Some Myths and Productive Ideas About Consciousness

This is the third and probably final installment in a series of posts in preparation for the 2015–02–22 Beacon Humanist Group’s meeting on “consciousness”. (It was due to occur at the end of January but I couldn’t make that date in the end.)

There is more material here than I can get through in my brief presentation. Make a note of what you’d like to discuss during the meeting. If I skip a statement of interest to you, we can hopefully return to it in the discussion.

I won’t be lecturing on what consciousness is or how it works. Instead I will briefly present common myths about consciousness and propose some helpful ideas to better understand conscious and nearly conscious experience. Then as usual we will have a moderated discussion.

Myths about Consciousness

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Readings for a Humanist Meeting on Consciousness

In a previous post I mentioned that I will moderate a humanist meeting on consciousness. This post contains some further information on that for participants, and whoever else might find it relevant.

Here are some of the questions I will raise:

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“Consciousness”: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly Questions About the Human Mind

The January 25, 2015 meeting on this topic has been postponed. Watch this space, or send me an email in February,  to get the new date.

On [Date TBD], I will moderate a humanist discussion on so called “consciousness”. Given that the content will be of broad interest, I will post a few articles for the participants and other interested readers.

For many years, for several reasons, I argued against using the term “consciousness”. “Conscious”, an adjective, is a helpful term that can trigger meaningful psychological inquiry; but the term “consciousness” all too often interferes with the pursuit of understanding the human mind. It tends to induce a reification fallacy, i.e., to assume that because we have a noun (here consciousness) it must actually refer to something particular. Contrast dog, which has referents, and energy which does not. Energy, like gravity, is a helpful problem-centered concept, i.e., a concept that is used to frame and solve problems. Dog is helpful, but it is not problem-centered. It was not developed to solve a theoretical challenge of understanding the world. Treating consciousness as stuff-like can cause problems.

Here’s a little fact that might help you cautiously approach questions using the term “consciousness”: Continue reading “Consciousness”: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly Questions About the Human Mind

Meta-painting & Science of the Human Mind: An Epistolary Response to Lam Wong’s 21 Elements

Preface

A version of this essay will appear in the second edition of Lam Wong’s 21 Elements book. The book is based on his September 2014 exhibition, about which I have recently blogged. For reasons that will become obvious, I’ve written this document as a letter to a fictional friend.

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AI, Cognitive Science and Understanding: Comments on RS-95 (Gerard O’Brien and The Computational Theory of Mind)

As always, I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the latest episode of Rationally Speaking Podcast. This one was On the Computational Theory of Mind, with guest Gerard O’Brien, philosopher of mind from the University of Adelaide. (Hosts: Massimo Pigliucci and Julia Galef.) Here are a few comments about this episode.
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