Qualia As Metaphysical Issue

I think that the problem of qualia is introduced by taking the wrong first step in the contemporary philosophy.

A simplified sketch of how we approach things from scientific point:
We see something, let’s name it A, and then by measurements, dividing and analysis, or in general through scientific method we figure out that A is B – e.g. we see an apple and find it to be such and such configuration of molecules, or that A as a phenomenon (e.g. lightning) is such and such B regularity (electric discharge in the atmosphere), and so on. Now, it is good that philosophy takes science seriously so far, namely as telling us that A is B. But usually step further is taken, and that is what I think is a wrong step – The results of science are interpreted as A=B, and it is gone even one step further and any ontological importance to A is negated. It is found acceptable to leave out A from our basic ontology and put the description of the situation solely in terms of B – it is thought that doing so we don’t leave out anything important in our story about the world.

But it is easy in so doing to forget what one is doing. What A was, was a thing with all those things, e.g. in case of apple – redness, taste, form and so on. In reducing A to B, we are in fact abstracting from and removing the redness, taste, form and so on, and we are abstracting the world in the terms of notions which happen to be good for science. Those scientific notions  like numbers, causality, space, time, thing  and so on, don’t really come from outside of our thinking – they are subset of the notions we have and are on same level with the ones we are removing – namely color, taste etc… What those later notions are guilty of is that they don’t present themselves as approachable by scientific method (most importantly measurement).

But now, once we remove those notions, and limit ourselves to the notions like movement, force, position, moment, number, equation, etc… and when we find our model of the brain and the world as whole fully described in those notions, of course we won’t find those things we already removed! As much as one might search and combine those colorless, tasteless, etc… abstractions (thing, space, causality, number, etc..), they won’t get back what was removed.

So, that is where I think the problem of qualia lies. It is not problem that Philosophy of Mind can solve, because it is a problem of a wrong metaphysics. The problem is introduced at the first step.

What Is Wrong With Dad?

-“What’s wrong with dad?” – the little girl asked her mother.
-“His brain isn’t processing enough serotonin,”- she replied, “so his body is in a slouched position as a result and his tear ducts are excreting toxins. If we put our arms around him and say kind words to him, his brain might start processing serotonin again”

Is this how people will relate to one another in the distant future if we reject the idea of qualitative experiences? Do Churchlands speak like this at their home?

This is what my friend Ben Dickson was wondering about in one discussion we had.

Philosophers’ Carnival #39

Welcome to the new edition of Philosophers’ Carnival!
I’m very happy to host this edition as philosophy bloggers submitted wonderful posts. I mean really, really good ones! Check out the list of great things we have on offer here. We will start with few Meta-Philosophy and Philosophy of Science posts, then go over couple of Philosophy of Mind posts. After that we will delve deeply into few Logic and Epistemology issues, get back on the surface for some Ethics and atheistic pondering on religion, and finish with couple of insults. Let’s start…

Philosophy as Stance – What happens as scientists become more and more desperate in their search for a new theory which unifies Standard Model and General Relativity? What is the place of emotions in shifts in our approaches to science and philosophy? David Corfield talks about Van Fraassen’s idea of philosophical stance over at The n-Category Café.

Is the world mathematical? – Thinking about Eugene Wigner’s question about the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics in natural sciences, Phil Thrift over at Philosophical Bits ponders over possibility that there isn’t duality at all, that stuff of the world is mathematics.

Rat poison – Over at Hell’s Handmaiden blog, they discuss the “disease shared by much of modern academia” – the tendency to redefine language – to use words which have some more or less accepted meaning to refer to something else, and the consequences of this practice. Also you will get to know what Santiago Theory is, as that is a particular example on which they analyze the situation.

Continuity between Science and Common Sense – At Brains, there is a discussion between Gualtiero Piccinini and Joshua Knobe. They talk if Joshua succeeds in his argument that the results of experimental philosophy show that “there is certain kind of fundamental discontinuity between science and common sense”.

Hyperbolic MaryPete Mandik over at Brain Hammer, makes an unexpected twist on the Jackson’s monochromatic Mary story. Now she gets less surprised from certain phenomenal color experience than Larry who has had normal color vision all along.

Holism, Reductionism and Consciousness – A Dialogue
– Here at A Brood Comb, I posted a dialog between Neo (proponent of reductionism) and Zeo (proponent of holism). Are mental phenomena fully accountable by what happens on micro-level, or should we consider wholes as having essence on their own?  I play the role of Zeo, and Neo is my internet chat acquaintance.

Quine and the deduction theoremAndreas Stokke at Plurality of Words wonders whether Quine was himself as confused about the distinction between implication and logical consequence as the predecessors to whom he rightly attributed  the mistake.

Functionalism and Meaning – Is Lynch’ functionalism regarding truth compatible with the view that to know the meaning of a declarative sentence is to know its truth conditions? Michael Horton at Nothing but the Truth-in-L analyzes what can come out from uniting those two views.

Meaning Scepticism and its Implications for the Interpretation of PolicySamuel Douglas at Philosophy Hurts Your Head discusses the Kripke’s paradox – is there such thing as meaning something by a word? What is meaning scepticism, can the paradox be solved by rule following account or dispositional account? What kind of consequences are there if we accept meaning scepticism – how can one justify interpreting a law one way or the other?

The Virtue of Virtue Ethics – Do consequences of action/policy make it right, or is it right because it conforms to a particular principle? Colin Farrelly over at In Search Of Enlightenment tells us why he finds both positions problematic.

Is Global Poverty a Crime?Thom Brook, over at The Brooks Blog gives us an abstract of his paper (and a link to the paper for those interested) in which he addresses Thomas Pogge argument that global poverty is a crime, and that wealthy states have responsibility to help poor countries not just because they have the resources, but because in not helping they are violating the human rights of the poor.

Economics and Morality – What is the connection between economic and moral value? How does ignorance, dishonest trade, and difference of incomes enter the equation? Alonzo Fyfe analyzes those issues at Atheist Ethicist.

The Tempter – How can an atheist affect other people to live moral and good lives? Can one? Aren’t people inherently selfish? If the odds are not good, maybe one could use religion even without believing it? The Tempter raises those issues to the author of the post over at Daylight Atheism.

The Four Stages Of Truth Francois Tremblay over at Check Your Premises discusses the four stages that social acceptance of “new truths” goes through. An example he works on is atheism. Ignoring the issue if atheism is new, and if it is truth, the post is analysis of the social/emotional stances towards others’ beliefs as they gain more and more support, which can go from non-confront, aggression, trivialization to attempts of integration and co-option.

And last, but not least, here is something to cheer you up…

Philosophical InsultsBryan Frances, over at Knowability blog discusses the examples of insults between philosophers in contemporary literature, and people in comments pick up where he stops, and provide further examples.

That’s all for this edition, the next carnival will be at The Brooks Blog in three weeks.

Holism, Reductionism And Consciousness – A Dialogue

The Gliders, Eaters and Abstractions

Neo said, – Conway’s Game of Life is a monochrome world with a dead-simple transition rule to determine which squares, in the next phase of the game, will be “on” or “off” (black or white, say). Yet, it is mathematically provable (this has been done) that one can build a Universal Turing Machine in such a world. It would be massive, requiring an assemblage of “gliders” and “eaters” (denizens of the flashing, 2D monochrome world the rule creates) – but it is possible in principle… I believe a complete (if unmanageably long and computationally intractable) description of mental function in terms of low-level cellular interactions is possible. It wouldn’t help us understand mentality, but that would be a failure of our imagination, not the model.

Zeo said, – Neo, it is clear that in that system patterns appear, but the issue is – if we remove the developed consciousness which recognizes those patterns qua patterns, will they have some ontological existence by themselves?  In the Conway’s Game of Life, we do recognize different types of “things”, but doesn’t that delineation or recognition of something as a thing belongs to us. If we limit ourselves to thinking merely in terms of the game itself, there is nothing but the on/off pixels, and the rule of transition.

Neo said, – Zeo, I disagree. The gliders and eaters are “real” – as real as the transition rule etc.

Zeo said, – In what way are gliders and eaters real?

Neo said, – We can arbitrarily but consistently label them as such. There is no other kind of “real”, except for essentialists.

Zeo said, – Neo, we can label them as such, and see them as separate from the whole thing. But there is where I don’t agree – as much as we understand the gliders and eaters in terms of abstractions (rules of the game), it will be because we will have in the comprehension an element that isn’t neither implicitly, nor explicitly present in the abstractions of the game.

Neo said, – Zeo, but then if you are talking about necessity of adding some other element, you’re talking the position of dualism. That doesn’t solve the problem, but merely cloaks it in mystery. Believing mentality (meaning, intentionality etc.) is something “added in” is the very definition of dualism.

Zeo said, – Neo, I’m not saying that we should add something in addition to the abstractions present in the computationalist account in order to understand consciousness. I’m saying that those people who think that they can understand consciousness in terms of computational models are bringing in notions, e.g. a whole-ness in the model, which are nowhere in the abstractions which they claim are “enough” for the explanation. (I would say that they do some kind of Hegelian sublation of those abstractions into richer concepts, but without neither explicating it, nor noticing it).

Neo said, – Zeo, I’m afraid I find your sense of “abstraction” impenetrably obscure. What do you mean by the term?

Zeo said, – Sorry about that… say we have apple, we can abstract color, mass, etc… In that sense, the color, the mass and so on, are abstractions. Or in the case of movement, we can abstract time the movement took, the path of the movement, etc… Or say, you have a quantum wave equation, we can abstract position, or moment, or energy of a particle, etc…

Neo said, – Zeo, Then a machine could “abstract” in your sense.

Zeo said, – I’m not claiming that a machine can’t abstract, but that in considering what can “come out” of the artifact whose model is based on some abstractions, we should limit ourselves to thinking in those abstractions, and be careful not to introduce some other “external” notions.

Can talk about holism vs. reductionism go without mentioning QM? I guess not.

Neo said, – Zeo, just so you understand, I’m a hard-line determinist. I think that Zeo’s behavior can be explained entirely in terms of low-level causation, with no “gaps” or question-begging. Introducing some additional property of “whole-ness” merely introduces causal gaps – skyhooks! – which do no explanatory work. It’s mysticism, gibberish.

Zeo said, – Neo, I am also determinist in a sense, namely that there is reason why things are as they are.

Neo said, – But what sort of reason is non-reductionist in a sense that the properties of parts cannot completely explain the behavior of “wholes” (as you put it)? Where does the extra causation (or whatever) come from?

It seems to me, you misunderstand the nature of reduction. At issue is whether the behavior of the system can be predicted (in principle, that is) and explained in terms of the properties and interactions between parts. This is always the case. “Emergent” properties are properties of our models, of our ascending to higher levels of abstraction in order to render salient important causation without computing all the grubby details.

Zeo said, – Neo, I note really that we use the term “abstraction” differently; in your case “abstraction” is something to which we ascend to, while I use abstraction to refer to what is more simple (so, probably to what we descend to), but anyway here is a quote from Stanford encyclopedia on quantum mechanics:

What this means, or at least what it appears to mean, is that there are, according to quantum mechanics, facts about composite systems (and not just facts about their spatial configuration) that don’t supervene on facts about their components; it means that there are facts about systems as wholes that don’t supervene on facts about their parts and the way those parts are arranged in space. The significance of this feature of the theory cannot be overplayed; it is, in one way or another, implicated in most of its most difficult problems.

– So contrary to what you said was always the case, this paper claims that the behavior of a QM system can’t be predicted nor can be explained in terms of the properties and interactions between parts.

Zeo continued, – BTW, you shouldn’t find anything weird with the idea that there is more to the whole than the aggregate/dynamics of its parts. In the basic subject/predicate proposition, you have that possibility; When we say A is B, it doesn’t have to mean that A is nothing but B. (and if “A is B” is to be cognitively significant A better be something more than B.)
– Neo, and using the same logic “’that whole’ is ‘such and such configuration of parts’” doesn’t have to be taken as equation between the whole and configuration of parts. So “whole is more than sum of its parts” is not something illogical, and as the case in QM shows it is not even something inexpressible by math! It may just look as “mysticism” in the context of classical physics.

Neo said, – It can’t (be predicted and understood) IN PRACTICE, but that’s because of computational intractability, combinatorial explosion etc. It arises because all computation has a physical basis, which means we need an exponentially large machine to compute low-level physics in complex systems. – I argue that science is about unifying and showing how various levels of explanation compliment and support each other. It is impossible to explain how a mind works in terms of cellular interactions, a computationally intractable problem. We’d need computers the size of galaxies! So we need emergent perspectives, higher-level abstractions, concepts of representation, function, information and the like.

Zeo said, – Neo, it is you … a conscious being that can understand all those “higher-level abstractions” (putting aside our different usage of “abstraction”), and for whom those are meaningful, and it is you who are adding those notions to the explanation. If you don’t bring them there, all you have are atoms causally affecting each other and nothing else… you can’t have anything else but the abstractions you have put in it.., namely causal relations in terms of space and time.

Does this make Zeo a dualist?

Neo said, – Eh? But I’m a collection of atoms causally affecting each other, too. You’re just reifying mental categories and creating insoluble linguistic riddles. You’re also moving towards dualism for reasons I outlined earlier.

Zeo said, – I’m not dualist, and I’m not reifying mental categories! As far as terms like mind, consciousness, qualia etc… go, I’m against reifying them as some kind of separate essence, and for sure I’m not talking consciousness (or anything else) to be some “magical substance” you add to your average zombie.

Neo said, – Zeo, I don’t think you think you’re a dualist, any more than I think I’m denying free will and consciousness. But some might say that I am, because they might feel my views imply that (but I just can’t see it). Even I consider those people wrong, it is true that it isn’t necessary for their case that I regard myself as denying those things. So, I’m saying your views lead to dualism, whether you know it or not.

Zeo said, – Neo, but why would you think that holism leads to dualism?

Neo said, – IMO, is a the “holistic” perspective is just a higher-level explanatory level, which should be fully complimentary and unifiable with lower-level explanatory levels. All perspectives can be valid, if they have predictive power and explain how things work. If you want to argue, say, that psychological descriptions of mind are as valid as neuronal ones, or that cognitivists need to ascend to higher levels to regard brains as carriers of cultural signs, symbols and meaning, then fine – count me in. But if you want to argue that those perspectives form self-existent, irreducible categories, that’s dualism.

Neo continued, – Zeo, I just don’t see anything you can say about the world as being anything other than metaphor and description. Either we can unify various levels of description, or one particular level must be regarded as primary and “literal” in a way the others are not. If something is “irreducible”, then its description cannot be couched in lower-level terms, and no lower-level description will capture its essences, in which case you have dualism.

Maybe some common ground is possible?

Neo said, – …Zeo, what’s the difference between “holism”, and systems thinking?

Zeo said, – Neo, by holism I mean the position that the whole can’t be reduced to its parts. Not in the terms of unpredictability (as in the case of chaotic systems), but in principle. In the kind of holistic thinking I have on mind, parts are abstractions… or one can say… it is not that a thing consist of atoms, but that it is divisible into atoms.

Neo said, – alright, let’s say I was to argue that for many phenomena, we cannot ever, ever understand them without regarding them as systems with emergent features, and relying on those higher-level perspectives completely in our explanation. Is that enough “holism”?

Zeo said, – No, as long as it just a matter of understanding, it is not holism, at least not of the kind I’m talking about. It would be holism only if it is in principle irreducible.

Neo said, – Zeo, systems theory regards systems as systems, within an environment. It is “holistic” in every sense you outline, yet nobody regards it as non-reductionist in the special metaphysical sense of being incompatible with reductionism. It is just another perspective.

Zeo said, – Different kind of holism I guess.

No, seems no common ground. And little more on the differences…

Zeo said, – Neo, btw, I don’t have problems by saying “whole is structure of parts”, I have problem with saying “whole=structure of parts”.

Neo said, – Verbal quibble. In some sense the whole equals the structure/sum of parts, but not in other sense.

Zeo said, – I don’t think it is mere verbal quibble, I think it is important distinction, between “A is B” and “A=B”. A=B is a relation of identity (relation which can be just between the thing and itself), A is B is subject/predicate relation in which the subject is more than the predicate. I noted that I accept “whole is aggregate of parts”, just to point out that I don’t have problems with physics, which treats wholes as aggregates of parts. For that, what is enough is to accept that “whole is aggregate/dynamics of parts”, identity isn’t needed… Neo,I think that the problems appear in questions where instead of treatment of A as B, the issue involves acceptance of A=B.

Zeo continued, – same goes, I think, for the question of consciousness… I don’t have problem with treating consciousness as functionalistic or computational system. I have problems with making identity between consciousness and such system, where consciousness is nothing but that model. Or said differently functionalism is good for understanding the relations of abstractions, and physics is also good at that. What I think is wrong is taking those abstractions and their relations as constitutive, and mistake artifacts made on base of those abstractions, for the real things which were merely analyzed in terms of those abstractions.

If you need to take sides who would you agree with – Neo or Zeo?

Best Adventure Game Ever – Death Gate

Browsing through the The Underdogs archive (archive of old abandonware games) few days ago, looking for some old game to play, I stumbled on 1994 point and click adventure called Death Gate.
I played the game when it was released and I remember I thought it was great, so I decided to play it again.

While its name (Death Gate) might suggest that the game is about killing, it is not at all (though it includes few occasional deaths, they are not in action sequences). In the game you are put in the role of a young wizard named Haplo, which gets outside of the Labyrinth in which his race (Partyns) is jailed. Little by little you learn the history of what happened with your race, and their place in the grand story which includes few other races (elves, men, dwarfs, and other race of wizards called Sartans). The story in the game has depth which I think is never seen in any other game (adventure or otherwise). Probably it is because the game is based on several fantasy books by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. Wikipedia says about the septet: “The Death Gate Cycle was their most ambitious work yet, to create five fully realized and distinct worlds.”

What distinguishes this game from others is probably a lot of text in it. The conversations to other characters are not just placeholders for finding something that you will need to solve further puzzles, but they are lively, rich, and full of side stories. Also, through the game you find a bunch of books (each of them with several pages), which give you some further insight in what is happening (and of course information you need). So, if you play this game, you should be ready for a slow pace, and enjoying it not just as a game, but as fiction story too.
The puzzles on the other side are also great. They are never silly, usually it is clear what you need to accomplish beforehand and the solutions are logical. (If you have problems, you can check a walkthrough)

Also, if you play it, be sure to save often. There are places in the game where the character can die, so if you save often, you wouldn’t return much back.

How to install it and play it?

First download it from the underdogs archive (here, 96MB). As it is old game, to avoid any problems with graphics and music cards, you also need DOSBox (of course you can also use another DOSBox installation to play it on other operating systems like Linux, Mac OS X, BeOS etc…).
The downloaded game should be unpacked (e.g. in c:\dgate). After that install DOSBox, start it, write in it something like:

mount c c:\
cd c:\dgate

The game should start. Of course if you installed in different directory (and not in c:\dgate, you should change to that directory using cd command, and I think you should also open the install.ed file with notepad, and change the path there too). If the game starts in window mode, and you want it to be fullscreen, you can use Ctrl+Enter to toggle.

Death Gate
for more pictures from the game click the image

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Does God Exist?

Surely before answering that question, one needs to know what one means by the word “God”.

In order to examine the issues connected to the question, first let’s look at one silly argument. The argument says that by saying “God doesn’t exist” one actually admits that God exists, by sheer referring to God. Of course this is not a valid argument – people can talk and speak of non-existent things. If this was a valid argument, one wouldn’t be able to say that “unicorns”, “pink fairies”, or “Santa Claus” don’t exist either. But it opens the question of our ability to refer to things that don’t exist. For sure not-existing can’t be property of things that we refer to, because only things that exist can have properties. So, the first step to analyzing the question of existence of God, is to clear up this ability to refer to nonexistent things.

Russell’s solution is to take names to be shorthands for descriptions. So for example in case of Santa, the description would be e.g. “a person that lives on North Pole, and delivers toys to kids for Christmas”, and the sentence “Santa doesn’t exist” should be understood as “There is no X, such that X is a person that lives on North Pole, etc., etc…”.
However Kripke presented a bunch of convincing arguments against names as shorthands for descriptions. For example if Santa did exist, wouldn’t we be able to imagine Santa not living on the North Pole? Or wouldn’t we be able to imagine him not delivering presents for Christmas? If that is so, then Santa can’t be shortened description of the type we presented, because it would fail to refer to Santa in this cases. Thus, Kripke argues, names are rigid designators – they refer to the same thing in all possible worlds. However, if we take names to be rigid designators, the problems of referring to non-existents appears again.

One idea might be to take the names of existent things to be a rigid designators, while the names of the nonexistent things to be descriptions, but that doesn’t quite work. Imagine for example that we wonder if something with name as “X” exists or not. In this case, it would mean that X would be rigid designator if it turns out that X exists, while it would be description if it turns out that it doesn’t. But surely what we mean by X doesn’t change at all in the whole process. When we wonder if X exist, and if we find out that X exists, and if we find out that X doesn’t exist, what we mean by X should stay same.

In a previous posts, I presented a different way to look at the issue of names. The crux of that account is that the baptizer can give a name to whatever appears as content of his/her intentional acts, and that names can’t appear in any different way. (Intentionality is the property of our mental acts to be about something, for example we are not merely seeing but seeing something, we are not merely wishing but wishing something, we are not merely assuming but assuming something, etc…). So, we can name (only) something we see (or in general – notice), something we assume, something we imagine, and so on…
In this account then, the names again rigidly designate, but rigidly designate the intentional content of baptizer’s intentional act. So, if the person sees a very bright star on evening sky, and designates it as “Hesperus”, Hesperus rigidly designates whatever is that the person saw. On this account names can rigidly designate also imagined content, or assumed content of intentional acts, so there is no need to “fall back” to the shortened descriptions for the case of non-existents (though in general, the shortened description account can be also subsumed in this account, in the case of assumed/theoretical content. I will say more on this later).

So, on this account, a thing named N will fail to exist, not because N is shortened description, and that there is no x for which that shortened description is true, but because the originally named intentional content is one of the cases that I considered in my last post. In short, those are the cases where a)what is named is an imaginary content, or b)it is an assumed content (part of theory) and the theory doesn’t correspond with the world, or c)that what is seen (or in general noticed) and named, is an illusion.
According to this then, the right way to approach the issue of God’s existence, is to put attention on the baptizing (giving of the name), and what kind of intentional content, and in what type of intentional act that content appeared. From what I can see, there are several possible scenarios, each of them having different conditions of what is meant by God as existing or not.

1. The God revealed himself to a certain person or persons, and told them his name. This is the case where the intentional content is phenomenal. Namely God is seen, heard, etc…, and God himself has communicated the name to the person(s) to whom God presented himself. We could say that this is the case of ostensive teaching, or communicating the name/content pair by showing. (This particular type of ostensive teaching happens often in our lives when we introduce ourselves to others.) Then those persons communicated whatever happened to them through the religious books.
In this case, there are two possibilities. Either God really exists, and the name “God” was given by God himself to himself (appearing as a phenomenal content to whomever he presented himself), or the whole thing was illusion (of one or more persons), and that the name “God” was introduced for illusionary content.

2.The God, and the religious books are fiction. That is, what is named by “God” is an intentional content of someone’s intentional act of imagining. Of course in this case God would refer to a non-existent thing.

3.The God is an assumed content. The basis of it, is a theory that wants to explain the world (what we see, etc..) by assuming a supernatural being, and which further has certain properties which explain different things that happen. This, we can see, comes close to some form of shortened description, with the distinction that here what is talked about is a theory, and if the “God” refers to existent or non-existent thing depends on the issue if the theory is corresponding with the world or not. (Probably in this case, we might speak not of one theory but of set of theories having something similar, e.g. include a supernatural being.)

Now, I guess there are different kind of theists and atheists. Some theists can believe that the name is introduced by act in 1, namely that God presented himself, so that in fact God rigidly designates God. Some theists might not, but might believe in existence of God, based on 3. What is not clear is what those people would say about 1 and 2.
Atheists on other side, usually on basis of 3, take that the theories that involve God are invalid, and based on that dismiss possibility of God revealing himself, and initiating the usage of his name. So they would probably argue that it is some combination of wrong theories (3), imagination (2), or hallucination (1), that contributed to the usage of the name “God”.

Anyway… What about the existence of God? Does God exist?
I won’t even try to answer the question philosophically, as I don’t think philosophy has anything to do with answering the question. (Maybe it does, but doesn’t seem to me that way). I just wanted to point to the issues that are involved in the question of existence of God, and also show how the account of names based on intentionality can be used to clear up the issues, though without giving answers.

UPDATE:I just found the Square of Opposition blog (which I added to the blog page), and there is a longer post called Causal Chains and Reference to God there, which is discussing the issue from the perspective of causal chains of reference. Check it out.

Three Ways In Which A Name Can Refer To A Non-Existent

In the previous post I put forward few thoughts on how one can give account of names in general based on intentionality.  In this post, I want to analyze the issue of non-existent objects, that  of referring to things that don’t exist within this account.

Before continuing, for those who didn’t read my last post, let me sum up the account in short, the idea is that in every case of initial baptism, one gives a name to something which appears as content in his/her intentional acts (so to say, names don’t appear from nowhere, there must be an act of baptizing in which the name is given to something). I also said that depending on the intentional act, one can baptize a)something that one has noticed in the phenomenal world, and I named this phenomenal content, b)something that one imagines, and I named this imagined content, and c)something that one assumes, and I named this – theoretical content.
After this initial  act of  baptizing, the  word/intentional content pair can be communicated to other people via a)ostensive teaching, good for  phenomenal content, b)communicating a theory, good for theoretical content, and c)through “indirect” reference – the learner is referring to the thing as baptizer’s intentional content. This can be used for all three types of content, and in the case of imaginary content usually takes form of a story.

Usually in the causal theory of reference, non-existents are distinguished merely by the fact that there is no object which is denoted by the name. But if we look at the issue of names of non-existents from the context of intentionality, we can see that we have few possibilities that are qualitatively different.

1. The first case is where what is named is imaginary content. The baptizer imagines something, and gives that intentional content a name.

2. The second case, is where we have assumed intentional content, which is supposed to explain some phenomenal content (or possibly some other previously assumed intentional content). If the theory is wrong, then we have situation where the assumed content doesn’t refer to anything in the world.

3. The third case, is where somebody names phenomenal intentional content, but the phenomenal content is illusion.

Those are the possibilities I can think of, which usually would be sub-summed as referring to non-existent objects. Maybe there are some more, I don’t know… But I think that those three are enough to argue that treating all non-existents as if they all have same character is oversimplification, and that each of those cases should be analyzed separately.

Intentional Account Of Names

UPDATE:I split the B. way of communicating names to two separate B. and C. (B. being left exclusively for transferring names of theoretical intentional content)

I will try to give here a sketch of account of names as an alternative to the causal theories of reference, which is based not on causality, but on intentionality. I will call it “Intentional Account of Names”. It is very similar in its structure to the causal theory of reference, the difference being that it removes the direct relation between the objects and the names, (or so to say, abstracts from the source of intentionality – it might be causal or not, it doesn’t matter for this account), and analyzes the use of names from the point of intentional acts and intentional content.

First, let me repeat what I already said in few previous posts, where I distinguished intra and inter-subjective transcendence of intentional content.
To repeat in short, the intra-subjective transcendence is the possibility of multiple intentional acts of same or different quality (psychological type) to be about same intentional content. And the inter-subjective transcendence is the possibility of numerously different intentional acts of different people to be about the same intentional content. I also said that one can’t consistently deny possibility of inter-subjective transcendence, as the denying itself would assume the inter-subjective transcendence of what is denied. (This doesn’t mean that there is no possibility for misunderstanding where two people use the same word to refer to different meanings, but that there is possibility not to be so.)

Initial Baptism

Now, it seems to me that one must keep on mind intentional acts and intentional content if one wants to give proper account of names. First, take the case of initial baptism (when the person gives a name to something). Person can give a name only to whatever appears as intentional content of her/his intentional acts. One can give a name to a thing he/she notices, to a thing he/she imagines, to a thing he/she assumes, wishes and so on. If the content which is named is noticed (here the intentional acts of seeing, hearing, touching, etc… are subsumed) then we can speak of phenomenal content, and what is named is phenomenal content. If the content which is named is assumed content, in order to explain a phenomena which are noticed, then we speak of theoretical content, and what is named is theoretical content. In same way we can speak of imagined content, and in the case of imagination, the word refers to imagined content.

It should be noted first that for the intersubjective transcendence of intentional content, the words are not required. Two people can notice the phenomenon of bright evening star, without knowing about each other. Also two people can figure out Pythagorean Theorem (meaning – figure out its validity), without knowing of each other, or even without giving a name to the theorem. I want to note this, as there are accounts of intersubjective transcendence of the content, which want to base it on language and intersubjective practices. As I think it is clear from those examples, this can’t be true.Which brings us to the ways the names, after the initial baptism, can be shared by people.

Communicating The Use Of The Name

A. This first way is by ostensive teaching, and this is good for what I defined as phenomenal content names. A person who gave a name, points to something in the phenomenal world, and pronounces the name. We can note two things here:

  1. Inter-subjective transcendence can’t be based on the language, as for the ostensive teaching to happen, the intentional content (in this case the phenomenal content) should be inter-subjectively transcendent in order for the ostensive teaching of words to happen.
  2. As argued in other posts, ostensive teaching is not just about what we refer to as particular things, but also for universals too. One can teach words for color concepts, for numbers, for animal species and so on, by ostensive teaching, and by giving examples. In such way those universals are too phenomenal content, and words which refer to them are names of phenomenal content. (I wrote more on this in my previous posts on ostensive teaching). This fact, that phenomenal content is not free of universals, and that in fact lot of universals are learned through ostensive teaching, by noticing them in the phenomenal world, should be kept on mind, in order not to equate phenomenal content with some kind of sense-data content.

B. While the first way (ostensive teaching) was good just for transferring names of phenomenal content, the second way is by talking, and consist of presenting a theory about the world. In the theory assumed content is added next to the phenomenal content in the world, so that the assumed content explains something about the phenomenal content. Along with presenting the theory, assumed content is set in the relations with the phenomenal content, and is named. While theoretical (or assumed content, as in the case of Jack The
Ripper, where there is theory that there is a person who has committed the murders, and  that assumed person is named Jack The Ripper) has its similarities with imagined content that it’s initial baptism is not based on phenomenal acquittance with the content, in some cases of the theoretical content it is imagined it is possible for it to be phenomenal content (though not necessarily, as in the case of universals, like quark, photon, quantum wave equation etc…)

C. The third way the intentional content which is baptized and the word can be “transfered” to other person, is where the baptizer tells the other person that there is some content of his/her intentional acts, which he/she baptized by certain name – N. For the person who hears this, the name N now refers to intentional content of the baptizer (even without direct phenomenal acquittance), and hence the inter-subjective transcendence is there again, – N for this second person names “phenomenon (thing, event, property) baptizer noticed”, or “phenomenon baptizer assumed” or “phenomenon baptizer wishes/imagines/needs” etc… We can see that in this way of transferring the name is not good just for what I named phenomenal content, and not just for theoretical, but also for imagined content. So, to say, if Billy imagines a person, and names that imagined person Jackie, and then tells me that “he imagined a person”, and is calling that person Jackie, the Jackie becomes inter-subjective as the person that Billy imagined. Same goes if Billy mentions Jackie to me, and he is either assumed murderer in his theory of how the murders happened, or person that he baptized. We can further say that for imagined content, the only way to communicate it is in this way, as ostensive teaching is not possible, and there are not theories about it. About imagined content, instead of theories we could speak of stories.

Let me stop there, having put forward the general idea. I will probably try to give more details in separate posts.
Any comments? Thoughts?

Update of The Philosophy Lectures Videos Post

I added few links to the list of online videos of philosophical lectures.
One link is to the video of Kripke’s lecture The First Person hosted at City University of New York.
I also added a link to the Ernest Nagel Lectures in Philosophy and Science page, hosted by Carnegie Mellon Department of Philosophy  which includes two videos by van Fraassen and Suppes  (thanks Jeremy for pointing to this one in the comments).
If you missed the update few weeks ago, you might want to check also the philosophy lecture videos post also for the list of webstreams at The Royal Society; the talk by Alan Wallace “Towards the First Revolution in the Mind Sciences” (weirdly hosted by Google TechTalks); and updates of list of links of UCTV videos and “Closer To Truth” series.

Did Pluto Lose Its Planet Status?

The answer is NO. Here is why…

With recent change of definition of “planet”, we were told that there is a change of number of planets in our Solar System, so that it now has 8 planets, instead of 9. And we were told that Pluto lost its status as planet. But nothing of this happened.
With changing the definition of “planet”, what changed is what the word “planet” means. If we reserve the word “planet” for what it means today, we can use the term “old_planet” for what “planet” meant before the change. And having on mind that, we can say that, nothing in the reality changed concerning the number of planets, or number of old_planets. The Solar system still has 9 old_planets, and it has 8 planets. Actually it had 8 planets all along (given the definition of planet we have today). So the number of planets didn’t change at all, nor the number of old_planets changed. The number of planets can change only if some planet breaks in two, or if some neighboring system borrows us  one planet, or if one of the planets self-destructs, and so on.
Also Pluto didn’t lose its status as planet, as it never was a planet. It only had status of old_planet.

The Balls That Didn’t Exist

In a previous post I tried to give simple explanation of the Hegel’s dialectical method. In short, Hegel considers some dichotomy of abstract notions A and B, and while analyzing the notions discovers a contradiction in them. The resolving of the contradiction, claims Hegel, happens when we figure out that these notions are not self-subsistent, but should be taken just as moments of some “wealthier” notion C. It is said that notions A and B are “sublated” in the notion C. Going through this kind of dialectical considerations Hegel builds a tower of notions, from the most abstract ones to more and more determinate and “True” ones, each level containing the previous as moments.

As it is probably well known the starting notion of this dialectical development is that of indeterminate Being. And because it is a starting notion, and because lower notions are sublated in the higher ones, being is found to be included as a moment in all “higher” notions. So to say, all of those other notions have on themselves the mark of being. However those new notions are not merely a being, but become more and more determinate as one progresses through the dialectics.

For example, one of the notions that appear in the dialectics is that of Something (I will use Thing here, which if not equal to Hegel’s Something , probably falls under it). As all other higher notions, the notion of Thing is not devoid of that of Being, but it is a determined (somehow, let’s not get into the analysis of the notion of Thing here) being. And really, it is something very normal that as far as we think of a thing, we can’t think of it as devoid of being/existence.(Hegel doesn’t put equation between indeterminate being and existence, but that is not important here). Let me point to this by a story:

A Story

Mrs.Bailey gave her students a question – “Imagine two balls A and B that have same mass. The ball A rolls towards ball B which is stationary. What will happen on the time of impact?”
Evan said “The ball A will transfer all or a part of its momentum to ball B”
“No, my little boy…”, Mrs.Bailey said smiling – “Not so, because balls A and B don’t exist”


I guess you agree this is invalid reasoning on part of Mrs.Bailey. As far as we imagine balls A and B, we can’t imagine them differently but as having existence. Their being, or their existence, is inherent in their “thingness”.

The Incredible Machine

The Incredible Machine 3 is a 1995 game by Sierra.
It consist of a series of puzzles, each of them being a contraption, partially set, requiring from the player to add the missing pieces and connections, so that when the contraption is started it fulfills the set goal of the puzzle. There are lot of different parts available, from teeter-totters, ropes, balloons and lava-lamps, to gears, motors, lasers, candles, cats and mice.
If you are looking for something that you can play for 10 minutes now and then, this game is nice substitute for card games like FreeCell and Solitaire.
To give you a rough feel of what the game is like check out the Sierra ad for The Incredible Machine 2:

The game is abandonware, and you can get it here (30MB, be sure not to use any speed accelerators when downloading). After you unzip it and install it, you might want to change the compatibility option on the shortcut (right click, then click on Properties, go to Compatibility tab, and there switch on “Run this program in compatibility mode for”, and choose Windows 95) if you have problems.
The game also has option for creating your own contraptions.. Here are two I created:



To play those two contraptions, download the “.tim” files by clicking on the above pictures, and then copy them to the folder where game is installed. Then to load them, when in the game, go to File->Load and click on the picture in the upper right corner of the dialog (looks like a bunch of things). Another dialog will open in which you can choose which set of puzzles you want to play (easiest to hardest), but there is an option for playing “Homemade puzzles” (the last one left of the Cancel button). When you click the “Homemade puzzles” button you should see the list of contraptions you downloaded, and choose to play one of them.

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