May 21 2010

Artificial Life

Well – not quite. But Dr. Craig Venter’s lab has made an significant advance in crafting synthetic bacteria. This is an advance we have been anticipating, as Venter has not been shy about promoting his research program.

What he has accomplished now is the following: He has sequenced the genome of a specific species of bacteria, then manufactured a copy of the DNA entirely with a sequencer. The synthetic copy was then inserted into a bacterium of a different species whose own genome had been removed. The bacterium then transformed into the species of the synthetic genome it had received, and was able to reproduce normally as the new species.

So, the end result was just a normal bacterium of an existing species. But this is a significant proof of concept. First, it showed that they can manufacture a bacterial genome that will be fully functional. Second they demonstrated that this genome can function in a bacterium, even of other species, and will completely control the machinery and therefore function of that bacterium. And finally, the bacteria can reproduce normally.

Essentially, the technology is now fully in place to begin experimenting with artificial bacterial genomes. This ultimately is just another method of genetic engineering. We are already able to significantly genetically engineer bacteria and have been doing so for years for a variety of applications, such as drug production. But this technique affords a higher level of direct control. You can design your bacteria in a computer, and then mass produce it.

But beyond genetic engineering, this technology gives the potential for genetic construction from the ground up. Venter and his colleagues can use this technique to systematically experiment on the bacterial genome, changing any part of it they wish, until they reverse engineer how to build a bacterial genome. They would not be starting from scratch – we already know a great deal about bacterial genetics and proteomics, but this will take that knowledge to a higher level. Ultimately this could lead to the design of bacteria from scratch based upon a thorough understanding of basic design principles. And of course, bacteria are only the beginning – eukaryotes could be next.

As is typical, proponents of this new technology are emphasizing its potential benefits while critics are warning of its potential dangers and abuses. Any new powerful technology has the potential for both, and this is no exception. Venter points out that engineered bacteria could be used to clean up the environment and as a source of synthetic fuel. There are also many potential medical applications – designing bacteria to colonize our oral cavity and gastrointestinal tracts to prevent infections, aid in digestion, eliminate tooth decay, and other possibilities.

This could also be a source of biowarfare. And, even without nefarious intentions, releasing new bacteria into the environment can have unintended consequences – although I think doomsday scenarios are exceedingly unlikely. But it is always reasonable to consider the potential downside to a new technology and use regulation and security to minimize risk.

In the short term this is really just an incremental advance – a new way to do something we can already do, genetically engineer bacteria. But this technique puts us on a path to far greater control. It will probably still be years before we see the full potential of this technology, and it will definitely be something to keep a close eye on.

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131 responses so far

131 Responses to “Artificial Life”

  1. SpicyCupcakeon 21 May 2010 at 9:31 am

    Can this be a stepping stone to implementing Stem Cell treatments? I would think if we can learn to write specific instructions into a cell with this, then you could potentially use human stem cells the target all sorts of issues.

    Also, I think you know my friends on facebook! Seems like lately when there’s a comment string about a news item, next day you are here to do that thing you do.

  2. Draalon 21 May 2010 at 10:50 am

    Steven, you got a link to a paper or something?

    In a way, this is how viruses replicate.

    I think it should be noted that one requirement is that the host cell who’s DNA is removed, the existing protein machinery must be present and active to initiate RNA and protein synthesis of the new DNA rolling. Eventually the newly synthesized protein will take over the functions of the old proteins and the cell becomes viable. I wonder if they have a technical name for the process of old being replaced by the new. I mean there’s a discreet time frame where the cell contains a mix of old and new proteins. It’s phenotype would have characteristics between the two.

  3. Watcheron 21 May 2010 at 11:52 am

    It’s phenotype would have characteristics between the two.

    Only for the first cell though. All daughter cells after the original one would have molecular machinery that is built from the new DNA.

  4. Draalon 21 May 2010 at 12:08 pm

    Only for the first cell though.

    That’s assuming that protein recycling is faster than the cells ability to divided. For E. coli, the doubling rate is 20-30 mins. It doesn’t make sense that a cell would bother to rapidly recycle perfectly good protein at the same time it’s producing new proteins.

  5. SARAon 21 May 2010 at 1:06 pm

    I think there should be an international regulation on how such developments can be used. Guidelines, principles etc.

    We cannot ignore the overwhelming potential of these advances, but the critics are not wrong in worrying. A middle ground of planned regulations and oversight would be a good start. It won’t prevent abuses. Capitalism, greed and just plain evil are ever present and will each encroach in their varying manner.

    But if we have a plan and guidelines, we can try to manage those things. If we proceed without one, we will be caught without means to harness the beast.

  6. Enzoon 21 May 2010 at 1:06 pm

    I’m interested to see how this technology can be used for basic research, especially concerning early-life development/origin. What are the minimum components necessary for self replication, etc? We can already make artificial plasma membranes, isolate intact protein translation machinery and now we can synthesize and add our own genomes. A few steps more and we can start to talk about completely synthetic organisms. Awesome.

  7. Steven Novellaon 21 May 2010 at 1:26 pm

    Link to the article is now added.

  8. SimonWon 21 May 2010 at 3:16 pm

    The Long Now Foundation had a debate on the ethics of synthetic biology about 18 months ago.

    http://foratv.vo.llnwd.net/o33/rss/Long_Now_Podcasts/podcast-2008-11-17-synth-bio-debate.mp3

    Although slightly different twist on the technology.

    I think the depressing thing is the synthetic oil angle in the media. I think it unlikely this process will significantly improve the ability of bacteria to synthesize fuel over previous genetic modification techniques, sure it may be possible to improve the process a bit, but the technique is going to be limited by solar energy input. Of all the things this technology could give us, I think solving big scale engineering issues is last on the agenda. Medicine production, and genetic research are likely to top the initial list I would have thought. Although I guess a lean mean genome might reproduce quicker with less inputs, allowing faster synthesis of custom bacteria. Although the speed of bacterial replication isn’t usually a barrier I’m guessing someone somewhere is seeing dollar signs at the prospect of speeding it up even if the resulting bacteria are more frail (that might be a benefit for containment!).

  9. Steve Pageon 21 May 2010 at 3:38 pm

    As you said Steve, it’s a decent proof-of-concept inasmuch as Venter’s team have shown that what we call life is a data sequence that can be artificially replicated with the correct tools. How long, I wonder, before we are downloading iCures into our home DNApple gizmos?

  10. Watcheron 21 May 2010 at 3:58 pm

    It doesn’t make sense that a cell would bother to rapidly recycle perfectly good protein at the same time it’s producing new proteins.

    True. But how long would it take for the original enzymes to get to homeopathic-like concentrations in the cell lineage? A sample of the organism from a plate that was originally from broth media would have little to no expression of the host cell proteins. For all intents and purposes one could assume that all protein would be derived from the new genetic material.

  11. tmac57on 21 May 2010 at 5:14 pm

    Steve Page-”How long, I wonder, before we are downloading iCures into our home DNApple gizmos?”
    That would give ‘Cell Phone’ a whole new meaning ; )

  12. CivilUnreston 21 May 2010 at 5:17 pm

    I think we should co-opt the word “phreaking” from it’s outdated origins and apply it to the process of replacing a cell’s genetic instructions.

    IE:

    “We phreaked some cells in the lab today and now they can pump out insulin!”

    For those not in the know, phreaking was coined to describe messing with rudimentary telecommunication systems by playing specific tones at them.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phreaking

  13. bindleon 21 May 2010 at 5:42 pm

    Bacteria operate from strategic choice making algorithms peculiar to the particular strain and its acquired purposes. Without knowing how to construct that extremely complex part of the apparatus, you may have to settle for zombie bacteria.

  14. RickKon 22 May 2010 at 7:19 am

    Nice to see at least one religious group embraces Venter’s achievements. The Raelians say Venter’s work is fulfillment of prophecy:

    http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/rael-craig-venter-has-achieved-the-first-step-toward-creation-of-synthetic-human-beings-94630529.html

  15. BillyJoe7on 22 May 2010 at 7:46 am

    bindle,

    “Bacteria operate from strategic choice making algorithms peculiar to the particular strain and its acquired purposes.”

    Translation please.

    “you may have to settle for zombie bacteria”

    Are there any other kind?

  16. bindleon 22 May 2010 at 12:50 pm

    There are (some would say allegedly) bacteria that carry out various duties with a rudimentary sense of awareness. There was a very good podcast discussion of this on ABC Radio National last year – the All In The Mind program – The secret life of bacteria – small, smart and thoughtful!

  17. salzbergon 22 May 2010 at 2:28 pm

    Steve, a couple of small corrections. I’m a former colleague of Venter’s and I know this work well. You wrote “The synthetic copy was then inserted into a bacterium of a different species whose own genome had been removed”, but they didn’t remove the recipient’s genome. They inserted a new one, and then when the new bacterium divided, one daughter cell had the original genome and one had the new genome.

    Also, this is more incremental than the popular press makes it seem. (Craig is great at getting publicity, I’ll grant him that.) The same team published a paper in 2007 where they did almost they same thing: they transplated a bacteria. See “Genome Transplantation in Bacteria: Changing One Species to Another”, Science 3 August 2007, p. 632. The only real difference in this paper from 2007 is that this time they synthesized the new genome, rather than taking it from another bacterium.

    Synthesizing an entire genome has been done before too. In a very controversial 2002 paper, a different group (Cello et al) synthesized the entire polio virus genome and created polio viruses de novo, see Science 9 August 2002.

  18. BillyJoe7on 22 May 2010 at 5:45 pm

    bindle,

    There are (some would say allegedly) bacteria that carry out various duties with a rudimentary sense of awareness. There was a very good podcast discussion of this on ABC Radio National last year – the All In The Mind program – The secret life of bacteria – small, smart and thoughtful!

    “Allegedly” is the operative word here.
    That allegation is far from proven.
    Contrariwise, all that is known about consciousness is against that allegation.

    At least you are not stating it as a fact like our dear friend, artful D (or artless Dodge as he is effectionately known), but really this business of having an open mind has its limits. Our aforementioned friend is a perfect illustration of someone who hasn’t appreciated that fact and has suffered the consequences.

  19. BillyJoe7on 22 May 2010 at 5:47 pm

    TRY AGAIN!

    bindle,

    There are (some would say allegedly) bacteria that carry out various duties with a rudimentary sense of awareness. There was a very good podcast discussion of this on ABC Radio National last year – the All In The Mind program – The secret life of bacteria – small, smart and thoughtful!

    “Allegedly” is the operative word here.
    That allegation is far from proven.
    Contrariwise, all that is known about consciousness is against that allegation.

    At least you are not stating it as a fact like our dear friend, artful D (or artless Dodge as he is effectionately known), but really this business of having an open mind has its limits. Our aforementioned friend is a perfect illustration of someone who hasn’t appreciated that fact and has suffered the consequences.

  20. bindleon 22 May 2010 at 7:39 pm

    To state as a fact that “all that is known about consciousness” is against the allegation that bacteria have a rudimentary sense of awareness is to simply present the opinion that you know all that is known about consciousness. Granted one can state that one believes their opinion to be factual, but if belief is based on knowing all we’ve found to be believable, they might need a second opinion.
    My researched opinion remains that bacteria carry out duties and do so for a variety of reasons. A minimal awareness of the presence of the duty as an obligation for survival would seem implicit to their motivation. A larger awareness of the reasons would seem less likely although those involved in the cited podcast may differ with me there.

  21. Eric Thomsonon 22 May 2010 at 9:19 pm

    Thanks for the summary, and especially thanks to salzberg for clarifying the research.

    I find this exciting because of how it will push forward studies of the origins of life. That is, we should be able to cut away parts of the genome until we’ve got a bacterium with the “minimal genome” necessary to support life (or, more likely, there are a bunch of equally simple genomes that are able to support life). Biologists love their model organisms, and this opens up the ability to create our own. Very cool.

    As for the consciousness question, there are two competing intuitions:
    a) Any organism that displays goal-directed behavior is conscious, shows some awareness of the world with which it interacts. Paramecia, plants (they follow the sun, after all), and such all fall into this category.
    b) Only animals with nervous systems are conscious.
    My tack is to be agnostic until we have a more fully developed theory of consciousness in cases where it is clear that there is consciousness (e.g., humans, monkeys). Then we’ll be better posed to look at the fuzzy cases.

    It could turn out that ‘consciousness’ is like ‘life’ where we’ll have borderline cases, just as viruses are a borderline case with life perhaps plants and paramecia will be borderline with consciousness.

  22. ccbowerson 22 May 2010 at 10:41 pm

    The appearance of goal directed behavior does not make a compelling case. By that rationale water and Rocks at the tops of mountains are interest in heading down the mountain and display consciousness. I don’t know where this desire to see bacteria in this fashion comes from. I find it completely out of left field

  23. bindleon 22 May 2010 at 11:23 pm

    Virtually all primitive organisms including viruses appear to have probing mechanisms and sensory equipment that triggers a reaction according to the sensations “felt” by the probes and transmitted for evaluation. This would be the beginning of awareness. But these early organisms will seem to use strategies that don’t require self-awareness of their motivating functions.
    Strategies evolve, however, and their forms evolve accordingly. If for reasons that we don’t yet know, the “inner strategist” has found that self-awareness has some tactical advantage, it could account for the differences in that organism between simple awareness and a more conscious variety.

  24. ccbowerson 23 May 2010 at 12:40 am

    Organisms responding to multiple stimuli in the environment does not equal consciousness or awareness. In these cases, the concept of a deliberate strategy based upon some higher awareness is your own mind connecting dots that aren’t there.

  25. BillyJoe7on 23 May 2010 at 2:19 am

    bindle,

    My researched opinion remains that bacteria carry out duties and do so for a variety of reasons. A minimal awareness of the presence of the duty as an obligation for survival would seem implicit to their motivation. A larger awareness of the reasons would seem less likely although those involved in the cited podcast may differ with me there.

    Just to be clear, you are not using awareness and reasons as metaphor are you?

    Bacteria have awareness.
    Bacteria have reasons.
    Bacteria have an awareness of reasons.

    Well, you disagree with number three, but how can you have reasons without awareness of reasons?

    Look, I have an open mind, but there’s a limit.
    Bacteria having awareness and reasons are way beyond that limit. We are talking here about organisms that you need a microscope to see and that contain not a single neuron let alone and nervous system.

    It sometimes amazes me what people will entertain as being possible.

  26. BillyJoe7on 23 May 2010 at 2:27 am

    Eric,

    My tack is to be agnostic until we have a more fully developed theory of consciousness in cases where it is clear that there is consciousness (e.g., humans, monkeys). Then we’ll be better posed to look at the fuzzy cases.

    You really believe that bacteria might be a “fuzzy case”?

    It could turn out that ‘consciousness’ is like ‘life’ where we’ll have borderline cases, just as viruses are a borderline case with life…

    I have no doubt that that is the case.

    …perhaps plants and paramecia will be borderline with consciousness.

    Plants, and paramecia?
    You can’t be serious!
    Even a pithed toad has intact reflexes. I suppose it’s going to turn out that they have spinal awareness.

  27. Paisleyon 23 May 2010 at 2:37 am

    Eric Thomson: “It could turn out that ‘consciousness’ is like ‘life’ where we’ll have borderline cases, just as viruses are a borderline case with life perhaps plants and paramecia will be borderline with consciousness.

    It would appear that “life” and “consciousness” are inextricably linked.

  28. Paisleyon 23 May 2010 at 2:47 am

    ccBowers: “Organisms responding to multiple stimuli in the environment does not equal consciousness or awareness.

    If a living organism’s capacity to sense and respond to the environment does not require consciousness, then why was consciousness naturally selected?

  29. bindleon 23 May 2010 at 3:33 am

    BillyJoe7,
    If humans can do things for reasons that they are not consciously aware of, why can’t bacteria be at least equally unaware?
    And the reasons bacteria do things are not necessarily those of their own invention. In any case awareness of stimuli should not require an awareness of the inner workings of the mechanism that reflexively decodes the signals.

    To quote from the cited transcript:
    “James Shapiro: I think the equation ‘nervous system equals cognition’ is perhaps confusing us more than it’s enlightening us. There are many, many cells which have all kinds of sensory receptors and ways of picking up information and then making use of it. And many of them don’t have a differentiated nervous system. I mean look at plants which follow the sun, they don’t have a nervous system and yet they are cognitive in the sense
    that they are sensing where the sun is coming from and how it’s moving through the sky and they’re adjusting themselves.”

    But if you don’t find these arguments persuasive, that’s your prerogative.

  30. DS1000on 23 May 2010 at 7:17 am

    Maybe it would clarify things to point out that by these loose definitions of consciousness, computers have been conscious for about 30 years. While you could ague that even humans just react to inputs based soley on a definable set of rules, I think the word “conscious” should be reserved for something that happens way up the food chain (near complex vertabrates maybe).

  31. BillyJoe7on 23 May 2010 at 7:34 am

    Paisley,

    It would appear that “life” and “consciousness” are inextricably linked.

    Really!
    Well, suppose Maxwell banged you on the head with his silver hammer and knocked you out cold. You are now unconscious and alive.
    (Unless, of course, he made sure that you were dead.;))

    If a living organism’s capacity to sense and respond to the environment does not require consciousness, then why was consciousness naturally selected?

    Is the pithed toad’s spine conscious when your electrical shock causes his leg to withdraw? Does a non-pithed toad respond better to an electrical shock than a pithed toad?

    Or put it this way…
    If an single celled organism senses light and reflexly moves towards it, does that require consciousness to work? If a higher animal senses light and consciously moves towards it, do you think that perhaps its survival chances are enhanced as compared to the one that just reponds reflexly?

  32. BillyJoe7on 23 May 2010 at 7:38 am

    bindle,

    I don’t know James Shapiro. But if he is using metaphor, I would be able to agree with him, along with most other reasonable people on this planet. If he is not using metaphor, he has a serious problem.

    I’ll see what I can find out.

  33. Draalon 23 May 2010 at 8:07 am

    Watcher said:

    But how long would it take for the original enzymes to get to homeopathic-like concentrations in the cell lineage?

    A very conservative model would be an exponential decay: Total original protein per generation: 100%, 50, 25, 12.5, 6.25, 3.125…
    I was just curious if there was a term for this transition period from one phenotype to another. I’m not saying it is a long period or significant after many generations. So I’m confused as to what your issue is with my question.

  34. BillyJoe7on 23 May 2010 at 8:54 am

    James Shapiro seems to be a legitimate researcher in molecular biology.

    Here is a list of articles written by him about bacteria:

    http://shapiro.bsd.uchicago.ed/index3.html?content=bacteria.html

    Not a single one seems to be about bacteria being conscious or aware.
    Here is the link from that page to the most promising article written by him on the subject of what we might call “clever” bacteria:

    http://shapiro.bsd.uchicago.edu

    Nowhere in that 13 page article does he say that “Bacteria are conscious” or “bacteria are aware”. He uses lots of other words, such as “communication”, “sentient”, “cognitive”, “smarts”, “sophisticated”, “intelligent” but it seems to me that you are reading far too much into this if you take that to mean bacteria are conscious or aware.

    But if you can find a clear and unambiguous quote from James Shapiro attesting to the consciuousness or awareness of bacteria, I would be glad to read it.

    ————

    I see that he is used by the Intelligent Design webite “Uncommon Descent”:

    http://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/who-are-the-multiple-designers-james-shapiro-offers-some-compelling-answers/

    They imply that he says bacteria are conscious (although he doesn’t use the word in the entire article) and then leave it open as to whether they agree with him or not. Go figure!

    Interestingly, they also misunderstand a quote from Dawkins. But what’s new?

  35. Eric Thomsonon 23 May 2010 at 10:08 am

    My point was that because we don’t have a well worked out theory of consciousness (even in clear cut cases), it isn’t clear how consciousness is distributed on the phylogenetic tree.

    The problem is this: if it is the having of a particular functional organization that is sufficient for consciousness, rather than something special about neurons per se, then a creature (or machine) without a nervous system could be conscious. Hence, a priori, we cannot say whether any given animal is conscious until we have studied its functional organization, and until we have a good theory of the functional organization sufficient for consciousness.

    I personally doubt that bacteria and plants are conscious (though paramecia are an interesting case), and have been fleshing out the evidence from mainstream biology in a much too long series of posts indexed here.

  36. Eric Thomsonon 23 May 2010 at 10:46 am

    Following up on the pithed frog (a great example), a spinalized cat (brain severed from spinal cord just below the brain stem) can undergo classical conditioning, even can walk and groom.

    Generally I think people tend to want to assign consciousness a bit too broadly. A child might even explain the venus-fly trap’s behavior by saying it was hungry, saw the fly, and then caught it.

    Such cases are important for delineating what is, and isn’t, important for consciousness at a functional level. One important feature may be flexibility of behavioral response to the same input (i.e., nonreflexive behavior as suggested by BillyJoe). This was mentioned by Ramachandran in his “three laws of qualia” article.

    The reason I officially retreat to agnosticism, when pressed by someone who really believes paramecia are conscious, is due to the following types of considerations.

    First, consider someone we have paralyzed with curare. Or a very young infant who is little more than a bag of wet oatmeal in terms of behavioral skills. Both are conscious, yet barely more than a bundle of reflexes. It could be that sensory processing, of a certain type, is sufficient for consciousness, and that this sensory consciousness is used to control nonreflexive behavior, but this is only a contingent fact.

    And the spinalized cat’s brain has been removed, so not a surprised that it isn’t conscious: its sensory processing bits have been removed. Remove the sensory processing bits from the paramecium, plant, or bacterium, and they will also be unconscious and be unable to use sensory information to control behavior.

    Note, I’m not advocating the above line of thought, but just pointing it out to show the rabbit hole we could end up going down.

    And because I find it tedious and philosophical (in the pejorative sense), I’d rather just admit ‘OK, maybe you are right. I’ll be over here studying nervous systems and such, trying to develop a theory of consciousness in clear-cut cases, and you can do whatever it is you do with your venus fly traps.’

    In other words, my agnosticism is really just born of laziness and a desire to focus on something more promising, rather than go through the perambulations of trying to refute what seems speculative and unpromising. I guess that’s why I left philosophy for science.

  37. bindleon 23 May 2010 at 12:12 pm

    “But if you can find a clear and unambiguous quote from James Shapiro attesting to the consciuousness or awareness of bacteria, I would be glad to read it.”

    Again from the same transcript cited earlier:

    “Natasha Mitchell: Certainly though — could we go as far as to say that a colony of bacteria possess self awareness?

    James Shapiro: I find that a hard question to answer, we don’t yet know a great deal about self awareness.
    We know that there are interactions between bacterial colonies, and they can sometimes discriminate self from non-self. Take antagonistic actions from one colony to another. I think we need to investigate that more with an open mind. You know I think the concept of self awareness is probably essential to life, certainly no system in a living cell is perfect and mistakes and errors are happening all the time as they do in DNA replication within the cell and so forth.
    So the cell has sensory systems to pick up information about when mistakes are made and transmit that information so the cell can then undertake the appropriate action to continue its growth or to survive or to stop replicating its DNA while it’s being repaired. And if that isn’t self awareness I don’t know what is.”

  38. ccbowerson 23 May 2010 at 12:28 pm

    Paisley – “If a living organism’s capacity to sense and respond to the environment does not require consciousness, then why was consciousness naturally selected?”

    Non sequitur. I don’t even understand the point you are trying to make. First of all, who is making the argument that consciousness was selected for? If you are making that argument then you should answer the question. It may have been selected for (and I think that it probably was), but that is not necessary.

    Even assuming consciousness was selected for… what is your point? That is necessary or equal to a response to the environment?

    Just because we have trouble defining a term in the gray areas doesnt mean we can’t describe something as black or white when.

  39. ccbowerson 23 May 2010 at 12:32 pm

    “And if that isn’t self awareness I don’t know what is.”

    I agree with the second sentence.

  40. ccbowerson 23 May 2010 at 12:33 pm

    …second half of the sentence is what I meant

  41. Eric Thomsonon 23 May 2010 at 12:39 pm

    Even if consciousness was selected because it helps us sense and respond to the environment, that doesn’t mean all instances of sensing and responding to the environment require consciousness! Sperm evolved to aid in reproduction, but not all reproductions requires sperm.

    Presumably a thermostat isn’t conscious, even though it senses and responds to the environment. Same for the spinalized cat I mentioned above (and BillyJoe’s pithed frog).

    There is a tendency to anthropomorphize simple goal directed behaviors. Braitenberg’s book Vehicles is a great way to explore one’s own intuitions on the matter.

    In that book, he presents a series of gadgets that sense and navigate their environment. Chapter One starts with an extremely simple little car with a built-in temperature detector so that wheel acceleration is proportional to temperature. Let’s call this the cold-seeker. Each chapter, he adds something to the cold-seeker (e.g., a new sensory transducer, or more motor actuators), and by the end it is frankly very difficult to not assign intentionality to the little bugger.

    By the writing of some of those who want consciousness to be anywhere you have sensory-guided behavior, even the cold-seeker is conscious.

  42. bindleon 23 May 2010 at 1:09 pm

    Perhaps the question then should be, is the cold-seeker a living organism? Because the earlier questions were basically about the degrees to which those organisms may or may not be aware of their actions. And who’s to say that if a living organism can be aware, a form of awareness cannot be found in a non-living mechanism – except that whether it could or not seems beside the point as to when it began to manifest itself in the living.

  43. Paisleyon 23 May 2010 at 4:05 pm

    BillyJoe7: “Really!
    Well, suppose Maxwell banged you on the head with his silver hammer and knocked you out cold. You are now unconscious and alive.
    (Unless, of course, he made sure that you were dead.;))

    Who is “Maxwell?” Are you referencing a Beatles’ song?

    Apparently, you believe that when we are unconscious to the external world that we cease to have any conscious awareness whatsoever.

    BillyJoe7: “If an single celled organism senses light and reflexly moves towards it, does that require consciousness to work? If a higher animal senses light and consciously moves towards it, do you think that perhaps its survival chances are enhanced as compared to the one that just reponds reflexly?

    I am not saying that responding to environmental stimuli requires consciousness. I am saying responding to environmental stimuli qualifies as evidence to infer consciousness. Having said that, does a reflex action imply a response that is mechanical?

  44. Paisleyon 23 May 2010 at 4:22 pm

    BillyJoe7: “Nowhere in that 13 page article does he say that “Bacteria are conscious” or “bacteria are aware”. He uses lots of other words, such as “communication”, “sentient”, “cognitive”, “smarts”, “sophisticated”, “intelligent” but it seems to me that you are reading far too much into this if you take that to mean bacteria are conscious or aware.

    Merriam-Webster defines “sentient” as “responsive to or CONSCIOUS of sense impressions” (emphasis mine).

    http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/sentient

    If Shapiro is employing the term “sentient,” the he is definitely implying that the bacterium has some form of consciousness or awareness. Also, what do the terms “cognitive,” “smarts,” “intelligent” imply?

  45. Paisleyon 23 May 2010 at 4:39 pm

    Eric Thomson: “Hence, a priori, we cannot say whether any given animal is conscious until we have studied its functional organization, and until we have a good theory of the functional organization sufficient for consciousness.

    Are you seriously implying that I cannot say that my cat is conscious (or even that another human being is conscious) because science has failed to establish a working theory of consciousness?

  46. Paisleyon 23 May 2010 at 5:29 pm

    ccbowers: “Even assuming consciousness was selected for… what is your point? That is necessary or equal to a response to the environment?

    If you do not believe all “stimulus-response systems” (living organisms) are conscious (which apparently you do not), then we have to assume that consciousness was naturally selected at some point in evolutionary history. What other option is there? And if responding to the environment is not a primary function of consciousness, then what is its primary function? IOW, what function does “awareness” have that confers some kind of survival benefit?

  47. Paisleyon 23 May 2010 at 6:11 pm

    Eric Thomson: “Even if consciousness was selected because it helps us sense and respond to the environment, that doesn’t mean all instances of sensing and responding to the environment require consciousness! Sperm evolved to aid in reproduction, but not all reproductions requires sperm.

    All life forms “sense and repond” to the environment (that is one of the criteria for life). So, “sensing and responding” in and of itself was not naturally selected.

    Just as an aside. If we can infer that a bacterium is conscious based on its behavior and information processing capabilities (and apparently, research biologists from prestigious universities are making this inference), then I see no reason why we cannot make the same inference for a spermatozoon.

    Eric Thomson: “Presumably a thermostat isn’t conscious, even though it senses and responds to the environment. Same for the spinalized cat I mentioned above (and BillyJoe’s pithed frog).

    Does a thermostat qualify as a life form? Also, I am not familiar with what a spinalized cat can and cannot do. But, if we can infer that a bacterium (a single-cell organism) is conscious, then we can certainly infer that every cell in a cat (or in any other living organism for that matter) is conscious too.

    Incidentally, I certainly hope there is no one in the scientific community who is experimenting on cats by severing their brains from their spinal cords. I trust that P.E.T.A has been successful in putting an end to this kind of barbaric practice.

  48. bindleon 23 May 2010 at 6:33 pm

    Paisley,
    Perhaps some of these posters feel that if life forms qualify as mechanisms, then the mechanisms that life emulates will qualify as life forms. Hence life as thermostatic, thermostat as homeostatic.

  49. Eric Thomsonon 23 May 2010 at 6:35 pm

    As I said, because I don’t want to go down this rabbit hole, I’m technically agnostic on the question of consciousness in paramecia and such.

    Note also my caveat about needing functional criteria was meant for such questionable cases. In the case of humans, monkeys, cats, and such, the functional architecture is similar enough (and we observe certain phenomena such as binocular rivalry) so that prima facie there is good evidence such mammals are conscious.

    What is deviant is the claim that paramecia and bacteria are conscious, and I was merely giving my reason for agnosticism (the principled reason anyway, while my unprincipled reason is laziness, not wishing to become sucked into such a fruitless discussion).

    Note also the language starts to get very fuzzy. It is important to be clear what you mean. The word ‘consciousness’ means many things to many people. E.g., Shapiro slides from talk of ‘consciousness’ to talk of ‘self awareness.’ These are not the same thing. By ‘consciousness’ I mean awareness, period, typically simple perceptual experiences such as tasting a banana or seeing a sunset. I have such experiences without any awareness of my ‘self’. I see the sunset, and the ‘self’ to the extent that it is a real thing, is quite far from my awareness.

    Just to repeat my considered opinion:
    And because I find it tedious and philosophical (in the pejorative sense), I’d rather just admit ‘OK, maybe you are right. I’ll be over here studying nervous systems and such, trying to develop a theory of consciousness in clear-cut cases, and you can do whatever it is you do with your venus fly traps.

    Kristoph Koch and Francis Crick, in my opinion, nailed it back in 1997 in this article where they addressed both of these sinkholes:
    “It is not profitable at this stage to argue about whether simpler animals (such as octopus, fruit flies, nematodes) or even plants are conscious (Nagel, 1997). It is probable, however, that consciousness correlates to some extent with the degree of complexity of any nervous system. When one clearly understands, both in detail and in principle, what consciousness involves in humans, then will be the time to consider the problem of consciousness in much simpler animals. For the same reason, we won’t ask whether some parts of our nervous system have a special, isolated, consciousness of their own. If you say, “Of course my spinal cord is conscious but it’s not telling me,” we are not, at this stage, going to spend time arguing with you about it.”

    And then:
    “There are many forms of consciousness, such as those associated with seeing, thinking, emotion, pain, and so on. Self-consciousness — that is, the self-referential aspect of consciousness — is probably a special case of consciousness. In our view, it is better left to one side for the moment, especially as it would be difficult to study self-consciousness in a monkey.”

    Nailed it.

  50. ccbowerson 23 May 2010 at 7:15 pm

    “If you do not believe all “stimulus-response systems” (living organisms) are conscious (which apparently you do not), then we have to assume that consciousness was naturally selected at some point in evolutionary history. What other option is there?”

    Not all traits need to be selected for. Its hard to have discussions with someone who has limited understanding of the topics he/she is discussing, and who uses a lot of incorrect assumptions in argument. For example, consciousness may be a manifestation of the way our nervous system evolved, and perhaps consciousness arises when the nervous system is set up a certain way with a certain level of complexity. In this example explanation counsciousness may not have been selected for per se, but is linked to traits that are selected for. I happen to believe that consciousness was likely selected for since it appears that it likely confers a reproductive advantage, but this is not necessary for consciousness to exist.

    “And if responding to the environment is not a primary function of consciousness, then what is its primary function?”

    Here there is an assumption that “function” is meaningful in some way. Lets assume that you are saying that consciousness helps with responding to the environment… I agree that that is likely true. That doesnt mean that all responses to the environment are consciousness. Sorry for being condescending, but you could use a class on logic and logical fallacies.

  51. Paisleyon 23 May 2010 at 7:36 pm

    bindle: “Perhaps some of these posters feel that if life forms qualify as mechanisms, then the mechanisms that life emulates will qualify as life forms. Hence life as thermostatic, thermostat as homeostatic.

    Okay. But they probably feel the same way about consciousness – that it is strictly a mechanical process.

  52. bindleon 23 May 2010 at 8:24 pm

    Paisley,
    Yes, make that highly probable. Such as the analogous mechanism proposed by which water runs down hill – somehow unconsciously summoning up the help of gravity when it chooses to do so.

  53. Paisleyon 23 May 2010 at 9:12 pm

    Eric Thomson: “My unprincipled reason is laziness, not wishing to become sucked into such a fruitless discussion.

    If you believe this is a fruitless discussion, then why are you participating in it?

    Eric Thomson: “The word ‘consciousness’ means many things to many people. E.g., Shapiro slides from talk of ‘consciousness’ to talk of ’self awareness.’ These are not the same thing. By ‘consciousness’ I mean awareness, period

    Agreed. Consciousness means (at the very least) “awareness.”

    Eric Thomson: “’ll be over here studying nervous systems and such, trying to develop a theory of consciousness in clear-cut cases, and you can do whatever it is you do with your venus fly traps.

    I will be postulating that consciousness is fundamental.

  54. Paisleyon 24 May 2010 at 12:29 am

    ccbowers: “Not all traits need to be selected for. Its hard to have discussions with someone who has limited understanding of the topics he/she is discussing, and who uses a lot of incorrect assumptions in argument.

    I am familiar with the “spandrel” argument for the emergence of consciousness. On the this view, consciousness is merely a byproduct of some other adaptive trait. And to be sure, many (if not most) neuroscientists would argue that consciousness is simply an epiphenomenon of the brain. It plays no causal role whatsoever. The problem with this view is that the implications are completely absurd. If the theory were actually true, then it implies that organic “robots without consciousness” could be running the world.

    ccbowers: “Here there is an assumption that “function” is meaningful in some way.

    Do you not understand what the term “function” means?

    ccbowers: “Lets assume that you are saying that consciousness helps with responding to the environment.

    No, that is not exactly what I said. What I said is that we can infer consciousness based on the capacity of living organisms to “sense and respond” to their environment. In fact, all life forms have the capacity to respond to environmental stimuli; therefore, we can infer (at least, on this view) that all life forms are conscious. IOW, the basic function of consciousness is to “sense and respond.”

    ccbowers: “I agree that that is likely true.

    Good. Then we are in agreement (at least on this point).

    ccbowers: “That doesnt mean that all responses to the environment are consciousness.”

    I agree with you here. But this is only because I do not subscribe to a strictly mechanistic worldview. (I do not really believe that living organisms are “machines” or organic “robots.”) However, I am assuming that you do (if I am wrong in this assumption, please let me know). On the materialist worldview, all life forms can be described as “stimulus-response systems” (“information processing systems” that have the capacity to sense (input data) and respond (output data) to their environment.) If consciousness does not reduce to data processing, then what “function” does it specifically have? IOW, whether an information processing system is “aware” or “not aware” seems to be irrelevant as to whether it has the function to process data. Also, I fail to see how “complexity” plays into this.

  55. Paisleyon 24 May 2010 at 12:57 am

    bindle: “Yes, make that highly probable. Such as the analogous mechanism proposed by which water runs down hill – somehow unconsciously summoning up the help of gravity when it chooses to do so.

    Exactly. If you subscribe to a strictly mechanical worldview, then there is no difference between voluntary and involuntary actions. Both are equally mechanical and predetermined. IOW, all voluntary actions are actually involuntary actions by virtue of the fact that each voluntary action, if given the same situation and circumstances, could not have been otherwise. It is completely predetermined by its antecedent causes.

  56. Eric Thomsonon 24 May 2010 at 1:57 am

    Getting back to the science of the original paper….

    Have they discussed any plans to systematically delete genes, trimming down the genome until they find a “minimal genome” that can keep the lineage alive? Cool implications for astrobiology.

    Indeed, I recall reading a paper that took a kind of “set interesect” of multiple eukaryotic genomes, trying to find a minimal metabolic core (anyone recall that study, perhaps in PNAS?). It would be cool if they inserted the hypothesized minimal functional core into one of these bacteria.

  57. bindleon 24 May 2010 at 2:10 am

    An organism cannot respond to any stimuli that it’s unaware of. Yet its mechanistic purpose is to respond to stimuli, with awareness as the product of that function.
    That awareness has subjective qualities – qualia being the current term of art. No awareness, no qualia, no assessment process, no directed action, no survival.
    Nutshell?

  58. SteveAon 24 May 2010 at 7:29 am

    Could it be that arfulD has split, bacteria like, into two new cranks?

    Doubtless, the next development will be the sudden, startling reappearance of the original.

  59. Eric Thomsonon 24 May 2010 at 7:29 am

    Oops, substitute ‘prokaryote’ for ‘eukaryote’ in my previous comment. Yikes.

    I just found the PNAS article on the minimal genome and wouldn’t you know it, it’s Ventner’s group:
    Glass, John I.; Nacyra Assad-Garcia, Nina Alperovich, Shibu Yooseph, Matthew R. Lewis, Mahir Maruf, Clyde A. Hutchison, Hamilton O. Smith, J. Craig Venter (2006-01-10). “Essential genes of a minimal bacterium”. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 103 (2): 425–430.

    They plan to do exactly what I suggested, creating a new species Mycoplasma laboratorium as part of their ‘Minimal Genome Project’ discussed at Wikipedia’s page on said species. There is controversy because they have already submittted a patent on the species.

  60. Eric Thomsonon 24 May 2010 at 7:37 am

    Oh wait, the study I remembered was much older, where they compared two genomes to find the mininal set:

    Mushegian AR, Koonin EV. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1996 Sep 17;93(19):10268-73. A minimal gene set for cellular life derived by comparison of complete bacterial genomes.

    So pretty much the only thing my memory was right about was that it was in PNAS. :)

    The Ventner paper I cited above was more recent, and involved directly manipulating the genome of one species to find out the essential parts.

  61. BillyJoe7on 24 May 2010 at 7:39 am

    Paisley,

    Apparently, you believe that when we are unconscious to the external world that we cease to have any conscious awareness whatsoever.

    Apparently you believe that all life is always and at all times aware!

    I am not saying that responding to environmental stimuli requires consciousness. I am saying responding to environmental stimuli qualifies as evidence to infer consciousness.

    How can “responding to environmental stimuli” qualify as evidence to infer consciousness when “responding to environmental stimuli” does not necessarily require consciousness?

    Merriam-Webster defines “sentient” as “responsive to or CONSCIOUS of sense impressions” (emphasis mine).

    Yes, but how is Humpty Dumpty using that word? My point was that Shapiro used many words that could imply awareness or consciousnes but that he did not specifically use the words consciousness or awareness throughout the 13 pages of the article.
    (However, bindle has found a quote so now it seems I have to reassess my opinion of Shapiro).

    …if responding to the environment is not a primary function of consciousness, then what is its primary function?

    Responding more appropriately to the environment than a unconscious stimulus response system could.

    …If we can infer that a bacterium is conscious. then I see no reason why we cannot make the same inference for a spermatozoon…if we can infer that a bacterium is conscious, then we can certainly infer that every cell in a cat is conscious too.

    I think you are confusing inference with wild speculation beyond what the evidence is capable of supporting

    If you [Eric] believe this is a fruitless discussion, then why are you participating in it?

    I think what he is saying is that your inference that bacteria, spermatazoon and every living cell in the body are conscious is actually not inference based on the experimental evidence but just wild unsubstantiated speculation; but also that there is presently not sufficient evidence to actually prove to you that you are in all probablity wrong, so therefore he has decided not to proceed further along this endless, and ultimately fruitless, discussion.

    I think I agree with him.

  62. BillyJoe7on 24 May 2010 at 7:47 am

    bindle,

    An organism cannot respond to any stimuli that it’s unaware of.

    Give it up, bindle. We have already given you the pithed toad and the decerebrate cat. What more do you want?

  63. Eric Thomsonon 24 May 2010 at 8:38 am

    Good synopsis of my view, BillyJoe. The view that the motorneurons in my spinal cord are conscious is a bit too far out, even for the part of me that is actually sympathetic to the view that paramecia may be conscious.

    I discussed in a bit of detail the levels of organization in nervous systems, and why I think higher-level neuronal phenomena are the relevant dimension for explaining consciousness at this post.

  64. Eric Thomsonon 24 May 2010 at 8:42 am

    In addition to pith frog and spinal cat, they should google ‘blindsight.’

  65. Steven Novellaon 24 May 2010 at 10:28 am

    consciousness is more than just responding to stimuli.

    We have more stimuli than we can handle. Our brains need to filter, sort, and modify that stimuli in order to make sense of it and adapt our response to it.

    But further, conscious beings also have memory, and that comes into mix.

    And further, stimuli and memories can be processed to look for meaningful patterns.

    All this requires attention and manipulation of information – what we experience as conscious thought. One current theory is that this takes place in the “global workspace” and neuroscientists are starting to get a handle on the anatomical correlates of this.

    Meanwhile our brains are also performing unconscious processing – that does not require attention or conscious awareness. “Blindsight” is one dramatic consequence of this, but there are many.

  66. Watcheron 24 May 2010 at 10:51 am

    I was just curious if there was a term for this transition period from one phenotype to another.

    Yeah, I see that now. I mostly keyed on the last two sentences and thought you were referring to a continually mixed phenotype; which you weren’t. Sorry! :)

  67. tmac57on 24 May 2010 at 12:21 pm

    For anyone interested, I just heard a good discussion of this with the following guests on the Diane Rehm show this morning:

    Craig Venter
    president, J. Craig Venter Institute

    David Rejeski
    director, Science and Technology Innovation Program,
    director, Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies
    at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars

    Sohi Rastegar
    director, Office of Emerging Frontiers in Research and Innovation Engineering Directorate, National Science Foundation

    David Baltimore
    professor of Biology and President Emeritus, CalTech

    The link to the podcast can be found here:

    http://thedianerehmshow.org/shows/2010-05-24/synthetic-biology

  68. bindleon 24 May 2010 at 1:12 pm

    Steve, note that you were required to use the term “conscious awareness” when delineating the difference between conscious and unconscious processing. Because awareness is what all life forms experience whether conscious OF that experience at some of their more than one levels of consciousness or not.

    And you at least must know that blindsight is not the removal of awareness overall, it’s a way to reassess the qualia that remain.

    And if there’s some implication there that the pithed frog and decerebrated cat are sufficiently aware of remaining stimuli that they can reassess their situation, show me one that has so far managed to survive and replicate itself.

  69. bindleon 24 May 2010 at 2:01 pm

    By the way, wasn’t it Martin Gardner who observed that the unresolvable problem was how to explain sentience and qualia and their interaction with consciousness?

  70. Paisleyon 24 May 2010 at 6:00 pm

    BillyJoe7: “Apparently you believe that all life is always and at all times aware!”

    Yes, I do (and unashamedly so). You, on the other hand, apparently believe that you have no awareness whatsoever during periods of dreamless sleep. There is now evidence that patients who were diagnosed as being in “permanent vegetative states” (and thought by the medical establishment to be unconscious and therefore without any awareness whatsoever) are actually aware (“Vegetative Patient Talks Using Brain Waves”).

    BillyJoe7: “How can “responding to environmental stimuli” qualify as evidence to infer consciousness when “responding to environmental stimuli” does not necessarily require consciousness?”

    If “responding to environmental stimuli” does not necessarily require consciousness, then what is your basis for inferring consciousness?

    BillyJoe7: “Yes, but how is Humpty Dumpty using that word?”

    I assume that Shapiro is employing the term “sentient” to mean “sentient.” Why would you assume otherwise?

    BillyJoe7: “My point was that Shapiro used many words that could imply awareness or consciousnes but that he did not specifically use the words consciousness or awareness throughout the 13 pages of the article.”

    Every word Shampiro employed (sentient, cognitive, smarts, intelligent) presupposes consciousness or awareness. I cannot see how anyone who has a basic command of the English language could possibly interpret it otherwise.

    BillyJoe7: “Responding more appropriately to the environment than a unconscious stimulus response system could.”

    But the difference you are describing here is simply one of degree, not of definition.

    BillyJoe7: “I think you are confusing inference with wild speculation beyond what the evidence is capable of supporting.”

    We can only infer consciousness on the basis of behavior. There is no “psychometer” to objectively detect or measure the presence of consciousness. And the difference between “inference” and “wild speculation” is merely subjective. Besides, research biologists who specialize in the study of bacteria are drawing the same inference based on the evidence they have produced.

    BillyJoe7: “I think I agree with him.

    I think it is merely an evasive tactic for lack of a valid counterargument.

  71. Paisleyon 24 May 2010 at 6:37 pm

    BillyJoe7: “Give it up, bindle. We have already given you the pithed toad and the decerebrate cat. What more do you want?

    What exactly does decerebration prove?

    By the way, here is the link to “Vegetative Patient Talks Using Brain Waves” (I cited this Reuters’ article in my last post to counter the notion that so-called “unconscious” patients are without awareness).

  72. Paisleyon 24 May 2010 at 7:08 pm

    Steven Novella: “stimuli and memories can be processed to look for meaningful patterns.

    All this requires attention and manipulation of information – what we experience as conscious thought

    If a relatively simple “information processing system” (e.g. a bacterium) does not require consciousness (i.e. awareness) to process information (e.g. sensory data), then why does a more complex “information processing system” (e.g. a human being) require it?

    Case in point. Computers have memory, can process sensory data, can detect patterns, and can manipulate information. No consciousness required.

    Also, unless the capacity to focus “attention” entails free will, then it reduces to nothing more than mechanical processing. IOW, “awareness” has no causal role. And I believe this is exactly the position that most neuroscientists hold (i.e. consciousness is merely an epiphenomenon of the brain).

  73. Eric Thomsonon 24 May 2010 at 8:45 pm

    I believe this is exactly the position that most neuroscientists hold (i.e. consciousness is merely an epiphenomenon of the brain).

    Not true.

  74. bindleon 24 May 2010 at 9:38 pm

    Sure it’s true. It goes hand in hand with not believing that living organisms don’t necessarily make choices – that the awareness needed for that function would otherwise have been there to begin with. Or conversely the argument has been that certain organisms don’t make choices because they have no functional awareness of their options. That every possible move to make was pre-anticipated by the type of natural selection that pre-selects the choices along with Eric’s pre-selected traits.

  75. bindleon 24 May 2010 at 9:51 pm

    Oops, that should have read, “hand in hand with not believing that living organisms necessarily make choices – ”
    Or, “hand in hand with believing that living organisms don’t necessarily make choices – “

  76. bindleon 24 May 2010 at 10:20 pm

    So then I added,
    Eric can say that choices are largely determined by circumstances, but his paramecia still have to recognize and assess the circumstances, and make what will only then have become the preexpected choice.

  77. tmac57on 24 May 2010 at 10:39 pm

    How long is a piece of string?

  78. Eric Thomsonon 24 May 2010 at 11:08 pm

    Bindle: I am a neuroscientist. I am familiar with what neuroscientists, as a rule, think about consciousness. I am familiar with the neuroscience literature on the topic. What you are saying is just obviously empirically false about neuroscientists.

    You are also attributing ideas to me I haven’t endorsed, arguing with I don’t even know what. If you are interested in discussing consciousness with me, come to my blog where I have now posted thirteen posts on the topic.

  79. bindleon 25 May 2010 at 12:12 am

    Eric, I’m echoing what Paisley said (and you denied) on what seems to be the consensus in your field.
    And your concurrence with some of the simplistic notions of the Billyjoes here doesn’t help – and especially not your position on paramecia and the function of awareness that may not (in your view) have yet kicked in with them.
    Add your opinions re trait selection and we see the Neo-Darwinist points of view that you must admit the majority of your colleagues favor. As does, or so it has begun to seem, the author of this blog.

    Which is his right and yours as well, but then why does it seem that you deny this?

    And what’s so hard to understand when I point out that with such mechanistic views, you can (or at least might) say that choices are largely determined by circumstances, but your paramecia still have to recognize and assess the circumstances, and make what will only then have become the preexpected (read predetermined) choice. IOW, they need to be aware.

    Or was it my mistake to infer you disbelieve in choice at that level, since otherwise you’d have accepted that such organisms are aware enough to make some?

    And to echo Paisley again (although I doubt I do him justice), “What exactly does decerebration prove?”

  80. Eric Thomsonon 25 May 2010 at 12:26 am

    Bindle, you have piled assumption on top of assumption about what I might think. If you want to see what I actually think, see my site I don’t have the time to pore over this.

  81. Paisleyon 25 May 2010 at 12:42 am

    Eric Thomson: “Not true.

    I do not believe that I am misrepresenting the general viewpoint of neuroscience.

    Most contemporary theories, informed by scientific study of the brain, theorize that the mind is an epiphenomenon of the brain which has both conscious and unconscious aspects.”

    (source: Wikipedia: Mind)

  82. Paisleyon 25 May 2010 at 1:39 am

    Here are a couple of other studies that confirm that bacteria having decision-making capacities.

    Bacteria Provide New Insights to Human Decision Making

    Bacteria Are Capable of More Complex Decision-Making than Thought

  83. bindleon 25 May 2010 at 1:51 am

    Here are some more relevant publications:
    http://star.tau.ac.il/~eshel/bacterial_linguistic.html

  84. BillyJoe7on 25 May 2010 at 7:54 am

    bindle,

    Steve, note that you were required to use the term “conscious awareness” when delineating the difference between conscious and unconscious processing.

    He used the term correctly that is all.
    It’s a gradation:
    Consciousness -> conscious awareness -> conscious self-awareness
    Conscious awareness is what he said and conscious awareness is what he meant. What you mean is anyone’s guess.

    Because awareness is what all life forms experience whether conscious OF that experience at some of their more than one levels of consciousness or not.

    Okay I’ll back up a little:
    unconsciousness -> consciousness -> conscious awareness -> conscious self-awareness
    You have to be conscious to be aware.

    And you at least must know that blindsight is not the removal of awareness overall, it’s a way to reassess the qualia that remain.

    Blindsight is the removal of conscious awareness of visual stimuli.

    And if there’s some implication there that the pithed frog and decerebrated cat are sufficiently aware of remaining stimuli that they can reassess their situation…

    There is no brain function in the pithed toad and therefore no consciousness and no awareness. Just spinal reflexes.

    show me one that has so far managed to survive and replicate itself.

    Show me how this is relevant to anything.

    It goes hand in hand with not believing that living organisms don’t necessarily make choices

    The “choices” they make are highly complex, multi-layered, deterministic cause and effect relations. Otherwise there is a “ghost in the machine”. And you surely don’t believe that. ;)

    (I’m sorry I’m having difficulty parsing the rest of your post – maybe that double negative was too confusing even for you :D )

  85. BillyJoe7on 25 May 2010 at 8:24 am

    Paisley,

    Yes, I do [believe that all life is always and at all times aware]

    (I left out your qualifier to save you even greater embarrassment.)
    So you think a virus is aware? Or do you think they are dead? What about prions? My skin cell?

    If “responding to environmental stimuli” does not necessarily require consciousness, then what is your basis for inferring consciousness?

    As some else pointed out: A thermostat reponds to environmental stimuli. A thermostat is not conscious. Therefore “responding to environmental stimuli” does not necessarily require consciousness.

    I assume that Shapiro is employing the term “sentient” to mean “sentient.” Why would you assume otherwise?

    And when Dawkins says that genes try to get into the next generation, do you also automatically exclude metaphor?

    Every word Shampiro employed (sentient, cognitive, smarts, intelligent) presupposes consciousness or awareness. I cannot see how anyone who has a basic command of the English language could possibly interpret it otherwise.

    When someone says they put their heart and soul into their work, would an intelligent person automatically interpret this literally as well? I was giving Shapiro the benefit of the doubt.

    But the difference you are describing here is simply one of degree, not of definition.

    Correct.
    unconsciousness (bacteria) -> consciousness (insects) -> conscious awareness (cats) -> conscious self-awareness (humans)

    the difference between “inference” and “wild speculation” is merely subjective.

    Inference is objective and is based on evidence. Wild speculation is subjective and goes beyond the evidence.

  86. BillyJoe7on 25 May 2010 at 8:33 am

    Paisley,

    “Bacteria Provide New Insights to Human Decision Making”

    I read this article as pure metaphor.

    Read “The selfish Gene” by Richard Dawkins and you’ll see the same use of metaphor – even in the title of the book (I mean you don’t actually think Dawkins thinks genes are selfish do you?)

  87. BillyJoe7on 25 May 2010 at 8:38 am

    Paisley,

    “Bacteria Are Capable of More Complex Decision-Making than Thought“

    Again pure metaphor

    They even give the game away by using scare quotes around some of the words: “think”, “smarter”. ‘feel’

    Metaphor, Paisley, metaphor!

  88. BillyJoe7on 25 May 2010 at 8:50 am

    Bindle,

    A brief perusal of your 50 page articles leads me to the same conclusion:

    METAPHOR!

    Jez, guys, get a grip!

  89. Eric Thomsonon 25 May 2010 at 11:39 am

    Paisley: see my response to bindle on the epiphenom issue, your quote from the Wikipedia entry on mind notwithstanding.

    Read the neuroscience, talk to other neuroscientists that study consciousness if you won’t take my word for it. Do some more research. Read Kristof Koch, Edelman, Damasio. The main neural theorists, none of them epiphenomenalists. Perhaps you are reading TH Huxely or something, but definitely not modern neuroscience.

  90. Eric Thomsonon 25 May 2010 at 12:23 pm

    Note one correction. I stand by what I said as a sociological fact, but Edelman may have changed his mind. In an earlier book ‘bright air brilliant fire’ he was much against epiphenomenalism. Recently he has started to take it more seriously I think, and to that extent he has departed from the mainstream of neuroscience. For mainstream neuroscience of consciousness, read Koch’s book.

    Most of us (neuroscientists) think that we call the dentist because of our toothache, that consciousness evolved because it serves some useful functional role in the nervous system. The view that it is causally impotent is definitely outside the mainstream.

    Anyway, it isn’t clear what rides on this argument about the sociology of neuroscience belief, but for someone to flatly say that ‘neuroscientists tend to be epiphenomenalists’ is flat-out wrong.

  91. bindleon 25 May 2010 at 12:42 pm

    Damasio, Steven Rose, and others appear to feel that consciousness is a function, and awareness is the substrate of consciousness, but there is little or no consensus with them as to when awareness kicks in or that it does so for a functional purpose that wasn’t there before.

    Shapiro, et al, seem to have moved ahead on this issue with awareness being, in a sense, the first function of life.

    (And “first function” is the proper use of metaphor as we can only guess at what came first but do much more than that with what came after.)

  92. bindleon 25 May 2010 at 5:46 pm

    There’s a really really loose end here that continues to annoy me – that none of those, from intellectuals to relative idiot, have answered Paisley’s question as to “What exactly does decerebration prove?”

    Although Eric seems to think he has by stating with essential accuracy the following:
    “And the spinalized cat’s brain has been removed, so not a surprised that it isn’t conscious: its sensory processing bits have been removed. Remove the sensory processing bits from the paramecium, plant, or bacterium, and they will also be unconscious and be unable to use sensory information to control behavior.”

    Except that you haven’t taken away awareness, you have taken away part of the process that serves to carry out its functional purpose. The information was received, regardless of its after-the-fact neglect. The headless chicken still prances to its disharmonious tune.

  93. Paisleyon 25 May 2010 at 6:51 pm

    Eric Thomson: “It isn’t clear what rides on this argument about the sociology of neuroscience belief, but for someone to flatly say that ‘neuroscientists tend to be epiphenomenalists’ is flat-out wrong.

    I cited a source that says this is the most common theory held by those who are scientifically informed. You are simply expressing your opinion. That is the difference between my claim and yours. Now, if you believe I am wrong, then present me with some evidence that validates your claim and I will reconsider. I am amenable to changing my position if I am provided with compelling evidence.

    Also, I think you may be conflating “epiphenomenalism” with “eliminative materialism.” The two (although somewhat related) are not the same. Epiphenomenalism holds that mental states are byproducts of brain states but the mental states in and of themselves are not causally efficacious. Eliminative materialism is the view that qualia (the technical term for subjective experiences) simply do not exist as real phenomena.

    Eric Thomson: “Consciousness evolved because it serves some useful functional role in the nervous system.

    Okay. Please tell us what causal role “awareness” plays and why it was naturally selected by evolution.

  94. Paisleyon 25 May 2010 at 8:11 pm

    BillyJoe7: “(I left out your qualifier to save you even greater embarrassment.)
    So you think a virus is aware? Or do you think they are dead? What about prions? My skin cell?

    It is interesting that you choose to use the term “dead” (which you clearly meant to mean “insentient” in the context in which you asked the question.) This implies that if a virus is alive, then it must be sentient. So, you tell me. Is a virus alive? And I will then inform you as to whether I believe it to be aware or not.

    BillyJoe7: “As some else pointed out: A thermostat reponds to environmental stimuli. A thermostat is not conscious.

    And I previously asked that individual the question: “Is a thermostat a living organism?” Unfortunately, no response was forthcoming.

    BillyJoe7: “And when Dawkins says that genes try to get into the next generation, do you also automatically exclude metaphor?

    I have not read Dawkins’ book “The Selfish Gene.” So, I am not in a position to comment. But I have watched his video entitled “The Purpose of Purpose” in which he ascribed “neo-purpose” (intelligence) to both human beings and maggots. His rationale for ascribing intelligence to maggots was based on the observation that maggots respond negatively to light.

    BillyJoe7: “Correct.
    unconsciousness (bacteria) -> consciousness (insects) -> conscious awareness (cats) -> conscious self-awareness (humans)

    A difference of degree implies that they are all conscious. Only the degree of consciousness is different.

    BillyJoe7: “Inference is objective and is based on evidence. Wild speculation is subjective and goes beyond the evidence.

    Just curious. Does your ascription of consciousness to insects qualify as “inference” or “wild speculation?”

  95. bindleon 25 May 2010 at 8:21 pm

    Hint: Inference is intuitive and intuition is subjective.

  96. Paisleyon 25 May 2010 at 9:02 pm

    BillyJoe7: “Metaphor, Paisley, metaphor!

    Question: Is Steven Novella (the author and moderator of this website) speaking metaphorically below. It really does appear to me that he is ascribing some form of rudimentary consciousness to BACTERIA. (Note: He is making this comment in order to counter Ray Tallis’ – British philosopher and author – argument that there does not appear to be any rationale for why consciousness was naturally selected by evolution in light of the fact that consciousness, on the materialist view, is causally inert.)

    The most primitive roots of consciousness may have been in the affinity and aversion to various stimuli in the environment – the ultimate roots of emotion. This could be as simple as a bacteria moving toward food and away from toxins.

    (source: NeuroLogica Blog’s article “Ray Tallis on Consciousness” by Steven Novella)

  97. BillyJoe7on 26 May 2010 at 7:21 am

    Paisley,

    I was asking you if it was your opinion that a virus is a living thing and therefore conscious. And, if so, If it is your opinion that a prion is a living thing and therefore conscious. I also askied you if it is your opinon that my skin cell is conscious. Thanks for throwing the question back.

    “Is a thermostat a living organism?”

    You stated that everything that is alive is conscious. It follows then that everything could be divided into the following two categories: alive/conscious, and non-alive/unconscious. You further stated that an indicator of alive/consious is “responding to environmental stimuli”. I replied that that cannot be an indicator of alive/conscious because it is also true of non-alive/unconscious. But you continue to beat the dead horse with a stupid rhetorical question that is irrelevant to the discussion.

    “His rationale for ascribing intelligence to maggots was based on the observation that maggots respond negatively to light.”

    What’s your point?
    A thermostat is intelligent as well. Just not very. Computers are a great deal more intelligent. Maggots (and some humans) fall somewhere in between.

    “A difference of degree implies that they are all conscious. Only the degree of consciousness is different.”

    The first item in the list was unconsciousness (bacteria). So thanks for misreading. And, of course, sqibbing on a reply.

    “Does your ascription of consciousness to insects qualify as “inference” or “wild speculation?””

    Inference. But if you disagree, then insert the next higher life form in the hierachy. Or the next if you still disagree. But thanks for ignoring the point to quibble about a detail.

  98. BillyJoe7on 26 May 2010 at 8:02 am

    Is Steven Novella…speaking metaphorically below.

    The most primitive roots of consciousness may have been in the affinity and aversion to various stimuli in the environment – the ultimate roots of emotion. This could be as simple as a bacteria moving toward food and away from toxins.

    This is a straight forward uncomplicated statement about the roots of consciousness.

    Simple, direct “stimulus-reponse” activity that was unconscious gave rise gradually to more complex, indirect “stimulus-reponse” activity which eventually gave rise to extremely complex, multilayered “stimulus-reponse” activity that was conscious.

    It really does appear to me that he is ascribing some form of rudimentary consciousness to BACTERIA.

    It may appear that way to you but that is clearly not what he is saying.

  99. Eric Thomsonon 26 May 2010 at 12:08 pm

    Paisley: I mentioned Kristof Koch’s book, which is a mainstream neuro of consciousness book. Probably the best out there for finding out what we (mainstream neuroscientists) think about this topic.

    You, on the other hand, cited a wikipedia entry on ‘mind,’ which I didn’t feel was worth dignifying with a response. It was a horrible entry in the first place. Who knows who wrote that line (which, incidentally, is gone now, so if I cite the article would that prove you wrong?).

    I didn’t confuse eliminativism and epiphenomenalism. I am quite clear on these distinctions. Neuroscientists that study consciousness tend to be neither (to the extent that they even worry about the philosophy).

    This distinction you keep drawing between awareness and consciousness is not well defined. I’ve been talking about consciousness, which I define at my web site, and if you think there is some additional problem shared by all life, then maybe we should be talking about the merits of vitalism (esp since you have suggested that mechanism X, in a living thing, convers awareness, but not if the same mechanism is in a mere machine).

    For those crazy enough to be following this thread, now perhaps you realize why I stated at the outset that I was agnostic about this topic, partly because I want to avoid these types of endless discussions. I think there are interesting issues here with functional organization of certain single-celled critters (e.g., Paramecia are a very interesting case), but I guess the folks I started out defending aren’t coming from that angle, but a more pan-bio-psychism cum vitalism sort of orientation that is a lot less interesting.

    As I said if someone wants to believe that motorneurons in their spinal cord are conscious or aware, go right ahead. I look forward to comparing the results of our competing paradigms in 50 years.

    Any lack of response in the future in this thread can be freely interpreted as a lack of interest in where the discussion has gone.

  100. bindleon 26 May 2010 at 12:14 pm

    BillyJoe now tells us consciousness arose with an abruptness that came about gradually.
    Who knew?
    But then he has objective intuition.

  101. bindleon 26 May 2010 at 12:30 pm

    Motorneurons retain selected information that they were made aware of by the sensory apparatus that they are or were a part of.
    Until they’re rendered senseless, of course.
    As in dead.

  102. bindleon 26 May 2010 at 3:36 pm

    Eric writes (to Paisley): “This distinction you keep drawing between awareness and consciousness is not well defined. I’ve been talking about consciousness, which I define at my web site, and if you think there is some additional problem shared by all life, then maybe we should be talking about the merits of vitalism (esp since you have suggested that mechanism X, in a living thing, convers awareness, but not if the same mechanism is in a mere machine).”

    Eric, do you really feel that barring some vitalistic type of force, living things are functionally indistinguishable from the mechanistic? And if you’ve provided your own definition elsewhere of consciousness, have you provided one that distinguishes the forms that share it from those that don’t?

    Shapiro has. No vitalistic red herrings anywhere in sight.

  103. bindleon 26 May 2010 at 5:31 pm

    As to Koch, I haven’t discovered much that he’s had to say about evolutionary biology. But he did write the following in his paper, Can Machines Be Conscious?:
    “Let’s start with sensory input and motor output: being conscious requires neither. We humans are generally aware of what goes on around us and occasionally of what goes on within our own bodies. It’s only natural to infer that consciousness is linked to our interaction with the world and with ourselves.
    Yet when we dream, for instance, we are virtually disconnected from the environment—we acknowledge almost nothing of what happens around us, and our muscles are largely paralyzed. Nevertheless, we are conscious, sometimes vividly and grippingly so.”

    Sounds a lot like Eric’s views, and why he’s sticking to that story.
    But the questions not addressed were how, where, and when (and I’d ask why as well) this form of consciousness could be initially acquired without sensory input, and without the motor for its output having run at some point in our present as well as in our evolutionary past.

    Questions which Shapiro and his cohorts have been asked and answered.

  104. BillyJoe7on 26 May 2010 at 5:48 pm

    bindle,

    “Motorneurons retain selected information that they were made aware of by the sensory apparatus that they are or were a part of.”

    As metaphor, I have no problem with that.
    Your problem is that you interpret it literally, which is just ignorant. Moreover you are arrogant in your ignorance and that makes your error impossible to escape from.

    “BillyJoe now tells us consciousness arose with an abruptness that came about gradually.”

    Well, I think I’ll just put that down to a lack of comprehension on your part and leave it at that, especially as you have not quoted anything I said that leads you to that false interpretation.

    “do you really feel that barring some vitalistic type of force, living things are functionally indistinguishable from the mechanistic? ”

    Living things are functionally indistinguishable from the mechanistic. Otherwise you have a “ghost in the machine” or a “vital force” or a “soul” call it what you will.

    “And if you’ve provided your own definition elsewhere of consciousness, have you provided one that distinguishes the forms that share it from those that don’t?”

    Can you put all existing organism neatly into two columns live and non-alive? Can you put humans neatly into two columns child and adult?

    “Shapiro has. No vitalistic red herrings anywhere in sight.”

    No just wild speculation not supported by the evidence that has him laughably declaring that bacteria are conscious and aware. Perhaps he has lost sight of his own metaphor. Perhaps he has some subterranean motivations. I can only speculate!

  105. ccbowerson 26 May 2010 at 6:40 pm

    You guys are still at it over here? Its good to that even if I were to be knocked unconscious that I would still be conscious in some people’s eyes.

  106. bindleon 26 May 2010 at 6:57 pm

    Assuming I was speaking purely metaphorically, which I wasn’t, the use of metaphor to make analogy is a virtual necessity when dealing with the sort of inference, both inductive and deductive, that you’ve so completely misdefined.
    Do you really think the Shapiros of the scientific world (and they are legion at this point) are using it incorrectly and that you can spot those errors where they can’t?
    And did you not know that all logic is in the end analogous and all language metaphorically symbolic?
    No, of course you didn’t.
    Laughable is a metaphor that cuts both ways.

  107. Paisleyon 26 May 2010 at 7:03 pm

    Eric Thomson: “This distinction you keep drawing between awareness and consciousness is not well defined.

    This is the very distinction that you yourself have made in this thread…”By ‘consciousness’ I mean awareness, period (your words, not mine).”

    Eric Thomson: “Any lack of response in the future in this thread can be freely interpreted as a lack of interest in where the discussion has gone.

    Puhlease! You are simply running away in order to avoid further embarrassment. We both know you are incapable of providing a reasonable explanation why consciousness was naturally selected by evolution in light of the fact that “awareness” itself plays no causal role (this is why mental states are deemed to be epiphenomenal on the strictly deterministic view that is materialism). Whether an organic “robot” is “aware” or not is completely inconsequential as to whether it can respond to sensory input. And if you are truly interested in crafting a “theory of consciousness,” then I think it behooves you to reflect on this little glitch in your mechanical worldview.

    By the way, I found Christof Koch to be wavering in this “Closer to Truth” interview entitled “Can Brains Have Free Will?

  108. Paisleyon 26 May 2010 at 7:32 pm

    BillyJoe7: “Simple, direct “stimulus-reponse” activity that was unconscious gave rise gradually to more complex, indirect “stimulus-reponse” activity which eventually gave rise to extremely complex, multilayered “stimulus-reponse” activity that was conscious.

    Well, if the “direct stimulus-response activity” did not require consciousness and the “more complex, indirect stimulus-response activity” did not require consciousness, then why does the “extremely complex, multilayered stimulus-response activity” require consciousness?

  109. Paisleyon 26 May 2010 at 7:45 pm

    Here is a another way to look at this issue from the perspective of those who are working on AI (artificial intelligence).

    What functions do AI proponents believe a “robot with consciousness” will be able to perform that a “robot without consciousness” will not? It seems to me whether the robot is “aware” or not is completely irrelevant to its functional capabilities.

  110. tmac57on 26 May 2010 at 7:48 pm

    “And did you not know that all logic is in the end analogous and all language metaphorically symbolic?”
    So the word ‘metaphor’, is actually, in itself, a metaphor? Now that is sooo trippy! Any word yet on that piece of string?

  111. bindleon 26 May 2010 at 7:56 pm

    It’s metaphors all the way down.

  112. bindleon 26 May 2010 at 8:13 pm

    Wow, Koch didn’t do that well in that interview. And neither guy seems to know that cause and effect don’t come in a single chain. It’s chains all around from all directions jockeying for position and the honor of proximate causation.
    And these guys both accept that it’s a deterministic universe, yet would not a deterministic universe require all reactions to its forces be theoretically predictable to a mathematical exactitude?
    And that once started, the progress of the ever growing intermingling web of causative events could not vary one iota from that “time” to the end or endlessness of that universe’s time, if all eventualities were and had been destined to occur?
    And why did choice making mechanisms even need to be evolved if there was never a need for choice, I’m forced by destiny to ask.
    But I unwillingly digress.

  113. Eric Thomsonon 26 May 2010 at 9:05 pm

    Paisley said, when I suggested he was making an ill-defined distinction between consciousness and awareness:
    This is the very distinction that you yourself have made in this thread…”By ‘consciousness’ I mean awareness, period.”

    You want to say I draw a distinction between x and y, and to support this you quote me saying x=y?

    OK, got me. You are right I’m just embarrassed that’s why I’ve lost interest in this thread. You win, you can have the last word I need to go lick my wounds.

  114. Paisleyon 26 May 2010 at 11:10 pm

    BillyJoe7: “I was asking you if it was your opinion that a virus is a living thing and therefore conscious. And, if so, If it is your opinion that a prion is a living thing and therefore conscious. I also askied you if it is your opinon that my skin cell is conscious. Thanks for throwing the question back.

    This is what you actually asked me…

    BillyJoe7′s question: “So you think a virus is aware? Or do you think they are dead? What about prions? My skin cell?”

    And I asked you to tell me if you believe they (i.e. viruses, prions) were alive or not? If you answer that, then I will let you know where I stand. (The statement that I made previously was that I believe all life forms are conscious. This is what prompted you to ask me the question. Also, I have stated previously that I believe all cells have a rudimentary consciousness (i.e. awareness). What exactly are you not understanding here?)

    BillyJoe7: “You stated that everything that is alive is conscious.

    Yes, I did.

    BillyJoe7: “It follows then that everything could be divided into the following two categories: alive/conscious, and non-alive/unconscious.

    I basically agree. (I would employ the expression “not concious.” rather than “unconscious.”)

    BillyJoe7: “You further stated that an indicator of alive/consious is “responding to environmental stimuli”.

    No, I did not. I stated that “responding to environmental stimuli” is one of the criteria for life (this a criterion established by biologists, not me). And I also stated that consciousness and life are inextricably linked so that this “sensing” and “responding” can be deemed a function of consciousness. I also made it clear that I do not subscribe to a mechanical view of the world. And therefore, I neither view life nor consciousness as a strictly mechanical process. (IOW, both life/consciousness have an element of spontaneity.) Therefore, I do not view a “thermostat” as literally “sensing” and “responding” to its environment because a thermostat is not a living organism. There is no contradiction here. But there is a contradiction with those who believe that consciousness is strictly a result of mechanical information processing (that would be you). If it were, then I should be able to infer that a thermostat is conscious. So, I should be the one asking you the question: Do you believe that a thermostat is conscious? If not, why not?

    BillyJoe7: “What’s your point?
    A thermostat is intelligent as well. Just not very. Computers are a great deal more intelligent.

    Just for clarity. Do you or do you not believe that a bacterium is exhibiting intelligence? Also, do you believe a thermostat is conscious? (I am assuming that you understand artificial intelligence to mean the creation of a computer that actually has subjective awareness.)

    BillyJoe7: “The first item in the list was unconsciousness (bacteria). So thanks for misreading. And, of course, sqibbing on a reply.

    Previously, I stated that what you were describing was a difference in degree, not in definition…to which you replied “correct.” I suggest you go back and review the interchange.

    BillyJoe7: “Inference. But if you disagree, then insert the next higher life form in the hierachy. Or the next if you still disagree. But thanks for ignoring the point to quibble about a detail.

    Others would disagree with you (e.g. Dawkins believes “whales” are probably conscious, but he isn’t really sure about “bats.”) IOW, one man’s “inference” is another’s man’s “wild speculation.” That’s the point! It’s all subjective.

  115. Paisleyon 27 May 2010 at 12:19 am

    Eric Thomson: “You want to say I draw a distinction between x and y, and to support this you quote me saying x=y?

    If “x” (i.e. consciousness) equals “y” (i.e. awareness), then what causal function does “y” have? That’s a simple question.

    Also, why is Christof Koch ambivalent about “free will?” And why is he saying there is an ontological difference between “mental states” and “brain states?”

  116. Paisleyon 27 May 2010 at 1:03 am

    Bindle: “Wow, Koch didn’t do that well in that interview.

    I was howling when Kuhn told him that John Eccles was a “flaming dualist.” And Koch responded…”well…forget about flaming…Eccles was a very respected scientist.”

    Bindle: “And these guys both accept that it’s a deterministic universe, yet would not a deterministic universe require all reactions to its forces be theoretically predictable to a mathematical exactitude?

    This is where cognitive dissonance comes into play. They both know that quantum mechanics implies that nature is fundamentally indeterminate.

    Bindle: “And that once started, the progress of the ever growing intermingling web of causative events could not vary one iota from that “time” to the end or endlessness of that universe’s time, if all eventualities were and had been destined to occur?
    And why did choice making mechanisms even need to be evolved if there was never a need for choice, I’m forced by destiny to ask.
    But I unwillingly digress.

    Very well stated.

  117. bindleon 27 May 2010 at 1:39 am

    Paisley,
    Thanks. I’ve often wondered why more people don’t make that simple argument. Perhaps now they will.

    Incidentally I’m planning to steal this quote from you:
    “And therefore, I neither view life nor consciousness as a strictly mechanical process. (IOW, both life/consciousness have an element of spontaneity.)”

  118. Paisleyon 27 May 2010 at 3:21 pm

    BillyJoe7: “The “choices” they make are highly complex, multi-layered, deterministic cause and effect relations. Otherwise there is a “ghost in the machine”. And you surely don’t believe that…

    Living things are functionally indistinguishable from the mechanistic. Otherwise you have a “ghost in the machine” or a “vital force” or a “soul” call it what you will.

    There is no “ghost in the machine” because there is no “machine.” What you call the machine (i.e. the body in particular and the universe in general) is purely ephemeral (according to contemporary physics.) Your strictly mechanistic view of nature was rendered obsolete with the advent of quantum physics.

  119. tmac57on 27 May 2010 at 5:37 pm

    Is an automobile a machine?

  120. BillyJoe7on 27 May 2010 at 5:51 pm

    Paisley,

    I was going to say this after your passing comment about quantum physics yesterday, but I decided I’d heard enough nonsense already. Your quantum woo is showing. That’s all.

    (Will I be back? Just try something really stupid about quantum physics – come on, I know it’s in there somewhere. Then maybe I won’t be able to resist the temptation.)

  121. bindleon 27 May 2010 at 6:07 pm

    BillyJoe doesn’t know if he’ll be back until he finds it’s been determined that he chooses to, and everything he’s supposed to say comes automatically to the fore. He’s the conduit for the purposeless progression of an accidental certitude.

  122. Paisleyon 27 May 2010 at 8:01 pm

    BilyJoe7: “I was going to say this after your passing comment about quantum physics yesterday, but I decided I’d heard enough nonsense already. Your quantum woo is showing. That’s all.

    (Will I be back? Just try something really stupid about quantum physics – come on, I know it’s in there somewhere. Then maybe I won’t be able to resist the temptation.)

    Are you not aware that quantum theory holds that nature is fundamentally indeterminate?

  123. BillyJoe7on 27 May 2010 at 11:58 pm

    …not quite stupid enough yet. Come on I know you can do better.

  124. bindleon 28 May 2010 at 12:31 am

    “We are always ready to take refuge in a belief in determinism if this freedom weighs upon us or if we need an excuse.” (Sartre, 1943/ 1956, pp. 78–79)

  125. Paisleyon 28 May 2010 at 2:32 am

    BillyJoe7: “…not quite stupid enough yet. Come on I know you can do better.

    I take that this as your way of conceding the point .

  126. BillyJoe7on 28 May 2010 at 7:53 am

    What sort of point could you possibly make with a misunderstanding.

  127. Paisleyon 28 May 2010 at 3:21 pm

    BillyJoe7: “What sort of point could you possibly make with a misunderstanding.”

    You’re the only one here with a misunderstanding. Apparently, you believe that nature is strictly deterministic. This is a belief which does not accord with contemporary physics – more specifically, “quantum indeterminacy.”

  128. bindleon 28 May 2010 at 4:09 pm

    BillyJoe won’t be responding with that open mind he claimed to have because he can’t – not without the house of cards that protects his entire mechanist belief system collapsing.
    His mechanistic determinism, as we’ve said before (and to lift from Wikipedia), assumes that every event has an unbroken chain of prior occurrences – that every event, including human cognition, behavior, decision, and action, is causally determined by the environment – the view that one’s life is predetermined before one is even born – that there’s a predetermined unbroken chain of prior occurrences back to the origin of the universe.

    He and the others here that may share those views require that their science be built within what is essentially that philosophy. Show him some science that threatens the integrity of that philosophical house and to him (and them) it can’t be science.

    The irony is of course that science is all about doubts and threats to prior structures, as is skepticism, while BillyJoe’s mechanistic determinism can only be about certainty.

  129. Paisleyon 29 May 2010 at 12:42 am

    Bindle:”BillyJoe won’t be responding with that open mind he claimed to have because he can’t – not without the house of cards that protects his entire mechanist belief system collapsing.

    Agreed.

    Bindle: “His mechanistic determinism, as we’ve said before (and to lift from Wikipedia), assumes that every event has an unbroken chain of prior occurrences – that every event, including human cognition, behavior, decision, and action, is causally determined by the environment – the view that one’s life is predetermined before one is even born – that there’s a predetermined unbroken chain of prior occurrences back to the origin of the universe.

    Agreed. This is why they view human beings (as well as every form of life) as “biological machines.”

    Bindle: “He and the others here that may share those views require that their science be built within what is essentially that philosophy. Show him some science that threatens the integrity of that philosophical house and to him (and them) it can’t be science.

    Agreed. This is why they are quick to label anyone who simply states the standard interpretation of QM as promoting “quantum woo.”

    Bindle: “The irony is of course that science is all about doubts and threats to prior structures, as is skepticism, while BillyJoe’s mechanistic determinism can only be about certainty.

    I suppose they think they are safeguarding the integrity of science. But they are overstepping their bounds by conflating “science” with “scientific materialism.” The former is a methodology, the latter is a metaphysical position which is ultimately based on faith.

  130. bindleon 29 May 2010 at 2:29 am

    Agreed. Although I’d say their reasons are more apt to be excuses.

  131. BillyJoe7on 29 May 2010 at 3:20 am

    For those still interested…

    This thread has dropped off the front page, but I have made some comments on the thread titled “Barriers to the Acceptance of Science” in response to a post where Paisley presumes to teach Steven Novella a lesson or two.

    I kid you not! :D

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