Of all the problems that information philosophy may help to solve, few are more important than the question of Mind. There is little in philosophy that is more dehumanizing than the logic chopping and sophistical word juggling that denies the
existence of Mind and Consciousness
Some of the earliest philosophers saw immaterial
Mind as the source of eternal Truths about Reality that could not be based on mere phenomena - unreliable sensations emanating from material bodies.
' dualism reduced the bodies of all animals to deterministic
living machines, but left room for a non-mechanistic, immaterial, and indeterministic
Mind above and beyond the deterministic limits set by the laws of nature.
renamed the ancient division of sensible and intelligible worlds, locating God, freedom, and immortality in his noumenal
world, while pure sensation exists in his completely deterministic phenomenal world
. But like Descartes, he could never explain the connections between these worlds.
Information philosophy hopes to show that information
is itself that immaterial “substance” above and beyond matter and energy that the ancients, Descartes, and Kant were looking for.
Mind as Immaterial Information in a
Biological Information Processor
Information philosophy views the mind as the immaterial
information in the brain. The brain is seen as a biological information processor
. Mind is software in the brain’s hardware, although it is altogether different from the logic gates, bit storage, algorithms, computations, and input/output systems of the type of digital computer used as a "computational model of mind" by today's cognitive scientists.
The “stuff” of thought is pure information, neither matter nor energy, though it needs matter for its embodiment and energy for its communication. Information is the modern spirit, the soul in the body, the ghost in the machine.
In ancient philosophy, mind/soul versus body was one of the classic dualisms
, such as idealism versus materialism, the problem of the one (monism) or the many (pluralism), the distinction between essence and existence, between universals and particulars, between necessity and contingency, between eternal and ephemeral, but most important, the difference between the intelligible world of the noumena and the sensible world of mere appearances or phenomena.
When mind and body are viewed today as a dualism
, it is because the mind is considered to be fundamentally different from the material brain, though perhaps not another “substance.” We propose an easily understandable and critically important physical difference between matter and immaterial information. Whereas the total amount of matter is conserved, the universe is continuously creating new information - by rearranging existing matter into new information structures. The total amount of information (a kind of order) in the universe is increasing, despite the second law of thermodynamics, which - counterintuitively - says that the total amount of disorder (entropy) is also increasing.
Matter, along with energy (mc2
), cannot increase. It is conserved, a constant of the universe. Information is not conserved. As information grows, it is the source of genuine novelty in the universe. The future is not determined by the past and present, because the future contains unpredictable new information. New information is continuously created.
If mind and matter then are to be considered part of a dualism, it will not be a "material substance" dualism, but it can still be a "physical substance" dualism, since mind and matter are both physical and "substantial," in the sense of having real causal power. We recognize that something immaterial with causal power also fits the description of metaphysical
The Evolution of Information to Become Mind
How did material substances come to be able to think? Ancient philosophers assumed that mind and thought must be primordial, perhaps even prior to the creation of matter. But we can now outline the creation and evolution of information from an initial state of the universe (with minimal, essentially zero information and no material at all) to the “information age” of today.
Information philosophy makes the straightforward claim that human beings, especially their minds, are the most highly evolved form of information generation and processing system in the known universe. Recognizing this simple fact provides a radically new perspective on the central problems of psychology and philosophy of mind.
In a very deep sense, we are information
The story of evolution from a matter-free universe origin to the information-processing brain/mind can be told in three major emergences:
the first appearance of matter, some of it organized into information structures,
the first appearance of life, information structures that create and transmit information by natural selection, variation, and heredity,
the appearance of human minds, which create, store, and transmit information external to their bodies.
With the appearance of life, purpose entered the universe. The fundamental purpose of all life is to survive, at least long enough to replicate. For most species, all of the information needed to survive is transmitted in the genes and the biological machinery of the cell. To benefit from the experiences of an ancestor, those experiences must somehow be encoded genetically, so they show up as a priori
, built-in capabilities of the offspring.
Konrad Lorenz said that what is a priori
for an individual (ontogeny) was a posteriori
for its ancestors (phylogeny).
The appearance of human minds marks the beginning of significant amounts of knowledge stored extra-biologically. Externally stored information (the "Sum
") needed for human survival can be transmitted culturally between the generations. The development of the highest forms of philosophical and scientific thought would have been impossible without the externally stored information we call the Sum
. Arguably, even language itself could not have developed. A child deprived of its senses for access to human culture would never speak. According to Merlin Donald
, human culture did not develop because humans had acquired language to communicate. We developed language to improve on the primitive communication capabilities (miming, pointing, signing) of pre-linguistic humans.
Humans are conscious
of our experiences because they are recorded in (and reproduced on demand from) the information structures in our brains. We call it the Experience Recorder and Reproducer
(ERR). Mental information houses the content of an individual character - the fabric of values, desires, and reasons used to evaluate alternatives for action and thus to make choices. The information in a human brain vastly exceeds our genetic information. Because it can be stored and retrieved externally, it has allowed human beings to dominate the planet. Animals may exceed us in strength and speed, but we have experience, memory, wisdom, and skill (Anaxagoras DK B 21b) that has accumulated over thousands of generations.
Mind-body as a dualism coincides with Plato’s “Ideas” or “Forms” as pure form, with an ontology different from that of matter. The immaterial Forms, seen by the intellect (nous), allow us to understand the world. On the other hand, mind-body as a monism can picture both sides of the mind-body distinction as pure physicalism, since information embodied in matter corresponds simply to a reorganization of the matter. This was Aristotle’s more practical view. For him, Plato’s Ideas were mere abstractions generalized from many existent particulars.
Form without matter is empty, matter without form is inconceivable, unimaginable. Kant rewrote this pre-Socratic observation somewhat obscurely as “Thoughts without content are empty, intuitions without concepts are blind.”
But there are other characteristic differences between the mental and the physical that modern science, even neuroscience, may never fully explain. The most important is the internal and private first-person point of view, the essential subjectivity, the “I” and the “eye” of the mind, its capability of introspection and reflection, its intentionality, its purposiveness, its consciousness. The mind records an individual’s experiences as internal information structures and then can play back these recordings to compare them to new perceptions, new external events. The recordings include an individual’s emotional reactions to past experiences, our feelings. The reproduction of recorded personal experiences, stimulated by similarities in current experience, provide the core of “what it’s like to be” an individual.
The external and public physical world, by contrast, is studied from the third-person point of view. Although putatively “objective,” science in fact is the composite “intersubjective” view of the “community of inquirers,” as Charles Sanders Peirce
put it. Although this shared subjectivity can never directly experience what goes on in the mind of an individual member of the community, science is in some sense the collective mind of the physical world. It is a pale record of the world’s experiences, because it lacks the emotional aspect of personal experience.
The physical world itself has no sense of its history. It does not introspect or reflect. It lacks consciousness, that problem in philosophy of mind second only to the basic mind-body problem itself. We see consciousness as based on a highly evolved Experience Recorder and Reproducer
(ERR) that even the lowest organisms may have in the form of experiences recorded in their DNA .
, in his Book III, Parts IV and V, of De Anima
(On the Soul), perhaps the most controversial and confusing part of his entire corpus, says that the soul (psyche
) or mind is immaterial. He was right. For Aristotle, Intellect (nous
) is that part of the soul whose active thinking gives it a causal (aition
) power (dynamis
) over the material (hyle
) body (soma
). This claim appears to anticipate the mind-body problem of René Descartes
- how exactly does an immaterial thing (substance) or property exert a causal force on the material body?
It is important to note that Descartes made the mind the locus of undetermined freedom
. For him, the body is a deterministic
mechanical system of tiny fibres causing movements in the brain (the afferent sensations), which then can pull on other fibres to activate the muscles (the efferent nerve impulses). This is the basis of stimulus and response theory in modern physiology (reflexology). It is also the basis behind connectionist theories of mind. An appropriate network need only connect the afferent to the efferent signals. No thinking mind is needed for animals (or computers where inputs completely determine outputs).
The popular idea of animals as machines included the notion that man too is in part a machine - the human body obeys strictly deterministic causal laws. But for Descartes man also has a soul or spirit that is exempt from determinism and thus from what is known today as “causal closure.” But how, we must ask, can the mind both cause something physical to happen and yet itself be acausal, exempt from causal chains? This is the problem of mental causation
Since Immanuel Kant
, this problem has become even more severe. The freedom in Kant’s noumenal world
- outside space and time - has no apparent connection with the deterministic phenomenal
world. For Kant, causality
is a category of understanding applicable only to the phenomenal world. In the twentieth century, Gilbert Ryle
called the concept of Mind a “category mistake.”
Information philosophy hopes to solve the mind/body problem, the problem of mental causation, the “hard problem” of consciousness, and the problem of other minds, not by postulating a non-physical world, but instead a world that answers to the ancient description of metaphysical, because it is non-material. This world is the locus of everything Aristotle included in his first philosophy, the laws of thought and today the laws of physics.
The world of information is abstract, not concrete, intangible, yet with causal power as Aristotle thought. The material world is made up in part
of information structures. (We shall see that most of the matter in the universe is chaotic and contains little or no information.) Material information structures can be perceived and their abstract information content represented as information structures in the mind/brain. To the extent that the information in the mind is isomorphic with the information in the object, we can say that the subject has knowledge of the external world. To the extent that information in other minds is isomorphic, we have intersubjective
shared knowledge, something impossible to show with words or even logic alone.
Information philosophy goes “beyond logic and language