Dmytro Taranovsky

Contents: "My Philosophy Papers", "The Two Views of Consciousness", "Philosophy" (unfinished), "Philosophy Notes".

My Philosophy Papers

Utilitarianism explains, justifies, and defends the correct theory of morality.

Human Rights and the Problem of Evil explains why human rights must be followed by people but are not binding on God.

Free Will explains why free will is highly philosophically problematic but must exist anyway

Consequences of Utilitarianism and Belief in God

The Nature of being a Person

Special Notes (philosophy section, and paragraphs in other sections, such as Newcomb's Paradox)

This paper (which can be viewed as three papers)

The Two Views of Consciousness

Date: July 16, 2014
Note: Some of the arguments and descriptions are abbreviated.

The Reductionist View

Here is the reductionist view of the mind (which I reject), which starts with the physical reality and our shared experiences.

The reality is the physical reality. Scientific research has thoroughly rejected the supernatural. Thus, feelings, souls, and free-will are an illusion -- at least when these notions are used in the pure metaphysical sense. What exists are approximations to these notions, and we should use the approximations as the notions. The approximations are as follows.

consciousness (this is preferred to using 'soul')
a being is conscious if it has sufficient cognitive ability and awareness of self.
states that are functionally analogous to what we consider to be human feelings.
free will
an action is free if it is produced as a result of a deliberation by a conscious being.
desirability of an action with respect to a particular system of values.
based on continuity of memories and other patterns.

The boundaries of these notions are vague in the same sense that the word 'many' is vague: It is unclear how many numbers must a set with many numbers contain. Similarly, in free will, it is unclear which forms of causality are excluded. The preferred approach is to allow variations and degrees of these notions. Consciousness comes in degrees; there are degrees in which certain functional states amount to feelings, such as degree of awareness that the system must have about the state. For morality, one may have utilitarianism plus striving for greater degrees of consciousness. Alternatively, one may try to imagine the best idealization of the current human values, analogously to how we may idealize in other spheres of knowledge.

Identity across time is mostly straightforward today since current technology does not allow reproduction of brains, but in the future it may become a web, with splits and merges. For example, A's future may include A1 and A2 as separate beings.

Humans believe in feelings, free-will, etc. because these notions have excellent explanatory power, but the explanations and models need not be exact, only approximate. Imagine a deterministic simulation with sufficient richness to include intelligent beings. Under appropriate conditions, these beings will derive existence of their souls and free will (which may help them to make sense of themselves), but this being a deterministic simulation, the beings certainly lack metaphysical free will.

The Dualist View

Arguments for Dualism

The dualist view, which I hold, starts with self. I exist and have feelings; my scientific knowledge is about finding patterns in my feelings. Two theories that predict the same patterns are scientifically equivalent. Thus, science cannot deny feelings. Even the existence of the physical world is not an entirely scientific claim since a theory can predict that the physical world does not exist but that my feelings will be as if it exists. Epistemically, knowledge starts with feelings, and thus existence of feelings is a priori true. The existence of self follows from the existence of feelings. Also, my identity and feelings are primary concepts, and thus irreducible.

Existence of free will (and some form of morality) also forms the basis of knowledge and thus a priori true. The notion that we should reject free will is incoherent since the word "should" presupposes a choice, and existence of choices implies free will (even if free will is in a certain sense illogical, the notion that we should think logically presupposes choice). Free will, being neither determined nor random, is inherently supernatural. See my paper on free will for more details.

Three other arguments for dualism are:

Dualism and Functionalism

By itself, dualism is incomplete. What does soul and free will do? How do I know which entities have feelings and what kind of feelings they have? The answer comes from functionalism. The identity of a feeling derives from how it is related to understanding and to other feelings; the existence of self corresponds to having understanding; identity across time corresponds to a relation of memories and other patterns. Functionalism is also the preferred theory of feelings for the reductionist theory, but with a key difference -- under dualism, the existence of self is qualitative and well-defined, and not a matter of degree.

With dualism (incorporating functionalism), the sensible conclusion is that having feelings, consciousness, soul, free-will, morality, and universal capability to think and understand are all equivalent; and identity of souls across time corresponds with an identity of memories. This is the core metaphysical claim of my philosophy of mind. Other metaphysical claims include immortality of the soul, and impossibility of cloning (contradicts identity equals memories) or merging (contradicts immortality) of souls.

The Experiment

How do we test whether dualism is true? Once both computer hardware and our understanding of the brain reaches a sufficient level, we can perform the following experiment: Create a deterministic system that simulates the human brain and measure its intelligence. Under the reductionist view, as long as simulation of neurons and other cells is statistically accurate, the result will behave like a human and, presumably, will be human. (Note, however, that in the unlikely event of intercellular nonlocality from quantum entanglement, the simulation would have to model that as well.)

However, under dualism with functionalism, the simulation, being deterministic, lacks free will, so it lacks soul, and hence is fundamentally limited in its cognitive skills. Individual neurons will be simulated in statistically accurate ways, but at higher and higher levels, anomalies will start to appear and increase, and the whole will not be human and will not have all of human cognitive skills.

Of course, failure of a particular simulation does not imply that all future simulations will fail. Conversely, assuming that dualism is a priori true, it remains true even if some experiments are more naturally explained from a reductionist perspective. Still, the experiment is a momentous task that is worth working for.


July 24, 2002
Modified: November 3, 2002
This old paper (unfinished) aims to present and justify resolutions to all key philosophical questions.

About this paper: Philosophy is the basis of knowledge. It answers two basic questions: What is the nature of reality? What should people do? This paper presents philosophy and justifies the knowledge presented.

Some Basic Concepts

You exist and have feelings. You derive knowledge from feelings. How do you know that your knowledge is correct? The only way to know that one's knowledge is correct is to ascertain its truth in a reliable way. You may feel that your knowledge is correct, but that does not prove that the feeling of correctness is itself correct. Some power may tell you that the knowledge is correct, but that does not prove that the power is correct or that your memory of what the power told you is correct. The only remaining, and thus the correct choice (you must choose a way to decide truthfulness) is that your knowledge is verified by the correct internal process, called logic. For the method to be reliable, it cannot use mysterious transitions to claim knowledge and it cannot use unconfirmed statements. Instead, logic consists of derivations so obvious as to be contained in reasoning itself and of statements whose truthfulness is obviously the only choice.

Since logic is (by definition) the correct way of deriving knowledge, it cannot derive false knowledge from true knowledge. Thus, if a statement leads to contradiction, it cannot be true, but it is false.

Some choices may be better than others. Thus, to decide which action to choose one should obtain knowledge. Since knowledge is useful, the correct system of knowledge is workable.

If things can be arbitrarily chosen to remain unexplainable, then the system of knowledge cannot be built since then every statement can be claimed as unexplainable. Thus, a premise must exist against unexplainable things. However, there is no logical way to select a premise among those premises that leave some explainable things unexplained--one cannot explain why this rather than that particular explainable item should be chosen unexplainable. Since knowledge is obtained through logic, none of such premises may be selected, leaving only the premise that as little as possible cannot be explained. Since logic is workable and correct, that premise must be correct. It is through this premise that the axioms of logic are derived. The axioms are accepted as true because their acceptance is the only (acceptable) choice.

The Scope and Justification of Science

By definition of feelings, all information about the world comes to you through your feelings. Therefore, a theory (that is a collection of claims about the world) can only be tested on what feelings it predicts for you. Thus, two theories that predict the same feelings to you cannot be experimentally distinguished even if one theory is merely the expression of another as relations between feelings without any reference to the external world. Usually, however, a theory makes predictions by using a mathematical model (an imaginary world) for an aspect of the world and relating the model to your perception.

You use theories (such as the claim that sunrise happens once about every 24 hours) to learn about the world, to predict the future (such as the time of the next sunrise), and for enjoyment of using the theory. The information is then used to make choices. How can you know about the aspects of the world that you do not currently experience? It is built into our minds that the world has patterns in it and that every pattern has a reasonable probability of being true. That is, by observing a pattern, you assume that the pattern will continue. As stated above, a theory is experimentally equivalent to the patterns it predicts. By observing the patterns it predicts, you assume that the patterns will hold, that is you practically accept the theory.

How do you determine the likelihood that a given pattern will occur? What is unexplained are the pattern and the deviations of predictions from the pattern. As little as possible cannot be explained. The initial likelihood of a pattern is based on its simplicity--simpler patterns have fewer unexplained parts and thus higher initial probability. The probability is adjusted based on the observed likelihood of the patterns of the type of the proposed pattern (using the same method as described in the paragraph below). Then, the probability of the pattern is determined based on its explanation of the data (see the the paragraph below). The patterns are called science, and the correct process of finding them--science or scientific method.

(If you never studied probabilities, skip this paragraph.) Theory of probability can be used to formalize much of the process. Assume that before observation, the probability of a pattern is p0; and if the pattern is real, the probability (before the observation) that you would observe what you observed is p1; and if the pattern is not real, the probability that you will observe what you observed is p2. Initially, the probability of the pattern and the obtained results is p0*p1. The probability of the absence of the pattern and the obtained results is (1-p0)p2. The probability of the obtained results is p0p1+(1-p0)p2. Thus, the probability of the pattern is p=p0p1/(p0p1+(1-p0)p2). As long as p1 is in sufficiently many times larger than p2. p is almost 1 and the pattern is almost certain to exist.

Using this reasoning, it was confirmed that the patterns predicted by the theory of evolution are almost certain to exist, so you should practically accept the theory. That does not mean that the model stating all life forms gradually evolved from primitive cells is correct: If you believe that God created the world so as to make it appear that the theory of evolution is correct, then you practically accept the theory of evolution (since you accept the patterns) without accepting the model as reality.

The Nature of Knowledge

You appear to have knowledge. For example, you understand human language. Since logic is correct and logic is based on knowledge, knowledge exists.
Can knowledge itself (without an associated being that has the knowledge) cause something? No, causality can only be meaningful if the antecedent changes and knowledge (such as 2+2=4) does not change--what changes are which beings have the knowledge and whether certain knowledge is true. Can people influence knowledge? No, people can change who thinks the knowledge but the knowledge itself does not change. Since thoughts correspond to knowledge and since thoughts refer to knowledge, knowledge exists in human imagination.

Let us collectively call those parts of the world that people can think about but that do not change anything and are themselves constant as the world of human imagination. Since an object either exists or does not, an object that exists in the world of human imagination exists. "Object exists" means "object is" which means "object is something", so "object does not exist" means "object is not" which means "object is not something" which means "object is nothing". If you refer to an object, you do not refer to nothing, so you claim or assume that the object exists (or, possibly, existed or will exist as will be analyzed later). Since you can refer to (or talk about) a fictional character, that character exists. Since it is fictional, it exists in the world of human imagination.

Although by itself knowledge cannot affect anything and thus irrelevant, knowledge in the human minds (that is thoughts) is extremely relevant since it causes almost all human decisions.
The study of the world of human imagination is called mathematics.

The Nature of Reality

You can control some but not all of your feelings. The only explanation for inability to control some feelings is that something, the external world, prevents the control. Thus, the external world exists.

Added: 6 Feb 2005
Arguments that Humans are Supernatural:
  1. Science has limited scope and cannot prove existence of the external world or human mortality.
  2. Your identity and your feelings are a given and are primary concepts, and thus are irreducible.
  3. Your identity is well-defined, but the extent of your body is vague.
  4. In quantum mechanics, the observer is not a quantum system and is thus supernatural.
  5. Free will exists and is supernatural since it is neither determined nor random.

Philosophy Notes

Date: June 27, 2012
Note: There is some overlap with "Two Views of Consciousness"

Existence of God:
- Supernatural exists (see above)
- God is needed to explain the universe, to enforce physical/metaphysical laws.

Morality: Utilitarianism (see my "Utilitarianism" paper)

Optimality of the Universe: God is omnibenevolent because there is no reason for God not to be omnibenevolent. Thus, the physical/metaphysical laws, are in a sense, the best possible. This leads to strong metaphysical consequences from existence of God and utilitarian morality (see "Consequences of Utilitarianism and Existence of God" paper).

Faster than Light Space Travel: Possible because of physical laws optimality, but not clear how hard.
Hypercomputation: Same

Death: * Cognition becomes extremely slow because there is no functioning brain. * Souls are immortal because - soul is supernatural, and there appears to be no mechanism to end a soul - it is better for souls to be immortal, so (by existence of God) they are immortal * Cognitive speed: - Lack of contact from the dead suggests very slow cognition. - Existence and immortality of the soul makes it questionable that thought could stop completely (a complete stop does not appear to be sufficiently different from nonexistence). However, even a thousand years should appears instantaneous to the dead. * Death reversal requires creating a new substrate/brain/body, and somehow matching it to the soul. However, current understanding of physical laws provides no means to retrieve the information needed for reconstructing the individual's brain. (By contrast, even creation of a new galaxy can be done within the framework of known physical laws.) Also, it is unclear whether additional steps (beyond creating a suitable brain) are required to attach a disembodied soul. Nevertheless, resurrection will be accomplished because that is the right way for things to be. Perhaps, readonly travel into the past will allow us to gain the required information. * Properly preserved cryonics patients can likely be recovered through ordinary future technology because the required information appears to be preserved in the frozen brain.

Transcendence: * Humans will eventually transcend: The effective cognitive abilities will become much greater, and the effective repertoire of feelings will greatly expand. (I use "effective" as opposed to "potential" or "absolute" because all humans, transcendent or not, are fundamentally equal.) The transcendence will most likely happen through creation of superior nonbiological brains (as opposed to the mechanisms below). * It is possible to transcend through thought alone, even for a biological human. However, as far as we know, this has never been accomplished. A strong enough transcendence would grant one extraordinary physical powers. * (similar to the item above) Physical Power of Thought: It is desirable for there to be hope and potential, even in the darkest of times. Therefore, by metaphysical optimality, for every person, it is possible to wield effectively unlimited physical power through thought alone. However, to ensure order, this manifests extremely rarely, and probably never actually happened so far. * It is unclear whether there is a pattern of thoughts/feelings that leads to transcendence. We even cannot rule out that certain rare undiscovered visual patterns have special powers. * Fundamental understanding brings one closer to transcendence. It is vital to pursue knowledge and understanding, especially when it is fundamental, even if there is no realistic chance of actual transcendence.

Brain Simulation Experiment

[Added 7 July 2012, but text originally sent as a private letter on 23 Jan 2005]

Sometime in the twenty-first century, the following experiment is likely to be conducted. A human brain will be scanned into a computer. Then, a (deterministic) computer program will simulate the brain (using a pseudo-random number generator and prerecorded random data in place of randomness). Appropriate sensory input will be fed into the program, and the output will be displayed. What will be the results? (Also, do you know when the experiment is first likely to be performed?)

The idea that human minds can be cloned, that their properties and memories can be arbitrarily modified at will, and that minds can behave deterministically strikes me as an impossibility. Nor do I find it possible that a being which functions just like a person is not a person and has no feelings. Instead, my prediction for the experiment is the following.

At the level of individual neurons and small groups of cells, the results of the simulation will be statistically indistinguishable from the biological behavior. However, at large scales, anomalies start to appear--first, they are barely detectable, but become stronger and stronger as the scale increases, until at the highest scale, the simulation will not have a human level intelligence.

My view is that the mind and the brain are not just the sum of the biological parts. Instead, there must be some entity which produces the anomalies and true humanity. For your brain, that entity is you.