Showing posts with label mind body problem. Show all posts
Showing posts with label mind body problem. Show all posts

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Discovering the Philosopher in You: Part 11: Mind and World: Are Objects Really as They Appear?

After lecture ten I've pretty much burnt out on philosophy of the mind, but Prof McGinn keeps going so will I.  This lecture is about the relationship of reality and one's perception of it.  The goal (though I think it can never be attained) is to resolve the problem of appearance and reality.

Say with sight, I'm seeing a table.  Am I seeing it as it is?  Or, is it colored or altered by my mind.  The question is not if the table exists, as the skeptic would ask.  The question is how it appears to me in my senses.  It is actually there but how do I perceive it?  The first argument is from illusion.

In this argument, one person is actually seeing a black table, and a second person is seeing an illusion of a black table.  The person "seeing" the illusory table is not really seeing a table he/she is seeing the sense datum of a table, and the assumption that the person seeing the actual table is actually seeing the table.  The problem is, that the person that is actually looking at the table, is also only able to see via sense data.  There are a couple attempts to answer this problem.  One says that the person experiencing the illusion of the table, is seeing nothing.  This cannot be the case, because to see nothing would mean that he/she isn't seeing a table, he/she is seeing nothing and nothing cannot be seen.  The second (and better answer to my mind), is that the person experiencing an illusion is seeing an object that doesn't exist.  One issue in this is just in terminology.  The person isn't actually "seeing" a non-existent object, it could be said that the person is experiencing the illusion of seeing a non-existent object.

After talking about that argument, Prof McGinn moves on to a secondary argument within the concept of the relativity of sensation.  He uses two specific examples, sugar being sweet/bitter, and the color being red/green.  Is there a case such that sugar can be bitter to a specific person/sense-group?  It seems plausible that scenario could exist.  So, we have to revise how we say, such and such is sweet.  We must say, such and such is sweet to me.  Tastiness is a much easier issue.  One person may say that a particular dish is tasty, and another may take the exact same dish and say it's disgusting.  Obviously there is a relativism in the perception of taste.

Next, color.  Take the color red.  "This ball is red."  Say a particular set of people (Prof McGinn uses martians for both of these arguments) see red as green.  Again, it ends up saying, such and such looks red to me/us.  They're relative to the observer.  This isn't an attack on truth, it's not making truth relative, it's just pointing out that certain properties are relative to the perceiver.  Prof McGinn sums colors are response-dependent properties.

NOT all properties are response-dependent.  His example is shape.  Round vs. square, that cannot be a subjective property.  To accept this as a response-dependent property, we'd also have to give up on the notion that objects have particular properties.  So, we have to divide different properties into categories of response-dependent and objective properties.  Flavor and taste is obviously response dependent, as is attractiveness/sexiness, what about humor?  These all seem obvious to me that they are completely response-dependent.  Is beauty in the eye of the beholder?

This distinction is often called primary qualities as opposed to secondary qualities.  Secondary qualities are like color, taste, sound, beauty, smell, etc.  The primary qualities are in the realm of physics, shape, mass, size, number/quantity, etc.  This is basically the same concept as what are manifest images or conceptions verses the scientific images or conceptions.  The way we can think about this is to imagine what the universe looked like before anyone or anything was around to perceive the universe.  IF color is a mind-dependent quality then the universe would be shades of gray or the abstract conception of the universe without a perceiver to give it the mind-dependent qualities.

Two polarizing views, realism-the universe is real as it is but it doesn't have perception-dependent qualities and idealism-objects are not these abstract images that we think they might be they are actually ideas within the mind of God and we receive them in our mind.  All of these discussions concerning the mind and it's relationship with the universe and perception all lead up to the next lecture on what is the self.  Because all of these issues with the mind revolve around the idea of there being a self to experience these things.

That's what Prof McGinn said (at least as I understand it), now for what I think about it...

First off, I want to clarify that I don't know for sure anything that I'm about to say, but it seems much more logical to me than how Prof McGinn describes the different types of perceptions and their categories.  The biggest issue I have with Prof McGinn's delineation of senses (and I'm sure others would agree with him) is color.  We might all perceive colors differently.  We definitely name colors differently between different people.

Does that change the differences in light wavelength that makes different colors in the first place?  Colors should not be put on the relative side of the perceived properties scale.  Color is subjective in that it's a specific wavelength of light.

From Wikipedia, 1 Million colors
One possible arrangement of some primary and secondary qualities:

Primary Qualities
Secondary Qualities
Goodness of sound
Feel (smooth, rough, etc.)
Atomic makeup
Everything else…

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Discovering the Philosopher in You: Part 10: Consciousness: Can the Mystery Be Solved?

To be perfectly honest, this is really more like a continuation of the last lecture on the mind-body relationship, and it seems like this is Prof McGinn's favorite topic.

First, Prof McGinn mentions two specific types of consciousness, simple and self.  Simple consciousness is just the consciousness of objects, and other simple senses, though they're not really all that simple.  The self-consciousness is the ability to be conscious of the simple consciousness and to have a sense of self.  Simple consciousness isn't really all that simple if you think about the case of a person blind from birth. He or she would have no conception of sight, or in the case of a bat's echolocation or the platypus' electroreception, we as humans, have no consciousness of what it's like to sense things in those ways.  The simple consciousness is part of the subjectivity of consciousness, they are for a particular subject.  For you, in the case of your sensations.

The next part of consciousness is its intentionality, that is the object of a sense or consciousness.  Even sense experiences are based on intentionality, I'm sensing with my eyes/sight the table that's across the room from me.  I'm sensing with my ears/hearing the airconditioner fan blowing.  Consciousness has to be about something.  One cannot sense nothing, that's not consciousness.  Even in the self-consciousness, it's a reflection on 'I.'  There's no way to think about nothing.  Even if one is thinking about nothingness, that's still thinking about something.

Consciousness is special to the human experience in that it's the only thing that we know completely without any doubt.  As we talked about in skepticism in lecture one, even though we cannot be absolutely sure of the existence of anyone or anything.  We can be certain of our own thoughts and therefore our own consciousness is the only thing that is fully transparent to each person.  So, next time your male significant other answers the question, "What are you thinking about?" with, "Nothing." or "I don't know."  You can know he's lying.  We as conscious beings are always in the know about our own consciousness.  (To be fair, one could answer, "I don't remember." because even though we always know our own consciousness we don't always remember everything we ever think about.)

Prof McGinn is quick to point out that dualism doesn't really help in this issue of brain/mind disconnection, which he refers to as a consciousness gap.  I (somewhat) agree, because there's no good way to define how an etherial non-material substance can/does influence the material brain/body.  My personal input on this is just because we don't know how the non-material can influence the material doesn't mean that it doesn't or can't.  The existence of a non-material-based consciousness that can influence and be influenced by the material fills the consciousness gap quite nicely.

Prof McGinn's "answer" here is that it's a deep mystery.  First, we need to understand what he means by this...  It's not some spiritual answer.  Not some ethereal non-existent soul or spiritual answer, it's simply beyond human means of understanding.  Like the theory of relativity to a dog.  Even many people can't claim that they fully understand it, think about what that would be like to a dog, that's what it's like for humans to try to understand the consciousness.  Incidentally, he thinks this type of explanation might also fit well with free will and determinism.

My answer to this type of claim is that it seems like a copout like I mentioned before about zen being able to cheat the laws of non-contradiction.  It seems like rather than addressing these mysteries with faith in the non-material, he just says that we cannot know these things.  Now, at least he leaves it open to the possibility that we may someday evolve to knowing/solving these riddles, but that we don't know what that evolution could entail or what kind of change it will require.  It's so far beyond us that it might take as many years of evolution in the future that we've had already.  Obviously I don't disagree that it's a mystery, but my response to the mystery is to believe that there must be something more to existence. The dualism idea does fill the consciousness gap albeit mysteriously.

I just restarted college courses, I'm taking two classes, Education 200 and Apologetics 104.  It looks to be a fairly easy semester.  The reason I bring this up is I'm thinking of featuring my essays that I write for class on my blog.  Since I'm taking the classes I won't have as much time to write so that'll give me stuff to write about that'll be useful for my classes and something interesting that I can share with you.  Obviously I'll only post stuff that'll make sense to you or give you some context from which I'm writing.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Discovering the Philosopher in You: Part 9: Mind and Body: How Are They Related?

Continuing the Discovering the Philosopher in you series here with part nine of fourteen.  This lecture's unanswerable  problem is about the differences (if there are any) between the mind and the body/brain.  Like the lecture I'll try to layout the two (main) ideas, without commentary, then comment on the weaknesses and what I think about each side.

First dualism.  Made famous by (though arguably not original to him) Descarte came up with this idea and fleshed out the logical arguments behind how the mind is separate, distinct, and different than the body/brain (for the remainder of this entry when I say 'body' just understand that I'm [more than likely] referring specifically to the brain as the controlling organ of the body).  For one of his main arguments he used for dualism Descartes used identity property laws.  The essence of the mind is in thought, which isn't a measurable substance.  You can't measure the size of an idea or concept.  I am thinking of a white elephant right now (bet you are too) and you cannot tell me how big that thought is.  It cannot be measured in pounds or inches or any other system of measurement.  The human brain (head) is eight pounds (thanks cute kid from Jerry MacGuire) and even the electrochemical impulses in the brain can be measured using electroencephalographs and other tools.  Therefore based on the properties of identity, they cannot be the same thing if they are different essential characteristics.

Now materialism.  This is a much easier to explain idea because the idea of materialism is simple, the brain is all there is.  There is no mind-body problem, there's no such thing as the mind as a distinct thing from the body.  The reason we say 'mind' and other mind-related terms, is simply a difference in terminology.  Saying, 'mind' is the same as saying 'brain' and saying, "I feel angry." is the same as saying, "there's a certain state of chemicals in my brain."  The only dualism is in terminology.

Now, both have their problems, and to be perfectly honest I don't have any answers.  I feel that both sides are intractable and cannot offer all the answers.  For dualism the primary problem is in the interaction between mind and body.  If the mind is intangible then how does or how can it influence the body?  Is it a two-way street?  Is it a one-way?  Is there no interaction?  None of these seem possible.

On the other hand, materialism just kills all conception of the mind.  As hard as one might try, one cannot get rid of the mind, thoughts cannot be simplified to just chemical processes.  Even knowing that one's brain is mainly a complex system of electrochemical reactions to stimuli doesn't make me think of those processes while I'm thinking.  It seems to be obvious that thought is beyond just the chemical processes that go on inside your skull.

Really this discussion boils down to atheism and theism.  Either there is something more than just the material or there isn't.  If you believe there is no such thing as god, then there must be no such thing as the mind/soul/spirit.  If you believe there is something more than just the material, then there is some form of mind distinct from the body.

Here's my personal problem in this question, I think it's indubitable that there must be something more than just our bodies.  I'm a dualist (I'd say that any theist is and must be), but I have absolutely no idea how the two different parts interact.  From theology it's obvious that God is (in some ways) immaterial and spirit, akin to soul or mind, but man isn't God.  Now my theological answer is that God has made man in His image in that our souls can interact and influence the material to a limited extent like his Spirit is active in our lives and world.  I don't have any better answer than that.