As readers will have noticed, since yesterday there has been an outpour of expressions of sorrow for the passing of Patrick Suppes everywhere on the internet. He was without a doubt one of the most influential philosophers of science in the 20th century, and so all the love and appreciation is richly deserved. I do not have anything much to add to what others who knew him better have been saying, but I thought of posting a link to the video podcast of a lecture he delivered at the Munich Center for Mathematical Philosophy some two years ago, titled ‘A neuroscience perspective on the foundations of mathematics’. (Back then I even wrote a blog post about the lecture, just before it took place.)
As much as it is sad to see dear, talented people passing away, I think it is comforting to note that Suppes lived his life to the fullest until the very end, for example by flying across the ocean to give a lecture on a new, exciting topic at age 90. The vitality he displays in the lecture is truly impressive, and a lovely reminder of his decisive contributions to philosophy and the sciences.
I have been reading Daniel Hutto and Erik Myin’s book Radicalizing Enactivism for a critical notice in the Canadian Journal of Philosophy. Enactivism is the view that cognition consists of a dynamic interaction between the subject and her environment, and not in any kind of contentful representation of that environment. I am struck by H&M’s reliance on a famous 1991 paper by the MIT roboticist Rodney Brooks, “Intelligence Without Representation.” Brooks’s paper is quite a romp—it has attracted the attention of a number of philosophers, including Andy Clark in his terrific book, Being There (1996). It’s worth a quick revisit today.
To soften his readers up for his main thesis, Brooks starts out his paper with an argument so daft that it cannot have been intended seriously, but which encapsulates an important strand of enactivist thinking. Here it is: Biological evolution has been going for a very long time, but “Man arrived in his present form [only] 2.5 million years ago.” (Actually, that’s a considerable over-estimate: homo sapiens is not more than half a million years old, if that.)
He invented agriculture a mere 19,000 years ago, writing less than 5000 years ago and “expert” knowledge only over the last few hundred years.
This suggests that problem solving behaviour, language, expert knowledge and application, and reason are all pretty simple once the essence of being and reacting are available. That essence is the ability to move around in a dynamic environment, sensing the surroundings to a degree sufficient to achieve the necessary maintenance of life and reproduction. This part of intelligence is where evolution has concentrated its time—it is much harder. (141)
Aarøe Nissen is a 22-year-old math student at Aarhus University,
Denmark, with extraordinary memory abilities. He has competed in memory
sports for several years. He can recite the number Pi to more than
20,000 decimal points, recall thousands of names, faces and historical
dates and remember the order of a pack of cards.
Our perception of time varies greatly
depending on our age, mood, stress level and psychological health and
stability. Psychological disorders, such as Parkinson's disease,
attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and schizophrenia, can mess
with the brain's time keeping mechanism and warp our estimation of time.
Patients suffering from these disorders are unable to properly
coordinate events in time. Patients over- or underestimate time
intervals ranging from several seconds to minutes.
How does this
happen? How does the brain manage to keep track of time and what goes
wrong in psychological disorders? Our senses (sight, hearing, smell,
taste and touch) use specialized sensory systems with task-specific
neurons to process sensory input. Yet there is no specific sensory
system for time. So how does our sense of time come about?
This NYT article (h/t Greg Downey on FB; check out his Neuroanthropology blog) lays out research on the effects of social conditions (isolation vs integration) on PTSD. Greg excerpted this quote:
It turns out that most trauma victims — even survivors of combat, torture or concentration camps — rebound to live full, normal lives. That has given rise to a more nuanced view of trauma — less a poison than an infectious agent, a challenge that most people overcome but that may defeat those weakened by past traumas, genetics or other factors. Now, a significant body of work suggests that even this view is too narrow — that the environment just after the event, particularly other people’s responses, may be just as crucial as the event itself.
I thought this one about Nepalese ex-child soldiers provided a good concrete example:
But in villages that readily and happily reintegrated them (usually via rituals or conventions specifically designed to do so), they experienced no more mental distress than did peers who had never gone to war. The lasting harm of being a child soldier, it seemed, arose not from the war but from social isolation and conflict afterward.
who once set several major league baseball records, suddenly could
barely keep his body upright during practice. He would fall while
running bases, stumble over curbs and mishandle fielding plays. His
wife, Eleanor, was concerned. Her husband held records for most
consecutive games played, 2131 to be exact, and most career grand slams.
Though Lou said it was just a phase, Eleanor got on the phone with the
Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. Charles William Mayo wanted them to
come right away. They arrived on June 13, 1939 and six days later on
Lou’s thirty-sixth birthday the doctors told Eleanor that her husband
suffered from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Lou Gehrig died less
than two years later.