All posts for the month September, 2005

Here at published by Don Mezei is a Unified Theory of Knowledge which uses, and which Don claims was originally inspired by Pirsig‘s Lila and MoQ. As well as introductory quotes from E O Wilson and Erwin Schroedinger there is this apt one from Ernest Becker

“I have had the growing realization over the past few years that the problem of [humanity’s] knowledge is not to demolish opposing views, but to include them in a larger theoretical structure.”

Right from my “let’s synthesise” school of thought. Clearly a good fit with Psybertron’s aims and approach to the matter. There is a difference between an arbitrary view that says all views are relative and have equal value and one that says that two views that don’t agree are necessarily mutually exclusive. Apparent opposites are often just two aspects of the same thing – a kind of complementarity.

The “theory” paper is brief and succinct with some creative graphical models of the whole of ontology / epistemology. Worth some consideration.

And strangely enough, just yesterday, David Chalmers reviewed Jaegwon Kim’s “Physicalism, Or Something Near Enough” and accused him of being a “closet dualist”. The quote in the blog post title is from Kim’s closing paragraph.

My only problem with Chalmers response here is the keeping score aspect of pigeonholeing people. If Kim is a physicalist, as I claimed to be (believing I’d invented it at the time), I’ll need to understand in what sense that made him a “dualist”, and why the pigeonhole is in any way relevant to the quality of his explanation of consciousness.

I may never work out why these guys see saying one thing as being equivalent to denying something else. Anyway, to be fair to David, he does use the idea of “sympathy” with any given pigeonhole, rather than exclusive occupation – at least he allows himself this view, so I must assume he sees it valid for the rest of us too, Kim included. (In the comment thread, he links via a paper of his own to Chrucky’s summary of C D Broad’s taxonomy of these mind-matter relationship pigeonholes – small world, I’ve linked to Chrucky several times before. Anyway – apart from the limitations of “material” and “substance” in this arena, it looks useful. It needs a broader “physical” update – I wonder where Kim stands on this ? Must read I guess.

Having read Kim’s own sample material and synopsis – I see he makes it a stark choice between – reductionism and epiphenomenalism. (I see he also makes use of “supervenience” and has written about this previously – like David has – must get to grips with the concept.) The stark choice – choosing reductionism – seems to me more a matter of not-epiphenomenalism – ie saying that a bottom-up causal explanation of the mental by the physical and a mental causation of the physical both exist, and simply positing a broad definition of “reductionist” to cover that. But I could be wrong.

Even more interesting a Ross & Spurrett paper also referenced in the comments seems to fight against reductionism precisly for reason of the problems caused to philosophy itself (!) though it goes on to admit that this fails to address the metaphysical challenge, which they go on to consider. Interesting in the wider sense, is that

(a) the two issues of explanation (reductionist or otherwise) and causation (mental or otherwise) bubble up as the real issues again, whether we were talking about the mind-body problem or not; and

(b) the paper starts with a tidal flow and backwash, pseudo-cyclic / dynamic metaphor for the evolution of a philosophical basis for scientists to take seriously. Sound familiar ? Interesting too, in his own closing remark, that David’s blog post appears (light-heartedly anyway) to dismiss the sociological / psychological aspects tainting any worthy philosophy.

Following my earlier rant on synthesising dualism, materialism and idealism, I came across this Searle paper linked from the Tucson 2006 “Towards a Science of Consciousness” conference programme. I’m guessing the paper is not new, but it’s undated.

Strangely I agree almost entirely with his own introductory words about the relationship between brain and consciousness – and if we were limiting ourselves to meat-based brains only – I’d completely subscribe to his “biological naturalism” tag myself – I simply chose to call it “physicalism” or “naturalism”. He says …

All of our mental phenomena are caused by lower level neuronal processes in the brain and are themselves realized in the brain as higher level, or system, features … biological naturalism.

At the same time I find his arguments against “property dualism” simply unnecessary. Again, the only problems are all the implied only’s and merely’s, and in this case because’s rather than if’s …. here Searle’s own summary of what at property dualist believes (and he doesn’t) …

(1) There are two mutually exclusive metaphysical categories that constitute all of empirical reality: they are physical phenomena and mental phenomena. Physical phenomena are essentially objective in the sense that they exist apart from any subjective experiences of humans or animals. Mental phenomena are subjective, in the sense that they exist only as experienced by human or animal agents.

(2) Because mental states are not reducible to neurobiological states, they are something distinct from and over and above neurobiological states. The irreducibility of the mental to the physical, of consciousness to neurobiology, is by itself sufficient proof of the distinctness of the mental, and proof that the mental is something over and above the neurobiological.

(3) Mental phenomena do not constitute separate objects or substances, but rather are features or properties of the composite entity, which is a human being or an animal. So any conscious animal, such as a human being, will have two sorts of properties, mental properties and physical properties.

I say

(1) They are “mutually exclusive” because the nature of categories / classification / taxonomy / ontology is to deem things to be either distinctly in or out of any given category. But there is nothing to stop anyone better defining better catgories.

(2) “Because” seems to be question begging. This is true only if property dualism is literally true as described.

(3) Surely we all seem to agree there is not distinct mental and material “stuff” or substance. Stuff of any kind is pretty ethereal when you get down to fundamental nature / physics anyway, so that doesn’t help. Searle himself says ….

(This form of [bottom-up causation] …. is common in nature; for example, the higher level feature of solidity is causally explained by the behavior of the lower level elements, the molecules.)

And why stop at molecules ? The fact that we’re having any debate at all suggests we all agree that the mental and the material have some distinguishing features, properties (or aspects I would say). We also all seem to agree there exist some relationship(s) between these two things – whatever it is that distinguishes them and whatever it is they have in common. All we really need to debate is a useful working “basis for class membership” for being mental and not being mental, a definition of the mental “aspect” – and of course any useful subsets, and relevant overlapping sets based on other aspects, like physics and biology, etc.

It’ still a matter of levels and the quality of causal expalantion.

I wonder if “incontrovertible, beyond any shadow of doubt” is sufficiently unambiguous for the Unionists ?

The lack of photographic evidence is clearly a red-herring. The protestant and catholic church witnesses would have to be colluding in some kind of consipracy for the Unionists to have the slightest case. Grow up fellas.

Or alternatively … late news flash … de Chastelain’s mob were totally incomptetent (or impotent), and really didn’t oversee neutral appointment of their witnesses. If they didn’t do that what exactly were they hired for ?

Part of researching stuff for my Chalmers / Deutsch synthesis paper, I was browsing a number of Diploma and BA essays on the Sheffield University “Pathways to Philosophy” site. (I’m often contemplating the need for me to have some more formal philosophy education before having enough credibility to write myself, but I fear I may struggle with the time-serving element of arguing for and against Kant, Hume, Locke, Descartes and the like. It’s the “for and against” that always gets me – I prefer to synthesise, move on from where we already are.) The problem is where to start, and the words of that Irish bystander always ring in the answer “If I wanted to get there I wouldn’t start from here.”

This one, Tony Bellotti “Does Kant’s Theory of Knowledge Lead to Solipsism” and this one, Oliver Leech on the “Mind Body Problem” are typical examples. The following views say more about where I’m coming from than the quality or significance of either essay.

Both suffer from the “for and against” binary argument problem in expounding old views and old arguments for or against, but at least the first is easy to answer “Only if you let it ie by insisting on accepting only one or the other of the views propounded.” Fortunately Belotti’s conclusion is a sythetic restatement of Kant (like the large majority of Western philosophy since) – In my own words – Everything we can ever know about any world “out there” is via pre-conceptual experiences and conceptual models “in here”. Fortunately we can therefore be sceptical about any idea of reality of the noumenal world “out there”, and simply accept that it almost certainly does exist and bear some relation to the model in here, but gimme one reason why I should care further, given the fact we can NEVER know anything about it directly.

The second is clearly addressing what for me is the same subject more generally. I’ve said many times, whether I approach this from ontology of what might exist, epistemology of what might be known, or some otherwise fundamental natural science, all roads lead to the so-called mind-body problem, via evolutionary psychology and linguistics. Good news is that this second paper does invoke Chalmers. It also has a good summary of the following …

[For the Materialist] the mental states do not really exist separately from the body. If we continue to study them, according to the materialist, it will be found that they are not a special category made of some distinct non-material stuff but essentially physical substances described from a different point of view and about which some confusion of language has arisen. A thought, to the materialist, for example, is ultimately to be defined as some form of brain activity.

[For the Dualist] physical things and mental states are both real but totally distinct and separate entities. The dualist (at least the strong dualist) rejects the idea that mental states can be, or in principle could ever be, reduced to or explained away in terms of physical things. To him mental states are completely separate in nature and origin: the universe is made not of one type of stuff (as the materialist believes) but of two: mind (the collective name for mental states) and matter.

[For the Idealist] the direct opposite of the materialist, it is mental states, the mind, which are ultimate reality. Thoughts, ideas, feelings are real, matter is no more real than the phantom physical things we seem to touch and see in dreams. Material objects are projections of the mind, clusters of sense data which give the false appearance of being separate hard reality.

For me these three views are the artificial extremes of thought experiments, and actually hang together quite consistently in practical terms, if you drop all the actual and implied “only”s and “merely”s, and in doing so, broaden materialism to it’s widest sense in [a conception of] modern physics – physicalism I call it. The only problem with idealism is simply the denial of the “out there”; its existence doesn’t need to be denied, merely treated as irrelevant to the problem as I indicated earlier. The dualist and the neo-materialist simply need to agree that there is a significant difference between thought things and material things and that their relationship(s) is/are up for explanation.

At this point the explanatory relationship is clearly going to include something like causality. Anyone betting on the idea that no such relationship can exist or that causality itself is “merely” illusory / circumstantial / coincidental is surely backing a non-starter. Not just in epi-phenomenology is causality mysterious, but is everywhere something that remains hard to pin down. (The whole inference / induction line in making generalisations and future predictions based on past correlations is tied up in the same causal explanatory issue. Metaphor or not, causality is clearly a metaphor for something rather than nothing.)

The idea that the physical can explain the causal existence of consciousness, is by most scientific researchers already considered to be the easy (Chalmers) or trivial (Josephson) aspect of “thought stuff”. The difficulty of explaining causality is doubly significant, but it’s the same difficulty none-the-less, a meta-problem to the problem at hand. The hard problem really is to explain the subjective aspect or “quality” of experiencing through consciousness. This conjunction of explanation and the hard problem of consciousness, is the thought behind a synthesis of Deutsch and Chalmers.

An aside which re-inforces the impression of the distinction between the easy and hard parts of the explanation of consciousness is a quote from Jacob Bronowski’s “Ascent of Man”, himself quoting a remark by Max Born (in Gottingen with Bohr, Heisenberg, Schroedinger et al)

“I am now convinced that theoretical physics is actual philosophy.”

These papers on-line from the Journal of Consciousness Studies are all ten years old, but full of good ideas. Linked by a cross-hit on Brian Josephson, whose contribution here is a review of Roger Penrose “Shadows of the Mind”, and include references to Chalmers, GEB and qualia, amongst other things. Some good reading.

(Also linked Lindsay Beyerstein’s Majikthise in my blogroll thanks to the same cross-hit.)

Not tried this new “FreeMind” mind-mapping software yet – I remember being very disappointed with Mind Manager, the net topologies you could create were far too simple – but I’m on the look out for something new.

Interesting given my Pirsig interests, and the fact I blogged way back that “Pirsig was a Blogger“, that the owner of the FreeMind site also refers to Pirsig – specifically the way he used index cards to marshall his thoughts when writing his second book Lila – not just cards with subjects and thoughts, but meta-cards with processes and relationships for handling other cards. I saw it as very blog or wiki-like the moment I read it.

Mentioned this “new science” web site once before (in connection with an Owen Barfield review). The net result is one of the whackier, crankier, sets of ideas for bringing the spiritual to bear over the classical objective scientific, and I can’t find much to identify with, except an enormous “Reader’s Journal” of books and other texts that Bobby Matherne has read and reviewed.

[Linked thanks to a search cross hit on my earlier post. Love that quote – from the Wordsworth school of “Murder to Dissect”.]

Little by little we subtract,
Faith and fallacy from fact,
The illusory from the true,
And starve upon the residue.
– Hoffenstein, 1933

As well as popular science, Barfield, Herrigel, anything “Zen and the Art …” (except Pirsig) there are dozens of Rudolf Steiner (of Anthroposophy fame). Lots of good sources on the right lines.

A 2002 Jorn Barger joke doing the rounds. Here quoted in full.

An SGML fan, an XML fan, and an HTML fan are watching a movie when they notice smoke coming out of a trashcan.

The SGML fan says “We must convince the theater management to hire an expert to write a DTD for emergency-announcements, and sell them an expensive application for archiving announcements, and get them to hire a team to convert all their old announcements to SGML!”

The XML fan says, “There’s no time for that! We must train all the audience members to recognise XML, and then start a committee to investigate the possibility of starting negotiations to form a working group to write a paper on the future evolution of emergency-announcement semantics!”

Meanwhile, the HTML fan takes out his wireless PDA and types in:


which he quickly hacks the digital projection system to display,
saving the lives of everyone in the theater.

Ah yes, the analysis paralysis of committees discussing semantics, I remember it well.

Notice though the essential grain of “evolutionary” truth in there, and the meta-problem of the steps needed to arrange for “evolution” to occur, all of which is to do with the future, not the here and now.

One of my themes is the ubiquitiy of internet communications makes ideas, particularly the ones that are easy to grasp, which re-inforce “consipracy theories” or otherwise prey on human fears, spread like wildfire, like viruses, like memes in fact.

This news story is about hoax blogs spreading ideas (ironically, about the spread of biological viruses) like viruses. One of the things I’ve said many times the “information model” used to structure web information needs to be sensitive to irony, satire and other “non-truthful” intents of those posting the information. As if.

I’ve remarked before how amazing I find Google’s indexing of little old me’s blog. I thought it particularly remarkable since I shifted away from Google owned Blogger to WordPress (for categorisation capabilities, that I’ve not yet exploited !) without actually giving the Google indexing issue a second thought. As far as I can tell the full text of my whole five years blogging is indexed, even in the new page URL’s that didn’t exist before June this year, as well as the old pages that remain on-line, and cached copies (of both) too.

This is particularly interesting, because this news story claims Google is only just about to initiate indexing of non-Blogger blogs, feed summaries initially, full text later.

I’ve been thinking about why I haven’t bothered to exploit the categorisation yet, despite making the move explicitly for that purpose. I guess I still have a lingering suspicion that the best categorisation is implicit in the organisation of page links, backed up by text searches. Well I never, who’da thought it ?

Well, well; I know and like some of Peter Drucker’s management writings, but I’d never noted his earlier philosophical works or his connection with the Vienna Circle. Someone I must research more closely.

How about this for a quote ..

“I couldn’t stand the ultra-rationality of my Uncle Hans.”

Instead, the young Drucker was attracted to Othmar Spann, the “Romantic” among the economists, whom he rates today as a “great sociologist, but a rather mediocre economist”

Following Google and Microsoft eBay just had to have their own telephone and messaging service. This time Skype are mentioned – they are the acquisition – for a mind-boggling $2.6bn !!

You can see why Skype would sell-out, but why would eBay want to spend that money for that capability ? I’m going to have to get into eBay – I’ve only browsed a couple of times so far – never caught the over-40’s habit yet.

Usual “today US scientists claimed ….” story, but an interesting connection none-the-less, whatever the facts.

Interesting in “The End of Life as We Know it” (the final “Life” column from the Grauniad) “Don’t Dumb Me Down” bemoans popular media’s obsession with reporting scientific claims filtered by unscientific editing. “The media create a parody of science.” says Ben Goldacre of Bad Science. [via Ray Girvan].

I’ve been using the “every cloud has a silver lining” aphorism as part of the debate about whether MoQish “Dynamic Quality” has any necessarily positive directed change effect, suggesting it’s really just a case of every change is an opportunity for some positive evolution. Same as the general management cliche that every problem is really an opportunity.

This NYT article uses the same metaphor,

“Katrina was a natural disaster that interrupted a social disaster …. It has created as close to a blank slate as we get in human affairs, and given us a chance to rebuild a city that wasn’t working. We need to be realistic about how much we can actually change human behavior, but it would be a double tragedy if we didn’t take advantage of these unique circumstances to do something that could serve as a spur to antipoverty programs nationwide.”

“Blank Slate” in there too. Metaphors R us. Interestingly it was the subject of Katrina that most recently provided the “silver lining” opportunity on MoQ-Discuss too.

Not read this yet. Thanks to Will Wilkinson for the link.

Worth reading, for Dennett’s writing style. Nice non-committal reference to the Cold Fusion case, as other scientists rushed to prove / disprove. He concludes with

“Since there is no content [in Intelligent Design Creationism], there is no “controversy” to teach about in biology class. But here is a good topic for a high school course on current events and politics: Is intelligent design a hoax? And if so, how was it perpetrated?”

I agree, what is much more interesting is how the acceptance of ideas like IDC spread through a culture.