Tag Archives: epistemology

Draft of Latest Paper – Awake But Not Aware: Probing For Consciousness in Unresponsive Patients


Ok everyone, here’s a paper I’m really excited about. The topic is so “me” — the first project I’ve wholeheartedly thrown myself into since since I came to Wash U. I can see myself wanting to write a dissertation or book on the topic so this paper will likely serve as the basis for a prospectus in the near future. The issue I’m dealing with in the paper is situated at the intersection of a variety of fields ranging from philosophy of mind, philosophy of science, cutting edge neuroscience, clinical neurology and biomedical ethics. I could conceivably “sell” the project to a variety of people. The project is obviously at an early stage of development and the paper is drafty but I have the rest of the semester to work on this so I’m open to any comments, criticisms, or questions. Thanks!

For PDF of paper, click here –> Williams-AwakeButNotAware-Draft-3-03-14

Here’s a tentative abstract:

The standard approach in clinical neurology is to diagnose disorders of consciousness (DOC) on the basis of operationally defined behaviors. Critics of the standard approach argue that it relies on a flawed behaviorist epistemology that methodologically rules out the possibility of covert consciousness existing independently of any observable behavior or overt report. Furthermore, critics point to developments in neuroimaging that use fMRI to “actively probe” for consciousness in unresponsive patients using mental imagery tasks (Owen et al. 2006). Critics argue these studies showcase the limitations of the standard approach. The goal of this paper is to defend the standard approach against these objections. My defense comes in two parts: negative and positive. Negatively, I argue that these new “active probe” techniques are inconclusive as demonstrations of consciousness. Positively, I reinterpret these active probes in behavioral terms by arguing they are instances of “brain behaviors”, and thus not counterexamples to the standard approach.

Leave a comment

Filed under Academia, Consciousness, Philosophy, Philosophy of science, Psychology

Latest Draft of Mental Time Travel Paper

CLICK HERE to read the latest draft of “Measuring Mental Time Travel in Animals”.

I’ve been working on this paper over the semester, responding to comments and generally cleaning it up. I’ve also added a new sub-section that explores an analogy with–believe it or not–whether Pluto is a planet. I also cut down on some repetitiveness towards the end. I will be turning it in as a Qualifying Paper very soon, so any last minute comments/suggestions/corrections would be greatly appreciated.

Leave a comment

Filed under Philosophy, Philosophy of science, Psychology

Quote for the Day – Einstein’s Louse and the Limits of Scientific Understanding

Nature is showing us only the tail of the lion, but I have no doubt that the lion belongs to it even though, because of its large size, it cannot totally reveal itself all at once. We can see it only the way a louse that is sitting on it would.

 ~Albert Einstein to Heinrich Zangger, quoted in Clifford Pickover, Archimedes to Hawking


Filed under Books, Philosophy, Philosophy of science, Science

Peter Boghossian’s Thought Challenge

Faith is not the same as hope, trust, or confidence. Faith is a kind of knowledge claim predicated on a particular brand of epistemology: faith-based epistemology. Peter Boghossian has offered a challenge for anyone who thinks faith is synonymous with hope:

In my May 6, 2012 public lecture for the Humanists of Greater Portland, I further underscored the difference between faith and hope by issuing the following thought challenge:

Give me a sentence where one must use the word ‘faith,’ and cannot replace that with ‘hope’, yet at the same time isn’t an example of pretending to know something one doesn’t know.

To date, nobody has answered the thought challenge. I don’t think it can be answered because faith and hope are not synonyms.


Filed under Atheism, Philosophy, Theology

Quote for the Day – We Need to Face the Fact that People Don’t Face Facts

Facts don’t necessarily have the power to change minds. In fact, quite the opposite…when misinformed people, particularly political partisans, were exposed to corrected facts in news stories, they rarely change their minds. In fact, they often became even more strongly set in their beliefs. Fact…were not curing misinformation. Like an underpowered antibiotic, facts could actually make misinformation even stronger.”

~Joe Keohane, “How Facts Backfire”, quoted in Peter Boghossian’s A Manual for Creating Atheists

1 Comment

Filed under Atheism, Books, Philosophy

Quote for the Day – The Fractal Nature of Scientific Knowledge

I believe that scientific knowledge has fractal properties; that no matter how much we learn; whatever is left, however small it may seem, is just as infinitely complex as the whole was to start with. That, I think, is the secret of the Universe.

~Isaac Asimov, I, Asimov: A Memoir

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Philosophy, Philosophy of science

Quote for the Day – The Fuzzy Line Between Deductive and Inductive Logic

Beyond the level on which we say that the only logical method of anticipating the future is to project the past, there is the level of the everyday practice of logic. Here our confidence in logic arises from our examination into the details of how logic works in practical applications. On this level we recognize that the elements of a logical analysis must have some of the properties of the “things” of experience, in particular, permanence and identifiability. On this level there is no sharp dividing line between the inductive and deductive logic. For both logics demand identifiability and repeatability, which themselves are not sharp concepts and demand a projection of the past. Furthermore, as usually practiced, the premises of our deductions are obtained by inductive methods. When we say that all men are mortal we very seldom have behind us a verification by observation of all men, but the statement implies an inductive generalization of some sort.

~P.W. Bridgman, The Way Things Are, p. 118

1 Comment

Filed under Books, Philosophy of science

Quote for the Day – Susan Haack on Black Ravens and Narrow-minded Philosophy of Science

Compared with real-life evidence for real-life scientific claims, the old preoccupation with “this is a raven and this is black,” and its relation to “all ravens are black,” looks astonishingly simple and one-dimensional. Still, you may wonder if I have anything to say about black ravens, red herrings, grue emeralds, and all that; and you deserve an answer. In brief: such puzzles are artifacts of the narrowly logical conceptions of evidence, warrant, and confirmation that I have been contesting; they evanesce with the recognition that supportiveness of evidence is not a purely formal matter, but depends on the substantial content of predicates, their place in a mesh of background beliefs, and their relation to the world.

~Susan Haack, Defending Science – Within Reason, p. 83

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Philosophy of science

Quote for the Day – C.S. Peirce’s Refutation of Positivism

All science depends upon the record of the past, and a record other than that in the memory is plainly something which cannot be verified by direct observation.

…Verification is the watchword of Positivism. But it is easy to see that a proposition is no more verifiable by direct observation for being such as we can suppose (by a recognized falsification) to be observed unless it is also such as really can be observed. This maxim, therefore, must refer to really possible observations, not such as are supposably possible, for the proof they give leads to that or nothing.

…It is not a question capable of being decided by direct observation, what is and what is not direct observation. The logical rule, therefore, which is the whole basis of Positivism appears to me to be entirely false.

~C.S. Peirce, Notes on Positivism, in Charles S. Peirce: Selected Writings (Values in a Universe of Chance)

Peirce’s refutation is notable in several ways. First, his claim is only that Positivism “appears” false, a modesty born from his doctrine of fallibilism. Second, his refutation is a precursor of the famous Duhem-Quine thesis, which states that a scientific theory is not refuted on the basis of a single negative experiment because it’s always possible that some mistake was made in the measurement process and, in addition, the theory can be “rescued” by adding auxiliary hypotheses post-hoc. Similarly, Peirce’s point seems to be that Positivism fails to live up to its own standards because if we suppose the gold standard for knowledge is “direct observation”, how can we be sure that our observation was really and not seemingly direct? To verify that our observation was direct, we need a direct observation that our observation was direct. Thus, Positivism will either lead to an infinite regress or bottom out at a direct observation that we haven’t directly observed is a direct observation.


Filed under Books, Philosophy, Philosophy of science

Quote of the Day – Philip Kitcher on the Legacy of Descartes in the Age of Google

I am inclined to think that, were Descartes to be resurrected among us, he would be puzzled by the legacy of his questions in contemporary epistemology – and far more interested in the neglected issue of how to provide access to reliable information in a world awash in potential sources (the “Google/Wikipedia” problem).

Philip Kitcher, Preludes to Pragmatism

Leave a comment

Filed under Philosophy