Image credit: Kelly Sikkema
Monday 5th October.
I had a pretty silly conversation with a colleague and close friend, Chris, today. The topic was, If the universe was a soap opera, which celestial bodies would have the most tragic story arc? Stay with me; I am going somewhere with this.
My entry for the Saddest Star Award were the remote stars on the outer-most fringes of their galaxies, with no orbital bodies — destined to see out their lifetimes and collapse into dense oblivion with no planetary onlookers.
Chris rebutted with binary star systems, romantically gravitating towards their bound partner, only for both to meet an explosive end when they finally make that first connection.
Sidenote: neither of us are astronomers, so I apologise if anything is scientifically ridiculous there.
These silly personifications got me thinking. What would those celestial bodies experience, were they actually sentient.
This pondering led me to an article on Gaia.com, from the Gaia Staff, 2020, recounting the theory of ‘Panpsychism’. In short, Panpsychism suggests that there is consciousness pervasive throughout the universe, right down to sub atomic particles. If one was to subscribe to this notion, they would accept that the aformentioned astronomical bodies would hold consciousness.
So here’s the (not silly) question: Where are the boundaries between consciousness, sentience, and experience? And could my musings lend a hand to Simon Colton et al.’s work in computational creativity?
I’ve found myself at the mouth of a rabbit hole.
To explore these questions, I wanted to better understand panpsychism as philsophical concept, through scholarly literature. Seeing Gaia’s other content on ‘expanding consciousness’, ‘paranormal & unexplained’, and ‘secrets & cover ups’, I couldn’t help but question where they stood on the line between studiousness and dramatics.
Mørch’s peer-reviewed article, 2018, asks whether dispositionalism entails panpsychism. Here, I was introduced to two arguments that have allegedly brought about a revival of panpsychism in philsophy. ‘The argument from philsophy of mind’, and ‘the argument from anti-noumenalism’.
Mørch states that both arguments stem from the idea that all “physical properties are dispositional and require categorical grounds (realisers)”, and “phenomenal properties could be the categorical realisers of all physical properties”.
I am comfortable in admitting that it took a few hours to process what that meant. And I needed the help of The Cambridge Dictionary:
Disposition: a natural tendency to do something, or to have or develop something.
Categorical: without any doubt or possibility of being changed.
Phenomenon: something that exists and can be seen, felt, tasted, etc., especially something unusual or interesting.
Any physical properties of things can be recognised by their undeniable traits, as perceived through our senses. The seat of a chair has the disposition of being sit-on-able, identified by us seeing and feeling a flat surface of appropriate size and texture, at the right height to sit on, with no immediate or perceivable negative consquences for the action of sitting.
I found this approach to defining physical properties to be reminiscent of Don Norman’s The Design of Everyday Things. Norman refers to six principals of product discoverability. Two of which being affordances and signifiers (Norman, 2013: p.10).
An affordance is “a relationship between the properties of an object and the capabilities of the agent, that determine how the object could possibly be used”. A signifier conveys to the agent when, where, and how that determined use could take place.
It seems that a product’s signifers are its physical properties, and its affordances are dispositional. I doubt this is the only synergy between the different works.
I need to read more.
At the time of writing this, it is late into the evening. I’m at the spaghetti junction of the rabbit hole. With so many concepts to explore, I think it’s best that I compile my thoughts into a list of questions to consider as my ability to enage with academic literature improves.
- What are the arguments from the philosophies of mind and anti-noumenalism?
- Where are the boundaries between consciousness, sentience, and experience?
- Where would panpsychism apply to AI and computational creativity?
- Would an AI need to become conscious or sentient before it could be considered creative?
- Would a truly creative AI experience its creations?
- What is dispositionalism, and how does it relate to panpsychism?
- What do these concepts mean in the context of software, user experience, and product discoverability?
Tuesday 6th October.
Adding a collection of ideation strategies to my toolbox might help me overcome my concept latching habit. I’ve taken some time to consider why I become attached to my ideas – here are my ponderings:
Before joining this course, most of my ideation was done without any defined method. I’d review a problem, make a (sometimes mental) note of my initial ideas and start to piece together a solution. Once I had a viable solution sketched out, my ideation process would end.
For all intents and purposes, ideation sessions like these were successful. An idea was ideated, and I was a step closer to delivering whatever the project-at-hand was.
The problem with that approach is that it leaves me with only one explored idea. One plan of action means I’m obligated to defend it from any negative feedback – if that idea is binned, my idea count clicks back to zero. What I considered to be constructive discourse might actually have been me being unreceptive to feedback that didn’t align with my perspective.
Worse than that, I never allowed myself any means of exploring other ideas. Following that process recquired no lateral thinking, and gave me no exposure to other perspectives. If I had to go back to the drawing board, I’d be liable to follow the same thought path, and land on a carbon copy of the binned idea.
I’ve found the most valuable ideation methods are ones that challenge my own perspectives. Opposite Thinking stands out as a particularly effective strategy. By identifying my own assumptions and defaulting to their polar opposites, I force myself into attending other perspectives.
Opposite Thinking outputs collection of varied solutions. Having several ideas to work with gives me the breathing room needed to be more receptive to feedback. I’ll still pick my favourite idea to turn into a design, but it does offer the safety net of other ideas in reserve. I am less reliant on the idea I pursue becoming my final product, so if it receives criticism I am less inclined to jump to it’s defense.
I’ll apply opposite thinking (and probably a few other methods) in the upcoming rapid ideation projects. Finger’s crossed they’ll help with the tunnel vision.
Gaia. 2020. ‘The Panpsychism Theory; Could stars be conscious?’. Available at: https://www.gaia.com/article/could-stars-be-conscious [accessed 22/12/2020]
Cambridge University Press. ‘CATEGORICAL | meaning in the Cambridge English Dictionary’. Cambridge Dictionary. Cambridge: University of Cambridge. Available at: https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/categorical [accessed 22/12/2020]
Cambridge University Press. ‘DISPOSITION | meaning in the Cambridge English Dictionary’. Cambridge Dictionary. Cambridge: University of Cambridge. Available at: https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/disposition [accessed 22/12/2020]
Cambridge University Press. ‘PHENOMENON | meaning in the Cambridge English Dictionary’. Cambridge Dictionary. Cambridge: University of Cambridge. Available at: https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/phenomenon [accessed 22/12/2020]
GUCKELSBERGER, C., SALGE, C. and COLTON, S. 2017. ‘Addressing the ‘Why?’ in Computational Creativity: A Non-Anthropocentric, Minimal Model of Intentional Creative Agency.’ Presented at the 8th International Conference on Computational Creativity. Available at: http://ccg.doc.gold.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/iccc2017_guckelsberger.pdf [accessed 22/12/2020]
MØRCH, Hedda Hassel. 2018. ‘Does Dispositionalism Entail Panpsychism?’ Topoi, 39, 1073–1088.
NORMAN, Donald A. 2013. The Design of Everyday Things: Revised and expanded edition. 2nd edn. New York: Basic Books.
Board of Innovation. ‘Opposite Thinking’. Available at: https://www.boardofinnovation.com/tools/opposite-thinking [accessed 22/12/2020]