12 years!

I just realized that I recently passed the 12 year mark of blogging here at Philosophy Sucks! The top-5 most viewed post haven’t changed all that much from my 10 year reflections. Philosophy blogging isn’t what it used to be (which is both good and bad I would say) but this blog continues to be what it always has: A great way for me to work out ideas, jot down notes, and get excellent feedback really quickly (that isn’t facebook). Thanks to everyone who has contributed over these 12 years!

The five most viewed posts written since the ten year anniversary are below. 

5. Prefrontal Cortex, Consciousness, and….the Central Sulcus?

4. Do we live in a Westworld World?

3. Consciousness and Category Theory

2. Integrated Information Theory is not a Theory of Consciousness

  1. My issues with Dan Dennett 

 

Papa don’t Teach (again!)

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The Brown Boys

2018 is off to an eventful start in the Brown household. My wife and I have just welcomed our newborn son Caden (pictured with older brother Ryland and myself to the right) and I will soon be going on Parental Leave until the end of April. Because of various reasons I had to finish the last two weeks of the short Winter semester after Caden was born (difficult!). That is all wrapped up now and there is just one thing left to do before officially clocking out.

Today I will be co-teaching a class with Joseph LeDoux at NYU. Joe is teaching a course on The Emotional Brain and he asked me to come in to discuss issues related to our recent paper. I initially recorded the below presentation to get a feel for how long the presentation was (I went a bit overboard I think) but I figured once it was done I would post it. The animations didn’t work out (I used powerpoint instead of Keynote), I lost some of the pictures, and I was heavily rushed and sleep-deprived (plus I seem to be talking very slow when I listen back to it) but at any rate any feedback is appreciated. Since this was to be presented to a neuroscience class I tried to emphasize some of the points made recently by Hakwan Lau at his blog.

Remembering Jerry Fodor

I was very sad to find out about the passing of Jerry Fodor today. He was obviously an iconic figure in philosophy and I had only a brief interaction with him but he made a big impact. I sat in on the Research Seminar in Mind and Language that he ran along with Christopher Peacock in the Spring of 2004 and I also took his class on Concepts at NYU in the Spring of 2005 (through the CUNY Consortium). Sadly this was before I started blogging and so don’t have anything on either one written up (I recall having some notes on paper but those have been lost).

I do remember that I was also taking David Armstrong’s class on Truthmakers at CUNY and David Rosenthal’s class on Consciousness, Thought, and Language. For my final paper I ended up writing a version of what became The Mark of the Mental that was 50-plus pages long! I saw it as a kind of walking the line between Fodor’s views and Rosenthal’s views. I sent a draft of it to Jerry before it was due and he asked to meet with me to talk about it. I remember being very surprised to have heard back from him at all, let alone that he wanted to meet with me one-on-one to discuss it. He came up to the Graduate Center and we spent hours arguing about the paper. I forget exactly what we argued about but I remember thinking that I could not believe that he would take the time to come and sit down with me at all. I took a lot of notes during the discussion (all lost now) but I remember he gave me very valuable feedback and I really enjoyed talking with him. I actually can’t find the original version of the paper anywhere (I must have lost it when my old computer crashed back in 2007/2008), which is too bad.

Since I thought the paper nicely straddled the line between issues raised in both Fodor and Rosenthal’s classes I ended up submitting the paper to both of them. I figured at 50-plus pages it was really like two papers and I wanted to get the feedback from both of them. About a week later I got a message from Rosenthal saying he needed to talk to me. It turns out that it had somehow come to light that I had submitted it to both of them for credit. David explained to me that I could not do that (I believe he said “you would not try to pay for two different things with numerically the same money, would you?”). I felt really bad after that as I had really thought it was not a big deal at all. After hashing out the matter I was informed that I would have to pick one of them to submit it to. I chose to submit it for David’s class and so I never did get to hear what Jerry thought of the final version of the paper. I never spent any time with him after that, though I saw him speak on several occasions, I was too embarrassed to go up and talk to him.

He could be very intimidating (and sometimes downright mean) but he was also very lively and I will always remember that he took the time to come and talk to a student that he didn’t know very well at all to provide excellent feedback on a paper he must have thought was very bad.

RIP.

The Beginning: 1971-1977

As promised I am continuing to write a series of autobiographical posts which I am planning to use as the basis for a memoir. A lot of this stuff is really jumbled in my memory. I have done some research online and talked to family members about a lot of this but even so the series of events is not entirely clear. This early period is especially hard since we know that nobody has memories from the first three years of their lives and to make matters worse I have very few pictures from back then. Most of what I am talking about here I have heard in story form from one family member or another but as usual take it all with a grain of salt.

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My mother and father sometime around 1969

My parents met in High School and ended up dropping out and eloping (yes there are words that start with ‘e’ that don’t have anything to do with the internet). It was a different world back then and I gather that neither of the parents thought much of their proposed son/daughter-in-law. I think that was in 1968 or somewhere thereabouts. My mom was an artist (she still is) who had been winning art competitions and my father was a musician and interested in claymation. I have never heard any of his music (that I know of) but I am told that he was pretty good and wrote a lot of music as well.

One of my mom’s drawing won a contest and was featured in a calendar put out for he next year (1969, I think). Sadly, she never got to see the calendar because it was sent to her mother’s house and she had eloped by then. I have tried to find a digitized version of the calendar but haven’t been able to so far.  Her parents did not encourage her artistic endeavors, but that is perhaps another story. Both of my parents were vegetarian at the time and decided to raise their kids vegetarian.

I am told that my father was drafted into the army and was scheduled to be sent to Vietnam. During his physical he told them he had asthma and they said he seemed fine. This was before I was born but I don’t know what year. My mom tells me that he packed and was ready to ship out, they even had a tearful goodbye, but when he reported for duty he had a serious asthma attack and was sent home. Discharged that very day. He came back home with his stuff. I haven’t been able to verify this story but if it is even partially true it is pretty amazing. I had uncles who did go to Vietnam and they came back profoundly different people, who wouldn’t after being exposed to the horrors of the Vietnam war? And, of course, many people never came back at all. Had my father actually been sent to Vietnam there is a strong possibility that I would never have been born!

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Moments after my birth

But I was! I was born in LaMirada California a couple of years later in 1971. My mom tells me that at the time she did not know very much about childbirth and was not given a lot of options. She was given an epidermal and as a result I became stuck in the birth canal. I have found that this is quite common (or used to be anyway). The doctors had to go in with forceps and pull me out by the head. Apparently this was a pretty common procedure but in the process they did some damage to my head. As a result I was puffy and swollen and I did not breathe right away. The doctors warned my mom that this may have some averse effects on my early brain development. Some might suggest that this sure does explain a lot!

Thankfully I don’t remember any of that but I do look rather worse for the wear in my first picture! My mom tells me that when she brought me home from the hospital they did not have a crib or anything and that I used to sleep in one of our dresser drawers.

My sister was born in 1973 when I was 1 and 1/2 years old. By then my mom had learned a bit in her attempt to raise me vegetarian and she had a natural childbirth. I don’t know where we lived at the time but it was somewhere in Los Angeles. Apparently having kids was more than my father bargained for and I am told that he claimed that we were holding back his music career. They were both young, in their early 20s, and had had bad childhoods themselves. Looking back on it all I can see how hard it must have been to have been so young and on your own with 2 kids, having been young and on my own I can’t imagine what it would have been like had there been children when I was their age.

But at any rate my father began began to drink heavily and at some point it got bad enough that my mom decided to leave him. He would get his paycheck and head to the local bar. My mom tells me she would be at home waiting to see if he came home with any money or not. He was also physically abusive. I don’t know when this was but I have narrowed it down to probably sometime in late 1973 or 1974. So I would have been 2 or 3 depending on the timing. I really don’t remember any of this but my mom tells me that my sister and I were terrified when they would fight. The first time she tried to leave him she waited until my father came home one night on payday and was drunk and passed out. His pants were on the floor in the bathroom and she went in and took whatever cash was left over and took my sister and I and took a bus to my grandparents house. They lived up the coast in Pismo Beach, which was part of the Central Coast of California.

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My mom and I, 1975 or so

They had a place close to downtown Pismo Beach on Price St. This was a lovely place that had an antique store beneath it (which I think my grandfather ran/owned). I have very very vague memories of staying here at that time but none of them are very clear. My mom tells me that at some point my father came down and tried to get her back. When she refused he camped out in the back yard and my grandmother became furious and told us all to leave. We went back to L.A. and ended up staying in a hotel in El Monte.

As I said my sister and I were raised vegetarian and my mom tells me that on our way back to L.A. we stopped at a Salvation Army in Santa Barbara. I have no memory of this but apparently everyone there really liked me and when they were serving food they wanted to be nice to me. They were serving beans with cut up hotdogs in it and to be nice to me they put in an additional whole hotdog into my serving. My mom says she saw this but was afraid to say anything about it because she knew that meant I would not eat it. I was sitting in a high chair and when I saw the hotdog I was very angry. I stabbed it with a fork, climbed up onto my high chair, held the fork over my head, and shouted ‘WE DON’T EAT THIS!’. I feel like I would have flung the hotdog as well, but that may be my imagination.  My mom says that she was embarrassed but secretly her and my dad were very proud. They were taken aside by the person running the food line and told they should teach me about being grateful for what I had. As anyone who has every come into any kind of contact with me knows, this story foreshadows a great deal!

I do not know how long we were back in El Monte, but I think we must have left again in 1976 or 1977. This part of the story is hard to reveal. Apparently I used to play out in the front of the hotel we were staying at (I think this was in El Monte but can’t be sure). I had a Big Wheel that I used to ride around. One day, I am told, I was out there as usual, my father was at work and I do not know where my mom was, inside I assume. Again, I do not really remember this, and in fact did not really remember it had even happened until I was in my twenties and talked to my mom about it, but I am told that at the time I reported that some man had offered me money if I came with him. I did go with him. Apparently he took me to a place where a lot of busses were stored and into one of the parked busses, where he said his wallet was. I went in and he grabbed me from behind and tried to pull my overalls off. I squirmed away and ran home. I came home crying and frightened. The police came and took a report and I was apparently really embarrassed when I had to explain that this guy had tried to grope my genitals. All of this is what my mom told me about what she remembers me telling her on that day. I don’t have any really clear memories of the event so all I can do is report what she has told me. One last chilling detail is that he apparently yelled “I know where you live,” as I ran away and as a result I was pretty paranoid that he would come back for me.

My mom also tells me that soon afterwards I was starting school. She says I did not go to preschool or kindergarten and that she would not let me attend school until the State of California mandated it, so this must have been 1st Grade. I am pretty sure that would mean that I was 6 years old at the time but I haven’t been able to confirm this (I wonder of the police report still exists?)…Either way, apparently right after this I was starting school wherever this happened, which I am assuming was in El Monte but may have been somewhere else in the Los Angeles area, and I was supposed to be taking the school bus. My mom walked me to the bus stop and the bus came to take me to school, my First Day of School! For some reason or other I missed the school bus after school and just sat on the school steps not knowing what to do. My mom was waiting for me at the bus stop after school to walk me home but I did not get off the bus. She became very worried. She thought the abductor had come back and taken me again. Frantic, she went to the school and found me sitting on the steps. I was ok but she was terrified and told my father that we had to move. He apparently responded by saying that I was fine now, and my mom tells me that she knew she had to leave him.

Somehow we ended up staying in a shelter for battered women called Haven House. Probably I was 5 around this time (in 1977 or so then) and I do have some very vague memories of Haven House. They had an Easy Bake Oven that I liked to bake with, for example. At some point we got our own place in Pasadena, though I really do not remember it at all. Maybe it was on Paso Robles St.?

Apparently the place we were staying at was pretty seedy and downstairs in the corner apartment a pimp lived with a bunch of girls that he ran. My mom says he was really nice to her, and was very cultured and she became friendly with a couple of his girls. They told her that she could make a lot of money if she became a prostitute. My mom has told me, now that she is getting on in age, that she is proud that she resisted that offer. She was at a low point, by herself with two kids, with a low paying job. At any rate she turned down the offer and the pimp respected her for that. One thing that I do sort of remember is that some guy was coming over to the pimps place and pointed to my mom, who was talking with one of the prostitutes, and asked ‘how much for her?’ to which the pimp responded with a right hook that sent the guy tumbling backwards. He stumbled and fell over the railing on the porch and into the bushes. At the time I had no idea what was going on. I had vaguely remembered living in Pasadena and the nice black man who lived downstairs who I would sometimes hang out with during the day. When I found out that he was a pimp and the women I knew were prostitutes I was a bit surprised!

Anyway, my mom says she was at that point still hanging around Haven House and through them she got the opportunity to go on the Merv Griffin Show. The show was on battered women and they had come to Haven House to ask if there was anyone there who might be good for the show. The recommended my mom.

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December 1977

The show was filmed December 15th 1977, when I would have been 6 and my sister was 4. My mom tells me that the only reason she agreed to do it was to get some extra money so that she could buy Christmas presents for my sister and I but that she did not get the money until after Christmas. The show was hosted by William C. Rader, who I had never heard of until I starting researching the show, but apparently he was a psychiatrist on tv a lot back then. They had my mom, a woman who had killed her husband, and a man who used to beat his wife. I contacted the holder of the footage and they say they have footage of that show still but I haven’t been able to get ahold of it. It would be really interesting to see it!

My aunt had come down to be in the audience of the show with my sister and I and she talked my mom into coming back down to the central coast to be involved with a catering truck business that they had started down there. And so we moved back to the central coast. I don’t know exactly when this was but according to my mom we were staying with my grandparents when they saw the episode of the Merv Griffen show air. My mom said on the show that her husband was an alcoholic just like her own father (my grandfather) and this made my grandmother very angry. In fact she was so mad that she kicked all of us out. Somehow my mom met a man who had an apartment for rent and since he liked her he gave her a deal on the place and we moved into it. That must have been 1978 or so and I would have been 6 or 7 depending on the exact timing.

So, even though I was born in Los Angeles I really identify the Central Coast of California as where I am from. My earliest clear memories are from living there in the famous 5 Cities….but I’ll get to that next month.

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!!). Tucson2002
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!

Zombies vs Shombies

Richard Marshall, a writer for 3am Magazine, has been interviewing philosophers. After interviewing a long list of distinguished philosophers, including Peter Carruthers, Josh Knobe, Brian Leiter, Alex Rosenberg, Eric Schwitzgebel, Jason Stanley, Alfred Mele, Graham Priest, Kit Fine, Patricia Churchland, Eric Olson, Michael Lynch, Pete Mandik, Eddy Nahmais, J.C. Beal, Sarah Sawyer, Gila Sher, Cecile Fabre, Christine Korsgaard, among others, they seem to be scraping the bottom of the barrel, since they just published my interview. I had a great time engaging in some Existential Psychoanalysis of myself!

News Flash: Philosophy Sucks!

Via the latest philosophers’ carnival I learn of a recent kerfluffle, started here, and continued here over the usefulness of philosophy and I can’t resist throwing my $0.02 in.

One thing that I have little patience with is the view that dismisses philosophy all together. The view that there is no progress in philosophy is itself a philosophical view. The view that all knowledge is scientific knowledge is also a philosophical view. When people say that philosophy is a waste of time they invariably mean one particular way of doing philosophy is a waste of time. This is clearly illustrated by people like Richard Feynman who spend a lot of time denouncing philosophy in general when a closer looks reveals that he was pissed off about the method used by particular philosophers (that he happened to encounter). This is also born out by the anti-philosophy comments at the linked posts. If you do not like thought-experiments, analysis of ordinary language, or scholastic proofs for God’s existence that is fine, but that is not the same thing as not liking philosophy.

Philosophy is unavoidable. You cannot even say why it is worthless without actually doing some philosophy; that is part and parcel of its suckiness. I think it was Aristotle who first voiced this sentiment, (though I can’t seem to find the passage any where in my Barnes anthologies)…anyways. Deal with it.