Friday, March 22, 2013

Eric Schwitzgebel - "If Materialism Is True, the United States Is Probably Conscious"

This Vimeo video comes from Neuphi: Neuroscience and Philosophy, and this particular segment features philosopher Eric Schwitzgebel arguing that under the current understanding of materialism, it would be quite possible to consider the United States as a conscious entity.

So, is the U.S. conscious, or is the understanding and use of materialism flawed in some way, as Thomas Nagel and others have been arguing of late?

Eric Schwitzgebel - "If Materialism Is True, the United States Is Probably Conscious"

from Paul Kelly


There seems to be no principled reason to deny entityhood to spatially distributed but informationally integrated beings. The United States can be considered as a concrete, spatially distributed but informationally integrated entity. Considered as such, the United States is at least a candidate for the literal possession of real psychological states, including phenomenal consciousness or subjective experience. The question, then, is whether it meets plausible materialistic criteria for consciousness. My suggestion is that if those criteria are liberal enough to include both small mammals and weird alien species that exhibit sophisticated linguistic behavior, then the United States probably does meet those criteria. The United States is massively informationally interconnected and responds in sophisticated, goal-directed ways to its surroundings. Its internal representational states are functionally responsive to its environment and not randomly formed or assigned artificially from outside by the acts of an external user. And the United States exhibits complex linguistic behavior, including issuing self-reports and self-critiques that reveal a highly-developed ability to monitor its evolving internal and external conditions.

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