P H I L O S O P H Y P A T H W A Y S ISSN 2043-0728
Issue number 3
23 February 2001
The Shap Conference
T H E S H A P C O N F E R E N C E
"The Place of Mind in Nature"
Shap Wells Hotel, Cumbria
16th-18th February 2001
The Centre for Lifelong Learning,
University of Newcastle
Michael Bavidge University of Newcastle
Geoffrey Klempner University of Sheffield
David Large University of Newcastle
Andy Lewis, Pathways (Distance Learning) Student,
18th February 2001
This was no somnolent retreat but a hi-octane weekend of exciting papers and
focused discussion until the wee hours in a very agreeable hotel in the
The main debates and discussions centered on the central role of biological
systems for humans and other animals. The main issue raised by Michael's paper
was the difficulty in returning to the mind set of pre-Cartesian philosophy.
The discussion of Geoffrey's paper tended to gravitate toward a discussion of
Artificial Intelligence and its contrast with human capacities, including
reference to the Turing Test and Searle's Chinese Room. David's paper was a
great surprise to all and required of the audience considerable time and
analytical energy to attempt a first pass at understanding what may be, if the
concept is ultimately successful, the start of a new perspective on cognition
and consciousness. Whichever school is found to be more robust, the great
importance of biological processes to the understanding of human knowledge was
elucidated at this conference.
(1) Michael Bavidge "The Metaphysics of Knowledge"
The paper was an introduction to the theme of the conference and posited that
the medieval philosophers may have an approach which may help refocus
discussion of "knowledge".
The medievals, Mike asserted, viewed the "Four Causes" of Aristotle as shedding
most light on "Knowledge". Briefly these are:
1. "What caused it?" [a phenomenon]
2. "What stuff is it?"
3. "What structure does it have?"
4. "Why was it produced?"
Mike offered his view that modern theories of knowledge emphasise that
knowledge is some form of representation, and requires the idea of "community".
His main illustration of the above scheme juxtaposed the natural nuclear
explosion in a far off galaxy, and the man made event of the atomic bomb
detonated at Hiroshima.
(2) Geoffrey Klempner "Truth and subjective knowledge"
To elucidate Geoffrey's wide ranging paper, I reproduce his concluding
"Subjective knowledge is unique to the individual. With that I agree. I cannot
communicate my subjective knowledge to you, and you cannot communicate your
subjective knowledge to me. there is an unsurpassable gulf between the
subjective and objective sides of practical knowledge, the dual aspects of the
agent's attunement with the external world. The indescribable 'blueness' I see
inside me when I look up at the sky on a fine day is the hidden, subjective
side of the practical ability, which I acquired when I learned the language, to
put words to my perceptions, to follow the rule for the word 'blue'. i can utter
the words, 'Look at the blue sky' but I cannot utter that which makes it
possible for me to use those words. From whichever side you look at it, there
is only one me, and the sky, and the biologically founded attunement between
the one and the other."
Geoffrey illustrated his argument with two thought experiments. In the first,
suggested by Wittgenstein 'Philosophical Investigations' para 283, Adam and Eve
are turned into stone statues. In the second, Adam and Eve are turned into
zombies. Geoffrey argued that these ideas did not make logical sense, even
though they seem to. "There is nowhere we can place a self or mind in a body
that lacks the requisite biology...Given the biology, there cannot fail to be a
self or mind."
Geoffrey Klempner's paper can be found at:
3) David Large "Minds, Brains, Ecology"
David's paper began by outlining the classical approaches to mind and
knowledge, Cartesianism and Scientific Reductionism. However it was the
exposition of a new view, "Ecological Philosophy" which made the impact. This
was not a fully fledged elucidation, as David indicated. However, the main
thrust seemed to be that "Ecological Philosophy", based on the work of J.J.
Gibson, seemed to base the identity of the mind as conducting an interactive
and reciprocal, almost Gestalt-ist, relationship with the external world's
sensory input, output and feedback. To support this thrust, his handout posited
the "Screen Problem":
Computer is to Perceiver
Camera is to Eye
CPU (Central Processing Unit) is to Brain
Screen image is to the perception
David was clear that the representation of an event or picture on a computer
screen cannot be perception itself. Each of the above compares the computer
activity slightly at odds with that of a seemingly correspondent human
function. Given the effectiveness of those human functions, this can be seen as
supporting the biological model of perception and cognition.
(c) A J Lewis, 2001
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