Resolving The Mind-Body Issue, Part 4

This is the last part of the series of posts about how I think we can make sense of the mind-body issue. The idea is to provide alternative to different kinds of physicalism and dualism.

The story so far:
So far, we took those steps:
1.Returning the content which was previously pushed under the “rug of the mental” back into the world. What is left to the mind are the abilities to perceive, imagine, plan, etc…
2.Moving away from atomism/constructivism towards seeing the world in terms of what is actually going on, and aspects of what is actually going on, and taking both which appears in the physical picture and what we returned into the world as aspects of the world.

And in the third part, I didn’t advance the idea further, but pointed to a problem in the idea… For something to be an aspect of X, it means that the facts about X are based on
a)what is actually going on, and
b)the nature of the aspect.
For example, the facts about the contour of the face seen from certain side (as an aspect), will depend on a)the three-dimensional shape of the face and b)the angle from which we are seeing the face.

But what we are seeing in physical nature are that there are physical laws, which can be nicely put in determinate mathematical equations. If we take those to be facts about the physical, it surely doesn’t seem that they are aspect of anything else – they seem self-contained and independent. Sure, there is the quantum indeterminacy, but that one is nicely isolated. When we have aspects, we expect that the facts about the aspect to be in more “organic” dependency on the whole.

What we do next:
So, we get here to what I think is third part of the solution of the mind-body issue. In short it is this… The physical laws are metaphysically necessary relations between different aspects which we see as being physical. The form of those laws is the conditional: whenever p is true about something, also q will be true about the same thing.

Let me explain this through an analogy with a case that can be understood more easily. Imagine that we ignore lot of things of whatever is going on, and put attention just on the geometrical and arithmetical aspects of whatever is going on. It so happens, that even everything is changing, in certain cases we can safely ignore the changes and analyze the non-changing aspect of the situations as if there is no changes occurring.

We can say about those cases that we are safe to apply a geometrical or arithmetical notion to the situation. With that, we get to the antecedent (p is true about X) of the conditional. For example it might be ‘the base of the house is square, with sides 5meters and 4meters’. From there it is possible to apply the mathematical truth ‘whenever something is square with sides a and b, it will have area a*b‘ , so we also have the consequent (q is true about X) – The area of the house is 20 square meters.

The point is that if for pragmatic reasons we can safely ignore everything but geometrical and arithmetical aspect of whatever is going on, it is normal that whatever mathematically necessary relations hold, will hold for this aspect. We can see how also, because what we took is merely an aspect, it might happen at any time that the antecedent of the mathematical necessity becomes invalid for reasons which are not captured by that aspect. So, we get to a situation where the mathematical aspect has 1)mathematically necessary relations which hold, but 2)the mathematical notions in some situations will not be applicable, for the reason that the situation goes beyond this aspect.

I think it is now clear, what is the proposed explanation of the seemingly self-subsistent regularities of the physical aspect. I said before that the facts about aspect will be dependent on two things: a)what is actually going on and b)the nature of the aspect. The solution is then, to connect those regularities known as physical laws to the later – to the nature of the aspect itself, and NOT to whatever is going on.

There is lot more to be said on this, and I’ve discussed this issue several times, but let me just add few brief note to this… The nature of the physical aspect is defined by the nature of the measurement of movement through measurements of space and time, and further to the way other physical properties like force, inertial mass, energy and so on, are related to those. Further, I think that it is in the nature of those measurements (or in their concept) to have different symmetries, and it is that which I think is a base for the metaphysical necessity of those laws. However, that this is just an aspect is shown in the cases of quantum mechanical collapses, to which the physical laws can’t apply for the basic reason that whatever is going on goes beyond one of its aspects – in this case physical aspect. In those cases, we can’t apply the notion in the question to the situation, similarly to how we sometimes can’t apply mathematical notions to the situation and can’t analyze the situation in terms of mathematical necessities.

So, this would be the last part of the solution for the mind-body issue. As I said at the start of the post, it does go far from the prevalent paradigm of the times, but given that the mind-body issue surely seems as an impossible problem to solve in the paradigm of our times, it should be clear that there is something wrong with that paradigm.

A Short Note On “Content Of Experience”

As pointed few times before, I think ‘experiences’ properly refers to events in the world (part of whatever is going on) in which subjects take part. Events by which they are affected somehow or from which they learn. Also ‘experience’ can be used to refer to the knowledge gained in that way.

But if that is so, the talk about “content of experience” doesn’t really makes much sense. If we need to speak about things being in the experiences, we can speak about objects, their relations, properties, and so on. So, the questions of what kind of content there is in our experiences, seems to me as the wrong question to ask. (Same goes about the issue if the experience is thick or thin)

What can be talked about are however different relations between subjects and the things within the experience. Here we can talk about the subject being aware of this or that part of the world, not being aware of this or that part of the world, mistaking one thing for another, being subconsciously affected by this and that and so on.

Resolving The Mind-Body Issue, Part 3

The first two steps took were:
1.Returning the content which was previously pushed under the “rug of the mental” back into the world. What is left to the mind are the abilities to perceive, imagine, plan, etc…
2.Moving away from atomism/constructivism towards seeing the world in terms of what is actually going on, and aspects of what is actually going on, and taking both which appears in the physical picture and what we returned into the world as aspects of the world.

While in the last post I wrote about how seeing those things as aspects helps us make sense of the mind-body issue, in this post I will analyze if the proposal of seeing the physical as an aspect has merits on its own (so independently of how it makes sense as part of solving the issue).

When we talk about some X being an aspect, that means that X doesn’t exist on itself, but that it ‘lends’ its existence from the actual thing whose aspect it is. So, we say that X isn’t self-subsistent. Also, it means that if we are seeing some facts about X, these facts are ‘backed up’ by a)what is actually going on and b)the kind of aspect X is. An analogy of seeing same person from different sides might be helpful here. There are facts about the person seen from a certain side, but those facts are not facts about something self-subsistent. They are fully reducible to facts about the person, and the facts about how the person is rotated in relation to us for example.

Does it make sense to talk about physical events to be this kind of not-self-subsistent aspect of what is actually going on?

I think it does.
Firstly, we don’t see today the ‘elementary particles’ as something indestructible. They appear and disappear (from and to photons), get into interactions in which other types of particles appear and so on. And on lower level it is hard to make sense of quarks as self-subsistent when they are not even supposed to be able to exist isolated by themselves.
Secondly, within quantum statistics in some systems of which we are thinking as ‘constructed’ from multiple elementary particles of same type, permutations of these particles are not counted, pointing that our ‘classical’ atomistic/constructionist thinking can not be applied.
Thridly, it is i think recognized that in the context of Special Relativity, space and time are not seen as self-subsistent, but only as aspects of one space-time thing. Also given this theory, seems to me it makes lot of sense to think of mass and energy as two highly correlated aspects, and finally in General Relativity, similar relation appears between space/time and mass/energy.
Fourthly, in quantum mechanics we have pairs of conjugate variables, which can’t be seen as self-subsistent, but appear to only behave as aspects of one and the same thing. Also, phenomena like quantum entanglement, where what we think of as two particles, seem to be ‘entangled’ also seem to point to the failure of the atomistic metaphysics, and that in those cases what we can talk about are just aspects of whatever is going on.

In order to be clear in what I say next, let me first define here (vaguely) what I mean by ‘physical entities and properties’. Those would be the entities belonging to the types and properties of those entities that also belonging to certain types, that appear in the physical laws through which physics explains the phenomena in this world.

So given those few things I pointed to, it seems to me that there are pretty good reasons to prefer seeing physical entities and properties as aspects of what is actually going on, instead of taking them as self-subsistent entities (and properties) from which everything else is built.

So, so much about plausibility of the proposal that physical is an aspect of whatever is going on. This really doesn’t seem very problematic. But the proposal is not out of the woods yet. The laws of physics seem to hold in absolute way. That is surely not what we would expect about an aspect! In the nature of the aspect is to lack something, so when we analyze an aspect we should have clear sense that we are missing something. But, it doesn’t seem that we are missing something. So, yes, you may agree, those four reasons might be a hints to consider that specific entities and properties within the physical world as aspects, but those are no reason to think that what is actually going on is not of physical nature. We can just talk about what is going on in the context of space/time/matter/energy complex, and in the context of complex quantum mechanical equations, without taking particles or their properties as self-subsistent. And it is reasonable to say those still belong to what we call “physical”, and hence we could say that what is actually going on is just what physics says, and nothing more (so physical is not an aspect)!

There is one thing that the laws of physics doesn’t seem to determine in absolute way though – the collapse which is related to quantum mechanical measurements. Namely, though quantum mechanics includes a deterministic equation which tell us about the behavior of the quantum system, it only tell us that we can discuss only a probability of a different values our measurements of this or that property might give us (and physicists mostly agree, from what I know, that this is not epistemic, but ontological limit). Now, we can accept that there is no reason for collapse happening and this and not in that way, but it also makes sense to say that this is that part where the aspect is showing itself as an aspect, what we are seeing is that it is lacking something.

This doesn’t seem very promising though. If physical is merely an aspect, we would expected for it to be correlated to the rest of the what is going on in more “organic” way. What we have instead are bunch of deterministic laws, and just one place where whatever is actually going on might go beyond the physical aspect. A biggest part of truths in the physical seem independent from anything else. So, even if we allow that there might be some “otherness”, the whole thing seems more as a construction of physical + that otherness, than an aspect. So, how can we get out of this weirdness?

To be continued…

Resolving The Mind-Body Issue, Part 2

The first step into resolving the issue was returning to the world the things which we, in our wish for clean picture of the world, removed from the world and pushed under the rug of mental. And also reconsidering the “mind” as referring to different abilities of the subjects in that world, part of which are abilities to perceive all those things which we know return to the world (so colors, sounds, smells, movements, and so on…)

This, along with some motivations and considerations related to this step was discussed in the previous post.

I think one almost instinctive negative response to this move will be related to a metaphysical assumption of atomism/constructivism. According to this outlook, what we actually have in the world are large amount of entities of few basic kinds, and every other phenomenon we encounter is constructed from those entities. When this phenomenon is constructed, what makes the phenomenon what it is, is the specific configuration and dynamics of those parts.

Related to this kind of outlook (be it that we are aware of it explicitly, or we just took it for granted as part of how people talk about things), it is hard to make sense of the “returning of things from mind to world” of which I was talked . We need an alternative to atomism/constructivism, for the proposal to make sense.

The alternative is this. Instead of thinking of the world in terms of atoms (the basic “constituents”) and construction, we think of it in terms of actual things, and their aspects. What is central in this, is moving of the “source of actuality” away from the atoms. They are not now the basic stuff which is actual, and every phenomenon lends its actuality from atoms. Instead we move what is actual towards the whole – towards the whole world. It is the world that is actual, and anything within the world is actual AS a part of this whole world which includes the other things, their relations, and so on. So, in this change of the metaphysics, we can come to see atoms, also configurations of atoms, but also other things as aspects of what is actually happening in the world.

So, let’s see how this would work on some examples.

1. We can say that some things have color as their aspect. But also that they have a chemical composition as their aspect. In turn one of the aspects of the chemical composition is its reflectance characteristic. That is, which frequencies it reflects, and which it doesn’t.

2. We have events where we are seeing colors of things. One of the aspects of this seeing, is where we ‘pick-out’ the color of the thing, this aspect that we “returned” into the world. But also we can analyze the other aspect of the same phenomenon. That is the aspect where photons fall on the surface of the object, those with certain frequencies get reflected, are focused by the lens of the eye onto the retina, where eye cells react to those photons, and send signals through the optic nerve, etc…

So, we changed the atomistic/constructionalist picture to this… there is something actually happening in the world. And we can approach certain aspects of what is actually happening. But we don’t take those aspects to be self-subsistent (that is, we don’t take them as existing by itself, so that it would be logical for there to be just things from the aspect such as they are, but nothing else), instead we see their existence only as dependent on what is actually going on.

With this changed picture, we have two things…

1.We can now handle how in the same world there could be a) those “nasty” things that we returned – we can see them as more complex aspects which we can perceive, and b) the entities and properties from physics, which are now related to this aspect which is determined with the specific approach towards the world (measurements in form of comparing of one magnitude with other taken as a unit).

and 2. We get for free the explanation for the correlation between the aspects. Namely, as the “returned properties” and the physical properties are both aspects of the same actual thing, it is logical that we will see correlation. That is because the aspects are not self-subsistent, so that each aspect has separate existence (as with the constituents in the case of atomism/constructivism), instead they “get” their existence and their nature from the actuality whose aspects they are. So, multiple aspects of the same thing will necessarily be more or less correlated. In the example with color, the color of the thing and the reflectance characteristic of the object (and in turn its chemical composition) are correlated to a large extent.

This change of view is very important for making sense of the body-mind issue. We are having only one thing that is actually going on, and further we have multiplicity of aspects of whatever is actually going on. And we don’t have problem of why there is correspondence between the physical aspect of what is going on, and the mental aspect of it, without assuming that any of those is reducible to the other.

This concludes the second part of these posts. The two main steps made so far were:
1.Returning the content which was pushed under the “rug of the mental” back into the world.
2.Moving away from atomism/constructivism towards seeing the world in terms of what is actually going on, and aspects of what is actually going on, and taking both what appears in physical laws, and what we returned into the world as aspects of the world.

I noted that the correlation between aspects is something normal in this view, but this requires that those aspects are not self-subsistent. How to deal with this then, when the physical entities and their properties are apparently self-subsistent? I will discuss this in the next post

Resolving The Mind-Body Issue, Part 1

In past posts I said that both epiphenomenalism and physicalism are weird. I also consider substance dualism equally weird. We are seeing too much correspondence between what goes in our conscious lives and what goes on in the brain for there to be place for assuming that there is two different substances. But one doesn’t even need to go too deep into science, I think. One should just check how alcohol affects our consciousness. It doesn’t affect just what I perceive, it changes ME in the most intimate way. Of course, this objection doesn’t render substance dualism impossible, but just weird. (In same way I wasn’t arguing against logical impossibility of the epiphenomenalism and physicalism in previous posts. I was just saying that given their commitments, they are weird). Now, there is also categorical phenomenalism, which says that what we are seeing in the world are the dispositions of the matter to act this or that way, but that “behind” those dispositions there is some ground, something which explains them. And categorical phenomenalism would say that consciousness is connected to this ground. However, as i posted in previous comments, this view doesn’t go far into solving the issues epiphenomenalism has. So, it is as weird to me for same reason as epiphenomenalism is.

So, throwing all those things as insensible proposals, I guess it is only fair that I express an alternative… You will probably see the alternative as weird, but I think this one is weird in different way, not because of its implausibility, but because it requires that we change significantly our suppositions about the things in the world. But, I think, lot of people do recognize the need for a significant change of the paradigm, in order for any plausible explanation of consciousness, so, in the light of that, I think that people are open to new approaches to the problem.

Let me start with little history of the problem, as I see it…

What has been done from the time of Descartes, and what continues to be done those days, and for sure will continue to be done in future is this… People through science are approaching measurable aspects of reality – those which can be quantified independently by other people, and then give different explanations of those aspects in terms of assumed entities. In doing this however, while painting the clean picture of the world, it became custom to push different things we are aware of as in the world, and which don’t easily fit into that picture, under the rug of “mental”. This is very clearly seen in terms of the Lockean distinction of primary and secondary qualities. The primary qualities, or those aspects of the world that which are also susceptible to the measurement are “allowed” in the picture of the world. Those would be some of the things we see like size, solidity, volume, shape, speed, and so on. But, what to do with the secondary qualities like color, taste, texture, sound and so on? We took the easy solution, we assumed this magical place called mind and pushed those into the mind – “We will deal with those later.”. So we got to a clear picture of the world, but on what price? The price is that we have robbed the world from all those “interesting properties”, and put them into the “ourselves”, into the mental.

But, now when we come to the time when we want to include the mind in the world, we are astonished by this metaphysical gap between the clear picture of world, and all this “leftovers” in our mind. A gap which was of our own making! And not just that, but removing those things from the world, and putting them in the mind, necessarily produces some distinction of how we see things and how they really are, and further introduces such entities as “phenomenal experience”. The result is both metaphysical and epistemic gap.

I guess the contours of the proposed change of paradigm that I’m talking about are becoming clear given what I said so far. The proposal is of returning the interesting properties into the world. Returning the colors, sounds and tastes, the acts of seeing, hearing and tasting, the beauty and the ugliness, the good and evil, the language and meaning, and all this other things back to the world.

Given that we removed all those things from the “magical place” called mind, what we get there, again in the world, are subjects which have abilities, abilities to see, hear, smell or in general become aware of all those things, but also which have abilities to consider, wish, plan, and act within that same world. And it is nice to be able to point that the words like “consciousness”, “mind” and “experience” are in non-philosophical speech used in non-Cartesian manner (so which shows that what people usually mean by those words is not inline with those other views on the mind/body issue). I discussed at larger length those issues in previous posts.

In the next post, I will discuss the issues related with returning all these things in the world, and how can they coexist with the clean picture given to us by physics. It is where this paradigm change goes further away from commonly accepted assumptions.

Stay tuned!

Can We See What Will Happen In The Future?

We shouldn’t mix up what is seen with the mechanism of seeing. We shouldn’t mix what is seen with the light waves/photons which are part of this mechanism.

We don’t see light waves/photons.

One possible misconception based on not making this distinction is that because light get focused by our eye lenses and hit our retina, that what we see is light.

This is connected to something else I think. We create a sharp limit between ourselves and the world, on “our body” and “not our body”. And then, we consider the perceptual and other activities as connected merely to something going on in our body. It is “normal” then that seeing then, considered as something which is going on in ourselves, will find it most external point, in the eyes. And we know that in that “perceptual border” what the body get in contact are the light waves. So… if seeing is something that happens in the body, than what is seen will be those light waves.

But when people see a tree, we can’t pretend that the tree isn’t a constituent of “people saw the tree” sentence. The seeing is in the world, and both the tree and the brains of those people are part of that event of seeing a tree.

And when we remove the false idea that what we see are light waves/photons, and see those merely as a part of the mechanism of seeing, we see how it is normal to say that what we see are the objects. Also, the colors of those objects. That just light waves of certain frequency get reflected by certain object, doesn’t mean that it is those lights which are colored. Within the mechanism of seeing, they carry information about the color of the object. We know that even when there is ambient light of some color, e.g. red light, after some time we see blue things as blue, red as red, and yellow as yellow. That even the frequencies of the light waves are predominantly around the frequency that we associate with red. That is because the color opposition mechanism, which is part of the brain, is also part of the seeing. It is not just that event where photons get in contact with the retina.

OK, so we can say this, in the contents of our seeing a tree, we can analyze what goes on in the mechanism of seeing. In that mechanism we find entities which causally connect the thing that is seen to our eyes. We can say that those are the entities that carry some kind of information. Other part of the mechanism of seeing is the extraction of information from this medium in our bodies. (For the record I’m not saying that the seeing IS this extraction of information. Just that this is part of the mechanism of seeing. That is, that we what we find if we analyze the event of us seeing something).

Now, there is different thing we can point to. This extraction of information can be learned or innate. The innate extraction will be related to an innate ability to see certain things. By innate there, I mean both ability that we are born with, but also which develops in early childhood more or less ‘automatically’. There is no reason to put some extra significance on the moment of birth as the last moment for counting something as “innate”. If in the normal development of the person, some ability automatically appears when the person is 40, there is no reason to not count that as innate ability too. (‘Automatic’ would there mean that the causal explanation of appearance of the ability wouldn’t include anything but normal requirements for the development of the person and facts from that person’s body). Anyway, back to the topic…

Now we can ask what are the innate abilities that we have in relation to seeing. Or – what we can see, without having any training? Or differently – when analyzing the working of the brains, what kind of information is automatically extracted there?

I think it is safe to say that we see objects – their three dimensional shape, and their color. That we see their distance from us, and their size.

But also, I think it is safe to say that we see their movement, and as part of it we see where they will go. I don’t think this is problematic. If the brain based on the photons falling on the retina, also extracts information about where the object will go, there is no need to treat the aspect that is related to this information (which is… where the object will go) differently from other aspects as color, size, shape, etc…

What else? Well, in my thinking we probably have abilities to see lot of different things. Like things causally affecting other things, what other people are looking at, and that we can even intentions of other people. I don’t think that those abilities are result of training. I think those are innate, and I would think that good argument could be made for those, based on cog.sci. researches.

Ditching The Experience

I’ve been ranting against the “phenomenal experience” idea on several occasions, and I wanted to write something about it again. But, instead, let me put out a question, and see if someone comes with any answer…

A Short Introduction…

So, the basic idea is that while it might seem that term ‘phenomenal experience’ doesn’t have any metaphysical commitments, and just refers to something that we are all aware to have, I beg to differ. To me it seems that the whole idea of “phenomenal experience” is deeply connected to a Cartesian picture of the world, which continues to live mainly disguised as different forms of representationalism, but also in my humble opinion, even people who don’t accept representationalism usually don’t go far enough, and instead ditching the concept of “phenomenal experience” they struggle to somehow relate “phenomenal experience” with their anti-representationalist view of the world.

As I said in the past, we do have a perfectly good sense of ‘experience’ in which it refers to event or events in the world, in which the subject participates, and by which it is affected somehow (got us thinking, or got us scared, excited, etc…), or from which he learns some things. In the related sense, it is used for the knowledge itself gained from those events (one can have experience with computers, with illegally getting people across borders, and so on).

However notice that this traditional meaning of ‘experience’ is not what is usually meant by “phenomenal experience” or “conscious experience”. When philosophers speak about ‘phenomenal experience’ it means that it is separated from the events taken as experiences. It is spoken thus of what it is like to have a certain experience, that there are some facts about the experience (separated from the facts about the experience taken as an event), about our ability to get knowledge of those facts through introspection, and so on.

The Question:
So, the question would be this: Can you point to one fact which would be fact about the so-called phenomenal experience, but not fact about the events in which we are participating?


Here is one example so you get the idea:
Ph-Ex talk:
When we watch some picture, we have certain phenomenal experience, and there are certain facts about that phenomenal experience (like presence or absence of some object). But, while there is this fact about phenomenal experience, we might not actually notice this fact about the phenomenal experience. Hence, in this “ph-ex talk”, this shows that our introspection is not infallible – we make mistakes about our own conscious or phenomenal experience.
Normal talk:
Sometimes, even we watch in the direction of some object, we don’t see it.

The Value of The Zombie Argument

Roman over at The Ends of Thought joined the zombie party. He discusses some of the issues that I mentioned like the meaning of physical, and few other interesting metaphysical issues. Now, as I mentioned, while I think that epiphenomenalism is weird, I still think that zombie argument is very nice. That is, IF we don’t require too much from it. And that “too much” is – to tell us some new facts about the world. But I will argue that what it CAN do, is much simpler but nearly as good – avoid trying to push onto the world our conceptual frameworks which are contradictory in themselves.

(Gollum: Let us go into discussing Hegel after saying this! Smeagol:We can’t, we are discussing very specific topic. Gollum:Discussss Hegel! Smeagol:Get hold of ourselves!)

Let’s say that we mark with Ip a reasonably clear and distinct idea of what “physical stuff” is.

Let’s also take the assumption Q that…

Q: Every observable and identifiable phenomenon about the bodies of conscious people is fully reducible to patterns of behavior of some“physical stuff” (which may also include the “stuff” from the surrounding) behaving according to some physical laws (or governed by physical laws maybe).

Then physicalism says that we can deduce a priori from the facts about this physical stuff (Fpi), the fact if there is conscious experience “going along with the body”, and exactly what kind of conscious experience there is. (Let’s call those deduced facts Fc)

We can say then, that for some Ip, there is no way that one can a priori deduce Fc from Fpi. For example if for Ip we take something like elementary particles whose interaction is governed by physical laws, it is pretty clear (seems to me) that what can be deduced from Fpi is just patterns of behavior of those elementary particles, and maybe some statistical facts. Nothing in Ip comes close to what we have in mind when we talk about Fc. The two things are incommensurable.

But given that we granted Q, and given we have such Ip that Fc doesn’t a priori follows from Fpi, it follows that even just Fc were the case, we would get a person (or persons) behaving as we normally do, without the consciousness being there.

However for reasons stated in previous posts, this is very implausible consequence – We aren’t allowed to explain our behavior (like people discussing consciousness) by appeal to our awareness that we are conscious, as only Fpi are needed to explain our behavior. And, as I argued in previous posts, it is hard to see what kind of alternative explanation one can give of this behavior.

In this way, zombie-arguments I think because they come to a view which is hard to be accepted, should be seen as a reductio ad absurdum of the certain combination of the assumption Q and certain idea Ip.

Because of that I think that zombie argument (or similar arguments like Jackson’s knowledge argument) is valuable, because it creates a framework in which we can test if our ideas Ip of what “physical stuff” is do make sense, given that we also accept that they should satisfy the assumption Q. (Of course it might turn out that it turns out that that specific role in Q will be played by something which we might hard to name ‘physical stuff’, but that is separate issue)

So, to repeat, while zombie argument can’t serve to tell us some contingent facts about the world by itself, it can prevent trying to push onto the world conceptual frameworks which are contradictory in themselves.

On This Date, 28 Years Ago…

Died the great chef Jean Paul Sartre.

A part from the linked cookbook/diary…

November 15
Today I made a Black Forest cake out of five pounds of cherries and a live beaver, challenging the very definition of the word cake. I was very pleased. Malraux said he admired it greatly, but could not stay fo dessert. Still, I feel that this may be my most profound achievement yet, and have resolved to enter it in the Betty Crocker Bake-Off.

By some coincidence, I yesterday watched episode on Sartre from BBC’s Human, All Too Human, available on YouTube (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6). (The same person have uploaded also the episodes on Heidegger and Nietzsche)

What ‘Physical’ Means?

When we speak about the distinction between physicalism and other views on the mind-body issue, the understanding the distinction depends on what people mean by “physical”. So for example, when physicalist says that there is no difference without physical difference, or when dualist says that there is something besides physical things, what do they mean by “physical”?

To make sense of the distinction, we need a reasonably clear and reasonably distinct idea related to ‘physical’.

So, in the past post I proposed that the idea of people relate to ‘physical’ when they get into the discussion about mind-body issue is that of elementary particles affecting each other as determined by physical laws.

And given this idea of particles which show certain behavior, the claim that one can a priori deduce such thing as presence of conscious experience, or the exact type of conscious experience, from the patterns of behavior of those particles, is weird. It is weird, as I said, because through a priori deduction, we can’t get from that particular idea (of patterns of behavior of particles) to nothing but facts about those patterns. So, it seems, physicalists haven’t moved away from behaviorism, but they moved into something even more weird. The consciousness is supposed to be now, not a name for particular behavior of the whole person, but for a particular patterns of behavior of the elementary particles.

But, now, the physicalist will say – “IT IS not just an idea. It is real particles, or.. it is real physical stuff, and what you hold in your mind when you think of it, is not all there is to it!”

And really most of the arguments against Zombie argument object this relation between what we think and what is the case. It is said that we can’t say what is possible on base of what is conceivable, because we don’t know a lot of things about this physical stuff.

Brandon at Siris, in his recent post An Anti-Zombie-Argument Argument for example says:

(3) To know that no part of description A entails any part of description B we must know that no part of either description is overlooked.
: Suppose part of the description is overlooked. Then, for all we know, the part of A that entails B may be that part of the description that is overlooked.

But, now here we swapped the tables for a moment. Because, we point that physicalism is a claim that one can a priori deduce the presence of consciousness, and exactly what kind of consciousness there will be, just given the physical facts. So, we can point now, that we can choose:

Either we can say that we have some reasonably clear and distinct idea of what “physical” is, in which case, we CAN discuss the possibility of such a priori deduction, or we can give up making distinction between views like physicalism, dualism, idealism, and such… And having said that, I again think that what most people have on mind when they talk about “physical” in relation to this issue is the idea of the elementary particles whose behavior is governed by physical laws.

I want to explore this issue of meaning of ‘physical‘ for physicalists somewhat more. I’m not in doubt that for physicalists ‘physical‘ can be taken to mean ‘everything real and actual‘, or that they equate those two categories. But as a base for distinction of the physicalism from dualism, and other things, this kind of definition of physical just won’t cut it.

Also, I guess that for physicalists, ‘whatever we perceive through seeing, touch, etc…‘ is a category which coincides with ‘physical’. But then, again, same as the previous, it either makes the whole distinction of different views as impossible, or is just begging the question against those other views.

Much better I think is to connect of ‘physical‘ with what can be subject of physical laws. That would allow for physicalism to keep the doors open for “overlooked parts” that Brandon mentioned. But, it should be kept on mind ,that if physicalist points in this direction, it can’t be just any overlooked thing that will change the situation. It has to be something relevant, and not just yet another property that can be quantified. Such “overlooked things” won’t change anything, we will still be deducing just facts about complex behavioral patterns. And also if the physicalist points to some different phenomena like quantum weirdness, and some such things as the things which were overlooked, it imply also that these phenomena have some role in existence of the conscious experience.


Chris at Mixing Memory presents a very cool re: Your Brains song (“as if”) performed by zombies , and
Clark also wrote a post about zombie argument, but in context of more general analysis of those kind of arguments.