Quote of the Week

Kurt Gödel

Even if the finite brain cannot store an infinite amount of information, the spirit may be able to. The brain is a computing machine [situated in the special manner of meing] connected with a spirit. If the brain is taken as physical and as a digital computer, from quantum mechanics there are then only a finite number of states. Only by connecting it to a spirit might it work in some other way. (Wang 1993: 127)

Wang H. (1993), 'On Physicalism and Algorithmism: Can Machines Think, Philosophia Mathematica, 1: 97-138.




Notes toward the new foundation of knowledge

Daniel Alroy

2016, August 27


Identifying the most basic assumption. It has been recently found that humans possess innate and universal mental faculties, including sensation, cognition, and emotion. These finding are the direct opposite of most basic assumption that underlies theories of knowledge for the last 300 years. John Locke introduced that empirically false assumption (1689) postulating that sensations are imported into the brain from sensory receptors, none innate. Locke concluded that the brain of the newborn is like a blank slate (tabula rasa). There have been three major theories of knowledge that are based on the tabula rasa assumption since Locke: Empiricism, Physicalism, and the current computer metaphor.


Empiricism. Present day Empiricism is based on David Hume’s extension of Locke’s tabula rasa assumption to cognition. Hume concluded that humans do not, and cannot, possess knowledge of the world prior to experience. Emanuel Kant rejected the tabula rasa assumption, and especially its extension to cognition. Present-day neuroscience shows that humans do possess knowledge about the world prior to experience, proving Kant right in this regard.


Physicalism. In the 1920’s a group known as the Vienna Circle introduced Physicalism – currently the dominant theory of knowledge. Physicalism is based on Locke’s tabula rasa assumption, as well as on Hume’s extension of it to cognition. Physicalism defines existence as physical. It denies that a non-physical mind exist, but concedes that that a non-physical mind may be a causally inert epiphenomenal by-product of brain function.


The computer metaphor. The advent of the general-purpose digital electronic computer have shifted the view of reality from being physical to being computational. The universe, evolution, an organism, the brain and the cell are now interpreted as computational entities or processes. While Physicalismpresumes that the mind cannot do anything that the brain cannot, the computer metaphor presumes that the mind cannot do anything that the computer cannot. There is a significant difference between these two denials. In physics structure determines function, in computers function is severed from structure: a given function can be realized on computers of different hardware design. Once the assumption that the brain is “nothing but” a biological information processor, then it follows that mental states can be realized in brains of different anatomies, as well as on non-biological computers. In conclusion, Physicalism takes the position that the brain is necessary but the mind is not. The computer metaphor goes further, claiming that neither is necessary.


Recent developments. The direct electrical stimulation of the brains of children born deaf evokes sensation of sound. It proves that the sensation of sound is innate and evoked by the brain. Put differently, sound is not received from the ears or from air vibration through the ears. The same is true for all sensations. Thus, the tabula rasa assumption has proved false. Current theories of knowledge, which are based on the empirically false tabula rasa assumption, are no longer tenable.


Sociology of knowledge considerations. Max Planck observed that it takes a generational transition before a new paradigm is accepted. In the instant case, it would not take that long. Before the end of the current decade cortical visual prostheses that have been developed for persons who lost their vision would prove equally effective for children born blind. It would prove that the sensation of light is not received from the eyes or from electromagnetic radiation through the eyes. The shocking realization that the sensation of light is an innate and private would make the reconstruction of the foundation of knowledge an immediate concern.


Toward a dawn of new day. It is now necessary to replace the tabula rasa assumption by its direct opposite. This would be the most basic change in the foundation of knowledge since that empirically false assumption was introduced some 300 years ago. The scientific, technological, epistemological, ethical and ontological implications would be vast. Making explicit these implications is a challenge. Undertaking this challenge represents a unique opportunity for the philosophic community to gain its rightful place in advancing the knowledge enterprise.

© 2016 Daniel Alroy