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Reverse Fallacies for Considerations of Consciousness

December 31, 2013 Leave a comment Go to comments

Special pleading is a formal logical fallacy where a participant demands special considerations for a particular premise of theirs. Usually this is because in order for their argument to work, they need to provide some way to get out of a logical inconsistency – in a lot of cases, this will be the fact that their argument contradicts past arguments or actions. Therefore, they introduce a “special case” or an exception to their rules.

While this is acceptable in genuine special cases, it becomes a formal fallacy when a person doesn’t adequately justify why the case is special.

[…] the “naturalistic fallacy”  is close to but not identical with the fallacious appeal to nature, the claim that what is natural is inherently good or right, and that what is unnatural is inherently bad or wrong.

The Normative Fallacy occurs, rather, when someone attempts to argue that something is not the case or is the case based on a set of ideological, ethical, moral, political, or other normative commitments.

Cargo Cult: The speech is reproduced in the book Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! and on many websites. Feynman based the phrase on a concept in anthropology, the cargo cult, which describes how some pre-scientific cultures interpreted technologically advanced visitors as religious or supernatural figures who brought boons of cargo. Later, in an effort to call for a second visit the natives would develop and engage in complex religious rituals, mirroring the previously observed behavior of the visitors manipulating their machines but without understanding the true nature of those tasks. Just as cargo cultists create mock airports that fail to produce airplanes, cargo cult scientists conduct flawed research that superficially resembles the scientific method, but which fails to produce scientifically useful results.

Here is an excerpt from the book.

In the South Seas there is a cargo cult of people. During the war they saw airplanes land with lots of good materials, and they want the same thing to happen now. So they’ve arranged to imitate things like runways, to put fires along the sides of the runways, to make a wooden hut for a man to sit in, with two wooden pieces on his head like headphones and bars of bamboo sticking out like antennas—he’s the controller—and they wait for the airplanes to land. They’re doing everything right. The form is perfect. It looks exactly the way it looked before. But it doesn’t work. No airplanes land. So I call these things cargo cult science, because they follow all the apparent precepts and forms of scientific investigation, but they’re missing something essential, because the planes don’t land.

Feynman cautioned that to avoid becoming cargo cult scientists, researchers must avoid fooling themselves, be willing to question and doubt their own theories and their own results, and investigate possible flaws in a theory or an experiment. He recommended that researchers adopt an unusually high level of honesty which is rarely encountered in everyday life, and gives examples from advertising, politics, and behavioral psychology to illustrate the everyday dishonesty which should be unacceptable in science.

I’m posting this because it should be pointed out that fallacies can run in both directions. The entire array of Western philosophical argumentation is rooted in the deepest assumption of all – that what we feel and think is unreliable, therefore suspicious, but what happens outside of ourselves, or what we agree that we perceive happening outside of ourselves is above suspicion, by definition. Since there can never be a case where we are right and physics is wrong, all who seek to make a hypothesis about the fundamental nature of subjectivity are put in the awkward position of being judged in their own power to participate in conscious experience by the normative expectations of a system of knowledge which specifically and exhaustively removes all possible traces of subjectivity.

Because the expectation of science itself, as it is currently practiced, obstructs its own view of consciousness with ideology that is assumed to be inescapable and natural, the logical fallacies which are designed protect science are operating in reverse. Any model which suggests phenomenal awareness is a phenomenon being more primitive than objective structures and laws is rejected out of hand as having no evidence. There is no way to put forth the observation that consciousness cannot be under suspicion when it seems entirely likely that no evidence of consciousness outside of its own reports of itself can ever exist. We must instead examine why, if our own delusion and fallacious reasoning is ultimately a product of neurochemistry and evolutionary biology, should we be able to trust our brain’s folk epistemology called science? We might say, well, we know science works because of the evidence – the technology. True, but where but in our own shared experience can evidence be understood? If nature was making the same kind of mistakes that we do, how would we know? Especially given the nature of recent science, where dark matter and energy can suddenly appear and swallow the known universe, and quantum theory has, in some sense, suspended the rule of non-contradiction.

When it comes to consciousness, the Strong AI project has become a Cargo Cult. By imitating the architecture of the brain or of the logical syntax of its behavior, we hope that the consciousness cargo will show up. Instead of an appeal to nature, we now have a bold and unchallenged appeal to science – The claim that what is testable is inherently real, and that what has not yet been made testable and may not be testable is inherently irrelevant. I propose a new logical fallacy – the Abnormative fallacy, which occurs when someone attempts to argue that something is not the case or is the case based on a set of commitments to doctrines which are cynical, robotic, formalistic and held above suspicion by popular inertia. Finally I propose the fallacy of General Pleading, to expose this normative bias stemming from the privilege and power of the dominant perspective which denies the possibility that consciousness is a special case, or THE special case, by definition.

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