Sunday, 23 April 2017

The Meta-question: Can we ever know what it is like to be a bat?

After a semester of stimulating, interesting, exciting and frustrating exploration of post cognitive topics, here are some of the ideas running around in my….oops was just about to type “brain”…humm. What’s a better word for this … this… this… umm “experience of being sentient”? How about the word consciousness? Or the cognitive apparatus? Environment-linked mind-like-“thing” inside a cultural self referencing and sustaining milieu? None of those seems quite IT. And certainly, none of those words is fully descriptive of experience.

How do we talk about this experience of Being a Thinking Entity? Sentience, “smarts” consciousness, awareness, neuro synaptic sharing, quantum drop? Feedback loops which self-sustain – autocatalyic systems, post-cognitive “understanding”? From which point of view shall we approach it? Philosophically via Idealism, Realism, Physicalism, Materialism, or with Phenomenology? Which of these preoccupations is the next path towards greater understanding: intentionality, intersubjectivity, finding the “mark of the mental”, the hard problem, the explanatory gap, even “What is it like to be a bat?”

With the word “cognition” amended to each item in this list, this semester we read and discussed these theories as options: Extended, Embedded, Embodied, Enacted (even Radical Enacted!), Ecological/environmental, Distributed, 4E, Biological.

And, we considered these models: multiple draft, global workspace, Higher Order Thought (HOT), Neural correlates  (NCC), even a quantum step down conceptualization!, Synergies, Dynamical systems--we went so far as to touch on folk psychology and common sense.
Is cognition a Process or a thing? Verb or noun? Placed or distributed? Is it all about Language?
Who/what has It? Are the Panpsychists actually on the right track?

What’s a body to think? or, How’s a body to think?
Does a body think?!

Just what the hell does it mean to be conscious? We have these words: conscious, cognition, but unlike most words we use to communicate and share the big questions or sticky scientific phenomena, we use these without knowing what we mean by them. All it does for me is open up more questions:

What about non-human animals? What about “Pre-language Entities”? What if they are talking but we can’t hear—we don’t perceive? We don’t know what their methods are, let alone the content of potential messages?

How many different levels are there to this question, and how are they connected? What questions are unanswered? Are some questions unanswerable?

Its been a wild ride through the jungle of post-cognitive theory this semester. I’m left with the (self-evident and ultimately unsatisfying, howbeit provocative) conclusion that the depth of the question necessitates a plurality of approaches, tools, and possible answers. The path is crooked but the journey is exciting!

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