Lapidarium RSS

Amira's favorite quotes

"Everything you can imagine is real."— Pablo Picasso

Lapidarium notes

Tags:

Ancient
Age of information
Anthropology
Art
Artificial intelligence
Astronomy
Atheism
Beauty
Biography
Books
Buddism
China
Christianity
Civilization
Cognition, relativity
Cognitive science
Collective intelligence
Communication
Consciousness
Creativity
Culture
Curiosity
Cyberspace
Definitions
Democracy
Documentary
Drawing
Earth
Economy
Evolution
Friendship
Funny
Genetics
Globalization
Greek & Latin
Happiness
History
Human being
Illustrations
Imagination
Individualism
Information
Inspiration
Internet
Knowledge
Language
Learning
Life
Literature
Logic
Love
Mathematics
Media
Metaphor
Mind & Brain
Morality
Multiculturalism
Music
Networks
Neuroscience
Painting
Paradoxes
Patterns
Philosophy
Poetry
Politics
Physics
Psychology
Rationalism
Reading
Religions
Science
Science & Art
Self improvement
Semantics
Singularity
Society
Sociology
Storytelling
Technology
The other
Time
Traveling
USA
Unconsciousness
Universe
Writing
Video
Violence
Visualization


Homepage
Twitter
Facebook

A Box Of Stories

Contact

Archive

Jul
2nd
Tue
permalink

David Deutsch on Fallibilism


“The fact is, there’s nothing infallible about “direct experience” (…). Indeed, experience is never direct. It is a sort of virtual reality, created by our brains using sketchy and flawed sensory clues, given substance only by fallible expectations, explanations, and interpretations. Those can easily be more mistaken than the testimony of the passing hobo. (…)

This logic of fallibility, discovered and rediscovered from time to time, has had profound salutary effects in the history of ideas. Whenever anything demands blind obedience, its ideology contains a claim of infallibility somewhere; but wherever someone believes seriously enough in that infallibility, they rediscover the need for reason to identify and correctly interpret the infallible source. (…)

[Popper]: [A]ll ‘sources’ are liable to lead us into error at times. And I propose to replace, therefore, the question of the sources of our knowledge by the entirely different question: ‘How can we hope to detect and eliminate error?’ (…)

Popper’s answer is: We can hope to detect and eliminate error if we set up traditions of criticism—substantive criticism, directed at the content of ideas, not their sources, and directed at whether they solve the problems that they purport to solve. Here is another apparent paradox, for a tradition is a set of ideas that stay the same, while criticism is an attempt to change ideas. But there is no contradiction. Our systems of checks and balances are steeped in traditions—such as freedom of speech and of the press, elections, and parliamentary procedures, the values behind concepts of contract and of tort—that survive not because they are deferred to but precisely because they are not: They themselves are continually criticized, and either survive criticism (which allows them to be adopted without deference) or are improved (for example, when the franchise is extended, or slavery abolished). Democracy, in this conception, is not a system for enforcing obedience to the authority of the majority. In the bigger picture, it is a mechanism for promoting the creation of consent, by creating objectively better ideas, by eliminating errors from existing ones.

“Our whole problem,” said the physicist John Wheeler, “is to make the mistakes as fast as possible.” (…) [T]hat only means that whenever possible we should make the mistakes in theory, or in the laboratory; we should “let our theories die in our place,” as Popper put it. (…)

[L]essons can be learned to prevent them from happening again. “We are all alike,” as Popper remarked, “in our infinite ignorance.” And this is a good and hopeful thing, for it allows for a future of unbounded improvement.

Fallibilism, correctly understood, implies the possibility, not the impossibility, of knowledge, because the very concept of error, if taken seriously, implies that truth exists and can be found. The inherent limitation on human reason, that it can never find solid foundations for ideas, does not constitute any sort of limit on the creation of objective knowledge nor, therefore, on progress. The absence of foundation, whether infallible or probable, is no loss to anyone except tyrants and charlatans, because what the rest of us want from ideas is their content, not their provenance. (…)

Indeed, infallibilism and nihilism are twins. Both fail to understand that mistakes are not only inevitable, they are correctable (fallibly). Which is why they both abhor institutions of substantive criticism and error correction, and denigrate rational thought as useless or fraudulent. They both justify the same tyrannies. They both justify each other.” “
Feb
15th
Fri
permalink

"We’re beginning to come to grips with the idea that your brain is not this well-organized hierarchical control system where everything is in order, a very dramatic vision of bureaucracy. In fact, it’s much more like anarchy with some elements of democracy. Sometimes you can achieve stability and mutual aid and a sort of calm united front, and then everything is hunky-dory, but then it’s always possible for things to get out of whack and for one alliance or another to gain control, and then you get obsessions and delusions and so forth.

You begin to think about the normal well-tempered mind, in effect, the well-organized mind, as an achievement, not as the base state. (…) You’re going to have a parallel architecture because, after all, the brain is obviously massively parallel.

It’s going to be a connectionist network. (…) [Y]ou begin to realize that control in brains is very different from control in computers. (…) Each neuron is imprisoned in your brain. I now think of these as cells within cells, as cells within prison cells. Realize that every neuron in your brain, every human cell in your body (leaving aside all the symbionts), is a direct descendent of eukaryotic cells that lived and fended for themselves for about a billion years as free-swimming, free-living little agents. They fended for themselves, and they survived.

They had to develop an awful lot of know-how, a lot of talent, a lot of self-protective talent to do that. When they joined forces into multi-cellular creatures, they gave up a lot of that. They became, in effect, domesticated. They became part of larger, more monolithic organizations. (…)

Maybe a lot of the neurons in our brains are not just capable but, if you like, motivated to be more adventurous, more exploratory or risky in the way they comport themselves, in the way they live their lives. They’re struggling amongst themselves with each other for influence, just for staying alive, and there’s competition going on between individual neurons. As soon as that happens, you have room for cooperation to create alliances, and I suspect that a more free-wheeling, anarchic organization is the secret of our greater capacities of creativity, imagination, thinking outside the box and all that, and the price we pay for it is our susceptibility to obsessions, mental illnesses, delusions and smaller problems.

We got risky brains that are much riskier than the brains of other mammals even, even more risky than the brains of chimpanzees, and that this could be partly a matter of a few simple mutations in control genes that release some of the innate competitive talent that is still there in the genomes of the individual neurons. But I don’t think that genetics is the level to explain this. You need culture to explain it.”

Daniel C. Dennett is University Professor, Professor of Philosophy, and Co-Director of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University, Daniel C. Dennett on an attempt to understand the mind; autonomic neurons, culture and computational architecture, Lapidarium notes, 2013.
Dec
7th
Fri
permalink

“Through this demonstration we learn that neither light, nor eye, nor brain, alone or in association, can see. But rather, we see only through the total coordination of human experiences; and even then, it is our own conceived image, and not really the actual object which we perceive. We learn, therefore, that we see by creative ability and not by mechanical reproduction.” “
Frederick Kiesler, Austrian-American sculptor, theater designer, artist, theoretician and architect (1890-1965), Vision Machine,  ”…seeing the act of looking “ (tnx the-rx)
Oct
28th
Sun
permalink
The moment one thinks of the matter, one sees how false a notion of experience that is which would make it tantamount to the mere presence to the senses of an outward order. Millions of items of the outward order are present to my senses which never properly enter into my experience. Why? Because they have no interest for me. My experience is what I agree to attend to. Only those items which I notice shape my mind—without selective interest, experience is an utter chaos. Interest alone gives accent and emphasis, light and shade, background and foreground —intelligible perspective, in a word.
William James, American philosopher and psychologist who had trained as a physician. He was the first educator to offer a psychology course in the United States (1842-1910), The Principles of Psychology, Volume 1, (1890), Cosimo, Inc., Apr 30, 2007, p.402.
Aug
14th
Tue
permalink
Everything is fiction. When you tell yourself the story of your life, the story of your day, you edit and rewrite and weave a narrative out of a collection of random experiences and events. Your conversations are fiction. Your friends and loved ones—they are characters you have created. And your arguments with them are like meetings with an editor—please, they beseech you, you beseech them, rewrite me. You have a perception of the way things are, and you impose it on your memory, and in this way you think, in the same way that I think, that you are living something that is describable. When of course, what we actually live, what we actually experience—with our senses and our nerves—is a vast, absurd, beautiful, ridiculous chaos. (…)

Fiction gives us everything. It gives us our memories, our understanding, our insight, our lives. We use it to invent ourselves and others. We use it to feel change and sadness and hope and love and to tell each other about ourselves.
Keith Ridgway, Dublin-born award-winning writer, Everything is Fiction, The New Yorker, Aug 8, 2012.
Aug
12th
Sun
permalink
The world is full of obvious things which nobody by any chance ever observes.
Arthur Conan Doyle, The Hound of the Baskervilles cited in Errol Morris, Hear, All Ye People; Hearken, O Earth (Part One), The New York Times, Aug 8, 2012.
Jul
3rd
Tue
permalink
image

“Consider that you can see less than 1% of the electromagnetic spectrum and hear less than 1% of the acoustic spectrum. As you read this, you are traveling at 220 km/sec across the galaxy. 90% of the cells in your body carry their own microbial DNA and are not “you.” The atoms in your body are 99.9999999999999999% empty space and none of them are the ones you were born with, but they all originated in the belly of a star. Human beings have 46 chromosomes, 2 less than the common potato.

The existence of the rainbow depends on the conical photoreceptors in your eyes; to animals without cones, the rainbow does not exist. So you don’t just look at a rainbow, you create it. This is pretty amazing, especially considering that all the beautiful colors you see represent less than 1% of the electromagnetic spectrum.” “
We Originated in the Belly of a Star, NASA Lunar Science Institute, 2012. (Illustration: Christy Scherrer)
Jun
20th
Wed
permalink
The crucial point is that everything that we see in the right half of our vision is processed in the left hemisphere of our brain, and everything we see in the left half is processed by the right hemisphere. And for most of us, the left brain is stronger at processing language. So perhaps the language savvy half of our brain is helping us out. (…) Among those who were the fastest at identifying the odd color, English speakers showed no left brain / right brain distinction, whereas Korean speakers did. It’s plausible that their left brain was attuned to the distinction between yeondu and chorok. (…)

Language is somehow enhancing your left brain’s ability to discern different colors with different names. Cultural forces alter our perception in ever so subtle a way, by gently tugging our visual leanings in different directions. (…) As infant brains are rewiring themselves to absorb our visual language, the seat of categorical processing jumps hemispheres from the right brain to the left. And it stays here throughout adulthood. Their brains are furiously re-categorizing the world, until mysteriously, something finally clicks into place.
May
29th
Tue
permalink
Dylan Evans on the risk intelligence

[Risk intelligence] “it is the ability to estimate probabilities accurately, it’s about having the right amount of certainty to make educated guesses. That’s the simple definition. But this apparently simple skill turns out to be quite complex. It ends up being a rather deep thing about how to work on the basis of limited information and cope with an uncertain world, about knowing yourself and your limitations. (…)

Q: What mistakes do we make in assessing risks?

The need for closure is a really interesting one. If you have a great need for closure, it means you don’t like being in a state of uncertainty - you want an answer, any answer, even if it is the wrong one. On the other extreme, there is this need to avoid closure, where you are constantly seeking more information, so you get stuck in analysis paralysis.

Q: Can we increase our risk quotient?

Absolutely. One way is by being aware of different cognitive biases. Another is to play a personal prediction game. Bet against yourself and estimate probabilities of anything: whether your partner will get home before 6 o’clock, or whether it is going to rain, and keep track of them. Expert gamblers are constantly on the lookout for overconfidence, biases and so on. It is hard work, but it means they know themselves pretty well and they don’t have illusions. They know their weaknesses.” “
Dylan Evans, British academic and author, visiting professor of psychology at the American University of Beirut, Lebanon. He has a PhD in philosophy from the London School of Economics, The man who gave us risk intelligence, New Scientist, 21 May 2012.
May
23rd
Wed
permalink

Bruce Hood on The Self Illusion: How the Brain Creates Identity


I think that both the “I” and the “me” are actually ever-changing narratives generated by our brain to provide a coherent framework to organize the output of all the factors that contribute to our thoughts and behaviors.

I think it helps to compare the experience of self to subjective contours – illusions such as the Kanizsa pattern where you see an invisible shape that is really defined entirely by the surrounding context. People understand that it is a trick of the mind but what they may not appreciate is that the brain is actually generating the neural activation as if the illusory shape was really there. In other words, the brain is hallucinating the experience. There are now many studies revealing that illusions generate brain activity as if they existed. They are not real but the brain treats them as if they were. (…)

Me is similarly constructed, though we may be more aware of the events that have shaped it over our lifetime. But neither is cast in stone and both are open to all manner of reinterpretation. As artists, illusionists, movie makers, and more recently experimental psychologists have repeatedly shown, conscious experience is highly manipulatable and context dependent. Our memories are also largely abstracted reinterpretations of events – we all hold distorted memories of past experiences. (…)

By rejecting the notion of a core self and considering how we are a multitude of competing urges and impulses, I think it is easier to understand why we suddenly go off the rails. It explains why we act, often unconsciously, in a way that is inconsistent with our self image – or the image of our self as we believe others see us.

That said, the self illusion is probably an inescapable experience we need for interacting with others and the world, and indeed we cannot readily abandon or ignore its influence, but we should be skeptical that each of us is the coherent, integrated entity we assume we are. (…)

There’s nothing at the center. We’re the product of the emergent property, I would argue, of the multitude of these processes that generate us.” “
Bruce Hood Canadian-born experimental psychologist who specialises in developmental cognitive neuroscience, Director of the Bristol Cognitive Development Centre, based at the University of Bristol, cited in ☞ The Self Illusion: How the Brain Creates Identity, Lapidarium notes, May, 2012. (Illustration source)
May
17th
Thu
permalink

Norbert Wiley on the Inner Speech as a Language

The language of thought drawing by Robert Horvitz

“The gap between outer langue and inner speech is greater than that between outer langue and outer speech. (…)

We are little gods in the world of inner speech. We are the only ones, we run the show, we are the boss. This world is almost a little insane, for it lacks the usual social controls, and we can be as bad or as goofy as we want. On the other hand inner speech does have a job to do, it has to steer us through the world. That function sets up outer limits, even though within those limits we have a free rein to construct this language as we like. (…)

Although inner speech is not idealism, in some ways it seems to be a more differentially defined universe than outer speech. Linguistic context is even more important than in outer speech. One reason is that meaning is so condensed on the two axes. But a second is that inner language is so pervaded with emotion. (…)

This language is so rooted in the unique self that an eavesdropper, could there be one, would not fully understand it. It has so much of one’s person in it, a listener would have to be another you to follow it. And if someone invented a window into consciousness, a mind-reading machine, that could invade one’s privacy, would they be able to understand the, now revealed, inner speech? I think not. They might be able to understand most of the words, but the non-linguistic or imagistic elements would be too much a personal script to follow. If this eavesdropper watched you, including your consciousness, for your whole life, had access to your memory and knew your way of combining non-linguistic representations with words, they might have your code, but this is another way of saying they would be another you. In practical terms inner speech would be inaccessible in its meaning even if it were accessible in its signifying forms. (…)

The importance of private language is that it sheds light on what a human being is. We are inherently private animals, and we become more so the more self-aware and internally communicative we are. This zone of privacy may well be the foundation for the moral (and legal) need people have for privacy. In any case the hidden individuality or uniqueness of each human being is closely related to the what the person says to him or her self. (…)

Inner speech is both the locus and platform for agency. (…) We choose internally in the zone of inner speech, and then we choose externally in the zone of practical action and the outer world. The first choice leads to the second choice. (…) We could make and break habits by first modelling them in our internal theater.” “
Norbert Wiley, professor emeritus of Sociology at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Illinois, Visiting Scholar at the University of California, Berkley. He is a prize-winning sociologist who has published on both the history and systematics of theory, cited in ☞ Do thoughts have a language of their own? The language of thought hypothesis, May, 2012.
Apr
14th
Sat
permalink
Probably 99.999 percent of what goes on in the brain is automatic and unconscious. I have no idea what my next sentence will be, and sometimes I sound like it. (…) We think the other stuff, the ‘me,’ the ‘self,’ — we think that’s really important. We think there is somebody in charge —somebody pulling the levers. (…)

The brain is automatic but people are free. You are responsible. Get over it.”

Free will is not a useful concept at the level of brain biology, to summarize Gazzaniga, because the biology is fixed. We cannot control our brains. It is at the level of interactions between people where concepts like responsibility and justice can be addressed. Gazzaniga compared the problem to an analysis of traffic, which cannot be achieved by studying individual cars. “Traffic only exists in the interaction,” he said.
Michael Gazzaniga, professor of psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he heads the new SAGE Center for the Study of the Mind, cited in Can we have free will, if the brain’s actions are automatic? A scholar makes the case, Capital New York, Apr 13, 2012.
Apr
11th
Wed
permalink
The cognitive revolution of the past thirty years provides a different perspective on our lives, one that emphasizes the relative importance of emotion over pure reason, social connections over individual choice, moral intuition over abstract logic, perceptiveness over I.Q.
David Brooks, journalist, a political and cultural commentator, Social Animal, The New Yorker, 17 Jan 2011
Mar
21st
Wed
permalink
The miracle of your mind isn’t that you can see the world as it is, but that you can see the world as it isn’t. We can remember the past and we can think about the future, and we can imagine what it’s like to be some other person in some other place. And we all do this differently.
Kathryn Schulz, American journalist and author, Kathryn Schulz: On being wrong, TED talk [12:00-12:17], Mar 2011. 
Mar
19th
Mon
permalink
What if we’re not, in fact, meant to have language and music? (…) The reason we have such a head for language and music is not that we evolved for them, but, rather, that language and music evolved—culturally evolved over millennia—for us. Our brains aren’t shaped for these pinnacles of humankind. (…) These pinnacles of humankind are shaped to be good for our brains. (…)

They’d have to possess the auditory structure of…nature. That is, we have auditory systems which have evolved to be brilliantly capable at processing the sounds from nature, and language and music would need to mimic those sorts of sounds in order to harness—to “nature-harness,” as I call it—our brain. (…) Human speech sounds like solid objects events, and music sounds like human behavior. (…)

Being human today is quite a different thing than being the original Homo sapiens. (…) Unlike Homo sapiens, we’re grown in a radically different petri dish. Our habitat is filled with cultural artifacts—the two heavyweights being language and music—designed to harness our brains’ ancient capabilities and transform them into new ones.

Humans are more than Homo sapiens. Humans are Homo sapiens who have been nature-harnessed into an altogether novel creature, one designed in part via natural selection, but also in part via cultural evolution.