Philosophy of Mind

Edited by David Chalmers and David Bourget
Assistant editor: Chang Liu (University of Western Ontario)
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2009-06-12
Review of The Case for Qualia

This is from James John's review of Edmond Wright (ed.), The Case for Qualia, MIT Press, 2008. A recent post from Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews:


Finally, in his rich concluding paper "Why Transparency Is Unethical," Edmond Wright draws our attention to some important but often neglected ethical, even existential, implications of the philosophy of consciousness and perception. Most philosophers of mind today are wholehearted direct realists, and the falsity of indirect realism is often taken as a theoretical given. Not that anyone has proof of its falsity. The idea, rather, is essentially Moorean: surely we are far more certain of the existence of a world of mind-independent material objects, objects of which we can at least sometimes be directly aware, than we are of any premise in any indirect realist argument to the contrary.

Wright is having none of it. Here is a characteristic passage:

All of these reasons [for assuming an unmediated, direct link to the material world] have the same timid, even cowardly, impulse behind them. Under the cloak of asserting a blameless objectivity, it is avoiding the risk that attends all faith. It is the very acceptance of risk that characterizes a proper faith; the affectation of absolute certainty, superstition. (358)

I wonder, though, whether today's neo-Mooreans really are guilty of these sins. After all, the assumption of direct realism is extremely risky, and one might take it as precisely an expression of the sort of faith Wright describes. Moreover, not all direct realists shirk the task of explaining how direct awareness might work.

2009-11-19
Review of The Case for Qualia
Matthew Arnatt, like the direct realists, the 'transparentists', he may support, has found it difficult to take the point of the accusation that direct realism is a superstitious attitude to the world.  His neo-Mooreans make the same mistake as Moore when he held up his hand in that they equate  existence with logical singularity (as I emphasize on pages 355-6 of The Case for Qualia, ed. Wright, Cambridge MA, MIT Press, 2008).  Of course they will say that task of getting to the singular object is 'risky', that it is a tough and protracted business getting 'it' right, but what they have a fundamentalist-religious belief in is the perfect singularity of the object, the very 'it' that they are in search of, shining there visibly, if just out of reach epistemologically.  They confuse singularity with existence.  For them, every-thing is finally denumerable.  'God' is a mathematician.  They claim with Michael Tye and Gilbert Harman to look straight through, transparently, to that determinable x (Edmund Husserl and David Woodruff Smith), to the 'this', the thing that 'is what it is' (Bertrand Russell), or the 'invariant' (J. J. Gibson),  or the object that 'is there anyway' (David Wiggins), to the 'immediate objects that are in the natural world' (Ruth Millikan), the 'referent that we must think of in a quite specific way' (Gareth Evans), the 'point-particle' (Joshua Hoffman and Gary Rosenkrantz), to the 'order of things to which our beliefs are answerable' (Bernard Williams), to what is 'thus and so' (Robert Kirk, John Mcdowell), and so on and so on.  They are quite unable to accept that singularity is but the catalyst, a mutually imagined focus, that is practically necessary to our engagements with the real for without it we would never be able to bring our differing selections from the continuum into the rough co-ordination needed for action.  Like any catalyst, it can be discarded after each update, that is, if all parties declare themselves satisfied for the time being.  What locks the direct realist from understanding what my argument is saying is a reflection of the fact that, not blind trust. but faith is required when entering into dialogue, an acknowledgement that no assertions of truth and sincerity alone can stave off the threat of future disagreement with one's valued social partners.  That knowledge cannot finally encompass the real, that its dangers (perhaps tragic) -- and pleasant surprises (perhaps comic) -- can never be 'ruled' out.  And to turn one's faith into a fixed belief is certainly an act of superstition, which is, as all superstitions are, basically timid.

I often think of those experiments that photographers are sometimes tempted to make in which a hundred faces, say of beautiful women, are carefully superimposed on each other so that none of them fail to make  a contribution to the final image that is a compound of them all.  What results is a curious slightly fuzzy picture of an idealized face, like that of a Renaissance angel in a holy picture.  In a similar way all our ideas of what any ‘referent’, though assumed by us all to be an ideal, logically singular entity objectively existing in the real, is only the fuzzy compounding of all our private sortings.   We each do look through our separate objectifyings to existence, but not to an entity purely common to us all.  There is nothing in this theory that  undermines the conviction that we are confronted with the real, with existence -- for, as I have repeatedly stressed, we individually sense it all the time:  what we don't do is perfectly mutually know it ("Being is one thing;  knowledge is another', Roy Wood Sellars).



My analysis of the phrase 'take for granted' that is commonly appealed to by direct realists underpins this argument (see pages 111-120 in my Narrative, Perception, Language, and Faith, Bsingstoke, Macmillan, 2005).




2009-11-20
Review of The Case for Qualia
Reply to Edmond Wright
Edmond! A little unfair, everything from the first colon was quoted (I was trying to preserve the original's paragraph breaks). But your response is delightful and I'm happy to be an example of the composite reference of your second paragraph. I thought I'd post the quotation because on the basis of my reading of you there were strong alternatives to the kinds of expressions of thinned psychological determinacy booted about in various qualia-centric or related posts. Or which were the subject of agonised rejection. Personally, I'm interested only in what must stem from giving an account of differences, and believe anyway that a process of accounting for (in some limiting sense) differences generates some of the differences that are in the literature ..... at least which are in the more obvious literature.

2009-12-01
Review of The Case for Qualia
As a biomedical scientist the phrase that seems so stark in the original post is 'most philosophers of mind today are wholehearted direct realists'. Leaving aside the ways in which 'direct realist' can be made to mean almost anything, depending on the metaphysical layer underneath, this seems to suggest that most philosophers of mind today are ignorant of what is taught in first year undergraduate courses on both fundamental physics and physiology of perception. The direct realist view simply falls apart in the face of evidence. From what I can gather of Edmond Wright's position it is entirely justified in both content and associated exasperation. (I may find I disagree with other aspects but that is by the by.)
Are we entering a phase in philosophy when the fashion is to be so divorced from a broad-based knowledge of natural science that it is possible to retreat to a fairy tale metaphysic of 400 years ago? My recent experience would suggest not necessarily, if you go to meetings where like minds with some breadth of knowledge have gathered themselves together, but the idea that the 'the word on the street' is this dumbed down nonsense of direct realism is very worrying. 
I also worry about the way arguments are phrased in terms of -isms as if the whole thing were an issue of which football team one supports. The fact that the players can be changed to suit almost any circumstances seems to get forgotten. Every argument in philosophy seems to be dependent on the personal metaphysical substructure on which it is predicated by the person voicing it, and that often seems to be more important than the '-ism team' the argument putatively plays for. People need to give examples of specific arguments more.
I thought immunologists had tunnel vision. Is the philosopher now also someone who only knows about one metaphysical T cell receptor and not about the real real world as described by people like Niels Bohr and David Hubel?

2009-12-01
Review of The Case for Qualia
Jonathan, I am naturally curious what those other 'aspects' with which you 'disagree' happen to be.

2009-12-02
Review of The Case for Qualia
Reply to Edmond Wright
What's 'direct realism'?

2009-12-02
Review of The Case for Qualia
Reply to Jim Stone
That list I gave (Michael Tye to John McDowell) will give you the answer.  I might add the following:

Schwartz, Robert.  Vision:  Variations on some Berkeleian Themes.  Oxford:  

    Blackwell, 1994.

Hamlyn, D. W.  Understanding Perception:  The Concept and its Conditions.  

    Aldershot:  Avebury, 1996.

Dretske, Fred.  Naturalizing the Mind.  Cambridge, Massachusetts:  MIT Press, 1997.

Brewer, Bill.  Perception and Reason.  Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1999.

Stroud, Barry.  The Quest for Reality:  Subjectivism and the Metaphysics of Colour.  

    New York and Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 2000.

Carruthers, Peter.  Phenomenal Consciousness:  A Naturalistic Theory.  

    Cambridge:   Cambridge University Press, 2000.

Huemer, Michael,  Skepticism and the Veil of Perception.  Lanham. Maryland, and Oxford:  

    Rowman and Littlefield, 2001.

Thau, Michael.  Consciousness and Cognition.  Oxford and New York:  

    Oxford University Press, 2002.

Smith, A. D.  The Problem of Perception.  Cambridge, Massachusetts&London:  

    Harvard University Press, 2002.

In all of these books singular objectivity is conflated with existence.

Go back to my analogy of the superimposed faces.  No one doubts that the sensory fields and their external causes exist.  

The fact of our constantly being able to update each other about them proves that -- even, as I have pointed out, when 

the attempt at update proves unsatisfactory.  What is forever doubtful is that in existence is a logical singularity which 

is the target of all our attempts.  In the analogy, we can say that no one doubts that all the separate photographs exist: 

what plainly does not is that ideal compound of them all.  

Take Simon Blackburn's assertion:  'whether an island has a tree on it is quite independent of how we or any community 

describe it, or even whether any community exists to describe it' (Spreading the Word, Oxford:  Clarendon Press, 1984, p. 85).  

What is quite unexceptionable about this is that, as advice to us all, it has to be performed as a necessary, though false, 

hypothesis;  otherwise, we should not be able to get the degree of superimposition of our differing perspectives that often, 

though not always, allows us to co-operate successfully in handling some portion of existence -- here we have to talk of

 'the tree' and 'the island' (and 'the', the 'definite' article, is the word that signals that imagined perfect singularity).  (Is

not this what David Chalmers is getting at with his talk of 'Edenic' perceptions?)

What frightens people off accepting this analysis is that a demand is made on one's faith, for later the residual, inescapable,

mismatch in our perspectives may reveal a tragic conflict of desires, and the degree of one's commitment to the other's interests will 

then be called in question.  So counsel like that of Simon Blackburn's is really a disguised exhortation to uphold 

the required faith, except that those who give such counsel are unaware of the disguise -- and, too, the seriousness of what might 

ensue.  Hence, the profound horror they feel at 'relativism' and 'solipsism'.  Solipsism, by the way, is impossible in 

this theory, for the self is no more singular than any other entity, and knowing about 'it' necessarily requires the assistance of others.

And what this theory is confronting is not relativism but relativity.

To perform the strictly false hypothesis of the direct realism of singular entities (including selves) is quite easy:

you just have to play at it, knowing all the while 'you' are well within the dangerous real - it is inside 'you' too.

That is how sensible children play after all, and their play, as any psychologist will tell you, is certainly 

indirectly about the real.  The philosophers mentioned above are all playing but do not know that they are,

which is an unsteady place to be:  they might find themselves in the predicament of the man from Alabama 

who ran up onto the stage to stop Othello murdering Desdemona.  Sensible children don't make that kind of 

mistake:  they regard the child who cries when he is 'taken prisoner' as soppy.




2009-12-03
Review of The Case for Qualia
I'm not convinced Edmond Wright's analogy of the superimposed faces works too well:

'I often think of those experiments that photographers are sometimes tempted to make in which a hundred faces, say of beautiful women, are carefully superimposed on each other so that none of them fail to make  a contribution to the final image that is a compound of them all.  What results is a curious slightly fuzzy picture of an idealized face, like that of a Renaissance angel in a holy picture.  In a similar way all our ideas of what any ‘referent’, though assumed by us all to be an ideal, logically singular entity objectively existing in the real, is only the fuzzy compounding of all our private sortings.   We each do look through our separate objectifyings to existence, but not to an entity purely common to us all.  There is nothing in this theory that  undermines the conviction that we are confronted with the real, with existence -- for, as I have repeatedly stressed, we individually sense it all the time ...'

And it is, in fact, cranky. Only if we imagine photographers working to some presumptions, or attempting illustrating some theoretical presumptions, as a kind of oddly motivated technical exercise, do we get something from it. The argument itself assumes that there is a loss of clarity in a superimposition, it seems (the argument) to separate within some contributions as distinct elements, within an overall imposition--this might be the kind of formal thing that a photographer or artist might refer back to if asked to account for the process of the building up of an image (out of discrete elements), but that just might be result of presumptions made about the sorts of things expected of an explanation ... according to levels of theoretical sophistication of photographers, or in accounts of their theoretical sophistication offered by philosophers.

A different type of photographer, artist even, would think in terms of the achievements of works available, actually resolved as the compounds of controlled or perhaps particularly partitioned reference which resulted from working on or with material—materials being of course the psychologically charged, crafty stuff of work, at least--and standardly--embedded (if not resolved as) in most of the ways imagined I think by Wright (The idea of works composing out of the individual contributions of unsorted individual elements, other than in a sense, trivially, formalistically, would be anathema for instance to most contemporary artists. And this would be because of a trademark distaste for the un-worked contributions of elements of 'subject-matter'.) (By the way, the last is a fact about how contemporary artists feel ... I imagine it also has affected photographers who would account for works in terms almost purely of some relation to other works... or as if they were contemporary grammarians.)

Anyway, obviously Wright was not pointing out any artisanal contribution to some intentionally conceived artefacts. He was working with the standardly cranky model of the segregated contributions of effect-less singulars to composites.

2009-12-04
Review of The Case for Qualia
I don't really want to send this thread careening off in a different direction, but I was struck by Edwards' – very brief – appeal to Niels Bohr as someone who was invested in the "real real world."  Is that really a correct understanding of the borderline phenomenalism/idealism of Bohr and, in general, the classical Copenhagen Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics?

I bring this up because my recent introduction to this website was through a paper by Henry Stapp, Quantum Reality and Mind, and Stapp cites Bohr, as well as Heisenberg, of course, as at least implicit supporters of his own position on these matters..  You can get Stapp's paper – and it looks like many more relating to essentially the same subject -- by linking to:

http://philpapers.org/autosense.pl?searchStr=stapp%2C+henry

and then scrolling down to Quantum Reality and Mind.

It strikes me that Bohr would not be all that comfortable with Edwards' notion of the "real real world," at least not outside a quasi-idealistic or phenomenalist context.  But perhaps I have misunderstood the intent of Edwards' comment.

I gather Wright, as an anti-direct realist, would have at least some sympathy with what appears to be Bohr's position.

I have no direct knowledge of David Hubel.


2009-12-04
Review of The Case for Qualia
Reply to Edmond Wright
Ah!! I should have used the subjunctive. I am loving all of it so far! The sub-editors have brainwashed me into using 'may' for 'might' despite my attempts to resist.
Matthew Arnett seems to be taking the picture metaphor too mechanically and going off on various tangents. Like most metaphors, I think this one just helps you know you *have* grasped the author's argument; there is no point in taking a metaphor apart in a conceptual framework other than that which it is designed to illustrate. Hardly cranky - it works fine for me.


2009-12-04
Review of The Case for Qualia


I'd have thought that Edwards' comment:

' ... there is no point in taking a metaphor apart in a conceptual framework other than that which it is designed to illustrate.'

would be problematic for Wright, as the sort of thing that might be seized on by a direct realist for a variety of purposes.

2009-12-04
Review of The Case for Qualia
As with all analogies, what I. A. Richards calls the 'ground' of the metaphor is very rough.  What I meant to suggest is that we all have to assume that there is a perfect focus for all our perspectival attempts (the perfect entity which actually no one sees but all have to imagine they do).  In the photograph case, of course, we do see the composite face: in our confrontation with the world we certainly don't 'see' a logically singular entity, being limited to our view of the region of the real upon which all our selections fall.
Change the analogy.  A number of people with electric torches shine their beams onto a surface illuminated by no other light.  The textures and colours of this surface are continuously, if slowly, changing all the time. Furthermore, each person is wearing goggles that select different light frequencies such that there is no perfect match with all of the others, plus the fact that each has differing ranges of sensitivity in his or her eyes anyway. Let it be that they get rewarded if they get a sufficiently stable overlap in some action they have to perform as a result of this input.  It becomes plain that it is a practical help if they all behave as if there exists one target for their beams.  That perfectly singular, 'Edenic', target, even if the agents try to include criteria of qualitative and spatial changes across time, does not exist.  The surface exists, and one could say that the individual area that each person picks out with his own beam as his or her version exists, but what does not exist is a perfect superimposition of them all.  Yet, ironically, everyone has to play the game of there being one entity-as-target so that some measure of superimposition may be obtained.  That reward (or aversive response) that the surface yields up has no guaranteed causal connection with what the persons have agreed are the key criteria of motivational success;  the link can only be only temporary.  Yet the mutual assumption of singularity is an essential move in the game;  we can't do without it.  So it is insidiously easy to believe that the target-as-singular does exist, for one is confronting the real;  the individual beams and the surface exist as part of the real.  So when you say with David Wiggins 'the object is there anyway', that word 'object exhibits multiple ambiguity.  As I said above, the experiences of correcting and being corrected (even when the speaker is wrong) prove that, though they can never prove singularity.

When I had been looking at a picture of a tree in an illusions book with my little son, and I had confidently point out the 'face' in the foliage, he sometimes pointed out another 'face' there no one had seen before.

The individual beams do not exist as singular either, for the person cannot be sure that he or she has perceived  all that his beam picks out (which is the point I make in the introduction to The Case for Qualia about the 'non-epistemic' nature of sensing -- we are always sensing more than we perceive -- I hadn't 'seen' that second 'face' in the foliage).

The needful mutual imagining of there being one entity before us requires a proper faith to perform, because there is no guarantee that A's percept of the region will fit uncontroversially with B's at a later time, however much they assure each other of their sincerity.  When later a tragic or comic mismatch emerges (which neither expected), then they may be faced with a demand for sacrifice, something markedly at odds with one's motivations.   This is an uncomfortable conclusion, and it is easy to keep it at at arm's length by declaring that there is only one entity before them, that they both recognized 'it' at the earlier time, and the other is now going back on their 'word'.  The dictum I repeat here is 'What is implicit for each cannot all be explicit for both' (which is as far from R. B. Brandom [Making it Explicit, Harvard U. P., 1994] as one can be).


2009-12-06
Review of The Case for Qualia
I don't understand why it is an analogy--an analogy with what? It seems to me that you are stipulating for some totality of grounds in an imagined experiment (where I would fill in according to what I know of your interests), but I'm not sure what you would be measuring or accomplishing (but if it's an analogy I suppose you, its author, should just stipulate that as well). And other than in some experiment which should have its own objects, behaviours, it seems to me, easily evade amounting to a specification of equivalence in some one other than bizarrely totalized description (unless, again by stipulation, they just do; or they demonstrably do, in which case, just changing your usage, you would be superimposing some etiology or somesuch in making that demonstration). I think one can refer to connected points quite mundanely. Very mundanely: Tim Crane, for instance, in a recent paper in Philosophical Quarterly makes the point that you can give a 'content' of a picture in an equivalent description--the 'equivalent' of course could be rather drawn out, employ made-up words etc., given of course that the content of a picture regulates the equivalence (there's a question, of course--that Crane is drawing out--about status of content claims). Some of the philosophers you cite put refinements onto that sort thing, and exploit what they see as necessities arising from some equivalences, which themselves would be like, I don't know, translational equivalences (no specific or interesting ontology there), but I'm failing to see the difference that the aspectual or differential or indexical contributions you mention make in assessing their arguments, other than that it is conceivable I suppose that their arguments take objects other than or better than the grammatical or perhaps underspecified ones that would make them understood -- especially if you do want to allow that aspectual etc. factors amount to a significant piling-up, and when having just something like that kind of an object would leave it open anyway how anyone specified it (the one involved in the pile-up or the one involved in a sense-making comprehension or any mixture of either). You've mentioned David Chalmers' 'Edenic' contents twice (I remembered them occurring in the context of Chalmer's approval or non-approval of some listed varieties of disjunctivisms), aren't these just purely even relatively innocently regulatory conceptions?

2009-12-06
Review of The Case for Qualia
Reply to Ed Reno
Dear Ed,
It may be careering off or it may be a logical follow-on (it's happening so no subjunctive here). I have time only for a few quick comments just now.

The Bohr issue is complex and fascinating and something I have only recently begun to appreciate through talking to Henry Stapp and particularly reading Henry Folse and Jan Faye in the monograph on Bohr's philosophy (I forget the citation ?Niels Bohr and Contemporary Philosophy, Boston University Philosophy of Science series?). Maybe the starting point is to say that a careful reading of Bohr's writings and sayings indicates that his view has very little to do with what people call 'Copenhagen'. He died saying that nobody had understood what he was trying to get across - implying that it was not 'Copenhagen'. The 'real, real world' is something of an in joke between myself and Henry Stapp in that it implies that 'real' has two meanings. In fact for Bohr it had three, because he had two complementarities, which implies at least A to B and B to C. The middle B is probably closest to the direct realists' 'real' and in my view it is purely a necessary heuristic with no ontological status of its own. So I end up with two 'reals' (dynamic and phenomenal) and I have a suspicion that is what Bohr intended, although that is not clear. Douglas Bilodeau has written well on this in JCS.

Whether this should be pursued here or on another thread I will leave open.

Hubel demonstrated that brain cells extract correlations from inputs rather than transmit information 'directly' from the outside world. His work shows that our perception of 'movement' is not Newton's 'motion' at all. That had been known in the nineteenth century but he showed how the brain encodes one in the other.

2009-12-19
Review of The Case for Qualia

Analogies. A group of neuroscientists wants to understand how the musical subjectivity of an amateur of classical European music is encoded in his brain; in order to do so they decide to observe  the brain states of that amateur while he is listening to music. Every few seconds they take  functional fMRI sophisticated images of specific parts of the brain (voxels) while the subject is working on a cognitive task: listening to 3 minutes of a Liszt sonata. Just 3 minutes of music, not the silence before and after the sonata, that might be a problem since the experiment is not taking into account the stream of consciousness

Ideally the neuroscientists should take into account what the subject says: I like or dislike classical music, Lizst etc. I feel uncomfortable in the fMRI room,  it is too cold in here to feel comfortable, it affects my listening

The brain being here as Wright put it: the target of all our attempts to reach an understanding of subjectivity. (Wright 2009-12-02.)

The images of specific voxels will then be superimposed to get a series of clear images of those brain regions.

Later our neuroscientists will get together to exchanges their opinions on decoding mental states.  The superimposition of differing opinions on the encoding of subjectivity/decoding brain states does not make subjectivity a ONE thing.

As a result of this process, a clear image will not give us  the subjective experience of the subject. The need for a clear picture is a need to be self-reassured about third-person accumulated knowledge and its usefulness.

What is out there, colored brain regions, is not the equivalent of the lived neural sensations of the sonata.

The images of all the successive brain states (and possibly the qualia) will contribute to the final image but they are not a representation of the subject lived experience.

Even if it is a necessity, objectifying the experience does not give us the experience; objectifying the music is not the music.  Music and experience of music are achievements.

What does exist is the brain with its different states, a brain as a provisional result of dynamic processes (the neuroscientist have identified them).  The many images do exist but do not constitute a representation of a determinate IT (the brain as a ONE thing, musical perception as ONE thing, subjectivity as ONE thing); the IT is in fact a dynamic and hypothesized succession of brain states we need to agree upon to study the organ placed under a specific cognitive task. The brain is not a fixed entity. Relativity not relativism (Wright 2009-12-02) . What does not exist as an IT either, is subjectivity.

So, assuming we can reach an IT with assumptions we deliberately transform into beliefs is indeed a superstition.  This is not to say that scientists are necessarily superstitious and fMRI studies useless (among other things they could predict musical perception). I am just saying that we should be aware of the necessity of admitting our assumptions for what they are, needful assumptions. The superstitious ones are those who do not admit that notion of convergence on a logically singular, transparent entity is only a needful fiction in the process.  We perform it merely to obtain, hopefully, a partial co-ordination of action.  As Wright has put it (The Case for Qualia, 352), our mutual projection of a hypothetical singularity, of  transparency can be looked on as an expendable catalyst.

Now I am wondering if by starting two posts with: 1) A little unfair 2) I am not convinced, Matthew Arnatt is not just proving Wright s point:  there is no such thing as ONE THING. Arnatt shows an urge to correction thru written communication but seems to reject the risk it does imply. Is he in or out the intersubjective play?  Or is he playing but does not know he is (Wright 2009-12-02) His I am not convinced post sounds more like art criticism and does not really engage with Wright s argument. So, who is liable to capsize here, I mean who is cranky? Convinced?  It is not a matter of conviction. Or is it? And if it is, what does it say about Arnatt preoccupation? Is he reaching for a pre-existent singularity? Where will conviction leads him? Agreed, we all need self-reassurance. Still, we must never believe in our assumption of a perfect objectivity, especially of the self (Wright, 1999. In James Giles [ed.], Consciousness, Ethics and Relations with Others,  Editions Rodopi, page 52.)

Luc


2009-12-19
Review of The Case for Qualia
Reply to Luc Delannoy


Dear Luc,

I haven't got anything to say about points that you raise in the first part of your post. So far as the two posts of mine you mention are concerned, the first began that way because I felt that my input into the thread had been misinterpreted (I'd been interested in bringing into a discussion material connected with Wright (who I think is admirable) in the form of another writer's critical comments, which I'd quoted), the second was an objection to a particular argument made by Wright in the form of an analogy -- I explained, in that post, that Wright appeared to me to be misconstruing a relation, as, as he saw it between a photographer and an effect as an intended effect, an effect intended and with some phenomenological moral attached. I complained about this for a couple of reasons: 1. Anyone might engage a person with a technical competency to produce a technical demonstration of something beyond merely that competency, but what else specifically underlies that demonstration (other than see what follows)? 2. Or livening your photographer up a bit and making things a bit more realistic would include making room for some assumptions on the part of that/a photographer, including for instance, some personalized registration of the kinds of artefactual or mechanical responsiveness that would inform a worker's sense of his or her own competency, aims, milieu even -- and so now what would that be, just a distraction? What was the point then in talking about a photographer whose project was unnaturally austere, brought to life for the purpose of simile etc. (I thought Wright acknowledged the point and moved on). I don't think art criticism has much to do with any of that. The point was to do with disallowing a thinned example.

I've been enjoying Jonathan Adler's writing on ad hominems. In 'Confidence in Argument' he distinguishes two responses to perceived ad hominem arguments: one which sees the cogency of an argument as unaffected by the accusation; one which sees that stakes in the argument would undermine its value. As an aside, these are two distinct responses to one perceived thing in any sort of usual sense of words' meanings.

2009-12-23
Review of The Case for Qualia
Suppose I (at first unconsciously - if you like robotically) -'see' my image in a mirror.
Its a big mirror.
I start to attach an emotional connection to this image - and as a result I perceive the image as my'self'.
Then I walk away from the mirror until at some point I do not recognize the image as belonging to me.
At what point does the emotional attachment disappear? Or is replaced by faith rather than belief.
Nevertheless I feel certain that  the image is me, by extrapolation of perspective.
Is this not the origin of Qualia? i.e. that we have created an 'a priori' conceptuality which we project through an inbuilt faith in our own senses.

2009-12-26
Review of The Case for Qualia


Boxing Day sort of reply. Let's say there is an enormous number of things in the world, each with a colossal number of properties. Let's grant that each person interacts with or is impressed by things in any number of ways, and that then respect, or are externalized as, numbers of ways of differentiating personalities, including the ways that beliefs just instantiate relations (so, with respect for Wright, fulsome relations as well, but, as it were, actualized), and then there are almost innumerable personal habits, connecting with beliefs, of isolating specific factors -- (such as an 'extrapolation of perspective') just as well as any sort of actual smudge -- just so long as one was sensitive to some relations. The bleaker, somehow realistic prospect, has to do with the qualification of and then quantification over what effects stem from what one knows about some of these relations. How seriously you take that picture as resolved sufficiently to be a picture, then depends on how you are using, or how interested you are in, 'knows' in that context.

Michael Thau (Phil. Studies 132/3) talking about his book 'Consciousness and Cognition' mentions that he takes a deflationary view -- that propositions were there a convenience of discussion, as things one was related to, and that '... I made it clear that this talk should not be understood as entailing a commitment to any entities involved in [the] belief and perception relations other than subjects, objects and properties ...' . I think Thau actually finds respectful ways of subsuming individuating senses in that he assimilates facts that are taken as distinctive in a phenomenology to the product of some instantial relation. For me, seeing just someness, I don't see how any combination of mirrors would make a distinctive contribution, especially if there is a proliferation of objects anyway.

2009-12-26
Review of The Case for Qualia
Let me put it another way then. Suppose (hypothetically) that before mirrors - there was no consciousness. ( In the way that Ramachandran suggests that having a 'self' of necessity means that 'qualia' {and therefore consciousness} also exist  - because 'qualia ' need an 'observer'.) There would be no 'things' 'in' 'the' 'world' 'Nothing' 'would '''be' 'colossal' - 'have' 'number' or 'properties' etc. etc............. Michael Thau wouldn't have a book because there would be no wrtten language and in all probability he wouldn't be able to 'talk' in a way that could communicate 'ideas'  etc.............. Then suppose consciousness - (like for example -there has been good evidence for - in the case of  reading) - arose overnight - as it were - {along the lines of Julian Jaynes ideas, evidence and 'timeline'}- but rather - explained differently - due to the development of the technology of mirrors. In this hypothetical world with its paucity of the things and relationships etc. which characterise the modern day mind with its myriads of things and relationships  - which we now take for granted - 
I was thinking that the characteristics of a mirror reflection would determine the characteristics of the 'mind'.which it created. Give rise to 'qualia'. Give rise to 'belief' 'faith' and religion. I think mirrors gave rise to consciousness because they became a crucial part of the 'extended phenotype' In particular the mirror provides an extremely powerful and rapid 'short cut' for the body to communicate with itself.

2009-12-28
Review of The Case for Qualia

I don't understand "In the way that Ramachandran suggests that having a 'self' of necessity means that 'qualia' {and therefore consciousness} also exist  - because 'qualia ' need an 'observer'."

I admit I prefer parts in metaphors or analogies that aren't so obviously generated within those analogies; other stuff in the literature. Candidates would be: how qualia seem to stand as explanatory posits; difference in status between explanatory posits, modes of representation, representational contents etc.; what intensional items were consolidated in that-expressions, why attention should not rather be directed toward some credible and nicely insular expansion involving properties and qualities with appropriate niceties about occurrences ... I was expecting that people would be galled by the suggestion that it's ok to backtrack on what one's referring to propositions had committed one to, I found that interesting in Thau. And I found his willingness to do what I reported him as doing (somewhat casually possibly) nicely illustrative of what I take to be an interesting thesis about the phenomenology of perceptual seemings.

2009-12-28
Review of The Case for Qualia
First, a point about the status of qualia.  As against Matthew, I do not believe that qualia 'require an observer', only a registration system of some sort, which at the basic level need not be involved with a self.  In view of all that I have cited in my discussion of the non-epistemic in the Introduction to The Case for Qualia, qualia can exist independently of interpretation.  Indeed, much of any field contains uninterpreted regions that are playing no part in the perceptual consciousness of any animal even while they are present.  Even in the most confident percept there remain uninterpreted residues.  See my remark about my little son seeing another 'face' in the foliage of the puzzle picture that I had not.  There are, of course, the agnosics, quite incapable of interpretation.  At the extreme, there must be many occasions when an animal mutation is born without any neural connection between its sensory and its motivational systems:  in such a case, qualia may be present, perhaps in an exceptionally vivid form, but there is no 'observer', since there can be no perceiving, just an automatic registration.  Qualia are automatic anyway:  'The eye it cannot choose but see', etc., where 'see' just means register an uninterpreted field.  That is why I claim that qualia are material, certainly an unfamiliar form of matter, but one which science may ultimately be able to cope with.  One cannot hang idealism or dualism -- or a god, as some theologians have tried to do -- on the existence of qualia.  Our qualiaphobe opponents seem not to have taken this fact on board, believing conveniently that we are all occultists;  hence, their having nothing to say on this issue, a glaring omission.

Second,  Peter's talk of mirrors in the inception of the self matches the French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan's account of what he calls 'the Mirror Stage', in which the child is introduced to a sense of a singular self from the experience of watching itself in a mirror (or as a result of some comparable situation).  He is concerned to bring out the dubiousness of that singularity, its narcissistic basis -- as if a sense of a human self could arise without the input of others in talk and action -- a thought which renders the Cogito nonsensical.  He calls that process of gaining an sense of selfhood 'entering the Symbolic Order', the Symbolic being the ongoing game of language without which we could not have a human self at all.  The ethical problems arise because (a thought which matches what I have argued for in the first paragraph, and in my 'Transparency' article) the mutual word cannot capture all that is sensed, there being no possibility of a perfect 'explicitness' as Brandon would have it.  I think many qualiaphobes at their roots are like the Enlightenment persona in Alexander Pope's Essay on Man who believes that

    All nature is but Art, unknown to thee;
    All Chance, Direction, which thou canst not see;
    All Discord, Harmony not understood

For me this is carrying the practical need to project a hypothetical convergence upon 'singularities', which is necessary to our uttering statements to each other, to the point of superstitiously believing in it.  It is much cosier to believe that all is already sorted for us out in the Real.  That playing at convergence upon singularities should be an act of faith, that is, one ready for an upset of expectations.  Don't be like Pip in Great Expectations, who had to learn what faith is.



2009-12-30
Review of The Case for Qualia
Reply to Edmond Wright
Edmond, I just read your paper 'Sensing as Non-Epistemic', which was great. I'd wanted to hunt out your book, this was a substitute for that. I found the long section from "This point has been elaborated because it supports that vital characteristic of all sensed fields already indicated above, namely, that they contain no information whatsoever..."  very interesting and especially clear. I see your points about McDowell; I thought your Chuck Close (the artist) analogy was great too, although, of course, I'd want it registered that there was a type of aboutness in the work -- so actual 'focus' -- that was whatever Close chose in a way that was separately discussable; I liked the description, a bit earlier, of Millar's failed demonstration ... But, you mentioned Gareth Evans in passing, and I think of Evans (sorry about the potting) contributing something like constraints in connection with arguments about content and reference where there were or would be causal dependencies. Can I ask, is there anything to say which was just a bit historical about any correlative conceptions of object-dependency and singularity and connected more purely semantic issues? E.g., Evans' (incredible) 'generality-constraint'. I suppose I'm also asking, do you feel encumbered at all by a different kind of specificity in certain philosophy of language type arguments? Do statements like the following originate in something like the causal/referential nexus I just mentioned, and aren't they directed at establishing something like just content, with associated justificatory links, so that, in fact, the (otherwise operational) mechanics of some describable situation may as well be by-passed? (I'm quoting from John Campbell's 1993, 'Reality, Representation, and Projection')

"[it] seems evident that what has gone wrong is the supposition that one's experience of things have their contents, as experiences of those particular things, independently of the question of which things they are responses to. That is what makes it possible for the question to arise, whether the experiences really are brought about by the things they are experiences of. But this is a mistake: the experience's being an experience of that thing is made so by its being brought about by that thing. So even though particularity is mind-independent, there is no possibility of the experiences being in general brought about by things other than the things they are experiences of. The answer to the 'switching' point is not that particularity is mind-dependent, but that experience is particular-dependent."

2009-12-30
Review of The Case for Qualia
Matthew, Of course, Campbell's statement, from my point of view, exhibits the unsubstantiable confidence that I am trying to undermine.  Notice how he believes from the start that all taking part in the linguistic exchange are confronted by a pre-existing 'particular'.  At no point does he address the fact that its singularity could be something hypothesized.  For him there is a pre-given sorting of the real which delivers singular selves and singular things without our having to trouble about any inquiry into that assumption of singularity.  Philosophers fall into this trap for a reason I have now repeated many times:  since it is vital that agents in a dialogue start out with the strictly false assumption that a perfect convergence on 'a' referent is achievable (otherwise these agents could not even begin to get their differing selections into some kind of common harness), how easy it is for philosophers to believe that such a common referent already exists.  The blind ease with which they begin with the existence of given countable entities arises from a lingering unconscious sense that there is a linguistic and ethical demand that convergence be mutually hypothesized, and that faith (not mere blind trust) is required. But such a belief betrays the fact that they are not basing their confidence (despite the 'fid') on faith at all: they are not allowing that there could be a risk about the very singularity of the 'target'.  Faith, as the theologians (not misguided in this matter), have always insisted, is not belief ("Lord, I believe -- Help Thou mine unbelief!').

The same premiss steals into Evans's argument.  Notice that he never thinks to question 'the' referent --or 'the' property for that matter.  He takes it for granted that one can use logical symbols ('a is F', 'b is G', etc.) and that there is only one entity or property that exists before the speakers in the dialogue and it is equivalent for both.  But, as I have explained in Narrative, Perception, Language, and Faith in the section on logic, logic is already part of the intention-matching system (pp 171-88). .  To engage in it, you have to lay aside thoughts of any mismatch of understanding between partners in the dialogue:  in pure logic, (where the whole apparatus of reference is laid aside) such ambiguity is out of the question altogether (you can't say, for example, that the 'x' in this line is different from the 'x' in that line because this one has been printed with serifs and the other hasn't).  But you can do that kind of thing in ordinary speech -- statements would be impossible otherwise.   Look at the example I often quote:  two birdwatchers, A and B, have been busy counting birds together:

   A:  D'you know that bird you just counted . . .
   B:  Yes -- what about it?
   A:  It was two-and-a-bit leaves.

Here a real transfer of information took place which actually altered 'the' referent.  Note that the statement necessarily began with the assumption of a singular referent common to them both ('that bird', 'it'), and that was needed so that A could tweak B's selection from the real, so that B ends up knowing that there was no bird there at all, no 'particular', only 'two-and-a-bit leaves'.  This necessary pretence of commonality was A's most convenient method of getting B to focus on a fuzzy region of the real which was of consequence to them both.  (By the way, Evans was my undergraduate tutor at Oxford).

I feel myself in an odd position, not dissimilar to the child who shouted about the absence of the Emperor's clothes.  Notice the interesting fact that no one at all has ever tried to provide an objection to my claim about the necessary hypothesizing of 'the' referent (perhaps it is too 'freaky'  for them).  And this argument has now been about a considerable time - perhaps most obviously in the Philosophy article 'The Entity Fallacy in Philosophy'  (Vol. 67, No. 259, 1992, 33-50).  So I can throw down the gauntlet:  I would like to know how they distinguish between a situation where the partners in dialogue are, for the time being, behaving as if there is ONE referent before them both (and both know, having faith in each other, that this is a mere hypothesis with no claim to final truth), and that in which both believe unquestioningly that there is ONE there, that a pure truth awaits them, who are unshakeably 'sincere' in their protestations to each other.  The latter position is the superstitious one because it neglects the risk that the original vital expectations on each side may show up later to be in comic or even tragic conflict, and only faith -- and love -- can try to cope with such an outcome -- or, what is just as common, what was thought to be a tragic conflict turns out, equally tragically, not to have been one (see King Lear). Which is why I say that troth comes before truth, and love before troth.  (Not irrelevant that the word 'truth' derives from the word 'troth').  If the theory is right, then this is a Copernican change in philosophy -- I am only carrying Kant farther on, for, with Cartesian spectacles on, he forgot that more than one 'individual' is involved in the process of knowing.  There are no 'individuals' anyway -- the would-be singularity of our selves is being divided all the time by other people.  It is a big claim -- surely someone can shoot it down, or are they really like the Emperor's minions?  They must read the very last paragraph of my article in The Case for Qualia.

So I have to say to Plato that his 'Forms' are a matter of mutual imagination, to Plotinus that the 'One' is but the focus of our faith in each other, to Kant that countable Dinge-an Sich are created by our playing with words together, to Schopenhauer that all the 'things' we mutually recognise are certainly hypotheses created by our 'wills' (but 'wills' are as adjustable as anything else), to all positivists that scientific entities, like the whole world of mundane 'things', is tentatively, co-operatively projected onto the disconcerting real in what should be acts of faith -- not assured belief.  Faith is ethically required, not fundamentalism.


2010-01-12
Review of The Case for Qualia
Reply to Edmond Wright
I'm not sure that I read the Campbell quote as you suggest I should. I think Campbell is saying that if it were the case that one was referring to an individual, it would be the presence or connection to a presence of an individual that would in that case make it so that one was referring. He's dealing with a class of events, and restricting that class. I was wondering more about whether there were (perhaps just local) interesting differences in constraints conceived in terms of generalities, rather than linking to objects: for instance, sorts of explanatory things that motivate a continuing interest in descriptions. (Of course descriptions themselves might give one objects that were subject to restriction.) Perhaps I shouldn't have given the Campbell example, perhaps there are more indirect routes for reasonably portraying a -- that is, singular -- content in some sort of disciplined imaginative context when we can pull out that discipline.

Of course I think there are predicational consequences -- of hypotheticals; 'entertainings' etc. -- too. And I also want to worry a bit about what they might amount to. I dislike the idea that one is subject to merely clausal constraints on one's thinking that were potentially equivalents to something. That is a kind of adult literacy constraint composing out of other people's access to material that may be weak in some of the ways you suggest (and that would treat as aberrant the sort of linguistic claim you make in your A;B;A argument above).