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Revising the self: The names we use

From the parts of Douglas Hofstadter’s books that I’ve read so far – and correct me if I’ve misunderstood – our minds can be conceived of as a network of “symbols” representing every distinct concept we have, with the meaning of each symbol being derived from its connections to various other symbols. On page 376 of Gödel, Escher, Bach, Hofstadter illustrates a small portion of his wider ensemble of concepts and their linkages. One section:

He later states that “I”, our self, can be represented as a symbol as well – “probably the most complex of all the symbols in the brain.” This is unsurprising, as any useful concept of our self needs to provide us with a model of the overall set of symbols in our brain and how they’re connected. If all of our symbols comprise “things we know”, then our self-symbol represents the Rumsfeldian “things we know that we know”. Or, as Greg Egan described a self-aware alien species in Diaspora:

He led Paolo into another scape, a representation of the data structures in the “brain” of one of the squid. It was – mercifully – three-dimensional, and highly stylized, with translucent colored blocks to represent mental symbols, linked by broad lines indicating the major connections between them. Paolo had seen similar diagrams of citizens’ minds; this was far less elaborate, but eerily familiar nonetheless.

Karpal said, “Here’s the sensory map of its surroundings. Full of other squids’ bodies, and vague data on the last known positions of a few smaller creatures. But you’ll see that the symbols activated by the physical presence of the other squid are linked to these” – he traced the connection with one finger – “representations. Which are crude miniatures of this whole structure here.

“This whole structure” was an assembly labeled with gestalt tags for memory retrieval, simple tropisms, short-term goals. The general business of being and doing.

“The squid has maps, not just of other squid’s bodies, but their minds as well. Right or wrong, it certainly tries to know what the others are thinking about. And” – he pointed out another set of links, leading to another, less crude, miniature squid mind – “it thinks about its own thoughts as well. I’d call that consciousness, wouldn’t you?”

Considering how large the self-symbol must be, and the important role it plays, it’s easy to see why substantial alterations to that symbol are afforded such significance. Changing something we see as a part of ourselves, like our political, religious, moral or sexual views and identities, can be such a difficult process that it’s often described as a “crisis of faith”. This is why Paul Graham recommends to “keep your identity small” – if you regard a certain concept as being a piece of “you”, you’re liable to see it as something that needs to be preserved and defended regardless of accuracy or intellectual integrity. It’s become more important to you than some other belief that isn’t part of your personal identity and can be honestly evaluated and appropriately revised.

So, revising your understanding of who you are can be a challenge. It’s more difficult than recognizing that you were wrong on a certain point of fact, correcting yourself, and moving on. It takes some getting used to.

What would be one of the most prominent elements of your self-symbol? Your name.

Zinnia hasn’t appeared in the top 1,000 American names for the past century. This makes it an excellent and recognizable “brand”, but for me, transitioning involved finding a name that blended in, didn’t draw the wrong kind of attention, and was appropriate for my age. This had the added benefit of my partner now having an easier time casually mentioning me in conversations with co-workers without the risk of drawing odd questions (not that this ever stopped her before).

But just deciding you have a new name isn’t that easy. It’s not a switch that flips and immediately updates everything tied to how you’re known, while erasing every trace of the old name. You’re trying to change the label for who you are, and that’s a big thing. It’s linked to every official document and record with your name on it, other people’s concepts of you (and how they might unconsciously relate you to others who share your name), how you’re addressed in your day-to-day life, how you’re mentioned in conversation, how people remember any events involving you, and all of your own memories of the occasions when you’ve used your name throughout your life. It would almost be easier to ask what it isn’t connected to.

This makes it a somewhat awkward and slow-going process for everyone. Other people have to get used to using your new name. You have to get used to hearing your own name, responding to it, and internalizing the fact that this name refers to you, and you are that name. All of this can feel like chipping away at a mountainside – or trying to re-color it with a single paintbrush, one stroke at a time. It’s not as easy as you, or others, learning your name the first time around and simply acquiring the appropriate label for a person. We’re working against an established history here. Even after moving from the Central timezone to Eastern almost a year ago, I still occasionally catch myself looking first at the “7” of “8 / 7 Central” when TV shows are announced, rather than the “8”. My name is much more deeply entrenched than this.

So how do you start to think of yourself as Rachel? (Not my actual name.)

Practice is a big part of it. Every time I wake up, the first thing I do is remind myself: “I am Rachel. I am Rachel. I am Rachel.” But I often feel like this is just an attempt to rush the process along, skipping a few steps ahead in what seems like a lengthier sequence of adjustment:

1. “My name is Zinnia, but it’s been changed to Rachel.”

2. “My name is Rachel.”

3. “I am Rachel.”

4. Rachel supplants Zinnia as the background wallpaper for my self, and I naturally think of myself as Rachel without it needing to be explicitly affirmed.

But even this addresses only part of the whole edifice of my old name that’s been built up over my life. “I am Rachel” is directed to the present and the future. What about the past? People might just think of me as Rachel-who-used-to-be-Zinnia, or Zinnia-but-now-Rachel, instead of simply Rachel. And I might, too, if I don’t make a concerted effort not to. How can I come to internalize “I have always been Rachel”?

I decided to start at the very beginning.

My first memories are about being at my grandparents’ house. When I was 3, they got a PC. They didn’t actually use it for anything – it was there for me to play with. This was my first computer: MS-DOS, no mouse, and educational games. My absolute favorite was Treasure MathStorm, a game about ascending a mountain by solving basic counting and arithmetic problems, and collecting treasures along the way, before going back to the beginning and doing it all over again. I spent hours on this almost every time I went to Grandma’s house, doing problem after problem and somehow never getting bored, carving those equations deeper and deeper into my mind, and gathering ever more treasures under my name.

I only had one opportunity to play it again some years after that, when my grandparents dug out that old computer while preparing to move. I couldn’t resist booting it up again, and it still worked just the same, with everything saved to my name. Of course, by now I wasn’t spending so much time at their house, so they soon decided to ship the computer to some of their friends in Maryland who had small children. Just like that, Treasure MathStorm was passed on. I assumed I would never get the chance to play it again. Sure, there were new releases of it with updated graphics, but it would never be the same as running it on a 25 MHz PC with nothing but a keyboard.

As it turns out, I was wrong. Some people had managed to get their hands on that first 1992 version, which could be run in a DOS emulator. I have never downloaded anything so quickly in my life.

Everything I had forgotten about it came rushing back: the elves, the time igloo, the cave of counting, the angry snowballs, rewards like a boot with a white mouse in it, it was all there. Sure, some of it seemed dated and repetitive (and I now recognized how unbalanced its economy is, as using one net to catch one elf gave you enough money to buy four nets to catch four elves…), but even all the grinding was still fun. And after completing each level, the game counted up all the treasures I’d collected:

Rachel. That’s me.

It sounds absolutely ridiculous, but it really does help. I ended up doing the same thing with old ROMs of Pokemon Gold and Silver, which I wasted an incredible amount of time on in my preteen years before the Pokemon trend waned in my neighborhood. And every time I see my name, it’s reinforced just a little bit more: “Rachel – me.”

Heather’s been helping me with my more recent history as well. One advantage of keeping digital versions of the notes we sent to each other is that they can be edited. We can almost literally rewrite history, so everything that was to and from Zinnia is now to and from Rachel. And when we look over them again, we see that Rachel is just as real as Zinnia was. Indeed, Rachel was there the whole time. We’ve spent hours reminiscing about everything we’ve done together, the highlights as well as the simple everyday moments,  and reminding ourselves: “I was there. That was Rachel. That was me – us. Heather and Rachel.”

And it’s starting to sink in. Sure, I still have to make an effort to think and talk about myself as Rachel, and so do my family, Heather, her family and our kids. This doesn’t happen overnight. It doesn’t happen in a week, or a month. But it’s happening nonetheless.

In terms of continuity, I’m still the same person I was before. All of those other features that make me myself don’t change with my name. But my identity is becoming something different, and this has an effect, big or small, on everything connected to it. After all, if this wasn’t going to change anything, then what would be the point?

Comments

  1. says

    Thank you for the the Paul Graham link, it articulated some thoughts I’ve been having very well. I also found the perspective on changing your name very interesting. I’ve never had reason to want to change my name, but I think I would personally find it very hard to do, as it’s one of the linchpins of my identity. I have made my identity very small, which means that there’s not much other than the name that I can use to really signify who I am. I also don’t really recall any games I played when I was a kid that used names specifically.

  2. Amy D says

    Thanks for this. I have been writing down my own thoughts on, among many other things, my new name as I, too, have started transitioning about three months ago. Choosing my name, which for me I likened to trying on fabulous clothes, was the final big step. After I discovered my name, the turbo button was pressed and I could go forward and run through the wall. The mental rewiring has been remarkably easy for me, although I still have this weird fear that I myself am going to slip and say/write my old name. But my old name seems to be fading into something far less concrete, more ghostly, and less me even to refer to me in the past. As you say, the rewriting of the past is fascinating. I have heard of people referring to me-in-the-past by using my new name, which pleases me of course and is as it should be. It actually makes me feel a bit little like a Time Lord. Cheers!

  3. Catherine says

    Since changing my name 3 years ago now, I see my ‘boyname’ now and it doesn’t resonate with me anymore, seems like ‘he’ was a different person that I once knew…

  4. C Rowan says

    My step-dad adopted me when I was in 5th grade. I got his last name. I was asked if I wanted to alter my first name (Christi to Christine or such). I declined but the idea that I had the option never left me. I started going by “Rowan” & “Christi” in 1996. By 1998, I always introduced myself as “Rowan”. I found it fascinating who adapted, who couldn’t stop using the old name, which newer friends couldn’t see me as “Christi”. I tacked the “C” back on for my family & I actually like how it looks. There is an odd fluidity for me when it comes to my name.

    For you, playing games cut the channels to help your identity flow. It strikes me as really beautiful– a brain exercise as a Rite of Passage. Math drills as Affirmations. I like it. :)

  5. says

    This strikes me on so many levels. There was a point in my life that I got married and, as I would not do again, adopted my suitor’s surname. It didn’t feel right. This name, this other person’s name. I’m ‘Emily Dietle’ through and through.

    After several years of seeing and hearing another name, it gradually grew on me, though never fully- I still felt like Ms.Dietle and all memories prior to my marriage were still of Emily Dietle. When I got divorced, that name I never felt right with remained attached only to that one portion of my life, that I would greatly like to forget, for traumatic reasons.

    Unique, as they are, my consciousness, in daily interactions, doesn’t need one particular label. I’m me, no matter what I’m called, but Emily Dietle was applied at birth, and I’ve grown fond of it- though I’d love to have my middle name removed permanently, as I’ve never felt connected to it.

    What I found after much contemplation is that I’m not Emily Dietle, and I’m not that other name, I’m nothing- just me, just this happenstance of neurons and whatnot.

  6. brenda says

    Gödel, Escher, Bach is an ok book but it’s very old and dated by now. While I wouldn’t dissuade anyone from reading it I would caution against taking it too seriously. His central thesis, that minds are as to brains as software is to hardware is false. Searle’s Chinese Room thought experiment completely eviscerated that idea. Douglas Hofstadter’s current beliefs are even more bizarre.

    Human brains are very plastic, especially the younger we are. After all, every one of us learned an alien language with no help, no instruction and no built in programming to make it easier. Identity is a slippery thing. Are you the same person you were 5 years ago? 5 minutes ago? We maintain a running narrative, a fiction, that we call ourselves. Our inner phenomenological experience of self is a lie. The only thing about us that is real are our external objective relationships and those can always change.

    • says

      Hah. You can’t be serious. John Searle’s Chinese Room argument is merely dualism repackaged into a vaguely philosophy-looking box. It’s unfalsifiable and some of the worst reasoning to ever be presented by someone with a philosophy degree (which says a lot, because there’s been a ton of bad philosophy done).

      Searle failed because he doesn’t understand systems theory or emergent properties in the slightest. The exact same flawed reasoning he uses could be used to disprove the existence of any complex system, and is thus easily subject to reductio ad absurdum.

      I’d go into detail, but it’s pointless to repeat the numerous and thorough responses to the Chinese Room. Anyone who has a few minutes to read Wikipedia or do some google searches can find them without much trouble.

      • brenda says

        This would come as a big surprise to University CogSci departments which teach Searle’s conception of consciousness because it is their consensus that his argument has won the day.

        I don’t get my philosophy from wikipedia and neither should you. All you have shown is how little you understand of either Searle or for that matter Dennet. Dennet is *very* radical, much more radical than I’d wager you realize and Searle is more in the mainstream both philosophically and scientifically.

        Douglas Hofstadter is also very radical and believes that the self does not exist in your head but exists external to your skull (conveniently called “externalism”). Dennet on the other hand is a kind of rationalist and, near as I can make out (I could be wrong), believes that mathematical objects are not merely human creations but have objective existence in a kind of abstract space.

        Emergence, btw, is bollocks and leads to a thoroughly depressing epiphenominalism which says that you have never performed any free act in your life.

        The Chinese Room argument refutes strong AI:

        1. Implemented programs are syntactical processes.
        2. Minds have semantic contents.
        3. Syntax by itself is neither sufficient for nor constitutive of semantics.

        Therefore, the implemented programs are not by themselves constitutive of, nor sufficient for, minds. In short, Strong Artificial Intelligence is false.

        No on believes in strong AI (minds are computer programs) anymore. I’d strongly suggest that you branch out in your reading or even better talk to people who do not share your beliefs or metaphysical posits. It’s really important to avoid group think. You should welcome the people you call trolls, i.e. those who disagree with you in fundamental ways. You need other people to push off of, we all do.

        BTW, Searle explicitly rejects both dualism and materialism. That is why those such as yourself who do not understand his philosophy think he must be a dualist because if one thinks there are only two categories to choose from then if he’s not one he must be the other. That assumption is false.

        The cognitive/functionalist project (brains implement algorithms) is equally false. It still hangs on in places but has pretty much given way to simply cataloging the neural correlates of consciousness. Maybe in a couple generations we’ll understand how the brain does what it does but frankly I think that is overly optimistic.

        • says

          It’s unfortunate that no-one has bother to actually *link to* the Wikipedia article on Searle’s Chinese Room, as it appears to be quite through and copiously cited to the relevant primary and secondary sources. (brenda — if after reading it, you find that it isn’t, ***please*** say so (and explain how)).

          It does not appear that Searle’s Chinese room thought experiment “completely eviscerated” any idea, let alone the idea of brains as software, as the thought experiment appears to have been roundly rejected (see link above, particularly Harnad 2001), albeit while producing a vast corpus of rebuttals.

          I suspect my Cognitive Science department may be unusual (at the University of California, San Diego, it was one of the earliest ones to be its own department), but when we were taught the Chinese room thought experiment, it was given as something to be rebutted by undergraduates, not as anything that could be considered to have “won the day.” brenda — what particular Cognitive Science departments are you referring to?

          I tried to find a source that described Hofstadter’s views as “externalism”, but couldn’t find one. brenda — maybe you could suggest something?

          There seems to be some confusion in terminology around the word that starts with “emerg-“. kagerato referred to “emergent properties”, while brenda referred to “emergence”, and they didn’t seem to be talking about the same thing. It would be useful for both of you to clarify (with links!) what you meant.

          brenda seems to have quoted (without a source) one of the formalizations of Searle’s thought experiment — I’m not sure why (and I would appreciate a source).

          As for Searle “explicitly reject[ing] both dualism and materialism” — one of the main criticisms of his arguments has been his vagueness and habit of dodging efforts to pin him down to an actual claim. Insisting of the existence of some “third way”, but (as brenda does) neglecting to actually specify (or even name) it is simply par for the course.

          There was another good discussion of the Chinese Room over at Camels with Hammers a few months ago, if folks want more to read.

          Finally, I do feel I have to mention that the author of “Breaking the Spell”‘s last name is spelled Dennett, with 2 T’s, not “Dennet”.

          • brenda says

            Source for my blockquote:

            Chinese room argument

            “I never really had any doubts about the argument as it seems obvious that the syntax of the implemented program is not the same as the semantics of actual language understanding. And only someone with a commitment to an ideology that says that the brain must be a digital computer (“What else could it be?”) could still be convinced of Strong AI in the face of this argument.”

            This discussion is somewhat off topic. Zinnia’s, or is it Rachell’s, post is about identity. For which there are very different arguments to explore. The argument given in my quote above, on Scholarpedia, in lectures and in published journals is a valid argument. If the premises are true the argument must be true. It does not matter if I am wrong in it’s general level of acceptance by professional philosophers or on amateur’s blogs.

            Douglas Hofstadter’s wikipedia page:
            “Hofstadter’s 2007 book I Am a Strange Loop carries his vision of consciousness considerably further, including the idea that each human “I” is distributed over numerous brains, rather than being limited to precisely one brain.”

            That is externalism. I don’t reject it outright, I need convincing, but so far I find it’s proponents unpersuasive.

            The notion that the mind is an emergent phenomenon is famously advocated by Chalmers and is epiphenomenalism. A consequence of that is that consciousness itself must be an illusion and we have no agency over our lives because we are all p-zombies.

            Re the dualist charge… in all of his books and lectures Searle goes to great lengths to flesh out his approach to metaphysics and why he rejects both dualist and materialist conceptions of reality. Both dualism and materialism believe that there is such a thing as substance. Dualism says there are two kinds of substance in the world (matter and spirit) and materialism say there is one (matter). Some philosophers (such as Frege) have believed in a kind of tri-ism (spirit, matter and “the abstract”). I believe but don’t know for sure that Dennett (sorry) is of the latter opinion only without spirit.

            Searle says it is a mistake to start counting “substance” in the first place and it seems to me this is the scientifically correct position. I think it is a holdover from Aristotle and the sooner we get ride of it the better.

            People get anxious and afraid and mistakenly believe that if minds are not like computer software or that we cannot build minds from von Neumann machines then we must accept some kind of dualism. Nothing could be further from the truth.

            In order to create an artificial mind we need to duplicate the causal processes that create minds in nature. Computers can simulate natural things but they cannot duplicate their causal effects on the world. I can simulate weather on my PC but it will not get wet. I can simulate the pumping action of the heart but my PC will not pump blood and the patient will die. An artificial heart must duplicate the cause and effect that all pumps have. An artificial mind must do the same. Presently we have no idea how to do that and I think it will be quite some time before we can.

          • anat says

            To brenda:

            The notion that the mind is an emergent phenomenon is famously advocated by Chalmers and is epiphenomenalism. A consequence of that is that consciousness itself must be an illusion and we have no agency over our lives because we are all p-zombies.

            I don’t understand why that would be a consequence, and even if it is I don’t know why it would matter. As some flavor of moral consequentionalist I’m not sure it makes any difference to me if perceived agency is ‘real’ or not. Neuroscience (eg experiments with split-brain people) shows we are very good at perceiving our own agency when this is not the case.

            The mind-as-software is a metaphor that is understandable to people of the digital age. Taking it too literally seems foolish to me. There are other kinds of computers besides the digital ones we use daily and we may come up with yet other kinds, built on entirely different principles. Without knowing what such principles might be we can’t make any predictions as to how closely such computers will come to people with minds.

            As for simulation vs influencing the world – depends on what interface you give your computer.

          • says

            [brenda]: This discussion is somewhat off topic. Zinnia’s, or is it Rachell’s, post is about identity. For which there are very different arguments to explore. The argument given in my quote above, on Scholarpedia, in lectures and in published journals is a valid argument. If the premises are true the argument must be true. It does not matter if I am wrong in it’s general level of acceptance by professional philosophers or on amateur’s blogs.

            Identity and consciousness are both emergent properties of minds. This conversation has only been off-topic in the sense of a certain someone deciding to interject the musings of modern dualists and woo-ists into it.

            All of the rest of that paragraph is truisms. Why do people who start arguments spend so much time stating the obvious and failing to defend what they said?

            That is externalism. I don’t reject it outright, I need convincing, but so far I find it’s proponents unpersuasive.

            It’s a trivial variant of dualism, easily disproven.

            You do not continue to exist after you die. That’s what these foolish arguments are really about.

            Your consciousness does not exist in other things. It exists in your brain. We can prove it. We have proven it. No one who has died has ever come back. They are gone. Permanently. The entire body of evidence is with me on this one.

            If any dualist perspective were true, we would have seen the evidence of the gods, spirits, or magic ornaments by now.

            The notion that the mind is an emergent phenomenon is famously advocated by Chalmers and is epiphenomenalism. A consequence of that is that consciousness itself must be an illusion and we have no agency over our lives because we are all p-zombies.

            At first, I thought you had actually made a useful true statement for once. Then I was disappointed, because the attribution of that view to David Chalmers is wrong! Chalmers is a dualist; he’s merely a so-called “naturalistic” dualist. In practice, that’s a distinction without much of a difference. He doesn’t believe it’s God that causes minds — so what? He still sees magic where there is none; he just sees the magic as inherent to the universe and thus avoids the obvious question “who made it?”.

            I suspect the reason you brought Chalmers into this is because Searle once disagreed with him. It seems you forgot to consider the possibility that they are both wrong (and miserably so, at that).

            Next, the other part of the first sentence is still wrong! Epiphenomenalism does not mean that. The view you’re talking about is a mere implication of materialism shared by many different philosophical schools. Epiphenomenalism, on the other hand, is the specific idea that mental events are caused by physical events and simultaneously that mental events cannot cause or feed back onto physical events. The first part of it is true, the second part is false. It’s a false dichotomy, and a really lame one at that. Since mental events are actually compositions of physical events, that’s the same as saying they are really physical events on another level of organization — the same as molecules being composed of atoms, and higher level structures being composed of molecules. Therefore, it’s completely obvious that one system of physical events could, in fact, cause another system of physical events to occur. To summarize, thoughts and feelings can have physical effects, because thoughts and feelings are themselves physical.

            As to the second segment, yikes. Talk about non-sequitur. None of the views you’re (trying to) talk about imply consciousness is an illusion or not real. They do imply the character of consciousness, its underlying reality, is somewhat different. That is of no significance whatsoever to any of the other points you’ve made in this thread, unfortunately.

            You’re implicitly using an Argument from (undesirable) Consequences here, by the way. Even if any of your junk conclusions were the case, that’s no reason to deny reality.

            Both dualism and materialism believe that there is such a thing as substance. Dualism says there are two kinds of substance in the world (matter and spirit) and materialism say there is one (matter). Some philosophers (such as Frege) have believed in a kind of tri-ism (spirit, matter and “the abstract”). I believe but don’t know for sure that Dennett (sorry) is of the latter opinion only without spirit.

            Yes, dualism has two kinds of “substance”, of which only one exists (is actual substance). No evidence for spirit means no spirit.

            Throwing abstractions in there with the rest would change nothing. Abstract ideas do not have physical reality except to the extent that they are represented or manipulated in reality, and observably so. They don’t get to exist in something other than the same matter and energy as everything else, because there’s no proof. Taking any other viewpoint is anti-empirical on its face.

            If you accept the independent existence of the number two, you are a Platonist and I have a dragon in my garage I’d like to sell you.

            Searle says it is a mistake to start counting “substance” in the first place and it seems to me this is the scientifically correct position. I think it is a holdover from Aristotle and the sooner we get ride of it the better.

            LOL. There is nothing scientific about Searle’s approach to consciousness. More argument from assertion.

            What does the universe consist of brenda, if not matter and energy? Show me your spirits. Where are they? Why can’t we interact with them?

            Is the number six hiding under my bed? Maybe I should go look, huh?

            People get anxious and afraid and mistakenly believe that if minds are not like computer software or that we cannot build minds from von Neumann machines then we must accept some kind of dualism. Nothing could be further from the truth.

            You’ve proved exactly that with everything you’ve said so far. I doubt you’ll even contest this; it’s too obvious to every reader whose brain hasn’t fallen out of their head.

            Go ahead. Show me the difference between your bizarre pseudo-philosophy and dualism. How does it prove the existence of the abstract entities it claims exists?

            Here’s the hint: if it doesn’t and can’t, you don’t get to claim it is meaningfully different from dualism. That’s the key component of dualism that’s been trashed since the Enlightenment!

            In order to create an artificial mind we need to duplicate the causal processes that create minds in nature.

            Again, I am left disappointed. You almost said something that was both true and useful, but not quite. Yes, we could create a mind by replicating the same processes that did it in nature. No, that is not the only way it could possibly be done.

            Anything that functionally behaves indistinguishably from a mind is a mind. This is the definition we use to define and categorize every last thing in reality, and consistently apply on a daily basis.

            If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, feels like a duck, eats like a duck, swims like a duck, reproduces like a duck, ad infinitum to great detail, on what basis do you get away calling it something other than a duck? Your concept of a duck is warped if you think being a natural (not man-made) product is the key principle that defines it.

            Computers can simulate natural things but they cannot duplicate their causal effects on the world.

            Nonsense. Prove it.

            This is simply idiotic, to be frank. This reasoning disproves robotics. After all, it’s only a “simulation” of a vacuum cleaner. It can’t possibly actually vacuum the floor! Even if it’s doing that right in front of me!

            The false distinction between simulation and reality is one of the key logical errors in Searle’s Chinese Room. Once the simulation is so accurate it’s indistinguishable from the real thing, it is the real thing.

            To declare otherwise is to say that Chinese people do not speak Chinese. We have nothing — NOTHING — that proves Chinese people speak Chinese other than the functional performance of the act. There are no magic Chinese characters floating out there in abstract-land that they interact with.

            I can simulate weather on my PC but it will not get wet. I can simulate the pumping action of the heart but my PC will not pump blood and the patient will die. An artificial heart must duplicate the cause and effect that all pumps have. An artificial mind must do the same. Presently we have no idea how to do that and I think it will be quite some time before we can.

            Your gross oversimplifications are noted and dismissed. When the hardware works, it’s real, and the complexity of the software involved cannot be used to dismiss the effects as fictional.

            Likewise, your ignorance to believe that we have “no idea” how the mind works dismisses the entire field of neurology.

        • says

          [brenda]: This would come as a big surprise to University CogSci departments which teach Searle’s conception of consciousness because it is their consensus that his argument has won the day.

          I’m not sure whether you were going for Argument from Authority or Argument from Popularity there. Either way, it’s nonsense. You seem to have been forced to admit it was nonsense immediately when challenged on it.

          I don’t get my philosophy from wikipedia and neither should you. All you have shown is how little you understand of either Searle or for that matter Dennet. Dennet is *very* radical, much more radical than I’d wager you realize and Searle is more in the mainstream both philosophically and scientifically.

          As to the first part, the point is that argument is so bad even Wikipedia knows it’s been completely trounced. What it says about the speaker is that they haven’t bothered to even do precursory reading of a layman’s site like Wikipedia.

          As to the second part, you’ve shown your hand. Politics has absolutely nothing to do with this for me. You, on the other hand, have an obvious investment when you actually think you can support an argument based on the political implications. That’s laughable.

          Douglas Hofstadter is also very radical and believes that the self does not exist in your head but exists external to your skull (conveniently called “externalism”). Dennet on the other hand is a kind of rationalist and, near as I can make out (I could be wrong), believes that mathematical objects are not merely human creations but have objective existence in a kind of abstract space.

          Both of those are dualist systems of belief. You’ve immediately demonstrated exactly what I said from the beginning. Indeed, those are basically trivial mutations of Platonism.

          If you believe that something exists which has no physical form, you are a non-materialist. You believe in ghosts. That is not a respectable belief. It is not empirical. You are denying reality.

          Emergence, btw, is bollocks and leads to a thoroughly depressing epiphenominalism which says that you have never performed any free act in your life.

          Emergence? What the hell is that? I mentioned emergent properties, which are the real traits of systems that occur due to the interactions of their parts.

          Whatever you’re trying to say in the rest of that is completely incomprehensible. You’re done Argument by Assertion and False Equivalence in just one sentence, which is truly impressive. System theory and the emergent properties of systems have nothing to do with free will or determinism. The latter is also a meaningless false dichotomy about which it is pointless even to speculate.

          It shows me the level of ignorance I’m dealing with, though, that someone thinks brains causing minds is the same thing as determinism. That’s the level of a Creationist, and a very common Creationist argument. Despite the fact that God is what would prove determinism, which is trivially easy to show from his purported omniscience.

          1. Implemented programs are syntactical processes.
          2. Minds have semantic contents.
          3. Syntax by itself is neither sufficient for nor constitutive of semantics.

          Therefore, the implemented programs are not by themselves constitutive of, nor sufficient for, minds. In short, Strong Artificial Intelligence is false.

          If you were quoting Searle, you ought to leave a reference. There’s been several statements and re-statements of the Chinese Room.

          In any case, I’ll rend this apart real thoroughly. It’s a horrible argument, and it’s very easy to do when philosophers like Searle choose to formalize it in explicit premise-conclusion format.

          One trick Searle used here is actually a form of Argument by (Re)Definition, also known as semantic quibbling or making shit up. He draws a distinction between syntax and semantics that is meaningless to the argument at hand. Syntax and semantics cannot be separated from language like this; it’s completely obvious that they are both necessary and both present in any language processor. They’re elements of language; anything that understands the language must by simple definition understand them to work with it! The proof is simple functionalism.

          To break down the premises individually:

          (1) No, programs are not (purely) syntactical processes. A computer program has both syntax and semantics in its structure. A computer program that processes language has these in its structure, and it also has emergent behavior in its functioning that contains syntactical and semantic elements. That Searle doesn’t even understand the difference between the two and just dumps them into the same premise shows his badly incomplete understanding of the issue.

          (2) Yes, minds have semantic contents. Or, in other words, minds can contain ideas. There’s a clarity premise missing here defining what the hell the intended distinction of semantic versus syntactical content was even supposed to be, so I’m forced to fill in what he intended to say with that statement. There’s yet another, much more important, premise missing that fails to define what an idea is. This invalidates the entire argument, since if an idea can be any random shit Searle makes up, combined with the implication that only minds can hold ideas, then everything has a mind.

          An idea is actually just a piece of information. Searle probably meant to incorporate the concept of self-conscious entity containing ideas, also called a mind, into this and failed miserably at that.

          The reason being there’s no way he could put it directly in here without revealing the dumb magic trick. As soon as we insert the conscious mind premise, we have to admit that there’s absolutely no reason to think that only human brains can be minds. Anything that behaves exactly like a mind would obviously be a mind, since it’s completely indistinguishable on every possible level!

          (3) True again, but irrelevant due to incomplete statement of the problem. The only reason this premise even exists is because of the bad argumentation being set up by the previous two.

          In summary, the conclusion is unsound because premise one was false. It’s also invalid, because its structure fails to define what a mind is.

          No on believes in strong AI (minds are computer programs) anymore. I’d strongly suggest that you branch out in your reading or even better talk to people who do not share your beliefs or metaphysical posits. It’s really important to avoid group think. You should welcome the people you call trolls, i.e. those who disagree with you in fundamental ways. You need other people to push off of, we all do.

          You need a citation for that first part. It’s mere argument by assertion again. Oh, and I can disprove it by counter-example: I believe in strong AI. Specifically, that strong AI is physically feasible, not that strong AI already exists — unless you count brains, that is.

          To counter your advice, I’d suggest you stop using bad arguments if you want to be taken seriously. Do you have any appreciation for how many logical fallacies you’ve managed to drop on the internet recently?

          Do you recognize which one “group think” and implications of closed-mindedness belongs to?

          BTW, Searle explicitly rejects both dualism and materialism. That is why those such as yourself who do not understand his philosophy think he must be a dualist because if one thinks there are only two categories to choose from then if he’s not one he must be the other. That assumption is false.

          That’s pretty amusing. First, find me the reference for his rejection of dualism, since this guy has always been about as clear as a storm cloud.

          Second, of course he rejects materialism. He thinks minds are magic, and that a system which functionally behaves exactly like a mind is not a mind. That’s dualism, by every meaningful definition.

          Third, demonstrate how and why your philosophy concept-dropping differs from dualism in a meaningful way, or retract your nonsense about there being any difference. This is the same bullshit tactic Creationists used with Intelligent Design; the old shtick became too discredited, so they renamed it.

          Your woo-laden “answers” in the sub-threading do not explain it in the slightest. You’ve basically claimed dualism is something other than dualism because it’s not called dualism. If your model of reality allows for anything other than observable, material, verifiable, real objects, that’s dualism! That’s what it means!

          The cognitive/functionalist project (brains implement algorithms) is equally false. It still hangs on in places but has pretty much given way to simply cataloging the neural correlates of consciousness. Maybe in a couple generations we’ll understand how the brain does what it does but frankly I think that is overly optimistic.

          You describe the predominant cross-over of neurological understanding and artificial intelligence as false and hanging on? Amazing. Which of us needs to do more research? Again, you haven’t even read Wikipedia. You have not attempted even the most trivial understanding of the issue; you’re simply looking for sources to confirm your biases. Unfortunately, there’s still too many sycophantic philosophers out there ready, willing, and able to make up any dumb story to cover for religion.

          Go ahead, prove me wrong. Show me the evidence that brains do not implement algorithms. I won’t hold my breath.

  7. says

    I went through this 2 years ago with everyone, except at work. It’s a really weird thing, having two separate self-identities, the real one and the one which goes to work for 8 hours a day. It’s created this situation where I’m psychologically driven to want to lie as much about my personal life as possible while at work, so I compensate by not talking about myself at all, or at least in the vaguest of terms. Even still, it’s rather disturbing to look back at old photos and see someone else pretending to be me, and using the wrong name while they’re at it. I simply am so attached to my current sense of self that I cannot feel “self” in anything else.

    • Catherine says

      I tried this when teaching, lasted 1 year 6 months before I had an anxiety attack and couldn’t go back :(

  8. Rilian says

    I tried changing my name on fbook but it made me feel like nobody, disconnected from myself. I do feel a connection to the name rilian but only as a kind of subset of myself as denoted by the name my parents gave me. Then again when I think about being misgendered for the rest of my life I feel like I might as well just die. So I have to figure something out. And the name rilian unfortunately wouldn’t work irl because it’s not even a name in america.

  9. Shplane says

    I’ve actually never felt this deep connection to my name that everyone else here seems to be expressing. I’ve used a ton of different names, nicknames, handles, pseudonyms, and none of them connect on any deep level. I simply can’t think of a single identifier I’ve ever used that feels like “me”. They feel like proxies that I use to allow others to identify “me”, which would make sense what with that being what they are.

    I’m not sure if this is some weird little quirk of my psychological disorders or a byproduct of me getting most of my social interaction via the internet for a large chunk of my development, but this deep internalization of a specific set of monkey noises just feels bizarre to me. I mean, if I wanted to, I could have ten new names by tomorrow morning, so what do I care which one is on my birth certificate? I regularly hold conversations with five different people, each of which calls me by a different name, so why should I care if one of them is government sanctioned and was chosen for me at birth? It just seems like a really weird thing to get hung up on.

    But then, everyone isn’t me.

    • says

      Oddly enough in my past, I never had any meaningful sense of self, or connection to my name. The discord was that significant to me, so I always joked you can call me anything but late for dinner. And I’d happily answer to whatever you wanted to call me because it was just easier than getting abused. In terms of psychology I created a conscious fracture to protect me from an outside world that either could not, or would not, see me. My Mum knew and accepted me, some of my close female relatives did, and apparently many, many others suspected something. They knew I wasn’t gay, in fact I read so strongly back then as a lesbian, lesbians accepted me as one of their own. I was even engaged once, and she broke up with me because she wasn’t ready for her folks to know she was gay and so she said she couldn’t introduce me to them because they’d know.

      So, anyway, fast forwarding to the time to do something, I went on a vision quest to find my name, and once I found it, it was, for me as though that had always been my name. Though truth to tell growing up I wanted to be Samantha Stevens, so it’s no real wonder it was effortless and natural. People, even those that had known me for decades were amazed at how effortless and instantly I answered to and reacted to being addressed by my real name and how the old name didn’t get a reaction from me at all. In fact to respond to or recognize the old name I had to force myself to remember to listen for it around people who were still adjusting.

      I was very backwards from most peoples experience.

      Sam.

      • says

        I nearly forgot to mention, I’m long since post transitioned. My paperwork including birth certificate all have my name on them, not the one that was assigned me all those years ago. My life has moved on, friends and family have taken the journey with me, and now not because I enforced, or forced anything, but I’m only called Samantha, Sam, Sammie, Sunshine, or Carter. All the rest, the past, is there, it’s just not were we all are.

        My friends and family when telling the old stories of our history together never slip and use old names or pronouns, I just have some amazing people around my I guess, because they use my name and the correct pronouns. Several have pulled me aside at different times and said something to the effect that they have trouble believing I ever pretended to be a guy. That’s a feeling I can very much relate to.

        So life does go on, and eventually the past becomes just that. Internally some of us are blessed with I guess a feeling of coming home, so there’s no learning curve?

  10. baal says

    Fascinating!

    Having just finished reading Paul Graham’s post, I agree. I’ve gotten in more bad arguments and disagreements with folks (and especially my wife) when I’ve accidentally hit on identity elements that I wasn’t previously aware of. I also have ‘scientist’ on my short list of personal identity identifiers and have posted before on how I wish folks wouldn’t identify as __ists of __isms. It means you must avoid certain language or watch framing rather closely. It also means you’re not talking to a fully rational (emotions included) actor.

    I’m somewhat in the same boat as Shplane. My legal name isn’t all that close to my internal ‘me’. As a general matter, even though I’ve always had the same name, I rather not be called it and sometimes don’t notice when people use it to refer to me.

    Two other factors distance me from my legal name. I have to put my name on a ton of docs at work, it becomes another variable on the endless piles of documents that rolls past. When I play on-line games, I’m usually called the name of my ‘main’ character. It works out well enough.

    I suspect I’d feel differently, however, if I felt the need to change my name. I should probably also update my privilege profile to include, ‘gets to use same name life long’.

  11. says

    Thanks for the link to Paul Morgan’s article about “keep your identity small”. I suspect in some ways I’ve failed at his precise instructions, since I love writing laundry lists of all of the things that I am, or have been, or want to be. I don’t feel hemmed in the slightest by having so many identity items; I don’t feel I need to embody complete competence in every sphere where I have at least some interests or abilities.

    I agree Zinnia is too useful a name not to retain for your public profile (as a ‘brand’ name, ugh), as it is beautiful and poetic, but otherwise a very obscure name. So it’s not a name that is suited to everyday use – how many times would you like to have to spell it out to someone over the phone, for the rest of your life? For similar reasons I’ve got a nom de web of Xanthë which is my ultra-personal name (which I’ll probably take as a middle name when I get around to the deed poll), but my everyday names are a combination of a very common girl’s name that has already mentioned upthread, paired with my mother’s maiden name: these provide the optimum in practicality.

    Even only having been out as trans for under a year, I’ve already learned that for doing things in real life I don’t really need to draw any extra unwelcome attention to myself by having a pretty but esoteric name.

  12. brenda says

    If there is still interest, replies to above discussion continues here.

    @ kagerato – “I don’t understand why that would be a consequence”

    If consciousness is epiphenominal that means, by definition, that your conscious mind has NO causal effect on the world or even on your own actions. You have never made a decision in your life. You did not type out your reply to me. You did not hit “submit comment”. You mistakenly believe you did but that belief is a lie. Chalmers is very clear on all this and you can find all the links to all the info you like on his consciousness page.

    “The mind-as-software is a metaphor”

    No, it is NOT a metaphor. It is a claim of strong AI that minds *are* the software of the brain. That claim is false and I have already provided a valid formal refutation of that claim.

    “There are other kinds of computers besides the digital ones we use daily”

    No there are not. ALL of the von Neuman machines we call computers have the same formal structure. The argument I have given is valid for a universal Turing machine which all computers are various implementations of.

    “As for simulation vs influencing the world – depends on what interface you give your computer.”

    No it does not. That response is refuted in the material I have already linked to. There is no simulation of rain on my PC that will cause it to rain outside my door. If there is then I can just dispense with the simulation and push a button to make it rain. Which refutes your idea that there is some *necessary* causal connection between my PC and the weather.

  13. brenda says

    @ kagerato – “This conversation has only been off-topic in the sense of a certain someone deciding to interject the musings of modern dualists and woo-ists into it.”

    Neither John Searle nor I are either dualists or “woo-ists”. Your ad homs do not do your argument much good.

    Re: externalism “It’s a trivial variant of dualism, easily disproven.

    No, externalism is not a variant of dualism. You don’t know what you’re talking about. And if you truly believe it is easily refuted then by all mean publish your paper refuting it and collect your prize and your honorary degree as a doctorate in philosophy from any university you like.

    “Your consciousness does not exist in other things. It exists in your brain. We can prove it. We have proven it.”

    These are assertions. Anyone can make assertions. Since you have a proof against externalism, (but you don’t even understand what it is) then by all means please provide it.

    “The entire body of evidence is with me on this one.”

    You seem to be confused. Philosophy is not a scientific pursuit. Philosophical arguments explore the *logical* implications of various positions. So Searle’s argument given above is a *formal* argument that is logically valid. If the premises are true the conclusion MUST be true. The only valid response is to attack those. Everything else you’ve said is irrelevant.

    “the attribution of that view [epihpenominalism] to David Chalmers is wrong! Chalmers is a dualist”

    Epiphenominalism is property dualism, so again you don’t know what you’re talking about.

    “Epiphenomenalism, on the other hand, is the specific idea that mental events are caused by physical events and simultaneously that mental events cannot cause or feed back onto physical events. The first part of it is true, the second part is false.”

    That is not epiphenominalism. It specifically states that mental events CANNOT cause physical events.

    “thoughts and feelings can have physical effects, because thoughts and feelings are themselves physical.”

    I agree, which is why I’m not an epiphenominalist and neither are you.

    “Yes, dualism has two kinds of “substance”, of which only one exists (is actual substance).”

    Could you show me this one substance from which everything else is made? I deny such a substance exists. All that exists are particles moving in lines of force. No scientist anywhere has ever found this mysterious “substance” you believe exists.

    “What does the universe consist of brenda, if not matter and energy? Show me your spirits. Where are they?”

    I never made these claims you accuse me of. You seem to labor under the false impression that if someone describes to you what other people believe that they must believe in them too. Your inability to distinguish the two is childish and sophomoric and your ad hominems only serve to confirm your immaturity.

    “Anything that functionally behaves indistinguishably from a mind is a mind.”

    Which is functionalism which is just one theory of consciousness among many. I also reject functionalism in addition to strong AI but I’m not going to get into that here as this is already too long.

    “This is simply idiotic, to be frank. This reasoning disproves robotics. After all, it’s only a “simulation” of a vacuum cleaner. It can’t possibly actually vacuum the floor! Even if it’s doing that right in front of me!”

    Vacuum cleaners do not simulate vacuum cleaners, they actually ARE vacuum cleaners. Robots do not simulate robots, they ARE robots. I could simulate a vacuum cleaner on my PC molecule for molecule and yet my floors will remain dirty.

    “The false distinction between simulation and reality is one of the key logical errors in Searle’s Chinese Room. Once the simulation is so accurate it’s indistinguishable from the real thing, it is the real thing.”

    Prove it. I have given my proof to the contrary and links to a longer discussion refuting each and every counter argument you have made written by John Searle himself. Have at it boss.

    “To declare otherwise is to say that Chinese people do not speak Chinese. We have nothing — NOTHING — that proves Chinese people speak Chinese other than the functional performance of the act.”

    The Turing test is insufficient. As you will recall, Chinese people have minds. Minds have semantic content. Computers are syntactical *only*, they do not have semantic content. Semantic content is necessary to understanding Chinese. THEREFORE computers cannot understand Chinese.

    “Your gross oversimplifications are noted and dismissed. When the hardware works, it’s real, and the complexity of the software involved cannot be used to dismiss the effects as fictional.”

    I never claimed that PC’s do not exist and that the simulations they can perform do not correspond to reality. A computer simulation is a description OF the world but it is not the same AS the world. You are confusing descriptions with the things they describe. They are not the same. If I drop a piece of chalk it is not trying to obey Newton’s laws. It’s the other way around. Newton’s laws are only true insofar as they “obey” or describe the piece of chalk.

    “Likewise, your ignorance to believe that we have “no idea” how the mind works dismisses the entire field of neurology.”

    Again, by all means publish your paper showing how the mind works and COLLECT YOUR NOBEL PRIZE. You’ll deserve it.

  14. brenda says

    @ kagerato – “I’m not sure whether you were going for Argument from Authority”

    You mean like how one response to climate denialists is that 98% of scientists believe it is real? Like that? It isn’t proof but it is a valid reason for considering that one’s denialism is mistaken. In the same way the fact that university CogSci department heads teach Searle’s views should at least give you pause to re-examine your arrogant attitude.

    “As to the first part, the point is that argument is so bad even Wikipedia knows it’s been completely trounced.”

    I encourage you to cite wikipedia in your next paper at your university, see what happens.

    “If you believe that something exists which has no physical form, you are a non-materialist.”

    Do universities exist? Could you please point out to me the physical substance that is “university”?

    “If you were quoting Searle, you ought to leave a reference.”

    I have. Similarly if you are going to argue with me I expect that you will, you know, actually present an argument. When were you planning on doing that or do you always rely on your ad hominems to bully others into silence?

    “One trick Searle used here is actually a form of Argument by (Re)Definition”

    Actually this is not true. In a thought experiment you get to stipulate your terms however you wish.

    “he draws a distinction between syntax and semantics that is meaningless to the argument at hand. Syntax and semantics cannot be separated from language like this; it’s completely obvious that they are both necessary and both present in any language processor.”

    You again know nothing of what you’re talking about. The computer you are using right now could not function if it were anything other than a purely syntactic processor. That is the whole point of ANY computer language, to provide a syntax with which meaning can be assigned to blips and bits. Meaning, semantic content, does not exist outside of the minds which assign it to events in the world. It is not a thing out there sitting in your PC somewhere.

    “1) No, programs are not (purely) syntactical processes. A computer program has both syntax and semantics in its structure. A computer program that processes language has these in its structure”

    Please point to the semantic content in this valid expression “A + B = C”. I’ll wait.

    “and it also has emergent behavior”

    Seriously? You seriously believe that computers have emergent behavior? Ok, please explain the reason for your bald assertion.

    “That Searle doesn’t even understand the difference between the two and just dumps them into the same premise shows his badly incomplete understanding of the issue.”

    Oh ok, I see. You’re just an arrogant asshat who thinks that if you just say things that makes them true. Got it.

    “here’s a clarity premise missing here defining what the hell the intended distinction of semantic versus syntactical content was even supposed to be”

    Well it’s not so much a “clarity premise”, whatever the hell that is, as the difference between an arrogant fool and any first year student of logic. I’ll refer you here to Gottlob Frege’s seminal work “Sense and Reference” but you’d probably be out of your depth with it so I’d advise that after reading it you consult someone who can explain elementary linguistic analysis to you.

    “There’s yet another, much more important, premise missing that fails to define what an idea is. This invalidates the entire argument, since if an idea can be any random shit Searle makes up, combined with the implication that only minds can hold ideas, then everything has a mind.”

    The concept of an idea is not missing because the argument does not depend it. It does assume that the reader has a basic education in the philosophy of logic, which you clearly lack, but that doesn’t make it invalid.

    Your argument that:
    (1) “an idea can be any random shit Searle makes up”
    (2) “only minds can hold ideas”
    therefore “everything has a mind”

    Is an invalid argument because the conclusion does not follow from your premises. It doesn’t even pass the laugh test.

    “The reason being there’s no way he could put it directly in here without revealing the dumb magic trick. As soon as we insert the conscious mind premise, we have to admit that there’s absolutely no reason to think that only human brains can be minds.”

    The Chinese Room thought experiment does NOT say that only human brains can have minds. I’m pretty sure that dogs and cats and chimps and even aliens have or could have minds. What CAN’T have a mind is a digital computer for reasons the argument demonstrates.

    “In summary, the conclusion is unsound because premise one was false. It’s also invalid, because its structure fails to define what a mind is.”

    You have not shown that ANY premise was false. You complained that your pet premises were not included and rejected it for that reason. Nor does failing to provide a definition of mind in premise 2 invalidate the argument. Logic… UR doin’ it wrong.

    “You need a citation for that first part. It’s mere argument by assertion again. Oh, and I can disprove it by counter-example: I believe in strong AI. Specifically, that strong AI is physically feasible, not that strong AI already exists — unless you count brains, that is.”

    Sure you can, but you are nobody. There is no longer any serious researcher who actually believes that their programs are living minds. In the past people Like Minsky really did believe that their creations, like Eliza, were real minds. Do you believe that Eliza is a mind? Do you believe that the software AIs you meet in your PC games are living minds? Because if strong AI is true then they are real minds and you are guilty of murder many times over.

    “Do you have any appreciation for how many logical fallacies you’ve managed to drop on the internet recently?”

    Um… zero? You know, instead of telling me I am wrong why don’t you *show* me I’m wrong? That would actually impress me.

    “First, find me the reference for his rejection of dualism, since this guy has always been about as clear as a storm cloud.”

    Ok, Why I Am Not a Property Dualist

    “Second, of course he rejects materialism. He thinks minds are magic, and that a system which functionally behaves exactly like a mind is not a mind. That’s dualism, by every meaningful definition.

    Um.. yes he does, no he does not think minds are magic, no he is not a functionalist, no rejecting functionalism does not imply dualism and no you clearly do not even know what dualism means.

    “Third, demonstrate how and why your philosophy concept-dropping differs from dualism in a meaningful way, or retract your nonsense about there being any difference. This is the same bullshit tactic Creationists used with Intelligent Design; the old shtick became too discredited, so they renamed it.”

    Dualism divides the world into two substances, materialism into one. I and many others simply reject the category of “substance”. I get to do that. It fits in just fine with a scientifically naturalistic understanding of the world. One that is categorically opposed to creationism or ID.

    “You’ve basically claimed dualism is something other than dualism because it’s not called dualism.”

    No I have not. Dualism really is the belief that two different substances, spirit and matter, are all that ultimately exist.

    ” If your model of reality allows for anything other than observable, material, verifiable, real objects, that’s dualism! That’s what it means!”

    Um.. no that is not what it means. There are lots of things that are not observable or “material objects”. Like the number two. Please point out to me where the number, not numeral, two resides? Please also note that I am not thereby claiming the number two is spirit stuff. It’s just that my ontology includes things like universities and numbers and yours does not.

    “Again, you haven’t even read Wikipedia.”

    I do, I just don’t end there.

  15. JesseW (not logged in) says

    brenda —

    Thanks for the response (above), but I was somewhat puzzled that you neglected to respond to my anecdote about how Searle’s Chinese Room was treated at UCSD, which does seem to be evidence against your claim about the academic response to the Chinese Room. Again, I’ll ask — can you point to some specific published statements to back up your claim that Searle’s argument “won the day”?

    Also, could you suggest a relevant layman’s explanation of the philosopher’s distinction between “substance” and “particles moving in lines of force”? It seems that we agree that “All that exists are particles moving in lines of force.”, except that later you claim that your “ontology includes things like universities and numbers” which you claim are not particles or forces. Maybe you could clarify?

    Finally — among the various things you’ve linked or more vaguely pointed to, could you suggest one which you consider the best response to the question of what (if not behavior) distinguishes “minds” from other things?

    I look forward to your response.

  16. says

    I’m not going to quote those walls of text, especially since they frequently misstate and misinterpret my own writing. Instead, I’ll run through point-by-point and demonstrate why brenda’s understanding is mistaken to the level of not even understanding the question.

    1.) Epiphenomenalism is a philosophical viewpoint. It’s a red herring (I don’t adhere to it) and meaningless to the questions of dualism vs materialism and whether minds emerge from brains. Dualism contains the unfalsifiable element of “spirits”, therefore it is wrong. We know that the kinds of minds which currently exist emerge from brains because the attributes ascribed to the mind occur only in the presence of a brain, and always cease when the brain is question degrades or is destroyed. These are empirical questions and can not be dodged with nonsensical philosophical treatises.

    2.) Nothing I’ve written implies determinism, and it truly wouldn’t matter even if it did. If determinism is true, then none of us have any say in what has happened or ever will. It’s not possible to control whether we are to debate it or what we think. As we assume it is false, continuing to raise this irrelevant issue is yet another red herring distracting from meaningful discussion. It’s an attempt to tar the opposing position as wrong due to unwanted consequences.

    3.) Yes, the brain’s information is not software in the exact structure and type that computer software is software. However, it contains all the same relevant properties that software does, including semantics and syntax. Software can have functional emergent properties, brains have functional emergent properties. Whether it’s an analogy/metaphor or a definition is meaningless; what counts is whether the properties line up to fulfill the argument.

    4.) Your argument, brenda, makes no use of any computational machine of any kind, let alone meaningfully uses Turing or von Neumann’s computer science work. This is completely obvious to anyone paying attention. When you tell a computer scientist you’re arguing computer science without using any, they’re going to notice. This is another ridiculous semantics game; you have completely erased the differences between formal means of computation by mere assertion. Yes, there are different types of computers, and no, they don’t have to be made of silicon and metal. Claiming otherwise will get you laughed out of the room at any computer science department in the world.

    By the way, since your ignorance is clear, von Neumann architecture and Turing machines are completely different concepts. Suggesting that all modern computers use von Neumann architecture is false. Other than in academic experiments and theoretical proofs, there aren’t any significant Turing machines, either. These are conceptual frameworks, of which that real world does not have to abide. Indeed, a real world Turing machine is strictly impossible because there is no such thing as unlimited memory.

    You were probably trying to say something along the lines of any computation being implementable on a Turing machine. Yes, that’s true, and irrelevant. The various functional compatibilities or equivalencies of different machines, both theoretical and practical, does nothing to support your assertions. It actually undermines them, because it leaves plenty of room for different classes of hardware which can perform the same effects!

    5.) Erasing the distinction between hardware and software doesn’t serve your argument. It just makes it transparent how baseless it is. Obviously, software alone cannot cause it to rain. Software is information. It has to be embodied into a piece of hardware before it works. Your brain wouldn’t do anything if left in a jar, either, but this doesn’t suddenly render the information contained in it meaningless.

    6.) You don’t know what an ad hominem is. It doesn’t mean insult. It means attempting to discrediting claims solely by identifying irrelevant personal claims about the speaker/author. I didn’t; I thoroughly took apart the argument. Then I sprinkled in some insults for the sole purpose of making my disrespect towards awful, solipsistic argumentation known.

    7.) Explain what externalism and dualism have to do with the argument, since you have failed to do that from the very beginning. I ignore any philosophical differences there may be between the two because if there is no functional real-world difference then they may as well be identical according to every line of reasoning I’ve used so far. In other words, you enjoy distinctions without practical difference.

    8.) I completely tore apart the Chinese Room statement you presented, and you pretend I said nothing at all. Obviously, a sound argument is sound and a valid argument is valid. I specifically identified where it was unsound and invalid.

    9.) I define epiphenomenalism correctly, and then you say it’s wrong. Despite the fact that you’re saying the exact same thing. Might I suggest you check your reading when you don’t notice these oversights?

    10.) Really, you think “substance” refers to a particular physical item instead of a class of things? Aren’t you claiming to be extremely well read in philosophy?

    11.) What’s the difference between your “externalism” and spirits? Likewise, spirits vs incorporeal abstractions. You continually dodge this point. If it’s not made of matter or energy, what is it? How do you know it exists?

    12.) “Searle says it is a mistake to start counting “substance” in the first place and it seems to me this is the scientifically correct position.” How is this not denying materialism? How can any position be scientifically correct when you fail to engage in the slightest empiricism? Do you know what science is? Are you aware of your direct self-contradiction in claiming at one point to do science, and another to do abstract philosophy completely disconnected from the real world?

    13.) I don’t believe in functionalism, therefore it’s wrong, is not an argument. You need to show how you identify an object by something other than its properties and behaviors.

    14.) Redefining the issue and omitting the relevant details is not interesting, let alone convincing. It’s the same sleight of hand used in the Chinese Room. A correct, complete model of a vacuum cleaner becomes a functional vacuum cleaner as soon as its connected to the proper hardware. You can’t simply hand wave your way out of this. These robots are already real.

    15.) It’s truly fascinating; you completely ignored the thrust of my dismantling of the Chinese Room twice before eventually dismissing it out of hand. Let me write a short computer program for you:


    #include <stdio.h>
    #include <stdlib.h>
     
    int main( int argc, char** argv )
    {
       if( argc < 3 )
       {
         puts( "Insufficent arguments." ) ;
         return -1 ;
       }
      
       unsigned int rvApples = atoi( argv[1] ) ;
       unsigned int rvBananas = atoi( argv[2] ) ;
      
       if( rvApples > rvBananas )
         puts( "There are more apples than bananas." ) ;
       else if( rvApples == rvBananas )
         puts( "There are equal numbers of apples and bananas." ) ;
       else
         puts( "There are more bananas than apples." ) ;
      
       return 0 ;
    }

    Since you weren’t able to understand it in the abstract, there’s your proof. Computer programs contain semantics. They are not mere syntax. If they were syntax alone, they could not contain ideas and thus they would not be able to do any computations meaningful to the real world!

    My program identifies the relation between two counts, one of apples and one of bananas, provided to it by console argument. Note that the program itself contains the semantics to identify what the arguments mean! It even describes them as such in the output.

    If computer programs do not contain semantics, books do not contain semantics. That is how terrible your argument is. It would only ever be used by someone who has never written a single computer program in their life.

    16.) So you admit simulations are real and that they can be accurate. But you fail to understand how a completely accurate simulation could be used to drive hardware which performs a specific function. In other words, you’ve admitted the contradiction of thinking robots are real and yet believing their hardware and software are inseparable. They are real; they are separable. These are mere facts, not up for dispute.

    Your position is, in effect, an Argument from Incredulity.

    17.) Lay down the citation for your vast majority of Cognitive Science departments teaching Searle’s views as accurate. Weren’t you asked for this twice already?

    Note, you need to show that they’re taught as correct! Not that they’re taught in order to be discussed or debunked, or for historical perspective. Those are all completely different.

    The fact that you are still unaware that the vast majority of the response to Searle’s Chinese Room has been criticism and debunking shows that you refuse to take the fundamentally trivial step of even reading Wikipedia (despite your later claim to have done so).

    18.) I don’t mention Wikipedia as an authority. I use it as an encyclopedia, including for the list of references and miscellaneous links to discussion of the issue around the web. If you wanted to argue in good faith, you would attempt to actually address the systems, virtual mind, robot, derived meaning, contextualist, and other minds replies. As it is, you just pretend they don’t exist and continue forwarding talking points blind.

    19.) Arrogant? Bully? I’m not the one leaving this nonsense in order to avoid responding to the material. My insults have been superfluous, but when you leave them it’s all you say. That’s ad hominem.

    20.) “Thought experiment” doesn’t explain anything. You don’t get the redefine words in a way that suits your conclusion in an argument. If the counter-party challenges you on your question begging, circular logic, or lack of definitions you have to address the issues or admit you are wrong.

    21.) I’ve already demonstrated there is semantic content in computer programs. Return to point 15. Again, this is identical to claiming there is no semantic content in books, and that is such obvious rubbish I don’t even know where else to go with it.

    22.) You’ve already proven that you have no idea what a computer program looks like. It’s not A + B = C. It’s Apples + Bananas = TotalFruitCount.

    23.) Once again, you do not understand what an emergent property (or behavior) is. Let’s go back to the vacuum cleaner robot. Once I install the software into the machine firmware, and supply power via the battery, the machine demonstrates the emergent property of cleaning the floor. Amazing. Astounding.

    24.) My inline statements weren’t supposed to be a formal argument. Thanks for disingenuously construing them as such.

    P1 Searle doesn’t define what an idea is.
    P2 Ideas provide the meaning behind semantics.
    P3 Semantics is a key part of Searle’s Chinese Room argument.

    C Searle must define an idea or his Chinese Room argument is incomplete, resting on unstated premises, and therefore invalid.

    See how trivial it was to rearrange that? Why didn’t you?

    25.) The implication was that Searle arbitrarily excluded classes as a mental trick in order to build an indefensible argument. It’s irrelevant that Searle or you may believe that other animals could have minds.

    By the way, you haven’t yet demonstrated that human brains have semantic contents by Searle’s (wrong) definition. You do have to do that for this worthless argument to make any sense. Otherwise you’re question begging.

    Show me the semantic contents of my mind, or anyone else’s. You can use neither ideas nor information to demonstrate this, because they’re not part of the (wrong) argument Searle presented that you declared correct.

    See the paradox yet? Searle, this oh-so-incredibly brilliant philosopher, managed to (badly) restate a sub-case of the problem of other minds. You’d trivially understand that this is one of the eminent responses if you had in fact read the Wikipedia page.

    26.) I demonstrated that his premise one was false, repeatedly now, and that two and three are incomplete and make no sense by themselves. Read it again and try directly addressing my criticisms instead of glossing over the whole subject.

    27.) Eliza is not an example of strong AI. You, once again, raise a different definition and then misuse it for your argument, ignoring what the term actually means. A strong AI must, by definition, meet or exceed human intelligence. It would almost certainly be self-aware as a necessary consequence. Clearly it would be a general intelligence with many skills and not specialized, because that is a quality human intelligence has.

    You managed to miss my declaration that strong AI has not been achieved. Unless you count brains, which would suffer from confusion of definitions.

    28.) It’s all too clever how you evade all responsibility for your argument by failing to define the terms you use. What is property dualism and how does it differ from dualism? Why does it matter to the argument?

    29.) If Searle and you do not think minds are magic, how do they work? Do you not understand that magic is a stand-in here for lack of process and lack of substance? If you cannot describe how minds work in terms of observable physical reality, you believe in magic. If you think there is something more than physical reality, you are the functional equivalent of a Cartesian dualist.

    30.) Let me see if I understand this. There is no such thing as substance in the world. That is your world view?

    What are atoms? How do they fit into your conceptual framework, which apparently allows for… nothing?

    What is energy? How is it classified with regards to … again, nothing? The empty set?

    31.) OK, let’s declare for the sake of argument and tossing aside this tedious label quibbling that your philosophy is in some way distinct from dualism. How? Your view point as expressed appears to have no verifiable traits of any kind and thus cannot be pinned down or examined (pretty damn convenient). Maybe it means that reality is fake? I don’t know. You don’t explain it or assign any properties or principles of any kind.

    32.) This is another meaningless game. Where is the number two? Is that you, Plato?

    The number two is a concept. An idea. It has no physical form. It only exists in the organization of real things. It is not an independent entity.

    Go ahead. Explain to me how your “ontology” (fancy) provides for the existence of the number two as something other than an idea. Similarly, try to explain what two even means without reference to objects or substance, since you’ve explicitly disavowed them.

    33.) What is meaning, brenda? Where does it exist?

    Meaning is created by people (conscious minds). It’s the mere connection and organization of real things. Patterns of mind and energy.

    Show me the source of meaning in your philosophy. Mind you, it had best be something different from what I just said, because if you admit that premise you just collapsed the entire house of cards on which the Chinese Room was built.

    Better yet, if you’re really interested in winning this argument instead of bloviating for discredited abstract philosophy, show me how meaning would exist in the absence of humanity. That would prove by implication just about all the premises you need.

    Keep in mind, you cannot redefine meaning or semantics to do this.

    meaning, noun :

    [1] what is intended to be, or actually is, expressed or indicated; signification; import

    [2] the end, purpose, or significance of something

    [3] the nonlinguistic cultural correlate, reference, or denotation of a linguistic form; expression

    semantics, noun :

    [1] the study of meaning

    [2] the branch of semiotics dealing with the relations between signs and what they denote

    [3] the meaning, or an interpretation of the meaning, of a word, sign, sentence, etc.

    34.) I’ll leave you with a couple of formal arguments.

    P1 Information is any sequence of symbols which contains a message.
    P2 The content of an idea is functionally equivalent to information, and often expressed through it.
    P3 Meaning is the referential content of an idea.
    P4 The referred item may exist independently of all conscious agent, but if it were to do so none would be able to identify or use the referential relationship.
    P5 Indeed, without any agents, there is no source for the reference itself.
    P6 Even more fundamentally, the lack of conscious agents will mean the lack of language.
    P7 No objective observer, or external universal agent, exists.
    P8 Only conscious observers of a certain sophistication (that is, people) understand and utilize meaning in the context described above.

    C Meaning is defined by people.

    P1 Language is principally composed of semantics and syntax.
    P2 Semantics is the meaning of the elements of the language, whereas syntax is the rules which bind those elements into a larger framework.
    P3 Programming languages provide for the inclusion of both semantics, which define the purpose and function of the programs written in them, and syntax, which provides the rules by which that purpose must be expressed.
    P4 Hardware operates according to its software (programming).
    P5 Software is written using programming languages, and thus all useful software will contain the fundamental elements of those languages.
    P6 Relevant combinations of hardware and software may be deemed a robot.

    C Robots contain semantics.

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