A brood comb

….philosophical and other notes….

Archive for the ‘Meaning&Reference’ Category

Two sentences walked into a bar

Posted by Tanas Gjorgoski on December 18, 2008

Few posts ago I expressed my opinion that sentences can’t be true or false. That what can be true or false is what is claimed. Also that “what is claimed” there shouldn’t be understood as some kind of entity (be it called “proposition” or “claim” or “statement”). Claiming is an act where something is claimed, like – I might claim that I had eggs for breakfast. I don’t claim any “claim” or “proposition” or “statement”. I simply talk about me having eggs for breakfast.

What I said is that given that we don’t accept that sentences can be true or false, it kind of removes the issues of sentences like “this sentence is false”. Both “this sentence is false” and “this sentence is true” , or “the second sentence from the first paragraph is true” are nonsense, as sentences can’t be true or false. Sure, the sentence might be “Earth is fifth closest planet to the Sun in the Solar system”, and we can say that sentence is false *meaning* that it is not true that Earth is fifth closes planet to the Sun in the Solar system, however whatever we actually mean has nothing to do with sentences, it has to do with Earth being or not being the fifth closest planet to the Sun in the solar system. That we speak of this in the context of what somebody has written in a book is maybe important for the way we will say it, because we are considering and commenting on it only because we are reading that, but what we are considering, the intentional matter of our thinking  – has nothing to do with sentences. So, we may say “that sentence is false” meaning that, but I think that saying that in that way is asking for trouble, and sooner or later we will get into paradoxes and problems.

Anyway, what I wanted to say here is that it seems to me that it is not just the talk of sentences as being true or false which is making problems, but also any  self-referencing in sentences. It might seem as quite a different thing, but the basis of being critical of this is the practically the same one.

Namely it is people (or other conscious beings) who can consider things, get to belief that things are such and such, and further can claim that things are such and such, can ask if things are such and such, etc… But, what is claimed is something that can be believed and considered. Like, I might consider if I had eggs for breakfast, or I might come to believe that Earth is third planet of the Solar System. And I can further claim or express my opinion that Earth is third planet of the Solar System, or that I had eggs for breakfast. Sure, somebody might approach my speech act of expressing opinion or claiming, and on another different level – of actual performance of the act (I guess we may say as a purely locutionary act), and be able to locate such things as “sentences” there. But I don’t think that expressing opinion, or claiming something involves some intentional creation of sentences, or looking for a sentence,  such that it will have some kind of meaning that we are intending to express.

To get back to the self-referential sentences – given that we agree that considering if things are such and such, and believing that things are such and such, is what is behind expressing the opinion that things are such and such or claiming that things are such and such – if we can’t find such acts which would correspond to the claims like – “this sentence has five words”, I don’t think we can make sense of these kind of claims. So to say – one can’t wonder if this sentence has five words, and then express his claim that this sentence has five words… The claim is not a sentence, the sentence is something that appears *while* making the claim. And certainly there is no sentence to speak of when we merely wonder about things. We may think of course about the sentence “this sentence has five words” having five words, but in doing so, we are considering the sentence as a subject matter. The claim that would correspond than would be that sentence “This sentence has five letters” has five letters. Of course, the same claim can be expressed in English or German or any other language.

So to say there is no sense in wondering if this sentence ha five words (which sentence?), there is no sense in forming opinion if this sentence has five words (again – which sentence), and in same way there is no sense in claiming that this sentence has five words. As mentioned before I don’t think that talking about ‘statements’, ‘propositions’ or ‘claims’ helps much, we don’t consider or form opinion about propositions, only if things are such and such or otherwise.

One can say – that maybe we consider if the world is according to some description/statement/proposition, so that the proposition/statement/description may be located as some separate entity, but is this anything but adding an aditional step which doesn’t solve anything? Because “the world is according to some statement/proposition” is again something that is claimed – should now consider this as a new proposition/statement/description?

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Posted in Meaning&Reference, Philosophy | 1 Comment »

There happen to be gaps

Posted by Tanas Gjorgoski on December 2, 2008

Thinking about what we mean by our words for kinds of things (“lions”, “gold”, “trees”, etc…), it seems clear to me that what we have in mind are not some essences. (This is of course separate issue from the issue if in fact the individuals which we see as belonging to the certain kind in fact share some essential characteristic.)

It can’t be that we have the essence in mind, because we aren’t aware of this essence. We can for sure think of “the essence which is shared by all those things” without knowing it, but even before that we need to have “those things” in mind in first place. Some kind of grouping of things into a kind needs to be done even before common essential characteristic is assumed.

So, given that it is not some essential (or defining) characteristic that is base of seeing individuals as belonging to one kind, what is it?

Last year, I was saying that it is some similarity on base of which we see individuals belonging to some kind – that is… we become aware of group (multitude) of individuals sharing some similarity, and it is that what we have in mind (the multitude of individuals [actual or possible] sharing some similarity) and that we baptize that when we introduce common nouns. So, to say – there happens to exist this multitude of things which are similar in some way, and we think of them when we use those common nouns. Be it the case where we talk about lions, trees, water etc…

As part of this kind of stance, in other posts I said I’m suspecting that there aren’t such things as concepts – e.g. LION, WATER, TREE, which would be what is meant by our common nouns. That is because, first I think the basis of using common nouns is in thinking of multiplicity and not of one single thing which has some properties; and second because that what we refer to are groups of things which happen to exist (that is what we have in mind) – we don’t have in mind some abstract criteria.

I think there is another part for this my story to make sense – and those are the gaps in the “similarity space”. If we put attention on the things that happen to exist, even if we can’t specify some defining characteristics of them, it so happens that there are gaps in their similarity. That is, it so happens that we have lions which are similar to each other, and then we have a gap of similarity to some other species. It is this fact, I think, that even in the absence of defining features, enables us to think of kinds of things – so it happens that there are not individuals which would fall in the similarity space between lions and e.g. tigers.

Of course, there might happen to be one individual (something between a tiger and a lion) but that wouldn’t really mean that there are no two groups of individuals which are separated by a gap. It would be two groups and one individual between them. But if instead of this individual, there happened to be lot of individuals which would fill the similarity gap between tigers and lions, it is hard to imagine that we would be able to discuss two kinds of things as we are today. What we could do is maybe paying attention on some feature, and do arbitrary setting of some border, but that would be quite different I think.

Because our thinking of lions and tigers as two different kinds today IS based on the fact that there is a real gap, not of our making, and that we have in fact group of things which are similar among each other. It is this actual phenomenon that we are thinking of. So, while there are no defining features, and even no defined borders of when does a lion stop being lion (and becoming something else),  there is a real phenomenon. While in the case where we would arbitrarily define what would be counted as lion, we are moving in thinking about quite another thing. We are not thinking of things which happen to exist, but we are defining kinds based on features – and this kind of definition is unrelated to the issue if individuals exist which satisfy this feature or not.

Posted in Concepts, Meaning&Reference, Philosophy | 12 Comments »

Truth of Sentences, Take Two

Posted by Tanas Gjorgoski on November 13, 2008

I want to approach what I discussed in previous post from somewhat different perspective, in order to explain myself better.

In the linguistic community we become aware of all of different kind of things that can be done with language. Among other things, we can use language to speak about the world – through language we can claim that things are thus and so (“I had eggs for breakfast”), we can ask someone if things are thus and so (“Did I have eggs for breakfast?”), we can wonder aloud if things are thus and so (“I wonder if I have eggs for breakfast”), wonder what might have been if things were thus and so (“I wonder what would have been if I had eggs for breakfast.”).

Now, there is something clear here – while all those speech acts are different – they have something in common, they are about the same thing – about things in the world being thus and so, or in the specific case about me having eggs for breakfast. If I did have eggs for breakfast, that would mean that the answer to the question if I had eggs for breakfast is positive, that I was right in claiming that I had eggs for breakfast, that those who deny that I had eggs for breakfast are wrong, and so on…

We now (in the tradition of analytic thought) want to isolate this common thing, and on another side isolate another element to account for what is different in all those cases. If we do so, we can reduce the wealth of phenomena to few defining parts. Combine those parts, and you will be able to get to all those kinds of speech-acts.

The solution is pretty obvious – we will have claiming, asking, wondering-aloud, suggesting, denying and etc. on one side, and we will have the other element – call it proposition, statement or sentence, on another side. It seems also obvious that this other element, can’t be some actual state of affairs as the proposition might be “I had eggs for breakfast”, and maybe I didn’t have eggs for breakfast.

The moment we do this separation though, the need appears to specify the nature of the sentence/proposition/statement, and somehow “glue” it to the world. To me it is this that seems problematic – in the speech acts to which we pointed, we are simply claiming something about the world, asking something about the world – taken on this less-abstract level, there are no issues of connection between what is said and the world. It is when we take one aspect of those speech-acts, motivated by given reasoning, where we get into the issues of connecting this aspect to the world. Giving account of its meaning and truth-value.

So, I’m thinking that we are doing something wrong there. We are taking the notions of speech-acts (claiming something, asking something, denying something, etc…),  we take their aspects, take those aspects as self-subsistent, and then try to reconnect them (while keeping their assumed self-subsistence). The idea is then that we can’t take sentences and speak of them as being true or false, independent on any speech-act. It is speech-acts in which we are speaking about the world, and that only what is said about the world can be true or false (vs. merely what is said taken as abstract).

Posted in Meaning&Reference, Philosophy | 17 Comments »

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 »

The Meaning of Few Different Words Within the Illusionary World

Posted by Tanas Gjorgoski on May 19, 2008

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.

Posted in Concepts, Illusions, Intentionality, Mathematics, Meaning&Reference, Metaphysics, Perception, Philosophy | Leave a Comment »

Doing Metaphysics In A Vat

Posted by Tanas Gjorgoski on May 18, 2008

Starting with the scenario from previous posts…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Illusions, Mathematics, Meaning&Reference, Metaphysics, Philosophy | 2 Comments »

Becoming Aware Through Illusion

Posted by Tanas Gjorgoski on May 16, 2008

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…

Posted in Concepts, Illusions, Intentionality, Meaning&Reference, Perception, Philosophy | Leave a Comment »

Cartesian Externalism

Posted by Tanas Gjorgoski on May 13, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Concepts, Illusions, Meaning&Reference, Metaphysics, Perception, Philosophy | 6 Comments »

Am I Missing Something?

Posted by Tanas Gjorgoski on January 18, 2008

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)

Posted in Concepts, Intentionality, Meaning&Reference, Philosophy | 6 Comments »

Further Thoughts on Concepts and Meaning of Common Nouns

Posted by Tanas Gjorgoski on January 17, 2008

Continuing from the previous post, I will use Putnam’s analysis from his 1970 paper ‘Is Semantic Possible?’, to give some comments about how acknowledging that plural forms of common nouns (like ‘lemons’) have meaning but singular forms (simply ‘lemon’) don’t, helps us avoid difficulties that different theories about meaning related to traditional views of concepts encounter when they put attention on the singular form (‘lemon’).

Putnam starts with the ‘traditional view’, where

the meaning of lemon, is given by specifying a conjuction of properties. For each of those properties, the stataement ‘lemons have the property P’ is analytic truth; and if P1, P2, …, Pn are all the properties in the conjunction, then ‘anything with all the properties P1, …, Pn is a lemon’ is likewise an analytic truth.

However as he notes, this is simply wrong, as if we for example take defining characteristics of lemons to be yellow color, tart taste, etc…, it is easy to imagine for example a lemon which is blue, or which doesn’t have tart taste. So, obviously what is said to be meaning of ‘lemon’ in that quote, can’t be the meaning of ‘lemon’. If it was, it would be impossible for us to imagine blue lemon, same as it is impossible for us to imagine square circle.

The next step Putnam sees as possible for ‘perfecting’ the traditional view, we see that the problem is somewhat solved when we start to think in terms of lemons, and not lemon. In the second try, we get that ‘lemon’ means – something

that belongs to the natural kind whose normal members have yellow peel, tart taste, etc..

So, instead of requiring that the meaning of ‘lemon’ is related to some defining features, we now turn our attention to the multitude, and to ‘normal features’ of this multitude. But, as Putnam points, the color of lemons might change because of some new gas in the Earth’s atmosphere which reacts with lemons’ pigment. We won’t say then that lemons ceased to exist (as there would be no such thing as ‘natural kind whose normal members have yellow peel, tart taste, etc…’).

It seems to me that both the need for ‘natural kind’ and ‘normal members’ speech is still connected to the thinking that what we are after when talking about meaning of common nouns is something related to the singular term – ‘lemon’ in this case. Talk about ‘natural kind’ is serving as a glue for ‘abnormal’ lemons, as surely we want what we mean by ‘lemon’ to cover them – any of those abnormal lemons is a lemon also. The other phrase ‘normal members’ on another side twists again the move that we made towards the multiplicity, and sees individual members as important. Those are, in my opinion, the reasons this stub at meaning of ‘lemon’ are still unsuccessful and get into problems.

Putnam further analyzes this move which might get the traditional view out of difficulties:

X is a lemon = df X belongs to a natural kind whose normal members …. (as before) or X belongs to a natural kind whose normal members used to … (as before) or X belongs to a natural kind whose normal members where formerly believed to, or are now incorrectly believed to… (as before)

While Putnam says that this definition which tries to address the issues of the previous is slightly crazy, I think that it is again move in the right direction. Putting aside that it still has the problems of the previous definition, it brings forward (well, at least points into direction of) one important thing – the act of baptizing is a conscious act in which we give a name to something of which we think – to something that appears as target to our intentional acts.

So, talking about meaning of ‘lemons’, it is important that people first notice that there is a phenomenon of some multitude in the world. And this simply by recognizing similarity – there is multitude of things in the world, that are similar somehow. Related to this, we can point to the moments in that definition that are still problematic:

1. Properties talk shouldn’t be essential – I don’t need to be able to recognize colors, or shapes for one lemon to remind me of another.
2. I don’t need to know what ‘natural kind’ is, to mean something by ‘lemons’. After all, it is fully meaningful to ask if lemons are natural kind. If what I meant by ‘lemons’ is tightly related to them being natural kind, the answer would be obvious to me.
3. Talk of normal members is not required too. That it so happens that there is phenomenon of some multitude of things, which happen to be similar in some way, is a normal situation which will motivate us to invent new common noun to use for those things. But that doesn’t imply anything about ‘normal members of a natural kind’, nor that I can find that this first gestalt similarity isn’t product of some “deeper” similarity which would uncover that there are abnormal lemons possible.
4. Because it is the multitude and the similarity which is important, we don’t have problems with the ‘vagueness of concepts’. The similarity might be continuous in the world – A might be similar to B, C similar to B, but less similar to A, D similar to C, but less similar to B and even more to A, etc… There is no objective way in which the common noun will cover the similarity just from A to C, and not to D. People might agree to use the common noun for C, and not for D, but you won’t find that in the meaning of the common noun. Related to this, this view where the meaning is related to similarity of a multitude, also doesn’t have problem with typicality effects.

Posted in Concepts, Meaning&Reference, Philosophy | Leave a Comment »

Are There Concepts?

Posted by Tanas Gjorgoski on January 15, 2008

I’m back from the short vacation, so it is time to write something new…

I want here to express my skepticism about ‘concepts’ (Well, at least about the word as philosophers and cog.scientists use it. Same as with the word ‘experience’, I’m sure there is quite a nice meaning that the word ‘concept’ has in the everyday speech.) . The notion of concepts (in philo-sense) is, I think, tightly connected to language. Language consist of words which have meanings. What are the meanings of those words? For proper names the answer is fairly straightforward, the meaning of a proper name, is the individual which was baptized with that name. But, the question appears about the meaning of common nouns – what is the meaning of such words like ‘rabbit’, ‘book, ‘chair’, ‘bachelor’ and so on?

It is here, I think, that by analogy with proper names, we are inclined to think that there is some one thing, which is meaning of those nouns, so – the meaning of ‘rabbit’ is the concept of rabbit, the meaning of ‘book’ is the concept of book, and similarly for the concepts of ‘chair’, ‘bachelor’, ‘justice’, ‘milk’, ‘love’, ‘gold’, ‘tiger’ etc… Given this assumption, it is later asked what is the nature of those concepts, how do we form them, how do we recognize things as falling under certain concepts, and so on. As attempts to answer those questions we get different theories of concepts.

We have for example classical theories of concepts, where a concept consist of a list of sufficient and necessary features. This theory sees concepts as kind of definition through other ‘more simpler’ concepts. For example a concept of bachelor would consist of concepts male and not married. One sub-type of this theory is, I guess, the genus/differentia view of concepts, where concepts are supposed to create a branching tree, where the concept in the branch is defined by its ‘parent’ concept, and a defining characteristic which separates it from other siblings in the same parent. Then, there are prototype theories, where concepts are not lists of defining features but representations which contains some kind of statistical information about properties that things which fall under that concept tend to have. Theory-theory of concepts changes the focus to more holistic understanding of concepts, where what is put to front are theories people have about the world, and where concepts have their existence only as parts of those theories.

However there is a certain problem for this view that the meaning of part of those common nouns is one certain thing. Because, while we can think about John, Mary and Peter, we can’t think about chair, bachelor, book and tiger. There is no such thing as intentional act, in which the target will be simply chair (not ‘a chair’, as then it is some specific chair), simply bachelor, simply book, or simply tiger. So, if we are supposed to give names to things of which we think of, we don’t have reasons to think that there is one specific thing, which is baptized with those common nouns.

What we can think of is books, rabbits, bachelors, tigers and chairs. I think this points that when we search for the meanings related to the words like ‘book’, ‘chair’, ‘bachelor’, etc…, we should in fact look at the plural form of those words. That words like ‘book’, ‘chair’, ‘bachelor’ are simply meaningless, and that they have meanings just when in forms like ‘a book’, ‘some book’, ‘any book’, and so on…. We can think about a book, about some book, about any book,etc… but not think about book.

So, if those words like ‘book’, ‘rabbit’, ‘bachelor’, ‘tiger’ and ‘chair’ don’t have meanings by themselves, it is a reason to suspect that we are on the right way when assuming such things as concepts. (I must note here that the argument given here doesn’t work for the mass nouns like ‘gold’ or ‘water’. Though I believe that there are no concepts behind those nouns too, at the moment I don’t have any argument for those.)

What is the alternative then?

As I was arguing in few places, I think that firstly it is very straightforward that common nouns only make sense in relation to multitude. If we aren’t thinking of multitude, there is no reason for us to use common nouns in our language. So, we should focus on the plural forms – that is ‘books’, ‘rabbits’, ‘bachelors’, ‘tigers’, ‘chairs’. When we move to the plural form, what we have as a meaning is obviously not one sole thing, but – a multitude. And, that is I think also unproblematic – we CAN think of multitudes, and this capacity of ours to be aware/think/see/imagine/assume etc… multitudes is not simply being aware of some kind of different thing (where the whole multitude would be taken as ONE thing). Multitude IS multitude, is NOT one. That this is separate faculty, we can see in persons that suffer of different forms of simultanagnosia. Related to this it might be interesting to see if maybe those people in some form of the agnosia might also have problems with using, or at least with learning of new common nouns.

Say that you grant that the meaning of common nouns aren’t concepts, and that those singular forms are ‘borrowing’ the meaning in different ways from the plural forms. What is then the meaning of those plural forms? What ‘books’, ‘bachelors’, ‘rabbits’ and ‘lemons’ mean?

This post is getting too long, so I will continue with this line of thought in some other post.

Posted in Concepts, Meaning&Reference, Philosophy | 23 Comments »

Language, Practices and Objective Reality

Posted by Tanas Gjorgoski on December 11, 2007

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.

Posted in Intentionality, Meaning&Reference, Philosophy | Leave a Comment »

Proof That Other People Are Conscious

Posted by Tanas Gjorgoski on December 6, 2007

Something like this…

1. Person A can’t teach person B what word W means, if A doesn’t know what W means.
2. One can’t know what ‘consciousness’ means if one is not conscious.

From 1 and 2 =>

3.Person A can’t teach person B what ‘consciousness’ means, if A isn’t conscious.

4.I learned word ‘conscious’ from the people in the linguistic community.

From 4 and 3 =>

5. People in the linguistic community are conscious.

OK, now you know… you are conscious.

Posted in Consciousness, Meaning&Reference, Philosophy | 8 Comments »

A Question About Epiphenomenalism

Posted by Tanas Gjorgoski on August 23, 2007

Say that epiphenomenalist accepts causal theory of reference.
Then zombie philosopher in the zombie-world by ‘conscious experience’ is referring to something by which it was causally affected. As there is no conscious experience in the zombie-world, what it is affected by  and refers to by ‘conscious experience’, then, is something physical.
But as the causal relations are same in our world, it appears that whatever zombie philosopher is referring to by ‘conscious experience’, we are referring to the same thing by ‘conscious experience’. So, seems that epiphenomenalist can’t after all accept causal theory of reference, as that would mean that by ‘conscious experience’ she is referring to something physical.

So, what kind of grounding of reference does epiphenomenalist buy?
Can zombies refer to conscious experience at all?

Posted in Consciousness, Meaning&Reference, Philosophy | 12 Comments »

`Chair` And the Phenomenon of Chairs

Posted by Tanas Gjorgoski on August 17, 2007

I want to give another example how in discussing what words refer to, we don’t need to assume some intra-mental concepts, in which the meaning of the term would be ‘encoded’ (be it as a list of necessary and sufficient conditions, genus/differentia, as nodes in theories, through prototypes, etc…), but as a relation to something which appears as content of our intentional acts.

I said that ‘bachelor’ is in such way related to a phenomenon of bachelorhood, a real phenomenon which appears in the specific context of social relations (but might not appear in others). That the phenomenon is dependent on the context, doesn’t make it any less real, just not self-subsistent. That is, its existence depends on the existence of the particular context. The word ‘bachelor’ then picks out one of those persons that share with each other the particular position in society organized by particular principles. In such way, though the ‘bachelor’ is not some intra-mental concept (as I think nominalists would say), and while also there is no assumed essence which is shared by all bachelors, the term picks out some aspect of reality. In such way one can be externalist about phenomenon of bachelorhood, and claim that the word ‘bachelor’ picks out something in the world (though in a roundabout way – only through the phenomenon of bachelorhood which appears on level of society, and only then applying it to a particular person as a part of that phenomenon).

I think same can be said about chairs. I think one shouldn’t search for some definition of what makes a chair, but look at chairs as particular phenomenon that appears in certain kind of societies. From that point of view, to explain meaning of ‘chairs’ we don’t look for a definition which every chair has to fulfill. Instead we talk about the phenomenon of chairs. And that there is phenomenon of chairs is unproblematic. People have factories in which chairs are produces, chairs are manufactured, sold and bought. Chairs come in different dimensions, styles and colors, and people usually place them in their homes, sit on them while they are eating something, to take a rest, to read, and so on.

So the phenomenon is there, and because it is there, we can become aware of it. And because it is phenomenon, and not something essential which is found in every chair, people have space to play with the individual chairs, which while being weird in some way are part of the phenomenon.

Posted in Meaning&Reference, Philosophy | 4 Comments »