Here's a couple of passages from a recent Journal of Consciousness Studies article by Daniel Dennet, Shall We Tango?  No, but Thanks for Asking.  He's responding to criticisms made against him by Evan Thompson in Mind in Life, a book in which it is argued that minds, as well as organisms, can be understood autopoitecally.


... I rather like some of the formulations due to Maturana and Varela, and some of Thompson's as well, such as 'a cell stands out of a molecular soup by creating the boundaries that set it apart from what it is not' (p. 99), which nicely draws attention to the fact that the concentration of large molecules outside a cell is not all that different from that inside.


He then goes on to say:


The cell's boundary is its most salient and robust feature but there are exceptions to Thompson's claim: the boundary is, as everyone notes, semi-permeable, and which things count as inside and which as outside is not always clear.  There are transition zones, and besides, is something inside it food, waste, or a proper part?  If it too is an autopoietic system, is it an invader or a symbiotic ally?


Note the "is of identity" there, especially in the last two sentences where it is used to reify nouns into bivalent essences, e.g. a molecule "is" food or "is not" food, or "is" a proper part or "is not" a proper part.


But I don't mention this to criticise Dennet's writing style; I'm concerned about the idea he refers to, that any particular biological organism has a rigid boundary at all.  Once we extend this to minds (as Thompson seems to do), it gets even harder to defend the idea of a rigid boundary.  Minds seem to be spread out, so to speak, across the environment as a whole, not localised within brains.


This goes back to the machine consciousness problem.  It reminds me of something else that I heard recently, where scientists replaced a very small part of rats brains with mechanical parts, with which they were able to exert minor remote control over their eyes.  Although this technology is fairly crude at the moment, its yet another step towards a more complete brain-machine interface.


But if minds are defined by a rigid, bivalent sort of boundary, like some sort of Cartesian ego, then those mechanical implants either "are" part of the mind (and organism) or "are not" a part of it.


What implications does this have for a genuine IPMS?  Do minds and/or organisms have a rigid boundary, or a fuzzy boundary?

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Here's the paper.

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