes an entire book attacking the thesis of naturalism with respect to one aspect of mind: phenomenal consciousness (a.k.a. ‘qualia’). On his view consciousness is not logically supervenient on biology in the same way that biology is on physics. On this view, metaphysical zombies are possible, since there is no clear sense in which qualia are necessarily physical.

The opposing thesis of “qualia naturalism” holds that any world W where all physical and biological facts are the same, all ‘qualia-facts’ will also be the same. In other words, metaphysical zombies are impossible. Chalmers defends qualia non-naturalism, meaning that biological facts do not determine the qualia-facts and two worlds could be physically identical while differing in having qualia.

Most people would have their doubts as to whether consciousness is logically supervenient on biological and physical facts.  I’m a naturalist in both biology and mind, but I’m far more certain of the former than the latter. Why is this that case? What is the basis for these intuitions? In my view,it hinges on debates concerning the metaphysics of identity relations and how scientific theory relates to supervenience (both logical and natural).

Examples from the History of Science

To illustrate my reasoning on this, begin with a simpler case: it’s quite unremarkable to claim that lightning is supervenient on physical facts. Everyone knows that in modern terms “lightning is just a form of static electricity”. Most people today would agree with me, but long ago people tended to disagree, and with some good reason.  Long ago, reductionistic theories of lightning were not even advanced to the level of testable hypothesis. Epicurus says nothing of static electricity,even though he was clearly a lightning naturalist. I think the ancients were aware of static cling resulting from rubbing pieces of amber, but no one had any clue that it might have anything at all to do with lightning. In fact, lightning was almost universally considered to be a supernatural phenomenon and the majority of the human race is inclined to agree even today. Bach then few ‘lightning naturalists’ had no real proof, only mere speculation about atomic “seeds of fire”  awaiting some catalyst to release them.

Similarly, prior to the invention of the microscope, reductionistic or atomistic theories of biology were also relatively unwarranted. If Chalmers and other biological naturalists had published their views back then, even scientists would laugh at his wild speculation that “biological facts are supervenient on physical  [meaning “atomic”] facts”. At this time some smart people were speculating that this was the case, but it was still merely speculation and the dominant ‘theory’ of life was vitalistic. And I think it is safe to say that vitalism is the thesis of biological non-naturalism. On this view, you ca arrange matter however you like, but you will still be lacking life.

Even today, you can find many reasonable people who would doubt biological supervenience because it contradicts ‘common sense’. What makes Chalmers so sure that they’re wrong? Perhaps because we are privy to the results of evolutionary biology. This theory is so conclusive as to silence all doubt on the issue. A hundered years ago, we knew about evolution but even then biological naturalism in this philosophical sense was not yet proven.  On my view (and on this depends my whole argument), the current state of the relevant fields of science is the only basis of judgments of logical supervenience.
The only reason Chalmers accepts biological naturalism is because he accepts a certain empirical theory that supports supervenience between the physical and the biological. It’s not like vitalism has been disproven; it’s not really meaningful enough to function as a theory at all. So also are all forms of non-naturalism; you can never prove them wrong because they say nothing about anything at all. Naturalism says a lot; among other things is says that qualia are supervenient on the biological and thus also the physical. This means that for each different qualia, there will be a corresponding physical arrangement. I’m sure that many a non-naturalist will claim that this is also meaningless. I will not bother to argue against that, I will merely point out that this is far more meaningful that non-naturalism which makes no claims of any sort about the relations of qualia to anything at all. In this sense, it’s just like vitalism. Both claim that there is this magical juju which for some reason seems to have some correlation with living things, but in reality, there is no reason given for this in the theory, whereas for naturalism, the reason is very clear: the genus “living creatures” represent a distinct physical arrangement, and animals (which have qualia) are a species within this the genus.

When a similar theory is proposed and accepted in cognitive science, then perhaps even Chalmers should accept naturalism with respect to qualia. Another way of saying this is that even logical supervenience expresses an a posteriori identity. All of the relations of logical supervenience (such as between biology and physics) accepted by Chalmers  in his work are a posteriori in this same way. The result is that if our current understanding of the physical base expands in some fundamental way then at that point consciousness may become logically supervenient on that new base, and naturalism becomes true. The historical examples of lightning and vitalism were given to illustrate that whether or not logical supervenience holds is a posteriori. The identity relation between the two things is dependent on how well understood the field is, and this level of understanding is one of development of empirical science, not armchair philosophical hairsplitting a la Chalmers.

The Upshot

My point is three fold:

1) Any theory which will possibly explain anything at all assumes that logical supervenience holds between two levels.

2) However, logical supervenience establishes a priori identity only through the historical process of scientific advance which changes the meanings of concepts through empirical research.

3) Until the theory is thoroughly proven, it will be TOO reductive to everyone except its initial creators and defenders. Whichever theory is true, it must make some hypothesis that logical supervenience holds between two levels. We don’t know which theory is correct yet (if any), but whichever it is, it must satisfy this condition.

3) If it is thoroughly proven, then it remains just as ‘reductive’ as it ever was, but is never said to be so, it i merely said to “explain” things.

Of course I might be wrong, especially if there is some other sort of ultimate explanation than reductive analysis. I agree that there are other sorts of explanations for things besides reductive; for example, I can explain behavior teleologically or formally. Why does a person eat lots of cheeseburgers? Perhaps they like cheeseburgers. This is a nonreductive explanation using Aristotle’s “final cause”, but I would claim that there are more fundamental levels of explanation above this one, and the highest levels will have to resort to Aristotle’s material and efficient causes. This is not a necessary conceptual truth, and would not have been able to convince Aristotle in his day without access to modern science. However, if we were to bring him forward in time, we could justify it to him by appeal to his definition of the “arche” (or higher/-est principle) as we understand it today.

In Aristotelian terms ( given molecular biology, Mendelian genetics, and Darwinian evolution ) we are now able to show that “liking cheeseburgers” falls into the category of a possible arrangement of matter and energy.  This is in fact what it means to “explain” something. It still makes sense for a normal person to explain something with reference to final causes. It also works in fields where we take people’s preferences and initial data such as economics. But for an explanation from “FIRST principles”, we must explain it in terms of the most universal principles known.  This means that some entities must be reduced to other entities.

My explanation for phenomenal consciousness has a strong teleological component: I claim that phenomenal consciousness serves an  adaptive function.  Chalmers cannot imagine that it has a functional character, but that’s his problem, not mine. I can’t imagine how someone could go through the trouble to write such an nice book explaining the problem in such detail without getting a hint of the solution. I guess he must just be very attached to the idea that phenomenal consciousness is not adaptive. But then again many people get angry at the very idea that free will, love, religion, etc. are also adaptations or perhaps the by products of adaptation. Spoiler alert: all of this is merely implied by the truth of evolutionary theory. .

Notes on the Philosophy of Semantics

NOTE: These are my notes from an earlier presentation to Ottawa Cognitive Science Meetup.

Who cares about semantics?

  1. Linguistics needs another neutral language that makes clear logical and semantic connections or distinctions of Natural Language.


  1. Philosophy-  Frege, Russell, Moore, et al used logical notation as a “semantic microscope” to analyze the claims of science, ethics, etc.


  1. Psychology takes semantic theories as material for making  psycholinguistic hypotheses.


  1. Artificial Intelligence, contra the ”the Chinese Room”, needs to understand the meaning of natural language in order to process it.


Socrates- Discovered the very idea of semantics, that is=t could be interesting to worry about the meaning of such terms as “good”, “virtue”, “piety”, etc.


Plato- Proposed the theory of “Ideas” (eidoi, sing. eidos).


Aristotle- Created the study of formal logic.


Modern semantic theory began with German mathematician and philosopher Gottlob Frege (1848-1925), who founded the movement “analytic philosophy”, which defines philosophical research in much of the English-speaking world, Austria and Finland.

Frege began his research trying to axiomatize mathematics; i.e., derive math from logic. He failed, but his failure is one of the most instructive failures of all time, since cognitive and computer science are based on his efforts.


His first discovery is the distinction between sense and reference. “Reference” is the set of objects intended by a statement, and “sense” is how the reference is intended. For example, one can refer to the planet Venus in three ways, “Venus”, “the Morning Star”, or “The Evening Star”. In other words, all three of these terms has the same reference; they mean the same object. However, they have different senses in that they determine their object in three different ways.


  1. Venus = Venus
  2. Venus = Morning Star
  3. Venus = Evening Star
  4. Evening Star = Morning Star


He devised his system of logical notation as a “semantic microscope.” Rather than replacing natural language, logical notation lays bare language at the micro level. His notation is  horrible to decode, so others have revised it using his ideas as a starting point.



  1. éxù Û “the semantic value of x”
  2. {x} Û ”the set of x”
  3.  [“Churchhill smoked.”] Û [ áChurchillñ Î {smokers}]
  4. é”smoked”ùÛ{individuals who smoked}Û{Groucho Marx, Cmd. Che, Chucrchill, Sherlock Holmes, etc.}
  5. éABù is true for any sentence “AB” (if A is a NP and B is an intransitive VP) iff [ éAùÎ{B}].


Predicate logic.

Natural language suffers from quantifier ambiguity.

Ø negation

” universal -“for any____ ”

$ existential – “there is at least one___“

® implication- “if A then B”


“Beer is not available everywhere.”


Ø(“x) {xL®(ØxB)}



“Somebody voted for every candidate.”





Temporal logic.

“Chuchhill smoked.” Is true now, but it was not always true,, e.g., before he started smoking. Similarly, “Orangutans eat.” is true, even though it is in the present tense and the orangutans are all asleep.


Modal logic.

“Churchill was PM during WW2.” is true, although it is not necessarily true, since Churchill might not have been PM at all. Since the word “is” are used for both contingent and necessary statements, modal logic has been created that make these distinctions explicit.






The Metaphysics of Selection Theory


In this work I give my response to the thesis that consciousness and value are utterly outside of science. I am attempting this within the perspective of Selection Theory (If you are unfamiliar with Selection Theory, see previous post here).   By “utterly outside of science” I mean necessarily or metaphysically outside of the realm of what science can in principle explain. This is what we will call ‘non-naturalism’. Prominent examples include David Chalmers’ position on phenomenal consciousness. Many other arguments or paradoxes seem to support this sort of non-naturalism, such as the “Chinese Room”, “Mary the Color Scientist” and the “Possibility of Zombies”. In what follows, I will try to address this problem and most of these paradoxes from a naturalistic pespective using a vocabulary influenced by Aristotle. I think Aristotle is well-suited for such a project since he took information and function seriously, while constraining his theories with certain empirical demands typical of naturalism. [In a future work we shall look into the tensions of final causation with atomism, but this will not substantially affect our present thesis.] If successful, this approach should provide common solutions challenges to naturalism concerning qualia and ethics.

The Arkhe, genus, and species of Phenomenal Consciousness

Why are so many averse to agreeing that the scientific description of certain things is what they most truly are? For everything that science explains, the most essential nature of what it is is how it is is defined in the accepted theory. Consciousness and ethics should be no exception.

Explaining anything whatsoever means to subsume it under a more universal principle. This is true of all explanations from ethics to math to physics to economics to carpentry, to chess to music to any other skill or science you care to name. With consciousness, the case should be no different; any possible explanation for qualia must derive from a higher (more universal) genus of beings. But what is the genus of beings that of which consciousness is a species?  I have never ever heard anyone give an answer to this other than the one that I propose here, so it seems to me that nobody else can even get started thinking about qualia. In this work we shall  proceed with the naturalistic method, which is pretty much identical to what Aristotle would follow if he were here.

Qualia – a species of the genus “living” and the super-genus “natural”?

For Aristotle, all the different sorts of beings can be potential or actual; and it seems that qualia are not special in this respect, and it’s clear that qualia are not one of the “Categories” either. What about “natural” or “non-natural”?  I know that this is exactly what is up for debate here, but in Aristotle and in this context, “nature” (Gk. “physis”) simply means “that which changes with time’.  There is another sense of “nature” which is oppose to “tekne“, but both of these opposite sense are part of “nature” as we will use it here to mean the realm of “beings which change over time”.  Now we must notice that this is different from Descartes’ thesis that nature as res extensa occupies space. There is much evidence that qualia occupy space, but this will not be assumed for my argument.  However, even Descartes assumes that the res cogitans must change over time and is therefore part of the Aritotelian phusis. If the non-naturalist wishes to say that qualia are not natural, then they are certainly a very different sort of non-natural being from the Forms (unchanging essences) or God (unchanging substance). And of course non-naturalists have no problem with multiplying entities beyond count, for they care not a whit of Occam’s Razor. “Why not?” they might wonder? But it seems clear from a naturalist  perspective that conscious beings (those beings with qualia) are a species of the genera of animals, those beings which move and have sensation.  Animals, in turn are a subset of living things. Since consciousness is a part of biology, we should expect it to have a biological function. So on this view, consciousness must have an adaptive function or be a by-product of some adaptive function. This is exactly what biology assumes when it encounters some unexplained train in nature, and naturalism assumes that qualia are just one more unexplained trait that we have found in a living creature. This obviously true, and non-naturalism should rightly bear the burden of proof for why qualia should not be considered to be a biological trait.


The Role of Non-naturalism in Science.

Furthermore, it seems that many people who profess qualia non-naturalism also profess to being unable to imagine how qualia could have a function and how matter could give rise to qualia. Of course, this is not the only thing that they cannot imagine. They (as well as myself) cannot imagine how nothing can go faster than light, or that time and space did not pre-exist the Big Bang, but both of these have imagined, believed and proven by currently-accepted natural science. The fact that you cannot imagine something is not and cannot be boundary past which science is not allowed to go. Since this is true, non-naturalism must allow that all of its objections are not binding on science but merely voicing the implications of following out common sense intuitions about empirical theories. While it is clear that science is  not at all bound to observe the limits of common sense, non-naturalists do in fact play a postitive role in clearly defining the problems faced by naturalists (i.e. those who actually seek to solve the problems). This is the role played by WIlliam Paley with respect to Darwin, for example. Paley gave his best non-naturalist account of adaptation, which in retrospect we would not even call a “theory”, but it was the dominant theory back then. Qualia non-naturalism today plays the role of Paley for the Darwins of today’s cognitive science.

On the other hand, claiming that conscious beings (or ethical beings) are so unique as to be of an utterly separate ontological category is making a radically unfounded claim that makes further inquiry impossible. Naturalism of the sort defended here claims that ethical and conscious beings are a subset of animals, living things and physical things .Only if we grant this reasonable assumption can we even begin to solve our debates in ethics and metaphysics.

If one is to demand that we explain consciousness or ethics in abstraction from its physical and biological status, we are ipso facto refusing to even consider the possibility of explaining it. The same is true of any scientific subject.

It’s almost as if one demanded that we explain lightning without accepting that it can “be” static electricity. The hardheaded “science-skeptic” could say that lightning “expresses itself through” static electricity or perhaps merely “correlates with” static electricity but could “never be reduced to mere physical phenomena”. One could even adduce the fact that one “could easily imagine” lightning occurring without static electricity in some Twin-Earth thought experiment. This is what Chalmers seriously advocates in his treatment of consciousness, as well as what is implied by any moral non-naturalism that follows G. E. Moore’s ‘Open Question’ argument. Taking this stance makes science of any sort impossible. I am of the view that natural science has already learned that a ‘Twater’  for a “Twin Earth” is impossible, and I think we are close to proving that metaphysical zombies are impossible, and evolutionary science has all the resources needed to prove that a “Moral Twin Earth” is impossible.

Consciousness IS a subset of living systems and everything essential to it can be limited to one of two categories of predicates:

1) What it shares with other physical, living, and animal beings. In Aristotle’s terms, conscious beings share all the essential attributes of any genus of which they are a species. In terms of computer science, conscious objects, inherit all attributes and functions of their superclasses.

2) How it is different from other animals. As Aristotle said, all definitions require a differentiation to define a species within a genus.

But one of the essential attributes of living creatures ( in evolutionary theory ) is that all biological attributes are either adaptations or byproducts of adaptations. This means that consciousness is either epiphenomenal or it is an adaptation. If it is an adaptation, then it MUST have a functional characterization that can be confirmed with the same level of rigor of any other functional analysis in other areas of biology (for example the function(s) of wings, skin, livers, et cetera.). If this is true, consciousness accomplishes the same function as the processes of non-sentient lifeforms, but it uses a different means to fulfill these functions. In my view, it is a radically different means, but not so radical that it requires a non-naturalist categories. Aristotle, were he alive today might say it like this:

  • Merely physical beings (matter, energy) go through change but stay ‘the same’ through all the changes (underneath the appearances).
  • Life is just like matter except one of the changes is goes through is to reproduce more instances of the same/similar form. This is what I refer to when I say that life is essentially information processing.
  • Animal life is just like other life except it also has qualia; movement and sensation.  Perhaps this is what you mean by “consciousness”. Consciousness in this sense is having a subjective experience of sensation, motivation and animal-level identity.
  • Human life is just like other animals life except it also (following Aristotle) “has language” or in other words is “political”.  Both of these mean that humans are defined by their adaptive strategy; the reliance on language to implement rules for cooperation.

There is no other way to do science of humanity.


The Functionalistic Analysis of Phenomenal Consciousness

To answer Chalmers’ non-naturalism in philosophy of mind, we need only give a functionalistic analysis of phenomenal consciousness. The following is one  general idea that could form the beginning of such a theory: Consciousness is kind of like money. The evolution of money is “surprising” in the same way that Chalmers says that consciousness is, but once we see that it has emerged and see how it functions, we can see that money fits perfectly with Darwinian science and the physics of information. Since all life is just information processing, we need only analyze anything in terms of information to learn what it most truly ‘is’.

Using this analysis, we could have predicted  that certain commodities would make ideal forms of money, but we could not predict what money would look like, e.g. that pictures of famous people would be on it (kind of like not being able to predict the “how” of qualia).. We may also be surprised that modern fiat money would predominate over classical ‘hard’ money, but in retrospect, we can see how fiat money functions according to the same basic laws as other money. Under the evolutionary biology defined by the currently accepted physics of information, all of this is a mere extension of the fundamental definition of biological beings. Economics thus defines a normative science that inherits is fundamental principles from more general realms of beings. However, each step down the ladder of Being does introduce surprising / emergent phenomena. Emergent phenomena are fully explainable in retrospect in a reductive manner, but not ahead of time. Thus each newly emergent phenomenon is ‘surprising’ but ultimately natural.


We could not predict the emergence of consciousness, but ultimately it must have ‘the same’ higher-level functions as other forms  of biological information processing.  Animals “could” have been zombies in the same way that (for example) Saturn “could” have been a slightly smaller copy of Jupiter. After all, Jupiter and Saturn are made of basically the same stuff. However, there are mystifying differences between these two planets that could never have been foreseen. (Great Red Spot, greater visible turbulence on Jupiter, Rings and weird polar weather on Saturn, to name a few). These differences are, as with consciousness, due to the surprisingness of complex systems. It’s just that living systems are much more complex, meaning only that their physical patterns are more complex. It is hard to imagine a better solution to the same problem.

The comparison with money works on multiple levels. In the same way that money makes different values comparable among goods for sale, so also does consciousness make different values comparable among the various resources, obstacles, dangers, etc. in the world of an animal. And in both cases, we not only have various values to compare, we also have a privileged locus of comparison the self, which can either be a back account in one case or an individual organism’s subjectivity in the other. Both are forms of information processing, and neither could work without the privileged locus of subjectivity. Both require intersubjectivity to manifest their maximum effect. This is a pretty straight forward hypothesis derived from a well-established theory. The anti-naturalists, on the other hand, have nothing to go with at all except the claims that naturalism is to be eliminated because it contradicts their philosophical categories. This is not at all the first time that some new phenomenon has a clear empirical explanation that conflicts with previous philosophy. The very biochemical concept of life conflicted with previous science. So did the idea that the Earth was a planet. Non-naturalism at any frontier of science is not following a very encouraging precedent.