THINK AND FEEL QUICKLY

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POST 15. 15-06-2014
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Silver gull and (suspected) Pacific Golden Plover at Abbotsford.
CONTENTS
  1. MIND AND BRAIN
  2. FASTER THAN LIGHT
  3. AESTHETICS AND ETHICS
  4. THINKING AND SIGNALS

 

  1. MIND AND BRAIN
The ABC Radio National program “The Philosopher’s Zone is always a good listen and this one on the mind and brain is excellent.
Neuroscience might have banished dualist notions of mind and body but it seems that M. Descartes’ 350 year-old hunch will not go away. What hasn’t helped is the log-jam of schemes trying to explain the dreaded ‘c’ word. The race is on to build a brain, but the deeper neuroscientists dig into the soggy grey matter the more elusive consciousness becomes.  It needn’t be according to leading philosopher of mind David Papineau. If only we could accept some deceptively simple advice..

2. FASTER THAN LIGHT

Teleporting data, instantaneous action at a distance and quantum entanglement are mysterious but progress is happening.
“In the past, scientists have made halting gains in teleporting quantum information, a feat that is achieved by forcing physically separated quantum bits into an entangled state.
But reliability of quantum teleportation has been elusive. For example, in 2009, University of Maryland physicists demonstrated the transfer of quantum information, but only one of every 100 million attempts succeeded, meaning that transferring a single bit of quantum information required roughly 10 minutes.
In contrast, the scientists at Delft have achieved the ability “deterministically,” meaning they can now teleport the quantum state of two entangled electrons accurately 100 percent of the time”

3. AESTHETICS AND ETHICS

We humans have the ability to give value to things and events but have been vague about how such values are to be ascribed. Some lean on authorities of various kinds including “holy” books, wise personages, tradition, and other sources of inspiration. For those people who do not feel able to accept such sources of guidance there remains a problem. Why should anyone have more right to being correct in ascribing values, whether ethical or aesthetic, to such matters. We seem to have biological tendencies towards some particular stances on some matters but even in those cases there remains plenty of room to differ. In the end, it seems to me that, despite any biological tendencies we are left with the need to construct aesthetic and ethical positions and to market them to our fellow humans. Attempts to achieve ethical agreement such as the United Nations Declaration seem to be steps in the right direction. Achieving aesthetic agreement is a more fraught issue.
An article in The Scientist looks at the neurology of some aesthetics as they seek to unravel the biology of beauty and art.
”Artists often depict mental representations of an object rather than its physical form. Their renditions do not adhere strictly to the light, shadow, and color properties of objects in the physical world, yet they appeal to us. Shadow contours are too fleeting and changeable to provide reliable information about real-world objects, so our brains never evolved to be sensitive to the shape of shadows. As a result, inaccurately shaped shadows in works of art are not displeasing to our eyes. By contrast, artists are typically careful to depict shadows as having less luminance than the object.”

4. THINKING AND SIGNALS

There are a number of theories about data, information, meaning and knowledge, some of which ascribe knowledge to being a special preserve of humans. However there are others that differentiate between human “conscious” thought and its associated cognitive skills and the whole field of signalling which is the realm of nature more generally. “The way life thinks” looks at the example of the way the forest thinks.
Semiosis is at the centre of Kohn’s framework for explaining how the forest “thinks”. Kohn relies heavily on Charles Peirce’s notion that signs should be defined broadly to include those with and those without linguistic properties. Peirce’s tripartite division of signs is well known. Icons are signs of likeness, reflecting the properties of that to which they refer, in the way that a photograph is – or as the sound tsupu does, representing a peccary who slips into a pool of water in the forest. (Kohn writes: “Once I tell people what tsupu means, they often experience a sudden feel for its meaning: ‘Oh, of course, tsupu!’”) Indices, by contrast, point to something else, as when a palm tree crashes down in the forest and a monkey understands that something dangerous may be happening and that it needs to move. All life, for Kohn, participates in icons and indices, whereas the third type of sign – symbols – involve convention and are unique to humans. When we link signs with all of life, we break out beyond “the conflation of representation with language” that characterizes most of anthropology and even “posthuman approaches that seek to dissolve the boundaries that have been erected to construe humans as separate from the rest of the world”.”
I like the approach of others who say that all change in space/time conveys data/information, and that selection secures beneficial changes that survive to affect later changes. The storage of data/information is achieved by retention of a “model” in space/time and such models are what we can call “knowledge”. The brain stores such models of reality and can access (recall) them on demand. Our human ability to manipulate the recalled models is what we call imagination. Some of the things we imagine may be made over into fantasy or made real by craft as artifacts, inventions and art.
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