Response to most pressing matters often leaves no time for attending the most important ones. Let’s take a break. The pandemic will await our return.
A. Science, technology and philosophy
A1 Science. C. P. Snow, in Two Cultures (1958) noted that the role of science in society is central. He then upset the educated elite by claiming that to be ignorant of science is to be ignorant. Was Snow right? Consider information technology and biotechnology.
A2.1 Information technology. 1958 was also the year when the integrated circuit was invented. That invention marked the advent of the explosive growth of the semiconductor field, which in 1972 led to the introduction of the first single-chip 8-bit general-purpose microprocessor the Intel 8008 (Appendix 1). The 8008 became the original member of Intel’s X-86 microprocessor family, which by the end of the 1970’s became dominant worldwide. Today, any person with a cell phone and internet access has free information that exceeds in value the information that was available to the richest person in the world in 1958.
A2.2 Biotechnology. Now, biotechnology is advancing faster than information technology. And it is about to transform human life on Earth. Gene editing makes it possible to introduce heritable modifications in genomes. Making heritable enhancement to the genomes of a human population this century may trigger the onset of the next phase of human evolution. Snow proved right.
A3 Philosophy. But it is philosophy that is the most important and most troubled knowledge area. It is also the most urgent. Only philosophy can provide the needed guide as to what ought to be done in confronting the impending challenges. It is this promise of philosophy that is our focus here.
B1 The recent change in the status of consciousness.
Physicalism (Neurath 1929) defines existence as physical. It thus denies by definition the existence of non-physical consciousness. Around the turn of the century Francis Crick (1983) and Christof Koch (2004) made the study of consciousness the main challenge of neuroscience. Now the problem of consciousness is recognized as the central problem of knowledge.
B2 The key issue turned out to be empirical, not philosophical.
B2.1 Mental faculties are innate. Biology and neuroscience show that mental faculties are innate. This is an empirical, not philosophical, finding.
B2.2. The tabula rasa assumption. John Locke (1689) postulated that the brain of the newborn is like a blank slate (tabula rasa) until it receives sensations from the outside world. David Hume (1750) extended the tabula rasa assumption to cognition. The tabula rasa assumption is the most basic tenet of Empiricism, which underlies current theories of knowledge.
B3 The main epistemological consequence of the fact that mental faculties are innate. Sensations, being innate, are private, subjective, or phenomenal. Like all sensations, this is also true of the sensory modalities of exteroception, by which the external physical world is knowable. Hence,. knowledge of the physical is inferred from the phenomenal. This conclusion confers epistemological priority on the phenomenal relative to the physical. Thus, the phenomenal is not reducible to the physical. Put differently, the phenomenal cannot be said to be a by-product of brain function. Instead, the physical brain instantiates, or realizes phenomenal states.
B4 Consequence of replacing the tabula rasa by its direct opposite. Making explicit the epistemological consequences of replacing the tabula rasa assumption by its direct opposite would constitute the most far-reaching advance in the foundation of knowledge since the tabula rasa was introduced some 300 years ago,
C. Max Planck on delays in accepting new scientific advances
C1 The sociology of knowledge problem. In The Structure of Scientific Revolutions Thomas Kuhn (1962) noted that the acceptance of a new scientific paradigm is often delayed by decades, naming this phenomenon “The sociology of knowledge problem”. Kuhn quotes Max Planck (1950) who wrote: “A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.”
C2 The current situation. This problem is now manifested in the delayed undertaking of the reconstruction of the foundation of knowledge, now that the tabula assumption proved to be factually false. The philosophic community by and large has proved unable to set aside the tabula rasa legacy and for this reason it does not acknowledge yet the verdict of science.
D1 Current science makes it possible to derive universals of human conduct from innate commonalities of human nature. The outdated theory of knowledge has severed this vital connection.
D2 The fact that we control our future evolution proves that human history is unidirectional.
Hence, the past can no longer be a guide for the future. Worse yet, historical normative institutions are unlikely to be equal to the task of confronting impending upheavals. It is imperative, for example, to bridge the current cultural chasm separating East especially in connection with gene editing.
E. This decade
E1 The time to update the foundation of knowledge is now.
E1.1 Neural prosthetics for the born deaf or blind. Cochlear implants that were developed for children with impaired hearing proved effective in eliciting sensations of sound in the born deaf. In cases when the auditory nerve is dysfunctional the electrodes are implanted not in the cochlea but in hearing-related brain loci. The born deaf in such cases too experience sensations of sound upon electrical stimulation. This fact is a conclusive proof that the experienced sensation of sound is innate – it is neither a property of air vibration nor does it originate from the ears. Similarly, neural prostheses that have been developed for children with impaired vision would elicit sensations of light in the born blind. I expect that this will be demonstrated by 2025.
E1.2 Expected impact. The philosophic community has managed to remain oblivious to the fact that auditory prosthesis for the born deaf prove that the sensation of sound is innate. The fact that sensations of sound are innate is counterintuitive. But, that so, is the sensation of light, is jarring. The shock that the sensation of light is not an attribute of the electromagnetic spectrum would bring to an abrupt end the 300 year-old tabula rasa tradition. I, therefore, expect this decade to mark the advent of a new era where philosophical reconstruction would be central to the knowledge enterprise and serves as a survival manual guide to the future.
Advent of the microprocessor as an experiment in applied philosophy
K. My applied philosophy experiment in information technology
K1 While I was a doctoral student in philosophy at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York I found my views to be out of the mainstream. I then put them to a reality test. It led to the introduction in 1972 of the Intel 8008 single-chip general-purpose microprocessor. The 8008 was the original member of Intel’s X-86 microprocessor family, which by the end of the 1970s became dominant worldwide.
K2 I am neither an electronic engineer nor a computer scientist
I consider the foundation of knowledge to be a unique problem solving area. This view was, and still is, outside the mainstream. Analytic philosophy, for example, confines its focus on clarification rather than the solution of basic knowledge problems.
K3 On the difference between science and technology. Technology is an applied science. The focus is on applying existing knowledge toward an optimal solution to a real-life problem. A common view is that there are no panaceas. There is also a preference for use of proven methods. In contrast, a basic scientist seeks a solution with greater generality, specificity and economy.
K4 Information technology prior to the microprocessor
IBM. During the 1960’s IBM dominated the information processing field with large, centralized time-sharing computers. The prevailing view was that computing, like electric generation, is best centralized.
K5 Office equipment. Offices used a variety of special-purpose machines such as word-processors, electronic calculators, copiers and fax machines.
K6 The semiconductor revolution. During the 1960’s the number of transistors per-unit-area of silicon increased by a thousand-fold and the cost-per-transistor dropped by nearly the same factor.
L. My decision to subject my philosophy to real-life test
L1 Computer Terminal Corporation (CTC). CTC of San Antonio, Texas, developed a computer terminal and contacted the Wall Street firm of Philips Appel & Walden (PAW) to raise money by an Initial Public Offering (IPO). I evaluated CTC on behalf of PAW and recommended that the IPO take place. This was despite the fact that I found CTC’s initial product, the Datapoint 3300 computer terminal, to be conceptually obsolete. The reason was that Austin (Gus) Roche , its VP for R&D accepted my recommendations that 1) CTC develop a computer central processing unit (CPU) and incorporate into their next product and 2) then seek implementing that CPU as a single-chip microprocessor.
L2 The CTC’s Datapoint 2200. CTC’s next product, the Datapoint 2200 did have a CPU. But in 1970, CTC decided against implementing that CPU as a microprocessor. On hearing that I returned to San Antonio and met with the president, Phil Ray. He granted my request that I may offer Intel to develop a microprocessor chip based on the Datapoint 2200 CPU for the general market.
L3 Intel. I then met with Robert (Bob) , a co-founder and initial president of Intel. I conveyed to him my view that the 4-bit chip that Intel was developing for Busicom, a Japanese electronic calculator consortium was a special-purpose device with a limited market. In contrast, I added an 8-bit microprocessor based on the Datapoint 2200 CPU would unleash a technological revolution. Noyce responded by saying that Intel would undertake the 8-bit project after completing the 4-bit chip for Busicom. Intel began development of the CTC-based chip in 1971 and introduced it in April 1972.
L4 Q1 Corporation. In December 1972, Q1 Corporation, the company I formed, delivered the world’s first personal computer based on an 8-bit general purpose microprocessor, the Intel 8008.
L5 The 1975 IEEE Conference. In 1975 based on Noyce’s recommendation, I organized and chaired the opening session of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) first world conference on the Microcomputer Revolution
M. What did that experiment prove to me
For me that interlude was an experiment to prove, to myself at least, that philosophy of science has the capacity to provide top-own solutions that are not derivable by bottom-up reasoning. The result of the philosophical experiment proved to me that this is indeed the case. But there was neither the need or the opportunity to make explicit to the reasoning that guided my decisions. My focus then returned to central issues at the foundation of knowledge.