Why this century is unlike any other

T. Philosophy and survival
T1. The state of the world.
T1.1. Climate change. From the evolutionary perspective species come and go; Homo sapiens is still a work-in-progress. Climate change exemplifies the fact that long-term global consequences of technology are generally toxic, irreversible this century, and raises concerns about the challenge of surviving convergent natural disasters.

T1.2. Demographic trends. Some other long-term trends suggest that Western philosophy may be the implicit cause of self-destructive policies. For example, there is a question Western culture can survive having the white population of Europe and the United States become the minority this century (e.g. non-Hispanic whites in the US would become the minority among the newborn within a year).

T1.3. The prospect of controlling our future evolution. Biotechnology now makes possible to introduce heritable enhancements in the human genome. If any national entity undertakes to do that then, whether or not others follow, the last millennium would prove Homos sapiens last.

T2. Philosophy
T2.1. Updating the foundation of philosophy is a priority. Philosophy is the only part of knowledge that could have served as a survival manual in confronting the looming upheavals. But philosophy is not only the most fundamental part of knowledge but also the most troubled. This makes bringing the foundation of knowledge up to date a priority.

T2.2. A single factual issue. Neuroscience has recently established the fact that sensations are innate. For the last 300 years, the most basic assumption at the foundation of knowledge was the direct opposite – that no sensation is innate. John Locke (1689) introduced that assumption, concluded that the brain of the newborn is like a blank slate (tabula rasa).

T2.3. The challenge. It is now necessary to make explicit the epistemological implications of replacing the tabula rasa by its direct opposite. This would be the most basic change in the foundation of knowledge since Locke introduced his factually false assumption.

T2.4. The philosophic community. Updating the foundations of knowledge would establish the central role of philosophy in guiding social policy. But it would take time before the philosophic community is ready to set aside the 300-years of epistemological legacy. In the interim, the most pressing philosophical issue confronting humanity now is virtually terra incognita.

T2.5. The forthcoming revision of my 2017 book. The forthcoming revision of The New Foundation of Knowledge (2017) reviews the evidence for the innateness of sensations and provides an initial glimpse of the new epistemological landscape.

T3. Sensations are innate.
T3.1. The sensation of sound. The electrical stimulation of the cochlea elicits sensations of sound in the normal hearing and in the deaf. The heard pitch is determined by the cochlear locus stimulated. It proves that heard sound is not a property of air vibration. Some children are born with a dysfunctional auditory nerve. They can be made to hear by an implant that electrically stimulates hearing-related brain loci (e.g. brainstem, thalamus, or cortex). This proves that heard sound is innate and elicited by the brain: it is neither a property of air vibration nor originates in the ears.

T3.2. Any sensation. In every sensory modality (e.g. vision, hearing, touch, taste or smell), the same type of electrical stimulus elicits the modality-specific sensation as determined by the modality-specific area stimulated. This proves that said electrical stimuli do not contribute to the resulting qualitative sensation; it is the stimulated brain loci that determine the qualitative aspect of the sensation. Thus, sensations are innate and are elicited by the brain.

T4. The first empirical proof that consciousness exists. Innateness of sensations and consciousness. Evolution stumbled on consciousness, and natural selection let it be. From an evolutionary perspective, the role of conscious knowledge is to improve survival. Yet, to date all attempts to account for what consciousness is and what it does have failed. The reason for this failure is the denial of the fact that sensations are innate.
The physical is publicly observable. Innate sensations are private or alternatively termed subjective, phenomenal, or mental. Thus, our knowledge of the physical is an inference from the phenomenal. This conclusion confers epistemological priority on the phenomenal relative to the physical. The hope that Physicalism could account for consciousness is not realizable.

T5. Spatiality and Ubiquity. Physical objects, such as triangular tiles, are locatable in space. The concept of triangularity is not. The phenomenal cannot be said to be located in space. It is ubiquitous.

T6. Some top-down implications
T6.1. Pain. The tabula rasa assumption presumes that pain originates in the body and is imported into the brain by afferent C-fibers. Pain, like all sensations, is innate and is elicited by the brain. Based on the tabula rasa misconceptions, neurosurgeons performed numerous operations to disconnect the presumed source of pain from the brain, hoping to stop painful stimuli. In many of those cases, the pain returns with a vengeance. The continued failure of medicine to effectively address chronic pain is based on the philosophical error.

T6.2. Light. Like all sensations, the sensation of light is innate. The electric stimulation of visual cortex elicits the visual sensation of spots of light, called phosphenes both in normally seeing subjects and in the blind. On the basis of this fact, visual cortical prostheses were developed. Such prostheses are about to be available for the born blind. As in the case of auditory prostheses, it is best to implant prostheses in the subject during childhood. I expect visual prostheses for the born blind would be demonstrated within five years.

This century whites are due to become minorities in the US and EU

It is projected that whites in the EU and US will become the minority by the end of the century. In the EU, that transition is expected in the second half of the century. In the US (non-Hispanic) whites will be a minority within a generation and among the newborn, within a year.

In the EU, that prospect is a subject for intense discussions, for example, see The Strange Death of Europe by Douglas Murray (2017). In contrast, the US is still in denial of the inevitable transition. For example, the media addresses immigration issues on daily basis, but discussion of the impending transition is avoided.

The EU is the primary destination of asylum seekers. States in Sub-Saharan Africa cannot feed their rapidly growing populations. Many are under a dictatorship and are known for human rights abuses. Thus, immigrants from these countries satisfy the asylum seeker criteria. The United Nations projects that by the end of the current century the Sub-Saharan African population would grow by some billions. At present, there is no real or conceivable mechanism to stem the expected tidal wave of migration. Include the fact that immigrants during the initial two generations double in number, while Europeans, like Americans, do not even reach replacement levels: the demographic shifts will be massive.

Murray in his book addresses only Europe and only from the perspective of a journalist. However, the issue applies to Western culture on both sides of the Atlantic, and the root cause is not political in that people did not vote for this consequence. Western culture has been dominant for the last
100 years. The only explanation for its current predicament is that it is the consequence of principles implicit in the philosophy ascribed to in the West. Philosophy is the only knowledge area that can address this failure of self-preservation. With authority comes responsibility. The philosophic community has let us down by retreating to the position of a spectator on vital issues of survival.

It is now imperative that the philosophic community confronts the challenge of bringing the foundation of knowledge up to date and, recognize, for the first time, the innate commonalities of human nature, and derive survival imperatives to guide policy.

Philosophy: toward a dawn of a new day

A. Consciousness

A1. The consciousness enigma. Being Conscious is the central fact of personal existence. Yet, to date, attempts to account for what consciousness is and what it does have failed. This issue is addressed below.

A2. A criterion of physicality. The physical is publicly observable. Your dentist can see your aching tooth but not your toothache. The tooth, being publicly observable is physical; your toothache, being private, is not. Such observations are deemed objective. In contrast, a toothache, being private is considered subjective.

A3. The tabula rasa assumption. The most basic assumption that underlies present-day theories of knowledge is that sensations are imported into the brain, none innate (Locke 1689).

A4. Sensations are innate. Recent findings in neuroscience demonstrate that information from the senses to the brain is devoid of qualitative attributes. Sensations are innate and are evoked by the brain.

A5. An epistemological consequence. Making explicit the epistemological implications of the fact that sensations are innate would constitute the most fundamental advance in knowledge since Locke introduced the tabula rasa assumption. Consider one such implication.

B. The physical is inferred from the mental

B1. Sensations are private. The fact that sensory qualities are not received from the senses nor from the external world through the senses determines them to be private, subjective, phenomenal or mental.

B2. Knowledge of the physical is inferred from sensory information. Knowledge of the physical is inferred from sensory information that is innate, private, and thus mental.

B3. A proof that consciousness exists. The above subsection B2 confers epistemological priority on the mental relative to the physical. It constitutes a proof that non-physical consciousness exists. It is the first to do so.

C. The Mind matters

C1. Imagining selectively activates the brain. Brain-computer interface prostheses (BCIs) for persons paralyzed from the neck down are based on the fact that performing, as well as imagining, a voluntary movement creates a characteristic pattern of activation in the motor cortex.

C2. Selective brain activation by imagination is exemplified by BCIs. The BCI detects the activation pattern of the motor cortex, identifies the intended movement, and initiates commands to the servomechanism, to fulfill the desired movement be it control of an electric a wheelchair or moving a cursor on a computer screen.

C3. The mind affecting brain and behavior is commonplace. The brain is physical, while imagination is not. The fact that imagination activators the brain show that the mind affecting the brain is common places.

D. The conscious brain does things that the non-conscious brain cannot.

Exemplified below are some things that the conscious brain can do that the non-conscious brain cannot.

D1. Qualia. The physicist’s description of nature is devoid of qualitative attributes of sensory modalities of exteroception (Locke’s secondary qualities). Yet, these are the qualities through which we know the physical world. Such qualia provide us the simplest representation of the outside world.

D2. Perceptual binding. A percept combines several sensory modalities and submodalities, each of which is represented in a different part of the brain. There is no known location in the brain that represents a percept. Thus, ordinary perception does not correspond to any brain location. What the mind does simply, neuroscience cannot explain yet other than the synchronous activation of these multiple brain loci.

D3. Concepts. Theoretical physics is formulated by use of mathematical concepts and operations. For example, the concept of triangularity or of a regular polygon is not an object locatable in space or available for public observation. It is generally accepted that concepts are not physical. Neither are they arbitrary or a mere linguistic convention. Recent neuroscientific evidence indicates that there are innate brain mechanisms that convert percepts into concepts.

E. Conclusions

E1. Innate sensations prove that the physical is inferred from the mental.

E2. Qualia, percepts and concepts exemplify the advantage of consciousness.

E3. The mind affects the brain and behavior.

E4. The mind and matter are different aspects of the same more basic reality.

Focusing on What Matters Most

1.1 Wresting from nature future human evolution

Biotechnology now makes it possible to wrest from nature future human evolution. This is the most far-reaching development in history since humans branched off from other primates some million years ago. The central challenge confronting humanity now is what ought to be done with this awesome power.

1.2 The prospect of genetic bifurcation of humanity

In the West, there is a recoil from using this gene-editing technology in order to go beyond disease prevention to enhancement and to go beyond treatment of an individual to make genetic modifications heritable. In China, in contrast, this technology is considered to be capable of enhancing the human condition. The initial focus appears to be on enhancing intelligence, which seems to be a long-standing cultural focus (see figure 1.2). If China would focus on genetically improving intelligence, then within 4-5 generations in a century, the genetic divergence would be substantial and perhaps insurmountable. By the end of the century China would be in the position of winning an undeclared world war. Unlike world wars of the past, this one would be inherently irreversible.

1.3 Innate human commonalities are the basis of human nature and conduct

Recent neuroscientific findings have proved Darwin right that humans possess both biological and psychological innate attributes. Thus, there exist innate commonalities of needs and desires that constitute the factual basis for human nature and conduct. As a consequence, ethical systems must be based on universals of human nature. Similarly, legal systems ought to be based on the doctrine of natural law rather than positive law. [66] Empiricism is the basis of the present-day theories of knowledge. The most basic assumption of Empiricism is the denial of the existence of innate sensations and cognitions, concluding that the newborn cannot have knowledge of the world prior to personal experience. We now know that the assumption and conclusion are factually false. These assumptions have contributed to the choice of ethical and legal systems in the West that are relativistic rather than universal. These relativistic systems do not provide common ground to address long-term global issues with differing cultures’ ethical and legal systems, such as making heritable enhancements to the human genome.

1.4 Updating the foundation of knowledge

It is therefore now necessary to acknowledge the scientific findings and update the foundation of knowledge. It will remain necessary to revise ethical and legal systems to make them universal rather than relativistic. These systems will have differences across cultures and countries but must be viewed relative to a common denominator. The ability to make heritable enhancements in the human genome is the most important challenge confronting humanity today. Meeting that challenge, in turn, makes updating the foundation of knowledge, ethics, legal systems, and public policy a matter of priority.

1.5 The philosophic community

It is for the philosophic community to take on the challenge of bringing the foundation of knowledge up-to- date. It is a unique opportunity for philosophy to take a central role in advancing the knowledge enterprise. However, setting aside 300 years of epistemological legacy by accepting the neuroscientific findings that prove correct Darwin’s theory of evolution in regard to biological and psychological attributes will take time. Max Planck noted that acceptance of a new paradigm often involves generational transition. In this case, it is in the public interest to avoid any further delay. In fact, it may prove to be a survival imperative.

The percentage of Caucasian and Asian students in Stuyvesant High School in New york. Adapted from July 20, 2014 article in the New York Post by Dennis Saffran.

A Note About The New Foundation of Knowledge

Being conscious is the central fact of human experience. Yet, it is not presently known what consciousness is and what it does. For example, Physicalism, the currently dominant theory of knowledge takes the position that the non-conscious brain can do anything that the conscious brain can do. Artificial intelligence (AI) takes a similar view, that the digital computer can do anything that the conscious brain can do. In short, consciousness is deemed to be an evolutionary fluke. This book shows that the innateness of mental faculties is an empirical fact and establishes the reality and centrality of consciousness. Physics is considered to be the most basic science. However, how we get to know the physical world is a more basic question. Until recently, the central issue was this: are sensations innate, or they imported from the senses into the brain? We now know that sensations are innate. They are not imported into the brain from the senses or from the outside world through the senses. Consider sound. Recently, children born deaf have been made to experience sensations of sound by the electrical stimulation of hearing-related brain areas. This fact proves that the sensation of sound is innate and that it is not a property of air vibration. Present-day neuroscience takes all sensations to be innate. Thus, the direct electrical stimulation of vision-related brain areas in children born blind would elicit sensations of light. I expect such experiments to take place within five years. It would prove that the sensation of light is innate, private, and not a property of electromagnetic radiation. For the last 300 years, theories of knowledge are based on the directly opposite assumption that no sensation is innate. It is now necessary to bring the foundation of knowledge up to date.

 Available on Amazon .  

Available on Amazon.

Two related patents for sale (Identifying the NCC)

In 2001 I filed with the United States Patent Office a patent application for concepts and methods for identifying brain cells that determine the qualitative aspect of simplest sensations. It resulted in two granted patents.

The first patent, Number 7,680,602 titled Concepts and methods for identifying brail correlates of elementary mental states was granted in 2010. It involves identifying locus-specific cells that determine the qualitative aspect of the simplest sensations. The second patent, Number 8,112,260 titled Methods for identifying protein specificity of brain cells that evoke a given mental state that does not contain smaller constituents was granted in 2012. It involves identifying methods for identifying the unique protein specificity of the so-identified cells.

The three basic tenets on which the patents are based are:

  1. The simplest sensations are innate and are evoked by the brain.
  2. Their qualitative aspects are determined by locus-specific cells.
  3. The primary determinant of the intrinsic function of a cell is its proteome.

I review the involved conceptual framework in The New Foundation of Knowledge (2017).  

I am now offering these two patents for sale. I would be willing to provide, for a time, consulting on how these patents can be the basis for additional related patent applications.

A 3-Part Project – Each Deserving its Own Nobel Prize

1. The challenge

Neuroscience has established that sensations, including those by which the physical world is knowable, are innate. The implication that the sensation of color is innate and evoked by the brain, rather than received from the eyes or being an aspect of the electromagnetic spectrum, is counterintuitive. More jarring still is that the same applies to the sensation of light. Commonsense rebels against the notion that the sensation of light is innate and as such private, or phenomenal.

Even Newton, who conceded that experienced color is brought about by the “sensorium” and contending that achromatic white light is a combination of colors, could not bring himself to make explicit the conclusion that the sensation of light, like that of color, is “sensorium”- dependent. This reluctance or inability to make explicit the implication that since the sensations of color are innate and phenomenal, so are the sensations of brightness and lightness.

This is the very reason that identifying the molecular and cellular determinants of the sensation of light (i.e. applying the notion of neural correlates of consciousness to the sensation of light) will have a shocking impact on the knowledge enterprise.

2. The three phases of the undertaking

2.1. First, it is necessary to prove the sensation of light is innate. The direct electrical stimulation of the visual cortex of persons that are not cortically blind elicits sensations of light (phosphenes). This has been demonstrated in normally seeing persons and in persons who lost their vision. It remains to be demonstrated that the same is true in the case of born blind children.

Such a procedure is both possible and necessary in order to provide such children with cortical visual prosthetics. Such prosthetics have been developed (Dobelle 2000) and confirming that the electrical stimulation of the visual cortex does elicit the sensations of light in persons who lost their vision. Recently I urged some organizations to test such cortical visual prostheses on children born blind. I believe that by 2020 such tests would confirm that these cortical visual prostheses elicit sensations of light in the born blind.

2.2. Next, it is necessary to identify the locus-specific cells of interest. It is known that a lesion in the color area in the visual cortex can leave a person completely colorblind but leave intact the sensation of light and dark as well as visual sensation of motion direction. Current literature does not yet identify the brain locus that evokes the sensation of light

The following conceptual framework resolves this issue, making it accessible to empirical verification:  any cells or circuits that create an illusion of a given sensation are those that evoke that sensation under normal circumstances.

Specifically, it is necessary to identify in the visual cortex locus-specific cells that are selectively activated if, and only if, the subject experiences a sensation of light through external or direct electrical stimulation. Anna Wang Roe, et al (2005) identified cells in the thin stripes of visual area V2 that are directly involved in producing a brightness illusion. Hence, visual area V2 is one of the areas of the visual cortex containing cells and circuits that evoke a sensation of light.

2.3. A cell type’s proteome is a determinant of intrinsic function. The morphology of a neuron, as in any cell type of a given organism, is determined primarily by its continually-expressed proteins. Thus, here exists a unique proteome characteristic of cells that evoke the sensation of light. Present day single-cell sequencing techniques make it possible to identify the unique proteome of the cells of interest.

3. Conclusion

I believe that meeting the challenge of any of the three phases would justify a Nobel Prize. Meeting all three phases would bring to an end the era that began with Locke and Hume, based on the denial of innate sensations emotions and cognitions, and mark the advent of a new era regarding the nature of consciousness.