Do We Live in a Westworld World??

I have not had the time to post here as often as I’d like and I am hoping to get back into a semi-regular blogging schedule once things settle down. The hectic pace of an almost-two-year-old and teaching a 6/3/-6/3 course load (18 classes a year!) has taken its toll. I have been meaning to write a post on my plenary session at The Science of Consciousness (TSC2016) conference in Tucson. And I have been working on a paper with Joe LeDoux developing a Higher-Order Theory of Emotional Consciousness that is nearing the final stages. I plan to post something about it once we are done. I am also still trying to produce a series of videos for my introductory logic class at LaGuardia and will also post something on that when they are finished (hopefully before the Spring semester). So a lot is going on!

But all of that aside I wanted to take a moment to talk about Westworld. I have not seen the original movie by Michael Crichton but I was eagerly anticipating the new HBO series and now having watched it I think it is a wonderful show with a lot of rich philosophical content. There are a lot of interesting questions about consciousness and computation brought up by the show but I wanted to step back and note the clever way that the show introduces a new twist on the some old skeptical worries. There are some mild spoilers below but if you have seen the first episode that is all that you need to follow the argument.

The basic premise of the show involves the existence of a giant park known as Westworld where there are advanced artificial agents that serve as the backdrop for the various adventures of the patrons of the park. These advanced artificial agents, known as hosts in the show, are very lifelike and in fact stipulated to be indistinguishable from flesh and blood humans. The behavior of the hosts is for the most part scripted and under the complete control of the people who run Westworld. When the hosts interact with the ‘newcomers’, i.e. those who visit the park for recreation, they are allowed limited improvisation and mild variance from their scripted behavior but that is all. The feature that is noticeable for our purposes is that the hosts are programmed in such a way that whenever a newcomer mentions anything about the existence of things outside the park they noticeably fail to notice what the newcomer has said. If they happen to see an artifact from outside the park, like a picture, they do not register it and simply say ‘it doesn’t look like anything to me’. Finally, they mention that the hosts have the concept of dreaming, and specifically of a nightmare, in order to ensure that any weird experiences due to park maintenance can be attributed to being in a dream.

That is enough of the plot mechanics of the show to introduce the interesting new skeptical worry. How can we be sure that we are not now, at this very instant, in a Westworld World? That is, given some common assumptions, how can we rule out that our city -NYworld-, our state -CaliforniaWorld-, our country -USAworld-, indeed our planet -EarthWorld- etc, are not actually vast artificial environments run by external agents set up for the enjoyment of ‘newcomers’ (tourists?)? It is true that I do not notice any evidence that the Earth is just an artificial environment with automatons populating it. But this is consistent with my actually being an artificial agent of some sort whose internal programming, or what ever is equivalent to that, prevents me from noticing any such evidence. In the most severe form EarthWorld might be an amusement park for an alien race. A place where they go to vacation and reek havoc. We may have interacted with any number of alien beings and simply not have noticed that they have tentacles, four eyes, etc. We may be constructed to take their appearance to conform to normal human standards (after all many take physics to already demonstrate that we don’t perceive reality as it is).

In a sense this is related to the Simulation Hypothesis. In that case Bostrom and others consider the possibility that our reality is in actuality a computer simulation, like The Sims but more advanced. This is not the kind of scenario envisioned in EarthWorld. There the idea is that we have an actual physical place, The Earth, complete with physical elements, trees, animals, wind, etc and also artificial agents, ourselves. Our role in EarthWorld may vary depending on the skeptical scenario one envisions but one scenario is that we are highly advanced artificial agents with advanced AI and limited conscious experience (that is we are phenomenally conscious but miss out on a large portion of what is actually happening around us). This is not a computer simulated reality but is still an artificial reality of sorts. Maybe more akin to Live Action Role Playing than to computer simulation (maybe Artificial Action Role Playing?).

As with most skeptical scenarios I don’t think we have to accept the conclusion that we are indeed in such a scenario but it is, I think, an interesting new take on the ‘we might be conscious computer programs in an artificial environment’ trope. As such I also think that the simulation argument, if it works at all, works equally well for Earthworld and so if you think we might be in a simulation you should also think we might be in Earthworld.

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!

108th Philosophers’ Carnival

Welcome to the 108th edition of the Philosophers’ Carnival! I don’t know what is going on with the Carnival but  the last few editions have not had very many interesting submissions and I did not get a lot of acceptable submissions for this issue…but I know that there are interesting posts out there  so I scoured the internets to find the best that the philosophy blogosphere has to offer…I also checked a few other disciplines for some food for thought.
Submitted:
  1. Tuomas Tahko presents Draft: The Metaphysical Status of Modal Statements posted at ttahko.net.
  2. Andrew Bernardin presents Beneath Reason: An Iceburg of Unconscious Processes posted at 360 Degree Skeptic.
  3. Eric Michael Johnson presents Chimpanzees Prefer Fair Play To Reaping An Unjust Reward posted at The Primate Diaries.
  4. Terrance Tomkow presents Means and Ends posted at Tomkow.com, saying, “If your only available means of doing something are impermissible, does it follow that it is impermissible for you to do that thing? Judith Jarvis Thomson says, “yes”. Tomkow argues, “no”.”
  5. Thom Brooks presents The Brooks Blog: Thom Brooks on “A New Problem with the Capabilities Approach” posted at The Brooks Blog.
Found:
  1. Over at Conscious Entities Peter discusses Justin Sytsma’s recent JCS paper in Skeptical Folk Theory Theory Theory
  2. Over at Alexander Pruss’s Blog said blogger discusses Video Games as Art
  3. Not to long ago we had a very interesting post over at Brains on breeding pain free livestock. Anton Alterman has a somewhat polemical but interesting response at Brain Scam in Pains in the Brain: On LIberating Animals from Feeling
  4. Over at Siris we are reminded how malleable language is and the effect it has on reading past philosophers in Every Event Has a Cause
  5. Over at Practical Ethics Toby Ord asks Is It Wrong to Vote Tactically? I don’t want to spoil it for you but he thinks the answer is ‘no’
  6. Over at Evolving Thoughts John Wilkins discusses Plantinga’s argument that naturalism is self-refuting in You and Me, Baby, Ain’t Nothing But Mammals
  7. Did you know that a Quine is a computer program that can print its own code? It’s true and over at A Piece of Our Mind John Ku discusses them in Meta Monday: Ruby Quines
  8. Over at Neuroschannells Eric sums up his current views on perception and consciousness in Consciousness (13): The Interpreter versus the Scribe
  9. Over at Specter of Reason there is a discussion of Pete Mandik’s Swamp Mary thought experiment in Swamp Deviants, Part II
  10. Over at the Arche Methodology Blog Derek Ball asks Do Philosophers Seek Knowledge? Should They?
  11. Over at Philosophy on the Mesa Nina Rosenstrand wonders if Neanderthal’s raped early Humans in They Are Us? News from the Primate Research Front
  12. Is the idea that the mind in the head an a priori prejudice? Ken Aizawa thinks not in So, why does common sense say the mind is in the head?
  13. Over at Inter Kant Gary Benham discusses Free Speech and Twitter
  14. Over at The Ethical Werewolf Neil Shinhababu discusses his recent run on Bloggingheads and Hedonism
  15. Over at Logical Matters Peter Smith talks about Squeezing Arguments and comments on Fields characterization of them in Saving Truth from Paradox
  16. Over at In Living Color Jean Kazez discusses just how outrageous espousing moral realism really is in Torturing Babies Just for Fun is Wrong
  17. Over at Philosophy Talk: The Blog Ken Taylor discusses Culture and Mental Illness
  18. Over at In the Space of Reasons Tim Thornton discusses Aesthetic Self-Knowledge
  19. Over at the Philosophy North Blog Aiden McGlyn discusses The Problem of Vanishing Warrant
  20. Finally, have you heard about this Philosopher’s Football match? Virtual Philosopher has a nice report of the madness in Philosopher’s Football -Match Report from the Ref.
That concludes this edition. Submit your blog article to the next edition of philosophers’ carnivalusing our carnival submission form. Past posts and future hosts can be found on our blog carnival |

Top 10 Posts of 2008

OK, so the year isn’t over yet…but these are the most view posts so far…

–Runner up– Reverse Zombies, Dualism, and Reduction

10. Question Begging Thought Experiments

9. Ontological Arguments

8. The Inconceivability of Zombies

7. There’s Something About Jerry 

6. Pain Asymbolia and Higher-Order Theories of consciousness

5.  Philosophical Trends

4. A Short Argument that there is no God

3. Has Idealism Been Refuted?

2. God versus the Delayed Choice Quantuum Eraser

1. A Simple Argument Against Berkeley

Progress in Philosophy? Well, I Never!

I finally got around to looking at the recent Philosophers’ Carnival and I was struck by Richard Chappell’s post at Philosophy, etc where he lists what he takes as ‘examples of solved philosophy’. He offers these up as counter-examples to claims made, by people like me, that there are no solved problems in philosophy. He says that by ‘solved’ he means that they are ‘as established as ordinary scientific results’. This in itself causes problems, for one might wonder how well established scientific results are… 

Now, I tend to think that every one of the so-called ‘solved’ issues really begs some question somewhere and so all we can mean by ‘solved’ is ‘generally agreed to be true by philosophers/philosopher X’ but it was number eight that got my hackles up.  This is the claim that it is metaphysically necessary that cats are animals, though ‘cats are animals’ is not analytically true (i.e. that Kripke is right). The ‘evidence’ for this is that, should we find out that what we call ‘cats’ were not animals but demons instead we wouldn’t want to say that we had found out that cats don’t exist. We must surely think that we have found out something new about cats; viz. that they are not animals. But since we have (already) found out that they are animals, we must conclude that they are necessarily animals. But why must we agree with the intuition that ‘we have found out something new about cats’. No reason for this is ever given. It has always seemed to me that we would have found out that there were no cats. So, until intuitions are reliable guides to semantic/metaphysical truths gets ‘solved’ number eight isn’t either; and this is no where near happening any time soon.

So, are there examples of solved philosophy? Well, only in the sense that Richard actually points out. That is, only in the sense in which ordinary scientific clams are thought of as ‘solved’ and that amounts only to this: Given certain assumptions about what counts as evidence at all and what it means for some kind of evidence to be better evidencethan some other kind, there is more evidence for claim a than claim b. But this will always involve substantial begging the question. This is why, I take it, that David Chalmers has recommended that with respect to the dualist/materialist debate the best thing to do is just for each camp to retire to their corners and try to develop their respective theories (I actually forget where he says that at, though…so I may be misremembering the jist of the passage). These issues are only solved from a theoretical standpoint, and no particular standpoint is forced on us.