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FFAI Epistemology and Reality by Mind Map: FFAI Epistemology and Reality
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FFAI Epistemology and Reality

political battles over reality, epistemology, and science

"moral relativism"

moral relativism = what is right and what is wrong may be culturally determined / is always culturally determined; there are no absolute moral truths

moral objectivism = there are objective moral truths

debate has been a major driving force in post-war Europe, Catholic church: "moral relativism is destroying our culture", example: separation of procreation from sex etc.

Catholic position, there are absolute moral truths, science is unable to determine these absolute moral truths and is dangerous because it lacks the human element, the Catholic church as an institution is divinely authorized to state these truths, (similar views shared by some other religions)

major part of European politics; "absolute truths" justification for restrictions on abortion, gay marriage, stem cell research (cf CDU)

An AI would be like a atheist scientist-"not fully human"-but without the human capacity to eventually still recognize its error.

"postmodernism", "critical theory"

neo-Marxist philosophy, Frankfurt school

"science is scientism": science is an ideology, just like other ideologies and no more valid

"science is constructivism": scientific knowledge is constructed by scientists, not discovered in the world

"leading German intellectuals": Weber, Simmel, Adorno, Horkheimer, Habermas, Benjamin

cf: Paul Feyerabend: Against Method

AI is impossible because any AI system would just embody the assumptions of scientism


these two beliefs are at the core of two major currents in Western politics

they have strong influence on how we live

they are both incompatible with strong AI

both groups prefer not to examine AI at all


"limited positivism"

(moral) relativism, knowledge, There is a large and useful set of absolute truths that science is capable of discovering and communicating., There are some truths that are culturally relative, such as culturally acceptable behavior., There are some truths that are universal but not scientific;, levels, meta-ethics, "Morality is determined by God and is absolutely normative.", "Morality is determined by survival and evolution in a social species and is socially normative.", ethics, "Murder is immoral because God says it is.", "Murder is immoral because it threatens group survival and humans have therefore evolved to consider it immoral.", morality, Murder is immoral., Murder is immoral.

scientism, yes, science is an "ideology", but ideologies are not all interchangeable or arbitrary

constructivism, science is a social endeavor and its social aspects result in frequent failures (fraud, plagiarism, lack of controls); that doesn't invalidate its basic approach

incompleteness, science is, by its nature, an incomplete description of the world; that does not mean that any other ideology is needed or capable of completing it


theistic / atheistic

materialism / realism / idealism



framework for understanding these questions


many of these philosophical arguments view "reality" and "knowledge" as purely human concerns

this already presumes a division between man and animal that is scientifically untenable

animals have interactions and states that correspond to (simpler forms of) reality and knowledge

mechanisms acquisition and use of knowledge must have an evolutionary explanation and function

intelligent agents

agent theory, interaction: percepts / actions, internal state: beliefs / goals / utility, internal computation: decision theory / computation / learning / rationality, intelligent learning agent

knowledge, evolved rules and goals to support survival (natural evolution), preprogrammed rules and goals (artificial intelligent agent; may be impossible to capture-use simulation instead), acquired rules and intermediate goals

what is reality?

metaphysics = "philosophical physics"

philosophical views

realism, there is a world that exists independent of minds contemplating it, and its properties are independent of the ideas people have about it, starting with this assumption, differences in beliefs and ideas reduce to questions in psychology and sociology, objectivism, there are facts that are objectively true, independent of the identity of the observer, empiricism, knowledge comes primarily from sensory experience (Popper, Locke, Hobbes, Hume, Bacon, Ockham, Aristotle)

idealism, ideas are real, and the world is an imperfect reflection of those ideas; the properties of the world are dependent on the ideas of the observer describing it, many different variants of this, up to reality and existence being completely created by minds, relativism, there are no absolute truths; truths are relative to the observer and the society, subjectivism, mental activity is the only unquestionable fact of our existence

religious views

"misperception", there is only one reality, the one we live in, reality is as rich and complex as it gets, however, our perception of it is incorrect, eliminating the errors may be achieved through reasoning and observation, eliminating the errors may also require direct communication with superior beings, may be theistic or atheistic

"ultimate reality", the material world is a separate reality from the ultimate reality (both exist), ultimate reality is better / richer / greater than the reality we live in, the material world distracts us from perceiving the ultimate reality, error may be due to deliberate actions on the part of evil forces, or just due to human failings, understanding the ultimate reality may involve meditation, prayer, mysticism, altered mental states, may be theistic or atheistic



what is knowledge?

what does it refer to?

what are its properties?


knowledge has something to do with reality

knowledge and its acquisition have something to do with intelligence and the mind

Piraha Tribe - Immediacy of Experience

why does it matter?


it matters for building AI systems...

AI systems need knowledge about reality: we need to know what to put into them initially and how to help them acquire more knowledge (cf knowledge engineering)

some views of "reality" ascribe properties (dualism, etc.) to the human mind that are incompatible with AI; if these are true, AI is impossible

artificial intelligence needs to work in the context of human notions of "reality"

AI can potentially help us understand the nature of reality

science & engineering

it matters for working as a scientist...

discovering the laws of nature

by definition, science is about repeatable, observer-independent facts

science is being challenged by philosophers, social scientists, and religious groups as being "just another way of knowing about reality"

scientists are frequently sloppy in the application of the scientific method and argue from authority or faith

success in science depends on social factors, not just scientific results (Kuhn: The Structure of Scientific Revolutions)

science is being challenged by factural relativists, who claim that even "facts" are relative to social context

cf, Sokal affair, Alan Sokal (physics professor) submitted a fake article to a journal of postmodern cultural studies: "Quantum Gravity is a social and linguistic construct", Demonstration that "social science" is not a science., Bogdanov affair, Two Ph.D. degrees in mathematics and physics with (probably) fake theses., Demonstration that physics doesn't live up to its own principles.


Why am I here?

How does the world work?

How do I know what I know?

classical philosophy


there are truths and beliefs

knowledge = intersection of truth and belief

Plato's Cave



the only thing I can be sure of is the existence of my own mind

strong solipsism: the world and other minds do not exist

starting point for idealist arguments by Descartes and Berkeley

Dream argument (Descartes, Zhuangzi)

we generally don't realize that we are dreaming

hence, we may not realize that this is not reality either

Zhuangzi dreamed he was a butterfly. After he woke up, he wondered whether he was a philosopher who had dreamed of being a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming of being a philosopher.

Evil Demon (Descartes)

"Meditations on First Philosophy"

a powerful and clever demon, "deus deceptor"

creates a complete sensory illusion of the external world, other people, and bodily sensations

classical assumption is that such a demon would have to be omnipotent, but this is clearly false given modern science

omphalos hypothesis

Gosse, Russell, others

The universe was created 6000 years ago / last thursday / 5 minutes ago with people, trees, tree rings, sedimentary layers, light from distant galaxies etc.

I.e., we can't rely on either memory or physical evidence, because all of that could have been put into place just in a way to fool us.

modern philosophy

psychological disorders

solipsism syndrome - patients perceive that the external world is unreal (i.e., more than just an abstract philosophical position)

depersonalization syndrome - patients perceive their self to be separate from their physical body, view others as mindless automata, and/or view themselves as mindless automata (but still retain rational knowledge of the real world)

brain in a vat

brain in a vat (Wikipedia)

modern variant of Descartes' evil demon

two varieties, an external computer creates the illusion of the world (the usual form of the hypothesis), connections with cyborgs, brain/machine interfaces, we will talk about direct neural interfaces later (active area of research), the brain itself hallucinates the world around it (you probably don't need the stimulation), sensory deprivation, BBC Horizon "Total Isolation", The human mind is almost capable of "dreaming a world into existence" by itself., Note that this propensity for creating one's own reality may be an essential aspect of intelligence., C.f. "illusion of reality" vs "illusion of self" (commisurotomy patients)

philosophical argument, Putnam: if you are a brain in a vat, you can't ever realize it or even talk about it because you have never seen or experienced "real brains" or "real vats", "Causal theory of reference": your language can only refer to things you have actively experienced, (This is the kind of silly argument that gives philosophy a bad name)

Dark Star (Comedy), it's a comedy, making fun of tropes,, A God am I, Irrevocable Order, Logic Bomb

simulated reality

physical brains connected to a simulation, brain-machine interfaces, active area of research in AI, image processing, biology

simulated brains in a simulated world, uploading, active area of research in AI, image processing, biology

(separate talk)