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Qualia and Consciousness February 23, 2009

Posted by njl4807 in Philosophy of mind.
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During my presentation in class, I talked about how Dennett argues that qualia is a concept that is not useful and that there is no reason to discuss.  I think that it is very important to make a distinction in order to take qualia from the concept that Dennett would argue is completely useless to turn it into a concept that can be useful for an understanding of neurological processes.



When do Humans Develop Consciousness?, Part 3: Self-Awareness February 22, 2009

Posted by ews8704 in Philosophy of biology, Philosophy of mind.
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baby chicks Self -Awareness

My 3rd grade teacher, Mrs. Wilkens, had us hatch baby chicks in the classroom as part of our biology curriculum. This has to have been one of my favorite memories of Mullan Road Elementary School: for weeks we 8-year olds waited restlessly as the eggs sat huddled inside the classroom incubator, and every week Mrs. Wilkens would explain how the baby chickens inside were growing.

I remember they all started hatching at once, right before P.E class.  Unfortunately, one of the chicks “didn’t make it,” as Mrs. Wilkens said (later one of the boys in my class told me it was born with its intestines hanging out, although I don’t know whether that’s true.) Despite our loss, we were delighted to have a handful of our very own cheerful chicks for  pets.

They were busy, these chicks, and they seemed to make decisions as a collective. They would interrupt our lessons by a sudden chorus of chirps, only to all plop down asleep a couple minutes later, their plump little bodies all snuggled up together.

Unfortunately chicks, despite their cuteness,  can have a vicious streak  (much like 8-year-olds, for that matter) . All of the chicks were born with black feathers, except for one, who was instead a perfect butter yellow color, like the Easter biddies on Hallmark cards. Sadly, the other chicks taunted this yellow one relentlessly. Mrs. Wilkens, worried that his siblings would peck the yellow one to death,  eventually moved him to his own separate terrarium.

The yellow chick, unfortunately, became quite lonely all by himself, and soon our long division lessons were interrupted by the deep, somber chirps of a chick forgotten.  Mrs. Wilken’s tried giving him a friend, a tiny stuffed panda bear, but it was just not the same.

Unable to bear his yelping any longer, Mrs. Wilken’s finally tried giving the chick a little mirror. It worked. He loved it. He would peck at it and brush against it and have whole conversations with just  his reflection. We kept the chicks for a couple of weeks more, until we had to return them to the farm, and I don’t think that little yellow chick ever did catch on.


At What Point in Development do Humans Become Conscious?, Part 2: Differing Definitions of Consciousness February 16, 2009

Posted by ews8704 in Metaphysics, Philosophy of biology, Philosophy of mind.
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It’s been a while since my last post, and since then I’ve gotten some interesting comments (Yay!).Reaching

Tony mentioned that,  even if we are indeed conscious in the later stages of prenatal development, we aren’t  necessarily so in the earlier stages.  I agree; I don’t think anyone could argue that zygotes are conscious.  U.S. law, too,  differentiates between earlier and  later term abortions, with lawmakers and activists seeing 3rd trimester abortions as the most controversial.

Greg and Kyle suggested that consciousness doesn’t depend on memory. I also think they have a point-

One of my older relatives had a medical procedure done where the doctors stuck a tube with a small camera attached to it down his throat. The procedure was supposed to be horrifically uncomfortable, but the doctors needed him awake (conscious?),  in order to tell them if it was going down okay. So the doctors gave him a pill to make him completely forget the procedure. So my relative, to this day, has no idea what the surgery was like, although the doctors report he was very cooperative and helpful throughout.

I think our association of consciousness with memory comes from our experiences with passing out and falling asleep, when we truly do not remember what we were doing and what was happening around us.  Memory can also be helpful for us when we question when humans develop consciousness: If I can remember thinking, feeling, acting, and having a sense of self when I was, say, 5, at least I know  I was conscious by the age of 5, even if I wasn’t before then.

Dr. Brister pointed out that consciousness is sometimes defined as self-awareness, a trait that sets humans apart from other animals. Babies could be conscious of their surroundings, like many animals,  but not yet self-aware, unlike grown humans.  I want to include this in my discussion of differing definitions of consciousness.

Thanks everyone! Now here’s where my post gets weird…


The study of Happiness February 7, 2009

Posted by esl5400 in Medicine, Philosophy of biology, Philosophy of mind, Social science.
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·         Defining Happiness

Happiness is a state of mind or feeling such as contentment, satisfaction, pleasure, or joy

·         Measuring happiness

What causes happiness:  External stimuli (i.e.  Win the lottery; Get an A on an exam…)

The Satisfaction with Life Index was created by Adrian G. White, an Analytic Social Psychologist at the University of Leicester, using data from a metastudy.  It is an attempt to show life satisfaction (subjective life satisfaction) in different nations.

In this calculation, subjective well being correlates most strongly with health, wealth, and access to basic education

This is an example of a recent trend to use direct measures of happiness, such as surveys asking people how happy they are.  Some studies suggest that happiness can be measured effectively.

Ø  Interesting fact:  USA ranks 23rd in the world for overall self assessed satisfaction

Ways to measure happiness levels:                Self Assessment   (Surveys)                                                   Biochemical testing

ü  A chemical called Serotonin is believed by doctors and researchers as the neurological cause for happiness perception.  The influx in the level of Serotonin in your bloodstream can be the main cause for sadness, depression, and suicidal thoughts and feelings.

ü  Other “Drugs” can replace Serotonin with a stronger chemical in the brain, having a similar or increased effect

§  LSD

§  Ecstasy


Q:  So why measure happiness?

A:  Pharmaceuticals!

Although studies are performed to assess overall contentment, or to judge the effect of a change in outside influence, Doctors and biochemists want to create a solution to create a treatment to make people happier.

Testing (surveys or chemical) is done in laboratories to determine the effectiveness of the drugs in clinical trials. If we couldn’t effectively, repeatedly, and consistently measure happiness, then the entire market for medical research and development of happiness and/or depression would be futile. 




·         Example:  How stuff affects our happiness level

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) – is a mood disorder in which people who have normal mental health throughout most of the year experience depressive symptoms in the winter or, less frequently, in the summer, repeatedly, year after year.

The US National Library of Medicine states that “some people experience a serious mood change when the seasons change. They may sleep too much, have little energy, and crave sweets and starchy foods. They may also feel depressed.

There are many different treatments for classic (winter-based) seasonal affective disorder, including:  

§  Light therapies with bright lights

§  Anti-depression medication

§  Cognitive-behavioral therapy

Questions to consider:

*      Is happiness learned?

Ø   If so, how do babies recognize and respond in comfort to their mother, or to being fed, or held and rocked? 

Ø  If not, can this be broken down to and simply explained with brain chemistry and preprogrammed responses?

*      If we effectively argue that the feeling of happiness is no more than a scientifically explained organic chemistry problem, further resolved in human psychology, then what might be the social and moral repercussions or concerns that would be incurred? 

Ø  Consider:  does the same thing make two different people happy?  Can the effects of pleasure and happiness be predicted?

Ø  If happiness, love, and joy were simply preprogrammed responses to external stimuli, does that take away from the experience of happiness?

*       Could science ever get to the point where, through chemistry and medicine, happiness is measured on a point value system (based on Serotonin levels)?  Would people then choose certain experiences based on this quantitative approach?

Ø  Much like counting calories or carbohydrates when eating

Sources:              Wikipedia:

Ø  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Happiness

Ø  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Satisfaction_with_Life_Index

Ø  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seasonal_affective_disorder 


This is a copy of what I plan to present this comming Thursday for my class project on the study of happiness.  It covers a range of topics, but my focus is on the ability to study hapiness.  We begin by defining what we percieve happiness to be.  The two most common, and seemingly practical, ways of measuring happiness levels are the more popular (surveys) and the more precise (biochemical testing).  I will discuss the differences in these, and related them to how they are both used to better understand happiness, and therefore make better applications of medicine and making changes to your enviromnet, and how this call all have wither positive or negative impacts on your happiness level.  Please feel free to read my proposed topic questions to create a more intellectually stimulating conversatioons after my presentation.



Searle’s Chinese Room Argument February 2, 2009

Posted by Kyle in Philosophy of mind.
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Imagine you’re locked inside a room, isolated from the real world. In this room with you are a Chinese keyboard, a monitor, and a rule-book written in English that tells you what sequences of Chinese symbols you should send in response to certain sequences of Chinese symbols that appear on the monitor. It does not provide any word-translations, however. All the book has are syntactical rules for manipulating Chinese symbols. They say nothing about what the Chinese symbols mean or represent. Will you ever be able to learn Chinese while stuck in this room? Didn’t think so.

This is Searle’s proof that true artificial intelligence is impossible. Or is it?


At What Point in Development do Humans Become Conscious?, Part 1: Societal Ramifications January 26, 2009

Posted by ews8704 in Philosophy of biology, Philosophy of mind.
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An Infant Processing her Surroundings

Societal Ramifications

The question of when we develop consciousness is, naturally, very loaded . If we are conscious in the womb, for instance,  can abortion ever be  moral? On my search for materials on nascent consciousness, I even ran across a book that insisted all expecting mothers should stay at home, lest they pass the toxic stress of the working world on through the placenta and trouble the fetus.


Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorems January 23, 2009

Posted by Greg in Mathematics, Philosophy of mind.
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Blah balha
–Evelyn Brister

I’d like to hit two main points in this blog post. First of all, I’d like to discuss Gödel‘s second incompleteness theorem a bit; second, I’d like to see if I can start an actual argument about the philosophical implications of these theorems.

Introduction: At What Point do Humans Develop Consciousness? January 22, 2009

Posted by ews8704 in Philosophy of biology, Philosophy of mind.
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Wired Baby

Wired Baby

I first remember thinking about the nature of consciousness when I was 4 years old. Back then, I knew I was a big girl: my parents and teachers kept telling me so.  I also knew that, before a girl is big, she is little. Yet I had  no memory of being a little girl. (more…)

Zombies… Not Your Average Sleepwalker January 20, 2009

Posted by exk0730 in Philosophy of mind.
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When I hear the word “zombie,” the first thing that comes to mind is a blood-covered, grunting, wobbling, decomposing corpse. Well I guess in magical lands and other universes, you could find one of these things. But there’s another connotation of “zombie.” The philosophical zombie. This type of zombie doesn’t grunt, and doesn’t wander around aimlessly trying to find some human to munch on. The p-zombie is a human, with some exceptions. It is physically indistinguishable from a human, yet it lacks conscious experiences, qualia, or sentience. When a p-zombie is poked in the eye, it will say “ow” and recoil, because it has the same behaviors as a human being, but it does not experience what that pain actually feels like. Zombie arguments tend to lend support for dualism by arguing against physicalist theories.

According to physicalism, all things can be explained by physical facts. If God created the world based on purely physical properties and laws governing the behavior of all things in that world, did God have to do something further to provide for human consciousness? If God did have to do something further, then it seems that physical properties must not explain everything there is about the world, suggesting that consciousness could not exist in a world of solely physical properties: a zombie world. It follows that if a zombie world is possible, physicalism is false.

The real question is: are zombies conceivable?