Once a week.
Subscribe to our weekly newsletter.
Extending Descartes to Embody Our Social Rational Souls
Descartes’ solitary, inward-facing mindset misconstrues the social nature of our thinking. Social Cartesianism better captures the soul of what matters in distinguishing humans from animals or machines.
1. Don’t mind the gap embodied in Descartes’ “I think, therefore I am.” We can now materially extend his soul-saving moves in new directions.
2. 1,200 years before Descartes, Augustine declared: “If I am deceived, I exist,” meaning you can’t imagine you are thinking, even erroneously, if you don’t exist.
5. Descartes declared that matter is non-thinking and extends in space, but mind is a “thinking thing” that’s “non-extended.” These metaphysical God-given “rational souls” were ghosts controlling our body’s machinery (whereas animals were soulless machines).
8. While Descartes’ key move was inward, Harry Collins turns outward to define “Social Cartesianism.” The "radical difference between humans and other entities, including animals,” isn’t metaphysical, it’s our social, uniquely language-dependent, rational thinking.
9. For Collins, information is always embodied (in "stuff inscribed with patterns”). Calling it disembodied repeats Plato’s faith in heavenly forms. However if those forms or ideas exist, they’re inaccessible to us unless patterns representing them are concretely imprinted in matter (brains, books, speech-animated air...).
10. Here, we can usefully extend a distinction Descartes made: Primary properties, like length, are intrinsic; secondary properties, like color, aren’t; They’re non-localized, they exist in what John Serle calls “observer relative” ways (e.g., an object’s color is relative to illumination + observer physiology).
11. All matter-imprinted information patterns have non-intrinsic aspects; they exist “relative to us" or other entities. Spinoza held that ideas like good, evil, justice, and beauty aren’t, as Plato thought, formed like timeless triangles; they’re relational, contextual, and observer-relative (~subjective with objective aspects).
12. Aside: Plato’s triangle love has generated much geometry-intoxicated thinking that mistakes geometry’s perfections as models for everything (even God).
13. Actionable information is always “observer-relative.” Neither information, nor its meaning, exists entirely within the matter it’s inscribed on. Its meanings, its physical effects, are relative to (depend on, extend between) apt decoding entities (which can be inert matter, see “computationalism”).
14. Carving nature at non-Cartesian joints, enables Serle to demarcate what humans can do but artificial intelligence can’t. And it lets Collins describe that machines mimic language without understanding. Languages exist distributed between skulls (~“collective consciousness,” having “another language is to possess a second soul").
15. Descartes’ solitary, individualistic, inward-facing mindset misconstrues the truly "social nature of human cognition." Social Cartesianism better captures the soul of what matters in distinguishing humans from animals or machines. Per Rebecca Goldstein’s “I am thought of, therefore I am,” unless you’re thought of enough, you don’t reach consciousness.
Illustration by Julia Suits, The New Yorker cartoonist & author of The Extraordinary Catalog of Peculiar Inventions
"Deepfakes" and "cheap fakes" are becoming strikingly convincing — even ones generated on freely available apps.
- A writer named Magdalene Visaggio recently used FaceApp and Airbrush to generate convincing portraits of early U.S. presidents.
- "Deepfake" technology has improved drastically in recent years, and some countries are already experiencing how it can weaponized for political purposes.
- It's currently unknown whether it'll be possible to develop technology that can quickly and accurately determine whether a given video is real or fake.
The future of deepfakes<p>In 2018, Gabon's president Ali Bongo had been out of the country for months receiving medical treatment. After Bongo hadn't been seen in public for months, rumors began swirling about his condition. Some suggested Bongo might even be dead. In response, Bongo's administration released a video that seemed to show the president addressing the nation.</p><p>But the <a href="https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=324528215059254" target="_blank">video</a> is strange, appearing choppy and blurry in parts. After political opponents declared the video to be a deepfake, Gabon's military attempted an unsuccessful coup. What's striking about the story is that, to this day, experts in the field of deepfakes can't conclusively verify whether the video was real. </p><p>The uncertainty and confusion generated by deepfakes poses a "global problem," according to a <a href="https://www.brookings.edu/research/is-seeing-still-believing-the-deepfake-challenge-to-truth-in-politics/#cancel" target="_blank">2020 report from The Brookings Institution</a>. In 2018, the U.S. Department of Defense released some of the first tools able to successfully detect deepfake videos. The problem, however, is that deepfake technology keeps improving, meaning forensic approaches may forever be one step behind the most sophisticated forms of deepfakes. </p><p>As the 2020 report noted, even if the private sector or governments create technology to identify deepfakes, they will:</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"...operate more slowly than the generation of these fakes, allowing false representations to dominate the media landscape for days or even weeks. "A lie can go halfway around the world before the truth can get its shoes on," warns David Doermann, the director of the Artificial Intelligence Institute at the University of Buffalo. And if defensive methods yield results short of certainty, as many will, technology companies will be hesitant to label the likely misrepresentations as fakes."</p>
Context is everything.
The COVID-19 pandemic has introduced a number of new behaviours into daily routines, like physical distancing, mask-wearing and hand sanitizing. Meanwhile, many old behaviours such as attending events, eating out and seeing friends have been put on hold.
A new study looks at how images of coffee's origins affect the perception of its premiumness and quality.
- Images can affect how people perceive the quality of a product.
- In a new study, researchers show using virtual reality that images of farms positively influence the subjects' experience of coffee.
- The results provide insights on the psychology and power of marketing.