A Rant on Time and Causality

It is often said, when speaking of the world as the physics describes it, that the state of the world at some time t which is fully described through its physical properties, through causal relation determines the state of the universe in the time that follows.

I take it this to be confused speech, for several reasons… First there is no such thing as self-subsistent “state of the universe at time t fully described through its physical properties”, because:
a) there is no absolute time. One measures time within the universe by comparing some repeating change, which is taken as regular, with some other change. Measurement is done by observer at some point, moving with some speed. Because of that, event A might be before event B for some observer, but not for another. So, that “universe at time t” abstraction, where it is imagined that there is absolute time becomes senseless when we correctly understand time and measurement of time.
b) the properties are not self-subsistent anyway. The view that what we have is some little particles, which are characterized by certain properties which have precisely determined values, i.e. the “bundle view” of properties is, I think, metaphysically naive. But let’s not go into the metaphysical analysis if those properties can’t be self-subsistent or they exist only as aspects of the object (and as such show more complex relation than the relation that multitude of fruits have in a bag). Just consider how the pair of conjugate variables like time and energy of the system can’t be measured to a given precision. One can give metaphysical speculation that this is because the energy of the system and the position in time of the system aren’t actual and self-subsistent properties of the object – they are aspects of the object which are not just related to the object itself, but to the notion of measurement – so to comparing to the properties of other things in some way! (I think lot of the weirdness that are related to measurement in the contemporary physics point to the weirdness of the naive reductionist picture which takes atoms and their properties as self-subsistent. Instead of blaming this naive metaphysical picture, people are blaming the nature for being non-intuitive and hosting contradictions! It is “unintuitive” and “unreasonable” if our intuition and reason are limited to the picture of small balls in the void ruled by some “laws”.

Now, to this atomistic metaphysical view, the notion of ‘causal relation’ is added, which serves as a glue between those abstract “state of the universe as certain time”. Even if we ignore the unintelligibility of “physical state of the universe at time t” idea, there are problems with this view about causal relations. The relation between the state and how it evolves is seen as external, as if the laws are contingent rules which take this “state at time t”, and determine the new state to which it will change. As if gravity and inertia are completely separate from mass, time and space, as if electromagnetic forces are separate from electric charge, time and space, and so on. It is ignored that without those ‘forces’ and those changes, there wouldn’t be sense in talking about electric charges, mass, and indeed about space and time.

Also, one can point that the physical equations of the modern physics as a sign that this view of ‘external causal relation’ is wrongly assigned to the world. What we have in physics are differential equations which give us the necessary relation between those different abstractions (time being one of them), and one can talk about ‘state at time t’ only as a product of arbitrary decision to assign some number to the variable of time in the equation. Indeed the system described by those equations present themselves as deterministic – in the sense that the behavior of those abstractions (though not of the system as a whole!) through time is fully dependent by their nature which is described with those equations, but those equations don’t speak of states, they are merely describing the nature of the system, through describing how different (abstract) aspects of it correlate given some observer (as the measurement will require observer always).

The cause we need to talk about is then, not the Humean one (in which two type of events would necessarily be connected one to another), but Aristotelian one (where to specify the cause, is to answer ‘why’ question) – we say that system at measured time t2, will be such and such, because the nature of the system (at least it’s physical aspect) is described by the given differential equation, and that different properties had those specific measured values at the time t1.

There Are Two Books On My Desk

Is it an objective truth about the universe that there are currently two books on my desk?

Or is it true that this is a truth only as much a conceptualization of a conscious being (me) is involved.  That aside from the human concept of books (lingering in human minds/brains, intersubjective realm of communication or whatever), there are no books in the ontology of the universe.

Really, if one takes methods of physics, and starts to make analysis of the situation on my desk *at a given moment* one will find a configuration of little particles, or alternatively quantum wave(s). I guess depending how one is analyzing it one could find waves or particles. (Isn’t this an argument that the waves and particles are merely abstraction – an aspect, and that we can find both aspects just depending how we look at the world?)

So, if we think that the results of those analyses at a given moment tell us what the world is at that given moment, in order to claim some objective truths about books, we would need some precise formula to translate this particle-talk or wave-equation-talk to a book-talk. What we need is a definition of book in terms of particles or wave-equations. But, of course such precise equation which would allow such translation is apparently impossible, and so that makes it impossible to talk about objective number of books on my desk.

Now, that would be an example of a reasoning, where human awareness which can handle so many notions and phenomena, is forced into a little box of notions, just because it is this box of notions which are susceptible to the empirical investigation of physics.

If we let our awareness outside of this box (and get back to our normal selves), we can properly analyze the situation in this way… In the past there was a person – Einstein, which was physicist and gave few great theories about movement, gravity, photoelectric effect, and so on. This person sit in some period of his life, and wrote a popular explanation of his theories of relativity. After he wrote it, he found an editor, a publisher, etc… The books started to be produced, then sent to book sellers, bought by readers and so on. Later a translator translated the book to English, and several editions were published. Among other Amazon.com sells them. So, I ordered one of those printed books – Relativity, by Albert Einstein, and got it through post. Now, I have a copy of the book right here on my desk.

While all those things are not a part of any “state of the universe at this moment expressed through the quantum-waves talk or particle talk”, all this really happened. Writers, editors, publishers, sellers, and also writing, editing, producing, selling and so on, are more or less easily identifiable phenomena in the reality. Not because they have nice and clean ‘borders’ that separate those from other phenomena in the reality – indeed, those phenomena exist only as fully dependent on certain contexts. For this or that reason, people are involved in different activities, and those activities aren’t in some unrecognizable continuum, there are borders even if they are fuzzy, and even they are dependent on the context. The books are phenomenon, which is part of the wider context of the phenomena. For these or those reason, people actually write prose in this or that format, and publisher publish it in this or that format. Those reasons are there to be found… Probably have to do with history, maybe with incidental decisions and other things. But pretty complex story can be told about those phenomena, even in some parts it might by fuzzy.

If we look at the world in this way, and see the history of events, and the wealth of phenomena relevant for what makes a book – a book, any of those books on my desk is objectively a book, because it is part of this phenomenon of there being books which I in short described (really full description would go into the history of printing, the history of the writing in general, and so on). What is relevant for it to be a book, is not present in the physical description of the universe at this moment, but there are also truths about the past, and there are complex phenomena of which we are aware of, and which while not self-subsistent are real.

And so, having on the desk, Einstein’s Relativity, and Mario Livio’s The Equation That Couldn’t Be Solved, I have on my desk two books. It is an objective truth.

Now, I guess the biggest problem one can have with approaching the issues in this way, is accepting that the physical description is merely an abstraction – an aspect of the reality which ‘leaves’ aside lot of things from which it abstracted from (really everything which can’t be nicely quantified). If one doesn’t accept that, I think it will be hard to accept that one can talk about different aspects (also abstractions) which are not reducible to the physical description, but of which we can become aware of (be it phenomena of bachelors, chairs, books, tigers, and so on).  BTW, the talk of supervenience doesn’t go with this story too – one can talk only about the correlation of the different aspects in this or that way.

World Of Possibilities

One thing that is usually seen as something “in the mind”, but which I think is public are possibilities. For example, if I see a cup on the table, I can be aware of the possibility for the cup to be taken and put in some other place. One might be inclined to think of this as something going on in the mind, something private.

I can think of two reasons why they are assumed as something “in the mind”.

1.  While things are usually clearly seen by everyone in specific place, this is not the case with possibilities. If you get two people to same place, and have them look into the same direction, (e.g. a chess table), they will easily report all the pieces, but one of them (let’s say a chess master) will report some possibilities (e.g. about how white can win) that the other person can’t report. So, those possibilities are something which is in the master’s mind, but not in the amateur’s mind.

This I think doesn’t mean that the possibilities are in the mind, or that they are private. If two chess masters look at the same table, they might see the same possibilities – they can see what moves can make white win. They can’t see the same possibility for the white to win, if there are in fact two instances of possibilities in each of their minds.

Further the chess game is a special case, because the possibilities there are complicated one, and hard to see. In more normal cases like that of a glass on a table, the possibility to move the glass should be obvious to everyone. That some things are harder to see than others, and that some people can see some things, while other can not, isn’t argument that those things aren’t in the world.

2. We might think there is a possibility even when there isn’t such a possibility. I might think that the cup can be moved, when really the cup is glued to the table. So, the possibility is something in the mind.

This again, doesn’t follow. That we can mistake a leaf carried by the wind for a butterfly, doesn’t mean that there are no butterflies in the world.


Sometimes I become aware of the possibility only after watching some other person doing it. Kids see grown up person doing something and then they become aware of the possibility to do that, so they soon start doing those things. Possibility to talk, possibility to type on computer keys, possibility to make grimaces, possibility to move things, open containers, to put things into containers, kick ball with a foot, put water in a glass, and so on.

The objects and possibilities are seen in the world, and as there for others to see. If most of the things including the possibilities are in the world, we know of other minds not through deducing some hidden and private realm in people’s heads from “their physical behavior”, but is the natural starting point before any theorizing – the things we see are there open to be seen by everyone that can see.

The problem doesn’t appear for kids, not because they do have some theories which relate the behavior to a Cartesian souls, but because they are not trying to limit the world to its physical aspect, which would then make them wonder why there are such things as possibilities, colors, sounds, etc…

Hegel on Intentionality

Today is Hegel’s birthday. To mark that here is a quote from the start of Encyclopedia:

The Content, of whatever kind it be, with which our consciousness is taken up, is what constitutes the qualitative character of our feelings, perceptions, fancies, and ideas; of our aims and duties; and of our thoughts and notions. From this point of view, feeling, perception, etc., are the forms assumed by these contents. The contents remain one and the same, whether they are felt, seen, represented, or willed, and whether they are merely felt, or felt with an admixture of thoughts, or merely and simply thought. In any one of these forms, or in the admixture of several, the contents confront consciousness, or are its object. But when they are thus objects of consciousness, the modes of the several forms ally themselves with the contents; and each form of them appears in consequence to give rise to a special object. Thus what is the same at bottom may look like a different sort of fact.

The several modes of feeling, perception, desire, and will, so far as we are aware of them, are in general called ideas (mental representations): and it may be roughly said that philosophy puts thoughts, categories, or, in more precise language, adequate notions, in the place of the generalised images we ordinarily call ideas. Mental impressions such as these may be regarded as the metaphors of thoughts and notions. But to have these figurate conceptions does not imply that we appreciate their intellectual significance, the thoughts and rational notions to which they correspond. Conversely, it is one thing to have thoughts and intelligent notions, and another to know what impressions, perceptions, and feelings correspond to them.

A Question About Epiphenomenalism

Say that epiphenomenalist accepts causal theory of reference.
Then zombie philosopher in the zombie-world by ‘conscious experience’ is referring to something by which it was causally affected. As there is no conscious experience in the zombie-world, what it is affected by  and refers to by ‘conscious experience’, then, is something physical.
But as the causal relations are same in our world, it appears that whatever zombie philosopher is referring to by ‘conscious experience’, we are referring to the same thing by ‘conscious experience’. So, seems that epiphenomenalist can’t after all accept causal theory of reference, as that would mean that by ‘conscious experience’ she is referring to something physical.

So, what kind of grounding of reference does epiphenomenalist buy?
Can zombies refer to conscious experience at all?

What Issues Disappear Along With The Experience

In few posts I was arguing that ‘experience’, as philosophers use it is a theoretical notion used to explain a)what-is-it-likeness and b)possibilities of illusions, hallucination, and it is not something that we are directly aware of. In this usage (p-sense) experience is supposed to be something that represents the states of affairs in the world, can be veridical or not, and is characterized by the fact that it is like something to have that experience.

Instead, I was pointing that in one of the traditional uses of the term (np-sense), ‘experience’ refers to the events in the world in which the subject participates, and by which it is affected. In such way experiences are something in the world.

Now, I wrote how some of the issues, like the fallibility of our judgments about our experience are in this view rendered obsolete. When we are subject to change blindness, it is not about some private mental life that we are not noticing, but it is a change in the world that we are not noticing. When we think that we can see things clearly, even when they are 30 degrees from our direction of sight, it is not something about private mental life that we are not noticing, but it is lack of knowledge of our capacity. Instead of ‘clarity of visual field’, we talk about being able to see clearly, and so on…

Other issue that obviously disappears if we remove ‘experience’ in the p-sense, is the issue of what is the content of such experience. What we are left are np-sense experiences (events) in which we participate, and if we can speak of any content here – it is the events themselves, along with the constituents of those events (things, their properties and their relations). In such way, what we have is the world, and our acts of perceptual access to it (seeing, hearing, smelling, and so on). The target of the access are the aspects of the world that we put attention to. The attention is an abstraction – when attending to particular aspects we are ignoring some other. Those aspects can then be subject of our other intentional acts.

Because the nature of the act of attention as an act of abstraction, what is abstracted from might not implicitly nor explicitly appear as a subject of awareness. In such way, we can become aware of aspects in the world, without being aware that they are not self-subsistent, or how they relate to other aspects of the world.

Wild Speculation About Imagery

An idea about how imagery works… (this post is motivated by Eric’s post ‘Can You Directly Will Sensory Experiences?’)

The perception is full with noise. Imagery then consist in making part of the noise more salient, and pushing other part of the noise in the background.

So, it would be similar to how when you look at the clouds you can “see” different faces, animals and objects. Or how when you look at a wall with rough bumpy surface, you can also “see” different things.

If this is true, imagery would be in fact real – a specific part of the present noise. (Of course by real, I don’t mean that image of banana would be a banana, just that it is part of a real noise, and not something produced by the mind – it would be just putting attention on something, while ignoring other things).

The consequence is that if we can affect this noise then it would result also with affecting our imagery.

Per Perky subjects reported that bananas they imagined on a screen started to rotate when in fact a real, but very dim image of banana was projected on the screen. Also, the subjects apparently didn’t notice the image of banana, though it was clearly visible to the other observers. I think both of this things can be explained by the assumption that imagery is produced by selective focus. Because selective focus depends on what is in perception, the imaginary banana was affected, and because the attention was on specific part of the noise, people failed to see the dim projection of the banana on the screen.

New Small Feature in the Aggregator

If you haven’t noticed, for past week or so there is a a small new feature in the Power-Blogroll aggregator.
In the top right part, now there is a list of philosophers that were born or died on the specific date. If you visit today (19th August) you will find for example that Gilbert Ryle was born on this date in 1900, and that Blaise Pascal died on this date in 1662.

How it is done…

Along with the normal pages, Wikipedia has pages for every date. Check for example the page for August 19th. On that page you will find “Births” and “Deaths” section. So, what the aggregator does is fetch the page for the particular date, and in those sections check for “philosopher” string. The information is then extracted about the name of philosopher, the year, and the link to the wikipedia page for that philosopher, and this info is added to the aggregator. Hope you like it.

`Chair` And the Phenomenon of Chairs

I want to give another example how in discussing what words refer to, we don’t need to assume some intra-mental concepts, in which the meaning of the term would be ‘encoded’ (be it as a list of necessary and sufficient conditions, genus/differentia, as nodes in theories, through prototypes, etc…), but as a relation to something which appears as content of our intentional acts.

I said that ‘bachelor’ is in such way related to a phenomenon of bachelorhood, a real phenomenon which appears in the specific context of social relations (but might not appear in others). That the phenomenon is dependent on the context, doesn’t make it any less real, just not self-subsistent. That is, its existence depends on the existence of the particular context. The word ‘bachelor’ then picks out one of those persons that share with each other the particular position in society organized by particular principles. In such way, though the ‘bachelor’ is not some intra-mental concept (as I think nominalists would say), and while also there is no assumed essence which is shared by all bachelors, the term picks out some aspect of reality. In such way one can be externalist about phenomenon of bachelorhood, and claim that the word ‘bachelor’ picks out something in the world (though in a roundabout way – only through the phenomenon of bachelorhood which appears on level of society, and only then applying it to a particular person as a part of that phenomenon).

I think same can be said about chairs. I think one shouldn’t search for some definition of what makes a chair, but look at chairs as particular phenomenon that appears in certain kind of societies. From that point of view, to explain meaning of ‘chairs’ we don’t look for a definition which every chair has to fulfill. Instead we talk about the phenomenon of chairs. And that there is phenomenon of chairs is unproblematic. People have factories in which chairs are produces, chairs are manufactured, sold and bought. Chairs come in different dimensions, styles and colors, and people usually place them in their homes, sit on them while they are eating something, to take a rest, to read, and so on.

So the phenomenon is there, and because it is there, we can become aware of it. And because it is phenomenon, and not something essential which is found in every chair, people have space to play with the individual chairs, which while being weird in some way are part of the phenomenon.

`Bachelor` And the Phenomenon of Bachelorhood

Instead of talking about ‘bachelor’ as an analytical concept, related to my ideas of how words work, I think what we need to concentrate instead is what is that in the world that ‘bachelor’ refers to.

And put in that way one answer is that ‘bachelor’ is related to phenomenon of bachelorhood, and that is what we are aware, which was baptized by the word, and which we think of when we use the word. But in analyzing the term ‘bachelor’, then we don’t need to put attention to some “concept” of bachelor which would be analytically reducible to some other terms, but instead to understand bachelorhood we need to look at the world in which this phenomenon (of which we are aware) appears.

And the phenomenon of there being bachelors is related to the wider social context. We might not be aware of the dependence of the phenomenon to this context, but it is there. For example bachelorhood depends on the social relations in which males of certain age are expected to be married. In the society in which the institution of marriage doesn’t exist, the phenomenon can’t exist. In same way, it is related to the social context in which we live, in which a male can be married just to one female. If it wasn’t so, again the phenomenon of bachelorhood wouldn’t be possible.

Thinking about ‘bachelor’ and what it refers to, and thinking about propositions which include bachelors is then thinking about phenomena in the world, and their inter-relatedness.

The questions then if the Pope is a bachelor, or if a Muslim with one wife is a bachelor, are then seen as problematic not because ‘bachelor’ doesn’t have precise meaning, but because its meaning is connected to a phenomenon that appears in certain conditions (context), although we might not be aware of this relation. In that way, the choice if we would name those other cases – bachelors, is not an issue which has an objective answer. It is that – a choice if we will use words that refer to concrete phenomenon that exists in concrete conditions, to different (but similar in something) cases which appear in different conditions.

A Fight Between Frege, Hegel, Nietzsche, Mill and Marx

Through a comment at Philosophy Sucks!, I visited the SELBSTTATIGKEIT –  a blog devoted to issues related to the self-consciousness. Anyway…  even if you are not interested in self-consciousness, surely you will be interested in the poll about who is the greatest philosopher of the 19th century. Just visit the blog, and scroll to the bottom to find the poll.

The options are: Frege, Hegel, Nietzsche, Mill and Marx. I guess you can guess whom I gave my vote for.
So, if you have a horse in the race, go and vote!

Baptizing and The Qua Problem

The “Qua Problem”

In the causal theories of reference, ultimately the reference of some term is grounded in the act of baptizing, an act where there is some direct causal relation between the referent and the baptizer. However those theories face the so called “qua problem”:

Consider my natural-kind concept ‘horse’. This is grounded in a few horses. But those objects are not only horses, they are mammals, vertebrates, and so on; they are members of very many natural kinds. In virtue of what is my concept grounded in the objects qua horses rather than qua any of the other natural kinds of which they are members? So in virtue of what does it refer to all and only horses? Why does the concept formed by those groundings not “project onto” the members of these other natural kinds? The problem is worse. What restricts the kinds in question to natural kinds? The objects in which ‘horse’ are grounded may be pets, investments, brown, and so on, and they are horses or cows, horses or cows or kangaroos, and so on. In virtue of what are the groundings not in them qua members of those kinds? (Devitt, Naturalistic Representation) (HT:Richard Brown)

Baptizing and Intentionality

In previous posts I wrote few notes about the baptizing, that I thought (and still think) are quite unproblematic…

Someone somewhere decides to give a name to something. And in order to to that, that something has to appear as intentional content of his intentional acts. So to say, a person’s thoughts has to be directed to something, so that there is any sense in the act of baptizing. We name something – something which we think about, or something that we see, hear, imagine, understand, assume, and so on…

In the case of proper names, like ‘Aristotle’ and  ‘G.W.Bush’, I think that this general formulation of the baptizing avoids the qua problem. The name Aristotle isn’t grounded in a time-slice of Aristotle’s body, or in certain undetached part of his body, simply because the Aristotle and not any time-slice or detached part is intentional content which the baptizer decides to give name to.

Common Nouns (Mass And Count Nouns)

However, if you accept that always in case of baptizing there is some intentional content which gets named, the question appears of what this content is in the case of common nouns (the names we use for natural kinds, artifacts, nominal kinds, and so on…). Say… in the case of ‘horse’? What is that that we become aware of, and that we name, after seeing several horses?

I think that the answer is that the intentional content in those cases is a multiplicity of things which share certain similarity. We see a horse, and then after some time we see another horse which reminds us of the first one (“oh, another such thing” – we think). And now, being aware that there is multiplicity of those things we can give name to them – ‘horses’. 

In this case the similarity is gestalt visual similarity – the second horse reminds us of the first one. We are aware of the first one, of the second one, and we are aware that they are similar. We don’t even have to know what this similarity consist of (children can learn what ‘horses’ refer to, without actually being able to draw a horse, or to tell some characteristic of horses. I’m sure I can’t draw a horse for that matter). However I use ‘similarity’ in very general sense here. For example similarity might be that the multitude reacts in same way to some test, or the multitude may share some property and be similar in that, or a multitude can share a common ground. Those would all fall under ‘similarities’ as used here.

Because the common noun now refers to those things which show certain similarity, the common noun refers not just to the horses that we actually met, but to all horses. So, this solves the question – in virtue of what the common nouns refer not just to the things that we got acquainted to, but also to other things. Why ‘horses’ refer to all horses, and not just the ones that baptizer saw. And this brings me to another way to address this question, which Richard pointed to in the comments of one previous post. I will try to describe the view, I hope that I will get explanation right on base of what Richard said.

Intending To Name The Type To Which The Thing Belongs

The solution is that the baptizer intends to name the type of things to which the instance (with which we get acquainted) belongs. So, the baptizer thinks “I will call the type to which this thing belongs – horse, and I will call all of the things which belong to this type – horses”. Because the baptizer intends to name the type to which this thing belongs, and because so it happens that the type of thing is the natural kind – horse, the ‘horse’ ends up referring to the natural kind – horse. Let’s mark this view as INK (intending to name the kind).

I want to point to three things here comparing INK, with the view that the common nouns baptizing is based on similarity of multitude (SIM):

  1. INK is not incompatible with SIM. INK is special case of SIM where the similarity is an assumed common ground – an essence which is present in all the objects of this type.
  2. INK suffers from the qua problem. If one intends merely to name the type to which the thing belongs, we don’t know why ‘horses’ would refer to horses, and not to mammals, vertebrates, or any other types/kinds to which this thing belongs. The problem doesn’t appear for SIM, because it is the specific similarity that is the ground for thinking of the multitude as multitude, and not some other similarity (which would correspond to mammals, vertebrates, etc…).
  3. We don’t actually see the essence of the natural kind. So the question is… INK needs to explain why we don’t assume that there is specific type for every thing that we see. That is, INK needs to introduce a separate explanation how we come to think that this horse and that horse both belong to the same type. And that reason can’t be the essence itself, as we don’t see it. So, INK has to acknowledge that baptizer can think of a multitude in first place based on some other characteristics, *in order* to assume that those belong to the same kind.

Hegel on Importance Of Proofs Of God`s Existence

To go along with few negative words I put together in the post ‘Why Should Religious Philosophers Be Unbiased’ about “proofs of God’s existence”, here is a witty Hegel’s quote about putting lot of importance on these proofs (from the Encyclopedia)…

The (now somewhat antiquated) metaphysical proofs of God’s existence, for example, have been treated, as if a knowledge of them and a conviction of their truth were the only and essential means of producing a belief and conviction that there is a God. Such a doctrine would find its parallel, if we said that eating was impossible before we had acquired a knowledge of the chemical, botanical, and zoological characters of our food; and that we must delay digestion till we had finished the study of anatomy and physiology. Were it so, these sciences in their field, like philosophy in its, would gain greatly in point of utility; in fact, their utility would rise to the height of absolute and universal indispensableness. Or rather, instead of being indispensable, they would not exist at all.