The next decade is will bring about the most basic advance in knowledge in 300 years

Whether or not sensations are innate is the most basic issue underlying theories of knowledge. Roger Sperry (1952) noted that the physical information from the peripheral nervous system (PNS) to the central nervous system (CNS) is like a “common currency” and as such is devoid of qualitative attributes. He concluded that qualitative attributes are elicited by the selectively activated brain loci. This implies that sensations are innate. Sperry proved right. Neural prostheses (e.g. cochlear implants) that were developed for persons who became deaf works equally (if implanted in childhood) for children born deaf. Sperry’s thesis implies that this is the case for all sensations – none are imported from the PNS.

The tabula rasa assumption denies that any sensation, emotion or cognition is innate. This factually false tenet has been the most basic assumption underlying Empiricism for more than 300 years. It is now necessary to replace the tabula rasa assumption by its direct opposite. Making explicit the implications of such reconstruction would be the most fundamental advance in knowledge in 300 years.

The significance of the new foundation of knowledge is not merely philosophical. From the evolutionary perspective, the function of conscious knowledge is to improve survival and welfare, as tested by adversity. This cannot be done other than deriving what ought to be done from commonalities of human nature and conduct.

Theories of knowledge based on the tabula rasa doctrine have severed this coupling. The result is that normative doctrines are relativistic – dysfunctional doctrines that may prove inconsistent with long-term survival. Yet, the philosophic community, by and large have been unable to accept the verdict of science about the innateness of mental faculties.

For these reasons, it is an urgent social imperative that the current delay is cut short. Outlined below is one such undertaking.

It is based on the implication of the jarring but valid conclusion that since all sensations are innate so is the sensation of light. Hence, neural prostheses that have been developed for persons who became blind would prove effective also for the born blind. It would constitute an empirical proof that the experience of the sensation of light is innate and not an attribute of the electromagnetic spectrum.

Three years ago I urged a group that has developed neural prostheses for the blind to demonstrate that it is effective for the born blind. I expect that this will be demonstrated by 2025. The demonstration that the sensation of light is innate will have an immediate impact. It puts to an abrupt end to the 300-year tabula rasa legacy and to Empiricism and Physicalism that are based on it.

This, in turn, would finally make it possible to make explicit the epistemological, scientific and normative implications of replacing the tabula rasa assumption by its direct opposite. It would transform humanity.

Advent of the microprocessor-based user-dedicated computer

In 1969, a new company, Computer Terminal Corporation (CTC) of San Antonio, Texas, contacted the Wall Street firm of Philips, Appel & Walden (PAW) seeking to raise $4 million through an initial public offering (IPO). PAW asked me to visit CTC and evaluated its technology. In that visit, I conveyed to Austin (Gus) Roche, the R&D VP my view that their initial product, the Datapoint 3300 Computer Terminal, was conceptually obsolete. I made several recommendations about the next product. The main two were:

  • Incorporate a computer’s central processing unit (CPU).
  • Implement that CPU as a single-chip microprocessor.

CTC’s next product, the Datapoint 2200 was an intelligent computer terminal: it did contain a CPU that CTC designed. However, after receiving in 1870 proposals from Texas Instruments (TI) and Intel for implementing that CPU architecture as a single-chip microprocessor, CTC decided against pursuing that course.

On learning that I first met with Robert Noyce, the president of Intel at the time. Intel was then an in the process of developing a 4-bit chipset for electronic calculator consortium in Japan. I noted that a 4-bit word has 16 distinct states and as such it is insufficient to represent the alphabet. I expressed the view that this loss of generality excludes such chips from use for general-purpose information processing. Hence, I predicted that the market for those chips would prove limited and transient. In contrast, I said that implementing the Datapoint 2200 CPU as an 8-bit single-chip microprocessor would unleash a technological revolution. Noyce said that Intel would develop that chip after completing development of the 4-bit chip, adding that Intel would need to obtain CTC’s consent first. I told him that I will obtain it for Intel. As noted above, I dd so.

Phil Ray, CTC’s president. He consented to my request to grant Intel the right to develop, produce and market to the general market that chip and I so informed Intel.

PAW offered to fund me if I form a company and develop a microprocessor-based user-dedicated computer then PAW would fund it. After I formed Q1 Corporation PAW provided in 1970 $250K and $1 million in 1972. In December 1972 Q1 delivered the world’s first microprocessor-based personal computer.

In 1975 NASA ordered Q1 computers for its bases worldwide. Also that year, at the invitation of the Institute of Electrical & Electronic Engineers (IEEE), I organized and chaired the opening session of the first international conference about the micro-computer revolution. In 1979 the British Government’s National Enterprise Board (NEB) formed Q1 Europe, which manufactured, marketed, and served the European market.

The subsequent generations of the 8008 are known as the Intel x86 product line. By the end of the 1970’s it became dominant worldwide and the main source of Intel’s revenues. It is estimated that the CTC consent Phil Ray gave me has saved Intel in otherwise due royalties over $1 billion.

I am neither an electronic engineer nor a computer scientist. I ventured into information technology in order to test my view that philosophy, being the only knowledge area that can integrate other knowledge areas, has unique problem-solving powers. My IT experience proved, to me, that it does.

A major application of computers is in Artificial Intelligence (AI). The computer is often compared to the brain. Electronic computers are faster and more accurate than biological brains. Yet, I found current AI has based empirically flawed comparison with brain function and it excludes the most productive problem-solving power of the conscious brain. As a result, the conscious brain performs problem-solving functions that the non-biological computer does not and cannot. I have identified some such innate cognitive problem-solving capacities. Their incorporation into current computational AI would vastly increase its scope and power. Conditions permitting I plan to publish my work in this area.

Hod Lipson

Director of the Creative Machines Lab at Columbia University


We used to refer to consciousness as ‘the C-word’ in robotics and AI circles because we’re not allowed to touch that topic,” he said. “It’s too fluffy, nobody knows what it means, and we’re serious people so we’re not going to do that. But as far as I’m concerned, it’s almost one of the big unanswered questions, on par with the origin of life and origin of the universe. What is sentience, creativity? What are emotions? We want to understand what it means to be human, but we also want to understand what it takes to create these things artificially. It’s time to address these questions head-on and not be shy about it.

Quoted by John Pavlus in Curious About Consciousness? Ask the Self-Aware Machine. Quanta Magazine. July 11, 2019.

The prospect of controlling future human evolution

Biotechnology. Biotechnology now makes it possible to control future human evolution. This is the most important development in human history. It also proves that history is unidirectional. For this reason, the use of the past as a guide for the future is likely to have adverse consequences.

A possible scenario. The strife among world powers may prove unnecessary in the future. Being prisoners of the past, some world leaders are likely to feel compelled to consider, or even embark on introducing heritable enhancements to the genomes of their population. Once any national entity embarks on such a course then within a few generations the genetic distance from the rest of humanity would be no longer reversible. It may make this millennium Homo sapiens’ last. In order to prevent such bifurcation of humanity, it is necessary to find a way to bridge the cultural chasm now separating East and West.

The absence of common grounds to decide what ought to be done. The ability to heritably modify genomes illustrates success and rapidity of scientific and technological advances. In contrast, humanity has failed to effectively address any long-term global issue. Typically, the cumulative aspect of such problems is at the stage beyond our capacity this century to reverse or stop these toxic trends. This consistent failure of humanity points to the absence of a science-based conceptual with which to address such issues. The current ethical and legal systems of the West are non-universal. The resulting relativism makes impossible reaching consensus based on underlying commonalities of human nature and conduct. It is as if the technology is catapulting humanity into an unknown future, while dysfunctional guidance system locked the trajectory toward apparent extinction.

Updating the foundation of knowledge as a survival imperative. Current neuroscientific knowledge has demonstrated that humans possess innate elementary sensations, emotions, and cognition. This basic fact, in turn, implies that there exist innate commonalities of human nature that constitutes the empirical ground for universals of human conduct. The problem is that for the last 300 years philosophy has been based on the denial that any sensations, emotions or cognitions are innate.

It is therefore now necessary for the philosophic community to undertake the reconstruction of knowledge. The application of this knowledge to the various normative disciples will take time. For example, in the West, it implies the transition from the current legal systems which are based on positive law to a legal system based on natural law. It is said that even a thousand-mile march begins with a single step. The time to take that step is now.

A Personal Manifesto

My focus has been on philosophy. For me, it is the study of how conscious knowledge can improve survival for individuals, societies, and the human species. For example, biotechnology makes it now possible to control future human evolution. Hence, humanity is confronted with the challenge of deciding what ought to be done with this awesome power. There does not exist at present any science-based conceptual framework that can address this challenge.

Here, in a nutshell, is the reason for the current predicament. The basic notion at the foundation of science is the relation of mind and brain. Current neuroscience has demonstrated that humans have innate elementary sensations, emotions, and cognition. The denial of this fact was postulated some 300-years ago (Locke, 1690, Hume 1750) as a new foundation of knowledge. It is therefore now necessary to bring the foundation of knowledge up-to-date.

However, the philosophic community, by and large, have proved unable yet to set aside the 300-year legacy. As a consequence, present-day sciences are still based on assumptions about the relation of mind and brain that are now known to be false. This delays acceptance of a new scientific paradigm is known as the sociology of knowledge problem.

This delay comes has caused adverse social consequences. Philosophy is the only area of knowledge that can integrate other areas of knowledge, and as such, it is the only knowledge area on which normative disciplines ought to be based. Specifically, innate commonalities of human nature provide a basis for universal of human conduct and law. The denial of the existence of such innate commonalities has led to the postulation of relativistic systems of ethics and law.

This non-universality has disabled humanity from effectively addressing any long term global issue. If any China, or any other country, embark on heritable modification of the human genome then this millennium would prove Homo sapiens’ last. Thus, updating the foundation of knowledge may prove to be a survival imperative.

While I was a philosophy doctoral student at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York in the late 1960’s I found that my views to be outside the mainstream. Furthermore, philosophers take the basic issue to be philosophical, while I take them to be empirical.

I, therefore, decided to put view my that philosophy has a unique top-down problem-solving power to a reality test. I have been interested in the relation of brain function to that of general-purpose digital computers. It led me to choose the information processing field.

One philosophical issue is the efficacy of special-purpose versus general-purpose solutions. Some scientists and many engineers act on the belief that the optimal solution to a given situation is to be customized. Philosophy of science suggests that opposite: a successful generalization, aside from having a wider scope, has greater specificity, and when applied is typically more economical. The other view, current during the 1960s and 1970’s was that information processing, like power generation, is best centralized, to be accessed by remote terminals. Being aware of the rapid increase in the number of transistors-per-unit area of a silicon chip and the corresponding drop in the cost-per-transistor, which was expected to continue for some time, I reached the conclusion that such a chip could implement the function of the central processing unit (CPU) of a computer and that it would lead to having a user-dedicated computer at the point-of-use.

In 1967 and 1968 I tried and failed to convince anyone of these views. In 1969 I tried and failed to convince Computer Terminal Corporation (CTC) that was based in San Antonio, Texas to develop a microprocessor-based personal computer. I did succeed in convincing CTC to develop a CPU and ask Intel and Texas Instruments (TI) for proposals to implement it as a single chip microprocessor. CTC went on the incorporate its CPU in an intelligent terminal for accessing remote computers. It then also decided against using the single chip microprocessors designs offered by Intel and TI.

Intel, not having the right to produce the CTC CPU chip for the general market shelved that development work. Hearing of this I met Robert (Bob) Noyce, the president of Intel at the time, urging Intel to complete the development and offer it to the general market. Noyce said that Intel would provided it could obtain CTC’s consent. I met with Phil Ray, who was the president of CTC and obtained that consent for Intel, and so advised Noyce.

I then formed a company, Q1 Corporation, which delivered in 1972 to a division of Litton Industries in Long Island New York the world’s first microprocessor-based personal computer. The 8-bit microprocessor, the Intel 8008 became the original member of the Intel x-86 microprocessor product line. By the end of the 1970’s, it was the dominant microprocessor in the world.




I am neither an electronic engineer nor a computer scientist. For me, a sequence of events proved that philosophy contains top-down problem-solving power that is currently unrecognized.

Returning to the foundations of knowledge, I first consider the negative proof that sensations originate in the sensory receptors of the peripheral nervous. Next, I consider the problem philosophers have with the innateness of color. Finally, I consider the philosophical consequences of the innateness of the sensation of light.

Roger Sperry (1952) observed that signals from the peripheral nervous system are physical, are essentially like a ‘common currency’, and therefore are devoid of qualitative attributes. He concluded that these attributes are determined by the selectively activated brain loci. Present-day neuroscience confirmed Sperry right: The direct electrical stimulation of any submodality-specific brain loci elicits in a conscious, awake human subject the same the submodality- specific sensation, in response to the same electrical stimuli.

Furthermore, the direct electrical stimuli of hearing-related brain loci elicit sensations of sound in children born deaf with the dysfunctional auditory nerve. This fact is the basis for cortical prostheses available in such cases. These facts constitute conclusive evidence that the sensation of sound is not a property of air vibration, nor it originates from the ears.

The philosophic community has managed, thus far, to ignore these empirical facts, which conclusively disprove the denial of the innateness of sensations. It is in the area of vision that philosophers circled the wagons to defend the dead doctrine from a proper burial. C. W. Hardin, in his book Color for Philosophers (1986) pleaded with his fellow philosophers not to take a position against the empirical evidence. Two recent books, each containing a number of contributors defended the Physicalistic dogma.

I chose the innateness of the sensation of light as means the cut short the current extended delay in updating the foundation of knowledge. It is an established fact that cortical visual prostheses for persons who lost their vision restore (limited) vision. In recent years I have urges some entities in this field to implant such a prosthesis in blind born children. Such prostheses would work as does the auditory prosthesis for the born deaf. I expect that this will be demonstrated by 2025. Such a demonstration, I believe, would cause the scientific community to disown Physicalism by the end of that decade. It would also place the challenge of updating the foundation of knowledge at the top of the scientific agenda.

Philosophy, Gene Editing and The Next Phase of Human Evolution

We can now control future human evolution. It is the most far-reaching technological development since humans branched from other primates some six million years ago. There does not exist at present a conceptual framework with which to address this (or any other) long-term global issue. Typically, any long-term global issue is a looming disaster. Consider a few examples: climate change, pollution of the oceans and air, nuclear proliferation and demographic upheavals. This record suggests that the worst outcome is also the most likely in the instant case: that during this century, some national entities would introduce heritable enhancements to the human genome in their country – making the last millennium Homo sapiens’ last.

This book identifies philosophy as the root problem. It then outlines how current science requires updating the 300-year-old foundation of knowledge. It concludes by indicating how such reconstruction provides the ground for formulating normative social policies.

De-nuclearizing North Korea

What has prevented atomic conflict since the Second World War is the doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD). Kim Jeong Il discovered that this formula is inapplicable to the potential atomic conflict between a superpower and a small country. Instead, the superpower, having more to lose, is in a military disadvantage. This fact confers negotiating advantage in the smaller country. However, such an advantage is limited to negotiations. In an atomic conflict, neither side wins.

In the interim, North Korea is subject to a punishing embargo. It desperately needs a source of income. They have one thing that many entities desire, so naturally, North Korea is in the business of selling atomic know-how. Some well-funded terrorist entities that seek to obtain atomic weapons are not geographically locatable. As a result, there is no way to counter any attack by such entities. China may be among the initial targets for such unilateral attacks. Such prospects are utterly unacceptable. It would force China to prevent opening this Pandora’s box: this means de-nuclearization of North Korea.

Some notes relating to the forthcoming publications of the revised The New Foundation of Knowledge (2017)

A. Philosophy

A1. The current state of affairs.

Philosophy is the most basic and most troubled field of knowledge. Present-day knowledge is still based on assumptions about human nature that are now known to be false, that were introduced some 300 years ago. These assumptions underlie normative disciplines, including ethics, law, politics and economics. As a result, human institutions are guided by policies which appear inconsistent with long-term survival.

A2. Bringing the foundation of knowledge up to date

A2.1. Psychological attributes are heritable. The theory of evolution led Darwin to conclude that heritability applies to biological as well as psychological attributes. Present day science proved Darwin right on this point. Specifically, humans possess innate sensations emotions and cognitions. For example, the newborn human (or rodent) likes sweet and dislike bitter. It shows that both the sensations of taste and likes and dislikes are innate. Furthermore, the innateness of the preference constitutes knowledge of the world prior to personal experience.

A2.2. The denial of heritable psychological attributes. Empiricism is the theory of knowledge that is based on the denial that sensations or emotions or cognitions are innate. Empiricism underlie all present-day theories of knowledge. By and large, the philosophic community proved unable to set aside the 300 year epistemology legacy, and do not acknowledge the scientific evidence.

A2.3. Truth and consequences. Innate commonalities of human nature is the ground for deriving universals of human
conducts. In the United States, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a manifestation of the view that some moral principles are universal. But this is an exception. The more basic law is called “positive”, which means non-universal. In contrast, the legal doctrine of natural law is based on the view that these laws should not be relativistic. Relativistic ethics and laws make it impossible to bridge the cultural chasm separating East and West in trying to address the long-term global issue of the future of humanity.

A3. Toward a dawn of a new day.

Updating the foundation of knowledge is the most important and most urgent problem confronting humanity now. The philosophic community ought to undertake the long-term challenge of making explicit the implications of the scientific evidence about biology, mind and brain. It would bring philosophy the recognition and authority it deserves, once it does its job.