A brood comb

….philosophical and other notes….

More Thoughts On Mind/Body Issue

Posted by Tanas Gjorgoski on April 28, 2007

I wrote several times about my thoughts on mind/body issue. I will try to write one post in which I would clearly explain the full picture of how I see this issue.

Physical World As Abstraction

To repeat in short, I think that through physics we put our attention on abstraction – i.e. on specific things in the world, while ignoring others. That is because it is those things which are approachable through scientific (physical) analysis. In such way, we put attention on different quantifiable abstractions like position, moment, energy, velocity, energy, frequency etc…, but we ignore others which are present in the world and which we are aware of, like emotions, beauty, music, colors (or some other things usually put under ‘qualia’) and the awareness of things and/or possibilities open in the world itself.
By doing that, we are left in physics with an impoverished and abstract world. Maybe a good metaphor would be like when in 3d rendering software you turn off the shading, and are left with just the wire model.

What is further figured out about that impoverished world is that there are laws which hold among those abstractions (quantified this or that). Those show up as a necessary relations which hold among specific abstractions of the system, if the system as a whole falls under certain abstraction.
Now, it is true that the method of empirical sciences is such that we can’t ever be sure that we figured out that there are such necessary laws, but I think that all things for now point that the nature of this impoverished world is such that this kind of necessary relations among abstractions do hold, if not the “physical laws” that physics got to today, then some other.

So, I believe that the physical world as an abstraction of the world, and that we shouldn’t equate the world with the physical world and than try to “pull out” what has been left out (intentionality, colors, sounds, ethics, beauty, etc..) from the realm of the mental as physicalism and dualism try to do.

Metaphysical Theorems

Anyway, this kind of view goes nicely with what I’ve been also writing about here, and that is that the physical laws can be known a priori and that they are similar to the mathematical theorems, just that they include not just quantity, but more metaphysical concepts. Let me present a picture of how these two views – a)that the physical world is abstraction from the world and b)that the physical laws can be known a priori (or that they are metaphysically necessary) nicely go together by making an analogy with world – ‘math world’ relation.

I take it that math ‘laws’ can be known a priori. For example you don’t have to get to empirical research and measure the sides of right triangles, in other to postulate and then show through further measurements that the Pythagorean ‘law’ holds between the sides of right triangles. Instead, through mere knowledge of the concepts and their meaning, and through (little?) thinking one can figure out the relation, and come to know a priori the relation that we call Pythagorean theorem. (Some would like to include the e.g. curvature of space-time as an argument that we can’t know that Pythagorean theorem holds a priori, but that just means that if the system doesn’t fall under that certain abstraction – i.e. a right triangle in flat space, then the necessary relations between the sides won’t hold. After all, in curved space time right triangles, we have another theorems that do hold.)

Let’s now return to our “math world”. It is clear that in the world in which we live, we can put our attention to one thing while ignoring other things. We can in such way ignore the specific types of things, and only speak about their quantities as they appear to us. Or we can ignore in what way we determine some position, distance, etc…, and think of the world merely in math (arithmetic and geometric) terms. Having impoverished the world in such way, the situation in the world falls under (or is) the abstract situation that we work with in math. And for this abstractions, as long they fall under (or are) the abstract concepts of math, the math truths will hold. So, to say, as long from the situation in the world we can abstract a right triangle, the Pythagorean theorem will hold for whatever is related to the sides of that triangle (e.g. if we abstract right triangle, from the centers of three balls, the Pythagorean theorem will hold between the distances among the balls). Now, we get into situation, similarly as the one described with the physical laws, where there are specific necessary relations between certain abstractions if the system/situation falls under certain other abstraction. And again those necessary relations hold among things in the world, as we didn’t abstract them from anything else but from the world.

So, when we talk about the relation between the world and impoverished ‘math world’, we can say that if we abstract certain things from the world, we will end-up with a world which is fully ruled by the math laws. (Again, as far the thing falls under the given abstraction, or as far the thing is the abstraction.)
So, what I believe is that the situation is same with the physical laws, that is with those (supposed) necessary relations that hold between the abstractions that physics puts attention on. I take it that those necessary relations, would be in such way something like “metaphysical theorems”, that describe necessary relations not just between dimensionless quantities, but also of different physical concepts like time, space, energy, mass, and so on…

kant.jpgThis would be similar to Kant’s view that the physical laws are a priori, just that in this case as the abstractions are from the world, the physical laws are about the world (as a real, and not merely phenomenal world distinguished from the noumenal world). And while the Kant took the absolute space and time as given as absolute, following Einstein (and Hegel for that matter), we can look at those merely as abstractions. The view that there is such metaphysical theorems (which I would think would be the main task of metaphysics to get to) might seem very optimistic, but let me point that lot of the reasoning in theory of relativity is a priori, and how the symmetries, which I take to be likely metaphysically deductible for lot of things (e.g. the symmetry of space or time) are one of the main principles of modern physics.


Doesn’t Everything In The World Happen According To Physical Laws?

Now, let’s assume that metaphysics can in fact, get through a priori reasoning to its end – i.e. to metaphysical theorems, that will be necessary relations that will hold for given abstractions when some part of the world falls (or is) under certain abstraction. Having done this, of course, metaphysics would have finished what the physics is after – the theory of everything, and it would have also shown that whatever is nomological and metaphysical modalities coincide.
But, where would that leave us, what would it mean?
One of the things that would mean, is that we need to change our view of physical laws as things which “control” the development of the universe, to a view of them as necessary relations between certain abstractions as far as something in the world falls under (or is) that abstraction.
Same as there is no “math laws” which control the universe and make sure that when we add one thing to another we get two things. And same when we have three points in a situation that describe right triangle, there isn’t some law that makes sure that the relation between distances satisfies the Pythagorean theorem.
So, to reinterpret that, in such case (if the metaphysics presents us with those metaphysical theorems, formerly known as physical laws), we could say that for any system in the world, its behavior through time, as far as the system falls under some abstract description, will necessarily satisfy those metaphysical theorems. But, and this is the interesting possibility which connects to the start of this post, the world doesn’t have to nor is the impoverished world in which only physical concepts are left. So, the development of the world as far as it can’t be described merely by physical concepts, won’t be fully determined by physical concepts. Same as the world in which things disappear can’t be fully determined by the math concepts – the system in which things appear and disappear, just can’t fall under abstraction of (or isn’t) a simple quantity.

So, where would those metaphysical theorems (formerly known as physical laws) not hold? An obvious answer is – in the situations in the world that include things which are ignored by the physical analysis. And we mentioned which are there – the main one I think is intentionality, our awareness of things and the things that fall there (and dependent on this), like colors, sounds. Also things like emotions, art, morality and so on.

What If The Physical World Is Just An Abstraction (Aspect)

So, if the world isn’t merely a physical world, and if the physical laws (metaphysical theorems) hold just as far as a specific part of the world falls (or is) a physical world, what would happen if we try to analyze the world in the physical terms in the situations that in fact include things which are ignored by physical (while present in the world). So, things like intentionality, colors, sounds, and so on…
First, let me say, that according to this picture, when we analyze some such a situation in terms of physical, for example the situation of me seeing a rabbit, we should be analyzing the situation as including both me and the rabbit. It is this whole situation where I see a rabbit, and which includes elements (for example intentionality) which are ignored by the physical picture, but there is no sense in searching for some correspondence in the physical picture by further limiting the analysis of the situation just to whatever is going on in my head (in my brain).
So, by this picture, even physical picture will always be impoverished, it makes more sense to analyze the full situation which includes the world, the body and the brain, and not just the brain.

Anyway, what I think is important is that if the world is not merely physical world, and because we are aware of it (after all, that’s why I’m writing this post), that things happen in the world not just because some relation among abstractions should be necessary, but for reasons which are connected to things in the world which are ignored by the abstractions of physics. In this picture, however this doesn’t go against the necessity of the physical laws, because the physical laws hold only as far the part of the world falls under some abstraction. In another post (Physics vs. Physicalism) I was analyzing more specifically how the QM indeterminacy can be related to this, so that the reasons why the collapse is such and not other way, can be explained by this: the world is not merely a physical world, and even in the necessary relations there will appear things in which the reasons from the “richer” world will be mapped to the functioning of the impoverished world.

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3 Responses to “More Thoughts On Mind/Body Issue”

  1. orcmid said

    This post is very timely, arriving as I have been pondering abstraction and interpretation. I am concerned that we are prone to certain pitfalls depending on which we think of as housing the interpretation of the other: the theory or the world. (I don’t claim that such confusion is made here; this treatment simply brought to mind my concern.)

    Here’s my thinking around an useful way to avoid certain pitfalls (especially ones that arise when one deals with systems of formal logic and of mathematical theories having useful applications).

    1. Consider that our theoretical abstractions (e.g., plane geometry or the systems of mechanics and dynamics that are core concepts in physics) were arrived at by inductive abstraction of our shared experience of the world.

    2. Next consider that, having been formalized and given their modern mathematical character, the theories are freed from the world, as it were. Now what we can do is interpret these theoretical systems (the abstractions) in the world. They do not capture the world, but they can be successfully interpreted in the world and the success of that interpretation is an empirical question. If the interpretation is defective, it is not the theory that is at fault, it is simply inapplicable or was applied (interpreted) incorrectly. [It may be that the theory simply does not have the desired interpretation and we would then abandon it as not useful (or invalid) for that purpose.] One consequence of interpretation from theory to world is that there is no pretense that the theory is in any sense a description of the world.

    3. This approach, one of interpreting theories in the world and determining whether the interpretation is valid or not seems to avoid a class of blunders where theories are taken as embodying metaphysical claims and are disputed because a desired interpretation fails when that was not (or is no longer) the merit of the theory.

    I didn’t come across this until struggling with Church’s approach to mathematical logic, where this model-theoretic view of theory and interpretation is employed. It makes it much easier to interpret fundamental mathematics (such as Peano’s theory of numbers) and see how it is successful where we find interpretations of numbers in the world (without having to commit to numbers “being there” in any metaphysical way). And it does not prevent those things that are seen to “have number” or be enumerated having all sorts of qualities, including amenability to interpretation as numbers in quite different ways.

    That’s what this great post brought up in my own enquiries. It strikes me that this approach lines up very well with your observations, although we seem to be coming from a different place. Interesting, aye?

  2. orcmid said

    Oh, and the inspiration for my bringing this up is that I had some difficulty with just how a priori some notions are. I am wondering if it is the interpretations that are a priori, now, even though we might experience the theory that way. Something to ponder. I am not taking a position.

  3. Hi Orcmid, thanks for your interesting comment.

    I don’t think I understood everything from it, actually what I mostly have trouble with is to see what we actually agree on. I think part of that might be because our different usage of words. For example, I don’t understand what you mean by “inductive abstraction” in point 1.

    As a way to the understanding, let me point to the way I use abstraction…
    When we have certain thing (or situation, event) we can focus merely on one aspect of that thing, and ignore the others.

    In case of Earth for example, we can ignore the specifics, and say that we have planet. Or we can ignore even that it is a planet, and focus just on its number, and say that it is one. Or we can focus on its axes of rotation.
    Now, what I would claim about abstractions in this case is:
    A)Those abstractions are real – as long the Earth exists, there is the planet, there is the one thing, there is its axes of rotation, and so on, and
    B)Those abstractions are not self-subsistent, i.e. they don’t and can’t exist by themselves, apart from the Earth from which they are abstracted.

    So, in the post I’m saying that if we can abstract something from some situation, there might be necessary relations between parts of that abstraction. (which of course would be shared with all the situations from which we can abstract same thing). For example in all cases from which we can abstract right triangle, there will be that necessary relation between the sides of the triangle that is told by Pythagorean theorem.
    The issue is of course in this case, if we can abstract something from the situation or not. For example we can abstract quantity, and ignore changes over time, if in bunch of things, each of them don’t cease to exist, nor new things appear. And as long that is the case, the arithmetic necessary relations would hold for this bunch as quantity. But because we have a real world, and not self-subsistent abstraction, eventually things will cease to be (or new things will appear), so that the abstraction won’t cover (or maybe better said, we won’t be able to abstract simple quantum from that bunch over specified time where we have things appearing and disappearing).

    So, I’m puzzled when in your comment you put attention on the forming of theories as some kind of models, and then seeing interpretation as trying to connect those models to the world, and saying that it is empirical issue. I’m puzzled, I guess, because you say that the approach lines up nicely with I did wrote in the post, but I can’t see it.

    Probably I’m missing something?

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