Thinking about Thinking

Metacognition as a ladder to enlightenment?

We humans are sentient beings. By some means or other, our species has ended up with, at least in our own opinion, with cognitive abilities that separate sharply from our closest living relatives, chimps and bonobos, with whom we share 99% of our genes. We have made huge advances in knowledge which we can store, share and use in scientific research, cultural development, building infrastructure, exploration, travel, transport. This huge explosion in cultural evolution needed and may be driven by that exceptional intelligence. Is there any limit to what we can achieve? I say there is.

Idly speculating, I wondered if humans – or any sentient being – were able to comprehend something of greater complexity than themselves. If it were possible, would we not then be open to the Terminator hypothesis. In the film, a computer defence system is developed by humans that is super-intelligent and takes over the world. If we were capable of creating entities more intelligent than ourselves, there is the runaway possibility that those entities could then create even more intelligent entities and so on without limit. With such God-like intelligence and power, these entities should have taken over the universe. That this has not yet happened is evidence that there is a limit to what any sentient being is capable of and that limit is understanding and creating an entity more complex than itself.

It turns out this is not a new idea, which scuppers my chances of publishing a paper on Fox’s conjecture, but it’s a consolation that it’s not such a daft idea that no-one else has ever considered it. I find myself in illustrious company. John Tyndall, the Irish physicist who, among many accomplishments, was first to scientifically study and demonstrate the greenhouse effect, wrote in 1871:

The passage from the physics of the brain to the corresponding facts of consciousness is unthinkable. Granted that a definite thought, and a definite molecular action in the brain occur simultaneously; we do not possess the intellectual organ, nor apparently any rudiment of the organ, which would enable us to pass, by a process of reasoning, from the one to the other. They appear together, but we do not know why. Were our minds and senses so expanded, strengthened, and illuminated, as to enable us to see and feel the very molecules of the brain; were we capable of following all their motions, all their groupings, all their electric discharges, if such there be; and were we intimately acquainted with the corresponding states of thought and feeling, we should be as far as ever from the solution of the problem, “How are these physical processes connected with the facts of consciousness?” The chasm between the two classes of phenomena would still remain intellectually impassable.

I lifted Tyndall’s quote from a Wikipedia article on cognitive closure. Noam Chomsky also wrote and spoke of a limit to human understanding but I see perhaps the most prominent proponent of cognitive closure is British philosopher Colin McGinn. (perhaps not so illustrious following sexual harassment allegations). McGinn:

A type of mind M is cognitively closed with respect to a property P (or theory T), if and only if the concept-forming procedures at M’s disposal cannot extend to a grasp of P (or an understanding of T).

McGinn’s stance is referred to as mysterianism and according to Wikipedia has several prominent proponents. Among them is not to be found Daniel Dennett who criticises McGinn for being too pessimistic in not allowing what might be achieved in the future. I hope Dennett is right but I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

57 thoughts on “Thinking about Thinking

  1. “..our closest living relatives, chimps and bonobos, with whom we share 99% of our genes
    99%?!!!
    That’s probably more than my sons share with me…
    That must be another evolutionary miracle preventiing chimps and bonobos from going to school with my kids… 🤣

  2. “We have made huge advances in knowledge which we can store, share and use in scientific research, cultural development, building infrastructure, exploration, travel, transport. This huge explosion in cultural evolution needed and may be driven by that exceptional intelligence.”

    This paragraph seems like it’s trying to say smth. Yet it’s confusing because of language choice. Two times “cultural” is used as an adjective. What is the difference in meaning of the two nouns they qualify, “evolution” & “development”?

    Not a few people believe “cultural evolution” theories are misnomers. The far more popular term for studying change (over time) of culture is “development.”

  3. This all starts from a rejection of gods witness. we were made in gods image and thats the only reason for our intelligence. animals are all dumb and as dumb as each other. they are not just inferior to us but not superior to each other , at all, or enough to mention.
    The bible teaches we have souls. this is what does all the thinking except for our mind which is just a memory machine..
    the bible teaches we, like god, can have wisdom, understanding or knowledge.
    computers only can have memorized knowledge.
    Never will a terminator world happen. computers are dumber then animals.
    I think each person has fantastic ability to gain so much , the thre things, that we would all today be humiliated if we met those people. however we have so little time.
    origin issues also demonstrate problems in human thought. Too much error on both sides but a wee bit more on one side.

  4. Gregory: Not a few people believe “cultural evolution” theories are misnomers. The far more popular term for studying change (over time) of culture is “development.”

    One might say cultural progress. I had in mind that by being able to control our environment we have reduced Evolutionary pressure on human populations. Death from disease, starvation and conflict is less in percentage terms than historically.

  5. Robert Byers,
    Robert, do you regard your Bible as the only reliable source of scientific knowledge? When we can examine the world around us directly? A world where the climate is changing in ways that threaten our very existence.

  6. J-Mac,
    Cite an alternative source that disagrees with the generally accepted figure and we can discuss methods and conclusions.

  7. Alan Fox: Cite an alternative source that disagrees with the generally accepted figure and we can discuss methods and conclusions.

    Is it really necessary to link you to any source to solve this disagreement???
    Isn’t it obvious?
    How much more illogical the 99% claim of chimp and bonobo genome similarity to human could be? Do I really need to spell it out for you?

    This claim is an embarrassment to science, I don’t care how strongly someone wants to be to true…

  8. Here’s a review of another book from McGinn on metaphysics and physics:
    [start of quote}
    “there is simply no way to do justice to the cringe-inducing nature of this text without quoting it in its entirety. But, in a nutshell, Basic Structures of Reality is an impressively inept contribution to philosophy of physics, and one exemplifying everything that can possibly go wrong with metaphysics: it is mind-numbingly repetitive, toe-curlingly pretentious, and amateurish in the extreme regarding the incorporation of physical fact”
    [end of quote]

    academic.oup.com

    Here an exchange between him and Pat Churchland on McGinn’s mysterianism about the hard problem as expressed in a review of one of her books:
    https://www.nybooks.com/articles/2014/06/19/brains-and-minds-exchange/

    [start of quote]
    “Nevertheless, there are nostalgic philosophers who whinge on about saving the purity of the discipline from philosophers like me and Chris Eliasmith and Owen Flanagan and Dan Dennett. What do the purists, like McGinn, object to? It is that their lovely a priori discipline, where they just talk to each other and maybe cobble together a thought experiment or two, is being sullied by…data. Their sterile construal of philosophy is not one that would be recognized by the great philosophers in the tradition, such as Aristotle or Hume or Kant.”
    — Churchland on McGinn

  9. BruceS: Nevertheless, there are nostalgic philosophers who whinge on about saving the purity of the discipline from philosophers like me and Chris Eliasmith and Owen Flanagan and Dan Dennett. What do the purists, like McGinn, object to? It is that their lovely a priori discipline, where they just talk to each other and maybe cobble together a thought experiment or two, is being sullied by…data. Their sterile construal of philosophy is not one that would be recognized by the great philosophers in the tradition, such as Aristotle or Hume or Kant.”

    Count me as being on Team Impurity.

    ETA: I hadn’t read that exchange before. I’m not shocked that McGinn is such a condescending asshole. And completely unable to see Churchland’s points.

  10. BruceS: Here’s a review of another book from McGinn on metaphysics and physics

    Thanks.

    I read the full review (not just the part that you quoted). I found it quite entertaining. I already had a low opinion of McGinn, but it is now even lower.

  11. J-Mac: How much more illogical the 99% claim of chimp and bonobo genome similarity to human could be?

    Molecular phylogenetics has blossomed because new technology allows whole genomes to be sequenced. The sequences are data. Sequences can be compared. These are facts not claims.

    Do I really need to spell it out for you?

    If you are trying to make a point, you might try. Up to you.

  12. J-Mac: That’s probably more than my sons share with me…
    That must be another evolutionary miracle preventiing chimps and bonobos from going to school with my kids… 🤣

    Alan was just talking about himself. He also shares stuff with bacteria. Tell us, Alan!

  13. Alan Fox:
    Robert Byers,
    Robert, do you regard your Bible as the only reliable source of scientific knowledge? When we can examine the world around us directly? A world where the climate is changing in ways that threaten our very existence.

    No. the bible only makes some boundaries on accuracy in origins. Mankind is to fill in the details. I don’t agree the climate is changing much less a problem or in any way related to human actions. its another hilarious myth of the establishment. At least they are not pushing us to fight in vietnam!!

  14. Nonlin.org:
    Alan was just talking about himself. He also shares stuff with bacteria. Tell us, Alan!

    You share as much with bacteria as Alan and everybody else. If you don’t think so, then you don’t think at all.

  15. Robert Byers: No. the bible only makes some boundaries on accuracy in origins. Mankind is to fill in the details.

    That’s fine then. No need to bust yourself into a pretzel explaining the Earth”s age and geology. We can look at data and conclude from evidence.

  16. Robert Byers: I don’t agree the climate is changing much less a problem or in any way related to human actions. its another hilarious myth of the establishment.

    What worries me that it is too late for it to matter. Even if tomorrow everyone became convinced we need to act collectively to counter climate change, the efforts we could muster may be already too little and too late.

  17. Alan Fox: Molecular phylogenetics has blossomed because new technology allows whole genomes to be sequenced. The sequences are data. Sequences can be compared. These are facts not claims.

    I’m not really sure if you fully realize it, but this is not helping your case at all…
    The simple fact is, if chimps’ and bonobos’ genomes are 99% identical to ours, why are they not humans?

    Can you see my point made at the outset of this OP? Why don’t they go to school with our kids, so to speak?

    So, unless you continue to be biased, and ignore this very fact, as many evolutionary biologist have, your claim, or evolutionary claim rather, that our genomes are almost identical to chimps and bonobos makes no logical sense…

    There’s obviously a problem, but I doubt you, or anybody here for that matter, will be willing to address it…

    Alan Fox: If you are trying to make a point, you might try. Up to you.

    Back to you, then.

  18. J-Mac: The simple fact is, if chimps’ and bonobos’ genomes are 99% identical to ours, why are they not humans?

    I stated a simple fact. How regulatory genes can have a huge effect on phenotype is a fascinating subject – the umbrella to look under is evolutionary developmental biology, evo-devo for short. There’s also cultural evolution. Modern humans were around from at least 200,000 years ago. It is only the last 10,000 or so when human civilization kicks in. No need to obsess over 99%, 1% can make quite a difference.

  19. J-Mac: Can you see my point made at the outset of this OP? Why don’t they go to school with our kids, so to speak?

    So, unless you continue to be biased, and ignore this very fact, as many evolutionary biologist have, your claim, or evolutionary claim rather, that our genomes are almost identical to chimps and bonobos makes no logical sense…

    There’s obviously a problem, but I doubt you, or anybody here for that matter, will be willing to address it…

    This makes no sense.

  20. J-Mac,

    Seems like you’re unable to understand that if we measure some similarity, then it’s been measured and we have nothing else to add. Questioning why we’re not the same species won’t change the fact. So, maybe, instead of questioning the fact, why don’t you try and make a more appropriate question?

    I’m very open to questioning how the measure was taken, I’m willing to see someone ask what’s meant by “sharing 99% of our genes” (which, taken literally, doesn’t mean having 99% identical genomes), but I’m not open to denying facts out of some mindless allegations about whether chimps should go to school with your kids. Facts are facts regardless of what stupid inferences some illiterate like yourself would make about them. So, ask the appropriate questions, if you are able to.

  21. Alan Fox: I stated a simple fact. How regulatory genes can have a huge effect on phenotype is a fascinating subject – the umbrella to look under is evolutionary developmental biology, evo-devo for short.

    Pardon?!

    Alan Fox: There’s also cultural evolution. Modern humans were around from at least 200,000 years ago. It is only the last 10,000 or so when human civilization kicks in. No need to obsess over 99%, 1% can make quite a difference.

    Oh, no?! What’s the mechanism for that? 😉

  22. Entropy: I’m very open to questioning how the measure was taken, I’m willing to see someone ask what’s meant by “sharing 99% of our genes” (which, taken literally, doesn’t mean having 99% identical genomes)…

    That would be much appreciated by me at least.

  23. J-Mac:
    I’m not really sure if you fullyrealize it, but this is not helping your case at all…

    I don’t know if you fully realize it but stating a fact is not some “case.” It’s stating a fucking fact. Period.

    J-Mac:
    The simple fact is, if chimps’ and bonobos’ genomes are 99% identical to ours, why are they not humans?

    That’s not a fact but a question. The answer, obviously, is that the samples were taken from chimps and bonobos, that they cannot just change magically, by the power of your illiteracy and lack of logical thought, into humans. That the measurement was 99% same genes doesn’t mean anything else but that such was the measurement.

    J-Mac:
    Can you see my point made at the outset of this OP? Why don’t they go to school with our kids, so to speak?

    That you’re lack logical thought? That you lack literacy? That you don’t know how to make an appropriate inference or question?

    J-Mac:
    So, unless you continue to be biased, and ignore this very fact, as manyevolutionary biologist have, your claim, or evolutionary claim rather, that our genomes are almost identical to chimps and bonobos makes no logical sense…

    It doesn’t matter what your poorly informed “logical sense” makes out of some fact The fact remains. Facts don’t change out of your disbelief or poor abilities in logical inference.

    J-Mac:
    There’s obviously a problem, but I doubt you, or anybody here for that matter, will be willing to address it…

    Alan and many others have tried to solve the problem and educate you, but seems like this problem cannot possibly be solved.

    Would you like to try, think, and then make an appropriate question this time around?

    J-Mac:
    It’s the obvious inference from your claims…

    What’s obvious is that you lack thinking abilities.

    The obvious inference is that 1% dissimilarity, however that was measured, is enough divergence to put chimps and bonobos apart from humans. The inference is made with the facts, not against the facts. The facts are: the samples were taken from humans, chimps and bonobos. The genes shared between humans and the others were found to be ~99%. If you want to actually challenge the facts, then you have to ask the appropriate question(s), instead of making a fool out of yourself.

  24. Alan Fox: Mitochondria, shared by you and me and everyone else have their own DNA. It’s circular.

    Which makes you their close relative, amirite? You’re practically a bacteria then. And let’s not forget robots. You share many things with them too. Does that make you a cyborg, a clone, a drone? Volcanoes, hot vents? That’s right, you share the same minerals with them.

  25. Nonlin.org: Which makes you their close relative, amirite? You’re practically a bacteria then. And let’s not forget robots. You share many things with them too. Does that make you a cyborg, a clone, a drone? Volcanoes, hot vents? That’s right, you share the same minerals with them.

    Singular of bacteria is bacterium.

    DNA stores genetic sequences that are translated into RNA and/or protein sequences according to a triplet code that is universal across living organisms. There are a few variations found in bacteria and…

    In human mitochondrial DNA.

  26. Alan Fox: Singular of bacteria is bacterium.

    DNA stores genetic sequences that are translated into RNA and/or protein sequences according to a triplet code that is universal across living organisms. There are a few variations found in bacteria and…

    In human mitochondrial DNA.

    Plus omnipotent natural selection, cultural evolution with no known yet mechanism = Alan Fox

    BTW: The mechanism for possibility of a red/silver fox body plans evolving into Alan Fox to fit the pink dress is unknown but I have a few hunches what that could be… 😉

  27. Alan, in the OP:

    Idly speculating, I wondered if humans – or any sentient being – were able to comprehend something of greater complexity than themselves.

    It isn’t clear precisely what you mean by “comprehend” here. Does it mean understanding the basic principles by which something operates? Being able to explain why it behaves in some particular way? Being able to explain all of its behavior? Being able to predict its behavior much of the time? Being able to predict its behavior all of the time? Being able to do this without the aid of paper and pencil, computers, or anything else external to us — that is, being able to hold a complete representation of it in our heads and effectively “simulate” it without external assistance? Knowing everything there is to know about it? There are lots of possibilities, and it’s hard to evaluate the claim without additional clarity on what exactly you mean by “comprehend”.

    If we were capable of creating entities more intelligent than ourselves, there is the runaway possibility that those entities could then create even more intelligent entities and so on without limit.

    I agree with that except for the “without limit” part. There might very well be limits. More on that below.

  28. Alan:

    With such God-like intelligence and power, these entities should have taken over the universe. That this has not yet happened is evidence that there is a limit to what any sentient being is capable of and that limit is understanding and creating an entity more complex than itself.

    There are several unjustified assumptions underlying your reasoning:

    1. That a maximally intelligent being would be able to “take over the universe”, whatever that means. Don’t forget that the cognitive apparatus of such a being would operate according to the laws of physics and would therefore be constrained by them. Any attempts it made at “taking over” would also be constrained by those laws. It’s uncertain that a takeover could succeed in the face of those constraints.

    2. That this being would want to take over the universe and would set out to do so.There are other possibilities.

    3. That enough time has elapsed for the process to play out, produce a maximally intelligent being, and for that being to complete its project of taking over the cosmos.

    4. That the process would play out without being prematurely terminated, say by an unfortunately situated supernova or the self-destruction of the originating civilization. (I should add that if intelligent life isn’t a one-off, the process could start in multiple places. In that case, the process could terminate in some places while continuing in others.Is it guaranteed to finish somewhere? If this can’t be established, then your reasoning can’t work.)

    5. That if some entity had already taken over the universe, it would be apparent to us. This neglects the possibility that the takeover could manifest in a way that’s undetectable to us, or that the superbeing might deliberately hide it from us, or that the signs might be visible to us without our interpreting them correctly.

  29. Further to #1 and #3, causal influence is limited by the finite speed of light (as far as we know), so a superbeing could never be in control of anything outside of its observable universe. Thus it’s possible that there’s a superbeing out there that’s invisible to us since its sphere of influence doesn’t include us.

    …that limit is understanding and creating an entity more complex than itself.

    Be careful here. Understanding and creating are two different things. It’s possible to create something you don’t understand, and it’s possible to understand something you cannot create. It is our ability to create something more intelligent than ourselves that is relevant to kickstarting the upward spiral. Whether we understand the thing we have created is a separate issue.

    McGinn’s stance is referred to as mysterianism…

    Mysterianism isn’t about whether brains are too complex for us to understand. It’s an argument for the intractability of the Hard Problem of Consciousness, which is an altogether different claim. Mysterians hold that we fundamentally lack the cognitive chops or the conceptual apparatus needed to understand how any physical system, simple or complex, could give rise to conscious experience.

    Since mysterianism isn’t applicable and the “master of the universe” reasoning doesn’t work, do you have another argument for why humans cannot understand/comprehend something more complex than themselves? If so, what is it, what precisely do you mean by “understand” or “comprehend”, and what measure of complexity are you invoking?

  30. keiths: There are lots of possibilities, and it’s hard to evaluate the claim without additional clarity on what exactly you mean by “comprehend”.

    Comprehend, understand to the level of being able to construct such entity or a useful analogous model.

  31. keiths: There are several unjustified assumptions underlying your reasoning:

    Oh sure. As there are a number in your reply.

  32. keiths: Mysterianism isn’t about whether brains are too complex for us to understand.

    I’m not a mysterian, though I’m almost persuaded, having had a conversation at Uncommon Descent recently with someone who argued very well for that view. I’ll see if I can find the thread.

  33. keiths: It is our ability to create something more intelligent than ourselves that is relevant to kickstarting the upward spiral. Whether we understand the thing we have created is a separate issue.

    Perhaps but I think the fact humans don’t create (in the sense of constructing) entities that are beyond human understanding supports my conjecture.

  34. Alan:

    Perhaps but I think the fact humans don’t create (in the sense of constructing) entities that are beyond human understanding supports my conjecture.

    There’s a problem. Based on the definition of “comprehend/understand” you have chosen, the “fact” you are citing turns out to be a tautology, and a tautology cannot be used to support a conjecture.

    To see this, consider your chosen definition:

    Comprehend, understand to the level of being able to construct such entity or a useful analogous model.

    Applying that definition to your comment gives this:

    Perhaps but I think the fact humans don’t create (in the sense of constructing) entities that are beyond their ability to construct supports my conjecture.

    Humans can’t construct things that they can’t construct. It’s true, but it’s also uninformative, and it doesn’t support your conjecture.

  35. keiths:

    There are several unjustified assumptions underlying your reasoning:

    [lists 5 of them]

    Alan:

    Oh sure. As there are a number in your reply.

    And those are…?

  36. Alan:

    I’m not a mysterian…

    That’s fine, but in your OP you point to prominent mysterians as evidence that your conjecture puts you in “illustrious company”. What mysterians claim is entirely different from what you are claiming, however, as I explained above. The mysterians are therefore irrelevant to your conjecture.

  37. Given that mysterianism is irrelevant and that your “master of the universe” reasoning relies on unjustified assumptions, there is nothing left in your OP to support your conjecture. Can you think of a supporting argument that doesn’t rest on a tautology?

  38. In his OP, Alan intends to put forward a single conjecture that he calls ‘Fox’s conjecture’, but there are actually at least three conjectures there, plus an assumed relation between them: 1) that humans are unable to understand things that are more complex than themselves; 2) that they are therefore unable to create things that are more complex than themselves; and 3) that they are therefore unable to create things that are more intelligent than themselves.

    We can’t say whether these conjectures are true individually without at least specifying what we mean by ‘understand’, how we measure ‘complexity’, and how we determine whether one thing is ‘more intelligent’ than another. Since these are Alan’s conjectures, I’ll leave it to him to provide suitable definitions and metrics. However, we can say that #2 doesn’t necessarily follow from #1, since the ability to create isn’t synonymous with the ability to understand, and we can also say that #3 doesn’t necessarily follow from #2, since ‘less complex’ doesn’t necessarily imply ‘less intelligent’.

    Humans have been making glass for thousands of years. Only relatively recently have we come to understand that at the molecular level, glass is an amorphous solid. We still don’t understand all of the physics involved. It can therefore be argued that glass is an example of something that we’ve been able to create for thousands of years but that we nevertheless still do not understand fully. Likewise, we have a decent understanding (though by no means a complete one) of volcanic eruptions, but we can’t create them since we can’t control matter and energy on that scale.

    As an example more relevant to questions of intelligence, we can create artificial neural networks that are remarkably accurate at recognizing faces. We understand how the neural nets are constructed. We understand how they are trained. We can follow along at every step and see precisely how they operate. We can even predict how they will operate given a full knowledge of the input and of their synaptic weights. All of that is understood. What we can’t do is figure out why a given set of synaptic weights works so well at face recognition. The neural net can’t tell us what characteristics it focuses on, and in what combinations, in order to achieve such high accuracy. (We’re little better in explaining how our own neural networks work. For instance, we’re pretty good at identifying celebrities and public figures from photos of their eyes alone, but imagine trying to verbally describe how you recognized a set of eyes as belonging to, say, Jamie Raskin, and doing so well enough that someone who had never seen Raskin before could identify him.)

    Clearly, a facial recognition network is neither more complex nor more intelligent than a human by any reasonable standards. But my point is that if we can create things we don’t fully understand that nevertheless display a kind of intelligence, then it’s not obvious to me that we can’t create systems having more and more intelligence, eventually surpassing our own, all the while failing to understand them completely. That’s a far cry from saying that we can ramp up the intelligence indefinitely, of course. I’m just pointing out that limits to our understanding don’t necessarily translate into limits on the intelligence of the systems we create.

  39. keiths: But my point is that if we can create things we don’t fully understand that nevertheless display a kind of intelligence, then it’s not obvious to me that we can’t create systems having more and more intelligence, eventually surpassing our own, all the while failing to understand them completely.

    We know we can construct computers that play chess better than any human can, including those who programmed the computer. We seem to be in the process of constructing self-modifying computers that become more intelligent with each iteration – with no implied limit on the intelligence potentially possible (always assuming some plausible implementation of intelligence.)

    I’m not sure our notion of “understanding” can usefully be applied to Alan’s first conjecture. My opinion is that we can sort of understand things more complex than ourselves, because “understand” is inherently fuzzy, and our understandings are consistently partial, simplified, and somewhat incorrect. And there are people I cannot understand and have no desire to understand.

  40. Coming very late to the party – not sure that complexity can be quantified unidimensionally. What we call sentience seems to denote the capacity of a knowing-thing to understand itself as an agent of its thoughts and actions, and as the subject of its own experiences. Plenty of very smart computers that can highly complex things we can’t, can’t do that, which we can.

    Something about the nature of re-entrant, self-referential capacity seems to me to be key.

  41. Elizabeth: What we call sentience seems to denote the capacity of a knowing-thing to understand itself as an agent of its thoughts and actions, and as the subject of its own experiences.

    I’m not sure that happens with humans. We live our first-person lives and the vast majority of us give little thought to how that first-person experience emerges from neurones firing or not.

    Flint’s nephew has an informed opinion that neuroscientists are currently very far from a third-person understanding of the process of thinking.

  42. keiths: Mysterians hold that we fundamentally lack the cognitive chops or the conceptual apparatus needed to understand how any physical system, simple or complex, could give rise to conscious experience.

    Perhaps I should add that I googled to see whether anyone had previously published a similar conjecture and McGinn seemed to come close which is why I mentioned him. I’m happy to learn that his idea doesn’t match mine.

    I’m with Dennett in dismissing the whole concept of philosophical zombies and qualia as nonsense.

  43. Elizabeth,

    Lizzie, you linked to a research paper elsewhere regarding using fMRI and EEG simultaneously as a productive way to observe brain activity. I haven’t managed to locate it and I wonder if you could post it here (if no trouble).

  44. Lizzie:

    What we call sentience seems to denote the capacity of a knowing-thing to understand itself as an agent of its thoughts and actions, and as the subject of its own experiences.

    Alan:

    I’m not sure that happens with humans. We live our first-person lives and the vast majority of us give little thought to how that first-person experience emerges from neurones firing or not.

    Alan,

    You’re misunderstanding Lizzie. She is talking about our capacity to see ourselves as agents and experiencers, which is something that humans have been doing since time immemorial, long before we even knew what neurons were or that the brain contained billions of them.

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