What Ought To Be Done?

Daniel Alroy

2015, Febuary 22




Knowledge-based 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.


The between what can be and what ought to be done. A voluntary action couples what can be done, with what ought to be done.  What can be done is manifested in technology – the most successful aspect of knowledge. What ought to be done is represented by moral and legal systems – the most troubled aspect of knowledge.  The coupling of what can be with what ought to be done is dysfunctional. Technology is catapulting humanity into an unknown future   with a defective guidance system that set the trajectory toward extinction.


The philosophical foundation of ethics, law and policy. Knowledge-based action is based on the following:


Universality. Biology and psychology have demonstrated the existence of commonalities in human nature.  These include, for example, metabolism, homeostasis, hunger and thirst, pleasure and pain.  Their existence implies that human conduct can be and ought to be rooted in human nature.


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.


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 2 in the contralateral hemisphere of the somatosensory cortex. 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 with the ability to use their thoughts to control servomechanisms. The above non-controversial facts constitute conclusive empirical proof that the mind affects brain and behavior.


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 capacities.  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 thatonly physical causes can have physical effects, and conclude 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.


Positive Law


The legal doctrine of Positive Law. In Western democracies morality and law are based on the philosophical legacy outlined in section 2 above. 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.


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 prion term.  J. Wells Dixon, of the Center 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 do 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.


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 Liberal tradition judges itself guilty for that failure.  Is that assumption of guilt justified? Most of those immigrants came from countries without democratic political system.  Hence, the default projection is that once the minority becomes majority, democratic traditions will end. Shown below is a letter to the New York Times dated July 30, 2001. It reflects the same reasoning stated above. In response, I was first informed that the letter would be published.  Then the decision was reversed.  That reversal happened to be consistent with the attitude of European leaders who still refuse to acknowledge the profound transformation that is taking place.




Conclusion. Current majorities, that are about to become minorities, are likely to lose the freedoms they take for granted under democracy.


Climate change.


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 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 preventing the acceleration of global warming.


This millennium may prove to be Homo sapiens’ last. By the end of the currentcentury 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.


Natural law and the foundation of knowledge


Positive Law must be grounded in natural law.

The seven 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.  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 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.


Quote of the Week


Carl Sagan

The blueprints, detailed instructions, and job orders for building you from scratch would fill about 1,000 encyclopedia volumes if written in English. Yet, every cell in your body has a set of these encyclopedias.

The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark. 1995. New York: Ballantine


When a false belief is pathological

Revised 2014, December 17



Climate warming and other global problems.


Global warming.  In today’s New York Times, Kenneth Chang, in an item titled “Snow Is Down and Heat Is Up in the Arctic, Report Says” states that many scientists expect the Arctic to become ice-free in summer by the end of the century, with some predicting that it could happen much sooner.  That would raise sea level by about 6 meters.


Global warming is not the problem.  The accepted opinion is that steps must be taken to address the climate change problem.  However, that trend will continue even if all CO2 emissions cease: it is already too late to either reverse or stop in this millennium the warming and consequent rise in sea level. Global warming is just one of several global problems.  Another global problem, for example, is the increasing pollution of rivers, lakes, and oceans.


Knowledge of what ought to be done is dysfunctional.  The ability to obtain and use knowledge has emerged in evolution because it makes possible the prediction of non-immediate consequences in time and space of a given course of action. Such ability to assess long-term consequences allows rational choices in a course of action that is likely to improve prospects of survival in adversity.  Climate change and the increasing pollution of rivers, lakes, and oceans have been caused by choices we made. These trends are irreversible this millennium.  They prove the bankruptcy of current knowledge as a guide to action.


Human conduct is derivable from commonalities of human nature.


Innate human capacities. Metabolism and temperature homeostasis exemplify innate and universal mechanisms in humans. The theory of evolution led Darwin to conclude that humans also possess innate behavioral and mental capacities. Present-day science has proved Darwin right on this point.


Biology requires goal-oriented language.  Homeostasis involves the mechanisms that maintain each vital variable far from thermodynamic equilibrium within set points. Homeostasis is a defining attribute of life.  Negative feedback, which is central to homeostasis, is best explained by the use of goal-oriented language. The use of purposive language also best describes problem-solving behavior.  The question of what ought to be done is not only legitimate in the study of human conduct, but essential.


The mind matters.


The brain-machine interface (BMI). BMI makes it possible for persons paralyzed from the neck down to use their thoughts in order to manipulate a cursor on a computer screen or the function of an electrical wheelchair.  In such situations, the paralyzed person imagines the intended action.  The BMI detects the resulting electrical activity in the motor cortex.  Next, a computer program decodes that input and translates it to instructions that regulate servomechanisms that control the movement of a computer cursor on a display or the function of an electric wheelchair.


An implication.  The fact that persons use thoughts to control servo-mechanisms constitutes a conclusive empirical proof that the mind affects brain and behavior.  This, in turn, indicates that ontologically, physical theories are intrinsically incomplete:  no physical theory can be a Theory of Everything.




Basic tenets. Physicalism is currently the dominant theory of knowledge.  It is based on the following tenets:


The tabula rasa doctrine.  The tabula rasa doctrine is the basic tenet of Physicalism.  It denies that there exists any innate human behavior or mental faculty.  The tabula rasa doctrine is now known to be empirically false.


Removal of interoception from the empirical domain. Physicalism excludes from science first-person reports, such as interoception-based reports (e.g. ‘I am hungry’, or ‘I am in pain’).


Shifting the locus of Locke’s secondary qualities. Physicalism takes sound and color to be physical attributes.  It thus rejects the fact that sound and color  are not part of physics, and rejects the neuroscientific determination that sound and color are evoked by the brain.


Goal-oriented explanations. Physicalism has sought to exclude goal-oriented explanations from biology and psychology.


Physicalism denies that the mind matters. It holds mental states to be causally inert and denies that pleasure and pain can have any effect brain or behavior.


Physicalism and ethics. The key question that confronts individuals and societies is what ought to be done.  Physicalism postulates that these questions are outside the empirical domain.


Philosophy is the problem – its reconstruction is the solution


Philosophy is the reason why global warming could not be prevented. Commonalities of human nature provide the ground for deriving some universals of human conduct.  The tabula rasa doctrine, which is the most basic assumption underlying present-day knowledge, denies the possible existence of such commonalities.  This is the root reason why the current systems of morality of the West are relativistic:  it is subject to change from time to time and from place to place.  It thus cripples the ability of the international community to address common problems such as global warming and the pollution of rivers, lakes, and oceans.


Relativistic morality and law undermine sovereignty. Democracy is based on the so-called positive law, which allows citizens to abide by the dictates of historical religions. Such historical religions claim universality and demand adherence. Democracies implicitly relinquish sovereignty to such religions when the two are in conflict in the heart of the citizen. This fact ought to be recognized.


Physicalism absolves persons from being accountable for their actions. Furthermore, relativistic moral systems presume that either genes or the environment caused persons to do what they do, and in that sense persons cannot be held accountable for their actions.


When a false belief is pathological


A twin criteria. A belief is pathological when it satisfies the following twin criteria. First, the information showing it to be false is available, accessible, and understandable. Second, action on such belief is likely to be harmful or fatal to an individual, or in the case of a society, such action policies may lead to extinction.


The proof is in. The irreversibility of global warming and the pollution of rivers, lakes, and oceans are by-products of policies rooted in local concerns. Hence, a local, relativistic focus is insufficient for tackling global issues.  As a result, the current millennium may prove our last. Conclusion:  present-day philosophical dogma satisfies the criteria of being pathological.


Reconstruction in philosophy as survival imperative. Technology is catapulting humanity into an unknown future.  Philosophy – the guidance system – is dysfunctional.  It is for this reason that reconstruction of the foundation of knowledge is a survival imperative. The empirical basis for such reconstruction has been around for some time.  The philosophic community is not presently up to the challenge of undertaking the reconstruction of the foundation of knowledge.  The political leadership is clueless, not only about what ought to be done but even what the problems are.  It seems that no one is more qualified to undertake this reconstruction challenge than scientists, especially life scientists.  Will they rise to the challenge?  Time will tell.



Regarding the notion that the biological cell, the brain and the universe are Universal Turing Machines

A top-down argument

Daniel Alroy

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.


Mind, Brain and the Foundation of Knowledge

Sensations are evoked in the brain - not imported into it.
This fact constitutes the new foundation of knowledge.

Daniel Alroy


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:

 *       Empiricism       

*       Physicalism      

*       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.


Figure 1.   The area covered by a beam of light is a function of the square of the distance from its points of origin. The light intensity per-unit-area is the function of the inverse square of that distance. This inverse square relation holds for gravitation or any other form of force with rectilinear propagation in a three-dimensional space.



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 experiencePresent-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.   

2. 4

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.


Figure 3.   Interoception. Its role in the homeostatic regulation of internal body states. The default mode of the homeostatic regulation is not conscious. Interoception refers to exception-based subjective states, which require voluntary behavior to restore homeostasis.



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.


Figure 4.   The molecular constitution of the cell reflects the evolution of the organism, the development of a particular cell type, and its intrinsic function. Extending this notion to brain cells is about to transform neuroscience.



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.    


Structure-dependent function.


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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© 2014 Daniel Alroy