Philosophers of mind tend to take it for granted that causal relations are part of the mind-independent, objective fabric of the physical world. In fact, their status has been hotly contested since Russell famously observed that the closest thing to causal relations in physics are timesymmetric dynamical laws relating global time slices of world-history. 1 These bear a distant relationship to the local, asymmetric relations that form the core of the folk notion of cause. Nancy Cartwright, in an influential response, (...) agreed about the absence of causal relations from physics, but argued that Russell’s position was not viable because agents choosing among potential actions need specifically causal information to distinguish effective from ineffective strategies for bringing about ends. 2 Causal beliefs play an ineliminable role in practical deliberation In recent years, there has been a great deal of progress in understanding the relationship between causal concepts and the dynamical laws that appear in advanced physics, together with a proliferation of new tools for representing and discovering causal structure. (shrink)
Denial of death We don’t like to think about our deaths, and there are cultural developments – social, technological, economic – that make it easier than ever before to live without constant reminders of our mortality. We hide the evidence of death. We live separately from our old people, and quarantine the dying in hospitals and hospices. It’s impolite to mention death in conversation. We view death not as natural and inevitable stage of life, but as a calamity, a mistake, (...) an accident. This attitude towards death isn’t shared by all cultures, and it’s a relatively recent development even in the west. The result of it, however, is a diminished appreciation of the finitude of life. We spend our lives in the way a foolish man spends his fortune as though there will always be more where that came from, Tolstoy, in The Death of Ivan Ilyich, perhaps the most famous literary portrait of the psychology of a dying man, captures how very easy it is – although we all know in an intellectual sense that we all die - to meet our ends with the shock the foolish spender feels when the last dollar is spent. With a sort of desperate plea ‘Nobody told me it was going to end’. Ivan Ilyich (who has sustained a mortal injury in some stupid household chore… putting up a curtain rod) when he begins to acknowledge the signs of his impending death, thinks to himself.. (shrink)
In the general project of trying to reconcile the subjective view of the world (how things seem from the perspective of the embedded agent) with the objective view (the view of the world from the outside, as represented, for example, in our best physics), analytic philosophy, especially in recent years, has been almost solely focused on sensory phenomenology.1 There are two very salient features of the subjective view that haven’t been explored even on the descriptive side but that present prima (...) facie problems at least as great as sensory phenomenology. One is agential phenomenology (the experience of ourselves as agents in the world), and the other is temporal phenomenology. 2 The problems presented by these cases are very different. I want to focus on temporal phenomenology, by which I mean the felt character of a life lived in time. And my goal here is mostly descriptive; I’ll be exploring the question of what it is like to be the kind of being that has a history, that experiences that history in stages, and that keeps a running record of that history as it unfolds. 3 My suggestion is going to be that there is a special phenomenology, not supervenient on the sensory phenomenology, that arises only in the representational setting created by autobiographical memory and that is central to the felt character of a life lived in time. 4 (by autobiographical memory here, I mean not simply what is sometimes referred to as episodic memory - mental images of past experiences - I mean an explicit, account of one’s own history, rendered in explicitly first-personal form. (the difference here is the difference between a perspectival representation centered on the self of the sort that visual experience gives us and an explicit representation of self, of the sort you have, for example when you translate visual experience into a first personal belief like “I am such and such a place, seeing such and such”).. (shrink)
Descartes begins his discussion in the Meditations with the question ‘what am I?’ and concludes, famously, that he is a non-material substance. His reasoning turns on the thesis that nothing can be true of his..
There’s a long history of discussion of probability in philosophy, but objective chance separated itself off and came into its own as a topic with the advent of a physical theory - quantum mechanics - in which chances play a central, and apparently ineliminable, role. In 1980 David Lewis wrote a paper pointing out that a very broad class of accounts of the nature of chance apparently lead to a contradiction when combined with a principle that expresses the role of (...) chance in guiding belief. There is still no settled agreement on the proper response to the Lewis problem. At the time he wrote the article, Lewis despaired of a solution, but, although he never achieved one that satisfied him completely, by 1994, due to work primarily by Thau and Hall, he had come to think the problem could be disarmed if we fudged a little on the meaning of ‘chance’. I’ll say more about this below. What I’m going to suggest, however, is that the qualification is unnecessary. The problem depends on an assumption that should be rejected, viz., that using information about chance to guide credence requires one to conditionalize on the theory of chance that one is using. I’m going to propose a general recipe for using information about chance to guide belief that does not require conditionalization on a theory of chance at any stage. Lewis’ problem doesn’t arise in this setting. (shrink)
Human beings think of themselves in terms of a privileged non-descriptive designator — a mental “I”. Such thoughts are called “de se” thoughts. The mind/body problem is the problem of deciding what kind of thing I am, and it can be regarded as arising from the fact that we think of ourselves non-descriptively. Why do we think of ourselves in this way? We investigate the functional role of “I” (and also “here” and “now”) in cognition, arguing that the use of (...) such non-descriptive “reflexive” designators is essential for making sophisticated cognition work in a general-purpose cognitive agent. If we were to build a robot capable of similar cognitive tasks as humans, it would have to be equipped with such designators. Once we understand the functional role of reflexive designators in cognition, we will see that to make cognition work properly, an agent must use a de se designator in specific ways in its reasoning. Rather simple arguments based upon how “I” works in reasoning lead to the conclusion that it cannot designate the body or part of the body. If it designates anything, it must be something non-physical. However, for the purpose of making the reasoning work correctly, it makes no difference whether “I” actually designates anything. If we were to build a robot that more or less duplicated human cognition, we would not have to equip it with anything for “I” to designate, and general physicalist inclinations suggest that there would be nothing for “I” to designate in the robot. In particular, it cannot designate the physical contraption. So the robot would believe “I exist”, but it would be wrong. Why should we think we are any different? (shrink)
Any person truly considering belief in a scientific world view has to confront the question of whether and in what sense, if she views herself as a natural system in a world governed by natural laws, she can continue to regard herself as free. The prima facie clash is usually expressed in terms of a conflict between freedom and determinism, captured in an argument known as the Consequence Argument. If the natural laws are deterministic, our behavior must be deducible by (...) them from the initial conditions of the universe, and we are wrong to think that we exercise regulative control over action. The most common tactic for those who defend the compatibility of freedom and determinism is to deny that regulative control is a requirement of freedom. I will argue that, whether or not regulative control is a requirement of freedom, it is – surprisingly! - compatible with determinism. The discussion here replays themes of the first essay. Personal freedom is a complex concept, embedded in a tangle of criss-crossing personal, social, theological, psychological, and metaphysical debates, each placing its own requirement on the concept, and I make no attempt to address the general question of whether we are free. It is only the specific challenge presented by the Consequence Argument that I address, and that challenge is a clearly defined dynamical issue about the possibility of regulative control over action in a world governed by deterministic laws. (shrink)
First para: Before the 17th century, there was not much discussion, and little uniformity in conception, of natural laws. The rise of science in 17th century, Newton’s mathematization of physics, and the provision of strict, deterministic laws that applied equally to the heavens and to the terrestrial realm had a profound impact in transforming the philosophical imagination. A philosophical conception of physical law built on the example of Newtonian Mechanics became quickly entrenched. Between the 17th and 20th centuries, there was (...) a great deal of philosophical interest in probabilities, but probabilities were mostly regarded as having something to do with the management of opinion, not as having a fundamental role in science. Probabilities made their first appearance in an evidently ineliminable way in the laws of a fundamental theory with the advent of quantum mechanics. Quantum probabilities have come to be called ‘chances’ in the philosophical literature, and their interpretation has been one of the central problems in philosophy of science now for almost a century. There continue to be hold-outs that insist that there must be an underlying probability-free replacement for quantum mechanics and Bohmians have had some success in formulating a deterministic alternative to quantum mechanics, but most physicists accept that the probabilistic character of the quantum mechanical laws is likely to be retained in any successor theory. While physics has adjusted itself comfortably to the existence of ineliminably probabilistic laws, philosophy has not managed arrive at a stable interpretation of quantum probability. The difficulty is that there are a number of constraints that an interpretation of chance must satisfy, constraints that appear to be partially definitive of the concept and it proves to be extraordinarily difficult to meet them simultaneously. (shrink)
The riddle posed by the double nature of the ego certainly lies beyond [the limits of science]. On the one hand, I am a real individual man, born by a mother and destined to carrying out real and psychical acts (far too many, I may think, if boarding a subway during an hour). On the other hand, I am “vision” open to reason, a self-penetrating light, immanent sense-giving consciousness, or how ever you may call it, and as such unique. (Weyl, (...) Address, 3). (shrink)
For most of the major philosophers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, human cognition was understood as involving the mind’s reflexive grasp of its own contents. But other important figures have described the very idea of a reflexive thought as incoherent. Ryle notably likened the idea of a reflexive thought to an arm that grasps itself. Recent work in philosophy, psychology, and the cognitive sciences has greatly clarified the special epistemic and semantic properties of reflexive thought. This article is an (...) attempt to give an explicit characterization of the structure of reflexive thoughts that explains those properties and avoids the complaints of its critics. (shrink)
Thought about the self raises some very special problems. Some of these concern indexical reference quite generally, but there is one having to do with identity over time that seems to be unique to the self. I use an historical exchange between Anscombe and Descartes to bring out the problem, and propose a resolution that casts light both on why self-directed thought presents a unique epistemic predicament and where Descartes’ cogito may have gone wrong.
The role of probability is one of the most contested issues in the interpretation of contemporary physics. In this paper, I’ll be reevaluating some widely held assumptions about where and how probabilities arise. Larry Sklar voices the conventional wisdom about probability in classical physics in a piece in the Stanford Online Encyclopedia of Philosophy, when he writes that “Statistical mechanics was the first foundational physical theory in which probabilistic concepts and probabilistic explanation played a fundamental role.” And the conventional wisdom (...) about quantum probabilities is that they are basic, not reducible to the types of probabilities we see in statistical mechanics. In the first section of this paper, I’ll argue that in fact classical physics was steeped in probability long before statistical mechanics came on the scene, specifically, that an objective measure over phase space is an indispensable component of any informative physical theory. In the next section, I’ll argue that this objective measure is the fundamental form of physical probability and that quantum probabilities can be defined in terms of it. In the last, I’ll raise some questions about the metaphysical status of the fundamental measure. (shrink)
Quantum mechanics is, at least at first glance and at least in part, a mathematical machine for predicting the behaviors of microscopic particles — or, at least, of the measuring instruments we use to explore those behaviors — and in that capacity, it is spectacularly successful: in terms of power and precision, head and shoulders above any theory we have ever had. Mathematically, the theory is well understood; we know what its parts are, how they are put together, and why, (...) in the mechanical sense (i.e., in a sense that can be answered by describing the internal grinding of gear against gear), the whole thing performs the way it does, how the information that gets fed in at one end is converted into what comes out the other. The question of what kind of a world it describes, however, is controversial; there is very little agreement, among physicists and among philosophers, about what the world is like according to quantum mechanics. Minimally interpreted, the theory describes a set of facts about the way the microscopic world impinges on the macroscopic one, how it affects our measuring instruments, described in everyday language or the language of classical mechanics. Disagreement centers on the question of what a microscopic world, which affects our apparatuses in the prescribed manner, is, or even could be, like intrinsically ; or how those apparatuses could themselves be built out of microscopic parts of the sort the theory describes.[1.. (shrink)
Bayesians take “definite” or “single-case” probabilities to be basic. Definite probabilities attach to closed formulas or propositions. We write them here using small caps: PROB(P) and PROB(P/Q). Most objective probability theories begin instead with “indefinite” or “general” probabilities (sometimes called “statistical probabilities”). Indefinite probabilities attach to open formulas or propositions. We write indefinite probabilities using lower case “prob” and free variables: prob(Bx/Ax). The indefinite probability of an A being a B is not about any particular A, but rather about the (...) property of being an A. In this respect, its logical form is the same as that of relative frequencies. For instance, we might talk about the probability of a human baby being female. That probability is about human babies in general — not about individuals. If we examine a baby and determine conclusively that she is female, then the definite probability of her being female is 1, but that does not alter the indefinite probability of human babies in general being female. Most objective approaches to probability tie probabilities to relative frequencies in some way, and the resulting probabilities have the same logical form as the relative frequencies. That is, they are indefinite probabilities. The simplest theories identify indefinite probabilities with relative frequencies.3 It is often objected that such “finite frequency theories” are inadequate because our probability judgments often diverge from relative frequencies. For example, we can talk about a coin being fair (and so the indefinite probability of a flip landing heads is 0.5) even when it is flipped only once and then destroyed (in which case the relative frequency is either 1 or 0). For understanding such indefinite probabilities, it has been suggested that we need a notion of probability that talks about possible instances of properties as well as actual instances.. (shrink)
J. T. Ismael's monograph is an ambitious contribution to metaphysics and the philosophy of language and mind. She tackles a philosophical question whose origin goes back to Descartes: What am I? The self is not a mere thing among things--but if so, what is it, and what is its relationship to the world? Ismael is an original and creative thinker who tries to understand our problematic concepts about the self and how they are related to our use of language in (...) particular. (shrink)
The outstanding stumbling blocks to any reductive account of phenomenal consciousness remain the subjectivity of phenomenal properties and cognitive and epistemic gaps that plague the relationship between physical and phenomenal properties. I suggest that a deflationary interpretation of both is available to defenders of self- representational accounts.
Dennett argues that the decentralized view of human cognitive organization finding increasing support in parts of cognitive science undermines talk of an inner self. On his view, the causal underpinnings of behavior are distributed across a collection of autonomous subsystems operating without any centralized supervision. Selves are fictions contrived to simplify description and facilitate prediction of behavior with no real correlate inside the mind. Dennett often uses an analogy with termite colonies whose behavior looks organized and purposeful to the external (...) eye, but which is actually the emergent product of uncoordinated activity of separate components marching to the beat of their individual drums. I examine the cognitive organization of a system steering by an internal model of self and environment, and argue that it provides a model that lies between the image of mind as termite colony and a naïve Cartesianism that views the self as inner substance. (shrink)
Human beings think of themselves in terms of a privileged non-descriptive designator — a mental “I”. Such thoughts are called “_de se_” thoughts. The mind/body problem is the problem of deciding what kind of thing I am, and it can be regarded as arising from the fact that we think of ourselves non-descriptively. Why do we think of ourselves in this way? We investigate the functional role of “I” (and also “here” and “now”) in cognition, arguing that the use of (...) such non-descriptive “reflexive” designators is essential for making sophisticated cognition work in a general-purpose cognitive agent. If we were to build a robot capable of similar cognitive tasks as humans, it would have to be equipped with such designators. (shrink)
I propose, in the context of Everett interpretations of quantum mechanics, a way of understanding how there can be genuine uncertainty about the future notwithstanding that the universe is governed by known, deterministic dynamical laws, and notwithstanding that there is no ignorance about initial conditions, nor anything in the universe whose evolution is not itself governed by the known dynamical laws. The proposal allows us to draw some lessons about the relationship between chance and determinism, and to dispel one source (...) of the tendency among Everettians to introduce consciousness as a primitive element into physical description. (shrink)
The Hard Problem of the mind is addressed and it is argued that physical-phenomenal property identities have the same status as the identification of an ostended bit of physical space and the coordinates assigned the spot on a map of the terrain. It is argued, that is to say, that such identities are, or follow from, stipulations which interpret the map.
A reading is given of Curie''s Principle that the symmetry of a cause is always preserved its effects. The truth of the principle is demonstrated and its importance, under the proposed reading, is defended.As far as I see, all a priori statements in physics have their origin in symmetry. (Weyl, Symmetry, p. 126).
The chance of a physical event is the objective, single-case probability that it will occur. In probabilistic physical theories like quantum mechanics, the chances of physical events play the formal role that the values of physical quantities play in classical (deterministic) physics, and there is a temptation to regard them on the model of the latter as describing intrinsic properties of the systems to which they are assigned. I argue that this understanding of chances in quantum mechanics, despite being a (...) part of the orthodox interpretation of the theory and the most prevalent view in the physical community, is incompatible with a very wide range of metaphysical views about the nature of chance. The options that remain are unlikely to be attractive to scientists and scientifically minded philosophers. (shrink)