29 June 2008

some other beers tasted

Heineken dark lager
Biere du boucanier red ale
" " " golden ale
" " " dark ale
Kostriker schwartzbier
red hook esb original ale
wild blue blueberry lager
sierra nevada summerfest
sam adams summer ale
shock top belgian white
pabst blue ribbon
konings hoeven quadrupel trappist ale
ommegeddon funkhouse ale

28 April 2008

marginally physical objects

or, contemporary myths in physicalism

dare i suggest that there is a vagueness in what, exactly, is implied in the concept or ontological category of the "physical". our everyday definition of a physical object is something that you can bump your head against. yet it seems that even the most innocent of everyday, physical things are pseudophysical in that they are also at least in some bit abstract. also, some processes of these physical objects get lumped into the physicalist account. does this move the discussion from physical objects to.. well something else?

all in all, there are some specific cases i have in mind...where the vagueness of the category is painfully apparent. here are three scientific examples.


1. fields - our best physics posits the existence of fields, not only as necessary objects in the universe (as, say, scientists might posit numbers and theories) but also as strictly physical objects. handydandy wikipedia says that a field is 'the presence of a physical quantity at every point in spacetime.' hm.. something should ring a bell already as the definition seemed a bit off. the field clearly isn't made up of whatever the most minute particle might be, just as i am or stars are. no, fields seem to be not physical objects themselves but the position, behavior, and propensity for specific physical objects as they pass along specific regions of spacetime. does this add up to a physical object? well no, it's not a physical object and it isn't even made up OF physical objects. so, if even in our most sacred science there are objects that are straddling the line ontologically, what can we expect in other fields?

2. mental states - no doubt our brains have a lot to do with our mental states. so much so, of course, that when our brain ceases to function correctly our mental states cease to function accordingly, ad empirically demonstrated in brain damage studies. but, as some people have asked before me i'm sure, are brain states the same as mental states? is there an identity relationship be tween these two characterizations of whatever it is that's going on inside my head? I think kripke's argument is very powerful... take a look at it and see for yourself.

N= necessarily
P = possibly

(a) N (heat = molecular motion).

this is a necessary a posteriori truth. is it possible to have heat without molecular motion? well no. no matter what, if it's heat, it's caused by molecular motion. sure, there might be sensations of heat without molecular motion. but if it's real heat, it's real molecular motion. now, can we say

(b) ? N (pain = c-fibers firing)

well let's put the identity to the test just like last time. is it possible to have the sensation of pain without it being pain? well it seems like the answer is pretty obvious, NO! if you feel pain you have pain! this calls into question whether c-fibres firing just IS pain. once again, this either means that definition of pain provided by the best anatomical science is incomplete (and it doesn't seem to be, at least here on earth), or that pain just is not the same as c-fibers firing, leaving us with

(c) ~N(pain = c-fibers firing)

rounding out the discussion on physical objects, and brain states, where does this leave us? well it leaves us in a more primitively intuitive position where we think that the brain and its states (physical objects) sure do have a lot to do with our minds (presumably other than physical objects) yet they aren't the same thing. so things like belief, pain, fear, etc are partially physical.

3. species - reading fodor's critique of natural selection has got me thinking a lot about philosophy of biology lately. one of things i've come to believe is that talk of species and groups of animals with similar properties and so forth isn't strictly speaking physical. of course, this comes of no surprise to anyone who's familiar with set theory or even mereology. anyway, the abstractions we can assign to the physical characteristics of individual animals across similar-enough genetic liniage definitely makes the concept of 'species' an ontologically dualist one.

well then, what do these suggestions do, if anything? i think it does two things. first, it reinforces the insight mcginn had in saying that ontological categories are oftentimes ill-defined. in these three cases i have given examples with a focus on the vagueness of the 'physical' category, but in doing so i've also muddled up 'abstract' and 'mental'.

a further, more powerful consequence of establishing these marginally physical objects is the clear rejection of ontological physicalism. If there is someone who wholds that what there is is physical and that's all there is, yet what's physical can't be said to be always physical, then physicalism is false.

ontological agnosticism

given that ontological categories are not determinate, or at least not rigorous enough for us to give clear and mutually exclusive definitions of them (is a magnetic field material? are numbers purely abstract? does 'belief' transcend the mind/body dualism?), is it possible to formulate a metaontological position that defends an agnostic outlook?

allow me to clarify... some metaphysicians declare that material objects are the only kind of object. others allow for certain abstracta, but not all (such as quine and his acceptance of numbers and sets). others also infamously allow for many kinds of abstract objects and physical objects, but no mental (popper). others still barely mention the abstract or reduce it to the mental (descartes). but not many of these people give justifications for not only their ontology, but their procedures for determining their ontology.

notable exceptions include quine, who said that numbers are real because they are necessary for science to work, and carnap, who said that our ontological decisions depend heavily on a non-rigorous selection of a 'framework' which we work within. this debate in the 1950s set up the more modern field of metaontology, who have a generally positive realist camp inspired by quine, and a generally negative anti-realist camp inspired by carnap.

contemporary names in these debates include peter van inwagen (notre dame) , david chalmers (anu), amie thomasson (miami), steve yablo (mit), ted sider (nyu), and some others. there are the what some people call "hard" realists, who say that these questions are answerable and significant, there are "soft" realists who say that these questions are answerable yet trivial or unimportant, and there is only one distinguishable camp of anti-realists who deny the answerability of these questions completely.

however, shouldn't there be a middle ground position? perhaps a deflationary position that says the entire debate is shoddy, or that the questions themselves don't make any more sense? this i would characterize as a deflationary metaontology.

further, is also a position available closely akin to the position mcginn holds in mind debates: we aren't in a position to know the answers to these questions. we are epistemically handicapped in these matters. this view would be an ontological agnosticism.

[this last section is very speculative] perhaps this is why mcginn holds a view he calls 'ontological pluralism'. he sees that metaontological debates are unanswerable, he supposes that we just roll with the ontological categories we already work with: categories ranging through everyday experience: books, chairs, thoughts, beliefs, etc.

27 April 2008

philosophy as conceptual lexicography

definition of (analytic, or, proper) philosophy:

Philosophy (n) to engage in the activity of conceptual lexicography, id est, the clarifying of conceptual muddles.

mind-body dualisms

i've become increasingly convinced that reductionist materialist explanations of consciousness are inadequate. this doesn't completely put me in the cartesian camp, but i wanted to make a brief post exploring some of the options available, from least to most ontologically pluralistic.

1. Predicate Dualism - perhaps there is oen ontological category, presumably materialism, which can be characterized only through the introduction of two predicate categories. this is not to imply that these predicates correspond to different properties. these predicates are just different ways to "look at" or "talk about" one thing with really one set of properties. so "mental states" and "physical states" can still be talked about, with only one substance and one set of properties. this view is usually appealed to in lieu of reductive materialism because the reductive accounts leave explanatory gaps. fodor holds this view.

2. Property Dualism - similar, perhaps, to predicate dualism, except acknowledging that the different predicates actually do refer to different properties that one substance has. so it's still the one (once again, presumably material) thing having two levels of properties. these two types of properties are usually described as differences of process. just as the stomach is used for digestion, the brain is used for cognition. even though he tends to deny it, it seems as though this is the view searle holds. nagel holds it too.

3. Substance Dualism - then of course there's good ol' fashioned cartesianism, where the mind and the body are wholly different things. there are (at least) two different ontological categories, thus explaining succinctly and intuitively the nature of the discrepancies between the properties ascribed to mental and physical events. a contemporary proponent of this view is david chalmers.

4. Mental Agnosticism (mysterianism) - i was at first tempted to lump mysterianism along with the substance dualists, but that would be unfair. mysterians are ultimately agnostics about this kind of thing, holding that the cognitive power of the human will leave this question unanswered. we're just not smart enough to know exactly what's going on in our minds, just as chimps are just too dumb to master calculus. this is the position that mcginn holds.

the easiest out is by far the third option. it is the most intuitive and the most explanatory. however, most people nowadays don't give it much of a chance because of the heavily materialist conception of the world we live in today. personally i don't see what the big deal is to posti necessary ontological categories if we have good reason to think they're necessary. however, i can see where they're coming from as i was a strict reductive materialist until recently. over the summer i'm going to read some canonical texts in each type of dualism so i can choose which one i find most reasonable, and which is closest to experience. but before i read any of the texts, let me say that i think the most reasonable position to take, at least prima facie, is the fourth option, #4. the hard problem, as chalmers put it, really is very hard. and there doesn't seem to be a straightforward answer to it in sight.