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2010-06-26
Does direct realism make sense?

I wonder if some one could explain to me the direct realist's view. I'm guessing I misunderstand it, since it just seems absurd or senseless to me.

If I assume that experience is caused by an external world, I would like to say that while I perceive objects of the external world, my perceptions are not identical with the objects that cause them, that is, they do not fill the same portion of space-time.

Put more concretely, if I see a cat run across the room it would be absurd to think a cat just ran through my head (or my mind).

What exactly is the direct realist claiming is happening when I see a cat run across the room? And what is the representationalist claiming in contrast?

And I'm guessing a representationalist don't hold that I perceive my perceptions, since that would lead to an infinite regress. I've heard some talk like this, but that's probably just messy language.


2010-06-26
Does direct realism make sense?
I think DR should be understood as a thesis about the nature of consciousness: that when one sees O, the kind of experience one has is /seeing O/. This is a kind of experience that one could not have if one did not see O, even if one's situation were indiscriminable. I am inclined to think that this is a substantive and controversial thesis, and, insofar as we are interested in the forms that consciousness can take, an interesting one.
If you want more detail, might be interested to take a look at my 'An externalist's guide to inner experience'.

2010-06-27
Does direct realism make sense?
There is a great silly song from before the War (that's 1939-45!) that says that when it's midnight in Italy it's Wednesday over here. It's Sunday over here and the direct realists haven't taken the bait yet so I am sending a message of sympathy. But the point of the silly song is that it presents a pseudodynamic idea. Sung well it has made me laugh to tears and I suspect laughter is our way of recognising a threat to our reason that proves empty. Messing with our concept of time is a serious threat, so when it is empty it is a big laugh. The response to magicians is different - the threat looks as if it is real - so we gasp. 
You identify that, like Free Will, direct realism is a pseudodynamic concept. I remember that I was quite convinced of it at age 21, yet by 30, after listening to a physiologist describing the genetics of taste, I had come to realise that I had been convinced of what seemed to be a dynamic concept but which cannot have been because there is no such concept. If you try to send it round the brain circuits that check that things add up (as Popper recommends) you find there is nothing to send. 

However, I often come across the statement that most philosophers are direct realists these days, so what is going on? Part of the problem is that the language we use can work with the same words in all sorts of metaphysical frameworks. This means what any explanation of direct realism means will depend on the metaphysical position of the reader. So if a direct realist replies we still will not know what he means unless the context is rich enough to give a clear idea of how all the words are being used. It may be that there are positions from which one could justify what is described as direct realism and yet agree with your position. So far I have the impression that there is no coherent position from which the concept can be rolled out and work, but I have an open mind.

As I understand it many philosophers returned to direct realism because it was thought that representationalism required the positing of some extra 'thing' called a mental representation or sense datum. However, since the whole concept of 'thing' as something used in an explanation now looks like a pseudodynamic fake, it would seem that if people want things then maybe the mental representation rescues them from a threat more terrible than the song. I am currently reading Rorty's attempt to foil every possible argument from every possible direction on this and abolish mental representations while still allowing people to have them if they find them cuddly. 

Maybe some direct realists will appear above the parapet tomorrow.

Best wishes

jo E

2010-06-27
Does direct realism make sense?
We're here already, actually!

2010-06-28
Does direct realism make sense?
Direct realism is the idea that seeing an object O is a way of grasping O that requires no mental intermediary.  Jonathan is right to say that DR entails the non-existence of sense-data, but it also entails that mental states are not representations of reality. 

According to direct realists, there is no specific common element shared by

    (M) the mental state of seeing an object O and
    (Hal M) The hallucinatory state of its merely seeming to one that one is seeing O (where O does not exist). 

The (M) is not equal to (Hal M) thesis goes against the flow of millennia of philosophical thought

DR rests on the thought that (M) is a direct grasping of O, while (Hal M) is not (there being nothing to grasp in the case of (Hal M)).  (Of course, there may be something in common between an (M) state and a (Hal M) state, namely that in both, it looks to the subject as if O is present.  But the claim is that there is nothing specific in common.) 

DR does not allow that, even as far as the mental side is concerned, veridical seeing and hallucinations are specifically the same.

One popular version of DR was propounded by Paul Snowdon, on the grounds that seeing O supports "demonstrative thoughts" while a hallucination of O does not.  Michael Martin is another direct realist.

DR is not the majority view in philosophy (though realism is).  (Jonathan, the fact that both Snowdon and Martin are at UCL may have given you the impression that most philosophers are in this camp.)  As a matter of pure description, most direct realists live in England or were born there.

2010-06-28
Does direct realism make sense?
Reply to Mohan Matthen
Dear Mohan, 
A splendid message, not only in explanatory content but perchance in multiplicity of subtexts? In fact my only philosophical contact at UCL was Tim Crane (current contacts at King's). The claim of a majority of DRs may have come from high visibility net contributions. 

I guess the (M) is not equal to (Hal M) thesis goes against a lot of neurobiological data, even if the direction of flow of millennia of philosophical thought might to some be a matter for debate, if mostly in England (I lodged in Wittgenstein's old courtyard as an undergraduate). 
Best wishes
Jo E


2010-06-29
Does direct realism make sense?
Thank you, Jonathan.  I guess you figured I am not in favour of DR.  

2010-06-29
Does direct realism make sense?
Reply to Mohan Matthen
Somewhat inclined to puzzlement about what in the earlier posting would clue one in to this. That philosophers haven't been able to figure X out yet seems more like a practical than an epistemic reason. 
(Nor is it especially clear what the relevance to debates about consciousness is thought to be of certain remarks upthread concerning doctrines neuronal.)
(Speculate that I may have wound up on Edwards's blocklist. True?)

2010-06-29
Does direct realism make sense?
Reply to Benj Hellie
Benj, My longer post was meant simply to lay out what DR is, in response to the question from Michael Amundson that kicked this thread off.  The jocosity of the last paragraph may have tipped Jonathan off to my rather childish tendency to poke good-natured fun at the English whenever the opportunity presents itself -- which it did in very large measure this past weekend (ha ha) -- though in my heart I love them and their philosophy to pieces.

On a more serious note, I think there could be two kinds of evidence against DR.  If fMRI scans indicated that (M) and (Hal M) were indistinguishable, that would be evidence against DR.  And I find it plausible that such evidence might be available.  Snowdon 1980 (following Hinton1973) discusses a case where an after-image presents itself as a faint distal light.  That's (Hal M) and I would not find it surprising if, in such a case, the brain did the same sort of thing in both cases.  Another example is the Kanisza triangle, where it looks as if there is a triangle in front of the paper.  Behaviourally, the case is indistinguishable from cases in which there is in fact a triangle of that kind -- so again, I wouldn't be surprised if neuronally the two cases were indistinguishable.

A second kind of evidence is purely philosophical.  Snowdon (who I think is still the best and clearest proponent of DR) thinks that in the after-image case, no "demonstrative thought" is possible.  As I read him, he thinks so on the grounds that the demonstrative 'that light' fails in the case where it is really an after-image, not a light, i.e., in the (Hal M) case.  In my opinion, this overlooks the possibility that a visual state might support a failed demonstrative.  If the after-image presented as an after-image -- a correct rejection, in Signal Detection Theory parlance -- you would indeed be in a state that didn't support demonstrative thought.  You might think "that after-image is very faint", but you wouldn't thereby be locating any thing in public space -- you wouldn't even purport to -- and so you wouldn't be enjoying a demonstrative thought. 

But when the after-image presents as a distal light -- an SDT "false positive" or (Hal M) in Mohan-speak -- the visual state supports demonstrative thought, but the latter fails. (I discuss this point in the last two sections of a draft paper that's here: 2012)

2010-06-29
Does direct realism make sense?
Reply to Mohan Matthen
Hi Mohan, the paper 2010 I mention above develops a story about what direct realism is and about the position friends of the view characterized should take on the sort of 'narrowness' considerations you raise here.

My DR cheerfully grants the possibility of perfect hallucinations that are neuronally qualitatively identical to cases of seeing. The reason for this is that DR is a position about visual consciousness, rather than about the physical realization of visual consciousness.

My DR also grants that hallucinating may be subjectively indiscriminable from seeing, and that a hallucinating subject may mistake themself for having landed a substantive demonstrative thought about an object or a color. The indiscriminability and mistake are due to the involvement of a common intrinsic property in /thought/ based on visual consciousness. Since (to my knowledge) philosophers have yet to produce a reason to push this intrinsic property from thought into visual consciousness itself, my DR does not feel compelled to acknowledge a common intrinsic aspect to veridical and hallucinatory visual consciousness.

2010-06-29
Does direct realism make sense?
Reply to Benj Hellie
Hi Benj,

Just to be pedantic, I said only that neuronal evidence would be relevant, not that it is conclusive.  Somebody could argue that despite neuronal indiscriminability, (M) is object-involving, but (Hal M) is not.  Indeed, that's what I take Snowdon to be arguing -- though I disagree. 

But, regarding this:

"My DR cheerfully grants the possibility of perfect hallucinations that are neuronally qualitatively identical to cases of seeing.  The reason for this is that DR is a position about visual consciousness, rather than about the physical realization of visual consciousness."

If your DR thinks it possible that visual consciousness is not supervenient on neuronal states, then s/he is committed to a fairly robust dualism not implied by DR itself.  (Or have I misunderstood? Perhaps s/he takes an externalist/relationalist view of consciousness itself.  That position is unacceptable to me for reasons that go beyond the topic of this thread.  But see Block 2005)

I agree with your second point: "hallucinating may be subjectively indiscriminable from seeing".  I was assuming that taking an after-image for a distal light is subjectively indiscriminable from seeing a distal light. In such a case, "it is to the subject as if there is a light in the distance".  Moreover, I agree with you that it is to the subject as if s/he has "landed a substantive demonstrative". 

By contrast, imagine you are swimming under water in a clean clear empty pool, where you encounter a scene that contains light but no objects (other than your own body).  In such a situation, you may have a visual experience of light, but with no objects, no demonstratives.

My own view (which I didn't push earlier) is that visual object-perception not only supports demonstrative thought but is, in itself, a state of consciousness that has an object-locating component -- and that this gives the state a demonstrative aspect.  So it is not that I am "pushing" demonstratives from thought onto consciousness, but rather that I locate demonstratives in consciousness for independent reasons.



2010-06-29
Does direct realism make sense?
Reply to Mohan Matthen
It seems that my initial response to Michael was wrong. Apologies. I had my own naïve direct realism in mind. The truth about modern philosophers' direct realism seems altogether more reminiscent of the Mad Hatter's Teaparty (and not trivially so). As I am half way through the Blue Book this comes as a softened shock but it does seem odd. Correct me if I am wrong:

Philosophers' direct realism is about classifying percepts in terms of the relation between Alice, qua Black Box, and the world, rather than about goings on in Alice's head. So it says that we should classify Alice as 'seeing a tree' in terms of Black Box Alice's relation to the world if the relation between Black Box Alice and the world is 'seeing a tree' and not otherwise. This appears to be not a theory but a tautology. It has no explanatory or heuristic content - maybe deliberately. In terms of my original post this is the statement 'when it's midnight in Italy it's midnight in Italy folks'. It does not seem to even address whether or not there might be things that might be called representations in the Black Box. Since it is non-explanatory it seems to have no relation to directness or otherwise.

Is this all due to Wittgenstein? I am relatively early in my philosophical writing career and look to classic texts as a guide to how successful philosophical writing is done. I know the Blue Book is informal but it really is appallingly bad. The structure is hopeless and the arguments never properly expounded, countered or closed. Finding flaws in them is like shooting fish in a barrel. It has no references and few citations in text. If LW had not been a darling at the court of king Bertie would anyone have even heard of him? I love the fun of word-sparring and of wondering how human beings can tie themselves in such mental (or whatever) knots but am I entering a subject that has spent the last fifty years waffling about the self-rejected musings of a lonely, muddled, rich man?

Sorry for the digression, Michael, but you did ask if it could possibly make sense - and I too am on a steep, but nonetheless entertaining, learning curve.




2010-06-29
Does direct realism make sense?
Jonathan,

There are some subtleties, perhaps, regarding which percepts get classified in terms of the relation between Alice and the world, and how they get classified that way, but in essence, I think you are right about DR.  I don't think it's a tautology, though -- in fact, I think it's a mistake.  And it does not fail to address whether there are representations in the Black Box -- rather, it denies that there are.  And this is thought by its proponents to be a strong point: fewer "useless" notions such as representations, they proudly say.

As far as I know, all of this has less to do with Wittgenstein and more to do with Austin.  Russell, as you know, admired the early W and rejected the late one.  Nor should you blame all of philosophy for DR.  Philosophy is much less monolithic than it might have been fifty years ago, and not everybody falls into line behind the leader.  And DR is not, in any case, the leader.  Tyler Burge 2005, for example, has written a furious tirade against it. 

Michael, a couple of points about your initial post. 

(1) The direct realist is not claiming that a cat runs through my head when I see it run through the room.  According to DR, the experience is a relation between the perceiving subject and the cat.  Wherever that relation is -- and please don't ask me to say where -- it would include the place where the cat is. 

(2) The representationalist says, by contrast, that when you see the cat running across the room, your visual state represents the cat as having some property -- as having the property of running across the room, if you are accurate.  Since a representation of X does not have to be in the same place as X, the representationalist is free to put the seeing of the cat wherever s/he pleases.



2010-06-29
Does direct realism make sense?
Reply to Mohan Matthen
Hi Mohan,

'Perhaps s/he takes an externalist/relationalist view of consciousness itself.  That position is unacceptable to me for reasons that go beyond the topic of this thread' -- that is indeed the position: recall in my initial post the characterization of DR as 'a thesis about the nature of consciousness: when one sees O the kind of experience one has is /seeing O/. This is a kind of experience that one could not have if one did not see O'. So relationism about consciousness is the core of DR. Inclined to think then the acceptability of relationism is therefore identical to the topic of this thread.

'a state of consciousness that has an object-locating component -- and that this gives the state a demonstrative aspect.  So it is not that I am "pushing" demonstratives from thought onto consciousness, but rather that I locate demonstratives in consciousness for independent reasons' -- interesting: the view is then that to entertain a demonstrative thought is to as it were 'highlight' one of these demonstratives?



'swimming under water in a clean clear empty pool, where you encounter a scene that contains light but no objects' -- mmm, an appealing image.

2010-06-29
Does direct realism make sense?
Reply to Benj Hellie
Hi Benj,

"the view is then that to entertain a demonstrative thought is to as it were 'highlight' one of these demonstratives?"

That is one way to put it.  Here's what I have in mind. 

A visual state -- that is, a state of on-line visual consciousness -- guides you in making bodily contact with an object, helps you point to it, track it, etc. 

Because it does, it is has demonstrative "character" that picks out the object.  Since it picks out the object to which it also attributes various features -- colour, texture, shape, motion, etc. 

So it supports the thought: that thing is pink, smooth textured, round, and moving towards me.

2010-06-29
Does direct realism make sense?
Reply to Mohan Matthen
'that thing is pink, smooth textured, round, and moving towards me.' -- in the pool? this story is getting better and better!

... interesting hypothesis about the visual state. I agree that I do consciously make bodily contact, point, track etc objects I see and not objects I don't, and that this is a reason to recognize a distinct category of perceptual state that lies between the brutely physical and the fully conscious actions. I am not certain that this compels thinking of the visual state as demonstrative, however. I am skeptical about the idea that the visual state engages in any attribution.

2010-06-29
Does direct realism make sense?
Reply to Benj Hellie
"'that thing is pink, smooth textured, round, and moving towards me.' -- in the pool? this story is getting better and better!"

Hmm . . . don't let your imagination run away with you.  And please don't let me be the cause.

As for attribution, see Chs 1-3 of my 2005

2010-06-30
Does direct realism make sense?
Reply to Mohan Matthen

Mohan you say:


“Direct realism is the idea that seeing an object O is a way of grasping O that requires no mental intermediary. Jonathan is right to say that DR entails the non-existence of sense-data, but it also entails that mental states are not representations of reality.”


This might not be true for all the varieties of DR, for example, it’s not true for John McDowell’s position, whom I read as espousing a form of DR. McDowell’s notion of perceptual experience for sure not only allows for “mental intermediaries” in fact it sees them necessary for perceptual experience. Also, as far as I can see the talk of “mental states” as “representations of reality” is not in itself inimical to McDowell’s position. What he rejects is the notion of “representation” as a veil between the object and the subject; he does not reject the notion of representation as revealing of the object itself.

You say:

“DR rests on the thought that (M) is a direct grasping of O, while (Hal M) is not (there being nothing to grasp in the case of (Hal M)).  (Of course, there may be something in common between an (M) state and a (Hal M) state, namely that in both, it looks to the subject as if O is present.  But the claim is that there is nothing specific in common.)”

Again limiting myself to McDowell, he does not deny the common highest factor between (M) and (Hal M). He only claims that that the “highest common factor does not exhaust the epistemological significance of experience”, which seems to me at least not necessarily an absurd position it generally makes out to be.

Ali


2010-06-30
Does direct realism make sense?
Reply to Ali Rizvi
Hi Ali

Thanks for this useful post.

I am not sure what a "veil" consists in.  If it is something that mediates awareness of external objects, then surely many representationalists would agree with the position you attribute to McDowell.  According to representationalism, a visual state has descriptive and referential content that is responsible for its being of particular objects or of their properties.  This does not imply that the subject is aware of these objects and their properties in virtue of being aware of perceptual content.  How is this different from McDowell's position, as you read it?

Again, it's interesting that McDowell thinks that there is a highest common factor.  But HCFs may not be a specific sameness.  (The HCF terminology comes, as I understand it, from high school arithmetic: the HCF of 9 and 12 is 3, but clearly they are not specifically the same.  Numbers are the same when they share all their factors.)  Also, McDowell does not think (as far as I know) that the epistemological significance of a visual state is not fully determined by the intrinsic character of the state -- so I am not sure how to interpret the sentence you quote.

All the same, it is clear that McDowell is committed to DR.  The question is what DR means for him.  Could you lay that out in a sentence or two?

Mohan

2010-06-30
Does direct realism make sense?
Reply to Mohan Matthen
These posts are very interesting and informative but the rabbit proof fences seem to be unravelling rapidly as usual. I feel back with my first post and the second paragraph of my third post. I find it hard to see how anyone can get anywhere with pseudodynamic hand-wavings like 'veil between subject and object' or 'highest common factor'. I am intrigued and puzzled. My own interest stems from thinking that establishing a rigorous ontological foundation can actually break the complete deadlock in current neuroscientific accounts of perception and produce an account that takes reduction exactly as far as reduction is relevant but also provides a way of building a useful theory of the non-reductive part of the story. The intellectual and practical payoff is potentially mind-boggling (sorry). Philosophers could beat the scientists at their own game. They might even get some of those ten million dollar research grants! Yet a lot of people in philosophy of mind seem just to be interested in tautological word games. I will no doubt learn more. And I mean no disrespect; biomedical scientists have their circular words games too.

2010-06-30
Does direct realism make sense?
Thanks a lot for responses! I'm having a bit trouble following your elaborating discussion, though (language- and competence barrier I guess).
Just to check if I get the gist of it:
So DR says that when I perceive an object O I have the experience O'. And if O wasn't in front of me (in public space) I could not have had the experience O'. That is, an experience is not something in the mind of a subject but something involving a relationship between a subject and an object (or two objects, if you like).
Correct?

2010-06-30
Does direct realism make sense?
I actually sympathize with Edwards's attitude here. When I called myself a direct realist, that was a bit of a lie. I find direct realism to be the best theory of perceptual consciousness -- but since I do not think there is any such thing as perceptual consciousness, direct realism, like its competitors, is a chimera.

2010-06-30
Does direct realism make sense?
Hi Michael, somehow I overlooked this message.
Your characterization of the view is correct.

2010-07-01
Does direct realism make sense?
Reply to Mohan Matthen

Hi Mohan, Thank you very much for your thoughtful reply.


Mental representations or intermediaries (or whatever) are veils if they are like green glasses one wears in virtue of which everything looks green when it actually isn't; my clear glasses, on the other hand, help me see things as they are (the help can come in various ways depending on the type of glasses I'm wearing. For example, the one I'm wearing right now helps me see things clearly which without them will seem blurry).

I can't see any significant difference between your representationalist and my McDowell from your description; although, they may differ in other respects, for example, McDowell is not just a direct realist but also a conceptual realist. Like traditional empiricists McDowell believes that to be perceptually aware of an object O I must be non inferentially aware of O (although I can certainly come to know O inferentially, all my inferential knowledge of O must ultimately be justified by (not necessarily mine) perceptual awareness of O). What makes McDowell's position interesting is his claim that perceptual experience is conceptually structured (in his specific sense of “conceptual”), and this is what differentiates his position from the classical empiricist account.


I don't know whether I can give an exhaustive definition of McDowell's notion of DR but the following two seems to me the most important necessary conditions of DR in his sense: (i) When I'm perceptually aware of an object O I'm non inferentially aware of O ii) I'm aware of O itself (not an appearance of O). McDowell does not necessarily deny the legitimacy of the distinction between appearance and reality altogether; what he rejects is the claim that O has properties other than as they appear to us which are in principle unknowable to us.

What appeals me about McDowell's disjunctivism is the following core idea (in his own words from his pithy reply to Simon Blackburn):


“There is a pervasive temptation to suppose that the epistemic credentials a subject acquires through perceptual experience can never be more than a highest common factor between cases in which the experiencing is perceiving that thing are thus and so and cases in which the experiencing is having it merely appear to one that things are thus and so. That would imply that the epistemic credentials yielded by experience can never be better than they are in cases of mere appearance. To resist this is not to hold that Mary does not share a psychological state with her twin. It is to insist that crediting her with a psychological state she shares with her twin does not capture what her experience contributes to her epistemic standing.” (McDowell And His Critics, Blackwell, 2006, p. 220).

Accepting this core insight does not commit one to any further elements in McDowell's disjunctivism. I'm not sure whether I understand what you mean by “specificity” in “specific common element”? Could you explain it a bit further. Also, did you mean to say “McDowell does not think (as far as I know) that the epistemological significance of a visual state is fully determined by the intrinsic character of the state”? In which case I agree that it is a correct characterisation of McDowell's position.


Sorry it's all a bit crude, but I hope not too crude for your taste!
Ali

2010-07-02
Does direct realism make sense?

Dear Michael,

Sorry, I missed your last post too. I doubt your problem is 'competence'! Modern philosophy has created elaborate language to try to be precise in argument but we can see from the trouble Mohan and Ali (as masters of the art) are having in pigeonholing McDowell, that this elaboration is founded on such shifting sands that it has to be rebuilt after every incoming tide. I suspect it is quite possible to do good philosophy without any of this language anyway.

As I see it the main problem we have in talking sensibly about DR is a confusion between labeling and explaining. To unpick your 'gist' just as an exercise: 'DR says that when I perceive an object O I have the experience O'. And if O wasn't in front of me (in public space) I could not have had the experience O'. All this is doing is using the label 'experience' in the form that means something like 'encounter with'. So: 'an [encounter with] is not something in the mind of a subject but something involving a relationship between a subject and an object (or two objects, if you like).' Nobody will argue with that so why does anyone think there is anything interesting to discuss here? The interesting question is what is the relation between events in the brain and experience -in the more complete sense that we do not expect to apply to a stone encountering O because it does not have a brain. Neither philosophers nor scientists need worry about the difference between O and fake O being there. We know that. We want to know the interesting difference between us and stones.

It seems the DRist wants to imply something about the way the world really is rather than just move language deckchairs around. But if we want an explanatory account of how things really are we need to connect this to the natural science account. That does not mean we want new reductive relations; we need non-reductive relations that bolt on to our reductive relations (science at least since before Newton acknowledges this). Unfortunately, the subject is full of postulated relations like Fodor's relation between an organism and a proposition (defining an attitude) that cannot be bolted on to anything and float free like the relations between a supplicant and the God he is praying to. These accounts seem to explain but are impotent. We need to get serious about the biophysics and when we see an eye to fit a bolt in, home in.

One thing intrigues me specifically about the gist wording. It seems that the direct realist does not have a 'public space' distinct from 'private space'. DR private perceptual space is not 'an appearance' of how space really is. It is how space really is. So it might seem we cannot appeal to whether O is or is not in public space. Ironically, I believe the DRist is correct in that there is no public space in the sense of how things really are (this is being discussed under another thread on the time-lag argument). In natural science there is only the dynamic mathematical space of what is really going on in terms of the playing out of the causal processes that give rise to private spaces. Public space is just a useful heuristic handle that at the limits becomes highly misleading. So the whole idea of percepts of O, or knowings by acquaintance of O, indirect or direct, representational or otherwise, is ontologically empty. Which is maybe why everyone gets so muddled.

Best wishes,  Jo


2010-07-03
Does direct realism make sense?
From Denis Chang, Q.C., S.C
Hong Kong.

If I have understood it correctly, what is called "direct realism" is akin to what is described by Lonergan, in his monumenal work Insight,  etc  as "naive realism" of an infant whose world is one of immediacy and of biological extroversion -  as distinguished from the "critical realism"  of a thinking subject whose world is one that is mediated by realms of meaning. 

In "direct realism" (as a form of naive realism) "knowing" consists in merely taking  an unreflective look, as in picture-taking.  It operates at the 1st  level of sensory experience, which includes that of biological extroversion, and which is to be distinguished from the 2nd level of conception, and from the 3rd level of rational and reflective  judgment as well as from the 4th level of evaluation and action-oriented decision. It is at the level of juidgment that the question Is it really so ? is addressed and it is also there that truth, inasmuch  as it is conceived in heuristic terms as "the content of correct judgment", is self-appropriated.      

I find Lonergan's penetrating analysis of human knowing and acting in terms of a 4-level structure helpful without destroying the essential  unity of the experiencing, thinking, willing  and acting person. It is particularly illuminating in the way that it exposes the one-dimensional and essentialy reductionist idea of "naive realism".  Naive realism confuses betweeen what is apprehended at the level of sense through biological extroversion as "already existing out there now real" with things which are intelligently grasped and reasonably affirmed as intelligible and concrete unities.  There is, then, the notion of descriptive knowledge -  of "the thing as described" or "as the thing for us" - as well as the notion of explanatory knowledge  -  of "the thing itself "  or the "thing as explained".    

This notion of a thing satisfies the canon of parsimony in empirical method for it adds to "raw" data only what is grasped by intelligence and reasonably is affirmed.

As I undertand it,  both Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas are critical realists within the meaning of the term as used by Lonergan.  Lonergan uses the term to distinguish it from the critical idealism of Kant, the absolute ideallism of Hegel, the empiricism of Hume and varieties of conceptionalism and of subjectivisim. 

I am sure there are Lonergan experts out there, including from the University of Toronto - which I believe is a centre of Lonergan studies although far from being the only one - who will be able to cast more light on this and other related topics.

2010-07-07
Does direct realism make sense?
It seems to me that one of the motivations for DR theories is getting rid of 'private space' and putting it all 'out there' in the one and only 'public space'. And I can see that this is tempting. A problem with operating with a notion of private space (besides a strong inclination to think that there really can just be one non-metaphorical space) is that it seems to lead to this trapped subject that, in a strict sense, has to be skeptical about the existence of matter (or the external world). Everything 'out there' has to be imagined or postulated. The third person perspective is just a theoretical construct. And what's worse is that the idea of an objective observer just seems plain absurd, since any meaningful notion of an observer is bound to be a subject.

Thinking like this, it seems that the project of science is to make a theory of what's 'out there' (in 'imagined' space) that could give rise to our experience 'in here' (in 'real' space). So that any ontology that saves the experience (to borrow and slightly change an expression) will do.

I don't see how we can get one space without being sympathetic to something like DR or solipsism.

This might not be exactly on topic, but the tension between our (or my) idea of there being a private and a public space and the conviction that there can't be more than one space really intrigues me.

Jonathan, what you seem to be saying is that public space has to be (at least in a sense) imagined. Is this a correct reading of you?
 
PS: I think the reason you miss my posts is that they suddenly appear in the thread (back in time, so to speak) when they get approved by the site editors. I don't have 'pro-status'.

2010-07-07
Does direct realism make sense?
Dear Michael, Some very clear points there. This I think is the meat of the problem. My own view is that if the 68 year old Leibniz were seated opposite us on a long warm evening he would make all this quite clear and satisfactory. I think Leibniz is often misinterpreted. To me as a life long scientist reading the Monadology for the first time at 55 without any predigestion by commentators I figured that he had got things sorted. But his terminology has to be translated into the sort of language used by Douglas Bilodeau in Journal of Consciousness Studies 1996, 3, 5-6, p386.. 

I would start a response to your comments by saying that there is only one space in any one sense of the word. The problem is that there are at base minimum two meanings of the word space: space as metric of causal processes and space as appearance. In order to do useful science we need a third meaning - the public space that borrows from both of the first two meanings but has no real claim to ontological status. This is quite extraordinarily difficult to express in ordinary language but BIlodeau does quite a good job and I have tried to follow on from this in my own paper in JCS 2008. 

Private space is not a metric space. You cannot measure in it. Equally metric dynamic space has no appearance. What is so confusing is that the relation between the two for us is dependent on highly complex more or less arbitrary structural parameters of our cognitive apparatus, such that, for instance some electrical perturbations in my head at present 'look like' a bowl of oranges.

Another key point is that we have no need to make a choice between materialism with objective public space and idealism. Leibniz provides the framework, backed up by Charlie Martin's account in which the world is populated by real concrete entities in a space, but the space is the metric of the progression of their purely dispositional natures and as such has no appearance in itself. Appearance only arises at observation, when qualities arise, as features of interactions between entities. If that sounds familiar it should do because it is the framework of all modern fundamental physics. Material went out with Newton but schoolteachers never got the message.

So the story is that the really real space of what is really going on is purely a metric of dynamics that 'give rise' to appearances but do not 'have' appearances. We call those appearances spatial but they are not metrically so. These elements we have to have in our ontology. What we do not have to have are public objects in a public quasidynamic quasiapparent space. This is in a sense a Kantian 'space in itself' that we do not need. The real dynamic space we can know through maths. Apparent space we know directly. Kant did not improve on Leibniz, he missed the simplicity of Leibniz's analysis - to my mind. 

It is not that any ontology will do. The dynamics of what is really going on are very precise. But in the sense of having qualitative properties, as Martin points out, there cannot be any (for reasons I give to Annette Baier on the time lag thread). Ontology has no need for categorical or qualitative properties.

Public space is an imaginary construct. True metric dynamic space is unenvisageable, as both Newton and Bilodeau imply.

Sorry to sound tub thumping but this aspect of Leibniz's dynamicism does seem to be very poorly understood these days and it provides such a simple resolution to metaphysical problems. I suspect that many people simply cannot cope with it because of their cognitive architecture and that is a very interesting issue. However, since it is the way modern physics works - and I mean WORKS - I think it has to be the default position.

Best wishes

Jo E

2010-07-28
Does direct realism make sense?
Direct realism is the theory of perception that results from a belief in "presentism", or Alexandrian Cosmology (Whitehead 1920). 

This can be seen in the analysis of statements such as "According to DR, the experience is a relation between the perceiving subject and the cat", the idea that perception is "pseudodynamic" and the explanation of our experience containing whole words and bars of tunes as narratives about words and tunes.  In all these cases it is implied that experience has a temporal component such as the pointing action required in a "relationship", the dynamism of "pseudodynamic" and the obvious time extension of a tune in our experience. However, if the existence of time is rejected it is impossible to have a four dimensional form that truly models the relationship or the pseudodynamic structure or the bar of a tune.

In the absence of the possibility of four dimensional forms the presentist is doomed to invent an account of perception that is little more than a catalogue of the sequence of instantaneous events that taken together might sit under the label perception.  Perception becomes the tree, the processing of the information about the tree and the response to the tree with no room for any internal perceptual experience.  If you do not believe that time exists you have no other choice, you cannot propose that there might be four dimensional objects in the brain that model the tree in experience, including its dynamic relationships. When the presentist listens to music they must deny that they hear more than a semi-quaver at the position of the instrument in their experience and instead describe the music as a narrative - though how they hear the narrative is a mystery - perhaps by using another narrative? When the presentist looks in a mirror and sees stable eyes no matter how their gaze flits from place to place they can only say it is all an illusion.

Whitehead(1920) spotted this link between presentism and philosophy and pointed out that spacetime has an entirely different geometry from a stack of 3D spaces but he also noted that conventional ideas were deeply embedded. Indeed they are so embedded that reality can seem like heresy.

2010-08-04
Does direct realism make sense?
I'd argue the label "direct realist" is a red herring -- a kind of strawman label, misapplied to those who defend the honor of an ordinary, vulgar, "naive," commonsense realism.   (Armstrong, Strawson, Ayer, and Fumerton all seem, to me, to have been guilty of this on various occasions.)   

First of all, because it's nearly impossible to divide philosophers according to whether or not they think we can perceive tables and chairs "directly" (or "immediately") on the one hand, versus perceiving them "indirectly" (or "mediately") on the other. Are we supposed to imagine, for example, that "direct" realists deny the obvious intermediary role played by eyeballs and/or light in order to see tables and chairs? In other words, just how indirect does perception have to be, to be "indirect"?  


Do you have to go so far as to posit a full-blown chair in between yourself and an invisible, mind-independent we-know-not-what, in order to get yourself placed on the "indirect" side of the ledger? Or are mere light rays or optic nerves medium enough for mediacy? If a distant star viewed through a telescope is described as being perceived indirectly, is that enough to make the perception of an apple indirect? What if you grab the apple and take a bite out of it? What if somebody throws the apple at you, and it hits you so hard it knocks you over? What if you get hit by a bus? What if a brain surgeon pokes you in the brain with a pencil? Obviously, directness is, in this sense, a matter of degree.
 
The thing is, it's easy to agree that a complex process is involved in sense perception, including, for example, in the case of vision, a role for light rays, retinas, lenses, rods, cones, optic nerves, and the visual cortex, at least, to say nothing of any other neural processes. And, of course, a complex situation can be divided into a number of pieces, if not completely arbitrarily, at least in more than one way. But this fact makes the question of the relative "directness" of sense perception a completely trivial one. Besides, realists and anti-realists have never really quarreled over any particular account of corneas, retinas, optic nerves, or light rays. So, viewing the realism debate like this, as if it were a dispute over how relatively "direct" the biological process of perception is, can't be the right way to understand the issue, because people who don't disagree about the process can't truly be having a very meaningful dispute about how relatively direct it is, since, when it comes to the question of how relatively direct perception is, they basically agree. So, how could this really be the issue?
 
But the clincher here is the fact that there could hardly be a greater fan of the immediacy and directness of the visual perception of chairs than the definitive idealist, George Berkeley, yet, surely, it must be hard for anyone to get further than Berkeley from either realism or naivete. 


Indeed, Kant likewise insisted that our experience of tables and chairs is "immediate," especially since, for Kant, this "immediacy" was one of the main attractions of idealism.


The question isn't whether or not you can perceive tables and chairs "directly," or even how directly, more or less, you can, or can't, perceive them. The question is whether or not that chair you're sitting on right now, however more or less "directly" or "immediately" you suppose you perceive it, is, in your opinion, a ready-made thing in itself existing, persisting and subsisting independently, outside of thought and apart from the mind. In other words, the question is whether you consider that chair, this screen you're reading, and the ground beneath your feet, to be things in themselves which would probably not be affected too severely if every mind in the universe were suddenly annihilated.
 
The deeper controversy isn't about the relative directness of perception. It's a dispute about things like the mind-independence, substantiality, knowability, color, subsistence, meaning, reference, priority, objectivity, relativity, mentality, materiality, publicity, externality, identity, subjectivity and social construction of your chair. It's about questions like whether you are in the room, or the room is in you. It's about whether and how two different persons can perceive the same chair. It's about what it might mean to say that gold could have existed in the world without any minds to notice that gold, or name it. 


A fuller explanation is here:


http://queenelson.blogspot.com/2008/08/what-realism-can-be.html



2010-08-05
Does direct realism make sense?
Reply to Quee Nelson

Dear Quee,

Your blog gives a neat description of the muddle philosophers have got into over direct realism - the Armstrong quote being typical. However, I think the root problem is more subtle than you suggest in 'The debate … isn’t ultimately … about the actual existence … of “sense-data” or “mental representations.” It’s a disagreement about the actual existence … of rocks and trees.

All of us probably agree on the existence of both our sensory experience of a rock and of 'a rock' that causes those experiences and which can contribute to other causal chains whether or not we are there. The issue is how we conceive of this 'rock'. I agree with Charles Martin in that the mistake is to think of a rock holus bolus as an 'actual thing'. I would, taking a standard physics view, go further than Martin and say that 'a rock' is nothing more than a useful heuristic label for a complex set of instances of operation of physical laws. Two people never see the same rock in a strict sense. They are affected by instances of operation of physical laws so closely correlated that they can be treated as if the same in everyday life, although not necessarily in a physics lab (or an art school painting class).

Science is not a form of idealism because the instances of operation of laws it postulates are concrete and public. They are purely dispositional, and that worries people, but that is what causes of experiences should be. They are never yellow, they can only be instances of dispositions to generate yellow feels in animals with yellow detectors (as well as lots of other actualities in other animate and inanimate situations).

Jo E

 

 


2010-08-10
Does direct realism make sense?
Reply to Quee Nelson
I agree with QN, it always used to be the case that Thomas Reid was the archetypal Direct Realist but most of those who are supporting Direct Realism in this thread would not agree with Reid. 

Perhaps the supporters of "Direct Realism" in this thread are actually supporting something else. They seem to be arguing that conscious experience is a process, mental images are impossible therefore perception must be external objects.  The term for this viewpoint is probably "Eliminative Realism". By misnaming their process oriented theories of perception as "Direct Realism" they are creating a great deal of confusion.  The misnaming allows the eliminative realist to imply that their philosophy would allow people to see the world as the image that we all say we agree upon yet also to deny that such images are possible.

I disagree with JE because physical laws are based upon symmetries and symmetries are due to (geometrical) structure.  The invariants that represent the symmetries give rise to conservation laws and the conservation laws underpin branches of physics, for instance conservation of momentum and of energy underpin dynamics.  Structure comes first and law comes second.  The claim that it is all "dispositions" is unphysical.

2010-08-10
Does direct realism make sense?
Dear Jo E,

I like the way you describe a "rock" as a heuristic label for a complex operations of physical laws etc.  Unless I have misread you,  I think behind your observation lies an important insight which can be expressed in different ways but which really comes back to the same question: "What is a thing ?"  One can speak of the difference between experiential conjugates and explanatory conjugates.  The former is concerned with the thing as described, a "thing-for-us".  Ther latter is concerned with the thing as explained, "the thing itself". Thus, a thing is not just a mere object that you sort of bump into "out there".  As Lonergan puts it, it is an "intelligible concrete unity".  It denotes unity, identity, whole:  a Gestalt.   Does it mean that such a notion of a thing lacks objectivity or is otherwise unscientific ?  In my view no, so long as what is added to the data attended to at the level of experience and observation is no more than that supplied by intelligent grasp and reasonable affirmation.  It is the reductionist who runs the risk of losing objectivity, for the whole is in principle greater and no less objective than its parts. 

Denis Chang 
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  . 

2010-08-10
Does direct realism make sense?
Reply to Quee Nelson
Thanks Quee! Your blog post was really helpful (and strikingly clear and well written)!

2010-08-10
Does direct realism make sense?
Reply to Denis Chang
Dear Denis, Behind my observation is Leibniz. I agree that 'One can speak of the difference between experiential conjugates and explanatory conjugates' and that  'The former is concerned with the thing as described, a "thing-for-us".' However, for me the latter is certainly not Kant's Thing in Itself or indeed a thing at all. The description of the rock in explanatory physics terms does not involve wholes or parts - these are as alien to physics as they were to Leibniz as I see it. The explanation involves many instances of operation of dynamic laws. These instances are concrete and could perhaps be considered things, but 'a rock' is not one of them. The rock is CB Martin's object holus bolus, which we should reject on the explanatory side. There are instances of operation of laws that belong to the entire domain we think of as the rock - such as its mode of angular momentum - but generally these have nothing much to do with its weight, colour, dampness, scrapiness, oldness or whatever else we throw in the rock hold-all. Gestalt is an entirely experiential matter, as I see it. It is the complexity without parts that Leibniz talked of in relation to perception and fits well with the modern physics view that all fundamental dynamic interactions are of this type - complex patterns affecting a causal protagonist in a way that is not divisible. Inasmuch as there are 'wholes' or complexities, they are always subjective in the sense that they are complexities for something. Objective mereology seems to me to be defunct.


So I think our viewpoints may be rather disparate.


Jo E   





2010-08-15
Does direct realism make sense?
JoE, what you describe as "dynamic interactions" are the result of the operation of conservation laws and these are the result of structures. In classical physics, when one object strikes another the interaction is governed by conservation of momentum and this is governed by translational symmetry ie: lengths are invariant no matter where an object is placed in space. Conservation of energy is due to time symmetry. The whole of dynamics depends on these symmetries.  Physical law depends on structure. So I cannot agree your point that physical laws rather than structure should underpin our understanding of events.  Mereology is not dead in the philosophy of science or in physics.

Curiously I do not believe that there is a vast difference between our viewpoints. The real problem is that structure goes beyond 3D arrangements and homogeneity and isotropy in space, it also involves time and what you call "dynamic" I see as having a real extension over the time course of its action.

Incidentally, rumours of the demise of time are highly premature, for instance, the recent article on this subject in New Scientist based on electron transport in graphene gave the impression that there was a major problem of the violation of Lorentz symmetry but there is no such problem: perfect Lorentz Symmetry is observed in free space and would always need to be adjusted in materials.


2010-08-15
Does direct realism make sense?
Dear Joe E, 

Many thanks for your helpful message. To see how "disparate" our views may be, perhaps we can test the general notion of a "thing" against Sir Arthur Eddington's well-known example of  the two tables:  the common-sense table that is solid, brown, and heavy, right in front of you and the same table as known by physicists, which is composed of atoms, etc and subject to change and a host of physical laws,  "classical", "statistical" and "quantum-mechanical".  Which then is the "real" table ?  The one known in the familiar world of common sense or the one known to the world of science ? 

The answer, of course, is that there is only one table, not two, but because it is "experienced" and/or "known" in different ways and at different levels (including the experiential, intellectual and rational)  "it" can be said to be "one and many", one as an existing concrete individual-whole and many in its correlations with other "things'.  
 
You seem to agree with me that "things" can be differentiated by experiential conjugates as distinguished from explanatory conjugates.  When differentiated by the former it is the "thing-for-us", the thing- as- described.  It is the thing- as- explained that seems to carry the sort of difficult epistemological baggage that you have alluded to in your posting, particularly as regards whether we can intelligibly speak of a "thing-in-itself" (or simply  the "thing itself" in the way I did in my last message). 

Following Lonergan, I'd define a "thing" as an intelligible, concrete unity-identity-whole. It rests not on an abstractive insight but on a concretizing insight that grasps the whole in the parts, the one in the many.  This notion of the thing is essential to scientific thought because it is presupposed by the notion of change, combining both descriptive and explanatory knowledge.  It is not against the principle of parsimony in empirical method because it adds to the data attended to at the experiential level only that which is grasped by intelligence at the level of conception and as reasonably affirmed in answer to the question "Is it so ?"  at the rational and critical level of judgment.  

Under Lonergan's schema, the "thing" thus defined is different from what he calls a "body", exemplified primarily by what is experienced merely at the level of biological extroversion.  There are indeed "real" bodies in the biological patterning of experience which are out there, right now, which are sensed directly and immediately but when a scientist (say a physicist) investigates phenomena and moves into an explanatory context, he/she will be operating at levels where it is generally necessary to abstract from the particular to the general. In the theoretical pattern, concrete  objects taken as wholes, be  it a chair or table or a rock or a tree, tend to "disappear', as it were, as the theoretical inquirer abstracts from their descriptive and sensible properties to arrive at insights into and a grasp of different kinds of intelligible unities and their co-relations that are perfectly general.   Of course, when the empirial inquirer returns from the general to the particular, and makes a co-relation, with say  the table as a concrete unity-identiy-whole it reappears as the object of or as being otherwise relevant to the inquiry or act of understanding. 

So when a Kantian speaks of primary and secondary qualities as merely phenomenal, he/she is likely to be referring  not to things as defined above but to what Lonergan calls "bodies" that are "already-out- there now-real". Indeed many of the strictures that are often levelled at the notion of the thing turn out, on proper analysis, to be about bodies instead.  

The "thing" as defined here is a synthetic construct but I believe it is one which  fully accords with the canons of the empirical method.  This is because the experiential conjugates within the limits of empirical science can be determined by observation; the very construct of the thing, be it a  rock or tree, along with its explanatory conjugates and statistical frequencies are in principle verifiable. 

Knowing however does not consist merely in taking an unreflective look or in mere biological extroversion.  What is "real", in the context of empirical science, is constituted not merely by what is attended to at the first level of the data of sense but by what is grasped through insight and inquiry, critical reflection and verification at the levels of intelligence and rational judgment. 

Whilst I should, by way of parenthesis, say that I do not agree that Gestalt is entirely "subjective",  I  agree that we have to be careful not to mistake the merely imagined for the real just as we need to avoid falling into one or other of the various forms of reductionist or merelogical fallacies that so often plague discussion of what is  a "thing" and what is or is not "real".  

Are we then very far apart ?  Thank you for your attention.   

Denis Chang      

2010-08-15
Does direct realism make sense?
Reply to Denis Chang

Dear Denis,

Eddington was quite enlightened in comparison to many comtemporaries but I am not sure he quite got to first base in comparison to Newton and Leibniz. The scientific table 'subject to change' hits the problem noted by Heraclitus - being a thing and changing do not go well together. The scientific solution I am familiar with is that there are no things to change because the entities the world is made up of - the only real objective 'things' are packets of change. They are not change of something but just packets of change or potential. Change has a metric, or structure, for sure, but it is a dynamic structure - unrelated to the apparent structures of experience, as Newton warns us. Quantum theory finally nailed the necessity of this. Schrödinger found himself having written an equation that was just a description of potentiality rather than of a thing. That was exactly what was needed but people still seem to think there is something spooky about it until they have got into practice with it and find it is - just what was needed. Thus, Lonergan's 'insight', which seems to me more wishful thinking than anything helpful, is not necessary for science.

Leibniz pointed out the absurdity of things having parts and that seems to stand well in modern physics. Sure, people talk about tables with legs as a shorthand but there are no table equations in the working out of the solution. And yes, an intermediate account between the experiential and the dynamic (usually called kinematic) is necessary for practical reasons because we mostly want to screen out all the goings on in observers heads and share a public notation. But we are interested in a sound parsimonious metaphysical position here and the kinematic account is in that context pretty much just a language tool. Moreover, the issue of direct realism relates to aspects of science that are about what goes on in heads so the kinematic account needs to be seem for what it is.

Jo


2010-08-19
Does direct realism make sense?
JE: "The scientific solution I am familiar with is that there are no things to change because the entities the world is made up of - the only real objective 'things' are packets of change."

Can you explain what you mean by this statement?  Please relate this description to the laboratory environment with the standard (3+1) dimensional structure. 



2010-08-19
Does direct realism make sense?
Dear Joe E,

I hold no brief for Eddington but, with respect, your post proves Lonergan's point.  You speak of "packets of potentiality".   Why "packets" and why in the plural ? 

If by a "packet" you are referring to an X or to an X, Y, Z....which have sufficient unity-identity-whole to be sensibly called a "packet" or to be grouped together as one packet insofar as it is distinguishable from another, then your packet is not necessarily different from  what Lonergan has defined as a "thing".  It may not be a "body" as Leibniz or Newton might have conceived a thing to be ;  but the very insight of Lonergan that you dismiss is precisely that a body is not the same as a "thing" as defined by him.

Even if we ignore the plural and think of a single undifferentiated packet it would still not preclude speaking of it as a unity-identity-whole, only that the whole does not consist of smaller differentiated "packets" or parts.  

Thus far from asserting anything about whether something can be said to have parts, Lonergan's definition captures the insight that sees in the totality of given data a unity, a whole -  an insight that is not only necessary for contemporary science but provides a heuristic that is at home even in the strange world of quantum mechanics. If quantum mechanics nails anything it is the deterministic mechanistic view of reality -  and the error of thinking that a thing is the same as a body that is "already-existing-out-there-now real." 

I know not for sure whether your packet of "potentiality" would include a pocket of energy but I assume there is some concretely existing data that constitute that packet or evidence or at least provide an empirical basis for the hypothesis.  If  such data concretely exist then things as defined by Lonergan exist or can potentially exist. Whether or not they do exist, you would  need a concept of things to deny or affirm that they exist just as you would need some notion of identity to affirm or deny the reality of change. Indeed you need a concept of what is "actual" to speak of what is only "potential"  -  such as the Aristotelian -Thomistic notions of form, potency and act.

As to whether only "packets of potentiality" exist and whether  the whole has differentiated parts, I am content to  make an act of self-affirmation that I actually and not just potentially exist and that I am not the only one so privileged. I hope nothing in the thought-experiments of Schrodinger's Cat or Schrodinger's Kittens will deter either of us from trying to actuate a better understanding of each other's position !  In short, I sincerely hope that this post will continue despite the disparities of viewpoints.  Thank you for your attention.

Denis Chang
 

2010-08-20
Does direct realism make sense?
Reply to Denis Chang
Dear Denis, My problem with Lonergan as you quoted him and as I find him on the net is that he seems to go in for wooly neologism so I guess my question to myself is whether he adds anything interesting to the Mondaology of 1714 (taken in the technical context of modern physics) that I have not yet quite grasped or whether, as it rather sounds to me, that he has been drawn back into intuitive ideas as most people tend to be. 

"Packet' is, I appreciate, a confusing term. I think it arose in QM because of the mathematical structure of a monadic dynamic unit (Fourier integral), which is irrelevant here. It has become a shorthand for an indivisible monadic unit per se. I find it useful as a shorthand for the complexity of the dispositional properties of such a unit - a packet of dispositions. This is very definitely not a matter of an aggregate of properties or parts. The dispositions of a tennis ball to bounce and roll are not parts. The packets are plural because there are many of them - as per Leibniz and now per QM.

My packet may be what Lonergan calls a thing. I am not sure that Leibniz talks of bodies but he talks of aggregates - maybe these are Lonergan's bodies. The packet is certainly a unity-identity. I prefer to avoid the term whole because it seems to imply something that parts can contribute to. With Leibniz I see only monadic indivisible units and aggregates as arbitrarily defined by us (that might have parts but not in the sense that these come to be a 'whole').

You say that Lonergan has an insight of the unity of 'given data'. In what way does that differ fromor add to Leibniz of Bohr? If it is the same I think it is fine, but not a new insight.
The crux of our divergence, if there is one, may relate to your sentence '...I assume there is some concretely existing data that constitute that packet...' For me, as for Leibniz, the packet is the perceiver. The data are the content of perception. Thus data do not constitute a thing, but an interaction between one thing/packet/monad and the universe. They are concrete in the sense that perceptions are instantiated but not in the sense of being either the dispositional things that give rise to them or those that receive them. The dichotomy of actuality and potentiality I use is again common to Leibniz and QM (and in fact Newton) and I see as being a pretty standard approach to physics, although often not referred to. I am not up on Aristotle's version but I have a feeling I looked into it and it did not seem to be the same. Potential is not 'only potential', in the sense that everything going on in the universe is progression of potentiality. Thus there is no issue about you actually and not just potentially existing. Potentiality and actuality are two 'faces' of existence that are never instantiated one without the other. That would take us back to the mechanistic view. However, the term 'I' will have a different meaning according to which 'face' is being presented. The I as monadic unit of potentiality will be I described from the third person position. The I as actuality will be an 'autobiography' consisting of the data that are the perception of the universe by I. The qualitative features are not of the I as receiver but of the received data. (This is where the muddle of 'objects' having qualitative properties arises.)


There may be a lot of common ground if Lonergan is re-issuing Leibniz but the actuality-potentiality dichotomy is central for me and if it is missed out pandemonium reigns!


Jo





2010-08-23
Does direct realism make sense?
One of the best books on direct realism is Edward Pols' Radical Realism (Cornell).

2010-08-23
Does direct realism make sense?
Dear JWK, I find it difficult to enlarge without repeating previous posts. Some physicists simply have no time for 'things'. Those that do think of things as, for instance, electrons. These are defined purely in terms of relations, differences, dispositions or 'change'. They have no qualitative or categorical properties. In the laboratory environment there are 3+1 dimensions in the two senses Newton describes. There are 3+1 dimensions in the sense of the metric of the dynamic relations. There are 3+1 apparent dimensions in experience. The two must not be conflated. They are not even analagous, as Newton emphasises. There are also 3+1 dimensions in the kinematic account that is used to describe the measurement process that we use to check the laws of physics postulated but this is simply a device that allows us to go about our business without needing to know the laws that relate the dynamics inside brains to the experiences in side brains.

Best wishes

Jo E

2010-08-25
Does direct realism make sense?
Dear Joe E,
 
In fairness to you, when in my last post I wrote that you spoke of "packets of potentiality"  I had actually elided or abbreviated your expression "packets of change or of potential" because the entire  tenor of your message, as I understand it  is that it's all potentiality or packets of it. .My apologies for the elision.  But regardless of whether you distinguish between a packet of change and a packet of potential and/or treat them all the same, it proves Lonergan's point.  Indeed the more you distinguish between a packet of change and a packet of potential, the more you will be making differentiations or of "things" in the Lonergarian sense. of the term.   

Denis Chang,  Hong Kong  20/8/2010 at 8.45 a.m.  

2010-08-25
Does direct realism make sense?
Jo, I wonder how you feel about my sort of complaint, about philosophers conflating ordinary realism and "scientific" realism.     It was there on the blog, but let me see if I can post it here for you: 


Sellars once said “speaking as a philosopher I am quite prepared to say that the common sense world of physical objects in Space and Time is unreal—that is, that there are no such things.” And yet he called himself a “scientific realist.” Philosophers who qualify their “realism” with the adjective scientific are sometimes concerned that a plainer realism might conflict with science. Galen Strawson, for example, felt that A. J. Ayer’s attempt to reconcile “common-sense realism” with a “scientific” view of the world “can only seem to succeed by doing violence to one of the two viewpoints, the scientific.”
 Strawson identified “scientific realism” primarily with “Lockean realism.” But some follow Kant in censuring Locke’s “primary qualities” (like shape and spatial location) hardly less than his “secondary” ones (like colors). So there’s disagreement among “scientific realists.” But it’s probably fair to say that “scientific realism,” when the phrase appears in a philosophy book, typically suggests a commitment only to the actual existence of various items most at home in a physics book, e.g., atoms, molecules, electrons, photons, quarks, gravitational forces, or superstrings. Or, whatever it is that ends up being settled upon, later, when physics finally comes to an end. If it ever does.
 In other words, in the eyes of some philosophers, being a realist about atoms conflicts with being a realist about cannonballs, and they therefore call themselves “scientific realists” to express a prejudice in favor of the former over the latter sort of items.
 To the untrained observer, this may sound like a person who thinks there’s some kind of conflict between the actual existence of bricks and the actual existence of houses. But, however that may be, outside of the Physics department the actuality of oncoming freight trains is an easier call than the actuality of quarks. Few non-physicists are willing to bet the rent on quarks anyway. Probably this is because most people find it easier to believe in the intractable mind-independence of a medium-sized physics professor, than to have faith in whatever tiny “particles” or invisible “forces” this professor appears to endorse, judging by the seeming noises that issue forth from the supposed direction of his apparent body.
 As Michael Devitt explained, “Scientific realism is about unobservable entities.” So, while the question of whether or not the theoretical entities of physics actually exist outside the theories of physics is primarily a question for physicists to worry about, (just as other specialists likewise have their own narrow “realism” debates about the reality of various theoretical entities like ADHD or the GNP), to have serious doubts about ordinary medium-sized objects like houses and trees has traditionally been the job of the Philosophy department. This is why it can be very misleading for a philosopher to label himself a “realist” merely because he grants to the pet particles of a theoretical future physicist a kind of respect he denies to his own house.
 Hilary Putnam once illustrated this fact, in a funny parable about the “Scientific Realist” who seduces the Innocent Maiden. His point was that it’s bound to come as an unpleasant shock to the innocent naif, when once she finds out, as sooner or later she must, that this philosopher calling himself a “realist” may turn out to be a shameless idealist when it comes to “her good old ice cubes and chairs.”  As Putnam so memorably put it, “Some will say that the lady has been had.”

2010-08-25
Does direct realism make sense?
Dear Joe E,  

Thank you.  May I, in reply, add just a couple of points or so to my earlier posts ?  Lonergan's concept of a "thing" is not wedded to any monadic view of reality such as that of Leibniz although I have little doubt that the indivisible, "simple substances"  called "monads" postulated by Leibniz, would fall within Lonergan's definition if they exist.

It is clear from Leibniz's Monadology of 1714, especially when read together with his Discourse and his Theodicy, that Leibniz's monads, as conceived by him,  have qualities which sufficiently distinguish one from another.  Although they are supposed not to have any real but only "ideal" or "phenomenal/apparent" interactions, they can according to Leibniz be found in aggregates or "composites" .  Bodies are defined by him to mean "composites of an infinitude of monads",  which I read to mean phenomenal/ apparent collections of monads.  

You seem to say that these composites are merely arbitrary groupings.  That however is not what Leibniz thinks.  To him, each collection has a "dominant" monad,  and every living body has a dominant entelechy, which in anmals is the soul (and in human beings a rational soul).  Thus a living body is, in Leibniz's words, full of other living beings, plants and animals,  each of which in turn has its entelechy or dominating soul. To him, monads have perception in varying degrees (which he distinguishes from consciousness, reserving the term "soul" for those whose perception is accompanied by memory).  

Compare and contrast this with the scholastic concepts of a vegetative, animal or human rational soul (which in scholastic thinking serves as a principle of life as well as of unity and  explains the perdurability of identity through change). There is also the theory of substantial forms which posits the existence of a special entity in each substance that serves to distinguish it from another independantly of its parts.  Leibniz struggles with these concepts, accepting that the theory of substantial forms has some basis. He retains respect for Aristotelian and scholastic thinking by declaring, in his Discourse, that the thoughts of the scholastics are not  to be "entirely disdained" !   

Leibniz underlines the importance of identity (even of "indiscernibles") and, taking it for granted (his exact words) that monads, as created beings, are subject to continual change, neverheless insists that even though by definition a simple substance has no parts, every natural change takes place by degrees and that there must be something which changes and something which remains unchanged.  
 
Thus Leibniz would balk at the idea that "all is change" if by that is meant that there is nothing which remains unchanged or that identity can never perdure through change. He would have agreed with Lonergan that if there is "change" there has to be a concrete unity of concrete data extending over some interval of time (however ephemeral ), there has to be some difference between the data at the beginning and at the end of the interval, and this difference can be only partial for otherwise there would occur not a "change" but an annihilation and a new creation.   

Now, to have a concept is one thing;  whether that concept corresponds to reality is another. Thus I wouldn't be surprised at all to find physicists who regard Leibniz's monadic system more as a product of theological-metaphysical speculation than as a physical theory based on data which have been verified or which in principle are verifiable, particularly as regards his insistence that monads are substances that have perceptions and relationships but no real interactions.

Some may wonder whether this means that we are to replace Einstein's "spooky action at a distance" by some spookier non-action at no distance.. But be that as it may, the point of our discussion is not physics as such, but insight into the notion of what is a thing. This is  meticulously worked out by Lonergan in Chapter VIII  of  Insight.     


Denis Chang,
Hong Kong  8;22;2010  12.24 pm

2010-08-25
Does direct realism make sense?
Hi JoE,

Thank you for your reply to my question about the nature of "packets of change".

I would agree that mathematical science is the study of relations, including the relations of difference and change.  For example, when mathematics is applied to measurements we immediately assume a relationship such as "100 on the scale is the 'length' of the object aligned with the scale".  This demonstrates the obvious fact that the number 100 is related to a length, it is not that length itself.  The logical framework of mathematics can then be used to relate the measured length to other numbers according to the formulae of theory.

I would interpret your statement that physical things "... have no qualitative or categorical properties" as meaning that the quantities in physical theories are not the things to which they relate (ie: that when I write F=Eq I do not have the force that 'F' represents on the page).  Have I understood what you meant?

Your other claim, that physicists produce definitions in terms of "dispositions", is not as clear to me.  Certainly physicists produce definitions in terms of positions in a manifold of events and this can lead to quantities such as gravitational potential energy in a spacetime manifold or potential in a qm field but I sense this is not what you mean.  If this is not what you mean can you give an actual example of a physical disposition as used in a physical theory?

You say "There are 3+1 dimensions in the sense of the metric of the dynamic relations. There are 3+1 apparent dimensions in experience. The two must not be conflated.  They are not even analagous, as Newton emphasises."

Do you agree that physics uses the term "dimension" as follows: "If n+1 vectors in a vector space are linearly dependent then n vectors are linearly independent and the space is said to have a dimension of n."?  In other words "dimensions" allow the independent arrangement of vectors. Physics also defines a "space" as an instantaneous vector space.

Now, as far as I can see I always have multiple objects in my experience at any instant so it contains a space that is at least one dimensional. Furthermore there are time extended objects in my experience (such as the bar of tune) so it has a time dimension.  This means that my experience really is  "analogous" to a physical spacetime.  The only argument that I am aware of that seriously attempts to contradict this is that given by Dennett in which he maintains that experience is "judgments of" experience and these can be doubted from instant to instant.  Would you use this presentist argument to maintain that physical spacetime and mental spacetime must not be conflated or did you have a different argument in mind? 

John



2010-08-25
Does direct realism make sense?
Reply to Quee Nelson
Dear Quee,
I recognise all of your points in the blog quote. As Lewis Wolpert points out science is almost by definition the opposite of 'ordinary' or intuitive. It is what we replace (often painfully) ordinary with when ordinary hits trouble. The conflation is widespread and complex - a bit like having sat on a mille-feuille pastry. Teasing out the layers again with a pastryfork can take all afternoon.  Part of the problem is that within science there are people at all levels of teasing out the pastry flakes. And there are people who may be thinking there are more flakes than there really are or getting the flakes muddled up! 

I think my profile on philpapers has a link to what I see as the twelve pastry-flakes that I can find at the moment. The most important issue for me is perhaps the double meaning of real. This crystallised for me talking to Henry Stapp. Real is a word with two complementary meanings. There is the real of what is really going on and the real of what is indubitably actual, here, now. (These meanings are not even remotely similar.) What there is not is a real 'actual out there' to which the actual, here, now approximates. Unless all discussion is couched within the context of this dual meaning, which applies to time, space, truth and meaning itself, we go round in circles, I think.

Best wishes

Jo


2010-08-26
Does direct realism make sense?
Reply to Denis Chang

Dear Denis,

Thanks for some very cogent and relevant points. In relation to Leibniz I concede three caveats:

1. He probably did miss a few tricks and they are important issues to resolve.

2. He changed his mind significantly so I tend to read the Monadology as stand alone, even if some of the earlier pieces help see where he is coming from.

3. Our biggest problem is the multiple meanings of the important words we want to use - like change. I think Leibniz did quite a good job in steering round the problems but maybe not ideal and even if ideal certainly open to misconstruing if one has not seen his underlying agenda. Presumably translators may also introduce aberrations.

Ultimately what matters for me is a gist that can be reformulated in the context of modern physics and applied to the relation of the human subject to the world. The distinguishability of monads is tricky. Simon Saunders has written nicely on this in the context of current physics (monads being quantized modes). For familiar entities like photons, electrons or protons the monadic units of each type seem to be the same in terms of the ‘laws of God’ (to use Leibniz) that they obey but each unit is distinguishable by its ‘biography’ of in terms of its journey in the universe. Interestingly, where two electrons are truly indistinguishable (one coming from there and another that came from here and has come back here because it bounced off the one from there that it is indistinguishable from) they obey the rules of one thing (their histories co-interfere).

So distinguishability requires unique properties, but I am not sure that these are ‘qualities’ and certainly not qualitative properties in the usual sense. They can be ‘biographical properties’. Aggregates of monads will induce apperceptions in other monads that will include apparent qualities (or qualia) but these are not ‘qualities’ of the monads in the aggregate.

Leibniz attributes dominant monads to living things to explain the sense of a single ‘self’ with apperceptions. I actually think he is at least partly wrong about this (this is my key metaphysical interest). There is no need for it and it weakens his case by being unexplained. I am not clear that he attributes dominant monads to inanimate things – he does seem to indicate that aggregates like piles of stones are arbitrary. Nevertheless, I think modern physics does attribute something a bit like a dominant monad to an aggregate like a crystal or a billiard ball. In terms of group theory these structures have quantised modes that are more complex and variable than things like electrons. It brings back credence to the concept of forms – maybe Leibniz could half see why it should not be distained. These more complex monads are really what we are interested in in daily life and in relation to your further points.

My reading of Leibniz is that the biography of the monad, which is its perception and in a sense its very existence, is full of change, but that there is an aspect of the monad that remains the same (which is as you quote: there must be something which changes and something which remains unchanged). The perception/biography changes. What I see as that which does not change, or at least much less consistently, is a set of parameters within which the ‘laws of God’ apply to ‘steer’ that monad. For electrons and photons these are simple things like spin and charge value. For the acoustic phonons of large structures the parameters can be extremely complex.

So I see Leibniz as having no problem with ‘all is change from the third person perspective’ (just as all is apperception from the first) because this does not mean there is nothing that remains unchanged. What remains unchanged is a set of parameters defining the way the laws of change operate in that instance. In simple terms what stays the same is the pattern of change. The pattern perdures.

Would Leibniz have “agreed with Lonergan that if there is "change" there has to be a concrete unity of concrete data extending over some interval of time (however ephemeral), there has to be some difference between the data at the beginning and at the end of the interval, and this difference can be only partial for otherwise there would occur not a "change" but an annihilation and a new creation”?

My question here is for whom is this data? If this is data for the monad in question then there is a unity of data that forms the ‘biography of perception’ for the monad. But note that these are data about the universe, not about the monad. Moreover these are not 'changing data' in the sens eof the word change I am using. Change is the transition between data. Change is not 'given' to anything, it is what explains what is given and when it is. If you mean data for us wanting to track this monad through time then modern physics would say definitely no and I am not sure that Leibniz would think it relevant to our understanding of the monad being tracked.

My impression is that physicists are increasingly finding Leibniz in harmony with current thought. Leibniz’s view is verified in the broad sense that it is a framework that very happily accommodates the empirically confirmed features of quantum field theory that on the sort of basis that people like Rutherford operated on in the late nineteenth century seem ‘spooky’ and unexpected. ‘Interactions’ in modern physics look much more like ‘progress in harmony’ than anything billiard ballish. The complexity without parts fits perfectly with the indivisibility of a ‘quantum system’. Leibniz pre-empts any worries about a mind-body problem. I am tempted to think that it would be better to think of the monad as an instance of operation of certain parameterised natural laws rather than some notional entity being 'guided' by the 'laws of God'. However, I can see Leibniz's point here - his approach provides a good safeguard against relapsing into intuitive concepts of 'agents' and it works just as well.

You finish by saying that the notion of a thing is meticulously worked out by Lonergan in Chapter VIII  of  Insight but I am still unclear where he advances on Leibniz either in terms of providing a base for modern physics or elucidating things like the nature of the human self and its relation to the world. I am not sure I am drawn to try and find him in the library without a clearer trailer! Can you give a bullet point summary?

Jo

 


2010-08-26
Does direct realism make sense?
Dear John,Mass and charge are defined as dispositions.
The lack of analogy between dynamic metric space and experiential space is something I have been batting on about for too long on these lists. All I can suggest is to read the people who invented our mathematical physics - Galileo, Descartes, Newton, Leibniz etc. I think it boils down to the fact that explanations are not analagous to what they explain. If you try and explain things in terms of explained things you end up with the sort of problem Hume had - no room for causal connection. The space of causal connection explains the space of experience, it is no sense analogous to it.
I have done what I can to be clear.
Best 
Jo

2010-08-27
Does direct realism make sense?
Reply to Quee Nelson
Hi QN,

Having been a working scientist I feel uncomfortable with the term "realism" being applied to science.  I would describe everyday science as the process of discovering "what causes what".  Here are some everyday problems: What causes excessive airway narrowing?  What causes instabilities in a magnetically confined plasma? What causes puffin population decline?  The method that is used to resolve these problems is to frame an hypothesis that relates the variables of interest, then to create an experiment in which one variable is allowed to change and both variables are measured then to apply various statistical tests to the data, the most popular test being to calculate if the change in the dependent variable could have happened by chance.  Science is repeated measurement, observation, theory and calculation.

"Measurement", "observation" and computation are hugely intriguing and problematical. In particular the relationship between measurement and observation is a minefield.  I would define observation as the placing of measurements in a manifold of events (ie: assigning coordinates to measurements) and relativity and quantum theory have shown that this is not at all straightforward.  It is this problem that has led some commentators to worry about "realism" but the problem is simple to state: how do particular measurements (events) occur in a particular observational manifold. Stated in this way the problem does not involve "realism" at all, it is simply a failure to understand, as yet, how various events, especially tiny events, become distributed.

Direct Realism, as originally defined, holds that the manifold of events in our observation is the events themselves, out there in the world beyond the body, and Indirect Realism holds that there is an observational manifold of events somewhere else, probably in the brain.  There is also a widespread proposal in philosophy that there is no personal observational manifold of events and hence, by default, Direct Realism must be true. This proposal is disingenuous because the claim is that there is no personal observational manifold, none, not in the brain nor in the world beyond the body. 

So I would maintain that Sellars' statement is of no relevance to the present debate, the issue at hand is: do we have a personal observational manifold of events (ie: events in a coordinate system that we call our experience) and if so, where is it?



2010-08-27
Does direct realism make sense?
Hi Jo,

Thank you for this clarification.  If a disposition is interchangeable with mass or charge then a "disposition" is the same as any other scientific variable, it is obtained by applying a measuring instrument and the reading on the instrument is used in a formula (F = ma or F=Eq for instance).  Science remains the art of relations.

You used "disposition" in the following context:

"Science is not a form of idealism because the instances of operation of laws it postulates are concrete and public. They are purely dispositional, and that worries people, but that is what causes of experiences should be. They are never yellow, they can only be instances of dispositions to generate yellow feels in animals with yellow detectors (as well as lots of other actualities in other animate and inanimate situations)."

I am finding it hard to relate this statement back to "mass" and "charge".

Anyway, so much for dispositions.  On the relationship between experiential and physical space you said:

"The lack of analogy between dynamic metric space and experiential space is something I have been batting on about for too long on these lists."

but surely I answered this in my last post, there is an analogy, experiential space consists of time extended objects that occur concurrently, it has things arranged in space and in time and this means that it may indeed be analysable using the same methods as are used to analyse physical spacetime. As to whether or not this means that experiential space is indeed a volume of physical space such as a volume of brain is, I admit, subject to doubt but any scientist should take this identity as a sensible working hypothesis until it is proven wrong. As for the term "analogous", you seem to be backing both horses, if there is an analogy you are claiming that this does not mean that physical space and experiential space are the same (agreed but they probably are the same) and at the same time you are claiming that there is no analogy.  It is this second claim that I reject, there is an obvious "analogy" between physical and experiential space, the analogy is so intense that most people are naive realists.

You introduce Leibniz and Descartes, both of these philosophers tried to analyse how things could be seen. Descartes is crystal clear in his analysis, he traces the "animal spirits" into the brain and realises that all he can ever obtain is a succession of images drawn in these spirits so he makes the imaginative leap of proposing a "Res Cogitans" that is a supernatural, physically unextended point that can look out at the animal spirit images like a point eye in the brain. Leibniz is really doing the same trick and both of them are actually rehashing Aristotle's analysis in "On the Soul":

"The answer is that just as what is called a 'point' is, as being at once one and two, properly said to be divisible, so here, that which discriminates is qua undivided one, and active in a single moment of time, while so far forth as it is divisible it twice over uses the same dot at one and the same time. So far forth then as it takes the limit as two' it discriminates two separate objects with what in a sense is divided: while so far as it takes it as one, it does so with what is one and occupies in its activity a single moment of time."

It was Aristotle who introduced the "point" to overcome the problems of regress and infinite convergence. Nowadays we could just use projective geometry to avoid convergences and regress but philosophers and neuroscientists seem strangely reluctant to do this. (See Perceiving perception and seeing seeing for more discussion of the 'point'.)

2010-08-27
Does direct realism make sense?
Dear John, I think I have said things in all the ways I can think of. Maybe you should ask others if they can see what I am saying and put it in other words. The difficulty is that words mostly just activate concepts we already have. Thus, I read Descartes's and Leibniz's words quite differently from you. I did not get to my position from words (or reading philosophers) but from finding paradoxes in the process of studying perception. I see the recognition of those paradoxes in most of the sixteenth and seventeenth century authors but each struggling to express them in different and variably successful ways.
Jo

2010-09-11
Does direct realism make sense?
Dear Joe E,  

Thank you.  You invited me to give a "bullet-point summary" on how Lonergan can be said to take our understanding of physics further than Leibniz, or advance our understanding of the self and/or of the world:-  

(i)  Lonergan's understanding of what is real in the physical world, including  his general notion of a "thing", is not a product of  rationalistic idealism or of pure deductivism but of a critical realism that engages all the levels of human knowing, including experiencing, understanding and judging which operate as one.   These three operations are on the side of the knower.   

(ii)  On the side of what is to be known ("proportionate being") there is a corresponding unity in the three metaphysical elements of  potency, form and act, each with its own verifiable conjugate, making six elements or components in an integral heuristic structure.  In broad terms, potency pertains to that component of proportionate being which is experienced, form to what is understood and act to what is affirmed in the virtually unconditioned "Yes" of judgement i.e. when all the conditions for such affirmation are satisfiied.

(iii)  More accurately, whereas experience "presents" without defining or specifiying and judgment affirms or denies what is already specified, it is insight or understanding that does all the defining and specifying so that the unity that is constituted by potency, form and act has a single definition or specification that is reached in knowing form.  

(iv)  Thus the form of anything is what is to be completely understood of it in explanatory as distinguished from merely descriptive terms.  Descriptive or experiential conjugates pertain to things as related to our senses (e.g. a "black and heavy"  stove as perceived) ;  pure or explanatory conjugates pertain to things as related to one another (e.g. heat coming from the stove as defined implicitly by the first law of thermodynamics).   

(iv)  To take another example from physics, assuming that the notion of mass-velocity survives in fully explanatory science, then the conjugate act is the mass-velocity;  the conjugate form is the mass as defined by its intelligible relations to other masses;  the conjugate potency is the space-time continuum of the trajectory. What has the mass will be individual by its central potency, a unity by its central form, and existing by its central act. Insofar as there is also intelligently grasped and reasonably affirmed in the data an intelligible concrete unity-identity-whole, there is here a "thing" as defined by explanatory conjugates in the sense used by Lonergan (infra).  
 
(v)   Lonergan's approach, especially when coupled with his notion of "the empirical residue", is a powerful heuristic. Particular times and particular places, individuality, the continuum and nonsystematic divergences from ideal frequences all pertain to the empirical residue. They have no immanent intelligibility of their own and so are passed over when abstracting from the particular to the general, or from the individual to the universal. Otherwise every time and every place will have its own physics, its own chemistry and its own biology and scientific collaboration becomes impossible.  

(vi)  The empirical residue, including nonsystematic divergences commonly named "chance", is within human experience that is intellectually-patterned.  As such, the relevant empirical data relate to potency.  Consider first potency as a principle of limitation.  Just as judgment is limited by insight and insight by data, so act is limited by form and form by potency. Just as each higher genus is limited by the preceding lower genus, it is the lowest genus that provides a principle of limitation for the whole. With Lonergan, let's call the potency at the lowest genus "prime potency" (cf Aristotle's "prime matter").   

(vii) Consider next whether the above approach will throw any light on our contemporary understanding of energy.  Since energy can be latent or potential, it is not act or at least not a single act. Since it can make its presence felt in mechanics, thermodynamics, electromagnetics, chemistry and biology, it is not form or at least not just one form. So what is "it " ?   

(viii) Consider Lonergan's answer as I understand it:  Energy, as a principle of limitation, is grounded in prime potency as part of the empirical residue. As such, it has no immanent intelligibility of its own until it is given form.  Thus one can speak intelligibly of a quantity of "energy" as being the concrete prime potency that is informed mechanically, or thermallly or electrically as the case may be. Such a integrated notion of "energy" is perfectly consistent with and indeed suggested by the integral heuristic structure of proportionate being as explicated by Lonergan.  However Its significance does not end here, as indicated further below.  

(ix)  It is well known that mechanics was developed under Newtonian classical laws without actually calling anything "energy".  But once the notion of force is replaced by energy, as in Lagrange-Euler mechanics, much more powerful techniques can be developed.  A new synthesis emerged between the different forms of energy - heat, light, electricity and magnetism - when the two approaches to mechanics were brought together by Hamilton and generalized  by Joule who provided experimental proof that heat and work were convertible.

(x)  With Einstein and the elimination of the ether, the Newtonian notion of mass had to be reformulated in terms of mass, energy and velocity such that just as space determines time and time determines space, so velocity determines mass and mass determines velocity. It is even possible to work out, as Max Planck has done, Maxwell's  electromagnetic equations by beginning with the notion of energy.

(xii)  Lonergan asks:  Is one to relate the inertial coefficient of mass to the prime potency it informs and to think of mass itself as a conjugate form that is implicitly defined by the laws that relate masses to one another ?  Moreover, if there is  a co-relation between the expanding universe and the amount of total energy, can this be explained because prime potency, forming part of the empirical residue, grounds both the space-time continuum and the quantity of energy ?   Whatever the correct answer, it will have something to do with the structure of proportionate being in terms of potency, form and act and their verified or verifiable conjugates.   

(xiii)  So it is with Space and Time.  I could go on to describe  how Lonergan moves from descriptive to explanatory notions of Space-Time and frames of reference and his protean notion of "emergent probability" that speaks of a world-process of successive realizations of schemes of recurrence in accordance with their probabilities - from lower to higher viewpoints and systematizations of coincidental manifolds at the physical, chemical, biological and human levels, as well as nonsystematic divergences from such probabilities. 

(xiv)  Suffice for me to say that, as part of his broader search for intelligibility using classical, statistical, genetic and dialectical methods and taking advantage of insights from contemporary science including quantum mechanics (not available to Leibniz), he concludes among other things that  the "concrete extensions and concrete durations are the field or matter or potency in which emergent probability is the immanent form or intelligibility" (Insight, Chap. 5,  p.195,  5th Edition, Vol. 3 of The Collected Works of Bernard Lonergan in 25 Volumes, Toronto University Press, 1992  latest reprint 2008).   
 
(xv)  Emergent probability is generalized by Lonergan to include not just occurrences but also  "things" and their probabilities and this brings me back to the importance of the notion of a thing as an intellligible concrete unity-identity-whole in individual data. First, it avoids the confusion  between "things" as known by the three combined operations of human knowing ("critical realism") with "bodies" apprehended merely at the level of sense ("naive" realism).  Secondly, Lonergan's notion of a "thing", whilst at home in the world of contemporary science , is not alien to the world of common sense:   a "dog" is a thing just as an atom is also a thing.  Thirdly, "change" presupposes a notion of unity-identity-whole. Fourthly, scientific development requires both description and explanation. Fifthly, it is possible to develop, as Lonergan has done, a theory of explanatory genera and species when his notion of a thing is combined with his notion of "emergent probabilitiy".   The world-order which emerges is something infinitely richer and  much more "real" than any monadic system.   

(xvi)  You are indeed right in saying that Leibniz (genius though he was)  probably missed "a few tricks".  But even a much lesser mortal like me is entitled to wonder whether in so doing he ended up by missing a whole universe of being, notwithstanding the fact that he believed that we live in the best of all possible worlds.  

I hope I've said enough to persuade you to make that little trip to the library that you say you are reluctant to make.  But thank you for your attention whether you decide to do so or not.  

Denis Chang           

2010-09-14
Does direct realism make sense?
Reply to Denis Chang
Dear Denis, Many thanks for the account of Lonergan. I am sorry to say that I am not tempted. I can work out what a lot of the ideas are intended to do but I prefer simpler terminology to the private neologisms. Beyond that there seems to be a desire to unify things in a way that does not add up for me.  Thus, in terms of understanding 'self' the framework seems to encourage the conflations Leibniz got some way towards disentangling. It sounds rather as if there is a desire for some comforting religious agenda (heavily disguised by rational argument) somewhere in the background. I prefer to stick with Gottfried. His perfection pulled no punches.

Jo

2010-09-22
Does direct realism make sense?
Leibniz' great achievement was to use the concept of a "monad" to encapsulate Aristotle's problem of the apparent physical point where everything in perception is connected (See "On the Soul").  Sadly he used a primitive cosmology to try to explain this geometrical problem.

2010-09-22
Does direct realism make sense?
Dear Joe E,

So be it.   You're perfectly entitled to stick with Gottfried Leibniz, whose "windowless" monads live in splendid isolation unable to interact with one another and yet able , according to Leibniz, to act in unison in accordance with a principle of harmony pre-established by his Supreme Monad, God -a "comforting religious agenda" if there ever was one !  Compare this with a world-process which is ever in need of completion, subject to emergent probability, with possibilities of false-starts, breakdowns and blind-alleys.  Lonergan, too, believes in God but does not mistake the empirical residue for God.

Denis Chang .        

2010-09-25
Does direct realism make sense?
Reply to Denis Chang
Dear Denis,The attraction of Leibniz's view for me is that it fits precisely with modern physics and requires nothing else (I suspect he threw the God label in just because 'nature' was not quite so popular with his readership). But we will agree to differ.

What may be more germane to the thread is the issue of monads being 'windowless' and therefore, you imply, isolated. I am interested in this reading because it is not how I read GWL. The monad perceives the whole universe and clearly apperceives a domain of most relevance. I do not see how that can be consistent with being 'isolated'. As I understand Leibniz the absence of 'windows' in the monad has a different meaning. It means that there is no geometric feature of the monad, such as having parts between which an incoming influence can pass (like the windows of a mill with internal machinery), that allows us to describe the ultimate immediate act of perception in mechanical terms. Perception is ultimately just a fact governed by the laws of nature (God). The key point is that you cannot go on reducing mechanical dynamics to smaller and smaller mechanisms ad infinitum. At some point one has to say interaction is just a rule based fact with no parts - which is what modern physics says. Similarly the monad cannot act on the basis of rules determined within itself by the interaction of its mechanical parts because the ultimate monad can have none. Leibniz's account of the monad being informed by the laws of nature may not be ideal but I challenge anyone to describe modern physics in better terms using ordinary language.

This is crucially relevant to the debate on realism in perception because it puts the act of perception right at the final immediate interaction with the monad, which must be well inside the brain.

Have I misread? Or is the idea that windowless means 'blind' a popular misreading as I suspect it is?

Best wishes

Jo

2010-09-26
Does direct realism make sense?
Monads are the point of view of mathematical points:

"It is only atoms of substance, that is to say real unities absolutely devoid of parts, that can be the sources of actions, and the absolute first principles of the composition of things, and as it were the ultimate elements in the analysis of substances <substantial things>. They might be called metaphysical points; they have something of the nature of life and a kind of perception, and mathematical points are their point of view for expressing the universe."(New System (11) 1695).

"They cannot have shapes, because then they would have parts; and therefore one monad in itself, and at a moment, cannot be distinguished from another except by its internal qualities and actions; which can only be its perceptions (that is, the representations of the composite, or of what is external, in the simple), or its appetitions (its tending to move from one perception to another, that is), which are the principles of change. For the simplicity of a substance does not in any way rule out a multiplicity in the modifications which must exist together in one simple substance; and those modifications must consist in the variety of its relationships to things outside it - like the way in which in a centre, or a point, although it is completely simple, there are an infinity of angles formed which meet in it." (Principles of Nature and Grace 1714).

This corresponds with Aristotle's view (and also Descartes').  In geometrical terms such a mathematical point of view requires a metric with a negative dimension ie: a metric such as dh^2 = dx^2 + dy^2 + dz^2  has each point in space separate from the next but a metric such as ds^2 = dx^2 + dy^2 + dz^2 - dt^2  has all of the points given by 0 = dx^2 + dy^2 + dz^2 - dt^2 at no separation from each other in spacetime.