Innate Conscious States – Milestones in Discovery

1.

Galileo Galilei. Galileo was one of the first scientists to distinguish between the physical and non-physical sensations by which they are observed, writing: “…Hence I think that tastes, odors, colors and so on are no more than names so far as the objects in which we place them is concerned, and that they reside only in consciousness.” Letter to the illustrious and very reverend Don Virginio Cesarini. 1623/1957.

2.

Rene Descartes. Descartes spent some eight years dissecting brains in Leiden, the Netherlands. He observed no qualitative difference in what is transmitted from one type of sensory receptor to the brain compared to that of any other type of sensory receptor. Since our experience is qualitatively rich and input to the brain cannot be the source of this qualitative richness, Descartes concluded that sensations are innate and are evoked by the brain (1664/1955). His further conclusion -“I think, therefore I am” - reflects recognition that the innateness of sensation implies that the first-person perspective is necessarily epistemologically prior the third-person perspective.

3.

Secondary qualities. John Locke called sensory modalities of exteroception “secondary qualities” (1689). He did not call them “primary qualities” because he postulated that they are not a part of the object that they seem to be present. For Locke, sweet is not part of sugar. Sugar is a chemical that induces sweetness through the tongue, but not a characteristic of the sugar itself. Present day science agrees with Locke that sensory modalities of exteroception are not part of the physical object, but reject Locke’s contention that the sensation originates in sensory modalities before being imported into the brain.

4.

Isaac Newton. Newton’s development of calculus followed his close study of Descartes’ analytic geometry. The quotation below from Newton’s Opticks (1704) suggests that he was also acquainted with Descartes’ philosophical writings: “And if at any time I speak of Light and Rays as coloured or endued with Colours, I would be understood to speak not philosophically and properly, but grossly, and according to such Conceptions as vulgar People in seeing all these Experiments would be apt to frame. For the Rays, to speak properly are not coloured. In them there is nothing else than a certain Power and Disposition to stir up a Sensation of this or that Colour. For as Sound in a Bell or musical String, or other sounding Body, is nothing but a trembling Motion, and in the Air nothing but motion propagated from the Object, and in the Sensorium ‘tis a Sense of that Motion under the Form of Sound; so Colours in the Object are nothing but a Disposition to reflect this or that sort of Rays more copiously than the Rest; in the Rays are nothing but the Dispositions to propagate this or that Motion into the Sensorium, and in the Sensorium they are Sensations of those Motions under the Form of Colours.”

5.

Charles Darwin. Heritability is one of the three basic tenets of Darwin’s theory of evolution (1859). In The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1872) Darwin extended the notion of heritability in humans from physical attributes to behavioral and mental capacities. Darwin’s theory did not elucidate the mechanism of evolution.

6.

Jean-Baptiste Lamarck. In 1809 Lamarck proposed that acquired characteristics are heritable. We now know that heritability is not confined to DNA but extends to DNA-regulating molecules. This makes it possible to inherit some acquired characteristics.

7.

Gregor J. Mendel. Mendel (1865) discovered that inheritance is based on discrete rather than mixable units, which later were called genes.

8.

James Clerk Maxwell. Maxwell’s study of colors led him to conclude that “colour is a mental science” (1872), suggesting that Maxwell believed that this remains true for white light.

9.

Language. The discovery of cortical areas specialized for speech production (Broca 1861) and comprehension (Wernicke 1874) established the existence of these innate and universal complex cognitive mechanisms. It implies the existence of a universal language mechanism that is involved in learning any historical language. Noam Chomsky in his book Syntactic Structures (1955) was the first to make this fact explicit. Steven Pinker further elaborated that thesis in his book The Language Instinct: How The Mind Creates Languages (2010) describing language as an innate “hard-wired” capacity.

10.

Roger Sperry. In Neurology and the Mind Body Problem (1952) Sperry observed that the input from the senses is qualitatively homogenous. He therefore concluded that the qualitative aspect is the stimulated target in the brain. The direct stimulation (e.g. electrical) of a modality-specific cortical area of a conscious and awake person would evoke a sensation of that sensory modality: visual sensation by stimulating the visual cortex, sensation of sound by stimulating the auditory cortex, and sensation of taste by stimulating the gustatory cortex. Put differently, the Sperry thesis implies that sensations are not received from the sense or from the external world through the senses.

11.

Erwin Schrödinger. In Mind and Matter (1958) Schrödinger states “The sensation of colour cannot be accounted for by the physicist’s objective picture of light waves.”

12.

DNA, the heritable information molecule. The discovery of the structure of DNA (Watson & Crick 1953) proved it to be the biologicalinformation molecule, which is involved in replication and the transmission of biological information between generations.

13.

Carl G. Jung. “It is almost absurd prejudice to suppose that existence can be only physical. As a matter of fact, the only form of existence of which we have immediate knowledge is psychic (i.e. in the mind). We might as well say, on the contrary, that physical existence is a mere inference, since we know of matter only in so far as we perceive psychic images mediated by the senses” (1975).

14.

Evolutionary psychology. In The Adaptive Mind Leda Cosmides and John Tooby (Barkow et al. 1992) proposed that capacities such as language and the judgment of attractiveness in potential mates are the result of natural selection, which adapts innate capacities to challenges of survival and which can be further molded by experience.

15.

Innateness and the philosophic community. Colin McGinn’s recent book Inborn Knowledge – the Mystery Within (2015) may be the first book by a known philosopher that defends nativism - the view that innateness of human mental faculties is a fact, and it ought to replace the tabula rasa assumption. It is a significant milestone.

 

Notes toward a new foundation of knowledge

Daniel Alroy

2016, December 3

1.

Preface

 

1

The three most basic assumptions that underlie present-day knowledge have recently been proven false.

1.1

The tabula rasa assumption. John Locke (1689) postulated the assumption that the brain of the newborn is like a blank slate (tabula rasa) and that sensations are imported into the brain – none innate. The direct opposite proved to be the case. Sensations are innate – none are imported into the brain.

1.2

Empiricism. David Hume (1745) extended the tabula rasa assumption to cognition, concluding that there can be no knowledge of the world prior to experience. That assumption has proved false as well. Evolution is a learning process that endows species, including humans with knowledge of the world prior to personal experience. Consider an example. Sweet and bitter are innate sensations. Also innate is that the newborn likes sweet and dislikes bitter. These preferences represent knowledge about the world prior to personal experience.

1.3

Physicalism. In their 1929 Manifesto, members of the Vienna Circle postulated that existence is physical implying that a non-physical mind would be causally inert. Recent development of brain-computerinterfaces (BCIs) makes it possible for persons paralyzed from the neck down to control servomechanisms with their mind. This proves that mental causation is a fact.

2.

Reconstruction of the foundation of knowledge. It is now necessary to make explicit the implications replacing the outdated assumptions in the light of current empirical findings. That undertaking is likely to take decades. The current draft of this book first reviews the empirical evidence for the above-mentioned recent developments and then provides an initial glimpse of the new epistemological landscape.

 

The state of the world

2016 October 23

Climate change. The first industrial revolution replaced muscle power with machine power by burning fossil fuels, producing carbon dioxide (CO2) as a byproduct. The ocean absorbs 90% of this CO2, increasing itsacidity. In 2015, the accumulated CO 2 in the atmosphere and ocean’s acidity have crossed the highest level that has existed, which occurred some 3.5 million years ago when sea level was 30-90 feet higher than now. This trend cannot be reversed or stopped this century. The climate change problem exemplifies our routine failure to address the long-term consequences of our actions. In addition, our relativistic ethics deprive us of the common ground with other countries needed to decide decisive actions of what ought to be done.

Demography. With the end of colonialism in Africa, the United Nations sought to help African countries move towards self-sufficiency by providing, among other things, food and improved healthcare. The main result has been a decrease in child mortality and a population explosion: from 230 million in 1950 to 1.2 billion now. The rapid population increase has outstripped Africa’s food production capacity. As a result, most of the 65 million migrants in 2016 are Africans. It is projected that by the end of the current century the population of Africa will increase to between 3.5 and 5 billion. It is inevitable that most of that increase (2.3 – 3.8 billion) or more Africans will find themselves compelled to migrate. This would classify them as refugees. Europe has been the preferred destination. Several United Nation agencies have been exerting pressure on the European Union to increase the number of refugees they accept. If by the end of the century just one billion Africans migrate to Europe, then the half-a- billion Europeans will find themselves a minority of one-third in their home countries. Is this really the only way or the best way to address the refugee problem? The United Nations owes the world an explanation. More fundamentally, this crisis is another example illustrating the fact that we do not have at present a conceptual framework to effectively address the question what ought to be done.

Direct and imagined stimuli

N2

Direct stimuli.

 

N2.1

The direct stimulus is information-poor. Direct brain stimuli are devoid of the transformation that external stimuli undergo before reaching the cortical modality-specific area of interest. Direct stimuli are information-poor in another respect. The same type of electrical stimulus that evokes taste sensations in the gustatory cortex would evoke sound sensations in the auditory cortex and visual sensation in the visual cortex. This is true for all sensations.

N2.2

Local anatomical specificity. Direct brain stimuli can be more specific than indicated in §F1 above. Consider for example, the visual motion direction cortical area V5/MT, which contains eight types of direction-specific cortical columns. The direct electrical stimulation of V5/MT would evoke the sensation of visual sensation of motion while the direct stimulation of rightward-specific columns would evoke visual sensation of movement to the right (Britten et al., 1992). The electrical stimuli do not contribute to the qualitative aspect of the evoked submodality element of sensation. Hence, the qualitative aspect of the evoked sensation is determined by the specific local anatomy that was stimulated.

N2.3

Auditory prosthesis for the born deaf. In a typical case, 22 electrodes are distributed over the 3 centimeters of the cochlea where the location of stimulation determines the pitch. In some cases, the auditory nerve is dysfunctional (e.g. Neurofibromatosis II). In such cases, electrodes are inserted into the auditory brainstem (House WF & Hitselberger WE 2001) or the auditory midbrain (Lim HH & Lenarz T 2015). These facts constitute conclusive empirical proof that the sensation of sound is not received from the ears or from air-vibration through the ears. Positively stated, these facts prove that in conscious and awake persons the sensation of sound can be evoked by the direct electrical stimulation of hearing-related areas. Hence, the sensation of sound is innate. These findings support Sperry’s thesis and suggest that it applies to all sensory modalities.

N2.4

Taste-specific cells. The Zuker group at Columbia University directly stimulated the taste-specific neural clusters in the gustatory cortex of mice that did not have prior taste experience of sweet and bitter. These mice elicited the expected behavior responses to sweet vs. bitter taste: attractive versus aversive behavior, respectively (Peng et al., 2015). This proves that the sensation of taste is innate and evoked by the brain and not received from the tongue or tastant, further confirming Sperry’s thesis that all sensations are innate.

N3

Imagined stimuli.

 

N3.1

Illusory or dreamed sensations. Seeing appetizing food selectively activates brain loci in the gustatory cortex that evoke taste sensations. Auditory illusions or hallucinations selectively activate the auditory cortex. Dreaming in color selectively activates the color-specific area V4a in the visual cortex.

N3.2

Top-down attention. Similarly, top-down attention to a given submodality element of sensation selectively activates the neural clusters within the corresponding submodality-specific cortical area that evokes it.

N3.3

Imagining a voluntary behavioral act. When a person performs a voluntary behavioral act, the related brain areas are selectively activated, including Brodmann areas 8, 6, and 4 (the planning, premotor, and motor areas). It was discovered that these brain areas are also selectively activated when that behavioral act is imagined.

N3.4

Brain-Computer Interfaces (BCIs). The fact that imagined action activates brain areas that are activated when the action is performed is the basis for providing people paralyzed from the neck down with several interfaces to perform actions such as the activation of a mechanical arm or the control of a mechanical chair. A bundle of nearly one hundred electrodes is implanted in a cortical motor area. These electrodes detect the information that activates the muscles to perform the desired action. Then, a computer identifies the intended action and activates the appropriate servomechanisms (Anderson and Boswell, 2015).

N3.5

Mental Causation. Exercise of the imagination is mental not physical. The activated brain is physical. Thus, the successful use of BCI by people paralyzed from the neck down proves that the mind affects the brain and behavior.

O.

Some implications of direct and imagined stimuli

 

O1

Epistemological consequences of Direct Stimulus

 

O1.1

Sensations are innate and evoked in the brain. They are not received from the senses or from the outside world through the senses.

O1.2

As such, sensations are private, or phenomenal.

 

O1.3

The physical is inferred from the phenomenal. Consequently, our knowledge of the physical is inferred from the phenomenal. This confers epistemological primacy on the phenomenal relative to the physical. Consequently, the phenomenal is ineliminable in describing nature. Furthermore, it is no longer logically possible to reduce the phenomenal to the physical.

O2

Epistemological consequences of Imagined Stimulus

 

O2.1

Mental Causation. It is an accepted fact that persons paralyzed from neck down can use their mind to control activities such as the position of a cursor on computer screen or the action of a mechanical wheelchair. The brain/computer interface is based on the fact that imagining an action activates brain loci that are activated in actually performing such action. The reality of this technology is a conclusive empirical proof that the mind affects brain and behavior.

O2.2

On the relation of mental causation and free will. Some philosophers and neuroscientists are seeking to determine whether humans possess free will. Most of those are Physicalists, assuming that the mind is causally inert. It is pointless to ask whether free will is possible while assuming that the mind is causally inert. The question of free will must be put off until after mental causation is recognized.

O2.3

Present-day physics is incomplete. The causal efficacy of the mental points to the existence of a deeper level of reality that is a common denominator of both the phenomenal and the physical. Hence, present-day physics is profoundly incomplete.

Quote of the Week

Kurt Gödel

The a priori is greatly neglected. [1] 

The a priori is very powerful. [2]

[1] In Rudy Rucker’s Infinity and the mind. 1982. P. 181.

[2] In Rudy Rucker’s The lifebox, the seashell, and the soul. 2005. p.8.

 

© 2016 Daniel Alroy