PHILOSOPHY PATHWAYS ISSN 2043-0728
Issue number 3 23 February 2001
The Shap Conference
T H E S H A P C O N F E R E N C E -----------------------------------
"The Place of Mind in Nature" Shap Wells Hotel, Cumbria 16th-18th February 2001
The Centre for Lifelong Learning, University of Newcastle
Michael Bavidge University of Newcastle Geoffrey Klempner University of Sheffield David Large University of Newcastle
Andy Lewis, Pathways (Distance Learning) Student, ES Programmer
18th February 2001
This was no somnolent retreat but a hi-octane weekend of exciting papers and focused discussion until the wee hours in a very agreeable hotel in the Lakeland foothills.
The main debates and discussions centered on the central role of biological systems for humans and other animals. The main issue raised by Michael's paper was the difficulty in returning to the mind set of pre-Cartesian philosophy. The discussion of Geoffrey's paper tended to gravitate toward a discussion of Artificial Intelligence and its contrast with human capacities, including reference to the Turing Test and Searle's Chinese Room. David's paper was a great surprise to all and required of the audience considerable time and analytical energy to attempt a first pass at understanding what may be, if the concept is ultimately successful, the start of a new perspective on cognition and consciousness. Whichever school is found to be more robust, the great importance of biological processes to the understanding of human knowledge was elucidated at this conference.
(1) Michael Bavidge "The Metaphysics of Knowledge"
The paper was an introduction to the theme of the conference and posited that the medieval philosophers may have an approach which may help refocus discussion of "knowledge".
The medievals, Mike asserted, viewed the "Four Causes" of Aristotle as shedding most light on "Knowledge". Briefly these are:
1. "What caused it?" [a phenomenon] 2. "What stuff is it?" 3. "What structure does it have?" 4. "Why was it produced?"
Mike offered his view that modern theories of knowledge emphasise that knowledge is some form of representation, and requires the idea of "community". His main illustration of the above scheme juxtaposed the natural nuclear explosion in a far off galaxy, and the man made event of the atomic bomb detonated at Hiroshima.
(2) Geoffrey Klempner "Truth and subjective knowledge"
To elucidate Geoffrey's wide ranging paper, I reproduce his concluding paragraph:
"Subjective knowledge is unique to the individual. With that I agree. I cannot communicate my subjective knowledge to you, and you cannot communicate your subjective knowledge to me. there is an unsurpassable gulf between the subjective and objective sides of practical knowledge, the dual aspects of the agent's attunement with the external world. The indescribable 'blueness' I see inside me when I look up at the sky on a fine day is the hidden, subjective side of the practical ability, which I acquired when I learned the language, to put words to my perceptions, to follow the rule for the word 'blue'. i can utter the words, 'Look at the blue sky' but I cannot utter that which makes it possible for me to use those words. From whichever side you look at it, there is only one me, and the sky, and the biologically founded attunement between the one and the other."
Geoffrey illustrated his argument with two thought experiments. In the first, suggested by Wittgenstein 'Philosophical Investigations' para 283, Adam and Eve are turned into stone statues. In the second, Adam and Eve are turned into zombies. Geoffrey argued that these ideas did not make logical sense, even though they seem to. "There is nowhere we can place a self or mind in a body that lacks the requisite biology...Given the biology, there cannot fail to be a self or mind."
Geoffrey Klempner's paper can be found at: http:---
3) David Large "Minds, Brains, Ecology"
David's paper began by outlining the classical approaches to mind and knowledge, Cartesianism and Scientific Reductionism. However it was the exposition of a new view, "Ecological Philosophy" which made the impact. This was not a fully fledged elucidation, as David indicated. However, the main thrust seemed to be that "Ecological Philosophy", based on the work of J.J. Gibson, seemed to base the identity of the mind as conducting an interactive and reciprocal, almost Gestalt-ist, relationship with the external world's sensory input, output and feedback. To support this thrust, his handout posited the "Screen Problem":
Computer is to Perceiver
Camera is to Eye
CPU (Central Processing Unit) is to Brain
Screen image is to the perception
David was clear that the representation of an event or picture on a computer screen cannot be perception itself. Each of the above compares the computer activity slightly at odds with that of a seemingly correspondent human function. Given the effectiveness of those human functions, this can be seen as supporting the biological model of perception and cognition.
(c) A J Lewis, 2001