Monday, February 27, 2012

The Splintered Mind: Is the United States Conscious?

Is the entirety of the United States, considered as a single entity, a conscious one? Answering "yes" might be the most metaphysical height to which a patriot could hope to climb. But anyway, there are some interesting issues around here concerning which systems do and which systems don't have conscious states. See Eric Schwitzgebel's discussions of this stuff herehere, and here:
The Splintered Mind: Is the United States Conscious?:
It would be bizarre to suppose that the United States has a stream of conscious experience distinct from the streams of conscious experience of the people who compose it. I hope you'll agree. (By "the United States" here, I mean the large, vague-boundaried group of compatriots who sometimes act in a coordinated manner.) Yet it's unclear by what materialist standard the U.S. lacks consciousness.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Bookslut | Blindsight by Peter Watts

Nice discussion of Watts's Blindsight, including comparisons to other works on similar themes: Bookslut | Blindsight by Peter Watts:
As in Bruce Sterling's "Swarm," and some of Stephen Baxter's work (such as the grand Evolution), the value of consciousness itself is questioned. Control is an illusion, after all: think about moving your arm, and your arm will already be in motion. We exist after the fact -- or, as Siri's friend Pag puts it, "We're not thinking machines, we're -- we're feeling machines that happen to think."
We are observers, not agents, and where's the survival advantage in that? Watts's aliens, certainly, think rings around his humans and posthumans. They can detect the electromagnetic fluctuations of a human brain, and rewire them in real time. They can time their movements so precisely as to hide in the saccades of our eyes. And they can do it, in part, because they are not conscious, because consciousness is expensive: "I wastes energy and processing power, self-obsesses to the point of psychosis [...] They turn your own cognition against itself. They travel between the stars. This is what intelligence can do, unhampered by self-awareness," is Sarasti's blunt assessment. We are a fluke, a mistake; in evolutionary terms, a dead end. Once we get beyond the surface of our planet we are not fit.


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