Pains At The Brains

Seeing:Rabbit = X:Pain

As I’ve said in previous posts, I think that X=feeling, and that pain isn’t any more “private” than rabbits are. But, I will return to those issues once again, motivated by the post Is pain an intentional state? over at Brains.

We have a way to access pain, which we call feeling, same as we have a way to access rabbits which we call seeing. Same as the rabbit can be there and we can’t see it, the pain can be there, and us not to feel it. Sometimes, for example in cases of prolonged pain, we get distracted and “forget about it” for specific time, and then we think – Is the pain still there? By focusing, similarly to other cases of perception, we then figure out if the pain is still there or not. The most striking similarity is with the presence of some sound with bugs us – I think that both cases are very similar. And the similarity also covers that issue that both the pain and the sound affect us negatively – they bug us. But as in cases of pain asymbolia we know that this ‘hurting us’ part is not essential part of that thing that we feel – namely of the pain. However this is little hard to talk about, as usually “pain” is related to both the thing that is felt and how it affects us, so if we are gonna distinguish the felt pain from how it affect us, that we might need different terms.

Anyway, I said also in the comments, as rabbits are not mental states but something that we see, also pains is not mental states but something that we feel. Also, seeing rabbits is not a mental state (‘John sees a rabbit’ is literally true only if there is a rabbit that John sees), but even which includes the rabbit, John, the photons bouncing off the rabbit, and whatnot. So, I’m inclined to think that feeling pain is not mental state also.

Feeling pain is an intentional ACT. Of course ‘intentional’ here doesn’t mean that it is intended, but in Brentano’ speech, that it is act which relates the subject from the one side, and the object (the pain), from the other. In the other sense of ‘intentional’ (that is, everyday sense), feeling pain is mostly unintentional, that is, we don’t really want to focus on the pain, the pain attracts our attention. But, this is not different from outer perceptual modalities, where for example a clown jumping suddenly in front of you will attract your attention, as much you don’t want to put focus on him.

But what about the pain itself? What kind of object is it if it is not a mental state? I actually think that the pain is potential aspect of the parts of our body which we can access by that intentional act of feeling. And that it as an aspect it usually correlates with the aspect of tissue damage. What is the relation of those aspects, I’m not sure (maybe they are both aspects of the one and the same thing? Or maybe the presence of the one aspect causes the presence of the other through some contingent relation?). In any case this works for me as I don’t think that the body is reducible to the physical, instead think that the physical is merely one aspect of our bodies, so I can think that there are further aspects (like pains) which can be present in our bodies in reality, without the need to push those under the rug called ‘mental’ (that is what people usually do, if we are aware of something in the reality which doesn’t seem to be able to be nicely defined/explained/reduced through physics, they push it under the rug called ‘mental’). To say that pain is aspect of our bodies, of course doesn’t mean that there are such things as pains which may exist unrelated to anything else. Same as there are not forms, without there being things which have those forms, and same as there are no distances without objects, at least imaginary, between which there are those distances.

Related posts:
Cyborgs Sharing The Pain,  Again
Does Pain Have To Hurt?
Couple More Thoughts on Pain
Can There Be An Illusion of Pain?

Not Creative (And I Even Cheated)!

OK, the code that they gave me, doesn’t work on So, imagine ‘23%’ between ‘My brain is’ and ‘wired for creativity’.
I think that for low percentage, they need new messages like:

My brain is unwired.
I’m never blue when I’m sad.
I have touch-Angelina Jolie synaesthesia. I see Angelina Jolie when my wife touches me.
My brain is not creative, but I am.

Talking to Your Past You

Convincing is not something that happens often in philosophy. But do you think if you argue with yourself from the past, you would be able to convince past-you in your todays views? Given that you have changed your views on things for sure.

I don’t know. Probably we would have more faith in our future-us as we know that they knew what we know today. But, it would be interesting thing to watch anyway. I started to wonder this, thinking of making few post from some old writings I have, which aren’t quite in agreement with my current thinking. I started reading them the other day and seemed OK to me, though little too engineering in approach for the present-me. (It is interesting how few times I have went to some old post of mine, to reread some things, it is like discovering some new things. Or maybe it is not interesting, but just my memory is very bad – which it is).

On the other fronts, Richard Brown has a new virtual presentation on his blog based on his paper What is a Brain State?, which is a powerpoint slide with narration overlay. I enjoy those presentations by Richard, so thought that you might want to check them too (you will find the other two on his side column in Virtual Presentation section).

And on Cognitive Daily there is a post covering the relation between knowing and remembering, which seems as a very interesting issue to me.

Little Explanation

To shed some light on the previous posts about (against) concepts, I think I need to explain maybe little the context of my beliefs.

I don’t believe in reductionism. And not just about the mind, but in general.

What I mean by reductionism?

We become aware of things. Reductionism would be when we want to reduce some of those things of which we are aware to some others of which we are aware (I use aware to refer not just to things that we perceive, but for anything that appears as object of our intentional acts) – to say that the former are nothing but some specific configuration or combination of later. In this sense there can be lot of kinds of reductionism, depending on what is taken to be reducible, and what are the things to which the things are reduced.

So, we are aware for example of information, and we can be reductionist in the sense that everything can be reduced to information. Pythagoreans were aware of numbers, and thought that phenomena in the world can be in some way reduced to number (I guess this is oversimplification, I can’t believe that they really thought that?).  Or one can believe that all the different kind of phenomena that we are aware can be reduced to configurations and movement of physical components. Or maybe combination of physical and some assumed mental thingies…

So, when i say that I don’t believe in reductionism in general, I think that there are lot of phenomena in the world of which we are aware, that can’t be reduced to some other things that we assume or are aware of.

Lot of times, people are happy with reductionism about non-mental phenomena, and give special status just to those mental phenomena. In this move whatever we are aware in the world but doesn’t seem compatible with physics, is ‘taken back’ into the mind – aspects of the things that we perceive are called qualia and as they seem incompatible with this “clear” physical picture are assumed to be something that is produced by the mind. Social phenomena like language, books, governments, etc… are also not cleanly reducible to the physical aspect, so in the similar move they are “moved to our heads” as concepts.

When we “return” those phenomena that we become aware of into the world, what special “power” is left to the mental-phenomena are the abilities we have – abilities to perceive, to imagine, to assume, to remember, etc… Of course those aren’t also seen as something outside of the world, but as abilities which belong to us as subjects in this same (and rich) world. And, also those aren’t seen reducible to the other things that we become aware of.

Let me just in short also say what would be the relation between this rich world and the physical. It isn’t relation of two things, because it is one and the same world. Just that the physical is one aspect of the world that we are aware of. And here is where my story goes radical – I think that the physical aspect is determined in big part by the way that aspect is isolated – that is, by the measurements that we perform. I think because the measurements have specific nature, as a consequence there are metaphysically necessary relations between those things we measure. In such way, that aspects seems to us as closed (and self-subsistent), but that is just because what we measure is in that aspect.

Am I Missing Something?

As I’m thinking about the discussion of the previous post on concepts, I’m thinking that the situation seems pretty simple. Maybe I’m missing something, but here is how I see the simple story…

I see a rabbit, and then see another one. I can see that both are similar, and assume that there are further common truths about them separate from this gestalt similarity. I also can assume that there are lot of things which share this similarity.
Because I live in a linguistic society in which the language is used in all kinds of practices, it is helpful to have a word to refer to the rabbits. So in a specific baptizing practice (probably also linguistic practice), I can choose a word to refer to rabbits. Namely I choose to call any of them ‘a rabbit’, and to call them ‘rabbits’.

I don’t see here any need for ‘concepts’. There are rabbits, there are people who can become aware of them, and those people are part of linguistic society and can use a word to refer to them. Also, I don’t see a need for there to be a word for rabbits, in order for me to be able to think of them. In fact, thinking in terms of this simple story it is quite impossible for there to appear a word for rabbits, if we already didn’t become aware of the rabbits.

Of course, once the word is there, same as with proper names, a person can use it and expect that the word has a meaning, which goes back to some initial baptism (or some similar linguistic practice). But, that doesn’t mean that there is some ‘concept’ which goes along with the knowledge of the word. After all, one might not be able to recognize rabbits from cats, and still use both words. If such person asks how to recognize rabbits from cats, for sure he will mean rabbits by ‘rabbits’ and cats by ‘cats’.

‘Nuf said about rabbits
Cows demanding inclusion in philosophical examples
(Cows Staring, Hencio)

Further Thoughts on Concepts and Meaning of Common Nouns

Continuing from the previous post, I will use Putnam’s analysis from his 1970 paper ‘Is Semantic Possible?’, to give some comments about how acknowledging that plural forms of common nouns (like ‘lemons’) have meaning but singular forms (simply ‘lemon’) don’t, helps us avoid difficulties that different theories about meaning related to traditional views of concepts encounter when they put attention on the singular form (‘lemon’).

Putnam starts with the ‘traditional view’, where

the meaning of lemon, is given by specifying a conjuction of properties. For each of those properties, the stataement ‘lemons have the property P’ is analytic truth; and if P1, P2, …, Pn are all the properties in the conjunction, then ‘anything with all the properties P1, …, Pn is a lemon’ is likewise an analytic truth.

However as he notes, this is simply wrong, as if we for example take defining characteristics of lemons to be yellow color, tart taste, etc…, it is easy to imagine for example a lemon which is blue, or which doesn’t have tart taste. So, obviously what is said to be meaning of ‘lemon’ in that quote, can’t be the meaning of ‘lemon’. If it was, it would be impossible for us to imagine blue lemon, same as it is impossible for us to imagine square circle.

The next step Putnam sees as possible for ‘perfecting’ the traditional view, we see that the problem is somewhat solved when we start to think in terms of lemons, and not lemon. In the second try, we get that ‘lemon’ means – something

that belongs to the natural kind whose normal members have yellow peel, tart taste, etc..

So, instead of requiring that the meaning of ‘lemon’ is related to some defining features, we now turn our attention to the multitude, and to ‘normal features’ of this multitude. But, as Putnam points, the color of lemons might change because of some new gas in the Earth’s atmosphere which reacts with lemons’ pigment. We won’t say then that lemons ceased to exist (as there would be no such thing as ‘natural kind whose normal members have yellow peel, tart taste, etc…’).

It seems to me that both the need for ‘natural kind’ and ‘normal members’ speech is still connected to the thinking that what we are after when talking about meaning of common nouns is something related to the singular term – ‘lemon’ in this case. Talk about ‘natural kind’ is serving as a glue for ‘abnormal’ lemons, as surely we want what we mean by ‘lemon’ to cover them – any of those abnormal lemons is a lemon also. The other phrase ‘normal members’ on another side twists again the move that we made towards the multiplicity, and sees individual members as important. Those are, in my opinion, the reasons this stub at meaning of ‘lemon’ are still unsuccessful and get into problems.

Putnam further analyzes this move which might get the traditional view out of difficulties:

X is a lemon = df X belongs to a natural kind whose normal members …. (as before) or X belongs to a natural kind whose normal members used to … (as before) or X belongs to a natural kind whose normal members where formerly believed to, or are now incorrectly believed to… (as before)

While Putnam says that this definition which tries to address the issues of the previous is slightly crazy, I think that it is again move in the right direction. Putting aside that it still has the problems of the previous definition, it brings forward (well, at least points into direction of) one important thing – the act of baptizing is a conscious act in which we give a name to something of which we think – to something that appears as target to our intentional acts.

So, talking about meaning of ‘lemons’, it is important that people first notice that there is a phenomenon of some multitude in the world. And this simply by recognizing similarity – there is multitude of things in the world, that are similar somehow. Related to this, we can point to the moments in that definition that are still problematic:

1. Properties talk shouldn’t be essential – I don’t need to be able to recognize colors, or shapes for one lemon to remind me of another.
2. I don’t need to know what ‘natural kind’ is, to mean something by ‘lemons’. After all, it is fully meaningful to ask if lemons are natural kind. If what I meant by ‘lemons’ is tightly related to them being natural kind, the answer would be obvious to me.
3. Talk of normal members is not required too. That it so happens that there is phenomenon of some multitude of things, which happen to be similar in some way, is a normal situation which will motivate us to invent new common noun to use for those things. But that doesn’t imply anything about ‘normal members of a natural kind’, nor that I can find that this first gestalt similarity isn’t product of some “deeper” similarity which would uncover that there are abnormal lemons possible.
4. Because it is the multitude and the similarity which is important, we don’t have problems with the ‘vagueness of concepts’. The similarity might be continuous in the world – A might be similar to B, C similar to B, but less similar to A, D similar to C, but less similar to B and even more to A, etc… There is no objective way in which the common noun will cover the similarity just from A to C, and not to D. People might agree to use the common noun for C, and not for D, but you won’t find that in the meaning of the common noun. Related to this, this view where the meaning is related to similarity of a multitude, also doesn’t have problem with typicality effects.

Are There Concepts?

I’m back from the short vacation, so it is time to write something new…

I want here to express my skepticism about ‘concepts’ (Well, at least about the word as philosophers and cog.scientists use it. Same as with the word ‘experience’, I’m sure there is quite a nice meaning that the word ‘concept’ has in the everyday speech.) . The notion of concepts (in philo-sense) is, I think, tightly connected to language. Language consist of words which have meanings. What are the meanings of those words? For proper names the answer is fairly straightforward, the meaning of a proper name, is the individual which was baptized with that name. But, the question appears about the meaning of common nouns – what is the meaning of such words like ‘rabbit’, ‘book, ‘chair’, ‘bachelor’ and so on?

It is here, I think, that by analogy with proper names, we are inclined to think that there is some one thing, which is meaning of those nouns, so – the meaning of ‘rabbit’ is the concept of rabbit, the meaning of ‘book’ is the concept of book, and similarly for the concepts of ‘chair’, ‘bachelor’, ‘justice’, ‘milk’, ‘love’, ‘gold’, ‘tiger’ etc… Given this assumption, it is later asked what is the nature of those concepts, how do we form them, how do we recognize things as falling under certain concepts, and so on. As attempts to answer those questions we get different theories of concepts.

We have for example classical theories of concepts, where a concept consist of a list of sufficient and necessary features. This theory sees concepts as kind of definition through other ‘more simpler’ concepts. For example a concept of bachelor would consist of concepts male and not married. One sub-type of this theory is, I guess, the genus/differentia view of concepts, where concepts are supposed to create a branching tree, where the concept in the branch is defined by its ‘parent’ concept, and a defining characteristic which separates it from other siblings in the same parent. Then, there are prototype theories, where concepts are not lists of defining features but representations which contains some kind of statistical information about properties that things which fall under that concept tend to have. Theory-theory of concepts changes the focus to more holistic understanding of concepts, where what is put to front are theories people have about the world, and where concepts have their existence only as parts of those theories.

However there is a certain problem for this view that the meaning of part of those common nouns is one certain thing. Because, while we can think about John, Mary and Peter, we can’t think about chair, bachelor, book and tiger. There is no such thing as intentional act, in which the target will be simply chair (not ‘a chair’, as then it is some specific chair), simply bachelor, simply book, or simply tiger. So, if we are supposed to give names to things of which we think of, we don’t have reasons to think that there is one specific thing, which is baptized with those common nouns.

What we can think of is books, rabbits, bachelors, tigers and chairs. I think this points that when we search for the meanings related to the words like ‘book’, ‘chair’, ‘bachelor’, etc…, we should in fact look at the plural form of those words. That words like ‘book’, ‘chair’, ‘bachelor’ are simply meaningless, and that they have meanings just when in forms like ‘a book’, ‘some book’, ‘any book’, and so on…. We can think about a book, about some book, about any book,etc… but not think about book.

So, if those words like ‘book’, ‘rabbit’, ‘bachelor’, ‘tiger’ and ‘chair’ don’t have meanings by themselves, it is a reason to suspect that we are on the right way when assuming such things as concepts. (I must note here that the argument given here doesn’t work for the mass nouns like ‘gold’ or ‘water’. Though I believe that there are no concepts behind those nouns too, at the moment I don’t have any argument for those.)

What is the alternative then?

As I was arguing in few places, I think that firstly it is very straightforward that common nouns only make sense in relation to multitude. If we aren’t thinking of multitude, there is no reason for us to use common nouns in our language. So, we should focus on the plural forms – that is ‘books’, ‘rabbits’, ‘bachelors’, ‘tigers’, ‘chairs’. When we move to the plural form, what we have as a meaning is obviously not one sole thing, but – a multitude. And, that is I think also unproblematic – we CAN think of multitudes, and this capacity of ours to be aware/think/see/imagine/assume etc… multitudes is not simply being aware of some kind of different thing (where the whole multitude would be taken as ONE thing). Multitude IS multitude, is NOT one. That this is separate faculty, we can see in persons that suffer of different forms of simultanagnosia. Related to this it might be interesting to see if maybe those people in some form of the agnosia might also have problems with using, or at least with learning of new common nouns.

Say that you grant that the meaning of common nouns aren’t concepts, and that those singular forms are ‘borrowing’ the meaning in different ways from the plural forms. What is then the meaning of those plural forms? What ‘books’, ‘bachelors’, ‘rabbits’ and ‘lemons’ mean?

This post is getting too long, so I will continue with this line of thought in some other post.

Happy New Addictions!

Those holidays are hard. With all the celebrating I don’t feel like writing anything philosophical.

All the energy I have is just enough for the professional work. And few distractions I found recently don’t help.

First, I downloaded the first season of Heroes from net (the series is not yet broadcasted here)  , and so with the family we are watching two-three episodes per day.

Second thing is the online text RPG – The Kingdom of Loathing (if you have spare time check it out, and for help on your tasks check this wiki). Good thing about this is that number of “moves” is limited per day, so you can’t loose too much time on it per day – probably I’m wasting half and hour per day (though I haven’t really checked, maybe it is more).

The third thing is Miro. It is a torrent-based movie player. There is a list of around 3000 video podcasts (‘channels’) to which one can subscribe. I tried few of the channels, but liked the best the gamers channel , and Cranky Geeks channel. One more addictive thing to deal with.

Oh, and my wife both a Sony Ericsson K550i cellphone (Actually our first cellphone! I still don’t have one, I try not to use techmology much, which is kind of an silly statement, considering the content of this post! Call me Rainbow Jeremy!)

So I was having fun with it for a couple of days, putting new themes, java games, and music in it. Of course I had to try those games myself, and some of those are addictive too.

It is not all bleak though. One addiction I’m trying to do away with are cigarettes, and I’m doing fine for a week or so. Which I guess is much worse addiction than those previously mentioned.

Anyway, I think I will need a couple of weeks to fill my energy cells and get back into mood for philosophy. I am planning to go with the family to a nearby village starting from Saturday for a week, and hopefully there will be snow there. Physical activities are like defragmenters for the brain.

Happy New 2008!