A brood comb

….philosophical and other notes….

Archive for the ‘Consciousness’ Category

I know that I actually exist, hence physicalim is false

Posted by Tanas Gjorgoski on November 24, 2008

I actually exist. I know that I actually exist. I’m aware of my actual existence in such a way,that I know for sure that I actually exist. I claim here that I actually exist *because* I actually exist. My actual existence, and my awareness of my actual existence has direct consequence on my behavior here, namely writing this paragraph.

Imagine now that you know all the relevant physical facts about my body (and all relevant physical facts about relevant environment maybe). A nice physical description. According to the physicalists, there aren’t any further facts… that is the whole story.

Now imagine that I didn’t exist, but that you still have the physical description in question. In this case it would be a physical description of a potentially existing, but not actually existing person.

In that description you should still be able to see the reasons for me pronouncing – “I actually exist, I know that I actually exist, I’m sure that I actually exist… ” (the whole first paragraph of this post)

Whatever reasons those are, they aren’t related to actual existence, and even less they can be related to any direct awareness of actual existence, simply because there is NO actual existence – the thing described in the physical description doesn’t actually exist.

However, if it is not the actual existence and awareness of actual existence that are reasons for the behavior in that description, and if physicalists are right that there are no further facts about the actual me, my actual existence and my awareness of my actual existence also can’t be reasons for my actual behavior where I say “I actually exist, I know that I actually exist, I’m sure that I actually exist… etc…”.

Similar argument can be given to establish that according to physicalism, my actual existence and my awareness of my actual existence, can’t be reasons for me thinking or knowing that I actually exist.

This is silly, hence physicalism is false.

Posted in Consciousness, Metaphysics, Philosophy | 12 Comments »

Reading Mind and World – Note 1

Posted by Tanas Gjorgoski on July 8, 2008

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.

Posted in Books, Concepts, Consciousness, Perception, Philosophy | Leave a Comment »

On ‘Consciousness’

Posted by Tanas Gjorgoski on May 22, 2008

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‘.

Posted in Consciousness, Meaning&Reference, Philosophy | 5 Comments »

Perpetual Illusion And Abilities

Posted by Tanas Gjorgoski on May 21, 2008

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…

Posted in Colors, Concepts, Consciousness, Illusions, Phenomenology, Philosophy | 7 Comments »

On ‘What Something Is’

Posted by Tanas Gjorgoski on May 6, 2008

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.

Posted in Concepts, Consciousness, Metaphysics, Philosophy | Leave a Comment »

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

Posted by Tanas Gjorgoski on May 2, 2008

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.

Posted in Consciousness, Metaphysics, Perception, Philosophy, Physics | Leave a Comment »

Resolving The Mind-Body Issue, Part 4

Posted by Tanas Gjorgoski on April 29, 2008

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.

Posted in Consciousness, Mathematics, Metaphysics, Philosophy, Physics | 10 Comments »

Resolving The Mind-Body Issue, Part 3

Posted by Tanas Gjorgoski on April 25, 2008

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…

Posted in Consciousness, Metaphysics, Philosophy, Physics | Leave a Comment »

Resolving The Mind-Body Issue, Part 2

Posted by Tanas Gjorgoski on April 23, 2008

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

Posted in Consciousness, Metaphysics, Perception, Philosophy | 3 Comments »

Resolving The Mind-Body Issue, Part 1

Posted by Tanas Gjorgoski on April 22, 2008

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!

Posted in Consciousness, Metaphysics, Perception, Philosophy, Physics | 5 Comments »

Ditching The Experience

Posted by Tanas Gjorgoski on April 18, 2008

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.

Posted in Consciousness, Metaphysics, Perception, Philosophy | 2 Comments »

The Value of The Zombie Argument

Posted by Tanas Gjorgoski on April 16, 2008

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.

Posted in Consciousness, Metaphysics, Philosophy | 1 Comment »

What ‘Physical’ Means?

Posted by Tanas Gjorgoski on April 14, 2008

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.

Posted in Consciousness, Metaphysics, Philosophy | 14 Comments »

The Heavy Metaphysical Commitments of Physicalism

Posted by Tanas Gjorgoski on April 13, 2008

Common to physicalism and epiphenomenalism is that they would agree that…

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

Physicalism further claims that from the facts about this physical stuff, we can a priori deduce the fact if there is conscious experience, and exactly what kind of conscious experience there is. Because there are no other facts than the physical ones, the physicalist claims.

In the past post, I took one of the commonly accepted ideas which go with the word “physical stuff”. That of of elementary particles whose behavior is governed by physical laws. And there the physicalist problem is that you can’t start from the idea of certain configuration/dynamics of particles, and deduce anything except yet different patterns of behavior of those particles. I want to reiterate that this is supposed to be a priori deduction, so you can’t in any step of the deduction bring in empirical data, or speculate identity of some of the pattern to some experience. And given what kind of idea that we related to “physical stuff” – that of elementary particles being governed by physical laws, all that we can deduce from it, is nothing but facts about that behavior, like statistical facts, or deduce the presence of some patterns of behavior. No matter the complexity of those patterns, what we have in our analysis of the facts are still just patterns. The idea of conscious experience, of redness, of smell, etc… doesn’t appear in the deduction. Appealing to complexity in this case, would be like saying that given two dimensional movement and sufficient complexity of the movement, we can deduce that it is three dimensional.

So, physicalism is weird, in the sense that it thinks it is possible to go through with such a deduction.

There seem to me three things physicalist can say there.

a)Rethinking the “physical stuff” idea
Though when we people say “physical stuff” usually they have idea of elementary particles governed by physical laws, it is not the idea that physicalist have when talking about “physical stuff”. First, physicalist can say that the idea is gross oversimplification of what actually the physical stuff is, as whatever it is, we already know from physics that this “physical stuff” includes phenomena as wave/particle duality and other quantum weirdness. Notice however two things:

First, Whatever physicalist ‘brings in’ as a complexity which might change the possibility of deduction, means giving up the claim that previous simplified idea of what “physical stuff” is, can provide explanation for consciousness. For example, physicalist will need to accept that quantum weirdness has something to do with consciousness if he appeals to the quantum weirdness to point that “elementary particles governed by physical laws” is oversimplified idea.

And second, without any reasonably clear and reasonably distinct idea of what this “physical stuff” IS (and instead e.g. giving very generalized descriptions like – everything that is causally efficient, or everything that exist in space and time), there won’t be a reasonably clear distinction between it, and some other views like dualism.

b)The way of Venus
The other approach is for the physicalist to avoid a priori and to go ‘a posteriori necessity’ way, which we may call “the way of Venus”… Basically, discussing the meaning of words, Kripke pointed that it may so happen that we use two words to refer to the same thing. For example… it so happened that people used both ‘Hesperus’ and ‘Phosphorus’ to refer to Venus, even they didn’t know they do. And if two words X and Y happen to refer to the same thing, the sentence ‘X is not identical with Y’ is clearly false and even can’t be true.

So physicalists will argue that this is the case with the terms “specific conscious experience” and “specific configuration/dynamics of elementary particles governed by physical laws”. It so happens that we use two words for the same thing, but same as people who unknowingly gave two names to Venus there is really just one thing, and through further empirical research we will find that it is just one thing.

Does this feel like cheating? Yes, and that is because it is cheating. Here is why…

We HAVE a clear idea of what it means for Hesperus to be identical with Phosphorus, because we can a priori deduce from the idea of Venus as a second planet from the Sun that is much closer than our planet to the Sun, and from the knowledge of the movement of planets, that to an observer on Earth , in the mornings Venus will appear as a star on the eastern sky; and also that in the evenings it will appear as a star on the western sky.
So, choose any of this kind of identities, where what we thought are two distinct objects or phenomena turned out to be the same object or phenomenon, and you will see that the identity only makes sense, only if you can from the better knowledge of that thing, a priori come to the phenomena in question. In another example like water=H2O (if you accept it at all), we can also given knowledge of H2O, deduce all the properties of what we are calling water. And so on…

So, the Kripkean a posteriori, isn’t an easy way out for a physicalist. That two words happen to refer to the same thing is incidental, and IF they do, that doesn’t mean that the requirement for a priori deduction is removed. In fact, such identites make sense only if some such a priori deduction is possible.

c)Being as Consciousness
Some time ago I was playing with the possible physicalist answer that consciousness is nothing but being of such and such system. That is, physicalist can say, that there are no other facts besides physical facts, but we should distinguish a description of those facts, and an existing thing for which those facts obtain. The physicalist will then say, that of course you can’t deduce the consciousness from some description of movement, but that consciousness is nothing but *an existence of a thing that satisfies that description*. It is to me very interesting response, and not just because in the relation to physicalism, but has very interesting possibilities to explore. I wrote few posts exploring this idea (here, here, here and here). Alas, while it might seem promising, this view seem to me exhibits the problems of epiphenomenalism of which I spoke in recent posts. Because it says that if we give a full description of the world, we will see how in it there will appear phenomenon of philosophers and epiphenomenalists discussing consciousness, but again it will not be because they are conscious! As, per this solution, the system of that description won’t exist, hence there won’t be consciousness.

Anyway, as I hope those people that romantically love science can see, physicalism IS NOT about empirical research through which we figure out what configuration/dynamics is related to consciousness. Physicalism isn’t about the simple claim that there are such correlations (which actually most of the views will accept happily), nor that certain configurations of physical stuff happen to be conscious. And physicalism isn’t to be equated with physics, nor with science in general, nor seen closer to it than other metaphysical views. It is a fairly and squarely a metaphysical view. And, as I hope I succeeded to communicate in this post, a weird one at that.

In the next post, I want to write about the other options, given that we accept that a)physicalism is weird, and b)epiphenomenalism is weird, in the context of the zombie argument against physicalism.

Posted in Consciousness, Metaphysics, Philosophy, Physics | Leave a Comment »

Guess What Other View Besides Epiphenomenalism Is Weird?

Posted by Tanas Gjorgoski on April 12, 2008

Yeah, you are right. It is Physicalism.

We can take (a variant of) the zombie argument to check the weirdness of physicalism. Zombie argument is a very good argument. It requires two assumptions:

1.That what happens in human bodies is fully reducible to physical – It is just physical stuff behaving according to the physical laws.


2.That you allow that there is no metaphysical necessity that ‘given such and such configuration/dynamics of the physical stuff as it is in bodies of conscious people, consciousness will appear’. Or, alternatively that there is no metaphysical necessity that ‘given such and such configuration/dynamics of the physical stuff as it is in bodies of conscious people, there will be conscious experience such as it is in those people, and not different’.

The zombie argument then simply states that given we accept that there is no metaphysical necessity, it follows that it is a further fact about the world that with those configurations/dynamics there is related conscious experience (and exactly that conscious experience, and not some other). So, physicalism (the view that all facts are physical facts, or reducible to physical facts) is wrong.

So, let’s return to the premises of the argument…

Think about the term ‘no metaphysical necessity’. If I’m arguing that it is metaphysically possible that p, and you argue against me, you are arguing that it is metaphysically necessary that not p. So, for you not to accept the premise 2 of the zombie argument, is to say that it is metaphysically necessary that given such and such configuration/dynamics of the physical stuff as the one in the bodies of the conscious people, conscious experience will appear, and at that it is metaphysically necessary that this experience is as it is.

What this ‘metaphysically necessary’ means is that the alternative is contradiction. So, not just that the alternative is not possible in this world given the physical laws, but that it is straightforward contradiction. Like contradictions that we get in logic or math.

Now when we say “physical stuff” we mean something by it. It might not be very clear and distinct idea, but we have some kind of idea there that includes some things and doesn’t include others. For example it includes atoms, and doesn’t include soul.

Take for example the common idea of this “physical stuff”, which I take it to be this – there are elementary particles in the world, whose behavior is governed by physical laws (or one law). Because of those laws, particles form different configurations in which different dynamic patterns emerge on macro-level.

So, when a physicalist is opposing premise 2 of the zombie argument, he is arguing that given certain configuration/dynamics it follows (logically, mathematically, conceptually or in general metaphysically) that there will be conscious experience. So, not just that it so happens in this world that it must be so, like so it happens that the moon must obey the law of gravity, or that so it happens that two electrons must repel each other. But that it follows. Like in mathematical theorems. Like… we don’t need psychology, or first person reports – given sufficient knowledge and intelligence we can deduce what people experience. DEDUCE, like in A PRIORI (those words make most physicalists shudder, and yet there they are committed to possibility of deducing those weird things).

So, not sure if you are seeing the weirdness of this idea – to deduce the redness of the rose from the configuration/dynamics of the elementary particles in the world. Imagine how you approach math problems, and how some truths follow from another truths. Now imagine, how you start from certain configuration/dynamics of elementary particles, and deduce the redness of the rose. Like… you’ve been blind all your life, but they tell you everything about elementary particles, and the dynamic patterns in the brain of some person that is watching a rose, and you go to wherever you go to prove things, and after few days deduce the experience of redness of the rose. See, the problem? If you are to deduce something from X… say some Y, the notion Y has to be at least somewhat compatible with the notion X. New notions won’t magically appear in the proof. Physicalists are in that similar to (I guess caricature of) Pythagoreans which thought that they can deduce the world from numbers.

So, what can physicalist do about it? Maybe we were wrong to identify the idea of “physical stuff” with elementary particles governed by physical laws? Or maybe physicalists can claim a posteriori necessity? And if I think that zombie argument is good, and I also think that its conclusion (epiphenomenalism) is bad… what gives? Stay tuned!

Posted in Consciousness, Metaphysics, Philosophy | 7 Comments »