Monday, December 27, 2010
Recently reading Chalmer's Character of Consciousness I was struck by one of those enigmas that sends question marks rising to the furthest reaches of outer space--those enigmas of purely philosophical discourse
that are brought up so quickly that its assumptions are blinked over. The notion is that one could see an X that is, in reality, an o.
Reality here will mean the world as it is in-itself, independent of our practices of accessing it.
I see an X; is it really an X or simply my perception of an X that is really an O?
The best way to do this would be to examine the grounds or conditions necessary for saying that X is perceived and is not real (or not a part of reality as it is in-itself). If no conditions can be found, then one does not merely perceive, but accesses the world directly.
1. An 'X' is not really an X when there is an independent reality behind that 'X' that has nothing to with 'X'. Let me make a picture using my keyboard where < represents the perspective of a person, such as with his or her sight:
See all of that junk after the 'X'? That's the chaotic objective world that we can never know and that does not cause X (in this particular model). But wait, what is also in that picture? Isn't it the X itself?
What else could it possibly be? Were it anything else, it would be placed in front of the X relative to the individual's perspective, and the individual would no longer see an X, but would see what's in front of it, and we would be interrogating the reality of that entity instead. It should be obvious from this illustration that the X is not any less a part of 'objective' reality than all of the stuff behind it that is hidden from perception. They are all equally a part of reality as it is in-itself, but the perspective merely lacks the ability to see through the X and to the rest of the junk behind it. This can be looked at coherently in any mixture of the following two ways: the X is hiding the rest of reality but is not any less a part of that reality, or the perspective is not wide enough or does not have the conditions necessary to see the rest of reality.
2. An 'X' is not really an X when there is an independent reality behind that 'X' that, in part, causes 'X'. Another keyboard drawing, only this time include '<--' to mean 'causes' where 'X<--o' means 'o causes X':
Here, we clearly see o causing X. Of course, the individual only sees the X and not the o that is causing it. Does this place the X outside of reality as it is in itself? If I put the Jack of Hearts in my hand and hold it up to your face so that you cannot see my hand, does that remove the Jack of Hearts from the world just because my hand is what caused it to be in front of your face? No. In the same way, just because there is a hidden causal element behind the X does not remove the X from reality as it is in-itself.
3. This is not very necessary for the purposes of my argument, but another common view-point should at least be addressed--all of 'objective' reality causally interacts with one another which then causes your percepion of X:
The implications are the same as 2, except that behind my hand that holds up the Jack of Hearts there is also an arm and that that arm also covers up a body and eanything else that causes the card to be placed in your vision.
Conclusions: The world as we experience it is the world as it is in-itself, even if it is a limited view of that world.
Other Conclusions: Representationalism places an arbitrary distinction between the representation and what is represented. It should be clear that, at the very least, making the world in-itself as a represented virtual-reality construct in a person's mind does not help in the philosophical investigations about drawing the line between the 'who' and the 'what.'
Next: The Brain Must Also Be a Representation.
Next next: Where Consciousness (What representationalism tries to explain) Properly Belongs.
Thursday, December 23, 2010
I'm going to take this slow in order to work out the bugs that will no doubt pop up. I'll give one example here and then wait for an obvious counter argument, I hope, and then address that counterargument. By that point I might be able to develop more clearly the glimpses of a new theory of minds, brains, and consciousness along with what the dividing lines should be between the 'who' (Subjects)and the 'what' (objects).
In the history of physics, Maxwell was the first to theorize that light had a wave-like property. Hertz later revealed the frequencies of the electromgnetic spectrum, which included visible light. It became clear from research in this field that light, with color, corresponded with a wavelength.
All of this research is of interest to philosophers, bringing up questions about what is perceived and what the nature of an independent, objective reality is, if there is one. The widely held view by philosophers of perception today as well as people in general living in a technologically advancing society is that of assigning sensations such as that of the color yellow as being not intrinsic to an object itself, but rather as something that becomes added onto the object by ways of a neuronal process, or by way of something mental that ascribes properties like color on to the object.
With the discovery that the color yellow also exhibited a wavelength came the seeming support that experienced color is simply something that our brains (or selves, or minds) add on to the object, or to the world. The object in 'objective' reality, it is maintained, is a wave and nothing more. One has from this conclusion the worldview that the independent world is a swirl of numbers, waves, and parabolas.
This view is, at the very least, prejudiced. When light is seen to have an accompanying wavelength, one sensation (seeing a wavelength) is merely replaced for another (seeing the color yellow).Revealing that light had a wavelength merely gave it a new dimension that was not typically experienced, but could be shown to exist by careful manipulation.
The obvious questions that should be asked are what current paradigm or way of thinking about ourselves makes it so easy to put 'color' in our heads, but not the 'wavelength'? What model of our brain, or of reality for that matter, makes the notion unlikely that a color, like yellow, could be an essential part of the world? What makes it so that wavelengths could exist independent of our existence, but not yellow?
Monday, December 6, 2010
If we conceive of our selves as a pack of neurons, ones which guide our thoughts, then even this conception of ourselves is itself a thought, one conjured up by the pack of neurons. Is thought an illusion? But how can one say that the very method by which you arrive at your conclusions is itself an illusion? Are conclusions an illusion? The all or nothing materialist must eventually take the entire world either as being an illusion or as being entirely comprised of thought, in which case the all or nothing materialist is now an idealist.
If one’s thoughts about being a neuronal structure is itself another thought, then thoughts seem to be primary for experience and any conceptions of reality that might happen outside of experience. What cannot be reduced to thought?
Some things cannot be reduced to thought. I have had times, such as when I got knocked unconscious, that I blacked out and had no thoughts. Another time, I was put under anesthesia and was completely in the dark for a good five hours. These seem to be experiences of inexperience, when all is black and nothing. But is it really nothing? It is true that there are no thoughts in such experiences, and yet are there experiences? Even this experience of darkness is seen later on as having been an experience of darkness, which was outside of thought, by a comparison with ongoing present experience.
How can this comparison with present experience be assessed? Can it be formalized or put into a model? The objective here is to lay the conditions from which precisely “change” of any kind could be assessed, from which a comparison between past and present could be made. This is where language gets tricky and mistakes are made. Are we saying that the past gets held up and examined, and then the present gets held up and examined, and the difference between the two is figured out? This must be the case, but the past must be understood properly as something taking place in and not desituated from the present itself. The experience of recalling the past does not take place in the past, but in the present. What, then, could be a distinction between the past and the present-- would they not be the same? We want to say that the present is a current experiencing. Many think that this easily solves the matter until the past is also realized to be a present experiencing, and that any further distinction between the two seems impossible. The past becomes yet one more aspect of human existence that must be an illusion, along with free will and the self.
One way to distinguish between the past and the present is to invite a dualistic conception. Any notion of the self that actually is a self and not an illusion and that is in a world that is actually a world and not an illusion, is necessarily dualistic. The dualism of a self in a world is that of an outer coming in and an inner going out. The world shows up as the coming in of raw sensory data at the same time that we ourselves show up as directing ourselves toward that sensory world. It is in this directing-toward that sensory inputs are internalized and show up as thoughts directing over that internalization. Thoughts never direct over the sensory world coming in, but only over senses already internalized. This internalization becomes indistinguishable from memory.
We look over our lives in this internalization as a changing of desires, reasons, callings, experiences, and so on. Yet, had we really existed, or experienced, as such a being and nothing more, we simply would have experienced one desire at one time and another desire at another time, without any ability to step back and assess that any change has occurred. This stepping back from where one could see one’s life as change is a crucial move, one that must be accounted for. For the no self theorist, this is easy--change is an illusion, or, is a vague mental faculty that gives a ‘sensation’ of having changed. Again, the whole world must necessarily become an illusion. However, if one looks at change as something knowable and reasonable, one arrives back at an immovable self as the one possibility for this knowledge.
For now, though, let's attempt the task of making a provisional model that can assess change. The following conception should be uncontroversial given recent breakthroughs in neurology. If we take the neuronal structure of the brain to be that accumulation of the outer coming in (the sensory neurons) as well as thought going out, reinforcing, and directing this structure (the motor neurons, which also coordinate and change the structures of the brain itself as studies in cognitive therapy and neural plasticity have recently shown), then the comparison, as far as it takes place within the brain, is a comparison between some inner going-over structures. In comparing any two aspects, there must necessarily be another aspect that does the comparing. How does this other aspect compare? Does it combine the two? This alone won’t do the trick. Combining the two aspects merely creates an averaging of the two aspects into one, which then becomes an average experience somewhere between what the two structures had while apart, and this cannot be reliable. To see how this cannot be reliable, imagine a comparison of event A that experienced surfing on the beach with that of event B that experienced jury duty. An averaging of the two would not be reliable at best and would be complete nonsense at worst. Yet, even given that these two come together and give a coherent account, what change has been experienced? Two events have become one event that is then streamlined into experience and this ability to observe that a change of experience has occurred is still unaccounted for. What model of experience could be made that prevents experience from becoming experienced as a mere fluid change that does not have the comparing vantage point from which one can say that indeed the experienced has changed?
Invoking any third aspect that can assess change as itself being a neuronal structure seems untenable. Given two aspects that do not combine, but hold their differences separate to a third aspect, how does this third aspect exist as something other than an a priori vantage point of taking the two, distinct aspects as they are themselves, while remaining unmoved by those aspects from which to aquire a relative view of change?
A common view might hold that computers are already able to do this task. After all, don’t computers change according to what’s on the screen and are always moving their memory around their stationary hardware? Even if computers were conscious of all the folders and tasks we perform on them, they would still have this very problem of seeing that they have ever changed--it would be a completely streamlined experience for them.
Take opening multiple folders on a desktop, for example. When I click on the web browser, the software of the operating system, which is on the hard drive and is in control of the rest of hard drive which it itself is not on, maps out which part of the hard drive will be read for the processor to move it on to the RAM and move the pictures on the screen to display the web browser. I now click on a folder, and a folder is opened in the same way and now covers the web browser. The conscious computer now feels its RAM becoming cramped and perhaps even feels pressure on the web browser from the folder on top of it. Does the conscious computer know that it has changed? No, the computer has only streamlined from one motion to another with no faculty for knowing its previous states. RAM is called, Random Access Memory, yet the computer cannot be said, even if it were conscious of our using it, to have remembered anything beyond a present happening.
It might be tempting to look to a super computer of the future and to see it as knowing that it itself has changed, but this temptation does not come from our knowledge of computers and their abilities as logical systems that move from one task to the next, but rather the temptation comes from our vantage point of already having the ability to assess change as change from a fixed vantage point of the self, and from our inability to step off of this vantage point in order to see what the difference is.