Frege’ and Husserl’s attack on psychologism

Here are few Husserl’s quotes where he attacks the idea that meanings of sentences, or other intentional experiences like thinking or knowing something can be explained through psycho-physical processes…

The fundamental mistake of pscyhologism is that it does not distinguish correctly between the object of knowledge and the act of knowing. Whereas the act is a psychical process that elapses in time and that has a beginning and an end, this does not hold true for the logical principles or mathematical truths that are known (Hua 24/141).
When one speaks of a law of logic or refers to mathematical truths, to theories, principles, sentences, and proofs, one does not refer to a subjective experience with a temporal duration, but to something atemporal, objective and eternally valid. Although the principles of logic are grasped and known by consciousness, we remain conscious of something ideal that is irreducible to and utterly different from the real psychical acts of knowing…

And further…

Regardless of how frequently one repeats the theorem of Pythagoras, regardless of whom it is that thinks it, or where and when it happens, it will remain identically the same, although the concrete act of meaning will change in each case (Hua 19/49,97-98)

But this is not true just in case of the abstract objects. It shouldn’t be thought that is true just for the case of the abstract (or purely logical, depends who you ask) entities like in mathematics…

The very possibility of repeating the same meaning in numerically different acts is in itself a sufficient argument to refute psychologism as a confusion of ideality and reality.
If ideality were really reducible to or susceptible to the influence of the temporal, real, and subjective nature of the psychical act, it would be impossible to repeat or share meaning, just as it is impossible to repeat a concrete psychical act the moment it has occurred, not to speak of sharing it with others. But if this really were the case, scientific knowledge as well as ordinary communication and understanding would be impossible. (Hua 18/194)

The quotes are taken from the Dan Zahavi’s book “Husserl’s Phenomenology” 2003, p9,10. Hua means Husserliana, and the numbers are: volume number/page(s).

Of course Husserl was not alone in attacking psychologism. Frege did similar attacks, and even attacked Husserl of relying on psychologism in his “Philosophie der Arithmetik”. There are some doubts if that attack was in place, or if it really was the critique which turned Husserl away from psychologism,  but what is important is that both philosophers came to consider psychologism as wrong.

Here is one example of Frege’ attack the idea that math can be reduced to psychology:

…arithmetics has nothing to do with sensations. Just as little has it to do with mental images, compounded from the traces of earlier sense impressions. The fluctuating and indeterminate nature of these forms stands in stark contrast to the determinate and fixed nature of mathematical concepts and objects…psychology should not suppose that it can contribute anything at all to the foundation of arithmetic…
The description of the origin of an idea should not be taken for a definition, nor should the account of the mental and physical conditions for becoming aware of a proposition be taken for a proof… otherwise we would end up finding it necessary to take account of the phosphorous content of our brain in proving Pythagoras’ theorem, and astronomers would shy away from extending their conclusions to the distant past, for fear of the objection ‘You reckon that 2 x 2 = 4 held then; but the idea of number has a development, a history! One can doubt whether it had reached that stage by then.. Might not the creatures living at that time have held the proposition 2 x 2 =5?…’ (The foundations of Arithmetic, Frege Reader, Michael Beaney (Ed.), 1997, p87,88)

Link to a page which tells much more then this post

Connected posts:
Mont Blanc is too high to fit in my head
What “meaning” means?

Other simple intentional experiences

In the previous post, I said that bedazzlement is one of the simplest intentional experiences. I wanted to point that no intentional state is a momentary state, and when talking about those intentional states they can’t be seen as momentary, but should be thought of as belonging to the flux of consciousness, which is in constant change.

So, I use “simple” here to point that while the time is passing by, there are no changes of what we can call intentional quality (following Husserl) in the intentional experience. Intentional quality is that type of the directness towards the object, like hoping, desiring,fearing, etc… It should be distinguished from the intentional matter, which might be e.g. a proposition, thing, etc; and the intentional matter can also not change in this intentional experience (bedazzlement).

There are other intentional experiences where the intentional matter changes, e.g. the things we are looking at undergoes some change (e.g. color, movement, size, shape, and so on), but still the intentional quality doesn’t. In this case there is no need for some strong emotion (like in bedazzlement) which will block the change of the intentional quality (block our thoughts so to say), as the change itself can present enough material to keep our attention. We might be of course mesmerized by the event , but merely interested, or even “hardly interested” would do.

How things keep your attention

We notice things… They either attract our attention, or we can find them when “looking for them”. But usually there is no simple intentional state which don’t have in itself the seed of its change. It can’t be even said that way (as in my last sentence), as what is primary is the change, and some kind of “momentary state” can be nowhere found (other post on this).
Probably the most content-less case of intentional state is bedazzlement, when a thing can keep our attention as if we are enchanted with it. Though even in this case one can’t talk about momentary state, as it is really a state which requires time, still it seems to me it gets as close as possible to some kind of intentional momentary state, as in ideal conditions I can imagine there not being change in the intentional state – no thoughts, no plans.. pure bedazzlement.

Other simple intentional states, that I can think of in my opinion are more complex. In the case of hating, you can look at something with hate for example, and the state can last longer, but this state is richer, as it includes also a wish to do something, however unplanned and impulsive it might be. And in the case of being interested, as for example child being interested in a toy, it is hardly something that don’t change in time, the state of being interested includes the wish to get that thing, to hold it, analyze it, and so on…

I think analysis of those intentional state is helpful in tracking the possible relations that we can have with the world. As one, it shows that probably one can’t reduce the analysis to some simple noticing of things, but we need to always consider the wider gestalt, where the intentional state is seen not as momentary state, but as some kind of abstraction of our being in-the-world, in which gestalt probably emotions will have to play some role which can’t be just pushed away… If there is no state which is simple noticing of the thing, if even when things attract our attention, that attracting our attention is “wedded” with some kind of interest on our part, and when in simplest case of bedazzlement is hard to talk about emotionless state of pure intentionality; giving any account which doesn’t give a central place to those emotions would be lacking.

The other important thing is how and when our attention on a thing is lost (question which is mentioned at the end of this post). So to say, when does the given as result of abstraction stop being the lively given, and becomes something which is abstracted itself. In my opinion this also relates to the question of relation between consciousness and Unconscious. The abstraction as explicit removing of the things away from the attention seems to give lot of possibility to give account where the relation can be comprehended.

Degrees of freedom in evolution

In a previous post I wrote about the program – Gene Pool by JJ Ventrela and others.
If you haven’t checked it, you can get it here.

The program itself, as its author says, focuses on examining how the sexual selection (i.e. the criteria of what looks attractive) when put together with natural selection (the ability to stay alive and reproduce) affects the evolution of locomotion in swimbots.

Looking at those swimming bots today, I was thinking what kind of additions would be nice to see in this application. Here are my thoughts…

The natural selection in the program is based on the ability to stay alive and reproduce (which is basically ability to move towards a selected mate). There is no predator/pray relation – in the simulation there are just herbivores (we can imagine dots which give energy as plants). What would be interesting is to see another type of swimbots – carnivores, which would live in same simulation, but which would not eat the dots, but the herbivore swimbots themselves. Having those two types whose evolution would be closely connected might serve as “boost” for the evolution. Of course the number 2 is not magical, so maybe food chain of several levels would give interesting results also. From how I understand that program works, this shouldn’t be hard to accomplish.

The program allows the user to “tweak ecology”. Among the settings there are such like “swimbot hunger threshold” and “swimbot energy % to offspring”. The user can tweak those per whole pool, but it would be interesting to see how the setting affects the evolution. How? By changing those parameters to be from general for all pool to internal parameters for every swimbot (of course they get to mutate, and be transfered through genes).

This also opens interesting question about the degrees of freedom of the evolution in the virtual simulations – the evolution in the simulations will always happen in some abstract space of possible mutations… It is closed space, and there is just given finite number of mutations, the possible animals that can develop are limited in this abstract space. I wonder in this context, if in the nature there is also similar abstract space of possible mutations, which is set once for all, by the mechanism of the mutations in the evolution, or if this mechanism in the nature itself changes… Does the life and evolution in nature transcend this kind of abstract space?

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Mental States vs. Stream of Consciousness

We are used to think that we can talk about state of some system in particular time, and we imagine that the change comes somehow outside of it, so to say, as if it is possible for a certain state to last through time if there is nothing to change it. We also project this kind of model to our conscious state too, and try to analyze our consciousness in terms of some states which can be fully described. But if we look at what is going on in our heads, we don’t find such thing… there is no pause, you can’t get hold of some moment as distinctive and separate. In the end… there are no moments and there are no momentary states.

Any conscious mental act, happens in the wider context of what is happening. In such a context some mental acts are more connected and dependent to the whole stream of consciousness, and some are less. A thought for example –  is most of the times part of thinking, and our thinking happens in a stream where it is hard to catch or notice a particular thought and isolate it from the others in that stream. There are some other states, where one can say “Eureka!”, as if as some idea has just appeared in our heads from nowhere and maybe in those cases one can speak of thoughts which are not dependent on the context. At least not on the conscious context.
Take “looking at” as other mental state. It is hard to imagine some simple state which would be reduced to pure looking at something, and which would last time. In fact when I take a look at the flower in front of me, I can’t just look at it, there is no such moment to be isolated – in the moment when I put my attention to it, in that same moment I either start thinking something about it; or it associates me of something else, and my thought process goes in some other direction, while the image of flower fades away from my attention; or it invokes some emotions in me, which probably will again induce some thinking; or simply, if I succeed to keep my intention to the flower, my gaze goes over its surface noticing some other things about the flower.

Noticing the people notice things we notice

When grown up person puts his attention to philosophical problems, he starts from a developed theoretical view of the world. Also that person puts his attention to problems which are metaphysical or epistemological, ignoring the whole from which he starts his philosophical discourse.

The philosophy soon figures out that it needs some kind of base, a sure beginning, a set of concepts and/or facts that will serve as a  ground of the philosophy.

In last few post, I was presenting the case that being in-the-world, and noticing of things in that world, present a necessary base for philosophical discourse… I’m arguing that the history of anything that “goes on in our head” can be traced back to the noticing of things in the world around us. For sure noticing things in the world, don’t cover the whole issue of epistemology, probably not even just a bit. But this phenomenological base, seems to me, must be accepted. I guess, I need to make additional notice, that when I speak of being in-the-world, I’m talking of phenomenal world, of the world as it is there around us, not any imagined principles of how the world really is.

It might seem at first, that the being in-the-world, and noticing things present not complex enough ground to account for all abstract thought that is obviously possible, be it logic, mathematics, metaphysics even epistemology itself. But let me try to explain why do I think that it is…

As first, we notice things around us. It is not important for now, what makes them objects, nor what makes us notice them. What is important that they must be noticed in order to enter our thought process.
But we notice people too, and we notice that those people can

  • notice us
  • notice other objects we notice
  • interact with us, and those other objects

In this way we notice being together-in-the-world, with other people. They can notice things we notice, and we can notice each other too, and we can notice what others do in the world. Further we don’t notice people as objects, they are active subjects, and further we notice their mental states. The recognition of those mental states in others might be even primarily connected to our own emotions, be it fear, happiness, in direct relation to others, or jealousy for example, when the connection includes the others and also objects. Those are things which can be analyzed in the phenomenology.

However, what is important, is that being in-the-world and noticing things in that world can present base of transcendental inter-subjectivity. What is enough is that notice that other people notice things we notice… (to be continued)

Why are the people who refer to J.T.Leroy unhappy?

Few moths ago Chalmers on his blog raised an interesting question of what causal theory of reference would say about the case of J.T.Leroy. (please check the original post for details)

In my thinking this problem should be analyzed in connection to practices of referring to a things using a (proper) name. For sure practices can not explain the relation of meaning, which is made possible by the underlying intentionality (and in my thinking in perception grounded on being-in-the-world), and practices qua practices are only possible within such perception (I intend to write on this in some later post), but we can point that the usual sense/reference types of accounts or proper name fail to give clear picture of what is going in those cases.
On other side if we consider the issue from the point of practices and usage of the language, it is easily understood what is going on in the case of J.T.Leroy ; but what needs to be accepted in that case is that naming is as J.L.Austin or Wittgenstein point to, just one case in the general usage of the language, and has no privileged position. That surely is no easy thing to accept for people who want to be able to argue for more intimate relation between the language and the world, but it is easier when those practices are based on being-in-the-world, and transcendental ideas, which in the end leave the possibility for proper thought, and communication about the world. But I’m digressing here…

So, let see what practice we are talking about here…

Each person has one specific name, that is given to him. The people agree on the name of that person when baptizing him/her, and tell the other people how they named the child. After that, those people tell other people, etc.. The child with time also learns its name, and can tell it to strangers. (So here we are ignoring the whole issue of how can sign refer to signified, or how can name mean person, how can other people think of a person, how can they communicate and so on, as I think it is not important for this case). It is additional practice that people also sign the books and papers that they write, they put their name on it so it is known who wrote that book. The reasons could be fame or just because everybody else do it.

But not all people want to be credited for their work. For some what matters is the work itself. Even this can become a standard, or accepted practice, as in ortodox iconography

Many symbols are specific to the subject, as you will see in the commentaries on individual icons below. However, one “symbol” you will NOT see in an icon is the painter’s signature. All icons are written anonymously, and to the Glory of God. The closest thing you may see to a signature is the statement “Written to the Glory of God by the hand of (first name only)”. Ancient icons have usually been identified with specific painters only by their clothing, style and location of the original, thus placing them in an historic and geographic context into which the painter can then be placed.

Now, in practice where a work should have signature, one doesn’t have much choice then to use pseudonym in the cases where he doesn’t want his name to be disclosed for this or that reason.

What is important here, is to see how the practice of pseudonyms is connected to practice of baptizing, and practice of signing the works by those people who create them. Using of pseudonym is grounded in those practices… if those practices were not present, neither would be practice of using pseudonym.

What the involved people in the case of J.T.Leroy did, is that they made mockery of the whole established practice, they deceived the people who (of course) didn’t have reason to suspect that the accepted practice is not used in this case. They did what they did. And as in the case of the pseudonyms, this was only possible because of the established practices of baptizing people, and people putting signatures on their works. But the practice is done, only when it is done properly. Or to use J.L.Austin’s term, if it not done properly, the whole act of referring (which I take here to be based on practice), is unhappy.

Note:On Computational Truth, they also brought up this issue, just in connection with Christ.

Things that are easy to miss

There are things in our perception which attract our attention, and there are also things on which we can end-up being focused on through some kind of willful action (putting our attention to something).

All those things are things that we notice.

We can involuntarily fall into a specific stance towards the things we notice (even we don’t recognize them from before). Children can be attracted toward a thing (e.g. want to look at it, or want to touch it, etc…), or can be afraid of the thing, or interested about the thing, and so on. The stance/feeling toward a thing can provoke reaction on our part and so on… This is simplest case of intentionality/aboutness.

In last post I said that the things which attract our attention and their recognition present a ground for the base level instances and categories. However in general everything that we can notice enriches that same base level of instances and categories we are aware of.

So while a rabbit can attract our attention, we can notice rabbit’s ears too, also its fur. We can notice also such things as a distance between the rabbit and the carrot. We can notice also the number of rabbits (e.g. one, two or three) ,and we can notice the color of the rabbit, and so on… All those things enrich the base level of instances and categories. (as said in last post, for there to be categories, additional capacity of recognition should be present too)

Notice 1: Important question here is how come we notice things that don’t attract our attention.

Notice 2:For thing to attract our attention, it doesn’t need to have mental powers over us :). It is when one starts from representationalist/conceptualist point of view, that “X can attract my attention” will sound like “X have powers to dangle with what is going on in my head”

Things that are hard to miss

In previous post, I said that first things we notice are those that attract our attention, and also that those can be different things – they can be animals, patches of color, buildings, sounds, etc… Those are given in our perception, and they are not further abstractly determined at first.

With possibility to recognize the thing (when later seen again), the thing can become somewhat determined. It can be considered as the same thing that was seen, or it can be considered as merely “looking same” as the previous thing that was seen.

It is important to keep this distinction between the thing as it is given and the perceptual recognition of that thing. The perceptual recognition is not possible without thing being given in perception first, or said differently – a thing isn’t same with its perceptual recognition. So, there is distinction, but this isn’t the noumena/phenomena distinction now. It is distinction between a thing given in our perception, and how that thing is recognized (or further abstractly determined).

One may say… but the thing which is given is nothing but the sense-datum! Well, I’m also saying it is datum (given), but as a thing, which is separate in the world (here thing doesn’t mean object, but anything which can attract our attention). When we see a thing we are aware that it is something other then us, and as such it has separate existence. For example it is the coffee cup in front of you which you can rotate, and see what is written on back of it. One might probably look at it, not as three dimensional object, but as some kind of two dimensional picture, but for sure it is not this kind of forcefully reduced perception, which attracts people attention. If someone throws cup at you, it will be the cup qua cup, a quale, a given, which will attract your attention.

Recognition might be subjective faculty, but the base of the recognition – thing that is recognized is not. Nor is the thing of which we are reminded subjective – it also was a given in some particular time.

The things around us, as they are given to our perception, at first by attracting our attention, and further by our noticing them, constitute the base level perception – those are the things in the world – the phenomena (this shouldn’t be take as in noumena/phenomena distinction, which I argued is empty). The phenomena that is further recognized grounds base level categories and instances in our lives – those are the things that 1.attract our attention 2.we recognize them on new encounters…

Or so to say… those are things one can not miss – things that are pushed into our awareness.

Babies babble before they can talk

So will I too…

First things we notice are those that attract our attention.
Those things that we notice, are things we end up being focused-on. As such those are what is given.

The things might be simple as patch of color, or being complex as animal, or bunch of animals. Of course the notions of simple and complex as used here, are not given in the perception, I just use them here to say that what we usually consider complex, or what we usually consider simple might both as well attract our attention.

Those things that attract our attention, are the first things that can be targets of our intentionality. They can further be seen as existing things in the world, which we are looking at, thinking about, listening to, etc… I’m mentioning this, because there must be always some kind of relation between subject and the other thing (though the relation is not seen as a grounding neither the subject, not the thing). In such ways, we always recognize the thing through one of those relations, but that the thing can be seen or recognized by us is seen as incidental to its being.

The thing on which we are focused, is the given which is result of the focus, and as gestalt is somehow, even if that somehow isn’t determined abstractly. That is true when you are focusing on some color, and can’t find any way to abstractly further determine it, (yet it is still somehow – it is a quale), but is also true for looking at some animal (e.g. chicken). It is je ne sais quoi (I don’t know what).

For sure the gestalt principle in perception is not exception but rule, it can be seen everywhere… Maybe examples are most easily pointed in music, where you don’t have to notice the individual notes, nor instruments that are playing, nor beats on the drums, but still there is that particular song, it is somehow.

This things that attract our attention, and that are somehow, later might be recognized.
That is, when other time something attracts our attention, it might be recognized by us as either same or different, even we don’t determine it abstractly. Recognition consist of feeling of familiarity  with the object (already seen/déjà vu), and possibly memories of where that thing was seen. (Here the things are seen from epistemological point, the question if that is really the same thing is separate question)

Repeated recognition can produce expecting of the thing, and reduces the feeling of familiarity. Expectation reduces the attention, and what is left is only the “abstracted from” in its place. It becomes a thing that we don’t think of.

The given in the woods

A picture that contains two greens circles can obviously contain difference, one that we don’t have ready abstractions for, i.e. we can’t say how are two greens different. But this is not something unique in cognition. Imagine following…

Michael and Ethan were going through the woods. While they talked, suddenly something moved on the path in front of them, and attracted their attention. They had brief glance at it, before it disappeared between the trees.

    –What was that?

Michael raised his shoulders, and continued with his discontinued sentence.
Later he told his kid about the encounter in the woods.

    –What kind of animal was it?
    -I don’t know.
-said him. –But it was this high, it had brown skin, and big eyes.

Few days after, Michael took his kid for a walk, and while they were walking, something attracted their attention.

    –Is that the animal you saw the other day?
    –No, that is something different.
    -But you said it was that big, brown and had big eyes.
    -Right, but that is not the same animal. It was different

Just as Michael said that, something else attracted their attention…

    –That’s the one we saw! – he announced to his child.


So in this case, we have a situation where

  • something was given to Michael and Ethan (it attracted their attention)
  • Michael recognized difference between what he saw, and what he later saw, based not on abstract things (all the things he could specify about the animal1 were same with that other animal2)

Note:What (I think) is important in this example is that the whole noticing/recognizing of the thing (animal) is done without need for some theoretical understanding of the world. But that will be subject of another post.