The issue of the biological origin of consciousness is linked to that of its function. One source of evidence in this regard is the contrast between the types of information that are and are not included within its compass. Consciousness presents us with a stable arena for our actions—the world—but excludes awareness of the multiple sensory and sensorimotor transformations through which the image of that world is extracted from the confounding influence of self-produced motion of multiple receptor arrays mounted on (...) multijointed and swivelling body parts. Likewise excluded are the complex orchestrations of thousands of muscle movements routinely involved in the pursuit of our goals. This suggests that consciousness arose as a solution to problems in the logistics of decision making in mobile animals with centralized brains, and has correspondingly ancient roots. (shrink)
A broad range of evidence regarding the functional organization of the vertebrate brain – spanning from comparative neurology to experimental psychology and neurophysiology to clinical data – is reviewed for its bearing on conceptions of the neural organization of consciousness. A novel principle relating target selection, action selection, and motivation to one another, as a means to optimize integration for action in real time, is introduced. With its help, the principal macrosystems of the vertebrate brain can be seen to form (...) a centralized functional design in which an upper brain stem system organized for conscious function performs a penultimate step in action control. This upper brain stem system retained a key role throughout the evolutionary process by which an expanding forebrain – culminating in the cerebral cortex of mammals – came to serve as a medium for the elaboration of conscious contents. This highly conserved upper brainstem system, which extends from the roof of the midbrain to the basal diencephalon, integrates the massively parallel and distributed information capacity of the cerebral hemispheres into the limited-capacity, sequential mode of operation required for coherent behavior. It maintains special connective relations with cortical territories implicated in attentional and conscious functions, but is not rendered nonfunctional in the absence of cortical input. This helps explain the purposive, goal-directed behavior exhibited by mammals after experimental decortication, as well as the evidence that children born without a cortex are conscious. Taken together these circumstances suggest that brainstem mechanisms are integral to the constitution of the conscious state, and that an adequate account of neural mechanisms of conscious function cannot be confined to the thalamocortical complex alone. (Published Online May 1 2007) Key Words: action selection; anencephaly; central decision making; consciousness; control architectures; hydranencephaly; macrosystems; motivation; target selection; zona incerta. (shrink)
Conflation of our unique human endowment for language with innate, so-called universal, grammar has banished language from its biological home. The facts reviewed by Evans & Levinson (E&L) fit the biology of cultural transmission. My commentary highlights our dedicated learning capacity for vocal production learning as the form of our language endowment compatible with those facts.
My response addresses general commentary themes such as my neglect of the forebrain contribution to human consciousness, the bearing of blindsight on consciousness theory, the definition of wakefulness, the significance of emotion and pain perception for consciousness theory, and concerns regarding remnant cortex in children with hydranencephaly. Further specific topics, such as phenomenal and phylogenetic aspects of mesodiencephalic-thalamocortical relations, are also discussed. (Published Online May 1 2007).
A number of difficulties encumber the Suddendorf & Corballis (S&C) proposal regarding mental time travel into the future. Among these are conceptual issues turning on the inherent asymmetry of time and causality with regard to past and future, and the bearing of such asymmetry on the uses and utility of retrospective versus prospective mental time travel, on which I comment.
An intricate, long, and occasionally heated debate surrounds Boltzmann’s H-theorem (1872) and his combinatorial interpretation of the second law (1877). After almost a century of devoted and knowledgeable scholarship, there is still no agreement as to whether Boltzmann changed his view of the second law after Loschmidt’s 1876 reversibility argument or whether he had already been holding a probabilistic conception for some years at that point. In this paper, I argue that there was no abrupt statistical turn. In the first (...) part, I discuss the development of Boltzmann’s research from 1868 to the formulation of the H-theorem. This reconstruction shows that Boltzmann adopted a pluralistic strategy based on the interplay between a kinetic and a combinatorial approach. Moreover, it shows that the extensive use of asymptotic conditions allowed Boltzmann to bracket the problem of exceptions. In the second part I suggest that both Loschmidt’s challenge and Boltzmann’s response to it did not concern the H-theorem. The close relation between the theorem and the reversibility argument is a consequence of later investigations on the subject. (shrink)
George H. Mead and Alfred Schutz proposed foundations for an interpretative sociology from opposite standpoints. Mead accepted the objective meaning structure a priori. His problem became therefore the explanation of the individuality and creativity of human actors in his social behavioristic approach. In contrast, Schutz started from the subjective consciousness of an isolated actor as a result of a phenomenological reduction. He was concerned with the problem of explaining the possibility of this isolated actor’s perceiving other actors in their existence, (...) their concreteness, and the motives for their behavior. I treat these two approaches and their associated problems as equally relevant. My evaluation is based on their success in solving their specific problems. The aim is to decide which of the two approaches provides the more adequate foundation for an interpretative sociology. (shrink)
Animal ethicists have recently debated the ethical questions raised by disenhancing animals to improve their welfare. Here, we focus on the particular case of breeding hens for commercial egg-laying systems to become blind, in order to benefit their welfare. Many people find breeding blind hens intuitively repellent, yet ‘welfare-only’ positions appear to be committed to endorsing this possibility if it produces welfare gains. We call this the ‘Blind Hens’ Challenge’. In this paper, we argue that there are both empirical and (...) theoretical reasons why even those adopting ‘welfare-only’ views should be concerned about breeding blind hens. But we also argue that alternative views, which (for example) claim that it is important to respect the telos or rights of an animal, do not offer a more convincing solution to questions raised by the possibility of disenhancing animals for their own benefit. (shrink)
Ernst H. Gombrich criticized abstract painting with several remarks scattered around his wide oeuvre. I argue that his view of abstract paintings is coherent with the account of pictorial representation he put forward in Art and Illusion, show some limits of such view, and maintain that, although several of Gombrich’s criticisms of abstract painting should be rejected, some of his remarks are insightful and worth of consideration.
From 2012 to 2015 I was the first Eugene H. Fram Chair in Applied Critical Thinking at Rochester Institute of Technology, in Rochester, NY. To the best of my knowledge it is the only such endowed position devoted solely to this at a major North American university. It was made possible by a generous 3 million dollar gift from an anonymous alumnus who wished to honor a retired faculty member who had taught for 51 years. The honoree was revered for (...) his devotion to Bloom’s taxonomy and his academic rigor, which infused case studies and the Socratic method. A primary motivation for the chair was a belief that an alarming number of college graduates lack the necessary critical thinking skills in order to advance successfully in their careers. My responsibilities included collaborative leadership, advocacy and oversight for critical thinking across the entire campus. It provided a unique opportunity to reflect on the current state of critical thinking instruction–very broadly construed, as well as to examine its specific role at RIT, an institution with its own unique history, mission, and character. (shrink)
This article is an investigation of parallel themes in Heinrich Hertz's philosophy science and Kant's theory of schemata, symbols and regulative ideas. It is argued that Hertz's "pictures" bears close similarities to Kantian "schemata", that is, they are rules linking concepts to intuitions and provide them with their meaning. Kant's distinction between symbols and schemata is discussed and related to Hertz's three pictures of mechanics. It is argued that Hertz considered his own picture of mechanics (the "hidden mass" picture) as (...) symbolic in a different way than the force and energy pictures. In the final part of the article it is described how Harald Høffding soon after the publication of Hertz's Principles of Mechanics developed a general theory of analogical reasoning, relying on the ideas of Hertz and Kant. (shrink)
Boyer & Lienard's (B&L's) biological model of ritual achieves a rather straightforward account of features shared by ritual pathology and the idiosyncratic rituals of children; but complexities accrue in extending it to human ritual culture generally. My commentary suggests that the ritual cultural traditions of animals such as songbirds share structural features, handicap-based origin, as well as the enabling neural mechanism of vocal learning with human ritual culture. (Published Online February 8 2007).
W. H. Auden and Hannah Arendt belonged to a generation that experienced the catastrophic events of the mid-twentieth century, and they both sought to respond to the enormity of the novel phenomena they witnessed.
T. H. Morgan (1866–1945), the founder of the Drosophila research group in genetics that established the chromosome theory of Mendelian inheritance, has been described as a radical empiricist in the historical literature. His empiricism, furthermore, is supposed to have prejudiced him against certain scientific conclusions. This paper aims to show two things: first, that the sense in which the term empiricism has been used by scholars is too weak to be illuminating. It is necessary to distinguish between empiricism as an (...) epistemological position and the so-called methodological empiricism. I will argue that the way the latter has been presented cannot distinguish an empiricist methodology from a non-empiricist one. Second, I will show that T. H. Morgan was not an epistemological empiricist as this term is usually defined in philosophy. The reason is that he believed in the existence of genes as material entities when they were unobservable entities when they were unobservable entities introduced to account for the phenotypic ratios found in breeding experiments. These two points, of course, are interrelated. If we were to water down the meaning of empiricis, perhaps we could call Morgan an empiricist. But then we would also fail to distinguish empiricism from realism. (shrink)
J. H. Lambert proved important results of what we now think of as non-Euclidean geometries, and gave examples of surfaces satisfying their theorems. I use his philosophical views to explain why he did not think the certainty of Euclidean geometry was threatened by the development of what we regard as alternatives to it. Lambert holds that theories other than Euclid’s fall prey to skeptical doubt. So despite their satisfiability, for him these theories are not equal to Euclid’s in justification. Contrary (...) to recent interpretations, then, Lambert does not conceive of mathematical justification as semantic. According to Lambert, Euclid overcomes doubt by means of postulates. Euclid’s theory thus owes its justification not to the existence of the surfaces that satisfy it, but to the postulates according to which these “models” are constructed. To understand Lambert’s view of postulates and the doubt they answer, I examine his criticism of Christian Wolff’s views. I argue that Lambert’s view reflects insight into traditional mathematical practice and has value as a foil for contemporary, model-theoretic, views of justification. (shrink)
Let h : ℕ → ℚ be a computable function. A real number x is called h-monotonically computable if there is a computable sequence of rational numbers which converges to x h-monotonically in the sense that h|x – xn| ≥ |x – xm| for all n andm > n. In this paper we investigate classes h-MC of h-mc real numbers for different computable functions h. Especially, for computable functions h : ℕ → ℚ, we show that the class h-MC coincides (...) with the classes of computable and semi-computable real numbers if and only if Σi∈ℕ) = ∞and the sum Σi∈ℕ) is a computable real number, respectively. On the other hand, if h ≥ 1 and h converges to 1, then h-MC = SC no matter how fast h converges to 1. Furthermore, for any constant c > 1, if h is increasing and converges to c, then h-MC = c-MC. Finally, if h is monotone and unbounded, then h-MC contains all ω-mc real numbers which are g-mc for some computable function g. (shrink)
New Waves in Philosophy, a book collection that stands out for giving a snapshot of research in all areas of philosophy is a successful editorial project addressed by Vincent F. Hendricks and Duncan Pritchard. New Waves in Philosophy of Action is one of its last titles, edited by Jesús H. Aguilar, Andrei A. Buckareff and Keith Frankish. -/- The book is aimed at the researchers of all fields and readers in general interested in this sub-discipline of philosophy very difficult to (...) localize (is it part of a sub-discipline such as metaphysics or maybe part of the philosophy of mind?). What is and how can we know the nature of intentions and its role in action? (shrink)
During the British socialist revival of the 1880s competing theories of evolution were central to disagreements about strategy for social change. In News from Nowhere (1891), William Morris had portrayed socialism as the result of Lamarckian processes, and imagined a non-Malthusian future. H.G. Wells, an enthusiastic admirer of Morris in the early days of the movement, became disillusioned as a result of the Malthusianism he learnt from Huxley and his subsequent rejection of Lamarckism in light of Weismann's experiments on mice. (...) This brought him into conflict with his fellow Fabian, George Bernard Shaw, who rejected neo-Darwinism in favour of a Lamarckian conception of change he called "creative evolution.". (shrink)
La obra del filósofo estadounidense David H. Finkelstein, Expression and the Inner, publicada originariamente en 2003 por Harvard University Press (2ª ed. 2008) puede ahora leerse en la versión española de Lino San Juan, editada por la ovetense KRK Ediciones con el título: La expresión y lo interno. Finkelstein propone en La expresión y lo interno un análisis expresivista del autoconocimiento. Podría parecer cuando menos sorprendente y aún más admirable que con tan sólo dos capítulos (“Detectivismo y constitutivismo” y “Expresión”) (...) y un Epílogo (“Deliberación y transparencia”), Finkelstein haya conseguido presentar en esta obra un planteamiento calificado por muchos como una auténtica renovación de la discusión analítica en torno al tema del autoconocimiento, o sea, acerca del problema de qué clase de autoridad quepa atribuir a las expresiones sobre nuestros propios estados de ánimo y/o nuestros estados mentales sin más. (shrink)
This article traces Kurt H. Wolff’s involvement with Italy, from his first sojourn in the 1930s as a German Jewish intellectual in exile to the end of his life. Wolff developed profound ties with the country that hosted him, and that he was forced to abandon once racial laws were introduced there on the eve of World War II. Nonetheless, throughout his life he regarded Italy as an elective homeland of sorts. Wolff’s Italian experience is revisited through a detailed examination (...) of the places where he resided, his activities as a student, teacher, and scholar, and the many individuals with whom he associated, many of whom became his lifelong friends and collaborators. The documentary evidence collected here includes unpublished conversations with some of Wolff’s Italian connections and serves for a consideration of how his ties to Italy had an impact on the development of his sociological and esthetic theories. (shrink)
In this essay, I reconstruct H. Richard Niebuhr's interpretation of George Herbert Mead's account of the social constitution of the self. Specifically, I correct Niebuhr's interpretation, because it mischaracterizes Mead's understanding of social constitution as more dialogical than ecological. I also argue that Niebuhr's interpretation needs completing because it fails to engage one of Mead's more significant notions, the I/me distinction within the self. By reconstructing Niebuhr's account of faith and responsibility as theologically self-constitutive through Mead's I/me distinction, I demonstrate (...) Niebuhr's deep yet unacknowledged agreement with Mead: the self is constituted by its participation in multiple communities, but responds to them creatively by enduring the moral perplexity of competing communal claims. I conclude by initiating a constructive account of conscience that follows from this agreement. Conscience is more ecological than dialogical because it regards our creative participation in multiple ecologies of social roles oriented by patterns of responsive relations. (shrink)