The Meaning of Few Different Words Within the Illusionary World

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Becoming Aware Through Illusion

I wrote about the following scenario in last post…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Am I Missing Something?

As I’m thinking about the discussion of the previous post on concepts, I’m thinking that the situation seems pretty simple. Maybe I’m missing something, but here is how I see the simple story…

I see a rabbit, and then see another one. I can see that both are similar, and assume that there are further common truths about them separate from this gestalt similarity. I also can assume that there are lot of things which share this similarity.
Because I live in a linguistic society in which the language is used in all kinds of practices, it is helpful to have a word to refer to the rabbits. So in a specific baptizing practice (probably also linguistic practice), I can choose a word to refer to rabbits. Namely I choose to call any of them ‘a rabbit’, and to call them ‘rabbits’.

I don’t see here any need for ‘concepts’. There are rabbits, there are people who can become aware of them, and those people are part of linguistic society and can use a word to refer to them. Also, I don’t see a need for there to be a word for rabbits, in order for me to be able to think of them. In fact, thinking in terms of this simple story it is quite impossible for there to appear a word for rabbits, if we already didn’t become aware of the rabbits.

Of course, once the word is there, same as with proper names, a person can use it and expect that the word has a meaning, which goes back to some initial baptism (or some similar linguistic practice). But, that doesn’t mean that there is some ‘concept’ which goes along with the knowledge of the word. After all, one might not be able to recognize rabbits from cats, and still use both words. If such person asks how to recognize rabbits from cats, for sure he will mean rabbits by ‘rabbits’ and cats by ‘cats’.

‘Nuf said about rabbits
Cows demanding inclusion in philosophical examples
(Cows Staring, Hencio)

Language, Practices and Objective Reality

Baptizing (giving name to something) is a conscious act done by a conscious person or persons, where a name is picked up to be used for something which appears as intentional target of our conscious intentional act (perceiving, assuming, imagining and so on).

Baptizing is a practice. It is a practice related to the social practice of using names to refer to things, which is in turn related to social practice of other speech acts. Baptizing is one of those speech acts (‘We will call this boy John’ is a speech act), however as a speech act it has sense only given those other speech acts.

What are those other speech acts? Language is used to inform other people, where we use sentences to describe relations of which the listener is not aware through words for things of which the listener is aware. It is used to ask for information, or give orders. It is also a crucial part of other practices, like wedding, betting, giving, promising, threating, appointing, forgiving, apologizing, and so on (to name few of the examples that Austin nicely worked through in his How to do things with words).

This opens interesting question of how can words appear, if we need speech acts for words to appear. I see three possibilities – a)Instead of ‘speech acts’ we can speak of more general ‘communication acts’ which don’t have to involve words, but which would be enough for the practice of baptizing to appear b)The co-evolution of basic speech acts (and words as part of those acts) with evolution of human kind and c)External source of language (God).

The practices are about what people do. What people do is related to what they know that they can do. By being part of the community, we are seeing what people do, and thus becoming aware of what can be done. What can be done is not about us, it is about the world (which contains the social, biological, and other facts). In such way, practices already established in the society are crucial part of extending our knowledge of the world. And not just in the sense that through practices as schooling one can get information, but the practices themselves are showing us open possibilities of what can be done.

But that practices are fundamental to our using language doesn’t make language and thoughts expressed in this language a social construct, less so make reality a social construct. As said, practices are related to what can be done in the world – those are possibilities which are not constructed, but which are discovered. And people from one society can become aware of those practices in another society.

That people can inform each other isn’t a construction. It is a possibility. It is the same possibility in all those cultures. That people can marry, promise, forgive, threat, etc… are also open possibilities. They are not constructions. Some cultures will include those possibilities, some not. Some practices in one society will be different from practices in another. Some practices will be interdependent with other, so a practice in one society might not be possible in another given some other practice.

Some practices might work as a way to prevent awareness of some possibilities in the world, while other societies might boost the probability of awareness of some possibilities. An outsider might easily see, what people entrenched in certain practices can’t see.

Good example of practices boosting some awareness might be where practice of exchanging goods, might make people aware of mathematical notions, or practice of rich art, might make people more aware of different colors. (The lack of those practices may be seen as an explanation why some tribes don’t have many words for math, colors or time determinations).

Given this view, I’m inclined to think that there is no need to talk about conceptual frameworks which reside ‘inside our minds’ or ‘in society’, but that one can address all those things in pure objective terms of awareness of the subjects in the society of some practices, and awareness of things in the world in general.

How Does Yellow Brick Road Appear?

Few posts ago I wrote about what happened when my daughter, my niece and I were watching The Wizard of Oz. The girls noticed that the movie “doesn’t have colors” at the start, then failed to notice the moment when the things in the movie changed from colorless to colored, just to notice that fact few minutes further in the movie.

I wondered what happens to the what-it-is-likeness in the assumed ‘phenomenal experience’ of the girls…

  1. Did the what-it-is like of their experience changed when the movie changed from black and white to Technicolor?
  2. Did the what-it-is like of their experience changed after they noticed that “now the things are in color”?

Maybe the questions phrased in this way are not clear enough though. Because the what-it-is-likeness is taken to be a characteristic of the (phenomenal/conscious/what I called p-sense) experience, it being somehow and not other way, would be a fact about the phenomenal experience – a “phact” (to use the term Pete Mandik coined). Now, if we assume that there are such things as phacts, it is normal that in the ongoing conscious experience there are lot of such phacts. Instead of asking then the questions (1) and (2) in this general manner, we can concentrate on some specific phacts. We may talk about ‘how did the yellow brick road appear to the girls’. Maybe even more specific ‘did the yellow brick road appear yellow to them?’. It seems to me the ‘what-was-it-like to see the yellow brick road’ is related to same phacts as ‘how did the yellow brick road appear to the girls?’ (where ‘appear’ is not in taken in epistemic sense, but phenomenal sense).

You may, as I am, be skeptical of all this (p-sense) experience talk, and hence of existence of any such things as phacts related to the questions asked. But seems to me, even if one phrases the question wrong, there is some underlying thing that we mean to ask by the question, and which is of interest nonetheless. So, I will try to analyze this underlying issue, while I might not really answer it the context of assumptions in which it was phrased.

Let’s forget yellow brick road for a moment, and consider this…

We can talk to a certain person for a long time, and not notice the shape of her brows or shape of her mouth. But even we fail to notice and learn those things, we can in some other case (say, the next day) recognize that person again. I think it is safe to say that the person appeared somehow to us while we were talking. We weren’t aware of the shape of her brows or the shape of her mouth, but were those of different shape she would’ve appeared differently to us (or as we also say she would’ve looked differently).

If we talk about shape of the brows and mouth as aspects of the face, I think we can now say that we didn’t see those aspects. One might find this kind of talk weird, but think of this – would you say that you are seeing the hidden object in a newspaper puzzle (“find the hidden object” type of puzzle), just because you hold it in front of your eyes? I think not! But isn’t the same case where we don’t notice if the brows or the mouth have certain form and not other? Just that we are seeing the face doesn’t mean that we are seeing it’s aspects.

But even if we aren’t seeing those aspects, from another side we know that those aspects affect how the face appears to us! As pointed, given different shape of brows or mouth, person’s face would appear differently to us.

We can apply this kind of analysis to the yellow brick road now. We can say that the girls saw the yellow brick road without seeing its color. But this is not strange as it sounds, because immediately  we say that the yellow brick road still appeared in a specific way due to the fact that it was yellow. So, a yellow brick road whose color girls don’t see wouldn’t  appear to them same as a red brick road whose color girls don’t see (or don’t notice).

So, what would be the interesting conclusions of this kind of analysis? One of them is, I think, that neither the awareness of the aspects like the color of the thing nor possession of color concepts are required for a thing to appear to us in this way which is related to it possessing certain aspects. So, a thing may appear same to us, which have those color concepts and young kids. Of course the kid may be unable to focus merely on the color, and further to determine it, but as pointed this doesn’t mean that it isn’t aware of the gestalt look, which is related to the thing having certain color.
One can point to such things as Vygotsky block tests, where younger children didn’t sort blocks on dependence on one of those aspects (color, size or shape), but apparently based on some kind of holistic similarity. If this is true, it points to the direction of the conclusion that the gestalt appearance of the things is related to it having certain aspect. I’m not sure though there can be any kind of clear measurement of the similarities (what would this ‘holistic similarity’ even mean in terms of something testable?).

The other thing is, that instead of talking about any phacts when we talk about what-it-is-likeness, we can concentrate on the issue about what we are aware of/what we see (and further what we see clearly, vaguely, and so on). In this way we can talk about gestalt looks the things have in objective manner, and ask if the girls saw IT, or they saw some specific aspect and so on… I think phrased in that way we can analyze the issues better.

UPDATE:Richard Brown has a post in part of which he gives overview of Dretske’s distinction between thing-awareness and fact-awareness (which is supposed to explain change blindness). The distinction seems to me parallel the kind of distinction I’m drawing here between gestalt-look awareness and aspect awareness.

Please Help Me Understand Representationalism

I think I’m missing something about representationalism. I will give first an example of representation as we encounter it in “normal life”, and then present the issues I have about applying this relation to perception…

Here is the example…

Let’s take a case of radar screen. What we have on the radar screen are dots of some kind. The use of the radar screen is that it gives us information about a)the objects of certain type being present b)the position and movement of those objects. So here, we are talking about representation because something about the things which we see (the dots) gives us information about some other things that we don’t see (e.g. airplanes).

The dots  ARE NOT the objects they represent, and they have different aspects than those objects. The dots are small, “made up from pixels”; airplanes are big, made from metal and plastic, have pilots, history (they are made in some factory, designed by someone) and so on. Not all things about the airplane are represented by the dots on the radar. We can probably say that certain aspects of the airplanes are mapped to certain aspects of the dots. There is some mapping here, and if one knows the mapping, he can interpret the radar screen, and get information about the state of affairs in the space that radar covers, including info about the airplanes in that space.

Another thing about representation is that we don’t have to know why some representation aspects correlate with the aspects of what is represented in order to “read it”. We just need to know how different aspects of representation map to aspects of the represented. Why they do, is not important to us. We can be fully ignorant of how the radar works, and still can understand it representing what it represents.

So, from this kind of usage of ‘representation’, we have two things… the thing that represents (e.g. the dot), and the represented thing (e.g. the airplane). We are seing the thing that represents, and being aware of the mapping, we are getting information about the object that is represented.

AFAIK, there are two different approaches in representationalism in general.


One is taken by phenomenalists, which say that there are properties of the phenomenal experience, which represent the state of affairs. Same as with the dots in the case of the radar screen, we become aware of those properties of the experience (usually qualia), and from those we get information about the world they represent.

In the case of the radar screen we make distinction in our thoughts between two things – the dots and the airplanes. We know airplanes beforehand, and we now see those dots. We further learn about the mapping between the state of affairs on the radar screen and the state of affairs in the space that the radar covers. Given all this, we can now understand the relation of representation.

However there is something problematic when we try to apply this notion of representation to phenomenalism. Namely, in the example with radar screen and dots we understand representation to be about the airplanes only by understanding the mapping, and to understand mapping before that we need to be aware of the two sides – the representation (the dots) and the represented (the airplanes). But in case of phenomenalism, the represented thing is not something that we are aware beforehand. What we are aware only through acquiantence is the properties of our experience. Through scientific research we figure out the second side which is represented (the state of affairs in the physical world), but does that mean that only those people that have scientific knowledge about the world and cognition actually think about the world? (As others obviously lack the idea of the thing which is represented).

Is this really the problem of the phenomenalism, or I got something wrong?


The other approach to representationalism is the one taken by intentionalists. For them when we have certain experience, what we are aware of is just what the experience represents. Now, while this view doesn’t have the problem of the previous one (people can think about the world even without being scientists), in this view people aren’t aware of the representation itself.

To understand it, let me think of the case of the radar screen and the dots representing airplanes. It would appear that in the analogy, I wouldn’t be aware of the dots, but instead somehow ‘transparently through the dots’ I would be aware of the airplanes themselves.

Now one issue I have is that this apparently says that we are not actually aware of the experience itself (as representation), but I think intentionalists will agree that experience is characterized by what-it-is-like to have this experience. But, if we are not aware of the experience, how do we know that it is characterized by what-it-is-like? Further if we are not aware of this “experience”, what is this? Is it some theoretical term?

The other issue I have is with how the notion of representation can be applied to this case. In the normal representation we have idea of representation and represented, we know them to be two separate things. Also we need to figure out the mapping so that we figure out how the representation represents the represented. But in case of intentionalists, we are not aware of the representation, nor of the mapping. Only of the represented. It seems this is not the normal notion of ‘representation’ which appears in examples like those with the radar screen and airplanes… it doesn’t follow the same scheme.

Might be that intentionalist wants to say that we don’t need to be aware of how the representation works on level of perception. But this is not the issue, I think. As said, we might not be aware of how radar works too, but us to intend the airplanes ‘through’ the dots, we need to be aware of both airplanes AND dots (and rules of mapping). Or, might be that mapping is done on unconscious level? That there is a representation on unconscious level (unconscious mental states), and also some unconscious interpretation of this unconscious level representation, so it is interpreted to be about e.g. the airplanes. But… wouldn’t this unconscious level ‘interpretation’ of the unconscious mental state have to know about airplanes, so that on conscious level what we become aware is the airplane itself?

But, then this unconscious-level interpretation, will need to “know” both about the representation (unconscious mental state), and the represented themselves (airplanes). This doesn’t seem reasonable to me. Or am I missing something?

I guess what I’m showing here is my ignorance of those views, but I’m willing to learn! Help!

Non-Intentional Mental Phenomena

I had a discussion with a friend few days ago about non-intentional mental phenomena. Here is what I ended up defending…

In our lives we are sometimes nervous, sometimes uneasy, sometimes sad, and sometimes happy and eclectic.
But we are not nervous, uneasy, sad, and happy towards something. We are nervous, uneasy, etc… because of something. Sometimes it is a reason that we are aware of, but other times it might be result just of chemical imbalance in our body. But in both cases, even if the reason is something that we are aware of, the nervousness, happiness, or sadness are not connected to just that particular content, but are present through (or within) the other mental acts that we do. So even I’m nervous because my work wasn’t appreciated enough, the nervousness won’t be limited only to the thoughts of the boss not appreciating my work.

Here we can point that often we do use “sad about X”, or “nervous about X”. For example “She is sad about John’s leaving the city”, or “He is nervous about the meeting”, and so on… Also we ask “What is he/she nervous about?” or “What is he/she happy about?”

Of course in those cases, while the “about” points to the reason why somebody is sad, nervous, happy, and so on, we don’t think that the nervousness is special mental act oriented towards the intentional content in question. In fact we can probably say, that whenever the person thinks *about*…, or remembers *that*…,  he gets sad, nervous, happy, and so on. And while there are verbs (or if there aren’t we can invent ones) which relate to those nouns, I don’t think that the verbs will point to genuinely simple intentional acts, but to thinking about/remembering of etc… something combined with how we are affected by it (i.e. how it makes us sad, happy, and so on…)

For those reasons it seems to me unproblematic to say that there are non-intentional mental phenomena (for which we have names, e.g. ‘sadness’, ‘happiness’, ‘nervousness’, etc…).

But to accept that there are non-intentional mental phenomena is not to say that those phenomena can be self-subsistent, i.e. that there can be some part of our life where we can be merely sad, happy, nervous, and so on  without in same time performing any intentional act. In other words even if we accept that there are non-intentional mental phenomena, it doesn’t follow that any actual part of our conscious life can
be without intentionality.

I will try to give analogy with objects, their form and their color. We can say that there is a phenomenon of colors which doesn’t fall under phenomenon of form, but that still color can be present only if there are objects, and all objects have form. So while we can talk about non-form phenomena in case of objects (i.e. colors), there can’t be merely colored object without that object having form. Or… that color will always show itself in the actual cases as related to some form. In this analogy ‘object’ stands for part of our conscious life, ‘color’ for non-intentional mental phenomena, and ‘form’ for intentional mental phenomena.

World Of Possibilities

One thing that is usually seen as something “in the mind”, but which I think is public are possibilities. For example, if I see a cup on the table, I can be aware of the possibility for the cup to be taken and put in some other place. One might be inclined to think of this as something going on in the mind, something private.

I can think of two reasons why they are assumed as something “in the mind”.

1.  While things are usually clearly seen by everyone in specific place, this is not the case with possibilities. If you get two people to same place, and have them look into the same direction, (e.g. a chess table), they will easily report all the pieces, but one of them (let’s say a chess master) will report some possibilities (e.g. about how white can win) that the other person can’t report. So, those possibilities are something which is in the master’s mind, but not in the amateur’s mind.

This I think doesn’t mean that the possibilities are in the mind, or that they are private. If two chess masters look at the same table, they might see the same possibilities – they can see what moves can make white win. They can’t see the same possibility for the white to win, if there are in fact two instances of possibilities in each of their minds.

Further the chess game is a special case, because the possibilities there are complicated one, and hard to see. In more normal cases like that of a glass on a table, the possibility to move the glass should be obvious to everyone. That some things are harder to see than others, and that some people can see some things, while other can not, isn’t argument that those things aren’t in the world.

2. We might think there is a possibility even when there isn’t such a possibility. I might think that the cup can be moved, when really the cup is glued to the table. So, the possibility is something in the mind.

This again, doesn’t follow. That we can mistake a leaf carried by the wind for a butterfly, doesn’t mean that there are no butterflies in the world.


Sometimes I become aware of the possibility only after watching some other person doing it. Kids see grown up person doing something and then they become aware of the possibility to do that, so they soon start doing those things. Possibility to talk, possibility to type on computer keys, possibility to make grimaces, possibility to move things, open containers, to put things into containers, kick ball with a foot, put water in a glass, and so on.

The objects and possibilities are seen in the world, and as there for others to see. If most of the things including the possibilities are in the world, we know of other minds not through deducing some hidden and private realm in people’s heads from “their physical behavior”, but is the natural starting point before any theorizing – the things we see are there open to be seen by everyone that can see.

The problem doesn’t appear for kids, not because they do have some theories which relate the behavior to a Cartesian souls, but because they are not trying to limit the world to its physical aspect, which would then make them wonder why there are such things as possibilities, colors, sounds, etc…

Hegel on Intentionality

Today is Hegel’s birthday. To mark that here is a quote from the start of Encyclopedia:

The Content, of whatever kind it be, with which our consciousness is taken up, is what constitutes the qualitative character of our feelings, perceptions, fancies, and ideas; of our aims and duties; and of our thoughts and notions. From this point of view, feeling, perception, etc., are the forms assumed by these contents. The contents remain one and the same, whether they are felt, seen, represented, or willed, and whether they are merely felt, or felt with an admixture of thoughts, or merely and simply thought. In any one of these forms, or in the admixture of several, the contents confront consciousness, or are its object. But when they are thus objects of consciousness, the modes of the several forms ally themselves with the contents; and each form of them appears in consequence to give rise to a special object. Thus what is the same at bottom may look like a different sort of fact.

The several modes of feeling, perception, desire, and will, so far as we are aware of them, are in general called ideas (mental representations): and it may be roughly said that philosophy puts thoughts, categories, or, in more precise language, adequate notions, in the place of the generalised images we ordinarily call ideas. Mental impressions such as these may be regarded as the metaphors of thoughts and notions. But to have these figurate conceptions does not imply that we appreciate their intellectual significance, the thoughts and rational notions to which they correspond. Conversely, it is one thing to have thoughts and intelligent notions, and another to know what impressions, perceptions, and feelings correspond to them.

Baptizing and The Qua Problem

The “Qua Problem”

In the causal theories of reference, ultimately the reference of some term is grounded in the act of baptizing, an act where there is some direct causal relation between the referent and the baptizer. However those theories face the so called “qua problem”:

Consider my natural-kind concept ‘horse’. This is grounded in a few horses. But those objects are not only horses, they are mammals, vertebrates, and so on; they are members of very many natural kinds. In virtue of what is my concept grounded in the objects qua horses rather than qua any of the other natural kinds of which they are members? So in virtue of what does it refer to all and only horses? Why does the concept formed by those groundings not “project onto” the members of these other natural kinds? The problem is worse. What restricts the kinds in question to natural kinds? The objects in which ‘horse’ are grounded may be pets, investments, brown, and so on, and they are horses or cows, horses or cows or kangaroos, and so on. In virtue of what are the groundings not in them qua members of those kinds? (Devitt, Naturalistic Representation) (HT:Richard Brown)

Baptizing and Intentionality

In previous posts I wrote few notes about the baptizing, that I thought (and still think) are quite unproblematic…

Someone somewhere decides to give a name to something. And in order to to that, that something has to appear as intentional content of his intentional acts. So to say, a person’s thoughts has to be directed to something, so that there is any sense in the act of baptizing. We name something – something which we think about, or something that we see, hear, imagine, understand, assume, and so on…

In the case of proper names, like ‘Aristotle’ and  ‘G.W.Bush’, I think that this general formulation of the baptizing avoids the qua problem. The name Aristotle isn’t grounded in a time-slice of Aristotle’s body, or in certain undetached part of his body, simply because the Aristotle and not any time-slice or detached part is intentional content which the baptizer decides to give name to.

Common Nouns (Mass And Count Nouns)

However, if you accept that always in case of baptizing there is some intentional content which gets named, the question appears of what this content is in the case of common nouns (the names we use for natural kinds, artifacts, nominal kinds, and so on…). Say… in the case of ‘horse’? What is that that we become aware of, and that we name, after seeing several horses?

I think that the answer is that the intentional content in those cases is a multiplicity of things which share certain similarity. We see a horse, and then after some time we see another horse which reminds us of the first one (“oh, another such thing” – we think). And now, being aware that there is multiplicity of those things we can give name to them – ‘horses’. 

In this case the similarity is gestalt visual similarity – the second horse reminds us of the first one. We are aware of the first one, of the second one, and we are aware that they are similar. We don’t even have to know what this similarity consist of (children can learn what ‘horses’ refer to, without actually being able to draw a horse, or to tell some characteristic of horses. I’m sure I can’t draw a horse for that matter). However I use ‘similarity’ in very general sense here. For example similarity might be that the multitude reacts in same way to some test, or the multitude may share some property and be similar in that, or a multitude can share a common ground. Those would all fall under ‘similarities’ as used here.

Because the common noun now refers to those things which show certain similarity, the common noun refers not just to the horses that we actually met, but to all horses. So, this solves the question – in virtue of what the common nouns refer not just to the things that we got acquainted to, but also to other things. Why ‘horses’ refer to all horses, and not just the ones that baptizer saw. And this brings me to another way to address this question, which Richard pointed to in the comments of one previous post. I will try to describe the view, I hope that I will get explanation right on base of what Richard said.

Intending To Name The Type To Which The Thing Belongs

The solution is that the baptizer intends to name the type of things to which the instance (with which we get acquainted) belongs. So, the baptizer thinks “I will call the type to which this thing belongs – horse, and I will call all of the things which belong to this type – horses”. Because the baptizer intends to name the type to which this thing belongs, and because so it happens that the type of thing is the natural kind – horse, the ‘horse’ ends up referring to the natural kind – horse. Let’s mark this view as INK (intending to name the kind).

I want to point to three things here comparing INK, with the view that the common nouns baptizing is based on similarity of multitude (SIM):

  1. INK is not incompatible with SIM. INK is special case of SIM where the similarity is an assumed common ground – an essence which is present in all the objects of this type.
  2. INK suffers from the qua problem. If one intends merely to name the type to which the thing belongs, we don’t know why ‘horses’ would refer to horses, and not to mammals, vertebrates, or any other types/kinds to which this thing belongs. The problem doesn’t appear for SIM, because it is the specific similarity that is the ground for thinking of the multitude as multitude, and not some other similarity (which would correspond to mammals, vertebrates, etc…).
  3. We don’t actually see the essence of the natural kind. So the question is… INK needs to explain why we don’t assume that there is specific type for every thing that we see. That is, INK needs to introduce a separate explanation how we come to think that this horse and that horse both belong to the same type. And that reason can’t be the essence itself, as we don’t see it. So, INK has to acknowledge that baptizer can think of a multitude in first place based on some other characteristics, *in order* to assume that those belong to the same kind.

Few Notes on Few Previous Posts

In previous posts, I was mostly writing on two issues.

One is the issue of perception, and I tried to argue that illusions, hallucinations and dreams doesn’t necessarily imply some experience which represent states of affairs in the world. Instead I put attention of how the issues can be approached by talking about experience in externalist sense, or a sense which I think is close to how that word is used in everyday communication.

The other issue that I put attention is the causal-historical account of names. Though as I said instead of ‘causality’ talk I prefer the view where the major role is given to intentionality.

Here I want to put few further notes which somewhat relate those two topics…

I think that we baptize things (singular things, or multitude of things showing some similarity)  of which we become aware. And in the case of teaching a term, I think correspondingly teacher makes the learner aware of that thing (by pointing, or fixing the reference using a description), and telling the word used to refer to that thing. (Of course, the learner might become aware of the thing even outside of the teaching of the words, and ask “What is that?”. As a part of explanation of what is that of which the student became aware, the word is usually introduced – “That is a car. We use it to go to different places.”) The word then tends to keep its meaning because of the logic of communication – people want to use the words in the way they are used.

As I said in other posts, this intentional content might appear in different types of intentional acts (I wonder if maybe it is better to use “intentional target”, as “content” implies that the thing is part of the intentional act, when really the thing exists, or is considered as existing, independently of the act, and even in the case of the imaginary things transcend the act of imagining – if not nobody could tell the same joke to another person, or same story to another person). One can perceive things, or one may imagine them, or one may assume some entities, etc… Depending on the way the type of the intentional act in which target of the intention which is baptized appeared, we can say that the words refer to phenomenal entities (i.e. those which we become aware through perception), theoretical entities (i.e. those we assume), imaginary entities (those that we imagine), and so on…

Theoretical entities are entities which are assumed in order to explain something about phenomenal entities. However in some cases philosophical theories pick out a word which was there in the language even before the theory, and now use it to refer to the theoretical entity. This is often done uncritically, without inquiry into what the word used to mean, and even more problematic – because of this lack of inquiry the theory might pretend as if the theoretical meaning of the term is inline with the traditional meaning, when in fact they are not.

This, I think, can negatively affect our understanding of the things. As the theoretical meaning is mixed with the everyday meaning, we are from one side inclined to think that the word refers to something of which we are directly aware of, but on other side this word now also implicitly carries some kind of theory. In this way we, without noticing, give a special status to the theory – of something of which we are directly aware of, and which is beyond questioning.

So, I consider as an important thing to disentangle the theoretical meanings from the traditional meanings of the words. To disentangle phenomenal (that of which we become aware through perception), from the theoretical content. I have in mind terms used in philosophy such as ‘mind’, ‘consciousness’ or ‘experience’.

In the previous post I was critical of the term ‘experience’, but I have similar thoughts about ‘mind’, ‘consciousness’, ‘appearance’ and so on. Needless to say, I have big respect (not that I respect just philosophers that I agree with :) ) for Ordinary Language Philosophy, and books like Ryle’s The Concept of Mind (though I disagree with lot of things in that book too), and Austin’s Sense and Sensibilia.

Hallucinations and Dreams

In talking about illusions few posts back I said that the first thing to consider about illusions, is that two things can appear same depending on the characteristics of those things, but also depending on the characteristics of the act of seeing. That is, depending on the things like how far are the things, the angle from which we look at them, if there is maybe a fog, if we look at the things through some colored (or distorting) glass. One can also add to this facts about the person looking, like that the person is tired, that he has poor vision and has no glasses, and so on…

Once one accepts that two things (or situations, events, etc…) can look the same depending on all those characteristics even the things (situations, events, etc…) are different, we have easy explanation of what illusions are. They are phenomena where one of those situations is taken as standard, and the other one requires some complications, so that we use the “looks like X”, or “seems like X”, to explain how this second thing under the specific circumstances appears as the standard situation X. (Of course this isn’t isolated on appearances of single things, we can for example that it seems that someone is home, and that usage can be covered with explanation given here, we just say that the things in the house appear as they would if the person is at home. For example the person’s shoes are there, or his coat, or there is a sound coming from the TV, etc…)

The idea here is that we don’t need to suppose that there are such things as “visual fields”, or “phenomenal experiences” or “phenomenal appearances/seemings” which would be used to explain the possibility for illusions. But, what about hallucinations and dreams. After all, we can say that in the case of illusions, there is really two things that under certain circumstances appear same. But in the case of hallucinations or dreams… There is nothing. So, is this a proof that one can’t do away with those assumed “visual fields”/”phenomenal experiences/appearances/seemings”, and that we need them to explain dreams and hallucinations?

I think not. Imagine that we have some semi-transparent glasses with some (semi-transparent) picture painted on them. When we see through this kind of glasses, the picture from the glasses might contribute to the seeing in such way, that what we look at appears mixed with the picture on the glasses. For example when we look at a blank wall, it might appear as if the picture on the glasses is on the wall. Now imagine that we have something analogous to semi-transparent glasses “behind” the eyes. This “seeing affector” will affect the seeing in similar way to semi-transparent painted glasses, i.e. when we look at the wall, it will appear same as when we are looking at the wall which has picture on it.

I guess it is clear where this is going – the idea is that we can look at the back of our eyelids (or whatever we are looking when we have our eyes closed), but that the “seeing affector” can affect the seeing in such a way, that that “darkness” in fact appears as when thing appear in normal situations. (As argued in the ‘Appears as a Red Ball’ vs. ‘Is a Red Ball’ normal situation is that in which we learn the concepts and where we are ignorant of possible complications). So, anyway the idea is that something like this happens in the case of dreams – that what we look at in those dreams is actually nothing (taken in the sense how in the situation where there is no light, we can’t see anything), but that some “seeing affector” makes it appear as the cases in which we are seeing some particular things. Hallucinations would be similar case, just in those cases the “seeing affector”, affects seeing in such way that the situations in the world appear as it would appear when there is something there, which in fact in those cases isn’t. I’m not sure if in the hallucinations the hallucinated things are mixed with what we see in the real world, but if it does, then the analogy with semi-transparent glass might make even more sense…

Anyway, what is this “seeing affector”? I think that it is connected to what we call “imagination”. In the experiments done by Perky in 1910,published in the text called An Experimental Study of Imagination, she found out that the subjects were failing to distinguish banana imagined on the screen from a projected imagine of a banana on the screen (they instead e.g. reported that their imagined banana started rotating). So, the imagination there seems as a perfect candidate for this “seeing affector” (of course seeing is juts one perception, and there is no reason why it would be special, and why we couldn’t talk about general affect on the senses), as the way it affects what is seen seems very similar to the semi-transparent painted glass analogy.

Also one can point to the case of Zoltan Torey, which was presented on the All In The Mind radio show some time ago. Zoltan eyes were hurt in an industrial accident, so he was permanently blinded. But this is what he says in the interview:

Evidently the visual cortex, far from going blank and atrophying, it has picked up in acuity, and it is now totally under my command, so I virtually live in a visual space that I constantly produce myself. It is not really a canvas that I’m looking at, it is really visual space, so that I am—in the middle of which I find myself. So if I turn around, for example, I see what’s behind me, and as I turn my head around in the room where I am, so I orientate into the objects and furniture which I’m facing. It’s a completely technicolour, textured, visual world which apparently I continuously produce.

This points even better of the potential role of imagination as a “perceptual affector”, which I assume as an explanation of dreams and hallucinations.
Of course, this is not an argument against the idea of phenomenal experience, however I think it shows that one can argue about perception being directed to the outside things, or so to say that we are aware of the things themselves, and that we don’t need any middle entity which would be used to explain phenomena like illusions, hallucinations and dreams.

Phenomenology of Names And Twin Earth

One can give a name just to something one is aware of.
One can become aware of different things – planets, persons, hurricanes and so on… So one can give a proper names to them.
One can also become aware that multitude of things have or might have some similarity. So one can give a common name to those objects that have such similarity. For this thing we use common nouns.

As far as giving a common name goes, in principle there is no difference between artifacts and natural kinds. In both cases we have to become aware of some multiplicity of things sharing certain similarity.

The basic similarity that is first noticed is gestalt perceptual similarity. In gestalt similarity one thing reminds you on another thing, even without explicitly being able to describe that thing (or e.g. make a picture of that thing), i.e. without awareness of the details. However, further, one can become aware of the further characteristics of those things, the possibility to use them for different things and so on… To the gestalt perceptual similarity of the named kind, then this other awareness of shared characteristics is added. We can say, that we are now aware of a multitude of things which share not just gestalt perceptual similarity, but also other characteristics.

Because the common nouns relate to the awareness of multitude of things sharing some similarity, they refer to all those things that share this kind of similarity, and not just to the things of which we have become aware of.

This kind of view gives an interesting twist to the twin Earth thought experiment.

The common nouns “water” on Earth, and “water” on Twin Earth in this picture mean same before citizens of Earth and Twin Earth become aware other kinds of similarities among the multitude of the stuff on their planet (i.e. before they become aware that this multitude is chemically analyzable as H2O on Earth, and that it is chemically analyzable as XYZ on Twin Earth).

image by Mor
Tvenice tflooded twith XYZ

The Web of Belief – A Reading Note 2

Continuing from the paragraph quoted in previous post, Quine further writes (my italics):

In an early page we asked what sorts of things were the objects of belief. Then we gratefully dropped that question, noticing that we could instead talk of sentences and of believing them true. Now a similar maneuver conduces to clarity in dealing with the notion of observation: let us ask no longer what counts as an observation, but turn rather to language and ask what counts as an observation sentence.

What makes a sentence an observation sentence is not what sort of event or situation it describes, but how it describes it. Thus I may see the dean of the law school mail a birthday check to his daughter in Belgium. Saying so in these terms does not qualify as an observation sentence. If on the other hand I describe that same event by saying that I saw a stout man with a broad face, a gray moustache, rimless spectacles, a Homburg hat, and a walking stick, putting a small white flat flimsy object into the slot of a mailbox, this is an observation sentence. What makes it an observation sentence is that any second witness would be bound to agree with me on all points then and there, granted merely an understanding of my language. The witness would not be bound to agree that it was the dean, whom he or she might not know, nor expected to know anything about the check or a daughter in Belgium.

About agreement on observational sentences… As I’ve said in the past posts about illusions, it seems to me an obvious fact that different things, (and there I mean completely different things), can appear same way, depending on…

  • characteristic of things
  • which kind of sensual modality (or access) is in question
  • the characteristic of that sensory access. For example in case of seeing – where we are seeing the things from, from what angle, do we wear glasses, are we sleepy, is there a fog, has anybody tampered with our brain, etc…

So, I think, that instead of “second witness would be bound to agree with me on all points then and there, granted merely an understanding of my language”, it would be better to speak that in case of observational sentences the second witness would be bound to agree that the situation seems such and such (granted merely an understanding of the language).

However, when we give up the possibility of sense-data language, I don’t think there is much sense to talk about infallibility of this kind of observational sentences. As there is not some factual state to which we have infallible access.

  1. This IS NOT going back to sense-data description, or to some
    “phenomenal seeming” which would be divorced from the world, and about which we could give some statements.
  2. According to the given analysis, the usage of “it seems that T” doesn’t mean that T is the case, but that among other things if T is the case, it would appear like whatever is the case appears now.
  3. Seeming or Appearance are always to someone. Something can’t appear except to someone. (Notice the symmetry with e.g. One can’t see without seeing something) So implicitly ‘seems’ is ‘seems to me’. And this further acknowledges that there might be limits to my perception, or limits to what I have focused on, or what I’m ignorant of, because of which it appears to me that T.

So, the report is then not a infallible report of some phenomenal fact, but just report of a judgment that we do. Something like “That might be car, but maybe it is not.”. It is hard to see that as some kind of infallible report (though of course, it is hard to see how it can be wrong too).

The Quine’s position on this issue is not like the one I’m presenting here though. He seems to acknowledge that there is some kind of “private experience” and sense-data, and that there are such things as “I’m in pain” and “I seem to see blue”, which would be reports about that “private experience”…

We remarked that some philosophers have identified observations with events of sensation. It is thus not to be wondered that in some philosophical writings the title of observation sentence is reserved for sentences very different from observation sentences as we have defined them. It is reserved for introspective reports like “I am in pain” and “I seem to see blue now.” Such reports also have been rated as infallible. It must be conceded that they tend to be incontestable, because of the speaker’s privileged access to his or her private experience. But on this very point they differ diametrically from observation sentences in our sense. The situations that make them true are not ones to which multiple witnesses could attest.

What Are Illusions?

Chris at Mixing Memory has a post discussing few visual illusions, and also pointing to the announcement of the Best Visual Illusion of the Year.

As illusions came out also in the discussion we had with Richard in the comments, I thought I write a post about them.

What are illusions?

I guess the first intuitive answer would be: “the illusion is when something appears differently from how it is”. For example… two lines are same length, but they appear as having different lengths. Or… some color is gray, but we see it as yellow (check under Colour Perception illusions here). Or, there is no painted skull on the wall, but it seems to us that there is a skull. And so on…

But saying that “things appear differently from how they are”, has certain problems…

To point to one of the problems, I will point to a simple illusion. Take a white ball, for example. The ball is white and seems white. Now shine a red light onto it. The ball seems red, right? But what does “seems red” means there? We can say that white ball when under red light appears same as red ball under white light. But why put priority to how the red ball appears under white light? Why not say that red ball under white light appears as white ball under red light. What is so special about white light?

It seems to me, all we can say here, is that “red ball under white light” and “white ball under red light” appear the same. But if we don’t put priority on the one of those situations, where does the illusion come from?

Let me now propose the different description of what illusions are about, and then try to discuss it further:

Desc*: Illusion:One thing can appear as some another thing even if the things are different. In the course of our lives, we are encountering one of those situations more often, and the other situation usually requires a deliberate setup, or unlikely conditions which rarely occur. So, when we encounter the second situation we tend to judge it to be the first situation.

Illusions are then, not inherent in perception but are problem of the judgment, and usually of our ignorance of the complications in the situation, including the ignorance of the limits of our senses of perception.

So, how this differs from that first explanation that was proposed… Here is I think main differences:

1. That first explanation seems to imply that there is some such entity as “an appearance of a thing”. The logic is, if two things appear as same or similar, there is something identical in both cases, and that which is identical is “an appearance”, then this “appearance” is reified as independent thing, and most likely located in the mind/brain of the subject. (I will explain why in the next point). And because the appearance is something in the mind, to which we have direct access, if there is some mistake it has to be in the appearance itself. Instead of this kind of thinking, in this other way of looking at the illusions, we can negate that there are such things as appearances. Instead we speak about things appearing some way to us, that is, “appear” is used just as a verb and points to a relation between the thing and a person, and not to some other specific entity.

2.When talking about “the appearances” as entities in the previous case, they are imagined as simple, and things to which the subject now has some kind of direct and infallible access. It has to be infallible in this model, because if it is fallible then we haven’t solved the problem at all. Because of this fallibility it will be possible for the “appearance” to appear differently to the subject. And then we need to assume another level of “appearance” and so on…

3.Instead of that, in Desc*, we can include in the picture different properties of the subject’s access to the thing. To be more precise, in one case of appearance,  we can talk about:

  • the intentional content (that to which we access through our senses – it can be a dog, cow, box, etc…)
  • the type of intentional access (e.g. seeing, hearing, etc..)
  • the different characteristics of the intentional access (for example, when we talk about seeing, a person can have glasses, the object might be put under different light or context, there can be fog, can look at the thing from different angles and distances, his eyes might be tired, someone might have rewired some things in the brain, etc…)

All those complications now become possible variables which might be tampered with, in order for something to look like something else.
For example we can say things like “a red ball in normal context appears like a white ball when one sees it through red glasses (or other way around)”, or “two lines with equal lengths drawn on paper with added arrows at the ends, look like lines with different lengths seen in perspective”, or that “gray circle in certain context seems like purple circle in normal context”, or that “a wall after we tamper with our eyes by fixing our eyes to certain color, appears like wall with a circle on it”, and so on…

So, in general there is nothing problematic here that is not present in simple case where a box, and a pyramid can appear same, if we look them from proper side. Things appear same because of limits of our perception, and some of those require a deliberate setup and are rarely encountered, so we will tend to judge such situations as others.

Take for example, a case of afterimage illusions. It requires first fixing your eyes at a specific place for certain time (say 20-30 seconds), and then looking at some blank wall, and not moving the eyes, in order to trick us into making wrong judgment. But we usually don’t make wrong judgment, and say that it “seems” because we are aware that the situation just seems like that other situation (as both situation seem same), and not that it is that other situation.

If you by chance glance towards the sun, it is pretty easy after that to tell that you have problem with the vision. It is not that we are thinking that world has gone weird and some green patch is moving over it.