Enthusiasm about Russellian Monism

Enthusiasm about Russellian Monism

Institute of Advanced Study (map)

Cognition Lunch Salon: Enthusiasm about Russellian monism

Presenter: Torin Alter (University of Alabama)

Abstract: According to Russellian monism, consciousness is constituted by intrinsic properties that underlie structural properties described by physics. Enthusiasm about this theory is on the rise. Is this enthusiasm justified? I will consider two reasons to think not. One is that the theory offers nothing truly new. The other is that it fails to deliver on its promise to well integrate consciousness into the natural, causal order. I will suggest that neither reason is compelling. I will also suggest that seeing why provides insight into what we should ask of a theory of consciousness and its place in nature.

Past Events

On the Matter of Robot Minds

On the Matter of Robot Minds

Institute of Advanced Study (map)

Presenter: Brian P. McLaughlin (Distinguished Professor of Philosophy and Cognitive Science; Director, Rutgers Cognitive Science Center)

Abstract: A number of AI researchers are predicting that there will be sentient robots with human-level intelligence or greater within the next thirty or so years. If this prediction is correct, we face enormously difficult moral and social issues. Status as a moral agent or moral patient depends only on mental abilities. Sentient robots would have moral rights, and so should have legal rights to protect them. Moreover, the sale of robots with intelligence even approaching human-level intelligence would be slavery. There is a tsunami of humanoid robots soon to enter our lives. I argue, however, that the prediction that sentient robots with human-level intelligence will soon be here is based, in part, on a false behaviorist assumption about mentality. Although the tsunami will bring a flood of difficult moral and social issues in its wake, robots rights is not among them. The robots will be devoid of mentality. They could be damaged or destroyed, but neither harmed nor wronged.

 Language as Bodily Gesture: From Perception and Action to Speech

Language as Bodily Gesture: From Perception and Action to Speech

WeWork Park South (map)

Consciousness Club #33: Language as Bodily Gesture: From Perception and Action to Speech

Speaker: Hayden Kee (Fordham University)

Abstract: Embodied theories of the mind emphasize the centrality of action and perception in experience and cognition. A challenge for such approaches is to explain how our higher-order cognitive achievements, such as abstract thought and imagination, can be understood starting from more basic bodily abilities. The solution, I propose, may be as simple (or complex) as learning to speak. I turn to developmental studies of infant language learning for insights into the bodily foundations of language and cognition. Perhaps the 7,000 languages of the earth, for all their diversity, are all variations and elaborations of one fundamental bodily power of gestural expression.

Quantum Computing, AIs, and Us

Quantum Computing, AIs, and Us

Caveat (map)

Want to know what quantum computing really is? Could a quantum computer actually outstrip all known digital computers and build a better AI? Can a quantum computer become conscious? Who knows how to write algorithms for a quantum machine? What is quantum mechanics anyway and why is it such a beautiful headache?

Join acclaimed science journalist and author George Musser and YHouse co-founder and scientist Caleb Scharf as they struggle and sweat over these questions and more. If you've ever wanted a beginner’s guide to quantum physics, quantum computers, and one possible future for AI then this is your lucky evening! Get your wavefunction over to Caveat.

 

Is Poe’s Detective Dupin Conscious? And If So, to What Degree? (Answers: Yes; a Very High Degree.)

Is Poe’s Detective Dupin Conscious? And If So, to What Degree? (Answers: Yes; a Very High Degree.)

Institute of Advanced Study (map)

Presenter: Selmer Bringsjord (Director of the Rensselaer AI & Reasoning Laboratory).

Abstract: Panpsychism, let’s grant, is roughly the view that all the physical stuff in our world is conscious. This view seems to imply that a lot of things are conscious. After all, a lot of physical things exist!—people, pebbles, electrons, meteorites, politicians, umbrellas, llamas…ad indefinitum. On some versions of panpsychism, even some non-physical but existing things are conscious (e.g., you, if you’re a non-physical thing). Yet our view on and theory of consciousness casts an even wider net, for it counts Detective C. Auguste Dupin as not only conscious, but very conscious—and the great sleuth doesn’t even exist: he’s the creation of Edgar Allen Poe, and purely fictional. We explain why Dupin is indeed conscious, and why—on the \Lambda (as opposed to Tononi’s \Phi) measuring system of the degree of consciousness enjoyed by a being—he’s highly so. We also explain (with demos) that some of the artificial agents and robots in our lab are conscious as well, as are some of the fictional machines we’ve conceived, but not yet built.

Cylons and T2’s and the Borg—Oh My!

Cylons and T2’s and the Borg—Oh My!

Caveat (map)

Cylons and T2's and the Borg—Oh My!: The Danger and Potential of Artificial Life and Intelligence

Since the publication of Frankenstein in 1818, the idea of the artificial creation of life and intelligence has been considered the ultimate in "what humans are not meant to know." Frankenstein, Dr. Moreau, the colonists of Battlestar Galactica - all paid dearly for transgressing. Why is it that these things are considered so dangerous? How close are we to achieving them? Come join physicist Dr Chuck Adler and historian Bow van Riper for an evening tackling ideas from science fiction, world culture, science, and philosophy: From robots in popular culture, to Asimov's three laws of robotics, Lem's "robot fables", and Kurtzweil's "singularity" theory. 

How Does the Brain Wire up Itself on the Fly?

How Does the Brain Wire up Itself on the Fly?

Institute of Advanced Study (map)

Presenters: Kenji Doya (Okinawa Institute of Science & Technology, Japan)

Abstract: The standard paradigm in functional brain imaging is to ask subjects to perform tasks requiring a certain computation or not, to see which brain areas are more activated, and to conclude that those areas subserve the computation. However, we do not really know why and how those specific brain areas can be activated and connected when they are needed. As deep learning provides solutions to specific computations like image recognition and language processing, how to select and combine those networks as needed in different tasks and situations is a critical challenge in general and autonomous artificial intelligence. In this talk, we will explore possible anatomical and computational mechanisms that realize modularity and compositionality of the brain.

CC #32: Why Emotional Memories Tend to Stick and How We Can Forget Them

WeWork Park South (map)

Speaker: Dr. Linda de Voogd (New York University)

Abstract: We prefer to forget stressful events, but we tend to do the opposite. We remember stressful events a lot better than mundane events. How does the brain form and store such memories? The brain replays events in the period after a stressful encounter, something you could compare with replaying a movie. Is it also possible to intervene with this process? This would make it, for example, possible to treat traumatic memories. Pharmacological manipulations have shown to be able to interfere with memory storage. However, it might also be possible to intervene with the storage of such memories by shifting your attention for example by playing a game of Tetris or making simple eye movements. When you do this, areas of the brain that are involved in storing stressful memories are suppressed, making it therefore possible to alter these memories.

Ethics and A.I.

Ethics and A.I.

Institute of Advanced Study (map)

Open Discussion Led By: Michael Solomon (RWJBarnabas & MSNJ Bioethics Committee) and Olaf Witkowski (Earth-Life Science Institute)

Abstract: We are sharing this article in hopes of stimulating discussion at our Thursday March 8th meeting: "Personal robots are coming into your home. Will they share your family values?" Is it possible to program ethical values in the machines we use and have come to rely on? Can we even agree on fundamentals like “Do unto others...” or “Thou shalt not kill”? Is Diversity an obstacle to finding shared values? Can urban surveillance cameras with facial recognition be used to prevent crime and terrorism, without being used by authoritarian governments to weed out dissent? Can we have Transparency in decision making when no one can determine how neural networks reach conclusions? Ethics choices may not be between good and evil, but more often involve conflicting goods. Can we make better policies and choices with A.I. than we can without it?

Beyond or Not Beyond

Beyond or Not Beyond

Institute of Advanced Study (map)

Cognition Lunch Salon: Beyond or Not Beyond

Speakers: Catherine Prueitt (George Mason University) and Piet Hut (Institute for Advanced Study)

Abstract: Cat and Piet will continue an ongoing dialogue they started a few weeks ago at Columbia about the notion of exploring the notion of beyond in theory and experiment, in science and contemplation, as well as in daily life. Cat, a philosopher, and Piet, an astrophysicist, share a deep and burning interest in the question of how humans construct and experience the world they live in and themselves who live in it.

Consciousness Club #31: Seeing What Cannot Be Seen

Consciousness Club #31: Seeing What Cannot Be Seen

WeWork Park South (map)

Speaker: Stephen Burlingham, an artist and thought-leader who works on projects around the world promoting global mind change.

Abstract: Life and work exploring the tangible-intangible frontier, where the moment of truth is an infinite instant.  Mr. Burlingham discusses Whisper and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center; the GATEWAY art installation project and the initial engagement with Apple; and nevohteeB {Beethoven Backwards}, a current multi-media collaborative work-in-progress. Forget everything you know.

Phenomenological Naturalism and the Metaphysics of Consciousness

Phenomenological Naturalism and the Metaphysics of Consciousness

Institute for Advanced Study (map)

Speaker: Hayden Kee

Abstract: To what extent do we require a phenomenological level of description to adequately grasp the behavior of non-human organisms? At one extreme, some versions of autopoietic enactivism endorse a strong phenomenological life-mind continuity thesis, maintaining that wherever we find life, we find also a mind exhibiting the same basic phenomenal interiority as human experience. In this talk, I will argue that this broad application of phenomenological concepts to all living beings, including ones believed to lack sentience, introduces a fateful equivocation into the phenomenological idiom, which is designed to describe sentient experience. But this terminological clarification serves to bring into focus an underlying ontological and methodological issue: autopoietic enactivism (along with other approaches to naturalized phenomenology) is radically incomplete in the absence of a foundational (meta)physics of consciousness.

Consciousness Club #30: Phenomenology for Sale (Used, Like New)

Consciousness Club #30: Phenomenology for Sale (Used, Like New)

WeWork Park South (map)

Speaker: Dr. Katsunori Miyahara (Harvard University/Rikkyo University)

Abstract:
I plead for the introduction of the perspective of philosophical phenomenology into recent neuroscientific studies of consciousness. Since its origin in the mid-19th century, psychology developed in two diverging directions, namely, as descriptive psychology and as experimental psychology. Phenomenology as a philosophical discipline initiated by Edmund Husserl is a direct descendent of the descriptive psychology of Franz Brentano. Cognitive neuroscience is a distant offspring of the early experimental psychologists including Wilhelm Wundt. Because in part of this historical background, the perspective of phenomenology remains largely ignored (with some notable exceptions) in the burgeoning sciences of consciousness. I think this is unfortunate.

After presenting a brief overview of Husserlian phenomenology and its historical origin, in this talk, I will illustrate how the absence of the phenomenological perspective can mislead scientific investigations of consciousness by taking the experimental use of the psychological phenomenon of binocular rivalry as a central example.

Workshop: Opening up Phenomenology

Workshop: Opening up Phenomenology

Organizer: YHouse (Yuko Ishihara and Benjamin Strosberg)

Date: February 13, 2018

Venue: Fordham University Bronx Campus, room TBA

Speakers: Fred Wertz (Fordham University), Hayden Kee (Fordham University), Olaf Witkowski (Tokyo Institute of Technology/Institute for Advanced Study/YHouse) and Katsunori Miyahara (Harvard University)

Chasing Consciousness: Imagination in Science and Art

Chasing Consciousness: Imagination in Science and Art

Caveat (map)

How can we see things that aren’t there (yet)? How can we know what we do not know? Imagination and curiosity are powerful mechanisms by which the human mind explore the unknown and creates new worlds. What are the similarities and differences of imagination in the sciences and the arts? And what are the consequences for education?

YHouse, Inc. is a nonprofit institute in New York City devoted to innovative and transdisciplinary research, intellectual partnership, and public discourse tackling humanity’s greatest questions on awareness, consciousness, and the future of intelligence. 

 

The Zoomable Universe

The Zoomable Universe

Columbia University - Pupin Hall (map)

This Friday, February 9th at 7:00pm, Caleb Scharf (YHouse Co-founder and Columbia University Director of Astrobiology) will speak about his most recent book The Zoomable Universe. 

CC #29 Consciousness, Intrinsic Motivation and Empowerment: You can do what you want, but you cannot want what you want.

CC #29 Consciousness, Intrinsic Motivation and Empowerment: You can do what you want, but you cannot want what you want.

Wework (map)

Speaker: Christoph Salge, University of Hertfordshire / New York University

Abstract:

What makes a mind want to do things in the first place? AI research focuses a lot on how to achieve a given goal or optimize for a given utility function. But how are these goals acquired in the first place, and are all possible utility functions suitable to motivate an AI towards more complex an interesting behaviour? It is hard to imagine that one could build a conscious agent that has no genuine goals or essential motivations.

Chasing Consciousness: 'The Great AI Debate' with Simon DeDeo and Erik Hoel

Chasing Consciousness: 'The Great AI Debate' with Simon DeDeo and Erik Hoel

Caveat (map)

The Great AI Debate

Artificial intelligence - it seems you either love it, hate it, or don't know what it really means. Will

thinking machines save us and enlighten us, or destroy us? Can we control what's happening with developments in machine learning, or are they already controlling us? Join YHouse's guests Simon DeDeo and Erik Hoel as their human minds battle it out, while you, the audience, get the final vote.

 

YHouse, Inc. is a nonprofit institute in New York City devoted to innovative and transdisciplinary research, intellectual partnership, and public discourse tackling humanity’s greatest questions on awareness, consciousness, and the future of intelligence. 

Syntax/Synapse: "How We Experience" with Zia Haider Rahman, Mark de Silva, and Erik Hoel

Syntax/Synapse: "How We Experience" with Zia Haider Rahman, Mark de Silva, and Erik Hoel

Center for Fiction (map)

Erik Hoel, neuroscientist and 2017 Emerging Writers Fellow, interviews authors Zia Haider Rahman and Mark de Silva. Winner of the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, Zia Haider Rahman’s In the Light of What We Know weaves an intricate tale of the 2008 financial crisis, the Afghanistan war, and how we construct our personal narratives. Mark de Silva’s Square Wave spans from the future of the United States to the past of Sri Lanka, addressing climate change, and the nature of art and consciousness, drawing from the author’s PhD in philosophy from the University of Cambridge. Erik Hoel is a writer and neuroscientist at Columbia University researching the neurobiological basis of consciousness.

Chasing Consciousness: Rethinking the Mind

Chasing Consciousness: Rethinking the Mind

Caveat (map)

Great scientific revolutions come from challenging what we all assume to be true and expanding what science is 'allowed' to ask. Recent technological breakthroughs are pushing against our cherished assumptions about the nature and primacy of our minds, and forcing us to ask new questions about our reality.

Just before Thanksgiving, enjoy a mental feast as the YHouse Institute's brightest and best chew through some tough questions: how do we evaluate the reality of our awareness from within that same awareness? Where does consciousness really come from, and how does it fit into our ideas about the nature of life and the human future? We can't promise to answer them all, but we can guarantee a stimulating evening of stories and provocative thinking from researchers working on the extreme edge of scientific innovation.

Doors: 5:30, event 6:00.

Click here for tickets.

A Short Introduction to Empowerment – an Information Theoretic, Intrinsic Motivation

A Short Introduction to Empowerment – an Information Theoretic, Intrinsic Motivation

institute of Advanced Study (map)

Speaker: Christoph Salge (New York University / University of Hertfordshire)

Abstract: Empowerment is a formalization of how much an agent is in control of its own perceivable future. This is captured by the channel capacity from an agent’s actuators to an agent’s sensor at a later point in time. In this short presentation I will briefly introduce the formalism and idea behind empowerment. I will outline how empowerment relates to the concept of intrinsic motivation and show some recent applications that demonstrate the range of behaviours that can be created in different scenarios. In particular, I will talk about recent work looking at coupled empowerment maximisation in a human-AI system – and how this can be used to define some core companion duties.

Looking and Seeing in Visual functions of the Brain

Looking and Seeing in Visual functions of the Brain

Institute of Advanced Studies (map)

Speaker: Zhaoping Li (University College London)

Vision is a window to the brain, and I will give a short introduction and demonstrate that it can be seen as mainly a problem of "looking and seeing", which are two separable processes in the brain.  Understanding vision requires both experimental and theoretical approaches, and to study the brain using our own brains have its peculiar difficulties.

CC #28: Overcoming Addiction to a World View

CC #28: Overcoming Addiction to a World View

Wework (map)

Speaker: Piet Hut and a Special Guest

ABSTRACT

The greatest scientific discoveries are made upon the realization that a generally accepted idea is in fact wrong.  And once the new idea is accepted, it is tempting to ask: why did it take so long to see the flaw in the old idea?  Perhaps the simple answer is: when we grow up with a set of ideas, forming a coherent worldview, we get so habituated to them that we grow increasingly unwilling to question any specific idea, afraid that it will threaten the comfort zone of our life as we know it...

Math, Matter, Mind, and Beyond

Math, Matter, Mind, and Beyond

Institute of Advanced Studies (map)

Speakers: Piet Hut (IAS, Princeton) and Yuko Ishihara (ELSI, Tokyo)

We will start with a quick review of a paper, started by Piet and two (then) postdocs at IAS at the end of the previous century, and finally published in 2006, about the nature of reality: "On Math, Matter and Mind", by Piet Hut, Mark Alford and Max Tegmark.  In that paper Piet's position centered on a big question mark in the middle of their central diagram.  Now, almost two decades later, Yuko and Piet will investigate that question mark, theoretically and experientially.  Theoretically, by comparing various philosophical traditions.  Experientially, by starting with Husserl's epoche and considering extensions beyond the subject/object polarization.

Is Cancer a Metabolic Disease Caused by Mitochondrial Dysfunction?

Is Cancer a Metabolic Disease Caused by Mitochondrial Dysfunction?

Institute of Advanced Studies (map)

Speaker: Michael Solomon, MD

For the past 40 years we have thought of cancer as the result of somatic mutations in nuclear DNA that either block tumor suppressor genes or unblock oncogenes resulting in malignant transformation. But our success in understanding or in treating cancer has been sadly limited.

Consciousness Club #27 The Collective Computation of Life

Consciousness Club #27 The Collective Computation of Life

Consciousness Club #27 The Collective Computation of Life

Speaker: Olaf Witkowski

Abstract:

Information is found all across the domain of physics, seemingly retaining all its properties regardless of the media in which it is instantiated. Substrate-independence and interoperability made possible symbolic representations such as the genetic code, allowing for life to develop upon it. The next transition closed the loop by producing organisms increasingly aware of their environment. This eventually led to human life, capable of learning the underlying principles that created it, with the invention of language and science.
 
I focus my research on collective cognition, which one can see as the informational software to life's physical hardware. If life can be formulated computationally as the search for sources of free energy in an environment in order to maintain its own existence, then cognition is better understood as finding efficient encodings and algorithms to make this search probable to succeed. The clef de voûte in my work is to consider cognitive flows as the abstract computation of life, with the purpose to make the unlikely likely for the sake of its preservation.
 
Traditional top-down approaches to cognition infamously introduce black boxes that fail to explain underlying mechanisms and lack sufficient detail to validate models. Instead, I propose a fully bottom-up model to characterize the pathways leading artificial organisms to develop cognitive capabilities, allowing for a rigorous mathematical framing of the "invisible reality" of cognitive life in the universe.

WeWork Park South, 10th Floor, New York, NY

Wednesday, October 25, 6 p.m.
Registration required

Organisms as Integrated Wholes

Organisms as Integrated Wholes

Institute for Advanced Studies (map)

Speaker: Randall D. Beer (Indiana University)

I will briefly describe two intertwined research programs.

The first concerns issues of embodiment, situatedness and dynamics in understanding how an animal's behavior arises from the interaction between its nervous system, its body and its environment. Specifically, we use genetic algorithms to evolve model brain-body-environment systems and then analyze their operation using the tools of dynamical systems theory and information theory. This approach has been applied to a wide variety of behaviors, including locomotion, action-switching, learning, categorization, selective attention, and referential communication.

Chasing Consciousness: Virtual Reality to Future Reality

Chasing Consciousness: Virtual Reality to Future Reality

Caveat (map)

Ordinary old reality is so yesterday. Our species has been building virtual worlds since we told the first fireside story. Now, with increasingly sophisticated technology like Oculus Rift these worlds are becoming all-encompassing. What is the state of the virtual? Where are we going in this new realm of the senses, and what are the implications?

YHouse welcomes two pioneering VR experts, Ken Perlin and Stephanie Riggs for an evening guaranteed to push the boundaries of what you thought was possible.

Click Here to Buy Tickets

Buddhist Emptiness as a Tool for Pragmatic Reasoning about Consciousness

Buddhist Emptiness as a Tool for Pragmatic Reasoning about Consciousness

Institute of Advanced Study (West Building Seminar Room) (map)

Speaker: Jonathan C. Gold (Princeton University)

Drawing upon (but not dwelling in) my work in Buddhist philosophy, I propose that the Buddhist doctrines of the two truths and the three natures can be understood as expressing and formalizing Occam’s Razor. This provides us with articulate tools to challenge reification of abstract entities and to privilege, always, pragmatic assessments as the defining criteria of reality. When we turn to the nature of consciousness, then, questions around illusionism and the requirements of satisfactory explanations can be made sharper by adopting the strict epistemic modesty that a Buddhist critique entails. 

Consciousness Club #26 Consciousness: not a "thing" but a "place"?

Consciousness Club #26 Consciousness: not a "thing" but a "place"?

Speaker: Yuko Ishihara

Modern western thought has given consciousness a special place in the understanding of human beings. According to Descartes, it is the fact that we are "thinking things" that sets us apart from unconscious things like a desk or a pen. While scientists and philosophers today disagree with Descartes on what constitutes the nature of the thinking thing, most people agree on the basic Cartesian assumption: that consciousness is a kind of "thing."

But can we not question this assumption? Putting aside all theories, our direct experience teaches us that consciousness does not primarily appear as a thing. Rather, it appears more as a ground or "place" wherein our experience occurs. Drawing on insights from twentieth-century philosophers like Martin Heidegger and Nishida Kitaro who developed a philosophy of place, let us think together about what it really means to understand consciousness not as a "thing" but as a "place." Perhaps such ideas can open doors towards a better understanding on the nature of consciousness.

WeWork Park South, New York, NY

Wednesday, October 11, 6 p.m.
Registration required