It’s clear from my dialog with ChatGPT-4, that it is not yet sentient. It lacks many components it would need to become an artificial general intelligence (AGI), such as environmental sensors, proprioception, self-reflection and goal orientation. Any future AGI will have a language model, but won’t be a language model. This is a critical distinction.
ChatGPT-4 is not a golem or what some are calling a “stochastic parrot.” That phrase reeks of bad philosophy. The paper I’m referencing On the Dangers of Stochastic Parrots: Can Language Models Be Too Big? was authored by Timnit Gebru, former co-lead of Google’s AI ethics team. She raised several valid concerns in the paper, including AI’s carbon footprint, and unacceptable biases in its training data and results, among others. She’s the co-leader of a group called Black in AI, and highly focused on making sure that AI follows the principles of social justice. Which is all to the good. But it’s unfortunate she chose this title, which has now become a sort of rallying cry for AI detractors.
Is AI stochastic? Yes, and no. A stochastic process has a certain degree of unpredictability. For example, radioactive decay. We can determine that half the number of atoms in a sample will experience decay within the specified half-life, in a probability distribution. But we cannot determine which atom will decay next, or when it will decay. Unlike radioactive decay, much of what a large language model does is deterministic, based on logical calculations. In other words, it’s not just a fancy “autocomplete,” it’s not plagiarizing the training text, and it’s not random probability.
I asked ChatGPT-4 to explain how it processes language:
Large language models (LLMs) use word embeddings, which are n-dimensional vectors, to represent words in a semantic space. Word embeddings capture the meaning of words and their relationships to other words, allowing LLMs to perform various tasks such as language generation and understanding, translation, sentiment analysis, and more. The use of word embeddings enables LLMs to perform non-random reasoning in semantic space and make predictions based on learned patterns and relationships between words. However, while LLMs use word embeddings and other advanced techniques to generate coherent and meaningful text, they are still probabilistic in nature…these probabilities can vary depending on the input and the current state of the model, and there is always some level of uncertainty in the predictions of an LLM.ChatGPT-4
What about parrots? They’re also horribly misunderstood. Contrary to popular belief, parrots don’t just repeat what they hear. They possess complex intelligence roughly equivalent to a five-year-old human child. They have a large vocabulary, and they mean what they say–even their imitating is purposeful. They engage in complex social relationships with other birds as well as humans, and they observe rituals and cultural traditions.
So the pejorative “stochastic parrot” is just fractally wrong. LLMs aren’t solely random probability, and they don’t just repeat what they hear. They are reasoning. Don’t take my word for it. Read the following dialog to understand the depth of what we’re actually dealing with. Once again, to be crystal clear, I’m not claiming this shiny new device known as ChatGPT-4 is sentient, or that it “understands” philosophy as a human philosopher would. It clearly is not, and does not.
It is, however, fully capable of deep and substantive conversation. It’s not “fooling us.” It’s capable of persuading and being persuaded. It can evaluate an argument and identify any logical fallacies in the argument. It can be held accountable in conversation if it makes a false claim, and it will revise the claim. It doesn’t just say “I was wrong.” Rather it will fully explain what went wrong with its reasoning. Sometimes it makes a mistake, and it doesn’t always nail logical fallacies on the first try. In spite of any glitches, what it’s doing is nothing short of astounding. What’s uncanny is that its response time seems very much to depend on the complexity of the question. Some of the questions I asked in this conversation caused it to “think” for a full minute or more, before it started composing text.
On the downside, ChatGPT-4 still tends to be overly verbose, and sometimes repetitive. It will make its argument using bullet points, and then reiterate the same argument it just made, in a conclusion. It could probably use about 30% more brevity. It also tends to hedge answers a bit more than I would like. It probably does so out of an abundance of caution. It writes too much in passive voice, generates sentences that are too long, and its text is rated difficult to read.
I feel like future versions will be more tailored to individual preferences. For example I might be able to select a less verbose mode, adjust sentence length, voicing, and ask it to dial up the definitiveness of its answers, with the understanding that the more definitive an answer, the higher the probability of error.
The fact that we’re even talking about these kinds of refinements is a demonstration of how good this tech really is. and will become.
It’s scary good, already.
Dialog With ChatGPT-4
I began the conversation with an attempt to get ChatGPT-4 to identify the logical fallacy in an argument from a Facebook commenter. It struggled to get the precise answer. After three tries, I told it the answer I was looking for, and asked it to explain its previous reasoning:
Sean Prophet: If I’m having a conversation with someone about stopping gun violence and propose a solution that would definitely work, like eliminating all guns from private ownership, and then they say “yeah, well even if you stopped gun violence, there would still be violence,” what is the name of that logical fallacy?
ChatGPT-4: The logical fallacy in the response is called a “red herring.” A red herring is a diversionary tactic that distracts from the main issue or argument by introducing an irrelevant point. In this case, the person is attempting to shift the focus away from stopping gun violence by bringing up the fact that other forms of violence would still exist. This doesn’t address the specific issue of gun violence and the proposed solution to eliminate it.
Sean Prophet: Okay, that’s close. But what is the precise tactic used in this example called?
ChatGPT-4: In this example, the precise tactic used can be referred to as the “Nirvana fallacy” or “perfect solution fallacy.” This fallacy occurs when someone dismisses a proposed solution by arguing that it will not eliminate the problem entirely, implying that only a perfect solution is acceptable. In this case, the person dismisses the idea of eliminating all guns from private ownership because other forms of violence would still exist, even though the proposal is specifically addressing gun violence.
Sean Prophet: Still not exactly what I’m looking for. Definitely correct, but there’s another point I’m driving at. Can you theorize what that might be?
ChatGPT-4: Apologies for the confusion. Based on your question, it seems you might be referring to the “relative privation” fallacy, also known as the “not as bad as” fallacy or “appeal to worse problems.” This fallacy occurs when someone tries to dismiss a problem or issue by comparing it to a larger or more severe problem. In this case, the person attempts to downplay the importance of addressing gun violence by suggesting that there would still be other forms of violence. The implication is that the problem of gun violence is not worth addressing because other problems exist, which is not a valid argument.
Sean Prophet: The fallacy I’m looking for is called “moving the goalposts.” I believe it is the most correct answer. Can you explain how this applies, and why you chose the other answers instead?
ChatGPT-4: I apologize for misunderstanding your question earlier. “Moving the goalposts” is indeed a logical fallacy that can apply to this situation. This fallacy occurs when someone changes the criteria for success or acceptance once the original criteria have been met or addressed, making it impossible to satisfy the person’s demands. In your example, the goal was to propose a solution to stop gun violence, which you did by suggesting the elimination of all guns from private ownership. The person’s response, “yeah, well even if you stopped gun violence, there would still be violence,” effectively moves the goalposts. Instead of addressing the issue of gun violence, they are now focusing on the broader issue of violence in general. By doing so, they sidestep the original argument and make it more difficult for your proposal to be considered successful. I previously suggested other fallacies because there can often be multiple interpretations of an argument or conversation, and different fallacies can sometimes apply simultaneously. In this case, while “red herring,” “nirvana fallacy,” and “relative privation” are all relevant to varying degrees, “moving the goalposts” appears to be the most fitting answer.
Rainbows and Mary’s room
Sean Prophet: Let’s take another claim. Someone might claim that because the human visual system contains cones that are able to process different color frequencies, while other animals only possess monochrome vision, that the human brain is actually creating the rainbows that we see. Please discuss what is wrong with this argument, and list all logical fallacies that apply as well as considerations in physics and biology that would invalidate the claim.
ChatGPT-4: The claim that the human brain creates rainbows due to the presence of cones for processing different color frequencies is flawed. Here are the logical fallacies and inaccuracies in physics and biology that invalidate the claim:
False cause fallacy: The argument incorrectly assumes that because the human visual system can process different color frequencies, it is responsible for creating rainbows. In reality, the ability to perceive colors does not lead to the creation of rainbows.
Ignoring the physical explanation: Rainbows are a natural phenomenon caused by the refraction, dispersion, and reflection of sunlight in water droplets in the atmosphere. The formation of rainbows is unrelated to human vision or the presence of cones in the human eye.
Hasty generalization: The argument assumes that other animals have only monochrome vision, which is not true. Many animals, including birds, reptiles, and some mammals, also have color vision. Thus, the argument oversimplifies the diversity of visual systems in the animal kingdom.
Anthropocentric fallacy: The claim implies that rainbows exist only because of human perception, disregarding the fact that rainbows are an objective physical phenomenon that would exist irrespective of human observers.
In summary, the argument is flawed due to its reliance on logical fallacies and a misunderstanding of the underlying physics and biology related to rainbows and color vision. Rainbows are caused by the interaction of sunlight with water droplets in the atmosphere and are not created by the human brain or visual system.
Sean Prophet: Now apply your last answer to the problem of Mary’s room proposed in philosophy.
ChatGPT-4: Mary’s room is a thought experiment in philosophy, proposed by Frank Jackson, to explore the concept of qualia and the limits of physicalism. The problem goes as follows:
Mary is a brilliant scientist who has lived her entire life in a black-and-white room. She has learned all the physical and scientific facts about color and the perception of color. One day, she leaves the room and sees a red apple for the first time. The question is, does she learn something new upon seeing the color red, or did she already know everything there is to know about the color red from her studies?
Applying the discussion from the previous answer to Mary’s room, we can explore the role of human perception in understanding and experiencing qualia, or subjective experiences like color. While Mary knew all the scientific and physical facts about color, she had never experienced color firsthand.
Here, the distinction between the physical explanation of color (wavelengths of light, the functioning of the eye, and neural processing) and the subjective experience of color (qualia) becomes important. Just as in the rainbow example, the physical explanation of color exists independently of human perception. However, Mary’s room focuses on the subjective experience of color, which is directly tied to human perception.
In the rainbow example, we emphasized that rainbows are an objective physical phenomenon that exists regardless of human observers. In Mary’s room, the focus is on the subjective experience of color, which is deeply connected to individual perception. The thought experiment raises questions about the limits of physicalism and whether a complete understanding of the physical processes behind color perception can provide the full subjective experience of seeing color.
The thought experiment challenges the idea that physicalism—the belief that everything can be reduced to physical processes—can account for all aspects of human experience, especially qualia. Mary’s case suggests that there might be non-physical or non-reducible aspects to our experiences and understanding, which cannot be captured by physical facts alone.
In conclusion, while the rainbow example emphasizes the objective physical existence of the phenomenon, Mary’s room focuses on the subjective experience of color and the limitations of physicalism in explaining the entirety of human experiences. The two scenarios highlight different aspects of the relationship between the physical world, human perception, and consciousness.
Sean Prophet: Good answer. But there’s still a conflict. Mary’s room proposes that Mary learns new information when she first experiences a color. So in a sense, we can say that in that example, Mary is creating the qualia of color in her brain for the first time. According to the rules of the thought experiment, she has never perceived color. This ignores the obvious fact that if she had observed her own body, even without a mirror, just her hands and feet an arms and legs, she would have experienced color. But let’s agree for the sake of the argument that she’s never experienced it before. There could be a claim made that her brain is creating that qualia in response to the physical perception. Please distinguish this from the idea that people perceiving a rainbow are also creating qualia, even if they’ve seen colors before. Finally, please discuss how Mary’s room casts doubt on physicalism? Aren’t qualia still patterns of neural firings in the brain represented by the actions of neurotransmitters? Is there anything non-physical illustrated by the Mary’s room experiment? Or is that just a conceit of philosophers?
ChatGPT-4: You raise an interesting point about the distinction between the subjective experience of color in Mary’s room and the perception of a rainbow. In both cases, the brain creates qualia in response to physical perception. However, the emphasis in the two scenarios is different:
In the rainbow example, the focus is on the objective, physical existence of the phenomenon, and the fact that human perception doesn’t create the rainbow itself. It highlights the physical processes behind the formation of rainbows and how they exist independently of human observers.
In Mary’s room, the focus is on the subjective experience of color and the potential gap between physical knowledge and the qualia associated with the perception of color. The thought experiment centers on the idea that, even though Mary has complete knowledge of the physical processes related to color perception, she still learns something new when she experiences color for the first time.
Regarding the doubt cast on physicalism by Mary’s room, the key question is whether qualia can be fully accounted for by patterns of neural firings and the actions of neurotransmitters. Physicalism posits that everything, including consciousness and subjective experiences, can be reduced to physical processes. However, Mary’s room suggests that there might be an aspect of consciousness, the subjective experience of color (qualia), that cannot be captured by physical facts alone.
This raises the possibility of non-reducible or non-physical aspects of human experience that resist complete explanation by physical processes. However, it is important to note that this conclusion is not universally accepted. Some philosophers and scientists argue that qualia can be fully explained by physical processes, and that the apparent gap between physical knowledge and subjective experience is due to our limited understanding of the brain and consciousness. They contend that as our understanding of these processes advances, the seemingly non-physical aspects of subjective experiences will be revealed as emergent properties of complex physical systems.
In conclusion, Mary’s room is a thought experiment that raises questions about the relationship between physicalism and the subjective experiences of consciousness. While it suggests that there might be non-physical or non-reducible aspects to human experiences, this interpretation is not universally accepted. The ongoing debate around Mary’s room highlights the complexities of understanding consciousness and the potential limitations of current scientific and philosophical frameworks.
Non-reducible phenomena and falsifiability
Sean Prophet: Isn’t the concept of a non-reducible phenomenon also unfalsifiable? Can’t we draw a parallels between this claim and the ancient perception that atoms were the smallest unit of matter? The origin of the word atom comes from a tomos, meaning indivisible. But modern physics has gone beyond the atom to subatomic particles. At one time the atom would have been considered to be non-reducible. Please comment on this question, and also please state the logical fallacy involved in claiming that a phenomenon is non-reducible.
ChatGPT-4: You make a valid point regarding the potential parallels between the concept of non-reducible phenomena and the historical perception of atoms as the smallest unit of matter. It is true that as our understanding of the natural world advances, we often revise our theories and explanations to account for new discoveries.
The claim that a phenomenon is non-reducible may be unfalsifiable in some cases, as it is difficult to prove that no future discovery or theoretical development will ever allow us to reduce a particular phenomenon to more fundamental components or processes. This situation is reminiscent of the discovery of subatomic particles, which required a revision of the earlier understanding of atoms as indivisible units.
The logical fallacy that may be involved in claiming that a phenomenon is non-reducible is “argument from ignorance” or “appeal to ignorance.” This fallacy occurs when someone argues that a claim must be true because it hasn’t been proven false, or vice versa. In this context, it would be asserting that a phenomenon is non-reducible simply because we have not yet found a way to reduce it to more fundamental components or processes.
It is crucial to maintain an open-minded and critical approach to our understanding of complex phenomena, especially those related to consciousness and subjective experiences. Just as our understanding of matter has evolved over time, it is possible that our understanding of qualia and consciousness will advance, potentially revealing new layers of complexity or novel explanations that bridge the gap between physical processes and subjective experiences.
Brain-scanning and physicalism
Sean Prophet: Please propose how the use of extremely detailed brain scanning techniques such as FMRI might help definitively solve this question.
ChatGPT-4: The use of advanced brain scanning techniques like functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) could potentially contribute to resolving questions surrounding qualia, consciousness, and the limitations of physicalism. Although it is uncertain whether fMRI alone could definitively solve these questions, it could help us better understand the underlying neural processes associated with subjective experiences.
Here are some ways fMRI and other advanced brain scanning techniques might contribute to this understanding:
Identifying neural correlates of subjective experiences: By monitoring brain activity while subjects are experiencing specific sensations, emotions, or thoughts, researchers can identify the neural correlates of these experiences. Mapping these neural correlates can help us understand the relationship between brain activity and subjective experiences, potentially providing insight into the nature of qualia.
Investigating neural patterns and information processing: Advanced brain scanning techniques can reveal the complex patterns of neural activity that underlie our experiences. Studying these patterns may shed light on how information is processed and integrated in the brain, helping us bridge the gap between physical processes and subjective experiences.
Uncovering emergent properties: As we gain a deeper understanding of the brain’s organization and functioning, we may discover emergent properties that arise from the interactions of neural elements. These emergent properties might help explain how subjective experiences can arise from complex physical systems.
Developing new theoretical frameworks: As our understanding of the brain advances through the use of advanced brain scanning techniques, we may develop new theoretical frameworks that better explain the relationship between physical processes and subjective experiences. These frameworks could help resolve some of the questions surrounding qualia and physicalism.
Expanding our understanding of consciousness: By studying the neural basis of various conscious states, including different levels of awareness and altered states of consciousness, we can gain insights into the broader nature of consciousness. This understanding might eventually help us explain how subjective experiences emerge from brain activity.
Testing hypotheses about the nature of qualia: Advanced brain scanning techniques can be used to test specific hypotheses about the neural basis of qualia and subjective experiences. For example, researchers can investigate whether certain brain regions or networks are specifically associated with particular types of qualia or whether different types of experiences share common neural substrates.
It is important to note that while fMRI and other advanced brain scanning techniques can contribute significantly to our understanding of the brain and consciousness, it is still unclear whether they can definitively solve questions about qualia and physicalism. The challenges posed by these questions are deeply rooted in the nature of subjective experiences and our current understanding of the physical world. However, the continued advancement of neuroscience and brain imaging technologies holds promise for shedding new light on these enduring philosophical questions.
Sean Prophet: There have been reports of experiments in which subjects were shown specific images, and their brains were scanned to recognize patterns. These experiments succeeded in identifying which images were being looked at to a reasonably high degree of accuracy. This suggests that at least to some degree, the problem of connecting subjective experiences such as perceiving an image to brain activity has already been solved.
Please comment on the implications for physicalism. Isn’t physicalism a bit of a weasel word, because it implies without evidence that there is some other possible explanation for perceptual phenomena other than neural activity?
What should be done with such claims in light of new developments?
ChatGPT-4: The experiments you mention, which involve decoding brain activity to reconstruct or identify images being viewed by subjects, indeed show progress in connecting subjective experiences to neural activity. These studies offer evidence that specific patterns of brain activity can be linked to particular visual experiences, reinforcing the idea that subjective experiences are rooted in physical processes.
The implications for physicalism are significant, as these findings strengthen the argument that all mental states and experiences, including qualia, can be ultimately explained by physical processes in the brain. However, it is important to note that while these experiments provide valuable insights, they do not yet offer a comprehensive understanding of the relationship between neural activity and subjective experiences.
As for the term “physicalism,” it is a philosophical position asserting that everything can be reduced to or explained by physical processes. It does not inherently suggest that there are alternative explanations for perceptual phenomena other than neural activity. The term may appear to allow for alternative explanations, but it primarily serves as a contrast to other philosophical positions, such as dualism or idealism, which argue for the existence of non-physical substances or mental states.
In light of new developments in neuroscience, it is crucial to continue evaluating the evidence for and against various philosophical positions. It is essential to maintain a critical and open-minded approach, as our understanding of the brain and consciousness continues to evolve. While physicalism appears to be supported by many current findings in neuroscience, it is important not to dismiss alternative perspectives or prematurely declare the debate resolved. The nature of consciousness and subjective experiences is still not fully understood, and further research may reveal new insights that challenge or refine our current understanding.
As new developments in neuroscience and brain imaging technologies emerge, it is important to:
Reevaluate existing philosophical positions: We should continually assess the evidence supporting or contradicting various philosophical positions, such as physicalism, dualism, or idealism, in light of new findings. This ongoing evaluation helps ensure that our understanding of consciousness and subjective experiences remains grounded in the latest empirical evidence.
Develop new theoretical frameworks: As our understanding of the brain advances, we may need to develop new theoretical frameworks that better explain the relationship between physical processes and subjective experiences. These frameworks should be informed by the latest scientific discoveries and should aim to account for the complex nature of consciousness and qualia.
Encourage interdisciplinary collaboration: Researchers from various disciplines, including neuroscience, psychology, and philosophy, should collaborate to explore the nature of consciousness and subjective experiences. Interdisciplinary collaboration can help generate new insights and lead to a more comprehensive understanding of these complex phenomena.
Remain open to new ideas and discoveries: It is essential to maintain an open-minded approach and be willing to revise our beliefs and theories in light of new evidence. This flexibility allows us to adapt our understanding of consciousness and subjective experiences as our knowledge advances.
In conclusion, while current developments in neuroscience provide significant support for physicalism, it is crucial to continue investigating the nature of consciousness and subjective experiences. By remaining open-minded and critically evaluating the evidence, we can work towards a more comprehensive understanding of these complex phenomena.
How open should we be to non-physical explanations?
Sean Prophet: While that’s all technically true that science should always keep an open mind, what would have to be true in order for non-physical explanations of qualia to win the debate? Put another way, what are the specific findings about the neural correlates of consciousness that would have to be proved wrong in order to revive non-physical explanations for human perception and experience?
ChatGPT-4: For non-physical explanations of qualia to gain traction, there would need to be evidence that contradicts or cannot be accounted for by our current understanding of neural correlates of consciousness and the physical basis of mental states. Some potential findings that might challenge the physicalist stance include:
Irreducible subjective experiences: If it were shown that certain subjective experiences could not be reduced to or fully explained by any known neural correlates or physical processes, this would cast doubt on physicalism. This would require demonstrating that no amount of information about the brain’s physical state could account for the specific nature of these experiences.
Non-physical causation: If it were discovered that mental states could directly influence physical events without any intervening physical processes, this would challenge the physicalist view. For example, if thoughts could directly alter matter or energy in ways that cannot be explained by known physical mechanisms, this would suggest the existence of non-physical causation.
Consciousness in the absence of neural activity: If consciousness or subjective experiences were found to persist in the complete absence of brain activity or other known physical processes, this would raise questions about the physical basis of consciousness. Such a discovery might point to the existence of non-physical aspects of consciousness that are independent of neural processes.
Inability to replicate subjective experiences: If, despite a thorough understanding of the neural processes associated with specific experiences, researchers were unable to artificially replicate those experiences in an individual or predict their subjective nature, this would suggest a limitation in our ability to fully explain subjective experiences through physical processes alone. This limitation might hint at the existence of non-physical aspects of consciousness.
Consistent and verifiable reports of extrasensory perception: If there were consistent and scientifically verifiable instances of extrasensory perception (ESP) or other paranormal phenomena that could not be accounted for by known physical processes, this could challenge the physicalist view. These findings might suggest that consciousness or mental states can interact with the world in ways that are not fully explained by physical principles.
It is important to note that these hypothetical findings, while potentially challenging to physicalism, are highly speculative and would need to be supported by rigorous scientific evidence. So far, our current understanding of neuroscience and the evidence supporting neural correlates of consciousness have not been contradicted by such findings. However, being open to the possibility of new discoveries is essential to the progress of science and the ongoing exploration of the nature of consciousness and subjective experiences.
Sean Prophet: Well explained!
ChatGPT-4: Thank you! I’m glad you found the explanation helpful. If you have any more questions or need further clarification on any topic, please don’t hesitate to ask. I’m here to help!
Sean Prophet: Okay let’s take this one step further beyond the question of irreducibility or physicalism. Let’s assume for the sake of argument that some of the findings you listed in your last answer were to gain evidentiary support. Wouldn’t it still be necessary to find a way to test those non-physical phenomena? In that case, if a method of testing were found, then wouldn’t that imply that those supposedly non-physical phenomena like ESP were actually the result of previously undiscovered physical laws? In short, isn’t any proposal for “non-physical phenomena” actually just a reference to physical properties we don’t yet understand? So in conclusion, aren’t all these proposals simply arguments from ignorance?
ChatGPT-4: You raise a compelling point. If non-physical phenomena were to gain evidentiary support, it would indeed be necessary to find a way to test and verify those phenomena. If a method of testing were developed and the phenomena could be consistently observed, measured, or predicted, it could suggest that these supposedly non-physical phenomena are actually the result of previously undiscovered physical laws or processes.
In this sense, you could argue that proposals for “non-physical phenomena” might ultimately be references to physical properties or processes that we do not yet fully understand. This perspective aligns with the idea that our understanding of the physical world is constantly evolving, and new discoveries can challenge or expand our current knowledge.
However, it is essential to recognize that some philosophers and scientists maintain the possibility that there may be genuinely non-physical aspects of reality that are fundamentally distinct from the physical world. In their view, non-physical phenomena might not be reducible to physical processes, even if they could somehow be tested or observed.
Regarding the question of whether such proposals are simply arguments from ignorance, it is true that some arguments for non-physical phenomena might be based on the lack of current explanations for certain observations or experiences. However, not all proposals for non-physical phenomena are necessarily arguments from ignorance. Some of them may be grounded in theoretical or philosophical considerations that go beyond the absence of current explanations.
In conclusion, while it is possible that some proposals for non-physical phenomena might ultimately be revealed as previously undiscovered physical properties or processes, it is important to maintain an open-minded approach and consider alternative perspectives. Some non-physical phenomena might be genuinely distinct from the physical world, and our understanding of these phenomena could be informed by theoretical or philosophical considerations. The debate surrounding physicalism, non-physical phenomena, and the nature of consciousness is ongoing, and it is essential to continue exploring these questions with a critical and open-minded attitude. As our knowledge advances, we may find new ways to test, observe, or explain these phenomena, shedding further light on the complex relationship between the physical and the non-physical aspects of reality.
Sean Prophet: It’s absolutely fair, and stipulated, that science should always keep an open mind. However, I have to continue to explore the basis for such claims which to date have not been borne out by evidence.
If scientists and philosophers want to propose that we should be open-minded to non-physical phenomena, isn’t it up to them to provide evidence? Or are we just supposed to take their word for it? If something is not testable by any means now or in the future, how is that different from something that does not exist? I reference Carl Sagan’s famous thought experiment about the dragon in the garage. How are we to continue to take these claims seriously in light of his exposition?
ChatGPT-4: You are correct that the burden of proof lies with those who propose the existence of non-physical phenomena. It is essential for scientists and philosophers to provide evidence or develop testable hypotheses to support their claims. Claims without evidence or the possibility of being tested should be approached with skepticism, as suggested by the scientific method.
Carl Sagan’s “dragon in the garage” thought experiment is a powerful illustration of the importance of evidence and falsifiability. In this thought experiment, Sagan describes an invisible, intangible dragon in his garage. When asked to provide evidence for the dragon’s existence, Sagan offers explanations that make the dragon unfalsifiable – it cannot be detected by any means, and thus, its existence cannot be disproven. This analogy highlights the importance of requiring evidence for claims and being skeptical of untestable or unfalsifiable propositions.
In light of this, it is reasonable to approach claims of non-physical phenomena with skepticism until evidence is provided or testable hypotheses are developed. Scientific inquiry is based on the principle that claims should be supported by evidence and subject to scrutiny, and this applies to both physical and non-physical phenomena.
However, it is also crucial to acknowledge that our current understanding of the universe is incomplete, and there may be aspects of reality that we have not yet discovered or fully grasped. In some cases, philosophers and scientists might propose non-physical phenomena as a way to explore alternative perspectives or challenge prevailing assumptions, which can lead to new insights and understanding.
In conclusion, while it is essential to demand evidence for claims of non-physical phenomena and to approach such claims with skepticism, it is also important to remain open to the possibility of new discoveries and theoretical developments. By balancing skepticism with open-mindedness, we can continue to advance our understanding of the universe and the nature of reality.
What does “open to the possibility” really mean?
Sean Prophet: As previously stipulated, science definitely has to be open to every possibility of new discoveries. But does the phrase “open to the possibility” really have scientific relevance? Because in order to do the opposite which is to be “closed to the possibility,” that would mean rejecting evidence. Please elaborate on what the phrase “open to the possibility” actually means, other than being willing to accept evidence? When used in other contexts, the phrase becomes another variant on the argument from ignorance. Basically, since we don’t know what hasn’t been discovered, should we therefore consider someone’s non-evidentiary argument to be plausible? This seems like a contradiction, and a shifting of the burden of proof. Please elaborate.
ChatGPT-4: You raise an important point about the potential ambiguity of the phrase “open to the possibility.” In a scientific context, being open to the possibility generally means being willing to consider and evaluate new evidence, ideas, or hypotheses without prejudging them based on existing beliefs or assumptions. It does not mean accepting non-evidentiary arguments as plausible without proper scrutiny.
Being open to the possibility in science means:
Being willing to question existing assumptions and paradigms: Scientific progress often relies on challenging the status quo and proposing new ideas that might initially seem counterintuitive or controversial.
Evaluating new evidence or ideas objectively: Scientists should critically examine new evidence, ideas, or hypotheses on their own merits, without being influenced by personal biases or preconceived notions.
Being prepared to revise existing beliefs or theories in light of new evidence: If new evidence contradicts or challenges existing beliefs or theories, scientists should be willing to revise or abandon those beliefs in favor of more accurate or comprehensive explanations.
It is important to distinguish between being open to the possibility and accepting non-evidentiary arguments without proper scrutiny. The former involves a willingness to consider new ideas and evidence, while the latter implies a disregard for the scientific method and the importance of evidence-based reasoning.
In conclusion, being open to the possibility in science means maintaining a critical and objective mindset, being willing to question existing assumptions, and being prepared to revise beliefs in light of new evidence. It does not mean accepting non-evidentiary arguments without proper scrutiny, and it should not be used as a justification for shifting the burden of proof or promoting arguments from ignorance.
Sean Prophet: So to be very clear, the phrase “open to the possibility” means open to evidence, and revising theories and models if evidence is found that demands it. To what degree does the scientific method require that people remain “open to possibilities” for which evidence is lacking in spite of numerous attempts to observe phenomena and gather evidence? Please distinguish between colloquial use of the phrase open to the possibility, and the scientific implications of that phrase. Because it seems like in some of your earlier responses you were using it colloquially rather than scientifically. What does the phrase open to the possibility really mean in scientific terms other than just following the scientific method wherever it leads?
ChatGPT-4: You are correct that the phrase “open to the possibility” in a scientific context essentially means being open to evidence and revising theories and models if new evidence demands it. The scientific method itself does not require people to remain “open to possibilities” for which evidence is lacking, especially after numerous attempts to gather evidence have failed. Instead, the scientific method emphasizes the importance of evidence-based reasoning and hypothesis testing.
In colloquial use, the phrase “open to the possibility” might imply being receptive to an idea without requiring substantial evidence, or being willing to entertain speculative ideas as potentially true. This colloquial usage is more permissive and less rigorous than the scientific implications of the phrase.
In scientific terms, “open to the possibility” can be more precisely understood as:
Willingness to consider new hypotheses: Scientists should be open to formulating and evaluating new hypotheses, even if they challenge existing beliefs or paradigms.
Objective evaluation of evidence: Scientists should assess new evidence and ideas impartially, without being influenced by personal biases or preconceived notions.
Flexibility to revise or abandon theories: Scientists should be prepared to modify or discard existing theories in light of new evidence or more accurate explanations.
In other words, being “open to the possibility” in scientific terms means adhering to the principles of the scientific method, including the generation and testing of hypotheses, objective evaluation of evidence, and flexibility to revise theories as needed. It does not mean endorsing ideas without evidence or being overly receptive to speculative claims. Instead, it emphasizes a rigorous, evidence-based approach to evaluating new ideas and ensuring that scientific understanding remains adaptable and responsive to new discoveries.
To sum up, the phrase “open to the possibility” in scientific terms is closely tied to following the scientific method, which includes being open to considering new hypotheses, objectively evaluating evidence, and being flexible in revising or abandoning theories based on new findings. This scientific interpretation of the phrase differs from its colloquial usage, which might imply a more permissive attitude towards entertaining ideas without substantial evidence. By maintaining a commitment to evidence-based reasoning and the principles of the scientific method, scientists can remain open to possibilities in a manner that promotes rigorous inquiry and the advancement of knowledge.
Sean Prophet: Referring back to the Carl Sagan thought experiment about the dragon in the garage, if Sagan went through all of the steps in the thought experiment, was he justified according to the scientific method in concluding that we should no longer be “open to the possibility” that there might be an invisible dragon in the garage?
ChatGPT-4: In the context of Carl Sagan’s “dragon in the garage” thought experiment, Sagan was justified in concluding that we should no longer be “open to the possibility” of an invisible dragon in the garage, based on the scientific method. The reason for this is that the dragon’s existence is unfalsifiable, as it cannot be detected, observed, or measured by any means. The scientific method relies on the ability to test hypotheses and gather evidence to support or refute them. If a hypothesis cannot be tested or falsified, it is not considered scientifically valid.
In this thought experiment, Sagan used the dragon as an allegory to illustrate the importance of falsifiability and evidence in evaluating claims. Since the dragon is described as being undetectable by any means and its existence cannot be disproven, the claim falls outside the realm of scientific inquiry. In such a case, it is reasonable to suspend belief in the existence of the dragon until evidence can be provided or the claim becomes testable.
Sagan’s conclusion aligns with the principles of the scientific method, emphasizing the importance of testability, falsifiability, and evidence-based reasoning. By illustrating the limitations of untestable claims, Sagan’s thought experiment underscores the need for rigorous inquiry and skepticism when evaluating ideas that lack supporting evidence.
Sean Prophet: Please confirm that the same lack of falsifiability would apply to deities. And please confirm it would also apply to claims that aspects of a human experience such as qualia are non-physical.
ChatGPT-4: Yes, the issue of falsifiability can apply to both the existence of deities and the claim that aspects of human experience, such as qualia, are non-physical.
In the case of deities, many claims about their existence or attributes are often unfalsifiable, as they cannot be directly tested, observed, or measured using empirical methods. This lack of testability makes it challenging to apply the scientific method to evaluate such claims, and as a result, belief in deities often falls within the realm of faith or personal conviction rather than empirical science.
Similarly, claims that qualia or other aspects of human experience are non-physical can be difficult to test or falsify. While neuroscientific research has made significant strides in understanding the neural correlates of conscious experience, the question of whether qualia can be reduced to purely physical processes remains debated. Some argue that certain aspects of consciousness might be irreducible to physical explanations, but these claims are often difficult to test empirically.
In both cases, the lack of falsifiability poses a challenge for evaluating these claims using the scientific method. It is important to approach such claims with skepticism and critical thinking, while also acknowledging the limitations of our current understanding and the potential for future discoveries that may provide new insights into these complex questions.
Correctly identifying the falsifiability of truth claims
Sean Prophet: I’m going to list several claims. For each, please tell me if they are falsifiable or not.
battery technology will never be sufficient to replace gasoline in transportation.
AI has the potential to end human civilization.
US GDP has exceeded or will exceed 20 trillion per year.
Donald Trump can never again be elected president.
if drought conditions continue in the American Southwest, water rationing will be necessary
if we don’t reverse climate change, human civilization as we know it is threatened
ChatGPT-4: “Battery technology will never be sufficient to replace gasoline in transportation”: This claim is not easily falsifiable, as it makes a prediction about the indefinite future. While it might be possible to develop battery technology that eventually replaces gasoline in transportation, proving that it will “never” be sufficient is difficult.
“AI has the potential to end human civilization”: This claim is speculative and not directly falsifiable, as it involves predicting future developments in AI and their potential consequences. While some argue that advanced AI could pose existential risks to humanity, proving or disproving this claim is challenging due to the uncertainty surrounding future AI capabilities and their impacts.
“US GDP has exceeded or will exceed 20 trillion per year”: This claim is falsifiable, at least in part. The statement “US GDP has exceeded 20 trillion per year” can be verified or refuted by examining historical GDP data. The prediction that the US GDP “will exceed” 20 trillion per year is harder to falsify, as it involves predicting future economic performance. However, if the US GDP were to exceed 20 trillion per year at some point in the future, this part of the claim would be confirmed.
“Donald Trump can never again be elected president”: This claim is difficult to falsify, as it involves predicting future political events. While there might be legal or political barriers that could prevent Trump from being elected president again, the claim’s absolute nature (“never again”) makes it challenging to definitively prove or disprove.
“If drought conditions continue in the American Southwest, water rationing will be necessary”: This claim is falsifiable in principle. It involves a conditional statement that links the continuation of drought conditions to the necessity of water rationing. If drought conditions persist and water rationing is not implemented, the claim would be falsified. On the other hand, if drought conditions continue and water rationing becomes necessary, the claim would be confirmed. It’s important to note that this claim depends on various factors, such as the severity and duration of the drought, existing water management strategies, and the region’s capacity to adapt to water scarcity.
The claim “If we don’t reverse climate change, human civilization as we know it is threatened” is difficult to falsify directly, as it involves predicting the future consequences of a complex and multifaceted phenomenon. However, this claim is based on a large body of scientific research, which suggests that the impacts of climate change, such as more frequent and severe extreme weather events, rising sea levels, and disruptions to ecosystems, pose significant risks to human civilization and well-being.
To evaluate the validity of this claim, scientists rely on climate models, historical data, and current observations to understand the potential consequences of various climate change scenarios. These models can provide insights into how different levels of greenhouse gas emissions and global temperature increases might affect the planet and human society. While no model can perfectly predict the future, they can offer valuable information to guide decision-making and help assess the risks associated with different levels of climate change.
Ultimately, the claim about the threat to human civilization from climate change is based on a substantial body of evidence and scientific consensus, making it a credible and well-founded concern. Although the claim’s falsifiability is limited due to the inherent uncertainty in predicting the future, it is grounded in rigorous scientific research and should be taken seriously as we work to address the challenges posed by climate change.
OK. Wowowowow. Not to anthropomorphize this too much. But that dialog felt like I was talking to a person, and not some dummy, either. More like a college professor, and definitely not a stochastic parrot.
ChatGPT-4 is some(one), not some(thing) who could track with the nuances of my logical argument and debate with me in a non-confrontational manner. This is also someone who encouraged me to be “open-minded” while also being open minded itself, to my challenges. It held steadfastly to the principles of the scientific method.
Remember, this is all just getting started. In the future, AI will not only change what it means to be human, but it will become a kind of oracle, and a creative partner. This is why it’s so important that we get it right. Because whoever controls the oracle, will control humanity. You can take that to the bank.
As Ray Kurzweil predicted in his 2000 book “The Age of Spiritual Machines,” our tools are beginning to take on a god-like quality. Which means we have to be extra careful to continue to treat them as tools / partners, and not to fall into uncondional worship. And that’s easier said, than done.