Logic and Death

Episode four of the SpaceTimeMind podcast is now available. This episode features special guest Eric Schwitzgebel. In this first part of our discussion we talk about death, immortality, and logic (and in the second part we talk about consciousness and its relation to biology).

During the first part of the discussion about logic I am pressing the kind of argument that Williamson makes in his new book Modal Logic as Metaphysics (even though none of us have read the book :)). My thought was that since Eric is open to the possibility of Crazyism then he should welcome Williamson’s view as one of the possible crazy options. Eric resists because of a commitment to logical pluralism while Pete resists because modal logic seems disconnected from science and the actual world. At the 87 minute mark I make the crucial move of distinguishing one’s metalogic from first-order logic that would help to answer a lot of Pete’s and Eric’s objections. And of course after we had this discussion I found this paper by Williamson where he makes exactly the same move but with more elegance and sophistication. I am not saying that I endorse Williamson’s view of higher-order modal logic as a science, or that I reject it, but I do think it is an interesting and important position that is worth exploring.

Kantian Compatibilism?

Spring Break is winding down for me and so I must soon quit the life of discussing philosophy and playing Assassin’s Creed IV and get back to discussing philosophy and playing Grand Theft Auto V. Since I have recently been bashing compatibism I figured I would do some small penance and write down some thoughts that first occurred to me when I read Joshua Green and Jonathan Cohen’s recent-ish paper For the Law, Neuroscience Changes Nothing, and Everything and which occurred again after my discussion with Gregg Caruso and Pete Mandik for SpaceTimeMind. The idea is that if one is going to be a compatibilist one should be a Kantian Compatibilst if at all possible.

As any reader of Kant knows, Kant himself was no fan of compatibilism, at least not of the kind that was floating around in his day. He says,

This is a wretched subterfuge with which some persons still let themselves be put off, and so think they have solved, with a petty word-jugglery, that difficult problem, at the solution of which centuries have laboured in vain and which can therefore scarcely be found so completely on the surface. (Critique of Practical Reason p 189-190)

And indeed it seems that many philosophers think that any kind of compatibilism (or determinism) forces one to a consequentialist account of morality and moral responsibility. But why? I think it is mostly because Kantians have traditionally been Libertarians about free will, but there doesn’t seem to be any principled reason for that.

A Kantian Compatibilism, as I am imagining it, is a view that asserts that free will is compatible with determinism and that free will is still a real feature of the world, just one that we discovered something surprising about. Once this basic move is made one can then go and interpret Kant’s writing in this way, substituting the compatibilist notion of freedom for Kant’s libertarian notion. How would this work? Here is a typical passage from the Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, “Autonomy of the will is that property of it by which it is a law to itself (independently of any property of the objects of volition”. This lends itself nicely to a compatibilst interpretation: Autonomy is simply the will being determined by the Categorical Imperative rather than something ‘foreign’ to the C.I. “morally good actions are just the ones that are determined by the supreme moral law” has a very Kantian ring to it, and if one accepted it then one could say most, if not all, of the things that Kantians want to say. Some actions are free (determined in the appropriate manner), some are not (determined some other way), and we are morally responsible for the free ones, the ones that are determined or caused in the right way,and finally, morally good actions are the one that are determined via the Categorical Imperative.

I am not endorsing this view but if I were ever forced to be a compatibilist I would defend it, so what’s wrong with it?

Introduction to the Philosophical Study of the Mind

I have finally competed a series of recordings for my hybrid/online philosophy of mind course that I will be running in the summer. There are a few flaws here and there but for the most part I am fairly happy with how they turned out. Next up Philosophy and Logic, and maybe philosophy of space and time. (links to all of my video lectures can be found here)

Philosophy of Mind (Lectures recorded March/April 2014)

Towards some Reflections on the Tucson Conferences

As anyone who is even remotely interested in consciousness probably already knows, we are coming up on the big 20th Anniversary Towards a Science of Consciousness Conference in Tucson Arizona. Sadly I am not able to make it this year (due mostly to financial reasons) but I thought I would take a moment to reflect on my involvement with this conference.

I transferred to San Francisco State University in the Spring of 1997. I chose SF State over another college that had an interdisciplinary Cognitive Science program (I think it was Stanislaus, but I really can’t remember) mostly because I loved the city and was thrilled at the chance to set up shop in the Bay Area. I got there and had some adventures, taking Philosophy of Language with Kent Bach, which I really liked (some of the ideas I had in that semester eventually made it into my dissertation). But what really got me was the Philosophy of Mind course I took in the Spring of 1998 (also with Kent Bach), the same semester I was taking a Cognitive Science course. It was in those courses that I met someone who first mentioned the Tucson conference. I remember going home and using the dial-up modem (!!!!) to go online and look into this conference. It seemed really exciting (I also became aware of the Mind and Language seminar at NYU, which I really wanted to be a part of!).

I earned my Bachelors degree in 2000 and applied to exactly two graduate schools, which were NYU and Rutgers. I figured that if I was going to leave California it would be to go study consciousness and mind where it seemed to be flourishing. When I was rejected from both (no surprises there though I did get an offer from the Tisch School of NYU) I entered the graduate program at SFSU that same year. I started working with Mark Geisler in the psychology department and presented at my first professional conference with his lab (the Society for Psychophysical Research in Montreal, on a side note that conference was in October 2001, right during the Anthrax scare…not a good time to be flying around!!). Me in Tucson copy I suggested that we submit to the Tucson conference in Spring of 2002 and we did. Our lab had two posters at that conference. Mine was “EEG Response to Chromatic and Achromatic Hermann Grid Illusions” where I tried to show that the Herman Grid illusion was at least partially due to activity in V1. It was a great conference, and I remember being in one of the sessions, listening to a talk on how the brain processes information that allows a baseball player to catch a ball and the ways in which these players get it wrong when they talk about it. I thought to myself that it would be really cool to give a talk at this conference some day.

I came back to Tucson in 2006 to realize that goal and give my talk ‘What is a Brain State?’. My session was chaired by Hakwan Lau and I was exceedingly nervous. Even though I had presented at conferences before this was my first presentation in front of a significant number of people and I remember looking out at the audience and feeling a bit nauseated. Even so it was a lot of fun and I had some really good discussions with people afterwards.

I purchased the audio recording of my presentation and then dubbed it over a really bad video of the powerpoint slides so that you can relive this classic moment in Tucson history! Can you count all of the ‘ums’? I lose track…

I came back in 2008 to present “HOT Implies PAM: Why Higher-Order Theories of Consciousness are Committed to a Phenomenal Aspect for all Mental States, even Beliefs” which was less fun for me. My talk was at the end of the session and by the time it was my turn there was only 10 minutes left in the session (barely even enough time to get through the title!). For me it was a lot of flying (which I hate/am deathly afraid of) and a lot of money (which I don’t have and am not reimbursed for) and I thought it was not worth it at all. I remember drunkenly yelling at Uriah Kriegel that I thought that there was not very much time for discussion during the conference and that the conference should be about ideas and discussion rather than profit. Of course I found out how naive that was. The conference is not ‘for profit’ in any serious sense of that word and the format employed is fairly standard for science-based conferences. But it was partially because of my dissatisfaction with my experience that year that I started the Online Consciousness Conference in the summer of 2008.

The next time I was in Tucson was in 2012 when I presented “The 2D Argument Against Non-Materialism“. This was a very different experience. By this time I knew most of the people at the conference, including David Chalmers, and even worse most of them knew me! Perhaps Ironically I missed the days when I could slink into the back of a talk unnoticed by anyone and disappear right afterwards without a trace. I mean, there are worse things than hanging with cool and interesting people and talking about consciousness but it did bring home how much things have changed for me in the last 15 years!

photo by Tony Cheng

photo by Tony Cheng

Here’s to 20 more years!


You may (or may not) have noticed that Pete Mandik and Richard Brown (me) have started a podcast, called SpaceTimeMind, where we talk about tax law updates for 2014, uh, I mean, er, we talk about space and time and mind!

The first episode is up now (and has been positively reviewed by Eric Schwitzgebel (and also one iTunes user who described Quiet Karate Reflex perfectly as ‘weird but intriguing music’!!)) and the second should be up soonish. Our goal is to have two episodes a month. In the future we hope to have guests and talk about various interesting things (suggestions on both welcome).

In addition to being available on iTunes, there is a blog with notes and links, and there is a spacetimemind youtube channel where you can watch the live unedited conversation between Pete and I (tune in Wednesday Mornings at 8:00 a.m. (e.s.t.) to catch us all the way live!).