An initial glimpse of the new epistemological landscape
2015, June 28
Physicalism is currently the dominant theory of knowledge. Its most basic tenet is the tabula rasa assumption, which John Locke introduced some 350 years ago. That assumption is now known to be empirically false. In fact, the empirical truth is directly opposite. Replacing the tabula rasa assumption by its direct opposite would constitute the most important event in the theory of knowledge since Locke introduced it. Noted below are some initial glimpses of the new epistemological landscape.
Innateness and the tabula rasa assumption. The newborn possesses some innate and universal sensations, emotions and cognitions. Locke postulated the directly opposite assumption: that the brain of the newborn is like a blank slate (tabula rasa), and that sensations are imported into the brain fro the senses. What is received from the senses are physical stimuli, which are devoid of sensory qualities: sensations are evoked by the brain. Here are two of the resulting epistemological consequences.
The phenomenal and the physical. Knowledge by acquaintance is phenomenal. The term phenomenal includes the innate mental faculties of sensations, emotions and cognitions. The phenomenal does not satisfy the criteria of physicality. Our knowledge of the physical is an inference from the phenomenal. Hence, the phenomenal is epistemologically prior to the physical.
The legal doctrines of Natural Law versus the Positive Law. The legal concept of Natural Law is based on the existence of some innate an universal commonalities of human nature and conduct. The legal concept of Positive Law denies the existence of such innate and universal commonalities of human nature and conduct. Hence, the moral and legal systems of the West are due for review and revision.
The mind matters. Recent developments in neuroscience have made it possible for persons paralyzed from the neck to down to control the cursor on the computer screen or the action of a servomechanism that may regulate an electric wheelchair. This advance is based on the fact that imagining an action selectively activates brain areas that are responsible for that action. More generally, top-down attention to imagined sensation selectively activates the brain loci that bring about that sensation. Thus, mental activation of the brain is commonplace. This new development appears to conflict with physics. It is generally accepted that brain states can bring about mental states. But, for a mental state to affect a brain state seems to violate the notion that only physical causes can have physical effects. For this reason, persons paralyzed from the neck down, who control their wheelchair with their thoughts, show that present-day physics is profoundly incomplete.
Quote of the Week
It has, I think, now been shewn that man and the higher animals, especially the primates, have some few instincts in common. So in regard to mental qualities, their transmission is manifest in our dogs, horses and other domestic animals. Besides special tastes and habits, general intelligence, courage, bad and good temper, etc. are certainly transmitted
The Descent of Man. London and selection in relation to sex. 1871. London. John Murray.
Physicalism: prescription for extinction
The capacity to discover and use knowledge has emerged in evolution because it can make possible survival in in greater range of environments. An essential aspect of knowledge is that it can inform about the non-immediate consequences of an action in space and time. Ignoring non-immediate consequences of action could be fatal. For example, using pipes to distribute water can promote survival. But the long- term use of lead pipes (as the Romans did) would have the opposite effects. The first industrial revolution is the current analog of using lead in water pipes.
The first industrial revolution. The first industrial revolution replaced muscle power with machine power. It involves burning fossil fuel, which produces carbon dioxide (CO2) as a waste by-product. This year the CO2 in the atmosphere reached, for the first time in human history, the level of 400 parts per million (ppm). The last time that CO2 level was reached was some 3 million years ago when the sea level was some 65 feet higher than now. In the atmosphere, the increase in CO2 causes warming. In the oceans, the accumulation of CO2 causes acidification, which in turn, leads to extinction of fish species. The CO2 level is likely to double by the end of the century. These long-term trends are neither reversible nor stoppable. This millennium may prove our last.
What is wrong with efforts to slow down global warming? Technology – the application of knowledge - provides alternatives means for what can be done. Wisdom is the ability to decide what ought to be done. What can be done is the most advanced part of knowledge. Technology is catapulting humanity into an unknown future. In contrast, Physicalism has severed the question of what ought to be done from its biological foundation and removed it from the empirical domain. The result is the dysfunctional coupling of what can be, and what ought to be done. Global warming is not the problem. Instead, it is just one of the manifestation of the inability of humanity for decisive collective response to survival imperatives. Focus needs to shift toward the systemic inability to arrive at decisive collective action an a long term problem of any basic problem confronting humanity. Toxic philosophy is the primary culprit, and there is no remedy other than the reconstruction of the foundation of knowledge.
Human nature is the empirical basis of human conduct. Goal-oriented collective action is made possible by the existence of the following basic four capabilities:
Innate and universal capacities. The inter-generational transmission of genetic information is innate and universal both for unicellular and multicellular organisms. DNA replication, RNA transcription, and protein translation are manifestations of innate and universal mechanisms. These, and other innate and universal mechanisms are also manifested in the behavior of organisms.
Centrality of goals. Homeostasis characterizes cells while they are alive. Homeostasis, of any given variable, such as glucose, involves negative feedback relative to a particular set-point. Action of such mechanisms is goal-oriented. For this reason biological explanations are ultimately goal-oriented.
Mental capacities promote survival by facilitating goal achievement. Mental capacities have emerged in the evolution because they increase the range of conditions under which survival possible. It allowed, among other things, the development of conceptual knowledge.
Human nature and human conduct. Taken together, the innate commonalities of human nature, the centrality of goal-oriented considerations, and the use of mental and capabilities, are the biological common ground foundation for a non-relativistic philosophy of action.
Physicalism is a pathology. Physicalism denies each of the basic four capabilities cited above:
The tabula rasa doctrine. Physicalism is based on the empirically false tabula rasa doctrine, which denies that any behavioral or mental capacity is innate.
Denial of the existence of goal-oriented biological mechanisms. Physicalism calls for the elimination of goal-oriented explanations. Last century, biologists and neuroscientists tried to adhere to that misguided prescription. No longer. Goal-oriented explanations in biology and neuroscience are now common.
The mind as an evolutionary harmless error. Physicalists view the mind as a causally inert by-product of brain function. For example, Physicalists take the bizarre position that taking pain medication is causally unrelated to having pain experience.
The removal of ethics from the empirical domain. Denying the possible existence of commonalities of human nature, Physicalists deny the possible existence of commonalities of human conduct, and consequently of the possibility of morality and legal systems based on natural law. The consequence is relativism and focus on the non-universal short term – exactly the opposite of what is called for. The resulting inability for decisive collective long-term action may prove terminal. As such it is pathologic.
What ought to be done. Physicalism is currently the dominant theory of knowledge. Its basic tenet is the tabula rasa doctrine. That doctrine is now known to be empirically false. Physicalism has modified that empirically false doctrine into a pathology, which constitutes prescription for extinction. Max Plank observed that acceptance of a new paradigm (in physics) typically involves a generational transition. It is over 300 years since the introduction of the currently dominant tabula rasa doctrine. Plank’s observation does not appear to apply to the overdue need for reconstruction of the foundation of knowledge. A way ought to be found out of this predicament, and avert having evolution cast its vote about the future of humanity.
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The Next Big Thing is Due
At present, persons need several different information-processing devices, whose functions overlap. This burdensome situation is one of the indications that the Big Next thing is due.
Information-processing technology, as any problem-solving some fundamental elements. Some such elements are elusive. This elusiveness is manifested, among other things, by the curious fact that some first-rate programmers are terrible systems analysts. Consider, for example, Input (I), Processing (P), and Output (O). The temporal sequence below seems commonsensical:
I --> P --> O
But, systems analysis requires the following
O --> I --> P
Or, consider the generalizing inference known as induction. Induction non-deductive, or deductively invalid, inference. Apart from its central role in science, induction is also the major factor in intelligence (i.e. the induction sub-test in intelligence tests correlates best with the total score).
Inductive cognitive mechanisms are innate, are typically non-verbal, and are in part non-conscious. Following Locke and Hume, the existence of any mental capacity is denied, and therefore, the existence of innate cognitive inductive mechanisms is denied. It so came to pass that the existence of the most basic mechanism for the advancement of knowledge is denied. This is the reason why the research into inductive cognitive mechanisms is virtually non-existent. This scandal is obscured by shifting attention to confirmation - the stage subsequent to induction.
There is a difference in the approach of technology experts and those in basic science toward advancing knowledge. Technology experts are in command of available knowledge and know how to apply it. They are justifiably a proud group. In contrast, in basic science one looks beyond what is known into what is not. It is a humbling experience. In anticipating a major transition, it might be a productive exercise for experts to assume for a while the mental attitude of basic scientists and recognize that the island of knowledge is surrounded by an ocean of ignorance.
Advent of the microprocessor era
Intel introduces the 8008 – the Q1 Corporation, a company I formed while a student at the Graduate Center of City University, delivered to Litton Industries in Long Island, New York the world's first general-purpose computer system utilizing the 8008 microprocessor.
Q1 receives $40,000 a month from Nixdorf Computers in computer know-how.
Intel introduces the second-generation microprocessor – the 8080. Q1 delivers the world's first 8080 microprocessor computer system. All general-purpose microcomputer systems in the United States, Europe, and Asia are Q1-made.
NASA orders Q1 computer systems for all of its eleven bases.
The British Government, through its former National Enterprise Board, purchased Q1 computer know-how for over $10
Although much of my work experience has been in technology, my main interest has always been how the relation of mind and brain determines the nature of knowledge. While I do not intend to return to the computer field, I believe that I am in a unique position to outline what ought to be done toward the realization of the potential of the Next Big Thing. I will be happy to hear from parties who may want to explore further the possibility of a short-term involvement.
An example: the personal authentication problem
What is wrong what current e-pay systems? The replacement of tangible tokens of monetary value by electronic ones is important. But no such system can be successful in the long run unless some other issues are tacked first. Passwords are difficult to remember and are easy to break and are nuisance otherwise. This is recognized. There are some ingenious methods in use, and others that are about to be introduced, to address this problem. Some such methods provide a satisfactory, if suboptimal, means of payment. But in the long run, and Internationally, all such limited-purpose solutions to the personal authentication are doomed to fail.
A proposed solution. It may prove the case that an invention, which was filed this month with the United States Patent Office as a Provisional Patent Application (PPA) is the optimal solution for the unique and universal identification of persons. The intention is to offer that identification method for adoption worldwide, perhaps through the United Nations. Such identification method would be a part of any future general-purpose information system. The rights to that PPA and to the subsequent Regular Patent Application will be assigned to a new corporate entity to be formed. That entity then will consider private placement by a small number of sophisticated investors.
A note about the foundation of knowledge
Knowledge may be represented by three-level inverted pyramid:
* the foundation of knowledge (philosophy) on the bottom;
* present knowledge (science) as the middle level, and
* the application of knowledge (technology) as the top level.
That representation makes plain some attributes of the bottom level:
* It has the widest scope;
* It is the most compact, and
* It is the most basic.
Put differently, science tells us what is while technology tells us what can be done. But the ever-present question confronting any person or group is what ought to be done. That central question is outside the scope of science and technology. They are part of ethics, which is a part of philosophy. For these reasons, philosophy is only part of knowledge with the conceptual space for the systematic formulation of action.
Evolution and the utility of knowledge. The ability to obtain and use knowledge has emerged in the evolution of higher organisms because it improves survival prospects. But it can also accelerate extinction. Below we make reference to some instances. Let me mention two of these here.
The first industrial revolution. The essence of the first industrial revolution was the production of power by burning fossil fuels. Carbon dioxide (CO2) emission is the by-product of burning fossil fuels. Recently, the CO2 in the atmosphere reached the average level of 400 parts per million (ppm). The last time that level of CO2 was in the atmosphere was some three million years. The sea level then was some 65 feet higher than now. The CO2 level in the atmosphere may double by the end of the century. That level is inconsistent with life as we know it: the current millennium my bay Homos sapiens’ last.
The European Union: immigration and democracy. As discussed below, non-European immigrant are projected to become majority by mid-century in some European countries. Contrary to expectations a significant percentage of those immigrants have not adopted the culture of their new land. In nearly all cases, these immigrants come from countries without democratic tradition. Hence, the current democratic tradition will end once the non-European immigrants become the majority.
In both cases, the cause is a self-destructive false belief. Neither of the above instances are the result of a natural calamity, or the result of a defeat in a conflict with some adversary: these consequences are self-inflicted.
The fundamental roots of false belief systems. To date, media pundits in addressing fundamental problems confronting society have failed to identify flaws belief system as the root cause of present human predicament, as exemplified by the two examples cited above, as well as, some other examples described below. It may be thee case that this is the first, and thus far the only, source to point to the foundations of knowledge as the root cause of what ails us.
An initial glimpse at the new epistemological landscape.
In typical cell division, the two daughter cells contain, to the first approximation, the same genetic information. The transmitted information is innate: ceteris paribus, the environment does not contribute to mitosis.
Meiosis and metabolism are innate in multicellular organisms.
Temperature homeostasis is innate in mammals.
Hunger, thirst, pleasure and pain are innate in primates.
The perception of space as three-dimensional is innate in humans.
All sensations are innate and are evoked by the brain – none imported into it.
Universality. Biology and psychology have demonstrated that some of the innate behavioral and mental capacities are universal.
Homeostasis and goal-oriented language. A defining attribute of life is homeostasis. Homeostasis is a goal-oriented mechanism. Hence, any biological or psychological explanation is ultimately goal-oriented.
Non-immediate consequences of action. Innate, universal cognitive mechanisms, and accumulated knowledge, make possible to assess consequences of action that are non-immediate in time and space. This intelligence is, and ought to be, the basis for selecting course of action deemed to be optimal.
The mind affects brain and behavior. Top-down attention selectively activates correlated brain-loci. Imagining a manual action with the right arm, for example, activates the representation of that arm in Brodmann area 4 in the contralateral hemisphere of the primary motor cortex (output of layer 5 pyramidal cells). Detecting that activation can then be used to cause an artificial arm to carry out the imagined action. This knowledge is now used to provide persons paralyzed from the neck down the ability to use their thoughts to control servo-mechanisms. The above non-controversial facts constitute conclusive empirical proof that the mind affects brain and behavior.
Ethical systems, legal systems, and public policy
Natural law and historical religions.
The term ‘natural law’ is used by historical religions. Each historical religion involves a moral code, which is claimed to be universal. However, since each historical religion represents a minority of humanity, such claim is not strictly true. The thousands year-old historical religion are not science-based, and in this sense, their claim to be ultimate is of limited validity.
Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The United States Declaration of Independence characterizes the right to Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as ‘inalienable’. This formulation asserts that some truths about individuals and society are universal by virtue of being truths of nature. And as such, governments must not have the to abridge them.
The concept of natural law as a basis for a legal system. The Declaration of Independence is a manifestation of the belief that there exist universal truths about human nature and conduct, which ought to be the basis the legal system and public policy.
Current biology and psychology. Present-day biology and neuroscience and psychology have demonstrated the existence of innate and universal behavioral and mental capacities, thus proving empirical confirmation for the natural law concept of law.
A more mundane example of natural law. Social policy aims at improving the well being of its members. For this reason, an action by an individual or a group aimed in gaining some benefit by causing much larger harm to others is wrong, and ought to be illegal. This example is universal – it is not limited to a given place or time. Similar observation can be made in regard to moral conduct, whether or not it is also cover by law.
A current example. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA requires drug companies to conduct clinical trials before it approves a new drug for use. Naturally, this also ought to be done with the introduction of any new chemical that could prove harmful to health, to food or food packaging. Oddly, it is legal. Instead, a chemical is removed from use only after it is found to be harmful. The required level of proof is high. As a result, the removal of a harmful chemical from use takes dozens of years. During such extended period millions of persons are adversely affected. Under natural law, this practice would be judged wrong, and therefore ought to be illegal. But it is. The Declaration of Independence notwithstanding, the legal system of the United States has been severed from its original natural law aspiration. Addressing this issue requires examining the philosophical view of human nature that underlie ethical and legal systems that reject the concept of natural law.
Our troubled legacy
The denial of universality. The most basic assumption that underlies present-day knowledge - the tabula rasa assumption - denies that humans possess any innate behavioral or mental capacity. It thus denies the possible existence of any innate commonalities of human nature. In conclusion, present-day theory of knowledge erroneously severs human nature from human conduct.
The removal of goal-oriented language from biology and psychology. Physicalism is a tabula rasa doctrine. It has made its own contribution to the present human predicament by arguing that biology and psychology must not use goal-oriented language because physics does not. It so happened that goal-oriented homeostatic mechanisms define life. Last century this misguided conclusion was influential. Fortunately, it is much less so now.
The denial that the mind plays a role in behavior. Physicalism argues that only physical causes can have physical effects, and concludes that non-physical states such as pleasure and pain are causally inert.
The removal of ethics from the empirical domain. In conclusion, the denial of human commonalities, the removal of goal-oriented language, and the denial that needs and desires matter in behavior, taken together, remove the subjects of ethics and law from the empirical domain. Last century in Vienna, Physicalists did just that.
The legal doctrine of Positive Law. Positive Law confers validity on laws that are passed by a given political entity in a given area in a given time. Such laws have an element of hierarchy. City laws may be constrained by State laws, which in turn may be constrained by Federal laws. The Positive Law doctrine is relativistic. Its non-universality has prevented the West from effectively dealing with crucial security issues as demonstrated by the following examples. As the following examples show, individually and collectively, the law no longer serves the vital interests of the country.
The Nuremberg Trials. After the end of the Second World War, the Allies set a tribunal in Nuremberg and tried the leaders of Nazi Germany. The Nazi leaders were accused of committing crimes. But, under Positive Law no crime was committed: Typically, the accused leaders carried out legal orders of a democratically elected government. The Tribunal was forced to be resourceful. It formulated an ad hoc law of ‘crimes against humanity’ and applied it retroactively. The Nuremberg Trials could have been and should have been a wake-up call that Positive Law is fatally flawed. But, this did not take place.
Theodore Alvin Hall. Theodore Hall is the American spy that, as far as we know, is the person who transmitted to the Soviet Union the secrets of the atom bomb. This fact was discovered following the breaking of the secret communication code used by the Soviets. In 1951 the Federal Bureau of Investigation interviewed Hall in Chicago. It was decided that the evidence would be considered hearsay and thus inadmissible in Court. Hall was let go, and he moved to England were he pursued a career in molecular biology. That situation provided another opportunity for legal scholars to confront the fact that the legal system of the United States falls short in protecting the country against its adversaries. Another opportunity to address this fundamental issue was wasted.
David Hicks. David Hicks, an Australian, joined Al Qaeda and fought American troops in Afghanistan. He was captured, confessed to the facts and in 2007 was given nine month prison term. J. Wells Dixon, of the Center for Constitutional Rights appealed Hicks’ conviction and prevailed. The conviction of David Hicks as terrorist is due to be removed from the Court’s records.
Guantanamo Bay detainees. After September 11, 2001 attacks the United States set up a tribunal to expedite the legal processing of detainees. To date, six detainees were found guilty. Of these six convictions three were overturned on appeal. None of the detainees related to the September 11, 2001 attacks were ever brought to trial. Specifically, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of those attacks was never brought to trial.
Demographic trends in Europe
Transition by mid-century. Non-European immigrants are about to become majority within less than two generations in countries where they constituted 8% or more at the turn of the century. This projection is based on the following assumptions (see graph above):
The replacement rate averages at 2.2 children per family;
The average number of children of recent non-European immigrants is more than twice that rate, taken here to be 4.4 children per family;
The average number of children of Europeans is less than 2.2 children per family, here taken be 2.2 children per family.
Stopping incoming immigration will not change the projected outcome since it does not make reference to that variable.
The current immigration trend was predictable. Shown below is a letter I faxed to the New York Times in 2001. Initially I was informed that the newspaper would be publish the letter. Shortly thereafter, that decision was reversed.
Assumptions that underlie immigration policies have proved false. The Liberal tradition assumes that non-European immigrants would learn the language and customs of their adopted country. In many cases this has not happened. The pathology of this situation is manifested by the fact Liberal world-view assumes responsibility for that failure. Most of those immigrants came from countries without democratic political systems. Hence, the default projection is that once the minority becomes majority, democratic traditions will end. The trends are set and can no longer be reversed or stopped. Sooner or later, the spotlight of attention would be directed at the mistaken assumptions that is causing this self-inflicted harm. Why not now?
Fossil fuel and carbon dioxide (CO2) levels. Burning fossil fuel increases the level of CO2 in the atmosphere and the oceans. Last year, the average level of CO2 in the atmosphere reached, for the first time in 3.5 million years, the average level of 400 parts per million (ppm). At that time the sea level was about 65 feet higher than now. It is not possible to reverse or stop global warming this century.
India and China. A recent study found that pollution in India shortens life the of the population by the total of 2.1 billion years annually. If one assumes that average life span in India is 75 years, then the 2.1 billion years equals 28 million deaths per year. China has recently replaced the United States as the largest contributor the CO2 rise. This development suggests that slowing increase in CO2 levels is not a realistic goal, and that instead the focus ought to be on slowing the acceleration of global warming.
This millennium may prove to be Homo sapiens’ last. By the end of the current century the CO2 level in the atmosphere is projected to be in the 800-1000 ppm range. That would be inconsistent with life as we know it.
Germline modifications. The promise and perils of human germline modifications is the central ethical issue facing humanity. I would expect China, but not the West, to apply this technology once it proves safe. The least of the consequences of this bifurcation is that it will bring to an end the Olympic Games.
Conclusion. None of the above-given examples of current law provide guidance of what should be done. The Constitution does not provide guidance; case law does not provide guidance. The time has come to recognize the need to ground Positive Law on natural law.
The foundation of knowledge.
Positive Law must be grounded in natural law.
The examples given above make clear that Positive Law lacks the universality, empirical basis, and the global authority necessary to address crucial issues confronting the world today. This is one reason why Positive Law must be grounded in natural law.
First, the foundation of knowledge must be brought up to date. The 300 hundred year-old tabula rasa doctrine is the most basic assumption underlying present-day knowledge. It is now known to be empirically false. What is not recognized is how damaging that false notion has been. It is time to bring the knowledge enterprise up to date. It would be imprudent to put off that undertaking.
Regarding the notion that the biological cell, the brain and the universe are Universal Turing Machines
A top-down argument
The attributes of incompleteness of incorrectness may apply to representation, but not to reality. Consider a geographical map of Brazil, for example. Such a map is necessarily incorrect: it is not mathematically possible to correctly project the three-dimensional curvature of the earth onto a two-dimensional flat surface. Such a map is also incomplete in extent and in detail. The issues of incorrectness or incompleteness are inapplicable to the territory itself. For this reason, any statement to the effect that a representation is identical with the reality represented is tautologically false.
Physical theory uses mathematics to represent aspects of reality. As maps, mathematics is subject to limitations as to completeness and consistency. These limitations of mathematics inhere in computers and Universal Turing Machines (UTMs). Hence, any statement purporting that the cell, the brain, or the universe is a UTM, is tautologically false.
Sensations are evoked in the brain - not imported into it.
This fact constitutes the new foundation of knowledge.
The most basic issue at the foundation of knowledge involves the distinction between what is, and what is not, physical. Your dentist can see your aching tooth, but not your toothache. The tooth is publicly observable while the toothache is private. By that criterion the tooth is physical while the private sensation of pain is not. More generally, the issue is the relation between the physical brain and the phenomenal experience elicited by it.
Sound as a physical quality is said to be a property of air vibration in the 20-20,000 Hz range that is recognized by the ears and then imported into the brain. However, sound can be elicited by direct brain stimulation, in the absence of air vibration and in the absence of input from the ears. This is the basis for the use of auditory prostheses for children who were born deaf due to dysfunction of the auditory nerve, as in the case of neurofibromatosis type II. The fact that sound can be elicited in the absence of air vibration or input from the ears constitutes a conclusive disconfirmation of the notion that sound is a physical property.
What is true of sound is true of all sensations. Vision, hearing, touch, taste, and smell are five of the sensory modalities of exteroception; each is represented in the cerebral cortex by a modality-specific area. The direct electrical stimulation of any modality-specific cortical area in a conscious person elicits a sensation of the corresponding modality: vision in the visual cortex, hearing in the auditory cortex, touch in the somatosensory cortex, taste in the gustatory cortex, and smell in the olfactory cortex. Thus, identical stimuli are sufficient to elicit qualitatively diverse sensations, as determined by the modality-specific cortical area stimulated. This fact demonstrates that such stimuli do not contribute to the qualitative nature of the evoked sensation. It proves that sensations are not imported into the brain, either from the senses or from the outside world through the senses. Consequently, sensations are subjective rather than physical properties. Furthermore, these findings show that our ordinary experience of the world is exclusively phenomenal. The physical is known by inference from the phenomenal. Put differently, what is deemed to be publicly observable (and thus physical) is ultimately based on observations from the perspective of first-person experience (and thus phenomenal).
Some 300 years ago John Locke (1690) postulated the notion that the brain of the newborn is like a blank slate (tabula rasa) until it receives postnatal input from the senses. David Hume (1748) then made explicit the implications of applying the tabula rasaassumption to cognition, thus forming the basis for his epistemology of Empiricism. Physicalism is the currently dominant epistemology. It was introduced early last century by a group known as the Vienna Circle. Physicalism may be characterized by three attributes: 1) it defines existence as physical, 2) consequently, it implies that if brain function produces as a by-product non-physical mental states then such states must be causally inert, and 3) it excludes teleological, or goal-oriented explanations in science because such explanations are not used in physics. One consequence of this position has been the removal of ethics from the empirical domain. Physicalism is based on a modified version of the tabula rasa assumption: in order to avoid the dualistic version of Locke, it deems sounds and colors to be physical properties of the external environment, rather then originating in the ears and eyes, respectively. Thus, the tabula rasa assumption is the most basic tenet that underlies present-day knowledge.
As noted above, the tabula rasa assumption has been proved false as to the notion that sensations are received from the senses. We now know also that that brains of newborn are not blank slates. The newborn has sensory, emotional, and cognitive mechanisms prior to any postnatal input from the senses. For example, the newborn likes sweet and dislikes bitter. The sensations of hunger and satiety are part of the mechanism that is involved in restoring glucose homeostasis and the sensation of hot and cold are a part of a mechanism that is involved in restoring temperature homeostasis. These sensations are innate in the sense of not being learned. And, except for pathological cases, these capacities are universal. Consequently, the most basic assumption that underlies present-day knowledge has been proved false.
It is now necessary to make explicit the epistemological consequences of replacing the tabula rasa assumption by its direct opposite. For example, the fact that no sensations are imported into the brain constitutes conclusive disconfirmation of Physicalism. A more fundamental consequence relates to physics. Imagining a sensation selectively activates the brain locus that evokes it. Imagining is mental while the consequent brain activation is physical. However, implicit in physics is the assumption that only physical causes can have physical effects. For this reason, brain activation by imagination requires that the foundation of physics be reviewed and revised.
Epistemology is a part of philosophy. It is therefore a task for the philosophic community. However, the philosophic community does not yet acknowledge the evidence that brains of newborns are not blank slates, and that sensations are not imported into the brain. Max Planck observed that paradigm change often involves generational transition. If Planck’s constant for paradigm change would apply here, then the most fundamental reconstruction in the foundation of knowledge in 300 years will remain a virtual terra incognita for some time to come. The possible consequences of the expected delay in undertaking the need for reconstruction of the foundation of knowledge may be best judged by the role of knowledge in evolution.
The capacity to obtain and use knowledge has emerged in evolution because it increases the range of conditions under which survival is possible. From the evolutionary perspective it is the action-consequences of knowledge that matter. Any such action couples what can be with what ought to be done. What can be done is represented by technology. What ought to be done is represented by a mixture of ethics, law, and public policy as reflected by national budgets. What can be done is the most successful part of human knowledge while what ought to be done is the most troubled. The industrial revolution, information technology, and biotechnology provide a background against which application of knowledge can be judged. The unintended and uncontrollable consequences of these technologies indicate that the reconstruction of knowledge is an urgent matter.
The industrial revolution. The industrial revolution introduced power production by burning fossil fuels, which emits carbon dioxide (CO2) as a by-product. From the last ice age to the industrial revolution, the average CO2 level in the atmosphere was about 280 parts per million (ppm) by volume. In May 2013 the CO2 reached for the first time the level of 400 ppm. That carbon dioxide level in the atmosphere existed during the geological epoch, the Pliocene, some 2.6 to 5.3 million years ago. Then, the 400 ppm CO2 level caused warming, which melted polar ice and caused sea level to rise to about 65 feet above the current level. Since the 1980’s, about half of the Arctic Ice cap melted. That ice cap is expected to be completely gone by midcentury. The current increase in CO2 level in the atmosphere increases by 4.5 ppm per year. At that rate it would reach 800 ppm by the end of the century. China, which is still in its early stage of industrialization, already replaced the United States as the largest polluter. It is too late to reverse or stop climate change. Climate change is the direct consequence of human actions and not a result of some natural phenomenon. These actions are manifestations of bad philosophy.
Innateness and the foundation of knowledge.
Darwin and the philosophic community. In The Descent of Man (1871), Darwin applied his theory of evolution to humans, concluding that we possess some forms of behavior that are innate. In the Expression of Emotion in Animals and Man (1872), he extended those conclusions to mental faculties. Earlier, John Locke, in An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1705), proposed the contrary view that the brain of the newborn is like a blank slate (tabula rasa), and that postnatal experience is limited to input from the senses. The English speaking philosophic community has, by and large, accepted Darwin’s theory of evolution, but has thus far rejected Darwin’s application of evolution to the innateness of mental faculties. Present-day science has proved Darwin right.
Sensations are evoked in the brain. The use of auditory prostheses by those who are born deaf is the most common example demonstrating that sensations are evoked in the brain, and not imported into it. The electrical stimulation of the auditory nerve or auditory brain of children born deaf elicits sensations of sound (Kuchta J. 2004; Colletti V. et al. 2005). Hence, sensations of sound are evoked in the brain and are not received from the ears, and are not properties of air vibration. The same is true of all sensations (Sperry R. 1952; von Buddenbrock W. 1953/1958; Gardner E.P., Martin J. H. 2000; Brugger P. et al. 2000).
The scope the tabula rasa assumption. Locke’s tabula rasa doctrine underlies the following:
* Ethics and law
* The computer metaphor of the brain
Replacing the tabula rasa assumption. The replacement of the tabula rasa assumption by the fact that sensations and some other mental faculties are innate would constitute, by definition, the new foundation of knowledge. Nominally, the implications of such a change would be co-extensive with the implications of the tabula rasa assumption. Making explicit the implications of this paradigm change will inevitably become the central challenge confronting the philosophic community in the coming decades.
What ought to be done. The current technological revolution has given society a false sense of control over its future. But the opposite is true. The fact that present-day theories of knowledge, ethics, and law are based on a 300-year old misconception has deprived society the ability to effectively address these problems or even comprehend what these problems are. It is as if technology is catapulting humanity into an unknown future with a dysfunctional guidance system. The issue is survival, not philosophy. First, we must set aside the tabula rasa assumption, and then we must undertake the decades-long challenge of making explicit the implications of the new state of affairs.
Empiricism and innate cognition
Do we have innate knowledge about the world prior to experience? Empiricism is an epistemological position that denies that the newborn can have any knowledge about the world prior to postnatal experience. This position was developed by David Hume (1777/1975), who applied Locke’s tabula rasa assumption to cognition. Hume maintained that all knowledge is obtained only through the senses and denied that we may have any innate and universal cognitive knowledge about the world. Emanuel Kant (1787/1999) rejected that position, maintaining instead that we have innate and universal cognitive mechanisms, which impose structure on input from the senses. For example, Kant maintained that our perception of space as three-dimensional is innate and universal, and that it underlies Newtonian physics.
The perception of space as three-dimensional is innate. The retina provides two-dimensional visual information about perceived space. Yet, we perceive it as three-dimensional, even when looking with only one eye. This implies that the perception of depth does not originate in the eyes. It is not based on experience either: If a baby is placed on an opaque part of an otherwise transparent tabletop, it will look at the transparent part and will avoid crawling there (Gibson & Walk 1960). Taken together, these two observations – that depth perception does not originate in the eye, and that even a newborn baby perceives depth – show that there is an innate cognitive mechanism that imposes a three-dimensional interpretation on the input from the eyes.
Euclidean geometry and Newtonian physics. The so-called inverse square laws in physics follow from solid geometry of three-dimensions where lines of force are rectilinear (Figure 1). Hence, the inverse square laws are implicit in the knowledge about the world of the newborn, even prior to any postnatal experience. In this regard, Kant proved right.
Knowledge prior to experience. Present-day theories of physics are not yet in a final form, but they nevertheless constitute knowledge about the world. Newtonian physics is a familiar example: it is a non-final theory, but it constitutes knowledge about the world. There are aspects of Newtonian physics can be derived by taking space to be three-dimensional, and these constitute obtainable knowledge about the world prior to input from the senses – this is in direct opposition to the assumption that defines Empiricism, which may be defined as the denial that humans have, or can have, any knowledge about the world prior to input from the senses. So defined, Empiricism has proved to be factually false.
The inductive inference. Fundamental scientific advances involve the generalizing inductive inference. The inductive inference is not deductively valid. Like geometrical and mathematical concepts, the inductive inference is rooted in innate and universal cognitive mechanisms. Empirical investigation of these mechanisms is likely to shed light on the logic implicit in scientific induction.
Physicalism in the 20th century
Locke’s tabula rasa is dualistic. John Locke partitioned that which is perceived into primary and secondary qualities. He called primary qualities those qualities that are like size and shape, which he believed are attributes of the external world; he called secondary qualities attributes those that he believed to originate in the senses and not belong to external world, such as color and sound. This partition made Locke’s version of the tabula rasa assumption dualistic.
Rudolf Carnap. In the 1920’s, a group known as the Vienna circle, initially named after Ernst Mach, sought to purge the tabula rasa doctrine from Locke’s dualistic formulation. In his book The Analysis of Sensations (1904/1914), Mach stated that the first-person perspective underlies observations that are deemed public. Rudolf Carnap, who was a leader of the Vienna circle, reached similar conclusions in his book The Logical Construction of the World (1928/2003). Carnap therefore recommended that the first-person perspective be adopted as the basis for a non-dualistic reformulation of the tabula rasa assumption.
Otto Neurath. The first-person perspective is deemed subjective and, as such, as inconsistent with Materialism. Thus, Otto Neurath Neurath, an ardent (Marxist) Materialist, objected to the selection of the first-person perspective as the basis for a non-dualistic language of science. He insisted that the third-person perspective be selected instead. Carnap relented, and so it was. Carnap explained the reversal of his position by saying that the decision was not a necessary one, but a matter of choice. But soon thereafter, the notion that there is a choice in the matter was discarded. It is inexplicable why Carnap did not address this sharp departure from his stated position. Neurath then renamed Materialism as Physicalism.
Gilbert Ryle. In The Concept of Mind (1949), Ryle presented the reader with the choice between Physicalistic behaviorism and dualism. He then effectively argued against dualism and rested his case. The book implies that the rejection of dualism leaves Physicalism as the remaining alternative. This formulation relieved Ryle from the need of arguing against the first-person perspective, and even of the need to defend Physicalism. The book was a smashing success. It made Physicalism the quasi-official position of the English-speaking philosophic community.
Innateness of sensations and Physicalism. Empirical evidence demonstrates that sensations are innate and are evoked in the brain (Von Buddenbrock 1932/1963, Sperry 1952, Gardner & Martin 2000). As a consequence, sensory qualities are not publicly observable. It is therefore necessarily the case that observations that are deemed public are ultimately based on the first-person perspective: Physicalism is no longer tenable. It cannot be reconciled with the fact that the knowledge of the physical is derived from observation and inference, neither of which satisfies the criterion of physicality.
Interoception, needs and desires
Interoception. In humans, the sensations of hunger and thirst are innate and universal. They exemplify interoreception-based sensations, which are related to the maintenance of homeostatic internal body states (Cannon 1932/1963). The existence of universals of human nature underlies universals of human conduct. It provides the grounds for non-relativistic ethics and law.
Interoception and the tabula rasa doctrine. The tabula rasa doctrine implies that no needs and desires are innate. Only what is innate can be universal in human nature. Hence, the tabula rasa doctrine severs human conduct, ethics and law from human nature. It thus deprives ethics and law of any basis other than convention or dogma. The Vienna Circle recognized this implication of the tabula rasa doctrine when they removed ethics from the empirical domain. It so came to pass that other than convention or dogma, present-day ethics and law have no foundation.
Interoception and teleology. Interoception is involved in the homeostatic regulation of internal body states. Homeostasis is a teleological concept. Following Galileo, teleology was purged from scientific explanations until the last quarter of the 20th century. The mathematics of servomechanism restored the acceptability of teleological explanation ((Rosenbleuth, Wiener and Bieglow 1943). The cell, while it is alive, maintains some variables within narrow set-points that are far from thermodynamic equilibrium. The cellular mechanisms that make this balancing act possible are inherently homeostatic and are thus teleological in their function. Hence, teleology is a defining characteristic of life. Temperature homeostasis in mammals provides needed uniformity of chemical processes. This relative independence of variations of outside temperature is especially important for brain function.
Interoception, homeostasis and the mental. Mental states are evoked whenever voluntary action is needed to restore homeostasis (Figure 3). Such restoration is associated with positive affect. But shortly after restoration of homeostasis, the involvement of the mental is withdrawn, and operation returns to non-conscious regulation. Thus, in interoception, mental states appear when automatic mechanisms are insufficient to restore homeostasis, and disappear, soon after homeostasis is restored. Apparently, the mind plays a role in interoception.
An implication. The current application of the tabula rasa doctrine to needs and desires make it impossible to reach evidence-based consensus among people of different religions and ethnicities. Hence, the central moral imperative of our time is to set aside that doctrine, and then seek to derive human conduct from human nature. Such action would also provide an empirical foundation for the legal theory of natural law.
Neuroanatomic determinants of neural function
Two conflicting views of neural function. The discovery of the structure of DNA in 1953 showed the cell to be complex and autonomous. Prior to that discovery, the neuron was viewed as a tabula rasa cell, whose output is computable from its inputs alone. In fact, neurons emit input-independent output. For example, hypothalamic neurons that generate circadian rhythm do so also in the absence of any input and do so in vitro as well. The view of the simpleton cell led some to believe that the brain is a computer (McCulloch and Pitts 1943/1990, Smolensky 1994). In biology, function is structure-dependent, while in computers, it is not. Thus, if the brain is a computer, then there can be no unique neuro-anatomic correlates to any neural function or to a correlated mental state. This issue must be resolved in order that the neural correlates of consciousness (NCC) be identified. It is addressed below.
Structure-independent function. The general-purpose digital computer is an implementation of Alan Turing’s abstract, simple, and explicit formulation of computation, known as the Universal Turing Machine, or UTM (Turing 1936). The program, or algorithm, that represents a possible function of a UTM, can be processed on computers with different hardware designs. Thus, an algorithm does not, and cannot possibly have, a single unique hardware implementation.
Molecules, cells, and cell type distribution. Skin, muscle and bone cells of an organism differ in their constitutively-expressed proteins. This protein specificity accounts for both the cell’s phenotype and its intrinsic function (Figure 4). What is true of all cell types is true of brain cells. Their protein specificity determines both their phenotype and intrinsic function. Structural biology infers intrinsic function of a molecule from its structure. Molecular biology of the cell extends structure-dependence to the molecules constituting the cell. Cytoarchitecture maps the three-dimensional distribution of cell types. Korbinian Brodmann mapped the cytoarchitecture of the human cerebral cortex (1905/2006) into functional areas. For example, Brodmann area 4 is the primary motor cortex, area 17 is the primary visual cortex, and area 41 is the primary auditory cortex. This identification of intrinsic function is exclusively structure-dependent: it makes reference to neither interactivity nor connectivity.
Intrinsic neural function determines mental states. Structure determines intrinsic function and intrinsic function determines mental states. Hence, structure determinaes mental states.
The brain is not a UTM. This section constitutes the first empirical proof that the brain is not a Universal Turing Machine.
A glimpse of the new epistemological landscape. Present-day knowledge is still based on the empirically false assumption that sensations are imported into the brain. Making explicit the implications of the fact that sensations are evoked in the brain and not imported into it is a long-term process. The preliminary notes below touch on the following topics:
* Characterizing the physical
* The physical is an inference from the mental
* The mind affects brain and behavior
* Deriving human conduct from human nature
Characterizing the physical.
Concepts. The contrast between concepts and physical objects brings out the attributes that characterize physicality. A characteristic of existence is that it persists when observed by a person at different times (intrasubjective consistency), and by different observers (intersubjective consistency). By this criterion, mathematical concepts and operations are the epitome of objectivity. Hence, they satisfy the existence criterion. Concepts (e.g. triangularity), are apprehended introspectively, but are not publicly observable. Furthermore, the attribute of locatability in space is not applicable to concepts. In this sense concepts exist in the Platonic realm and thus ubiquitous.
Characterizing the physical. Consider, for example, a triangular equilateral tile in contrast to the concept of triangularity. The tile is physical, while the concept of triangularity is not. The tile satisfies the twin criteria of being located in space and being publicly observable; the concept of triangularity satisfies neither criteria.
Sensations. Red/green and yellow/blue are two sets of primary opponent colors. Looking at one such color (e.g. yellow) for a while produces an afterimage of the opponent color (blue, in this case). The blue afterimage is private, while the blueness of the sky seems publicly observable. However, the world of physics is colorless. In both cases the blue color is evoked by the visual cortex: sensations of color, like all sensations, are private. As such colors do not satisfy the criterion of physicality. The color afterimage is universal and intrasubjectively consistent. Thus, like concepts, color qualities satisfy the criterion of existence.
Perception of the physical. The physical is knowable by observation and inference. The observation involves vision, ouch and other sensory modalities of exteroception. The inference is mainly logical and mathematical and as such it is concept-based. Neither concepts nor sensation satisfy the criteria of physicality. If the non-physical is called mental then the physical is knowable as inference from the mental.
The mind matters – the causal efficacy of the mental. Imagining a sensation selectively activates he corresponding modality-specific cortical area (e.g. color the visual cortex, a tune – the auditory cortex). The act of imagining is mental, while the activated cortex is physical. Thus, the mind activation of the physical brain is commonplace. This fact points to a fundamental incompleteness of present-day physics.
Ethics and the foundation of the legal system. Two factors make possible the development of non-relativistic ethics, which in turn, provides foundations for the legal doctrine of natural law. The first factor is the existence of innate and universal needs and desires (e.g. hunger and thirst). It makes possible to derive human conduct from human nature. The second factor is the ability of the mind to affect brain and behavior. This fact provides the presently missing empirical grounds for holding persons responsible for their actions.
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