"Aesthetics and Cognitive Science"
Paper delivered in May 2017 at the Nordic Society of Aesthetics annual conference, University of Bergen and in November 2017 at the Higher Aesthetics Seminar, University of Uppsala, Sweden.
Despite its rich, illustrious and controversial history, the idea of “aesthetic experience” has recently become the focus of philosophers interested in environmental aesthetics (Brady, Hepburn), aesthetics as a form of perception (Dokiz, Nanay, Schaeffer) and about which cognitive- and neuro- science can provide explanatory value. The aim of this paper is to reframe these latter positions in a more recent, non-standard, Kantian, “whole formalist” framework (Zuckert), combined with a Sibleyan approach to aesthetic properties, that will remind us of certain features of Kant’s aesthetic theory that seem otherwise to have been ignored. It will be argued that although in particular cognitive- and neuro- science can provide valuable and explanatory insights, they are prey to lapsing into either relativism about aesthetic experience or into the undesirable consequence of any experience being classed as aesthetic. I will pay particular attention to Dokiz’s recent paper on aesthetic experience as metacognitive feeling. The aim is to resist overly reductive accounts of aesthetic experience and remind ourselves of the importance of aesthetics itself as a sui generis discipline in addition to the importance cultural and social processes have in the shaping of experience.
"What is the Philosophy of Film? Artificial Intelligence, a Case Study"
Paper delivered in July 2017 at the International Conference on Moving Image and Philosophy, University of Porto, Portugal.
Despite Plato’s rejection of art from the ideal republic, and the misunderstandings related to it, we need not answer the question of whether or not film can “do philosophy” to acknowledge both the importance of film and the importance of philosophy. This question has largely been settled by Livingston, for whom the “bold thesis of cinema as philosophy”, “the idea that cinema’s exclusive capacities can make a significant contribution”, is rejected in favor of a more modest version, according to which the cinema can “develop, illustrate and enhance philosophical insight, issues and understanding”. In this spirit of retaining the mutual exclusivity of both the cinema and philosophy, I will argue that the experience of film bears its own truth, following an adaptation to film of Lamarque’s philosophy of poetry; it elicits an experience of “cognitive phenomenology”, as per Siewert or G. Strawson, and of one aspect of the subjectively lived human world, as per Hepburn, and infuses our cultural and social imagination. Indeed, the case of artificial intelligence, and its representation in such films as 2001: A Space Odyssey, Alien, the Blade Runner movies, Ex Machina, Her and many others, provide what are often seen as dystopic visions of our relationship with advanced technologies. Although we may not be able to paraphrase exclusively cinematic truth, as Livingston maintains, what matters is that a resulting paraphrase is suitable for the film itself, a claim Lamarque makes in relation to poetry. The vision that is presented on our relationship with advanced technologies in movies is often paraphrased, and it is both this critical engagement and how it becomes imbued in the subject and the cultural, social discourse that merits philosophical engagement, including, in this case, what it means to be a conscious human or a conscious being.
"On Being Human in the Age of Artificial Intelligence"
Paper to be delivered in December 2017 at the International Conference on Artificial Intelligence and Information, University of Porto, Portugal.
It is a testament to us, to our capacity for imagination, reflection, understanding and adaptability, that we are so interested in, concerned with, unsettled by, the multiple and multiplying questions we have about artificial intelligence in all its forms. As things stand, it is unlikely that these various forms of artificial intelligence are as preoccupied with these same questions even though they form part of our self-conception and personal identity; even though they integrate our daily interactions and actions; even though they fundamentally affect how we relate to others and the world around us. One of the underlying reasons for accepting the possible emergence of singularity – or consciousness – in artificial intelligence, rests on a powerful metaphor: that the functions of the human brain – the neurons, synapses, bio-chemical reactions, hormones, etc. – resemble the circuitry or algorithms of computer software and hardware. Taken in its most extreme form (Block, Churchland, Dennett), this kind of view entails epiphenomenalism about human experience: that human experience, the “what it is likeness” of our experience, is a by-product of those underlying functions. If human consciousness is thus reducible, it is not far-fetched to argue that artificial intelligence may be conscious in the same way. Far from wishing to argue against the relevance of neuroscience, evolutionary biology, computational systems or the benefits of artificial intelligence, the aim in this paper is to present an argument for the wholeness of human experience, retaining the “what it is likeness” of human experience over and above the results presented to us by science and numbers. It is important to understand the extent to which selfhood (including consciousness and experience) is illusory, in the sense that we want to ensure we understand psychological or psychiatric conditions in order best to treat them, but also in order to shed light on “ordinary” selfhood – or the illusion of “ordinary” selfhood.
However, it is that very “ordinariness” that forms the foundation of our interactions with others, communities and societies, including the norms and values that are instilled within them (Gabriel, Hepburn, Zahavi). We are not mere brains, but selves that interact, engage and commune with others, informed by culture, politics, and history.Whatever the underlying functional approach we might have for understanding human consciousness or experience, and it is undeniable that cutting edge exploration of brain and body functions are crucial to such understanding (Boden, Smith), how we wish the world itself to function on the social, political and economic level given technological concerns ought to be of primary concern in our approach to artificial intelligence, how it is constructed and how we want it to work for us (Floridi). If the metaphor between biological and artificial systems should pass, should obtain, then it seems that it is not only in our best interest to address how we use these technologies and relate to them as third personal entities, how we create and develop our identities in relation to them, but to further imagine a society that would be accepting of its, or their, own emergence of consciousness should that moment of singularity ever occur.
Abstract available soon!
"On Silence, Hate Speech and Authority"
Abstract available soon!