Mind and World – Note 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reading Mind and World – Note 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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…

Cartesian Externalism

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.

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

After a short series in which I explain my views on the mind-body issue, let me as a kind of overview provide links to few other posts which are related to separate steps in the view:

LINKS FOR PART ONE: Returning the content which was pushed under the “rug of mental” back into the world.

Some of the related posts:

Other things which I usually relate to those issues are Ryle’s discussions in The Concept of Mind, and Austin’s discussions of “seems”/”appears” etc… in Sense and Sensibilia, other works like Merleau Ponty’s Phenomenology of Perception, in more recent times disjunctivist theory of perception, and so on (you get the picture).

LINKS FOR PART TWO: Moving away from atomism/constructivism towards seeing the world in terms of what is actually going on, and aspects of what is actually going on. Seeing physical and what is returned into the world as aspects.

Some of the related posts:

In the discussion of seeing things of which we are aware as aspects, I’m usually relating to Hegel’s Logic. For some overview of this, you can check: Hegel and Concepts – The Diamond-Net, The Differences of the Diamond-Net, Little more on Hegel vs. Kant – The Antinomies, etc..

LINKS FOR PART THREE: Physical laws as metaphysically necessary relations between physical aspects, as explanation of the neat mathematical relations we find in the physical aspect

Some of the related posts

In this, I think there are connections again to the work of Hegel, especially in relation to his work on numbers (I have a short note here), his views on change being inline with Relativity, and his views on properties as not self-subsistent possibly being inline with Quantum Mechanics. Also I think this possibly can be nicely related to such things as instrumentalism and positivism.

A Short Note On “Content Of Experience”

As pointed few times before, I think ‘experiences’ properly refers to events in the world (part of whatever is going on) in which subjects take part. Events by which they are affected somehow or from which they learn. Also ‘experience’ can be used to refer to the knowledge gained in that way.

But if that is so, the talk about “content of experience” doesn’t really makes much sense. If we need to speak about things being in the experiences, we can speak about objects, their relations, properties, and so on. So, the questions of what kind of content there is in our experiences, seems to me as the wrong question to ask. (Same goes about the issue if the experience is thick or thin)

What can be talked about are however different relations between subjects and the things within the experience. Here we can talk about the subject being aware of this or that part of the world, not being aware of this or that part of the world, mistaking one thing for another, being subconsciously affected by this and that and so on.

Resolving The Mind-Body Issue, Part 2

The first step into resolving the issue was returning to the world the things which we, in our wish for clean picture of the world, removed from the world and pushed under the rug of mental. And also reconsidering the “mind” as referring to different abilities of the subjects in that world, part of which are abilities to perceive all those things which we know return to the world (so colors, sounds, smells, movements, and so on…)

This, along with some motivations and considerations related to this step was discussed in the previous post.

I think one almost instinctive negative response to this move will be related to a metaphysical assumption of atomism/constructivism. According to this outlook, what we actually have in the world are large amount of entities of few basic kinds, and every other phenomenon we encounter is constructed from those entities. When this phenomenon is constructed, what makes the phenomenon what it is, is the specific configuration and dynamics of those parts.

Related to this kind of outlook (be it that we are aware of it explicitly, or we just took it for granted as part of how people talk about things), it is hard to make sense of the “returning of things from mind to world” of which I was talked . We need an alternative to atomism/constructivism, for the proposal to make sense.

The alternative is this. Instead of thinking of the world in terms of atoms (the basic “constituents”) and construction, we think of it in terms of actual things, and their aspects. What is central in this, is moving of the “source of actuality” away from the atoms. They are not now the basic stuff which is actual, and every phenomenon lends its actuality from atoms. Instead we move what is actual towards the whole – towards the whole world. It is the world that is actual, and anything within the world is actual AS a part of this whole world which includes the other things, their relations, and so on. So, in this change of the metaphysics, we can come to see atoms, also configurations of atoms, but also other things as aspects of what is actually happening in the world.

So, let’s see how this would work on some examples.

1. We can say that some things have color as their aspect. But also that they have a chemical composition as their aspect. In turn one of the aspects of the chemical composition is its reflectance characteristic. That is, which frequencies it reflects, and which it doesn’t.

2. We have events where we are seeing colors of things. One of the aspects of this seeing, is where we ‘pick-out’ the color of the thing, this aspect that we “returned” into the world. But also we can analyze the other aspect of the same phenomenon. That is the aspect where photons fall on the surface of the object, those with certain frequencies get reflected, are focused by the lens of the eye onto the retina, where eye cells react to those photons, and send signals through the optic nerve, etc…

So, we changed the atomistic/constructionalist picture to this… there is something actually happening in the world. And we can approach certain aspects of what is actually happening. But we don’t take those aspects to be self-subsistent (that is, we don’t take them as existing by itself, so that it would be logical for there to be just things from the aspect such as they are, but nothing else), instead we see their existence only as dependent on what is actually going on.

With this changed picture, we have two things…

1.We can now handle how in the same world there could be a) those “nasty” things that we returned – we can see them as more complex aspects which we can perceive, and b) the entities and properties from physics, which are now related to this aspect which is determined with the specific approach towards the world (measurements in form of comparing of one magnitude with other taken as a unit).

and 2. We get for free the explanation for the correlation between the aspects. Namely, as the “returned properties” and the physical properties are both aspects of the same actual thing, it is logical that we will see correlation. That is because the aspects are not self-subsistent, so that each aspect has separate existence (as with the constituents in the case of atomism/constructivism), instead they “get” their existence and their nature from the actuality whose aspects they are. So, multiple aspects of the same thing will necessarily be more or less correlated. In the example with color, the color of the thing and the reflectance characteristic of the object (and in turn its chemical composition) are correlated to a large extent.

This change of view is very important for making sense of the body-mind issue. We are having only one thing that is actually going on, and further we have multiplicity of aspects of whatever is actually going on. And we don’t have problem of why there is correspondence between the physical aspect of what is going on, and the mental aspect of it, without assuming that any of those is reducible to the other.

This concludes the second part of these posts. The two main steps made so far were:
1.Returning the content which was pushed under the “rug of the mental” back into the world.
2.Moving away from atomism/constructivism towards seeing the world in terms of what is actually going on, and aspects of what is actually going on, and taking both what appears in physical laws, and what we returned into the world as aspects of the world.

I noted that the correlation between aspects is something normal in this view, but this requires that those aspects are not self-subsistent. How to deal with this then, when the physical entities and their properties are apparently self-subsistent? I will discuss this in the next post

Resolving The Mind-Body Issue, Part 1

In past posts I said that both epiphenomenalism and physicalism are weird. I also consider substance dualism equally weird. We are seeing too much correspondence between what goes in our conscious lives and what goes on in the brain for there to be place for assuming that there is two different substances. But one doesn’t even need to go too deep into science, I think. One should just check how alcohol affects our consciousness. It doesn’t affect just what I perceive, it changes ME in the most intimate way. Of course, this objection doesn’t render substance dualism impossible, but just weird. (In same way I wasn’t arguing against logical impossibility of the epiphenomenalism and physicalism in previous posts. I was just saying that given their commitments, they are weird). Now, there is also categorical phenomenalism, which says that what we are seeing in the world are the dispositions of the matter to act this or that way, but that “behind” those dispositions there is some ground, something which explains them. And categorical phenomenalism would say that consciousness is connected to this ground. However, as i posted in previous comments, this view doesn’t go far into solving the issues epiphenomenalism has. So, it is as weird to me for same reason as epiphenomenalism is.

So, throwing all those things as insensible proposals, I guess it is only fair that I express an alternative… You will probably see the alternative as weird, but I think this one is weird in different way, not because of its implausibility, but because it requires that we change significantly our suppositions about the things in the world. But, I think, lot of people do recognize the need for a significant change of the paradigm, in order for any plausible explanation of consciousness, so, in the light of that, I think that people are open to new approaches to the problem.

Let me start with little history of the problem, as I see it…

What has been done from the time of Descartes, and what continues to be done those days, and for sure will continue to be done in future is this… People through science are approaching measurable aspects of reality – those which can be quantified independently by other people, and then give different explanations of those aspects in terms of assumed entities. In doing this however, while painting the clean picture of the world, it became custom to push different things we are aware of as in the world, and which don’t easily fit into that picture, under the rug of “mental”. This is very clearly seen in terms of the Lockean distinction of primary and secondary qualities. The primary qualities, or those aspects of the world that which are also susceptible to the measurement are “allowed” in the picture of the world. Those would be some of the things we see like size, solidity, volume, shape, speed, and so on. But, what to do with the secondary qualities like color, taste, texture, sound and so on? We took the easy solution, we assumed this magical place called mind and pushed those into the mind – “We will deal with those later.”. So we got to a clear picture of the world, but on what price? The price is that we have robbed the world from all those “interesting properties”, and put them into the “ourselves”, into the mental.

But, now when we come to the time when we want to include the mind in the world, we are astonished by this metaphysical gap between the clear picture of world, and all this “leftovers” in our mind. A gap which was of our own making! And not just that, but removing those things from the world, and putting them in the mind, necessarily produces some distinction of how we see things and how they really are, and further introduces such entities as “phenomenal experience”. The result is both metaphysical and epistemic gap.

I guess the contours of the proposed change of paradigm that I’m talking about are becoming clear given what I said so far. The proposal is of returning the interesting properties into the world. Returning the colors, sounds and tastes, the acts of seeing, hearing and tasting, the beauty and the ugliness, the good and evil, the language and meaning, and all this other things back to the world.

Given that we removed all those things from the “magical place” called mind, what we get there, again in the world, are subjects which have abilities, abilities to see, hear, smell or in general become aware of all those things, but also which have abilities to consider, wish, plan, and act within that same world. And it is nice to be able to point that the words like “consciousness”, “mind” and “experience” are in non-philosophical speech used in non-Cartesian manner (so which shows that what people usually mean by those words is not inline with those other views on the mind/body issue). I discussed at larger length those issues in previous posts.

In the next post, I will discuss the issues related with returning all these things in the world, and how can they coexist with the clean picture given to us by physics. It is where this paradigm change goes further away from commonly accepted assumptions.

Stay tuned!

Can We See What Will Happen In The Future?

We shouldn’t mix up what is seen with the mechanism of seeing. We shouldn’t mix what is seen with the light waves/photons which are part of this mechanism.

We don’t see light waves/photons.

One possible misconception based on not making this distinction is that because light get focused by our eye lenses and hit our retina, that what we see is light.

This is connected to something else I think. We create a sharp limit between ourselves and the world, on “our body” and “not our body”. And then, we consider the perceptual and other activities as connected merely to something going on in our body. It is “normal” then that seeing then, considered as something which is going on in ourselves, will find it most external point, in the eyes. And we know that in that “perceptual border” what the body get in contact are the light waves. So… if seeing is something that happens in the body, than what is seen will be those light waves.

But when people see a tree, we can’t pretend that the tree isn’t a constituent of “people saw the tree” sentence. The seeing is in the world, and both the tree and the brains of those people are part of that event of seeing a tree.

And when we remove the false idea that what we see are light waves/photons, and see those merely as a part of the mechanism of seeing, we see how it is normal to say that what we see are the objects. Also, the colors of those objects. That just light waves of certain frequency get reflected by certain object, doesn’t mean that it is those lights which are colored. Within the mechanism of seeing, they carry information about the color of the object. We know that even when there is ambient light of some color, e.g. red light, after some time we see blue things as blue, red as red, and yellow as yellow. That even the frequencies of the light waves are predominantly around the frequency that we associate with red. That is because the color opposition mechanism, which is part of the brain, is also part of the seeing. It is not just that event where photons get in contact with the retina.

OK, so we can say this, in the contents of our seeing a tree, we can analyze what goes on in the mechanism of seeing. In that mechanism we find entities which causally connect the thing that is seen to our eyes. We can say that those are the entities that carry some kind of information. Other part of the mechanism of seeing is the extraction of information from this medium in our bodies. (For the record I’m not saying that the seeing IS this extraction of information. Just that this is part of the mechanism of seeing. That is, that we what we find if we analyze the event of us seeing something).

Now, there is different thing we can point to. This extraction of information can be learned or innate. The innate extraction will be related to an innate ability to see certain things. By innate there, I mean both ability that we are born with, but also which develops in early childhood more or less ‘automatically’. There is no reason to put some extra significance on the moment of birth as the last moment for counting something as “innate”. If in the normal development of the person, some ability automatically appears when the person is 40, there is no reason to not count that as innate ability too. (‘Automatic’ would there mean that the causal explanation of appearance of the ability wouldn’t include anything but normal requirements for the development of the person and facts from that person’s body). Anyway, back to the topic…

Now we can ask what are the innate abilities that we have in relation to seeing. Or – what we can see, without having any training? Or differently – when analyzing the working of the brains, what kind of information is automatically extracted there?

I think it is safe to say that we see objects – their three dimensional shape, and their color. That we see their distance from us, and their size.

But also, I think it is safe to say that we see their movement, and as part of it we see where they will go. I don’t think this is problematic. If the brain based on the photons falling on the retina, also extracts information about where the object will go, there is no need to treat the aspect that is related to this information (which is… where the object will go) differently from other aspects as color, size, shape, etc…

What else? Well, in my thinking we probably have abilities to see lot of different things. Like things causally affecting other things, what other people are looking at, and that we can even intentions of other people. I don’t think that those abilities are result of training. I think those are innate, and I would think that good argument could be made for those, based on cog.sci. researches.

Ditching The Experience

I’ve been ranting against the “phenomenal experience” idea on several occasions, and I wanted to write something about it again. But, instead, let me put out a question, and see if someone comes with any answer…

A Short Introduction…

So, the basic idea is that while it might seem that term ‘phenomenal experience’ doesn’t have any metaphysical commitments, and just refers to something that we are all aware to have, I beg to differ. To me it seems that the whole idea of “phenomenal experience” is deeply connected to a Cartesian picture of the world, which continues to live mainly disguised as different forms of representationalism, but also in my humble opinion, even people who don’t accept representationalism usually don’t go far enough, and instead ditching the concept of “phenomenal experience” they struggle to somehow relate “phenomenal experience” with their anti-representationalist view of the world.

As I said in the past, we do have a perfectly good sense of ‘experience’ in which it refers to event or events in the world, in which the subject participates, and by which it is affected somehow (got us thinking, or got us scared, excited, etc…), or from which he learns some things. In the related sense, it is used for the knowledge itself gained from those events (one can have experience with computers, with illegally getting people across borders, and so on).

However notice that this traditional meaning of ‘experience’ is not what is usually meant by “phenomenal experience” or “conscious experience”. When philosophers speak about ‘phenomenal experience’ it means that it is separated from the events taken as experiences. It is spoken thus of what it is like to have a certain experience, that there are some facts about the experience (separated from the facts about the experience taken as an event), about our ability to get knowledge of those facts through introspection, and so on.

The Question:
So, the question would be this: Can you point to one fact which would be fact about the so-called phenomenal experience, but not fact about the events in which we are participating?


Here is one example so you get the idea:
Ph-Ex talk:
When we watch some picture, we have certain phenomenal experience, and there are certain facts about that phenomenal experience (like presence or absence of some object). But, while there is this fact about phenomenal experience, we might not actually notice this fact about the phenomenal experience. Hence, in this “ph-ex talk”, this shows that our introspection is not infallible – we make mistakes about our own conscious or phenomenal experience.
Normal talk:
Sometimes, even we watch in the direction of some object, we don’t see it.

Pains At The Brains

Seeing:Rabbit = X:Pain

As I’ve said in previous posts, I think that X=feeling, and that pain isn’t any more “private” than rabbits are. But, I will return to those issues once again, motivated by the post Is pain an intentional state? over at Brains.

We have a way to access pain, which we call feeling, same as we have a way to access rabbits which we call seeing. Same as the rabbit can be there and we can’t see it, the pain can be there, and us not to feel it. Sometimes, for example in cases of prolonged pain, we get distracted and “forget about it” for specific time, and then we think – Is the pain still there? By focusing, similarly to other cases of perception, we then figure out if the pain is still there or not. The most striking similarity is with the presence of some sound with bugs us – I think that both cases are very similar. And the similarity also covers that issue that both the pain and the sound affect us negatively – they bug us. But as in cases of pain asymbolia we know that this ‘hurting us’ part is not essential part of that thing that we feel – namely of the pain. However this is little hard to talk about, as usually “pain” is related to both the thing that is felt and how it affects us, so if we are gonna distinguish the felt pain from how it affect us, that we might need different terms.

Anyway, I said also in the comments, as rabbits are not mental states but something that we see, also pains is not mental states but something that we feel. Also, seeing rabbits is not a mental state (‘John sees a rabbit’ is literally true only if there is a rabbit that John sees), but even which includes the rabbit, John, the photons bouncing off the rabbit, and whatnot. So, I’m inclined to think that feeling pain is not mental state also.

Feeling pain is an intentional ACT. Of course ‘intentional’ here doesn’t mean that it is intended, but in Brentano’ speech, that it is act which relates the subject from the one side, and the object (the pain), from the other. In the other sense of ‘intentional’ (that is, everyday sense), feeling pain is mostly unintentional, that is, we don’t really want to focus on the pain, the pain attracts our attention. But, this is not different from outer perceptual modalities, where for example a clown jumping suddenly in front of you will attract your attention, as much you don’t want to put focus on him.

But what about the pain itself? What kind of object is it if it is not a mental state? I actually think that the pain is potential aspect of the parts of our body which we can access by that intentional act of feeling. And that it as an aspect it usually correlates with the aspect of tissue damage. What is the relation of those aspects, I’m not sure (maybe they are both aspects of the one and the same thing? Or maybe the presence of the one aspect causes the presence of the other through some contingent relation?). In any case this works for me as I don’t think that the body is reducible to the physical, instead think that the physical is merely one aspect of our bodies, so I can think that there are further aspects (like pains) which can be present in our bodies in reality, without the need to push those under the rug called ‘mental’ (that is what people usually do, if we are aware of something in the reality which doesn’t seem to be able to be nicely defined/explained/reduced through physics, they push it under the rug called ‘mental’). To say that pain is aspect of our bodies, of course doesn’t mean that there are such things as pains which may exist unrelated to anything else. Same as there are not forms, without there being things which have those forms, and same as there are no distances without objects, at least imaginary, between which there are those distances.

Related posts:
Cyborgs Sharing The Pain,  Again
Does Pain Have To Hurt?
Couple More Thoughts on Pain
Can There Be An Illusion of Pain?

What Do We Literally See?

What do you think we can literally see? I’m inclined to say that we literally see those things:

2.Multitude of objects
3.Unfolding events
4.Objects affecting other objects (like a thing hitting another thing)
5.Colors of the objects, shapes of the objects, etc…
6.Other people looking at things
7.People doing things… performing acts like opening a door, opening a box
8.A good move in the chess game
9.A possibility to do something, like possibility to lift the cup, or possibility to open the door
10.People being sad, happy, etc…

It is really more or less random list based on some thoughts I have. I intend to argue for this in more details in some following post.

Are White Things Red?

I wrote that color is one aspect that we see of the things.
We also know that the color of the objects correlates with the reflectance characteristic of the surface of the objects, and our capacity to see certain colors correlates with the make up of our visual system.
From this correlation we can assume that certain beings are possible which can see just red, and that those beings when see white things will see them as red.
If what we see is an aspect of the thing, that ‘being red’ will be aspect of the white things.
If this is an aspect of the thing, and if we know that we CAN see red, then why don’t we see white things as red?
The explanation would be that our seeing is limited in that way, that in certain cases we can’t see the red aspect of the thing. This is the case when the thing has also the green and blue aspects (which in this case we don’t see also).

An interesting consequence from here would be that beings with less limited perception, will see white things not as colorless as we see them, but will see them as red, green, blue, etc… at same time. (I think it would be similar to how when we see purple things, they are kind of both blue and red).
This would mean that a color which is both red and green is not impossible, and in fact what we see as white is both red and green. It is just that our perception is limited in a way that WE can’t see the color aspect of those things.

I’m not sure about the perceptual systems of other animals, but I guess it would be interesting if there are some animals which doesn’t have this kind of limit.

The Myth of ‘Phenomenal/Conscious Experience’

As I was saying in other posts, I’m skeptical that the phrase “phenomenal experience” refers to anything. That would go also for “conscious experience” as long this is taken to play similar role that the phenomenal experience is supposed to play.
In this post I will try to summarize the arguments (though probably I will miss some).

Firstly, I pointed in one post that the in the traditional use of the word ‘experience’ it refers either to events in the world in which we take part  and which affect us somehow (e.g. an “frightful experience of meeting a bear”), or to knowledge gained from such events (“From my experience, the boat can carry that much load”).
Secondly, if we buy into transparency of the ‘phenomenal experience’ (the claim that when we have experience of something, we are merely aware of what the experience is experience of), it seems that it is implied that we are not aware of the experience itself. I’m not sure how this can be made compatible with usual view of this “phenomenal experience” as something of which we are aware in some direct way – something about which we can’t be even skeptical about. I wrote about this being a possible consequence of misuse of the word “experience” here.
Thirdly there is particular work that “phenomenal experience” is supposed to doa)explaining the what-it-is-likeness which we never found in the ‘gray-goo’ of the world, and b) the cases of illusions, hallucinations, dreams and alike.
I argued that both those things can be explained without assuming phenomenal experience – a) the world doesn’t have to be merely a gray-goo, the gray-goo can be seen as just one aspect of the world that we approach by science. The colors, sounds, emotions, awareness and so on, can be seen as other aspect that we see, hear, or in general become aware of through some kind of access. And b) instead of talking about some phenomenal experience being veridical or not, we can talk about mistaking one experience (or aspect of that experience) for another, because of the limits of our perception (or limits of our awareness in general).
Fourtly, if we think just in terms of information, there is the question of economy also. Why assume that there is a phenomenal experience playing a role of a representation which provides information for other mental capacities, when such role (of providing information) can be played by the world itself? So to say, if the world is there “at hand”, why would there be additional representation of it?  Related to how this representation is supposed to work, I also pointed to some problems if we try to relate it to our everyday notion of representation.
Fifthly, if we have this phenomenal experience which is representation and which is characterized by what-it-is-like to have it, there appear issues of our knowledge of it (which is sometimes called introspection). For knowledge we need phacts (facts about the phenomenal experience) and access to those. But if we put attention on the words through which we are supposed to describe the phacts, we speak of lines, lengths of lines, colors, things – all external objects. And what kind of verb do we use for the access? We can see that something is the case in the world, but can we see that something is the case in the phenomenal experience? Sometimes we can speak about the properties of the visual field, and that really seems as talking about properties of the phenomenal experience? But when we are saying that the visual field is blurry on the periphery, are we pointing to anything but the fact (and not phact), that we can’t clearly see things which we don’t look directly at?

And in the end little explanation. It might seem that denying “phenomenal experience” or “conscious experience” is really absurd. After all we all have those things, right?

The answer would be that assumption of the “phenomenal/conscious experience” with the role it is supposed to serve is a theoretical account of what is happening; and that one can as well provide different story in which we do have experiences, and we are conscious, but in which we don’t have “conscious/phenomenal experiences”. The answer would be along those lines – We do take part in the events in the world, and we are aware of those events and their aspects (we see things, hear other things, etc.. .when participating in those events.). Further there are facts about our access to the things in those events. There are facts of us seeing something clearly, of hearing something in distance, and so on. And when we, participating in those events, are aware of them, we are also affected and/or learn from them.

This story, it seems to me doesn’t leave anything important of which we are aware of, and doesn’t have the problems of “phenomenal experience”. Though of course it has other problems.