All posts by Mayuri R. Jain

Smart + Science

JJ Smart’s paper “Sensations and Brain Processes” argues that there are no philosophical arguments to be a dualist. Smart brings up the idea that sensations are essentially also brain processes. Smart argues that if the sensation is just a report of something, it can be said that the “something” is actually a brain process. Basically, Smart says that all mental states are nothing except states in the brain itself. Smith backs up his argument by putting forth 8 objections that readers could possibly find from his argument, and provides fitting counterpoints for each. For instance, objection #2 claims that it is at best only a contingent fact that a sensation is a brain process. This objection is then replied to, as Smart goes on to say that it is possible that our scientific sensations are wrong and therefore, when we report on our sensations we are not reporting brain processes. So essentially, this objection demonstrates that when we report a sensation we do not mean the same thing as a report on a brain process.
It is these objections and their respective counterpoints that lead me to believe that Smart’s theory is rather sound and logical in terms of science. Since Smart has done such a thorough job addressing any inconsistencies that one may see within his argument, I feel as if I agree with what he is saying, and I do not see any other science-related objections to his argument that he had left unanswered.
I personally think that Smart’s argument is valid in terms of science. This is so because if you think about it, any and every sensation you experience is, in fact, a brain process. Take into account the five senses – sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch. Every one of these senses has to go through the brain’s network in order to be “perceived” and actually felt. Let’s take the sense of hearing, for instance. When a sound is emitted, the waves enter the ear canal and cause vibrations of the eardrum. This, in turn, moves the ossicles in the middle ear. Then, the last bone in the sequence pushes on the membrane’s window and causes the cochlea’s fluid to move, thus triggering a response in the auditory nerve. This response then travels via the auditory nerve to regions in the brainstem and areas in the auditory cortex so that the sounds can be processed and the meanings of the words can be interpreted. This entire process demonstrates the involvement of the brain in the realm of sensations, thus supporting Smart’s argument by showing that sensations are, scientifically, brain processes.

Moving on from this, I’d also like to point out something that I found interesting in Smart’s paper, and was wondering if anyone else found it quite interesting as well. Smart mentions the theory of Occam’s razor, which states that among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be chosen. That being said, Smart claims that a solid reason for resisting dualism is because of Occam’s razor. He tells us that dualism could actually be the case, but assuming that it is not makes everything less complex. He claims, “it seems that even the behavior of man himself will one day be explicable in mechanistic terms.”  However, doesn’t this seem to contradict Occam’s razor? The very theory states that the hypothesis with the least assumptions should be chosen, but here Smart is picking and discarding a hypothesis based on his choice to assume that dualism is not the case, just to make things more simple. To me, this was both interesting and confusing, as it seemed to be a minor glitch in Smart’s paper.

In conclusion, I’d like to end by leaving the class with a few questions. Firstly, even though I don’t see any scientific inconsistencies with Smart’s argument, can anyone else think of a way to contradict anything he says using the basis of science? And secondly, does anyone else agree/see problems with the supposed glitch I found in the argument regarding Occam’s razor?

Simulations or…?

Nick Bostrom’s essay “Are You Living in a Computer Simulation?” brings up the intriguing, although rather mind-boggling concept of super-intelligence with the simulation argument involving post-human civilizations. His theory is laid out using seven sections, each of which builds off the idea of post-humans running ancestor simulations, and the fact that there may be a chance that we are actually a part of these simulations.

As a brief recap, the general premise of Bostrom’s theory stems from the fact that humans have made tremendous strides in the realm of technology, and our previous generations have invented an enormous technological infrastructure. This leads to the humbling implication that the technology we have today is rather limited and will be considered simple and quite basic in comparison to what our posterity down the road will have in their lifetimes. Therefore, future civilizations will have enough technological development to aptly run ancestor simulations.  Bostrom then arrives at three conclusions, and hypothesizes that at least one of them must be true.

Upon an initial reading of Bostrom’s work, one may somewhat understand where he is coming from and maybe even agree with his theory. However, upon a deeper analysis, more questions seem to arise, and such was the case with my experience while reading his piece.

I somewhat disagree with Bostrom’s idea that we are living in a simulation.  First and foremost, Bostrom never formally defines what exactly he means by “simulation.” Essentially, a simulation could be anything, and by not defining what he intends it to be, Bostrom’s theory comes off as confusing.

Another possible, although kind of minor critique is that fact that Bostrom assumes too much. It seems to be implied that if people are in fact being simulated, then they are unaware of it, meaning the simulators do not tell their subjects what is happening. By the protocols of modern science, this is unethical, leading to the assumption that these super-humans of the future are themselves unethical people.

Going off of the unethicality issue, it seems rather illogical to me that a civilization so advanced that it can run these simulations has no legal or moral protections established for the living subjects it is manipulating. If we are, in fact, in a simulation, then it is safe to say that our simulators create everything we experience, both good and bad. While this may not be a problem for the good things, this also means that our simulators are responsible for all the crimes, murders, etc. that we may face. If the legal system of this future is anything like our current one, then all the aforementioned things should be illegal, but if our simulators are exposing us to them anyways, it can be assumed that morailty is simply unconsidered. While this may or may not be a major flaw in Bostrom’s theory (depending on how you view it), I still believe it’s worth pointing out.

Another flaw I found with Bostrom’s theory is the fact that it is circular and to some extent, self-destructive. To start off, it can be said that the people running the simulation are incredibly intelligent and efficient – more so than us – because they are able to run these simulations in the first place. With this in mind, the whole theory speculates about a world higher than ours, while the whole simulation itself seems to suggest that if we are living in it, then we would have no way to know anything about such a higher world and what its people are like, what their intentions are, etc. Basically, the supposition that we are living in a simulated world leads us to believe that we can’t trust the assumptions, which led us to our first conclusion, making it a very self-contradictory situation and therefore semantically meaningless.

Taking all of the aforementioned assumptions into account, it can be argued that Bostrom’s hypothesis violates the principle of Occam’s razor. Occam’s razor is essentially a principle that states that between multiple hypotheses, the most reliable one would be the one that includes the fewest assumptions. Therefore, other somewhat similar theories regarding higher intelligence may technically be more reliable than Bostrom’s, provided that they include fewer assumptions and provided that we actually take them into account.