Showing posts from March, 2010

Is it scientific?

“You can believe this, because this is very scientific.” We often hear similar statements from people or organizations eager to convince us of certain theories or points of view. According to the standards of our materialistic society, whose origins go back to the European Enlightenment, a statement or position is only respectable and deserving of belief if its derivation has been grounded on the scientific method. Because of that, many people who attempt to promote something, be it a product, a technique, or a theory, seek to associate that something to science. As a result, today we are witnesses to a deluge of attempts to hijack science in all sorts of manners: dubious products whose efficacy has been demonstrated by “scientific studies;” self-help or spiritual techniques grounded on supposedly scientific principles; even a re-dressing of positions that were originally purely religious under the clothing of science.

The European enlightenment embodied a reaction to the superstitio…

The primacy of experience

An author who has significantly influenced my thoughts over the past few years is David Chalmers, professional philosopher and author of “The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory”. Below, I quote a passage from his work that I believe captures the essence of his thinking:

“Despite the power of physical theory, the existence of consciousness does not seem to be derivable from physical laws. […] If the existence of consciousness cannot be derived from physical laws, a theory of physics is not a true theory of everything. So a final theory must contain an additional fundamental component. Toward this end, I propose that conscious experience be considered a fundamental feature, irreducible to anything more basic.”

David Chalmers, in “The Puzzle of Conscious Experience”, Scientific American, December 1995, page 96
Chalmers leaves room for a dualistic view wherein consciousness is separate from a causally-closed material world whose existence is not dependent on conscious obs…

The parallels of Pandeism

I need to start with a disclaimer: this article does not necessarily capture any of my personal beliefs, philosophical or otherwise. It is simply an intellectual exercise in trying to relate radically distinct, but curiously complementary concepts, for the sole sake of intellectual exploration.

In discussions about strong Artificial Intelligence, a debate often emerges around the “hard problem of consciousness”. As I discuss in my upcoming book, with our scientific understanding of today we can tentatively explain physical phenomena in terms of structure and function. A model encompassing structure and function alone can be envisioned to eventually explain and simulate the full set of external behaviors manifested by a human being, without any need for conscious experience to be involved (the resulting simulation would be a so-called philosophical zombie). However, there is one property of the human mind that seems to escape reduction to structure and function: our ability to experie…

Intellectual furnishings

We live in a culture of easy, readily-available media and entertainment. Our senses are blasted with messages on the streets, on television, and on the Internet, all creating the illusion that we live immersed in a varied and meaningful intellectual environment. However, the intellectual content we are usually exposed to is culture-bound, unbalanced, low-grade, and remarkably shallow in its pill format, targeted for easy consumption without even modest mental effort or critical thought. As a result, we live in an environment extremely conducive to intellectual numbness.

The constant exposure to external stimuli distracts us from having a good and frank look at the intellectual furnishings of our inner minds. Even when we wisely use our freedom and time to deepen our knowledge of certain subjects, the competitive pressures of our society often push us towards utilitarian subjects that help us further our careers or solve some specific problem, but which do not nurture our thoughts on …