Posts Tagged ‘Sentience’

From Sentience, To Reason & Philosophy

February 17, 2016

Why Is It Modern To Study Ancient Philosophy?

Because one studies this way the roots of reason, as first put into digital form (that’s what writing is). One does not study ancient physics, so why ancient philosophy? Well, one should study ancient physics, that would be an occasion to mention obvious mistakes one is tempted to do, but that one should NOT to do when interpreting nature.

For example, Aristotle believed that one needed to keep on applying a force to keep on moving. That was a curious mistake: anybody running fast, or, a fortiori, galloping on top of a horse, realizes that air resistance is what necessitates to keep on applying a force. And that’s why arrows have the shape they have.

One could make arrows with other shapes: emperor Commodus amused himself by firing in the arena arrows with a crescent shaped blade. Commodus was an athlete of great physical beauty and power (said various contemporaries). The sharp crescent would hit an ostrich’s neck, and the bird would run without a head, to the amusement of spectators (they better be amused).

In serious usage arrows had a very aerodynamic shape (and even could be made to stabilize by rotation thanks to their back feathers).

Humans and Horses Are Capable of Reason. Human Reason Was Communicated to the Horse, and This Is How Horses Learn To Jump

Humans and Horses Are Capable of Reason. Human Reason Was Communicated to the Horse, and This Is How Horses Learn To Jump

[I have practiced that sport, by the way… In Africa, with stallions. Definitively, a good obstacle rider has to be able to able to communicate… reason (what else?) to the horse, in a spirit of trust and conviviality! Otherwise, death and mayhem may result… Aristotle was definitively not a rider, while Xenophon, general, superlative philosopher, and horse breeder, was.]

It took 16 centuries to correct Aristotle’s confusion of aerodynamic resistance and violation of inertia. Buridan, a physicist, philosopher and mathematician, was the first to do so, with his theory of impetus. (Even then he got confused in some detailed examples.)

Explaining to children Aristotle’s mistake should be part of the (early) teaching of physics.

In “Why is ancient philosophy still relevant?”, February 16, 2016, Massimo Pigliucci ponders:

“Why on earth am I devoting years of my life to studying (and practicing) Stoicism? Good question, I’m glad you asked. Seriously, it would seem that the whole idea of going back two millennia to seek advice on how to live one’s life is simply preposterous.

Have I not heard of modern science? Wouldn’t psychology be a better source of guidance, for instance? And even philosophy itself, surely it has moved beyond the ancient Greco-Romans by now, yes?”

Massimo finds the answer in eternal human nature:

“…there is clearly something that the Stoics, the Epicureans, the Peripatetics (followers of Aristotle), the Buddhist, the Confucianists and so forth clearly got right. There is something they thought about and taught to their students that still resonates today, even though we obviously live in a very different environment, socially, technologically, and otherwise.

The answer, I think, is to be found in the relative stability of human nature. This is a concept on which the Hellenistic philosophers relied heavily, though they didn’t use that specific term.”

Notice, by the way, that all our mathematics and physics rest on what the Ancient Greeks knew which happened to be right (although much of their mathematics came from Egypt, for example “Euclid’s Theorem”; also the Greek had modern number system half baked, the final baking happened in India, and were christened “Arabic Numerals”, although they were brought to the West by a Persian…)

Thinking works in a hierarchized way: from the obvious to the extremely subtle revealed by the latest neurology. The Greeks were the first to write extensively on the first aspects of thinking, so their considerations have to be considered first, whenever one studies thinking. So they stay first, and always will, as long as the memory of the past survives.

Massimo: “For Aristotle, humans were essentially rational (meaning capable of reason) social animals. The Stoics agreed, and in fact their theory of oikeiosis (“familiarization”) was essentially an account of developmental moral psychology… Crucially, although other primates seem to share in our natural instinct for sociability, they are incapable of extending it by reason.”

And the big question is: what is reason?

Reason can be put in words, thus expressed digitally. But it can also be transferred by a drawing (that’s not digital). Basically reason is neurology that works, and which can be transferred to other minds.

So reason can be transferred to a dog, or a horse (say when one teaches a horse to jump obstacles).

A sentient animal is one with feelings, it can reason. However, it cannot communicate that reason easily. Although it can learn through communications: songbirds are known to learn from other birds, more or less well, to make more or less complicated songs: educating birds to make mini symphonies is national craze in Indonesia.

Philosophy is the study of reason for reason’s sake. Animals do not do that industrially, nor tribally, but our species and two or three before that, obviously do.

Patrice Ayme’


December 3, 2015

Descartes Cut Down To Size, Consciousness Extracted:

Concepts such as “consciousness”, “free will”, “sentience”, or (to sound learned) “qualia”, are often brandished, without connecting them to (what are called in Quantum Physics) “observables“.

I will try to correct this here. I will associate “consciousness”, “free will”, “sentience”, or “qualia” with something observable, namely unpredictability. This enables me to claim that even simple animals have emotions, consciousness, etc.

Yet my approach, unpredictability, provides with a measure (of consciousness, free will, sentience, qualia), thus does not put all species in the same basket (as the unpredictability a mind is capable of will vary; and not just vary as a number).

Approaching intelligence through unpredictability does not fall in the same excesses as Princeton’s Peter Singer and other in the “animal rights movement who claim (with the Nazis) that fleas and humans have equal rights (so we may as well treat humans as fleas).

The notion of “observable” was central to the birth of Quantum Physics, and still is.

Aplysia: Brainy, Thus Sentient, Conscious & Also Unpredictable

Aplysia: Brainy, Thus Sentient, Conscious & Also Unpredictable

Clever Enough to Become a Plantimal…

There are more than 3,000 species of “Nudibranchs”, these sea slugs, as their branchies are nude… Just when you thought you were safe from French. the particular one above steal genes from photosynthesizing algae it eats. Then it becomes solar powered. Science does not know how this works, because Obama prefers to finance his friend Elon Musk rather than fundamental research in genetics and solar power. TO SOLVE THE GREEN HOUSE GASES CRISIS, ONE NEEDS MORE FUNDAMENTAL RESEARCH. NOW. Finance it with the 6,000 billions dollars given to fossil fuel plutocrats and their obsequious lackeys.

The notion of “observable” is central to Quantum Physics, and irritated Einstein, especially when Heisenberg pointed out that it was he, Einstein, who had introduced it in physics. It is no coincidence that I was driven to capture it for consciousness: it is central to science.

Quantum processes “behave” as if they were conscious of the environment at a distance. Einstein is unhappy in his grave: reality has turned into his worst nightmare. Poor Einstein was very much a Nineteenth Century physicist, he did not graduate to the new age of implicit wholeness.

Chris Snuggs: “As if” they are conscious. Does that mean they ARE conscious?

Patrice: Not an answerable question, because Quantum Processes cannot be interviewed. But I am sure that the feeling of consciousness is rooted in those Quantum Processes. Precisely because Quantum Processes behave as one could imagine elements of consciousness to behave: they are both unknowable and retrospectively determinable.

Chris Snuggs: “Does not “consciousness” need a brain?”

Patrice Ayme: First for the simple answer. What’s a brain? A set of neural networks. Aplysia has around 650 neurons.

A brain “thinks”. What is thinking? How do we know that an animal thinks? When it behave in a way we cannot always predict. Thinking manifests itself by the ability to make a (set of) neural network(s) behave UNPREDICTABLY.

Thinking is detected by the ability to go beyond (rote) learning, thus, to be unpredictable.

At least that’s what I claim. I claim this, because that’s the best I can… think of. What else?

Here is an example illustrating the preceding concepts. I met a giant sea turtle in the ocean. I knew it was thinking. How? because it showed a lot of initiative (especially for a supposedly stupid reptile).

First it determined I was no threat. It swam towards me. I could see its eye moving, inspecting me. I could not predict what it was going to do. It extended a vast flipper next to my fingers, we delicately touched. It was a sort of respectful handshake across 400 million years of evolution. I have been at the (very obscure, as it should be!) Sistine Chapel, at the Vatican, where God extents a finger to man.

This was much better. A flipper was extended, from turtle, to human. Then my reptilian friend slowly dove. I had done nearly nothing. The sea creature had created the encounter. Deliberately. Unpredictably.

Two days earlier me and the same turtle (it is particularly large, so I know it was the same one) swam on the surface in a particularly strong current, in the exact same spot, so it probably recognized me: sea turtles have color vision, and I am unmistakable with bright fluorescent orange and yellow shirt, pants and socks and giant bright yellow fins.

It is precisely because a human being, the world’s smartest animal, cannot predict the behavior of another organism, that we know that this organism thinks, is conscious, has sentience. The first time it decided to swim 5 feet apart, although I was all business, having trouble with the current, and not interested at that point by socializing sea monsters. My sole aim was to regain the beach, 400 meters away, past a sea cliff.

“Sentience” comes from the Latin sentientem (nominative sentiens) “feeling,” present participle of sentire “to feel”. The turtle was at the very least intrigued by my behavior the first time (‘crazy human swims against current pretending to be a turtle’), and was interested to inspect me some more.

In the case of three neurons, free will (or at least unpredictability) has been demonstrated.…/three-neurons-free…/

The question of what is “consciousness” and how it can be determined to happen arises. That’s harder.

In “Surveiller et Punir” (mistranslated in English as “Discipline and Punish” instead of “Surveillance and Punishment”) Michel Foucault quoted at length the full execution of Damiens a religious fanatic who had pricked Louis XV with a knife. Foucault wanted to show how punishment changed. That gives me a justification to set-up my own gory scheme.

Descartes is famous for his “I think therefore I am”. What he was after was finding the simplest, most fundamental basis to start from. So doing, he made a huge mistake.

Indeed, one does not need to think to know that one is.

That can easily be shown by a thought experiment. Grab Descartes, tie him up on a table. The strength and number of bounds is important. Then take a rusty saw, and start to cut Descartes’ leg off. After Descartes puts in doubt your philosophical qualifications, he will start screaming. By the time you get to the sensitive nerves, next to the bone, his discourse will have lost any apparent method. At this point Descartes will not be thinking, but busy screaming his head off. Still, he would be fully existent, and feeling more alive than ever.

Thus sentience is more fundamental than thinking.

This shows, once again, that correct thinking starts with the correct feelings, moods, emotions.

This has many applications. When people extol Christianism, or Islamism, as if they were civilizations, instead of crazy superstitions with a very LETHAL Dark Side, one has to ask whether they set-up the mood of the Enlightenment.

When “leaders’ gather in Paris for the Green House Gas (GHG) crisis, are they aware of the correct emotion, the correct mood, that they should be infused with? Namely that they have only a few years to research the technologies which will allow to get rid of the GHG crisis, or an unprecedented holocaust, of the entire biosphere, may, or  will happen…

And will they be conscious that it will be their fault, and the fault of the 6,000 billion dollars of yearly fossil fuel subsidies they preside over, like the ecological terrorists they are?

This is an example of the following:

Verily, if you want to think right, you have to feel right. First.

Patrice Ayme’