Tuesday, December 2, 2008

lunch break thoughts

I've got mixed feelings about this: a self-powered cell phone. When developed, it'll be able to recharge itself through sound vibrations. Nifty, eh? But this simply means more damn cell phones, which makes me unhappy. (Yes, yes, I know cell phones are great for emergencies and make it easier for people to find each other when they need to meet up in an unfamiliar place, but I still can't stand them.)

On the bright side, the technology will be applicable to more than just cell phones.

On the "philosophy of mind" front: scientists induce the illusion of body-swapping. Not being a substance dualist, I don't subscribe to the notion that we have detachable minds or spirits. Whatever mind is, it arises out of matter; without matter, there's no mind. We could go on and on about whether this means that consciousness is somehow inherent in matter, but the basic point is that mind and matter are not-two.

(Hat tip to Malcolm and his blog's sidebar, which contains the link to PhysOrg, the site at which I found the above-linked articles.)



bob koepp said...

Hi Kevin - I'm not a substance dualist either. I wonder, though, why you would think matter, whatever it is, would be prior to mind, whatever it is. (I'll confess to thinking that neither matter nor mind is a "substance" in the philosophical sense of that word.)

Kevin said...


Thanks for commenting. If by "prior" you mean "chronologically prior," I should think that the history of life on earth would suggest that our history as conscious beings begins with unconscious matter.

In my book Water from a Skull, I envision the matter-life-mind progression as a pyramid: matter gives rise to life; life gives rise to mind. Matter doesn't disappear when life appears; in fact, matter is necessary for life-- the lower level undergirds the levels above it. Life doesn't disappear when mind appears; in fact, I'd say that, at least up to now, life is necessary for mind.

This may no longer be the case a few decades or centuries down the line, however, if we succeed in developing artificial consciousness: we might be able to build mind from matter, thereby either dodging the question of whether an intelligent entity need be recognizably alive, or forcing us perhaps to redefine "life" to include artificially conscious beings.

I'm also constrained by my bias toward empiricism to think that, whatever mind is, it has to be rooted in matter, because matter is something we can easily perceive, whereas mind-- or more precisely, other minds-- is something we intuit or deduce after perceiving certain material activity. To know that I'm confronted with a conscious being, I have to watch the being and maybe listen to it as well. Other senses might have to come into play, but in the end, my conclusion that the being has a mind will be based on the deliverances of my sensorium.

So it seems natural to me to start with matter first. A pyramid that showed mind as the bottom tier would strike me as exceedingly strange-- though it wouldn't be strange at all if I were a Hindu. For many Hindus, it's cit or citta (roughly, consciousness) that lies at the root of everything.


Scott said...

Space and matter are one.