A Bit of Armchair Philosophy

Narayana Moorty

On Method:The following makes free use of introspective or what I would call “reflective” method to arrive its conclusions.The method is not strictly phenomenological, for it at times makes certain “objective” statements about how the self is built, or how other people behave, etc., and even some objective “causal” statements, e.g., the relationship between certain objective elements such as an image and the self.I have no justification for this method except that philosophers and scientists have found (Nagel, Parfait, and some AI workers, to mention a few) the conventional “objective” (Behaviorist), neurophysiological, or linguistic methods too stifling, and limiting our access to a rich variety of information.

Aim:I would like to discuss here the relationship between cognitive (or mental) functions of the mind and the self:It is obvious that our notion of the self and our notion of the world make use of cognitive functions and at the same time influence their functioning, and the functioning of intelligence.How does this exactly happen?How indeed do we build our self?What are the structures involved in our notion of the self?How does intentionality operate in our mental world?

There are several different notions that go under the concept of self.These are generally confused with one another.First, there is what I would like to call the “concept” of self.This is the most unifyingnotion and underlies all other notions (or structures).I refer all the contents of my mental life, my thoughts, experiences, relationships, and the world in general to my “self.”The second is what I shall call “self-image:”This is what we think we are, and of course changes from time to time.The above two we may or may not always be aware of, but express themselves in our thought, relationships, and behavior.Third, we also constantly attempt to correct our “self-image” by confirming, reinforcing or modifying it according to an “ideal” self-image, all the things we would like to be and not yet in fact are; or the things we would like to avoid, but still are.Fourth, there is the dialectical process of the self, a constant tension between the self-image and the ideal which we try to achieve through the process of self-becoming, which is crucial to our mental life.Self-consciousness in some form or other is inherent to this process.Finally, there is the total mental life we create through these processes which consists of our world and ourselves at the center of it, organized through our meanings, purposes and projects.This is an intentional notion of the self, and all the contents of our mind have meaning to us only as referring to the contents of this world, with of course ourselves at its center.

The notions of self and conscious intelligence are tied together very intimately.I make use of the intelligence functions to make my self; the self is mediated through the functions.And the self and its interests are what I satisfy through my intelligence functions.Interest is the name of the game of the self.Without interest there is no self, and without interest I have no use in my mental world for the intelligence functions.Notice here that I am not talking about the biological organism and its intelligence functions.I am talking about my conscious mental life and how it is affected by my intelligence functions which manifest themselves as cognitive functions in my mental life.These include, of course, problem-solving mechanisms, particularly the ones that operate through conscious thought processes.

How do self and its interests show themselves in our behavior?In the fact that I am more interested in certain things of the environment than other things.I am “identified” with some things more than with others.I find them more interesting for my “purposes.”I support them, advocate them, work for them, look for their interests as my interests.My intelligence works more fluently when I am interested in some thing.Or my interest is to avoid them or to fight against them.Then I use my intelligence functions toward that purpose.The interest is determined of course by my previous conditioning.But the conditioning is not mere animal conditioning, but is again mediated through verbal, conscious thought processes.

The ability to make first-person reflexive statements does not account for everything connected with the self, nor is it necessary to understand ego-centered behavior: one may be operative under the influence of ego-interests, yet may not be aware that one is so doing.A person my be making first person statements, making profit and loss accounts, and enhance his reputation, profits, etc., yet, not be aware of the fact that one is doing so.The notion of first-person reflexive statements itself is not clear any way: Does it mean just making first-order statements like, “This profit is enough today; I will improve upon it tomorrow;” and then making a second order statement like, “I am making a calculation that this profit is enough, and then I am thinking that I will improve upon it tomorrow.”This by itself does not tell much about the self.

How is verbal conditioning created?In animals and in humans any sensory experience is registered neurally and in turn it influence the future behavior of the animal.The animal is exposed to the view of the master’s house.Since its survival need of nourishment is tied with the master’s residence, the view is registered in the nervous system, and conditions the behavior of the animal to the extent that the animal when it needs food or shelter or affection again it will automatically find the house of the master as much as its abilities will allow.There is no conscious memory involved here.Humans are capable of this sort of conditioning as well as animals are.But in humans the conscious memory is superimposed upon the neural memory.

Conscious memory presupposes a conscious image and a verbal description.The name helps the conscious recall of the image.When we recall, we are in the situation which we recall in some fashion or other.And the movement in and out of the situation to the present accounts for our sense of the pest, present, and future.Also, the fact that we are aware of our memory only as a memory and not an actual present situation.When we think, in a sense we are also the meaning, the word, and the situations the words represent.Through the word, we are virtually in the situation.When we are aware of that through another thought, we would be in another situation, although we are aware of this as a mere though.Our consciousness itself is nothing but a series of these movements in and out of thoughts, images, vicarious situations, words and their meanings.That is why it seems that having a “mental state” is necessary for the understanding of a word.

Whatever we experience, our experience is not a neutral state.It is emotionally charged.Either it is pleasant, painful or indifferent.When the experience is recalled in memory, the charge is also carried forward, and an awareness of it creates the consciousness of the self.The awareness is at the same time also part of the desire process – either I want to recreate an experience, continue it, avoid it, develop it and so forth.The situation has become part of my world of meaning, purpose and projects.Here is where intentionality comes in.The situation or object is now endowed with meaning.It means something in relation to my purposes and projects.It has a place in my world.And I attain a place in the world only in relation to the object.I myselfhave no existence apart from the objects, situations and persons which people my world.As my world grows my self grows with it.My perceptions, judgments, evaluations etc. of situations in the world are directly or indirectly also judgments about myself.Behind the judgments, images, etc. I build about and around myself, I am there at the center.I am not merely my judgments, but am their subject.I am the creator of my thoughts, my actions.I own my body.And I am not identical to any of these.

The way we put together the world, synthesize it, is not different from the way we put together our self.They both go hand in hand.Both require memory and continuity, and the notion of time.This putting together is carried on by the intelligence (or cognitive) functions.This synthesizing is how our mental world is created, a world in which the self and its world, and the dramas that are played in it, are created.The unity of our world is also at the same time the unity of the self.What I am not aware of, or recall as part of myworld, even if another ‘me’ may be conscious of it, will not be part of my world until I do become conscious ofit or can remember it.Our conscious mental world uses thought processes.

Cognitive functions and information all play a significant role in the formation of my world:I use all my past information to evaluate the present.I use all my intelligence functions to abstract, generalize, assess, compare, evaluate, project into the future, analyze, problem-solve, appreciate, any given situation and myself in relation it.These functions and information have a place in my mental life only inasmuch as they enhance my self.(My present philosophy paper uses many of these functions and information and is itself part of my larger project of participation in Vito’s Philosophy of AI class, which in turn is part of another larger project and so on.)There is no “neutral” cognition function or information here.Any “neutrality” and objectivity that exist are only such as part of the projects and styles I have developed in dealing with my world.I may at my option take a different stance altogether with the world, depending on how I view the status of myself in each of the situations that present themselves.

Self-consciousness is a mental function which makes our thought processes explicit, clear and so forth, but as far as the self and its world go, it is always a consciousness of some mental content from the point of view of another mental content.

We always take a point of view when we look at and label any mental content.The mere fact that we label an emotion as anger involves certain attitudes, judgments and reactions toward what we observe.And of course, all our intelligence skills and previous information operate in this process of self-consciousness.Self-consciousness is part of the self- and world- building process, what I called the dialectical process of the self.


I shall apply the above understanding of the self to attempt a solution of some problems of interest to us:

1)Attributing “conscious intelligence” to computers:Anything objectively described and describable can be made into the content of a “program.”As soon as you have given an objective description of something, whatever it be, including purposes, sense of self-interest, defense, etc., one could say,“I will do the following to create that,” whether or not it is at this moment technologically feasible to do so.But what if the subject and its subjectivity is not something that I can give an objective description of?You might say, how does subjectivity show itself in behavior?I could give an objective description of the behavior.And I could “duplicate” that behavior through a program.Has the controversyended there?

What precisely is the source of this “conceptual inertial” which Richard Gregory talks about? It is not just that whatever we can clearly understand the functions of we refuse to attribute “intelligence” to.It is a whole set of “person” attributes including “intelligence” that we refuse to attribute.In fact, in the case of computers, it is not just “personhood” that we deny, but even life and animalhood.Why?Because, no matters how much we duplicate animal mechanisms, we don’t have (at least as far as we know) computers or other machines which are born (naturally) as animals, but more seriously, they are not self-moving mechanisms, with a heart-beat, circulation, purposive movement, struggle for survival and so on.If at a certain date we have created a whole species of such “animals” which could perform these functions, we would still consider them as different sort of species from animals species, even if perhaps we could construct by will an animal from pure “energy” sources, or whatever are the basic building materials of living things.

In the case of persons, the situation is even more complex:Even if a living machine is designed with all the biological and psychological functions objectively manifested, still we would deny personhood on various grounds:grounds not dissimilar to the ones we use to deny personhood to other humans:people of other races, we would say, are not really people; or people of other religions, sex, etc.Or anyone who is a stranger.Worse still, even when we grant personhood, there is a certain differential treatment we offer to other people, treatment which we don’t give to ourselves or to our dear ones.And when we do give a similar treatment, it may be that we have become identified with and included that animal, person, or even machine in our world in such a way that it or he has become “my” self in some form or other.Perhaps there are degrees of identification or “preferential” treatment in such a way that only to a few people we attribute the notion of “self” (if we are capable of that at all), equal to the notion we attribute to ourselves.

It is not quite clear that there is no inherent difference at some level or other, even in these treatments, such that we can say no matter how much we are identified with someone else, even if we kill ourselves for the sake of that person, still we never know what it is to be another person, and therefore all acts of “identification” are at bottom appropriations to our notions of our self, and never total “seeing” the other person as a person.In a fundamental sense, we are caught, (if you don’t agree, at least I am) in an “egocentric predicament,” in which only I and my world finally exit, and everything, in order for it to mean anything, must exist in that world.If the situation is so even with other people, how much more so with computers!I am afraid, some such problem lurks at the bottom of the “conceptual inertia.”

This may also be why we don’t attribute “intelligence” and “personhood” to anything whose mechanisms we clearly understand.On the other hand, there is a sense in which we cannot understand not only other people, but even this computer here, or the electricity which runs it.It’s a mystery.Just the same way I am a mystery.Why is there anything at all instead of nothing?In between, we use concepts, laws, and principles, to understand, design and create mechanisms, to achieve various purposes, to survive in the world, and create a science and a technology.But a person and a thing or the world are the limits at which our understanding fails.

2)Intentionality again:Is this statement that to understand a word is to have a mental state synthetic or analytic?It is neither, under the dichotomies of analytic and synthetic, and a priori and a posteriori, especially if you insist that everything you know is automatically objective and therefore synthetic.You could call this synthetic a priori, if you do not automatically assume that only objectively observable phenomena are “facts” and are “synthetic.”What is the evidence for this statement?Why not the evidence (as Husserl would call it, the apodictic evidence) given in your experience enough as evidence?It is not a part of my “external” experience.So it is a priori.But it is not a purely analytic statement either.For it conveys some information.The opposite of it seems to make no sense.It is somewhat like saying, this truth or whatever you call it, is what is presuppose in all our understanding about meaning, although it itself cannot be further proven.

The world we put together is a world of meaning.Things, people, situations, etc. mean something to us.These meanings are interwoven and included in higher and higher meanings, purposes or projects of life, may it be happiness, fulfillment, creativity, contribution to culture, social harmony, or even lack of meaning.There is an intentionality within this world structure:the objects, people, situations, beliefs, etc. have meaning only in relation to some purposes, projects, etc.Anything that enters into our mental system must be a mental content.It may have a neural counterpart (it probably does).But only as a mental content, be it an idea, an image or a belief, or a feeling, does it have meaning for us.The contents have a reference beyond themselves which are in turn only perceived mental contents.Thus the whole mental system of our world is in a sense a “closed” system.Intentionality has meaning only within the world.For even “external objects” or physiological effects etc., the so-called nonmental contents of our world make a difference only inasmuch as they are perceived.As perceived, they are mental contents.Intentionality exists in our world only as a reference to other contents in the mental world.

If our mind is such a closed system, why can’t computers imitate it?Sure they can, if we can include the self and its dialectical processes in it.If we can succeed in duplicating the whole mental system, we stillhave the problem of the egocentric predicament I talked about above.Perhaps, the mental system of a computer too would have such a predicament, except that we would have problems in recognizing (because of our predicament) it as a person, and by parity it might have such a problem in recognizing you and me as persons!Well, the prospect seems to be that it will be man against computer, and perhaps some men will join the computers to fight for their rights and so forth!

There is another side to the matter:Although all my mental life is restricted to the symbolic content and what it “means” in my world, there is a sense in which I have to go beyond this into the real world.Where the interaction between this world and the real world is totally lacking, I end up either in the lunatic asylum or simply die! (either by starvation or suicide).So what, for the self?When the mental world ends, there is no one to grieve it.The world and its meaning, and with it myself, have ended.Searle, Dreyfus, etc. who insist that intentionality is essential to meaning are the people who talk about this sort of intentionality.On the other hand, AI scientists would prefer the first sort of intentionality.Pick your choice!


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