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…