“Ideas evolve by descent with modification, just as bodies do, and Darwin at least partly got this idea from economists, who got it from empirical philosophers. Locke and Newton begat Hume and Voltaire who begat Hutcheson and Smith who begat Malthus and Ricardo who begat Darwin and Wallace.
Before Darwin, the supreme example of an undesigned system was Adam Smith’s economy, spontaneously self-ordered through the actions of individuals, rather than ordained by a monarch or a parliament. Where Darwin defenestrated God, Smith had defenestrated government. Neatly, this year also sees a Smith anniversary, the 250th birthday of his first book, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, a book that is very Darwinian in its insistence that sympathy is what we would today call innate, that people are naturally nice as well as naturally nasty.”
“At every level in the vast and dynamic world of living things lies diversity. From biomes to biomarkers, the complex array of solutions to the most basic problems regarding survival in a given environment afforded to us by nature is riveting. In the world of humans alone, diversity is apparent in the genome, in the brain and in our behavior.
The mark of multiple populations lies in the fabric of our DNA. The signature of selfhood in the brain holds dual frames, one for thinking about one’s self as absolute, the other in context of others. From this biological diversity in humans arises cultural diversity directly observable in nearly every aspect of how people think, feel and behavior. From classrooms to conventions across continents, the range and scope of human activities is stunning.
Recent centuries have seen the scientific debate regarding the nature of human nature cast as a dichotomy between diversity on the one hand and universalism on the other. Yet a seemingly paradoxical, but tractable, scientific concept that may enhance our cognitive toolkit over time is the simple notion that diversity is universal.”
Freeman Dyson: ‘It appears to me that the tendency of mind to infiltrate and control matter is a law of nature’
“It appears to me that the tendency of mind to infiltrate and control matter is a law of nature. (…) The infiltration of mind into the universe will not be permanently halted by any catastrophe or by any barrier that can imagine. If our species does not choose to lead the way, others will do so, or may have already done so. If our species is extinguished, others will be wiser or luckier. Mind is patient. Mind has waited for 3 billion years on this planet before composing its first string quartet. It may have to wait for another 3 billion years before it spreads all over the galaxy. I do not expect that it will have to wait so long. But if necessary, it will wait. The universe is like a fertile soil spread out all around us, ready for the seeds of mind to sprout and grow. Ultimately, late or soon, mind will come into its heritage. What will mind choose to do when it informs and controls the universe? That is a question which we cannot hope to answer.”
“In even the simplest foraging societies, people depend on a vast array of tools, detailed bodies of local knowledge, and complex social arrangements and often do not understand why these tools, beliefs, and behaviors are adaptive. We owe our success to our uniquely developed ability to learn from others. This capacity enables humans to gradually accumulate information across generations and develop well-adapted tools, beliefs, and practices that are too complex for any single individual to invent during their lifetime.”
"As humans we always take for granted an enormous store of cultural knowledge, which we absorb both implicitly and explicitly. We are adapted to be cultural creatures. This is why the authors posit the “cultural niche” rather than “cognitive niche” hypothesis in terms of the transmission of sets of ideas. The cognitive niche hypothesis emphasizes the individual competencies of humans. We have relatively advanced general intelligence aptitudes, and we are master imitators. Therefore, once an innovation occurs, instead of reinventing the wheel, humans replicate. This is far cheaper than the act of invention. A sequential and synergistic set of imitations can then lead to a ratchet effect of cultural evolution, as beneficial memes sweep through populations. (…) Collective cultural memory plays a critical role in passing down “best practices.””
'We are information experiencing information. Human are anti-entropic phenomenon'
Kevin Kelly, founding editor of Wired Magazine, referring to technological evolution as following the momentum begun at the big bang - he has stated:
"The story and game begin at the beginning. As the undifferentiated energy at the big bang is cooled by the expanding space of the universe, it coalesces into measurable entities, and, over time, the particles condense into atoms. Further expansion and cooling allows complex molecules to form, which self-assemble into self-reproducing entities. With each tick of the clock, increasing complexity is added to these embryonic organisms, increasing the speed at which they change. As evolution evolves, it keeps piling on different ways to adapt and learn until eventually the minds of animals are caught in self-awareness. This self-awareness thinks up more minds, and together a universe of minds transcends all previous limits. The destiny of this collective mind is to expand imagination in all directions until it is no longer solitary but reflects the infinite.”
Hugo Mercier on The Argumentative Theory of Reasoning
“Reasoning was not designed to pursue the truth. Reasoning was designed by evolution to help us win arguments. That’s why they call it The Argumentative Theory of Reasoning. So, as they put it, “The evidence reviewed here shows not only that reasoning falls quite short of reliably delivering rational beliefs and rational decisions. It may even be, in a variety of cases, detrimental to rationality. Reasoning can lead to poor outcomes, not because humans are bad at it, but because they systematically strive for arguments that justify their beliefs or their actions. This explains the confirmation bias, motivated reasoning, and reason-based choice, among other things. (…)
Now, the authors point out that we can and do re-use our reasoning abilities. We’re sitting here at a conference. We’re reasoning together. We can re-use our argumentative reasoning for other purposes. But even there, it shows the marks of its heritage. Even there, our thought processes tend towards confirmation of our own ideas. Science works very well as a social process, when we can come together and find flaws in each other’s reasoning. We can’t find the problems in our own reasoning very well. But, that’s what other people are for, is to criticize us. And together, we hope the truth comes out.”
"The things in life we love most — including life itself — are infinite games. When we play the game of life, the game of the technium, goals are not fixed, the rules are unknown and shifting. (…)
The goal of the infinite game is to keep playing — to explore every way to play a game, to include all the games, all possible players, to widen what is meant by playing, to spend all, to hoard nothing, to seed the universe with improbable plays, and if possible to surpass everything that has come before.”
— Kevin Kelly, writer, the founding executive editor of Wired magazine, and a former editor/publisher of the Whole Earth Catalog, What Technology Wants, New York: Viking, The Penguin Group, 2010. (tnx carvalhais)
Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennet Discuss the Meaning of Life and Death
A British evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett, an American philosopher and cognitive scientist discuss the meaning of life and death.
Mark Changizi: The path to enhancing our brains is not to change or add to it, but to harness it in altogether novel fashions
“As I recently discussed in a “manifesto” of sorts, the key to our future human development will be technology that harnesses our brain’s evolved functional powers. That’s how we got to be the humans we take ourselves to be today, so radically different from our essentially genetically identical Homo sapiens ancestors. Chief among those differences are writing, speech, and music (arguably the pinnacle of the arts) – I argue in my research and books that cultural selection has acted over time to shape these core artifacts to fit our brains like a glove, redirecting brilliant ancestral powers into modern ones. We read, for example, not because we evolved by natural selection to read, but because writing culturally evolved to be shaped like the fundamental contour combinations found in natural scenes (I call it nature-harnessing), just what our visual system is optimized to process.
This “harnessing humans” vision is an intrinsically humanistic one, and is in stark contrast to the “sci-fi” flavor of the artificial-brains prognosticators. In fact, rather than sci-fi, my viewpoint is best illustrated by another genre of fiction: fantasy, and, in particular, the magic found within it. (…)
The biologically innate powers hundreds of millions of years of evolution gave us are like magic. They are ancient, inscrutable and potent, and should be studied, safeguarded and revered. And just as you can’t beat magic with human invention, we cannot hope to out-engineer our brains and bodies.
The human condition has been granted a finite number of “magical powers,” and the best route to moving forward is to exploit those powers in new ways. The path to enhancing our brains is not to change or add to it, but to harness it in altogether novel fashions.
In my “manifesto” I suggested that via understanding how culture harnessed us we are in a better position to intentionally harness our brains more effectively, with the hope of tapping into powers far beyond that which any artificial brain is likely to wield for a long, long time."
Lee Smolin on Thinking In Time Versus Thinking Outside Of Time
“One very old and pervasive habit of thought is to imagine that the true answer to whatever question we are wondering about lies out there in some eternal domain of “timeless truths.” The aim of re-search is then to “discover” the answer or solution in that already existing timeless domain. For example, physicists often speak as if the final theory of everything already exists in a vast timeless Platonic space of mathematical objects. This is thinking outside of time.
Scientists are thinking in time when we conceive of our task as the invention of genuinely novel ideas to describe newly discovered phenomena, and novel mathematical structures to express them. If we think outside of time, we believe these ideas somehow “existed” before we invented them. If we think in time we see no reason to presume that.
The contrast between thinking in time and thinking outside of time can be seen in many domains of human thought and action. We are thinking outside of time when, faced with a technological or social problem to solve, we assume the possible approaches are already determined by a set of absolute pre-existing categories. We are thinking in time when we understand that progress in technology, society and science happens by the invention of genuinely novel ideas, strategies, and novel forms of social organization.
The idea that truth is timeless and resides outside the universe was the essence of Plato’s philosophy, exemplified in the parable of the slave boy that was meant to argue that discovery is merely remembering. This is reflected in the philosophy of mathematics called Platonism, which is the belief that there are two ways of existing. Regular physical things exist in the universe and are subject to time and change, while mathematical objects exist in a timeless realm.The division of the world into a time-drenched Earthly realm of life, death, change and decay, surrounded by a heavenly sphere of perfect eternal truth, framed both ancient science and Christian religion.
If we imagine that the task of physics is the discovery of a timeless mathematical object that is isomorphic to the history of the world, then we imagine that the truth to the universe lies outside the universe. This is such a familiar habit of thought that we fail to see its absurdity: if the universe is all that exists then how can something exist outside of it for it to be isomorphic to?
On the other hand, if we take the reality of time as evident, then there can be no mathematical object that is perfectly isomorphic to the world, because one property of the real world that is not shared by any mathematical object is that it is always some moment. Indeed, as Charles Sanders Pierce first observed, the hypothesis that the laws of physics evolved through the history of the world is necessary if we are to have a rational understanding of why one particular set of laws hold, rather than others.
Thinking outside of time often implies the existence of an imagined realm outside the universe where the truth lies. This is a religious idea, because it means that explanations and justifications ultimately refer to something outside of the world we experience ourselves to be a part of. If we insist there is nothing outside the universe, not even abstract ideas or mathematical objects, we are forced to find the causes of phenomena entirely within our universe. So thinking in time is also thinking within the one universe of phenomena our observations show us to inhabit.
Among contemporary cosmologists and physicists, proponents of eternal inflation and timeless quantum cosmology are thinking outside of time. Proponents of evolutionary and cyclic cosmological scenarios are thinking in time. If you think in time you worry about time ending at space-time singularities. If you think outside of time this is an ignorable problem because you believe reality is the whole history of the world at once.
Darwinian evolutionary biology is the prototype for thinking in time because at its heart is the realization that natural processes developing in time can lead to the creation of genuinely novel structures. Even novel laws can emerge when the structures to which they apply come to exist. Evolutionary dynamics has no need of abstract and vast spaces like all the possible viable animals, DNA sequences, sets of proteins, or biological laws. Exaptations are too unpredictable and too dependent on the whole suite of living creatures to be analyzed and coded into properties of DNA sequences. is the prototype for thinking in time because at its heart is the realization that natural processes developing in time can lead to the creation of genuinely novel structures. Even novel laws can emerge when the structures to which they apply come to exist. Evolutionary dynamics has no need of abstract and vast spaces like all the possible viable animals, DNA sequences, sets of proteins, or biological laws. Exaptations are too unpredictable and too dependent on the whole suite of living creatures to be analyzed and coded into properties of DNA sequences. Better, as Stuart Kauffman proposes, to think of evolutionary dynamics as the exploration, in time, by the biosphere, of the adjacent possible.
The same goes for the evolution of technologies, economies and societies. The poverty of the conception that economic markets tend to unique equilibria, independent of their histories, shows the danger of thinking outside of time. Meanwhile the path dependence that Brian Arthur and others show is necessary to understand real markets illustrates the kind of insights that are gotten by thinking in time.
Thinking in time is not relativism, it is a form of relationalism. Truth can be both time bound and objective, when it is about objects that only exist once they are invented, by evolution or human thought.
When we think in time we recognize the human capacity to invent genuinely novel constructions and solutions to problems. When we think about the organizations and societies we live and work in outside of time we unquestioningly accept their strictures, and seek to manipulate the levers of bureaucracy as if they had an absolute reason to be there. When we think about organizations in time we recognize that every feature of them is a result of their history and everything about them is negotiable and subject to improvement by the invention of novel ways of doing things."
“What is life? We can point to all sorts of chemical processes, metabolic processes, reproductive processes that are present where there is life. But we ask, where is the life? You don’t say life is a thing inside the organism. The life is this process that the organism is participating in, a process that involves an environmental niche and dynamic selectivity. If you want to find the life, look to the dynamic of the animal’s engagement with its world. The life is there. The life is not inside the animal. The life is the way the animal is in the world. (…)
One way this comes out in an interesting way is if we look to a simple organism. An organism is not merely a collection of chemical processes. The organism has a certain unity, and it is only when I can conceptually bring that organism into focus as a unity that I can study it, that I can even recognize it. Once I do that, I can ask questions about what the organism’s interest are, what its goals are, what its needs are. I can’t ask about the needs of chemicals in a soup. There is sense in which just to perceive the life in the thing before me, I need already to see it as an integrated whole distinct from its environment. Once I do that, I can also see it as having needs and interesting goals, and, thus, in some sense, a mind. I don’t mean to say that a bacterium has a mind. But I mean that wherever we find life we find the necessity for a certain kind of narrative which makes the attribution of mind at least intelligible.
This is the power of the theory of evolution: it makes the narrative official. Evolution shows us how life works; it allows us to tell stories about an organism has the traits it has. We tell historical narratives. If we try to stay just at the level of atoms or molecules or chemical processes, we couldn’t do that. So in a way my moral is this: the standpoint that cognitive science needs to take towards animals, and indeed, towards ourselves, is the biological standpoint, the standpoint that allows us to bring the whole animal and its story into focus. Unfortunately, cognitive science has tended to take a distinctively non-biological approach. They say they are looking at the brain and the nervous system, but they tend to model the brain and nervous system as computational systems, systems thought of solving problems and computing functions, systems that are, in the end, very much divorced from the active life of the animal.”
Alva Noe on consciousness. Why You Are Not Your Brain
"You, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules." — Francis Crick, nobel Prize-winning molecular biologist
“You are not your brain. You have a brain, yes. But you are a living being that is connected to an environment; you are embodied, and dynamically interacting with the world. We can’t explain consciousness in terms of the brain alone because consciousness doesn’t happen in the brain alone. (…)
We should reject the idea that the mind is something inside of us that is basically matter of just a calculating machine. There are different reasons to reject this. But one is, simply put: there is nothing inside us that thinks and feels and is conscious. Consciousness is not something that happens in us. It is something we do.
A much better image is that of the dancer. A dancer is locked into an environment, responsive to music, responsive to a partner. The idea that the dance is a state of us, inside of us, or something that happens in us is crazy. Our ability to dance depends on all sorts of things going on inside of us, but that we are dancing is fundamentally an attunement to the world around us.
And this idea that human consciousness is something we enact or achieve, in motion, as a way of being part of a larger process, is the focus of my work.
Experience is something that is temporarily extended and active. Perceptual consciousness is a style of access to the world around us. I can touch something, and when I touch something I make use of an understanding of the way in which my own movements help me secure access to that which is before me. The point is not that merely that I learn about or achieve access to the world by touching. The point is that the thing shows up for me as something in a space of movement-oriented possibilities.
Visual consciousness relies on a whole set of practical skills that we have, making use of the eyes and the head. I understand that if I move my eyes, I produce a certain kind of sensory change. Perceptual consciousness is a mode of exploration of the world, making use of a certain kind of practical bodily understanding. And that is what dance is. And this makes dance, for me, the perfect metaphor for consciousness. (…)
To study experience, to think about the nature of experience, is to look at this two-way dynamic exchange between world and the active perceiver.
Not only is dance a good analogy for what consciousness is, but the experience of watching dance and the way in which we can cultivate our aesthetic appreciation of something like dance is, actually, a good way of thinking about what phenomenology itself could be. What do you see when you look at a dance? You understand the movements and the forms and the patterns of the ensemble in a particular dance environment, which may be a stage or it may be some other kind of environment. To watch a dance is to make sense of this kind of dynamic. (…)
Scientists ask, how does our biological being enable us to have the kinds of experiences we have? That should be understood as a question less about how the function of our brain produces images inside our skull and, rather, about how our full embodiment enables us to carry on as we do in an environment in a situation. This raises an interesting possibility. Maybe we can think of aesthetic experience as a model of the workings at least of an important core of human consciousness—perceptual consciousness. (…)
My view is that traditional philosophy and cognitive science has been asking the wrong question when it comes to pictures. They ask, how does the picture affect us and give rise to an experience in our heads? Instead, what they should ask is how do we achieve a kind of access to Hillary, to properties of Hillary, such as her visual appearance, by exploration of something which is not Hillary, namely, a picture? (…) Once again we are thrown back to this idea that the perceiving is an achievement of access by making use of skills, knowledge. I need to know what Hillary looks like in order to recognize Hillary in her picture. (…)
Scientists ask, what is it about the way these cells are firing in the brain that makes the corresponding experience a visual experience? It’s a trick question because there is nothing about the way those cells are firing that can explain that. Certainly we don’t now know anything that would allow us to point to the intrinsic properties of the cells and say, it’s something about the intrinsic behavior of these cells that makes the resulting experience, the smell of coffee on a rainy morning, or the redness of red. Nor can we say that populations of cells give you the solution.
We have to get bigger than that. It’s not one cell; it’s not populations of cells. We need to look at the whole animals’ involvement with a situation. The thing about a smell is that a smell gives you the space of possible movement sensitive changes. If I am smelling something, the movements of my nostrils in relation to the source of the order will produce changes in the character or the odor. If we want to ask, what is it about this cellular activity that makes it olfactory cellular activity, the answer is going to be the way in which the cellular activity varies as a function of the animal’s movement.
And that is what the brain is doing. The brain is enabling us to establish this kind of sensorimotor engagement with the world around us. (…)
If we want to understand human consciousness or indeed animal consciousness overall, we can’t just look to the brain. We need to look to the embodied, situated animal’s life. No brain scan, no matter how cleverly constructed, is going to reveal the consciousness happening because that is not where the consciousness is happening.
That’s the wrong level of analysis. The consciousness is unfolding in this dynamic. The consciousness is not in the head. (…)
The problem of consciousness is understanding how this world is there for us. It shows up in our senses. It shows up in our thoughts. Our feelings and interests and concerns are directed to and embrace this world around us. We think, we feel, the world shows up for us. To me that’s the problem of consciousness. That is a real problem that needs to be studied, and it’s a special problem. (…)
Our ordinary experience, the kind of richness, the texture, the stability of waking experience, can only be achieved for an organism that is actually locked into the environment in a certain kind of way. If you change the environment or take away the environment, you would alter human consciousness.”
“What Alva Noe and others with similar views about consciousness seemingly fail to understand is that the very world with which we are dynamically interacting is both a real and a phenomenal world. It is the real world in which our actions must be adaptive and creative, but—and this is the key point—our consciously initiated actions can only be governed by the features of our phenomenal world. It is the phenomenal world that poses the essential problem of conscious experience.
Here’s why. The world that you (or I) consciously experience (the phenomenal world) is, in its irreducible form, a global coherent volumetric space in which you are the egocentric origin of all experience and action. The rich and constantly changing content of your phenomenal world cannot exist outside of your phenomenal 3D space that encompasses it. Whatever your conscious experience, it must be an experience of something somewhere in your egocentric phenomenal world. The problem is that humans have no sensory transducers by which to detect and represent the extended coherent 3D space of the world we live in. This means that the brain must have an innate system of biological mechanisms (most likely neuronal) that provide us with a transparent representation of the world from our privileged egocentric perspective. The existence of this conscious egocentric representation of our personal world is a necessary precondition for the kind of active engagement with the world that Alva Noe describes so well.
A final comment. When Noe claims that “… at the present time, we actually can’t give any satisfactory explanations about the nature of human experience in terms of the functioning of the brain”, it appears that he is unaware of a wealth of recently published findings relating brain events to objective measures of phenomenal experience.”
“Consciousness isn’t something that happens; it is something we do or make. And like everything else that we do, it depends both on the way we are constituted — on our brains and bodies — but also on the world around us.
Looking for consciousness in the brain is like looking for dance in the legs. (…)
Both Cartesian dualism, with its insistence that the mind is separate from the body, and the contemporary dogma that that the thing inside us that thinks and feels is the brain, share a common premise: that there is a thing inside that thinks and feels and decides and is conscious. It is this assumption, shared by dualist and most neuroscientists alike, that really holds us captive. (…)
There is as of yet no consensus on what a science of human or animal experience should even look like. I propose that what limits us, and what limits our science, is a dual misunderstanding. The first I have already indicated: we suppose that mind is in the head. No, we need to get out of our heads to understand the workings of the mind, to look at the way the animal is closely coupled to and involved with its environment. (…)
We confuse the fabulous success of modern physics with grounds for believing that we live in the world that physics describes. And then we are confronted with the fact that the world of the physicist is a world devoid of colors and sounds and textures and odors and all the other qualities that fill up our experience. This tends to throw us back on our brains again: if the world isn’t really the way we experience it as being, then our experience must be something we confabulate, or that our brains confabulate for us. Back to the Cartesian capsule! (…)
The basic laws of physics that support life are well understood; but this does not imply that we understand, in the terms of physics, how there is life!
The thing is: we do not live in the world of physics. If that were so, then there would be no biology at all. No, humans and other animals live in niches. They, or rather, we, occupy landscapes of values — worlds made up not of quantum lattice structures, but of opportunities and obstacles, affordances and hinderances. Life, including our experiential lives, happen not in clouds of atoms, but on level ground, with others, surrounded by hiding places, food, friends and enemies.
It is there, where we find ourselves, that we find the stage of our active lives and our active experience. We actually have the resources we need to understand ourselves. It is two dogmas of now antiquated modern science — that mind is in the head, and that the world is devoid of meaning unless we, or our brains, give it meaning — that creates the illusion — a meta-cognitive illusion! — that there is a hard problem of consciousness we are unable to solve.”
“Contemporary research on consciousness in neuroscience rests on unquestioned but highly questionable foundations. Human nature is no less mysterious now than it was a hundred years ago,” writes philosopher Alva Noë in his book “Out of Our Heads.”
It’s a bold assertion in an age when fMRI has enabled us to see images of the brain functioning in real time, and when many prominent public intellectuals (Stephen Hawking, Eric Kandel) have argued, either implicitly or vociferously, in favor of reductionism. The “brain-as-calculating machine” analogy assumes that human thought, personality, memory, and emotion are located somewhere in the gray matter protected by the skull. In other words, you — at least, the waking you who gets out of bed in the morning — are your brain.
But you’re not, says Noë. Just as love does not live inside the heart, consciousness is not contained in a finite space — it’s something that arises, something that occurs: a verb rather than a noun. And since the publication of Francis Crick’s influential “The Astonishing Hypothesis: The Scientific Search for the Soul,” scientists have been looking for it in all the wrong places. “