Mind and World – Note 2

Because of various reasons, I left aside Mind and World for some time. But I had some notes for the part I read, so probably it is a good idea to write them down in proper form, while they are still fresh. I should also explain from the start, that I’m not writing this as analysis of the McDowell’s views in that book, but merely using it to contrast my views with it.

In the first post, I wrote about the basic McDowell’s move – he is not accepting the Given (the idea that something is given to us through receptivity, something unconceptual (‘bare presences’) which serves as a constraint on possible conceptualizations of what is experienced), but also he is not accepting that the receptivity is only causally influencing our thought, and that what can count as reason for holding a belief can be just another belief. Instead his solution is to see the experience as already conceptualized – that it represents things in the world as being thus and so…

I wrote there about my take on it – instead of talking about conceptualized experience, we can talk about concepts being in the world, and us as conscious beings, becoming aware of those concepts. What is Given (in some sense) then is the world, and with that the issue is addressed of how can our thoughts have bearing on the world.

And this of course is not very far from McDowell’s picture. Because, as he says in the second lecture – Unboundedness of the Conceptual:

That things are thus and so is the content of the experience, and it can also be the content of a judgement: it becomes the content of a judgement if the subject decides to take the experience at face value. So it is conceptual content. But that things are thus and so is also, if one is not misled, an aspect of the layout of the world: it is how things are. Thus the idea of conceptually structured operations of receptivity puts us in a position to speak of experience as openness to the layout of reality. Experience enables the layout of reality itself to exert a rational influence on what a subject thinks.

So, the world is also there taken as “conceptually rich”, however still the ‘phenomenal experience’ thingie is still assumed. And why would one still assume it, is I think pretty clear. It can do with a)the what-it-is-likeness, which one can still assume as not being in the world itself, and b)because of the possibility of us being wrong about how the world is…

I’ve tried to argue that both of those things are not definitive arguments against the view that there is no such thing as ‘phenomenal experience’. For the first thing, one can take the colors, sounds, and all those things WITH their what-it-is likeness as being in the world, and it is not clear why would one take only those things which can be quantified (mass, momentum, movement, position, and so on) as being in the world, and remove those former things. There is also the issue of different what-it-is-likeness of the colors, sounds, etc… for different people, but I think this can be easily accounted by, when we take into account the limits of our perception. We don’t need to suppose different subjective what-it-is-likeness – we can talk about one and the same object, and people with different limits of their perception that access that one and the same object. Then, depending on those differences, the one and the same thing can appear differently, but not in any way, in which the appearance will belong to the phenomenal experience of the subject, but in objective way, where the appearance is what the subject is accessing giving the limits of the perception. (Limits can be of biological nature, but also can have to do with
things like if there is a fog or not, do we carry glasses or not, have
we been drinking alcohol or not, knowledge what to put attention to
based on previous mistakes, and so on).

The other side of it is – how is it possible then that we are wrong if we are in such direct relation with the world seen as such (as full of concepts). The answer is not very hard – it is because of the limits of our perception and awareness in general. We become aware of this world, but not of the whole world – we become aware of parts of it. And in such way, even we are aware of the world, because the parts don’t fully determine the whole – we can make mistakes.

I want here to expand on this second thing, through an example… Kohler’s in his book Gestalt Psychology explains the following experiment. A subject is presented with two cardboard rectangles of different sizes. The smaller one is closer to the observer, and the bigger is further away… Kohler further says:

It is quite true, the rectangle at the greater distance [the larger one] appears much larger than the nearer one. But this is precisely what the Introspectionist does not accept as a true statement about the sensory facts. […] He will invite us to look through a hole in a screen which he holds before our eyes. The two rectangles now appear on homogeneous background, because the screen hides all other objects. Under those conditions the difference between the sizes of the rectangles will probably be somewhat reduced. […] He may darken the room, and turn the light only for a fraction of a second. This serves to exclude the movement of the eyes and of the head. […] [Given] practice I cannot here describe, and after some training, the rectangles may indeed assume the same size, even if the screen with its hole and any other devices are omitted.

But now we can ask the introspectionist – in what sense can we talk about things appearing certain size, WITHOUT them appearing at certain distance? Can a thing appear certain size at NO distance? Because if we really agree that both things assume “the same size”, which is this size, and also on what distance is it?

It seems straightforward to me that what is done in those experiments can be described thus – further limits are put on the subjects perception. In the case of ‘naive subjects’ the limit is done by external tools (screen/light flash), and in the case of the ‘trained introspectionits’ the limit is put there by the mind itself. We can’t talk about seing size at no distance, so given that we remove the information about the distance, we have now a lot of ‘size at distance’ possibilities. We have limit on the perception, so that we can see just certain aspect of the situation, but this aspect doesn’t determine the actuality – it can be size1 at distance1, or size2 at distance2. And now, when we have this limitation, we can “fix it” in both ways assuming it is on certain distance. That is why both cardboards will look same size – it is because we will pick one specific possibility of the undetermined perception for both things – we will imagine them both as size1 at distance1. What I want to point is, that it is not somehow then, that we are seeing the things wrongly, or that the perception presents them in wrong way. Simply we are putting limits to our perception (which go below the limits of our awareness), and then we are free to “play” with the undetermined variables. I’m sure that one can do it the other way arround – given two cardboards of same size at same distance, one can “with sufficient training” see them as cardboards of two different sizes at two different distances.

But if we try now to bring the talk of “phenomenal experience” here, what will we say? Will we say that the phenomenal experience itself is “underdetermined” somehow – will the “phenomenal experience” be some weird thing of which there can be ‘vague facts’? What would that even mean?

This kind of thinking can be generalized to all kind of illusions, only if one is ready to accept the limits of all different kinds. On other hand the case of hallucinations and dreams seem not as easy to address. One of the problems is that in the case of hallucinations and dreams, we don’t actually see anything, so talking about “limits of perception” is not just not enough, but obviously not applicable (as there is no perception to talk about).

How do you cut a space?

By cutting a line the only thing you can get is line segment. As much you cut, you never get to anything like a point. But, how do you cut a line if not at specific point? If there are no points, then there can be no line segments either.

By cutting a plane, the only thing you can get is plane segments. As much you cut, you never get to anything like a line (or curve). But how do you cut a plane, if there is no lines? If there are no lines, there are no plane segments.

Same goes for space.

Reading Mind and World – Note 1

I started reading McDowell’s Mind and World few days ago.

From what I understood so far (I’m near the end of lecture two) McDowell’s contrasts two views:

1.The idea that there is something given to us through our receptivity, something which serves as a constraint on possible conceptualizations of what we are experiencing, and further as a ground for empirical judgments. It is a way to make sense of how judging and thinking can have bearing on the reality.
2.Conherentist idea – that there is no such thing as Given which serves as a rational constraint to our thinking and judgments. The thought is not rationally constrained through experience, but only causally influenced. In such view nothing can count as a reason for holding a belief except other belief.

McDowell finds both views unsatisfactory, so his solution is that our experience is already conceptualized – that it represents things in the world as being thus and so. In that way he says we get the external rational constraint to our thinking (something which is required for the thought to have bearing on reality, and make sense of the apparent fact that there IS something in our experience which we can’t change as much our judgments or thinking changes), while avoiding the problems for which Given was rejected (like the problem that space of reasons can’t extend into nonconceptual Given – the Given would fall into the realm of pure sensibility, which can’t be connected to the normative nature of judgments).

I guess I don’t find this solution very interesting, as my beliefs kind of go in somewhat parallel direction.

First, I think it includes “experience” in philosophers’ sense, which I take to be just a myth. As I said before, instead of reifying experience as something that represents the state of affairs in the world, and which has some what-it-is-likeness to it, we should accept the everyday sense of the world ‘experience’, where it refers to events in the world in which we participate, and in which events we are somehow affected or from which we learn something, or in alternative sense where ‘experience’ refers to the knowledge gained in that way. When talking about our relation with the world we simply then change the talk from discussions of “experience” to discussion of seeing,hearing, and perceiving in general. The acts themselves are events in the world, which relate the things in the world to ourselves.

In such view, of course there is no reason to discuss any such thing as ‘conceptualization of experience’, as what is “external rational constraint” to our thinking is not any kind of experience, but the world itself – or what we perceive of it.

If one keeps on his mind the physical description, or neurochemical description of what we know is going on whenever we see, (hear, smell, etc…) something, this might seem as avoiding the problem. How does this solve the problem of the relating the normative aspect of the judgment to this scientific description?

The trick is here to think of those acts (seeing, hearing, etc…) not in terms of the physical, neurochemical or some other such scientific description, but in the way we are aware of them, and see the physical and neuro-chemical description of event only as a description of an aspect of whatever is going on. Of course this requires certain metaphysical view – it requires the view that the world in general is not reducible to those aspects, and further related to it – the epistemic view that through our perception we can be aware of those things in the world, even they are not reducible to those aspects. In such way all those things of which we can become aware, including our ability to become aware, language and so on, ARE genuine phenomena in the world, unrelated to our awareness of them, even as phenomena they are not reducible to the physical description. (If you are interested in more thoughts on relation between concepts, what we see and what-it-is-likeness here)

If this is still hard to understand, it is probably because someone might think that I’m saying something more complicated than what I’m really am – This is nothing but the everyday common-sense view of the world.

So, in that way, the “external rational justification” is the world, or at least whatever we perceive of it. There is no “experience” which is “already conceptualized”, there is the world and its aspects to which we can put our attention (or alternatively which can attract our attention). This ability to abstract, to put attention on aspects, is what is ground of our awareness of different phenomena of which we can further think, which we can name and talk about.

A Thought on Distinguishing Pure from Empirical Notions

In the past posts I described a Matrix (person in a vat) scenario with a twist.

Neo’s body which is identical with my body is put in a vat. His sensory organs are connected to random generators. By pure chance it happens so that Neo’s sensory organs are affected in exactly the same way as my sensory organs are affected through my life.

After some number of years, Neo is disconnected from those random generators, and is “returned to real world”.

I want here to propose that the scenario is interesting in the sense that it can help us make a distinction between two groups of concepts (or notions).

In the first group we have things like individual entities, for example people I met in my life, and also natural kinds which I become aware in the world.

While Neo, when he comes out of the Matrix will seem to know all those people and natural kinds, we are aware that he has never in his life seen them, or became aware of them. I compared this to a situation where some fictional character happens to be described with exact properties that some real person has. Even this might be the case, the fictional character won’t be that real person, and only given this distinction can the sentence “the real person has all the same properties as that fictional character” make sense. Same goes for fictional natural kinds, which by pure chance happen to have same properties as a real natural kind. So, whatever Neo is thinking about while in the pure-chance-Matrix, it isn’t those individuals, nor it is those natural kinds. I’m not sure if the name is good, but we might call those “empirical notions”.

In the other group are things like numbers, math theorems, and concepts like THING, CHANGE, MOVEMENT and so on. It seems to me that if Neo while in Matrix thinks about numbers, or thinks about proof of some math theorem, there is no distinction to be made as the distinction we made for individuals and natural kinds. There is no reason to say to Neo “We have a Pythagorean theorem, and it has the same properties as the theorem you thought you know by the name of ‘Pythagorean theorem’, but which was not a real theorem!”. At least I can’t see what we could mean by saying such thing.

So, in general the criteria would be this: pure notions are those things of which we are aware and of which Neo can be aware too while in the pure-chance-Matrix. Empirical notions are those of which we are aware, but of which Neo can’t be aware.

I guess this is not something that will be readily accepted, but given that (by pure chance) someone accepts this, there is an interesting question – which of our notions are pure, and which are empirical?

There is a list of notions which I’m not sure where to put. Take for example artifacts – can Neo be aware of notion of chairs while in pure-chance-Matrix? From one side I’m inclined to think – yes, mostly on the base that someone in the history did thought of chairs, even before any chair was made – namely the first person that invented chairs. So, any relation to actual chairs doesn’t seem required in order to have a notion of chairs. Also, it seems normal to say that there is a possibility for two societies to have chairs, even they were never in any contact with each other. (E.g. if we go to another planet, can’t we find that they have chairs too?) But from other side, chairs are real phenomenon in the world, they have actual history – there are facts about chairs, and surely whatever a pure notion is, there can’t be facts about it? I guess we could think of chairs in terms of possibility – that is in terms as the inventor of chairs thought of them, but also think in terms of actualized possibilities – that would be the phenomenon of chairs. So, in both cases it would be about a possibility, just in one case we would have actualized possibility. We could then say that Neo can be aware of possibility-for-chairs, but not of actual-chairs.