Just when I thought that the problems with the aggregator page are finished, general problem with all the pages appeared on – the pages don’t show up.

The staff is notified by a bunch of people in wordpress users forums, so I hope that they will handle the problem soon.

Cyborgs Sharing Pain, Again

I wrote the following story as a part of a previous post:

Two cyborgs, Michael and Ethan walk on the surface of a distant planet after a fight with alien troops. Michael notices that Ethan’s finger has a hole in it.

-Does it hurt much? – asks Michael.

Ethan unscrews his finger, and hands it to Michael, who replaces one of his own fingers with it.

-Gosh, that hurts a lot – says Michael.

-Thanks for sharing my pain. – says Ethan. -Now give it back to me.

The issue was if the pain is different in that that it is being private and can’t be shown, while other things like colors, sounds, the texture and warmth of objects (accessible by touch) are in publically accessible space.
The point of the story is that while it is true that in the usual case pain can’t be shown, it is not because it is tightly connected to the subject, but because it appears in our body and we have privileged access to that pain. If the part of the body in which we feel the pain, however, can be “glued” to another body then that other person can gain access to the same instance of pain.

Phenomenologically speaking, this is how Ethan would describe what is happening in the story:

The pain is in my finger, and I can feel it.
I detach the finger, and I can’t feel the pain in that finger any more.
When I give it to Michael, and he attaches it instead of one of his fingers, now he can feel the pain in my finger.
The pain is in the finger, and we gain the access to the pain by attaching it to our bodies.

Here are some problems that the intuition might have with such conclusion:

Objection 1: In one case it is Michael which has pain, and in the other case it is Ethan that is in pain. So it can’t be that it is the same instance of pain that both are feeling.

Response: One can present analogy with colored object. When Michael looks at a colored object, it’s color is in publically accessible space, and Ethan is experienced in the same world, having access to the same color. One can also imagine a situation where Michael first looks at the object, and Ethan keeps his eyes closed, and then Michael closes his eyes, and Ethan looks at the colored object. While there is two separate instances of access to the color, the color is seen as something that doesn’t exist in the subject, but as something to which both subjects can access.

Objection 2:The pain is not something to which we merely have access. When Michael feels the pain in the finger, it is Michael who is in pain, he isn’t merely aware of the pain, but it affects him on very personal level.

Response: It is true that when we feel the pain in the finger it affects us strongly. But we can note that a music, which is also experienced as publically accessible, can be deeply irritating and we might want to stop listening to it. So it might be that pain isn’t a special case of a thing which affects us, but that we should consider all of the things not just as something that we are aware of, but which are affecting us too.

Objection 3:Michael and Ethan can differently experience the pain. Might be that the pain is stronger for Michael, and weaker for Ethan.

Response: That is true, but it is also true that Michael can have normal sight and Ethan be shortsighted. And when they look at a distant thing, Michael will thus see the colored thing clearly, and Ethan can see it vaguely. But the difference is not one of there be two instances of colored thing, but it is difference in the quality of the access to the thing.

Objection 4:People feel pain in so called phantom limbs. That shows that the pain can’t be something in the limbs themselves. As those limbs don’t exist.

Two responses: a) In case of phantom libs, still people feel the pain as in a limb. They don’t just feel pain in outside space, so it seems that the notion of pain is necessarily pain-in-something. b) People have visual illusions of objects which are colored and have shape. Analogously we would need to accept that shape and color can not be property of the objects. And if this objection is combined with 3, saying – “The pain in the phantom libs is as real as pain in the real limbs – it hurts!”, we can also say that “A visual illusion, can be as scary as a real thing. The music which plays in our head after night out in the club, and after few drinks, can be as beautiful as real music.”.

At the end let me add just one more thing in order to avoid misunderstandings.  I’m not arguing here about Pain Realism – that there is some essence of pain in the finger which is passed between Michael and Ethan. What I was interested is merely if in our phenomenological analysis we need to put the pain as something special, and intimately connected to the subject, or can it be categorized together with the other things of which we can be aware.
From what I said, to my thinking, there is no reason why it shouldn’t be categorized along with the other things which appear in publically accessible space.

Cyborgs Sharing The Pain

Phenomenologically in terms of accessibility we can do a division:

1) One group of things are those which appear in publically accessible space. The objects, them undergoing changes, the agents’ actions, their speech, also sounds, smells and properties of the things, like colors, shapes, etc… – all appear in publically accessible space. A person can ask another person for example to touch surface of something, to smell or taste something etc… To access what is there publically accessible.

Here are some side notes on this (I have already wrote about those things in separate posts, I will just shortly repeat them here):

  • Some qualia, are in this publicly accessible space. Colors, sounds, music… they all are. It is not somehow to see them, they are themselves somehow, we just can see them in their being somehow. And being in publically accessible space, they are experienced as accessible by multiple people in their being somehow (if others can see them too).
  • People can show them to other people, and it is one and the same thing that that the one person is showing, and that the other person is being showed (that’s how is it in our phenomenal experience). It is one and the same intentional content for both of them – we have there the ground for the intersubjective transcendence of intentional content.
  • Things exist. The time is an abstraction taken from changes of those things, and is not some kind of self-subsistent background (absolute time idea) on which events unfold. Things undergoing changes are what is primary, time is what is only an abstraction. And such are the things in our phenomenal experience. They transcend time. (I’m looking at a thing. It takes time, but in that time, neither me, nor the thing that I’m looking at looses its identity, there are things which change through looking, but it is not me or the object [except if me or the object disappear, or change into something else])

2) But there are things which don’t appear as such. Pain is one example. It apparently doesn’t appear in publically accessible space. It can’t be shown to other person. For sure, other person can feel the same type of pain, and even one can show to the another person how to inflict such and such pain to oneself, but the token of pain isn’t in publically accessible space.

For example, I can touch some hot thing, and if it is not too hot, I feel its hotness as a property of the object. And even it is too hot, it is still property of the object. But when it is too hot, it burns me and causes pain in my finger. Now, if some other person touches the same object, he also will get pain in his finger. But now we have two tokens of pain – the hot object caused a change in my and his finger. Wherever I move my finger, the pain is there. And wherever that other person moves his finger the pain is there. But the pain in my finger is only accessible by me, and pain in his finger only accessible by him.

Both mine and his finger are though in publically accessible space. I can ask him which finger hurts, and he can show me. But if the finger is in publically accessible space, and the pain is in the finger, isn’t the pain in publically accessible space?

Maybe we thus shouldn’t say that the pain isn’t in publically accessible space. Maybe what differs is the possibility of specific access to that thing. While me and the other person have both the visual, tactile, auditory etc… access to my finger, maybe the other has no “feeling the pain in it” access, and I have.

If it was so, it seems that it would mean that it is in principle possible (in our phenomenology) to feel the same token of pain.

Imagine a scene in a SF movie…

Two cyborgs, Michael and Ethan walk on the surface of a distant planet after a fight with alien troops. Michael notices that Ethan’s finger has a hole in it.

-Does it hurt much? – asks Michael.

Ethan unscrews his finger, and hands it to Michael, who replaces one of his own fingers with it.

-Gosh, that hurts a lot – says Michael.

-Thanks for sharing my pain. – says Ethan. -Now give it back to me.

It this sharing of pain possible in principle? I’m inclined to answer positively.

Aggregator Page News And Problems

I guess that the readers who use the aggregator page of the philosophical blogs, have noticed that it was little buggy those days.

One reason is that I have added new section named “Papers and Reviews” in there which contains the newest entries (and revised entries) from Stanford Encyclopedia, and also the newest reviews from the Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews site.  I thought that it would add to the value of the aggregator.

However there was two problems. Notre Dame site is HTML, and doesn’t provide feed, so it required different approach (parsing the HTML from their site in order to extract the data). Also, seems that the library that I’m using for reading of the feeds (Rome v0.8) has some problem with the extracting the date from the posts from the Stanford Encyclopedia feed, so it caused problems with the sorting.

In same time WordPress seem to have changed their policy, so that the URL of the page is automatically changed when the title is changed. So, the page got different URL, and several links from nice people (to whom I’m thankful) that have linked to the aggregator page were broken. When I noticed that, I changed the title back to the original one, so the URL is back, and links should work now.

Anyway, my apology to the visitors of the aggregator for those problems. Things should be OK now.

Empiricism As A Form Of Idealism

We can distinguish the reasons of why one thinks that something is such and such, and the reasons why the thing is such and such.
In the post “Does Principle Of Sufficient Reason Imply Idealism?“, I said that idealism is optimistic philosophy in that that it considers that it is in principle possible to understand the reasons why the things are such and such. And in case where we actually understood why the things are such and such, the reasons why we believe that the thing is such and such, says the idealist, are same with the reasons of why the thing is such and such. Consider some physical law P1. The pragmatic reasons for believing that the world is such and such, i.e. that P1 holds in our world are based on empirical research. The idealist however, in the childish optimistic spirit because of which she got into philosophy in first place, asks “Why?”. She says – “If P1 holds in our world, there is surely a reason why it holds, and it is no pragmatic reason.”. (This is empirical proof that the idealist is made of same stuff as those 3 year old kids, which ask “Why?” again and again to every explanation they get.)

What kind of kid the empiricist was when she was 3? Some people, opposing science to philosophy, say that sciences answer “how?” questions, and philosophy is about “why?” questions. But doesn’t science explain to us why there are such things as lightnings, doesn’t it explain to us why people get sick, doesn’t it explain why we have winter (though not much of it this year), and why we have summer, or why is there so much different species in the world?

So, it can’t be a difference between why and how. In fact while the empiricist has pragmatic reasons for her belief that P1 holds in the world, the physical law is not what she is trying to explain. She is using P1, in order to explain phenomena in the world. But with this on mind, as much as empiricist is using her pragmatic belief that P1 holds in the world to explain what is happening in the world, we can say that the empiricist is idealist!

Namely if empiricist wants to claim that her explanations of the world might hold, she will have to admit that what she believes are reasons for the phenomenon being such and such, might actually be the reasons why the phenomenon is such and such. And it is clear (or at least it seems clear to me) that this assumes the possibility of identity of world and thought, of the reasons as thought and the actual reasons. If this was not the case, then empiricist’s explanations wouldn’t be about the world.

Very cool – Genealogy of Influence site

Visit this site for a cool widget that lets you explore influences between philosophers, scientists, artists, etc… From what I understood it gets the information about the relations from wikipedia. (via Eric Blue’s Blog)


A post on Boing Boing has the following quote:

Genealogy of Influence allows you to visually trace the connections between the most influential writers, artists, philosophers, scientists, and mathematicians of Western culture. You can pull up a short bio (stripped from Wikipedia) by hovering over a person’s name, or click through to the full Wikipedia article. I also made a colorful hierarchical image of the same data.

Does Principle Of Sufficient Reason Imply Idealism?

Previously I posted the question: “Do those who believe that ‘the world is such and such’ for pragmatic reasons, believe that ‘the world is such and such for pragmatic reasons’?”

The question appeals to the distinction between the reasons for believing that the world is such and such, and the reasons why the world is such and such. This distinction can be used to shed some light on idealism (at least of the kind that I hold), and the reasons why would one buy into idealism.

One of the important characteristics of this kind of idealism is that the idealist thinks that it is in principle possible to understand those reasons of why the world is such and such (of course the idealist doesn’t say that one can’t or shouldn’t believe things for pragmatic reasons). She believes that it is in principle possible to get to the situation where “the reason why we believe that the world is such and such” is identical with “the reason why the world is such”.

Why would an idealist believe such thing?
Well, her simple argument might go like this:

Assume that one already accepts some variant of the principle of sufficient reason (PSR):”There is always a reason why things are being such and such”.

She asks us then to consider what is meant by “there is a reason”, and points to two things:

1.In the common usage by the questions “what is the reason for X being such and such?” or “what is the reason for X?”, what people ask for is an explanation. Something which would give them understanding why X is such and such. It should be easy to point to myriad of examples of such usage.
2.The word “reason” in the language is used both in the sense as it is in the PSR, but also to refer to our faculty of reasoning.

So, having in mind this, she can argue like this:”To assume that there is a reason for a thing being such and such, is assumption that it is in principle understandable why the thing is such and such”.

So, by this simple argument the idealist can claim that the principle of sufficient reason implies idealism!

As I see it anti-idealist philosopher then can:
Accuse of sophistry. Deny that the given analysis of “there is a reason” is accurate.

Deny the validity of PSR. This option is interesting, as anti-idealist would probably like to have something similar to the PSR. It is also interesting to think how can one deny PSR, but accept determinism.

Or one can accept idealist argument, but point that even the world might be understandable “in principle” it doesn’t imply actual possibility.


Dawkins, The Selfish Gene, 1976:

Philosophy and the subjects known as ‘humanities’ are still taught almost as if Darwin had never lived. No doubt this will change in time.

Fodor, Information and Representation, 1990:

Philosophers who pay for their semantics by drawing checks to Darwin, are in debt way over their heads. Or so it seems to me.

Unity of Consciousness, Ontology and Reference

Few posts ago I wrote about what is usually called “unity of consciousness”, and two different approaches one might take towards this issue – 1)reductionist approach which is primarily motivated by sciecnes , and 2) holistic approach, where things (including the sciences) are analyzed in context of the being-in-the-world as starting (and unavoidable) whole.
I strongly believe that the second approach is the right one, but in this post I want to ponder over the first of those approaches and how they might relate to the theories of reference.

By unity of consciousness I refer to those phenomena:

  1. In any moment I’m conscious of a lot of things at once. My daughter there watching cartoons, and the TV set with the cartoons and the sounds it produces, and the screen before me, and lot of other things of which I’m only vaguely aware (e.g. the touch of my back to the seat of the chair), are there in one consciousness. Let’s call this atemporal unity of consciousness.
  2. The experiences create a whole not just in “a moment of time”, but also through time – we have experiences of things and systems undergoing changes, or of agents acting, etc… This is the phenomenon of temporal unity of consciousness. (If there wasn’t this kind of phenomenon, even being aware of such thing as a simple movement would be impossible)

If we start from the picture of the world informed from the sciences, we get roughly this:

  • There is multiplicity of events in which our sensory organs are affected. The set of those events is unconnected multiplicity – separated in time and space. Let’s mark this multiplicity with the shorthand BSE (bag of sensory events).
  • Unity of consciousness is a mental phenomenon which is due to the brain integrating the information taken from the BSE. The information from the past is also retained, so that allows for temporal unity of consciousness.

So the story (call it ST1) would go like this: If we are looking at a baby, what happens is that our eye cells are being affected time and time again by photons which “bounce off” the surface of the baby and come our way, and result with a BSE. The integration of the BSE is (or results) with the unity of consciousness, where the baby in our phenomenal experience is experienced as one, and also as existing throughout time.

There is a problem here however with the assumption within ST1 phrased as- “If we are looking at a baby”. I tend to imagine that assumption either from first person perspective where I imagine looking at the baby as a whole existing through time. Or from third person perspective – I can imagine some person and the baby in front of him. In both cases my possibility to imagine the baby is connected to the unity of consciousness, as it is in that unity that I’m aware of the baby as one thing existing through time in its identity.

But surely the world as it is, shouldn’t be dependent on existence of this mental phenomenon. We can’t take the baby to be really one and the same thing existing through time just because it is such in our unity of consciousness.

Cleaning up the ontology

So, in order to clean up our ontology from the unity-of-consciousness grounded talk (which is seen as a contingent mental phenomenon), and tell ST1 properly we can either:

  1. Admit that the notion of baby is grounded, and only have sense in the unity of consciousness, and say that we can’t talk about any such thing as a baby in the world itself, or
  2. Give (unity-of-consciousness free) account for the baby as being one and the same thing existing through time.

The Reasoning Behind Option 1:
We know from sciences that what we call “the baby” consist of organs, which in turn consist of cells, which in turn consist of lot more or less complex molecules, which in turn consist of atoms and so on. On any level of these whole/part relations, what we take as self-subsistent and existing are the parts – you can have parts without a whole, but can’t have whole without parts. It is the parts that exist and are self-subsistent, and the wholes are seen having only dependent existence. So, in our ontology where we are not concerned with how things appear in our consciousness (namely as wholes existing through time), we don’t have a reason for not eliminating those wholes from ontology. The baby is eliminated with cells dynamics talk, cells are eliminated with molecules dynamics talk, molecules are eliminated with atoms dynamics talk, and so on. In the story, then, we rephrase the assumption of ST1, so it is not “if we are looking at a baby”, but as a general talk about a set of micro-physical processes going on in the world, which result with the BSE in question.

The Reasoning Behind Option 2:
Even it is true that the parts are self-subsistent, there are patterns of behavior which are extended in time which are not limited to specific parts, and which patterns can be put in unity-of-consciousness free terms.
We then can talk about the particular instantiation of this pattern in the world, and say that it is this pattern that causes the BSE in question. The BSE are in turn integrated in the brain, which because it was evolutionary advantageous presents those patterns as wholes existing through time.
Dennett in his paper Real Patterns, talking about Conway’s Game of Life and its denizens, says:

“Note that there has been a distinct ontological shift as we move between levels; whereas at the physical level there is no motion, and the only individuals , cells, are defined by their fixed spatial location, at this design level we have the motion of persisting objects; it is one and the same glider that has moved southeast in figure 5.2, changing shape as it moves, and there is one less glider in the world after the eater has eaten it in figure 5.3.” (my italics)

But I’m skeptical that this is valid move. Is it because of the ontological existence of the patterns, and the evolutionary advantage of recognizing and tracking them, that we are experiencing them as persistent wholes in our unity of consciousness, or… is it because we experience them as persistent wholes, that we are able to abstract a pattern from that whole, and speak of a pattern for pragmatic reasons? Remove our unity of consciousness, and there is no reason to speak of patterns, whatever is in the world is the state in which it is in given time, and the behavior of the universe is fully determined by the laws which are on the micro-level. So, it seems to me that in the unity-of-consciousness free ontology only option 1 is valid.

What about theories of reference?

What happens with the theories of reference in this unity-of-consciousness free ontology?

Let’s say that the baby of which we speak of is called Jamie.

According to the causal theory of reference the word “Jamie” means Jamie, because the person who uses the name is in specific causal relation with the baby. But, we have removed Jamie from our ontology, so this can’t work. We might try to equate Jamie with a specific configuration at a time as in option 1, but that configuration changes, and through time constituent elements change too. If we equate Jamie with a specific configuration at time t, we have no choice but to say that when the baby grows up is not Jamie any more. We can’t even talk about baby growing up, as this requires Jamie to have persistence through time, so that it can have different predicates at different time.  But, we don’t have any such thing in our ontology.

And the situation is not much better with the description theory of reference. If there is no thing to which we can give the predicates, how can we refer to that thing?

The Trivial Case of The Strawberry Seeds

OK, when I started to write this it seemed like good idea, but now it seems so trivial as to border silly, so I’m wondering if it is worth to post it. But if you are reading it, once you remove the impossible, however implausible may it be means that I decided to post it.

Let’s say an easy problem is presented to us in our daily work…

Our boss says that we need to cover a piece of land which is planted with strawberry seeds, with nylon sheets, so that they don’t freeze through the winter.
He tells us that the land is flat surface, in form of square with sides of 2 meters. He says that we have square nylon sheets with sides of 1 meter, and asks us to determine how many sheets we need to cover the surface. Alas we haven’t learn any math, and so we can’t mechanically answer. We need to think…

Here is how our thinking process might go… We imagine a flat square surface with sides of two meters, and now while keeping the surface in mind, we figure out (still in our minds) that the square can be divided in middle into two stripes adjacent to each-other. Those stripes aren’t imagined as separate things, they are parts of the original square. The comprehension of the equality between the original 2meters by 2meters square, and the two slides as parts of it is not done by appealing to some other justification (or learned rule), the equality is there in the whole (the imagined square) where we can choose to focus on the whole as one, or to focus on it as divisible to two stripes, each with the width of the square (2 meters), and length of half of the square (1m). While still holding in mind the starting square, and those two stripes, we can also figure out that each of the each 2meter by 1meter stripes, can be divided in turn in the middle (now by width), and that we will get for each stripe a two squares of 1meter by 1meter. Not leaving the starting whole for a moment, we are able to comprehend that it is divisible then to 4 squares of 1meter by 1meter.

The equality to which we came is a priori because what we figure out is just that we can look at two ways at one and the same thing. Namely that if a surface is universal U1 (square with dimensions 2meters by 2meters), it can be also looked upon as universal U2 – two stripes 2meters by 1meter, or can be looked upon as U3 – four squares of size 1meter by 1meter adjacent to each other.

Because the boss told us that the concrete land in question is that specific universal U1, we can conclude now that it will be also U3, and we can use 4 of our nylon sheets to cover it.

So, while the example might seem trivial, here is what I wanted to point to:

  1. We can figure out necessary relation between universals without employing a formalism of any kind, by being able to comprehend that if a imagined particular falls under one universal (or – is the first universal), it will also necessarily fall under the second (or – will be the second universal).
  • Figuring out the a priori relations between universals is not done through ignoring the particularity, but particularity is base in which the two universals are seen to coincide (necessarily).
  • The universals considered here are simple geometrical forms, but this can be true for much more complex universals.
  1. Because the relation between the universals is based on comprehension that necessarily if particular is U1, it will be also U2; it is normal that the relation will be true for any particular which fall under the universal. If the particular is the universal (as in this case the land is U1) whatever we figured out a priori will be true for the particular also (e.g. that itis U3). Or said otherwise – whatever (any particular) is U1 is also U3. So, if we figure out a priori relation between universals, that relation will hold (necessarily) for any particular in the world which are that universal.

Few Links

Do you read philosophy texts all the way through?  Over at Maverick Philosopher, there is interesting post and comments on this. I’m not the one that easily reads the books through, and even when I get back to them, I usually start all over again, and surprise, surprise, I stop again before going through all the text. I have read Transcendental Aesthetics several times, Analytic of Concepts once or twice probably, but what is “The Schematism of The Pure Concepts of Understanding” about? (Those are parts of the Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, the Schematism starts from page 176).

Let me connect this with the information that on the Mead project site you can find Henri Bergson’s Matter and Memory. I started reading it few weeks ago, but didn’t read it through, though I found it very interesting. I plan to return to it in future, though the next time I intend to use diigo to highlight and annotate parts of the html, so that it will make it easier to stop/return to the book. I wrote about diigo few months ago when it was beta, but the service seems better those days. Mead project hosts also html versions of Bergson’s Time and Free Will and Creative Evolution, along with lot more works from psychology, sociology and philosophy from the turn of the century)

And here are few more links, which are not all philosophy connected but might be interesting: A blog that collects all kind of strange and rare maps, featuring different studies on the attractiveness of faces and voices and examples of transformation of faces using computer technology, three cool color “illusions” and a timeline of Enlightenment philosophy.

Husserl on The Relation Between World of Experience and Physics

Here is a quote from Husserl’s Phenomenology by Dan Zahavi, page 128/129, which I think goes nicely with the Unity of Consciousness or Being-In-The-World post I wrote few days ago:

As Husserl points out, natural science by itself undermines the categorical distinction between the sensuously given and the physically described. After all, it does insist  that it investigates the water I am drinking, or the diamond I am admiring, rather than a completely different object. It maintains that it is the true nature of the experienced object that it seeks to capture

The physical thing which he [the physicist] observes, with which he experiments, which he continually sees, takes in his hand, puts on the scale or in the melting furnace: that physical thing, and no other, becomes the subject of the predicates ascribed in physics, such as weight, temperature, electrical resistance, and so forth (Hua 3/113)

Evolution and Conscious Experience

A week ago Jeff at Minds, Meaning and Morals, wrote a post about how evolution+epiphenomenalism=weirdness.

Here is my contribution to the topic. It is simple argument, so I guess lot of people have come to it after short consideration…

The combination of evolution and epiphenomenalism yields this weird conclusion:
That evolution made us so that we act as if we have conscious phenomenal experience (For this or that reason, we end up writing about this “conscious phenomenal experience”. Maybe Dawkins can figure out why do our genes prefer survival-machines who talk about phenomenal experience.), and only by chance (as consciousness doesn’t affect the world if we are epiphenomenalist) made us so that we *actually have* conscious experience.
What should be understood by “chance” is anything that is not metaphysically necessary. (e.g. even some kind of psychophysical laws would count as chance.)

How do epiphenomenalists respond to those problems?

UPDATE:Brandon pointed in the comments that the phrase “acting as if we have conscious experience” doesn’t make sense in argument against epiphenomenalism, and I agree, so scratch that sentence. What I was referring by that phrase is those acts that we usually take as being there because of the conscious experience. But there is no real need to refer to them in that way. We could instead enumerate those acts… What I meant is e.g. writing a paper or book on the issue of phenomenal experience or qualia, discussing and defending that we have conscious experience,etc…