Why Philosophy is Going to Stay

In a nutshell, philosophy deals with those subjects that cannot be completely formalized. The sciences are about areas of knowledge for which complete formal theories are possible. Scientism includes the belief that what is formalizable and what is real is the same, i.e. everything can be described in terms of formal theories. Analytical philosophy is trying to turn philosophy into a science, but if everything can be formalized, philosophy is (as some scientists state) unnecessary, so analytical philosophy is making itself obsolete.

However, if, as I think, reality cannot be completely formalized, science is inherently incomplete and philosophy is not going away. Especially, human cognitive processes cannot be completely formalized in principle. Each formal description of such processes is incomplete and partial. Cognition develops historically (something formalizable systems don’t do). Cognitive science then turns out not to be a science but a historical discipline. Human thinking does not follow fixed laws.

As a result, there is no complete and at the same time exact formal description of cognition and of its products, like society, culture, and even science itself, cannot be described completely in terms of a single formal theory. Philosophy is not going away. As long as you do “normal science” in the Kuhnian sense, you don’t need philosophy, but if you are working in any field of the humanities, or psychology or “social sciences”, you permanently need philosophy. Here, you do not have a fixed methodology. You have to be reflexive and look at what you are doing from a meta- (and meta-meta-…level) all of the time. You have to look at what you are doing critically all of the time. In the sciences, you also have to do that, but only occasionally, if you bump into anomalies and you have to shift your paradigm.

In mathematics, there are entities for which we can prove that a complete formal description is impossible. If such entities exist in mathematics, there is no a-priory reason why they should not also exist in physical reality. Human beings and their societies and cultures seem to be such entities for which a complete formalization is impossible. If that is so, philosophy is not going to go away.

The Core of Philosophy

In a way (that I am going to explore in some articles on Creativistic Philosophy), one could say that computability theory (which could be called “formalizability theory”), as one can find it in the works of Post, Kleene, Turing, Church and Gödel, forms the very core of philosophy. From here, one can investigate why philosophy still exists, why it will not go away and what is the nature of the analytic/continental divide and the science/humanities divide.

Estimating the Complexity of Innate Knowledge


The following is a very crude estimate of the informational complexity of the innate knowledge of human beings. To be more exact, it is a crude estimate of an upper limit to the information content of this knowledge. It might be off by an order of magnitude or so. So this is a “back of an envelope” or “back of a napkin” kind of calculation. It just gives a direction into which to try to get a more accurate calculation.

According to the human proteome  project (http://www.proteinatlas.org/humanproteome/brain), about 67 % of the human genes are expressed in the brain. Most of these genes are also expressed in other parts of the body, so they probably form part of the general biochemical machinery of all cells. However, 1223 genes have an elevated level of expression in the brain. In one way or the other, the brain-specific structures must be encoded in these genes, or mainly in these genes.

There are about 20.000 genes in the human genome. So the 1223 genes. So about 6.115 % of our genes are brain specific. Probably, we share many of these with primates and other animals, like rodents, so the really human-specific part of the brain-specific genes might be much smaller. However, I am only interested here in an order-of-magnitude-result for an upper limit.

I have no information about the total length of these brain-specific genes, so I can only assume that they have average length.

According to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_genome, the human genome has  3,095,693,981 base paris (of course, there is variation here).  Only about 2 % of this is coding DNA. There is also some non-coding DNA that has a function (in regulation, or in production of some types of RNA) but let us assume that the functional part of the genome is maybe 3%. That makes something in the order of 92 – 93 million base pares with a function (probably less). That makes 30 million to 31 million triplets. If the brain genes have average length, 6.115 % of this would be brain specific. That makes that is something like 1.89 million triplets.

The triplets code for 20 amino acids. There are also start- and stop-signals. The exact information content of a triplet would depend on how often it appears, and they are definitely not equally distributed, but let us assume that each of them codes for one out of 20 possibilities (calculating the exact information content of a triplet will require much more sophisticated reasoning and specific information, but for our purposes, this is enough). The information content of a triplet can then be estimated as the dual logarithm of 20 (you need 4 bits to encode 16 possibilities and 5 bits to encode 32 possibilites, so this should be between 4 and 5 bits). The dual logarithm of 20 is 4.322. So we multiply this with the number of triplets and get  8.200.549 bits. This is  1.025.069 bytes, or roughly a megabyte (something like 200 – 300 times the length of this blog article).

So the information content of the brain coding genes that determine the structure of the brain is in the order of a megabyte (smaller than many pieces of commercial software). The structure of the brain is generated by the information contained in these genes. This is probably an overestimate because many of these genes might not be involved in the encoding of the connective pattern of the neurons, but, for example, in the glial immune system of the brain or other brain specific, “non-neuronal” stuff.

If the brain’s structure is encoded in these genes, the information content of these structures cannot be larger than the information content of these genes. Since there are many more neurons, a lot of their connectivity must be repetitive. Indeed, the cortex consists of neuronal columns that show a lot of repetitive structure. If one would describe the innate brain circuitry, i.e. that found in a newborn (or developing in the small child in processes of ripening), and you compress that information to the smallest possible size, determining its information content, that information content cannot be larger than the information content of the genes involved in its generation. The process of transcribing those genes and building the brain structures as a result can be viewed as a process of informtion transformation, but it cannot create new information not contained in those genes. The brain structure might contain random elements (i.e. new information created by random processes) and information taken up from the environment through processes of perception, experimentation and learning, but this additional information is, by definition, not part of the innate structures. So the complexity of the innate structures or the innate knowledge, i.e. the complexity of the innate developmental core of cognition, must be limited by the information content of the genes involved in generating the brain.

The above calculation shows that this should be in the order of magnitude of a megabyte or so.

This means also that the minimum complexity of an artificial intelligent system capable of reaching human-type general intelligence cannot be larger than that.

We should note, however, that human beings who learn and develop their intelligence are embedded in a world they can interact with through their bodies and senses and that they are embedded into societies. These societies are the carriers of cultures whose information content is larger by many orders of magnitude. The question would be if it is possible to embed an artificial intelligent system into a world and a culture or society in a way to enable it to reach human-like intelligence. (This also raises ethical questions.)

In other words, the total complexity of innate knowledge of humans can hardly extend the amount of information contained in an average book, and is probably much smaller. It cannot be very sophisticated or complex.

(The picture, displaying the genetic code, is from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:GeneticCode21-version-2.svg)

Does Meditation Reduce Creativity?

Just a question. I have no answer to this and answering it would require some serious scientific research:

Meditation is, first and foremost, training of attention. As far as I understand, regular practice of meditation can, to a great extent, improve attention by promoting the ability to reduce the uncontrolled straying of thoughts. My question is: does this have a negative impact on creativity? What one learns to suppress through meditation seems to be what is called the “default network” of the brain.

 My personal experience in the “default mode” of the mind is that my thoughts are wandering around. It looks like I am analyzing all kinds of problems. At the same time, my impression is that in this default state, I am having my best ideas. So it seems to me that this is the “creative mode” of the mind.

While in a state of concentration, I can work on a specific problem and apply known methods; however, my creativity, i.e. the ability to generate new ideas, to move out of the scope of known methods of thinking, seems to be highest in the state in which the mind is wandering uncontolled. when brain activity is strongest in the default network.

As far as I understand, it seems to be this default activity that is reduced in meditation (if I am not wrong on this). So could it be that people who practice a lot of meditation gain a highly improved ability of concentration, but at the same time loose some creativity? If the highly improved attention gained through practicing meditation where only advantagous, our brains would likely have developed in such a way that attention would be better from the start. This, however, has not happened. Our thoughts are straying around without controll. The reason might simply be that this uncontrolled straying is necessary for developing new ideas and that the resulting creativity was selected for. The way our thinking and perception is working, with less than optimal attention and thoughts being distracted and wandering might be a compromise between the advantages and disadvantages of attention and concentration on one side and creativity and innovativeness on the other.

So  I suggest that researchers working on meditation and its effects try to design experiments investigating a possible (negative) effect of meditation on creativity.

Becoming Dependent

People seem to become more and more dependent. Instead of thinking for themselves, they reley on all kinds of services to tell them what to do. This development is to be expected in a growth-dependent economy. Any kind of informational demand is a market niche. So now there are services that take some of the thinking work away from you. As somebody from an older generation who is used to think for himself, I can sometimes only shake my head.

Soon people will become dependent on machines even in their emotions, see http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg22630212.900-say-hello-to-machines-that-read-your-emotions-to-make-you-happy.html#.VWBBTU_tmko. I don’t know if I should laugh or cry about this but I guess I have to figure that out for myself. 🙂