On ‘Consciousness’

Eric at The Splintered Mind discussed few days ago the issue of defining consciousness. I left few comments on that post, but I will try here to expand on what I said there…

When in math or logic we do (or follow) some complicated proof, as we go further and further from the starting assumptions, we loose more and more the direct comprehension of the relations. And while at the start, we had a full understanding of the premises and in that understanding we took them as self-evident, we don’t trust the later conclusions because of such comprehension. Instead because of the limits of our power of comprehension we have to limit our understanding to each of the steps (or to few steps of the proof in time), and our decision to take the step n as right, we have to rely on our memory that says that what we’ve done until the step n-1 is right too.

Because of this, when in some step we come to some contradiction, or something which looks wrong or weird, we can’t immediately see why this is wrong, or can’t immediately see where it comes from. We have to retrace all the steps in the proof, and find where (if anywhere) we made a mistake, or in order to understand where the specific thing in the later steps comes from. Doing this, we get better understanding of the specific thing which appears in the proof, and its relation to the other things.

I think that this kind of relying on previous wisdom, or previous understanding happens in the case of language. We do become aware of certain things by ourselves, for example individual things like that tree over there, or that kid over there, or multitudes of things which share certain similarity – like trees or kids or cats. But the proper names and common nouns which mean those things of which we are directly aware, are just small parcel of the words in our language. Not just that the language, as part of the communication and other practices in the society will need to reflect those uses that go beyond mere informing about facts, and hence beyond mere referring to individuals or multitudes of which we are aware of, but also, it will necessarily reflect the thoughts of the people directed towards the understanding the world.

In such sense the appearance of new words, and change of the usage of the old ones, will also be related to the new stances and changes of the stances towards the world. The words and their usage, in this way, will be incorporating the understandings (and misunderstandings for that matter) of the past times. So, we may make analogy with the logic and math proofs in that when we use a word today, we must have in mind that it might not refer to something that we are directly aware of, but that in using it we might rely on the previous (mis)understandings of the world, or in general rely on historical acceptance of a need for a new word, or new meaning because of certain use. Because of that, similarly how in the proofs, we might not be able to understand something in the later steps without retracing the previous ones, in the case of language, when we come to a problem with the meaning of some word, we shouldn’t only analyze and think what we mean by the word, or how we use it, but also we sometimes will have to look into history, to see the motivations for introduction, or for changes of usage of the word.

An important thing to keep in mind, when trying to think about types of words like “consciousness” through this historical prism is that the usual (or default) context in which the words appeared is the naive-realistic picture of the world. That is, the pre-scientific picture, in which there was no problem of incompatibility of physical and mental. Though, it is questionable if the scientific picture does have a big effect on the everyday language as it is today, given that we still live our lives within that naive-realist picture. Some scientist, or some philosopher might in his talks discuss things like primary-secondary qualities, or problem of other minds, or representationalism, but I think it will be hard to find anybody that in everyday practical matters, in his everyday practices, will not think and act in naive-realist way.

What I mean by the stance of the naive-realism, BTW, is the view where we basically see the colors, and the shapes, and the sounds, and so on, as in the world, and we think of ourselves and others as subjects which can be aware of those things, which further remember, want to do something, take part in practices and so on. It is, I would say, the natural stance or common sense stance towards the world.

So, in this historical analysis, we also should expect to see two relatively separate treads. One of the common language usage, and another one which starts with the common sense usage but then transfers to the philosophical usage. I think, we will find that it is the philosophical usage that usually is burdened with theories and radically depart from the traditional usage, and that everyday usage has stayed in the vicinity of the traditional usage, but that is beside the point…

Anyway, I think that for good understanding of what we mean by ‘consciousness’, we need to understand all this. Because, while in philosophy it is often presumed that by ‘consciousness’ we are talking about certain phenomenon of which we are all aware, as Eric pointed in that post, if you try to pin point what this phenomenon is, you will encounter problems. Can you point to consciousness? can you give some description of some characteristic property, so that a person who is outside of philosophy will understand what philosophy means by ‘consciousness’?

If we look at the everyday usage of the word, but also at the etymology of the word, we will find that it is mostly used in the sense of ‘awareness’. Today, I think it is mostly used to refer to a person being unconscious, that is – in a state where the person isn’t aware of anything, and this goes with the traditional use of it as ‘knowing, aware’. But notice that in this usage, the word has nothing to do with colors, sounds, shapes, nor with things like concepts.

But in the philosophical usage, I think the word got different life. And mainly because of the advances of the sciences. Those started to explain different phenomena in the world, but the question of the phenomena of which we are aware, but which don’t seem to be explained by those sciences appeared. The qualities were differentiated to primary and secondary, the issue of concepts which are not reducible analytically to the terms of those sciences (like bachelors, chairs, and books) also appeared. And in such way, a need appeared in philosophy to group all those phenomena. As the traditional usage of ‘mind’ or ‘consciousness’ was mostly inline with some of those phenomena which philosophy grouped in this negative approach, it seems to me philosophy appropriated those words, and related it with this group which was mostly negatively defined.

That this is so, we can point to the terms like ‘qualia’ and ‘conscious experience’ both of which don’t have relatives in the common sense world view. They are simply not something of which we are “directly aware”. They are result of the mentioned theoretical stance towards the world. In the naive realism of the everyday experience, the colors, and sounds are in the world, and the experience is something which happens in the world, and in which subjects participate. Given that terms like ‘qualia’ or ‘conscious experience’ are one of the central notions in the philosophical notion which is related to the word ‘consciousness’, I think we can see the mentioned negative determination of what is meant by ‘consciousness’ in philosophy. What we have, I think, is a gerrymandered term, which includes different kinds of phenomena which are related because of our theoretical picture of how subjects relate to the world.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with words having special usage in philosophy. However, what can be problematic, is mixing of the phenomena of which we are aware, and uncritically transferring this ‘givenness’ to the notion as used in philosophy. In such way we may get into mistakes of taking as self-evident something which is really theoretical.

Apart from that, I think there is one more point to draw on this – It is important to know what we mean by the words, and related to this – to know what we are thinking of. However, we shouldn’t expect that in all the cases the understanding of the meaning can be done by “peeking in our own minds” and giving a definition through sufficient and necessary conditions, or by ostensive definitions. Instead, sometimes to understand what we mean by the word, we need to understand a wider context of the usage of the word, and the needs which resulted with the usage of the word as we have it today. For more discussion related to this, you may want to check earlier posts on the words like ‘books‘, ‘chairs‘ and ‘bachelors‘.

Epic Battle, and Potential Rock Band

My apologies to Richard Brown and Richard Chappell but I can’t but have fun in their continuous “heated exchange” over who is misunderstanding whom. After discussing this matter on their own blogs, now they’ve exchanged few shots on Colin’s blog. So, I started thinking how it would be even more fun if they could make this into some kind of epic battle, by doing a quick exchange on random blogs with few witty insults to each other here and there. You know… it would spice up the philosophical blogosphere, and it would be nice refreshing from different topics. Then, as they get more widely known, they could think of two offensive words for epiphenomenalists and physicalists, and do a remake of ‘Don’t call me Whitey, Nigger’ song… Drat, I don’t have enough sense of humor to think of alternative title myself… But you know the song, right?

Oh, and I think I have the name of the band – Epistemic Peers

Perpetual Illusion And Abilities

I keep thinking about the perpetual illusion scenario. That is the scenario where baby’s brain is put into a vat and connected to a sources of random electrical impulses. It so happens that by mere chance, the impulses happen to be such that the baby is under illusion of living normal life within society. So, in few last posts I was defending the possibility that I am such brain, and I also was discussing different issues related to this, like:

  1. How is this possible? I pointed that while the subject doesn’t become aware of anything real while subject of perpetual illusion, she may become aware of different possibilities. For example, she may become of the possibility that there are things, movement, multitude of things, possibility for there to be certain number of things, and so on…
  2. Related to this, I pointed to the principle that if she can think of those things, she can also think a priori about those things. The easiest to point to was the example with the numbers, where proofs of mathematical theorems that she learns (comprehends) while being subject of perpetual illusion, will be the same proofs that we comprehend in real world.

Here, I want to discuss another issue related to the scenario, and that is, if we become aware of those possibilities while not being presented with real instances of those possibilities, does that mean that we have innate ideas of those possibilities (e.g. possibilities of things, motion, numbers, language, colors, and so on)?

It is pretty attractive idea I think. We would say that because in the illusion those notions were not present, it can’t be that those notions came from “outside”. So, those ideas must have been in “our minds” even before we became aware of them. I guess, for the last sentence to make more sense, we would be inclined to say that we remember them, or recognize them. That would take care of the issue of how could they be “in our minds” but we weren’t aware of them.

I don’t buy this story. When I become aware of something new, I don’t remember it. It is a fact that I was never aware of it before. And in the phenomenology, I don’t experience it as something that I recognize, but I’m usually mesmerized – I feel that my awareness of the world is getting bigger – I’m now aware of something that I wasn’t aware of, something which I had no idea of before, something that I wasn’t expecting before also. Take a case of the subject of perpetual illusion for the first time seeing an illusion of red thing. From that experience she becomes aware of the possibility of there being red things (even not seeing a real red thing), but is she really remembering the possibility that there be red things? I think not, I think this new color is that – new color for this subject. It is not something which was there in her mind the whole time, it is something which she became aware of only in virtue of this experience.

So, the phenomenological description doesn’t imply at all that we are remembering or recognizing in some way those notions. We become aware of those in virtue of the experiences. But, we are back to the problem that those notions (or as I said possibilities) are not there in the experience itself.

To me it seems that good way to approach this issue is to relate this to innate abilities. While we might not have those notions in ourselves as such, we might be born with the abilities to become aware of those things (‘be born with’ should be taken in a loose way, as those abilities might be developed also automatically later in life, e.g. in early childhood). It seems that this is pretty common-sense approach. We aren’t aware of things before we are born, but when we are born we can become aware of the things through our perception. It is our perception which is this ability to become aware of things. We also have the abilities to become aware of colors, sounds, movement, multitudes of things, numbers of things, and so on…

This can be related to this different approach to the issue of other minds, that I’m pointing to from time to time. One of the approaches to other minds issues (the issue of how do we know that other people are conscious) is analyzed through the idea of theories which relate the behavior of the people as a thing that we see directly to the “invisible minds” which are behind those actions. But, why not say in this case also that we are born with the ability to see subjects qua subjects. To see them as acting with intentions, to see them as aware of things that we are aware of, and so on (one can point to the researches here which show that we can be very precise in figuring out where the other person is looking at.)…

Anyway, back to the topic. The general idea is then, that our abilities are such that we easily become aware of some things. Be that the objects around us, where they move, what other people look at, what they are doing and so on. Simply said, we are born as beings which can become aware of things. And this our ability is limited, and focused – we become aware of some things more easily than of another things.

But we are not out of the woods yet, as even we allow that we are born with abilities to become aware of those notions, it doesn’t answer the question of how come we become aware of those, when they are not even there (in the case of perpetual illusion)

I will think/write on it in the next post I guess…

What is the Nature of Counterexamples to Analytic Truths?

Sometimes when someone, in order to show that there are analytic truths, proposes some sentence as an example of analytic truth, other people give counterexamples to it to show how the sentence can’t be analytic truth.

For example if I say that ‘if a male is unmarried then he is a bachelor’, one can give such counterexample by saying ‘A unmarried homosexual man who lives with his partner in a long-term relationship is unmarried male, but he is not a bachelor’.

But if this is to count as a counterexample, it needs to be true. But what kind of truth is it? It doesn’t seem that it is an empirical truth. Is it analytic? Does this mean that the counterexamples to examples of analytic truths are not of any value in the arguing against possibility of analytic truths?

But then, how does one respond to those examples, if not by giving counterexamples?

Say that someone gives example ‘if a male is unmarried then he is a bachelor’ as an example of analytic sentence. And we don’t give counterexamples, but just say that in light of future experiences, we might encounter a case of an unmarried male which we wouldn’t classify as a bachelor.

But then can’t we ask… in virtue of what we wouldn’t classify that person as a bachelor? It surely can’t be just in virtue of simple ‘thisness’ (to use Hegelian phrase). There must be a reason why we won’t classify him as a bachelor. But then, if we put those reasons in a sentence, wouldn’t this sentence fall again under same case as previous counterexamples?

The Meaning of Few Different Words Within the Illusionary World

For the few past posts I was thinking/writing on the issue of how I could be a brain in a vat, to which random electrical impulses are fed, but so it happens that by mere chance, I’m under illusion of living a normal life in society.

Keeping inline with my externalistic preferences, I said that while in the vat the subject can’t become aware of anything real, she can become aware of different possibilities. She will become aware of possibilities of objects, multitudes of objects, multitude of objects sharing some similarity (kinds), possibility of other subjects perceiving, possibility for open possibilities in the world, related to this acting and practices, related to this possibility of language as practice, and so on.

I want here to add few thoughts on the words used to describe the scenario, like ‘brain’, ‘vat’, ‘electrical’, ‘impulses’, ‘chance’, ‘life’, ‘society’, ‘illusion’, and so on. I want to comment on the issue if those words could have same meaning unrelated to the fact if I am a subject of perpetual illusion or not.

‘Vat’ seems pretty unproblematic. A large container used for storing or holding liquids. Vats are surely not natural kinds, nor is having idea of one dependent on there being one. I guess in general for artifacts we could say this… for one to create (engineer) something new, one needs to be able to think about the possibility of such thing, even before there are such things. The issue is though, how abstract those possibilities are. On one side we could have abstract things like for example Turing machine, with abstract algorithms (e.g. Quick Sort), but maybe the idea of vat (the awareness that there could be vats) is little more problematic, as it depends on the idea of liquids. I don’t know… I don’t see liquidity as problematic either, it seems to me that it describes a possible property of a substance, and that we could distinguish the liquidity as property from the reason for liquidity. And liquidity as a property there is related more with what how the substance behaves, and as such we can become aware of possibility of such behavior.

Brains… What do we mean by ‘brains’? Generally, we tend to find this organ in humans and other animals higher animals’ heads. So, I think we need to put attention to ‘humans’, ‘animals’, ‘organ’ and ‘head’. ‘Humans’ in one sense are a specific natural kind, and as I said, I’m inclined to think that our words within the vat that was supposed to mean natural kinds can’t refer to real natural kinds (as they weren’t based to real multitudes – so similarly to how proper names can’t mean real things, as they weren’t based on those real things). But, from another sense, ‘humans’ might be taken to mean – the species to which I belong. And the idea of ‘species’ along with the idea of ‘animals’ and ‘kinds of animals’ seems much more abstract that it would refer to the same thing, be I under perpetual illusion or not. Of course, it might be also that for the case we have here, we don’t need to go as far to other animals, and kinds of animals, but just to think of the kind to which I as a subject belong (defined thought the possibilities of becoming aware of all those different things, and possibilities for acting), and further the idea of having body, and having head, and having something in the head which is related to being a subject.

‘Electrical’ seems very problematic, as it refers to a specific natural phenomenon, which isn’t much a specific property of the things, but something that we figured out through science. I don’t know though… The physical laws take very abstract form, and the notions which are related to the physical theories (like atoms etc…) are also kind of abstract.

The possibility of other subjects is i think non-problematical, and the possibilities for those subjects to act in different ways when together, including possibility of communication, different social relations and so on – I think if one becomes aware of those as possibilities within the vat, and if thinks of those within the vat, those are the same things of which we may think of. I think it is similar to the case with engineering I described before. The communication, or different ways of acting towards other subjects are I think possibilities of which one might become aware even before those ways of acting towards others exist. For sure, we might be inclined biologically to take some of those ways, but we also think and invent new ways of how to relate to others, how to solve problems in our relations, how to better do different things, and so on. And if some person becomes aware of some of those possibilities within the vat, I think he can then, when outside of the vat share the same ideas with others (real others).

I guess it is much more important what the scenario meant to point to, and that is a certain possibility which is more abstract than the words that were used to describe the scenario. And the possibility is that I as a being which can think, perceive and so on, can be in fact subject of perpetual illusion. And ‘illusion’ is I think less problematic in this sense. As I described in some past post, it is about possibility that the subject can’t distinguish between two different experiences in which he takes part. And I think the brain in a vat which is under perpetual illusion, and us, when thinking of illusions are thinking of the same thing.

Anyway, after I noted in last post that there might be some problems in the details, I thought it would be interesting to do some analysis, so… that’s about it. Probably, if nobody objects, I will have another post (or two) about the perpetual illusion scenario.

Doing Metaphysics In A Vat

Starting with the scenario from previous posts…

A baby’s brain is put in a vat, and connected with wires to a generator of random electrical impulses. By mere chance, though random, those electrical impulses happen to be such that the subject which is related to the brain is under an illusion of living what we would call normal life within a society. (If you think that other parts of the body are needed for such an illusion to be possible, just imagine the whole body in the vat, like in Matrix)…

I don’t see anything contradictory with the possibility that I, myself am subject related to such brain (or body) in a vat.

Accepting this means that I accept that whatever I said, has same meaning, unrelated to the fact if I am living real life or pure-chance-random-generators life. And that I can think of this issue, unrelated to the fact if I am subject of illusion or not. (Though of course, there are some problems with the details here. First there might not be any electrical force in the real world, or there might be no such things as brains, but I think that what is important that the general idea of being a subject of perpetual illusion is the same thing be I subject of perpetual illusion or not.)

As one, if I am subject of illusion the things I’ve seen are not real. So, the people, objects, animals, etc… were not real. But for me to be able to think and say this, I need to have a valid notion of ‘real thing’, to distinguish those from ‘illusions’, and so on. The problem is of course, if nothing I’ve seen is real, how can I have notions like those.

In the past post, I presented the idea, that while I never became aware of anything real while subject of perpetual hallucination, I’ve become aware of possibilities of different things. It is interesting, relating to the issue of what kind of notions I need to have in order to be able to say that I might have been subject of perpetual illusion, to think about what kinds of possibilities I might be aware… So, here is some list of important notions, I think I am having, unrelated to the issue if I was subject of perpetual illusion or not…

I must have had become aware of the possibility of objects, multitudes of things, kinds of things, perceiving things, others perceiving things (by ‘others’, I don’t mean necessarily people, at least not in biological sense, as there might not be such things as people), possibility of open possibilities in the world and acting in order to actualize a possibility, possibility of communication as a way of acting (in different ways – like to communicate what one knows, to ask, to order, and so on), possibility of all kind of different social relations.

We can contrast those things with a)I have simply been wrong in using name to refer to the illusionary thing, as there wasn’t anything there to which I was referring – I was simply wrong. It was similar to fictional things, and as such as much something in real life is alike that illusionary thing, I can’t say that I meant that real thing, by using the name. b)Also, to some amount when talking about multitudes of illusionary things sharing some similarity, as much the similarity can be seen as possibility, it is questionable how much to this notion it is critical that the multitude is seen as a real multitude, about which we can figure out more truths. So, I would be inclined that in lot of cases to say that if we referred to illusionary kinds, those words can’t mean real kinds, like lemons, water, and so on…

Given this contrast, I want to propose this principle (let us call it… metaphysics while in illusion principle, or maybe better just P1):

P1: We can think a priori about (and only about) things of which we can think of, even if we were subjects of the perpetual illusion scenario.

This will include notions like object, multitude of objects, kinds, possibilities and acting, society, practices, communication, numbers, change (also time and space), good and evil, and all those other notions, that a subject could think about even living life under perpetual illusion, and which are the same things that we (living real lives) are thinking of.

So, what would be the argument for P1. Let me attempt to give an argument…

Given that I can think of something while subject of perpetual illusion that other people which live real lives are thinking about, there is nothing which would determine the reference to that thing which is not already there, when I have the thing in my mind

Given, that we have this thing (this notion) clearly before our mind, we can then try to figure out possibilities and necessities within or related to that notion.

OK, that was I guess kind of a bad argument (in the sense that I don’t think it is very convincing), but besides the argument let me also point to one case of notions on which lot of people might agree with P1. That is the case of mathematics… While I would think it is pretty straightforward that science done under illusion can’t be real science or tell us anything about the world, the case with mathematics seems different. I can think about triangles, angles, sums, and so on while in ‘hallucination-world’, about the same triangles people think in the real world. But also if I become aware of the proof of Pythagorean theorem, because some illusionary guy on illusionary place seemed to teach it to me, it won’t make the knowledge I gain in such way wrong. What is important that I understood and comprehended the Pythagorean theorem (even as it happened – as a result of very peculiar events). So, while specific case, I think this can nicely pump your intuition into accepting P1.

Becoming Aware Through Illusion

I wrote about the following scenario in last post…

A baby’s brain is put in a vat, and connected with wires to a generator of random electrical impulses. By mere chance, though random, those electrical impulses happen to be such that the subject which is related to the brain is under an illusion of living what we would call normal life within a society. (If you think that other parts of the body are needed for such an illusion to be possible, just imagine the whole body in the vat, like in Matrix).

I don’t see anything wrong with the possibility that I, myself am a subject related to such brain (or body) in a vat.

Personally I think that central notion in the relation between the subject and the world is the notion of awareness. First, we can think only about things of which we became aware of, things that somehow appeared as intentional content of our perceptual or other cognitive acts. And second in other as basic requirements for thinking and communication in general, the intentional content needs to be intrasubjectively and intersubjectively transcendental – i.e. it should be such that I can think about it multiple times, and also such that other people can think about it (the same thing) also. Given those requirements those things of which we think can’t be literally in me, or can’t be literally in my mind, and I think again the notion of awareness nicely captures that relation in which the person gets acquainted with something which is not himself, but which can become now subject of his thinking.

So, for me, in the case of the vat-scenario, the questions relate to the awareness of the person related to the brain in a vat…

What can be said about the awareness of the person in the scenario described? If we allow that the person is aware of something (minimally allowing that I’m such brain in a vat, I should be aware of enough things so that I could understand such scenario), then how could he become aware of those things even he was subject of perpetual illusion?

I guess first it is straightforward to say, that if I’m the person subject to such illusion, that nothing I have seen is real. That is, none of the people I have seen, none of the animals, none of the objects, plants and so on is real. So, it can’t be that I become perceptually aware of any person, animal, plant, object, and so on, through my life under perpetual illusion. And yet, for me to even say what I said, I need to be aware of the notions of objects, animals, plants and people, (and of course the notions of illusion, brain, vat, random electrical signals, chance, and so on)…

In the discussion of the meaning of common nouns, however I was saying that there are no concepts in our heads, that are meaning of those nouns, but that their genesis in our becoming aware of multiplicity or possibility of multiplicity of things which show certain similarity. So, in this case, what I should say is that though I never become aware of the things belonging to any of the kinds of things I named, I became aware of the possibility of multitude of things which would show certain kind of similarity – that is, I became aware of a possibility of kinds of things. What about specific kinds?

I would say yes. Given that the similarities in question are possible, I became aware of possible specific kinds, and when I talk about trees, animals, humans, and so on, while those might not be multitudes in the real world, they are possible multitudes which share certain possible similarity. Hence, I think there is nothing problematic for me to think about those kinds, and talk about them, even I never became aware of anything which belongs to them.

Interesting question here appears if it might turn out there to be real multitudes of things which relate to the kinds that I became aware of while subject of perpetual illusion. I would think that some minimal overlapping has to be possible, if I want to still claim that I could be a brain in such a vat.

Of course, if we follow Kripke and Putnam, even I became aware of possibility of some stuff which I call ‘water’ while under perpetual illusion, it won’t be true that I became aware of water. That is, not just that I haven’t seen any water while under perpetual illusion (which is really non-problematic I think), but because I haven’t seen any water (nor I’ve been in contact to anybody who has seen water), it can’t be that I can be aware of water. I guess, I need to be careful with my intuitions on this point, as it is easy for them to be tricked by the complexity of the scenario. I will continue thinking about this issue in the next post…

Cartesian Externalism

I never saw anything contradictory with the idea that we might be subjects trapped in Matrix type scenario – a brains in vats scenario. Really, given the developments of things like computer generated virtual realities, in which we immerse ourself through gaming, it is easy to imagine the possibility of the simulations being so good that they are indistinguishable from our experiences in real life. And I can’t see anything contradictory with the idea that my body when I was a baby was hooked up to some virtual reality.

Now, there are arguments like Putnam’s one against brain in vats, which are related to certain theory of meaning of the words, but the possibility of virtual reality is so clear, seems to me, that denying the possibility that we are brains in vats on base of that argument, seems to me on par with denying that there is movement based on Zeno’s argument. Certainly there is value in Zeno’s paradoxes, but the value is not in proving that motion is impossible.

Anyway, not just that I don’t see anything contradictory in me being brain in a vat, which is placed within a virtual reality controlled by machines, but I don’t see anything contradictory with the idea that my brain was put in a vat, and that what it was and is getting from the inputs are signals generated by a random process, and that only by mere chance those inputs ended up such that I’m under the illusion that I’m a subject with a life I have, with wife, with kids, with all those experiences.

I think that even this turns out to be true, and every individual thing to which I was acquainted in my life turns out to have been an illusion, I will still have idea of wives, bachelors, chairs, books, philosophy, vats, brains, language, and so on… And, if by mere chance, it also turns out that these illusions were fully inline with what is there really in the world, my intended meanings in the virtual reality, will be fully inline with the meanings in this real world. I will be able to express my previous thoughts (the same thoughts I already had) about bachelors, about books, about brains, language, and so on…

What is interesting to me is how to relate my thinking that those kinds of scenario are possible with some of my externalist inclinations.

As I said, I believe that there is no such thing as ‘phenomenal experience’, and that ‘experience’ properly (and traditionally) refers to the events in the world in which we participate, and by which we are affected or from which we learn, OR (in alternative sense) it refers to the knowledge gained in that way.

Further, related to this, I don’t think there are concepts, if by concepts we mean some constituents of our thinking which would be some things in our heads. As said, I think that words like ‘bachelors’, ‘chairs’, ‘books’ and so on, refer to multitudes of things which are part of certain (and real at that) phenomenon in the world – a phenomenon of which we are aware. (I don’t think that concepts are Platonic ideas neither.)

I would also take externalist position on words meanings also, as I think they only have meaning in the context of language as part of the practices in the society, so again, would take externalist stance on this also.

So, I guess there is some kind of tension between those views. A very interesting dialectic here.

Onion Story Mistakingly Published in Wall Street Journal

Professor threatens suing her students cause “they’d argue with your ideas” (ht: Wide Scope)

Related stories:
Guy in philosophy class needs to shut the fuck up
Mad Lit Professor Puts Finishing Touches On Bloomsday Device
Professor pressured to sleep with student

EDIT:Oops. Fixed the link to the first Onion story.
ANOTHER EDIT:Changed the link to point to the original story
(I promise I’ll get this post right soon)

On ‘What Something Is’

Just few thoughts related to the last post.

In it I said that we give a name to the notion that we “have in mind”. (as I mentioned in last post, this phrase – “have something in mind”, should be taken for what it is – a metaphor, which means – to think of something in context of some act, be it talking, analyzing, etc…)

Those notions come from experience, but not as a bunch of facts, nor as definitions. Those are new things from the world of which we become aware. Be it movement, money, books, colors, coffee, and so on…

While the notions don’t come in form of facts/propositions/definitions, the awareness of those notions is not just an “empty” causal relation. When we have a specific notion in mind, it is in specific way that notion, and not some other that we are thinking of. And there are possible determinations of those notions – from the notion one can abstract/focus on/isolate different aspects. Those determinations are what the thing IS.

‘A is B’, is a relation between the subject A and the predicate B. The predicate doesn’t tell us everything about the subject. Cows are animals, red is a color, that apple is red, the weather is hot (today), and so on… We are left with the predicate when we abstract from some things about the subject, and focus on others.

However, what we had in mind when baptizing is the notion itself, and not some determination of the notion. And in that sense, we can safely say, that what we had in mind is more (as the full-blooded notion which stands as a subject in the mentioned subject/predicate judgments) than what that something is (in terms of different predicates that can be given to it).

This first ‘is’ is not an ‘is’ of predication, but of identity, where the notion is self-identical, and different from other notions (“Something is what it is”). The second ‘is’ is the ‘is’ of predication, of determining the notion in different ways.

Notions, Determinations, A Priori and Definitions

  1. The thought (as a proposition, true or false) is always about something.
  2. It is about something that we are thinking of (as subjective process directed towards that something). [more on thinking/thought distinction here]
  3. When we are thinking about something, we have that certain something “in mind” (not in Cartesian sense, of course).
  4. Be it individual or a notion, it is something that we became aware of through our experience.
  5. By becoming aware of some notion, we have “on our hands” not just simple fact, not just a some causally based reference.
  6. Notions are not collections of facts. (Facts are impossible without notions.)
  7. This ability to be aware of a notion, to “have it in mind” (to think about it), to remember it, and so on, is what makes it possible to figure out new propositions (new determinations) about the notion.
  8. Because the determinations, while not coming with the notion (notion is not collection of facts), are possible or not depending on the notion.
  9. As such, a priori understanding, is not understanding which relates two sides – it is an understanding of the possible determinations within one and the same notion.
  10. As determinations are something which is only possible or not, they can’t straightly be “read of” from the notion itself.
  11. Thinking needs to inquire if certain determination is or isn’t applicable. It is speculative process, and it can be easy, but also very hard. (think of different proofs in math, where two determinations of some notion are related)

Relation to “definitions”:

  1. When we become aware of a notion, we can “have it in mind”, we can think of it.
  2. We can baptize and refer to whatever we “have in mind” (again, this shouldn’t be read literally, it is just a common phrase which is used in normal speech. In any case, to not be misunderstood I put it in quotes).
  3. In becoming aware of a notion, we aren’t becoming aware of some kind of definition.
  4. What is called definitions are pointers – it is using some characteristic determination of the notion, in order to remind someone of the notion. However no characteristic determination is the notion itself.
  5. That’s why definitions can be hard too. They require the same kind of thinking which is present in the figuring out of a priori truths.

Update of the Philosophy Videos Page

I updated the page with online videos of philosophy lectures, with following:

At Young Philosophers:

  1. A Priori Skepticism – James Beebe
  2. The Fine Tuning Argument for the Existence of God – James Beebe
  3. Is Morality Real, or Do We Make It Up? – Joshua Thurow

Also from the comments of that page…

  1. Debbie pointed to this course on Death by Shelly Kagan
  2. And a link to a Gresham College Lectures and Events, which Tjh recommended in the comments long time ago, but I never got to pick out the philosophically interesting ones. There are many lectures there on all kind of topics.

Resolving The Mind-Body Issue, Few Additional Notes and Links

After a short series in which I explain my views on the mind-body issue, let me as a kind of overview provide links to few other posts which are related to separate steps in the view:

LINKS FOR PART ONE: Returning the content which was pushed under the “rug of mental” back into the world.

Some of the related posts:

Other things which I usually relate to those issues are Ryle’s discussions in The Concept of Mind, and Austin’s discussions of “seems”/”appears” etc… in Sense and Sensibilia, other works like Merleau Ponty’s Phenomenology of Perception, in more recent times disjunctivist theory of perception, and so on (you get the picture).

LINKS FOR PART TWO: 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. Seeing physical and what is returned into the world as aspects.

Some of the related posts:

In the discussion of seeing things of which we are aware as aspects, I’m usually relating to Hegel’s Logic. For some overview of this, you can check: Hegel and Concepts – The Diamond-Net, The Differences of the Diamond-Net, Little more on Hegel vs. Kant – The Antinomies, etc..

LINKS FOR PART THREE: Physical laws as metaphysically necessary relations between physical aspects, as explanation of the neat mathematical relations we find in the physical aspect

Some of the related posts

In this, I think there are connections again to the work of Hegel, especially in relation to his work on numbers (I have a short note here), his views on change being inline with Relativity, and his views on properties as not self-subsistent possibly being inline with Quantum Mechanics. Also I think this possibly can be nicely related to such things as instrumentalism and positivism.