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Keith Frankish

Theories of consciousness typically address the hard problem. They accept that phenomenal consciousness is real and aim to explain how it comes to exist. There is, however, another approach, which holds that phenomenal consciousness is an illusion and aims to explain why it seems to exist. We might call this eliminativism about phenomenal consciousness. The term is not ideal, however, suggesting as it does that belief in phenomenal consciousness is simply a theoretical error, that rejection of phenomenal realism is part of a wider rejection of folk psychology, and that there is no
role at all for talk of phenomenal properties — claims that are not essential to the approach. Another label is ‘irrealism’, but that too has unwanted connotations; illusions themselves are real and may have considerable power. I propose ‘illusionism’ as a more accurate and inclusive name, and I shall refer to the problem of explaining why experiences seem to have phenomenal properties as the illusion problem.

 Although it has powerful defenders — pre-eminently Daniel Dennett — illusionism remains a minority position, and it is often dismissed out of hand as failing to ‘take consciousness seriously’ (Chalmers, 1996). The aim of this article is to present the case for illusionism. It will not propose a detailed illusionist theory, but will seek to persuade the reader that the illusionist research programme is worth pursuing and that illusionists do take consciousness seriously — in some ways, more seriously than realists do.

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Jodi Cohen
www.propublica.org
Originally published April 26, 2018

Here is an excerpt:

In December, the university quietly paid a severe penalty for Pavuluri’s misconduct and its own lax oversight, after the National Institute of Mental Health demanded weeks earlier that the public institution — which has struggled with declining state funding — repay all $3.1 million it had received for Pavuluri’s study.

In issuing the rare rebuke, federal officials concluded that Pavuluri’s “serious and continuing noncompliance” with rules to protect human subjects violated the terms of the grant. NIMH said she had “increased risk to the study subjects” and made any outcomes scientifically meaningless, according to documents obtained by ProPublica Illinois.

Pavuluri’s research is also under investigation by two offices in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: the inspector general’s office, which examines waste, fraud and abuse in government programs, according to subpoenas obtained by ProPublica Illinois, and the Office of Research Integrity, according to university officials.

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Anneli Jefferson
Synthese (2018).
https://doi.org/10.1007/s11229-018-1784-x

Abstract

In this paper, I address the question whether mental disorders should be understood to be brain disorders and what conditions need to be met for a disorder to be rightly described as a brain disorder. I defend the view that mental disorders are autonomous and that a condition can be a mental disorder without at the same time being a brain disorder. I then show the consequences of this view. The most important of these is that brain differences underlying mental disorders derive their status as disordered from the fact that they realize mental dysfunction and are therefore non-autonomous or dependent on the level of the mental. I defend this view of brain disorders against the objection that only conditions whose pathological character can be identified independently of the mental level of description count as brain disorders. The understanding of brain disorders I propose requires a certain amount of conceptual revision and is at odds with approaches which take the notion of brain disorder to be fundamental or look to neuroscience to provide us with a purely physiological understanding of mental illness. It also entails a pluralistic understanding of psychiatric illness, according to which a condition can be both a mental disorder and a brain disorder.

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Massimo Pigliucci
The Evolution Institute
Originally posted March 2018

Here is the conclusion:

The first bit means that we are all deeply inter-dependent on other people. Despite the fashionable nonsense, especially in the United States, about “self-made men” (they are usually men), there actually is no such thing. Without social bonds and support our lives would be, as Thomas Hobbes famously put it, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. The second bit, the one about intelligence, does not mean that we always, or even often, act rationally. Only that we have the capability to do so. Ethics, then, especially (but not only) for the Stoics becomes a matter of “living according to nature,” meaning not to endorse whatever is natural (that’s an elementary logical fallacy), but rather to take seriously the two pillars of human nature: sociality and reason. As Marcus Aurelius put it, “Do what is necessary, and whatever the reason of a social animal naturally requires, and as it requires.” (Meditations, IV.24)

There is something, of course, the ancients did get wrong: they, especially Aristotle, thought that human nature was the result of a teleological process, that everything has a proper function, determined by the very nature of the cosmos. We don’t believe that anymore, not after Copernicus and especially Darwin. But we do know that human beings are indeed a particular product of complex and ongoing evolutionary processes. These processes do not determine a human essence, but they do shape a statistical cluster of characters that define what it means to be human. That cluster, in turn, constrains — without determining — what sort of behaviors are pro-social and lead to human flourishing, and what sort of behaviors don’t. And ethics is the empirically informed philosophical enterprise that attempts to understand and articulate that distinction.

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Earp, B. D., Everett, J. A., Nadelhoffer, T., Caruso, G. D., Shariff, A., & Sinnott-Armstrong, W. (2018, April 24).
 
Abstract

In recent years, diminished belief in free will or increased belief in determinism have been associated with a range of antisocial or otherwise negative outcomes: unjustified aggression, cheating, prejudice, less helping behavior, and so on. Only a few studies have entertained the possibility of prosocial or otherwise positive outcomes, such as greater willingness to forgive and less motivation to punish retributively. Here, five studies explore the relationship between belief in determinism and another positive outcome or attribute, namely, humility. The reported findings suggest that relative disbelief in free will is reliably associated with at least one type of humility—what we call ‘Einsteinian’ humility—but is not associated with, or even negatively associated with, other types of humility described in the literature.
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Ian Sample
The Guardian
Originally published April 24, 2018

Here is an excerpt:

The call for debate has been prompted by a raft of studies in which scientists have made “brain organoids”, or lumps of human brain from stem cells; grown bits of human brain in rodents; and kept slivers of human brain alive for weeks after surgeons have removed the tissue from patients. Though it does not indicate consciousness, in one case, scientists recorded a surge of electrical activity from a ball of brain and retinal cells when they shined a light on it.

The research is driven by a need to understand how the brain works and how it fails in neurological disorders and mental illness. Brain organoids have already been used to study autism spectrum disorders, schizophrenia and the unusually small brain size seen in some babies infected with Zika virus in the womb.

“This research is essential to alleviate human suffering. It would be unethical to halt the work,” said Nita Farahany, professor of law and philosophy at Duke University in North Carolina. “What we want is a discussion about how to enable responsible progress in the field.”

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Sophie Inge
The Times of Higher Education
Originally published on April 4, 2018

Fresh calls have been made to tackle a crisis of overwork and poor mental health in academia in the wake of two worrying new studies.

US academics who conducted a global survey found that postgraduate students were more than six times more likely to experience depression or anxiety compared with the general population, with female researchers being worst affected.

Meanwhile, a survey of more than 5,500 staff in Norwegian universities found that academics reported higher levels of workaholism than their administrative colleagues and revealed that the group appears to be among the occupations most prone to workaholism in society as a whole. Young and female academics were more likely than their senior colleagues to indicate that this had an impact on their family life.

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Karen Pyke
Sociological Perspectives
Volume: 61 issue: 1, page(s): 5-13
Article first published online: January 9, 2018

Abstract

Institutions of higher learning dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge and committed to diversity should be exemplars of workplace equity. Sadly, they are not. Their failure to take appropriate action to protect employees from inequity, discrimination, bullying, and retaliation amounts to institutional betrayal. The professional code of ethics for sociology, a discipline committed to the study of inequality, instructs sociologists to “strive to eliminate bias in their professional activities” and not to “tolerate any forms of discrimination.” As such, sociologists should be the leaders on our campuses in recognizing institutional betrayals by academic administrators and in promoting workplace equity. Regrettably, we have not accepted this charge. In this address, I call for sociologists to embrace our professional responsibilities and apply our scholarly knowledge and commitments to the reduction of inequality in our own workplace. If we can’t do it here, can we do it anywhere?

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Vanessa Romo
www.npr.org
Originally published April 24, 2018

Here is an excerpt:

"It provides a safety net for the person in case they happen to lose their grip and fall or if they decide to jump," Shaw said. "With the trucks lined up underneath they're only falling about five to six feet as opposed 15 or 16."

After about two hours of engaging with officials the distressed man willingly backed off the edge and is receiving help, Shaw said.

"He was looking to take his own life but we were able to talk to him and find out what his specific trigger was and helped correct it," Shaw said.

In all, the ordeal lasted about three hours.

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Daniel J. Buehrer
IEEE Access

Here is an excerpt:

Allowing machines to modify their own model of the world and themselves may create “conscious” machines, where the measure of consciousness may be taken to be the number of uses of feedback loops between a class calculus’s model of the world and the results of what its robots actually caused to happen in the world. With this definition, if the programs, neural networks, and Bayesian networks are put into read-only hardware, the machines will not be conscious since they cannot learn. We
would not have to feel guilty of recycling these sims or robots (e.g. driverless cars) by melting them in incinerators or throwing them into acid baths, since they are only machines. However, turning off a conscious sim without its consent should be considered murder, and appropriate punishment should be administered in every country.

Unsupervised hierarchical adversarially learned inference has already shown to perform much better than human handcrafted features. The feedback mechanism tries to minimize the Jensen-Shanon information divergence between the many levels of a generative adversarial network and the corresponding inference network, which can correspond to a stack of part-of levels of a fuzzy class calculus IS-A hierarchy. 

From the viewpoint of humans, a sim should probably have an objective function for its reinforcement learning that allows it to become an excellent mathematician and scientist in order to “carry forth an ever-advancing civilization”. But such a conscious superintelligence “should” probably also make use of parameters to try to emulate the well-recognized “virtues” such as empathy, friendship, generosity, humility, justice, love, mercy, responsibility, respect, truthfulness, trustworthiness, etc.

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