Scientist Mary and Causal Theories of Reference

I want to draw some connection between the Jackson’s Knowledge Argument and the causal theory of reference. I will probably say lot of problematic things on which people don’t agree, without saying that those things are problematic. That isn’t because I’m sure those things are as I say they are, but just so that side comments don’t obscure the relation I want to draw. So here it goes…

To be red is to appear somehow in specific circumstances. Let’s leave aside what are those specific circumstances. My inclination is to talk about “uncomplicated” circumstances, but maybe it should be ‘normal’ or ‘ideal’ or ‘optimal’ or something else. People became aware that some things have some specific appearance which they also could remember and recognize, and used ‘red’ to refer to it.

I can’t say that “to be red is to appear red (in specific circumstances)”, because I take it that to say that something appears red (in some situation) is like saying that the thing appears same as red things appear (in specific circumstances). And so that would render “to be red is to appear red” circular.

Scientist Mary knew about red color (e.g. that there is some color which is referred by the word ‘red’), knew how to recognize red things (using technology for example – a red things detector) and so on, but she is not acquainted with red things’ appearance in terms of their color. She might have seen red things, but she never have seen their color (say, red things were presented to her, but because of some operation on her eyes she was temporarily fully color blind). What she learns then when she lives the room is how red things appear (in uncomplicated circumstances). But Mary doesn’t learn just that. Because she knows that red things in uncomplicated circumstances appear same as white things appear when shined by red light, she has also learned how white things appear when shined by red light.

But one can do the things the other way. By presenting Mary with a white ball shined by red light, she can learn what white ball shined by red light looks like. But as she knows that white ball shined by red light appears as a red ball in uncomplicated circumstances appear, she now has learned what red things in uncomplicated circumstances look like.

But if to be a red thing is nothing more than to appear somehow in uncomplicated circumstances, there is nothing more to learn about what ‘red’ refers to than what Mary became aware by seeing a white ball under red light. Or maybe red things don’t enter the story anyway, even red lights. Maybe Mary was presented with a green circle and then was asked to look at a white wall. The wall because of the afterimage illusion will appear same as a wall with a red circle on it. So Mary can become aware of red, being presented with situations in which there are no red things nor red anything.

Let’s change the scenario a little, and say that people were hiding the names of colors from Mary. After seeing the red afterimage, Mary can form idea of things which appear in uncomplicated circumstances as the wall appears with the afterimage effect, name the color of those things ‘red’, and ask ‘are there things with red color?’. So, now Mary has a name for red color (a property that red things have) without ever being acquainted with things with red color (nor anything red). (Of course, she might not call it ‘red’, but the fact is that she has word for red, without ever being causally related with anything red, nor is the meaning of the word borrowed meaning.)

What if she didn’t know about afterimage illusion, so that she wasn’t aware that she is seeing just a wall in “complicated” circumstances. As in the previous case, she is aware of everything that one can be aware of about red, can continue using ‘red’ to refer to red things, and might in fact after some time come to know, that what she saw the first time was not a red thing, even she did the baptizing on base of something that was not red, nor was causally related to anything red. She can say “I thought it was red thing, but it was just an afterimage”.

Is this scenario compatible with causal theories of reference?

Douglas Adams’ Quote

1) everything that’s already in the world when you’re born is just normal;

2) anything that gets invented between then and before you turn thirty is incredibly exciting and creative and with any luck you can make a career out of it;

3) anything that gets invented after you’re thirty is against the natural order of things and the beginning of the end of civilisation as we know it until it’s been around for about ten years when it gradually turns out to be alright really.

The whole text (which is about Internet) here.

Two Senses of `Experience`, Representation and What Is It Like

In past posts I was attacking the philosophers’ sense of experience (p-sense), and arguing that if we talk about any experience at all, it should be in the sense of  ‘experience’ where it refers to events in the world in which subject is participating, and which is one of the most common ways it is used (this one I call np-sense). I want to here see what issues motivate the assumptions that there is p-sense experience, and to talk (although I will probably repeat mostly what I’ve already wrote) how one can address those issues.

In the p-sense of experience, usually it is supposed that this experience is 1)characterized by what is it like to have that experience, and that 2)the experience is taken to represent the state of affairs in the world, and that it can be veridical or not. Both those characterizations have their motives.

The motivations of this second characterization are I think those… We are aware of the cases of illusions, hallucinations, dreams and so on, and based on the idea that it might be impossible to distinguish hallucination from the real thing, a common element is assumed in both – namely the experience. In the case of normal seeing, the experience represents to us the states of affairs as they are, in the case of hallucination the experience represents the state of affairs as they are not. However, I think that we don’t need p-sense of experience to make sense of those phenomena. What is needed is just to allow that in different np-sense experiences (where ‘experience’ refers to events in the world in which the subject is participating) different states of affairs might appear same to the subject. That is because the appearance is constituted by (or maybe the better word is ‘depends on’, I should probably stay away from complex words) the things in the world, but also on the characteristics of the access (be it seeing, hearing, or whatever), and possible complications (fog, glasses, mirrors, and so on). As for explaining hallucinations and dreams, one idea is that there is some kind of ‘seeing affector’ which also affects the act of seeing, but I think there are some other possibilities.

Be as it might be, the first characterization of p-sense experience is a separate issue to be addressed. In this sense experience is connected to what is it likeness of having that experience. So, how can we deal with this problem if p-sense experience is denied. I think what motivates the talk about the what-is-it-likeness, is that the most philosophers buy the picture of the world as reduced to some basic physical components. However thinking about the world in this way we are confronted with the gap between this picture and further thing what we are aware of, like colors, sounds, and so on. So, it is taken that the explanation of this what-is-it-likeness has to do with the special thing the brain is (and possibly some psycho-physical laws). However, if we see the physics (and other sciences) as putting attention just to specific aspects of the world, namely those which are open to measurement and quantification, we approach the whole thing in such way that the issue of what-is-it-likeness doesn’t appear.

It is in our experiences (np-sense) that we approach those aspects of the world of which physics is interested. However we can say that we are aware of other aspects of the world which physics by its nature has to ignore. Those are the aspects that show up as problematic in the aforementioned gap. Because of that ignoring they don’t feature in the final picture that physics gives of our world. You get what you put into it, and what we put into physics are just limited number of notions which are susceptible for physics.

Introspecting If One Can Lift 50Kg

On one of my favorite blogs The Splintered Mind, Eric has on several occasions pointed to an experiment suggested by Dennett, which is supposed to show fallibility of our judgments about our own experience. As Eric says:

People will often say about their visual experience that everything near the center has clearly defined shape, at any particular instant, and the periphery, where clarity starts to fade, begins fairly far out from the center — say about 30 degrees. Both the falsity of this view and people’s implicit commitment to it can be revealed by a simple experiment suggested by Dennett: Take a playing card from a deck of cards and hold it at arm’s length off to the side. Keeping your eyes focused straight ahead, slowly rotate the card toward the center of your visual field, noting how close you need to bring it to determine its suit, color, and value. Most people are amazed at how close they have to bring it before they can see it clearly!

So, obviously people were wrong about their experience, and that shows that the thesis that people have infallible access to their experience is wrong.

In one earlier post – Introspection and Expression, in the comments I pointed to Eric that it seems to me that there is problem with the wording of things. That has to do with my thinking that ‘experience’ of which it is talked in those examples fails to refer to anything. It is what I’ve called p-sense of ‘experience’ of which philosophers speak a lot, but which seems to me as a left over of Cartesianism. I think it is just the common (or np-sense) of ‘experience’ (which refers to events in which one participates) “pushed” into the head.

But if this example isn’t about properties of the p-sense experience, what is it about?

As I said in the comment on Eric’s blog, one can simply reframe the question so to speak about capacities. Instead of asking “Is your visual field clear 30 degrees from the center of fixation?”, one can simply ask “Can you see things clearly when they are 30 degrees away from the place at which your eyes are pointed?”. This is, I guess, even how the experimenter would in fact frame the questions to the subjects, if he wants to be understood. He will move the card, and ask if the subject can recognize the color, the suit and the value of the card. There is no sense to talk about clarity of visual field independent of seeing something. It is the thing that is seen clearly or not, and not some separate property of a supposed ‘visual field’. And really, the answer to the question might depend on what is the thing that is presented. There is no a priori reasons why some things might not be seen clearly, thought certain type of things might be. Might be that we see lions clearly even if they are far from the direction in which we are looking, but not tigers.

Anyway, along with this reframing and denying of p-sense experience, of course the issue of infallibility of access to our experience disappears. What the people are wrong about here is their capacities, they thought that they can recognize a card even if it is 30 degrees away from the direction in which they are looking, but they can’t. And really, it is just normal case where one isn’t aware of the capacities simply because he hasn’t checked them.

A person might think that he is able to lift 50kg bag, but he won’t know before he actually tries. One might point however that in the case with the bag, everybody can see if the person can lift or not the bag. In the ‘clarity experiment’ though it is just the subject himself that can witness the results of the test. However for explaining this we don’t need p-sense experience. What one needs to allow is just (and I think it is unproblematic) that the access to the things (acts of hearing, seeing, feeling etc…) is subjective, and that what one sees and how he sees in some cases is not same with what someone else sees or how he sees it.

In the cases when someone shows us the card while he himself seeing just the back of the card, there is no need to explain his lack of knowledge of what we see by there being some p-sense experience in our minds to which we have access but that other person doesn’t. It is simply that from the position he is in, he can’t see the card, and we can.

Ryle`s The Concept of Mind – A Reading Note

UPDATE:Of course it is `can’t`, and not `can` in the fourth paragraph –  “he points that it can’t be the mere observable differences”

In his book The Concept of Mind Ryle criticizes the so called ‘ghost in the machine’ view. Part of that is the attack on what he calls ‘intellectualist legend’.

The intellectualist legend is that “whenever an agent does anything intelligently, his act is preceded and steered by another internal act of considering a regulative proposition appropriate to his practical problem” (p.31). According to the legend, the act itself can’t be intelligent but “inherits all its title to intelligence from some anterior internal operation of planning what to do” (p.31). However Ryle is negating this and he says that “When I do something intelligently, i.e. thinking what I am doing, I am doing one thing and not two. My performance has a special procedure or manner, not special antecedents” (p.32).

After that Ryle gives us examples showing how those assumed internal acts can’t be found, or when we can point to some ‘private acts’ like reading silently or doing math ‘in ones head’ those are abilities that come only through training, and which follow the acts of reading aloud or calculating on paper. Further Ryle points that lot of people that do some acts intelligently, might not be able to tell us any regulative propositions on base of which they act so. People didn’t start to argue logically and intelligently only after Aristotle gave the theory of logic, nor do intelligent people normally recite in their heads the syllogisms in order to argue rightly.

Having attacked the dichotomy, Ryle turns to give a positive account of the intelligent acting. As a central issue which should be solved he points that it can’t be the mere observable differences of the acts that make them intelligent, because…

…there need be no visible or audible differences between an action done with skill and one done from sheer habit, blind impulse, or in a fit of absence of mind. A parrot may squawk out ‘Socrates is mortal’ immediately after someone has uttered premises from which this conclusion follows. One boy may, while thinking about cricket, give by rote the same correct answer to a multiplication problem which another boy gives who is thinking what he is doing. Yet we do not call the parrot ‘logical’, or describe the inattentive boy as working out the problem. (p.40)

And Ryle’s solution is to change the talk of acting to talk about dispositions…

In judging that someone’s performance is or is not intelligent, we have, as has been said, in a certain manner to look beyond the performance itself… But in looking beyond the performance itself, we are not trying to pry into some hidden counterpart performance enacted on the supposed secret stage of the agent’s inner life. We are considering his abilities and propensities of which this performance was an actualisation. Our inquiry is not into causes (and a fortiori not into occult causes), but into capacities, skills, habits, liabilities and bents. (p.45)

But there in one of the next examples he gives, I think that the weirdness of the Ryle’s solution is made obvious:

A drunkard at the chessboard makes the one move which upsets his opponent’s plan of campaign. The spectators are satisfied that this was due not to cleverness but to luck, if they are satisfied that most of his moves made in this state break the rules of chess, or have no tactical connection with the position of the game, that he would not be likely to repeat this move if the tactical situation were to recur, that he would not applaud such a move if made by another player in a similar situation, that he could not explain why he had done it or even describe the threat under which his King had been.

Can you spot the issue(s)? Here are few comments on what I think are the issues:

1. It is not impossible that in one moment drunkard to see some inter-relatedness of the figures on the board. He can in that moment become aware that moving of certain piece would “upset his opponent’s plan of campaign”. Even if in the previous or next moves, or really never in his following life the drunkard makes another good move, IF the drunkard in that moment did became aware of the inter-relatedness of the figures, and how certain moves would give him tactical advantage, that move would be intelligent.

2. That other people might not believe or see that move as intelligent, and might say that it was due to sheer luck has nothing to do with the issue if the drunkard saw the right move. This is not something occult, nor it is talking about something private. It is merely that the drunkard saw or not the actual inter-relatedness of the chess pieces on the board. In same way, there is a possibility for good chess player to make a good move by sheer luck. Say that there are two “complications” (A and B) present in a given chess position. And that A is hard to see, but that B is even harder to see. And say that it is true that a move M is good in the given position, but that complication A makes it bad move, however that complication B makes it good move. The chess player didn’t see both complications A and B, so he played M. However it can’t be said that he made the move intelligently – it was sheer luck that it was good move, as the player failed to see both complications A and B. However the people who see the chess game would be inclined to think that it as very intelligent move. The people would be wrong.

3. This previous comment is connected to another part of that quote. Namely Ryle as one of the dispositions names “he could not explain why he had done it”. But if good chess playing is merely a disposition to play chess good, wouldn’t the only possible answer for good chess players be – “I played good move, because I’m good chess player – I’m naturally disposed to make good moves”. But surely that is not what is had in mind when somebody asks – “Why did you make this move?”. And surely what I said in the first comment, and which is answer why did he make that move, is the sole factor if the move was played intelligently or not. It doesn’t matter how much is one disposed to play good moves in chess. It is not what makes the moves intelligent or not. What makes them intelligent are the reasons why the move is done – a bad chess player might on specific occasion make intelligent move (intelligently), and good chess player might on occasion make stupid move (stupidly).

So, while I agree with the Ryle’s attack on the dichotomy, I think he goes too far and putss along with ‘the occult causes’ in the same bag any possibility for a subjectivity of the access (which in my thinking can be used to give the positive account without assuming ‘occult causes’). The subjectivity of the access is not something ‘private’ in the sense that it happens in some ghostly place, nor it is something magical – it is just about the simple fact that sometimes some people see what others don’t, that some people know what others don’t.  And a special case of this is the case of ‘privileged access’, where one person might be aware of something that others aren’t (including e.g. being aware of the fact of what WAS one aware of when one performed some chess move).  And that not in the sense that those other people could not in principle become aware of that, but just as a contingent fact.

I guess it can be seen what my own thoughts are of how the positive account would go, but probably will try to analyze to more details in some next post.

Few Ryle’s Paragraphs That I Wrote Too

After I mentioned Ryle’s The Concept of Mind in the last post, I went to read a part of it that I haven’t read – the chapter on Sensation and Observation. To my satisfaction I found in it the considerations about appearances which I wrote about in this blog (e.g. in the post on Illusions).

When he says that the tilted plate has an elliptical look, or looks as if it were elliptical, he means that it looks as an elliptical but untilted plate would look. Tilted round things sometimes do look quite or exactly like untilted elliptical things; straight sticks half immersed in water occasionally do look rather like unimmersed bent sticks; solid but distant mountains sometimes do look rather like flat mural decorations quite near to one’s nose.

The squinter, aware of his squint, who reports that it looks just as if there were two candles on the table, or that he might be seeing two candles, is describing how the single candle looks by referring to how pairs of candles regularly look to spectators who are not squinting

When we say that someone has a pedantic appearance, … we mean that he looks rather like some pedantic people look. (p.217-218)

Further Ryle gets to analyze the issue of how the appearances (‘appears as’) and predication (‘is’) relate, and there too I found analysis similar to the one I wrote in the post ‘Appears as a Red Ball’ vs ‘Is a Red Ball’

But when I describe a common object as green or bitter, I am not reporting a act about my present sensation, though I am saying about how it looks or tastes. I am saying that it would look or taste so and so to anyone who was in a condition and position to see or taste properly. Hence I do not contradict myself if I say that the field is green, though at the moment it looks greyish-blue to me; or that the fruit is really bitter, though it appears to me quite tasteless. And even when I say that the grass, though really green, looks greyish-blue to me, I am still describing my momentary sensation only by assimilating it to how common objects that are really greyish-blue normally look to anyone who can see properly. (p.220)

So, it seems lot of what I have wrote in those post has already been written 60 years ago. (Talking about being out of fashion.)

Few Notes on Few Previous Posts

In previous posts, I was mostly writing on two issues.

One is the issue of perception, and I tried to argue that illusions, hallucinations and dreams doesn’t necessarily imply some experience which represent states of affairs in the world. Instead I put attention of how the issues can be approached by talking about experience in externalist sense, or a sense which I think is close to how that word is used in everyday communication.

The other issue that I put attention is the causal-historical account of names. Though as I said instead of ‘causality’ talk I prefer the view where the major role is given to intentionality.

Here I want to put few further notes which somewhat relate those two topics…

I think that we baptize things (singular things, or multitude of things showing some similarity)  of which we become aware. And in the case of teaching a term, I think correspondingly teacher makes the learner aware of that thing (by pointing, or fixing the reference using a description), and telling the word used to refer to that thing. (Of course, the learner might become aware of the thing even outside of the teaching of the words, and ask “What is that?”. As a part of explanation of what is that of which the student became aware, the word is usually introduced – “That is a car. We use it to go to different places.”) The word then tends to keep its meaning because of the logic of communication – people want to use the words in the way they are used.

As I said in other posts, this intentional content might appear in different types of intentional acts (I wonder if maybe it is better to use “intentional target”, as “content” implies that the thing is part of the intentional act, when really the thing exists, or is considered as existing, independently of the act, and even in the case of the imaginary things transcend the act of imagining – if not nobody could tell the same joke to another person, or same story to another person). One can perceive things, or one may imagine them, or one may assume some entities, etc… Depending on the way the type of the intentional act in which target of the intention which is baptized appeared, we can say that the words refer to phenomenal entities (i.e. those which we become aware through perception), theoretical entities (i.e. those we assume), imaginary entities (those that we imagine), and so on…

Theoretical entities are entities which are assumed in order to explain something about phenomenal entities. However in some cases philosophical theories pick out a word which was there in the language even before the theory, and now use it to refer to the theoretical entity. This is often done uncritically, without inquiry into what the word used to mean, and even more problematic – because of this lack of inquiry the theory might pretend as if the theoretical meaning of the term is inline with the traditional meaning, when in fact they are not.

This, I think, can negatively affect our understanding of the things. As the theoretical meaning is mixed with the everyday meaning, we are from one side inclined to think that the word refers to something of which we are directly aware of, but on other side this word now also implicitly carries some kind of theory. In this way we, without noticing, give a special status to the theory – of something of which we are directly aware of, and which is beyond questioning.

So, I consider as an important thing to disentangle the theoretical meanings from the traditional meanings of the words. To disentangle phenomenal (that of which we become aware through perception), from the theoretical content. I have in mind terms used in philosophy such as ‘mind’, ‘consciousness’ or ‘experience’.

In the previous post I was critical of the term ‘experience’, but I have similar thoughts about ‘mind’, ‘consciousness’, ‘appearance’ and so on. Needless to say, I have big respect (not that I respect just philosophers that I agree with :) ) for Ordinary Language Philosophy, and books like Ryle’s The Concept of Mind (though I disagree with lot of things in that book too), and Austin’s Sense and Sensibilia.