Pathways/ ISFP Ideabox Conference: May 2011–October 2013

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Geoffrey Klempner
9 May 2011

Welcome to the Pathways Online Conference!

Previous Pathways conferences have been hosted on a FirstClass server, at Nicenet.org, and most recently on the Pathways site using YaBB forum software.

For the latest version of the Conference we have decided to go 'back to basics' and use the simplest form of bulletin board script. The one we have chosen is called 'IdeaBox' and is written by Mark Ghosh. The advantage is that every post is displayed as part of the same ongoing conversation.

Please feel free to raise any topic. If you are responding to a previous post, just give the name and date. Enjoy your conferencing!

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Geoffrey Klempner
9 May 2011

Imagine that you go into a room and you see a group of people you have never met before. No-one here knows anybody else. The one thing you know is that you are all interested in philosophy.

How do you introduce yourself? What do you say? How do you start a conversation? How do you keep the conversation going?

That's all we are trying to do. Just keep up the conversation. Don't worry about tying up all the loose ends. That's not how people behave in everyday life!

Above all, be polite. We are all friends here. You've got nothing to prove. Contribute to the discussion when you can, and when you can't think of anything to say, then listen and wait.

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Rachel Browne
9 May 2011

Is there anything positive about guilt? What is the point of it? Please don't reply in evolutionary terms.

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Selena O' Sullivan
10 May 2011

Rachel Browne 9 May 2011 "Is there anything positive about guilt?" I am inclined to say yes, there is, on a personal level. If an individual feels guilt resulting from neglecting or taking advantage of another person, the guilt may serve to strengthen his principles in a positive way; He does not enjoy feeling guilty, does not want to experience it in future, and so is more mindful of his actions in future. This would increase the likelihood of his having succesful relationships.

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Hubertus Fremerey
10 May 2011

Guilt it most often ambivalent. Sometimes you have to blast a most dear relation to keep it alive. This is a personal experience, but is confirmed by Christians speaking of "the grace of sin". Which is comparable to children committing some minos "crime" to get the attention of their neglecting parents. And "sinning" makes you think about who you are and who you should or could be. So there are many good sides of guilt. What would a life without pain come to ? There are many reported cases where guilt and pain have made a zombie into a true human.

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Pencka Gancheva
10 May 2011

Wow, this is much better design! Lovely!

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Pencka Gancheva
10 May 2011

@ Geoffrey Klempner 9 May 2011 Hmm, that is very self-improving situation, and I suppose I should react as my usual Myself, ie, I will rely on the spontaneous circumstances of the moment. I do not know if all philosophers are keen on discussing the main problem, the freedom. But if there are many people in one place, all sharing philosophy, I should consider my position as well: if they are already discussing something, i will possibly join, and if not, i will possibly rise some ubermensch topic, because that is what inspires my life...

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Peter Jones
10 May 2011

I also really like this design. Thanks for all the effort.

That's very good advice about us not trying to tie up all the loose ends. I'm one of those bores who often forgets it even in roomfuls of people who aren't philosophers. But what else is there to do for philosophy than tie up loose ends?

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Rachel Browne
10 May 2011

So for Selena guilt is functional and Hubertus thinks it is so positive that you have to do something to keep it alive. Do you go so far as this Selena?

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Mike Ward
10 May 2011

In the beginning was the word but isn't a private language negation of solipsism, was god then the solipcist and why am I asking you figments of my imagination?

Will someone prove to me you exist?

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Hubertus Fremerey
10 May 2011

Mike I won't prove that I am existing, so you have to suffer from painful doubts - which of course is good for your health ! And on doubting and being kicked out of all securities have a look at this series of books on "Clashing Views" (our old hobby-horse) : http://highered.mcgraw-hill.com/sites/dl/free/0076667771/847222/Newman_TSPersonalityPsychology_1e_0078050006_TOC.pdf It's only one of some dozen books of this sort. No wonder that people look for a god or "a teddy" to cling to. But then perhaps read Alan Watts on "The Wisdom of Insecurity" (see http://www.amazon.com/Wisdom-Insecurity-Alan-Watts/dp/0712671315/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1305054315&sr=1-1 ). And why asking of others to prove that they are real ? Are you ?

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Geoffrey Klempner
10 May 2011

Could we avoid unnecessary URLs please? Anyone can find 'Wisdom of Insecurity' on Google or Amazon :-)

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Geoffrey Klempner
10 May 2011

I'm glad to see that this has started so well. And thanks to Pencka and Peter for their comments. The main difference from the YaBB forum, or previous Pathways conferences, is that this time we are just having a conversation. So I don't want to lay down formal rules. However, it is a good idea to imagine what you would say if we were talking with one another rather than typing into a terminal.

It's OK to change topics in mid conversation because that's what people do. Let's talk about guilt AND solipsism, and maybe whether solipsist's feel more guilty (and should they?) or maybe whether lack of ability to feel guilt shows a tendency towards solipsism. Or anything in between.

(Excuse the intrusion, I won't be butting in very often...)

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Mike Ward
11 May 2011

Hubertus, never mind you choosing not to prove you exist the reality is that you cannot prove you do exist to me even if you wanted to. This leaves you, along with everything else, as some degree of probability to me.

Now if you believe in absolutes you may or may not take offence at this, why then should I feel guilt for causing offence at one outcome and not the other? I suppose I am arguing that guilt is only caused by a loss of self esteem in either public or private perception of oneself.

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Ochieng Ombok
11 May 2011

Guilt is a subjective feeling. It is internally felt by the subject and builds when a certain personal threshold is crossed. This threshold is determined by conscience which is a personal yardstick of self-judgement.

Guilt is an objective judgement. It is externally imposed upon a subject when a certain universal threshold is crossed. This threshold is determined by legal statutes which is a collective yardstick of judgement.

One can feel the first guilt without being judged the second guilt. I suppose this debate revolves around the first meaning of guilt.

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Adebayo O. Anthony
11 May 2011
How do we know other minds? Suppose I claim to know that P, and P is known in realtion to X, where P is the physical state of my cognition and X is the object of my knowing that P. How do one communicate such knowledge to other minds? How, also does the other mind know that I know that P. It appeaars to me that since most claims to knowledge are of an internalist conceptual framework, it would be hard and difficult to attain objective knowledge.

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Hubertus Fremerey
11 May 2011

@Mike, Ochieng, and Adebayo : Of course guilt is always a subjective state. Even "objective" guilt is an evaluation by other subjects. Guilt is a consequence of trespassing some recognized moral limits. So the only difference is between recognizing those limits by a singular subject or by some religious or cultural or national or philosophical etc. community. "Sin" in the Biblical sense is trespassing "God's order". While this is a concept of a religious (Jewish or Christian) community, it can be a very private matter "between God and me" at the same time. Truly pious people feel ashamed after behaving "as God would not be pleased" - even if only God "knows their heart." Thus sinning (and guilt) can be like cheating or disappointing one's (f.i. God's) trust. In this context of course disappointing ones own trust into one's own moral abilities can be a cause of feeling ashamed and guilty too. This is why St.Peter wept after denying Jesus thrice (Matt 26,69-75).

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Rachel Browne
11 May 2011

Ochieng Ombok, there are no parameters on our use of guilt here. What do you mean by guilt is an objective judgement? Guilt can't be subjective, an objective judgement and externally imposed. Surely it is all one thing. Do you mean that people can be manipulated into subjective feelings of guilt? Could you be more clear on this? How can you impose a subjective feeling such as guilt unless through manipulation?

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Hubertus Fremerey
11 May 2011

minor notes added : When I wrote (10 May 2011) that "Guilt it most often ambivalent. Sometimes you have to blast a most dear relation to keep it alive." the last "it" refers to the relation, not to guilt ! This means : "You have to blast a relation to save this relation from becoming lifeless." And "guilt is a felt discrepancy between a result and an intended moral goal." Thus there cannot be any objective guilt, as there cannot be any objective evil. Good and evil, feeling guilt and feeling ashamed are evaluations of actors. Nature does never "act" nor "evaluate". Only conscious beings to. Thus a conscious robot feeling guilt or shame is imaginable. But it still would be an evaluation by the robot.

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rachel browne
11 May 2011

Geoffrey, I posed the question about guilt because I don't feel guilty whatever I do This doesn't make me a solipsist.

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Hubertus Fremerey
11 May 2011

I just watched Monty Python's "The Meaning of Life". While the Python's humour is a bit drastic, it is a good antidote to "incense" and puffed up concepts and theories. As a critical background against which to check my own intentions I found it very valuable. It reminds me on "Candide" by Voltaire. Of course most people cannot and will not settle with a world that is absurd. But the problem is not the "is". Of course the world in itself is absurd and life in itself is without meaning. But we humans are thinking beings and so we establish (using metaphysics and religion and the arts) a meaningful world against the absurd one. It is our creative mind that creates meaning where there is no meaning. In this sense we humans "build houses and towns of meaning" in a meaningless landscape. And as thinking and creative beings we have any right to do so. The question whether life "is" meaningful is not well posed. Animals don't need math nor music nor philosophy to survive. In this sense the question whether "we" need math or music or philosophy is derived from a misunderstanding. As thinking and creative beings "we" need it all, while non-thinking beings do not.

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Mike Ward
11 May 2011

Whilst it has it's critics I find the milestone stages quite accurate in the continuum of developing morality/ethics

I wish to draw on this in future responses.

Kohlberg's stages of moral development

If you have an understanding of the normal stages of moral development, it should help you to develop or improve upon your own morals or values

Stage 1: Respect for power and punishment.

A young child (age 1-5) decides what to do--what is right--according to what he/she wants to do and can do without getting into trouble. To be right, you must be obedient to the people in power and, thus, avoid punishment. Motto: "Might makes right."

Stage 2: Looking out for number 1.

Children (age 5-10) tend to be self-serving. They lack respect for the rights of others but may give to others on the assumption that they will get as much or more in return. It is more a matter of "you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours," instead of loyalty, gratitude, or justice. Motto: "What's in it for me?"

Stage 3: Being a "Good Boy" or "Nice Girl."

People at this stage (age 8-16) have shifted from pleasing themselves to pleasing important others, often parents, teachers, or friends. They seek approval and conform to someone else's expectations. When they are accused of doing something wrong, their behaviour is likely to be justified by saying "everyone else is doing it" or "I didn't intend to hurt anyone." Motto: "I want to be nice."

Stage 4: Law and order thinking.

The majority of people 16 years old and older have internalised society's rules about how to behave. They feel obligated to conform, not any longer to just family and friends, but also to society's laws and customs. They see it as important to do one's duty to maintain social order. Leaders are assumed to be right; individuals adopt social rules without considering the underlying ethical principles involved. Social control is, therefore, exercised through guilt associated with breaking a rule; the guilt in this case is an automatic emotional response, not a rational reaction of conscience based on moral principles (as in stage 6). People at this stage believe that anyone breaking the rules deserves to be punished and "pay their debt to society." Motto: "I'll do my duty."

Stage 5: Justice through democracy.

People at this stage recognise the underlying moral purposes that are supposed to be served by laws and social customs; thus, if a law ceases to serve a good purpose, they feel the people in a democracy should get active and change the law. Thought of in this way, democracy becomes a social contract whereby everyone tries continually to create a set of laws that best serves the most people, while protecting the basic rights of everyone. There is respect for the law and a sense of obligation to live by the rules, as long as they were established in a fair manner and fulfil an ethical purpose. Only about 20-25% of today's adults ever reach this stage and most of those that do supposedly only get there after their mid-twenties. Motto: "I'll live by the rules or try to change them."

Stage 6: Deciding on basic moral principles by which you will live your life and relate to everyone fairly.

These rather rare people have considered many values and have decided on a philosophy of life that truly guides their life. They do not automatically conform to tradition or others' beliefs or even to their own emotions, intuition, or impulsive notions about right and wrong. Stage 6 people carefully choose basic principles to follow, such as caring for and respecting every living thing, feeling that we are all equal and deserve equal opportunities, or, stated differently, the Golden Rule. They are strong enough to act on their values even if others may think they are odd or if their beliefs are against the law, such as refusing to fight in a war. Motto: "I'm true to my values."

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Mike Ward
11 May 2011

Hubertus, it isn't the world that is absurd as it was here first - it's us that are absurd being so addicted to needing meaning. Which as I think you rightly say there is none.

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Geoffrey Klempner
11 May 2011

There's something about this particular shade of green that makes me think of... marijuana.

I'm more guilty than most for getting high on my own rhetoric (calling the people in my life who've tried to make me feel guilty 'crippled manipulators' or 'bombastic pedants' - Hedgehog Philosopher Day 41).

Setting one's face against guilt in all its guises isn't solipsism if consciously intended. It's an act of self-liberation. But I wonder whether that puts me a bit too close to Aleister Crowley - 'Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law'?

How is that different from, 'Do what you feel'? Is that OK, but only if you have the 'right' (i.e. 'healthy') feelings? Rachel?

I don't mind being close to Max Stirner. All morality and ethics is just 'wheels in the head'. Whereas Marx was a self-righteous moral prig, as are all socialists.

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Hubertus Fremerey
11 May 2011

Dear Mike and Geoffrey, I am again fascinated by this strange and all pervading obsession with "assessing reality". We are used to speak of "homo sapiens" but we should speak of "homo creativus" - the creative mind. This modern world is our human invention, not Gods creation. Inventiveness is our human pride. We are builders, engineers and artists of worlds, not scientists only. The task of the artist and engineer is not to copy nature but to create his own work from forms and colours. Instead of asking "what's the case ?" we should ask "what should be the case ?" We should see our future not as a challenge to the scientific mind only, but as well to the artistic mind. Science cannot tell us what building to build or what music to invent or what novel to write. Only the creative mind can.

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Penny Rendall
12 May 2011

While guilt can have the positive effect Selena describes, it seems to me to be generally a negative emotion. We talk about people being eaten up or destroyed by guilt. A pervasive sense of guilt is often thought to be the legacy of a Catholic upbringing, for instance, even when the person has rejected Catholicism.

The novelist Hilary Mantel described it like this: "You grow up believing that you're wrong and bad. And for me, because I took what I was told really seriously, it bred a very intense habit of introspection and self-examination and a terrible severity with myself. So that nothing was ever good enough. It's like installing a policeman, and one, moreover, who keeps changing the law."

I wonder if there's a difference between a sense of guilt imposed from outside, like hers (and negative), and a sense of guilt developed from one's awareness of breaking a considered, freely arrived at personal moral code (if that exists), which might be seen as positive and useful. Or perhaps the feelings themselves are different: guilt and remorse, perhaps.

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Hubertus Fremerey
12 May 2011

A note added on "homo creativus" - the creative man. We are so used (and mislead) to thinking that philosophy is all about "truth and how to get at it" that we seldom realize the creative acts depend on decisions which have to be justified just in the same way as scientific arguments have to be justified. The aim of the engineer is engineering, not knowledge. The aim of the artist is art, not knowledge. The aim of the politician is politics, not knowledge. But they all want to know what is it that makes good engineering, good art, good politics. They all want to justify their decisions. This is exactly how Socrates and Kant and Nietzsche and others saw it : They were never interested in knowledge per se, but in useful knowledge. Socrates was always asking : "What would make us better humans ?" All knowledge was only a means to answer this one question. Thus when I bring forth the image of "homo creator" I am asking : "How would we like to see the future of human society - and why so ?" If man is free, then to make good use of his freedom should be his main concern. And this cannot be answered by science but only by philosophy. So the question becomes : What does philosophy suggest us to do about our future ? "Knowledge" with respect to a free actor is not the same as knowledge with respect to a dead object. Knowing everything about atoms or the brain does not tell us anything about a better future for humans. Why ? Because "better" is an evaluation, and science does not evaluate, science can only assess. Evaluative "knowledge" is very different from scientific knowledge. To understand that fact is what I am trying to do.

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Mike Ward
12 May 2011

Penny, I'm comfortable accepting that those raised from birth as catholics have become hard-wired and hardly likely to get past stage 4 hence they will be naturally policing themselves in accordance with others values. That kind of guilt may never go away.

The internal self determined guilt is, I would argue, a consequence of conflict between rationally determined values (stages 5 and 6) and the desires and feelings of the more primitive (apish) part of our mind and it that sense a good safety mechanism to avoid that extra chocolate bar or cigarette.

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Mike Ward
12 May 2011

Hubertus, speaking as a strange obsessed and all pervading reality checker (as I think you infer) knowing where you are is an essential part of planning a route to where you want to get to.

What should be the case is barring the pointless questions of "why" before we ever have a concept of the "how"

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Hubertus Fremerey
12 May 2011

Mike, the "why?"-question is not pointless in case of a thinking being. "Why do you want to eat ?" - because you fell hungry. That's simple. But "why do you oppose torturing ?" is not. You are even opposed to torturing - and the pope is -while you are not a Roman Catholic. So it's a rather difficult to decide why you should feel remorse. Why not enjoy toturing ? Some do ! It is not even apish - it is human !!

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Rachel Browne
12 May 2011

Penny, I agree with you but formerly agreed with Selena. Well she persuaded me. Is guilt this complex? Both functional and can screw you up?

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Sara
12 May 2011

I love this new format, and I will probably read and listen as I don't feel confident enough yet to comment as I have only just started my journey into the wonder of philosophy. I just felt obliged to say to Hubert who asked what a life without pain might be like - that I would really like to know the answer to that question. Anyone who lives in chronic pain would not frame a question in that way. Ask me how I know! (sorry it's not a philosophical point)

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sara
12 May 2011

I did mean Hubertus - sorry.

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Selena O' Sullivan
12 May 2011

Rachel Browne 10 May 2011 "So for Selena guilt is functional and Hubertus thinks it is so positive that you have to do something to keep it alive. Do you go so far as this Selena? I also misunderstood Hudertus' meaning, taking "it" to mean guilt and I was surprised to think someone would purposefully incubate guilt. I'm glad he clarified as we would have likely gone off on a tangent! I'm curious; Is it possible for solipsists to feel guilty? I can't imagine how, or why they would." Guilt seems to be a subjective idea. It is a feeling experienced when one has offended his ideals. Objective guilt is an idea; it is not felt. It is the condemming of a man for a sin or a crime. Others will view him as being objectively guilty. He may or may not feel guilty, regardless of wether or not he committed the crime.

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Selena O' Sullivan
12 May 2011

Penny Rendall 12 May 2011 "I wonder if there's a difference between a sense of guilt imposed from outside, like hers (and negative), and a sense of guilt developed from one's awareness of breaking a considered, freely arrived at personal moral code (if that exists), which might be seen as positive and useful. Or perhaps the feelings themselves are different: guilt and remorse, perhaps." Coming from a country which is predominately Catholic I agree wholeheartedly with your example of guilt sometimes being a negative thing. What strikes me is your doubting the possibility of a free moral code; I echo that doubt.

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Mike Ward
13 May 2011

Hubertus, the "why" question is relevant when asked of purposeful or sentient beings carrying out acts or making choices like killing/torturing someone when they had other choices.

Where the "why" questions are irrelevant are in situations where there is no intelligent purpose to an event like, why is it raining? or why is there evil? or why do I exist?

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Geoffrey Klempner
13 May 2011

You may have noticed that cut-and-pasting doesn't work as you think it should. You HAVE to put <p> in front of each new paragraph otherwise it comes out in a single block. (I've added quote marks to Selena's two recent posts.)

I didn't write the code, so don't ask me why. That's just the way it works.

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Geoffrey Klempner
13 May 2011

Actually, it's a good idea: when you are quoting someone, use quote marks. This is especially useful when you are quoting someone you disagree with.

(Yes, I can edit the conference transcript if I need to -- hence the quote marks added to Selena's comments -- but I would much rather not. So errors, misspellngs will be left as they are. If you're desperate to make a change to something you've posted then ask me.)

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Ochieng Ombok
13 May 2011

Hurbertus Fremery, you say "animals don't need math nor music nor philosophy to survive". Animals actually need a lot of math to survive. For example, for a leopard to catch an antelope,it takes a lot of geometry, trigonometry and motion calculations to decide when, towards what direction, at what speed and acceleration, and along what curve to run in order to intercept an antelope that is already in motion without exhausting the limited energy and stamina it [the leopard] has available for one such single attack. The math happens subjectively within the leopard, and not on paper where one can look and recognize it as a math problem worked out and correctly solved.

Maybe animals, like humans, do not need music to survive. If they had their music and sang their songs, we would probably dismiss it all as noisy disorganized howls, cackles,trumpets and grunts.

To me, you are an accomplished philosopher. But are you a philosopher to one who can not understand any language you speak, and can not read anything you write? One with whom you can not make any meaningful communication in any way? Of course you still remain the philosopher you are. Maybe that is how we relate to animals. Maybe animals philosophise after all, in a way we can only mis-interpret!

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Mike Ward
13 May 2011

Ochieng, I'm not with you on your analogy of the mathematical leopard - does an unaccomplished one just starve to death? I don't think the leopard is using maths anymore than the drop of water falling on the mountain top decides to run into either the Pacific or Atlantic oceans.

What about the firing of the leopards brain cells, the potential across synapses right down to the quantum mechanics of the particles involved in this "maths" process. Is the term "using" maths applicable to subconscious activity if so than everything probably uses maths like plants growing towards the light.

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Rachel Browne
13 May 2011

Yes, leopards don't consciously use trigonometry and calculus. They wouldn't pass an exam.

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Penny Rendall
13 May 2011

"They wouldn't pass an exam."

And yet - neither would I. (Not if it involved trig and calculus, anyway.)

With Kant, say, and the importance of us being rational human beings, I always get stuck on that: some of us are undoubtedly a good sight more rational than others.

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Tony Fahey
13 May 2011

Ochieng, I'm with Mike and Rachel on this: if, as Edith Stein says, we cannot ever fully know the mind of 'the other', how can we possibly know what it is like to be an antelope, leopard or any other creature? Have you read Thomas Nagle's 'What is it like to be a bat'? If not i would strongly recommend it.

Also, I am intrigued with Rachel's statement that she has never experienced a sense of guilt, and wonder has she ever felt responsible for treating someone unfairly.

As a newcomer to this forum, I would like to say that I too think the format is great.

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Rachel Browne
13 May 2011

Well, Tony, it seems immoral not to have felt guilt, but I think what I did I had reason to do at the time and guilt is a waste of time. Or more likely I don't have a guilt capacity. This points to Penny and Selena's conversation. I think guilt isn't necessarily other related. You can feel guilt for spying on someone, but no-one is hurt. Remorse is deeper. More self-flagelating perhaps and yet also more related to the other. Selena, being Catholic, can see that guilt can be imposed from the outside. Sartre saw this in his case of someone looking through a key-hole spying and then finding someone was watching him. These are two totally different cases of guilt being imposed externally. Any explanation? What do you think?

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Rachel Browne
13 May 2011

ps I don't think I've ever treated anyone unfairly Being fair is a principle with me. I don't have any others. Is unfairness to others particularly connected with guilt?

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Mike Ward
13 May 2011

Rachel, I'm minded that guilt is "other" related. Let us say that I behave and think totally rationally then any and all my actions/decisions are correct at that point in time with whatever was then known. How then can I feel guilt if everything I did was faultless.

That's not to say that people don't make mistakes or unwise choices when viewed with hindsight but even then why would guilt be applicable now for what was a correct decision in that past time? Is it because one feels guilty of being less than perfect, I doubt that.

Maybe it was god doing the spying (which he apparently does) and then found Kant watching him. As to being fair isn't that a very subjective principle as I sure many opposing ideologies of yours would agree.

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Tony Fahey
13 May 2011

Hi Rachel, firstly, I should say that when I say I find your approach to guilt intriguing, and wonder how you feel if you consider you have treated someone unfairly, I do not infer any criticism but genuinely find it interesting and worthy of further discussion. For example, can we say that guilt is imposed from without, or may it be some kind of Kantian a priori instinct or imperative that aids us in finding a way to behave fairly or justly? Indeed, since you admit that you do not have a capacity to feel guilt, might it be that is not something that is imposed culturally, but something that some are predisposed to experience more than others?

Moreover, when you say that what you did you had reason to do at the time, do I detect a suggestion that you feel that your behavior may have been causally determined and that you had no choice other than to do as you did? Further, my understanding of Sartre is that guilt, or shame as he puts it when he speaks about it as arising from ele regard de liautrei, is that he is arguing that our concept of self is determined by ethe otheri. If you do not accept Sartreis view, does this mean that your concept of your self reflects a Cartesian approach to oneis concept of oneis self? Finally, if one has no capacity to feel remorse, guilt, or shame, could it be that one could behave unjustly or unfairly without realizing it? And if this is the case, is moral behaviour too something for which one might not have a capacity? What do you think?

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Auston
14 May 2011

Hi all - thank you for the stimulating thoughts and discussion.

Guilt is a nice can of worms isn't it? A great generator of action and tool for manipulation. Enough of my cynicism though.:-)

The following are some quick ideas and not fully driven arguments - posted just to spice this interesting conversation a little.

I do think it is important to be as clear as possible when we talk of "guilt" - to look at from what basis the guilt is derived or what form/type of guilt we are talking about. For example is it based areas such as the neuropsycological, social, or evolutionary (all inter-related but have particular hallmarks I think).

Whether we talk of guilt in the existential sense that Buber argues - with guilt as seen as a response to "injuring" others or the social construct that we see ourselves as part of, or a Freudian approach to Ego/ Superego, or perhaps a Darwinian approach to guilt as one of the drivers of altruism.

An extension of Buber's existential stance could give some strength to the position that a society/individual tends to experience little or no guilt in relation to the way they treat other societies (such as in "wars on terror") or species (animal rights) as long as the groups are different enough from each other. I am trying not to bring up the word "moral" here but it is just under the surface. Perhaps if we feel no guilt, it is only because we don't relate to the the "other".

I am not a psychologist and I may misunderstand the psychological basis of feeling guilt but I understand that when we commit or think of committing an injury, to others or the society to which we relate, to not experience any guilt is defined as a form or tendancy to sociopathy or psychopathy. Even the wonderfully descriptive experience of schadenfruede should give rise,I think, upon critical reflection, some experience of guilt.

A Darwinian might argue that guilt is a driver for altruism - doing something against, i.e. harmful, to one's species or off-spring creates a "bad feeling" that we might term guilt or remorse (?are these the same?). If this driver is strong enough the individual takes on this "suffering" in order to better the off-spring or species. This altruism is predominantly seen as positive and is given terms like sacrifice, heroism, saint etc.

Do I feel guilt personally? Yes I do. Why?... I am poor at self-anlaysis as my attempts at this always become too self-referential however - I can think of times, as an individual or as part of my society, that I have been part of an injustice or hurt and done nothing, or worse still contributed in some way, usually through ignorance or self-interest. My understanding of myself in these situations generates an unpleasant experience I term guilt. Now how it is argued how this comes about I am not sure, but the areas I mentioned previously do give me some insight.

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Mike Ward
14 May 2011

Auston, can you cite any examples when you personally acted and continued to act in the full knowledge that you would afterwards feel guilt but that was an acceptable outcome - a sort of utilitarian process?

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Auston
14 May 2011

Hi Mike- Thank you for this - I have many examples where I have justified my situation later, in a utilitarian way, thereby reducing feelings of guilt. Possibly retrospective falsification, but that's part of the human condition. :-)

Here is one example I can think of that is clear in my memory. It never sits quite right but I can live with it. As a Clinical Manager I once had the unenviable situation of dealing with a aging employee who no longer practiced in a safe clinical manner. He was unable to be trained or helped to the minimum level and there was no other positions he could take. His job was his whole life, sense of self, and his proud standing in the community rested upon his role. He was only about 12 months from retirement yet could not be supported to continue treating patients. As a manager my horrible task was to terminate his employment. Instead I counselled him (off record)to take leave and when that ran out to continue on sick leave for the remainder of his time. I felt guilt in that I was undermining my ethic and the requirement of the position of being honest and fair with all my staff and the community I represented. I knew I would not have applied this solution to a younger person with maybe 2 or 3 years left to retirement. So this was the guilt I could live with as opposed to the emotional destruction I would have caused this fellow and his family. I guess this is utilitarian isn't it? I have rationalised largely by saying that 35 years of community service deserves more than a termination letter and a "sorry tough luck".

I had a thought about the distinction between guilt and remorse I mentioned previously - I think guilt possibly is the more passive affect whereas remorse is the more active. We can feel guilt as that niggling/dis-ease before it is mentally crystallised whereas remorse only arises when critical reflection has taken place and a deire or need to correct or rationalise the situation is in place. Guilt - unexamined. Remorse - examined.

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Rachel Browne
14 May 2011

I think Auston is right. Guilt seems to be a rather trivial feeling, whereas remorse is coming to realise the full extent of what you have done and involves blaming yourself. You can feel guilty for stealing a paper-clip or something. Remorse is surely deeper. So, Tony, yes I'd have thought guilt can be reduced to an instinct, but what is a Kantian a priori instinct????? Let me know! Oh, and Tony, no I did not mean when I said we did what we had to do at the time in a deterministic sense, but a psychological one. It seems rather a big leap for Sartre to go from claiming that shame and guilt arise from our awareness of the other to the whole self does. Unless the self is in some way defined by shame and guilt. Perhaps you could let me know about this? Do we have to go along with Sartre or Descartes? Aren't there any other options? Shouldn't they be combined? The self in relation to the other as well as the self that could continue if all others are suddenly destroyed? On moral capacity, just ask Hubertus! He'll come up with Nazi's in a second. Of course you can behave unjustly without realising it! Moral behaviour is a normal functional capacity. At the extreme end of dysfunction is the psychopath. By the way, just because I don't feel guilt I'm not a psychopath!

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Rachel Browne
14 May 2011

Ooops sorry. As a continental Sartre would START with the self defined by others and then proceed to guilt and shame is too. I apologise for my not bothering with paragraphs, but this is a mere formality.

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Mike Ward
14 May 2011

Auston, thanks for this, I like hard examples as they really distill down some of the issues in human terms, as I interpret what you describe:

There was a significant chance that patients would be harmed Your role was to prevent known or probable harm occurring You felt some empathy with the likely consequences to him of removing him You chose to keep paying his salary at someones elses expense by knowingly allowing false sickness payments You treated him differentially due to personal reasons You would feel guilty if you dismissed him You would feel guilty if you let him carry on in practice

In this example you do seem to be your brothers keeper which placed you in a no win situation. There seems to me to varying types/levels of guilt but all unavoidable unless the precepts are changed. I assume that opposing this guilt there were degrees of satisfaction at the outcome that more than compensated?

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Tony Fahey
15 May 2011
Oops! I'm sorry too Rachel: when I wondered if guilt might be some 'kind of kantian a priori instinct or imperative', I meant, of course, to use the term 'intuition' rather than 'instinct. I should explain that I had the term einstincti in mind because I was thinking at the time that there may be something to be said for Auston's suggestion that a Darwinian might see guilt as a driver for altruism, and thought that if this were the case, it could be argued that nature, or natural selection, has furnished the mind/brain with the capacity to feel or sense guilt instinctively, and that it is this instinct for guilt that is the driving force for altruism.

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hubertus fremerey
15 May 2011

#200 (I start a numbering here, please everybody add up one counter per posting for quick reference) Now on guilt etc. another opinion : Since we are speaking of guilt, we should keep it separated from remorse and shame alike. Sociologists and social psychologists speak of the "internalized other". Feelings of shame can be strong, while they need not be connected to feelings of guilt, f.i. being watched naked.

On the other hand we may feel strong remorse and shame without any normal person involved save "God". Luther was obsessed with guilt and shame in face of God, while Mike and Rachel would call God a mere fiction.

But God - like society - may be "the internalized other" again : God as a sort of projected conscience and "overfather" in the Freudian sense. So "God is looking on frowning" or "the 'over-id' is looking on and frowning."

In the sense of personalism (Buber, Levinas e.a.) feeling shame and remorse and guilt is essential for meaningful interpersonal relations and fundamental to social relations anyway as a sort of cement without which society would fall apart and become impossible. Mutual respect (re-spicere) and shame are similar social feelings. How else would we feel mutual obligations ? How else would we feel any form of mutuality as in pity and consoling and counseling and other feelings that tell us to be "mutually obliged and connected and deserving" etc. ?

The whole fabric of society would break down to rubble without feelings of shame and guilt.

One could go even a step furth and claim that modernity, the modern state and modern society, is impossible without the historical transition of Reformation - of this obsession with guilt and shame in Luther and Calvin and the Jesuit's "soul-searching". To establish a liberal society you have to have strong mutual feelings of obligation and thus likewise strong feelings of shame and remorse supporting these feelings of obligations.

@Geoffrey : If possible we should have a numbering for quick reference. Perhaps automatically, but if not then everybody should put a current number before her/his posting ?

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Geoffrey Klempner
15 May 2011

Sorry, the PHP script doesn't handle anything as complicated as numbering.

It's an interesting exercise in practical politics to see why even the best suggestions won't be taken up by everybody. Number your posts if you like, or not. It makes no difference ;-)

My suggestion is, if you want to refer to another post, just quote a snippet. (Remember to use quotation marks.)

I have also been asked why the posts have to go 'backwards', and also why the writing has to be green:

1. You wouldn't want the posts to go forwards because then you'd have to go to the bottom of the page (which page?) to find the latest post.

2. I can make the writing any colour, but green is traditional. The first computer monitors (long before Mac or Windows) were green on black. The screenshot from 'Matrix Reloaded' (Trinity's sshnuke exploit) on the Pathways front page is green on black. It's the colour of UNIX.

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Mike Ward
15 May 2011

Hubertus, thanks but no thanks for the request but I don't plan on numbering postings - maybe keeping them shorter to one or two para's and more succinct and just making one point would aid following a thread.

I have to admit finding the over complication of simple ideas totally unnecessary, I mean what's complicated about the idea that when Lutherans are feeling guilt then know they have been enjoying themselves?

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Rachel Browne
15 May 2011

Tony, I'd have thought empathy and sympathy were sufficient for altruism. Involving guilt too seems like over-determination. Does Darwinian thinking give rise to over-determination in other areas? Could this amount to an argument against it? As instinct goes, my instinct is against Darwinianism. It doesn't seem to account for more recent chaos theory and randomness. Can these things be incorporated? And, Geoffrey, why can't we have pink writing? The ISFP is male dominated and pink would balance things out.

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Hubertus Fremerey
15 May 2011

so this is - after Geoffrey (#201) and Mike (#202) - posting #203. Why not ? It's really simple ! When we arrive (hopefully) at posting #7683 you will be very very happy to have numbers to refer to !

And Mike on your "what's complicated about the idea that when Lutherans are feeling guilt then know they have been enjoying themselves?" : It is naive and totally unhistorical. To claim that Protestant and Jesuit concerns with conscience in the view of God is one aspect of the "Weber-thesis" stating a relation between "the spirit of Capitalism and the ethics of Protestantism". Some German philosopher (Hoeffe) wrote a book (I did not read it) on "Moral als Preis der Moderne" ("Morality as a price to be paid for modernity"), meaning that without allpervading feelings of guilt and moral obligations the modern individual would not have become possible. To think that modern individualism is "natural" must be called naive, since otherwise individualism should be natural in non-western cultures of the world too, which is not the case. Traditionally people feel obliged to their clans and tribes and families, even nations or confessions, but not to "humankind". "The general individual" is a creation of modernity. "Conscience" is more or less a Jewish-Christian invention, unknown to most of Antiquity and all of Asia. They all lacked the model of the "overfather" who is looking into your heart.

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Hubertus Fremerey
15 May 2011

#203a A note added

Why do people feel obliged to the family or friends or the clan or tribe ? This is necessary to establish social relations and mutual support. Well, feeling morally ashamed is a complicated matter, but generally we feel more obliged to relatives than to foreigners. The idea of "common brotherhood of all humans" is first Stoic from around 200 BC and then very Christian and only from this became "modern" and "socialist" ("solidarity").

The "natural reach" of social responsibility is about 150 individuals - the typical maximal number of members of a group of apes or of a village of humans. This is a number where the personalities could know each other by name and heart.

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Tony Fahey
15 May 2011

Rachel, Whilst I find your views interesting, I hope you will allow me to respond by outlining a little of what I picked up on the issue of randomness, altruism and Darwinism for a paper I presented some time ago.

Let me begin by apologising in advance for the length of this post, but I couldn't think of a shorter way of presenting it.

According to Darwin, as random genetic mutations occur within an organismis genetic code, beneficial mutations are preserved and inherited by the next generation. This process is called enatural selectioni.

Natural selection, then, acts to preserve and accumulate advantageous genetic mutations. For example, if a member of a species were to develop a functional advantage its offspring would inherit that advantage, which in turn it would pass on to its offspring.

In short, natural selection is the preservation of a functional advantage that enables a species to compete more effectively in a complex and seemingly chaotic world.

One of the arguments against natural selection was that since it was only a theory it might contain gaps for which there was no factual evidence. However, the discovery of the double helical structure of DNA by James Watson and Francis Crick in 1953, and for which, along with Maurice Wilkins they were awarded Nobel Prize in 1962, led to the definitive verification of the principle advanced by Darwin almost one hundred years before.

The edouble helixi structure of DNA consists of two interlinked spirals of biochemical units called nucleotides (hence the name).

There are four nucleotides, known by their initial letters G, A, C and T. In a molecular model of DNA, they resemble a twisted stepladder. Now, all living creatures have the same genetic code. This code translates the sequence of DNA nucleotides into amino acids, the corresponding building blocks of proteins.

Random mutations in DNA, together with the genetic mixing that takes place through sexual reproduction, make possible the variations that drive evolution.

Regarding altruism: a particular faculty of the evolutionary process is what evolutionary biologists call reciprocal altruism. This faculty has its roots in what scientists call biological altruism. At base, then, there is biological altruism. That is, it is found that an organism may behave altruistically when its behaviour benefits other organisms.

Now it seems that there are selfish genes and altruistic genes. While selfish genes can, on a one versus one basis, destroy an altruistic gene, where two or more altruistic genes come together, they will gain dominance over a selfish gene. Without going into scientific detail, this process is found to run through different species: there is biological altruism (as shown above), kin altruism which runs through the animal kingdom, and reciprocal altruism which is more evident in humans.

This predisposition manifests more recognisably in family or group solidarity, but can extend on a wider scale, particularly where there exists some form of empathy with these other individuals, groups, societies etc. It is held that a society where the majority of people are genetically predisposed to be altruistic will exhibit more caring tendencies, even to the extent that one may be prepared to sacrifice one's life so that the group will survive - it is said that this tendency is also evident at biological and kin altruistic level.

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Mike Ward
15 May 2011

Tony/Rachel, I would like to add some additional information on the DNA picture. In addition to the inherited genetic aspect it also appears that events during the life of the individual (pre-parenting) can change what was inherited so what was thought of just a "nature" mechanism includes also a measure of "nurture".

Not only that but what was alleged as "junk" DNA cannot now be discarded as unused. Change can also be shown to be punctuated rendering any absence of intermediate stages and thus they are not missing but never existed, randomness may be better represented as switches being thrown rather than just changes in base pairs.

Allegedly we share 90% of DNA material with chimps and about 60% with jellyfish - philosophically what does this mean :-)

Whilst visiting a prof at Cardiff Uni a couple of years ago I was introduced to the work on implanting jellyfish glow-the-dark genes into humans to aid cancer treatment. Uncoding the DNA is nothing like the enigma machines but must be including lots of "what if" and "if then" instructions - fascinating stuff!

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Mike Ward
15 May 2011

Hubertus, can I conclude from your east/west argument that we humans are diverging into two species along moral/immoral lines? I have to admit I have thought of a divide like this for some time but along religious lines though as atheists are fundamentally immoral as understood by theists - it could be one and the same perception.

If we compare societies as groups of individuals (West) versus societies like the "hive" (East) then guilt becomes two very different things. Can an individual feel guilt, I would argue instantly yes, but can a society feel guilt then I find it much more difficult to say yes so easily. There is a difference here.

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Hubertus Fremerey
16 May 2011

#206

Mike, modernization is a very complex process. I never suggested that Eastern societies are "hives". They are as individualistic as we, but they are not used to refer to the "internalized other" in all human beings since there is no "overfather" and no religion to justify that. To be modern means to be self-reliant, not depending on family and clan and tribe.

In this respect the modern atheist is not different from the modern theist. The atheist grew up in a world already dependent on self-reliance.

As I wrote in a different context, modern science is provably derived from Christian theology. In the same way modern self-reliance is provably derived from Christian "guilt-culture" in the sin-grace context. But modern scientists do not know of this and modern atheists do not either. They both use to think - naively - that their way of thinking is "natural". But it is not.

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Auston
16 May 2011

Rachel posted a challenging idea about Sympathy and Empathy and guilt. Another big concept that makes me think about how we might be better humans. I think that both Sympathy and Empathy require a degree of reflexive thinking. That is they can only occur after you recognise and engage the other in a more formal way. Doesn't the experience of Guilt start before this as the "intuitive" or "imprinted" feeling that this is not feeling "right". (Can't get my head around whether it is a priori or not - it is argued we have genetic "memory").

Empathy is putting yourself in the other's position in a rather ego-less way - this requires thought and reflection, concern and active involvement for the other's situation/journey - this is very high-order humanity and would be a wonderful thing if we all had this all the time. If it was the norm that informed all our actions towards and others then perhaps we wouldn't experience guilt? Well at least regarding others - we would still have self to deal with ;-).

Sympathy - just to tidy up my thinking on this, is a common way to create psychological and emotional distancing through being self centred (the process with the other is about one's self) - while this is a lower order emotional and cognitive process (and requires less effort) than empathising it still requires a degree of reflective cognition to emerge. I don't think sympathy is not a cure for guilt - sympathy could go hand-in-hand with guilt if my definition is accepted.

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Auston
16 May 2011

Cultural Divergence - This board moves at light speed for me - every thought is a thesis. I struggle with the huge thoughts you all are putting out there. Great posts and very stimulating. There is too much below for me to comment on but one of things that jumps out are the comments about divergence of our species. I am not being very philosophical and the following is more background but I would value any ideas you have.

I am aware of the general anthropological groupings of collective and individualistic societies. Sucking eggs here but some of the main collective groups are India, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Philippines, Indonesia, Japan, Middle East, and of course mother China. Well that makes more than 50% of the world's population! The countries that are at the other end of this spectrum are US, UK, Australia etc. Anthropologists argue, surprisingly, that France is more aligned with the collective than the individualistic groups. I live in the Middle East (whatever that is) and continually have my beliefs and thinking shaken over this divergence or spectrum. Even in this modern era I continually question how this will go over time. Huge technological impacts through electronic media may swing the balance - but I am not so sure. I am fascinated by the ideas you have raised around reformation and enlightenment and moral development. I tried using Kohlberg's stages of moral development locally to gain some insight and it seems to really pull up short in collective societies (written by someone from an individualistic society).

I will post, at a later date, a question for your quick minds around the evolution of our species - bit off topic for now.

@Geoffrey - I do like the green it reminds me this is all 1's and 0's :-)

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Hubertus Fremerey
16 May 2011

#209

I tend to avoid concepts and keep to the facts. The hangman and killer may feel some sympathy and even empathy for the victim, but won't stop killing him. Things are not that simple.

On the other hand the suicide bomber who blasts a bomb in a bus full of children will be completely without empathy and even without feelings of guilt or remorse. Thus to know what is going on in the suicide bomber may be of greater concern than what is going on in the "empathizer".

And it is said that in East-Asia, where no personal god is looking into you heart, a culture of shame is predominant instead of a culture of remorse : It's "the family" and not "god" who is looking at you. But this does not mean that people do not feel guilt. Shame and remorse are different forms of feeling guilt.

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Auston
16 May 2011

Is it correct that a concept is a generalisation?

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Ochieng Ombok
16 May 2011

Mike Ward 13 May 2011: "does an unaccomplished one[leopard]just starve to death?".

Yes. In the jungle life where the leopard lives, survival is for the fittest. The unaccomplished ones were naturally selected out of existence and died long before we started appreciating the leopard as a "calculating" hunter.

Firing of brain cells, potential across synapses and all that apply to the leopard the very same way it applies to humans.

If you need seven oranges, and you already have three in the basket, your brain cells will fire and the potential across your synapses will change as required, then you will silently pick another three oranges and throw then into your basket to make seven. No writing, No communication, but the math is done. That is what the leopard does!

Rachel Brown 13 May 2011:"They wouldn't pass an exam" Really? They may not pass the exam if you require them to sit in a room quietly and write on paper. But remember Paul the octopus during the 2010 world cup. He could not write the exam on paper, so a more appropriate setting of the questions was designed.Summa Cum Laude!

The main difference between the leopard and a schooled person is that a schooled person is trained to exploit the dexterity of the hands to communicate through written symbols whose meanings are laid down by authority.But what is communicated is already accomplished in the brain and can be applied by the thinker [mathematician in this case] without bothering to communicate it to anyone. This is the level at which the leopard operates.

Toney Fahey 13 May 2011 recommends Thomas Nagel's problem of qualia which is very material to this discussion. It helps us to realise that we can not be 100% sure of what goes on in the brains [minds if you may] of other animals.But we can observe the way their "thoughts or calculations" are manifested in their activities. We should not say an entity without a brain does not think before we prove that the brain is the only organ capable of generating thought!

Hubertus Fremery 15 May 2011:"The whole fabric of society would break to rubble without feelings of shame and guilt" and 16 May 2011: "In East-Asia,...a culture of shame is predominant instead of a culture of remorse" Re-intergrative shaming is a process of healing which involves the amplification of the feeling of guilt. Remorse follows after acceptance and owning of the wrongdoing by the subject and the understanding of the prejudice involved. So remorse comes after guilt.The wrongdoer is re-integrated into the society to mend the punctured fabric.

Concepts like sympathy, empathy, remorse, shame and guilt have been mentioned in the discussion. But what is on the other side of guilt? If someone wrongs you and is feeling guilty about it, what do you feel? Or what are you supposed to feel?

If I wronged Rachel Brown and I was feeling guilty about it, I would very much want to know what Rachel Brown is feeling? That is, what one gets when guilt is turned inside out.

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Hubertus Fremerey
16 May 2011

#211

no, because quite often a concept is an invention or misleading and not generalizing. What is "class struggle" generalizing if there is no such thing as class struggle ? What is generalized by "liberty" or "justice" or "sin" ?

Thus only in some cases a concept is a generalization, most often it is a guiding idea or a sign-post or a claim that has to be explained and justified by a theory or something else.

And a concept is different from a mere name. The concept "horse" is not the single animal. The set is not the member of the set. As shown above, concepts can be "void but impressive" like balloons.

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Hubertus Fremerey
16 May 2011

#211

@Ochieng : The difference between the leopard and the mathematician is : The leopard is adapted, there is no theory. The "wisdom of his body" cannot be generalized save by human engineers who understand the math an physics behind the behaviour. The scientist understands the principle, nature does not. Thus nature can "build" animals of 30 m lenght, but humans can build ships of more than 300 m length. Nature can build trees of 100 m height, but humans can build buildings of 1000 m height and more. Etc..

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Auston
16 May 2011

Re concepts - I can't see that because something is misleading or a fabrication that it is different from a generalisation. Generalisations are often exactly the same - they don't have an inherent rightness or validity - we see this everyday in media and medicine and our lives. Even if I tighten the definition when talking about generalisation as it relates to inductive reasoning it can still be absolutely misleading.

Hubertus you mention you are only interested in "facts". This caught me imagination (sorry not particularly factually based usually) and raised these questions for me. Are "facts" of any use without the framework / guiding principle of a concept (I think "theory" is a synonym here). Are facts and concepts actually interdependent to have any real use, or useful meaning. Does a sound concept rely on facts to drive it. Is a "fact" with nothing else only of passing interest unless it relates elsewhere.

"facts" (as I read them here) by definition have to be logically valid and sound but does this give them any real weight unless they are in a proper framework.

The way my mind prefers to work makes me ask: Is a key Philosophical process, to build and explore concepts applying facts as best one can to either support or deny the concept. This also raises the idea that a seemingly grouped set of facts may give rise to thinking about what if, or what about etc. And through this a theory may develop for further exploration.

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Ochieng Ombok
16 May 2011

@Fremery:"The leopard is adapted, there is no theory"

This idea is solipsist. Isn't it true that humans are also adapted in many ways through socialisation? That there is no theory can not be proven, but is a comfortable pedestal for humans to operate from.

The terms you use tend to separate humans from "others" in a certain way. Maybe we are glorifying our methods too much without appraising what they represent.

Simply because the human engineer understands the math and physics behind the behaviour of a leopard does not mean that a leopard does not understand the same! It is through structured communication that we got to know that human engineers understand all this. How much structured communication have we ever had with a leopard?

Fremery 16 May 2011 "The scientist understands the principle, nature does not". So you say.

Necessity is the mother of invention. Human engineers understand the math that is relevant to machines that are relevant to humans.They may appear superior until they are compared to UFO engineering, whose concepts are not yet understood by human engineers, and yet are designed by non-human aliens who could be animals[leopards]in our understanding.

It is a comfortable, but erroneos position, that "nature does not understand the principle, but the scientist does".Isn't humanity part of nature? And if the scientist is human, isn't the scientist also part of nature? If the scientist understands the principle, and the scientist is part of nature, then nature understands the principle through a part of itself, namely the scientist!

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Ochieng Ombok
16 May 2011

Auston 16 May 2011:"Is it correct that a concept is a generalisation?"

I think the word concept has gathered a lot of connotations that it may be used at many different levels of integration. It could be a generalization or particular depending on what is being discussed.It could be a guiding arrangement or principle, a prima facie understanding, a physical object or even an abstract formulation.

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Rachel Brown
16 May 2011

Tony, that is so scientific that I can't possibly understand it. Did you see the latest issue of Philosophy Now on Darwinism and how it is just a theory so not factually true and that Darwin didn't know about genes or DNA, so the whole evolution idea is out of his guidance, and is now science or hypothesis at its weakest. OK, so you say it follows Darwins principle I do understand about genetic mixing through reproduction but why is this "evolution"? Evolution is supposed to occur over thousands of years. I wonder if you could explain more simply how Crick's analysis of the structure of DNA can lead into the wider picture of selfishness and altruism? How do "hard-wired" descriptions and mirror neurons fit in here? Is the latter the same as biological altruism? Why is it a group thing? What about sympathy towards to people who are culturally different? Or animals? Is this explained by 90% shared DNA? What about hatred of other animals then though? My husband hates goats but has no objection to sheep. I'm sorry about this! I'm just trying to get a picture and you might be able to provide one.

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Auston
17 May 2011

Re Darwinian theory - Well called Rachel it is theory - this is true of all scientific enquiry - it is all theory. This is what is called the scientific method (which by the way is a theory). This is the basis of all our current science. Start with a null hypothesis and then work to that to either prove or disprove then reformulate or modify the theory, or discard the theory and move on. Darwinianism was never "fact" (though some would like to think so) - it is a group of observed/apparent facts that fits best the proposed theory - A theory which is still the most widely accepted one.

Newtonian physics, Chaos theory, quantum mechanics, string theory, medical science, computer science - you name it, it is all theory. Some theories fit better and are more usable at that time in history so tend to gain more credence. Game theory is a classic example - it had little or no use for decades (wallowing in text books as a mathematical footnote) until John Nash came along - now it is part of the basis for world economic theory.

Theories are there to be disproven - this is their reason for being. For example a current theory is that sentient life can develop from a silicon base and does not have to be carbon based - there are facts that fit this theory and it is waiting to be disproven

I believe good philosophical enquiry is the same - it should be raised, not as some personal precious idea, but with the hope that all attempts will be made to disprove it.

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Tony Fahey
17 May 2011
Rachel, let me begin by saying that although I have an interest in science, I am not a scientist n my background is Literature and Philosophy, with an emphasis on Philosophy which I have studied, and later taught, for nigh on 50 years. As a philosopher, I would say that I am something of a Popperian. As you most likely know, for Popper, the crucial concept in scientific explanation is not verification but falsification, and that scientific theory must be prepared to expose itself to the risk of falsification. For Popper then, the ecertaintiesi of science can never be taken as guarantees of unalterable truths. For me, the same applies to philosophical ecertaintiesi. That being said, until oneis philosophical or scientific stance can be falsified, I suppose, whilst keeping an open mind, one can only work with what one has. It is for this reason that I do not believe that one can hold strong religious views, either as an atheist, or as a theist or deist, and be a true lover of wisdom. Without taking up too much space here with an explanation of Crickis work on DNA (if you have not already read it), can I refer you chapter 26 (pp 480-501) of Bill Brysonis A Short History of Nearly Everything (indeed the book itself is a wonderful introduction for the lay person to the world of science n as too is Stephen Hawkingis A Brief History of Time, although this is a bit more complicated). With relation to the view that Darwinis theory of evolution is just that; ea theoryi, without being pedantic, can I say that the term etheoryi is probably the most misunderstood term in science. People who find it impossible to believe in concepts such as the theory of relativity or evolution by natural selection will argue that eit is only a theoryi, not realizing that, in science, the term for an unproven theory is a hypothesis. A theory is an idea that was once a hypothesis, but has been tested by experiment and observation and shown to be valid. As Popper says, but a theory can never be said to be true, only as valid whilst being left open to the law of falsification. I can say too that, in that since I have a dislike of dogs in general but love horses, I can understand your husbandis dislike of goatis whilst being indifferent to sheep. That being said, I am not ashamed to say that when our family pet dog was being eput downi I did shed more than a tear. I should confess too, that although I have sympathy, and indeed can empathise with the suffering of animals, I am not a vegetarian.

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Hubertus Fremerey
17 May 2011

#218

http://www.mercatornet.com/articles/view/have_we_evolved_to_argue/

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Hubertus Fremerey
17 May 2011

#218a

http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2011/05/10/1008636108.abstract?sid=1baaf087-335e-49e9-8bcb-7bde4cbd8bdf

of course I have something to add to both links, but for the moment I leave it at that. CU later

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Rachel Browne
17 May 2011

Dear Tony and Auston Thanks for that. So evolution is probably a theory, but mirror neurons perhaps not one yet, even though the chap who champions them seems convinced. I didn't actually think evolution was a fact! Just thinking of goats and sheep because mirror neurons underly empathy and sympathy, and if you can have sympathy for sheep, you surely should be able to have sympathy for goats. There's hardly any difference between them as animals except for a difference in look. But in some countries it is difficult to distinguish sheep from goats. So this seems very odd. Dogs and horse aren't the same at all though. This is more understandable than my husband and goats. Oh, well, I have two much adored dogs, I'm a vegetarian and total atheist. I know it can't be born out that there is no God or that there is, as this isn't science. But just because it isn't science why should Popperian testing apply?

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Tony Fahey
17 May 2011
Hubertus, enjoyed the first link, but didn't think the second added anything to it. I am looking forward to reading your follow up on them.

The posts on these links bring to mind the conflicting views held between those who see discourse in a Foucaultian [can one say that?]light and those who see it as a debate held between two parties with a view to coming to some common agreement or consensus. Whilst the latter dialectic approach may be defined as 'the art of logical argument', unlike Foucault's concept of discourse, it is not concerned with one gaining power over the other, but is a genuine search for truth between two interested parties.

Re my last post, don't know what happened to the paragraphs; it seemed to come out as one long rant rather than the structered way I had set it.

I must say, I really am enjoying the exchanges going on here - let's hope they remain civilised.

·•·

Tony Fahey
17 May 2011
Hubertus, enjoyed the first link, but didn't think the second added anything to it. I am looking forward to reading your follow up on them.

The posts on these links bring to mind the conflicting views held between those who see discourse in a Foucaultian [can one say that?]light and those who see it as a debate held between two parties with a view to coming to some common agreement or consensus. Whilst the latter dialectic approach may be defined as 'the art of logical argument', unlike Foucault's concept of discourse, it is not concerned with one gaining power over the other, but is a genuine search for truth between two interested parties.

Re my last post, don't know what happened to the paragraphs; it seemed to come out as one long rant rather than the structered way I had set it.

I must say, I really am enjoying the exchanges going on here - let's hope they remain civilised.

·•·

Mike Ward
17 May 2011

Ochieng you wrote: "If the scientist understands the principle, and the scientist is part of nature, then nature understands the principle through a part of itself, namely the scientist!"

So how do you know all this? To me you seem to have elevated a simple (relatively) process into some kind of sentient force a lot like deities along the lines of "mother nature". Giving it all sorts of anthropomorphic qualities which can by extension equally apply to inanimate material.

I'm curious on what you think stands outside of nature?

·•·

Mike Ward
17 May 2011

Auston you wrote: "Well called Rachel it is theory - this is true of all scientific enquiry - it is all theory." Well I tend to agree with you but I would like to know how you separate fact from theory if in fact that is what you do - are they not indivisible?

Not being someone who supports conspiracies preferring the simplest best fit explanation (like evolution) I reckon if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck chances are it is a duck - how do you know any more than me on this, and if you don't is it just my 99% satisfaction versus say your 50% satisfaction.

·•·

Rachel Browne
17 May 2011

Just to be informative about who people are: Mike and Hubertus were on the previous conference. We stayed in touch. For years! We are friends, but cut into one another a lot. So I think this conference will remain civilised. I believe, Tony, that you are a Pathways mentor. Me too, but I only do philosophy of mind which is why I'm worrying about all this science. Selena is a Pathways student and I guess the others are too. Anyone else want to own up to who they are?

·•·

Ochieng Ombok
18 May 2011

Mike Ward 17 May 2011: "I'm curious on what you think stands outside of nature?"

Mike Ward I do not know all this. I am debating. I am debating from here now to wherever the line of reasoning will lead. I am not trying to conform to any known "truths" neither do I want to direct my argument or the debate to a certain position. I will not steer my debate away from deity or to include deity. If deity appears to be a necessary implication of my argument,so be it, and the debate continues.

When it comes to thinking what might stand outside nature , I feel incapacitated. For the big bang theorists, what stands outside nature may be what, before the bang, occupied that position that the iniverse started expanding into immediately after the bang.

Personally, I still find it safe and convenient to assume that All is contained within nature.

·•·

Ochieng Ombok
18 May 2011

Adebayo O. Anthony 11 May 2011: "How do we know other minds? Suppose I claim to know that P, and P is known in realtion to X, where P is the physical state of my cognition and X is the object of my knowing that P. How do one communicate such knowledge to other minds?"

Adebayo, your question is very complicated. Please simplify the question by eliminating p and x.

But I think you are addressing the problem of qualia.

·•·

Geoffrey Klempner
18 May 2011

Just a quick note:

I want to emphasize that we are all equals here. Pathways students who have just started their program are as welcome to express their views as those of us who have been around for years.

For the record: Tony Fahey recently joined the Board of the International Society for Philosophers but is not currently a Pathways mentor. Hubertus and Rachel are also members of the Board. Although Hubertus is not a Pathways mentor, he has over the years contributed many answers to Ask a Philosopher.

When making posts, please feel free to use your first name or your full name, whichever you feel most comfortable with.

·•·

Tony Fahey
18 May 2011

I would just like to echo Geoffrey's remark that we are all equals here. The reason I was attracted to ISFP in the first place is that its mission statement pretty well represents my own position on philosophy. It seems to me that Philosophy should never be considered to be the privilege of the few: the professional over the amateur. In fact, as an avid reader, I often find that there is more philosophy in fiction than there is in many of the philosophical works that I have read over the years.

Rachel, I respect and understand your philosophical stance. My claim that I am 'something of a Popperian' simply reflects my view that I have found, on more than one occasion over the years, that I have been forced to revisit, review, reappraise, and amend my own philosophical views - and I fully accept that this will remain the case in the future. As Aristotle might say, it cannot be said that one has achieved eudomania until after one's demise, and even then, depending on what may arise from one's past, this cannot be guaranteed.

As I say in an earlier posting, one can only work with what one has, and continue one's pursuit of wisdom and truth with an open mind and a good heart.Perhaps one could say that it is not the destination that is important, but how the journey is made. With that in mind, I rather like a saying they have in Italy: 'chi va piano, va lontano e sano': 'who goes slowly, goes far and travels well' (safely).

·•·

Auston
18 May 2011

Re introduction - I have only just realised this is a fairly small active group hence me launching into it in an anonymous way intitially. I am here as a newbie being mentored through pathways and enrolled at UcL. Live and work in the UAE. Love surfing, mountain biking, reading, contemplation and chilling. Interested in thoughts, ideas and arguments hence me arriving at the study of philosophy - The area that I follow with great passion is around the Human Condition(no I don't have a definition)?

I am excited by ideas and unless you abuse me or swear at me I won't take any feedback or argument personally. Love the posts so far. ty.

·•·

Auston
18 May 2011

Mike - you ask good questions - What are facts - On the fly I am not totally clear on this however it is definitely another definitional problem to start with. We have the facts that people talk about in terms of the best accepted "thing" (not necessarily a theory) that can't be disproven i.e. it is testable and can stand against all known tests to date. A fact in science is the objectively observed - empirical fact (this is falling apart in the areas of quantum and string theory). Then we have absolute facts such as "2+2=4" or "in this universe and under x conditions light speed is defined as a constant of x speed".

I think facts are often very muddy as the facts of yesterday are often the jokes of today - Also we take many facts as absolute when they are not e.g. applied measurement is seen as fact however it can only ever be an approximation - measuremnet as fact can only occur in abstract or pure terms. Facts and theories are often confused but I think there is good reason for this - many facts are muddy and are "ex-theories" that is they can not be disproven and tend to be moved via some unspoken consensus to absolute fact (some sort of fallacy I suspect). As I remember in science a theory can only ever be a theory because by definition it is only supportable to the tests it has thus far withstood. The next test may disprove it. In more formal argument we need to agree on the "fact" as it is defined and then it has meaning in that argument.

I would like to hear your thoughts on this too.

·•·

Ochieng Ombok
18 May 2011

Hubertus Fremerey 17 May 2011: http://www.mercatornet.com/articles/view/have_we_evolved_to_argue/

I have gone through this site and it has generated a small idea . I think philosophers lost their position when they got into the same comfort zone they had created for others, and began to "Zero Philosophize" inside there: that is, to debate issues that are already "in the book" without ever attempting to cross over the boundaries. What the sciences have achieved today was facilitated by earlier philosophical thought by philosophers who did not allow themselves to be limited by any earlier positions.

Today's philosophers have been trying to discover new lands inside their own compounds. This has rendered them irrelevant to those who are in the compound. To be relevant again, the philosopher must be brave enough to chart untravelled land. Get out and get lost!

We have one of the best platforms for debate, but the whole debate seems to revolve around a few participants, and some contributions that do not seem to conform to "accepted literature" is either shut down in the next posting or ignored altogether! That is why the philosopher will remain comfortable, but irrelevant to the rest of the world. The philosopher today is in dire need of being accepted, but to remain relevant as a philosopher, one must be brave enough to become iconoclaste in society.

The best thinking is triggered by taking some time to think about the meaningless and meaninglessness, the impossible and impossibility, the stupid and stupidity. Koans have helped in Zen Buddhism to gain deep understanding and enlightenment. Think of bladeless knives without handles, think of the sound of one hand clapping. Say something about it before dismissing it as useless or uselessness without much thought!

I have noted that whenever the discussion is about to gain the depth that is actually a prerequisite to entering new frontiers in thinking, somebody fills the posting with websites to support their preffered ideas and positions. This is how the debate loses its philosophical value and the philosopher remains irrelevant. The authors of those very websites are looking upon the philosopher to open new frontiers for them to write about, and then the debate leads them back to their own writings! What a waste of time and opportunity!

The debate is sometimes discursive and its depth wanting. It goes like gliding at sea on top of a wave, letting the wave pass and waiting for the next wave to come. This does not lead to the depth where koans can be generated, where new patterns of thought can be opened up for discussion. The debate needs to go into deep sea diving, under the wave until the debate gets to a point where "no one has ever reached" and sees something under the wave that no one has ever seen! Let the debate not rush back to websites, that is where the debate is coming from. That is home!You will not discover any new lands at home!

Finally, the debate reveals a great deal of anthropocentric ideas, supported and reinforced by solipsist positions.

·•·

Auston
18 May 2011

Re - Mike's Duck. I agree with you Mike. Personally I think Darwin's Evolutionary Theory is one of the most beautiful, succinct and elegant pieces of thinking I have ever read. I am only pointing out that to say it's a final, or best theory and that's that is not necessarily the best way to go. It leaves little room to move on.

Darwin's voyage on the Beagle and later Joseph Bank's voyage on Endeavour to Australia saw and described the Kangaroos there as huge rats - if you look at the early paintings they do not look like kangaroos but large rats (they couldn't perceive the animal). These guys said if it looks like a rat it is a... Well being clever folks they didn't think that for too long - after they shot a few and discovered they had pouches(not known to science). They allowed their preconceptions (pre-conceived ideas/theories) to be knocked over and looked for better explanations (a modified theory of mammals that involved marsupials). Then they found platypuses - mammals (marsupials) that lay eggs...and that's another story again.

·•·

Rachel Browne
18 May 2011

Ochieng I don't regard myself as a philosopher and I don't think Mike thinks of himself as one either. It's more of an interest/hobby type of thing. One problem of philosophy and conferences like generally is that people have different interests.

Philosophy is not obsolete in the philosophy of mind. If we let scientists tell us about mind, we would all be reductionists devoted to neuroscience.

·•·

Mike Ward
18 May 2011

To introduce myself, I possess an insatiable curiosity and profound disrespect of establishment views if they are not coherent. Belief is little more than a wish list of how one wants the world to be ordered. Everything is up for challenge and needs fresh justification.

I choose not to be indoctrinated by following particular academic structures preferring to follow lines of personal interest leaving my mind unfettered by orthodox dogmas. For some time I have taken the role of a Martian anthropologist studying humanity from an external perspective - I could just as well have been a bat.

Those with fixed viewpoints probably don't consider themselves as equals, after all when you're right you don't need to do you?

Auston - on facts: Truth is something I equate to the correlation between my concept and what is "out there". The closer is gets by scientific validation the higher becomes it's probability of being true. Theories are human constructs anyway after all where was the pythagorian theorem before life on earth - surely not in a gods mind? You humans (I'm a Martian don't forget) are rather arrogant creatures still thinking they are central to everything in the universe instead of just a short lived anomaly in the entropy of the universe.

It's my own experience that people order their reality in the way they want it to be based upon their desires. Theories are temporary best fit ideas always on the verge of rejection as unfit in exactly the same way as evolution allows the unfit to die out.

·•·

Rachel Browne
18 May 2011

You are right Mike. We should introduce ourselves. It is polite to do this.

·•·

Tony Fahey
19 May 2011

Mike, what an intriguing concept n the human condition from the perspective of an extra-terrestrial. However, whilst I find your posting of the 18th May interesting, I would suggest that it is in need of some clarification. For example, when you say ebelief is little more than a wish list of how one wants the world to be orderedi, do you mean that philosophers should not aspire to a world that is ordered?

If thus is the case, it seems to me to be rather an unusual position to take. Even such radical thinkers as Nietzsche, Derrida, Foucault, and Lyotard did not go this far. That is, whilst they did advocate that egrand narrativesi should be abandoned, they did hold that each society should construct, what Lyotard called, its own epetit reciti:its own short term orderly system, designed by the community to meet the demands of the community.

Moreover, since they held that the rules that govern any society are not set in stone, when the system is no longer seen to serve the community, it argued that is time to revisit the system and amend it as needs demand at that particular time.

I should add that I find your view that eEverything thing is up for challenge and needs fresh justificationi is something of an unsubstantiated generalization. One cannot make a sweeping statement like that without offering some evidence to support it.

Whilst I realize that your remark about taking the role of a Martian anthropologist is tongue in cheek, it does infer that you place yourself in the category of those with fixed viewpoints to whom you refer in the subsequent paragraph. Moreover, to take the view that one can take such a dispassionate and detached view at such a remove (the Moon!), is to infer that one can successfully ebracket outi all that one has heretofore experienced. Should you achieve this goal, I applaud you.

I rather think that there is much to be said for Hans-Georg Gadameris argument that that the problem with the Enlightenment was that was prejudiced against prejudice. As he reminds us, the perspective of our horizon is always determined by the location from which it is viewed. Since your vantage point is the Moon, I look forward to hearing of some startling insights and revelations.

Rachel, can I suggest that you do yourself an injustice when you say you are not a philosopher. It seems to me that, from the contributions you are making to this debate, you are well deserving of this appellation.

·•·

Tony Fahey
19 May 2011

Mike, the realisation that I had placed you on the Moon, rather than Mars, almost spoiled my afternoon siesta. Mind you, given that the images from Earth take signicantly longer to reach Mars than our lunar neighbour, means that you will be studying earthlings, not as they are,but even further removed from the present than if they were on the Moon. Thus, making your endeavour even more of a challenge.

·•·

Auston
19 May 2011

Re Science and Reductionism. Rachel it sounds like you have a bit of an axe to grind with scientific method? - that's useful thinking - I believe it is good have a hack at every institution and way of thinking - a good approach I say. But to do this well I think we have to know the "enemy".

I am no great thinker but I read many things that I find repugnant or just plain stupid in order to try and understand - I sit through Mz Palin's diatribes and GW's "Waah on Terra" speeches in order to understand what they think and how they are... and crystal therapy mmmmmmm.

In this spirit I would recommend "Bright Air, Brilliant Fire: On The Matter Of The Mind" by Gerald Edelman - it's a journey to try and understand mind through biology, neuroscience, psychology, and evolution. A solid read (probably a little long) but it's worth the effort.

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Mike Ward
19 May 2011

Tony, to take your comments a little further.

Firstly, Let us make a small assumption that what existed prior to humanity in the cosmos still exists today. All you humans :-) try to do is place the deck chairs on your ship into some order that has meaning to you - it has no meaning to the universe because it's totally arbitrary and as the universe probably isn't sentient thus the whole concept of meaning is without meaning. This I take to be the null position from which you earthlings start to construct a private reality - a kind of human racial solipsism. What human philosophers aspire to is what they want to be the case.

Secondly, "everything is up for challenge" is based on the null position so how do I justify nothing?

Yes of course my being Martian is very much tongue in cheek as I fail both spectacularly and regularly but that really shouldn't stop us trying to step outside of our little cave into a bigger one - should it?

If I cannot 100% prove that you exist (and I can't) why isn't everything else up for grabs.

·•·

Hubertus Fremerey
19 May 2011

#241

@Tony : You are right, the link #218 had nothing to do with link #218a - and was not meant to.

On this thesis that debating is about winning the debate instead of gaining the truth : Those claims are not contradictory ! Socrates always won the debates and this was seen (at least be Plato and most followers) as "coming nearer to the truth than the other participants." This is a natural expectation if you assume that all arguers are of about the same intelligence. If they fail to convince the audience their arguments must be weaker than those of the winner, so logically the winner should be nearer to the truth. The other link was just for stimulating the debate.

·•·

Rachel Bowne
19 May 2011

Auston Thanks for that. I rate Edelman. I do have an axe to grind against science - and my husband. He is really getting into neuroscience. He is saying that all mental phenomena is memory. This cuts out phenomonology, consciousness of the present and the self. I need help here. I said that this is silly and that I have perceptual consciousness now and he said I can't even say "now" because then it is gone. We're getting this book!

·•·

Hubertus Fremerey
19 May 2011

#242

On my bio see the entry in philosophers gallery.

@Ochieng : I do not see what your are telling me. Of course we should get out of beaten tracks. But reasoning should be consistent too. You are from Africa, this may explain in part your way of philosophizing. Could you explain ?

But look at the leopard : You can describe it, you can tell stories about it, even fantastic stories, you can take a video clip or a full movie of his life, you even can shoot and dissect it and stuff it, and you may write an "encyclopedia of the leopard". All this is "the leopard". What of these different approaches is the right one ? All and none of course. Likewise the approaches to philosophical problems. Modern philosophy is not out of touch with reality. You may be a freedom fighter, fighting for the liberation of Africa, but other philosophers are analyzing the concept of liberty. Is this less relevant to our understanding of liberty ?

You are not the only person who thinks that modern philosophy is irrelevant. But it isn't. Modern philosophy since about the 1920s or even since the 1880s is obsessed with understanding our concepts and our usage of language and methodology. This includes Nietzsche and Husserl and Wittgenstein and Heidegger : What are we speaking of when we speak of "reality" ? What are we fighting for when we fight "for liberty" ? Difficult questions !

I think modern philosophy is like modern physics : It is deeper and stronger than ever before, but at the same time often barely understandable to the uninitiated. This may be deplorable, but it is a fact. Your modern computer and cell-phone is unthinkable without Quantum Mechanics and Relativity Theory and the underlying math, but most people do not understand anything of this. One has to accept this state of affairs - which has nothing to do with arrogance but describes a situation.

What philosophical question(s) do you feel urgent today ?

·•·

Auston
19 May 2011

Rachel - I feel for you. I had a very clever mate when I was younger and he always dominated our debates and it was only when I got older that I realised what he was doing was defining and directing the conversation. I would use a word or term and he would jump on it and define it to suit his point-of-view and then tangle me up in his argument. Too much rhetoric/semantics can make conversations or discussions unbearable. I should have asked him more often to prove his argument rather than argue on his terms. I think he would have tied himself in clever knots. Just keep asking why? How does that work? That's very interesting but can you tell me more? Do a bit of a Socrates - give them plenty of rope and when they are tangled apply a small bit of pressure and...

Wasn't Bertrand Russell on about this memory phenomena thing - if so I am sure there are lots of arguments about it out there.

I would ask if all is memory how we can be effected by psychostimulants in ways that don't relate to memories. One can see things and experience things that they had no knowledge of previously. Just joking here but slip your hubby a large dose of ketamine and then see if what he experiences is all related to memory?? If you blow someone's biochemistry to bits weird things happen.

If he's using the argument of people like Rolf Edberg (I Dream of Kilamanjaro)that some memory (apart from instinct) is genetic well then that is to be proven still. Lovely theory in wonderful book.

Also I would ask if all mental phenomena are memories what caused the memory to arise if there was no mind there to perceive it in the first place?? Perception is a mental phenomena so I would think that had to be there before the memory.

I would also like to know how he would explain the practice of phenomenological inquiry as a mental exercise in terms of his stance.

Edelman will keep him quiet for a few weeks if all else fails. ;-)

BTW I had some written communications with Max Van Manen some years back (at the start of some study and teaching) - I am a bit of a fan of his work in the health area - helped me make a lot of meaning in my work.

·•·

Hubertus Fremerey
20 May 2011

#244

once more the arguments need not be contradictory : We construct our arguments from bits of memory and by strategies taken from memory - but the results may be quite unexpected. A little child playing around with building blocks may arrive at surprising results in this way. Those results are then part of the memory too.

But surely some of our knowledge is inborn, and could thus be said to be "firmware memory". Any specific language is learnt, but the ability to understand any language is inborn. Same with social behaviour : Every culture and social behaviour is lernt, but the ability to learn social behaviour is not, but inborn. Thus one has to separate inborn knowledge and learned knowledge, or phylogenetic and ontogenetic memory.

But phylogenetic memory is of processing data mainly, not of content. But even some of the inborn knowledge may be contentious, as in the model of C.G.Jung and his "archetypes". Why not ? Birds "know" how to build nests and how to mate and grow the offspring etc.. Why shouldn't we humans have some such inborn contentious knowledge ? Plato may have been right on this to a degree. I don't know the state of the art of this sort of research.

·•·

Hubertus Fremerey
20 May 2011

#245

I put this in (from reviews on a bio of general Patton) to reming us all how complicated "real" humans and "real" morals are. Philosophers always tend to draw a "roboto-morphic image of man" - just stimuli-responses and neurochemicals and reflexes. This is very simplistic ! Here the citation taken from Amazon.com, Carlo D'Este bio : // When most people think of Patton, they think of the 1970 film staring George C. Scott. D'Este knows this and begins his study with a chapter setting up this movie as a straw man. ... We learn that the harsh, profane image Patton presented to his troops and the public was just that, an image. He was deeply religious, and was willing to take risks that only a man with the sincere believe that providence favored him would chance. He was extremely sensitive, loved poetry, understood what it took to send men into combat and was deeply troubled that soldiers under his command would die because of orders he gave. He was one of the best generals the allied coalition had and it was no accident. He had ability and worked hard at doing an extremely difficult job: killing. //

·•·

Mike Ward
20 May 2011

Hubertus you wrote (Patton): He had ability and worked hard at doing an extremely difficult job: killing.

So to to did Adolf Hitler - all you seem to be saying is that humans are bags of mixed up ideas and emotions. What was the point being made here?

·•·

Rachel Browne
20 May 2011

Well Austin, I'm not so distressed that I want to adminster horse tranquiliser or anything. I put your points to him. Well, I'd already mentioned perception and phenomonology of course. It's just that he's never had any interest in these things, but just plunged into studying neuroscience and became a reductionist. It's an impossible dialogue. Of course I have to know something of neuroscience but since it can't explain consciousness it doesn't have the whole story of the mind. Perhaps people who get involved in neuroscience and the computer metaphor aren't interested in what we ordinarily understand the mind to be: subjective, conscious etc but also behaviourally readable and stimulated by the world beyond. Thanks for the reading tips. I'm reading a book by Alva Noe - a You are Not your Brain sort of book. But of course this just strengthens my own bias. How do we get out of this? I suppose we just all have a stance. So where will discussion get anyone? I think this goes back to Oberoi's point. Tony, no, I'm not a philosopher. I'm a house-wife. This may not last long!

·•·

Auston
20 May 2011

Well Rachel - my small mind has been pretty impressed with some of the things you have written. I know all these posts are on-the-fly and with this in mind, I am impressed.

We all have bias - this is part of the Human Condition and makes for the richness of humanity.

I think reductionism has its place but can be a real waster too if it is given too much authority. I read a quote from one of the great modern scientists (can't remember his name) who studied lots of disciplines and went through biology, to chemistry, to physics looking deeper and deeper for meaning and the essence of life. He said eventually he got to the sub-atomic level and found no signs of the "life" that he was trying to understand, that it had slipped through his fingers. I think this is stunning - if you keep going it is mesons and quarks and strings and dark matter and... in my thinking not too much mind or humanity.

One day when I was rather blown out and stressed about the system here an Arabic friend, laughed and said, "Auston embrace the chaos - make it your friend". Perhaps it is wise to do this to some degree too with conflicting ideas as they cause a lot less stress when they are allowed to flow. When stress comes down we think better.

I also think there is some evidence to show that most men use their brains well in the areas associated with the mathematical and less well in the affective - it is posited it is to do with slightly higher testosterone levels in puberty. Reductionism suits this type of brain use and... the brain we got is the brain we use?

·•·

Rachel Browne
20 May 2011

Thanks Auston! I've looked up Van Manen on the internet and think that my brother who teaches philosophy and is heavily into Rilke, Heidegger and stuff, will love him! I will try to find the health thing. That is more interesting to me. Why does Rilke have the name Maria?

·•·

Auston
20 May 2011

One of Van Manen's colleagues is Doug Aoki - If your brother wants a brilliant hot read he should dig up Aoki's journal article called. "The Thing Never Speaks for Itself: Lacan and the Pedagogical Politics of Clarity" Any philosopher teacher will appreciate the read.

From web - In this article, Douglas Sadao Aoki argues that teaching conceived as the translation of complex materials into plain language is actually a refusal to teach.

·•·

Hubertus Fremerey
20 May 2011

#250

My point was, that // He was deeply religious, and was willing to take risks that only a man with the sincere believe that providence favored him would chance. // This attitude was (and is) quite normal in almost all militaery leaders - not only Christian but Muslim likewise. I just found it confirmed when leafing through a history book on the years 1900-1918. But this is not only a military thing and not specific German either (Patton was USA, and many famous generals were UK etc.). This is how humans think and feel in all honesty. Patton was no hypocrite. For him Hitler (an atheist) was the devil. Patton would have shot you for comparing him to Hitler. Whether Churchill was a pious true believer I do not know, but many British officers surely were. They did not care philosopy, and I wanted to get us out of self-centered comfort for a moment.

·•·

Hubertus Fremerey
20 May 2011

#251

@Rachel and Auston : I put some notes (#244) on this memory topic. Rachel is right : For the computer specialist everything is "memory" - what else could the poor computer lay hands on save what is in his memory ? Well, there are two things that are NOT memory : First of course the structure of the computer, its processing routines. These are what Kant would call "transcendental" : Wired preconditions of even tapping and organizing the memory, making use of electric power etc.. Without that the memory is dead and useless. Thus if your brain is damaged your memory is more or less useless too - as in Alzheimer or unconsciousness and coma etc.. In such cases you may "take your wife for a hat" as in the book of that title.

The other precondition generally is "external stimuli", but those are not always prerequisite. We are dreaming, thus generating data in our head that are made up there. Not all dreaming is "remembrance". We are constructing many scenes that were never in the outer world. We can generate whole worlds from transformations and rearrangements of parts of memories. Thus our memories provide material that we can work on. It needed no Freud to know that. Even people born blind can have visual memories. How ?

Man is no blank slate. Read Pinker on that.

·•·

Tony Fahey
21 May 2011

Gosh, I take a little time to put together a response to Rachel and Mike and find I have been left way behind in the debate. Thus, I hope Auston and Hubertus will forgive me if, for the moment, I pass on the most recent posts to respond to Mike and Rachel.

Mike, I understand the position you are take with your extra-terrestrial analogy. My point, however, is notwithstanding your desire for objectivity,your Martian anthropologist is still constrained by his historisity, conditioning, and prejudices to see earthlings from the perspective of a little green man.

Rachel, it seems to me that you and your husband may well find a meeting of minds on the issue that concerns you both. For example, it can be argued your husbandis view that the present is so fleeting that we never really experience it has some validity.

That is, when we consider that the smallest unit of time is infinitely (a bit of hyperbole here) faster that the blink of the eye (scientists, for research purposes, consider the smallest unit of time to be is an attosecond, which is one quillionth of a second. That is a decimal point followed by 18 zeros), you can see that that moment, which must be identified as ethe presenti is, as your husband argues, beyond our grasp.

However, whilst this may be the case, it does not mean that phenomenology is irrelevant. As you well know, phenomenology takes the view that we experience things, not as they are eout therei n outside the mind, but as they appear to the mind _ as phenomena. Moreover, as we learn from Phenomenology, the mind is not a blank slate, but contains certain processes (intuitions, characteristics, etc) that allows it to put some order on that which it perceives.

Furthermore, as Husserl reminds us, because consciousness intends always away from itself, it perceives not only images of things that are stored in our memory and images of things that arise from our imagination, but also images of things that derive from the nuomenal realm. ,p>Thus, while the mind may be always playing catch up with that which is happening outside itself - in 'the present', that which it grasps is always perceived as phenomena.

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Tony Fahey
21 May 2011

Re science and philosophy: Philosophy has given much attention to the roles human mental intuitions, modes of perception, and faculties play in the formation of concepts and ideas. One of the most influential of these thinkers was Immanuel Kant who held that in order to have a recognisable, discussible experience it must fall into a pattern. The very order or form of this experience, he said, belongs to the mind, and not to the outside world. We neither have nor can conceive of any possible experience except in through the a priori modes of perception of space and time, and the categories of quantity, quality, relation, modality, existence/non-existence, and necessity.

However, whilst Kant turned things around by arguing that knowledge of the world depends on certain a priori conditions, since we cannot assume that the human mind has always been privileged with such conditions, it must be argued that he fails to satisfactorily answer the question as to how these conditions may have arisen.

More recently, it has been found that there is strong escientifici evidence to support the view that consciousness is a neurobiological phenomenon that has arisen in the human brain/mind as a result of the evolution of mental development; and that it is through the process of natural selection that human beings have developed the mental tools which have allowed them to survive, to compete, to develop, and to evolve in a complex and often alien world.

As a consequence of this evidence, those who remain unconvinced by the view that ideas, religious or otherwise, derive from some transcendent realm, and/or that certain states of consciousness have always existed, may find that it is time to measure their own views on these matters against the discoveries of science. In his book, The Universe in a Single Atom: The Convergence of Science and Spirituality, the Dalai Lama holds that where scientific discoveries prove conclusively that some of our beliefs to be false, we must be prepared to eschew these beliefs in favour of science.

If philosophy is to come to a greater understanding of consciousness and its manifestations, it must be at least prepared to put its own prejudices in parenthesis and examine the discoveries science has made in this area. For philosophy to ignore the inroads science has made in the area of consciousness is to risk reducing philosophy to just another form of dogma.

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Peter Jones
21 May 2011
Sorry. Forgot the paragraph spacers. Her it is again...

Hi Tony

I'm not sure what scientific evidence you're referring to re consciousness. It has certainly not been proved that consciousness has arisen due to mental development. The idea seems plainly incoherent to me. Did you mean cranial development?

We must not forget that scientists have yet to show that any such thing as consciousness even exists.

The following got me going a bit.

T - "As a consequence of this evidence, those who remain unconvinced by the view that ideas, religious or otherwise, derive from some transcendent realm, and/or that certain states of consciousness have always existed, may find that it is time to measure their own views on these matters against the discoveries of science. "

What discoveries? I would say that it is time your scientists measured their views against the long-standing and well-known facts of philosophy.

T - "In his book, The Universe in a Single Atom: The Convergence of Science and Spirituality, the Dalai Lama holds that where scientific discoveries prove conclusively that some of our beliefs to be false, we must be prepared to eschew these beliefs in favour of science."

Yes, any sane person would be bound to say the same. As he is a Buddhist this tells us clearly that science has not yet discovered anything that need effect his view of consciousness.

T - "If philosophy is to come to a greater understanding of consciousness and its manifestations, it must be at least prepared to put its own prejudices in parenthesis...

Agreed. But that'll be the day.

"... and examine the discoveries science has made in this area."

What about the discoveries other people have made? And why the one way traffic. I don't see scientists taking much notice of philosophy.

You seem to overlook that the Dalai Lama regards Buddhism a science of the mind. This needs to be taken into account when dismissing religion as unscientific. We cannot generalise from seventh day adventism.

T -"For philosophy to ignore the inroads science has made in the area of consciousness is to risk reducing philosophy to just another form of dogma."

What inroads? Is consciousness studies getting somewhere at last? I must have dozed off.

Sorry, but I just don't buy all this stuff about science solving the problem of consciousness by peering into the brain. One neurophysiologist, Varella I think, likens this to searching for gravity by tunnelling to the centre of the Earth.

When neuroscience discovers consciousness I will rejoice. Until then I'll continue to believe it has nothing to do with the study of consciousness. If it studied only zombies it would learn just as much.

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Tony Fahey
21 May 2011

Peter, thank you for your response to my posting on science and philosophy. Let me begin by repeating that which I said to Rachel in an earlier post: whilst I have an interest in science, I am not a scientist. I do hold, however that the discoveries of science cannot nor should not be ignored by philosophy. That being said, as with all philosophical positions, I do accept that I my own understanding should be left open to correction, that I must be prepared to consider the views of others, and it is in this regard that I welcome your comments.

My own research into this area, which I discuss in my paper ePhilosophy, Science, Consciousnessi(see Philsophy Pathways E-Journal Issue 152), led me to conclusions that satisfied my own level of understanding in these matters, and, if Iim honest, satisfied my own prejudices n at least for the time being. Amongst the approaches that I found reasonable was that of John Searle where he describes consciousness as eO the central fact of specifically human existence because without it all other specifically human aspects of our existence n language, love, and so on n would be impossiblei.

For Searle the evolution of human consciousness is the result of a long history of increasing human mentality. According to Searle, consciousness, or ethe sentient awarenessi of oneis own existence, is a eneurobiological phenomenoni that privileges us human beings to understand the world in which we live, and our place in that world. It is the sensory experience of oneis own existence. It is an experience that precedes experience of the outside world, but upon which experience of the world depends.

Supporting this view is the position taken by Christof Koch and Francis Crick where theu offer that econsciousness is a property of the human brain, a highly evolved systemO The function of the neuronal correlate of consciousness is to produce the best current interpretation of the environment n in the light of past experiences n and to make it available, for a sufficient time, to the parts of the brain which contemplate, plan and execute voluntary motor outputsi. In this context it might be thought to be something akin to Kantis espace and timei and the categories of quality, quantity, modality and relation, or Chomskyis euniversal grammari in that it is an a priori condition of the human mind.

Further einsightsi led me to Ken Mogiis view that in order to understand just how these econscious statesi come about we must return to Darwinis theory of evolution. For Mogi, it is highly probable that the fundamental principle behind the origin of consciousness corresponds to erandom mutationi or enatural selectioni that was so instrumental in the Darwinian theory of the origin of the species. Where Mogi infers a probable connection between Darwin and the origin of consciousness, for Searle there is no ambiguity.

Conscious states, he says, are the result of lower level neurological processes in the brain which are themselves higher level features of the brain. As far as we can tell, he says, evariable rates of neuron firings in the different neuronal architectures cause all the enormous variety of our conscious lifei. What should be understood is that while the lower level neurological processes lead to consciousness, the conscious states that arise from them are not themselves some added substance or entity, but a higher feature of the whole system. In essence, the lower level neuronal processes in the brain lead to consciousness, and consciousness is just a higher level feature of the system that is made up of the neural and lower level neuronal elements.

Thus, when it is said that certain conscious states are a priori, it should be said that they are a priori not because they were implanted in the human mind since the creation of the species by some divine architect, rather they are a priori modes of perception which have, over the history of humankind, proven beneficial to the continuing evolutionary development of the species. One has only to consider how vulnerable human beings are in the physical world to realise how essential it became for the evolutionary process to provide humans with a form of consciousness that is species specific.

In a world in which the development of human beings from infant dependency to adult independency is amongst the slowest in the animal world, it became imperative that the human mind should develop a mental dexterity that would allow them to anticipate, to negotiate, and to overcome obstacles; to consider the consequences of their circumstances and, where necessary, to modify their responses and reactions accordingly.

So how does it work? According to Searle, the stimuli the brain receives through sensory experience are converted by the nervous system into evariable rates of neuron firings at synapsesi. Neurons are the basic information processing structures in the nervous system, synapses are connections between neurons through which einformationi flows from one neuron to another. Neurons process all of the einformationi that flows within, to, or out of the central nervous system.

Robert Stufflebaum tells us that absolutely all of the motor information through which we are able to move; all of the sensory information through which we hear, see, smell, taste and touch; and all of the cognitive information through which we are able to reason, think, dream, plan, remember, and do everything else with our minds is processed in this way.

Processing so many kinds of information requires many types of neurons. It is estimated that there may be as many as 10,000 types of neurons. It is also estimated that there are as many as 200 billion neurons in the brain alone. Since each of these is connected to between 5,000 and 200,000 other neurons, the amount of ways that information flows amongst neurons in the brain is greater than the number of atoms in the universe.

Ken Mogi gives us an example of how this process operates on a practical level: Let us suppose, he says, that one is watching a dog. One sees that the dog has white hair, that the ground below the dog is covered with violets, and that the dogis ears are triangular. Here, one presumes that the dog, hair, violets and so on are out there, and that one is perceiving them as a result of the causal connections that begins with the reflectance of sunlight from the surfaces of these objects, via the photoreceptors in oneis retina, and finally the firing of the neurons in oneis brain.

However, Mogi goes on to point out that while in one sense the statement eone perceives something outside onei may be true, in another sense it is misleading. Everything one perceives: the dog, the white hair, the violets, are but phenomenological eapparitionsi caused by the neural firings in oneis brain. Thus, ultimately, the perceived dog is not eoutsidei one, but ewithin onei. Everything one perceives, even the image of a star billions of light years away seen through a telescope, is nothing but the result of neural firings in oneis brain. Even if there is a dog standing in a field of violets, if the neurons in oneis brain do not fire in an appropriate way, one would not perceive the dog or the violets. Conversely, even if the edogi and evioletsi were not there, if the neurons in oneis brain were stimulated in the appropriate manner, one would have a perception of the dog and the violets.

Hence, the entities outside one, and oneis perception of these entities, are in principle separate things. It is only that in normal circumstances, a highly reliable correlation is expected between the external entities and oneis perception of them. In principle, oneis perception could be independent of the actual external objects that normally invoke it. It must be said that while Mogi clearly makes a valid point, it still remains that the neurons must be triggered by some external stimuli, either in the present or from the past, and that the images one perceives will always be those that have their source in sensory experience: one cannot have a perception of a dog if one has never seen a dog at one time or another. This particular feature of consciousness is called intentionality.

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Hubertus Fremerey
21 May 2011

#256

I think that the notion of consciousness is much overdrawn - and that this is typical for a certain modern style of philosophizing, which borders on scholasticism.

I prefer to start from the evidence : Humans are the only animals that can biuld artificial worlds. No ape can paint a picture of a landscape or other apes or other animals. And not ape can tell a story connecting objects in a meaningful way.

This ability to creat worlds from the imagination and share them with other humans is what sets humans apart from all animals - not "consciousness". There are several animals with constiousness if you think "recognising your own face in a mirror" or "feeling sympathy with other beings" are examples of consciousness.

But with feelings alone you will never build a culture. Your world will stay restricted to you own experiences and to sympathy-antipathy relations and "emotional intelligence".

I hear too much of "consciousness" and not enough of "intelligence" and "creativity". We should get at a more balanced picture of man. "There is world enough to see".

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Tony Fahey
21 May 2011

Hubertus, forgive me if I'm wrong, but I find little or no difference in the meaning inferred in your remark 'Humans are the only animals that can biuld artificial worlds. No ape can paint a picture of a landscape or other apes or other animals. And not ape can tell a story connecting objects in a meaningful way', and my remark that 'In a world in which the development of human beings from infant dependency to adult independency is amongst the slowest in the animal world, it became imperative that the human mind should develop a mental dexterity that would allow them to anticipate, to negotiate, and to overcome obstacles; to consider the consequences of their circumstances and, where necessary, to modify their responses and reactions accordingly'.

In other words, in order to continue to survive in an alien and often chaotic environment, it became necessary for humankind to draw on their own mental resources to devise/create social paradigms that would allow them to meet this end. In virtue of the fact that are creations of the mind, infers, of course, that they are both species-specific and products of human imagination. A faculty which, without consciousness, would just not be possible.

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Mike Ward
21 May 2011

Tony, you are exactly right in my allegedly seeing things from the little green man perspective but I would argue that as one takes a step back each time to maybe a Venusian or Neptunian viewpoint then our perspective has widened which is the goal of the exercise.

How about reducing the time dimension down to zero, just think of all the things we would have to give up, causality, entropy, no phenomena, all the laws of physics etc. now this isn't so far fetched as this is what maybe happens when we cross the event horizon of a black hole - really make you think doesn't it! Oh by the way no thought either.

Rachel, The present moment is equates to the tip of the pen on the paper or me tapping out this on my keyboard, there are those who argue it is only in the moment we are alive but I am not convinced of this. I feel aware of all my past in the moment as this is what makes this consciousness me and only me.

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Rachel Browne
21 May 2011

sorry about that! Well, Mike the present "moment" picks out a moment which is supposed to be an instant. Phenomenologically, "now" can be whole minutes as you lie in the garden looking at the trees. I don't suppose you do that as you are busy.

I agree, Auston, that we need disicplines and expertise, but we also need a wider picture. Someone recently said that philosophy is dead (how pathetically Neitzscean) because we have expertise. Your scientist was looking in the wrong place for life if he didn't find it. Trying to find life through scientific analysis? Life is bigger than that.

Well you can't really embrace chaos if you have to engage in dialogue! I agree about men and women's brains. So I will stay on this conference from time to time. I will not be daunted by men. Good thing we didn't have pink writing!

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Rachel Browne
21 May 2011

I just had a jerky moment there. It lasted some time, Mike.

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Mike Ward
22 May 2011

IF and it's big if, but worthy of philosophical consideration, the following procedure became scientifically possible what ideas about mind and consciousness would have to be set aside? You've just been wheeled into the operating room. A robot brain surgeon is in attendance. By your side is a computer waiting to become a human equivalent, lacking only a program to run. Your skull, but not your brain, is anaesthetised. You are fully conscious. The robot surgeon opens your brain case and places a hand on the brain's surface. This unusual hand bristles with microscopic machinery, and a cable connects it to the mobile computer at your side. Instruments in the hand scan the first few millimetres of brain surface. High-resolution magnetic resonance measurements build a three-dimensional chemical map, while arrays of magnetic and electric antennas collect signals that are rapidly unravelled to reveal, moment to moment, the pulses flashing among the neurons. These measurements, added to a comprehensive understanding of human neural architecture, allow the surgeon to write a program that models the behaviour of the uppermost layer of the scanned brain tissue. This program is installed in a small portion of the waiting computer and activated. Measurements from the hand provide it with copies of the inputs that the original tissue is receiving. You and the surgeon check the accuracy of the simulation by comparing the signals it produces with the corresponding original ones. They flash by very fast, but any discrepancies are highlighted on a display screen. The surgeon fine-tunes the simulation until the correspondence is nearly perfect.

To further assure you of the simulation's correctness, you are given a pushbutton that allows you to momentarily "test drive" the simulation, to compare it with the functioning of the original tissue. When you press it, arrays of electrodes in the surgeon's hand are activated. By precise injections of current and electromagnetic pulses, the electrodes can override the normal signalling activity of nearby neurons. They are programmed to inject the output of the simulation into those places where the simulated tissue signals other sites. As long as you press the button, a small part of your nervous system is being replaced by a computer simulation of itself. You press the button, release it, and press it again. You should experience no difference. As soon as you are satisfied, the simulation connection is established permanently. The brain tissue is now impotent it receives inputs and reacts as before but its output is ignored. Microscopic manipulators on the hand's surface excise the cells in this superfluous tissue and pass them to an aspirator, where they are drawn away.

The surgeon's hand sinks a fraction of a millimetre deeper into your brain, instantly compensating its measurements and signals for the changed position. The process is repeated for the next layer, and soon a second simulation resides in the computer, communicating with the first and with the remaining original brain tissue. Layer after layer the brain is simulated, then excavated. Eventually your skull is empty, and the surgeon's hand rests deep in your brainstem. Though you have not lost consciousness, or even your train of thought, your mind has been removed from the brain and transferred to a machine. In a final, disorienting step the surgeon lifts out his hand. Your suddenly abandoned body goes into spasms and dies. For a moment you experience only quiet and dark. Then, once again, you can open your eyes. Your perspective has shifted. The computer simulation has been disconnected from the cable leading to the surgeon's hand and reconnected to a shiny new body of the style, colour, and material of your choice. Your metamorphosis is complete.

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Tony Fahey
22 May 2011

Wow Mike! I salute your imagination: What a concept! However, in the end, it really is just an updated version of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein first directed in 1931 by James Whale, and, more recently, in 1994, by Kenneth Branagh. Given the hunger of horror film fans for such material it may well be that the time is right for a version more relevant to our time. Thus, it may be worth putting together a screenplay based on your premise and submitting it to directors such as Wes Craven, Dario Argento, or even Neil Jordan.

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Auston
22 May 2011

Mike- Not so far-fetched I think. Neurosurgeons currently work on conscious patients stimulating their opened brains at different locations to check sensation, sight, taste, feel, smell. Small electrical charges generate absolute sensation that patients cannot distinguish from the "real-thing".

See my next post for an area that is some interest to me at present that is right in this area of discussion.

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Auston
22 May 2011

Technological Singularity.

An area that I have been becoming increasingly interested in the past year or so has been the theory of Technological Singularity. I am not sure if this has been discussed here before but I can't find it on the site. There is a reasonable wiki entry to give background to this concept if you are not too familiar. This theory has been getting more and more input from the scientific community and futurists even though the idea has been around for decades.

It is argued that computing power in the next 30-50 years will exceed the ability of any human cognitive function. When this occurs it is surmised the "computer" will out-think us on all fronts, This will cause a singularity i.e. and nothing that is predicted before the Singularity will be able to be predicated thereafter. If this does occur then it has obvious massive implications. The discussion has generated many far-reaching ideas and futuristic concepts for how we may evolve. For example one idea is that humans will digitise and move into a super-web and our corporeal bodies will no longer be needed. Another is that it is natural selection and humans will cease to exist with the new species being machine.

All this as background.

What really interests me,apart from the above is what will happen to philosophy? The Singularity Theory says we can't predict but I would be interested in your ideas about what may be.

We have had the "Death of God" could this be the "Death of Philosophy" or perhaps a radical redefinition?

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Mike Ward
22 May 2011

Tony, The robot surgeon was taken from a a book called "Mind Children" by Hans Moravec but as a thought experiment it has potential to distill out what is essentially the self.

Auston, maybe a brain state equates to an idea and this may be no different from a point in time in a software programme. I think that whilst there are unknowns there will be speculation and maybe this is philosophy in the raw. I haven't heard about this but will try to find out more about this "singularity" theory.

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Rachel Browne
22 May 2011

Peter I agree science is over-rated when it can't explain consciousness. Why is this? I have a robot hoover and it is so pathietic I'd rather do it myself. It's quicker. Auston, it is "argued" that computer power will exceed human cognitive function? Weak. In 30-50 years? Weak too, we can't forecast.

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Tony Fahey
23 May 2011

Rachel makes a valid point when she says we cannot [validly] forecast n who could forecast the extent of the extent of the economic recession that is hitting most of Western world at this time. However, it can be argued that we can look at the past and determine, to some degree, what is likely to happen in the future. And In this regard we can consider Austonis concern about the future of philosophy.

Since the use of the metaphor seems to be much in favour in this debate, let us consider the one that is used to explain humansi place in the life of our planet. This particular metaphor tells us that if we consider the life of the planet as the width of our fully extended arms, the fingertip of one hand represents the length of time humankind have inhabited our globe.

Moreover, the metaphor continues, it is reasonable to assume that this same measurement represents the future collective lifespan of the same species. What this means, of course, is that humankind are contingent to the planet. Indeed it can be, and is, argued that humankind is to the Earth what cancer is to the human body.

So how does this relate to Austonis question re philosophy. The answer is that philosophy is only relevant to human beings. Millions of years before the sun expands and turns the orb into a crisp, and millions of years before the same sun collapses into a black hole, humankind will have become the dinosaur of its day, have outlived its usefulness (if it ever had any) and disappeared from the face of this spinning globe.

At this time, not only will humankind disappear, but also will all these concepts, paradigms, worldviews, or whatever we like to call them that have caused so much division during the time of humankindsi dominion.

In short philosophy will become our redundant n and there will be nobody to feel guilty about it.

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Auston
23 May 2011

Rachel - I take it you are aware of the Technological Singularity theory. I made general statements just to background about this not to state fact. There is strong science about the advance of computing power - see Moore's Law (digital memory). For interest - Moore's Law also applies to genetic coding. Moore's law alone is strongly predictive that globally we are heading for a major economic crisis that will require fundamental reorganisation of human affairs. There are theorists like Richard Dawkins who say that Moore's Law will continue beyond the digital revolution - as by the time we reach digital limit the level of computation will have generated new technology systems to move forward even faster.

There are already rapid advances in the area of manufactured biological memory - organic and photon based systems are what the tech manufacturers are working on now. If this is worked through then computer systems will have the ability to have unheard of growth using binary computation and possibly even new computation of infinite variation between 1 an 0 (something our brains don't have). It is important to remember that our brains only work on 1s and 0s - i.e. electrical/chemical stimulation of neuron or not. The thing that keeps our cognition in front of computers presently is the phenomenal number of potential connections (see Edelman). Biological/photon memory would meet this difference easily - it will make and reinforce connections (learn) at the speed of light (currently our brain signals move in the order of 100 metres per second - light runs at 300,000,000 metres per second) do the math it is stupendous.

As I stated this stuff around Singularity can not be predicted - I was asking for folks thoughts on something else. We are already totally reliant on computers for all of our material comforts - and therefore most of our other non-material comforts too. If computers stopped today - there would be few humans left in a few short months - possibly it would be the end of mammal life on earth if catastrophic breakdown ensued - e.g. nuclear and hazardous biological system releases.

Make no mistake there are not much in the overarching control systems in the world that humans can actually say we control now - we already have an electronic juggernaut - our safety relies on failsafe systems, feedback systems and backup systems that are controlled by computers. I pretty much enjoy my life and my humanity and I am not sure that I would care to digitise into a collective or be managed by machines but just because I don't like the idea does not mean I summarily discount it or assume it won't happen. I will certainly think about it.

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Auston
23 May 2011

My apologies for this but I think these two links may give some interesting background to my previous query.

http://hplusmagazine.com/2009/12/30/ray-kurzweil-h-interview/

http://www.allbusiness.com/science-technology/behavior-cognition-intelligence/12584679-1.html

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Rachel Browne
23 May 2011

Honestly, Austin, this hypothetical event is incredibly dramatic and unlikely. Are you saying that both computers and binary systems that allow brains to work might all break down? Yet a "few" humans might remain? How could they remain? I wonder if you could put this more simply? Why worry about computer failure unless you are in an aircraft?

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Tony Fahey
23 May 2011

I'm with Rachel on this one. In the event of such a crisis it can be most certainly assumed that the quality life of those dependent on such technolgy would be seriously affected, but it should be pointed out that there are simply millions of people in, what one might describe as the non-thechnological world, for whom would continue pretty much as the same - or, aguably, may even be better for it.

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Tony Fahey
23 May 2011
Sorry about this, last posting didn't relay the second part of my message, so hear it is:

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Rachel Browne
23 May 2011

Tony, that was so PC of you! On another topic, without a paragraph mark, I've been talking to Huburtus about the conference and how male dominated it is. The last one was too. Why is this? Anyone know?

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Mike Ward
23 May 2011

"Where are all the women" - philosophically speaking that is?

http://www.philosophypress.co.uk/?p=615 5:1 appears to be the current ratio - why is this and what type of question is it anyway?

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Auston
23 May 2011

Honestly Rachel - Dramatic maybe(most outrageous or threatening ideas start off this way) - improbable I don't know - unlikely still not at all sure. I can't understand what you mean about "both computers and binary systems that allow brains to work might all break down". Binary systems are off-on represented symbolically by 1 & 0. All our neurons are basically either polarised or depolarised. And as I stated they are very sloooow even with myelin sheathing. If computers start using photons or quantum physics then their processing speed will be beyond comprehension. 100 million MIPS (Million Instructions Per Second) is the estimated human brain's processing speed - this will be reached with conventional computers in the next 8 years (using Moore's Law - which is proven to date). Linking groups of these computers together in parallel (which humans brains can't do) - well that is called parallel processing and it's really fast...

I can see that computer systems currently "could" (don't read definitely) fail massively. I can also see that human brains could be outclassed by machines - in fact I think this is highly likely. We aren't that special to have the comfort to think that "because we make it then it can't be better than us". Most technological advances exponentially outstrip human ability. Will computers have emotions and insight as we know it? Who knows - (possibly) - but you don't have to be the most emotionally intelligent being to be in charge you just need the most might. And this might could well be from machines. Could we become part or almost wholly machine? - absolutely in my opinion - it has started already. Most humans in developed countries are already by definition cyborgs (Cybernetic Organisms). Organisms that have been technologically enhanced - If you have been vaccinated welcome? Gene therapy? Medical Implants? Artificial skin? At a stretch reading glasses have been included in this definition. In fact I think this is our (read the ones in power that can afford it) destiny to be hugely technologically enhanced - personally I would like to be disease and decay free and to be able to have eagle level vision and dog level hearing. in fact I think this is perhaps the only solution to the machine take-over scenario. get in first and become the enhanced machine.

You say you think science is over-rated but I would be interested to know what systems we do not rely upon to give us all our current daily material needs that are not run by massive inter-related computer systems?

All our supply systems, power systems, fuel systems, banking and financial systems, transportation systems, security systems, hazard warning systems, emergency systems, communication systems, shipping, air transport, navigation systems, space systems, military, health, food storage, agricultural and food production, manufacturing, nuclear power plants, nuclear weapons, biological hazard containment systems (I can keep going) are all intimately and in many cases absolutely reliant upon computers (and of course electricity). And we are rapidly pushing the systems together into inter-related networks that on one hand tend to build strength and redundancy but also increase the potential for generalised collapse.

How can a critical system or many systems fail? Several ways - some a little far fetched - such as approaching Singularity or machine (or maybe cyborg) take-over or nuclear war (EMP will burn out every running computer that it hits)or electronic warfare (this is a risk that is taken very seriously already). But what may be more probable? Apart from natural disasters? If you have a look at empirical fact there are solar flares that can generate massive electromagnetic surges that overload power grids - and bring computers down. We are approaching a 22 year peak in sun activity over the next few years so we will probably see some evidence of this. NASA warned last year that expected solar flares in the next few years could cause widespread devastation (I can post an article if you like). Our history tells us these occur infrequently - the last largish one was 100 years ago - scientists can not say how big flares could be and they are working hard to proof systems against them. Quebec, and northern parts of US near Quebec, lost all of it's power grid to a flare in about 1990.

I can say with absolute certainty that if, as I posited before, we lost computerised systems enmasse our society would collapse - there would be widespread famine and disease and violence. And I can say the 8 billion we have would be down to a few in comparison and these folks would be from subsistence and agrarian societies.

Just pushing a few ideas around which is my version of thinking. :-)

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Selena O' Sullivan
23 May 2011

In my thinking, Science and Philosophy are two sides of the same coin. Two different methods of investigation which, at times, support and buttress each other. The technological advancements of television and the internet have encouraged deeper investigation by a wider range of people. And yet the same technology, when used excessively, seems to affect youth adversely. Will this affect their ability to think philosophically?

Excessive time spent watching television, it being a passive activity, discourages the development of a neural framework of good linguistics, communication skills; the art of being able to effectively express one's thoughts and understand an argument. What will be the effects on the next generations of having the answers to simple questions at their fingertips, when we do not have to 'rack our brains' to remember the actor in that film, or the name of that book? Already we see youth reaching for their net books to answer a question, rather than suffer trying hard to remember.

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Mike ward
23 May 2011

Auston, I see a growing dependence on communication, information and social groups all via a technology that is not understood by the users. After why should one know how a car engine works when all you want is to get from a to b.

Well I think there is a good reason to know and that is the loss of this knowledge reduces the survival chances of humanity when under severe stress. It has value in surveying a catastrophe. Take someones iphone off them these days and they become quite worried about being "out" of things.

Selena, welcome, long term occupation in the space station showed that regular exercise was needed to stop all sorts of effects to the human body resulting from no gravity. Over extended time people would not be able to return to the planet surface having evolved to suit zero g. I wonder in what ways the human brain will develop when remembering data isn't essential - no one will know how to question whether the data is sensible or even correct. I'm old enough to recall using slide rules before calculators and most people came up with the right digits in a calculation but it took an extra level of input to know where to put the decimal place.

How do we metaphorically know where to put the decimal place when evaluating the answers from google?

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Mike Ward
23 May 2011

For surveying read surviving - you see I'm dependent upon speel checkers!

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Selena O' Sullivan
23 May 2011

Mike, was "Speel checker" intentional irony? And yet, it is an example of what we are discussing. It's remarkable that in a society so dependant on technoloy and electricity that there are people who are unable to change a plug. Most families in my city own at least one car, but how many service that car themselves, nevermind have the skills to repair it?

One hot, sunny day, a friend of mine was complaining that her electricity was going to be shut off as she had over-due bills. She told me this while she mindlessly unloaded clothes from a washing machine and transferred them directly to a tumble-dryer, not even thinking of that wonderful cost free invention we call a clothes-line, hanging un-used outside. She needed no special skills to hang clothes on a line, but the idea didn't occur to her, even though she was under pressure to find solutions such as this one. It seems it is not simply the knowledge of useful solutions that is important, but more-so the ability to seek a solution.

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Geoffrey Klempner
24 May 2011

Don't want to interrupt the flow. There's nothing wrong with your computer, I just got rid of the distracting white background. Try this on full screen.

Just for the record, if computers all broke down, Pathways would go back to its roots and revert to a postal correspondence course -- and I'd have a lot more free time!

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Auston
24 May 2011

Looks much better Geoffrey. Very stylish.

All of our wonderful postal system is run by computers - that is except for the bicycles and posties. All your spare time would be used up training carrier pigeons or crows. :-)

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Mike Ward
24 May 2011

Selena, yes my response was intentional irony but born out of a real instance where the spell checker chose without my observance the nearest word to my miss-spelling.

Maybe what is needed is not a spell checker but a sanity checker as we humans seem to have vacated this role.

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Rachel Browne
24 May 2011

Auston, science is surely over-rated because the whole computer system COULD fail. We shouldn't rely on it. Where I live agriculture doesn't run on a computer system and we'd be fine without computers. I am a Green Party person and believe in small self-serving communities. We actually live in one. We grow veg and swap, swap eggs for straw etc. The Green Party believes that we can go back. Do you have anything against this? It's hardly impossible. I really don't think there would be violence where we live due to something like computer failure! Nor famine and disease. We have gluts of veg and eggs. Where the hell do you live?

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Mike Ward
24 May 2011

Rachel, I think science will be rated by it's benefit to those who choose to use it. Is it greener to converse by email rather than write, post, delivery fuel etc that would be interesting to find out but how to find out without communication?

I am not "green" minded as I equate this with a sort of zoo or reservation approach where change is not welcome almost as we should freeze evolution so on this basis alone I am against it. Yes we should not have less impact on the environment but that is just practical sense to make our finite resources last longer.

Suppose via science (and only science) we create power from fusion then we get limitless power without any adverse byproducts - how green is that! Science gives us the ability to fight against most human diseases as exampled by increased life spans - we should give that up too!

Now when the next major asteroid hits the planet the green party will probably get their wish of us all going back to a stone age agrarian subsistence and how many will be thankful for the loss of all these technology based comforts - maybe I'm odd but I wouldn't be thankful.

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Auston
25 May 2011

Rachel - I appreciate your dialogue - I am learning heaps. May I say I am not an out-and-out doomsday believer - I just like to think and question - I try to think about the bad as well as the good - this is how I understand and learn. I don't say things just to wind people up - I am genuinely interested. I am positive about the way things are generally - I am incredibly grateful I am living now(rather than pre-industrial revolution) and being supported by technology. Why?.. because I passed my expected lifespan of 35 a fair while back, my soul-mate would probably have died in child birth, and my 18 year old daughter would have had at least 4 kids by now - oh no I'm wrong my daughter would have died twice - once at 6 and again at 16 due to a strep throat and then a clostridium infected leg. Yep I guess I like technology for what it has given me. I do like movies, books, and mountain biking too.

I agree that we have created a juggernaut that may (read may) cause a near enough total collapse - just thinking here - and this is why I kicked off a question - what if? I have already mentioned the theory that we are heading for an economic crisis, due to technological growth, that will cause a major readjustment to humans - won't pay to be under-educated, poor or disenfranchised if this happens (the Greens should get onto this one). I think this agrees generally with your stance - we have put a lot of eggs in the tech basket. Just having this viewpoint is not going to pull it up though - it is a juggernaut and currently has it's own life. I am not sure whether science is over-rated or just over-relied-upon - if it is over-rated how can the alternatives help? I seriously question if the only way forward is to keep going more-or-less - we may have committed to a point that can't be wound back. I agree the Green's say it can be done but the majority of the public say it can't or won't be done and this is what drives political decision making. Whilst debate about cost to fill up a car's tank and tax cuts and Arnie's affairs are still at the top of the list I don't hold much hope. If this doesn't turn around within the next 8 years and the theories I have mentioned are correct our hand may be forced. Several of the key-stone solutions being put forward by Green's are hugely technologically based - all the alt-energies for the masses require massive tech and computerisation. Which leads me back to my question - what if?

The disaster thing is worth a mention too - I do not speak without some background about disaster. Disaster planning and management is part of my bread and butter. Disasters are just that - and never good.

I can imagine you have a lovely lifestyle (I assume it is in UK)- I could do with a bit of veggie growing and talking to the hens myself at present in this arid 45 degree climate. If a tech disaster comes as I theorised and if you are totally self-sufficient and have a quality intentional style community I would suggest that your small community would be fine. But only if it is totally isolated (and the posited computer systems crash was not nuclear derived). However what about the 60+ million others in UK. Rapidly dwindling food supply, health and safety - as we know and have seen in many countries, reduces humans very quickly to survival mode and exodus - forget the niceties and the thin veneer of civilised behaviour when this happens. UK in particular is heavily reliant upon external food supply (it is currently not able to support itself). The whole food production and supply system and associated systems are massively computerised. Every car and truck built in the last 10 years needs a computer to run too (some need 6 or more) and servo fuel pumps can't work without a computer ( so remaining food will have trouble even getting basic distribution.

I don't think that the huge number of folks living in high density cities, urban and housing projects and estates would generally share your concern, kindness and intentionality once their food ran out. Our world is never far from brutality - we are sadly not that developed. I would suggest the veggies and eggs you have would not go far when a few hundred people dropped by for a meal, let alone when masses, evacuating cities in search of safety and food, hit your doorstep. The military might help for a time but they would likely be centralised around cities and not much use in more rural areas. They would probably confiscate your food for general food stores anyway.

Per my previous post - I live in the Middle East atop the poorest, most disaster prone, and one of the most uncontrolled violent continents on earth (Africa). I have daily experience of what is going on with our sibling nations - Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bahrain, Syria, Iran and Sudan to name a few. I can say that disasters and humanitarian crises do not go particularly well for anyone let alone the smaller, weaker or the less violent groups in society.

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Rachel Bowne
25 May 2011

I really don't think your previous message made sense. You think we could become wholly machines and yet we rely on them, yet they could surpass us. I'm sorry about this. And what is myelin sheathing? I'm a woman and can't be expected to know of these things.

Well, without surgery I would be dead and so would my husband. But if there was no surgery and life span was short it would just be normal anyway.

Yes, the juggernaut does now have a life of it's and the Green Party can't stop it, but maybe natural disaster might. Of course the Green Party isn't standing on a "let's have a natural disaster platform! I'm not sure what you mean by technology here. You have already mentioned medicine as technology. Are you talking about science, generally? Anyway, I don't actually vote for the Green Party because I don't believe in democracy.

I'm sorry, Auston, I do have a bit of lucky life-style, and I'm not in touch with poverty on a daily basis. When I lived in London I was. This is one reason for thinking about benefits of small communities, having experienced both large and small.

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Tony Fahey
25 May 2011

Gosh Mike, Iim glad we are keeping these exchanges civilized.

Not being as familiar with the Green agenda as Rachel, I will leave it to her to respond to your remarks if and when as she sees fit. However, from the little I do know of the Greens concern with the environment, it seems to me that they are not against science per se, but only that science which threatens our ecosystem, and as a natural consequence, the future of humankind. In fact, I would go further and say that the Greens are not, as you infer, luddites, rather it is that central to the their agenda is a desire to use scientific discoveries to enhance the quality of our lives, and to aid rather than to hold back human evolution.

Interestingly, the writer David Mitchell, in his book, Cloud Atlas, deals with a scenario such as that set out by you (Mike) below. However, rather than presenting us with a potentially technologically idyllic worldview, Mitchell holds that the will to power is be as relevant to this area of science as it is in all other human activities, and would, in turn, ultimately lead to a dystopian society in which the few surviving euntechnologicallyi effected humans would be left to pick up the pieces of a world polluted by avarice and self-interest.

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Rachel Browne
25 May 2011

Well I'm not against science, Mike, but don't like technology much. It is true that if we could harness energy, which is by scientific means, it would be Green. Auston's failure of technology scenario seems quite likely.

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Rachel Browne
25 May 2011

Tony, the Greens aren't Luddites at at all. There has been a mix up here between technology -ie the mechanical on industrial scale as I understand it - and science.

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Mike Ward
25 May 2011

Tony, this is what Luddites are :

A member of any of the bands of English workers who destroyed machinery, esp. in cotton and woolen mills, that they believed was threatening their jobs (1811n16)

A person opposed to increased industrialization or new technology a small-minded Luddite resisting progress

just google it like I have just done.

Rachel, how can you differentiate science from technology to me they are cause and effect of the same process. I don't share the the doom and gloom scenarios as we are well equipped with our "survival of the fittest" code to survive anything that we can cause.

What the greens (and other also) are silent upon is the effect that "greening up" will mean a drop in human population levels, a sort of genocide by natural wastage - this is a topic far to difficult for all of us to tackle but I fear it's the real elephant in the room.

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Tony Fahey
25 May 2011

Hi Mike and Rachel. It seems that my reference to the Greens in my last posting may have been misunderstood: I certainly do NOT see the Greens as opposed to technological or scientific progess (as the term luddite has come to be understood),but against those that are seen to have far reaching negative effects on our planet, its ecosystem, its environment, its people, and the economy.

In fact the stated aim of the party's Science and Technology policy is to encourage and promote research, development and application of science and technology which will,(1)Increase knowledge and understanding, (2) Help to understand and address the major environmental threats such as climate change, pollution and biodiversity losses, and (3)Contribute to a better quality of life for all the inhabitants of the world. (see www.policy.greenparty.org.uk/st)

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Auston
26 May 2011

Greens have their place in the political spectrum. At the end of the day they are political and have agendas (some open some hidden) - and factions (some reasonable some bizarre) - like all political groups. It is good they have a voice - which I believe is becoming louder as humans create more environmental pressure. They represent a group of our society the same as Tories and Labor. I taught Outdoor and Environmental Education and was involved with Tasmanian Greens and Tasmanian Wilderness Society some years ago and I can tell you that Green parties are political machines just like the others - main Green groups are also moving more to centre every year. Not all they do is good for the world.

I don't think my discussion around machines is contradictory any of the following could happen I think: nothing much - just a continual tech advancement to our benefit; tech advancement to a point then decline; tech advancement to a point then a major reassessment; destruction enmasse by a catastrohphic tech situation (that could be computer centred); machines could take-over humans as part of evolution (as we did with Neanderthals); we could keep advancing as cyborgs and become more tech than biological; if we are digitally mapped we could be digitised and would not need bodies (the ultimate green solution). There are other possible scenarios mentioned.

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Auston
26 May 2011

Science technology machines - I am using the term Technology below to mean the things/tools we build - and in the discussion it is the things built through application of scientific method. In most instances high tech. Not talking spades and rakes.

Modern science and high tech have pretty much merged into a continuum of application of brain or machine running into and alongside a material output.

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Rachel Browne
26 May 2011

Well, Mike, if Tony has pointed out that the Green Party has a science and technology policy, surely these are different things or they'd just have a science policy. As Auston has clarified, he means technology in the terms of things we build. Computer technology is probably the main example. Science, like physics is quite distinct and takes things apart rather than builds. Mainly. I suppose medical scientists build cultures and genes but this is micro. Technology is macro and changes our everyday living conditions.

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Mike Ward
26 May 2011

Rachel, Take my word for it but there is little built these days that science through computing power hasn't been essential to. I get heavily involved with BREEAM which is all about carbon footprints for buildings and the amount of computational power need to run thermal models of buildings could not be done with pencil and paper. I think it suits the politics to make false discriminations. Computers are currently tools not yet ends in themselves.

Mapping the human Gnome was done by computing power, science through quantum mechanics created computers I really have difficulty seeing any real difference other than in what people want.

At the beginning of life on this planet there was no oxygen in the atmosphere. Oxygen was a by-product of life and in terms of the green agenda it would have been a pollutant just as CO2 is now - one picks ones starting point to suit ones argument.

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Selena O' Sullivan
27 May 2011

I would love to hear more regarding a point Mike made (a few comments previous)

"What the greens (and other also) are silent upon is the effect that "greening up" will mean a drop in human population levels, a sort of genocide by natural wastage - this is a topic far to difficult for all of us to tackle but I fear it's the real elephant in the room."

I wonder would you oblige, Mike? I have been trying to imagine what the implications of "greening up" would be. If we took it to extremes, perhaps electric cars fail to be an option due to the waste created in the production of them. A reduced transportation network would have serious impact on life as we know it. No more fields of methane producing cows; meat / milk / livelihoods all affected. Oh do elaborate; I'm sure my thinking is quite short-sighted.

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Tony Fahey
27 May 2011

Selena, thanks for drawing attention to this Mikeis remark n I must say, I for one, missed the significance of the inference that the Greensi hidden agenda is egenocide by natural wastagei(hyperbole or what!). Whilst I would be interested to see evidence to support this assertion, it must be said that there is overwhelming evidence to support the claim that the consequences for humanity of world population continuing at its present rate are unimaginable.

For example, according to the Population Media Centre (populationmedia.org), the worldis population is now 7 billion and will continue to grow by 83 million per year. In the last 50 years, the population has more than doubled, from 3 billion in 1960 to 7 billion in 2011. What this means is that there has been more growth in population in the last 50 years than there was in the previous 2 million years that humans have existed.

In his paper, eThe Impact of Science on Population Growthi, Warren S. Thomson argues that it is modern science that is the chief instrument in effecting the vast increase in the world population since about 1800. The development of physical science, chiefly through technological improvements, he points out, means that many of the diseases that brought human life to an end at a much earlier stage than today, and the development of biological science has provided vast improvements in food production, and sanitary and medical knowledge have also contributed greatly to this reduction in human death rate. Whilst, of course, many of these developments are to be applauded, it must be recognized, as the Greens do, that the planet cannot continue to sustain such increases indefinitely,or without great cost.

This concern was highlighted as far back as 1993 when representatives of national academies of science from all over the world met in New Delhi at a eScience Summiti on World Population. Following this meeting a statement signed by representatives from 58 academies pointed out in the starkest of terms that econtinuing population growth poses a great risk to humanityi. Given, as Warren S. Thomson points out, that Science and Technology has contributed in no small measure to this crisis, it seems fair to argue that it falls to Science and Technology, rather than the Greens, to do all it can to eliminate this threat.

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Selena O' Sullivan
27 May 2011

I fear that World War III may see to that soon enough.

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Tony Fahey
28 May 2011

Selena, unless there is some serious banging together of heads in the not too distant future, I fear you may very well be right.

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Mike Ward
28 May 2011

Selena,

Take a look at the graph on the link below

http://www.kellyocg.com/Knowledge/KellyOCG_Blog/Workforce_Demographics_Get_Hostile/

I am going to make the following argument

High per capita income correlates with low population growth and vice versa.

2.3 represent a stable level of population

There simply isnit enough wealth to get everyone up to an income level that keeps population static without taking it from the likes of you and me.

Population needs to fall and efficiencies rise to conserve finite resources until we develop infinite energy

Continued use of fossil fuels will probably reduce world population anyway n so itis not all bad news.

Technology is, in my view, the only way forward that people will accept as the alternative of going back to the subsistence lifestyle of the middle ages would not be democratically acceptable.

Personally I donit want stagnation or regression in mine or my descendents quality of life. The ultimate sacrifice would be to give up having children for the good of the planet n what kind of a political manifesto would that make!

The Chinese have made great progress in reducing their fertility rate but not without much ethical objections. In my view to reverse climate change population rates must drop significantly n another black death or world war may be a quick solution but Iim not advocating either.

Maybe the developed countries will pull up the drawbridge and create a first world fortress or simply pay third world people not to have children n there are all sorts of scenarios/variations on this.

I hope this is a starter to be getting on with but population is nowhere up the world agenda at the moment.

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Geoffrey Klempner
29 May 2011

Conundrums

I will define a philosophical 'conundrum' as a problem which is in principle incapable of solution. A conundrum is like a puzzle picture, a jigsaw with parts missing, a nonsense riddle -- which seems to make sense.

However, I reject Wittgenstein's view that the conundrums of philosophy can be overcome by 'showing the fly the way out of the fly bottle'. We may be tricked into thinking that a conundrum has a solution when in fact it does not, but the existence of a conundrum is not itself the result of mere confusion or sophistical argument or trickery. (Similar considerations apply to Kant's 'antinomies of pure reason' etc.)

Conundrums are not created by us, they are not the result of confusion over language or logic, or anything of that sort. They are discovered. They are facts.

The most persuasive examples of conundrums can be found in ethics. A genuine ethical dilemma is a conundrum because whatever you do you will be in the wrong. There is no ideal solution. All you can do is decide, and accept the consequences. By 'acceptance' I mean something like stoical acceptance: I am not responsible for the consequences but nor can I deny responsibility for the consequences. (The question of what I am, or am not ultimately responsible for is itself a conundrum, it's a question without an answer.)

There is no way to prove that a philosophical problem is a conundrum: you can't prove that an answer which you'd never thought of might not be found at some time in the future, or far future. There is no way to survey all the possible solutions and determine in each case that the solution is inadequate. However, by the same token, nor is it possible to prove that there are no philosophical conundrums. Error theories (like Wittgenstein's theory about misunderstanding the logic of our language) are just theories, nothing more.

So, I propose the category of conundrums in the spirit of 'the best explanation'. It's a philosophical theory. As with all theories, you can suspend judgement on whether there are in fact any conundrums and just consider the consequences, *if* conundrums exist.

Recognition of the existence of conundrums exist would be, in an important sense, the end of philosophy as we know it. We would recognize logico-linguistic analysis as what it is (a species of semantics) not philosophy. Metaphysical theories ('theories of existence' in Sprigge's sense) are all true, because they are imaginative constructions, a kind of 'poetry', as Carnap believed.

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Rachel Browne
29 May 2011

But we change the facts about birthrates easily enough.

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Mike Ward
29 May 2011

Rachel, Take a look at fig 1 graph on this link http://www.sos2006.jp/english/rsbs_summary_e/1-what-is-sustainability.html

We have had no ability in the past to affect population growth what makes you think we can easily change it now?

sorry for the links but cannot attach graphs to this conference

Geoffrey, can you put some context to the posting on Conundrums?

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Geoffrey Klempner
29 May 2011

Thank you, Mike.

According to Stephen Hawkin, philosophers are just armchair theorists who attempt to do, badly, what the various sciences -- for example, physics -- are doing rather well.

There's been a running debate about this on the 'Philosop' list (the USA counterpart to Philos-L). Everyone agrees Hawkin is wrong, but it seems everyone has a different theory about why he is wrong.

Why is armchair theorising wrong? Or is it OK? Or maybe that's the main task for philosophers, to learn about lots of things, to speculate, take a lofty view?

Of course, philosophers shouldn't be ignorant, but they should also know when to shut up and learn from those (e.g. physicists, economists, psychologists) who know better. So what is their role? Inquiry into values? clearing away the rubbish that lies in the way of knowledge?

I always thought philosophers were there to ask the ultimate questions: the universe, life and everything. But what if those questions don't have answers? Do we ask anyway? find something else to do? give up and become physicists?

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Mike Ward
29 May 2011

Geoffrey, no I wasn't aware of the theoretical (armchair) versus practical debate but it sounds more interesting than analytical versus continental that's in progress with Hubertus at the moment.

Perhaps rather than considering the situation now we could try to imagine how it may be concluded when we know everything. In that situation with every possible fact/state known or knowable what would there be left, would the armchair philosophers still be able to imagine and construct new concepts.

Presumably "scientists" would stop when every question was answered, what are ideas of nothingness worth - just a thought.

Here's a short extract from God's Debris which I find an interesting short read and maybe relevant.

iIf you were God,i he said, iwhat would you want?i iI donit know. I barely know what I want, much less what God wants.i iImagine that you are omnipotent. You can do anything, create anything, be anything. As soon as you decide you want something, it becomes reality.i I waited, knowing there was more. He continued. iDoes it make sense to think of God as wanting anything? A God would have no emotions, no fears, no desires, no curiosity, no hunger. Those are human shortcomings, not something that would be found in an omnipotent God. What then would motivate God?i iMaybe itis the challenge, the intellectual stimulation of creating things,i I offered. iOmnipotence means that nothing is a challenge. And what could stimulate the mind of someone who knows everything?i

iYou make it sound almost boring to be God. But I guess youill say boredom is a human feeling.i iEverything that motivates living creatures is based on some weakness or flaw. Hunger motivates animals. Lust motivates animals. Fear and pain motivate animals. A God would have none of those impulses. Humans are driven by all of our animal passions plus loftier-sounding things like self-actualization and creativity and freedom and love. But God would care nothing for those things, or if he cared would already have them in unlimited quantities. None of them would be motivating.i

iSo what motivates God?i I asked. iDo you have the answer to that question, or are you just yanking my chain?i iI can conceive of only one challenge for an omnipotent beingothe challenge of destroying himself.i

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Geoffrey Klempner
30 May 2011

The God of Leibniz and Spinoza doesn't want anything or feel emotions. 'It' acts out of the necessity of its nature.

My work starts from the absolute and certain conviction that there is no God. However, counternecessaryfactually, if there were a God and I were given one clear shot then it would be my ethical duty to pull the trigger.

By definition, God does not know the answer to philosophical conundrums. He does not know the answer to (genuine) ethical dilemmas. If you doubt this, consider what you would say if God told you that, in the case of a particular dilemma, you ought to do A rather than B. You'd want to know the reason. But God can't give you the reason (by definition). Whereas there is no doubt about the reason why murder is wrong or why one should not tell lies.

As I argue in Naive Metaphysics, if, counternecessaryfactually, there is a God then God does not know what I mean when I say, 'I am GK'. By the same token, no scientific account -- e.g. some theory about superstrings -- could possibly explain why there is 'I' in the universe rather than no 'I'.

Stephen Hawkin didn't speak out of the blue. There's a growing mood of dissatisfaction and impatience with philosophy amongst academics from other disciplines. On the Philos-L list there have been an increasing number of philosophy departments calling for help because they are faced with summary closure.

I thought this would be good for Pathways, but in fact our enrolment numbers are down too. Of course this is all circumstantial evidence, but for me the crunch is that there is no living figure whom I would regard as an important philosopher, I mean, someone who is likely to be remembered 50 or 100 years from now.

I think that the conundrums theory is a positive move. It concedes defeat, but gains authority by making that concession. It asks us to consider what is ultimately important, and whether we can live 'without answers' (and, by implication, how we should live).

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Mike Ward
30 May 2011

Geoffrey, I accept your starting point (no god) is one you chose with free will - assuming this is something you have. But isn't this arbitrarily "a priori" or did it result from previous deliberations?

From a utilitarian perspective (which like Newtonian physics works well at the macro level) for me murder and lying can sometimes be justified, maybe not so for a god - I'll think some more on that.

Were I of faith then in response to the claim that god by definition can't give reasons then I might propose a super-god although this may just be regression of the same idea.

Philos-L what is this? as an engineer I'm in an association with similar others with exchanges in ideas and problems etc - is this just the same principal but for philosophy?

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Mike Ward
30 May 2011

Neuroscience - the New Philosophy

Is this the way forward for philosophy, if nothing else I find it fascinating and enlightening - what say you Rachel :-)

http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/reith2003/lecture5.shtml

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Geoffrey Klempner
30 May 2011

Just do a Google search for Subscribe to Philos-L. It's quite busy, sometimes 30-40 messages a day. But good for insider info.

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Rachel Browne
30 May 2011

Hi Mike. I think neuroscience and philosophy should be in dialogue. If not neuroscience will be reductive, ignoring things like the self. Also some current research in neuroscience is about brain reading, which will help locked-in stroke victims to have their thoughts read, so that they can communicate. Neuroscientists can tap into the inner voice. This is not the subjective thought with all its connotations, but the words you formulate in your mind. There is an ethical issue of privacy here. So the self needs to be taken into account for this reason too. Scientists seem to think benefits for locked in victims will outweigh privacy issues. This is important to me because my sister is locked-in. She can communicate small sentences by using an alphabet boardd and that seems sufficient. I'm sure she wouldn't want people reading her mind. In her case she has damage to the motor cortex which is essential in thought reading, so she's not in danger of having an electrode piercing her brain so we can find out what she is thinking. Apart from privacy it seems physically brutal. Neuroscience is making massive headway in understanding thought and language though. Given the ability to read thoughts it seems we have connotations as well as linguistically formed thoughts which we will then enunciate. So yes, it is massively important to the philosophy of mind, but might be intrusive to individuals. Oh dear I didn't look at the book before writing this! Will look now! Well, I just thought we could control population through use of contraception. I agree this hasn't worked - yet.

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Rachel Browne
30 May 2011

Oh yes! Neuroscience may be the new philosophy if it is theoretical rather than experimental! It does miss out phenomenology of the normal case. The self might be able to be broken down into aspects in what is going on in the brain, but only in the case of brain disease do they come apart experientially. The normal case is coherence betwee emodiment, agency etc. Do you know what is wrong with arguing form the abnormal case? If not, does anyone else here know? Geoffrey?

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Geoffrey Klempner
30 May 2011

If sufficiently many blind men poked an elephant with sufficiently many sticks -- and had sufficient time to correlate their results -- then they would get an accurate picture of the elephant.

We have a partial picture of the mind, but we are only guessing at how accurate it might be. Imagine that the only thing you knew about the internal combustion engine (assume you can't open the bonnet) was from the various ways cars break down.

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Auston
30 May 2011

Great posts over last few days - fascinating.

Having been around biological and medical science a bit I have often thought that the big questions in sciences are being asked by the scientists in ways most of us can't even begin to understand. Absolutely brilliant minds. I have thought about where philosophy fits in now that science has the ascendancy. I think the one area that a lot of left brainers run into problems is in the domain of ethics and morality. And this is where I believe there is still a great role for the philosopher. Stem cell, embryology, and cloning research are a few that have been getting huge mileage. I believe that without some thinking and serious debate and philosophical input things could get badly pear shaped. I think philosophers run a risk of marginalising themselves if they refuse or avoid engaging and debating in the world about world issues.

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Mike Ward
30 May 2011

Rachel, I agree that neuroscience and philosophy are complimentary in resolving the alleged mind/brain duality, however as all new data will come from science it does seem to take the lead in the partnership. Not all philosophy though of course :-)

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Tony Fahey
30 May 2011

As can be seen in an earlier post of mine (see 21 May 2011), and in my paper ePhilosophy, Science, Consciousnessi (see Pathways E-Journal 152), my position on this issue, particularly in relation to neuroscience and philosophy, has been well nailed to the mast. However, to deal with the issue of the relationship between science and philosophy on a broader level, I feel we should look much further back in time than recent developments. As far back, that is, to the Milesians and to a time when Thales chose to challenge tradition and to look for answers to the eBig Questionsi in the natural world.

As A Spirkin says in his paper ePhilosophy and Sciencei, science and philosophy have always learned from each other. Philosophy tirelessly draws from scientific discoveries fresh strength, material for broad generalisations, while to the sciences it imparts the world-view and methodological impulses of its universal principles. Many general guiding ideas that lie at the foundation of modern science were first enunciated by the perceptive force of philosophical thought. (see Marxists.org/reference/archive/spirkin).

Following Thales, the first person to posit the view that the earth was not flat was the philosopher Anaximander who, circa 560 B.C., held that the earth was cylindrical, and as early as 435 B.C. Anaxagoras proposed that the sun was not a esmall glowing circle of lighti, but a eglowing rock larger than Pelopennesusi. The fact that his calculation may have been somewhat inaccurate should not detract from the fact that his escientifici theory dared to challenge the wisdom of his time. Mind you, for daring to suggest such a thing, he was exiled from Athens.

In an earlier version of his De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium, Coperniicus drew on the Greek thinker Aristarchusis [c. 217 B.C] thesis that the motions of the earth could be understood if it was assumed that the planets revolved around the sun, and that the stars were infinitely further away because they seemed to be motionless. Not wishing to compromise his originality, Copernicus decideed not to acknowledge his debt to Aristarchus.

Twenty three centuries before the Scottish geologist James Hutton proposed that mountains on which sea shells were found were once covered by the sea, the same theory had been advanced by the Greek philosopher Xenophanes, and was ridiculed as lunacy.

Aristotleis credentials as a scientist are so well documented that I feel there is no need to list them here.

Borrowing again from Sprikin, we are reminded that the idea of the atomic structure of things voiced by Democritus. Certain conjectures about natural selection were made in ancient times by the philosopher Lucretius and later by the French thinker Diderot. Hypothetically he anticipated what became a scientific fact two centuries later. We may also recall the Cartesian reflex and the philosopher's proposition on the conservation of motion in the universe. On the general philosophical plane Spinoza gave grounds for the universal principle of determinism. The idea of the existence of molecules as complex particles consisting of atoms was developed in the works of the French philosopher Pierre Gassendi and also Russia's Mikhail Lomonosov. Philosophy nurtured the hypothesis of the cellular structure of animal and vegetable organisms and formulated the idea of the development and universal connection of phenomena and the principle of the material unity of the world. Lenin formulated one of the fundamental ideas of contemporary natural scienceothe principle of the inexhaustibility of matteroupon which scientists rely as a firm methodological foundation. (ibid)

Thus, so overwhelming is the evidence that these two disciplines are, and have been, inextricably interlinked over the centuries that I feel any further reference would be superfluous. Suffice it to say that as long as philosophers remain faithful to that which attracted them to philosophy in the first instance n a love of wisdom, and a search for truth n science will, as it has always done, play a part in philosophers' ambition to test and extend the boundaries of human understanding.

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Karl Webb
31 May 2011

I for one would be the first to acknowledge the unity between philosophy and science, as my interest in the sciences and possible future discoveries fuel the many questions that I find I'm asking and indeed trying to answer in the same thought.

One of the more dominant areas of philosophy for me is the future role of ethics and morality within human societies, particularly western societies. Notwithstanding the future areas of science in terms of cloning, genetics, abortions and so forth, I would question our ability to uphold our basic generic moral and ethical code as individuals, as is evident in many areas within our societies. This individual moral compass, for a great many people, has spun out of control and for some, withered into non-existance. The greatest moral and ethical dilemmas appear to be rife in the modern first world countries such as here in the UK to name but one.

As an agnostic I openly acknowledge the indoctination of some good moral and ethical precepts through the various religious practices, however I do not believe this is the way forward as there are two many avenues for mis-interpretaion between the various religions and faiths as history has clearly proved.

This being the case, I believe that a unilatrally agreed set of morals and ethics should be taught as part of the curriculum in all countries to all children from around 6 years old, despite any religious teachings that may unfortunately be present.

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Auston
31 May 2011

Tony - I agree with your post in general however most of this laurel pruning is before the current computer science revolution really got a head-of-steam up. They were generally working with the only "tool" available - their intellect. I suspect that many of the great philosophers you mentioned would be poring over computer simulations and atomic microscopes nowadays. When I look through various scientific and medical journals and watch docos what I see generally is the philosophising being done by scientists (with a particular focus and way of viewing the problem). At a spectacularly high level I might add - just try and read a non-mathematical explanation of string theory and the posited 12 dimensions - I can't even get close to understanding this. I am comfortable scientific philosophising occurs but it seems to be increasingly lopsided. And the most worrying thing is that I don't see enough serious debate about the ethics and morality of the discipline. The only time it comes up is when scientists have their research blocked by government, universities (or worryingly) religious factions. The way the world is free-wheeling in the science area at present should give cause/pause for concern. And I think this concern will not be generally raised by scientists unless it suits their research/agenda.

The increasing atomisation of thinking of most people in society (knowledge is pop and bite sized now)does not allow the depth of thinking required for the everyday person to make (or want to make) the effort to understand the fantastical things science is uncovering people just go "wow" and move on. This means science generally rolls on unfettered by opinion and debate. The main debate is from other scientists with differing agendas or funding streams. Into this arena is where generalist and broad thinking philosophers need to step. As I mentioned before the "philosopher" is becoming marginalised and could well disappear into the ranks of "scientists" and other applied disciplines - these are the ones society sees more and more as being the thinkers. In the last 20 years several Australian universities have closed philosophy departments. Many universities in the world do not even have philosophy as a subject any more. This is real cause for concern.

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Auston
31 May 2011

Karl - it would be nice for everyone to have the same ethic. Would be the end of war and poverty and famine I believe. Not sure the 1.5 billion Muslims would agree though. Or the 1.5 billion Chinese. Or the 1 billion Indians. Not to mention the US & USSR blocks of 1/2 billion. For this to occur there has to be incontestable universals in ethics. I am not sure that there are such things. If you can give me some examples that are clearly held by all societies and creeds I would be most interested.

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Rachel Browne
31 May 2011

Well, Mike, I thought you agreed that philosophy and science should be in dialogue. Tony's take is that they are. Surely that science will produce all new data doesn't make it lead the partnership. It is the job of science to produce data. So interaction is necessary so that philosophers don't go astray. By the way Auston, what about mirror neurons? Ramachandaran, the bloke who wrote the paper Mike sent to us, has a popular book out on mirror neurons, based on Italian work. If mirror neurons account for empathy and sympathy they at least underlie a theory of morality, grounded in the brain. That would be some universality. It certainly doesn't support deontological ethics or utilitarianism. Any suggestions? I think Buberian ethics.

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Charles
31 May 2011

If you are looking for the incontestable anywhere in human life, I think that you are chasing after a chimera. The human experience defines uncertainty. Science is a relativity recent addition to the human experience and offers a limited explanation of life, our world, and the universe. To postulate a unity of science and philosophy is excessively reductionist. Knowing and logic are not limited to scientific method.

Poetry (including song) and religion and the various arts (including the martial arts) preceded philosophy. Philosophy did not encompass them. Technology (tools and the art of using them) and agriculture preceded both philosophy and science. Anyone who knows a serious gardener is made aware that their bounty of harvest is not dependent upon, but can be enhanced by science.

Philosophy is not exclusively defined by skepticism. Moral arguments based on natural law continue to be made and I think anyone who claims de facto repudiation there is playing loosely with logic. Also the universal moral claims of Noahism have been continuous and precede history.

A special note for Geoffrey, who introduced me to the Presocratic Philosophers. Why do you make such an anthropocentric description of God?

More generally, I question anthropocentric limited descriptions of consciousness and mind. My questioning is based on both my reading of natural history and my experience with my late service dog, dog Friday and currently working with a mature dog to transition him from being a ipeti to being a Parkinsonis assistance dog. I have a fair amount of practical knowledge and experience with neurological science, having been diagnosed with early on-set Parkinsonis Disease in 1993.

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Auston
31 May 2011

I hear a faint Zionist echo saying Buber nooooooooo waay! ;-)

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Auston
31 May 2011

Mirror neurons- let's hope they do exist. Would be good extension of a useful theory. I just had a quick journal surf to see if they have been found in humans yet - seems they are still only shown in animal experiments.

See point 4 at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2773693/

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Rachel Browne
31 May 2011

Auston, of course I'm not a zionist. That's so funny! Buber stands for the interpersonal which is philosophy that can sit on top of mirror neurons. Levinas might have been a zionist. He was against violence but when interviewed once on how he thought Israel should be protected, he thought war was OK. Buber would never have been for war. Mirror neurons were first found in monkeys but there is a lot of work on them in humans. Extremely recently on the phantom limb phenomenon. Charles, part of the human life is science. You surely cannot deny that the brain is very important. I don't mean to be reductive. I think poetry is very important and my brother - who is a theologian - has written a book on poetry and soul, which totally resonates with my atheist self. Well, it is about soulfulness rather than soul. He's not a Cartesian! As Tony said - and Mike sort of said and then didn't - if we are interested in mind we have to keep an eye on neuroscience, but this isn't the whole story.

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Tony Fahey
31 May 2011

The incontestable in human life is that men (by which I mean, of course, humankind) make gods n and they also make the worldviews that people live by. Poetry did not precede philosophy but, like science, is inextricably connected to it. The first poets were philosophers, and vice versa. Before philosophical paradigms were written down, they were formulated and passed on in poetic form. The first philosophers were theological poets, and, in a way, in that they attempted to give meaning to natural phenomena, they were also the first scientists.

The Italian philosopher, Giambattista Vico, holds that from these early poets came the first social structures - the first institutions. Religion arose in virtue of the primitive mindis belief that underpinning all natural phenomena were unseen forces they conceived as gods (hence the ancient Greeks polytheistic belief ethat the world is full of godsi). Morality and social cohesion arose from the fear and the belief that certain natural events, such as thunder storms, tsunamis, volcanoes etc., were the godsi way of letting people know that their behavior was not pleasing to the these unseen deities.

In both science and philosophy, it can be argued that there may well come a time when the human mind, both at a macroscopic level and a microscopic level, will reach an impasse. For philosophy, following Wittgenstein, it may be argued that faced with that which it cannot speak it can only stand in silence. Or indeed, following Kant, who held that there are things, such as God, freedom of will, and the immortality of the soul, it may be argued that there are concepts that the human mind simply cannot grasp. For science, it may be argued that a time may come when, at the microscopic level, scientists may have to concede that knowledge of that which exists far beyond that of the quarks and gluons is as inaccessible as knowledge of that which exists beyond the furthest galaxy.

It is at the extremities of both science and philosophy that the human mind encounters that which may be conceived as the void: the abyss. Where it can be argued that philosophy gains on science is that it has the ability to embrace this void and acknowledge it, not as the end of knowledge, but the source from which all knowledge arises. Husserl tells us that, in philosophy, the limit of reflection is the transcendental ego: pure consciousness n the experience of being: the eI ami. What he did not realize is that the mind can move beyond the transcendental ego to grasp the concept of no-thingness. However, rather than signaling the demise of philosophy, it can be argued that embracing the void marks a return to that inner sanctum of the mind from which all hypotheses, all concepts, and all worldviews arise.

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Mike Ward
31 May 2011

Rachel, do I sense some philosophers job demarcation protest arising by my arguing that science will lead? I thought philosophy was for everyone and ideally practised in ones daily life activities - no?

The analogy I was making was that like the science/religion relationship where all new propositions come from science and where religion has become a reactionary force. The main changes in religion seem to be it's steady fragmentation splitting into ever more groups intolerant of each other.

Maybe it's time to revert back to philosopher scientists as I think Auston is suggesting.

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Mike Ward
31 May 2011

Charles, everyone is a scientist who acts in the following way

Scepticism of unsupported claims

Combination of an open mind with critical thinking

Attempts to repeat experimental results.

Requires testability

Seeks out falsifying data

Uses descriptive language

Performs controlled experiments

Self-correcting

Relies on evidence and reason

Makes no claim for absolute or certain knowledge

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Mike Ward
31 May 2011

Rachel, I do mean to be reductive.

No brain - never mind.

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Mike Ward
31 May 2011

Tony, you wrote:

Where it can be argued that philosophy gains on science is that it has the ability to embrace this void and acknowledge it, not as the end of knowledge, but the source from which all knowledge arises.

Void? what imagined void?

I was with you up to and including this statement "it may be argued that faced with that which it cannot speak it can only stand in silence." and then you spoiled it for me by speaking!

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Charles
1 Jun 2011

Geoffrey said: "God does not know the answer to philosophical conundrums. He does not know the answer to (genuine) ethical dilemmas. If you doubt this, consider what you would say if God told you that, in the case of a particular dilemma, you ought to do A rather than B. You'd want to know the reason."

By Geoffreyis definition, God merely reflects human capabilities. Less biased by human reasoning is the Eastern Orthodox Christian metaphoric liturgical description of God in iThe Trisagioni as Being iHoly God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortali and having mercy on us. I am neither a believer nor student of Islam, but I understand that Islam is very careful about not describing Allah in human terms. The Hebrew prophet, Moses, certainly didnit portray God anthropomorphically.

By Geoffreyis definition: iGod does not know the answer to philosophical conundrums.i I think that this could be taken as a rather undisguised depreciation of God. I would say that by definition philosophical conundrums are human problems and in general, discussion of philosophical conundrums should not revert to religious beliefs.

think that Tony very selectively, maybe arbitrarily used incontestable in his stating: iof course humankind make gods.i I think that everything humans do or say is contestable. That everything is contestable is not necessarily arguing for extreme skepticism or that there is no such thing as truth. Contestable means that in philosophy everything is open for discussion. Experience I think has proven however that definition is important to philosophical discussion and mixing scientific terms or religious belief with philosophical discussion can be confusing.

I question that philosophers were the first poets. As a reader of history and mythology, I think that it is safe to say that Homer was a poet not a philosopher. The story origins of both iThe Iliadi and iThe Odysseyi are prehistoric and before the Presocratic Philosophers. Socrates clearly differentiated between poetry and philosophy when he experimented with poetics during his post-trial confinement.

There are many theories about the origin of religions. Mental constructs is only one theory. Two other explanations that use metaphor, but based on a inaive realismi and resulting from revelation, are orthodox Christianity (Coptic, Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, orthodox Anglican, and orthodox Protestant) and Orthodox Judaism. Mere questioning revelation does not disprove it.

I would carefully distinguish between the different understandings of ivoidi by different religions and by modern and postmodern philosophies. I do not think that the philosophical understandings necessarily equate with the scientific understanding. There are different logics and different levels of logic.

I personally find useful the understanding of consciousness in humankind (and dogs and etc.) being based on a mental stage taking place in a theater of the mind build on a neurological base subject to sensory input (from a real world).

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Charles
1 Jun 2011

correction to my last - I meant "I think ..." in think that Tony very selectively, maybe arbitrarily used incontestable in his stating: iof course humankind make gods.i I think that everything humans do or say is contestable. That everything is contestable is not necessarily arguing for extreme skepticism or that there is no such thing as truth. Contestable means that in philosophy everything is open for discussion. Experience I think has proven however that definition is important to philosophical discussion and mixing scientific terms or religious belief with philosophical discussion can be confusing.

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Charles
1 Jun 2011

Mike, you may have defined science, but not necessarily philosophy.

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Tony Fahey
1 Jun 2011

Mike, if you read my last post again you will see that I equate void with impasse: a point or stage, as Wittgenstein and Kant infer, beyond which one cannot go. I see this impasse, clearly wrongly in your view, as a void. Probably I should have equated it a tabula rasa: a blank slate upon which any amount of possible worldviews may arise. Regarding your remark concerning my reference to Wittgenstein,you are, as your post clearly demonstrates, perfectly correct: there are times when one should know that it would be best to hold one's tongue.

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Tony Fahey
1 Jun 2011

Charles, as a student of history, it may interest you to know that Homer was purely an ideal man who, in fact, never really existed. As Vico, in his passage 'The Discovery of the True Homer' in his New Science, explains, the works of Homer are not the works of any one man, but the accumulation of many years of wisdom of the entire Greek people. The Iliad represents an earlier period of greek history, and the Odyssey the latter. As Vico says, '...the two poems were composed and compiled by various hands through successive ages...[t]he first age invented the fables to serve as true narratives... the second altered and corrupted them. The third and last, that of Homer, received them thus corrupted... the Greek people were themselves Homer'.

In short the contents of both the Iliad and the Odyssey represent the 'true narratives': the beliefs, the philosophies, of the early Greeks at different stages in their history.

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Tony Fahey
1 Jun 2011

Charles, if you are going to quote from my postings, I would appreciate it if you could do it accurately.

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Charles
1 Jun 2011

Tony

I havenit read Vico. But I understand your raising the Homeric question: Did Homer exist as a real individual who composed the iIliadi and the iOdysseyi? The probability that these epic poems had more ancient origins is not consequential in determining whether Homer was a real individual poet or a composite of poets. I think that there are two definite things here: 1)In ordinary conversation about these poems, it facilitates discussion of their content, if the composer is referred to as Homer, in the singular. 2)If some clear archaeological evidence was found for a singular Homer, there could be a world wide reduction in staff at university departments of classics, literature, and philosophy.

The real issue here is whether or not we have to buy into following the modern and postmodern philosophical herd of nominalists. Who Homer was can be an interesting question. It could also be a distraction from reality.

Charles

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Charles
1 Jun 2011

Tony, where was I inaccurate in quoting you? Charles

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Mike Ward
1 Jun 2011

Tony, that a neat parallel Homer and the Bible are the same sort of thing - I like that idea.

Thanks for adding the comment on the "void". Isn't this a problem though the moment one invents somewhere that one can't go the first thing someone does is try to go there. Any boundary has something on the other side of it as I cannot conceive of a nothingness - can anybody I wonder?

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Charles
1 Jun 2011

Mike, what is "the same sort of thing?"

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Rachel Browne
1 Jun 2011

Mike and Tony, has philosophy not already met this "impasse"? It's same old, same old. But it always will be because people will always be interested in philosophy. Scientists are more likely to come to this impasse. Then what happens? The scientists will still be there in institutions applying for grants. To look into untruth, perhaps, so they can keep their jobs? This might be the next scandal. Already we have instititions looking into climate change and they have to say there is climate change or they are out of a job.

Charles, I wasn't postulating a unity, just dialogue. No-one is seriously reductive about mind, surely, except some people in San Diego and Mike.

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Mike Ward
1 Jun 2011

Charles, As Tony wrote "In short the contents of both the Iliad and the Odyssey represent the 'true narratives': the beliefs, the philosophies, of the early Greeks at different stages in their history."

The bible fits the same description as the beliefs and philosophies of the people who wrote it. Just that nothing more or less.

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Mike Ward
1 Jun 2011

Rachel, perhaps we can equate conundrums with philosophy.

After all I know from Monty Python what the Romans did for us but what has philosophy done for humanity?

Not sure what San Diego contributes to the mind/body issue but this guy does contribute- also Andrew may be interested in this.

http://www.closertotruth.com/video-profile/What-is-the-Mind-Body-Problem-Daniel-Dennett-/601

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Tony Fahey
1 Jun 2011

Mike, your point about the bible is well made. I believe that Friedrich Schleiermacher may have been one of the first philosophers who openly drew attention to the unreability of the bible, particularly the old testament.

Actually, returning to Vico, later in his New Science,this italian thinker is understood to have anticpated Schleiermacher by more than a century. However, because of the climate of the time (the Inqusition and the Index of Prohibited Books), in his final edition of his New Science he masks his critique of the old testament in his critique of, believe or not, Homer. (for more on this see Cecelia Miller's Giambattista Vico: Imagination and Historical Knowledge, or, if I may be so bold, Chapter 7 of my book, Vico's Road to Postmodernism).

With reference to your comment on nothingness: you will note that what I actually wrote was no-thingness: a state, if one can call it that, in which the mind is thought (or ethingi) free. I liken this to the Buddhistis Nirvana, and it is for this reason that I liken it to a tabula rasa; a state of mind that precedes thought.

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Mike Ward
1 Jun 2011

Tony, just being pedantic I wondered if no-nothingness = somethingness (a double negative). However it seems to me more like a hypothesis in Vedantic philosophy which I can best describe in my own terms as "unfocussed awareness"

The kind of short lived experience one can have when naturally awakening where one momentarily "sees" what is to be seen without any thought activity. After this brief moment the thoughts of where, what and when then flood the mind - or is this just me?

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Adebayo
2 Jun 2011
I have been wondering and pondering seriously on this thing called intentionality. Intentionality are described as mental states or qualitative states of consciousness. Now, it is not on whether Brentano considers it to be different from physical states that borthers me, neither is it the phenomenological colouration given to it by Husserl. What bothers me is how we can describe the experiecne of a Being being conscious of his own conscious states. What exactly does it mean to assert for instance that "I am conscious of my being conscious?" or "I am aware of my awareness of being alive?". To observe one's conscious process is a phenomenally subjective experience which involves some level of introspection into both nothingness and beingness. I hope I am not presently at the point of experiencing the absurdity which existence entails as advocated by Sartre and his cohorts.

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Peter Jones
2 Jun 2011

I'm not sure that Satre renders existence absurd, just a certain view of it. A certain view of existence has always been absurd, and has been a central problem for philosophy from day one, but there are other views. Perhaps there is something wrong with the idea that intentional consciounsess is the same thing as awareness.

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Rachel Browne
2 Jun 2011

Adebeyo Intentional states are other directed for Brentano. Observation is other related. Intentionality is not a self-self observation relationship. Why do you think there is a higher order consciousness? It is part of consciousness that we are aware of being conscious, surely? Well, for language speakers. I wouldn't include chickens here.

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Hubertus Fremerey
2 Jun 2011

#300 Back after two weeks and without knowing all the exchange that has happened here, I just try to answer Tony :

Tony Fahey 21 May 2011 Hubertus, forgive me if I'm wrong, but I find little or no difference in the meaning inferred in your remark 'Humans are the only animals that can biuld artificial worlds. No ape can paint a picture of a landscape or other apes or other animals. And not ape can tell a story connecting objects in a meaningful way', and my remark that 'In a world in which the development of human beings from infant dependency to adult independency is amongst the slowest in the animal world, it became imperative that the human mind should develop a mental dexterity that would allow them to anticipate, to negotiate, and to overcome obstacles; to consider the consequences of their circumstances and, where necessary, to modify their responses and reactions accordingly'.

By the way : You see why I strongly suggest numbering of the entries ! It is difficult to reference in the short way without citing numbers.

Now on your arguments : I don't find your argument convincing. Of course to be intelligent even in animals like apes, dogs, cats etc. means to "understand" and anticipate a situation. Dogs and cats know very well how to startle their owners to provide food or a stroll. Thus they see a connection. But from this does not follow that they need an image of the world and of the past and future generally to cope. But you are right that this is somehow in the same line in the long run. Which means that the parts of the brain that are responsible for intelligence in cats and dogs and apes etc. have been extended in humans to provide more insight and enhance intelligence. But the devolopment of speech and the hands in humans are probably independent. We do not know whether cats and dogs and dolphins could paint cave paintings or tell stories since they lack the hands and the language capabilities to prove it.

But without this ability to display and to share what you see and know a true culture becomes impossible. Thus we humans are the only animals which can develop artificial environments by establishing culture - religions, philosophies, sciences, moral and legal systems etc.. This was my point.

A culture is like a submarine or spacecraft : an artificial encapsulation that renders us humans independent from the restrictions of nature to a large degree. Nature can build animals of 30 m length at most, but humans - understanding and applying the laws of nature - can build ships of more than 40 m and (in principle) could build spaceships much larger than that. Nature is a dead alley, but humans applying intelligence to find out about nature can go very far beyond the limits of nature (natura naturata, not natura naturans).

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Tony Fahey
2 Jun 2011

Mike, it certainly is not ejust youi: your understanding of the state of mind of which I speak is spot on, and eerily familiar to a description of such I set out in a paper on this issue I produced several years ago. Connecting it to Vedantic philosophy is also uncannily near the bone, as my understanding in this matter is drawn from an my interest in Eastern Philosophy which I studied to some extent in a college I attended some years ago.

It was during these studies that I was introduced to mediation which, in turn, led me to an understanding of this state of mind. Later, at a different college, I studied a less formal, but more effective method led by William Johnston of Tokyo University. This method allows one to connect with this state of mind almost instantaneously, and later without recourse to the method at all.

In fact I was tempted to draw attention to this matter by way of a response to your reference to a Martian perspective in an earlier post, to make the point that something of a detached perspective is much nearer to hand (or should that be mind) than the red planet.

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Tony Fahey
2 Jun 2011

Hubertus,fistly, welcome back. Secondly, I'm not sure what objection you are making to my post in question in your refrence to dogs and cats etc., as I agree completely with you - except of course to say that, whilst I can deduce from their behaviour that some of the there seems to be some parallel with human behaviour and intentions, in keeping with Nagle's treatise on bats, I cannot say with any degree of certainty that I know what is going on in the minds of these animals.

With regard to your remark that '... without this ability to display and to share what you see and know a true culture becomes impossible. Thus we humans are the only animals which can develop artificial environments by establishing culture - religions, philosophies, sciences, moral and legal systems etc.. This was my point' I can only say that that it is my point too.

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Tony Fahey
2 Jun 2011

Hubertus,fistly, welcome back. Secondly, I'm not sure what objection you are making to my post in question in your refrence to dogs and cats etc., as I agree completely with you - except of course to say that, whilst I can deduce from their behaviour that some of the there seems to be some parallel with human behaviour and intentions, in keeping with Nagle's treatise on bats, I cannot say with any degree of certainty that I know what is going on in the minds of these animals.

With regard to your remark that '... without this ability to display and to share what you see and know a true culture becomes impossible. Thus we humans are the only animals which can develop artificial environments by establishing culture - religions, philosophies, sciences, moral and legal systems etc.. This was my point' I can only say that that it is my point too.

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Hubertus Fremerey
2 Jun 2011

#301

Well, Tony, then we are agreed. What I am fighting is a certain recent tendency to say : "Oh that is well known from animals too !" - which simply is not the case. This is what I call "sloppy thinking" : As babies Alexander, Caesar, and Napoleon were first of all babies and not Alexander, Caesar, and Napoleon. The rift between humans using language and culture on the one hand and animals (or babies) showing intelligent behaviour is enormous and fundamental !

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Charles
2 Jun 2011

I hesitate to restrict this to humans, because we don't know what life forms may exist elsewhere in the universe. But Peter Kreeft has written: "What do we have that no mere animal has? The thing that many modern philosophers vilify: abstraction. We have the power to abstract and understand universals." Kreeft wrote this in his book "Socratic Logic" and was comparing Socratic Logic to propositional logic and to mathematical logic.

I agree with Hubertus, some sort of reference system would help this philosophical conversation along and help avoid quotes that might be incorrect.

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Charles
2 Jun 2011

Re consciousness, I am inclined to think that it is not unique to humans, my dog and other animals may have some consciousness. Consciousness may naturally result at a certain point of brain development.

Have you ever closely observed snakes? I think that we have an evolutionary aversion to them. They remind me of robot attack aircraft, programmed to make a lethal strike under certain conditions.

I once observed a snake (a local garter snake) swim across a small pond and swallow a frog that was sitting on a rock in the pond. It was as if the snake was programmed to directly strike and the frog programmed to just sit there. If either the frog or the snake had consciousness, I think that their behavior would have displayed more complexity. Another time, in the Philippines, I was a passenger in a light truck that ran over a Boa in the night. When the driver and I got out of the vehicle to see what we had run over in the dark (we thought maybe a down tree limb), it turned out to be a snake that stretched clear across the road and even though run over by a truck, it raised its head and hissed at us, before rapidly slithering away.

I compare my limited experience with snakes to my experience with a mobility assistance dog. It is impossible to program an assistance dog for all the situations they may meet with you. In fact, an assistance dog is not programmed, but learns to work with its master in all situations. My dog Friday was trained to move over simple obstacles. But I like to walk on trails in natural areas, where neither one of us knew exactly what we would encounter. My experiences with dog Friday when encountering trees fallen across a trail (that ran between a steep hill side and a white water river) make me think that dog Friday had both a conscious sense of himself and of me. I could urge dog Friday to jump up and over the fallen tree. But then he had to figure out how much tension to apply to his lead to assist me in crossing the downed tree. Dog Friday did not operate in a programmed manner.

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Rachel Browne
2 Jun 2011

Charles of course our dogs are intelligent! Friday was a working dog, of the most intelligent sort. He tapped into mood and helped out. What is it about language that makes difference? Dogs are behaviourists.

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Rachel Browne
2 Jun 2011

Charles, dogs are such individuals. Even with my highly bred Weimaraners there is no commonn personality. Let's remember Dog Friday.

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Rachel Browne
2 Jun 2011

Tony, I take it that you don't have pets and don't have rapport with animals. That's sad. If you had Parkinsons', like Charles, you would find their value.

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Hubertus Fremerey
2 Jun 2011

#307

Good hint, Charles ! Abstraction - the ability to see the common in even apparently very different objects or events - is one very important ability of the human mind. We are able to call a dog and its fleas "animals" and keep them apart from "plants" like clover and roses. This is a special application of "intelligence" and "conceptualization".

Together with an ability (1) to construct artificial worlds and (2) communicate those worlds across a community of humans make up the set of instruments that set up apart from the animals, while emotions are what makes a "sym-pathy" with animals possible.

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Hubertus Fremerey
2 Jun 2011

#302

Rachele, there are several sorts of non-spoken language of course - in humans and animals alike : Gestures, hints, sounds, etc.. Thus in any careful analysis once more "numbering". But with this unspoken language you cannot build worlds.

Think of a simple example : We humans can say "tomorrow we will meet at high noon at the big stone beyond the wood." Nothing of this can be communicated with a non-verbal language, since there is nothing that can be pointed to - with our without sounds. This is why religious practices are a proof of humans : You cannot communicate about some other world without using a conceptual language with others.

Thus "tommorow beyond the wood" is impossible to communicate for dogs and apes alike. But it enables any animal like us that can make use of such sort of language to plan some strategy or tactic and by this be far ahead of all other animals when it comes to chasing and trapping.

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Tony Fahey
2 Jun 2011

Rachel, I cannot think of anything I've said that could let you conclude that I neither have nor like animals. If it's because I say that I cannot say with certainty that I know what's going on in a bat's mind, I can only add that neither can I say with absolute certainty that I know what is going on in another person's mind. To paraphrase Edith Stein, we can empathise with others, we can try to imagine how they feel, we can attempt to put ourselves in their shoes, as the adage goes, but we cannot get inside their heads to to the extent that we can say with absolute conviction that we know for sure what is really going on in there.

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Mike Ward
3 Jun 2011

I think most of you humans love animals at least this is my conclusion based on the vast numbers that are eaten every day.

It's better to be at the top of the food chain!

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Charles
3 Jun 2011

My point was that consciousness may not be limited to humans. I think that consciousness should be considered as something different than intelligence.

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Hubertus Fremerey
3 Jun 2011

#309

Charles, I think that "consciousness" is what Plato would have called "the chariot driver" or "kybernetes" on top of the emotions. But the driver himself (like the "great helmsman") is guided by intelligence. But intelligence itself can be "situational", "experienced" or "learned" and "informed". Some animals can muster a lot of "situational" and "experienced" intelligence, but not "learned" and "informed" intelligence as a human engineer or doctor "who knows what to do and why." Our modern technical world depends on an enormous amount of knowledge from math and the natural sciences and engineering totally inaccessible to any animal. This fact tends to be lost with too much concentration on "emotions" and "empathy". But of course mutual understanding of humans with animals is very impressive and enjoyable. There is not rift in this respect between the human world and the animal world. We humans are still "animals", while thinking ones.

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Neil Carruthers
3 Jun 2011

Hubertus, The example you coined to demonstrate the necessity of a verbal language to express some concepts for others' benefit makes its point clear, but i couldn't help feeling that "Nothing of this can be communicated with a non-verbal language" was possibly a trifle overstated. If "we" stood for "you and I", a very simple mime would probably succeed, and if your interlocutor were familiar with where the sun rose and set, one might get "tomorrow" across to a bright listener, perhaps even "high noon" .

I had thought that Native Americans of the past could communicate fairly usefully with those of other tribes whose verbal language was totally different by a code of non-verbal gestures.

Further still, I could not help thinking of the honey bees dancing information for their hive-mates. Some concepts surely can be communicated without a foundation in the spoken word?

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Tony Fahey
3 Jun 2011

Rachel, what makes you presume that I do not have Parkinson's disease?

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Tony Fahey
3 Jun 2011

Hubertus, might it not be that consciousness is the awareness of being, and that it is the will to power that is the driver?

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Mike Ward
3 Jun 2011

Hi everyone, no more posts from me for about two weeks as I'm off on holiday to the Loire this evening. Not far from where I'm going is a town called Descartes - I think I may go.

No doubt you will have the meaning (if there is any) to life upon my return!

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Rachel Browne
3 Jun 2011

Hey Mike, have a good un. Tony, I'd expect you'd have mentioned it when Charles did. Perhaps Charles didn't mention it? Well we can't really know what is going through people's minds but in some instances you can pick out a thought. I often know what my husband is going to say. He asks "Do you think" and I finish off the question he was going to ask. Well, he does call me a witch so this might be odd, but when you share an enviroment closely and know someone well, it is possible. Hubertus, obviously there limits to animals communication. This is not to say that they don't have memory of the past or possess future cognition. Dogs can remember "what and where". If you come across a dead thing in a field and drag them away, the next day they'll head for the same spot to find whatever revolting rotting it was. What they can't do is remember "when" very precisely. They can probably remember the rotting thing as being there on their last walk, but this isn't placed in sequential thought as it in humans. They also have prospective cognition of the if/then sort. Like if I pinch my owner's lunch she's going to yell at me. They seem to me to have tactics. Dogs pretend to be asleep so you leave some food around and the minute you turn your back they've pinched it. Strategy is obviously much more complex. Charles will have plenty of examples of the intelligence of dogs, since Friday was obviously exceptional.

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Rachel Browne
3 Jun 2011

Apologies for my failure to remember to use paragraphs.

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Charles
3 Jun 2011

For me, consciousness is truly a hard problem. It may be a problem that I can approach through philosophy. Not as a professional sophist, although I recognize that there is an important place for philosophy in universities. Not as a neuroscientist, because I am a patient of a neurologist and not a scientist. But my experience with my late movement assistance dog, dog Friday and a current personal experiment to train a mature dog rescued from the pound to be my movement assistance dog have raised some questions that I think may possibly have answers in the realm of philosophy

As I put together my inquiry, I welcome your suggestions. If suggesting neuroscience, please neuroscience light. I don't pretend to be a neuroscientist. My understanding of science is about the level of the magazine Scientific American. Since I am taking a particular look at possible animal consciousness, I am interested in moral aspects of human-animal relations.

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Rachel Browne
3 Jun 2011

Charles, I don't know much about neuroscience either. It's just something I'm inclined to read about in the equivalent of your Scientific American and A. is really into it and is planning to do an MSc in it. It's actually a bit annoying, because it's so reductive. I think the realm of cognitive science is the place to look rather than philosophy and neuroscience.

Cognitive science has been defined as "the multi-disciplinary scientific study of cognition and its role in intelligent agency". The word "cognition" appears in the definition of the cognitive here, but given that it is multi-disciplinary, what can you expect?

But cog sci is analysis of intelligence and understanding.

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Rachel Browne
3 Jun 2011

Sorry, Charles, I meant to mention that the Jewish philosopher Buber claimed to have an ethical relation with a horse. It's regarded as a radical claim, but really it is natural. The horse responded to his touch.

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Hubertus Fremerey
3 Jun 2011

#319 @Neil Carruthers :

Thank you for interesting objections. There is something in it, but even your Native Americans would be unable to tell you Plato's "Republic" or "Symposion" in this way - not even the content, let alone the literary quality. And don't even think of the honey-bees !

Yes, you can teach apes to tell with some pictograms "let's go to the neighbouring room to play a bit." But this in only an adjacent room and time. But to speak of "tomorrow beyond the wood" is a bit more difficult. And to speak in any religious way of "a world beyond where our beloved may live on" (to justify a burial) may be even more complicated.

I sometimes meet kids from a nearby special school for the deaf in the bus "chatting" in sign language. Thy apparently exchange many things, including funny gossipy ones. But they can do this, since they have a highly developed culture around and a sophisticated sign-language. But to translate Plato into an advanced sign-language and to become a Plato in a world restricted to sign language are two very different things ! Just try to express the concepts of "justice", "beauty", "truth", "necessity" in a sign-language when nothing else is available to you and the "listeners".

Thus even your Native American stay very near to "the situation". They cannot free themselves from the situation at hand in the way a Homer or Plato could. They cannot tell you long and contentful stories of strange things and difficult thoughts.

It may well be that dogs and cats dream. They quite often move and growl when sleeping. But how could they communicate the contents of those dreams in the way Homer or Plato could ? And how could the communicate the contents even with themselves and "think it over" silently like Socrates did ?

This is what I call "building artificial worlds" using (conceptual) language and pictures. To a degree you can use pictures and pictograms. But no ape so far has been seen creating those pictures and pictograms by itself. Those always had to be provided by humans so the ape could point to some picture or pictogram and by this generating a meaningful message. This at least is possible. Thus apes can make use of some inborn "syntactical grammar" - which is a lot !

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Hubertus Fremerey
3 Jun 2011

#320 @Tony Fahey

I don't like this "will to power"-concept of Nietzsche. It is way too simple. Think of the chimp trying to get at the banana dangling from the ceiling. He checks the situation and then starts stacking chests or using a long pole to get at the banana. What do we gain by calling this chain of events resulting from a "will to power" ? Of course in a very general sense it is. It is a will to overcome obstacles by assessing a situation and thinking of possibilities to solve some problems.

But look at a different situation, the famous one where Herakles at the crossroads is pondering whether to follow the comfortable or the hard way and then choosing the hard way. Is this "will to power" or "pursuing happiness" ? Situations as these render such notions meaningless. And this explains why I don't like this modern obsession with "consciousness" and other "states of mind" anyway.

Thinking persons - like Herakles or Socrates standing before his accusers or Luther standing before the Emperor etc. - are following their conscience, not their consciousness. But the conscience refers to a very much greater frame of reference than the consciousness.

Thus by explaining human behaviour from "will to power" or from "pursuing happiness" we reduce humans to intelligent animals and deny them the dignity of thinking moral beings. This is the danger of all naturalisms, and this explains why even Wittgenstein turned away from this simplistic approach in later years.

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Charles
4 Jun 2011

Rachel, literature from cognitive science (written for the non professional) probably will be part of my inquiry into consciousness. But since it is a personal inquiry resulting from my own experiences and questions, I think that I want to look at it from a broader perspective. Personal experience has taught me that I need to establish some parameters and write myself a study proposal with a proposed bibliography. I know that sounds bureaucratic, but I tend to waste time, if I don't hold myself accountable to a plan and schedule. I'll post at least a tentative bibliography here, because I am interested in your input and others.

Hubertus, I don't see a problem between conscience and my interest in inquiry into consciousness. The fact that I have been motivated to actually do something now with my interest, because of my recent experience with a new dog, probably indicates that I live neither an exciting nor intellectual life. But hey, I'm walking a dog 18 years after a neurologist told me that I'd probably be in a wheelchair in 5 years. That makes me happy! I'm sorry that you are so bothered by the pursuit of happiness.

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Hubertus Fremerey
4 Jun 2011

#321

Charles, that you are walking the dog after 18 years instead of sitting in a wheelchair since 15 years makes me happy too. Keep on !

And I am never against pursuit of happiness, I only said that it is philosophically absurd to derive an anthropology from that pursuit. It would come nearer to the truth to speak of "self-realization", but even this is misleading. What humans try to do from childhood - and you surely do - is : To come alive, to see what is around, to cope, to take part, to wonder, to play, to try new things, to meet new people and animals and experiences and maybe God. But to lump all this together and call it "pursuing happiness" is nonsense, because when you enter a dark cave to meet fear or climb a dangerous mountain to meet life this is not "going for happiness".

It's interesting that Anglosaxon philosophy has no word to translate "lebensphilosophie". There is "biophilosophy" or "philosophy of life", but this is not what German philosophers like Schopenhauer and Nietzsche and Heidegger are interested in when they speak of "lebensphilosophy". What they are asking instead is : What does life tell us about ourselves, what is driving our endeavours, what is philosophy good for if you feel lost in light or darkness of being ? etc.. Thus they are not thinking ABOUT life but FROM life. This is VERY continental !

"Existentialism" is VERY "continental" and never could spring from the Anglosaxon mind. Anglosaxon philosophers NEVER ask "what am I doing here ?" save in a very practical sense. They simply do not understand what is meant by putting this same question in an "existential" sense. They call this a meaningless question. They say : "Well, yes, I am here, so what's the matter ? Null problemo !" That the experience of "I am here !" could be a shock and drive the whole philosophy of Heidegger and French Existentialism seems absurd to Anglosaxon minds.

This is why "continentals" so often find Anglosaxon philosophy "shallow" and "formalistic". Which seems confirmed by the idea that humans strive "for happiness" instead of "for God" or "for truth" or "for justice" etc., since "happiness" is not a goal but a mere "state of mind".

So in the same way as "existentialism" could not spring from Anglosaxon minds, "utilitarianism" could not spring from "continental" minds. This is once more the "dichotomy". Each side calls the other side's thinking "absurd".

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Charles
4 Jun 2011
My note- Consciousness is truly a hard subject (see below).

Consciousness from International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences 2008

Consciousness is a multifaceted phenomenon, and many terms are used to describe its facets. Consciousness, conscious, aware of, experience (noun), and experience (verb)o all these words have different meanings in different contexts and for different people, so generalizations about their meaning will necessarily have limited validity. Considerable discrepancies also exist between the conceptual tools available in different languages for classifying consciousness and related phenomena. So, for example, the French conscience encompasses both iconsciousnessi and iconscience,i as the latter words are used in English; in German the subtle difference between the meanings of the English words iconsciousnessi and iawarenessi is lost when both these words have to be translated as Bewusstsein.

Because of these linguistic and conceptual problems, every systematic treatment of consciousness has to start with a set of distinctions and definitions for the purpose at hand. The task of formulating these in a way that makes them useful for people with different mother tongues is far from simple. However, aspects of consciousness and related phenomena can be classified in three basic categories: cognitive consciousness, phenomenal consciousness, and control consciousness. All are the subject of ongoing philosophical debates.

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Charles
4 Jun 2011

Descartes does not employ or accept an 'all-or-nothing' view of consciousness. He merely denies (not that this is a small thing) that animals have the capacity for self-conscious reflective reception or awareness of sensations and feelings. Thomas, Janice. "Does descartes deny consciousness to animals?(PHILOSOPHICAL ABSTRACTS)(Rene Descartes)(Brief article)." The Review of Metaphysics. Philosophy Education Society. 2006.

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Hubertus Fremerey
4 Jun 2011

#324

Thank you, Charles, for clarification. But my "assaults" on the concepts of "consciousness" and "pursuit of happiness" was not directed at those consepts and their heuristic value, but against the whole attitude of Anglosaxon philosophizing.

The concept of "consciousness" is content free : The mass murderer and the saint both have "consciousness". It's a purely technical concept for the neurlogist. But the concept of "conscience" is not ! It is referring to moral goals and is guiding our behaviour to or against what we think is good or true. Thus it is defining humanity, while consciousness is not. And this outspoken neglect of content is very characteristic of Anglosaxon philosophy. It is like studying the physics and mechanics of a car without the slightest inerest in the question what cars are used to and by whom.

The car is a technical device made by humans for the use by humans. Thus a car is not just "some object for study" like a stone or a bird. It is a cultural object. This is an important difference ! It is not the same whether you study dogs as dogs from a purely biological point of view or whether you study them as pets or help-dogs or in other human cultural contexts.

Of course it may be useful under certain conditions to study any cultural object just as an object in itself, but you will not understand a car in this way while you may understand a dog. Much of what makes a car is only understandable from its usage by humans - the styling, the seats, the heating, the windows etc..

For me the central question of all philosophy is - as for Socrates and Nietzsche alike : How are we humans coping the world, which is not only a physical, but as well an ethical problem. But neither the physical nor the ethical aspects are only those of consciousness and awareness, but essentially are those of "leading and justifying a life".

We are active and creative and moral beings ! Even little children are ! They are inventing things with building blocks and paintings and telling little phantasy stories etc.. They are actively exploring the world and changing it. They are much more than mere computers processing data.

The question "what should we THINK about the world" must be completed by the other question "what should be DO about the world ? How should we transform it - why ?"

St.Augustine, Dante, and Luther did not cultivate some consciousness and awareness of God, they were striving for God, they were following a call and seeking a way, they were active and struggling, not only contemplating.

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Hubertus Fremerey
4 Jun 2011

#324a one more note added on "pursuit of happiness"

For St.Augustine, Dante, and Luther (and countless others up today) the idea of "pursuit of happiness" was a nonsense, while "pursuit of truth" or "pursuit of God" was not.

Then Nietzsche said that "God is dead", so the pursuit of happiness became a mere pursuit of "being happy". Something trivial, worth of animals but not of thinking humans. This was what Nietzsche found disgusting. Just to feel easy and comfortably cannot be the ultimate aim of a thinking moral being. So he jeered at Bentham and wrote : "Man does NOT strive for happiness - only the Englishman does !"

There is another picture that indicates what Nietzsche was trying to get across : Think of the chrysalis of a butterfly. It is struggling and striving for the light, but not for God but for life, for being in the light of life itself, for experiencing the freedom of life. This is how the striving and struggling of humans could be seen "after the death of God" : Enjoy life - including all dangers and hardships and sufferings !

But this is "striving for life and liberty", striving for "self-realization" and for "realizing ones potentials" and many other things, not for happiness. Thus I find the notion of "striving for happiness" misleading and simplistic. But it seems to be a staple of American thinking. There are many popular books in the USA on "how to be happy and successful and making friends". This is a stuff that Nietzsche and Heidegger and Adorno would have despised. They all were too much entrenched in the old "continental" struggles for "truth and God".

There once was a time when Puritan thinking was as hard and gloomy as "continental" thinking. See "The Scarlet Letter". But then came "Enlightenment" and with it Locke and Hume, Rousseau and Jefferson. Today the general mood of American thinking may be mixed and a bit more pessimistic than it used to be.

Well, it is more complicated than that, I know. There is much pessimism and "paranoid style" in American thinking even today.

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Rachel Bowne
4 Jun 2011

Charles, I'd suggest asking someone who really knows about the dog. I'd really recommend getting in touch with Bruce Fogle: http://www.brucefogle.com/contact and ask him for reading. When I was in his waiting room there was a book on dogs and mind. He is a very knowledgeable and literary vet.

For God's sake, Hubertus. You "don't like this will to power"? OK, you don't like it, but couldn't you have asked Tony what he means? What his use is?

We need to ask, to use open questions, if this conference is going to take off. Dominance alienates people. They don't want to speak if they are going to be crushed without thought about what they are saying.

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Hubertus Fremerey
4 Jun 2011

#322

Well Rachel, I didn't mean to scare Tony off. He should stand it and "retaliate". He should beat and convince me with good arguments. I hope there is something left to debate.

When I said that Socrates before his judges was guided by conscience, not by consciousness and that this referred to a much greater frame of reference I meant that he had to evaluate the whole moral situation - his and that of the judges and of all of Athens - in the light of moral concepts. He lived during the time of Sophocles and Euripides and Thukydides who all were known to him, thus he was very aware of the complexities of moral positions. This was very much more than mere "consciousness". His situation was not "standing before my antheaded judges" but "standing as a thinking moral being before the combined wisdom of Sophocles and Euripides and Thukydides" so to say.

What I fight is a tendency in modern "philosphy of mind" to ignore this fundamental difference. If our philosophical education today is not up to this challenge it is deplorable. Seen in this light Socrates was ahead of modern philosophical education. Students have to see the difference between neurology and philosophy, and philosophical teachers have to see to it that they do.

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Tony Fahey
5 Jun 2011

Rachel, thanks for making the point I should have made myself. To tell you the truth,I had initially intended to explain myself, but before I could get around to it the debate had moved on and I thought "to hell with it!, if he doesn't get it, he doesn't get it!".

I must say that for one who treats the concept of the "will to power" with such distain, Hubertus's exchanges suggest that he thinks, perhaps subconsciously, otherwise.

I would like to add that it seems to me that if this conference is to continue (and I certainly hope it does), the evangelising will have to cease, and the discussion return to an exchange of views between people whose only motive is to engage with those who share a geniune love of philosophy.

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Geoffrey Klempner
5 Jun 2011

The ethos of Pathways -- our mission -- is about promoting dialogue. I would draw a distinction between a dialogue between 'I' and 'thou' and the Platonic/ Socratic ideal of dialectic, or the disinterested pursuit of truth. No-one is disinterested. I would suspect anyone who claimed otherwise.

That is why everyone who participates in the conference needs to keep their eye not only on the current state of play, but also on the overall aim: to keep the dialogue going, to forge bonds of fellowship. We are philosophers together. That means something.

I am very happy with the way that this discussion has been going. I have been inspired to launch a new project, StudyPartners.net. Every Pathways student, past or present, will be asked whether they would like to be assigned a study partner. Each study partnership will be assigned their own private space like the one we are using now.

Any thoughts or suggestions will be warmly welcomed. Please write to me directly as I don't want to interrupt the flow of the conference more than I have to.

Thanks. Keep up the good work!

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Geoffrey Klempner
5 Jun 2011

Just a quick addendum. I once wrote, 'I've been witness to some comic scenes in Oxford academic philosophy seminar rooms, where professors high on intellectual vanity and testosterone tussled like angry bulls. -- And they wonder why there are fewer female academic philosophers!'

That would be a rather shallow take on Nietzsche's notion of 'will to power'. Needless to say, we don't want any of that here. If you feel a surge of excess energy, go for a run or work out in a gym.

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Tony Fahey
5 Jun 2011

Hi Geoffrey, although still recovering from a sharp slap on the wrist, I would like to offer my tuppenceworth regarding your study partner idea. Let me say from the outset that I think it is an excellent idea. As an undergraduate many years ago, it was something encouraged at the college I attended. In my time there I linked up with two fellow students with whom I formed a relationship that not only served me well at that time, but has remained strong right up to the present day - indeed they are still two of my closest friends.

The term college attached to the system was istudy buddiesi. At times we would meet to discuss study related issues over coffee or a drink, at other times we would discuss such concerns over the phone; we would brain storm together and read each otheris essays/assignments. As well as the obvious educational benefits, I would say that one of the greatest advantages of such partnerships is that they help to negate the feeling of isolation and panic that can envelop one at times, particularly around exam time.

Indeed, I was so convinced of the benefits of having a study partner, that when I moved on to teaching I encouraged students to follow this advice. I should say that, while it is not something that appeals to all students, those that did link up were always glad they did.

I should add, however, that the system does have a negative side. This usually occurs when the partnership is something of a mismatch of ability or enthusiasm on one side or the other. This was most notable when the two ebuddiesi return two identical, or almost identical, assignments.

In the distant learning program at the college I last taught, because much of it was conducted online, a facility called ithe virtual cafEi was introduced where students could link up, without supervision, to discuss any study related issue online. Feedback from those that chose to take advantage of this facility showed that this too was found to be most useful.

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Tony Fahey
5 Jun 2011

Sorry Georrey, I didn't notice the bit where you asked us to write to you on the study partner issue privately.

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Geoffrey Klempner
5 Jun 2011

That's OK, thanks for your response Tony.

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Tony Fahey
5 Jun 2011

A few words about my undertanding of Nietzche's "will to Power". According to Nietzche, the will to power is the basic life force that drives us all, and the source of everything that we are. All that is valued as good or benevolent has its origins in this life force. iPoweri, in this instance, does not mean brute force or domination over others, rather it is more akin to courage or fearlessness. Since we are primarily motivated by this force, whatever we admire or emulate must best represent power: self-harmony, self control, and self realization, as exemplified in Socratesi approach to death.

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Hubertus Fremerey
5 Jun 2011

#325

Well, Tony, first I beg you pardon if I seemed rude and "overpowering". I am only "intense" and direct. It's a will to clarity and results and not a will to power that is driving me. And I didn't read or interpret Nietzsche differently on "will to power". I used the example of the chimp going for a banana to illustrate that. Socrates going for wisdom is not different - in principle.

When I wrote "I don't like this "will to power"-concept of Nietzsche" my intention was not directed against you but against a certain habit of using misleading notions that need too many explanations. We should prefer notions that need not much eplanation. Compare it to the notion of "superman" which is always misunderstood. Nietzsche would never have been pro Nazi, he would have despised them. The Nazis misused his concept for a while - but only for a while, because then they eventually began to understand that Nietzsche would have depised them.

What Nietzsche tried to say was not that different from the message of Marcuse : "Don't fall victims to common sense and common usage, lead your own authentic life, don't let you be guided by others, "dare to think and to live by you own standards", "become authentic". "Bring out the best in your abilities and don't always try to adapt to the usual !" "Don't try to feel comfortable with the masses !" In this respect Nietzsche was a "radical liberal" and anti-socialist - including anti national-socialist.

I see Nietzsche in the context of Schopenhauer, Feuerbach/Marx and Darwin/Spencer : They all said - decidedly against German Idealism - that life is not an epistemological problem of the mind, not a problem of insight and understanding in a purely intellectual sense, but a problem of courage and striving and overcoming real obstacles. So perhaps one should replace the misleading "will to power" by a more meaningful "will to (the authentic) life". This is what could be attributed to Socrates but not to the chimp, because the chimp has no idea of what "authentic" is, while Socrates and Heidegger and Marcuse see a problem here.

I hinted several times at the fact that there is no translation of German "lebensphilosophie" in the English language. There is only Anglosaxon Pragmatism, but this is in a very characteristical way different from "lebensphilosophie". Nietzsche was no pragmatist. If anythinkg he was more a forerunner of Existentialism. This too would be a simplification that needs explanations.

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Rachel Browne
5 Jun 2011

Tony, I really like the idea of will to power as not dominating others, but about powering the self through harmony and control and self-realisation. Do you think this is strictly what Nietzsche meant though? You seem to be able to apply it to Hubertus's dominance as well. Perhaps you use it in two senses? I have known Hubertus for a long time over the internet, and have met him, and he isn't at all dominant in real life! You couldn't know anyone more reasonable. This might relate to Geoffrey's e-mail on the Oxford academic seminar: intellectual vanity and angry bulls. I'm not daunted by the fact that someone is a man, intellectual and dominant. At the end of the day, it's just some bloke. We are just simply all human.

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Rachel Browne
5 Jun 2011

Just thinking that maybe there is plagiarism if students actually swap essays.

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Tony Fahey
6 Jun 2011

Rachel, you are, of course, perfectly correct in saying that copying anotheris essay is plagiarism. It is for this reason, drawn from my own experience as a tutor, that I felt obliged to point out this negative aspect of the study partner facility. An added problem, I should also point out, is that one could never be sure that the weaker assignment was the one that had been copied.

Hubertus, I appreciate your kind words and your determination to keep these exchanges both interesting and harmonious.

Although Hubertus has gone to some length to explain Nietzscheis concept of the iovermani, I would like to add something more on this issue to this debate. I would also add, that while I agree with Geoffrey that in such instances contributions, as with paragraphs, are best kept as brief as possible, I suspect in this case my post may be a bit longer than I would like. I would like to add the codicil that whist the below accords with my present understanding of this issue, I am, as always, prepared to accept that, given further evidence, I may have to reappraise my position.

As Hubertus has shown, for Nietzsche, the essence of all things is the iwill to poweri. This iwill to poweri manifests itself in the individualis desire and courage to rise above the horde and be different. For Nietzsche, society is not an end in itself, rather it is an instrument for the enhancement and power of the uebermensch: a means by which the individual can become a free spirit. As Marion Faber explains in her introduction to Beyond Good and Evil:iAbove all this new philosopher will assume a place of superiority in the social and intellectual hierarchy. Nietzsche leaves no doubt that the free spirit is a superior human being edelivered from the crowd, the multitude, the majority, where he is allowed to forget the rule of ehumanity, being the exception to iti (ibid:xiii)

Nietzscheis uebermensch, or free spirit, then, is one who emerges by virtue of the aristocratic process: one who eschews democracy and equal rights, and one who achieves greatness at the cost of others by virtue of the will to power.

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Tony Fahey
6 Jun 2011

There you go - it wasn't that long after all!

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Pete Jones
7 Jun 2011

Tony - You say that Nietzscheis uebermensch, or free spirit, is one who achieves greatness at the cost of others by virtue of the will to power. Is this true? I'm not at all sure that it would be possible to achieve any meaningful greatness at the cost of others, nor that Nietsche advocated doing so. But I don't know him well.

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Tony Fahey
7 Jun 2011

Hi Peter, from what I know of Nietzsche, and, over the years, I have given much attention to his works, all that I've written is an accurate description of his concept of the uebermensche, and the will to power.

Moreover, where initially he seemed to hold the view that the new philosopher could emerge by a process of aestho-autogamy - to emerge fully developed, later he formed the view that the development of the "overmani. The uebermensche would owe more to deliberate breeding and careful nurture than to the hazards of natural selection.

The biological process, he held, is biased against the exceptional individual. The uebermensche can survive only by human selection, by eugenic foresight, and the ennobling of education. Thus, higher individuals should not be permitted to marry for love - love should be left to the rabble. The best should marry the best. Without good birth, he maintained, nobility is impossible.

Nietsche's formula for the development of the uebermensche requires three important ingredients: good birth, eugenic breeding, and good education. Such an individual would be beyond Good and Evil.

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Charles
7 Jun 2011

Tony has provided a very helpful focus on Nietzsche. I have read some critics of Nietzsche, but little of his actual writing. Tony's focus on the "overman" makes me think that if ideas are important and have consequences, Nietzsche does indeed bear some responsibility for the mayhem in the 20th & 21st century.

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Rachel Browne
7 Jun 2011

I wonder if you can achieve greatness if it is at a cost to others. Don't you need others to think you are great, when they are being used? Why would they do that?

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Rachel Browne
7 Jun 2011

Oh I suppose because of herd mentality, but how could herd mentality recognise greatness?

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Tony Fahey
8 Jun 2011

Rachel, regarding your question as to whether the herd can recognise greatness, one has only to consider how readily so many surrender their own identities to wallow in the reflected glory of people they perceive to be famous. It might also be said that many people prefer to follow than to lead.

It should be remembered that for Nietzsche democracy meant the dissolution of power. It meant the worship of mediocrity, and an abhorrance of excellence. It meant the unrealisability of greatness - for how could the overman arise in a society that submits its potential leaders to the indignity and indecencies of the electoral process.

In a democracy, he held, the natural process becomes inverted, society loses its character, and mediocrity becomes the accepted norm. Instead of the hero (the uebermensch), the average man becomes the ideal. Nature, it is said, abhors a vacuum, in Nietzsche's view it also abhors equality. The natural order of things is hierarchical: instead of equality, nature recognises the differentiation between individuals, classes and species.

According to Nietzsche, in a democracy we are, from birth, indoctrinated by erroneous values of such institutions as family, religion, and government. We are conditioned to submit to rules, laws, beliefs, and superstitions which enslave us and render us powerless. The triumph of Christianity, he maintained, was the beginning of democracy. thus, the firat step on the road to greatness: to becoming a free spirit - an uebermensch, must be the destruction of Christianity. Democracy and Christianity, he said, have conspired to keep truth from us. The gaaze of the new philosopher must penetrate the false crustaceans of these traditions and seize power for himself.

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Pete Jones
8 Jun 2011

If the best are only to marry the best then I'd want to be the one who decides what 'best' means, since it can mean anything we like, and if love is to be left to the rabble then I'll elect to stay with the rabble.

Anyway, perhaps mutual love is a better way of bringing together the 'best' partners for their mutual advantage and that of the species than a committee of geneticists. Seems more than likely to me.

Is not the idea that evolution work against the exceptional a bit strange when it would work against mutations turning into special traits, and thus against the evolution of species? All in all I'm not a fan of N's thinking, but I must read him more in case I'm being too hasty.

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Pete Jones
8 Jun 2011

Poor old Christianity. Gets blamed for everything. I wonder how he arrived at the idea that it's responsible for democracy.

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Rachel Browne
8 Jun 2011

Well, Peter, perhaps democracy follows from Christianity, because all men were supposedly created equal. Which is obviously a load of nonsense. Actually I think Thomas Jefferson said this, rather than the Church, but the Church would say that all men are equal in the eyes of God. If the Church holds that there is a heaven and hell, this doesn't seem likely either.

Well, Tony, I think Nietzsche is right about democracy. I said a while ago that I don't believe in it, though I wasn't thinking about Nietzsche. It just seems a ridiculous system. Why should totally politically ignorant people vote? People just vote for the party who will be best for them. I don't vote because I'm politically ignorant - and people get upset about this and tell me that I "should" vote. I don't get it.

Indoctrination of values is going to occur whether you are in a democracy or not. Nietzsche was probably wrong to criticise democracy on this count.

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Tony Fahey
8 Jun 2011

Hi Rachel and Peter, I perhaps should make it clear that I too have problems with Nietzsche. For example, as we have seen, central to his philosophy is that the overman, by virtue of his/her birth, eugenic breeding, and education, will assume a place of superiority in the social and intellectiual hierarchy. For Nietzsche, the uebermensch is the ultimate in this hierarchical chain of power.

However, it seems to me that what he fails to recognise is that the nature of power neither obliges the individual to dominate, nor to be different. Rather it allows the individual the option of choosing his/her own direction in life. For Nietzsche, the goal of the free spirit is to dare to be different. The question that arises from this proposition is how can the uebermensch be a free spirit if he/she is not at liberty to choose?

Let me try to show how i see one might repond to thisquestion. Michel Foucault (who, by the way, saw Nietzsche as the founder of post-modernism)argues that every kind of discourse is an attempt by the user to excerise power over others. If we accept Foucault's argument, then it is fair to conclude that this "will to power": this attempt to influence others, can be excercised slowly, quietly, and effectively, from within whichever system that one decides is in need of change. Thus, for many to dare to consciously remain one of the horde can be as courageous as it is to dare to be different.

For example, for centuries many men,and women, whilst reconising their own potential,have selflessly and courageously sacrificed their own ambitions and desires in order to provide a better environment for their children to develop. For as many years, these same men and women have excercised the "will to power' to overcome both physical and mental hardship in order to do what they believe is right for themselves, their families, for society, and, more recently, for the planet. Yet,in numerous cases, the intelligence of these people informs them that, given different circumstances, they would be capable of many, if not greater, things.

Unlike Nietzsche's uebermensch they have excercised their "will to power" by choosing not to be different. If, as Nietzsche says, "everything deep loves a mask" (aphorism 40), why should this not be the mask of ordinariness, or even anonimity?

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Hubertus Fremerey
8 Jun 2011

#340 Overman or Singularity ?

I have put my opinion on Nietzsche under #325 (5 June). Here is something different to make you think :

Some links to the future - putting technology and consciousness and "will to life" in a different new light. Read carefully, try to stand it and not run away.

http://www.time.com/time/printout/0,8816,984304,00.html

http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,984304,00.html

http://www.amazon.com/Robot-Mere-Machine-Transcendent-Mind/dp/0195136306/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1307558593&sr=1-1

http://www.time.com/time/printout/0,8816,2048138,00.html =

http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,2048138,00.html

http://www.time.com/time/printout/0,8816,2041714,00.html

http://www.amazon.com/Alone-Together-Expect-Technology-Other/dp/0465010210/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1307558562&sr=1-1

http://www.kurzweilai.net/?utm_source=KurzweilAI+Weekly+Newsletter&utm_campaign=2290331b25-UA-946742-1&utm_medium=email

http://edge.org/

http://wfs.org/

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Rachel Browne
8 Jun 2011
Thats capturing the art of conversation!

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Hubertus Fremerey
9 Jun 2011

Or that's getting the conversation out of cosiness and comfortable irrelevance.

I tried to shake things up a bit. We can go back to consciousness of dogs an humans afterwards again, but we are in the 21st century now and not in the 19th. We should try to keep up with what is on the platter now.

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Tony Fahey
9 Jun 2011

Hubertus, good to hear from you again. However, whilst I'm clearly all for keeping the conversation going, and for moving on to issues relevant to what is happening today, I do get Rachel's point. Do you think you could give us your own take on the issue(s) raised on the sites you recommend?

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Auston
9 Jun 2011

Hubertus - re your computing post. D-Wave in Canada have just sold the first quantum computer. It is parallel in operation doing millions of operations simulataneously. If this develops where they are planning from the current 8 to 30 qubits then that single computer will have all the combined processing power of every computer on earth at present. Pause to reflect.

Also the IBM computer "Watson" (a serial computer) took apart both the number one and two Jeopardy champions back in February. I think things are a changin' on the machine v us front. For those that don't know Jeopardy it is more than a straight general knowledge game show and requires some very human thinking in some categories.

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Rachel Browne
9 Jun 2011

Well, Hubertus, since you recently sent me information on Jacques Ellul, it is my take that you are interested in technology and want our views. It is not an attempt to shake up the conference at all! Tony, Ellul held that technology is anti-humanist. We are no longer in control of technology but it is in control of us. We have to learn how to use computers, texting etc. or we are outsiders. This is a common view in philosphy. Heidegger and others have held this, and this was before the rise of the computer! I don't know what view Hubertus holds. It doesn't matter what century it is Hubertus! Animals and humans are a real matter of study in universities.

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Rachel Browne
9 Jun 2011

Sorry! Paragraph failure again.

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Tony Fahey
9 Jun 2011

Thanks Rachel, I think Iim getting the drift of this now. Iive actually read the first site recommended by Hubertus, and find that, whilst extremely interesting, its origins are more 20th century than 21st. That being said, the issue is worthy of further discussion, so, thank you Hubertus for this change of direction. Although a change that brings us back to the issue of human consciousness.

I think it may be as far back as the 1970s that functionalists were arguing that any physical system that had the right program with the right inputs would have a mind. Functionalists were not interested in whether the stuff of the mind was copper, cream cheese or grey matter, but the role, or function, of anything conceived as being intelligent. In short they held that the mind is to the brain what the program is to computer hardware; the brain resembles the hardware of a computer which sustains the programs which make up human intelligence.

Allied to this view is the Artificial Intelligence, or strong AI thesis, that it is possible to design q system which can possess mental states that are equivalent to those of human beings. The prevailing view of strong the AI thesis is that psychological states are essentially computational states. Human psychology, it holds, is merely the software of the brain computer.

One of the first people to advance this theory was Harvard philosopher Hilary Putnam who, in his book, Mind, Language and Reality (1975), said: ia computing machine is not explained by the physics or chemistry of the computing machine. It is explained by the machineis eprogramiO [s]imilarly the psychological properties of human beings are not physical and chemical properties of human beings, although they may be realized by physical and chemical properties of human beingsi. (p.xiii).

Psychologist Stephen Pinker, another champion of the computational theory of the mind, describes the brain as an iextraordinary complex computeri and the mind as a system of eorgans of computationi: an information-processing device designed to solve lifeis problems. The sign that the computational theory is on the right track, he argues, iis the existence of artificial intelligence: computers that perform human-like tasksi. (How the Mind Works. 1998: p.81)

In his book, Minds, Brains & Science, John Searle draws attention to the AI theory, and particularly the Deep Blue argument [as mentioned in the article recommended by Hubertus] they present to support this thesis. That is, the chess match in 1966 in which the computer Deep Blue defeated the world chess champion Gary Kasparov. However, whilst this most impressive, agrees Searle, can we really compare the functions of a computerized chess set to the intricate workings of the human mind? That is, whilst the chess computer may appear to act intelligently, is it conscious of sensory quality? Is it conscious of the material in-put it is fed in the same way the human mind is conscious of the stimuli to which it reacts? In other words, does artificial intelligence exhibit sentience as well as sapience? The answer, says Searle, is in the negative: a computer may defeat a grand-master of chess; it may even clean your shoes and wash your car, but ultimately, it cannot be said to have intelligence. For to have intelligence it is not enough to appear to behave intelligently: to have intelligence must mean that one understands what one is doing, and the chess computer does not know that it is playing chess. As Searle says, i a computer has syntax, but no semanticsi. (ibid: p.33)

Whilst there is much more to be said on this issue: the eblack boxi view of the mind, Searleis eChinese Roomi argument etc., I think I am in danger of going in to overload, so Iill pause to wait for any response, or any other thoughts others may have on this interesting topic.

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Hubertus Fremerey
9 Jun 2011

#347 on "singularity"

I cannot and would not comment on all those links I put in #340. What I was hinting at was : Next time we can expect that robots will show the same level of "situational intelligence" as dogs do. When robot come near to what humans think I do not know - nobody does, not even Moravec or Kurzweil. But it means that our self-concept as thinking beings will be shaken.

practically speaking : Do robots need "consciousness" to behave like dogs ? If not, then either consciousness is not important, or dogs don't need it either - whatever you prefer.

My point when posting those links was : The whole character of our debate will change in the light of those technical advances.

It is not in the sense of Rachel that we are dependent on technical gadgets - notebooks, mobiles etc. - but that our philosophical debates change their character. Wouldn't we ascribe the "will to power" and the Schopenhauerian will to robots as well ?

up to around 1950 there was a clear line drawn between the organic and the technical world. This line is beginning to blur and to vanish. From the perspective of a molecular biologist any animal and human is but a very complicated bio-robot. The "bio" in this case is not a matter of principle anymore, but refers to bio-molecules instead of Si and As and other molecules and atoms in the nano-technology.

Thus what I wanted to bring about is a shift in our attitude to the difference of "organisms" and "devices".

So far there are no thinking robots. Not even Jeopardy was such a thing (I have seen it on YouTube). But we cannot evade the question whether thinking is more than "applying rules of analyzing to sensual data from the environment."

If so, this would be compatible with Hume and Kant, and a different way of thinking from us humans may be ahead. This is exactly what Kubrick tried to tell us in the movie "Artificial Intelligence".

In this light, we are "smart apes" becoming outdated, while a new race of "smart robots" will prevail in the long run. If we take this idea seriously, we cannot do philosophy as if nothing happened. We have to cope this new situation.

This is very much more than merely depending on technical gadgets.

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Charles
9 Jun 2011

Hubertus said: iNext time we can expect that robots will show the same level of "situational intelligence" as dogs do.i

I do not share your high expectations for robots, Hubertus. I agree that there will probably be exponential advances in robotics and towards strong AI in the near future (10 - 30 years). But I think it is more likely that AI will be somewhere between weak and strong AIis in the next 30 years. Even in a possible 22nd Century, robotics and AI could be similar to Gort the robot in the original SF movie (1951), iThe Day the Earth Stood Still.i Gort was a very advanced robot, but like a very advanced drone attack aircraft system (the system of Gort type robots in flying saucers pre-programmed by extraterrestrial beings).

I do not say this to discourage discussion of AI and robots, but assumptions need to be clear and different views acknowledged. This past week I watched the DVD video, iTranscendent Man.i The subject of this documentary (2009) is the engineer and futurist Ray Kurzweil and his ideas about AI and a hypothetical technological singularity. Kurzweil is a very interesting person and I highly recommend this documentary about him. But as the documentary shows, he has some very intelligent and technological able critics. One criticism of Kurzweil is that he is naive about human nature. To Kurzweilis credit, he is a humanitarian and his inventions include technical assistance for the blind and other disabled people. But critics point out that technical advances are available to both the side of ilighti and the idark sidei (my use of Star Wars terms). It is quite likely that exponential advances in AI could lead to the most destructive war in all of history, so there goes any possible singularity (into the trash bin of history) and humanity into an apocalypse.

The hypothetical Gort can out compute my dog, but in my opinion the dog is still more advanced. Iill have more to say about this later. But I suggest: iThe Emotional Lives of Animalsi by biologist Marc Bekoff and iWild Justice - The Moral Lives of Animalsi by Bekoff and philosopher Jessica Pierce. Note to Hubertus - I would be interested in some 21st Century philosophical other views and more specific objections from past philosophers, not just a list of historical Continental philosophers and any iAnglo-Saxoni (Hubertusi term) philosophers you might add. I donit say this in opposition to Continental, Analytic, or iAnglo-Saxoni philosophers. But I donit think a ilaundry listi of philosophers proves anything.

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Pete Jones
10 Jun 2011

Yes, I'm with Charles on this. There's no reason to suppose that a man-made machine will ever be conscious and many reasons to suppose otherwise. Not least there is the fact that when a human being stops computing he or she does not become unaware. How will the AI crowd go about replicating that trick?

In his book on consciousness Dennett quotes Paul Valery's line, "Sometime I think, sometimes I am". This is the end of any argument stating that consciousness is computation - unless we define consciousness as computation and call awareness a different problem.

Yesterday I had a meeting with a phone app. developer. I explained that I didn't think apps were at all sophisticated yet and wanted to do something better. He bridled, and to wow me with an example of sophistication showed me an app. on his phone that lets you make whacky guitar noises as you move your finger over the screen. Right there is the whole problem. Techologists see a complex programme like this as sophisticated, while by any non-technical standards, and espcially psychologically, it is utterly childish. Even Deep Blue might as well be a vacuum cleaner compared to a dog.

I feel that a lot of the problem is that people do not investigate what it is they're trying to replicate or explain, and this leads to a lot of daftness.

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Auston
10 Jun 2011

Learning I believe is related purely to computational power i.e. instructions per second, connections and interrelations of connections - and of course memory. Once machines reach this level of computational power and connections(see quantum or photon computing) they will "learn" in the same sense that humans do. They will no longer require the "programs" mentioned previously - if they do then they will be dynamic programs written on the fly by the machine itself. They will have to all intents and purposes consciousness.

Many critics say this can't happen but I have yet to see anyone say exactly why not. I think we have a high level of arrogance in our species and we generally have poor ability to understand how things change over time. If machines can't evolve like this now... then what about in 50, 500 or 10,000 years? What about 1,000,000 years. We tend to see or envision only what we can experience or understand in our individual life time. In my grandparent's lifetime it was genuinely thought that to travel more than one hundred miles per hour would tear the air from your lungs and kill you. Within my mother's lifetime it was genuinely thought that to travel faster than the speed of sound would cause one to explode. Our experience of machines is that of tools for our use and that they can't rise above this personal utility purpose. (btw - We once had the same thinking about slaves). Spinning mills were amazing inventions but no one thought whole factories would basically run themselves in the next century.

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Auston
10 Jun 2011

Pete - Just to clarify - In my previous I am not saying machines will become human -or have human consciousness - they will have machine consciousness. They will be a different and far superior group in areas related to strength, longevity, rational thinking and solving problems and such like. And I do think that if humans don't adapt this will push us into the Neanderthal class. Yes we may be able to say paradoxical things and be amazed and have a range of other non-machine "emotions" and not be able to know ourselves, and look at ourselves thinking the thinking but I am not sure that is "better" or in some way superior - it is just different. I am also not suggesting that machines are just plastic or metal constructs - I think in fact many neo-tech and nano-tech machines that are being developed now are heading very much down the biotech/biological path. As some theorists have mentioned, to not embrace the machine into our current biology could be the end of us as a species. I think humans becoming more "cyborg" is the obvious path. AI is not the buzz at the moment it is IA - Intelligence Amplification - it is inevitable for humans to go this way and once it happens we will head down the machine route ourselves - and in 1,000 years I think we will be more machine than we are "human" at present. This begs the question: at this stage will it be human or machine consciousness.

You mentioned phone apps (love the Angry Birds one - very silly) - these are playthings sold to us by marketing companies - small things for small minds with money to spend. I also think there is a political agenda to keep people happy and not think too much (another topic though). D-wave's technology or the CERN Hadron Collider - I think these things are slightly more impressive examples of machines and applications.

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Pete Jones
10 Jun 2011

Hi Auston. Are you saying that when humans have become cyborgs (about next week by my estimation) then we will have machine consciousness? Wouldn't we have just human consciousness with some added mechanical aids? I don't buy the idea that consciousness is emergent from cleverness.

Is the LHC more sophisticated than a mobile phone app.? It seems to depend entirely on the app. and how one defines sophistication. My point was that technophiles tend to define sophistication in terms of technological complexity, while this is only one of many measures and not even an important one. For myself I prefer to associate sophistication with simplicity and effectiveness, and suspect that a genuinely sophisticated species would take a sledghammer to most of its machines.

It seems that the whole idea of machine consciousness depends on consciousness being no more than computation. If so, then it depends on a whacking great assumption that completely contradicts the experience and testimony of millions of people who have taken the trouble to investigate consciousness first hand rather than speculate. The idea that we might falsify the perennial philosophy by building a machine may be exactly the sort of pseudo-science that ensures that consciousness studies goes aimlessly round and round in circles.

In any case, we'll never know if we can build a conscious machine as there's no way to determine whether anything is conscious besides ourselves. We'd have to judge its level of consciousness by its behaviour, and this presupposes Behaviourism. Perhaps this is an interesting question. Would a proof of machine consciousness have to depend on an assumption of Behaviourism?

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Rachel Browne
10 Jun 2011

Yes, Hubertus, that was a bit of a sweeping claim that the biological doesn't matter anymore. I'm reading Edelman, a neuroscientist - I think Auston suggested him - and also Alva Noe, professor or philosophy and cognitivism, and both root mind in the biological. Given the idea of feedback loops, mind isn't independent of environment. Most people think that thinking is more than "applying rules"

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Auston
10 Jun 2011

Pete - I am fascinated with this area as this is current and developing so rapidly and welcome anyone's ideas - I am only following what I am finding in other areas and thinkers. I did some philosophy studies about 25 years ago and am dismayed that so many head-bound philosophers are still doing the same old same old around questions that I think are unanswerable without huge scientific input; it's as if they can 'work it out" if they just think about it enough - hardly different from angels on heads of pins. I am lazy - if a machine can do something I can't then I normally give it up to my "superior".

Per my previous a few weeks back by definition most folks in industrialised nations are cyborgs already - ever had a vaccine? Or a tooth implant or a medical implant or contact lenses? It is a matter of degree - which will become more and more over the coming years. What I was saying is if we become more machine than human then what is the consciousness we are discussing then? At some point does it stop being human consciousness and start being "machine" or vice versa. What if we digitise (A form of transhumanism) at some point in the future - would we still be human or an artifact.

The whole consciousness debate is speculation through and through - I have never read or heard anything that clearly proves one way or the other what it is or how it becomes or exists or whether it leaves the body after death etc. etc. (Angels on pin heads). Or even whether other animals have it etc.

A simple test of consciousness of machines that has been put forward is that a "blinded judge or group of judges" in a room separate to the machine and communicating with it on "any" subject or area or theme can not distinguish the responses from those of a human being. Can this be anything but consciousness? If a machine could learn and be reflective then.. we could go down the path of machines not having emotions but these are not required for consciousness.

I am not sure how millions of people's experience "absolutely contradict" the idea that consciousness is something more than hugely complex computation. Does anyone have any demonstration or proof that it is not? Could you give me examples of where consciousness cannot be explained by massive computation - i.e. sequenced and coordinated electrical and/or chemical signals across a network.

I do agree there are a lot of techno wankers out there that are seduced by complexity - simplicity is elegance. Though they have many things in common I would say the LHC programs or a Q Computer are a bit more sophisticated than Angry Birds . Elegance and simplicity is where nano-tech is already - what could be more simple than a tiny group of molecules (a tool a machine) programmed to do one simple task - like attack cancer cells.

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Rachel Browne
10 Jun 2011

You can test consciousness with PET an mFri scans but you can't test humanity. You can't test reasonableness, which is a concept at the heart of English law. Whilst Americans might think English law small and irrelevant, don't you have the concept of mens rea?

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Hubertus Fremerey
10 Jun 2011

Great ! We got the debate going again !

I am too tired now shorty after midnight to enter into the details, will be back on it tomorrow. There is a lot to comment. I just threw a pebble into the pond. Let me assure you that I am far from mixing up current robots with truly thinking humans.

There are two sorts of naivety : That robots will be up to human thinking next time - and that they never will be. Both theses are "not proven". We only cannot avoid them.

So far even the smartest robots look rather pathetic. But look at the first cars and airplanes in 1910 ! They now have come a long way. I won't underestimate the potential of robots then. "Deep Blue" was plain stupid. A silly whiz kid. But robots will learn to learn. Or so I think.

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Pete Jones
11 Jun 2011

Hi Auston. I have some sympathy for your position but I hold a different view of the situation.

You say you are fascinated with this area (consciousnesss) "as this is current and developing so rapidly and welcome anyone's ideas - I am only following what I am finding in other areas and thinkers. I did some philosophy studies about 25 years ago and am dismayed that so many head-bound philosophers are still doing the same old same old "...around questions that I think are unanswerable without huge scientific input;..."

This cannot be it. There is already a huge scientific input. And yet I'd half agree. A bigger contribution from the science of consciousness might make a difference. But philosophers only become scientists when they actually study consciousness.

A - "it's as if they can 'work it out" if they just think about it enough - hardly different from angels on heads of pins. I am lazy - if a machine can do something I can't then I normally give it up to my "superior"."

The trouble is, the quantity of angels that can dance on the head of pin is one of the central problems of physics and mathematics. Infinitessimals and all that, the problem of quantising a continuum and other things. It is vital not to dismiss these intellectual conundrums as trivial. They are critical. I think maybe you are too hard on the thinkers for thinking, where all we need be hard on is wrong thinking.

A - "What I was saying is if we become more machine than human then what is the consciousness we are discussing then?"

I'd say the the same one, although perhaps impaired. Why would it be a different one? A - "The whole consciousness debate is speculation through and through - I have never read or heard anything that clearly proves one way or the other what it is or how it becomes or exists or whether it leaves the body after death etc. etc. (Angels on pin heads). Or even whether other animals have it etc."

Again I agree, but for different reasons. And again perhaps you are too hard on the speculators and not hard enough on yourself. In a nutshell, you do not consider mysticism to be a science, therefore you do not read the literature, therefore you do not know that it offers an empirically testable and philosophically sound solution for the problem of consciousness, therefore someone else is not doing their job right. There are thousands of books explaining consciousness from the authority of direct experience via first-person reports, and even a few giving proofs.

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Auston
11 Jun 2011

Pete - some nice ideas - been down a few of these paths over the years too. My apologies for some of my messy writing - These postings are pretty hard as I just haven't the time to write the whole stream out properly - I see many of the postings here being misunderstood - it's a shame we can't sit and talk for a day. At least it rolls the ball along. You misunderstood me re my last post. I am not particularly interested in consciousness-it is the machine human interface that I am interested in - cyborgs etc. Consciousness will take care of itself (as it has done to date)and will be explained eventually through science - why science - because we have tried the other areas of inquiry for millennia and come up lacking - angels on heads of pins (good mental exercise but for our individual brains too much) - I am thinking this is unanswerable by human contemplation - in my opinion it will require massive scientific and computational input - thinking yea, creativity yea, but then it will need to be crunched and we just can't do that - bring out the machines. All the abstract math you mentioned - infintesimals, quantum mechanics etc is only understandable/answerable with massive computation by machines - oh and the LHC.

Yes I agree "Scientists" are having huge input - they are the new philosophers I think (certainly the only ones being listened to presently)- this was in a previous post that no one took up on. Edelmann, Paul Davies, Kurzweil, Tim Flannery, Dawkins are some of my favourites.

Earlier the argument was that machines couldn't have consciousness wasn't it? So I posited that if we cyborg up a bit more at what level of machinisation is organism no longer human but machine - I can imagine a race that is no longer homo sapien (which is the current scientific definition of human)- we may be homo technus - yes I think we will be an amalgam of machine and human in the future and... (big thinking read speculation) could have a new form of super consciousness that could be in the form of one superweb. I can also see that a machine could have this "consciousness" - in 10, 20, or 1,000,000 years. Also i asked if consciousness could be explained other than by computation power. Were you able to come up with some examples of consciousness that can not be explained by high enough levels of computational power?

Re mysticism - I have studied buddhism quite a lot and it has very stimulating, deep and logically valid arguments but still relies on expert (mystics) testimony when it comes to the crunch of the final details - I can not say the arguments are sound in the end. NO I absolutely do not think mysticism is science - this thinking muddies the water - the two can stand alone well enough. Science in essence is verifiably repeatable and testable with the same results - nup mysticism gives widely variable and untestable results and that is why it is called mysticism - it is unique and personal and cannot be verifiably tested.

I am not a big believer of the Gurdjieffs and Babas and Saints and Crowleys and Castanedas and other mystics - I have read dozens of these people, amazing people and persuasive writers having great experiences of life - that's nice. Shows how incredibly varied and imaginative humans are and the range of things we can experience and think - they provide fertile and ground for more thinking and action.

Hubertus - Thank you for throwing the pebble back into the pond and saying it so clearly - machine thinking vs machine never thinking are two forms or naivety neither proven. I find that I think best by pushing towards possible extremes to get movement and unfreeze bias and prejudice and then move back towards what is more understandable and real. I am just pushing towards the machine side presently to see where it can be taken (cyborgs are here and real). Things are moving with incredible pace in the science/tech area and this really bears watching and debating and in some cases action. While some are comfortably contemplating angels on heads of pins, the Chinese (this is fact) have recently genetically modified a cow using human DNA to give "human" milk - we need to get thinking. Who would have thought just 20 years ago???

Quote: By using the cloning technology, a scientist Professor Lee Nyng of China has develped a special generation of cow by the combination of human cloning DNA and Stan Hall generation cow. Professor Lee nyng, the research team leader, stated, iThe milk taste is delicious and stronger than normal dairy milk.i

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/agriculture/geneticmodification/8423536/Genetically-modified-cows-produce-human-milk.html

Rachel - The concept of "reasonableness" in English law is based on rules and tests of previous situations - called precedent - it is not usually made up on the spot - when it is on occasion made up on the spot by a judge it is usually challenged/appealed and then the testing of previous situations or examples starts again and then this becomes the precedent - i.e. the rule to apply to similar cases. I am not sure about Mens Rea (it's about personal intent isn't it)- could you explain this a bit more. I am interested in your thoughts but I don't quite understand. Are you saying consciousness and humanity don't have to be related? I am not sure what humanity is either - so many terms and concepts :-)

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Pete Jones
11 Jun 2011

Auston - Thanks for complimenting my ideas. Less flattered that you ignored them all.

A - "Consciousness will take care of itself (as it has done to date)and will be explained eventually through science - why science - because we have tried the other areas of inquiry for millennia and come up lacking - angels on heads of pins (good mental exercise but for our individual brains too much)"

We cannot say anything deep about the nature of time and space without first solving the problem of how small an angel can be and still be counted as an angel. The relationship between a continuum and a seried of points is a crucial problem for both physics and philosophy. This is because our folk-psychological notion of spacetime is absurd. One physicist describes it as a 'mystical illusion.' Zeno showed that it is a crucial problem for philosophy and physics has come to the same conclusion. For a theory of spacetime we would need to understand the problem of how many angels God could fit onto the head of a pin. Paradoxes arise for this question that threaten the whole idea of 'res extensa'. This is the significance of mystcism, that it does bot reify spacetime and so does not face this problem. Gods, angels and pinheads would be conceptual creations and able to seem to exist despite their clearly paradoxical nature. This is what Zeno was trying to say, I believe, on behalf of his master's vision of a changless continuum as a cosmic background. Once we reify time and motion neither make any sense. The same is true for existence, as GK points out in 'Naive Metaphysics'. The same appears to be true for consciousness, given the confusion we see in western philosophy of mind.

Okay, you can say that this is all getting a bit too much like religion and seems profoundly unscientific to you. But I expect you'd agree that technically this is not a valid objection on a philosophy forum.

I wish it were true that scientist are the new philosophers, and find your list of examples to be rather a damning indictment of the current state of scientific philosophy. My list would include Eddington, Heisenberg, Schroedinger, Bohr and their like, those who you might prefer to disqualify for being too mystical, but who nevertheless had the courage to be good philosophers, to go wherever their discoveries and dispassionate analysis led them. Dawkins, to pick a sitting duck, does not. In his book on religion the word 'mysticism' does not appear in the index of topics, and this is enough to disqualify him as a serious philosopher. But Paul Davies would also be on my list, and I am only arguing for his view here, or an extension of it.

A - "I can imagine a race that is no longer homo sapien (which is the current scientific definition of human)- we may be homo technus - yes I think we will be an amalgam of machine and human in the future and... (big thinking read speculation) could have a new form of super consciousness that could be in the form of one superweb.

Maybe we already have this, and do not need to bother with imagining mechanical enhancements.

"I can also see that a machine could have this "consciousness" - in 10, 20, or 1,000,000 years."

But this is surely crazy. The idea does not compute. If a machine can have consciousness, then human beings are conscious machines, and we alerady have machine consciousness, and the proof is right in front of us. That is to say, unless machine consciousness is impossible then it already exists. Is this not inevitable?

A - "Also i asked if consciousness could be explained other than by computation power. Were you able to come up with some examples of consciousness that can not be explained by high enough levels of computational power?"

Sure. Every example of consciousness cannot be explained by computational theories. This is the problem of consciousness. That and the problem that nobody can scientifically prove the existence of an example, and the problem that we only have acces to one example.

A - "Re mysticism - I have studied buddhism quite a lot and it has very stimulating, deep and logically valid arguments but still relies on expert (mystics) testimony when it comes to the crunch of the final details - I can not say the arguments are sound in the end. NO I absolutely do not think mysticism is science - this thinking muddies the water - the two can stand alone well enough. Science in essence is verifiably repeatable and testable with the same results - nup mysticism gives widely variable and untestable results and that is why it is called mysticism - it is unique and personal and cannot be verifiably tested."

If you have studied Buddhism quite a lot then I must assume you have been unfortunate in your choice of reading matter, since it would take very little study to realise that this is all a terrible misunderstanding. I would not say this if I thought the issues were complex. Paul Davies deals with many of them in 'The Mind of God', but even his popular approach can be simplified further. I'm not suggesting that mystcisnm is simple, but that it is easy to refute these points. But this would mean heading way off topic and I'm talking too much as usual.

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Rachel Browne
11 Jun 2011

Has Hubertus actually said what he takes consciousness to be when he accuses me of being naive? I take it to arise from organic matter and to reside in biological life and on this assumption I can say I don't believe machines will think. Humans are different from machines which seems to be fundamental common-sense and a conceptual truth. We are born naturally for a start. What's wrong with mysticism, Auston? Buddhists take great note of science. I was reading a short book on Quantum Buddhism the other day. Apparently under the particles of quantum physics everything is continuous. As you meditate, also sense experiences become continuous, as you arern't segregating the world through thought.

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Hubertus Fremerey
11 Jun 2011

#361 bio-thinking and electro-thinking

@Rachel : Birds can fly and airplanes can fly. In a sense birds are superiour, in another sense planes are superiour : Birds can settle on small branches in confusing trees, but planes can transport hundreds of people at the tenfold speed.

So far nobody knows what intelligen robots will be able to do. This time computers outsmart humans on many tasks easily. But what to call "smart" ? Once more "numbering" is indicated. Akirplaines cannot grow like birds. If you see growing as a wonder then birds can do what planes cannot. But is growing essential for flying ? No, it is essential for being a living being. Thus the wonder of growing is irrelevant for the evaluation of flying abilities.

In a similar way we have to ask what to expect of "smart robots". Maybe they will lack many of those feelings we find so personable in humans and animals. But do we call this a criterium of intelligence ? Maybe in the EQ-sense. What it takes for enable robots of EQ I do not know. But a robot which hears his master (the technician) coming and "picks up the leash to get out for a stroll" (as dogs do) is easily imaginable - at least for me.

The real problems begin elsewhere : How would robots learn concepts like "justice", "freedom", "truth" etc. ? This requires not "concept formation" and not "thinking in the flesh", but "evaluating the greater situation". This is confirmed by the fact that little children cannot understand those concepts either. They lack the needed experience of situations. To develop the concept of "justice" you have to understand the meaning of "injustice". To understand the meaning of "truth" you have to understand "error" and "wrong" and "misleading" etc. first. All this cannot expected from babies, but from 2-3 year olds. This is "Piagetian".

Thus robots are still toddlers. But this need not stay this way. To claim that robots will never be "like humans" is like saying the airplanes will never be like birds. They need not.

Thus we have to ask what to expect of "intelligent beings" to call them "intelligent". That was my problem.

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Hubertus Fremerey
11 Jun 2011

#362 numbering the entries

I once more suggest numbering the entries. It's really quite simple.

As expected, it becomes difficult to refer precisely to a certain statement for commenting.

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Rachel Browne
11 Jun 2011

Well, OK, Hubertus, robots might exceed us in intelligence where this is computational, but what do they know of empathy, and what they do they know of anthorpormism which is fundamental to our believing that they might be intelligent. What are they going to do if they become intelligent? Robotise us? No. Unless they project, which also means being able to play: Like a child with a doll, Hubertus. Play is how we become intelligent and this is quite different from being programmed. What was your point about children and dolls? I think it was care. But what we do is project and anthromorphise.

Sorry about recent paragraph situation yet again!

Can we distinguish between intelligence and consciousness here? How am I to know what you are talking about?

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Rachel Browne
11 Jun 2011

Anyway, oops, the thought is that the quantum and consciousness are all one in terms of continuity. It's very Ancient Greek, but modern. And mystical. Not Auston's sort of thing though.

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Hubertus Fremerey
11 Jun 2011

#365 humans learn by playing

@Rachel : You wrote // Play is how we become intelligent and this is quite different from being programmed. //

Well, not exactly : Play is "learning by doing" and thus is "self programming". I expect that robots will soon be able to do just that : Play around to learn - as we do.

What do children and dogs do when playing ? They try their own abilities and at the same time they try the reactions of reality. They combind cause and effect.

Don't tell me that Hume has proven that a cause-effect relation is only hypothetical. Yes, it is, from a logical point of view, but it works all the time. We all take our world for granted. We always "bet" that it is as we are used to see it. We are faring well with such a "hypothesis".

Thus all the "mystery" is in the difference of "programming" and "self-programming by experience".

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Hubertus Fremerey
12 Jun 2011

#365a on the difference of intelligence and consciousness

I think "intelligence" to be the ability to assess a situation and do something meaningful about it - some action or running away or whatever may help your intentions.

"Consciousness" is observing and evaluation your actions. Thus a robot may re-act to some stimulus, but a truly smart robot would check the intended re-action and evaluate it and then "say" : "Oh, this is not the best way, let's look up our response-table for a better response, and then acting in a smarter way.

Thus consciousness allows you to "see your own actions as objects of evaluation". It is evaluation on a higher level then. Thinking in this sense is "making models of possible actions and consequences to find the best way before you do anything."

I have no problem to see robots do just that. There is no difference between the chess-computer Deep-Blue and a thinking computer in principle. The main difference is : Possible outcomes of every move in a chess-game are well defined, while in reality they are not. Thus the look-up table for the possible moves and reactions in the real world are enormous without a good pruning-strategy.

This seems to be the bottleneck : To implement a good pruning strategy to generate meaningful reactions to reality. But AI-engineers are working hard on this.

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Hubertus Fremerey
12 Jun 2011

#365b A note added on learning and mental structure

I definitely don't like to be told by people like Searle "what computers can't do" ! Searle does not know. He neither does know how the human brain works nor what computers can do in the future.

In my opinion the most promising approach to "intelligent behaviour" is a "three part sinfonia" : (1) Some intelligence is inbuilt in our genes, as f.i. the ability to form grammatical sentences or the ability of social behaviour. This cannot be learned. (2) Building on such preconditions, the actual language and social behaviour then can and must be learned. The potential must be realized. (3) Learning experiences ("feedback") are combined with models of the world and situations an put into a store of effective and less effective tactical and strategical "recipes", from which to pick the most probable for the situation at hand.

This is about the way modern robots are taking. Whether they have "consciousness" in any sense different from what I wrote before (i.e. commenting and evaluating ones own actions) is very probably irrelevant. We are always "commenting and evaluating" our actions silently, but I cannot see why any robot should not do the same and by this gather knowledge and experience. It only seems to be a bit difficult to realize technically.

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Tony Fahey
12 Jun 2011

It seems to me that this debate is reaching something of an impasse: on one side we have those who seem to be convinced that the functionalist/behaviourist approach that if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it must be a duck. Not being a duck, which may surprise some of you, I cannot say for certain that being an actual duck equates with being a robot that looks, walks ,and quacks- although I would like to think that there is a difference. What I do feel certain of, however, is that there is a marked difference between being a human being and being a robot that performs like a human being. That is, between the intentionality of human beings and the ias ifi intentionality of machines.

One, if not the principal, difference between robots and humans is given by Susan Greenfield, Professor of Pharmacology at Oxford University, in her book The Human Brain, A Guided Tour. According to Greenfield, if one looks into a network of neurons using a high-powered microscope, one sees that it seems to be more like a cauldron containing mysterious lumps embedded in masses of vermicelli-like tangles than a circuit board. Notwithstanding this jungle-like mass appearance the brain has a precision of connectivity of which the programming of a robot is but a pale echo. (see Greenfield, 1997. Pp 81-83)

In the brain, says Greenfield, different chemicals are released from different inputs converging on a single cell and active in any moment. In addition to the degree of activity of these inputs, different amounts of transmitter are released. Finally, each transmitter docks into its own receptor that has its own characteristic way of influencing the voltage of the target cell. Thus, at every stage there is room for an enormous flexibility and versatility in the brain, using different combinations of transmitter chemicals. This molecular symphony, says Greenfield, can hardly be regarded as comparable to the scenario inside a computer/robot. (ibid.)

What this means, of course, is that, unlike a computer, that brain is fundamentally a chemical system n even the electricity it generates comes from chemicals. More significantly, beyond he fluxes of ions into and out of the neuron, a wealth of chemical reactions are occurring incessantly in a bustling but closed world inside a cell. These events, some of which determine how a cell will respond to signals in the future, do not have a direct electrical counterpart or any easy analogy with a computer. Moreover, the chemical composition of the neurons themselves is changing, and hence there is no separate and unchanging hardware, in contrast to a programmable range of software. Futhermore, the ability for incessant change within the brain leads to a third distinction from systems in silicon: of course, computers can ilearni, but few, if any, are changing all the time to give novel responses to the same demands. As Greenfield says, while computers can do some of the things that brains can do, that does not mean that the two entities work in a similar way or a similar purpose. iA computer that does nothingi, says the learned professor, idefies its prime function, a person who does nothing may well be experiencing a revelationi. (ibid:p82)

Thus, whilst a robot may be seen to act intelligently, unless it can be shown that it actually possesses intelligence: unless it can be shown that it not only behaves intelligently, but is intelligent, the case for AI remains untenable. For to have intelligence it is not enough for a thing to appear to be intelligent; to have intelligence one must understand what one is doing, and a computer cannot, yet at least, be said to understand what it is doing in the same way that a human can. Unlike the human mind, a robot cannot know that it knows. Probably more importantly, it cannot know that it cannot know.

In finishing, Carl Jung marks his eleventh year as the beginning of his fascination with the human mind. It was at this age that he experienced the experience of iBeingi n of iI ami. Unless or until it can be shown that robots share this experience, the lacuna between the robot and the human mind will remain unbridgeable. Moreover, it seems to me that, just as it can be shown that a human can make a robot, unless a stage can be reached where this compliment is returned, some incompatibility between the two entities will remain.

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Rachel Bowne
12 Jun 2011

Tony, I love your final point about the compliment being returned!

Of course there is a marked difference between being a human and a robot! There is a whole area of emotional intelligence (as opposed to IQ)which I actually find a bit soppy, but in terms of philosophy and psychology, what of interactive relations and moral attitudes? Could a computer have an "attitude to a soul"? Could it feel shame, guilt, remorse or empathy? These are ways it is to be human.

Auston is surely right that computers will be superior in terms of computation, but humans can know things immediately on instinct.

Do you think there is an impasse because we are talking about computers and not humans? Things have become more and more technical and we just aren't talking about philosophy any more, but computer science. Well, it seems to be either computer science or neuroscience, and never will they meet!

We can get Hubertus to sort this out!

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Tony Fahey
12 Jun 2011

Couldn't agree more Rachel. Indeed to empathy, remorse, and guilt, one could add pride, satisfaction, fulfillment (similar but not quite the same), joy and, not to forget what Aristotle called the "ergon", or function, of human beings, the pursuit of excellence and, continuing with the philosophical theme, a love of wisdom and the search for truth.

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Rachel Browne
12 Jun 2011

I'm glad Tony. I've been feeling like a silly woman. Though as far women go, I am actually extremely silly. So I asked my husband what he thinks. He says if robots are to be anything like computers they need to have adaptive feedback (though I don't see how this can lead to empaty and all your other suggestions; could a computer have empathy or pride?).

I started off the conference by asking if guilt has a use, or a point. I think this question still stands. What do Auston and Peter have to say about this? That humanity as it is meaningless?

Anyway, my husband says that neurologically there are 100 trillion connections in the mind and wonders how much time it would take a programmer to set this up and that there are things called dendryltes or someting in the brain that are three feet long. The brain is weird. It is different from anything else in the world.

I put the dispute down to modern disrespect for the person and the rise in respect for computer science.

What would Wittgenstein say, do you think?

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Rachel Browne
12 Jun 2011

When I mentioned adaptive feedback I didn't know what it meant, but I now realise my husband meant mirror neurons. Sorry, but really! Men!

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Tony Fahey
12 Jun 2011

Rachel, your mention of Wittgenstein led me to consider an issue regarding the difference between computerized entities and humans that, I believe, has heretofore in this debate been overlooked. That is the issue of language.

As you know, for humans, language involves more than verbal and written communication. For example, in archaeology the history of civilisations long extinct can be understood through the ability to read the elanguagei of ancient artifacts. Psychologists argue that they can ereadi much of the state of mind of patients through their ebody languagei; and even much of our everyday communication is performed by tacit semiotics: a raised eyebrow, an upturned lip, or a knowing wink, whilst espeakingi volumes to us, cannot even begin to be grasped by a computerized machine.

Moreover, it seems to me that the analogous nature of language is not only species-specific to humans, but it also proves a vital tool in the philosophical discussion and analysis of individual forms of art - not least in that it emphasises the reliance of philosophical investigation on the use of metaphor. For example, in Philosophy, where would the understanding of such concepts as elanguage-gamesi, the bermensch, Leviathans, utopias, and so on, be without being able to grasp their metaphorical intent? In Literature, what would our enjoyment of works such as Swiftis Gulliveris Travels be without an awareness of the satirical significance of allegory or analogous references; or our understanding of Molly Bloomis soliloquy in Joyceis Ulysses without an appreciation of the double entendre?

Language, then, privileges humans to transform the ideal into the real: the metaphysical into the actual. It allows us to share our subjective, aesthetic experiences with others: to make manifest, through its sign systems, our realisations, experiences, feelings, and ideas. And it allows us to understand the intentionality of others. Most of all, language brings us to the realisation that we do not live in a solipsist bubble of consciousness. Through language, nature is transformed into culture and art is transformed into understanding. Moreover, language is the conduit between the idea and the manifestation of the idea. Through language we are privileged to enter into the world of ideas, the imagination, of others - a world of ideas that is closed to the computerized robot.

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Hubertus Fremerey
12 Jun 2011

#371 On humans, robots, feelings, and mirror neurons

Well, Rachel, adaptive feedback is not "mirror neurons" but what I called "learning by doing", i.e., without explicit instructions."Learning as children and dogs learn - from experience". Has nothing to do with empathy, which is mirror neurons.

Then : We humans are animals, and as such need "social feelings" of shame and prowess f.i.. Feeling remorse is (in Freudian and behaviourist thinking alike) "hearing the voice of the generalized other" (on which see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Generalized_other ). In this sense Freud called God "the representative of the over-father". For social animals as we are this sort of "generalized other" is an important social regulative. What would children and other people behave like without feeling remorse and shame ? I don't think that dogs feel "shame", but they surely feel "remorse" - they know exactly when to expect punishing for "misdeeds". "Shame" requires a different sort of "self image" than "remorse". "Shame" requires a notion of "this is me", while remorse can do with a notion of "I have done it" - which is not the same. Little children don't feel shame but they fear punishment. But I think those feelings are related, and "shame" could be called "generalized remorse".

This brings me to your last point : Are we speaking of humans here or about machines ? I introduced robotics explicitely to get the debate out of this self-centered and cosy "we are humans and superiour to everything" attitude. Against the expectations of Tony we may be in for a surprise. The border that separates humans from "machines" is becoming "fuzzy" now. In my opinion Tony's hint at the book of Ms.Greenfield is very welcome but misleading. He wrote // to have intelligence one must understand what one is doing, and a computer cannot, yet at least, be said to understand what it is doing in the same way that a human can. Unlike the human mind, a robot cannot know that it knows. Probably more importantly, it cannot know that it cannot know. // Ms.Greenfield is in the camp of Searle and others who think that there are things computers can't do, which may be the case but is unproven and idle speculation so far. We simply do not know this time.

My point was : We should make a clear difference - as philosophers ! - between "intelligent beings" and "humans". While all normal humans are "intelligent beings", not all intelligent beings need be humans. The question whether robots will become "intelligent beings" is wide open. I introduced the comparison between the airplane and the bird. The bird has to build a nest and to grow a family and to feed organic food. The airplane is no animal and so does not need any of this. Thus Ms.Greenfield may be right on everything referring to the human brain, but this does only tell us that brains and computers work very differently, which no one has denied. But to say that computers will never work like the human brain and that computers will always lack essential ingredients of "true intelligence" are two completely different statements.

We should admit that we so far do not know how to define "intelligence". There are many sorts of intelligence, and surely dogs and cats and horses are intelligent animals, but never could solve "partial differential equations" or write Platonic dialogues. Thus we have to keep many forms and stages of intelligence apart. "Deep Blue" clearly was not "intelligent" and neither was "Jeopardy". But this is because they still lack an "understanding of the situation".

One of the typical arguments in this respect is "robots cannot understand jokes". But to understand a joke you have to know the expectation that is failed to make it a joke. The joke results from the difference between what was expected and the real outcome. If you do not know what to expect, you would not laugh either. So to laugh about a joke the computer has to know what to expect. It's a matter of social and cultural intelligence, not of mathematical intelligence as in a game of chess. But this is no proof that robots will never learn social and cultural intelligence. It only shows what is lacking robots at this time.

It has been said - and rightly so - that by studying artificial intelligence we humans have learned more about our own thinking than about robot thinking. We take too many things for granted, since we are used to "using our brains". Now we begin to learn how complicated it all is. If it were simple, we could teach it the computer, but so far we run into big trouble while trying.

The other problem is : While interpersonal intelligence may be the most difficult to model, the programming of models of the weather and the ecoystems and the economy and the political and military strategic options is a primary task of computers today. And of course the impact of this sort of "non-personal" and (in an interpersonal sense) even "non-social" intelligence should not be ignored. It could be of enormous consequences. But these consequences - thinking about a better future for all - is a perfectly valid PHILOSOPHICAL topic.

Thus once more : The clear distinction between "speaking about humans" and "speaking about robots" is getting outdated. Our debate here is in the center of philosophy proper !

A note added to Tony : Yes, I am in the camp of the "functionalists" who think that "if it behaves like a duck IN EVERY RELEVANT RESPECT it must be TREATED LIKE a duck". I am careful here : The qualification "in every relevant respect" is important, so is "must be treated like" instead of "must be". It is a "black-box-approach", sort of "generalized Turing Test. We know that we cannot be "inside other humans" as we cannot be "inside a bat" or "inside a dog". But we can study the behaviour of humans and bats and dogs and call it "intelligent" in different respects and grades. Thus it is not impossible to apply this principle to robots. Thus if our impression is, that a certain robot is behaving intelligently, we have to accept that it is "showing intelligence".

This leads to another theme, that I will not enter this moment : In a report from a Bedlam a critical observer noted that the doctors there changed their attitude to the "insane" from "humans" to "robots". Instead of writing "patient writes a letter" they wrote "patient shows letter-writing behaviour". By this they thought to be "more scientific" and less prone to "unscientific interpersonal feelings". This was one of the starting points of "anti-psychiatry" ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anti-psychiatry ). But, as I said, this is left for a different debate.

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Hubertus Fremerey
12 Jun 2011

#371a A note added on the limits of robots

@Rachel and Tony : I am not at all rejecting the idea that there are many strange things around we do not understand but that we know of by our brains. You are right that we have no idea how to apply this to robotics. But as a physicist I am cautious with rash generalizations. We simply do not know what robots will be able to do. But since there are many "levels" or "grades" and "sorts" of intelligence (cf. Howard Gardner) we should not generalize : There will be some more "intelligent abilities" displayed by robots, but whether robots will be up to the human brain anytime is completely unknown today.

I only urged to keep these two questions apart : Even "smart robots" may be stupid, but the Nazis were at the same time smart and stupid too. Thus one of our main problems philosophically is : "How to tell stupidity from wisdom and wisdom from smartness". Truly difficult and truly philosophical questions !

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Rachel Browne
13 Jun 2011

Tony, I quite agree. Didn't Scruton argue that metaphor requires imagination? Lakoff and Johnson have argued that most of our language is metaphorical. Although computers use a language it is probably very different from ours.

Also there is the internalism/externalism distinction to do with language use. Tyler Burge, as you probably know, argued that we do not determine our own concepts through background beliefs. If we did language wouldn't be inter-subjective. Burge says that when we talk of "arthritis" we defer to what the doctor means. You wouldn't get computers deferring to what other computers mean. Computer language seems wholly internalist.

Well, of course, Hubertus will be open minded on whether computers can have imagination and be able to defer to other computers and engage in inter-subjective understanding.

I replied to Hubertus by e-mail today that the Nazis lacked emotional intelligence, and robots probably will too. He is probably open minded on this too. However, I think that if robots might lack emotional intelligence we should be worried rather than open minded.

I doubt robots will take over the world, for all that!

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Hubertus Fremerey
13 Jun 2011

#373

It may help our debate to point to some movies. In "I, Robot" the robots behave like supporting humans, but then under the command of the central computer overdo this by directing humans "in their own best interest". The central "robot brain" is arguing, that humans are too evil and stupid to know what is best for them. This is a difficult argument that cannot be reduced to "mutual understanding". The robot is exercising "benevolent dictatorship" - but how do we as philosophers call this "bad" ? Of course humans (with help of Will Smith) are defending their old ways, but this is not a proof that the robot is wrong. Any animal will defend its way - and any "colonial people" did of course against the "white suprematist intruders". Does it prove that the Whites were wrong ? Should we allow the Taliban to prevail in Afghanistan and Pakistan by this argument ? Difficult questions not reducible to interpersonals.

And then : We should not be preoccupied with robots. Today's computers are calculating scenarios of the future and suggesting options and solutions. These may be of enormous consequences to the way we live. Thus we are "at the mercy of computers" already to a growing degree.

Somebody spoke of cyborgs here. Do you realize that the whole of mankind today together with its technical installations (electricity, electronics, the internet, etc.) constitutes one vast global hypercyborg ? We cannot leave this cyborg anymore, we are part of it. We cannot step out of the global machine, we cannot shut down the electricity since we would starve and all our systems would break down. We would be back to almost stoneage.

Thus once more : Robotics is much more than a question of psychology and "what computers can't do". It's a very multifaceted problem of understanding what "human intelligence" on all levels comes to.

We could say "Well, the computers provide the data and we humans derive the insight" - but this is a simplification. We could pose the wrong questions and the computers provide the wrong data to the wrong questions and we humans draw the wrong conclusions. Who is to blame then ? Thus we cannot evade the "very philosophical" question : "What does it mean to put the right questions ?"

All this is proof that "consciousness" and "humaneness" and "mutual understanding" cannot be the answer to our debate here. It is much more difficult.

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Rachel Browne
13 Jun 2011

Hubertus, you are the one pre-occupied by robots. Now you want us to look at sci-fi films. This too male for me. Next you'll be directing us to watch cartoons. This isn't philosophy as I know it.

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Tony Fahey
13 Jun 2011

Hi Rachel et al. I think the concluding sentence of Rachelis last contribution to this debate really gets down to the nub of things: eI doubt robots will take over the worldOi. For the issue is that whilst it may well be that a time will come when humankind will be superseded by robots that have sharper and more intelligent capabilities, faculties, or whatever, than humans, the question must be asked as to what has the world to gain by developing a master race of machines that have no other function than to outdo or outperform the species that that it has replaced. If humans are contingent to the planet which sustains them (that is, if, as can be argued, the world just doesnit need us, and would probably be better off without us), what does it say for a species that could arguably be more humanlike than the species they have replaced?

Rachel, just a follow up on your Wittgenstein comment. As you know, we have, so to speak, two Wittgensteins: the early Wittgenstein of the Tractatus, and the later Wittgenstein of Philosophical Investigations. Thus, while it could be argued that the early Wittgenstein would have leaned towards the functionalist view of AI, it can equally be argued that the later Wittgenstein could be seen in the oppositionis camp. That is, in his Tractatus, Wittgenstein, was in favour of a scientifically precise language: the language of the computer mind, while in his Philosophical Investigations he came to see language as a loose cluster of language-games. While in his later work his concern continued to be to establish the grounds by which the literal meaning of a statement would be ambiguous, he also realized that names of objects on their own do not represent reality. That is, it is only within the context of what he calls elanguage gamesi that our language and our lives can have meaning.

in his later work Wittgenstein acknowledged that ideal language cannot be caught and packaged as some eternal and unchanging way he espoused in the Tractatus. Whilst he agreed that s meaning should be governed by certain rules, our linguistic understanding is always within the context of the particular language game in which we are partakers, and within the confines of the rules of the egamei into which we have been initiated. Language, then, for Wittgenstein, was no longer something that could be permanently fixed, but a system which develops, changes, and evolves the more one is exposed to, and comes in contact with, other language users and other language games.

The validity of this view became clear to me when I brought my older brother to his very first soccer game. I should explain that I am something of a soccer fanatic, while my brother had never ever shown any interest in the game. In fact, although I played soccer from the time I was big enough to kick a ball until I was forced to retire from injury in my late twenties, my brother had never seen me play, nor had he seen anybody else play in any real sense of the word. Indeed, he only came to this first game because he wanted to be seen by his young soccer crazy son to have some interest in the game. The point Iim trying to make is that, because he did not understand the elanguage-gamei of soccer, he simply did not have a blind notion of what was taking place on the pitch. In fact, his lack of understanding of the elanguage-gamei of soccer, as well as his constant questioning of what was going on during the game, whilst surrounded by a stadium full of fans so familiar with the elanguagei of the game, actually became more than a bit embarrassing.

As shown above, for the later Wittgenstein, language is nothing more or less than a loose cluster of language-games. Against the view of language advanced in the Tractatus n the language of the ecomputer mind, he now held that there was no essence to our language. He now looked at language and finds only what he calls efamily resemblancesi: similarities amongst subgroups of word usages, but no permanent, single meaning that brings together any activities under a unified and precise structure.

Given that it can be argued that the number of language-games in which humans engage in the course of their daily activities is incommensurable, it must be argued that the number of language-games needed to program the computerized mind of a robot would be equally incommensurable, and thus unfeasible.

Doubtless Hubertus, as is his right, will have a different take on this n but isnit that what philosophical discourse is all about.

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Pete Jones
14 Jun 2011

It would be much easier to reply directly to points made in the discussion here if previous posts appeared on the reply page. I wonder if it would be possible to add this feature. Some general thoughts in the meantime ...

When proponents of machine consciousness come under pressure they may switch to talking about machine intelligence, which is a more ambiguous idea. One might argue that an electric abacus is intelligent, but not that it is conscious. So I'd be happy to concede that as long as the words are defined in a certain way then machines are intelligent now. But consciousness is clearly something else, and may be accompanied by hardly any intelligence at all. One could even ask whether it is possible to be conscious but not intelligent, or aware but not capable of computation.

I still feel that machine consciousness can only be possible if this is what we have already, and see this as exactly what proponents of the idea are arguing for, namely behaviourism. If it walks like a duck etc.... But really we are discussing what consciousness is, not the potential of machines. We could just as easily discuss whether pianos could be conscious. Afre all, in computational terms some modern keyboards are more intelligent than Deep Blue.

To answer any of these questions requires that we are clear about what consciousness is. If we are not then we have not the slightest idea whether machines could have it, and waste time discussing it that might be better spent trying to discover what it is. This is the task that consciousness studies has so far failed to take on. Science requires observation of the facts, and in its current state I see no case for calling consciouness studies scientific. So far it has failed to establish 'scientifically' the existence of what it is supposed to be explaining.

My main criticism of the current approach is that it focuses exclusively on intentional consciousness, as if that's all there is to explain. But there is also sentience or awareness. So I'd prefer to stick to the question of whether machines can ever be aware, regardless of how intelligent they might appear to become. It's harder to argue for machine awareness, even though this is only a change of terminology.

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Tony Fahey
14 Jun 2011

I hope you will forgive me for introducing a little light relief to the proceeding. Being something of a cyborg myself ( following an accident some years ago, I have a metal plate holding my humorous in place, and a pin making sure my shoulder does not become dislocated again n not to mention other bits of technology that help to keep me going),I rarely get a complete nights rest. Quite often, it is during these sleepless periods that I take time to ruminate on things philosophical, and last night was one such night.

It was during this time that my mind fell to comparing what might occur when a human engaged in conversation with a humanlike robot. Indulge me if you will!

Imagine the scene: a human rushes in from the rain into, letis say a foyer of an hotel, and hands his wet umbrella to the robot, who takes it, opens the door of the building, shakes the wet umbrella to remove the surplus water, closes and fastens the umbrella, and places it in the umbrella stand n in perfect accordance with its program for such events. Robot: eYou are welcome sir, but I must inform you that my name is not God but Yako. God is a metaphysical term for a transcendent, and therefore unprovable entity, that has no place in rational discoursei.

Human: eJesus, Iim only trying to say itis coming down in stair-rods out therei.

Robot: eThank you for attempting to explain yourself sir, but can I point out to you that, in the same way that I am not God, neither am I Jesus. Jesus was the founder of the Christian religion who is held by his followers to have lived more than two thousand years agoi. Also, I am afraid I find your remark in reference to estair-rodsi meaningless. I should point out that estair-rodsi, although little used in these times, refers to rods, usually made of brass, that is used to keep stair carpet or linoleum in place.

Human: eChrist! Itis pissing down out there and all you can do is nit-pick about my common day use of English!i

Robot: eI am truly sorry if I have offended you, but I am just attempting to understand that which you are trying to communicate with me. It is in this light that I must draw attention to the fact that you have, once again, mistaken me for someone else, for neither am I Christ. Christ is a term drawn from the Greek word ekristosi meaning eanointed onei and bestowed on the above mentioned eJesusi to differentiate him from others of that time who bore the same name. However, my memory box informs me that that the term epissingi has already been registered as a synonym for heavy rain, so I can inform you that I now understand your aforesaid references and confirm that they have been computed in memory in order to avoid confusion in future. May I be of further assistance to you?

Human: Okay! Okay! Okay! Message understood! No further assistance thank you - just forget it!

Robot; Thank you again sir. But can I remind you that I am called Kayo and not Okay. Also, I am sorry to relate that the term eiti, as you requested, cannot be erased from my memory box as it is deemed to be a term imperative in communication with humans. Sir! Sir! I must request that you desist from banging your head against the wall, such is the behaviour of those less intelligent humans who cannot appreciate the complexity of rational language! Sir! Sir! Come back! Come back!

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Rachel Browne
14 Jun 2011

Tony, I like your story. Philosophy can lead to great humour. Have you read several take-offs of Socratic dialogues? Iris Murdoch wrote one, but I can't remember the others. They are truly hilarious.

Peter, I didn't know there was an answers page. We could talk of computers, awareness, consciousness and phenomenology, but scientists as yet have no handle on this and so nothing to say, as far as I know.

In phenomenology, it is thought that consciousness allows us to focus. About 90% of mental functioning is non-conscious. Do computers need this function? I don't know much about computers. We need Auston to put things simply.

But back to Tony and language. I totally agree. I suppose computer systems might be able to change and evolve, even though this notion applies to natural species.

But the soccer example is an excellent example of later Wittgenstein. My husband is a rugby and cricket fanatic and I don't even ask him what is going on. I'm not interested. Interest is required in a language game.

Interest and perhaps focus are at least two ways in which we are conscious, as well as applying to language games and although machines may be able to focus (in a machine sort of way. What would this be Auston?) can they take an interest?

I don't think that the Tractatus is really at odds with Wittgenstein's later work. The Tractatus puts forward a correspondence theory of truth, showing that our propositions must latch on to states of affairs. This is an attempt to say how we relate to facts.

Language games are different, looser, as you say, and require involvement. Relation to facts is essential, on the other hand. I think this is stricter than functionalism. It is an actual (conscious) mind to world relation.

I would say there are doubts about both Wittgensteins lending support to AI.

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Rachel Browne
14 Jun 2011

Back to what do we have to gain by robots by Tony. Did you mention the possibility of a total system breakdown, Hubertus? That's a bit of a downer.

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Hubertus Fremerey
14 Jun 2011

#380 some minors

Tony, you example of the robot from the hotel-service is funny, but be assured that this sort of examples is well known to robot specialists since at least 30 years now. Thus it is once more "whistling in the graveyard" and assuring ourselves that we are irreplaceably smart humans.

And to Rachel : Of course I am aware of the possibility of "system breakdown" - but the simplest way to do it is an all out atomic war and this can be had today. We need not wait for "truly intelligent robots". "Truly stupid humans" would suffice.

I personally don't think that computers will take over any time soon. And even if they do before the year 2100 (the movie "I, Robot" is set in 2035, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I,_Robot_(film)) they need not be "evil". We have to define "evil". The robots in the movie are not out to kill us humans, they only try to protect us from our own stupidity and vileness. They are resolved to guide us to our own best advantage. It a nanny-state taken to the extreme. But why should this be called "evil" ? Once more a philosophical question !

You may call this sort of future (surely not proposed by me) a horror, but as a philosopher you have to explain why you think it a horror !

My intention when introducing the robots here was not to glorify them or to glorify Kurzweil and Moravec and their lot, but to get us away from this pointless debate on consciousness. The problem of Einstein was to solve real physical problems and not "consciousness". The problem of the butcher is to cut up meat and not to sharpen the knife. Could we agree that these are two different problems ?

What I was saying is : Whether the robots have consciousness or not, they are solving problems and they begin to learn, and the moment they learn how to learn they will enter the phase of take-off. So don't be too surprised if this happens soon.

Yes, as a physicist who has used computers since 1965 now I have a different attitude to computers and robots than Rachel has. But I am well read in psychology and have observed humans and animals a lot, so I am not taking the world for a robotic place. Just this evening I have watched a movie on life in the pond with gusto - frogs and birds and storks and snakes and butterflies and flowers etc.. But the technical world does not go away.

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Hubertus Fremerey
14 Jun 2011

#380a A note added on the "I, Robot"-movie

The Wiki entry and the reviews are uninformed and silly. The plot is not derive from one of the Asimov stories, but from the story "With folded hands" by Jack Williamson (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/With_Folded_Hands) And the reviews speak of action and entertainment and completely miss the philosophical theme. It's like saying that "the Ethica Nicomachica is the most boring novel I ever read".

Yes, movies sometimes are the best transporters of important philosophical messages, but one has to hear those messages. Some people don't. They only see action - or the lack of it.

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Charles Countryman
14 Jun 2011

In response to Hubertus' June 14.

I suspect that most butchers are competent in sharpening the tools of their trade. But what has that to do with AI and robots, even metaphorically?

What is the basis of your rant against considering conscious (and unconscious) in philosophy? Please explain your claim (that by excluding them), that you have some superior consideration of things pragmatic or of moral concerns.

I suggest you read Professor Sherry Turkle re robots and simplification of emotional life: http://www.noetic.org/noetic/issue-eight-march/alone-together-why-we-expect-more-from-technology/ .

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Pete Jones
15 Jun 2011

Hi Tony. Nice story about the hotel guest-greeting-machine, but I'm not sure what it's supposed to mean. In what way is this machine's language more rational than that of anyone else? Didn't seem particularly rational to me, and and nothing it said would lead me to suppose it is conscious.

I think we have to concede that there is no method for determing whether a machine is conscious. Its behaviour will never be sufficient for a proof. This is not an argument against machine consciousness, of course, but against the idea of inventing scientific tests. Even HAL in 2001 might have been blindly following a programme. I rather agree with Rachel that scientists, as scientists, (as opposed to just people,) have nothing especially interesting to say about consciousness. When they find it they might, but they won't find it by studying other people's behaviour or by peering into brains. This is simply a scientific fact.

Mind you, if two door-opening robots started arguing about whether human consciousness is possible that might be quite convincing. I wonder which would win.

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Tony Fahey
15 Jun 2011

As Confucius may have said: 'to cut meat, first one must have sharp knife'!

With regard to my lighthearted post re the exchange between the robot and the human, it was meant to be just that: a lighthearted post intended to lighten the mood on an issue in which we seemed to have become a bit fixated. Is Rachel the only one to get this?

Moreover, nowhere in the piece do I suggest that robot is, as Peter determines, emore rationali than the human. What I do infer is that, at least at this point in time, it would be nigh in possible to program a machine to cope with the complexities of the different elanguage-gamesi humans have to cope with over the course of a their working lives. Indeed, neither do I infer that the robot has consciousness, as Peter seems to think, only that it is programmed to behave in a humanlike way.

Conversely, nor do I infer, as Hubertus seems to have gathered, that humans are eirreplaceably smarti n note that it is the human who looses his/her cool and runs back out into the rain without the aforementioned umbrella.

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Rachel Browne
15 Jun 2011

Sex with robots, Charles?

I shall have to get Nick on the case! In his book "The Divine Inspiration of Porn" he argues that we would not have sex with something which doesn't have a soul. He argues that sex has an irreducible teleological meaning. Robots wouldn't really grasp this concept. Also he argues that appreciation of pornography requires an awareness of sin hence an idea of God.

If Nick is right - and lets hope he appears here and tells us more - a new question is whether robots could have a concept of God, which is culturally acquired, but rejected by some on basis of the individuality of personality.

I'm introducing this subject, because it might be highly offensive, and Nick might want to see reactions before he writes.

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Charles
15 Jun 2011

Rachel, in her article, Sherry Turkle said that she was underwhelmed by the idea of sex with robots presented by David Levy in his book-" Love and Sex with Robots: The Evolution of Human-Robot Relationships." She uses a pun to describe loss of actual relationships in the www, "connectivity and its discontents." She asks "why do we expect more from technology and less from each other?"

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Tony Fahey
15 Jun 2011

Sorry to interrupt the flow of this debate, but I just want to let you know that as from today I will not be in a position to contribute to this ongoing and interesting discussion(do I sense a deep sigh of relief from some quarters?), as, in the next couple of days I am moving to Paris for some time to honour some commitments I have there. (I know,life can be so unfair).

Actually, I'm to be billeted just off the Rue Denis Diderot, in a suburb of Paris called Vincennes. It was to the dungeon of the castle there to which the philosopher Denis Diderot, friend of Rousseau and the most prominent of the French Encyclopedists, was transferred from the Bastille when it became overcrowded in 1749. While there I hope to get time to visit that chateau and to find out more about this interesting thinker.

As I suspect that this particular conferrence may have run its course by the time I am in a position to have regular access to a computer again, I would like to say how much I have enjoyed being party to these exchanges, to thank you for being so frank and open in your responses to my efforts, and to say how much I look forward to linking up with you all for more of the same in the not too distant future.

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Rachel Browne
15 Jun 2011

I have sent an emergency message to GK to get Nick on the conference and GK responded at once. I hope to hear from Nick here. He is a very sensitive thinker. We need that. On technology, by the way, I read that in May 100,000 British users of Facebook deactivated their accounts in May and 6 million logged off in the US.

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Rachel Browne
15 Jun 2011

Tony, have a good time. We could all come and visit you if you like.

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Nick Acocella
15 Jun 2011

oh this is cool! i'm anxious to read how these discussions evolved. after work...

sex with anything seems possible. no soul. people have sex with dolls and other "things". and with themselves, as in masturbation, which dolls and arguably robots (at least non-sentient bots) might just be an extension of in practice. although, every conceivable form of sex we can entertain is derivable from nothing but the biologically framed heterosexual intercourse of the human species. so if souls are essential to humans being human, then i guess that's what would make souls necessary for sex... but only derivatively. (btw i didn't say we wouldn't have sex with soulless things, but am delighted for the plug.)

should robots be able to arouse for sex on their own, we would truly be looking at a breakthrough of AI. but more and more advanced pieces of machinery, even made to perfectly replicate real human anatomy in look and feel, and maybe even with complex feedback systems, designed to recognize and measure your pleasure and learn techniques and tricks to enhance sexual experience ("conscious" by some standards)... would be wild, but still short of sex between humans. human sexual arousal is desire based and for robots to form desires would show a subjectivity far more intriguing than consciousness alone (plenty robots "perceive" already).

the sexual possibilities of robot technology is amusing. i have no doubt ingenuity will meet fantasy and not only will you be able to purchase ready-made robot babes or studs, but tailor-making your robot, maybe as a celebrity you fancy, or maybe as someone you once had a crush on, or still do, will surely be on the table one day. the same possibilities will probably exist in virtual reality in the not-so-distant-future, but with all this comes extraordinary ethical concerns. what if you can scan in pictures of someone you like to get your robot or your virtual lover just right? what if the real person opposes this? or doesn't know? or is your friend's spouse? or mother or son or daughter? what if some start making minors for sexual partners? they wouldn't be real, but still?? could we illegalize this? on what grounds? abuse of underaged-appearing robots? well some would say this would be a safer outlet for those who would otherwise be a danger. but how could we know it wouldn't also encourage it (the way it's argued video games encourage violence in the already violent)?

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Pete Jones
16 Jun 2011

Oh. Is this a themed conference. Sorry, I hadn't understood this. What the topic? Is it the usefulness of guilt. Good luck Tony. Shame, I was looking forward to locking horns.

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Rachel Browne
16 Jun 2011

Peter, it relates to a link Charles sent on page 22, which was a short article on sex with robots. This is something Hubertus hasn't thought of when he thinks of machines as becoming superior. They might actually be used for perverted purposes. Although I'm not clear on the definition of perversion. If they are used in this way, would they be superior?

Nick, thanks for that. Well, I think philosophers of sex should stop worrying about today's pornography, children and the objectification of women and start making a clear distinction between masturbation and sex with a person (or whether you can have sex with a robot if it isn't a person).

If sex with robots is masturbation there would be incredible invasion of privacy if it .was to be made unlawful. Invasion of privacy seems to be a real issue at the moment.

If you had a robot replica of someone you have a crush on, it seems like quite a good idea. You can't really make imaginative play unlawful. It is actions that involve others that are unlawful, surely. Are robots "others" in the I-Thou sense?

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Pete Jones
16 Jun 2011

Thanks Rachel. A surprising topic.

As to whether machines might be used for perverted purposes the answer is surely clear already. They will continue to be built and sold for this purposes just as fast as we can invent profitable versions. I look forward to the first intelligent Rabbit.

I suppose it would be an invasion of privacy to ban mechanical sex aids. But if they can ban smoking in pubs and get away with it then maybe it wouldn't be so difficult. Tricky thing to police though.

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Rachel Browne
16 Jun 2011

Pete, it isn't a themed conference. We just all seemed to converge on talk of robots.

You can bring in a new subject of conversation of course! It would probably be very welcome!

I apologise if I've offended people but most people don't know about philosophy of sex. It is an acknowledged area of academic study. There are departments devoted to it. Nick is outstanding, given what I've read of other philosophers of sex.

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Pete Jones
16 Jun 2011

Right. I get it now. Thanks.

Philosophy of sex? I don't buy it. This is the same philosophy as it always was, but using sex as a starting point or focus of interest. To be an expert in it a person would have to already be an expert in philosophy of mind, ethics, religion, anthropology and quite a few other things. Or this is my first thought.

I'm not sure what to suggest for a topic. It's a new thing for me, a forum with just one thread on it. It requires a slightly different approach, I suspect, to setting the topic, and it might even be a good idea if it was set for us. In the end all philsophical discussions converge on metaphysics, and I'd rather leap straight there without getting tangled up in the details. We can't untangle the details if we haven't got a method. It would be difficult to put together a jigsaw puzzle without a picture on the box.

On reflection, perhaps I could suggest a discussion of the preface to the 'Blackwell Guide to Metaphysics', which states that metaphysics is not a science, that it has no reliable decision-making procedure, and that this is all perfectly fine, since many people here might have it. It has always baffled me how this little preface could find it's way into print. It appears to be a load of complete and utter nonsense, and a much worse marketing gaff than that made by the boss of the Ratnor jewelery chain when he told the press his products were rubbish, which was at least often true.

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Hubertus Fremerey
16 Jun 2011

#381 On "improving human performance" - state of the debate !

Dear all, here is a link to amassive text (482 pp., 5 MB) on TECHNOLOGIES FOR IMPROVING HUMAN PERFORMANCE (2003 Kluwer Academic Publishing) : http://www.wtec.org/ConvergingTechnologies/Report/NBIC_report.pdf.

This is of 2003, but of course newer versions of similar content are appearing then and now from different sources. This one is only to show that people all over the world are busy on those topics - and not only in the EU and USA, but in Japan, S-Korea and China too.

It is not expected that you read all this stuff, I have not either. But have a look at the "contents" to see what's on the table.

What I wanted to convey is : We are debating "consciousness" here, while "the action is out there". Those people "transforming our world" are not too much concerned with "the nature of consciousness" or "the nature of the good" or something like that. They are just "transforming the world". My (philosophical!) question is : How do we know and judge what they are doing, how do we know what is good for humans and not so ? These are the truly philosophical questions, since philosophy is fundamentally an ethical endeavour, asking what we should do or not do - and why.

I put the question : If robots could be smarter than we - should we destroy them ? By what argument ? If our parents and teachers are smarter than we, should we destroy them ? What do we defend when we defend "humanity" ? I put more such genuinely philosophical questions. But so far you have evaded them.

In my opinion, "consciousness" is not even a genuine philosophical problem but could be left to the neuro-scientists. But the questions above are purely philosophical, no science could provide an answer. Those are matters of evaluation, not of assessment. That is my point.

And please : I am no freak and not overestimating robots or computers in any way - not even programmers. I have been working in this field as a physicist for many years, but my main concern are humans and their problems. We only cannot keep those two sides apart. Technology becomes an essential part of our overall human situation. We cannot keep the computers out of the room.

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Auston
16 Jun 2011

Hubertus - great article. And I like your last post. Big things afoot methinks.

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Rachel Browne
17 Jun 2011

I just wanted to say it is ridiculous to send us a link to something you haven't read, Hubertus. You are not thorough.

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hubertus fremerey
17 Jun 2011

#381a highting the awareness

No, Rachel, it is not at all ridiculous. I explicitely said that you need not read this stuff. You should be aware of what people are doing out there in this time. I only wanted you to look out of the window of this philosophical cloister. We are free to pick any topic now, but we should stop being so self centered and given to scholasticisms.

This whole debate on consciousness reminded me on those old "deep and hard" questions of how many angels could dance on the tip of a needle. We really should look out of the window now and the what is going on in the world around.

No, I didn't need to read all this stuff, this was not my point. My point was to change the whole attitude of this debate.

I once more put several really important questions, and you once more evaded them by a formal argument. Why can't we start doing "real" philosophy now ?

Is it that "continental" philosophers are always putting questions that are too uncomfortable to be tackled ? Is it that "analytical" philosophers prefer "clean and scientific" problems to evade the truly difficult - and truly philosophical - ones ?

Inoculation has been introduced in Great Britain. I think that Anglosaxon philosophers try to inoculate themselves against every dangerous philosophical question. To avoid questions of "God, sin and grace", they transform them first into questions about the "meaning" of "God, sin, and grace", so they become dead and harmless. Before they study the lion they first shoot the lion. But to understand the lion you must observe it alive and dangerous. It's a matter of courage then.

From a continental point of view most of Anglosaxon "philosophy" is "studying dead lions" and evading dangerous questions.

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Pete Jones
17 Jun 2011

Well, it seems clear to me, Hubertus, that it is you who are avoiding the problems.

The easiest way to avoid them is to simply jump to conclusions as to their solution and then not bother to show that it is a solution. This is what you do when you say that consciousness can be left to neuro-science. Do you not see that this is the whole problem, deciding whether or not consciousness can be left to neuroscience? It is profoundly unscientific and compeletely pointless to simply adopt whatever view we happen to prefer.

To me it seems that it is the scientists (using a narrow definition) that avoid the difficult questions. I see it happening all the time. They often seem to have a fear of doing honest philosophy, and many start their calculations from whichever set of assumptions they happen to want to make at the time, and it is always one that will not threaten their cosy paradigm. Things were better a hundred years ago.

To use a phrase of my grandmother's I feel this is a case of the pot calling the kettle black. Maybe you could get your own house in order before complaining about other people's. I really do react badly to this sort of approach to physics.

As for dismissing the angels on the head of a pin problem as trivial, I've said my piece already. It is a central problem in physics. I'd be happy to discuss the issues but not happy that you simply ignore this view and restate yours. Modern scientists seems to be full of people who would have refused to look through G's telescope.

I would be quite happy to offer all my wordly possessions as a prize so that James Randi can very publicly challenge science to prove that consciousness can be left to neuroscience. It cannot, and this becomes more obvious with each successive issue of JCS. Neuroscience can't even show that there is such a thing.

I am honestly unable to see why physicists are so frightened of consciousness, especially as in my view the solution to many deep problems of physics can be found in philosophy of mind. I wonder if they really are interested in truth. I see little sign of it. The concern seems to be entirely with protecting the status quo.

Pardon me if this sounds shirty. You hit a nerve. I can't stand dogmatism. If you can show that consciousness can be explained by neuroscience then of course I'll take it all back, and you will become an academic superstar overnight.

Damn. I promised myself I wouldn't start arguing. I seem to be hardwired for it.

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Rachel Browne
17 Jun 2011

Peter, I absolutely agree. First, with the pot calling the kettle black comment.

Hubertus, you do just come back with your opinions, constantly. I know you hate analytical philosophy, but I'm sorry that is what I do. I am not blinkered and have read a lot of continental philosophy.

Neuroscientists admit that they can't define consciousness or see how it arises from the brain. Even cognitive scientists are criticised for not taking biology into account when they analyse thought.

Hubertus, I notice that sometimes you claim to be a philosopher and at others a physicist. Going back over all your messages over the years would be too tricky, so I'm guessing you change profession to butress whatever argument you are making.

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Charles
17 Jun 2011

What is the question? Continental vs Analytic Philosophy seems too big a generalization to be debated here. Why should one have to choose between one or the other anyway?

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Mike Ward
17 Jun 2011

Hi everyone,

A few comments on these postings.

Hubertus, how come you think icontinentali philosophers see more than other in life? all of us are capable of asking meaningless questions. You continue to speak of God, Sin and Grace as if they really existed in anything other than sets of ideas. I like the lion analogy but havenit yet shot any icontinental philosophersi to date but I have studied them.

Your point that consciousness is not a philosophical problem is a view you are entitled to hold but not, in my equal view, one with much merit. How can we measure anything if we have no notion of the measure we are using?

Nick, how does sex get to be such a narrow topic. Isnit rape one type of physical assault, aren't sex dolls/robots just a form of self pleasure like many others? Or is there a real mind/gender divide formed during our biological development?

Pete, unless I mis-read your comment Randi should challenge everything, I agree and am skeptical about my own skepticism BUT you do seem to want one particular outcome over another regarding consciousness - does this not bother you?

Rachel, you observe that Hubertus flips from Philosopher to Physicist, both simultaneously is good but alternatively maybe bi-polar.

Charles, I agree that there is no choice - like wave/particle duality itis clear to me that both are complimentary in a greater theory.

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Hubertus Fremerey
17 Jun 2011

#382 on philosophical debates

Dear all, I had to laugh. I didn't say the neurologist would solve the problem of consciousness. I said that there is no problem, there is nothing to solve. What's the problem of "grassiness" or "furriness" or "glassiness" ? Those are strange feeling in your fingertips. Very specific feelings, but what is there to explain ? What I expect is that roboticists will sometime soon realize a robot with consciousness without anybody knowing what "consciousness" is. Do you need to "know" the nature of a thing to put it there ? This was why I compared this debate to scholasticism and brought those angels on the tip of the needle in.

And no, I am not flipping back and forth from philosopher to physicist. I made the clear distinction again and again between scientific and philosophical problems. I exppicitely said that some really important questions cannot be answered by sciences, not now, not then, but not by principle. Thus I asked : Suppose author Williamson and the maker of "I, Robot" movie are right and sometimes smart robots will take us in custody to protext us from our own stupidity : Would the robots be right ? If not - why not ? This is a question that cannot be answered by science, but is depending on our self understanding and our concept of reason. So I asked : What do we defend if defending "our humanity" ? It's a genuine philosophical problem, on that cannot be handed over to sciences, and one that may stand before us one time. But not one of you took this problem up. you all evaded it.

Suppose, "the problem of consciousness" will be solved one day : What would this "solution" mean ? What would follow from it ? Would it solve any important problem ? Would it tell us how to lead a better life or make better music or what ?

Einstein, Heisenberg, Dirac - they did not need "consciousness explained" but "mathematical problems solved". Of course I could claim that to solve a problem you need consciousness and so to understand consciousness would help us solve difficult problems. But what if robots can do without ? What if a really smart robot could "add two and two together" and derive a truly deep understanding of nature from "pattern recognition" in a vast amount of available data ? Patterns that evaded the smartest Einsteins ? But pattern recognitions is a problem of mathematical algorithms these days. People are able now to program a robot to recognize faces. Does anybody claim that this needs consciousness ? But if computers are able to recognize faces, why not teach them how to recognize deep lying mathematical truths that lead to some "weltformel" ?

I am not even interested in a "weltformel". A "weltformel" can be left to the scientists. I am interested in those questions that cannot be left to the scientists - by principle.

I give one more example : I once wrote to a world famous ethicist from the Bonn university how he would judge the many wars of Alexander and Caesar and Charlemagne and Napoleon etc.. He wrote a long and friendly letter, but he was "structurally unable" to understand the problem. Why ? From a purely ethical point of view, killing humans is bad and forbidden. But from a historical point of view without all those "butcher" we would still live an the trees. And there is nothing to object to this. From what I read from Rachel and Mike and Charles and all others, there is nothing to object to live a nice and friendly life as an ape on the trees. So there is no moral justification to kill other humans by the thousands. But in reality, all these "Great Empires" from Babylon and Egypt over Rome and etc. up to the British Empire under Queen Victoria are unthinkable without wars and mass-murder under whatever excuse.

This situation made the ethics professor speechless and "structurally unable" to understand the problem. He could not deny the historical fact that without this killing he would not be a professor and not able to read or write or to hear Mozart or know of Einstein etc., because all this requires "high culture" and there has never and nowhere been any high-culture without an empire and no empire without masskilling, and as an ethicist he could not admit it even if he saw it before his eyes. It was like the Jesuits denying the spots on the sun even while seeing them.

It was with this in mind that I asked : By what argument would we call robots establishing a nanny-state "bad" ? This is a genuinely philosophical question and has nothing to do with the nature of consciousness but with our self-understanding of "humanity" and what is to be defended.

Don't forget : Even a spider would defend itself, thus to defend oneself does not prove anything. It is just natural. The justification cannot come from any science, it is essentially philosophical.

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hubertus fremerey
18 Jun 2011

#382a one more on "analytical vs continental"

Rachel and Charles, you both deny that there is a difference between "continentals" and "analyticals". But I am not convinced. My impression is, that a whole class of typical "continental" questions is simply not admitted for debate. There are "Anglosaxon analyticals" and "continental analyticals" so its all analytical and "case closed". The non-analytical questions are rejected at the door as "meaningless".

For Mike "God, sin, grace" are meaningless problems, but of course he knows that those "meaningless problems" have shaken the world and engaged many truly great philosophers and theologians. Thus problems that stand great in the history of philosophy are simply declared "non-problems". This is what I call the "cleansing terror of analytical philosophy". A very comfortable attitude.

And look at this : Socrates and Jesus surele were "a bit strange". Everybody thought so. But neither contemporaries nor we would call them "neurotics" or "madcaps". One of my "continental" questions is : Why not ? What does it mean to be mentally sane ? Could you suggest an "analytical" answer to this question ?

My impression is that analytical philosophy has put blinders to philosophy. Perfectly valid philosophical problems that do not look "analytical" are simply kept out of the debate and then we are told that there ore no non-analytical problems but only "meaningless" problems. Doesn't this look like "dogmatism" ?

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Pete Jones
18 Jun 2011

I must admit that I don't understand the difference between analytical and continental philosophy. Nor do I understand how there can be two different kinds. So I won't comment on that. Nick. Good points. I wouldn't specify the outcome for James Randi challenge, however, as you suggest, since I just know what it'll be. Otherewise I wouldn't offer to put up the prize money. It's just plain obvious that neuroscience cannot explain consciousness. It can deny its existence, of course, as Hubertus does, but then it cannot say anything at all about it, so the prize money is safe either way.

Regarding Hubertus' question about robots, and whether it would be 'right' if they took us into custody to protect us from our own stupidity, I don't quite see how this is a philosophical question. When my car seat-belt light and buzzer comes on to make me belt-up I just get annoyed, but I suppose its a good thing. If it carted me off to gaol I'd be less pleased, but no new principles seem to be involved. If my car was conscious then the problem would be a little more difficult, but no more difficult than the question of whether the police are right to fine me for not wearing one. Philosophically it doesn't seem to matter whether they're flesh and blood or metal and plastic.

Nor do I see a clear dictinction between the problems of physics and philosophy. In this I'm with Paul Davies. Indeed, I'd say there's no chance of solving any deep problems without taking both into into account. For example, when physics says that extension is an illusion this is a philosophical claim. The view of Eintein's favourite mathematican, Thomas Danzig, was that a central problem for mathematics, philosophy and physics is that of reconciling the legato of the continuum with the staccato of the numbers. This is the problem of how many angels can fit on a pinhead. I have a particular interest in the something-nothing problem, which is a problem equally for both disciplines. I once chatted to Victor Stenger about this, (who has written a book proposing that Democritus was right about atoms and the void), and would say his book is a good example of what happens when physicists don't bother to take philosophy seriously. I'd cite Paul Davies' two books on the relationship between physics and metaphysics as examples of what happens when they do.

As for the proposal that consciousness is not a problem and there is nothing to explain, it does not compute. If we can posit the existence of zombies then it is clear that we have something that they don't. Nor do I think it likely that Heisenberg, Einstein and Dirac thought consciousness was an unimportant phenomenon, as suggested. The first was an excellent philosopher and realised that we cannot explain everything, since we cannot explain the explainer. This is a deep point and directly raises questions about consciousness. A good proportion of the disussion in the eaerly days of QM was about consciousness.

Rachel asks a 'continental' question, but it seems to me that it could not be answered except by analysis, so I'm struggling to understand what exactly divides analytic and coninental philosophy other than an emphasis on different issues. I must go and look this up. In the end, however, I see little purpose in, or justification for, having more than one kind of philosophy.

But then, I see little point even in dividing up natural philosophy into physics and philosophy unless one wants to be a top specialist, and feel that the problems of both are less likely to be solved by this artificial ghettoisation. I'd like to see the line in the sand between physics and metaphysics become a historical curiosity, since until it does fundamental physics can go nowhere. It can make grand statements about consciousness and spacetime etc, but it'll all be just pub-talk. The background-dependence problem is as much a problem for philosophy as for physics.

Is it possible to distinguish between fundamental physics and metaphysics?

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Rachel Browne
18 Jun 2011

Peter, there is a vast chasm between analytical and continental philosophy. It is a distinction drawn in academia. You can't go to university to study "philosophy", you have to go on an analytical course or a continental one. I don't see why Hubertus says I see no distinction between the two!

Analytical philosophers take regard of logic, whereas continental philosophers are more interested in history (see Hubertus) and ask massive questions and construct great meaningless systems, whereas analytical philosopers analyse concepts.

And so we do have the concept of consciousness, and we want to analyse it. It is about understanding and knowledge. It probably won't change the world, but nor will the ruminations of Hubertus.

Hey, Hubertus, go tell David Chalmers that consciousness is a non-problem! What do you mean by "philosophy" in your special sense? It would be good if you could define it. It seems to reduce philosophy to ethics. And computers don't "recognise" faces in the way we do. They compute. Their recognition is a vast set of numbers, whereas we recognise consciously. What do you mean by "recognise"?

You always talk about analysing, Hubertus, but you never do. You just demand answers from people. Why can't you think about it yourself? We are defending consciousness and freedom, as Peter says.

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Charles
18 Jun 2011

Huburtus, I think that you frequently misrepresent other people's position in philosophical discussions. Maybe that's your uberman attitude? Rachel did not say that there was no difference between Continental and Analytical philosophies and neither did I. Rachel can speak for herself. I am no philosopher. I merely read some philosophy, mostly Plato. But I did say that I doubted the dichotomy that you were trying to create between the two schools of philosophy, Continental and Analytical. Charles

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Charles
18 Jun 2011

I think that I agree with Pete in that I don't see a need for sharp division between schools of philosophy here (and science). I'm a reader of philosophy, not a philosopher and I like to see different views presented. Re ethics, I'm more interested in where the different "schools" agree than arguing about which school is better.

Re consciousness, my personal definition would be along the line of Eastern Orthodox Christianity. It includes the idea of "nous". But I'll save that for later. I don't want to take discussion here off on a theological tangent.

Contrary to Hubertus, who seems to think it inappropriate to just be interested in something for its own sake. Hubertus seems to think that is selfish. But I am interested in the idea of continuity of development of social and moral life in evolution. I am not a scientist. I just find the idea of moral life in animals interesting. Charles

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Rachel Browne
18 Jun 2011

Charles and Peter, another distinction that occurred to me when I was out with the dogs in the rain, which was fun, is that continentals can just declare themselves to be philosophers without formal education in the subject, as Hubertus does. In England and America, you can't do this unless you have or have had an academic post. So I have formal education in philosophy, but am actually a house-wife, being English. Hubertus, being of an historical nature, might know how this came to be.

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Hubertus Fremerey
18 Jun 2011

#383 on physics and philosophy

Pete, it seems terribly difficult to be understood. I read your answer (please number it ! We have no time-marker, so we should at least have a number for referencing) and found it unconvincing on all points.

There are many books on "analytical philosophy" and "continental philosophy" and all recent histories of philosophy have different chapters under those headers. The problem is : For most analytical philosophy (including you) "continental philosophy" is no philosophy at all, so there is no second philosophy since it is simply denied its existence. It's like saying "there is only one sort of swans, since black swans are no swans, so when debating swans we can ignore them." In what way are Nietzsche or Schopenhauer "analytical philosophers" ? In no way of course. They are typical "continental philosophers". How can there be "no difference" when a Canadian professor I wrote to on some social question answered "sorry, I am only working on analytical theory of law, so you should turn to some continental guy !" Conferences and journals are neatly split up between analytical and continental philosophy, but you side with Rachel and Charles saying that there is no difference. Both camps simply deny each other the title of philosopher.

We have a case here : You say, you don't understand my question re. "robots taking care of humans" as philosophical at all, while I think it is a very important and typical philosophical question. On the other hand you claim that "consciousness" is a very important and typical philosophical question, while I think it is no philosophical question at all but a mere technical thing. No difference here ? As I put it : There is a feeling of "furriness" or "glassiness" if you touch a fur or a glass, you feel the difference with your fingertips, but there is no "philosophy" of "furriness" or "glassiness" - at least not in my opinion. In this sense I expect robots showing "consciousness" in maybe 2050 without any explanation of "consciousness" needed. It will be the result of some computer architecture in the same way as our human consciousness is a result of our brain's architecture. There is nothing to "explain" and nothing philosophical about it. Well, I cannot prove it, I have to wait, But Searle and others who claim that consciousness is strictly bound to the complicated brain cannot prove their claim either. To say that robots will never show consciousness is pure rhetoric. There is no proof of it whatever.

This brings me to another point : You wrote that I deny the existence of consciousness. No, I don't ! I only said that it is a meaningless topic for philosophy in the same way as is "furriness" and "glassiness". It would be absurd to deny those experiences, they are real. There are countless experiences - of love or hate, of the nearness or absence of God etc., - but what do we gain from studying those experiences as philosophers ? In this sense it would be absurd to deny that there is consciousness, but from this does not follow that it is meaningful to ask for "its nature".

And then : Of course all of the great physicists of the last 120 or so years were well read in philosophy. But there was but one very simple philosophical principle guiding Newton, Einstein, Planck, Bohr, Heisenberg, Schroedinger, Dirac, Fermi, Pauli, Gell-Mann and others : "Keep to the observable facts !" This and nothing else ! Einstein did not speculate, in the same way as Newton did not speculate ("hypotheses non fingo"). They both said : "If I take these data for granted - what follows ?" You can check it with all those names I put above, it was always the same principle : "We do not understand it, but it works and is consistent". Planck did not "understand" his findings, nobody ever has. He just bowed to the observable facts and found a formula to make them fit. The same did Einstein, Heisenberg and the others. So just by driving metaphysics out of the labs those thinkers got at good results. Bohr did not know how to "explain" his "rules", but they worked. As Feynman put it : "Whoever claims to understand QM cannot be honest." Philosophers are kept out of the halls of physics - and rightly so. They have nothing to add to insight.It is physics that has told philosophy some things over the last 120 years, not the other way round. Your example of "extension is an illusion" is besides the point : Yes, it is "philosophical", but of absolutely no relevance for the physics of relativity. It is a similar situation as with "vacuum" in the 17th century : The philosophers said "that cannot be" but the experimenters showed that it can. You can do physics worth a Nobel without even knowing the name of Plato. What you need is facts and mathematical ingenuity. Thus there is a gap between the problems of physics and those of philosophy - in both directions. To say that the great physicists of the last 120 years had many philosophical debates is correct. But this was a private matter. For their work it was irrelevant. They did not need philosophy to get at their results. Not one of them needed a philosphical argument, only the philosophical popularizers did. You need not read Davies - nor Plato and the others - to be a good physicist.

This answers your question "Is it possible to distinguish between fundamental physics and metaphysics?" They both have nothing to do with each other. Those physicists I mentioned took their observations for granted. They accepted that they did not understand the results, and that was all. They simply did not ask "what does it mean ?" They were content with "apparently it works out that way". And I expect roboticists coming over some time soon and say : "We have made our robots displaying consciousness. We do not know how it works, but it does."

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Hubertus Fremerey
18 Jun 2011

#383a some addenda

Dear Rachel and Charles, I have read your comments only after putting my answer to Pete. So some comments added to your remarks.

Neither Kierkegaar nor Nietzsche nor Marx had any diploma in acedemic philosphy. They are counted among the most important modern philosophers. Most of the leading academic philosophers will be forgotten in some twenty years hence and only known to specialists. Where did Socrates get his diploma, where Thales ? They just put questions.

You both said that you cannot see a difference of continental and analytical philosophy or think it irrelevant. But this format is clumsy, I have to copy several pages to find the places. So it is no case of conflict, I think it is not worth it and "case closed".

I did not say that philosophy is all ethics. But I side with Socrates that it is essentially ethics, since ethical questions cannot be solved by the sciences, they can only be deliberated among us humans. I wouldn't like to be governed by robots "in my own best interest" - and surely neither of you would. Pete once more evaded this question - as you did. But it is a perfectly valid philosophical question : By what argument should we oppose "robots commanding us in our own best interest ?" Why do you evade this question ?

It is not that I don't know a good answer. But I wanted to know YOUR answers. What is wrong with "Brave New World" ? This is not the same but a similar question. Once more I know the answer, but it is a truyl philosophical answer, not an emotional one. I keep to my mantra : "Don't moralize - analyze !" I am not shrieking "how awful !" but I am giving explanations.

The comfortable thing with "consciousness" is : It does not oblige you to anything, but those ethical questions do, and this is what makes the uncomfortable. This was what I hinted at with the remark "You first shoot the lion to study it." But this will give you a very false image of what a lion is.

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Mike Ward
18 Jun 2011

Pete, you said you would like the line between physics and metaphysics to disappear. Do you think think as I do that this would equate to the line between the possible and impossible also disappearing?

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Rachel Browne
19 Jun 2011

Hubertus: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Chalmers Chalmers is a philosopher. Try challenging him.

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Auston
19 Jun 2011

Re David Chalmers (philosopher, mathematician and computer scientist)- I am chuffed that he has been brought into the discussion. I would recommend a look at this paper on Singularity issue that I raised some pages back.

http://consc.net/papers/singularity.pdf

Or you might prefer his presentation two years ago at:

http://vimeo.com/7320820 Time line 26.52 has a bit of a look at consciousness problem. Machine...human...machine...

Nice to see that such an eminent philosopher is taking this topic so seriously.:-)

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Auston
19 Jun 2011

Hubertus - I agree - push right out of the comfort zone as this is where great thinking occurs. If it's causing pain to one's pre-conceptions and precious ideas then I think one is on track.

And I also agree about the area of ethics - it is probably the single greatest topic to be worked upon at present. Science and technology is getting so far in front of our thinking, understanding, and law makers - while some comfortably contemplate their navels seriously big things are going down.

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Hubertus Fremerey
19 Jun 2011

#385 reading Chalmers on consciousness

Thank you Rachel for this hint. No wonder that you fell in love with this ruffled smartie ! But the credentials of Chalmers and Hofstaedter force me to have a look, while is doesn't fit my time-plan. I will start some of his talks and interviews and then look into http://www.amazon.com/Philosophy-Mind-Classical-Contemporary-Readings/dp/0195145801/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1308465789&sr=1-1.

No, I am not dogmatic. If people can convince me I have learned something. But this is a paradox : If Charles would succeed in convincing Mike of the truth of Orthodox Christianity - would Mike concede to have learned a bit ? Of course he had to - not even reluctantly but rapt ! Would this be a matter of "consciousness" or of "neurochemistry" then ? Don't tell me that such things don't happen ! They have happened to St.Paul before he entered Damaskus.

Which comes to : The problem of truth is independent of the problem of consciousness. 99,99% of all philosophical and scientific problems are independent of how "the mystery of consciousness" is "solved". All animals need air and water for living, but they need not know anything about air and water, they just need the stuff. So whatever we may think about consciousness our other problems won't go away. This and nothing else was my objection to this "obsession with consciousness".

I am currently thinking about the future of mankind and the problems involved in this question, and whatever I know about consciousness it will not help me with my problems there. And it wouldn't have helped Einstein either. He had to solve somy physical problems and to find some formulas, and not to understand his consciousness. This is why I called this debate "self-centered" and suggested "looking out of the window then and now."

But thank you for the hint to Chalmers anyway, he may well be worth a look or a listening.

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Hubertus Fremerey
19 Jun 2011

#387 some notes on "the singularity" (thank you, Pete!)

From http://consc.net/papers/singularity.pdf (Chalmers, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Chalmers ) I cite re. "singularity" :

// Good (1965) predicts an ultraintelligent machine by 2000, Vinge (1993) predicts greater-than-human intelligence between 2005 and 2030, Yudkowsky (1996) predicts a singularity by 2021, and Kurzweil (2005) predicts human-level artificial intelligence by 2030. //

This is funny and reminds me on the shifting of the time-horizon in the cases of "natural language understanding and translating" and "the nuclear-fusion power plant". See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_machine_translation and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fusion_power. Both endeavours were started with great optimism and enthusiasm in the 1950s and nobody today would bet on a convincing solution during the next ten years. Those are classical examples of "first step fallacy" : You solve some very simple "model problem" in the lab and then think that this easily transfers to the "real" problem. But quite often it doesn't.

My main arguments against the "singularity is near"-thesis are three :

#1 : The 'what is intelligence'-argument : In his later years Einstein replaced the pictures of Newton and Maxwell by those of Gandhi and Schweitzer. He realized that to build the bomb was simple compared to the task of changing human minds for the better. To handle forumlas doesn't mean wisdom.

#2 : The 'overcrowded workforce'-argument : If ten craftspeople need ten months to build a house, what time would 100 craftspeople need ? The simple and silly answer would be "one month". The more realistic answer would be "three years or eternity." Think of the tower of Babel. Which means : It doesn't suffice to have some smart machines and humans around, they have to learn to cooperate and to go along in a meaningful way. If there is war among the humans and the machines or among the machines themselves, nothing will come along than Armageddon.

#3 : The 'it's not all thinking'-argument (also called "the 'weltformel'-argument") : When Einstein in the 1940s (and later Heisenberg in 1958) tried to work out a "weltformel", they did not know anything of what is now called "QCD" (Quantum-Chromo-Dynamics) or "Standard Model", nor of course of the more ambitious "TOE" ("Theory of Everything") and superstrings etc.. You cannot just sit down and design a formula. You have to check the facts. To do this modern high-energy-accelerators (like the LHC, see ) are built for many billions of Dollars. We need factual knowledge and we need new theories and we need time for the development of both. And this is a problem no "superintelligent machine" could evade. Even a robot smarter than all physics Nobel laureates of the last 100 years together would have to look for facts and to wait for some very costly machine to provide those. Even the smartest robots could only accelerate the process of inventing the formulas and machines.

This much for a starter, I did not try to do a serious worked out paper here. Hubertus

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Hubertus Fremerey
19 Jun 2011

#387a all consciousness-problems solved !!

What are you waiting for, folks ? It's really simple - just look here : http://www.mecasapiens.com/publication !

Thus on to the more important questions ! F.i. God. On whom I remember an anecdote of the witty Bohr. He once had a horseshoe above the entry to his ski-hut. One of his colleagues wondered : "But as a modern scientist you surely don't believe in this superstitious nonsense, Mr.Bohr ?" "Oh, no !" was the reply, "of course not ! But I am told that it works even if you don't believe in it !"

I take it for a test : If a robot can laugh about this he must be bright. And if he breaks down about it too.

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Hubertus Fremerey
19 Jun 2011

#386 on robots making and taking love

Nick, you offered some thoughts in 15 Jun 2011 ("oh this is cool!"). I am sure there will be a lot of fetishism next time, and maybe a porn industry surrounding animated (and animating) movies. But what if the "peepers" - as you hinted at - will forget "the real thing" and get obsessed with "the virtual thing" onscreen ?

Well, I don't think that the danger is that great. Human realations are not only sexual or even erotical, but "by way of consciousness" (our current topic here) there is sympathy and "good vibes" and other such things which are not directly sexual and not directly connected to sexuality, but to "sociality". But, as Freud was full aware of : All forms of human mutual attractiveness and repulsiveness are in some way related. Love is very much more than a four letter word and has countless faces betwenn voluptas and caritas, between staring and caring. And it is dangerous in many ways - but more so among real humans than among virtuals.

Just set up a list of all things we say we love : Humans, animals, books, music, God, flowers, powers, ideas, games, puns, guns, runs - you name it. But this is a wide and confusing field, so I leave it for the moment.

This I found just this moment by a look in passing on Google : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JmSRZcz_mZo It is already part of our future, but most people will ignore it in the same way as they ignore the "real" thing today. It will consume less than 1% of the attention of normal people now and in the future.

This by the way is a fact that should arouse our philosophical interest ! We are animals living in a more or less exciting and unknown world. Thus by the principle of evolution we should give not more attention to sex than is needed, but should be more interested in countless other things relevant to our situation - as f.i. philosophy.

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Pete Jones
19 Jun 2011
#387

Rachel et al., thanks for spelling out the analytical/continental divide. I notice that there is some debate about what this divide is and whether it actually exists, but I get the idea.

Huburtus, I have a problem with your appraoch to the disussion. Perhaps you fear being branded an analytical philosspher, but a bit more wouldn't hurt. I have to wonder why you would so publicly shoot yourself in the foot by claiming that Schroedinger supports your view, when he is justly famous all over the planet, some would say notorious, for spending the last forty years of his life vigorously supporting my view. Indeed, he is top of my list of scientific heroes. There are also one or two others on your list of people you haven't read. I'd like to disuss these issues with you, but not in this crazy way. Please read something like Ken Wilbur's 'Quantum Questions', a collection of some more 'mystical' writings by the early quantum pioneers.

You seem unaware that for the avaerage reader of the Journal of Consciousness Studies Schroedinger would be a mystic. In the fifties his regular publisher even refused to publish one of his books for being too heretical, since in it he claimed that he is God, that we all are, and that it is a mistake to imagine that all our consciousness are fundamentally discreet entities, an idea he dismisses as ridiculous.

What you are suggesting, unbenownst to yourself , is that Schroedinger was a fool. This is quite a widespread view. I once asked a professional mathematician why nobody took Schroedinger's metaphysical views seriously. 'Oh, well', he said, 'each to his own,' as if a great physicist would choose his metaphysical position like a hat. He did not see the arrogance in his offhand dismissal of a far greater intellect than his.

Anyway, thank you for giving the excuse to say something about him. He is also excellent on evolutionary theory, but again is something of a heretic. His essay 'What is Life?' contains more sense than most on the topic, I'd say, but I'm not sure whether all his ideas have stood the test of time.

Mike - Yes, I would like the line between physics and metaphysics to disappear. Or, rather, that we concede that in the end there isn't one. But I'm not sure you mean when you ask whether this idea 'would equate to the line between the possible and impossible also disappearing?'. On the face of I'd say it not, since what is impossible must always be impossible or it wasn't impossible after all, just misdefined. But I don't think this is what you meant. I was suggesting that it would be impossible to solve the major problems of one of these discipline without solving the major problems of the other. It is often forgotten that they have ineluctable consequences for each other, and I thinl this is the cause of many problems.

I'd second the recommendation of Chalmers. Unmissable. I owe a lot to his two early articles for JCS on the problem of consciousness, 'Facing up to ... and 'Moving on from ...').

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Rachel Browne
19 Jun 2011

Goodee! Peter and Auston, I'm glad you find Chalmers interesting, and now Hubertus does! This might be closing up the analytical/continental divide, at least here. Hubert us is looking at analytical philosophy! And taking an interest!

Honestly, Hubertus, of course I'm not in love with Chalmers, he is a ghastly scruff. But apparently he has masses of devoted followers in America who emulate his dress sense(which actually seems to be actualy none!)

I don't rate him much, but he is germane here. What is so novel about property dualism? His philosophy of language just seems Fregean. Maybe I'm wrong because I haven't actually read that.

Anyway, for anyone interested who doesn't already know, he has a site at Arizona on which he has put a pile of academic papers on consciousness. http://www.u.arizona.edu/~chalmers. Charles, you might find all this reductive? I'm not interested in the big ethical picture, as Hubertus is. The ethics of animals is always interesting. I've just read a novel by Garth Stein "The Art of Racing in the Rain". It totally taps in to dog-lovers feelings and closeness to their animals and a possible relationship to humans. Well, you don't want to call dogs animals! I really recommend it. You will cry as if bereaved. Well, maybe not, but I did. It follows Paul Auster, who wrote "Timbuktu". This again taps into our love of dogs, and maybe sentimentality, because of the emotional reaction on finishing it. There is an I-thou relationship here which is one of love. This would probably be missing in relationships with computers.

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Rachel Browne
19 Jun 2011

Forgot a paragraph mark. Sorry! Suddenly started about dogs, novels and emotions!

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Hubertus Fremerey
19 Jun 2011

#387 on "analytical disease"

I once more had to laught heartily. I really know what analytical philosophy is, and I wouldn't deny its value. As I wrote in another posting (too lazy now to look up) I clearly said that it is useful as a propaedeuticum before doing "real philosophy", comparable to the "artes" in medieval universities (Oxford will prepare for 800th anniversary soon) before you were admitted to the "serious" studia of theology, medicine and law. I wrote that every student of philosophy today should have the first two years in "analytical" philosophy, but then go on to "real" philosophy. I compared it to "buildings engineering" as compared to "architecture". And I stick with it. The occupation of the butcher is meat and not sharping his knives. There is no contradiction. You all so far carefull evaded all "real" philosophy.

And on "Schroedingers mysticism". Yes, he and many others were given to such stuff, but it was not relevant for the approach. Neither Einstein nor Bohr nor Heisenberg nor Pauli nor any of the others accepted mysticism in their work. It is totally misleading to present the history of modern physics differently. I firmly stick with what I wrote. And by this I am not dogmatic but factual.

Einstein was not a little bit mystical in either of his two theories of relativity, neither was Heisenberg with "uncertainty principle" nor Dirac with "antimatter" etc.. They were rigorous and fierce anti-mystics according to the principle "hypotheses non fingo". Sorry, thats a fact. Schroedinger was respected for the non-mystical part of his work.

It all happened exactly the other way round : BECAUSE the results of strict positivism were so strange and unexpected, those thinkers afterwards began to philosophize how this could be the case. BECAUSE they did not let philosophy spoil their thinking they got at great results.

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Pete Jones
20 Jun 2011

Hi Hubertus. It must be perfectly clear to everyone that you've not read the people you're talking about and have no interest in doing so. It would be best if we stop bothering to discuss them. But please don't imagine that any of them took your cavalier approach to philosophy, which seems to entail not doing it. You have set yourself up in opposition to science, which is rather odd given that you claim to be a scientist. I suspect that you've not even read Chalmers.

I don't want us to fall out, but I'm going to risk suggesting that you learn more about these topics before setting your opinions in stone or trying to convince other people to share them. Your dislike of analysis becomes a little too obvious.

Rachel, I seem to rate Chalmers a touch more highly that you. Admittedly, his book on consciousness seems like a muddle of unnecessary complication to me, like so many others, but he does at least try to address the issues, unlike so many others, and his conclusion that mind-only and matter-only theories will not work is important. But in the end he fails, and so up to a point I share your opinion. I feel that the two short articles I mentioned earlier are much more accessible and valuable than his book. Still, the website you mention is unmissable for anyone interested in the topic. His pupil Rosenberg has also written a good book on the topic. Much of it I couldn't understand, and much of the rest I would dispute, but his approach is more sophisticated than most.

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Rachel Browne
20 Jun 2011

Peter, I can't see any links to the two articles by Chalmers you seem to have mentioned. Can you repeat them?

I've never heard of Rosenberg.

Auston, where was the singularity paper published? It seems rather odd. Chalmers seems to assume that people know the distinction between subjective and objective time. Well I don't! Is it Mactaggart or some scientific thing I don't know about?

Peter, I've always felt that Hubertus hasn't read the things he writes about, but haven't liked to mention it. But don't worry about falling out with Hubertus. It won't happen. Hubertus sounds extremely dogmatic, but I've met him and he is a sweet and gentle person. He and I have continued the continental/analytical debate for nearly a decade.

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Rachel Browne
20 Jun 2011

Oh sorry, Peter! I overlooked your main point about false categories. These might be useful critical constructs though. A way to set about anaysing things? What do you think?

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Hubertus Fremerey
20 Jun 2011

#388 philosophers war

Dear Pete, please be specific ! I never have read Chalmers and I never claimed otherwise. I will have a look - but reluctantly. I simply do not think that his studies - bright as they may be - are of much relevance to "true" philosophy. I did ask you and Rachel : Suppose somebody like Chalmers would find out about consciousness - what would it come to, where would it matter ? Why is it that you not even try to convince me by any good argument that this topic is worth my interest ? What do you expect from Chalmers and the others ? If it is really that important, why can't you and Rachel convince me with your own words that it is ?

On Planck and the others : Planck had a clearly defined problem - to explain the black-body radiation. And he found a solution that is obvious to any mathematician but not understandable to a physicist. It was a fact of nature that had to be accepted like the existence of the elephant. Of course there were the endless quarrels between Bohr and Einstein about the "true nature" of QM, but this was never central for the development of the theory. The quarrel is undecided up to now, but this did not hinder the progress of physics. From a metaphysical point of view - even from the point of "philosophy of nature" - it was a meaningfull quarrel, but from the point of the working physicist it was not. But I will not bore the others here with all this physics stuff.

My point was : "Planck, Einstein, Heisenberg and the others" did solve "real" problems without even understanding what they did or why it did work. If you think otherwise then please link me to a source where your position is defended. You hinted at Davies. There are others - Bohm etc.. But when did they get the Nobel and for what result ? Of course people can and will speculate about "the nature nature of nature", and this is legitimate for philosophers.

What "real" problem will be solved by "understanding consciousness" ? Could you please make me hungry to know this ? It is like trying to convince Mike that to study the theological problems of St.Augustine, St.Thomas and Luther is worthwhile for somebody who thinks that God is just a human fancy and all those "theological problems" are spurious however "deep" they may seem to the true believer.

I stated several times now, that you all are evading "real" philosophical problems. Well, I would not deny that "analytical philosophy" is a legitimate part of "real philosophy". But what do you expect of me ? I know what language philosophy is and its many problems. I know of "brain in the vat" and similar problems. I know of hermeneutics and of logical difficulties. So what do you expect me to do ? This I would like to know. Once more : Please be specific and come up with real questions !

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Rachel Browne
20 Jun 2011

So below is an e-mail from my husband. He sent it to me. We are actually in the same room, but he sent me an e-mail. His spelling isn't good. Well he can't type really. Anyone have any idea of what the fuck he is talking about?

"The New Scientist 18/6/11 reports that if you go to Wikipedia and pick any random subject then scroll to the first blue hyperlinked word not in brackets or italics and keep on recursively clicking onthe first such word in subsequent articles, you will always end up at 'Pliosophy'. I tried it a few times and it actually works!"

He tried it out starting with Roy Orbison and after twelve tries he got to philosophy. He made me see this.

It is terrifying to live with a nerdy person. An only child.

Thanks to all those who replied to Nick, who is normal.

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Hubertus Fremerey
20 Jun 2011

#388a one more on "philosophers war"

Pete, I beg your pardon if I sounded rude and "dogmatic". I am neither. But I am asking for good arguments coming from you. I am opposing this Anglosaxon analytical dominance. At least 50% of all philosophers today are simply not interested in philosophy of mind or analytical philosophy. Neither French "post-structuralists" nor German "Frankfurt School" are too much. Why are we silenced then ?

Rachel wrote to me : // Putnam, Searle, Lakoff and Chalmers are leaders in analytical philosophy! Mark Johnson, A C Grayling, Mark Sainsbury. If you ignore these people, your head is buried in the sand. // Yes, of course, I do not doubt it, I know it. But why does it oblige me to read all this stuff ? Why should I be interested to deserve the name of a philosopher ? Analytical philosophy is one important field of contemporary philosophy, but it is not "the" contemporary philosophy. Did I ever say that "if you don't read Heidegger and Habermas and Adorno and Foucault your head is buried in the sand" ? Do you tell me "those are no philosophers anyway !" ?

Re. "Einstein and the others" : I read an essay "Light Shows of the Mind: Einstein Was Right When He Said That Imagination Is More Important Than Knowledge" by David Brooks (The Atlantic Monthly. Volume: 290. Issue: 5. Publication Date: Dec, 2002). Is this what was on your mind ? Then why didn't you tell me ? And of course Einstein knew very well that to put imagination to good use you need some sound knowledge. Thus he was not contradicting my claim. He was a daring mind, but not a mystical mind. He put some very simple questions and thought them out to the end, where others would have said "this cannot be a meaningful way." His approach - like that of the others - was positivist : If I call two events "happening at the same time" I have to tell people what I really do. If James Bond checks his wrist watch with a person standing nearby there is no problem, but if the other guy is on the Moon or Mars comparing the time becomes a problem. And if I speak of "observing some event" I once more have to tell people what I really do. If I can only "observe" a process with photons of about the same mass as the observed objects I need to redefine the meaning of observation. This is Heisenberg. But in both cases you need no metaphysics, you only need to stick with methodical principles of observation (operationalism). I simply do not know what you are objecting to. Please explain.

When I entered this "philosophers club" almost exactly 9 years ago, I did it (on Geoffrey's "Q&A-page") with a clear question : "What is in your opinion the most important problem posed to philosophy ?" I never got an answer, even after repeating the question. I had to give the answer myself. But I said that analytical philosophy is unable to provide an answer since it does not even understand the question. Thus I put my question once more. Perhaps you can come up with an answer this time.

Yes, I concede that I got a bit grumpy, since I am deeply involved in philosophical questions that have absolutely nothing to do with the nature of consciousness, a topic that is distracting me this time. But of course you are not to blame. If you find consciousness important then so be it. Perhaps you could try to explain and "sell" it to me ? I am eager to learn a bit.

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Mike Ward
20 Jun 2011

Hubertus you really should die by the sword you say you live with when I read you saying this "If it is really that important, why can't you and Rachel convince me with your own words that it is ?"

Just from your last few posts, Planck, Bohr, Einstein, Heisenberg, Bohm, Schroendinger, Dirc ad infinitum

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Mike Ward
20 Jun 2011

Reading these postings seems to have all characteristics of a game of philosophical poker. First one bets a Newton, that's matched by an Einstein and then raised by a Chalmers - when is somebody going to say something of their own without name dropping sources like royal garden party.

Should a theory of consciousness just explain how a set of neurobiological processes can cause a system to be in a subjective state of sentience or awareness.

Is the consciousness separate from the what we are conscious about as I think Hubertus believes.

What prejudices do we bring into these deliberations?

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Charles
21 Jun 2011

Hubertus asked about the most important question posed to philosophy.

How about:using the question Socrates asked Theaetetus and since Hubertus asked: "So, Hubertus, begin the inquiry again from the beginning. What exactly is knowledge?"

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Charles
21 Jun 2011

Hubertus said: "I am opposing this Anglosaxon analytical dominance."

Hubertus, are you saying, analytical philosophy has an ethnic basis?

I am merely an American with only a bachelor degree in American Studies. So I am confused, Hubertus, by what exactly you mean by "Anglosaxon" (in the 21st century)? I thought that the Anglo-Saxons were some Germans who tried to steal the land that belonged to the Scots, Welsh, Irish, and Britons. And then, despite the efforts of Robin Hood (Mike's historical neighbor), to clean things up in Britain, the Danes (Normans) took all of it. Now didn't the Normans show up in 1066? So Hubertus, why do you define a school of philosophy in the 21st Century as being Anglo-Saxon?

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Pete Jones
21 Jun 2011

Mike - Yes. I'd also choose that question. In a letter to his mistress, Lady Caroline M, (there's a super-injunction), he mentions that the most important problem in philosophy is 'How do we know things?'. I'd have 'What is consciousness? in second place, since the answer to the first would produce the answer to the second. We could also go with Socrates, or the Orcale at Delphi, and ask 'Who am I?'. I'd say that all three questions are equivalent.

Rachel - Sorry, I'm not sure what you mean by the category thing and your question. I'm trying to get my head around the idea that one can do philosophy without doing analysis. Is anyone really suggesting this? Foucault and Heidegger seem to do little else but analysis, and I thought they were supposed to be continental.

Huburtus. Don't worry, I'm not getting upset. But your views on consciousness are, by your admission, not well informed, and a forum such as this would be a brilliant place to change that.

You say that 50% of philosophers are not interested in philosophy of mind. This is not true. Or, if it is true, it is a lucky guess. Lack of rigour bothers me far more than rudeness or dogmatism. Philosophers may choose to stay clear of phil. of mind, but anyone who has no interest in it is not a philosopher. I can think of no deep philosophical problems that does not raise the issue.

Apparently Rachel wrote to you that "Putnam, Searle, Lakoff and Chalmers are leaders in analytical philosophy! Mark Johnson, A C Grayling, Mark Sainsbury. If you ignore these people, your head is buried in the sand." I'd almost agree with her. You say you do not doubt this, but then you say "But why does it oblige me to read all this stuff ? Why should I be interested to deserve the name of a philosopher?" The answer is that philosophers are paid not bury their heads in the sand. You ask "Did I ever say that "if you don't read Heidegger and Habermas and Adorno and Foucault your head is buried in the sand?"?" I don't know, but if you did then I'd agree with you. Heidegger is another hero of mine for a start.

You say re. Einstein and the others : "I read an essay "Light Shows of the Mind: Einstein Was Right When He Said That Imagination Is More Important Than Knowledge" by David Brooks (The Atlantic Monthly. Volume: 290. Issue: 5. Publication Date: Dec, 2002). Is this what was on your mind ?" - Sorry, no, this is not it. This is about imagination. I'd go straight to Schroedinger. He was way ahead of most of the others. The others vary. Some knew nothing much about mysticism. The point is that they found no reason not to take it seriously.

You say the Heisenberg required no metaphysics. I'm afraid this is not true. In his view QM requires that the two statements 'Here is a table' and 'Here is not a table' are not mutually exclusive in reality, as a matter of fact and not just of logic. This has devastating metaphysical implications of which he was well aware. It would be simply impossible to do physics without doing metaphysics, and vice versa. Physicists normally concede this without hesitation.

You write - "When I entered this "philosophers club" almost exactly 9 years ago, I did it (on Geoffrey's "Q&A-page") with a clear question : "What is in your opinion the most important problem posed to philosophy ?" I never got an answer, even after repeating the question. I had to give the answer myself. But I said that analytical philosophy is unable to provide an answer since it does not even understand the question. Thus I put my question once more. Perhaps you can come up with an answer this time."

Of course. Analytical philosophy is perfectly able to ask good questions. The questions mentioned above arise from analysis. Let's stick with them.

It is interesting that you are "deeply involved in philosophical questions that have absolutely nothing to do with the nature of consciousness...". Could you mention one or two of them? I doubt they have nothing to do with consciousness, or not unless they're unimportant. Maybe that would be a way forward, to work on one of your problems.

I don't want to 'sell you' on consciousness studies. I just think you cannot be uninterested in studying it and expect to be capable of holding up your side of an argument with people who do. Frankly I find most of the field as dull as ditchwater and about as useful, but this view is informed by a lot of research and not plucked from a hat.

One of the best introductory book on consciousnes imo is a text book for American schools written by Papineau and (?? - memory gone). It's about ten pages long and consists mostly of pictures, yet it captures the issues beautifully. A masterpiece. Sorry I can't find the ref. at the moment, but Google should do it.

Rachel - The two Chalmers articles were written for JCS and entitled 'Facing up to the problem of consciousness' and 'Moving on from...' They were published together as a book under the title of the first. It's very good. I admire these articles because they get almost down to the nitty-gritty. In them he argues that Buddhist doctrine is true but does not seem to realise he's doing it. I've tried a couple of times to bait him into a discussion of this, but he hasn't bitten yet.

His main conclusion is that mind-only or matter-only theories do not work, something we have always known from metaphysical analysis, and that as a consequence we must adopt a position he calls 'nautralistic dualism'. This is the idea that since a pure Materialsm and Idealism are both demonstrably absurd, and as we can't think of anything else, then we must settle for ignorance. Apparently he'd rather do this than think about mysticism, which is the only alternative to his view if we agree with his argument. Blinkers are de rigeur for tenured academics in this field.

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Pete Jones
21 Jun 2011

Oops. Sorry Charles. I now see it was you suggested the knowledge question.

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Charles
21 Jun 2011

Since I attempted some satire with Hubertus' statement "Anglosaxon," I don't want to leave it dangling in his silence. Anglo-Saxon can be taken as an ancient ethnic group of Germanic origin. But I think Hubertus is using it in a political manner, like WASP- White Anglo-Saxon Protestant. Although Hubertus would probably deny making any racial implication (the "white" part) and I do not think Hubertus is a racist. I think that Hubertus should be more careful about the political statements he throws around.

I think Hubertus would be more correct if he said that Analytical Philosophy is primarily from English speaking Anglo-American philosophers. Although as an American, I think it is mostly Anglo, because American philosophers in the 21st Century are unknown to anyone outside their narrow academic circles.

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Pete Jones
21 Jun 2011

Speaking of the various shades of 'continental' philosophy Wikipedia has this. "It is difficult to identify non-trivial claims that would be common to all the preceding philosophical movements. The term "continental philosophy", like "analytic philosophy", lacks clear definition and may mark merely a family resemblance across disparate philosophical views." That's good enough for me.

As you say Charles, even 'anglo-saxon' seems a bit meaningless these days. Philosophy is the search for truth, and I doubt anyone would want to argue that it would be helped by dividing knowledge up into lots of little compartments and giving them arbitrary and ambiguous names.

A working knowledge of all these names for compartments would only be necessary for professionals, who would look foolish if they didn't know them. Socrates didn't know them. Plato didn't even know the name of metaphysics. It's all smoke and mirrors.

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Charles
21 Jun 2011

I think that we should move on from this big debate between Analytical Philosophy and Continental Philosophy. It may be important to academics, but not necessarily here. I am not saying that Analytical and Continental philosophers cannot be discussed. But I think that the discussion should be better defined. For example Descartes has been thrown in as an example of a Continental philosopher. But how could anyone claim that Descartes does not have a great influence on Analytical Philosophers? Maybe we should do some basic things more often, like check a philosophy dictionary, before making our statements here. I noticed that both the Oxford and Cambridge dictionaries defined both Continental and Analytical philosophies around the 20th Century.

I'll disclose some of my biases about philosophy today. I'm retired now, but at one point in my working career, I was the president of a "Local" public employees union. Among the people that I represented were the janitors who swept college floors at night. The college and university professors were represented elsewhere. It seems odd to me that the professors (including departments of economics and philosophy) didn't have much to say about this beyond some vague "big picture" stuff.

I am a former enlisted Marine and retired Marine Reserve Officer. My speciality was communications, so I make no great claims about tactical experience. But I am informed about the Cold War and post Vietnam American military concerns. I think that both sides of the Cold War have a lot of luggage to carry. So we should be careful about making sweeping and general statements about philosophers of that era.

I am acquainted with a young man who is working on his master degree thesis at an American University. Philosophy for him has become a dreary project. What happened to the fun in discovery?

If you approach philosophy later in life (in America at least) where do you begin? Bloody debates over philosophy school A vs philosophy school B are not helpful. They are poor demonstrations of power struggle.

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Rachel Browne
21 Jun 2011

I'm a bit fed up with the analytical/continental philosophy debate. Wether it was initially German and English is irrelevant. It is now Anglo-American.

Peter, by false categories, I meant mind and matter. This might be a false distinction, and I don't think Descartes is to blame. Aristotle started it with talk of a higher faculty which might be separable from lower faculties. If aspect theory of mind is right it is a false distinction surely?

Auston, I can't get on with singularity. Chalmers does champion consciousness more than any other philosopher apart from Searle, as far as I know, but I'm an animal oriented person. Chalmers related intelligence to higher consciousness and AI in the singularity paper. I am sure, in a Wittgenstienian sense, that my dogs are conscious and intelligent.

Mike, you want us to not talk about philosophers and name drop? Well I could talk of dogs and concsiousness and mention no names but I think people here wouldn't be interested. It's against the computational thing.

Oh, well, anyway, dogs have fierce instinctual intelligence, a heightened sense of hearing to be aware of danger. Well, other animals do too. I doubt robots will have this. That's an evolutionary drawback.

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Hubertus Fremerey
21 Jun 2011

#389 on causing a real splash

Dear all, this time throwing a chicel caused a real splash - more then expected. Thank you Pete for careful explanations. I will try to do them justice - maybe tomorrow. And I will try careful answers to Mike and Rachel and Charles too.

There war a serious flaw in my formulation. I had indeed asked for the most important question of CONTEMPORARY philosophy. In my opinion it should read "what sort of future should there be ?" and NOT "who am I ?" or "what's conscience?"

Well, "there is nothing more practical than a good theory". That's true "in some respects". But do not overestimate it ! Did the Greeks and Romans really need QM and RT to get along ? I don't think so. And they surely did not wait for Chalmers either. But the question of how to be a good human and how to establish a good government and society was always on their minds - see Plato, Aristotle, the Stoics and Cicero.

Thus while I am studying some books on philosophy of mind now, to say that "philosophy of consciousness" is more important than, say, the "philosophy of good government" is downright absurd. This caused Rorty, a famous "analyticist" himself, to turn his back on this field and get back to pragmatism.

Of course, when I ask "what sort of future should there be ?" I include the question "what do we mean by 'good future' by default. But people want to see results - and rightly so. And all books about "the meaning of good future" or "our consciousness with respect to good future" will not get us at results. Because of this I am naturally much more occupied with studying history and sociology and psychology than with analytical philosophy.

When you buy a car you are of course interested in a good car, but you are interested in using the car and not in knowing the technical details. Thus we are talking cross each other here : I am asking "what is the best use to put the car to?" while you are asking "What's the best way to build a good car ?" Both questions are legitimate, but they belong to different realms of interest.

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Pete
21 Jun 2011

Okay then. Let us move on.

But where to, I wonder.

As for that young man who is working on his master degree thesis at an American University, for whom Philosophy has become a dreary project. How is this possible? Could we cheer him up?

I started fairly late in life by asking why metaphysical questions are undecidable. Although I knew nothing about metaphysics at the time, not even how to define it, I did at least know, or thought I knew, that philosophy could not produce answers to such questions, being a student of the consciousness debate. I assumed that if all those clever philosophers couldn't solve these problems then I had no chance, but I prefer to be defeated by own problems than suffer those of other people. Er, you know what I mean.

Dreary! I immediately fell like Alice down a rabbit-hole into another world. Shocking was more like it.

As a philosophically-minded teebnager my son once spent an hour at school in a lesson about alchemy. Wow, I thought, that'll get his attention. I asked later what it was like, and he told me that alchemy is boring. Maybe the young friend of Charles should worry about his course. It is astonishing how with even the best will in world educators can sometimes turn even the most important and fascinating of topics into pure drudgery.

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Mike Ward
21 Jun 2011

Pete, you wrote this which I think is a pretty good starting point "His main conclusion is that mind-only or matter-only theories do not work, something we have always known from metaphysical analysis, and that as a consequence we must adopt a position he calls 'nautralistic dualism'." (Metaphysical = Based on speculative or abstract reasoning. - not a really biased viewpoint there then :-)

I have a grip on an idea of matter and although our ideas are becoming increasingly complex it does all seem to be subject to validation in as much as we have the wherewithal at present.

When I compare this with Mind I find nothing objective but much that is subjective.

It seems perfectly permissible to explore mind by means of material methods (neuroscience fi) whereas I find the reverse almost meaningless.

Does anyone here have a concept of a mind that would withstand me putting a material bullet through their material brain - well?

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Hubertus Fremerey
22 Jun 2011

#390 what is mind that thou are mindful of it

Well, the Bible does not speak of mind here but of man. And to prevent and end to it all by shooting it allows an immortal soul to fly away. This is "Ghost (=mind) in the machine" model of Descartes that was then demolished by Ryle. Today we have the computer-model : Any glitch of the hardware or firmware of the brain will cause it to stop or to produce nonsense. Then of course the question arises : How do we know that it is nonsense ? There should be abstract metacriteria that tell us what the difference of sense and nonsense is. But these criteria cannot be part of the computer itself. The computer is a logical machine, so we can only decide - the computer itself can - whether it is working properly. The computer cannot know what "sense" is. You need not Goedel to see that. "Sense" refers to the "outer order of things". This is "philosophy of science" : If - and that's a big if - the brain (= computer) of Einstein works properly, then his theories should be tested against reality. But this reality is not part of the brain of Einstein, it is "out there". You can then apply several tests on this proposed "reality", using "falsification" in the sense of Popper and "consistency" with other known facts and methods in the sense of many other philosophers of science. But whatever you know about consciousness, you cannot know by this alone what "reality" is. Thus given the logical consistency of the brain and the consistency of known methods and facts, every knowledge of the nature of consciousness is only one more knowledge to check the proper functioning of the "machine".

We know of many sorts of errors. Some are logical errors, i.e. "wrong arguing", others are "conceptual errors", i.e. misunderstandings, others are "emotional errors", i.e. biased and wishful thinking, or unjustified conclusions derived from "false assumptions" etc.. These are errors that can be checked to a large degree in a formal way to assure "proper functioning of the machine".

But to know all the facts of the world does not give us any hint at what "reality" is, since "reality is in the eye of the beholder." Reality - that was the idea of Heidegger, prepared by Schopenhauer and Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, has to do with "intentionality". Reality is not "there", it is not the assembly of "facts". Reality is an assembly of "relevant" facts. But what is "relevancy" ? For the religious person "sin and grace" can be very relevant, and by this become an essential part of "reality". But this sort of "reality" is totally immaterial. It is not hardware nor firmware nor mind. You could call it fancy. But then it was "fancy" that drove not only Luther or St.Augustine, but Einstein, Marx and Marcuse likewise. It is an imagined reality that cannot be "proven" but is real as a motivator. It is not "mind" but a product of mind in the same way as the sonata is not the piano and not the sound waves nor the brain waves or the neurons but the product of all together. But these "fancies" have a certain relation to "reality" and by this to ontology. What is the ontology of "the laws of physics" ? Surely they are not in your "consciousness" alone, since they govern the real stars and the dogs and the roses. They are only somehow "mirrored" in our consciousness, they are "resonating" there like the em-waves that make the music in the radio. Without the radio you would not know of the music. But the radio is not generating the music, it is only generating the sound, which is not the music.

To think that the radio generates music is absurd nonsense and a misunderstanding. To think that "consciousness" is generating "sense" is debatable, but to think that consciousness is generating "truth" is absurd nonsense or a misunderstanding too. The truth is always "out there".

As in the falsification-principle of Popper the best we can hope for is to check for as many sources of errors as possible, but to get at meaningful results re. "sense" and "nonsense" of our hopes and deeds is quite a different task. Our brain can be working properly, but whether it comes to the right conclusions with respect to "reality" is a different matter. We simply cannot know what our brain is able to do. A robot brain may see things we never could see. No machine can be aware of its own limits. This is in essence what Goedel said, but you need not Goedel to understand it. We are always trying to make sense of the world around, but we cannot know what this comes to. In this respect we are moles - and no science of consciousness will change that, because consciousness is of the machine and not transcending it.

Religious people think that there can be true revelation - a message from the world "out there", entering the machine. A-religious persons don't buy it but think that even God is only a fancy produced by the machine itself. We cannot decide it. It is a problem transcending our consciousness.

This above is not an ersatz for the promised answers to your objections. I am too tired at 1 am locally to go into careful answers now.

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Pete
22 Jun 2011

'Metaphysical' means concerning the world as whole. It may or may not involve speculative and abstract reasoning. Very often it seems to involve hardly any reasoning at all. The point of such reasoning is to avoid bias. This is why Bradley calls metaphyscis "an antidote for dogmatic superstition'. This is why, I imagine, it is so unpopular.

It is impossible to establish the existence of matter scientifically, so its not surprising that the same is true for mind. If we believe that one is prior to the other then we are adopting a metaphysical view without doing any abstract reasoning. The mind-matter problem is undecidable in logic, and no amount of hand-waving is going to change that.

It is not "perfectly permissible to explore mind by means of material methods (neuroscience fi)". It is impossible to do this. It's not difficult or complicated, just plain impossible. Material methods cannot establish the existence of either mind or matter. If it could then we would be easily able to falsify Buddhist doctrine, and that of the entire wisdom tradition. We can't do this, however, much as we'd like to, because we cannot prove scientifically (or unscientifically come to that) that anything really exists. It is surely more interesting to wonder why this is than to try to deny the fact.

I really can't imagine how it's possible to form philosophical views without a study of metaphysics, or why anyone would want to do it. In a philosophical disussion one would have no weapons or armour, and would always be in danger of unknowingly adopting an absurd view.

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Hubertus Fremerey
22 Jun 2011

#391 the value of metaphysics

Pete, you wrote // I really can't imagine how it's possible to form philosophical views without a study of metaphysics, or why anyone would want to do it. In a philosophical disussion one would have no weapons or armour, and would always be in danger of unknowingly adopting an absurd view. //

I agree to that - from Thales up to now. I would call "metaphysics the grammar of meaningful thinking". It is NOT logics ! Logics is only syntax, not semantics. But you cannot have language (= langue) without semantics. Logics is a formal system, as in computers, without any meaning. Even in propositional and modal logics you need an external reference to check the meaning of concepts used. And this meaning is almost never well defined. To know that you don't need Quine.

But metaphysics need not be on the mind of thinkers. Grammar is not on the mind of speakers either. Most people do not know what a grammar is - and they need not. Einstein and Heisenberg, Bohr and Schroedinger etc. tried to solve problems. They didn't care philosophy, since there was no need to do so. Only in the analysis afterwards it became relevant. If you want to analyze a text, you may need an understanding of grammar, but the writer and poet does not care a trifle. Thus we always use metaphysics without knowing it - or caring a damn.

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Rachel Browne
22 Jun 2011

Hubertus, you can't generalise about religious people like this.

I agree, Pete, that there is Buddhism in Chalmer's thought. Hubertus sent Mike and Charles a link to an interview with him. He actually said that Eastern religion, including meditation as it does, is looking at consciousness from a first person point of view.

Hubertus, this is an example of religious people NOT looking for revelation as something external, or out there.

Charles will surely have something to say about this. It might be a good idea to get your acquaintance on the site, Charles. Writing a thesis is a lonely business! Maybe he would want to be a guinea pig for Geoffrey's study partners, otherwise?

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Mike Ward
22 Jun 2011

Pete, to be accurate (hopefully not pedantic) metaphysics was coined as being after the Physics works of Aristotle.

Maybe you don't but I do subscribe to the history that matter preceded mind at least as far as evidence on this planet is concerned. If it is impossible to establish the existence of matter then we might as well all stop having pointless discussions as this is, in my view, the very foundation of being. If you carry on at this rate I'll be agreeing with you and slipping back into my own solipcist hole!

Apart from a fixed position I don't know what stands behind your utter certainty that explaining mind through the behaviour of matter is "plain impossible" - just what is so plainly obvious about it?

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Rachel Browne
22 Jun 2011

Help me out here Fremery.

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Charles
22 Jun 2011

The Embodied Mind

Why doubt your conscious interpretation of a particular moment in time? Have your senses ever let you down (in a way that cannot be understood or compensated for)? Your sense of the present moment is accurate because your neuroanatomical structure and neurochemical pathways evolved in response to their external environment. Your brain is not a machine that requires programming. Your brain is an evolved biological organ and consciousness is an evolved biological process.

Our interaction with the real external world is a complex bodily process, much of which takes place at an unconscious level. Our mind consists of our embodied conscious and unconscious. Mediation of the conscious and unconscious levels of our mind is an evolved biological process that is partially experienced through dreams, but mostly does not involve any immediate sensory awareness.

Flexibility in behavior is evidence of consciousness and a mind at work. Consciousness evolved, because it allowed individuals to make choices when dealing with varying and unpredictable situations. Evolutionary continuity argues for animal consciousness in other higher animals. Likewise, the minds of other higher animals probably have an unconscious level, which can be observed for example in the dream states of our domestic cats and dogs.

Our minds are embodied and thus limited. Because our minds are embodied they can be studied however and are subject to possible corrective and medical intervention. Being biological, our minds are finite. That does not preclude the embodied person having a mirror embodied soul released from the body at death.

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Mike Ward
22 Jun 2011

Oh Charles, I was with you on the embodied mind to the point of mirrored souls and then you were away with the fairies.

I guess the only reason to call it an "embodied" mind is to allow the possibility of an "un-embodied" mind - do you really think there are things that are not matter?

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Hubertus Fremerey
22 Jun 2011

#382 difficult debate

This debate is difficult, because everybody comes up with specific topics and assumptions that need a personal debate in a club room with good wine and lots of time.

Of course Rachel is right that not all "religious people" think of "revelation". Buddhists think of "enlightenment" wich is not the same as "revelation", but Jews, Chrsitians and Muslims of course think of "revelation", of things that cannot be known from thinking alone but must be revealed from the outside (God, the holy spirit, etc.).

My point was : "Truth" in a sense is ALWAYS revealed, because it is ALWAYS meant to stand for facts and not for fancies, if it is about facts at all. Math may be a mental construct (that's debated), but the "laws of nature" are meant to be objective and not "generated by our thinking". The atoms and the stars behave as they do without asking us what we think of it. So what we are debating is our models of reality and not reality itself.

To assume that there is a reality independent of what we think of it is of course a "metaphysical" position. In principle we could even think of the "evil demon" of Descartes cheating on us with "natural laws" which are not there. Even the "laws of nature" could be artifacts of the collective mind. But then we have to ask : Why do they work ? The atomic bomb and the computer are "real", so the laws guding them are very probably no mere "collective fancies" like a "mass delusion".

Charles wrote that we are no machines that have to be programmed. My answer to this is : I make no difference between an inorganic and an organic "machine". We are "machines" built of organic substance. And we are "self programming machines" - humans and cats and dogs are learning, which is "self-programming". And there is "firmware", which is "thinking in the genes". Typical dogs behaviour as different from typical cats behaivour or from typical birds behaviour is not learned but inborn. All this is compatible with a "computer model" of the body - that of man included. But instead of sitting in our place and learning from books or TV-clips we are going around and playing and experiencing the world and by this feed our inputs with lots of "informal information" that adds to the formal one (schools, high-schools, books etc.).

Quite another question is whether there are channels of information we do not understand. We cannot exclude the possibility of "true" revelation and of "truly informative dreams" with content that is NOT generated in our brain in the same sense as "the music is not generated in the radio" but is only transformed into sound by the radio but "created" elsewhere. Sorry Mike, you cannot prove otherwise.

It's about "ontology" : What ontological status would we grant the laws fo nature ? Surely not "mind-states" ! The laws of nature would exist even if there were no minds to recognize any of them. This is how Bishop Berkeley regarded God : Like the laws of nature God would exist even if there are no humans around to know. But this was a very "metaphysical" statement. To think that Berkeley was wrong is a different metaphysical statement. Neither can be proven right.

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Pete
23 Jun 2011

I would agree with much of the last few posts, but a few niggles...

Huburtus is correct, I would say, when he writes "Thus we always use metaphysics without knowing it - or caring a damn." To me this would be why we're in such a mess. Since metaphjyscis is essentially a systematic unfolding of logical consequences, when we start from a false axiom our philsophy will be nonsense. Perhaps lots of people don't care about metaphysics, or whether their views are sensible or not, but I imagine nobody here would want to make such a fundamental error.

Mike - You're right about how metaphysics came to be named. That's why I said Plato did not know its name. I see that you believe matter preceeded mind. As you cannot prove this I'd say it's better to keep an open mind. You asked me what is so plainly obvious about the impossibility of explaining mind by studying behaviour. First, there is no behaviour that would provide evidence for the presence of a mind. We know this from the 'other minds' problem, the failure of Behaviourism and the unfalsifiability of solipsism and metaphysical scepticism. Physics and neuroscience study things that 'kick back' when they're kicked. Minds do not do this. We can't even find anything to kick in the first place.

I'm not sure it's right to say, with Rachel, that there is much Buddhism in the writings of Chalmers. There is muich of it I haven't read. He reaches conclusions that support the truth of its doctrine, but it seems to me he does not know what its doctrine is. It is telling that the Dalai Lama, who knows his onions on this topic, and who is well aware of and met Karl Popper, calls Buddhism a science of the mind. Nobody would call nueroscience this.

Paul Davies I see as rather similar to Chalmers, doing all the correct calculations but then failing to take the last step and endorse the perennial philosophy. But I think he has met the Dalai Lama once or twice, and that he does have a strong interest. I expect it is not a good move professionally in physics to endorse the view of the DL, so perhaps Davies is not completely open about his views. He has gone as publishing his view, derived from close logical analysis, that mysticism might be the only way to understand the universe. Interesting, given that few people know more than him about physics.

It is my view that our minds are not embodied and not thus limited. It is simply untrue to say, as Charles does, that "Because our minds are embodied they can be studied however and are subject to possible corrective and medical intervention. Being biological, our minds are finite." All this is pure conjecture. Our minds are not biological, that much is not open to argument. If we are going to state conjectures as if they are facts then this forum is doomed. I could accept that all mental phenomena might have a material correlate, but I doubt that any of us know whether this is the case. No point in guessing, unless we are doing so in order to test our guesses in logic or experience. I think it's best to follow Descartes and start somewhere more secure.

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Rachel Browne
23 Jun 2011

Pete, what do you mean that our minds are not embodied? Are you a dualist? That's SO unfashionable. Why do we need metaphysics? The vast majority of people get along perfectly well without it, as Hubertus says.

This is very abstract. Charles believes minds are emobodied because he is on medication for Parkinsons. And it works. Luckily for him, he lives in America and receives the best medication.

I don't think Auston would agree either. Wasn't it Auston who put me onto the Edelman book? Edelman, a neuroscientist, believes the mind is biological. But I suppose he'd have to in his job!

A lot of dog behaviour is inborn, but what of training? What about dogs who help the disabled? Is that inborn? OK, flushing out a pheasant is inborn, but picking things up and helping people to undress isn't.

It's the nature/nurture thing and it doesn't have to one or the other.

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Pete
23 Jun 2011

Hi Rachel. I don't think I said our minds are not embodied. I said, or meant to say, that nobody here knows whether they are or not. By all means feel free to prove it one way or the other. To do so would mean doing metaphysics, and few people here seem interested. To have a view on this issue while not being interested in metaphysics would be very strange.

Yes and no to whether I'm a dualist. It would depend on what you mean. In the last analysis I'd say all forms of dualism are false, but this does not entail that mind and matter are not two things, just that for a fundamental analysis the distinction is between two things that it would be a mistake to reify. Yes, I know it's an odd view. I am a proponent of a neutral metaphysical position, which makes me a heretic in western academic circles.

Yes, the majoprity of people get along without metaphysics. But not one philosopher does. And then, even the people who think they aren't doing it are actually doing it all the time. They're just doing it thoughtlessly. I think Huburtus also made this point. Everybody has an opinion, sure, but as philsophers we are trying to get beyond opionion, so need to do the work.

I'm sorry to hear this about Charles. Bad luck mate. How one gets from having Parkinson's to believing minds are embodied I'm not sure. Surley to embody a mind it has to unembodied in the first place. If it is literally a body all along, then our brain is our mind. Maybe it is, but it clearly has two quite distinct aspects.

I don't think that Edelman believes that minds are biological. He knows he cannot put under a microscope. I expect he believes that minds have their origins in biology.

Btw, interesting factoid about Wiki searches always ending up at Philosophy. I'd expect further searching to always lead to metaphysics. Perhaps someone could try this.

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Pete
23 Jun 2011

PS. Sorry about the typos and missing words. Too hasty by far.

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Hubertus Fremerey
23 Jun 2011

#391 mind and thought and truth

Mind and thought and truth are three different things. The mind may be embodied, I think so. But I was speaking about ideas and fancies and truth, and those are not embodied. There is a strange "ontological ladder" : The sound from the piano is from the piano of course, but the music is not from the piano but from the interpreter and from the composer. Now think of the mind of the composer as another piano that generates music. This would be "from the mind". But the laws of nature are not from the mind, only the models are from the mind. The mind is deriving models from facts and assumptions. So what is the ontological difference of the music and the theories ? Both are generated in the mind, but the one is guided by feelings and the other by facts. The music in the mind of the composer can be said to be "internal", but the theories are not, they have "connections to the world out there".

What I am constantly fighting here is a certain "self-centered" approach that keeps reality out of sight. In my imagery the mind is like the dog's nose : The concern of the dog is not his nose but the smelling and where it leads. Thus our concern should be not the mind in itself, but the reality where it leads, which is something "out there" and not "in the mind".

Our models of reality are in our mind, but reality is not.

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Mike Ward
23 Jun 2011

Pete, were I to say what I think to be the case that minds are entirely biological you could not argue against this though you may disagree. It's the same glass of wine we look at just either half empty or full.

Can I prove that at some point in the past there was no life at all, well absolutely no but with almost certain probability yes. Where then were your "minds" pre-life? It's not a problem for the believer they live under a different doctrine but I don't - do you?

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Mike ward
23 Jun 2011

Hubertus, we seem to be back to the computer model. The hardware is our mind, when switched and running the operating system that's consciousness, when it's running a programme that's thinking. But what state is it when it's self learning is that awareness, even of itself?

The unfortunate problem with this analogy is that it requires a "watchmaker". Still when I pull the plug on it it dies and so do people Pete despite your dualism.

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Hubertus Fremerey
23 Jun 2011

#393 what is mind ?

No, Mike, it does not require a watchmaker. Our brain is adapted by evolution from microorganisms and vermins (your an mine ancestors !) up to now. Just look up any good biology-book.

And yes, I think that self-lerning is possible with a multi-layer architecture of computing : The lower layers analyze primary data and the upper layers analyze the analyses of the lower ones. It's "supervisor" model. While the simple "direct" model knows only of "stimulus-response" feedback, the multilayer model allows for selecting "best possible response" with help of some sort of "seasoned look up table" to compare and evaluate different possible approaches.

Any intelligent animal is able to build a model of its own action. Even dogs and cats can do that. Thus no dog is a simple stimulus-response machine but takes the situation into account. We humans are only very much more able in this reaspect, we have, so to say, one more level of hierarchy of decision and avaluation. While the worm has only "first order thoughts", the dog may have "second thoughts" about what to do, while we humans have "third thoughts" and some wise people may tap even "fourth order thoughts".

But so far this model seems hard to realize in hardware or software models. I don't know why. I have not the time to develop the program myself. It could take me years to do that. But I think it will be done.

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Charles
23 Jun 2011

Re my ideas about embedded mind. It is a work in progress that I submit, so hopefully you will have a better idea of where I am coming from in discussion here. Also this is foundational for my thinking about the emotional and moral life of animals. It is frequently overlooked that Charles Darwin thought that there is evolutionary continuity not only in anatomical structures, but also in brains and their cognitive and emotional capacities. I think that a pre-moral life in other animals suggests parameters for discussion of human moral philosophy.

I don't think that an embodied human mind is exclusively a materialist position. I do think that Descartes dualism (and his ideas about animals as machines) are obsolete. Two issues that especially interest me are about Forms and about information: what are they, origins, duration and survivability. In the classic argument about Forms and materialism, I still think it premature to declare materialism the winner.

I doubt if mind can result merely through increased computational power. I think that the complexity of the universe and cosmic evolution is infinitely beyond a human initiated singularity.

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Charles
23 Jun 2011

Re metaphysics. I think that the concerns of metaphysics remain. However today, our terminology and perspective may be changing.

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Charles
23 Jun 2011

Re Hubertus on a "dog's nose". Cognitive ethology suggests animals have a broad repertoire of moral behavior. This does not necessarily mean morality is entirely biologically determined. I do think that it suggests however some parameters for big Kantian like systems.

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Mike Ward
24 Jun 2011

Charles, getting back to a very early post on morality and ethics does this make dogs level 2 or possibly level 3 contenders?

Hubertus, interesting the similarity of your order or thoughts with kohlberg also.

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Hubertus Fremerey
24 Jun 2011

#393 Kohlberg-dogs

If I am right, what Charles calls "moral" behaviour in dogs is their apparent intent to help people and to show "bad conscience" in case of "bad behaviour". Both traits are unknown to me from cats. They are expressions of the fact that dogs are social animals, while cats are not nearly that way. Dogs in this respect remind me of 2-3 years old humans. Thus I would say "Kohlberg stage 2-3" depending on the brightness of the dog.

Kohlberg-stages 4-6 are unavailable to dogs, since this would require them to have cultural concepts of good and evil, obligation and responsibility, wich I think is out of the question and would be "anthropomorphism". But without at least a rudimentary awareness of "obligation and responsibility" one could not feel "bad conscience". Thus there seems to be no hiatus (gap) between dogs behaviour and human behaviour, only grading. This may explain why they get along easily. Apes are social animals too. Dogs and Apes need inborn social virtues.

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Mike Ward
24 Jun 2011

What's the matter!

My matter category includes:

Particles of all types found to date

Wave forms like light and radio

Radiation

Energy

Gravity

Data and information (arrangements of matter)

Consciousness, thoughts and ideas (again arrangements of matter)

The Self (stored data)

All the above seem quite easily coherent to me, what is incoherent are notions of soul, afterlife, heaven, hell, gods and demons - so I ask for those who disagree with the categories above please spell out in what realm these things are.

Finally the last things I am trying to get an understanding of is time and dimensions, anyone have any analogies on this.

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Mike Ward
24 Jun 2011

Hubertus, yes I agree with you on the dog/human differential which I feel gets wilfully amplified out of human desire when they are elevated to the level of "friends" . This I think is unfair on the dogs and demeaning to the humans - still it takes all sorts:-)

Here's a dual purpose faithful friend relationship link http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/space/7718570/Dog-on-the-menu-for-Chinese-astronauts.html

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Pete
24 Jun 2011

Hmm. Lots of opinions here being presented as facts.

Mike - If all the things you mention are matter then presumably so are time and dimensions. Problem solved. Materialism would be true despite being demonstrably absurd.

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Mike Ward
24 Jun 2011

Pete, I've read "There are no facts, only interpretations" if this applies then it applies to all of us don't you think?

Dimensions are matter certainly in my interpretation but time somehow by itself - I'm not so sure, but bound up as space-time that may be a way forward for me.

Can you elaborate on how materialism is absurd?

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Charles
24 Jun 2011

Apparently some of my recent comments were not clear. To clarify them, I will provide several brief quotes from what are primary sources for me ( a layman). Note for Pete - This is just some clarification/definitions re my postings. I'm not saying that it's all biology. I agree with you that debate about "mind" is far from settled.

From "The Emotional Lives Of Animals" by Marc Bekoff, Foreword by Jane Goodall, 2007.

"The field of animal emotions - which is a specific area of focus within the larger scientific discipline of cognitive ethology, or the study of animal minds - has changed a great deal in the past thirty years."

"It's bad biology to argue against the existence of animal emotions. Scientific research in evolutionary biology, cognitive ethology, and social neuroscience supports the view that numerous and diverse animals have rich and deep emotional lives. Emotions have evolved as adaptions in numerous species, and they serve as social glue to bond animals with one another. Emotions also catalyze and regulate a wide variety of social encounters ... and they permit animals to protect themselves adaptively and flexibly using various behavior patterns in a wide variety of venues."

"Darwin's six universal emotions: fear, anger, disgust, surprise, sadness, and happiness."

As a rule, ethologists prefer fieldwork to studying animals in a lab ... there's simply no substitute for watching animals closely in their natural environment ..."

"Consciousness evolved because it allowed individuals to make choices when confronted with varying and unpredictable situations."

From Wild Justice: The Moral Lives of Animals by Marc Bekoff and Jessica Pierce, 2009.

"At some point differences in degree aren't meaningful differences at all and each species is capable of "the real thing."

"We define morality as suite of interrelated other-regarding behaviors that cultivate and regulate complex interactions within social groups ... norms of right and wrong attach to many of them ..." "Morality and prosociality represent distinct categories ... In evolutionary terms, prosocial behavior is at the root of morality ..."

"... a species-relative account ... wolf morality is different from human morality and also from elephant morality and chimpanzee morality."

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Pete
24 Jun 2011

"Consciousness evolved because it allowed individuals to make choices when confronted with varying and unpredictable situations."

Really? I must keep up. Who exactly has proved this? This is what I mean by opinion dressed as fact. It's ridiculous. Whoever said this has no regard for rigour. What they meant is that this is their best guess. A pretty unscientific one as well. It's like saying walking evolved because it allowed us to go hunting. The words "evolved because it" can be omitted.

I know what you mean about facts and interpretations, Mike, but to misinterpret a fact I think there must be one in the first place. They can be difficult to find, admittedly, as Descartes discovered. It would be the difficulty of finding facts in the world that makes it important to begin philosophy in metaphysics, for this reduces the danger of misinterpreting reality. This is what it's for. If we begin with a misinterpretation we are doomed to be lost in a muddle forever. As is often pointed out, even Dscartes' axiom can easliy be interpreted in such a way as to make it false.

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Rachel Browne
24 Jun 2011

Pete, it is funny to be interested in metaphysics but neutral on the matter. You talk of mind and matter as possibly "two things". Well, mind isn't really thought to be a "thing" as it isn't spatial matter. I think Hubertus is right that mind and thought are different (though again he talks of "things").

What if mind is our subjective consciousness and thought is inter-subjective? Isn't this the case? We use shared concepts in thought and defer to other people's knowledge of the concept, as I've said before. Our subjective consciousness of the thought will come with affect so there will be a subjective aspect to the intersubjective.

Charles: "Morality is . . . behaviours that cultivates and regulate complex interactions within social groups . . . norms of right and wrong attach to many" Who are these people?

Since Auston has fled I can again mention Martin Buber without being accused of being a Zionist. Buber had an ethical relationship with a horse. There was no social group. I think he was just in a stable with the horse. He touched the horse and the horse responded to Buber as one consciousness to another. Buber finds this fundamental to ethical relations. Maybe ethics is different from morality, which is a system, and therefore not really ethical and not necessarily good.

I think possibly there might be a similar distinction between organised religion and spirituality. The former being a bit of an evil, the latter a good. It is when humans try to organise and formulise that they go wrong. Naturally, on a one to one basis, humans are not at war.

But in the words of my hero, Jack White, who is totally unintelligible beyond anything Derrida could have thought up (of The White Stripes, not the ghastly politician!), "I may be wrong". I understood that bit!

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Hubertus Fremerey
25 Jun 2011

#395 on invisible "things"

Rachel, it is even more complicated than you think ! If you compare "mind" to the piano and "thought" to the sound coming from the piano - where would you put the "music" which is not the sound but "in the sound"?

To go back to the real "thing" : Our thoughts contain a "truth value" or "content", which "is" not the thought but "contained in the thought". This content of our thought can be checked independently of the thought itself. The thought is a private "thing", while the content is "somehow objective". Thus the laws of nature are existing "in the heaven of idealism" independent of whether we think of them. But at the same time the laws of nature are "very real" - governing the universe.

So what is the ontological status of the laws of nature ? They are not part of our mind, they are not part of our thought, they are not "material" either, but they are very real, "more than matter", since they guide the behaviour of matter. This to Mike !

And then : I object to blurring the notion of "morals" and "ethics" on the one hand and "mutual understanding" on the other in some arguments of you and Charles. "Ethics" is a subdiscipline of philosophy and not the mutual feelings of humans with dogs and horses. Otherwise you both should be "numbering" "ethics-1", "ethics-2" etc.. We are on a slippery slope here with this sloppy usage of terms. I really urge precision instead of handwaving and broad brush. I feel uneasy with this "everything somehow is related to everything" attitude, while I do not object of course to Buber being somehow related to his horse or you and Charles being related to nice and funny dogs.

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Pete
25 Jun 2011

Rachel - I see why you might think that. My view is neutral but not in the sense of noncommittal. A neutral position is a commitment. On the freewill/determinism question, for example, the commitment would be to compatabilism. Same for other such questions. This is one of the many things that is meant by the phrase 'Middle Way' in Buddhism, or more generally the 'doctrine of the mean'. For a neutral position the universe would be a unity. It's the one position disallowed in western metaphysics, and the only one it cannot refute. Strange but true.

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Charles
25 Jun 2011

First, responding to Pete, "theory" is so loosely used that I hesitate. But yes, the comments that I posted on 6/24 are theory. But "the theory of evolution" based on Charles Darwin is the 21st Century paradigm on life. Personally I find some of the high priests of evolution pompous and irritating, Richard Dawkins especially. But I don't expect a scientific revolution soon in either the biological or social sciences. I do think though that evolutionary science has advanced considerably over the past 30 years and applying definitions to humans like "killer ape" or "apish" are not in accordance with biological science and the social sciences today.

I think that morality is obviously related to ethics. But morality is about interrelated and other-regarding behavior (with evolutionary roots) that cultivates and regulates complex interactions within social groups. I think that ethics are not evolutionary in the scientific sense. Ethics are a product of the human mind. All of philosophy is about the human mind. But I don't have an overall theory of everything. I'm working on "one thing at a time." I'm not prepared at this time to offer a comprehensive definition of ethics.

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Rachel Browne
25 Jun 2011

Well, Pete, compatabism, seems the only way to go to me too. Perhaps you could say more about a neutral position on the universe would be a unity. I don't really understand, but see that this is important.

Well, Hubertus, surely in intenionality a thought (proposition)is born out by agreement or a state of affairs. If the truth value were part of content, how could we distinguish the true from the false? Truth values are external to internal thought content.

I quite clearly said that I don't think mutuals feelings ARE ethics. Only that they are foundational. If a person couldn't engage in an I-Thou relationship, they couldn't be ethical. They could inhuman or psychopathic.

Last time you numbered things conversation came to a halt. No-one likes numbering and probably didn't know what you were talking about. Numbering is just a pretence at being analytical.

Who is hand-waving here? People in glass houses . . . By the way there is a new book out: Neuromania, Darwinitis and the Misrepresentation of Humanity that you might be interested in. By Raymond Tallis. I haven't read it, just read about it today. It is against biological reductionism and claims that science is never going to tell us what we want to know, stuff like a better future. The review said that Tallis raised the problem but didn't offer a solution. It's exactly your problem. Better luck to you.

We were reading about simulation of the brain the other day - the blue brain project - the simulated brain can simulate 360,000 neurons. But it actually need to simulate 100 billion to be like a human brain. So it's not doing very well. My husband says you can't simulate a human brain anyway. Human brain's are individual. Whose is going to be replicated? Or is it going to be some sort of averaged out brain? It wouldn't be unique in the way human brains actually are, hard-wired through experience.

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Rachel Browne
25 Jun 2011

My husband just put the point differently. He said there is no such thing as "the" human brain, so it can't be simulated. He was a bit surprised when I leapt up from the dinner table to write this here.

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Rachel Browne
25 Jun 2011

The man then put it that you can't replicate the human brain because it is not simply biological, but unique. He keeps coming up with different formulations. We will have to stop talking about it. I'll just forget about eating now.

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Hubertus Fremerey
25 Jun 2011

#396 being sloppy and being precise

I suffer from the lack of precision in this debate. The bedouins have some 50 different names for different forms of sand and stone. The Inuit have some 50 different names for different forms of snow and ice. But when I suggest numbering different meanings of philosophical terms I get beaten ! We waste a lot of time by speaking of different meanings lumped together under the same label here without even being aware of it.

"false" is a logical "truth value". But the real problem is that many statements are neither true nor false but "not well defined". Which once more suggests "numbering". And my point was different here : I was asking for the ontological status of "laws of nature" as different from our models of those laws. The models are generated by our mind. They are not part of our mind, but generated by it. But the models of reality are not the reality itself. The laws of nature are not "mental". But they are not material either. But they are effective, they are no mere fancies, they govern reality. So what are they ?

In physics, we have matter, we have forces, and we have "laws". The standard-model says that "matter" and "forces" are only two sides of the same coin, while the "laws" are "of a different nature", somehow "logical", not material. What we see then is a sort of "tripartite God", consisting of "matter - force - logic", which are "clearly distinct but one". I didn't read Wilber or Davies or their likes on this, it is quite natural. I only don't like to speculate on such things.

"Interpersonals" may be the basis of "ethics-1", but "ethics-2" is governed by concepts of reason, justice, and human well being and progress. Political philosophy - and this is a BROAD field ! - it not governed by interpersonal thinking. But if it is not ethics, what then would you call it ? For Aristotle as for Marx and Rawls and the Frankfurt School it was clearly an important branch of "ethics", if ethics is defined as the study of human behaviour under a normative perspective. Just look up "applied ethics" on this ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Applied_ethics ). Most of this has almost nothing to do with interpersonals. The concept of justice is a cognitive concept, not an interpersonal one. Since there is "interpersonal justice" too, you surely have "justice-1", "justice-2" etc.. Sorry ! No, I am not pretending analytical thinking, I am demonstrating it. Socrates/Plato and Aristotle were well aware of the difference of interpersonal ethics and political ethics.

On "simulating the brain" : What do we call "simulating" here ? Once more : An airplane is not simulating the birds. Even the birds are not simulating bats or dragonflies. But they all are effective "flying devices". Thus roboticists are not even interested in "simulating the brain", they are interested in "creating a truly thinking robot", which is not the same. Both goals are independent. I know of this "blue brain project". But the best one can hope from this is some new insight in some hidden problems. It may well be that the "solution" to the task of "a truly thinking robot" has nothing to do with human brains but is derived from a totally different architecture, in the same way as an airplane has nothing to do with the way birds and dragonflies are flying. What we need is a "mathematics of thinking", not a simulated brain.

On evolution nothing this time. There are several books on "the moral ape" (see http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=moral+ape&x=0&y=0 ). But I urge to get back to culture which is far beyond dogs and apes (see http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=moral+ape&x=0&y=0#/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_0_20?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=culture+anthropology&sprefix=culture+anthropology&rh=n%3A283155%2Ck%3Aculture+anthropology )

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Rachel Browne
25 Jun 2011

Having thought about this, after washing up and dog walking, there IS something unique about the averaged out brain. But it isn't human. With an averaged out brain you have a prototype. There is no prototype of the human brain. Is a protype unique? It is of it's type? That's not unique. Simulation isn't possible. You cannot replicate a human brain.

I know these formulations exceed Kant's varied formulations of the catelogical imperative, but mind is more complex than duty.

Sorry about all this. I will go away for a while, probably in chains.

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Rachel Browne
25 Jun 2011

I'm really going now. I just want to say to Hubertus that numbering is a false taxonomy.

Where is it leading us with you giving us numbering and analogies?

This is hardly the route to understanding and truth.

Others might be into numbering and anologies but it hasn't gone down well in the past. So inductively . .. !

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Hubertus Fremerey
25 Jun 2011

#397 once more on "numbering"

Well Rachel, people do not "number" concepts, they just start a bulky text on, say, "justice" by stating : "There are about two hundred different concepts of justice". No, they do not number "justice-1", "justice-2", "justice-3", ... "justice-200", but they only say "There are about two hundred different concepts of justice". Does it make a difference? As a mathematician I don't shun the numbers.

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Hubertus Fremerey
25 Jun 2011

#398 on "thinking devices"

we should come away from the very idea of "simulating a brain". I prefer to speak of "thinking devices". I don't know what "averaged out brain" means. I am not interested in simulating the brain. I am interested in "thinking devices" that may be superiour to our brains. I think they need the ability to learn, to "self-teach" from experience. And very probably they need "feelings" to govern their behaviour. But they need not even try to copy animals. We humans are "animalic" : We and the dogs understand each other because we both are "social mammals" and by this closely related. But a truly thinking robot need not be similar to a "social mammal". There is no sex and no offspring and no family life. Robots don't need it. But it is not "brain in the vat" either if the robots learn to learn and to cooperate and to explore the world around.

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Hubertus Fremerey
26 Jun 2011

#399 on "better future" - readingTallis

Rachel, you wrote :

"By the way there is a new book out: Neuromania, Darwinitis and the Misrepresentation of Humanity that you might be interested in. By Raymond Tallis. It is against biological reductionism and claims that science is never going to tell us what we want to know, stuff like a better future. The review said that Tallis raised the problem but didn't offer a solution. It's exactly your (Hubertus') problem."

I looked it up in Amazon.com : http://www.amazon.com/Aping-Mankind-Neuromania-Darwinitis-Misrepresentation/dp/1844652726/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1309069867&sr=1-1. It is to be out next month in the USA. In GB it is out already since two weeks (June 13, 2011) :

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Aping-Mankind-Neuromania-Darwinitis-Misrepresentation/dp/1844652726/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1309070039&sr=8-1

From the US-review I cite :

// Biologism -- the belief that human beings are essentially animals and can be understood in biological terms -- is gaining increasing acceptance in contemporary thought. This trend is seemingly legitimised by genuine, often spectacular, advances in biological science: in human genetics, evolutionary theory and neuroscience. Our propensities, we are told, can be accounted for by "a gene for" this or that; everyday behaviour can be explained in Darwinian terms; and human consciousness is identified with the activity of the evolved brain. Ultimately, so the story goes, all that we do, think and feel is subordinated to the imperative of ensuring that we behave in such a way as to, individually or collectively, maximise the chances of replicating our genetic material. In Aping Mankind, Raymond Tallis argues that the rise of this way of thinking is a matter of profound concern. He demonstrates that by denying human uniqueness, and minimising the differences between humans and their nearest animal kin, biologism misrepresents what we are, offering a grotesquely simplified and even degrading account of humanity, which has dire consequences: by seeing ourselves as animals we may find reasons for treating each other like them. In a devastating critique Tallis exposes the exaggerated claims made for the ability of neuroscience and evolutionary theory to explain human consciousness, behaviour, culture and society and shows that human beings are infinitely more interesting and complex than they appear in the mirror of biologism. //

Well yes, this is what I think. But in my book this stuff (about the animality of humans - and why it is not essential) is content of the first of 27 chapters. The next chapter is about culture - and all the other chapters are about our human responsibility in this world that is a challenge to our intelligence and activity. Thus I am going way beyond Tallis ! Tallis is but a welcome footnote.

Thus your argument "that science can't tell us about a better future" is correct but besides the point : Not science has to tell us - but WE are to tell us ! To put it simply : When you pick a book or a music-CD or decide where to go in the vacs or where to live or what meal to cook etc.etc., you don't ask "science" nor "primotology" nor neurology, but you ask yourself and maybe the h. What I try to do with my book is just this : Show what is implied in "choosing a better future", or "what sort of future should there be ?" Of course there can't be "scientific solutions" to this question, but as in those examples just given this is not the point. What we ask for are not "scientific" solutions but "wise" and "reasonable" and "meaningful" solutions. I want people to see the options, to understand what "a better future" could mean - when compared to a bad future. Those dystopias "Brave New World" and "1984" tried to show us futures we surely would not like to see. And I am asking : Why wouldn't we like them ? What sort of future should we prepare ? Why ?

What I fight is this absurd modern insistence on "being scientific". Almost all our decisions are not meant to be "scientific" (see examples above), but they are meant to be reasonable. When will analytical philosophers wake up and begin to understand that "being scientific" and "being reasonable" are two totally different aims ? There even is a single full chapter in my book devoted to this one question - the fundamental difference of human understanding (as f.i. in Buber and Levinas and Heidegger and Ricoeur) and scientific and technical "understanding" of applying optimizing principles to some technical problem.

So what does "offering a solution" mean ? Did Socrates "offer a solution" ? Did Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Wittgenstein, Freud, Marx, Marcuse ? Not one of them ! But they all challenged our notion of what it means "to be reasonable humans". And that is what I am asking in my book. But I am extending this question to the more encomprising one : What sort of future would we call a future for reasonable humans ?

We will need - of course - all those most recent scientific findings about the brain and primatology and animal benaviour etc., but only in the way an engineer or craftsman needs his tools and technical expertise. As I put is : The architect is not the buildings engineer. He only needs the latter's expertise. The task of the architect is not to build a solid house but a house where people want to live and be happy. Which is a totally different task. Analytical philosophy is reducing the task of the philosophical architect to that of the philosophical engineer, claiming that this is the one and only task philosophers should take into account and all else they should leave to poets and preachers. Which is debatable. Socrates would have rejected such a view. His questions "what does it mean to become a good human ?" was more than a mere technical question. And my question "what does it mean to create a good future ?" is too. Both questions cannot be reduced to science and engineering.

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Pete
26 Jun 2011

Rachel - I can't answer your question well without taking up a lot of space. But briefly - if the universe is a unity then all the distinctions on which we base metaphysical questions are false. This would be why they are undecidable. This is the claim of the perennial philosophy, and also quite a few well-known philosophers, Kant, Hegel, Bradley etc.

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Rachel Browne
26 Jun 2011

Pete, OK. I think I get it. Like for Kant noumena and phenomena were't distinct, but actually essentially connected. Perhaps this essential connectedness underlies the unity? There are metaphysical distinctions we can't make. Very Ancient Greek.

But not all of our distinctions are metaphysical. Most are conceptual, grounded in the human way of thinking. We're not very Ancient Greek these days, on the whole.

I'm afraid I've never read Hegel, Pete. The name grates on my nerves. It stands for big systems. Total load of rubbish.

Well you have a good conception of humanity, Hubertus. Having read so much of Soble I have a view of humanity which is different. Didn't he call all humans vile revolting mackerel? We might have art but we still look at pornography, shit and puke and smell. We are animals basically. Art is merely a higher function.

I will not take any more criticism of analytical philosophers. I am not a philosopher and it is not my place to defend them.

Go ask the questions! No-one has answered them, but it is important to ask. It is a bit like being a 3 year old - and we could ask what is wrong with that, but it is pretty obvious if you are an adult.

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Rachel Browne
26 Jun 2011

Oh Hubertus, your book. So grandiose.

Who are these "we" who tell what a better future is?

Do single mothers from Banbury get a look in?

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Hubertus Fremerey
26 Jun 2011

#400 "questions are forever"

Well, Rachel, then I may find this one worth reading : http://www.amazon.com/James-Bond-Philosophy-Popular-Culture/dp/0812696077/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1309123204&sr=1-1. The answers to all problems will be from the barrel of the handgun. The utmost apelike solution.

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Charles
27 Jun 2011

Huburtus, you seem to dichotomize everything, whether it be analytical philosophers vs Continental philosophers or human animal nature is everything or nothing. My experience in life has been that very few things are either black or white, few are all or nothing, and if they are then Lady Wisdom is desperately needed. I wonder if you realize that the theory of everything that you are apparently trying to construct is going to have to deal with your embodied mind, whether you like it or not. Charles

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Pete
27 Jun 2011

Like you Rachel, I'm very suspicious of people who want to create a future utopia, and terrified if they're scientists. I laughed when I heard one australian scientist arguing that combat global warming we should dump millions of tons of organo-phosphates into the world's oceans to encourage oxygen producing bacteria. He didn't think this was at all crazy, or even ironic. These people buried in their specialisms seem to be unable to do joined up thinking. Meanwhile the oceans are dying from all the other scientifically-produced stuff that we dump in them.

I don't agree with you that nobody has ever answered all these philosophical questions. That's what I used to think. If you dismiss people like Hegel so easily then you might miss out on the answers. It's his metaphysics that is important, not his politics. A good philosophical dictionary will summarise them well enough, no need to read his difficult meisterworks. My Penguin dictionary has saved me a million hours of reading.

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Hubertus Fremerey
27 Jun 2011

#401 on misunderstandings

Charles and the others, I feel a bit exhausted from constantly rejecting misunderstandings.

First on "good society" : When Ben Franklin and Jefferson and the other "Founding Fathers" designed a Constitution for the new USA, they did not speak of a totalitarian utopia, but of "a more just society" and of applying the ideas of Locke and other thinkers of Enlightenment. They thought about good government and applied reason. What I am intending to do is nothing else. It is what Hannah Arendt and Habermas and the late Lord Dahrendorf and Anthony Giddens and many many others were and are thinking over today. So why I am charged again and again here of suggesting some sort of "Brave New World" ? I am not and never was ! What I am asking as a philosopher is "what is wrong with Brave New World ?" This is a perfectly legitimate question that requires some thinking to answer. I know the answer, but you all evaded the very question. I think it is because most philosophers are totally unpolitical. Rachel is rather typical on this, not the exception. Rachel's distaste for Hegel only confirms this situation. Plato wrote "Republic", Aristotle wrote "Politics", Cicero wrote "De Re Publica", so Hegel stands in a long and great tradition of thinkers - including Locke and Kant and many others. But Rachel does not like politics at all and thinks that everything can or should be reduced to interpersonal things. But sorry, it cannot and shouldn't.

And no, I am not dividing the world according to black and white. I am only proposing clarity and against confusion and blurring the lines. Schopenhauer, Marx, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Arendt, Marcuse - to name but a few - simply were not "analytical philosophers." Once more : The task it not to blur these differences, but to clearly understand them. And once more : I never "hated" or "rejected" analytical philosophy, I only said that it is dominating in a way that is not justified but is detracting from "real" philosophy. As I put it : "Sharping knives is not the business of the butcher, but cutting meat is, and calculating stability is not the business of the architect, but designing the building is. This is not "black and white" but "putting things right and in place".

I have the greatest respect for knife grinders and buildings engineers and analytic philosophers, but I stubbornly reject false and misleading claims and confusions. According to analytical philosophy Schopenhauer, Marx, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Arendt, Marcuse are no philosophers at all but "interesting authors" - all the more so, since not one of them save Heidegger and (to a degree) Marcuse - was a professional. Even Schopenhauer, while having the venia legendi, was spit out by the system and not interested in universities. That philosophy is left to professionals these days is absurd.

When I spoke of human "apishness" I wanted to stress the fact that humans are still essentially apes. Now I am beaten for stressing the fact that humans are no dogs nor apes but cultural and thinking beings, homines sapientes. Once more I am not speaking for "either - or", but for seeing both aspects. We are emotional apes and we are thinking and spiritual beings at the same time. We should be careful not to introduce a misleading "doggymorphic image of man" just because dogs and humans have some mutual feelings of sympathy.

Reality is not black OR white, it is black AND white, but for the analytical philosopher it is not a potpourri of grey. This is what I call "handwaving". My concept of analytical philosophy is that of the chemist : We have to prepare the pure elements from the compound.

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Hubertus
27 Jun 2011

Hubertus, I agree with you that you attempt here to politicize everything. Possibly your tendency to dichotomize is evidence of that?

Please give us specific evidence for your claim that analytical philosophers say Continental philosophy is not real philosophy. As an independent reader of philosophy, I would like to know the biases of authors that I might read.

What is your definition of "real philosophy?"

To clarify debate, I offer the following for consideration. It is from cognitive ethologist Marc Bekoff (author of "The Emotional Lives Of Animals").

"Philosophers sometimes make a distinction between morals and ethics. Ethics is the philosophical study of moral beliefs and behaviors (equivalent to 'moral philosophy'). Ethics suggests the contemplative study of subtle questions of rightness or fairness ... I'm arguing (note- Bekoff) that some animals have moral codes of behavior, but not that animals have ethics. They may sit around, paw to chin, regarding the world like Rodin's 'Thinker,' but I don't think they are contemplating 'why good is good.' As far as we know this is a distinctively human phenomenon."

"The word 'moral' was first coined ... by Cicero, as an extension of the Latin 'mos,' 'one's disposition.' Mos described the proper behavior of a person in society, and referred especially to one's manners. In its most basic form, morality can be thought of as 'pro-social' behavior- behavior aimed at promoting (or at least not diminishing) the welfare of others. Mortality is an essentially 'social' phenomenon: it arises in the interactions between and among individuals, and it exists as a kind of webbing or fabric that holds together a complicated tapestry of social relationships. The word 'morality' has since become shorthand for knowing the difference between right and wrong, between being good and being bad."

"In the context of animals, morality refers to a wide-ranging suite of social behaviors; it is an internalized set of rules for how to act within a community ... Morality has emotional, or affective, components, and it also has cognitive components."

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Charles
27 Jun 2011

Correction. I posted Hubertus incorrectly to the "Name" line of my last. I, Charles, sent it.

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Mike Ward
27 Jun 2011

Hubertus, with much experience over the years my reverence for architects is worn thin and very much threadbare. You say "The task of the architect is to build a house where people want to live and be happy."

In my not inconsiderable experience the occupants happiness is well down the list of priorities, above it are aesthetics, form, peer approval, own ego and awards.

So don't try to sell me the idea that thinkers are the elite when very practical and pragmatic people have a wider and more beneficial effect to society. Medicine didn't really save many lives but sanitation did and still does.

So a better future is better sanitation and not a philosopher in sight!

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Mike Ward
27 Jun 2011

Pete, I get the impression (maybe wrongly) that you and Hubertus and maybe Rachel think that the ideas generated through philosophy somehow lie outside of the process we call evolution. It's as if there is some philosophical holy grail that once found will give the finder dominance over other people and their ideas.

Hubertus seeks for a "better" future but cannot (or will not) lay down the recognition criteria for his search of this absolute.

Now I respect as coherent argument the faith based viewpoint of Charles but I also happen to think he's, pardon the pun, barking mad on this.

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Rachel Browne
27 Jun 2011

Pete, I agree about scientists looking at utopia. Robotic. What the hell (oops) is that anyway? Specialisation is the real problem in the world. Let Hubertus look for Utopia

It all stems from academia: You do a PhD and then have to follow a certain course of research in a department. You have to do this because there is certain funding and you are not free to break through. Paul Feyerbend wrote a great paper on this. It might be available on the internet. I have it, but it's not actually at my fingertips as our books are disorganised.

It's like global warming. You set up an institute to look into global warming and you have to keep this myth going or your lose face and finance. You can't suddenly say "Oh there's no such thing". You're out of a job.

Everything is corrupt. But we shouldn't tell Hubertus.

Well I'm not really into metaphysics. You haven't put the case for it yet. I have a Hegel phobia and am more into psychology/psychoanalysis/philosophy of mind. Mainly the latter.

Hey Charles, I noticed that! It was such a relief! I've been having such trouble with paragraph marks and it's great to find that someone else does something wrong.

Mike. You are identifying Charles with a dog? You realise he was a marine? And I have your address?

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Rachel Browne
27 Jun 2011

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Feyerabend. Here is a link to the guy. In the paper I'd liked to have sent, he slammed into specialisation.

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Hubertus Fremerey
27 Jun 2011

#402 feelings and logics

Charles, this obsession with "interactions" and "mutual feelings" is a very modern thing, while dating back to Luther ("God's love and grace") and St.Augustine ("Confessions"). It is a Christian thing and was not on the mind of Cicero. Cicero spoke of obligations : "honour thy gods, honour thy elders and ancestors, honour thy community and the state." These were his principles. Mutual understanding was not on his mind. Ethics was a matter of reason and obligation in the context of morals, but had nothing to do with "interpersonal feelings". As for all of classical Antiquity it had to do with "honouring the hidden order of the world".

"Real" philosophy is that part of philosophy that cannot be left to the sciences - not even the logical ones. We have to solve practical questions. We have to decide where to go and what to do. Questions of this sort cannot be answered by any science, they only can be deliberated by cogent people. There can be no provable results. Ethical answers cannot be right or wrong, they can only be wise or unwise. You cannot "prove" that Hitler was wrong, you can only defend a certain image of man. And you cannot prove your image of man right, you can only defend it. This is a hiatus between science and "real" philosophy. Thus clarifying concepts and logical arguments is only a technical means to improve philosophical debates but is not philosophy proper. The opinion of Kant was no different : His work was meant to prepare the way to better philosophical disputes, but those disputes had to be about the improvement not of talks but of the "real" situation of mankind.

I have read some decisions of your Supreme Court. Those are very careful. But they never come to "provably right results". There is always a "minority position". Those judges cannot be impartial. If they could, there would be no political fights about new appointments. Not to speak of thos who call the US-Supreme Court corrupt anyway and a means of class-struggle. But this sort of "deliberation" is "real" philosophy.

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Charles
28 Jun 2011

Hubertus, I don't know what to say to a German who thinks the U.S. Supreme Court is a group of philosophers and states that with such certainty as you.

Actually Hubertus, I find it difficult to respond to anyone who expresses certainty on nearly everything as you do.

Mike, faith and doubt go together, but that's probably a conversation for another forum.

For the record- How can an Orthodox Christian like myself explore evolution. Because I don't believe that God created war, cancer, polio ...

Rachel, at one time I could type about 80 wpm, not the fastest, but certainly much better than now.

I would prefer any real dog over a robot of any type!

Pete, I apologize for distracting from the discussion about metaphysics. I don't think that the embodied Mind rules out ideas metaphysical.

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Hubertus Fremerey
28 Jun 2011

#402 why leaving the trees of happiness ?

Charles, I didn't say that the U.S. Supreme Court is an assembly of philosophers. But they all have had their share in philosophical study and thinking. They had to read Aristotle, Cicero and Locke, they had to read Kant, Hegel, Marx, J-S Mill, Marcuse, Hayek, Rawls, Nozick, MacIntyre, Etzioni and many others some time. They are aware of those debates on "good and just society". From this they know that there can be no provably right solutions but only "reasonable debates".

I am not "politicizing everything" here. I am giving a voice to that "Socratic" side of philosophy that got lost here in the debate on "consciousness". Man as a moral animal has to decide what to do. This "deciding" takes place against the background of cultural traditions and venerable philosophical debates running back to at least Socrates. Those debates are known to you even from Orthodox theology. And now you are reducing philosophy to some neural ticklings and brain structures or "inter-animal feelings of mutual respect and sympathy". This is what brought me on the barricades and caused me to protest that this is not "real" philosophy. My reaction here was similar to that of Socrates against Anaxagoras. Analyzing the brain and mutual feelings does not tell us what to do to become "good humans". This is why I stressed the "rationality" in the arguments of Cicero and the Supreme Court.

Of course you can debate here whatever you like and find proper. I only took the part of "the loyal opposition". Don't reduce philosophy to neuroscience and "analyzing concepts". What I call "real" philosophy is debating "the condition of man" - "la condition humaine". This is what Socrates and St.Augustine and St.Thomas and Luther, but Kant, Hegel, Marx, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Adorno, Marcuse etc. tried to understand. And this is what I try to understand too.

Rachel and Mike of course will protest and call it all "hollow grandiosity". But this "hollow grandiosity" was driving Plato and St.Augustine and Kant alike. Should we really reduce our world to the measure of a good family life and "good vibes" in interpersonals ? This at least is a very interesting question put to modern philosophers.

Oh well - why didn't we stay happily on the trees in the jungle and savannah ! There was nothing to object to !

I find the attitude of modern analytical philosophy (pragmaticism, positivism, general language criticism etc.) to get "away from grandiose claims and back to basics and modesty" quite impressive and laudable. But in the end it comes down to "utter provincialism". I am not against speaking with dogs, but there is speaking with gods too. Both sorts of talk have to be seen together. The child speaking his good night prayer may well talk happily with its dog too. There is no contradiction.

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Pete
28 Jun 2011

Rachel - It would not be possible to be interested in philosophy of mind but not interested in metaphysics. It would not be possible to do philosophy at all without doing metaphysics. It would be as impossible as doing butchery but without sharpening knives. I'd say that you and Huburtus divide up knowledge in very unhelful ways.

I expect even an NVQ1 in butchery requires a bit of knife sharpening, and I have no idea what all this talk of 'analytical' and 'continental' philosophy is designed to achieve. The time would surely be better spent doing philosophy.

Mike - You commented that you "get the impression (maybe wrongly) that you and Hubertus and maybe Rachel think that the ideas generated through philosophy somehow lie outside of the process we call evolution. It's as if there is some philosophical holy grail that once found will give the finder dominance over other people and their ideas."

Speaking for myself, I'd say that the truth is not something that evolves over time, although its expression might. The truth may or may not give ideas dominance over other people's, but it would at least ensure that they cannot be refuted. This is one reason why I think my metaphysical view is true, that it cannot be refuted.

I'd say that 'western' philosophy has not evolved significantly since Plato, but that it has the potential to do so if it stops worrying about trivial issues like whether a thought is analytical or continental, and starts to take itself seriously.

Like Charles I do not understand why anyone would think that an Orthodox Christians must reject the idea of evolution. One of the most prominent 19th century supporters of the theory, and a world-class paleontologist, was a Jesuit priest. The war between evolutionists and religionsist is utterly daft and unnecessary, and only really seems to be problem in America, where for some reason dogma and received opinion often seem to do better than elsewhere.

My prediction is that if we ignore metaphysics then these discussions will go round and round round forever going nowhere. It is the only sure method for disposing of philosophical nonsense. Take away metaphyscis from philosophy and there's precious little left.

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Pete
28 Jun 2011

Sorry to post so much but I thought these quotes might be interesting here. I'm not trying to win a battle, just to overcome a damaging misunderstanding.

"It is difficult to decide where science ends and mysticism begins. As soon as we begin to make even the most elementary theories we are open to the charge of indulging in metaphysics. Yet theories, however provisional, are the very lifeblood of scientific progress. We simply cannot escape metaphysics, though we can perhaps over-indulge, as well as have too little." Banesh Hoffmann The Strange Story of the Quantum

This is an important point, I think, although the confusion between metaphysics and mysticism is unfortunate. There may not be one deep scientific theory that is not dependent on an underlying metaphysical theory. At this time I cannot think of even one such theory that is not dependent on a logically absurd metaphysical theory.

"I certainly do not suppose that it would be good for every one to study metaphysics, and I cannot express any opinion as to the number of persons who should do so. But I think it quite necessary, even on the view that this study can produce no positive results, that it should still be pursued. There is, so far as I can see, no other certain way of protecting ourselves against dogmatic superstition. Our orthodox theology on the one side, and our common-place materialism on the other side (it is natural to take these as prominent instances), vanish like ghosts before the daylight of free sceptical enquiry. I do not mean, of course, to condemn wholly either of these beliefs; but I am sure that either, when taken seriously, is the mutilation of our nature. Neither, as experience has amply shown, can now survive in the mind which has thought sincerely on first principles; and it seems desirable that there should be such a refuge for the man who burns to think consistently, and yet is too good to become a slave, either to stupid fanaticism or dishonest sophistry." Francis Bradley Appearance and Reality

Bradley proves that all positive metaphysical positions are logically indefensible. If we simply accept this as a fact of life then philosophy can move on. It will never move on while we pretend it isn't the case and carry on theorising regardless. Physics has no fundamental theories because as a consequence of doing this, but must do so in order to avoid philosophy. Philosophers have no excuse.

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Joo Magalhes
28 Jun 2011

Hello! I'd like to introduce myself.

I'm 57, retired, married, living in rural Portugal. I was a physician when I was small, then a medical faculty teacher later, mostly biochemistry and intermediate computer use. Now I just do what I please.

I usually believe that pragmatism is cool, and so is the experimental method, all else being a matter of opinion. I also believe all generalizations are false in some way.

I had philosophy in the secondary, but mostly about who said what. Having long thought a few of the Big Questions, I decided I could treat myself to an online philosophy course, and enrolled in Pathway A, having gloriously reached unit 5 after more than a year.

What got me stuck is, what is truth?, which I like to call Pilates Question, which isn't necessarily truth.

I mean, if I can't tell for sure what is and what isn't, what are we doing here? We usually don't accept "I don't know" and "That's doubtful so far" and "Why don't we look at it?" as logical values.

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Rachel Browne
28 Jun 2011

Ola, Joea!

Have you been sent in to sort us out? It is a sign!

We have a language problem!

What Pete calls metaphysics isn't the same as what I mean. Pete, of course I'm interested in the mind-body problem, which is thought to be metaphysical but I think it is a naturalistic problem. It is a problem within thinking about humans, and is becoming neurological, which is science. It's getting a bit iffy though! Becoming speculative. Neuroscience becomes philosophy

How will metaphysics help here, Peter? I just think lower than metaphysics. Metaphysics to me is Platonism. Or phenomena and noumena. I have no argument with it. It's personal - I don't like abstract stuff.

The study of values is very important, always.

Hubertus should attend to this. He cannot ask what we should "decide" to do without studying values. Which are subjective. You don't have impartial values, so was is the decision?

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Rachel Browne
28 Jun 2011

Joao, apologies for having spelt your name wrongly.

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Joo Magalhes
28 Jun 2011

Hello, Rachel and everybody. I was reading your interesting initial exchange on guilt, which of course connects with free will and that, and free will always is a nice dinner discussion subject... I usually go for the shocking start, "Free will? There's no such thing."

I certainly will not cut through the conscience question; maybe I like my little comfort? Quoting Descartes sideways regarding common sense, none of us complains of not having one. (What if I tried that? Maybe we could play a Turing Test Game here -- am I a computer? Ah ah) As further argument for some inaction on this subject, I don't feel like a prophet, therefore will sort nothing out, ah ah. And no signs either!

At a certain point, and this is strictly a personal feeling, I thought I could do away with the entire notion of conscience, for I cannot pinpoint it and it has a doubtful value. Putting it another way, what if I was a zombie? I wouldn't know I hadn't a conscience and anyway everything would go on as usual. So, why bother? Maybe I simply dont even need one, and it's all my vanity of wanting to be different, unique, of having a beetle nobody else knows about.

After all, the reduccionist theories about truth just do away with the entire idea of truth, if I recall; so, why not a 'surgical' solution to conscience? Let's throw conscience into the bin. Less is more.

The latest book by AntUnio Damsio (Self comes to Mind) is entirely about conscience and how some neurophysiologists think it might be built up. Not an easy read, regrettably. It talks about maps being made of other maps and suddenly, wham, there it is.

Complex phenomena sometimes require complex explanations, much like simple lies. What comes to my mind here (figure of speech, of course) is, if there existed a very, very different life form, would we recognize it as a life form, would we recognize it as sentient and conscious? I don't think so, for we can only recognize what we already know.

Thanks for dropping a line. Having entered in the middle of the conversation, I was finding it hard to go back and pick (interesting) subjects from pages 2-3, but also difficult to jump in the middle of an established subject on page 30. I certainly didn't say the brightest things, but at least I said something.

Language, language. Do I complain about the philosophy of language. It looks like paying attention to the map instead of the terrain; but if you're a sceptic towards the senses, you have to admit all you have is the map (and then, of course, we're all figments in each other's imagination).

You will be kind enough to occasionally excuse my English and also spelling mistakes -- everything in English, on my side, has a red wawy thing underneath.

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Joo Magalhes
28 Jun 2011

Rachel, don't bother with little epiphenomenae that keep going by, ah ah. But thanks anyway, that was a nice preocuppation; of course I'm not offended (a name is a label), but I accept anyway. It will be hard to spell it with all the a tildes, anyway, unless you set your Windows keyboard driver to Welsh, if I'm right. Don't even bother about it.

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Joo Magalhes
28 Jun 2011

Comments Re: Rachel Browne 28 Jun 2011

Metaphysics is the simplest possible thing: a collection of works by Aristotle that were beyond his Physics and had no connection thread. I know this looks cynical (in the common meaning) but really, what's metaphysics? It does seem to be a collection of subjects, at first glance. Second too.

Neuroscience cannot become philosophy, because neuroscience is experimental. Can we talk about experimental philosophy?

Values - Carl-Gustav Jung stated that it's through excruciating moral distress that Man's (psicological) mind evolves. So, in his opinion, that's the single most important tool for personal "growth" (which he calls individuation). That also mean he didn't accept universals easily, every choice and decision being inner and personal, not from an external code.

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Joo Magalhes
28 Jun 2011

Re: Mike Ward, 24 Jun 2011, What's the matter!

You answer is in Einstein's equation: E=mc2. There's energy, mass (the epitome of matter, short of momentum) and speed, which includes both time and space: E= m(s/t)2. You just have to solve the equation in order to the quantity you like best.

Which means you can explain almost everything in terms of one thing, and, to honor the Ancients, why not call it Fire or Water. As the joke goes, What is matter? Never mind. What is mind? No matter.

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Mike Ward
28 Jun 2011

Hubertus, you wrote "I have the greatest respect for knife grinders and buildings engineers and analytic philosophers"

Revealed as last! the reason behind your posturing, it's the belief that that your "Continental Philosophy" is the highest form of philosophy - so explain please why you take this absurd position?

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Mike Ward
28 Jun 2011

Joao, firstly welcome, secondly don't worry about jumping in mid conversation as only each of us knows what we mean and not the other - you see we don't even agree on the meaning of words.

You asked what is truth well mine is a simple answer it's when what is "out there" correlates exactly with what our mental construct of the world is. Hence by this definition we can easily deceive ourselves into believing whatever we think correlates.

Without absolutes everything is relative and so we can explain everything (well Hubertus can) in terms of something else. After all isn't that what a dictionary is just a list of words arguably cross referenced?

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Joo Magalhes
28 Jun 2011

Mike, thanks! I just didn't want to bump in; which I did, anyway! I couldn't figure out another way. I think it was St Peter who complained about always doing what he didn't want to.

So, you're voting for the correspondence theory. That, as you put it, depends on wether our map of 'reality' (whatever that is and who cares if it's out there or not) is well 'built'; and you say, if I understood, that we can deceive ourselves about the truth of that making of the map.

I think you're right; and that, at that point, the best way to test the correct correspondence of our map of reality (whatever that is etc.) is to experiment with it and see if our 'truths' (supposedly true assertions) work. Well, if it's truth, then it will work as theory (ou map) predicted.

And possibly more complicated; I suspect that a truth (a true assertion, not the quality of truth that assertions may or nor have) must obey more than one criterion.

Absolutes are a problem to me. They are so comforting. They remove the complexity out of things, and, much like a categorical imperative, we can impose them on others, because it's true and good for everybody everywhere anytime. I get very uncomfortable with absolutes (maybe because aspirin doesn't work for every headache, and not all fevers are the flu? ah ah)

And, although I can accomodate the belief that this one at that one may exist (be true), I have the strong feeling that many rules have validity conditions and that we cannot judge everything by the same simple set of dictums. Some rules apply in one condition, others in another condition.

There's an example I alway keep in mind: parallels only meet in infinity in one of the geometries, Euclid's, which is good for gardening and building and that. Other geometries exist which are just as successful, and even better for some situations. Or Newtonian vs relativistic vs quantum physics.

So, I am led to believe that reliquishing some absolutes doesn't simplify things, it actually complicates them a couple of magnitudes. This is where the discomfort sets in; this is where it actually takes.

Hence, and hopefully you will correct me if I didn't understand what you meant by 'explaining everything in terms of something else', it doesn't work as an easy explanation device, as it seems to raise complexity while offering accuracy; at that point, absolutes appear as the easy way out.

(Or am I having a problem with terms? That occurs in nature ah ah)

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Joo Magalhes
28 Jun 2011

RE: Rachel Browne, 25 Jun 2011, the unique brain

I find the comments on the brain very interesting.

Saying that it's unique is true in one way: the encephalon, what's in our head, has many 'brains' of many levels. But I think saying the brain cannot be replicated because it isn't simply biological might be too far, as it is just one of the sides of the problem.

The brain, the matter inside our skull, is entirely biological; the mind is not, if we follow the books, although there's still an ongoing discussion on that, and we may be surprised either way.

We may say, Well, the mind is part of the brain's function; no mind, no real duplicate of a brain. Fine. We wouldn't say we duplicated a stomach if it couldn't process food the way a natural stomach would.

But (all fairy tales have a 'but' in them) we know what digestion is, while we may perfectly sit here and discuss, being real radicals, what mind is and if it does exists. Maybe mind is just a phenomenon like digestion, an obvious, necessary consequence of a structure. Maybe it just comes up from the appropriate matter arrangement, like flying is a necessary property of a properly designed wing. Or paper airplane. Good old no-frills materialism.

Then the idea of a prototype brain raised a memory: normality. What is normality? Way back, I read a lot on this. What I though was worth remembering was that it comes in three varieties: statistical normality, the most common variety of something; textbook normality, the instances of the objects that fit the academic description; health normality, that which has no illness or deformity etc. The text concluded that normality didn't exist but for the statistical variety (which is statistically likely to occur, ah ah).

The idea that a prototype of a brain is not a brain is right in some meanings; but it would be a textbook-normal brain, an exemplary brain, which many would accept as the genuine thing, like a textbook wing. The idea that it would or would not work as a brain might be less obvious.

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Joo Magalhes
28 Jun 2011

First, an error correction. In the post below, where there's "Saying that it's unique is true in one way", that's an error, I meant the contrary, that it's not unique, as in it's not a single organ.

Second, my subject, which is commitment to our little personal philosophies. The first time I came around the idea that philosophy is not just a discourse, a rethorics, a speech about something, was in Klempner's Notebook; where he said that he had found the final argument against scepticism: the sceptic is not commited to his point of view. Which goes somehow along Hume's "scepticism can be thought, but not lived".

Then I came upon the story of Onesicritus, a disciple of Diogenes, who met the Gymnosophists who blamed him for not living up his philosophy. True he talked about it expertly enough, but he didn't live it, he wasn't commited, he was a hypocrit. As Jung says, he who has all his values on the outside is empty on the inside.

It dawned on me that, as with so many other things, it's not enough to think about stuff, you must bring it to your own life and live according to what you do believe. Otherwise you're a consultant.

This brings on the difficulties of ethics. That's an entire volume.

Obviously I don't have the possibility of asking you how you managed about sorting this problem out; but I can ask you what, in the abstract, do you think about the need to transpose philosophy into everyday (inter)personal life.

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Joo Magalhes
29 Jun 2011

Of course I'm reading everything since the beggining.

I still find the guilt discussion very interesting. I'm inclined to vaguely question that guilt is the main cement for a society and especially for altruism. I'm not saying altruism isn't egotist in an extreme final analysis.

Guilt signals us not to do that again (remorse, if you wish). There is, though, an actual pleasure in being helpful and "good" which doesn't seem to have been mentioned; something like the inverse of guilt. That's a positive signal, signalling "I'll do that again."

It is a difference in methods and approaches, one that tells you what you can't do, another that tells you what you should do. Something like the old and new testaments. It can be a carrot and stick method, but I find them just too different to have the same importance.

This raises two more questions to me. (1) Why are we defining some of our best traits as the avoidance of a negative thing. (2) How much does sheer search for pleasure and avoidance of pain (hedonism, epicurianism, Pavlov and Freud) shape our behavior and values.

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Hubertus Fremerey
29 Jun 2011

#403 answering to countless problems

It would be really helpful to have the entries numbered. Now I have to cite everything. Well, then so be it.

@Pete : I side with Rachel that one has to clarify what one is speaking of. Greek and modern science depended on the "metaphysical" (i.e. unproven) assumption that this world is fundamentally a Kosmos and not a chaos. This was the "metaphysical" conviction that guided Kepler, Newton, Maxwell, Einstein etc.. And modern physics was made possible by the conviction, that the laws of nature were worth studying as "the other book of revelation of God". Thus without this religious "metaphysical" conviction there would be no modern natural sciences. And of course we all go along by "folk metaphysics" - the naiv assumption that the world is there and is real and meaningful. This is why metaphysical problems look like meaningless "splitting philosophical hairs" in the opinion of most people. But thats the lot of philosophers since before Socrates - posing questions that look silly and meaningless to lay people.In theology it is even worse. There once was a real war about "one jota" - whether Christ was to be called "homo-ousios" or "homoi-ousios" - similar of equal with God. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christology ! But all this does not contradict my claim that "metaphysics is not on the mind of the physicist". Those are content with "solving problems" and don't care the underlying metaphysics which they take for granted.

@Rachel. You wrote "The study of values is very important, always. Hubertus ... cannot ask what we should "decide" to do without studying values. Which are subjective."

I never thought otherwise, and I am working since weeks over a chapter on values. So what is the point ? We should just start numbering again, since there are several very different sorts of values. Some are "purely subjective" as valued personal memories and memorabilia. Others are "subjective and collective" as f.i. religious and political convictions that are shared within a certain community. Others are "mainly collective" as f.i. a healthy environment or good government etc.. A last group are "universal" as "being treated with respect" or something like that. On which look up http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Value_(personal_and_cultural). Thus while some values are your private matter, others have to be agreed on and defended collectively as f.i. peace or liberty. Among each of those different classes of values you can further separate subclasses : You favourite books and fotos and memorablia are private, but of different importance. But if you were an ardent true believer in religious or political convictions, this would still be private, but you were ready to die or to kill for it. Thus your religious or political faith is not in the same class as some private memorabilia but may be a matter of life and death. Do you understand why I am so often speaking of "sloppy thinking" here ? You cannot meaningfully speak about values without keeping those many aspects apart. Remember how I "numbered" on the last conference different concepts of "reality of the electron" : Some measurements, some theoretical models, some observations that made the existence of electrons plausible, but nowhere "the electron" which is at the same time real and evasive - just as liberty, truth, and justice are at the same time "real and evasive". You cannot point at them, you cannot define them, but you cannot get rid of them either.

@Joanjo : This brings me to your statement that there must be truth. This may be in logic and math, where truth is a formal thing, and in some simple cases, as f.i., if the sun shines and you say "it is raining", you are wrong. But if you say "Portugal is in the best political shape" you will enter hefty debates with communists and royalists and fascists alike. Thus there is no clear "truth value" attached to such a claim, and most of our statements are of this undecidable sort. As long as you do not agree on what to call a "just society" you cannot decide whether some specific society is in the set of "just societies". And what would be the "truth value" of "Allah is great" or "God is love" ? Both sentences are undefined and thus can have no "truth value" attached to it, i.e., they are neither true nor false but philosophically meaningless and "emotive". I once wrote an essay on this for Pathways ( http://www.philosophypathways.com/newsletter/issue98.html ). Once more a broad and difficult topic.

You wrote // if there existed a very, very different life form, would we recognize it as a life form, would we recognize it as sentient and conscious? I don't think so, for we can only recognize what we already know. // This idea is topic of a fascinating novel by the late Stainslaw Lem and the ensuing movie : Solaris. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solaris_(1972_film) !

Thank you for the hint at Jung !

It was not St.Peter but St.Paul (see Rom 7,19). But never mind.

@Mike : You wrote // behind your posturing, it's the belief that that your "Continental Philosophy" is the highest form of philosophy - so explain please why you take this absurd position? // I did not say the "highest" form, but the "essential" form. And from Socrates to Heidegger most philosophers would agree to this. As I said : The butcher needs a sharp knive, but grinding knives is not his business. So don't mix it up. The original question of all philosophy has always been : What is this world for (physics and metaphysics) and "what are we humans doing here ? What is the meaning of our existence ? What does it mean to be a good human ?" Kant was "grinding philosophical knives" as were Wittgenstein and Heidegger, but they agreed that this was not the essential task of philosophers, but only - as forthe butcher - a necessary preparatory task before working on the "real" problems. Philosophy is not methodology, but methodology is one propaedeutical part of philosophy. Again and again I said that I have the highest respect for analytical philosophers - in the same way as the butcher is thankful for good knives - but there the "real" philosophy does not end but it just begins. Kant never thought otherwise. He saw his own work as a preparation, a "groundwork", for starting "real" philosophy from there. Only death prevented him from entering (as he had planned) a true anthropology.

So my position is not at all "absurd". Questions like "what does 'a good life' or 'a good human' or 'a good society' mean ?" are still central to all philosophy. But to answer them, you need some metaphysics and anthropology which is more than "methodology". What did Schopenhauer, Nietzsche and Heidegger do ? They did not answer any questions and did not solve any problem but made us see our situation in this world in a different light, they tried to highten our awareness of our situation in the world. But this is not "analytical". That was my point.

Of course you could call it "analyzing the situation of man" - but this is not what is on the mind of analytical philosophers, it is "continental". If you know everything about "consciousness" - what then do you know about "the situation of man" ?

Of course you can analyze the work of Shakespeare and Beethoven, and it has been done. But you will not get another Shakespeare or Beethoven by doing that. And all your analytical philosophizing will not bring us another P'lato. This is what I mean when I say that analytic philosophy is not "real" philosophy but only "preparatory" and "technical" philosophy. Great architects ( see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pritzker_Prize ) are not paid millions for "sanitary installations". Those are taken for granted.

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Pete
29 Jun 2011

Hmm. It didn't occur to me we'd have a problem with defining metaphysics. I'd say that it is applying logical analysis to first principles. It's a science, and it's the beginning and end of philosophy, and without it our ideas are and will remain ungrounded speculations.

Take the topic of truth, which has come up. We could wander around this all day going nowhere. If we pursue the idea of truth all the way into metaphysics, however, we arrive at Aristotle's view, correct imho, and inescapable in logic, which is that true knowledge is identical with its object. All other knowledge would be relative abd uncertain. Basically, we can know for certain who and what we are and nothing else. Put this together with the widespread claim that we are God, and the 'mystical' approach to truth begins to emerge.

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Hubertus Fremerey
29 Jun 2011

#404 what is truth ?

Pete, there is nothing more dubious and more mystical than the definition given by Aristotle and repeated by St.Thomas and (in a misleading sense) by Wittgenstein.

In formal logics and math, truth can be defined that way : here proposition and fact are identical. But generally propositions are not about reality but about our concepts of reality. There are countless "non-metaphysical" problems involved in the concept of truth, because it is all a matter of language ! There are not clear definitions of what a baby, a toddler, a child and a youth is. So how can we know whether this is a toddler is "true" ? It is a convention not some statement with objective "truth value". Newtons theory of gravitation was not "true" but "a good approximation for velocities small against that of light." The same may be "true" with Einstein's theories. But there is not true answer to "is England a democracy ?" because nobody so far has given a clear definition of "democracy". We could only speak of "similitude". We could say "compared to most other polities and political realities Britain comes pretty close to what we think a democracy should be like." That is very far off the ideal claim that "Britain is a democracy is a true statement". I could go on and on showing that there are very few cases where a truth-value can be decided. Note : I am not saying that it is difficult to establish, but I am saying it is downright meaningless. It is like asking "what is the length of an amoeba ?" When an art historian was asked "what do you think is the greatest work of art ?" he (correctly) answere "take a yardstick !" It was a meaningless question. Of course as a physicist I know very well what you "mean" with bringing theories and realities to coincide. It all comes to consistency theory of truth : While nobody ever has seen an electron, we can write encyclopedias of the electron where all facts and theories "surrounding" the electron are neatly packed together. But this is "our description of the electron", not "the truth about the electron".

the truth is as evasive as are liberty or justice or the mind or beauty etc. - or the Higgs boson. For all these guiding concepts cannot be spared. We need them like categories, but we cannot "define" or "describe" them. They are "forcefields of our thinking" od - like the Higgs bososn - they give mass to our thoughts.

And this in my opinion is the true and only value of metaphysics. It establishes a frame of reference for our thinking. As you put it: (without metaphysics) "our ideas are and will remain ungrounded speculations" - but it's our ideas about reality, never reality itself. It is like a Cartesian coordinate system where to put and discuss curves and bodies. But nature doesn't contain or need coordinates and there are no longitudes and latitudes engraved on the real globe. Because of this some philosophers thought to do without metaphysics. But is is impossible. Well - that's a problem for the "consciousness people" here. Can we in our thoughts imagine a world without an underlying metaphysics ? I think we can't.

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Hubertus Fremerey
29 Jun 2011

#405 what is philosophy and what is free will - a first approach

@Joanjo Hello Joanjo, I beg your pardon since I did not welcome you explicitely ! We are happy with every new voice here. Re. your question : In my opinion "the need to transpose philosophy into everyday (inter)personal life" ends in the Socratic question "What does it mean to lead a 'good' life or to become a 'good' human ? What does 'good' mean in this context ?" My annoying rant against this consciousness-dispute was : It is all avoiding this sort of questions and getting down to mere technicalities. Whatever we may find out about consciousness and the mind, we stay responsible moral beings.

Of course methodology and physics are other legitimate philosophical topics. I would not deny that. One only should see them all three in proper relation to each other. This is the substance of this ongoing "continental vs analytical" debate. I will add something to this at another time.

By the way : I don't think that there is no free will. Or at least that the very concept of free will is misunderstood. The notion of the "unfree will" seems to be a consequence of the outdated "stimulus-response"-model of behaviourism. The model of cognitivism is very different and comes to different conclusions. But I won't enter this debate today.

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Joo Magalhes
29 Jun 2011

Hubertus, hello! Thank you for your reply. From what I've been reading, you seem to be a systematic person. I have a few vague comments about your reply.

How about

  • "Portugal is in the best political shape is a debatable assertion" is true
  • Portugal is in the best political shape according to the socialists
  • "Allah is great" is undefined
  • "The sky is blue" is likely
being acceptable? And mutatis mutandis. Of course we smell the poisonous stench of infinite regression, but will it be really infinite? I'm speculating beyond reasonable, I guess. I liked the idea of probabilistic logic.

Solaris, of course! I saw the movie twice, and read the book several times and I think I still have it around -- all yellow pages. Solaris might be alive for it was communicating, or trying to. Or parts of it, its creations were decent zombies at least; much like Philip K Dick's androids.

St Paul... ah! How did I do that. Mea culpa.

Regarding your reply to Pete, would you accept that what we call truths (true assertions) are not about the map of reality, but elements of the very map? And that, therefore, we aren't talking about the map when we say a "truth", but reading the map itself? From what you say, I gather you wont agree. But anyway.

On your view about "the good life" (405), I really am not worried wether our philosophy is good or not. My interest was wether we put our (good or bad or what we managed) philosophy into practice: are we commited to what we believe in? Therefore, good and its meaning of good is not a question. The question is, are we being "whole"? Are our actions according to our philosophy? St Paul said no. (I got some HTML into this, let's hope it works.)

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Joo Magalhes
29 Jun 2011

Pete, I most certainly take exception to your saying that Metaphysics is a science! :-) There's nothing farther from science than that. You must get your hands dirty in science -- meaning, you have to "go there" and deal with the material world (or at least our idea of it).

Of course, to me, science is what is built through the use of the experimental method -- the method and the body of knowledge, full stop, not one iota more. When we come to experimental Philosophy (I'd certainly love that) maybe we can call it a science.

Even theoretical physicists require their hypothesis to be tested.

I'm certain that you meant it as a science because it's about deductive logic. Some science is deductive (the hypothetical-deductive thing), but not all deductions are scientific, just logical.

I mean, you can sit down with an old envelope and be very logical and reach an important conclusion (Einstein did that), but that's just an hypothesis (or a conjecture, if bad enough), a possibility, until you prove it empirically (Eddington and others went out there and helped Einstein do it). And it can still be proven false.

I get regularly clobbered when I say this, so, go ahead, I've got my helmet on :-)

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Hubertus Fremerey
29 Jun 2011

#406 some answers concerning truth

Joanjo : On thruth I agree with your little "listing". And I would agree to "we are checking our maps with respect to consistency." This is consistency model of truth : Our "map of reality" should be consistent with known facts and within itself.

But the problem is once more : We quite often do not know what the map says in effect ! There are "readings" : See before you three historians - a Christian one, an Islamist one, and a communist one. They all three could settle on all observable facts, but they all would tell a different story about what they see. It is like "Rashomon" - everybody tells a different story but nobody is wrong. This is the core of "hermeneutics". See Gadamer and his critics. Or see schools of literary criticism - Freudian, Jungian, Marxist, feminist, structuralist e.a.. They all read the same novel but they all read it differently. That was my point. So what then would be the meaning of "truth" here ? There is no "true reading of a text" - and surely not after "deconstructing" it in the name of Derrida. Hermeneutics is not math.

On your definition of philosophy proven by the philosophers life you were right. I was addressing a different problem. Thank you for clarifying.

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Joo Magalhes
29 Jun 2011

Oops, Pete, forgot -- you need a pencil to go with your envelope maybe. You can also use a 30 million sophisticated computer and model at taxpayers' expense, but it still is not "a scientific truth" until it is empirically proven by "reality" (sometimes much cheaper). Hum, only reality is real?

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Rachel Browne
29 Jun 2011

Hi, again, Joao I am glad you are interested in guilt. These big questions in metaphysics probably miss something about value.

It is worthwhile to think small. Well, Hubertus doesn't think so!

You question whether guilt is a cement for society and especially for altruism. Well, I'd suggest that something like guilt is a cement for society. It is surely not law and politics, but something in common psychology.

My brother's book on melancholy talks about what he calls "the valley way of soul". He argues that melancholy is contemplative and contrasts with the busy high achieving sort of life He would agree that guilt is part of the valley way, in contrast to pleasure. Pleasure is light and also shallow. Guilt and remorse are not shallow, so why should they be negative? Isn't it part of humankind that we are deep? We don't think that other animals have profound thoughts or deep emotions. The whole "rational animal" definition of humans is not deep. I don't agree that guilt is a "negative" thing

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Joo Magalhes
29 Jun 2011

Hubertus, finally someone else also believes that our description of reality is culture-based! It sounds obvious when it is said like that. The map is indeed, I suppose, built according to what we are told it should be.

The map's organization, the relationships between map elements, their meaning etc., what is an important element and what is not, is cultural. To witness, the interesting cases of wolf children, children which grew without human contact, for instance. Or with the concepts of intelligence and problem-solving in other cultures. etc.

All have the same map (reality) but the tales about it differ. Sometimes, entire sections of the map are "erased" or not looked at.

For instance, look: in people who never saw a photograph, you have to tell them what it is, how to look at it, show what's in there, etc. You have to teach them how to interpret a photograph, even if it's the photograph of someone or something very familiar. For us in a "visual" civilization this seems very, very weird.

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Joo Magalhes
29 Jun 2011

Rachel, thank you. I do question a lot that guilt is a contributor to altruism. Certainly so, in the less developed persons who require an overseer, a prison guard, an archon. But I really wouldn't put it that way.

Then I also question that altruism has not been mentioned in the discussion as a positive (pleasurable, at least) way to construct society. Or inter-personal relationships.

I also question (this looks like question time) your assertion that pleasure is shallow. I had shallow guilts and shallow remorses, and profound, deep pleasures, full of meaning and structuring.

I'd go farther, but not being a stoic, I wont; and therefore will shamelessly be an hypocrit and not be true to what I think :-)

Of course, this is nothing but my opinion. Even preference: I prefer pleasure to pain and being altruistic to being remorseful or feeling guilty. (Odd, when I think of it.)

And then, maybe the real cement of society is riot police? Ah ah

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Rachel Browne
29 Jun 2011

Joao, guilt is about inter-personal relations. In lower valley terms it is more meaningful than altruism. Altruism bucks the ego, but guilt puts you more in touch with others in a relation of shame and even terror. You cannnot have shallow guilt and remorse. These are feelings that make you feel you cannot live with yourself any more. Yeah, I think guilt is a waste of time. I was just trying to tie some concepts together. There is probably no cement. Riot police sounds helpful!!! Good one! Just off to Athens on Friday.

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Joo Magalhes
29 Jun 2011

I understand your point on guilt putting us in contact with the other. What's my point is that altruism also does it; and moreover, it's pleasant, which is even better. Too put it too simply, you feel bad when you're bad, good when you're good. Why not feel actively good?

I live more out of altruism than out of guilt. I like it, it pleases me, I feel happier and even healthier.

I feel that altruism gets me closer to others, while guilt gets me away from them - because I'm ashamed, I retreat; because the other is offended, he retreats too. Communication stops, sometimes forever. We think about each other in the worst possible ways; I think about myself in the worst possible way and keep punishing myself beyond need. The ceremony of apologies is required, but that doesn't erase the memory of the hurt. A connection between people is severed.

I agree shallow guilt or remorse are not common experiences, I'd say. There is shallow altruism, even industries of that, as for the artificial creation and exploitation of guilt.

Altruism, on the contrary, is mutually pleasurable. I feel I was useful. The other feels he's not alone and has friends when in need. Mutual trust is increased. The connection becomes easier. It is inter-personal too, definitely, I guess, and this is my contention point here. Altruism a personal matter, not a check you put in the mail for a charity. You do have to reach the other and allow yourself to be reached too.

There are, of course, pathological cases for both guilt and altruism.

Eh, this doesn't seem to hold together too tightly, I never thought about this stuff before.

Now for a couple of little rants, if I may.

I was educated as a catholic, what else around here; the problem of the existence of evil got me out of it soon and I'm a humanist now. But I admit I was raised by educated priests and monks, who knew their stuff. So, the approach to sin and guilt was not just about being conscious of it and talking it out and examining it, it was also about what could I do about that. It was something like using guilt and consciousness of problems (mine and those of others, like social "injustice") to propel me into active solutions.

(I'm wondering wether there is, or there isn't, a basic cultural difference in the approach to this matter -- different readings of the map. For instance, the Anglo-Saxon civilization has a different approach to the body than a mediterranean culturehas. I've seen that first hand on some classes given by an US Prof. Or a protestant vs catholic difference. I won't easily bet on that, but it can be a possibility.)

Athens, well, then you really might test the hypothesis :-)

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Joo Magalhes
29 Jun 2011

Afterthought: Now that, in what concerns me, was philosophy as therapy. More therapy than philosophy.

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Rachel Browne
29 Jun 2011

Yes! It was philosophy as therpay! Good point!

My initial question was what is the point of guilt.

I come from a Catholic family too - Irish and Italian.

What is the point of guilt if it cuts you off from others? When you wouldn't feel guilt if you weren't already combined with others?

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Hubertus Fremerey
30 Jun 2011

#407 Reading David Chalmers

I just read of Chalmers ( see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Chalmers ) the following interview of 2009 :

http://consc.net/papers/five.pdf >> Patrick Grim, ed. Mind and Consciousness: Five Questions. Automatic Press, 2009.

from which I cite :

// The Conscious Mind was much closer to being a traditional work of philosophy than I had envisioned at the start. Along the way, I had become convinced that a rigorous philosophical approach, bringing in tools from the philosophy of language and from metaphysics, was essential at least to getting clear on the foundational issues. Doing this that convinced me, contrary to my initial inclination, that a materialist approach to consciousness cannot succeed. So I became a sort of dualist. But I think of this dualism as growing naturally out of the scientific attitude: one needs to acknowledge (not dismiss) the data, and then come up with theories that are adequate to the challenges that the data pose. ... Somewhere along the way, I became a philosophical holist. It seems that almost any area of philosophy is relevant to any other. When I first started in philosophy, I was really interested only in the mindnbody problem, and questions about, say, sense and reference seemed to me to be nit-picky semantic questions. But to think properly about the mindnbody problem, I had to think about metaphysics, and to think about that properly I had to think about the philosophy of language, and to think about that properly I had to think about epistemology, and so on. So Iive ended up doing a fair amount of work in these areas, to the extent that I have a couple of books on these topics (one on meaning and content, one on foundations) that I hope to finish before too long. One pleasant side-e ect of this holism is that it has made almost everything in philosophy seem interesting to me. ...

The ideal, I think, is to pursue both big ideas and specialized details in parallel, always doing one with an eye on the other. I like to misquote Kant on this topic: big ideas without details are empty; details without big ideas are blind. ... In any area of science, one can ask foundational questions. At a certain point, once the questions are foundational enough, one is doing philosophy. But there is no bright line, and the questions can be asked equally by scientists and by philosophers. ... When I first got into philosophy, I was disappointed by how little positive theorizing there was about consciousness. Philosophers seemed to have the sense that theorizing about consciousness should be left to scientists, while scientists seemed to have the sense that theorizing about consciousness should be led to philosophers. That situation has improved to some extent, but Iid like to see more of it. Of course this work often goes out on a limb, but sometimes one has to go out on limbs to get through the forest. ... I take it that all of the most important problems in the philosophy of mind are still open. This applies most obviously to the mindnbody problem and its various components, such as the problem of consciousness, the problem of intentionality, and the problem of mental causation. But the same goes for most of the other traditional problems in the area: the problem of other minds, the unity of consciousness, the nature of self-knowledge, the nature of concepts, and so on. //

But my central topic is "good society" and not "consciousness" and this will not change. It is not "politicizing everything" but "being in a different field of study".

If I were with a bunch of Neo-Hegelians they would beat me for being interested in "this faddish philosophy of mind stuff" like that of Searle, Dennett and Chalmers. They would tell me that this does not add to our understanding of politics and polity and social problems. Such is life. The whole scene of philosophy consists of "tribes" exercising their magical dances on the village place. I can subscribe to everything Chalmers wrote and what he writes on philosophy in general could have been from myself, but this does not invalidate my critical remarks on the self-centeredness of analytical philosophy.

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Joo Magalhes
30 Jun 2011

Rachel, here's my own little speculation about that. Guilt cuts you off from others (at least from personal experience) and, if you get to the point in which shame and guilt do not allow you to live with yourself, you're sick and in danger -- but that's a pathological reaction, as far as I know, it's a "Err 349A6F34 - This Error Should Never Occur" sort of thing. We wont talk about that.

There also are, of course, these people who never feel any guilt or shame because they cannot form empathic relationships, it's beyond their chemistry. For them, others are just outside objects. They make great managers and politicians and are sick (hm why?); the sociopaths / psychopaths. We can forget these for a while too, athough they're so interesting.

Guilt works, I guess, much like pain. People who do not feel any pain die early because they get into dangerous situations without noticing it, say, by drinking hot water. Pain is a minor inconvenience that saves you from worse damage and eases repair.

It might also work like inflammation. You get a wood splinter, the thing is red and swollen and sore in a day or two, and painful, and you really dont like it. The inflammation and pain proceeds until the wood splinter is out. Hopefully. Then you get better.

So, you commit your little blunder or offense. The guilt thing will haunt you, much like the owner of a puppy showing him the poop he did in the wrong place. You will end up understanding that if you do that again, you will suffer the discomfort of guilt. So, much in a Pavlovian way, you'll remember it next time and almost certainly avoid it. Your inner state changed. Your decision-maing subroutine may decide differently next time.

(However I wished it not too, Pavlov works... debasing, isn't it?)

In societal terms, and still speculating, it would simplistically go like this: you made an error, you harmed someone somehow, you will be cut off for a while; people are hurt with you. This is not shunning, as usually you are accepted back after a suitable time.

It is expected that, by then, you are a better (or at least more complex) person, as you have now the knowledge that what you did is Not A Good Thing. Hopefully you might apologize or, if you were an early christian, do your full public confession.

And the splinter is out, and everything is back to almost normal. So it cuts you out, but unless you did something really awful, you're back, and now you know you shouldn't have done that. So, unless something unusual is going on, you're now a better person. Of course, nobody will forget what you did,and that's another matter; now you have a "record". (If your record keeps growing, you're indeed shunned.)

Guilt cuts you off and also is, the first step to reintegration. It gets you away from others, then it subsides and the others get you back. Then ideally should come remorse and some sort of acceptable reparation for a full reintegration.

Externally imposed, decreed guilt by paperwork by a court of justice frequently doesn't have this healing effect. I also wouldn't say that this would work as nicely in societies in which people dont know each other. This requires actual communication, not TV.

Now, let's talk about the guilt of the lone person.

Some people will do anything when they know the police isn't around, say, like overspeeding and putting everybody in danger. We know that's primitive behaviour -- not being seen by the police is definitely not a criterion of good. Overspeeding even when you're not being watched by others or an Archon still should produce some guilt, as in, "That was dangerous, I shouldn't have done it, I wont do it again". You have a ethical code and you just did away with it. Your ethical code should be something better than avoiding being caught.

As religious stuff puts it, nobody is watching it, but god knows.

Of course it's culturally related. It is shameful to go about naked in Piccadilly, socially speaking, but not so in Amazonia or deep central Africa. Of course a westerner wont do it, but that's because we carry our codes with us everywhere.

Altruism works otherwise. Also interesting is the pleasure of transgression, but maybe next time.

I hope I contributed.

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Joo Magalhes
30 Jun 2011

Maybe guilt can work a little like the mystics' device of meditating upon our death; it paradoxically will compell us to live life more intensely and fruitfully. Meditating upon our guilt will take us to improve our behaviour.

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Pete
30 Jun 2011

Huburutus - You're quite right about truth not being a matter of logic alone. Logic can tell us nothing for sure about reality, as Aristotle points out.

But logic is a safe guide to what is true and false in reality as far as we know, and if we don't use it we have no guide at all.

It is precisely because you're right, logic cannot tell us what is true about reality, that Aristotle concludes that true knowledge is identical with its object. The inability of logic to provide us with true knowledge is a result of logic, but where knowledge is by identity logic has no role to play.

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Joo Magalhes
30 Jun 2011

On Pilates Question -- Hubertus, re: your page 32 post 2, "some answers concerning truth", firstly, we know we broadly agree. There is a coherence theory of truth saying that a true assertion has to be in accord with all other true assertions. That is why we used the word "consistent".

Everybody noticed that this theory says nothing about our truths having to be in accord with reality. Which is ridiculous at first look, as you could build gigantic edifices of thought unrelated to the real world.

Correspondence theory states the need for our maps to agree with reality and seems like a better criterion. So far so good.

Pete p. 32 p. 14 (Pete 32:14, eh eh) notices the uselessness of coherence only for truth, and notes that we cannot do away with logic -- logic, like math, is a tool, but we cant rely solely upon it. Fine. I think Gdel's incompletude theorem says that in a popular interpretation about strong and weak axiomatic systems. Strong systems (such as logic) cannot demonstrate all truths, weak systems demonstrate more than they should.

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Joo Magalhes
30 Jun 2011

The fine art of mapmaking, practised in our spare time -- Hubertus, regarding several posts, I would like to clarify myself, as I feel I'm not being clear and words are being treacherous through meaning, context -- and maybe other invisible offences--, regarding what I mean by map of reality.

Our senses build a map (representation via a transform, whatever) of whatever is out there. A map of the Mischievous Demon Data Feed if you want. We can understand that map as sensory data, or rather organized sensory data, perceptions. That's what I call the map (although it's already a transformed map, for we do not see wavelengths but colours). (Damsio adds several more map layers.)

Then we, as any navigator of old, look upon the maps and say, "Oooh, there's my table, Oooh, there's the sky, Oooh, there's Mary", etc., including the Hic Sunt Leones, that do exist and are in the map. (Let's leave the a prioris alone for now, that's another big can of worms.)

That is the beginning of our discourse about the sensory map. This is where we start talking to ourselves in the middle of the night. It's a tale, or a Thousand and One Nights full of tales imparting meaning and usefulness to the sensory map, relating objects in the map with this and that etc etc., told to us by some mysterious Scheherazade trying to escape death (who also uses reasoning as a tool).

What I want to get at, Hubertus, is that - I think that what you call map is what I call the tales about the map; the user's reference, what. Not that it has led us to any misunderstanding, if I'm right.

Is that so?

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Rachel Browne
30 Jun 2011

Joao Yes, I think we are highlighting the personal and interpersonal on guilt here. Inner work over political systems and law. This will probably make Hubertus throw up. He doesn't like talk of the personal. It doesn't present a "hard problem". It's psychology, which is disdained by a physicist.

Well, politicians and managers are probably stopped from forming empathetic relationships. This is probably because they have no idea what the fuck they're doing and they're scared. Being scared of not knowing what you are doing draws you away as much as guilt. But you can come to know what you are doing. Inner work again, Joao.

Hubertus is very interested in sociopaths and psychopaths. Although only really if they are Nazis. This could be a subject of conversation for you though.

Hubertus and Pete, there is nothing wrong with logic. Of course, formal logic tells you nothing, but the point is that premisses need to be sound. Then it is persuasive.

Why do we only need to have one theory of truth anyway? Shouldn't we have correspondence and coherence?

Ola. I'll be on the beach tomorrow, hopefully. Swimming, listening to iPod on a sunbed. As far as music is concerned I like Leonard Cohen in some moods and Jack White in others. This seems to make values a mere matter of mood!

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Rachel Browne
30 Jun 2011

I meant "Adios". Honestly I'm so useless at languages I don't know how you guys can write whole messages when I can't get the difference between hello and goodbye right!

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Pete
1 Jul 2011

Hi Joo - YOu make some good points. As you point out, correspondance and coherence are important ways of deterimining the truth or falsity of statements. And, as you say, these produce only relative truths. Such truths are true as long as some other truths are true. They take the form, 'if x-then y', where the truth of x cannot be established by correspondance or coherence. In other words, such truths are not truths at all. The feed from the evil demon may be a lot of nonsense.

As you say also, we make a map of reality and then assume that it is reality. For some philosophies the entire universe is a mental map, and not really there when you examine it closely.

The book Neo opens in the Matrix near the start, in which he had hidden some software, is by Beaudrillard, and the chapter is titled, 'The Desert of the Real'. The desert of the real would be what is really there when we take the map away and look at the actual territory. Not quite my view, but the essential point is that we do not see what is really there, or not really there, and this is important in a discussion of truth. Most of what we call truth is only truth in relation to other truths, and so is only relative, i.e. not something we know, but something we deduce from axioms.

This would be why identity is the only form of absolute truth. It requires no logical calculations, no axioms, and there is no possibility of error.

To illustrate the tenuos nature of what we aften mistakenly call truth, based on our 'knowledge' of phenomena, there is one philosophy for which nothing really exists, and even today it cannot be falsified. This is because we can't establish the truth of most of what we normally consider to be true. We can't use the map to prove the existence of the territory.

Good point about Goedel also, but here I think that that may be a can of worms too far.

Russell considered the question of how we know things to be the most important in philosophy, and his tradition of philosophy still has no answer as far as I know.

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Hubertus Fremerey
1 Jul 2011

#408 truth and true nonsense

Pete, Wittgenstein said (in his Tractatus) "the world is all that is the case". This is "true nonsense". It is true (by default), but it is nonsense - because we cannot make any use of it. To make use of "facts" we need two things : Theories that define what "a fact" is, and maps, that define what our theory is. To know what "Oedipus Complex" is, you need the theory of Freud. Without that there is no Oedipus Complex. To know what "class struggle" is, you need the theory of Marx. Neither "Oedipus Complex" nor "class struggle" are jumping around on the meadow. In this sense they are not "facts" but "theoretical constructs".

This difference between "observables" and "constructs" was what I was debating with Joanjo. Of course you observe some facts that caused Freud to speak of "Oedipus Complex" or Marx to speak of "class struggle", but even if you acknowledge the observables you may reject the concepts as "not following from the facts". This is what is meant by the difference of "reality itself" and "maps of reality". Our theories refer to our invented maps, never to reality itself. We have books on "the electron", but nobody has ever seen an electron. We have many more books on "God", but nobody has ever seen "God", even while the books on "God" may be very detailed and consistent.

There are "experiences of God" - but in fact they are experiences of "whatever". It is our mapping of reality that attaches those experiences to "God". Whether God is "real" we do not know. Whether "class struggle" is real, we do not know. It is a concept that tries to make sense of certain observable facts, but other people will interpret the same facts differently.

This is why we are always debating our maps of reality, not reality itself.

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Joo Magalhes
1 Jul 2011

Pete, just a quick note - sorry! - to say I think that sometimes, or many times, and at least temporarily, our tales about the map can be incoherent and contain irritating apparent contradictions. Our tale doesn't fit the map, and, as long as we accept that the map is a decent enough representation of whatever it is that is, we're in an uncomfortable situation. Of course, we sometimes resort to the already mentioned 'applicability conditions' that structure a relativism. Although we usually prefer to quickly build a 'weak' theory that explains (or explains away) so much it contradicts itself, then tell people they cant discuss the contradictions, ah. But I'm just ranting here.

Let me gather myself here: (1) A true assertion must correspond to what's in our map; (2) it doesn't necessarily have to be coherent with our tale about the map (our tale evolves, and the failure of our tale doesn't make our map necessarily wrong; but deduction is quite a tool); (3) but I find it the ultimate test to check our tale about the map by experimenting with the map, and that would be very close to a pragmatic, experimental approach, I think. That's like sitting around concocting our conjectures, then betting on the outcome, then deciding the bet by testing what 'really' happens.

Pete, I think I say that truth can be understood in a relativism perspective -- this solution is true in situation A, but the same question has another answer for case B. Of course, we can read you as conditions X imply solution Y (to a given question to a given problem). I wonder, though, if I'm not getting byzantine here, I can easily go off in a wide tour around the village to get at something that's right here.

(The case of the 'X → Y' truths, in which X has unknown truth value, is a rather delicious case in mathematical logic: the truth value of X is irrelevant, for as long as Y is true, the operation (implication) is correct. Of course, in the real world, if you want to know the truth value of Y from X, you're somewhat done; and vice-versa, if you're sure of the value 'True' for Y, you can't say a thing about X. Well, I'd say 'I dont know'.)

I believe that the entire cosmos can only be known via the mental sensory map, but I find it convenient to accept that, for practical purposes, there's something behind it. The sensory map is as real as we can get... and no, having a Pirate Treasure Map© doesn't prove the treasure is there.

So, identity would be dandy, but can we have it? I say we cant, for we cant get at reality, only at the map. So, if we can't get it, we can forget it (Occam being such a great a barber.)

(A quick note, really, ah.)

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Joo Magalhes
1 Jul 2011

Mind your ps and qs -- forgot my <p>s, right? Sorry.

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Joo Magalhes
1 Jul 2011

Hubertus, I understand your text and agree with it, but I would like to say that in my own 'tale' about the map and the tales about the map, below, everything that is not a perception is a tale about the map.

Saying "That is a tree" is a tale about the map. You organize the several perceptions of shape, colour, etc. which are reported as related, and somebody told you, when you were a little boy, that you call that thing a tree.

Then life gets more complicated and we talk about truth, god, electrons and the Œdipus complex, but these are just more complex tales, of course. Theories on electrons or trees are tales about tales (literary criticism?)

As you put it, our theories refer to the map (and other tales about it), because we cant get directly to reality. There are experiences of tree, but really these are experiences of whatever, as you put it.

Put otherwise, the map results from hardware, the tales (from thing names to quantum physics) result from software.

We keep telling tales about the map to ourselves since we were very little children. Like, maybe, when we know that Mom (food!) isn't going to disappear just because we stopped seeing her, or that after food comes diaper change.

This, of course, is nothing but my very personal opinion.

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Joo Magalhes
1 Jul 2011

Now this is a quick note, really, promise.

Jung and followers looked long for what might be the most primitive categories in the mind. Jung found that these would be number and time, and Frulein Marie-Louise von Franz wrote a book on that ("Number and Time", of course).

Sitting down and sticking to comfy speculation, I came to the idea that both have an underlying common quality: sequence, or ordering. A comes after B.

We can sequence perceptions and remember that. Although maybe for that we must have identified previously some perception groups as recognizable 'objects' (inner or outer).

Speculation it is.

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Hubertus Fremerey
1 Jul 2011

#409 on mapping the world and on templates

Joanjo, you wrote //having a Pirate Treasure Map doesn't prove the treasure is there.// Exactly ! Every religion and every pseudoreligion - including atheism - has its own map. If the pirates are lucky, that get at a treasure, if not then not. Or the treasure is in their hearts and minds and the way was the goal.

Re. the tree : Since James Bond's "Never say never again" you know of "cruise missiles". I once worked on such stuff in the context of artificial intelligence. Those missiles look for "gestalten" that match some template. They need no consciousness of course to do that. Very probably birds have no consciousness whatever about what they are doing when they build a nest or feed their offspring. But they somehow have to know it from inborn "templates".

I think that theories are "artificial templates" telling us what to look for, and these templates can be revised according to success and failure. Thus modern science was made possible by using a theological template looking for "Gods wisdom in his creation".

There even is metaphysics for Pete here : The assumption of the followers of Newton was that - as Laplace put it - "the hypathesis of God is not needed". But this of course is a metaphysical assumption not proven. We simply do not know whether it is true.

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Hubertus Fremerey
1 Jul 2011

#409a experiences of trees and of gods

@Joanjo. Experiences of trees can be had by birds and even robots (like cruise missiles) as consequence of some templates. But experiences of "God" are of a different kind, as are "experiences of justice" or of "truth".

I think it possible - and this is part of the questions of the study of mind - that even "God" and "justice" and "truth" become visible by some innate "templates" that are much more vague than the tamplate of a tree.

This is "pattern recognition" and as such a core model of intelligence. We may see patterns where there are none. F.i. some people see "conspiracy" or "meaning" where there is none. They simply interpret the reality according to some templates that "see" patterns where there are none. Thus templates may be misleading. We have to stay critical. Credulous people see meaningful patterns everywhere. Critical people keep to the principle "Check it - and check it once more - and check it again."

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Pete
2 Jul 2011

Huburtus - Your post on truth and facts seems spot on to me. It's all maps. Even God is a point on the map, as long as He is a concept. We seem to agree on this one. As Eddington points out, there is phemonenal way out of the phenomenal world. A different approach would be required to escape from our cave made out of maps.

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Pete
2 Jul 2011

Oops. Sorry. Eddington said that there is no phenemenal way out. Left out the negative.

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Pete
2 Jul 2011

Joao - Hope you don't mind if I'm argumentative. We seem to agree about much but not about the deeper issues.

You say that you believe "the entire cosmos can only be known via the mental sensory map..."

This is not right. As you say, by studying the map one learns about the map. To learn wehether the map is a good one would require, as you say, ditching map-reading for experiment and empiricism. You have pre-judged the outcome of that research. It is very clear that we cannot know the entire cosmos via sensory maps.

You add - "...but I find it convenient to accept that, for practical purposes, there's something behind it."

Fine. But your convenience is not a criteria of truth. If there is something behind the map then we cannot know the entire cosmos from the map.

Then - "The sensory map is as real as we can get..."

This is a theory. For all you know it can be falsified by experiment. It seesm to me that it can be so falsified. The entire point of Eddington's remark, and the central message of the wisdom traditions, is that the sensory map is not as 'real as we can get.' This is a pessimistic and unnecessary view, and reduces philosophy to map-reading.

Then you say - "...and no, having a Pirate Treasure Map doesn't prove the treasure is there. So, identity would be dandy, but can we have it? I say we cant, for we cant get at reality, only at the map. So, if we can't get it, we can forget it."

What makes you say we can't get at reality? One entire tradition of philosophy states that this is exactly what philosophy is for, to help us get at reality. Of course we can have identity with reality. How could we possibly not have it? When Descartes chose 'cogito' as a starting place it was because this is knowledge by identity, or so he thought, and thus secure.

To me it seems that you've thought everything through very carefully up to a point and then given up and guessed at the last bit. Why do that? For western philsophy we follow logic and experience up to a point, saying it is vital to be rational and practical in philosophy, and then give up and settle for despairingly wild and woolly speculations? This cannot be a recipe for success.

At least two physicists have proposed that the cosmos may only be known by identity, Schroedinger and Davies, so it's not a unrespectable idea, even if it the central message of what might be called 'experimental religion'.

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Joo Magalhes
2 Jul 2011

Just a quick note -- I said that before, didn't I? ah ah It will look terser than desirable, but hey, here we go.

I call the map the perception map. We cannot perceive anything rawer than perception. We can perceive a tree, but we do not perceive the wavelength of green etc. We sense the wavelenght of green, don't perceive it. Green is part of the map, the wavelenght of green, if it exists, is not available for our personal direct experience. It's "out there". Our hardware will not allow us that level of experience.

Perceptions is what I call the map. By studying the map we build stories we call knowledge) about the map. We know the map better, but the origins of sensations that are processed into the map remain forbidden.

So, the sensory map, perception map to be accurate, is all we'll ever going to get. The rest we know is tales about it, however true that they are.

Experimenting and being empirical will not take us "under" the map into "real reality" -- they still are stories about the map.

We will not know ever the entire cosmos through the map; but only the map allows us to know it, though in parts only.

I find Descartes cogito demanding. If that's a starting point, then what does he mean by "I", "think", "am", "therefore", and the articulation of all these concepts? In his system, we can admit that will be an axiom and not subject to proof. But an axiom is nothing but an axiom, others can be thought of. Actually his position is more like I think, therefore I doubt. Fine, you can say this is puerile of me, but then I can't help myself yet on thi subject.

I'm not saying knowledge by identity is unrespectable, I just think it's not possible. I not only respect the impossible but also the absurd, much like, who was that, Tertullian? They have interesting uses.

So many thoughts, so little time! Sorry for being short, I'll be back, this sort of sums my position up too quickly. I think.

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Joo Magalhes
2 Jul 2011

Why do I always forget something? Of course disagreeing is much more useful and constructive than sitting back and sip our beers in some warm evening's gemtlichkeit and groupthink. I'm used to having at least 5% of people disagreeing with me, whether I say white, black or grey. I find it odd if it doesn't happen. Anyway, this is the place we all should reasonably argue and disagree like gentlemen (it also goes well with the beer, ah ah).

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Joo Magalhes
2 Jul 2011

[Pete 33:2] "The book Neo opens in the Matrix near the start, in which he had hidden some software, is by Beaudrillard, and the chapter is titled, 'The Desert of the Real'. [...] the essential point is that we do not see what is really there, or not really there, and this is important in a discussion of truth.

Fully agreed.

Most of what we call truth is only truth in relation to other truths, and so is only relative, i.e. not something we know, but something we deduce from axioms.

This would be why identity is the only form of absolute truth. It requires no logical calculations, no axioms, and there is no possibility of error.

But given that you cannot have direct knowledge of external things (you only "see" perceptions), even though they might be "there", only the map, knowledge by identity is impossible; this is my viewpoint, you can only know by identity if you can "see" directly.

"To illustrate the tenuos nature of what we aften mistakenly call truth, based on our 'knowledge' of phenomena, there is one philosophy for which nothing really exists, and even today it cannot be falsified. This is because we can't establish the truth of most of what we normally consider to be true. We can't use the map to prove the existence of the territory."

Absolutely right, I also agree with this. Even if we have a map, it might be nothing but the Evil Demon Data Feed.

[Pete 33:11]"Eddington said that there is no phenemenal way out."

We get nowhere on nothing but perception, we need our little tales too.

"[Pete 33:12] [...]ditching map-reading for experiment and empiricism."

But... empiricism and experiment require a lot of map reading! And also story-weaving.

[id.]"It is very clear that we cannot know the entire cosmos via sensory maps." I fully agree, no question with that, as I said. And there is no other way to know the cosmos for sure but though the map.

"But your convenience is not a criteria of truth. If there is something behind the map then we cannot know the entire cosmos from the map."

Are you calling "cosmos" only to what is behind the map (and not just that?) Maybe this is a problem with words, not worlds.

Of course a convenience is just a convenience, that's why I called it so. I'm not really sure of the history now, as it was some time ago, but I remember that either we accept the convenience of pretending that there's something there and act thus or we either fall into an error (according to my view) or have extreme difficulties to say we know anything in fact. If you want, I can go back and revisit that, it has to be somewhere (actually it's not even my idea).

"This is a pessimistic and unnecessary view, and reduces philosophy to map-reading."

It reduces it to a tale about tales about maps. Lots of other very respectable things are so, even electrons -- theoretical stuff that explains a collection of phenomena. I see no problem. I dont even find it pessimistic, it's "just so".

"What makes you say we can't get at reality?

I understand reality as the cause for our sensory input. We cannot get at the causes for the senses, not even at raw sensory input -- which is then organized into perception. Actually, if we think of it, our senses only detect this and that, some vibrations as sound, some stuff as light, some temperatures as heat, entire classes of stuff as pleasure and pain, etc. Even when I say "vibrations" and "sound" this is nothing but a tale.

"To me it seems that you've thought everything through very carefully up to a point and then given up and guessed at the last bit. Why do that?"

Eh! Did I do that? Tell me where I gave up and started guessing and I'll be very thankful. Truly.

"At least two physicists have proposed that the cosmos may only be known by identity, Schroedinger and Davies, so it's not a unrespectable idea, even if it the central message of what might be called 'experimental religion'."

This is very interesting, not that I'll go for any sort of ad verecundium or a "9 out of 10 scientists use Lux". How did they get there? Maybe its a long story.

Thanks for your arguments!

I wonder what did I forget this time? :-)

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Joo Magalhes
2 Jul 2011

Hubertus [33.6], templates, yes. There we also get close to engrams and Jung's archetypes, facultas preformandi, "things" that organize our behaviour, perception and thought in a given manner, but cannot be known directly. He places them somewhere in the so-called reptilian brain.

On doing things without any consciousness of them, I certainly haven't the slighthest consciousness of biting my nails. There's lots of things we do without thinking about it, like walking, a thing we just direct and monitor.

(Interestingly, my thesis was on a couple of AI things I developed, a weigning algorithm comparing analytical profiles and a decision tree of lab results. This last one gave 99.78% correct results, which was something. It's all way gone.)

[33:7] You separate two classes of experiences, those of the "outside" world, and those of the inner world, right?

For sure that we see patterns and meaning where there is none. To witness the Rorschasch test, aka the ink blot test, the thematic apperception test (TAT), several social context tests and other things. We must remain critical indeed.

Even the map can be badly built (illusions, hallucinations).

(I'll have to get myself another offline editor.)

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Hubertus Fremerey
2 Jul 2011

@Joanjo + Pete, too tired now - but "I will be back" (Terminator). HF

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Geoffrey Klempner
3 Jul 2011

To Joao: you don't need italics and quotes.

To the others: yes, you can make italics, bold, underline, block quotes, live links very easily. But you must remember to close the tag. (Strictly speaking the <p> tag needs to be closed, but there are no bad consequences, unlike italics etc.)

<p> is a tag. You might be wondering how I was able to write what I just wrote, why didn't it just make a new paragraph? Because there are tags for the '<' and '>' marks. Duh!

Whatever you do, don't use <pre>. This is usually an easy way to display text as it is written (with paragraphs) but unfortunately when used here it just makes each paragraph one long line — which stretches the page just a bit.

You can also make text bigger,

like this

but that might start an arms race so probably best not to.

If you want to know more about HTML, ask me. You don't need to keep up with the Joneses (or the Joao's) but I'm happy to explain.

I don't use an offline editor to write my posts (although I need one to correct them!). But I can make the 'Post a Message' window bigger if people want.

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Joao Magalhaes
3 Jul 2011

[HTML] - Like Geoffrey puts it, don't keep up with me. I plead insanity. It just happens that for more than 15 years that I've been writing HTML (entire multi-page, multilingual sites of it) using only plain text editors such as Notepad -- and I still forget to close the occasional tag! It seems I start adding effects here when I need to pause from writing, and that's not a good idea, as we saw.

Another serious danger is the closing quotes in a URL (a web link) address, or an image tag. If you forget that, and it's easier than you think (it's a classic), the entire place after that usually turns into a link or just disappears, which is beyond annoying.

After the event, I went searching again, but I haven't found any text editor that would do what I was looking for, which would be warning me of unclosed tags by highlighting the effected text in a different color (has to be free as in free beer, of course).

WYSIWYG editors clutter the HTML with impressive inanities, obfuscate the code and are definitely not helpful. For use here they're even dangerous due to heavy reliance in tags such as 'style', 'span' and 'div', and the generation of document-related sections and tags.

I still think the best way to use this sort of simple HTML is writing in a Notepad-like text editor (no, it's not a word processor), saving the file, then opening it in a browser and viewing the result; then, correct the code, re-save, reload it in the browser, ad lib.

I apologize again for not having closed my tag. Seing this entirely in italics was shocking. At least it wasn't all pink, as Rachel suggested.

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Pete
3 Jul 2011

Ah. I was wondering how to do the formatting. Thanks. Joao - I see not where the point of disagreement is for us. You think perception is necessary for knowing reality. But perception requires a perveiver and a perceived. The perceiver can never know that the perceived is real. This problem cannot be overcome by more perception. It has to be overcome by transcending perception. The only way to do this is to seek ones own identity. This is not something we perceive. The perceiver cannot perceive the perceiver, the understander cannot understand the uinderstander, etc.

J - We cannot perceive anything rawer than perception.

Yes, this is tautologically true. I was suggesting that perception is not a reliable source of knowledge. This is to do with the theory-laden nature of our perceptions and with the unfalsifiability of scepticism/solipsism.

J - Perceptions is what I call the map. By studying the map we build stories we call knowledge) about the map. We know the map better, but the origins of sensations that are processed into the map remain forbidden.

Perception is the basis of the map for most of us, yes, and it produces knowledge of a sort. But it is relative knowledge. As you say, for true knowledge perception is helpful but never enough. The origin of the sensations is not 'forbidden.' If you check you'll see that this is just a guess. How do you know it is forbidden?

J - So, the sensory map, perception map to be accurate, is all we'll ever going to get. The rest we know is tales about it, however true that they are.

Stuff and nonsense. You have just stated that the perennial philosophy is false. Fortunately it is not that easy to dismiss. If it were it would have died out long ago. You need to find a supporting argument. The theory that perception is all we're even going to get is not grounded in logic or experience, but in tradition, upbringing, temperament and so forth.

Experimenting and being empirical will not take us "under" the map into "real reality" -- they still are stories about the map.

Well, to risk a pantomime exchange. yes it will. Or it will if the experiment is designed properly. Maybe the world is aa stranger place than you give it credit for. At any rate, it would be very dangerous to jump to conclusions about it.

I'm happy to agree to differ and move on. I just wanted to propose that your view is not necessary, since it's a very depressing one.

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Pete
3 Jul 2011

Hmm. Must be more careful with my tags. Sorry for the muddle.

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Pete
3 Jul 2011

PS. J - Just saw the question about the cosmos being what is behind the map. To be clear, for me the cosmos includes the map and everything else. Traditionally this is divided into Appearance and Reality, where 'Appearance' is the map and 'Reality' is what is actually real.

Btw, have you read Davies' 'Mind of God'? From what you say here I think you'd enjoy it. He deals with a lot of the issues that have come up here in relation to truth, including even the implications of incompleteness. He presents an argument for knowledge by identity by reference to the 'Mindscape', the set of all ideas. The Mindscape is itself an idea, so cannot be in the set. This means that there must always be a phenomenon that is not included in the map. We cannot imagine what is doing the imagining. This is something we would have to know directly. From this train of thought he arrives at the possibility of empirical knoweldge through mystical practice. He does not endorse the claim of mysticism in this regard, but he shows that it is not at odds with physics or logic.

Pardon me. I won't usually send multiple posts.

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Joao Magalhaes
3 Jul 2011

[HTML] I think Pete found out the easiest way to start learning about tags — by just looking at the page's code :-) This forum pages have a nice and simple code, very readable, no byzantine stuff.

It has been long since I used IE unless forced to, and moreover I used it in portuguese, so shortcuts are different. Anyway Microsoft Support says:

"To view the HTML source code for a Web page using Internet Explorer 3.x and later, click Source on the View menu."

In Firefox, ctrl-U does it (or via View in the menu bar too). The browser's search box can tell you even more about each tag.

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Joao Magalhaes
3 Jul 2011

Pete, thank you, in the first place, for your interesting posts.

[34.11] You think perception is necessary for knowing reality. But perception requires a perveiver and a perceived. The perceiver can never know that the perceived is real.

Agreed. I dont put much stock in the reality of reality. Some oriental schools would say that neither the perceiver and nor the perceived exist, only the act (or event) of perceiving. This would entail for us to see this sort of stuff as a single "thing", not what we'd call a relationship between two "objects".

The reality of what we perceive might not be so much a real reality as just part of the Evil Demon Data Feed again. I'm not even discussing how real is reality anymore; there's just some data I receive, earmarked Real Stuff™ and I can't even question too much if it's real or not. It is then the case that the perceiver indeed cannot question the validity of his data source.

This problem cannot be overcome by more perception. It has to be overcome by transcending perception. The only way to do this is to seek ones own identity. This is not something we perceive. The perceiver cannot perceive the perceiver, the understander cannot understand the uinderstander, etc.

Let me state, first of all, that I'm not against mysticism, on the contrary, it has important uses and a validity. Everything has rules of applicability. I did my share of yoga and meditation and all that stuff and it works. Unfortunately, it rarely brings home the bacon, and will not help developing, say, antibiotics.

Mysticism is fine and required, but other things are very useful, and we shouldn't be afraid of getting our hands dirty. I'm very grateful to tetracycline. If it hadn't been marketed a few months before I needed it, this discussion wouldn't be happening.

(Absolute aside: I'm not 95, really. People forget how flimsy life is, and that we live in the safest part of the world in the safest ever time of history; then start complaining about the awful dangers of the possibility of ingrown leg hair and unpleasant smells.)

In a way, if we wish to understand how our brain really works, we need a better brain, or something entirely different from a brain. How we'd test the thing would be connecting with reality is something I can't figure out at all.

In my view, and as I stated several times, and at least as a first approach, you cannot transcend perception when it comes to knowing reality, you can elaborate on perception. I think you'll disagree.

I think that one of the apparent mistakes I'm making is that I'm currently dealing with "outside" knowledge, what can we get from the "outside" reality, and you chip in the value of inner knowledge, which is indisputable; without a clear frontier, established during the discussion, I mixed up all the stuff. I'm not ready yet to go into the interest and validity of so-called "inner reality".

J - We cannot perceive anything rawer than perception. — Yes, this is tautologically true. I was suggesting that perception is not a reliable source of knowledge. This is to do with the theory-laden nature of our perceptions and with the unfalsifiability of scepticism/solipsism.

Rightly so, fully agreed. The only way that you can say there's something beyond the perception map is by subscribing to realism.

So far, I have been defending what might be an epistemological idealist viewpoint, or at least conceding an indirect or representative realism (wow).

There is a theory of perception, but there's nothing theoretical or social about the perception of a tree, say. Perception, as I put it elsewhere, is all hardware, no software. The name 'tree' is software and cultural. Circularly, this theory of perception is cultural.

Indirect realism is broadly equivalent to the accepted view of perception in natural science that states that we do not and can not perceive the external world as it really is but know only our ideas and interpretations of the way the world is. (Wikipedia, Representative realism.)

This is my view, now with a possible push. For at any rate, I would be at extreme odds to prove the existence of a real world; occamizing the problem, I recognize I dont even need it as all I can get from it is the perceptual map; so, I can do away with it, whether it's there or not I'll never know.

For everyday operational and social purposes, I pretend it's there and carry on. I'm not going to throw myself under a bus because it's nothing but a figment of my imagination and the like (I know a statistician who was said to have done just that).

Perception is the basis of the map for most of us, yes, and it produces knowledge of a sort.

As I said, in my description, perception is the map. All else is tales about perception. It seems everybody disagrees with me. Ok.

The origin of the sensations is not 'forbidden.' [...] How do you know it is forbidden?

Why do you say it isn't? Really, I'm perplexed. As I said, show me a wavelength or heat directly. And even then, wavelength and heat are already very complex tales about the map and may not "exist". There is an unfortunate circularity when we try to go back at simple stuff; if it were really immediate, this wouldn't happen, I guess, we would all share the experience, like, Ah, wavelength, yes, of course!

It's not about the name 'wavelength', it's the thing, if it even exists.

Stuff and nonsense.

Pete — I liked that :-)

You have just stated that the perennial philosophy is false.

Did I? I have no particular problem with that. Not perennial, then. (Ok, just joking.)

Fortunately it is not that easy to dismiss. If it were it would have died out long ago.

Pete, most ideas come from long ago, new ones are born every second, and none of that implies they're valid.

But a pause is required here. I don't know exactly what you call by perennial philosophy and I'm not going to delve in that in any manner. I know that Big Questions will never disappear, if only because we are doomed to repeat all the way from their discovery to their solution (if any) if we want personal solutions, or we'll be nothing but followers of some prophet.

As I say in this very post, I'm not ready, right now, to delve into inner realities. But I don't intend to kick the entire thing out. I have an inner life too, though I can't prove it.

The theory that perception is all we're even going to get is not grounded in logic or experience, but in tradition, upbringing, temperament and so forth.

This is an interesting assertion and I'd like to know more.

J - Experimenting and being empirical will not take us "under" the map into "real reality" -- they still are stories about the map. — Well, to risk a pantomime exchange. yes it will. Or it will if the experiment is designed properly. Maybe the world is aa stranger place than you give it credit for. At any rate, it would be very dangerous to jump to conclusions about it.

"There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy." I second that. The world is a weird place if it's there. Our minds are weird places. We will be able to know only a fragment of all of it.

I like your strength in affirming there is a world out there, and that we can get at simpler stuff than perception. But either I'm commiting an atrocious blunder by not understanding any of your arguments, or all you have is faith in your beliefs, which is a nice thing to have.

I'm happy to agree to differ and move on. I just wanted to propose that your view is not necessary, since it's a very depressing one.

Pete, if you move on I loose the benefit of understanding your viewpoint. Or rather, why and where are we differing. I've put forward possibilities for the difference: (1) that you believe firmly in a real outside world, (2) that you believe that we can get at stuff more direct than perception, (3) and that we unfortunately mixed inner and outer worlds.

I hope you're not supposing me to be one of those know-it-all superior pseudo-materialist pseudo-'sceptic' pseudo-atheist types? If you really want to put me in a box, you can think of me as a diffuse gnostic.

Now, being very depressing for you is not a criterion of falsehood. But I don't want you to be depressed, so we can postpone this discussion ad infinitum.

[34:13] PS. J - Just saw the question about the cosmos being what is behind the map. To be clear, for me the cosmos includes the map and everything else. Traditionally this is divided into Appearance and Reality, where 'Appearance' is the map and 'Reality' is what is actually real.

Yes, that's indeed a clash of definitions that could occur. While some say the cosmos is the (known) physical universe, others say it's the totality of what is known, if I recall correctly. I used it in the first sense. Still iirc, the cosmos was, back then, the land around the Mediterranean and the Mediterranean itself.

Btw, have you read Davies' 'Mind of God'?

It looks interesting indeed from your description. I'll mark it, but believe me, if I were to read all I find interesting, I'd have to quit on sleeping. I guess you're familiar with the idea.

Since from Jung's Eranos Jahrbuch publications and conferences that the congruence between mysticism and physics and all that has been around and seems to make sense, namely much later, in Fritjof Capra's "The Tao of Physics", although the physics part in it is now a little dated. I do not disagree with the tenets of the book as you present them.

Thanks for your posts.

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Pete
4 Jul 2011

Joao - it's great to chat but maybe we should move on. I thought we were trying to get at the truth. But you write this...

" I don't know exactly what you call by perennial philosophy and I'm not going to delve in that in any manner.

That's your choice, of course, and I won't try to change your mind. But don't pretend that you're on a dispassionate search for truth. You've already decided what it is. At any rate, you're not going to want to hear any more from me, since for me the perennial philosophy would be true.

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Joao Magalhaes
4 Jul 2011

Pete, if I say I don't know, that's because I'm ignorant. If I say I'm not delving into it right now, that's because I have my own schedule.

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Joao Magalhaes
4 Jul 2011

Pilate's Question

When addressing Jesus, Pilate produced a single question, which remained unanswered1. Due to translation difficulties (and, no doubt, evangelic necessity), the question appears in two variants:

  • What is truth?
  • What is the truth?

Truth is a property of true propositions, those that specify what is in fact the case2. "The truth" is usually meant as something more general, a set of propositions. Knowing the truth and knowing what truth is are two different things.

Thus the philosophical question is not What is true? but rather, What is truth? — What is one saying about a proposition in saying that it is true?2

When we say we want to know the truth, as in "What is the truth?", that means we want to know what are the facts about some more or less wide subject. We want to know propositions on this matter which are considered to be true. It's something like "What do you think is the truth about Zoe's state?" or, "Little George, tell me the truth: did you cut down the apple tree?"

That would be Pilate's second version of the question, asking Jesus about his account of the events. It's, so to say, the judge's question.

When we say we want to know truth, we mean to say we want to know the nature of truth itself, we want to know what that thing, truth, is. We want to know the truth about truth, the definition of truth.

This, the first version of Pilate's question, is a major philosophical question3.

(We might ask why a roman official would ask philosophical questions to a supposed criminal. If the supposition of sedition, by presenting himself as a Messiah, as a spiritual guide, were true, then Jesus should have some philosophy, and the definition of truth is one of the major questions.)

Hence, it is important to distinguish the two formulations of the question. When asked "What is the color blue?", answering "The sea" is inadequate.

References

  1. John 18:38 only.
  2. Audi R ed., The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, "Truth"
  3. http://www.biblicalfoundations.org/pdf/pdfarticles/what_is_truth.pdf
  4. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/truth/

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Hubertus Fremerey
4 Jul 2011

#410 confused

Dear Pete and Joanjo, I am confused, I simply do not understand your exchange. And to a large part this is due to not numbering different meanings of concepts. As RAchels said, numbering confuses people, but not numbering confuses me. There are several different meanings of "reality", several different meanings of "understanding", several different meanings of "mapping", several different meanings of "conceptualizing" or of "perception", etc.. Thus it is almost impossible without hard work to know what you are speaking about.

I hinted at the fact that "perceiving a tree" is very different from "perceiving injustice" or "perceiving God's grace". Thus I would number now "perceiving-1", "perceiving-2", "perceiving-3", to indicate these differences. "Perceiving a tree" may be enabled by our genes as a biological template in the same way as birds "perceive" what is to do to build a nest. But "injustice" is to a large part cultural, while it may contain essential "inborn elements" from the fact that we humans are "social primates." This view is supported by the fact, that little children fight over property ("that's MY TOY !!!"). Perceiving "God's grace" is "100% cultural", since without a certain theology there is no God and all the more no "God's grace". But you know that the whole of REformation has been concerned with "God's grace". Thus millions of humans can be moved - even to war - by "perceiving what is not there" ! All this got lost in your debate on "perceiving".

In the same way I suggest to number different concepts of "truth" and "reality". The problem is not whether some assumed state of affairs can be shown to be true or not. The problem is to find an agreable concept of truth. For an example : What is "the truth about man"? That man is a vast system of complicated molecules ? That he is "God's creation" ? That he is "a thinking and confused ape" ? There are many more such "definitions" which all are debatable - but in different "discourses" that are alomost totally independent.

Which brings me back to another topic : The conflict of "analytical" and "continental" philosophy. There is a very important strand of continental philosophy that is so alien to Anglosaxon thinking that there is not even a translation in English. This is "lebensphilosophie". It is not "philosophy of life" but "philosophy FROM life". It is not thinking about the nature of life or of living beings, but it is "being aware that thinking is not solving problems but disclosing problems".

This is why Heidegger explicitely stated that he was not doing "anthropology" but "making us aware of our situation as free humans". The problem of Heidegger is "being in the world as a thinking being" and not "being a human" according to some textbook on anthropology. The problem of "being in the world as a thinking being" would be applicable to a thinking robot as well. It is a problem of thinking, not a problem of being a human. Thus it is a problem of consciousness, not a problem of "using concepts and language".

Thus "angst" in the philosophy of Heidegger is not a psychological concept, but a metaphysical concept, not related to "feelings" but related to the "situation of being in the world as a free thinking being."

This example shows why "analyticals" and "continentals" are not speaking of different solutions to certain problems but of different problems belonging to different realms of reality. Thus "God's grace" may be central in one fram of reference but meaningless in a different frame of reference. So what does "recognize" mean in this case ? This fram of reference is what I called "map". Different maps show different realities but no map shows "the" reality. But this understanding of "map" is different from that of Joanjo, so "mapping-1" is different from "mapping-2".

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Pete
4 Jul 2011

Joao - Sorry if I over-reacted. If you're not interested in some particular philosophical view quite regardless of whether it's right or wrong then that's your business. As long as you don't try to tell me that this is the right way to do philosophy.

I liked your post about truth. It is easy to go rushing in to these questions without being clear about what they're actually asking. Asking a badly-formed question can completely hide the truth.

I'd want to carefully disentangle relative from absolute truth right at the start. Relative truth is the easy problem. It is all a matter of defintions and technicalities. For this reason it takes up nearly all the discussion time in academic philosophy. It is a problem of analysis and not likely to rattle any cages.

But absolute truth is a can of worms. This is the problem of whether it is possible to know anything for certain, and how we can know we know anything for certain, and how we can know that we know we know that we know it, and so on ad infinitum. It would have been wrestling with this regress that led Aristotle to his conclusion about truth. Logic shows that certain knowledge, if there is such a thing, cannot be had by thinking or sensing. Problems of self-reference prevent it.

So, is there such a thing as certain knowledge? It would be almost pointless discussing this question. It is a question about reality, about absolutes and first priciples, and as such it is only slightly susceptible to analysis. It has a far easier way of being answered.

If we examine our store knowledge and find even one single thing that we know for certain, then there's our answer. If we don't, then no amount of analysis is going to change that.

So, in this way, the question of whether it is possible to know with complete certainy what is the case in some particular respect, and know that we know we know it, and know this with absolutely no possibility of error, depends entirely on whether knowledge by identity is possible. This is the only other method of knowing anything. If it is, then certain knowledge is possible. If it is not, then none of us will ever know anything for certain. Except that this idea would be paradoxical, since then we would know for certain that certain knowledge is impossible. If identoty is not a means of true knowledge, then even God would be restricted to this one certainty, and Pilate was wasting his breath.

In this way the question of whether there is such a thing as absolute truth, complete certainty, leads ineluctably and almost immediately to the question of whether there is any truth in the claims of the writers of the Hindu Upanishads. They deal with this question head on. They propose that true knowledge is identical with its object.

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Joo Magalhes
5 Jul 2011

Dear friends,

Just a note to let it be known that I'm around. But yesterday, at the end of the day, we decided we deserved some time away from the weeds, the snakes, the scorpions, the ticks, the sheep and the cows and came to a nice hotel with swimming pool and spa that only costs us 45 euros. Which is why I'm writing you this little unillustrated postcard from the hotel's smoking room (an interesting reliquat from the early 20th, which will not last), looking at the balcony over the swimming pool and garden. At least we're looking at different trees, not just holms (I hope the plural of 'holm' isn't 'holmes', Watson) and cork oaks. A four hours drive, but we'll be staying a few days.

Which somewhat also means I wont be answering your posts right now -- maybe in the evening, maybe tomorrow.

Pete, don't worry; I'm sure you wont. Philosophy, or any body of knowledge (figure of speech?) new to me is like a museum I know nothing about. There are the many rooms, special exhibits, workshops, conferences, etc. I can't be in all at the same time, and I must tour the place if I want to know, even superficially, what's in there. I could do like a fast tour of the Louvre - Nike snapshot, Gioconda snapshot, Ramses snapshot, and now move on to the Eiffel tower, but I prefer to take my time.

So, while I am trying to figure out what's being exhibited in the "What's truth?" room, I can't even imagine the existence of other rooms I visited; or, for method's sake, I won't. They are there, but I can't say a thing about them, because I simply don't know. I don' even know the list of what the museum has, and that's the level of my ignorance. I'll just have to walk around.

It's funny that someone like me, who is more than averse to absolutes, and insists in 'applicability conditions' for solutions, might be chasing an absolute right now. I may be hunting a snark, but I feel the hunt is important.

Hubertus, I'm afraid I can follow your numering suggestion easily. There's a simple and rather dumb reason to it: I remember pi to be 3.141592 etc. because I HAD to, but not my phone number or my new car's immatriculation. Maybe this is the onset of atherosclerosis (well, the actual onset is in uterum), or maybe it is that I remember concepts much better. So, to me, they would be better descriptively baptized instead of numbered. Otherwise, I would need a catalog.

I wrote a post, back there, where I stated as clearly as possible what did I mean by perception, map and tale. It's not so simple to go after it in a small netbook, or maybe I feel hot and have a slight headache.

I don't mind clarifying myself in small, short posts. That, I think, helps.

So, as I said, I will get back at your posts later. In the meantime, I've been reading the entry for "Other Minds" from the Stanford Encyclopedia.

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Joo Magalhes
5 Jul 2011

There's a new one I never did before: inserting an italics tag for a p tag.

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Joo Magalhes
5 Jul 2011

Note - Emerging properties and swarm intelligence

This is just a little scribbled note, as I didn't dwell in it. It relates to unexpected apparent behavior in systems with simple rules.

These matters emerged more or less when genetic algorithms began to be more widely discussed.

By adding more and more layers to a program that, say responds with sentences to your own input sentences, it is possible to reach a level in which you will be inclined to think there's a consciousness on the other side.

Simply put, the growing complexity creates a behaviour of the system that was not meant, and was not programmed. That's an emergent property.

Although it isn't, usually, considered in this sense, the sense of simulating 'consciousness' (I know, I know, you will say, hey, but that's just mimicry, not the real thing.)

Swarm intelligence is related but not equal. It's the apparent coordinated, if not directed to a goal, of collections of individuals. Ants, bees, birds...

By keeping a small number of very simple rules, like "If the bird ahead veers left, you veer left" or "if you find food, let down a drop of chemical signal" it is possible to present, when seen collectively, complex behavior.

I meant to write a couple of simple and dumb programs to demonstrate that, but after my philosopher's siesta I decided it was too much work.

As I said, this is nothing but a note.

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Hubertus Fremerey
5 Jul 2011

#411 "swarm intelligence" and "wisdom of the crowds"

@Joanjo : I think it important to keep "swarm intelligence" and "wisdom of the crowds" apart. And then there are paradoxes : A famous example of "swarm intelligence" is a swarm following a brainless leader. And "wisdom of the crowds" can turn into "stupidity of the crowds" under most conditions.

One can understand that : In the famous example when people had to guess the weight of an oxen, they came to a surprisingly correct mean. But in this case each person made an independent guess. But when test persons are exchanging opinions, and helpers of the prof (unknown to the test persons !) make deliberately false guesses, the the test persons tend to correct their own better guesses into the direction of the wrong ones to "go to the modus" and be near to the majority. Thus under conditions of mutual dependence the "wisdom of the crowds" changes into stupidity of the crowds.

Which of course means that we should defend freedom of information and freedom of speech and open exchange of opinions.

And a note added to "perceive" and "mapping" etc. : Yes, you have your definition, but my point was : There are other definitions of those terms that are as valid, and we have to keep them apart by numbering them - the definitions, not the postings.

To give an example : In German, heaven and sky are one word "Himmel". So in German some silly atheist people could say "Sputnik did not find God 'im Himmel'." This would be impossible in English, since Sputnik is in the sky, while God is in the heaven, so they cannot meet. In German one has to differentiate then "Himmel-1" (= sky) and "Himmel-2" (= heaven). This was my problem. Without numbering you are always mixing up here "sky" with "heaven" without even being aware of it.

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Joo Magalhes
6 Jul 2011

Senatus bestia, senatores boni viri -- Senators are good people, the Senate is a wild animal.

As I looked up the web for this, I noted that many people, maybe alcoholically inclined, seem to prefer 'vini' instead of 'viri.'

It's indeed also easy to mislead people into that interesting phenomenon the US people call groupthink, in which a group of people decide to agree on a half-baked truth, then sit back enjoying their 'groupness' and burning the dissenters at the stake by mere virtue of their number. (That's my Unicorn problem, but not yet, not yet).

This groupthink thing, under the name of 'nucleation supression', is one of the hallmarks of primitive belief systems.

Anyway, as you certainly know and noticed, the thing about emerging properties and swarm behaviour is about consciousness as a possible property of, not complex, but somewhat simple but big systems. Sets of simple rules producing an apparent new, unexpected, behaviour. Just in case someone didn't notice the possible relationship.

Regarding the numbering of concepts, that's certainly a neat idea and actually dictionaries do that, and I do have three dictionaries of philosophy (and there is a preposterously expensive encyclopedia, not mentioning the free ones on the web.) My only objection to it, if it is an objection at all is that it's... tiresome!

One of my last attempts at doing something was a tri-lingual dictionary of medical terms. We thought it would be easy, after all, medical terms are well defined in almost any language. At about 1000 terms we found several problems; after about 2500 terms we found that our initial guess of 5000 terms would be more like 15000 terms. The program was made, the girl did her thesis an we forgot the entire thing.

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Pete
6 Jul 2011

Yes, I also would struggle with a numbering system. We'd have to have crib sheets to continually cross-check what we're talking about. I doubt we'd need one if we didn't love making things more complicated than they are. I do agree, though, that misunderstandings due to different uses of language cause terrible problems. We are, after all, the survivors of the Tower of Babel fiasco still trying to build a replacement.

I believe the Bible tells us not to confuse 'Heaven' and 'Sky', but it's good to be reminded.

Sorry for the previous couple of shirty and tediously obsessive posts. I'm having a nightmare with a project at the moment and forgot not to bring my stress to the forum.

Joao - Btw I wasn't being critical of your ignorance. Certainly not. I'll save any criticism for my own ignorance. I was suggesting that it is not much use searching for an answer to questions such as truth while being picky about where you're going to look. This is what far too many philosophers do, and professionals are among the worst offenders in my experience, and the result is a foregone conclusion. But let's leave that and argue about something new :)

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Hubertus Fremerey
6 Jul 2011

#412 on reason and understanding

Dear all, I am just thinking on the difference of technical understanding (of the engineer) and human understanding (of the counsellor). Lets call those "TU" and "HU" (instead of numbering). While we apply the same concept "reason" on "technical" and "human" problems, we know that they are very different. There is an age-old quarreling about "explaining" and "understanding". But what does it come to ? Any comments ?

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Hubertus Fremerey
6 Jul 2011

#413 One more on the "continental-analytical" dispute :

Charles asked me to name a single representative of analytical philosphy who dismissed continental philosophers as irrelevant. So far I relied on "impressions". But now I found one place : In his autobiography "Confessions of a Philosopher" ( http://www.amazon.com/Confessions-Philosopher-Personal-Philosophy-Paperbacks/dp/0375750363/ref=ntt_at_ep_dpt_4 ) Brian Magee (b. 1930) writes (chapter 8, p. 180 of the German translation, backtranslated here) : "In Oxford, philosophy and empiricist tradition had always been treated as synonyms. When I once put a question referring to the existentialist tradition as represented by Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and Heidegger, the answer was simply that those are no philosophers". Well, this was in the 1950s, so things may have improved a bit by now, but my thesis was not at all absurd and unjustified.

There are similar statements from the continent - not only by me - denying the analytical philosophers the status of "true" philosophers. As I put it : Methodology - and analytical philosophy is methodology - is a legitimate part of philosophy since Aristotle. But it is not "philosophy proper" but only "propaedeutics" - preparing the student who wants to do "real" philosophy. Once more : The questions "what do we mean by 'social justice' or by 'mental sanity' are VERY different from the questions "what do we mean by THE CONCEPTS of 'social justice' or by 'mental sanity' "!

My charge is that analytical philosophers are unable to even see this difference. They mix up the concept and the real thing without even knowing it. They really think it to be the same. But it is not ! The concept of music is not music, the concept of sanity is not sanity, and the concept of truth is not truth. Rawls was not studying the concept of justice but the very thing - justice.

If things have changed to the better by know I would like to see some hints what to read to believe it.

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Joo Magalhes
7 Jul 2011

Hi, Pete. This isn't about my trying to being provocative, as I have better things to do like enjoying myself here :-) but I confess I love my ignorance! I didn't even complain about anything regarding my ignorance, which ignorance is a fact if such things exist (like rocks) -- it's there. I know you weren't critical about it. I use to say ignorance is not a problem, wanting to stay ignorant is. Eventually, do I know.

At least in the common lore, I think it is said Socrates said that he knew he knew nothing, or something like that. As I insisted with my students in my (well, lets call it so and KIS) critical thinking classes, I used to compliment them when they said they knew nothing about X, because that's the first stage to knowledge -- the problem was when they all sut up and didn't want to say they didn't know about the subject. At least one knows one knows not X. It was also great for me, because I could get rid of them for half an hour by sending them rushing to the library.

From ignorance you get to vague knowledge (or acquaintance), then by criticism (the part one must get really picky) to whatever truths and falsities you can get at. This is a platitude to me. Of course you don't get to know something overnight!

I'm sorry I'm not having the best conditions to ponder your posts right now, due to my currently using a notebook with a small screen. I'll be back to them in a few days. You have an exciting couple of paragraphs there.

Hubertus, If I understood correctly, I will now explain my on view on understanding and explaining.

Explaining and understanding I think that understanding means grasping the totality, or at least the relevant parts of a subject (possessing the adequate concepts, properly structured and linked to prior knowledge etc etc.)

Now, for explaining, I suppose there are two meanings.

Meaning A (ok, you win) is explaining the subject to others, which is helping them to understand. Meaning B is justifying the subject, which is, relating it to prior knowledge so that it connects smoothly with what we already know. In this sense it is similar to understanding.

"Explaining away" might not result from full undestanding, as it is usually an emotional logic (you decide, then justify your decision) issue centerd in dismissing an unpleasant subject.

So, you can't explain-A without understanding, and you will explain-B as you understand.

Disclaimer -- I'd like to stress that this, of course, is my own little portable opinion, like anything I write when I do not state otherwise or demonstrate.

I don't see much difference between TU and HU. We can argue that HU requires empathy, but that's usually not true -- at least for counsellors. A cousellor will counsel dispassionately the same way as an engineer will correct a flaw in design or an help desk will guide you through a problem. This I can say from personal experience.

A counsellor is a cold technician, and it will be a really terrible disaster for all the involved if it is not so. Even in the rarest case in which the counsellor displays some sort of emotion, this should have been calculated and actually an ersatz for the benefit of the client.

So, hmm maybe we should classify counsellors as technicians. Makes sense.

In the case of some regular guy understanding the next regular guy, both the merely intelectual approach and the empathetic approach exist. The first will be centered about almost anything (yes, you can reason about emotions) and the second only about inner, irrational contents. (Oh dear, yes, there also are people emotional about reason! What a mix-up.)

Continental and analytic - In my ignorance, which I'll have to maintain for a while, I was always surprised how you could philosophise about language. It has always struck me as forgetting the terrain and sticking to the map (not the perceptual map I've been about, and still am, but in Korzibsy's terms, "The map is not the reality").

It looks like someone says, I hear noises in the cellar!, and everybody rushes bravely to the attic looking for rats and thieves, usually concluding there aren't any and nothing is going on after all. An irrelevant substitution activity. After all, language is something in itself, but most of it is about something, right?

This actually means a simple thing: I don't get it -- analytic phil., that is.

Forgive me for spelling mistakes and all that, the screen doesn't help.

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Hubertus Fremerey
8 Jul 2011

#414 on human understanding

Dear Joanjo : On "counselling", you did not get my point. Of course, in a broad sense, counselling is counselling and requires competence. But the competence of an engineer is different from that of the doctor and especially that of the psychiatrist and "shrink" and the "best friend" or pastor or confessor or guru. In engineering you have solid theories and solid problems and materials. In the spiritual realm even the notions of a problem and a healing are very vague. What is called for is a combination of "prudence" and "wisdom", of "common sense" and "insight". "Counselling" together with tutoring and mentoring is a faddish occupation these days. Quite often "competence" is lacking, but this competence is not that of the specialist but that of the "expert" who may be an experienced layperson. It is really difficult.

Look at this text from the site of a "critical psychiatry" group ( http://www.critpsynet.freeuk.com/healthmatters.htm ) :

// Critical psychiatry is part academic, part practical. Theoretically it is influenced by critical philosophical and political theories, and it has three elements. It challenges the dominance of clinical neuroscience in psychiatry (but does not exclude it); it introduces a strong ethical perspective on psychiatric knowledge and practice; it politicizes mental health issues. Critical psychiatry is deeply sceptical about the reductionist claims of neuroscience to explain psychosis and other forms of emotional distress. It follows that we are sceptical about the claims of the pharmaceutical industry for the role psychotropic drugs in the 'treatment' of psychiatric conditions. Like other psychiatrists we use drugs, but we see them as having a minor role in the resolution of psychosis or depression. We attach greater importance to dealing with social factors, such as unemployment, bad housing, poverty, stigma and social isolation. Most people who use psychiatric services regard these factors as more important than drugs. We reject the medical model in psychiatry and prefer a social model, which we find more appropriate in a multi-cultural society characterised by deep inequalities. //

So what does "understanding" mean here ? Whom would we call "a competent counsellor" ?

My problem is : Counselling ("counselling-1") in the case of the engineer means "know thy formulas !" But in the realm of personal and interpersonal "counselling-2" it means : "find a way to go !". It means "healing the broken hearts" or "lighting a candle in the darkness" or something like that.

No, I am not in a personal crisis here, I need this stuff for my book. There is a chapter on this difference of "engineering rationality" and "interpersonal reason" as in a good talk among friends. Humans are not machines. We like to be "understood" but in most cases we don't like to be "explained".

And then : What does "explanation" come to ? Somebody defined "mental inability" as "An inability to handle personal, interpersonal and everyday problems properly". This is a typical view of the psychiatrist. But most leading Nazis - including Hitler and Himmler - were quite able "to handle personal, interpersonal and everyday problems properly". The typical "mass murderer next door" is a practical, good mannered, even cultivated and erudite person like the figure of "Hannibal the cannibal", i.e. "Dr.Hannibal Lecter" from "Silence of the Lambs". On the other hand most persons NOT able "to handle personal, interpersonal and everyday problems properly" are truly nice and good mannered an not "monsters in sheeps clothings". Thus the whole concept of the "mentally disabled" according to DSM-IV shows severe problems ! See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diagnostic_and_Statistical_Manual_of_Mental_Disorders. Well, there is a caveat : // Appropriate use of the diagnostic criteria is said to require extensive clinical training, and its contents icannot simply be applied in a cookbook fashioni. // Which is as it should be. Fritz Redlich, a famous psychiatrist, did one of the best evaluations of Hitler and came to the conclusion that Hitler was overall quite normal. See http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJM199905273402120 !

So much on counselling and on the problem of "human understanding" - even in the context of "consciousness".

Do you understand now why I objected to any "naive" approach to the "philosophy of consciousness" ? This is why I said that this "philosophy of consciousness" is lacking content and is of the typical "formalistic nature of analytical philosophy". The difference between a true saint and a true monster never shows up. But if it doesn't what then is "human understanding" ? That is my problem.

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Pete
8 Jul 2011

Huburtus - Just so you know how different are some of our views to yours, I'll say that I cannot see a connection between what you say in the post below and the issues of understanding and explanation, nor see how it has any relevance to the problem of consciousness. How do you make the connection?

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Joo Magalhes
8 Jul 2011

Hubertus, I would have difficulty in admitting that someone who devised the Final Solution to get the economy going was dealing correctly with his problems. Naturally, many of those completely demented are very nice people. You know some people write books and publish papers because they have interests and agendas.

In paranoid schizophrenia, people just behave like anyone else until you present them with say a sort of trigger stimulus. Then they go barking mad, and will explain everything through the Vatican's satellites spying on his thinking and selling his thought to the KGB because he is the one who knows how to solve the world's energy crisis. Otherwise they live quite normally on the outside.

At about 45 years old, they no longer can even take care of themselves, because there will be some justification for not cleaning up, like, it's all 'evidence' they must preserve, the soap is contaminated with biological agents from the russians, or not eating because food is full of heavy metals from the oil industries in cahoots with the Protestant conspiracy, etc., just imagine more in this vein. They will be very logical and convincing to the untrained observer.

I see from your last paragraph you do have a problem! To start with, I second Pete in saying I'm really not seeing how do you connect these dots.

There is no major diference, I think, on the solidity of engineers' theory and physician's theory. The common man tends to see the engineer as better founded, and the physician's knowledge as mostly made of vague opinion.

Of course medical knowledge is quite precise. It's no longer based on aphorisms and personal interpretation and divination. The common person still thinks so because they still see the physician as some magical being involved in weird powers like a shaman or witch doctor.

The problem is, medical theories, like most biological theories, cannot be stated numerically (of course they are based upon statistics and observation). Major biological and medical theories included the circulation of blood, germ theory, asepsis, vaccination, antibiotics, aneaesthesia, transplants.

Because of their practical importance for the well-being of people, the practical aspects take precedence upon the detailed explanation. Meaning that the results are good, so they're used, and we explain the details later.

It is precise and almost mechanical in appplication. Allow me just to oversimplify.

You get a patient. You observe in him the anomalous conditions E, M, Q, P. At this point you know it can be disease 1, 7, or 3. You make more, appropriate tests and conclude it's disease 3.

Now, in a patient with disease 3, who also has the problems 25 and 74 and is a black male Jehovah Witness in his fifties, treatment Q2 is the best, although Q8 might provide improvement in 20% of the cases. You try Q2; it fails; you try Q8, and it might or not work. Etc.

It works like probabilistic logic in a decision tree.

The same criteria work in psycho-things, and I mean the usually accepted ones, not new age therapies and other unusual stuff.

As you saw, you have a patient. Is she a reserved person, or does she shout loud and is agitated? Does she think stuff like she talks with the Virgin Mary, or that her neighbour is aiming X-rays at her? Etc etc etc. It's very dificult to have an idea of how it is done without at least minimum training (that means 6 months.)

Once you have a diagnosis, you apply the adequate therapy. That can be mostly chemical (psychiatry) or mostly talk (psychotherapy).

In talk therapies, the talk goes after several points and uses defined techniques to try to elicit a new attitude in the patient. That also follows a theory, hopefully with some empirical basis.

The example you give about critical psychiatry, a you have it, is not new. Since Hippocrates that it is know that many diseases have a strong component that comes from the patients' environment -- economical, social, familial, etc. And that 'treating' that environment is critical (public health, social intervention, family therapies). It is well know that when a child is mentally sick, the parents need treatment, for they are, usually, the cause for the child's disease.

Their theory is therefore sound, although others will be more centered on the patient herself.

So, the counsellor or therapist might mend a broken heart, but not with opinion. They need to know their formulas (their theory, in what regards to practice). She doesn't use equations, but she does use stuff like decison trees and appropriate methods.

That includes, as you know, in talk therapies, building a relationship with the patient (that's transfer, in analysis). But that relationship only has one way. The patient must feel supported and even loved, but the therapist must stay as cold as a dead fish -- precisely like the physician, which is why physicians treat other physician's family for free.

As soon a the therapist develops feelings towards the patient (counter-transfer in analysis) the therapy is completely destroyed and only bad things will come out of keeping that relationship. The patient can even die.

So, the therapist must understand the patient's problem (which of course involve the patient's emotions, which have definitions regarding observation etc), and must be able to explain it to her colleagues; rarely, to the patient, because it's mostly useless. No feelings involved.

Of course, suppose a graduate in latin or evolutionary biology or experimental physics decides to open up shop in therapy just like that, it is very likely not to be like this.

I don't know if I'm being useful? BTW, there is such a thing clinical philosophy! "Doctor, I'm not sure if I do have a mind, and that keeps me awake most of the night and I'm about to lose my job and friends.."

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Joo Magalhes
8 Jul 2011

Hubertus, let me look again into your last post more closely here and there, so that we may find out where and maybe why we diverge.

In engineering you have solid theories and solid problems and materials.

This I also would have said before I started studying medicine and then, discovered (in a Ah-ah! reaction) it was much like engineering, in that it is quite solid really.

When you say, "codein supresses cough", then you watch a video of rats with codein and without in an atmosphere of sulphuric acid and some cough an others go about their business, you would see what I mean.

Of course physicians lack the comfort of mathematics and, instead, are given the despairing individual variability of biology. Like using parts before standardization and mass production.

especially that of the psychiatrist and "shrink" and the "best friend" or pastor or confessor or guru

Here - you know you can't put all these in the same basket. Maybe gurus also use a defined technique, so it is said, but not so pastors or best friends and all the well-meant lay people. I am also sure that gurus tend not to follow the so-called western medical approach, but I don't know much about gurus.

In the spiritual realm even the notions of a problem and a healing are very vague

I know little about the spiritual, but I know more about the psychological. I mean here that these terms specify different domains, religious or mystic (so to say) the first, more into the western body of (practical?) knowledge the second. These are not the same.

In the psychological realm (psychiatry, psychotherapy and analysis) problems are well-defined and have defined solutions, if tentative in terms of success, which the therapist arrives at via defined techniques. Unless the best friend or pastor is a therapist, he won't have these bodies of knowledge. They just invent as they go along. And the psychiatrist will not solve your problems with god (at least directly).

You cannot stray away from prescribed technique, that would amount to malpractice. And, if you get three psychiatrist to observe the same patient, they will pretty much agree.

Quite often "competence" is lacking, but this competence is not that of the specialist but that of the "expert" who may be an experienced layperson.

This I find unclear, but I suppose I know why, it must be nothing but a problem with words.

I wouldn't call an expert someone who didn't have formal schooling in something and moreover, if after that he didn't dedicate himself to that subject, an only that, for, say, 20 years, trained others in it etc. Without formal schooling I call it an interested amateur or interested lay person, therefore an incompetent regarding that subject, like the best friend and pastor are incompetent in psychotherapy. If I had panic attacks and insomnia I wouldn't go to the pastor.

I once was asked by a german woman who had some home appliance that did not work if I was "a technician". Good heavens, most certainly no. After all she only meant to know if I was the sort of man who could fix this and that. (Actually I can't hammer a nail without risking going to hospital.)

Now, you do have analysts who don't have a degree, or have a degree in geology. That is because professional training in psychoanalysis is mostly done with a personal method, with a certified tutor, called didactic analysis. And also because you don't need to be a physician to get that training, like you do in many psychotherapies and psychiatry.

Regarding the critical psychiatry thing, as we talked about, it's a valid viewpoint as far as I see, Hippocrates himself would go for it. Of course it would have to be looked into in detail by specialists and that would fill several folders. It may also be complete quackery disguised under the appropriate words, but I won't know.

Somebody defined "mental inability" as "An inability to handle personal, interpersonal and everyday problems properly". This is a typical view of the psychiatrist. But most leading Nazis - including Hitler and Himmler - were quite able "to handle personal, interpersonal and everyday problems properly".

Hannibal Lecter had a serious interpersonal problem! I mean, we all can have old friends for dinner, but not that way. We must solve the economy's problem, but not by killing six million people. We should solve the energy and food crisis etc., but not by risking the death of 5 billion people.

Of course the mentally sick will go on shaving and tying their shoelaces and behaving while dining and going to Wagner concerts, but at the same time producing vast pseudo-intellectual edifices that will appear to justify rationally that the jews are animals that look like people (that's an interesting problem with 'official state science', for later). Because the very vast majority of people are not trained to be critical, on the contrary, they just will go along.

If they believe their own delusional system, they're mad; if they don't, it's not a delusion, and they're crooks and criminals.

Finally, the really uncomfortable part. At the end, when you ask if I understand your objections to the naive approach, I must state I don't know how do you intend to tie all that together. I can't see a connection. That's my own problem, of course.

I hope I was somehow helpful.

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Rachel Browne
8 Jul 2011

So I'm back from holiday and find the conference difficult to follow. How was the map/reality thing resolved? It didn't seem to be resolved at all. What is your understanding of how it was resolved, Pete? Was it? Why were maps vs reality introduced? What is wrong with environment? What is this map?

Well, you know women and maps!!!

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Rachel Browne
8 Jul 2011

Jaoa, can you tell me about maps and how they might differ from schema? Maps seem more determinate.

Sorry, I'm a bit left behind here.

Schema as a way of sorting out information is different from a map. The former seems to be sorting out a presupposed reality, whilst the latter cuts you off.

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Joo Magalhes
8 Jul 2011

Rachel, I don't know what a schema is, I'll have to read about that to tell the difference. That may take some time, due to my current pending reading list (growing exponentially).

The perceptual map is an expression of mine, as far as I know. Although I have doubts how did I come up with such nifty expression. Maybe it's one of those false amnesias.

I think the map thing came up as I was musing about something Hubertus said, and I no longer recall.

As we know, we do not perceive direct input from the senses. That is why I talk about maps, not reality. We perceive hardware processed sensorial data, perceptions. The perceptual map is all about intermediate and higher neurological hardware, it has no concepts, it doesn't elaborate anything - it's there.

It is not sensorial input any more.

Pete fundamentally disagrees with this, which is ok: I say this perceptual map is hence as close as we can get to 'reality', if it's there, not the Evil Demon. It does work like a wall indeed.

If I understood what Pete says, his viewpoint requires direct access to a reality that is indeed there - did I get it, Pete?

(Once upon a time in science, there was something about frogs and flies. If the fly-like object moved at the appropriate speed, some frog neurons fired. Otherwise, like too slow, no firing and no tongue-projecting reaction. For all the frog knew, that didn't even exist. Smart neurons, smart.)

IMO, everything else we know is a tale built upon the map. Names of things, if they'll be there when we aren't looking, the general idea of chair, electrons, etc.

I think this is more a psychology than a philosophy idea.

What is wrong with environment, what environment? Is my reading list going to grow again?

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Mike Ward
8 Jul 2011

Hubertus: My charge is that analytical philosophers are unable to even see this difference. They mix up the concept and the real thing without even knowing it. They really think it to be the same. But it is not ! The concept of music is not music, the concept of sanity is not sanity, and the concept of truth is not truth.

Hubertus I would like to add another, the concept of wrong is not the same as being wrong.

Joao, I'm intrigued by "talk therapy" doesn't seem to cure these sick continental philosophers does it? - back to the chemicals I guess:-) As to maps the thing that strikes me about philosophical maps is that no-one agrees where other people think they are.

At one time I explored philosophical counselling but there wasn't enough money in it.

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Hubertus Fremerey
8 Jul 2011

#415 moving on

Firstly : Thank you Joanjo and Pete for moving on. Well, we have different styles of thinking, so Pete is right, I have to explain a bit.

Every sentence of Joanjo in his first answer is perfectly clear - and in the second answer as well. As a physicist and having read widely accepted university textbooks on biology and human physiology and pathology the whole chain of arguments is completely clear to me and I could have put it all this way myself. But this was not my problem. My problem was a philosophical one, not a therapeutical one. My question was not how to fix a problem but how to understand it as a problem. That's a difference. Thus both answers of Joanjo remain in the technical realm and do not enter the philosophical realm. This is exemplified by Joanjo stating // If I had panic attacks and insomnia I wouldn't go to the pastor. // No, I wouldn't either. But people generally do not go to the pastor or best friend or confessor with such questions. They go there with questions concerning guilt (we had that here on the conference !) and hope and self understanding etc.. No professionally trained therapist could be of much help there. This is where the "experienced layman" enters. He/she does not - and need not - know of professional therapy. His/her councelling does not come from study but from experience. As a leader of an asylum of junkies once told me : "Of course we have drug experts and doctors, but the real work is done by those street workers who understand the situation and are able to stand it and be nice and understanding with those poor victims." This "be nice and understanding" is what I was speaking of. What those victims need is "loyal support" and not more explanations. The head of the asylum added : "To stand this mass of suffering you need a biography full of twists and hardships. Nice normal people with a diploma are not up to it. You must have been in hell to cope the devil." This is not what they tell you on the university. But life can tell you.

My question was asking exactly this difference that Joanjo is avoiding and circumventing : What do we expect not from doctors that try to apply science in a methodical way, but from // the "best friend" or pastor or confessor // ? Thus Joanjo confirms my expectation that most people today - even "philosophers" - do not seem to understand the problem. To put it bluntly : "If it is not technical, it cannot be a problem at all !" This is my constant charge against analytic philosophy : It has taken the substance out from philosophy and made it all "technicalities and formalism".

The guiding question of Socrates and even of Kant was : "What does it mean to become a good human ?" As long as you don't understand that this question refers to something very different from a "healthy" or "wealthy" or "smart" or "respected" or "powerful" human you did not understand the meaning of this question. Thus all the answers given by Joanjo passed by my question without even touching it.

To put it differently : What do people look for when they look for books about "the meaning of life" - those long rows of books on esoterics and "self understanding" and "self counselling" and "finding a way" etc. ? Why does a brilliant and good looking, wealthy and successful young man commit suicide with his costly sports-car - leaving a message that "I cannot find a meaning in all this." (I did not invent this, I read it in a newspaper). Why are doctors debating not the treatment of mental insanity (according to DSM-IV etc.) but "the meaning of mental sanity" ? When a Hindu philosopher was asked for his opinion on Western psychotherapy he said : "What is the value of making somebody fit to take part in a meaningless hussle ?" This was the question of American "counterculture" in the 1960s : NOT "how to become efficient again and prosper ?" but "how to become 'a true, unalienated human for the first time' ?" This is why they read Marcuse and Hesse and Watts and watched "Yellow Submarine". As philosophers we should not even try to "drug or treat away" questions of meaning. Those are metaphysical questions that make us humans humans.

Today this sort of questions seems not even understandable. For 2000 years now people found the "blessings" from the "Sermon on the Mount" quite meaningful. Today they seem to sound like nonsense, esp. the first one on "blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matt 5:3)". See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beatitudes ! Would Jesus have looked like a psychopath according to DSM-IV himself ? This is what I call a "true" philosophical question !

And this is what connects my posting with those postings on "consciousness" : Those postings on "consciousness" don't even address the problem of content. Of course, there is always "some content" in our consciousness, but lets call that "content-1", a purely formal concept like "the content of this bottle". But in real life we are very interested in whether this content is venomous or healthy, tasty or not so. Thus we are not so much interested in "content as such" (= "content-1") but in "content for a proper application" or "content of a specific nature", which is "content-2" (maybe even "content-2a" and "content-2b", but I try not to overdo it). Thus in all religions and "classical" philosophies "mental sanity" is much more than "proper functioning". This is why I wrote that // most leading Nazis - including Hitler and Himmler - were quite able "to handle personal, interpersonal and everyday problems properly". The typical "mass murderer next door" is a practical, good mannered, even cultivated and erudite person like the figure of "Hannibal the cannibal", i.e. "Dr.Hannibal Lecter" from "Silence of the Lambs". On the other hand most persons NOT able "to handle personal, interpersonal and everyday problems properly" are truly nice and good mannered an not "monsters in sheeps clothings". //

In view of these facts my implicit question was : "If (apparently) mental sanity - according to the Bible and other religions and even common daily experience - is NOT coincident with an ability "to handle personal, interpersonal and everyday problems properly" - what then is mental sanity ? How do we know it if it shows up ? What do those "saintly fools" (like St.Francis) tell us about the very nature of mental sanity ? Did the Buddha or Jesus or St.Francis ever go around like Dale Carnegie and tell you "How to win friends and influence people" (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/How_to_Win_Friends_and_Influence_People ) ? If not - why not ? Didn't they know what it takes ?

As I tried to show you there is a deep and fundamental misunderstanding about the very nature of mental sanity - of the difference of "functioning properly" and "being mentally sane" and of the difference of "content-1" and "content-2" in the study of "consciousness". If "functioning properly" is the only answer to human problems then we are no better than "smart apes". And I see a strong tendency to affirm exactly that. But I don't believe it. This answer is too comfortable and too easy to be true.

I am always putting "real" questions here - and I am asking for "real" answers ! Most often I have some answers, but I want to see different answers and get some new perspectice and some new questions. Thus I am not nearly as dogmatic as some people seem to think. But most of my questions are not even addressed.

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Hubertus Fremerey
8 Jul 2011

#416 one more round in royal rumble

Mike, I am glad to see your humour intact ! I had to laugh heartily. Well, no more qarreling this time at 20 minutes beyond midnight. Much of what I have to say on this is in posting #415 below. Since I did not count all other postings of you people we must be far beyond #500 now, which is quite an achievement !

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Rachel Browne
9 Jul 2011

Joao I'm so sorry to have got your name wrong again! No more reading! Forget the environment. It's just that I've been reading Noe again and apparently we interact with an environment relevant to our species rather than "reality", which is perhaps the point you already made. I shall investigate maps and schema and let you know what I find. Yes, there is higher order processing which could be fitting things into a pattern? Oh dear! Now I've introduced patterns. Perhaps even models.

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Pete
9 Jul 2011

This is tricky. All the philosophical problems disussed here have their beginning and end in metaphysics. This is where, for example, we examine the pecise correspondance between the territory and the map, how they may be distinguished, whether they should be distinguished etc.. But metaphysics seems rather unpopular here, so it is difficult to address the issues without being boring.

To attempt to address these endless symptoms of the same underlying problems while not addressing the problems themselves is a recipe for going round and round in circles. A medical doctor would never do such a thing. I'd point to consciousness studies as an illustration, for it becomes an utterly futile activity if no attention is given to the metaphysical basis of the ideas and theories being examined. My admiration for Chalmers derives mainly from his willingness to concede this, while my lack of respect for the majority in the field, with Dennett as a paradigm case, is a result of their failure to do so, and their failure to see the inevitable pointlessness of their subsequent theorising.

I believe it is simply a fact, verifiable from a literature survey or by doing a lot of thinking, that without a sound metaphysical framework theory all major problems of philosophy are intractable.

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Joo Magalhes
9 Jul 2011

Rachel, don't bother about my name -- It's just a label, and as long as I figure out it's about me it's ok. Hubertus hasn't written it right once yet!

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Joo Magalhes
9 Jul 2011

Hubertus, I agree with your 415. What got me started was your assertion

that of the psychiatrist and "shrink" and the "best friend" or pastor or confessor or guru

because, as I said and you say, they're not the same and don't fit all in the same basket. You also said, in the same vein,

My problem is : Counselling ("counselling-1") in the case of the engineer means "know thy formulas !" But in the realm of personal and interpersonal "counselling-2" it means : "find a way to go !". It means "healing the broken hearts" or "lighting a candle in the darkness" or something like that.

which I couldn't agree, for the same "all in one basket" reason. So to say, and as I saw it, you missed altogether Counselling 1-a.

So, I didn't approach your problem because I found an underlying one.

Your notes about the junkie asylum are very true. There's books and there's life. I once made several blunders any street person would have considered primitive. A taxi driver asked me, almost shouting, 'but what have you been doing in university that you don't know that?' The answer is obvious.

What do we expect not from doctors that try to apply science in a methodical way, but from // the "best friend" or pastor or confessor // ?

IMO, this was an important distinction that should be made explicit.

"If it is not technical, it cannot be a problem at all !"

As I know you agree, so do I agree that this is reduccionist and myopic (and unhealthy).

I agree that the questions from the hippie counterculture were proper, and an obvious menace to the establishment and 'decent, hard-working people'. Writing down an answer is much more difficult.

I also agree with you on the (relative -- we here aren't living under a bridge after all -- a little affluence is an interesting thing to have) pointlessness of external values and observance. As I pointed out before, Jung said that who has all his values in the outside is empty on the inside. This emptiness is, I think, part of the beginning of the problem.

The young man who killed himself was void on the inside. He most certainly felt it, which was the source of his discomfort. Most certainly, though, he didn't recognize it as being void, and didn't know how to solve the problem. He possibly even was taught to loathe those who aren't void.

I hate to say 'Jung' again, but I read all of his Collected Works several times. The man said that in the most part the crisis of western civilization (well, he went through World War I to 1961) is a spiritual one. Materialism, as a value system, is inadequate if not entirely void.

It's a bit like the joke about the guy who had all his personal values neatly listed in the 'Income' column.

And he keeps on, saying that the other error we are commiting is to search for the solution outside of the western cultural heritage, into eastern philosophies and religions, which are inadequate to our cultural frame. It's like replacing a missing leg with a tentacle, it might be catchy but is likely not to work too well.

These assertions tend not to make one popular.

But people generally do not go to the pastor or best friend or confessor with such questions. They go there with questions concerning guilt (we had that here on the conference !) and hope and self understanding etc.. No professionally trained therapist could be of much help there.

You would be surprised by how many people end up in psychotherapy because of problems of this sort, if unkowningly! Indeed!

You may not know, because that's technical, but really mentally sick people, like schizophrenics, have no place and get no benefit from psychotherapy or analysis. They are, so to say, beyond reach (or rather, reaching them can take very, very long and last very little), alienated.

The guiding question of Socrates and even of Kant was : "What does it mean to become a good human ?" As long as you don't understand that this question refers to something very different from a "healthy" or "wealthy" or "smart" or "respected" or "powerful" human you did not understand the meaning of this question. Thus all the answers given by Joanjo passed by my question without even touching it.

There's no universal, unequivocal answer, in my opinion. We frequently discussed, "What is a good physician?" and we never got to an answer. There's the easy way out, via industrialism, and say that it's the one with the best cure rate. It's not enough. Socrates and Kant and Russell too lived in another world -- another society, another speed, less volume of knowledge, etc. There are no Renaissance men anymore.

Today this sort of questions seems not even understandable. For 2000 years now people found the "blessings" from the "Sermon on the Mount" quite meaningful. Today they seem to sound like nonsense ...

And that's the problem. Worse, young people seem to find it purposeless and a waste of time -- they are hard pressed to find money to eat! (Polyvalence, flexibility, entrepreneurship, innovation, budgetization, competitivity, fitness for the labour market, run, run, run.) But there's several shapes of people, and some can understand that the Big Questions can be food for thought, provided they are told they exist. Which is definitely not happening.

Would Jesus have looked like a psychopath according to DSM-IV himself ?

I suppose he certainly would have problems with the police. Provided the media wouldn't cover what he did, then he would pass as a non-being leader of a fringe minimalist cult. Would he be institutionalized? Nobody would even care to do that, maybe too high a cost-benefit ratio. Pilate would say again to let the man go.

If "functioning properly" is the only answer to human problems then we are no better than "smart apes". And I see a strong tendency to affirm exactly that. But I don't believe it. This answer is too comfortable and too easy to be true.

Precisely. But industrialism and political proselytism and activism and whatever else need only half-dumb (intelligence is hazardous to your health) consuming and tax-paying apes with a few, restricted, specialized abilities. You must conform. Which leaves people void inside.

Around here (this country), philosophy was removed from the secondary curriculum, a curriculum which tells you not how to think, but how to conform. That means that outside mass religion or party-ruled politics there's nothing that might link you to any Big Question, pointing a way out of the system into individual opinion.

Contrarily to advertized, the individual, as different in thinking and values, is of no use to 'society' and is discouraged. You must think (well, that's an expression) what we tell you. You are meant to be a mass-person, conforming to collective "thought". "Ignorance is bliss, 'tis folly to be wise." Forget about looking for your own solutions, that will be reinventing the wheel and pretty silly, we know them all and you can buy them on the web with a credit card.

We all are aware of this inhuman tragedy. A mass 'objectization' of people.

I'll mention Jung's notions again, sorry about that: (1) when you subscribe to any '-ism' or '-ation' you gave up on being an individual and become a 'collective person'; (2) you must get at your solutions yourself, no matter how politically incorrect (3) it's a search for inner content and it's evolution, through a process he calls 'individuation', that, virtually, keeps us alive and kicking; but there is no way to kick-start it in ourselves or others, it's autonomous. It starts when it decides to, and many times never, although some conditions can help. Then it stops and starts again.

I know I can be boring with this Jung thing, and you can even accuse me of proselytism as 'jungism'. I do think the man has his points, and indeed transcends the mere 'technician' psychoanalyst.

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Rachel Browne
9 Jul 2011

Hi Joao, well, thanks! I'm glad Hubertus hasn't got your name right either. I surely did once or twice!!!

I've looked at maps and schemas and models. Mapping is organising data, and within mapping there are schemas which are cognitive models - basically a cluster concept for something, which relates to other schemas, or concepts. I looked up schemas in George Lakoff who has a theory of schemas and prototypes. So the schema for "bachelor" is an unmarried man of a particular age. I think that when you learn the concept it gets taken up into a higher order map in which it is linked to our understanding of human society and marriage etc. It is also linked to other specific schemas like "married man".

The schema for "bachelor" according to Lakoff is a prototype because it is a central case. Apparently you wouldn't call the Pope a bachelor! Lakoff is quite funny really.

Looking on the internet, I find that schemas and models and mapping are used in various ways, so don't bother with it!

These terms are used in cognitive science, which really misses the whole picture in my view. I think intuition has a great part in understanding others and understanding others is psychologically essential in human society if you are actually to be a part of it.

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Rachel Browne
9 Jul 2011

Joao, I'd like to hear more of Jung. Who has ever heard of Jungism? It is an interest of yours. You haven't joined an "ism".

Yes, schoziphrenics and psychotics need drugs. You cannot compare Nazis with these sorts of people, Hubertus.

There is clinical mental illness which requires drugs and then some sort of cultural distortion that gets internalised.

People who just need therapy are relatively normal.

Anyway, off to the barbie. It's likely to pour with rain any minute.

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Hubertus Fremerey
9 Jul 2011

#417 some more on "madness going for reasonableness"

First a short note to Joanjo : Thank you for your careful answer, to which I would agree on all points, give or take some minors of lesser importance. And I am an admirer of Jung since 1960. Thus I head no trouble with your own admiring.

Now something different but related :

this below is an infamous speech that Heinrich Himmler, second in command of the Third Reich after Hitler, gave to several dozens of leading SS-officers in Poznan, Poland in 1943. See

http://www.holocaust-history.org/himmler-poznan/speech-text.shtml

On the context see :

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Posen_speeches

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heinrich_Himmler

This is not "the Germans" - but it was possible for such people to rise to the top echelons for a time. And then : The thinking of Torquemada and of Robespierre and of Dzerzhinsky was not different. They all four (Himmer included !) were "faultless characters and bright minds", which is proven. Now tell this to the "consciousness" researchers ! There must be something wrong with our concept of reason, and I want to know what it is.

On the secrecy (of the speech and of the aftermath) :

The explanation of this secrecy was quite simple : While Himmler and Hitler had no (openly) bad consciousness, they knew that the population would not accept it. Thus they shunned trouble with public resistance or uproar. Hitler was always very aware of his reputation. His security services told him about the real mood in the population. Of course the Nazis had a lot of supporters, but for many of them this thing, the mass-murder, would have been "just too much". It would have been not one but 100 My Lais and Abu Ghuraibs together. Seen in this light the strong insistence of Himmler on "cleanliness" may have been a form of self-protection. Under the smallest sign of moral incorrectness (as f.i. self serving greed) his moral defenses would have crumbled under the blame of evil intentions. He definitely had to defend the posture of "saintly" behaviour - and because of this he two times stressed that he would punish any act of greed "without mercy". This was a VERY Freudian construct of suppression and lying about ones true character and intentions. It was not illogical at all ! Remember that ALL those mass murderer have been "saintly". Neither Freud nor Jung would have been surprised. At least Jung must have known this speech, so I would like to know his comments.

And I would like to know the difference of this mass murder to the actions of a surgeon. Himmlers attitude was that of a surgeon who has to do some dirty work without feelings. Like any surgeon Himmler would have denied that he had not personal sympathy with the victims. He only said that he had to do what was needed - exactly like the surgeon. What do you think about that argument ? Hubertus

And see these :

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tom%C3%A1s_de_Torquemada

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robespierre

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Felix_Dzerzhinsky

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Hubertus Fremerey
9 Jul 2011

#417a a note on a confusing statement

When I wrote // Remember that ALL those mass murderers have been "saintly" // I was speaking of Torquemada, Robespierre, Dzerzhinsky, and Himmler, and maybe Pol Pot, but I don't know. Generally most mass murderers are not seen as saintly by anybody, but as nice and normal quite often. But the excuses used by Himmler in his speech could as well have been by Torquemada, Robespierre, and Dzerzhinsky, that's for sure !

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Pete
10 Jul 2011

Confused. All this admiration for Jung but no respect for his views on metaphysics and religion. Apparently Jung was a really good philosopher who fell into foolishness by embracing and endorsing nondualism, alchemy and eastern philosophy. How can we admire him and then casually discard his views on such important topics? I suppose it's the same phenomenon that sees Schroedinger admired in science for all his work except that relating directly to metaphysics and religion. I think we do these people an injustice.

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Rachel Browne
10 Jul 2011

Hubertus, mass murderers are not like surgeons. Surgeons do what is needed in order to help the patient. There is no will to harm or to destruction in their actions. Are you trying to defend mass murder here? Make it seem reasonable?

Pete, why not tell us about Jung's metaphysics?

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Joo Magalhes
10 Jul 2011

Confused. All this admiration for Jung but no respect for his views on metaphysics and religion. Apparently Jung was a really good philosopher who fell into foolishness by embracing and endorsing nondualism, alchemy and eastern philosophy.

How weird, Pete. At least I haven't yet mentioned Jung's on metaphysics, religion, non-dualism or alchemy, and many, many other things.

Is that lack of respect, not mentioning something because it's irrelevant to the current discussion?

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Joo Magalhes
10 Jul 2011

Hubertus, I'm not going into it now (too tired), but basically most of the western civilization agrees that killing or basically harming people is something not to be done.

So, the surgeon will be 'harming' the patient (not killing her) in order to create a better outlook for that patient. Moreover, it is consented upon by the patient (informed consent thing), otherwise it's a crime. But I'm too tired now, sorry.

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Hubertus Fremerey
10 Jul 2011

#417b on surgeons and massmurderers and God

The logic of those four (and maybe Pol Pot and some others) posing for "saints" and "surgeons" is quite simple :

I said that Torquemada, Robespiere, Dzerzhinsky and Himmler - mass murderers all - have been "saintly", i.e., careful to shine as morally perfect beings. And as such they were seen. They resembled Chomeiny in this : They did not drink, the did not smoke, they did not swear, they did not rape, the did not take tips, they did not steal, they were "incorruptibles". But to justify their massmurders they had to be credible. Thus they had to avoid the slightest sign of corruptibility. Suppose you would read tomorrow that the pope has been found in a brothel with a mistress or with boys. That would be a catastrophe ! In this way those massmurderers were as careful as the pope to avoid any gossip. This is what I called "shining als saintly". And this I called "a protective measure".

On the "surgeon" : In the view of Himmler the "patient" was the German people, while the Jews were "a bacillus" or an "ulcer" which had to be "removed" in the best interest of the "patient" (the German people). This is exactly what Himmler said. What can I do if you don't read the speech ? Of course Himmler assumed "consent of the patient" (the German people) by default. But his arguments were exactly those of Joanjo re. any "normal" surgeon. No difference !

We are on a philosophical forum here, and you analytical philosophers are always studying the proper meaning of words and sentences. Thus you should be interested in the way those massmurderers - Torquemada, Robespiere, Dzerzhinsky and Himmler (and some others) - used words and sentences to make their deeds look reasonable and advisable "in the best interest of mankind". They simply replaced the word "human" for some of those with "vermin" or "enemy of the people" or "non-believer" or "bacillus" or "ulcer" or something like that.

There is a clear and simple answer from modern ethics to this sort of arguing : "No one born from a human mother has a right to deny - by what argument ever - the status of "human" to any other being born from a human mother. Point !" And this is the only answer, it cannot be "justified" further. Thus all those "saintly" mass murderers trespassed an absolute limit.

But there is and remains always a grey-zone : What about abortion ? What about euthanasia ? What about death-penalty ? What about war ? Those difficulties will not go away.

Some say this confusion is a consequence of disbelief in God and his Commandments. This is not true. Torquemada was a "saintly" Christian in the same way as Chomeiny was a "saintly" Muslim. There have always been theologians justifying crusades and blessing cannons and other weapons "in the name of God". No, we simply have to agree that some things "are not done" - by whatever "justification". This is a human mutual understanding and has nothing to do with God or religion, which have been abused all the time.

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Hubertus Fremerey
10 Jul 2011

#417c one more note added

I don't think that those four - Torquemada, Robespierre, Dzerzhinsky and Himmler - were hypocrites any more than Chomeiny was ! They really were convinced to do what was "required in the best interest of mankind". There is not a single sentence in the speech of Himmler that sounds hypocrite. He really believed what he said. But people can have a twisted logic. Any psychiatrist knows it. And Freud and Jung knew it very well.

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Joo Magalhes
10 Jul 2011

Hubertus, this time I will be short, ah. Regrettably, I might not go through all the aspects of the problem.

I have just read the extract of the Himmler speech. The man seems mostly to complain that it was quite an inconvenience to have to deal with 100, 500, 1000 corpses, contrarily to those burocrats from Berlin who stayed at their desks. (And that dealing with that made the SS stronger and all that, and anyway if you don't agree with me you are to face the small inconvenience of a firing squad, which he promises will be held as discreetly as always.)

So much for the "faultless characters and bright minds". Look, this is not normal. It only might be normal for an SS (no funny inferences here, if you all please.)

Once in the past I was interested in mass psichology and public opinion manipulation. Which explains my weak interest for Dr Goebbels, father of the contemporary mainstream media (I'm joking again, sort of...) That was meant not to go far, as by then I was living in what we might call, being nice, an authoritarian regime that was very, very careful about what people could read and the distribution of regime truth.

And anyway it's not the sort of subject you find scholarly works lying around on library shelves.

So, if you slowly, slowly, change the frame of mind of a lot of people, you end up being able to do the most awful things with their approval. A Jügend of some kind also comes in handy, and little citizen's organizations with a shirt of some colour, regarding whom the police turns a little away. You can even find scientists to write your own supporting science, so that you can distribute your evidence in school textbooks.

It works, for some time -- you'll remember the Churchill say about fooling people.

But this is not your point. The point is, Was Himmler's thought on this delusional?

Shouldn't we trace the thing back to good old Adolf? (And here's for Godwin's law.) In here (I hope this doesn't wreck the forum!) for instance, maybe we can. Adolf might have had encephalitis when young (Nietzsche had brain syphilis, it seems), which seems to cause a deficit of the moral sense; he had a clear hysterical blindness fit, and suffered from auditory hallucinations, amphetamine consumption, paranoid behavior.

"Er war ein schlechter mensch" (cited in the article). Values.

Maybe we can trace the thing to a classic Prophet and Followers case. There have been are so many. The Follower has no further thinking to do but following the Prophet's doctrine. 'No problemo' — We are just following orders.

That's the best thing about being a Follower, you don't have to think. All the thinking is done, you just learn, memorize and execute. Daddy is doing the thinking for you, and Daddy is always right, isn't he?

'There are three stages in your reintegration,' said O'Brien. 'There is learning, there is understanding, and there is acceptance.' &mdash G Orwell, 1984

That's the problem with sycophancy, but you can exchange that for power. Even imaginary power. Certainly, always the certainty of being right, 'cause Dad says so.

That looks to me (and ceratinly many others I forgot about) like the problem with Himmler and many others, a sort of group madness. Groupthink, what. Groupthink is still all over the world. An unknown said, "Thinking is so hard most people only have opinion".

Here, I think, philosophy, fostering respectable independent criticism, has something to say, at least until you get deported. Nothing new for philosophers who live what they say, short of a hemlock daiquiri.

On the "surgeon" : In the view of Himmler the "patient" was the German people, while the Jews were "a bacillus" or an "ulcer" which had to be "removed" in the best interest of the "patient" (the German people). This is exactly what Himmler said. What can I do if you don't read the speech ? Of course Himmler assumed "consent of the patient" (the German people) by default. But his arguments were exactly those of Joanjo re. any "normal" surgeon. No difference !

It looks tidier when you explain it, and it saves time and shows your point. Problem is, all analogies (metaphors, etc.) are very likely to be false and all require logical proof. Producing analogies is not reasoning, it's more like poetry, if I may make an analogy. She is graceful as a willow, therefore she is a willow, and so I'll chop her for firewood with a chainsaw. See where analogies take you? Anywhere, including madness.

Yes, ethics is mostly grey.

(I hope the code works, I'm crossing my fingers.)

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Joo Magalhes
10 Jul 2011

And, just a a final note on Followers etc.,

Hominem unius libri timeo — Tomas Aquinas

I fear the man with a single book. Funny, coming from who it comes from.

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Pete
11 Jul 2011

Ah, but Aquinas was no fool. Nor are most good theologians. Not for them the usual blind adherence to the dogma of the book. The subtletly of Christian doctrine is often missed, for so long has it been dumbed down for the hoi poloi and mangled by the Roman Bishopric. It is not such a daft doctrine as it looks if we delve beneath the simpleminded headlines. >p>I wish I could answer the question about Jung properly but I'm no Jung scholar. His views are well explained in by Robin Robertson, who heads up the American Jungian Society, and whose view of just about everything I share. Jung came to believe that the Alchemists got it right, that human beings have the potential to 'partake of the perpetual', to beome true men by way of the 'chemical wedding'. That is, he came to believe that the Buddhists and Taoists, the Sufis and the Gnostics, had got it right. That is why I was surprised to hear such praise of Jung here, from folks who dismiss this possibility more or less out of hand.

For anyone pursuing the connections between mathematics, psychology, ontology, mysticism and religion, Robertson is a very useful author. There are some articles and book chapters on his website.

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Pete
11 Jul 2011

Here are a couple of quotes from Jung that indicate his metaphysical view. The first might make a good topic for discussion. It suggests that he has adopted a neutral metaphysical position, aka nondualism, aka theosophy, aka mysticism.

"Nothing is the same as fullness. In the endless state fullness is the same as emptiness. The Nothing is both empty and full. One may just as well state some other thing about the Nothing, namely that it is white or that it is black or that is exists or that it exists not. That which is endless and eternal has no qualities, because it has all qualities."

:C. G. Jung (1920/1983). Jung. C. G. (1982). VII Sermones ad Moruos. (S. A. Hoeller, Trans.). In S. A. Hoeller The Gnostic Jung and the Seven Sermons to the Dead (pp. 44-58). Wheaton, Illinois: Theosophical Publishing House. (Original work published without copyright or date, approximately 1920).

"Every statement about the transcendental ought to be avoided because it is a laughable presumption on the part of the human mind, unconscious of its limitations."

C. G. Jung Commentary on The Secret of the Golden Flower, a Chinese Book of Life.

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Rachel Browne
11 Jul 2011

Well, Pete, the first quote looks like metaphysics to me. It is certainly to talk of the transcendental. Perhaps you could put it in words that idiots can understand? It seems very continental (sorry!). We could talk of this, but I wouldn't understand. I'd be more interested in his analysis than metaphysics.

Joao, I'm not sure it's as easy as followers not having to think or even group hysteria. Obviously Nazis is of its time and occurred in a certain economic situation, but I can't imagine the English getting involved in group hysteria over a political stance, however great the oratory and sophistry. Is group hysteria sufficient to support genocide?

Hubertus, I don't find the terms that mass-murderers have used at all interesting. These are just words to classify people as sub-human and expressions of attitudes of hatred. Yes, the mass-murderers transgressed a boundary in not encompassing all people as human, but in doing so became inhuman themselves. Where was shame, guilt and remorse?

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Rachel Browne
11 Jul 2011

Just thinking: The healthy case seems to me to be anthropmorphism. Children with their dolls and things. Spinoza. Me and my dogs (I tell them they are not normal people, though they are not people at all and can't understand what I'm saying). This seems to show how drastically impoverished Nazi thought was. What does Jung have to say? Hubertus states that this is a philosophy forum, but psychoanalysis is philosophy of mind on my view.

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Joo Magalhes
11 Jul 2011

Pete, these are two quite good quotes. I'd like to add a little more information.

The Seven Sermons is a very interesting text which shows Jung's gnostic penchant. That particular bit is on what is known as the Abraxas, the god that is neither good nor evil.

The Seven Sermons are not an 'academic work' by Jung, but part of the Black Book (or was it all of it) and meant for his personal use and friends. The circumstance in which it was written explains why (and it is detailedly explained in Stephan A. Hoeller's "The Gnostic jung and The Seven Sermons to the Dead", which I found very interesting).

It's publication was restricted to the German original of Jung's 'biography', "Memories, Dreams, Reflections", which are an important read. Jung never authorized it's translation but you can find it on the web for free.

So also The Red Book was never meant to see the public, but it was recently published.

Jung had an interesting attitude towards the Red Book and other stuff, like the many mandala-like designs he produced. He didn't consider them as his own work, but that of an inner, independent agency; he didn't consider these art, either.

The preface to Richard Wilhelm's "Secret of the Golden Flower" is another important text, for it was where he found that many of the psychological 'formations' and processes that he found in his patients and western alchemy also occured far away both in space and in time; so that it supported his thesis of the omnnipresence, spontaneity and recurrence of these processes.

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Joo Magalhes
11 Jul 2011

Rachel, I called it groupthink, which is not group hysteria.

Obviously a phenomenon of this magnitude cannot be explained simply, and for sure more explanations must exist for it, and most certainly they all concur to for a complex explanation.

Moreover, for almost all the time, it seems to have been a 'discrete operation', only a few of the SS knew of it. As Hubertus mentions, hiding it from the population at large was necessary.

The healthy case seems to me to be anthropmorphism.

Which would be a particular case of projection, the mechanism through which we unconsciouly (if I may use this word) attribute to external objects (and other people) our own psychological content.

If I recall correctly, due to his liking of Nietzsche (?), and his insistence on preserving the nordic and german gods and myths and the figure of the hero, Jung seems to have been, initially, a supporter of the nazi ideology and vision of the world, then rejected it when he saw the madness in it. Still today detractors like to dwell into this particular bend of the road.

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Joo Magalhes
11 Jul 2011

I do have a question: is theology metaphysics? Isn't it a separated thing? I ask because I don't know and my references aren't helping at all.

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Joo Magalhes
11 Jul 2011

Perhaps you could put it in words that idiots can understand?

When it comes to this I'm an idiot. The problem with this sort of writing, like the gnostic texts and much more with alchemical texts is that they refer to inner experiences and knowledge, which are very hard to translate into words and communicate to others. It's as if there were no words for it.

It's something which has it's genesis on the inside, not from the outside, so words, which come from the outside and are mostly meant to deal with it, are inadequate. You may write about it, draw and paint about it, even dance or howl about it.

It can be only understood by another person who went through the same experience and recognizes the stuff somehow; and while we the polloi gawk in puzzlement, that person will assume a grave look and nod in agreement. It's, so to say, iniciatic in that it requires that particular experience, which is not a common experience (as in, an experience for the many), hence private, 'esoteric' in it's most part, and yet paradoxically shared by some.

Although vaguely unrelated, Jung gave an interview to the BBC in which he was asked if he believed in god, and he answered, "I don't believe — I know." Which is the definition for gnosticism.

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Joo Magalhes
11 Jul 2011

Oh, well, here I go again.

There's another key thing in Jung's analysis (hence, though, no?) which is the coincidentia oppositorum, the coincidence of opposites.

Which, in a way, is to say that when you're aware (you "create") good, you're also creating evil, although if unconsciously at start. As time goes by, you become conscious that there are opposites, but only much later do you notice that they are, indeed, the two sides of the same thing, like the two sides of a coin.

Finally, you can merge the two sides into a single 'something', and the opposition vanishes.

Jung found Heraclitus very interesting.

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Hubertus Fremerey
12 Jul 2011

#418 Jung and the shadow

There is a different picture: The true saint accepts and integrates his shadow, combining yin and yang, whil people like Himmler suppress and project their shadow and so invent an enemy in the outer world which in fact is inside her own character. This is a form of shizoid personality trait.

But I would add another remark to Rachel : What is that surprsing you in the behaviour of Himmler and his likes ? Every surgeon and soldier and executioner has to learn how to suppress emotions and "to do what is needed". Thus it is not at all unnatural. We humans are made that way to suppress our feelings to an extreme grade. Surgeons and medical orderlies in war are used to see terrible things all the time. But they never become unable to feel normal sympathy and pity under normal conditions. Thus the ability to suppress feelings is per se not unnatural and doesn't imply a shizoid personality. Those are two very different effects.

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Pete
12 Jul 2011

Joao - thanks for the posts on Jung. Very informative.

In answer to your question, I suppose my view would be that theology and metaphysics overlap to the point where there would not be a lot of purpose in wholly separating them. Anyone doing metaphysics is going to arrive at a view of God so is doing theology as well. Anyone investigating God is going to arrive at a view of origins, ontology etc, so is doing metaphysics. The question about angels on the head of a pin arises in metaphysics and theology as well as mathematics.

Jung and Heraclitus' 'coincidence of opposites' would be the crux of the matter. Yes, it is a view of reality that derives from inneffable experiences, and as such is not entirely a subject for logical analysis. But the idea depends on the adoption of a clearly communicable metaphysical view, viz. nondualism, so it would not be right to dismiss it from 'rational' philosophy for this reason. It is a systematic position making testable predictions for science, it is just that even today it is very poorly understood and so often dismissed by the professors with a casual contempt derived directly from from a lack of interest and consequent ignorance. In his self-indulgent rant about God Dawkins does not even include it in the list of topics, preferring to attack straw men and windmills. Amazing but true.

The coincidence of opposites idea can be applied to all metaphysical questions. These always ask us to choose between two directly opposed answers. (Freewill/determinism, something/nothing, mind/matter etc) The idea is that compatabilism would be the answer for all such questions. This would be one meaning of the phrase 'Middle Way' in Buddhism, or 'the doctrine of the mean' more generally in mysticism. . The proposal is that all the expected answers for such questions are logically absurd because they are wrong. And what other explanation could there be? Thus Jung's view, once extended to become a general theory, would be a solution for metaphysics. No other solution is known, and anyway it is possible to prove that all other solutions are logically absurd, (this is why metaphysics is difficult in the first place) so in the end there's a good chance we'll all come around to Jung and Heraclitus' view. Just needs another fifty years I reckon, now that we have the Internet.

The essential claim of Jung's position is that the universe is a unity. It would follow that all distinctions are ultimately unreal. Thus God, if He exists, can be known, because we would be God and able to know Him by identity. Hence Jung's remark about knowing Him. Buddhists would say that God is never more than a misinterpreted meditative experience, but at least they would agree that such an experience is havable, even if it is misinterpretable. In the same way. for Kabbalism, Taoism etc. God would not be fundamental but would be preceeded by a greater phenomenon. That phenomenon would always be here and now, closer to us than our jugular vein, but hidden beneath a mountain of clutter. On this view philosophy becomes in many ways a process of remembering what we already know.

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Joo Magalhes
12 Jul 2011

Pete, you will find some but not much interesting stuff in the Wikipedia page for Abraxas (or Abrasax). I even contributed to it when I did such things.

Jung likes the idea in Heraclitus that change is the real thing (process philosophy, I think it is), which is an idea going on in alchemy and also in the individuation process. Jung doesn't even mention the possibility of 'physical' alchemy, that lead changed into gold stuff; but he certainly was a major defender of 'psychological' alchemy, in which all the process goes on in our head (with much help from the 'outside' world), not for alchemy's sake — but for his studies in individuation. It seemed to describe what went on while we try to grow and question ourselves seriously in the individuation process.

I mean there is such a thing as irrational knowledge, as in intuitions, dreams, feelings and more stuff. This must be approached carefully, due to its fleeting nature and high margin for error. It doesn't mean it isn't there, and ignoring it is ignoring an entire half, or more, of our nature and persons. I would have great difficulty to speak of it! Maybe later.

I don't have Dawkins in much regard. We do have the problem that, in the US, there are fundamentalists everywhere.

Jung's idea is not that opposing views are compatible, but that they are aspects of the same single thing, which is so to say an order of magnitude above the dichotomy, and bring unity, not just conciliation. Something like dialectics. Taking the idea to the extreme, we have the unus mundus, the universe as a single being which he keeps mentioning, and that you mention yourself.

The essential claim of Jung's position is that the universe is a unity. It would follow that all distinctions are ultimately unreal. Thus God, if He exists, can be known, because we would be God and able to know Him by identity.

I would make a slight correction: Jung doesn't claim that, he claims to observe that in his patients. Certainly he himself also got there, which is, as you say, why he say he knew. He was usually careful in asserting anything metaphysic, as he was afraid that people would take his word for it.

You may be surprised that I do not question knowledge by identity here. We are dealing with the inner world, not the one supposedly out there, where there are trees and rocks and causality as we know it works. In what regards inner experiences, I do not object to direct knowledge; possibly there is not even another way. But this, again, is for later in what concerns me.

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Joo Magalhes
12 Jul 2011

Hubertus, everybody tries to hide his shadow and projects it, but, as you say, saints.

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Rachel Browne
12 Jul 2011

Joao, sorry I haven't read all this on Jung yet, but I think that theology is not metaphysics. Metaphysics is philosophy and theory on the non-empirical. I think theologeans would not think that theology was the same thing. It is exegesis of biblical texts. It relies on and springs from these texts.

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Pete
12 Jul 2011

Pete I don't think anyone doing metaphysics is going to arrive at view of God. Kant didn't. Hubertus will have an informed view on God and metaphysics and also I shall ask my brother who is a theologian and philosopher. They will probably have different views.

Gnosticism sounds crazy, Joao. Know on the basis of what?

Can we sort this out before we get onto Jung?

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Charles
12 Jul 2011

Re theology, you must be careful not to make it into too general a description. The Eastern Orthodox Christian (including Greek & Russian) and Oriental Orthodox (including Armenian & Coptic) take a much different view of theology than does the Western Christian Church. As a convert to Eastern Orthodoxy, I think that while there are similarities in method and result between Western theology and philosophy, these similarities donit exist between Western philosophy and theology in the Eastern Christian Churches. Probably making too general a statement myself, I would briefly say that to the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox, the mistakes made (in their view) in scholastic, modern, and postmodern philosophy are further development of the errors made by the classical philosophers. It is also Western mistake, if not more often ignorance that says something like the Eastern Churches are simply Platonist.

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Rachel Browne
12 Jul 2011

c But Charles, my brother is a theologian and anti-orthodox. He doesn't seem to belong to a church but is spiritual.

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Charles
12 Jul 2011

Rachel, my point was that there is no encompassing "theology", except perhaps in Western scholarship that tends towards reductionism. If your brother wants to label his efforts theology, I suppose that is his own business.

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Charles
12 Jul 2011

Rachel, what do you mean by "spiritual"? That is a wonderfully vague word for agnostics, atheists, and assorted believers to use together in creating confusion and sometimes mayhem.

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Charles
12 Jul 2011

Isn't saying: "in the US, there are fundamentalists everywhere, similar to saying about Europe something like "there are socialists everywhere?" I think that both statements are true and equally meaningless.

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Joo Magalhes
13 Jul 2011

Charles,

I think that both statements are true and equally meaningless.

Will you believe it that every time I woke at night I was thinking of this?

What do you mean by meaningless? And I mean your meaning of "meaningless", not the intention (meaning) behind it.

The other one that gets me thoroughly puzzled is being told I "can't even utter it" — hey, what a joke, I just said it, how can you even utter it was impossible?

This is obviously some analytic stuff I'm completely unaware of. This is a genuine question. On the other hand, I always get the impression this is the sort of thing an analytic guy could say as he bangs his fist on the table. But, I repeat, this is a genuine question motivated by my obvious ignorance.

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Joo Magalhes
13 Jul 2011

  • Theology is metaphysics, 1
  • Theology is philosophy but not metaphysics, 1
  • Theology is not philosophy, 0
  • Philosophy is theology, 0
  • All others, 0

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Joo Magalhes
13 Jul 2011

Signed as Pete,

Gnosticism sounds crazy, Joao. Know on the basis of what?

Of course it does! And just read gnostic texts and you'll be sure of it (here for Jung's Seven Sermons, here for assorted gnostic stuff). But there's the rub and it's a serious question, it's a "it's not what it seems" situation. I'll quote myself:

It's something which has it's genesis on the inside, not from the outside, so words, which come from the outside and are mostly meant to deal with it, are inadequate. You may write about it, draw and paint about it, even dance or howl about it.
It can be only understood by another person who went through the same experience and recognizes the stuff somehow; and while we the polloi gawk in puzzlement, that person will assume a grave look and nod in agreement.

Disclaimer: I would like to recall that all I write, anytime and on any subject, is my opinion unless stated otherwise.

You know you dream, you know you have intuitions, you know you have feelings, you know you have emotions and all the rest. You know about what you have these. You know the contents of these. You can think (use reason*) on these. I mean by that you can elaborate on these (you can even fool yourself about them by rationalizing, we keep doing that).

So, by thinking of this and that, you can get at new "inner" knowledge. That very knowledge will have a, well let's call it a inner resonance, in that it wakes up further content. Sometimes this content can be very complex.

Some of this content can have a consequence on your behaviour, like making you happy, elated, worried, depressed, confused, or even make you mentally or physically sick or kill you. You certainly experienced at least content producing the minor consequences; but the point is, it works.

So, some contents of our metal insides can be known and have properties, some being tremendum, frequently translated as overwhelming, but also as numinous, "an influence perceptible by mind but not by senses" which sometimes is felt even as a physical presence.

When later you analyse that feeling, you may conclude it was compatible with a divinity or that. You may even be sure, while the numinous phenomenon occurs, that it is such and such thing.

So, it goes in two parts: you are aware of an inner experience (data, what) then you criticize it. Your knowledge of the particular numen grows and you can compare it to this and that from history and conclude it agrees with this or that figure.

Then, you know, and by knowing by personal knowledge you're a gnostic.

This is an unpopular view maybe on account of a few matters. For one, you cannot reproduce it in others (almost - mistery religions did that or at least tried so); second, it's 'inner', and we in this civilization hate that to pieces (Jung says, more or less, that we hate to admit we live with a mad man in the same house); third, somewhat in the line of the first, you are very hard pressed to communicate it in words, which makes you look like a fool at best; fourth, it cannot be controlled by the authorities, such as priests, which is why the christians turned ferociously against the gnostics and eliminated them physically. Beginning about 2nd century CE, if I'm right, which is irrelevant.

One serious problem is that people keep fooling themselves in various assorted ways. One of the most common problems is people who want to follow some fashion and try to convince others they know this and that. Then you talk with them for half an hour and they weren't changed, when the experience they relate to have had should have changed them. They just stay the mean little people they always were.

I hope you will accept I tried to state the case as best as I could. It is very hard, and usually considered to be completely lost time if not actually something that simply is best not done.

Something else,

Can we sort this out before we get onto Jung?

Well, I'm not really interested in Jung here, I'm currently interested in the criteria, or theories of truth. The subject just popped up in the meantime and it just also happened I read a lot of Jung when I was twenty-something. Given that I think the man has some definitely very, very interesting ideas, I cannot help but jotting a note here and there.

* — I think I may have to clarify one day what I mean by reason, intuition, feeling and sensation, which anyway is what's in Jung's "Psychological Types".

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Hubertus Fremerey
13 Jul 2011

#419 on Jung and clear arguments

So much stuff again, I barely can keep up. But at least the conf is running.

First on "theo-logy" : It is exactly what the word says it is - a logical speaking about god or gods. In Greek philosophy theology has been part of physics, not metaphysics ! The gods were seen as part of nature, so the fell in the realm of physics. Only because physics itself has to be seen in the light of meta-physics (i.e. monism vs dualism, "first mover", "origin of it all", "substance and form vs logos", categories of thinking, etc.), the gods had too, and only in this way theology becomes a subfield of metaphysics. But only a subfield ! All dogs are animals, but not all animals are dogs.

In this way "Orthodox" theology is different in some metaphysical respects from "Roman" theology, even while they both speak the same "credo". The differences in theology are not to be mixed up with differences in the understanding of the church ("ecclesio-logy"). Roman catholics and Protestants split over ecclesio-logy, not over theo-logy. The split of Orthodoxy from "Western" Christianity is part theo-logical and part ecclesio-logical. The central cathedral of the Eastern Church is "Hagia Sophia" - "Holy Wisdom" - while the central cathedral of the Western Church is "St.Peter". In this sense the Orthodox Church is much more "spiritual" and "philosophical" than the Roman and Lutheran Church, which are dominated by jurists - people who are very much concerned with political orders as Romans. In a sense Orthodxy can even be said to be "unpolitical".

The character of the "Western" theology is dominated from the start by practically thinking jurists, not by spirituals. St.Augustine, St.Thomas, Luther and Calvin all have been very "politically thinking persons". Most popes have been jurists. A central cathedral named "Hagia Sophia" is unthinkable in the West. But on the other hand the "doctrine of the two swords" - the worldly of the emperor and the spiritual of the pope - is alien to Orthodox thinking while it dominated Western thinking up to the Reformation. But these differences are not in the strict sense "theo-logical", but rather more "ecclesio-logical", concerning the form and nature of the church.

Orthodox theology surely was not Platonist, but clearly "Biblical" and confessional, but may have preferred the Gospel of John to the others. On the other hand, the theology of the West was strongly influenced by neo-Platonism in St.Augustine and in "Pseudo-Dionysios-Areopagites". See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pseudo-Dionysius_the_Areopagite !

Whether one should speak of a Buddhist and Taoist theo-logy I do not know, since Buddhism and Taoism don't speak of God. As in classical Antiquity, there are "gods" of lesser importance and a sort of all pervading "order of things" comparable to the Greek "logos" and "nomos", Asian "dharma" and "dao", which is not a "god". Even the Hindu concept of "Brahma" is nearer to an eternal law than to a personal god as in the figure of "Shiva". Thus theo-logy and kosmo-logy become indiscernible here.

My personal attitude re. Jung and gnosticism is "reluctant interest". On the one hand I don't like all this speculative mysticism. I prefer clear thinking and clear wording and stress logical and methodological clarity. "The Word they should let stand !" as Luther put it. In this sense ALL Christian denominations opposed strictly against Gnosticism as a form of dangerous heresy. By this argument Spinoza and Behmen were expelled and Teilhard de Chardin as well as GuEnon "kept in quarantine" too. Mystics were always seen with scepticism. "If you are speaking of ineffable things you better shut up !" was the general attitude. This attitude is defending the logos, the meaningful dispute as different from "spiritual gobbledegook". I think Mike is very much supporting this view - as am I. I am well aware of Jung and Gnosticism and Spiritualism and Mysticism, but I still defend reason and good arguments against "cloudiness". But of course Western science is unthinkable without the support of "Hermeticism" and "Kabbala" and astrology and alchemy and Pythagoreism which all flourished in the West from 15th century. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hermeticism and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Renaissance_magic and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Western_esotericism, and look up Faivre : http://www.amazon.com/Western-Esotericism-Concise-Esoteric-Traditions/dp/1438433786/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1310553118&sr=1-1 ! This is a "great" tradition that should be known. But I still keep to reason and clear arguments in the modern sense.

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Pete
13 Jul 2011

Hey. Is there another Pete here? That last post wasn't mine.

This thing about inner and outer worlds is misleading. For the mystic there would be no real distinction between outside and inside, so it makes no sense to say that the knowledge we gain by way of the 'inner arrow' is only intuition, feelings, etc. The entire idea of the practice is to go beyond such things. It's knowledge of reality, and this includes the outside world. Check out Lao-tsu, who claims to know the origins of the world by looking inside himself, or Schopenhauer, who finds that when he reaches his 'better consciousness, he finds no distinction between subject and object. Mysticism would be useless if it were based on feelings and intuitions. Mysticism is the scientific study of all phenomena without exception, not just an interpretation of vague inner feelings, dreams and thoughts. Okay, not eveyone would agree that it scientific, but that's mostly because not everyone has examined it.

But we cannot proceed in philosophy by appealing to incommensurable experiences. It's the philosophy of mysticism that threatens the traditional western worldview, not reports of intuitions and dreams. This philosophy deals with all phenomenon, including pianos, planets and spacetime. When we can falsify that philosophy then we can forget all about it. Strangely, however, it turns out to be unfalsifiable. The question is only whether this is because it is true or for some other reason.

Anyone who believes that there is a God, or that there is not a God, is doing metaphysics, so it would seem a bit odd to me to say that theology and metaphysics are different topics. They can be different, but if we make any progress we soon find they overlap. Same for physics, which cannot create a fundamental theory without beoming metaphysics. Metaphysics is not optional for researchers into the fundamental.

Great to have someone here from the Eastern Orthodox Church. Perhaps we should call it the official Church, since it was Rome who broke away from the early Collegiate and started changing the doctrine for its own convenience. But excuse me, I just like to stir things up.

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Pete
13 Jul 2011

Huburtus - missed your excellent post. I agree entirely about stressing clear thinking, clear wording and stressing logical and methodological clarity. I certainly would not agree, however, that mysticism asks us to to abandon any of these things. Rather, it insists on them, and they would be necessary for progress and understanding. The dialectic, after all, is a compulsory study for the Buddhist universities. I don't know where people get the idea that mysticism requires abandoning analysis and rationality. The point is that we cannot verify the truth of a philosophical theory by analysis, so that for knowledge we must go beyond analysis. Whether it is actually possible to go beyond analysis is a separate question. If it is not then we are stuck with speculation forever. Logic cannot prove truth, only consistency.

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Joo Magalhes
13 Jul 2011

Pete,

This thing about inner and outer worlds is misleading. For the mystic there would be no real distinction between outside and inside, so it makes no sense to say that the knowledge we gain by way of the 'inner arrow' is only intuition, feelings, etc.

Of course. But still we must face that the natural (?), if theoretically misleading distinctions are there: outside world with vision, smell, hearing... and inner world with reason, dreams, imagination, etc.

It would even be dangerous not to discriminate. We already make a mess when we project; now not to distinguish inner and outer in practice would lead us directly to the participation mystique, which is a reduction of the level of consciousness (cf Jung) and even worse, like the 'drowning of consciousness' and even psychosis.

Strangely, however, it turns out to be unfalsifiable. The question is only whether this is because it is true or for some other reason.

Seen popperian-wise, that doesn't look good.

I don't know where people get the idea that mysticism requires abandoning analysis and rationality.

Absolutely, I guess.

Logic cannot prove truth, only consistency.

It can only prove what is implicit at the start (premises, axioms), which is why it is also said that logic creates nothing new, only makes things explicit. Something else does that.

Hubertus, a very nice post, or, at least I liked it.

On the one hand I don't like all this speculative mysticism. I prefer clear thinking and clear wording and stress logical and methodological clarity.

Definitely.

"The Word they should let stand !"
This attitude is defending the logos, the meaningful dispute as different from "spiritual gobbledegook".

Etc etc. Well, it seems Heraclitus came up first with the meaning of Logos, Word, as principle of order and knowledge (Wikipedia, Logos) and "the Stoic philosophers identified the term with the divine animating principle pervading the Universe."

The question is what is it - is it what's written in the book, or is it whatever it was that inspired the thought that is in the book? Gnostics say the book is a corpse and dead, and only live, direct knowledge coming from whatever inspired the thoughts written in the book is acceptable. Gnosticism is that.

Even then we have the meaning of Aristotle, as meaningful dispute or argument, and the Heraclitus and the Stoics one, and also the meaning in John's gospel. We could discuss it forever, and it seems it has been discussed forever.

Hm this isn't clear and well written, I'm afraid.

I don't use the term 'spiritual' as it has been abused by every sort of dubious people who want your money. My own personal choice about the words, of course. I would like to stress that I agree with you but also say that there's knowledge that doesn't come from 'meaningful dispute' (a notion hard to explain, as I said); although relinquishing reason is the last thing one should ever do, much as clinging to reason only for salvation against our inner demons. Or, as Castaneda's Don Juan puts it, clarity of mind is one of the ennemies of a man of knowledge.

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Joo Magalhes
13 Jul 2011

In the paragraph that starts "Etc etc. Well, it seems Heraclitus came up first with the meaning of Logos" the "Etc etc." is to be removed. I deleted a paragraph and didn't check the connections.

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Pete
13 Jul 2011

"But still we must face that the natural (?), if theoretically misleading distinctions are there: outside world with vision, smell, hearing... and inner world with reason, dreams, imagination, etc."

Of course. I'm sorry if I understimated your knoweldge of these topics, which I did. Yes. we must be able to see these theoretically misleading theoretical distinctions in order to survive. But as philosophers we cannot unthinkingly reify them. That is exactly what we're paid not to do. We must first establish that they are not merely folk-psychological.

I wish we didn't have to reserve the term 'natural' for the wysiwyg world of physics. The natural world is whatever the world is completely regardless of what any physicist thinks, and until we know what it is we cannot know which of our theories are naturalsitic or not, and cannot dismiss any theories for not qualifying. Whatever the world is, it is obviously not what it appeared to be to scientists in the eighteenth century. Even the extension of time and space is up for grabs these days. In the meantime philosophy seems to have fallen a century behind physics. still stuck in Newton's universe. So there is a lot of evidence and support for the idea that all distinctions are conceptual, that the final truth lies 'beyond the coincidence of contradictories'.

There may be more, but there are at least two well-known logical proofs of the unreality of all distinctions, one of which is considered the philosophical foundation of Middle Way Buddhism. So the opposite idea is actually quite difficult to defend, however natural it seems to hold.

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Rachel Browne
13 Jul 2011

Sorry Pete, Pete

Charles, I have no idea what the spiritual is, because I haven't experienced it, as it pertains to God. Anyway, isn't it said here that the spiritual is ineffable and can't be expressed in words?

My brother doesn't "call" himself a theologian. He isn't right up there with St Thomas, but he teaches theology. When I asked him about metaphysics and theology, he sent me a lecture. Apparently the philosophy of the Middle Ages was neo-Platonist, following the philosophy of Plotinus, so there was no distinction between philosophy and theology. This seems to be to do with language. The Greeks didn't have a word for "thing", only essence, so the Greek language encourages speculative possibilities, such as God, though I can't quite see this. With Catholicism and the Latin language and the term "res" for thing, being is no longer a unity but things are distinct. Humans become individuals with responsibility and are no longer seen as taken to be part of the unity emanating from God. God knows what all this means.

Pete, I don't see why doing metaphysics necessarily leads to God. However, Aristotle thought so, even though he was an empiricist. Although maybe he wasn't. He did think there might be a higher faculty of mind, that suggests soul.

Anyway, I shall duck out. This is totally beyond me. Apparently, contrary to Islam, where philosophy is subsumed under religion, Catholics defend faith and reason, so no Pete, they are not incompatible. They are different aspects of truth. Christ. Bye then.

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RachelBrowne
13 Jul 2011

Charles Actually, I'm angry and will not have anyone criticise my brother. He's my brother, do you not understand that relation? Well, I know you don't.

What do you know of him? Why can't he be a theologian? A person who practices science is a scientist. We don't have Anselm and Augustine any more, as this the modern age.

Bury your head in religion if you will.

This is my brother's first book. http://www.amazon.com/Valley-Way-Soul-Melancholy-Soul-Making/dp/1921472081

Everyone here speaks of the spiritual. My brother speaks of this in his work but prefers to speak of soulfulness outside of lectures. Even I can understand poetry and melancholy and soulfulness.

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Charles
13 Jul 2011

Joao, re saying "in the US, there are fundamentalists everywhere," similar to saying about Europe something like "there are socialists everywhere?" I think that both statements are true and equally meaningless.

Usually when the word "fundamentalist" is used by the English language liberal & left press and their readers, listeners, and viewers, they have religious - political social connotations in mind. When put into the context of the U.S.A., fundamentalist usually means people associated with a large variety of social conservative Evangelical Christian groups. It is obvious to anyone with any experience in America that there are Evangelical Christians "everywhere" in America, from Alaska -Hawaii to Maine - Florida. But simply saying that they are everywhere has no pragmatic meaning in either a religious or political-social sense, because American "fundamentalist" Christians have such a wide variety of beliefs and activities. Pragmatic is certainly an appropriate evaluative philosophical system to use in America.

Likewise, European socialists are a very diverse political group. But saying that they are "everywhere" has no pragmatic meaning, because their diversity is not accounted for.

In other words, definition is important to philosophy.

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Charles
13 Jul 2011

Re theology: Rachel is apparently irritated with me, because in this philosophical forum I questioned what defines a theologian. I'm sorry Rachel, but I think that my questions are in line with the example set by Socrates. No personal offense intended to your brother though.

Hubertus says Western theology is "practical." Saint Augustine of Hippo and Martin Luther are practical. How are they practical Hubertus? Since Luther was an Augustinian, it is very appropriate to put them together. But I question Hubertus giving Augustine and Luther the label practical.

Biographer Peter Brown in his book- Augustine of Hippo- describes how Augustine changed from the time of his conversion to his writing the Confession. Augustine came to appreciate the difficulty of achieving an ideal life. But rather than becoming practical as Hubertus would have us believe, Augustine became urgently aware of the permanence of evil in human actions. Luther was primarily concerned with salvation from pervasive evil. Luther was practical in creating catechisms and in his example and teaching about marriage. But Luther's denouncing "works" in his Heidelberg Disputation, becoming the "outlaw" as the result of his Leipzig debate, and the whole Sacramentarian Controversy are hardly practical. Perhaps Luther's involvement (on the side of the princes) in the Peasant wars and attempting to help settle disputes in royal politics can be seen as practical. Luther's German Mass was practical in exercise, but not his theology behind the Mass.

When you set out to define what a specific theology is about, I think it quickly becomes apparent how difficult it is to philosophically interpret it.

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Joo Magalhes
14 Jul 2011

Likewise, European socialists are a very diverse political group. But saying that they are "everywhere" has no pragmatic meaning, because their diversity is not accounted for.

Good heavens, that's linguistics, right? Oh my oh my. I entirely reject that en bloc until further notice as completely useless, at least to me. No hard feelings, of course, no derision here, and I thank you for explaining it, you were most helpful. Definitions are of course important, now I know what "X has no meaning" means.

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Joo Magalhes
14 Jul 2011
It used to be a common saying of his that men ought not to seek for things in words, but for words in things; for that things are not made on account of words, but that words are put together for the sake of things. -- Diogenes Laertius on Myson, "The Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers"

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Mike ward
14 Jul 2011

Rachel

Felicitations on the occasion today of your Birthday

Live long and prosper

Mike

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Rachel Browne
14 Jul 2011

Thanks Mike! but was that a "good-bye"? well, not, because we'll see you next weekend!

Joao, if you want to drive me away from this conference you only have to mention Chomsky. Hegel. Kierkegaard. I'm going to have another glass of champagne. These names are distressing.

Get on with the conference people!

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Hubertus Fremerey
15 Jul 2011

#419a on "practical" theologians

@Charles : You said that I call St.Augustine and Luther "practical". In the context of what I wrote (see below) this is misleading. Of course I am well aware of the spiritual side of their teachings. I have read the Brown bio of St.Augustine myself. And I have read the "Confessiones" too. What I was saying is : St.Augustine and Luther and St.Thomas and Calvin all were fundamentally professional jurists and the relation of the "civitas terrena" and the "civitas dei" was one of their main concerns. Not the "Confessiones" but "De Civitate Dei" was the opus magnum of St.Augustine. All four theologians were very much readers and exegators of St.Paul's epistle to the Romans, which is about the proper relation of the Christian to the state, of the obligation to God and the obligation to Caesar. This was a topic pervading all of Western theology and almost non existent in Orthodoxy, and this explains the doctrine of the "two swords". In this sense - and only in this sense - I called "Western" theology "practical". Perhaps I should have said "political" instead, but surely not "spiritual" in the first place. Thus there are many "St.Peter" and "St.Paul" cathedrals in the West, but no "Hagia Sophia". The Roman, the Lutheran and the Reformed Churches have always been very political. Without these qualifications the notion "practical" becomes misleading.

Here my text cited once more for convenieance :

The character of the "Western" theology is dominated from the start by practically thinking jurists, not by spirituals. St.Augustine, St.Thomas, Luther and Calvin all have been very "politically thinking persons". Most popes have been jurists. A central cathedral named "Hagia Sophia" is unthinkable in the West. But on the other hand the "doctrine of the two swords" - the worldly of the emperor and the spiritual of the pope - is alien to Orthodox thinking while it dominated Western thinking up to the Reformation. But these differences are not in the strict sense "theo-logical", but rather more "ecclesio-logical", concerning the form and nature of the church.

Orthodox theology surely was not Platonist, but clearly "Biblical" and confessional, but may have preferred the Gospel of John to the others. On the other hand, the theology of the West was strongly influenced by neo-Platonism in St.Augustine and in "Pseudo-Dionysios-Areopagites". See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pseudo-Dionysius_the_Areopagite !

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Hubertus Fremerey
15 Jul 2011

#419b on "theology" and "spirituality"

@Rachel : On theology and metaphysics read again what I wrote under #419, first and second para :

First on "theo-logy" : It is exactly what the word says it is - a logical speaking about god or gods. In Greek philosophy theology has been part of physics, not metaphysics ! The gods were seen as part of nature, so the fell in the realm of physics. Only because physics itself has to be seen in the light of meta-physics (i.e. monism vs dualism, "first mover", "origin of it all", "substance and form vs logos", categories of thinking, etc.), the gods had too, and only in this way theology becomes a subfield of metaphysics. But only a subfield ! All dogs are animals, but not all animals are dogs.

In this way "Orthodox" theology is different in some metaphysical respects from "Roman" theology, even while they both speak the same "credo". The differences in theology are not to be mixed up with differences in the understanding of the church ("ecclesio-logy"). Roman catholics and Protestants split over ecclesio-logy, not over theo-logy. The split of Orthodoxy from "Western" Christianity is part theo-logical and part ecclesio-logical. The central cathedral of the Eastern Church is "Hagia Sophia" - "Holy Wisdom" - while the central cathedral of the Western Church is "St.Peter". In this sense the Orthodox Church is much more "spiritual" and "philosophical" than the Roman and Lutheran Church, which are dominated by jurists - people who are very much concerned with political orders as Romans. In a sense Orthodxy can even be said to be "unpolitical".

And then : I have written a praising review of your brother's book on the valley of the soul. But spirituality is much more than a personal matter of experiences. "The spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters". "The Holy Spirit" is one of the three persons constituting "three partite god" (think of Donne). Hegel did not think of psychology and feelings when he wrote "Phenomenology of Spirit". Thus spirit is much more than a personal thing. "The spirit of the Lord be with us all !" is a constant formula in all Christian confessions. Of course it is comparable to the spirit of joy or that of love or that of gloom or that of hope or that of determination etc.. But the "Holy Spirit" is never meant to be a mere feeling but a force or force-field.

Our whole philosophy is totally ignorant of forces. It is way to formalistic. But the world we live in would never exist without forces. The spirit of God is meant to be a creative force - more of a will than a mere intelligence. The word of God is not a theoretical deliberation, a musing, but a command, something to be executed. Word and spirit are one. This connection is lost on analytic philosophers. "Doing things with words" can mean "killing and animating with words." Think of spirituality as of a science of spiritual forces, the martial art of using spiritual swords.

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Charles
15 Jul 2011

Hubertus, thank you for clarifying what you meant by practical theologians re Augustine and Luther. I wonder what they would think of today's analytical and continental philosophers? Postmoderns interpret them freely. What would be the result if the reverse could happen? Putting cosmological models aside, should we assume that postmoderns know anything more than they knew? Just some speculative questions, not intended to derail discussion here.

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Hubertus Fremerey
15 Jul 2011

#420 Once more on the "continental vs analytical" divide

Charles, you wrote // Americans have a difficult time dealing with dialectic thought and situations. Americans get frustrated quickly when compromise is not possible. // Interesting view ! I never thought of it. But in part it may be because you got so many immigrants from both groups of countries during the 20th century - from the British isles AND from the continent. Those Jews were leading in both fields - in the "Vienna Circle" (very analytical) and in the"Frankfurt School" (very continental). Rorty was a famous "analytical" before turning "pragmatic". The funny argument of the analyticals is : "Oh no, there is no such divide as between us analyticals and those continentals, it's an outdated quarrel. There are only analyticals!" Look at Rachel, who is a proud analytical : She simply rejects almost everything that is not analytical. But even this is not fair. She loves Buber and Levinas who are very "continental".

Perhaps the most simple differentiation is between "people riddled by language and concepts" and "people riddled by personal experiences". Perhaps you are riddled by both, so you can't see a divide ? The questions "what does it all mean ?" ("analytical") and "what am I doing here ?" ("continental") are not incompatible, they may even converge. This would be a good way to make the "divide" vanish.

But why bother ? I have no problem living with such a divide. The world is full of dialectical oppositions - positive and negative charges in electricity, day and night, joy and sorrow, health and illness, male and female, yin and yang etc.. Thus my main concern with this "analytic - continental"- opposition is only to make it bring fruit and stimulating new ideas. Hubertus

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Hubertus Fremerey
15 Jul 2011

#421 who are "they" ?

Charles, you wrote // should we assume that postmoderns know anything more than they knew? // Who are "they" ? St.Augustin and Luther ? I need to know before answering.

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Joo Magalhes
15 Jul 2011

I'm sorry to leave hanging threads, but I must disappear for a few days due to pending projects.

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Rachel Browne
15 Jul 2011

Charles, I only get angry for a short time, like 3 minutes. Anything more would be too exhausting. Well, I still maintain, Hubertus, that I don't like continental writers. Buber and Levinas are (were?) Jewish. They can't really live their philosophy though. Buber snapped at Carl Rogers in the Buber-Rogers dialogue, and when Levinas was asked how he thought Israel might be defended he suggested that the use of arms wouldn't be wrong. So if you want to criticise analytical philosophers for being abstract and useless, this Jewish ethics is too, perhaps.

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Hubertus Fremerey
15 Jul 2011

#420a a clarification

Rachel, hear me laughing ! I never ever called analytic philosophy "abstract and useless", I only called it complacent. I said that EVERY student of philosophy should be trained two years in analytical philosophy but then - if he/she is good - go on to "real" philosophy. It is like doing math to become good in physics. Math is math and not physics. Physics has to do with "real" things, while math is only a technique. You may call "mathematics the language of nature", but to know the language does not make you a Shakespeare. And to be good in analytical philosophy does not make you good in "real" philosophy, but it is very useful as a precondition to make you think and argue solidly and carefully. This was my point.

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Hubertus Fremerey
15 Jul 2011

#421 A list of "continental philosophy" - without comments

The following is an introduction to "continental philosophy" - short, readable, and worth reading :

Continental Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction, by Simon Critchley; Oxford University Press, 2001, 150 pp. (ISBN-13: 978-0192853592)

From this I take the following list : What is Continental Philosophy? Continental philosophy is the name for a 200-year period in the history of philosophy that begins with the publication of Kant's critical philosophy in the 1780s. This led on to the following key movements:

1. German idealism and romanticism and its aftermath (Fichte, Schelling, Hegel, Schlegel and Novalis, Schleiermacher, Schopenhauer) 2. The critique of metaphysics and the emasters of suspicioni (Feuerbach, Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, Bergson) 3. Germanophone phenomenology and existential philosophy (Husserl, Max Scheler, Karl Jaspers, Heidegger) 4. French phenomenology, Hegelianism, and anti-Hegelianism (KojEve, Sartre, Merleau-Ponty, Levinas, Bataille, de Beauvoir) 5. Hermeneutics (Dilthey, Gadamer, Ricoeur) 6. Western Marxism and the Frankfurt School (Lukacs, Benjamin, Horkheimer, Adorno, Marcuse, Habermas) 7. French structuralism (LEvi-Strauss, Lacan, Althusser), poststructuralism (Foucault, Derrida, Deleuze), post-modernism (Lyotard, Baudrillard), and feminism (Irigaray, Kristeva)

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Hubertus Fremerey
16 Jul 2011

#421a On the internal and the external of philosophy

Rachel, first I beg you pardon ! I did not laugh at you, only at the argument, which I had to clarify. And then : I wrote that to be good at the English language does not make you a Shakespeare. Which means : When we call Sharkespeare great, we refer to things that are outside of the literary realm. He knew how to use the language, but this alone would not have made him a "great" dramatist. He created a world of dramatis personae und of scenes and made us think about our being as humans in this world. This is what he is praised for. And this is what I mean with this difference of "analytic" and "real" philosophy : Good philosophy - like good literature - is referring to something outside of philosophy (resp. literature) proper. And this "outside of philosophy proper" is what I am missing in analytical philosophy. This is why I wrote that "math is not physics". There is a real world outside with landscapes and the plants and animals and the stars which is not "math". We have to cope "real things". And in this sense we have to cope "real problems" in our lives and not only spurious problems of analytical studies of concepts. If your are imprisoned you know that freedom is more than a concept. "Real" philosophy makes us better understand life itself, not concepts.

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Charles
16 Jul 2011

Hubertus, your no 421. Previously I was referring to both St. Augustine of Hippo and Martin Luther. (I had previously noted that Martin Luther had been an Augustinian monk. ) My question was more speculation than request for detailed response. I don't want to get this conference off track on theological questions. My referral to postmoderns was in a sociological and psychological and political senses not literary. I speculated about what St. Augustine and Luther, if the difference in cosmological views between them and the post moderns could be negated, would think about today's postmoderns. As postmoderns, I am referring to people like Marcuse, Foucault, and the New Left of the 1968 protest era (who still have a lot of influence on European/American intellectual classes).

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Rachel Browne
16 Jul 2011

Hubertus, your mind is all over the place here!

Charles, you can talk about theology! This is something people are interested in. If Nick comes back to the conference he would love to talk about this. I shall suggest he comes back. He's been getting divorced and moving home and has been distracted.

There are theologians who argue that God is not good which is an argument I find interesting. We probably shouldn't get into too much detail on theology here, and you can take this off conference Charles if it gets too academic.

Hubertus, if good philosophy refers to something outside philosophy, then what is wrong with analytical philosophy? Analytical philosophy keeps tabs on science. It is all about whether neurosience can map a mind and whether computers might be conscious at the moment. Literature isn't as much of a "real thing" as science.

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Hubertus Fremerey
16 Jul 2011

#421a on St.Augustine and the postmoderns

Charles, I think that first of all St.Augustine and the Augustinian Eremite monk Luther would have called a world without God absurd. This was not something that could be debated meaningfully. It would be like debating the behaviour of children without parents. You won't even start to debate such a spurious problem. But of course I need not tell you.

The Christian world - the Roman, the Lutheran, and the Orthodox alike - is a world of responsibility in the face of God. The one and only problem there is a possibility that you misunderstand His messages. To know what the meaning of His hints and signs and messages is can be a matter of life and death and of sleepless nights and haunted days as in a marriage on the brink of divorce. Thus to debate "consciousness" instead of "conscience" would look absurd. It would put a secondary problem before the primary one.

I think the only fundamental difference in this between Orthodox and "Western" Christianity is a more political view of this problem in the West. The Roman Church stands between the faithful and God as a mediator, while in Lutheran and Orthodox thinking the church is more a counsellor than a mediator, since the faithful is more directly addressed to God. Thus the Lutheran and Orthodox form of Christianity resembles the community of the faithful in Islam, which is not an institutionalized "church" either. There is no Islamic "pope".

Thus once more the difference is not so much a matter of theo-logy but of "ecclesio-logy". All Christian confessions speak the same "Credo". But to debate philosophical problems "as if there is no God" would seem downright ridiculous to St.Augustine and Luther. It is like debating "life without air and water". What a meaningless nonsense !

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Hubertus Fremerey
16 Jul 2011

#422 on what philosophy is all about

Rachel, you wrote : // Hubertus, if good philosophy refers to something outside philosophy, then what is wrong with analytical philosophy? Analytical philosophy keeps tabs on science. It is all about whether neurosience can map a mind and whether computers might be conscious at the moment. Literature isn't as much of a "real thing" as science. //

Why not leave science to the scientists and get philosophers doing philosophy again ? What do you think the job of a good philosopher to be ?

Surely analysis of our concepts and arguments is one of the main tasks of any good philosopher. But the question of "what to call a good life?" or "what to call a good society?" are legitimate philosophical questions too. Those are philosophical questions EXACTLY because they CANNOT be scientific !

You seem to think that "if it cannot be scientific, it cannot be meaningful at all !" But this in my opinion is wrong, since if it is scientific, it can be left to the scientists.

I am not speaking of literature here, I am speaking of human life. We humans are responsible and reasonable beings. We have to justify our thoughts and deeds. This was the opinion of Plato-Socrates and Kant alike. In the view of Buber and Levinas we are obliged to justify our deeds and thoughts to the other. But this is not a scientific justification. It is an ethical justification in the wider sense, it is giving and taking advice not on technical things, but on "human" things as in an interpersonal talk about problems of life. It is about "being reasonable and responsible as a reasonable and responsible being". No neuroscience will tell you that ! It is not about literature, it is about "being a human". It is not "writing a drama" but "enacting the moral difficulties of Hamlet" - which is a totally different thing. It is not just "showing somebody acting on the stage" but "showing those moral difficulties by using a stage and a drama". Those "moral difficulties" are the important thing. Whether they are shown in English or Chinese, in this way or in a different way is not important.

My constant charge against analytical philosophy is that it is always evading "content" by concentrating on formal things. Most of our interpersonal arguments have nothing to do with science, but they have to do with justifications and deliberations that are not scientific by nature. .

We know what it means to "make progress" in solving math-problems or in playing the violin. But what does is mean "to make progress in being a human" ? This is a very meaningful philosophical question that is not addressed in analytical philosophy. What do we mean when we say that somebody has become "wise" from suffering ? This sort of question I call "real" philosophy.

In the NT Peter says to Jesus : "Lord to whom shall we go ? Thou hast the words of eternal life !" (John 6,68). For the analytical philosopher these are meaningless sentences, but for "real humans" they are not, even for the non believer. What does it mean to ask somebody for the right way to go ? Surely the questioner is not asking for a "scientific" answer, but still for a meaningful and helpful and reasonable answer. There seems to be no agreement on what "meaningful" means. The analytical philosopher seems to say : "If it is not technical and scientific, it cannot be meaningful, so don't ask silly questions !" But in many fields of human counseling the natural way of teaching is not by arguments but by "showing and going a way" and by "giving hints". This is not "meaningless", but it is not analytical and not scientific either. Heidegger in this sense quite often spoke of "giving hints".

If you think that those questions are not the concern of the philosopher but of the poet then please tell me why you think so.

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Mike Ward
18 Jul 2011

Hubertus, you wrote: Our whole philosophy is totally ignorant of forces. It is way to formalistic. But the world we live in would never exist without forces. The spirit of God is meant to be a creative force - more of a will than a mere intelligence. The word of God is not a theoretical deliberation, a musing, but a command, something to be executed. Word and spirit are one. This connection is lost on analytic philosophers. "Doing things with words" can mean "killing and animating with words." Think of spirituality as of a science of spiritual forces, the martial art of using spiritual swords.

I see no progress in your views as you appear to remain trapped by these personal desires willing the world to be ordered the way you want it to be.

There is a dogmatic desire to compartmentalise everything when in fact what we have a continuum. Most human beings in my experience are neither particularly responsible nor reasonable but motivated by self interest and feelings rather than reason and critical thinking.

Philosophy in my view encompasses everything, it's the umbrella science of the mind. When I read of people Like yourself) who say "NEVER" with such conviction I know from experience they will be proven wrong - my only regret is that I probably won't be around to see it :-(

As one of your classified "unreal humans" am I destined to be burned for heresy against your orthodox world view or maybe vice versa?

The job of a philosopher is to evolve ideas into a greater theory of everything and not exist as a living dinosaur.

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Pete
18 Jul 2011

Mike - I feel the point you make about the task of philosophy, that it is the creation of a theory of everything, is important. t's pretty obvious, of course, but it's regularly forgotten.

This would be the reason why I feel it is a mistake to begin philosophy anywhere other than at the beginning, with metaphysics, with the world as a whole. The whole point of philosophy is to create a complete and consistent metaphysical theory, so we might as well start where we're bound to end up.

Interesting that you call philosophy a science of mind. This might be an interesting idea to debate.

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Hubertus Fremerey
18 Jul 2011

#423 on improving the world - once more

Mike, you wrote : // I see no progress in your views as you appear to remain trapped by these personal desires willing the world to be ordered the way you want it to be. There is a dogmatic desire to compartmentalise everything when in fact what we have a continuum. Most human beings in my experience are neither particularly responsible nor reasonable but motivated by self interest and feelings rather than reason and critical thinking. //

What do you call "a continuum" ? Is it better to "compartmentalize a capacitance and a inductance to make an oscillating circuit ? If you understand that, you even can transform the oscillating circuit into an antenna ! But always be careful to "compartmentalize" everything, otherwise you will not understand and get an nothing. You better use words and sentences instead of a continuum of sounds to sound like a gruntling bear !

And then : You cannot drive the horses, but you can seduce them by using carrot and stick. This is what advertizers do : "Sex sells" and some other things like football or ice-cream or a cool beer sell too. What I try to do is : Make the good things look more attractive than the bad things. But to do this I have to think what to call a good thing and how to sell it. Thus I am not nearly as naive as you seem to thing. I am not suggesing utopia. I am only trying to direct the inner forces into the better direction.

But analytical philosophers are not aware of forces anyway, they are only analyzing goals that attract nobody. Now they got interested at least in neurology and human drives, but once more without thinking about contents. They are studying the motor of the car while I am studying the driver of the car. That's the difference.

When people see a building under sonstruction they see the workers and engineers and think those are the important people. But the really important people are the architect and the builder-owner. Those are not seen. And even behind the builder-owner are the jurists and the bankers, who are not seen either. Those unseen people are the "hidden forces" driving the work on the building. This is why I called analytical philosophy unaware of the forces that drive "real" philosophy. To put it simply : Why are we not sitting on the trees in Africa ? This is the sort of questions analytical philosophers are missing, while Schopenhauer and Nietzsche and Heidegger were very aware of those. This is why I said that analytical philosophy is formalistic and unaware of forces. Schopenhauer and Nietzsche and Heidegger spoke of the will to get to terms with this world. So do I. Has nothing to do with whipping innocent Englishmen and -women into a German designed utopia ! I was never planning such a thing.

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Mike Ward
18 Jul 2011

Hubertus, everything is a continuum, night/day isn't binary, light isn't particles or waves, heat or cold etc etc

Where was your inductance and capacitance nano seconds after the big bang - if you think there was one of course? Spoken language is a just continuum of noise.

You repeatedly use "good" and "better" as if they had some universal meaning when in fact they are arbitrary.

What is the nature of these "forces" you see but others don't? I think it's worth contemplating that the emperors new clothes you see just maybe aren't there - though I have to admit being in a minority in seeing your emperor naked.

Don't you find it a little scary that the architect/owner of say the pyramids or cathedrals were totally deranged mystics and naive dreamers or maybe this doesn't matter. When I look around at all these religious buildings I really wonder what the benefit was of coming down out the trees in the first place. Science flies us to the moon and religion flies us into buildings - given a choice I know what mine is, but each to their own.

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Hubertus Fremerey
19 Jul 2011

#423a On a strange allergy to philosophy among philosophers

I observe a strange allergy to philosophy among philosophers this time. Since Sokrates up to Kant, Hegel, Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Marx, Freud, Marcuse, Adorno, Habermas and many other philosophers of today it has been seen as a natural obligation of philosophy to serve the moral improvement of man and society and to clarify the role of man in this world. Now I am confronted to a reaction, even a hefty reaction, against this claim. It is almost an outcry that says : "Leave me alone with this rubbish ! Philosophy should care methodology and scientific questions, but it should keep out and leave me alone ! Philosophy is not allowed to interfere with my life and is not allowed to enter my home !"

That's the comfort of analytic philosophy as in Carnap and Quine and their likes : It doesn't touch us, it doesn't interfere, it keeps a distance, it doesn't moralize. But all those philosophers cited above from Socrates up to Marcuse and Habermas would shake their heads in disbelief and say : "This is not philosophy as we understood it ! We always thought that the primary obligation of philosophy is to interfere and to make us better humans in a better society. Now we are told that we are outdated and annoying and that we should leave the home of philosophy proper and go to the religious people or to the pseudoreligious people or elsewhere into the wilderness." How strange the times are we are living in ! But there will be a backlash ! The moral questions will come back with force ! A thinking being cannot expel and evade them for long.

When I said that analytic philosophy has become ignorant of forces I meant that people have always killed each other over moral conflicts. Thus moral arguments could release enormous forces. Philosophy can be a killing field, it can make people kill and die for. This should not be forgotten !

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Pete
19 Jul 2011

Interesting to see an argument for the continuum alongside one against against religion, when it is only religion that claims the universe is a continuum. Or is it only religions that build buildings that are the problem?

I wish we could drop this analytic/continental philosophy thing. Can't we just agree that someone who only does one of them is not doing philosophy in the full sense of it and move on?

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Hubertus Fremerey
19 Jul 2011

#424 formalism vs ethicism

Pete, my problem is not "continental vs analytical". My problem is "formalism vs ethicism". Debating "continuum" is once more foramlism, since whatever the answer may be, it does not require anything of you. It is one more topic evading all responsibility. This is what Socrates objected (according to the Platonic dialogue Phaedo) to the "physicists" : "They speak of properties of the Kosmos, of the physis, which we have to take for granted anyway. I - Socrates - am asking for what is required of me, since it's me who is responsible for my thoughts and deeds." This was what is called "the Socratic revolution". And this is what I am harping on since weeks here.

What I was saying here is : Whatever your opinion on "consciousness" or on "continuity" or on religion - it does not oblige us to anything. We are walking around in a museum of facts and opinions that are interesting or less so, but that leave us untouched so we can leave the museum anytime unchanged.

This is why I said that some people definitely hate philosophy from the moment when it begins to enter their life and turn into something different from a mere brain teaser and crossword-puzzle.

Of course you could go on with solving "crossword-puzzles", but I wanted to remind us all that this is not what philosophy since Socrates was meant to be.

Perhaps look at it this way : Mike and Charles each have a son. Did they ever use a handgun or a knife or their fists to convince their sons of the difference of good and bad behaviour ? No, they trusted in reason and intelligence and mutual understanding. But if this is so, why am I constantly told here that reason and intelligence and mutual understanding are of no use ? There is some logic lacking !

So my question was : How does it work ? In what way are reason and intelligence and mutual understanding guiding our behaviour ? By this question we are back from "formal" philosophy to "real" philosophy, from stimulating neurons to stimulating consciences.

If your ideas referring to continuum and religion are telling me something about human choices in difficult situations I am interested. If you are suggesting a Buddhist or Daoist ethics of "unversal harmony" this could be the case. But so far I do not see what you are proposing.

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Mike Ward
20 Jul 2011

Hubertus, I assume you are the same one that I have been in dialogue with for quite some time now - are you really?

YOU SAID: No, they trusted in reason and intelligence and mutual understanding. But if this is so, why am I constantly told here that reason and intelligence and mutual understanding are of no use ?

Who is telling you this? You have always been the one decrying the supremacy of reason and intelligence in favour of feelings and forces and spirituality and religion etc etc

When exactly was your conversion - on the road to Damascus :-) Luke 15:7

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Hubertus Fremerey
20 Jul 2011

#424a Reason and irrational forces

Mike, don't you see that reason in itself is without any force ? To apply reason to good ends needs irrational forces that are thriving for what is good ! Reason could tell you what is good, but it could not force you to do it. To put it differently : You don't eat the cake because you are told so, but because you remember from experience that it can be fun. This is totally irrational, it is a will for lust and gust, not a brainy thing. To go for a beer, you need to be thirsty for a beer - which is a purely irrational drive. Thus I have not changed at all, I am just clarifying things a bit.

Yes, it was "irrational religion" that made Kepler and Newton study the orbits of planets and invent the law of gravitation. Yes, it was "irrational religion" that made William Booth invent the Salvation Army and many others to set up hospizes and help the poor and abject."Irrational religion" can be a strong driving force to improve the world. Many thousands of pious Americans every year go to prepare CARE packages for the poor. There are similar deeds in Islam and Buddhism. This is why I wrote that analytic philosophy is ignorant of forces.

Of course I would not deny that religion is ambivalent and can drive people to do ugly things. But did you ever hear of a priest who defended child molesting by the argument that "God told me so" ? They know that it is sinful behaviour, so do not blame religion for everything.

The brain may tell you where to go, but the irrational "heart" will tell you why to go in the first place. This makes the difference between "deeds" and "solving puzzles". And even solving puzzles needs an irrational drive.

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Pete
20 Jul 2011

Like Mike, I am also confused by your views, Huburtus. You wrote - "Debating "continuum" is once more foramlism, since whatever the answer may be, it does not require anything of you. It is one more topic evading all responsibility."

If the universe is a continuum then the wisdom traditions were right about it all along. If you imagine this requires nothing of me and evades responsibilities then we ought to talk more about it, since this would be the opposite of the truth. You will never create a sensible ethical scheme by ignoring the fundamental nature of reality. It would have no foundation.

You also say that " Whatever your opinion on "consciousness" or on "continuity" or on religion - it does not oblige us to anything."

It requires something of me. Clearly you hold a different opinion that requires something different of you.

But I would agree that "some people definitely hate philosophy from the moment when it begins to enter their life and turn into something different from a mere brain teaser and crossword-puzzle." This is undoubtedly true for some people. Hopefully nobody here.

I also don't remember anyone telling you here that "reason and intelligence and mutual understanding are of no use ?" It would certainly be a very stupid thing to suggest.

You ask - "How does it work ? In what way are reason and intelligence and mutual understanding guiding our behaviour ?"

Well, we could agree with Popper and say that it is our beliefs that guide out behaviour. Then we could say that quite often we use our reason and intelligence to form our beliefs.

"If your ideas referring to continuum and religion are telling me something about human choices in difficult situations I am interested. If you are suggesting a Buddhist or Daoist ethics of "unversal harmony" this could be the case. But so far I do not see what you are proposing."

This is exactly what I'm suggesting. I'm proposing that Buddhist and Taoist ethics or behavioural principles are based on a particular understanding of the world by which it is a unity or continuum. It would be most odd if you concluded that this idea would have no implications for our behaviour.

The danger of being allergic to certain areas of philosophy is that it becomes impossible to join up all the dots. Ethical philosophy is impossible without some analysis of terms and concepts, or without some crossword-puzzle solving in metaphysics.

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Rachel Browne
20 Jul 2011

This IS slightly ridiculous!

If you are trying - as a continental philosopher, Hubertus - to change the world and trying to find out what the good is, why are you asking me, Mike and Pete? What do we know?

You haven't actually stated any particular way in which continental philosophers have impinged upon the world.

I'm bored with the analytical/continental debate. It's been going on for about 10 years between us. You can't attack analytical philosophers for not impacting on the world, they have no central intention to do this. They are simply pursuing an academic discipline. Though there is practical analyticl philosophy, such as business ethics, which issues from this discipline. In which case I think analytical philosophy does impact on the world.

Anyway, what is this good/bad distintion? I was just reading a paper on Dostoevsky and rage. Dostoevsky, in his writings, characterises people as being unique in having a capacity for "pointless, sadistic violence" and this part of the human condition. The daimonic. Humans are not fundamentally good, rational or benevolent. The more rational our society becomes, the more there is phenomena such as road rage and supermarket check-out rage, apparently. Apparently, recently, a man was punched in the face and killed by an impatient man behind him. And, actually, reading this is FUNNY!

It's so totally absurd! It is the modern human man, and you have to understand him if you are to understand the future, or begin to think about it. You can't just set out to find what is "good".

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Rachel Browne
20 Jul 2011

Hubertus. Just another thing. I know this won't get you off your hobby horse but what about Socrates and authentic dialogue? This is dialogue where one person doesn't dominate. Well, actually Socrates did dominate so he might be a bad example. The therapist is a better example.

Perhaps we could consider communication? Could we look at how therapists interact with patients? Starting with Carl Rogers, maybe?

I'm just thinking it might be a learning experience for you to think in a different way and take in possible different approaches to dialogue.

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Charles
20 Jul 2011

Mike obviously hasn't went backpack camping (on a rainy day) recently. I enjoy day hikes. But I have a middle age attitude towards camping now. I don't need to practice being miserable. I'd rather visit an ancient medieval cathedral on my vacation than be among the trees in the rain.

Mike asked: When I look around at all these religious buildings I really wonder what the benefit was of coming down out the trees in the first place.

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Charles
20 Jul 2011

Hubertus, please give us a specific issue involving ethics which analytical philosophers have ignored, so us naive readers of philosophy will know exactly what you are objecting to.

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Charles
20 Jul 2011

Is this an example or not of of analytical philosophy examining what may be the key ethical issue of our time (certainly high on the list of issues)?

The Philosophy of War http://www.iep.utm.edu/war/

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Charles
20 Jul 2011

As a reserve officer of Marines, I participated in a reserve officer staff officer course at the U.S. Naval War College in 1992. Below I list the topics in a text, "Foundations Of Moral Obligation: The Stockdale Course" It was based on a series of lectures given by Joseph Gerard Brennan to the regular senior course at the Naval War College. Stockdale course referred to Vice Admiral James B. Stockdale who taught a course with Dr. Brennan after the Vietnam War on foundations of moral obligation. I think it demonstrates the ecumenical nature of philosophy.

1. Prison and the Hermetic (my note- Admiral Stockdale was a naval aviator and POW in Vietnam.

2. Job and the Problem of Evil

3. Love: from Eros to Agape

4. Aristotle: The Ethics of Happiness

5. Kant and the Metaphysics of Morals

6. Utilitarianism: John Stuart Mill

7. Existentialism: Sartre and Camus

8. Lenin and Soviet Philosophy

9. Evolution and Ethics

10. Wittgenstein and the Ethic of Silence

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Pete
21 Jul 2011

Society is getting more rational? That's a tough hypothesis to swallow.

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Rachel Browne
21 Jul 2011

Well, Pete, the claim is that we are suppressing our feelings which are those of anger. We are being civilised and forced to conform. I was just mentioning this paper because it was of interest to me. Personally I don't feel any anger or need to conform and find this a very continental stance, a sweeping stance. But there probably is a requirement to conform, don't you think? We are expected to behave in socially acceptable ways. More so today, with the introduction of ASBOS, whatever may be - some sort of punishment for anti-social behaviour which isn't actually criminal. Mike will know! Not because he's under an ASBO, but because I expect he reads the newspaper rather than OK magazine. I read such magazines without even knowing who the people mentioned are, in a spirit of amazement at how out of touch I am. The magazines seem totally silly. So I suppose conforming to common expectations isn't the same as rationality. Well, I don't know. What do you think? Magazines like OK seem to embody contemporary cultural interest in people, Jordan always features and has done for years. Newspaper articles seem to be fleeting - well it's just news. This is totally rambling but you might have something to say about it. i think my point is that we are not conforming to the rational. What are we conforming to?

Charles!!! "Just war theory"? Surely the Socratic position is that if you need to ask if war can be justified you don't understand ethics or suffering. It is an ex-Marines position, surely? Or is it your religious self?

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Charles
21 Jul 2011

Rachel, Just War Theory dates back to Thomas Aquinas in Western Christendom. Martin Luther also stated what was required for the use of force by the state to be considered just. A world without war makes for an interesting thought experiment. But unfortunately it isn't yet reality. My opinion is that a world without war would require an effective world government that respected universal human rights. I don't expect that world government anytime soon.

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Rachel Browne
21 Jul 2011

Well, it's interesting. Hobbes defined war as a state of affairs which may exist even while its operations are not continued as if foreseeing the cold war. There didn't seem to be anything perceptible going on. Well, no actual fighting. But "state of affairs" is a bit vague. Rousseau's position that it is state pitted against state seems more precise. But it has to be government really. Ordinary citizens of a state are not at war, surely, unless they in service. I don't know. Are they? I

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Charles
22 Jul 2011

Rachel, I'm afraid that the civilian population is always involved in war, no matter the scale and objectives, peace keeping operations, so called low intensity conflict, insurgency, civil war, general war, and the continuing threat of nuclear wars and other weapons of mass destruction.I suggest we all read Simone Weil's essay: "The Iliad, Poem Of Might".

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Iliad_or_the_Poem_of_Force

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Rachel Browne
22 Jul 2011

Hi Charles, yes, that would be interesting. Do we have to buy it or is it available on the internet? I can't find it but then I'm a total idiot on sites. I've been banned from Facebook! Although I loathed the place anyway. Apparently 6 million people in American have signed off from it. Well, I've now got my husband looking for the poem and have told him that if he can't find it he should buy it and I'll want it as soon as possible. Ha! I wonder what Weil means by saying that force turns people into a thing and at worst a corpse. Is becoming a thing not worse than being a corpse? At least a corse doesn't have to experience being a "thing". Well, I haven't really been involved in war. All UK wars in recent times seem to have happened overseas and they've hardly impinged on me at all. This could be gross insensitivity. There seems to be quite a good review in Chicago Review. My husband has just run off the review and is now set to buy the poem! He's just said he's bought it! He thinks it'll arrive Tuesday. Tuesday?????

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Rachel Browne
22 Jul 2011

Oh I think the Chicago Review page IS the Weil thing! Oh well.

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Charles
22 Jul 2011

I don't know of Weil's essay being on the www. I found it in the "Simone Weil Reader" edited by George A. Panichas.

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Rachel Browne
22 Jul 2011

Ah, well it is on the www web. I've only read half of it but it is interesting. It is strange for a woman to write this. Has she been at gun point herself? Or been on a war field?

Weil seems to think the man who has power is strong. I'm not sure about this. The weak man, at gunpoint, loses sense. But so, too, does the man with the gun. Both have lost sight of the other man's subjectivity. Neither of them are human any longer. I don't know if you have read Levinas? He holds that we have responsibility to the other person and that they affect us. This is like Weil saying we are different when someone else is in the room. Sartre has mentioned this too, in Being and Nothingness. Levinas puts it that to be able to commit evil is to recognise the full reality of another man.

Weil talks of "madness" of the man in power. Levinas says that evil is non-conceptual and cannot be thematized. This is not because power and it's misuse is special. Weakness probably cannot be thematized either.

Pete, here we have continental philosophy. Not my realm of thought, but I am willing to engage in it. It's communication. Hubertus doesn't go in for this. He just criticises analytical philosophy without attempting to engage in it. Where is he, anyway? I'll e-mail him to check he's not dead.

Being an open minded person, Charles, I shall read on and reply again in terms of continental philosophy. Selena would be interested in this. I'll get in touch with her.

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Rachel Browne
22 Jul 2011

Sorry I meant that to commit evil is NOT to see the reality of the other. I think this would be in line with Socratic thought too. I'd never thought of this before.

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Hubertus Fremerey
22 Jul 2011

#425 what to call reality

Dear all, feel free to debate consciousness and whatever, and think about "continental vs analytical" whatever you may. This was never my primary concern. My concern is something very different : Philosophers got used to find "the truth" at the bottom of analysis. But what will you find at the bottom of analysis when you study humans ? There will be molecules and then atoms and then nuclei and quarks and in the end nothing but force-fields. But is this what the study of humans comes to ? This was not what we intend to see when we start "the study of man". So what do we get when we study events ? There once was a time when people trusted "naively" in a story n of gods and heroes and good and evil deeds etc.. This is how we read Don Quijote and Hamlet and Moby Dick and "Gone with the Wind" and many others. But modern literature in the Nouveau Roman and in Surrealism and Symbolism denies such a well structured reality : Well, there are facts of course, but facts make no story, they make only the material from which to build a story. Thus any meaningful story is a work of poetry, of fiction, of making sense from facts. You cannot ask the modern poet "but where is the 'true' story ?" He will tell you that there is no such thing as a 'true' story, there are only facts and we are the story tellers. In this sense the Bible is a great story as were the Iliad and Odyssey before and the "Divine Commedia" and "War and Peace" after.

Since all stories are inventions and artifacts they could be called "absurd lies". But what is left when you call them so ? The whole life becomes absurd, since our life and our actions become meaningful only as stories. Thus is a paradox twist the more you insist on "the truth and nothing but the truth" you will get into absurdities and all of reality dissolves. This is what I call the paradox of analyticism. As Hume correctly stated : Causality is not a fact of experience, it is a postulate. Take this postulate away and all meaning evaporates from reality. To make reality visible you need some substance, some surface for the senses where to get a hold. You need differences of black and white and colours to see a picture. You need differences of hard and soft and fluid and furry etc. to make the fingers feel something. If everything is everything and all contours and differences get lost into one great unity then the world evaporates and nothing is left but mist.

The opposition of "essence" and "appearance" is not void. But if you take "appearance" away you well not get at the essence but you will get at "absurd nothingness". It is like taking the air away from the music of the piano or the violin : The effect will be that you hear nothing, since the vibrations of the air, while not "music", are needed to make you hear the music. Thus reductionismus in the end becomes "reductio ad absurdum". My aim is to bring human reality back to the philosopher and bring the philosopher back to human reality. As an exercise in clarification even deconstruction has its merits, but taken as a replacement for "real" philosophy it becomes absurd nonsense. "Real" philosophy is accepting the reality as a fictitious surface covering the hidden reality which will always be unknown to us. Take all forms and colours away and you will find yourself in the empty space of nothingness. This n and not "analytical vs continental" n was my real problem. This "analytical vs continental" stuff was for illustration.

Now I am tired and need some days to read all your stuff to answer it at another time, but not today.

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Pete
23 Jul 2011

Seems to me you are taking us well away from philosophy and asking us to simply accept your analysis of reality. Trouble is, I think it's completely wrong and that more analysis would reveal this to you. Certainly you've misunderstood the view you dismiss here. In particular, you assume that a human is nothing more than his body. Of course reductionism goes wrong if you do that. You end up with nothing, as you say.

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Hubertus Fremerey
23 Jul 2011

#426 just a hint on violence

I am browsing your postings now. I have taken the whole debate out to a new file to do justice to those details. Without numbering and headers it is almost impossible to remember who said what when and how.

Here a hint for Rachel on violence : http://books.google.co.uk/books?q=related:ISBN082233769X&id=32SGA4EV9EEC&source=gbs_similarbooks_s&cad=1

Yes, taking part in a dialogue can be difficult, but it is a two way problem. Most of the time I got the impression that you don't understand what I am saying. The problem that we have all here is : Our statements are part of some more general scheme of thinking that has developed over a lifespan. But we cannot unfold this whole scheme, it would take too much time and space here. So we all get misunderstood many times. I am sure that some of my postings look "surreal" to some of you. But to make them look real and reasonable I would have to write much more, which is tedious for both sides. Thus most of my postings are shorthand and sketchy. I had to put in countless citations and justifications, and this is not the place to do it. I try to get my arguments across by putting analogies and examples.

As I wrote I do not really care what the difference of "Anglo-Saxon" and "Continental" philosophy is. I am not doing "history of philosophy" here. But there are surely different styles of "approaching reality". For the religious person, believing in God is not a psychological thing but an existential thing, a matter of "coping reality", not of "thinking about reality". My charge against "analyticals" was, that they simply do not understand this difference. If you have the pudding on the platter, you are eating the pudding and not analyzing the pudding. If you are "meeting God" you are full of "fear and trembling" (Kierkegaard) and not "analyzing the concept of God" - or your feelings. How will we get at a "dialogue" if both partners have a totally different approach to reality ?

I somewhere down in this blog cited the example of a warden of a bedlam who changed his way of describing people's behaviour according to "sane" and "insane" : A "normal" (= "sane") person writes a letter or notebook, but a "patient" (="insane") is "showing writing behaviour" like a robot. This sort of differentiating is protecting the self understanding of the warden. He tries to put the patient in a different cetegorie from himself. He by this tries to avoid the possibility that he could be prone to madness himself. This differentiation of "sane" and "insane" people is a self-protecting measure as differentiating good and evil or "we" and "them" is.

This is an example of "real" philosophy : To understand the difference of "sane" and "insane" you need be an experienced doctor of human behaviour and analytic philosophy will tell you almost nothing. Of course analytic philosophy will sharpen your mind and your arguments when it comes to put your theories on madness down, but it cannot replace experiences. In this sense Foucault or Ricoeur, when writing on madness, did not do "analytic philosophy". They tried to understand the "real" human situation and how it could be interpreted.

Of course ANY interpretation of the reality needs language. On this Moore and Ryle, Austin and Strawson etc. were right. And surely the study of consciousness is important. But the notions of "madness" and "sanity" are not problems of language but of experience and social and personal reality. It is this difference of language and reality that is haunting me as it did haunt Wittgenstein.

When we speak of "madness and mental sanity" we are not speaking of concepts alone but as much of realities. When we speak of crime and war and violence and justice and liberty, we speak not of the concepts only, but on realities. When we speak of the pudding we are speaking of the pudding and not on the concept of the pudding. We cannot and won't eat the concept.

Many years ago I read the furious statement of a French philosopher who jeered at the notion of "English Empiricsm" : She wrote "Those nice, tea sipping professors from Oxford and Cambridge do not even know what an experience is ! They did never meet the devil nor God nor anything that made them have shake to the bones !" Well, Shakespeare was no Oxford professor and neither was Emily Bronte, so there are at least some English people who know of experiences.

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Hubertus Fremerey
23 Jul 2011

#427 on misunderstandings and clarifications

Pete, you put your short posting while I was working on mine. Thus I did not know of yours.

Now you have put a wonderful example of misunderstanding that is so perplexing here ! You wrote // Seems to me you are taking us well away from philosophy and asking us to simply accept your analysis of reality. // What do you call "philosophy" ? There are many concepts of philosophy and I could just start numbering again. But this is exactly what much ouf our quarrel is about : We have different concepts of philosophy without clearly telling them apart. No wonder that there are so many misunderstandings. As I said (and I am not alone, many professional philosophers of first rank could be cited for support) there are almost incompatible concepts of what philosophy is. I several times harped on the difference of the buildings-engineer and the architect and said that they are doing totally different jobs and follow totally different goals. Thus we have to come to terms somehow on what to call philosophy. Would you call Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Heidegger and Marcuse (to name but a few) "analytical philosophers" ? If those are no "analytical philosophers" n what sort of philosophers are they ? Or would you call the question meaningless ?

Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Heidegger and Marcuse are not analyzing our concepts and our language, but they are analyzing our situation in the world we live in. That's the main difference. The great philosophers of the past did not analyze our language and concepts, they tried to make us aware of the invisible reality we live in. In this they were not too different from the great poets. Great poets try to create realities we never thought of before. They try to expand our awareness, while analytical philosophers try to confine our awareness to "what can be said reasonably". The engineer is telling the architect the limits of what is feasible, but this does not make the work of the great architect meaningless. He definitely is not an engineer.

Then you write : "In particular, you assume that a human is nothing more than his body. Of course reductionism goes wrong if you do that. You end up with nothing, as you say." Once more a misunderstanding : I fiercely fight reductionism ! I used it as an example of "reductio ad absurdum", not as my own position. Once more : The very notion that man "is" something specific is misleading. We have several models of man, ways to describe man, and this "bunch of molecules" is one of many possible models n and surely not the most helpful one. But as a physiologist you need to understand the molecular structure of man's body. To call man "the creation and child of God" would be another model, not incompatible with the former model but of a totally different nature. Thus once more I should start numbering different models of man (there are mor of course) to clarify our debate. What are we talking about ?

Now who is "analytical" here ? You used "philosophy" as if there is but one well accepted concept of "philosophy" n which is not the case. You used "a human" as if there is but one well accepted concept of "a human" n which is not the case either. This lack of clear distinctions is what troubles our debate here again and again. This is why I wrote on the difference of "essence" and "appearance", stressing that we cannot avoid speaking of appearances.

In what way will you defend your assumption that the world is one great unity of reality ? The notions of dao and dharma are similar to the modern notion of an all pervading force field. Thus your image of a human would come to that. But you would deny that of course. So how do you think that I should interpret your daoist and Buddhist views of a "whole" ? In fact the Daoists resemble the Greek "Orphics" ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orphism_(religion) ) and Pythagoreans of about the same time : I have seen several Chinese movies where some hero is playing the flute to cause snowfall in summer. This is "harmony of all things". But so far I prefer "western" analytical science. And as an analytical philosopher I should insist on the clarification of the concept of a "harmony of all things" n what does it come to ? How do wars and crimes and all other evils fit in there ? Is this a "handwaving philosophy" that simply calls all problems "non-problems" or "pseudo-problems" ? In a sense it does. True "ego-less" Daoists and Buddhist would see it thus. Would you ?

Do you see that I am touching really deep and hard philosophical problems here ?

"Ideas have consequences" once was a famous book ( http://www.amazon.com/Ideas-Have-Consequences-Richard-Weaver/dp/0226876802/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1311423311&sr=1-1 ). I did not read it n and I won't. But surely the ideas of Plato and Aristotle, of Jesus and Cicero, of St.Augustine and Luther, of Adam Smith and Marx and Darwin had consequences. And those of Locke, Rousseau and Kant had too. What philosophical ideas of the last 100 years have had consequences ? Perhaps Heidegger's and Marcuse's ? Wittgenstein's ? I don't know.

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Rachel Browne
23 Jul 2011

Hi, Hubertus, it is really liberal of you to come back and tell us we can debate what we like! No 425, if you must. In return, I say you don't actually have to get involved. You can talk about what you want to even if, as you rightly claim, we probably don't understand. I've always had a taste for the absurd.

You say you are not interested in the analytical/continental divide, but in your last post, no 427, you go back to it again.

If you want to start from the concept of a human, why not engage with what Charles wants to speak about? Actually, we don't need a "concept" of a human. No-one gets it wrong! We naturally know a human. It's not like the concept of arthritis or string theory or what good is. It's basic. This is what being human IS. Dogs don't have concepts but they know the difference between dogs, humans and other animals.

I think Pete is right and that you are taking us away from philosophy to draw us into some obsession of yours. No wonder we don't understand!

I'm interested in psychology and want to know why you have to dominate proceedings here? Do you think we are inadequae and can't do without you? Why have you not engaged in what Charles wants to speak about? I know you, but you probably daunt new people, maybe Pete, but Pete is sticking with it. Go guy! Auston has disappeared now!

Anyway, Charles, Weil is of the I-Thou school, more Socratic than Levinasian though. For Levinas, IN THAT MOMENT, the victor is weak, but for Weil, he will become weak through retribution.

What is your position on this? And Hubertus this is continental philosophy. Do you find it too simplistic? What do you have to say about the Levinas/Weil difference I just mentioned? We might have something to learn from you on this. It is what Charles is interested in, not engineers and architects.

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Rachel Browne
23 Jul 2011

Oh dear. When I said "Go Pete" I did not mean "go away". We need more people. I have a Canadian female student who seems feisty. I'll get in touch and ask her to come on the conference.

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Pete
23 Jul 2011

I have little idea what Huburtus is getting at so no, I am not daunted. Just intrigued. I see no real philosophy going on, just an argument that we should all do some that nobody has yet objected to and so seems unnecessary and which seems the opposite of doing real philosophy. And a lot of opinions presnted as facts. No offence H, but I can't figure where you're coming from or trying to get to.

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Rachel bri
23 Jul 2011

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Rachel Browne
23 Jul 2011

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Rachel Browne
23 Jul 2011

I was just trying to say Amy Winehouse is dead.

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Charles
23 Jul 2011

I also do not know where Hubertus is coming from. He must have had some kind of conversion experience. Now he says that he's opposed to reductionist philosophy. He says that there is a "hidden reality which will always be unknown to us." But a year ago at another forum, Hubertus was telling me his views on human "apishness" and it was all "meaningless" anyway. This "hidden reality" stuff to me seems to be some sort of spiritualism. I do not understand how Hubertus can say that he is a materialist and then say that there is a hidden reality?

I would like to know more about Pete's and other philosophical views expressed here. But Hubertus you repetitively come back with long essays that in my opinion block out these other views. Now I don't know where this discussion is at.

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Rachel Bre====
23 Jul 2011

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Rachel Browne
23 Jul 2011

The discussion is on Weil. Can people focus on my last point on this direted to Charles. We want Hubertus to tell us about the Levinas/Weil divide in continental philosophy. Sorry I got a blip on a young pop stars death.

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Charles
24 Jul 2011

Rachel said: Weil seems to think the man who has power is strong. I'm not sure about this. The weak man, at gunpoint, loses sense. But so, too, does the man with the gun. Both have lost sight of the other man's subjectivity. Neither of them are human any longer. I don't know if you have read Levinas? He holds that we have responsibility to the other person and that they affect us. This is like Weil saying we are different when someone else is in the room. Sartre has mentioned this too, in Being and Nothingness. Levinas puts it that to be able to commit evil is to recognise the full reality of another man.

Rachel, the translation used by editor Panichas in "Simone Weil Reader", Weil referred to The Iliad as being a poem of "Might". She defines Might as that which makes a thing of anybody who comes under its sway. When fully exercised, Weil said might literally makes man a thing, a corpse. She pointed out that in The Iliad, even the hero becomes a thing dragged in the dust behind a chariot.

Weil talked from some experience. She had experienced personally the Spanish Civil War. Her essay about The Iliad comes out of her contemplation of Hitler bringing on WW2. She pointed out how the world of family, the world of peace, becomes a far-off world under the expression of might. For the victor of the moment, victory is a thing which must pass.

I don't know of any references that Weil may have made to Nietzsche. But she seemed to have a different view of power. Weil- "The strong man is never absolutely strong, nor the weak man absolutely weak, but each one is ignorant of this." Weil pointed out that he who is strong looses "room for thought." The strong become "helpless against chance." Weil thought that to the ancient Greeks, including The Pythagoreans, Socrates, and Plato, a "retribution of a geometric strictness" punished automatically the abuse of strength.

Weil thought that compared to these ancient Greeks and their appreciation of virtue, we have lost the ideas of limit, of measure, of equilibrium that should determine the conduct of our lives. Weil thought that the moderate use of might, an escape from becoming a thing, demanded more than human virtue. She ends up asking how can each human soul remain whole and mould its own fate. Weil thought (of an example for us today), that the ancient Romans and Hebrews believed that they were exempt from the "common misery of man." However the ancient Greeks hinted at the spirit of the Gospels and grace as a means of dealing with human fate.

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Pete
24 Jul 2011

Thanks for that, Charles. I don't know Weil or Levinas very well, but well enough to have formed the opinion that the former saw much more clealy than the latter. Her 'retribution of geometric strictness' was presumably the laws of karma. I hope in the wake of the News International fiasco that the new regulators of the press read her proposals to the French governement on how to do it.

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Hubertus Fremerey
24 Jul 2011

#428 on Levinas and Weil

Only a remark this time, I am working on the fascinating topic. Levinas wrote from a Jewish perspective that puts individuals and their relations centerstage. This "thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself" is not from Jesus (Matt 5,43) but from Leviticus 19,18 ! Jesus explicitely refers to it. Thus for Levinas ethis is an interpersonal thing. For the Greeks and Romans (Socrates-Plato, Aristotle and the Stoics and Cicero) ethics is a rational thing, trying to stay in harmony with the Kosmos. In Judaism this is not needed and not even meaningful, since the order of the world is guaranteed by God. Thus the love of God in Judaism replaces the love of wisdom in Greek philosophy, while in Christendom both aspects combine. But Levinas aays that the reational aspect became dominant in Western thinking. In this light the idea of killing millions in the name of progress could look meaningful.

Both, Weil and Levinas, are thinking "globally" with all of manking on their minds. But Levinas speaks of mutual "face to face" responsibility while Weil speaks of mutual responsibility of all humans, which is not the same. In effect Weil would tear down all walls and hug everybody. She was a totally unpolitical person. This is why politically thinking persons like Raymond Aron and Hannah Arendt, while Jews themselves, could not get along with her.

My personal problem is : Those models of LEvinas and Weil make me think, but they are at the same time irreal and misleading. The one commander insists on fair and respecting treatment of captives even while he does not know them personally or did not even see them, the other is looking them in the eyes and killing them with cold heart of full of hate. Thus even the opposition of "inter-personal" Jewish ethics and "a-personal" Greek ethics is a fiction. I would prefer to be treated wit respect by an a-personal emperor Marc Aurel instead of a hateful Christian fundamentalist who thinks I am a devil because I am a sceptic.

Of course not even the popes Paul VI and John XXIII or J-P II, admirers all three, would have made Weil a bishop, even if she had been sane and converted. You cannot build a church on mutual feelings of love. It is absurd.

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Charles
25 Jul 2011

Pete, Weil does refer to Kharma re a retribution of geometric strictness. She wrote: i... this Greek idea which subsists, under the name of Kharma, in Oriental countries impregnated by Buddhism; but the Occident has lost it and has not even in any one of its languages a word to express it; the ideas of limit, of measure, of equilibrium, which should determine the conduct of life, have no more than a servile usage in its technique. We are only geometricians in regard to matter; the Greeks were first of all geometricians in the apprenticeship of virtue.i

Hubertus, I donit know how you came up with your statement that Simone Weil was unpolitical and wanted to hug everyone. Clearly she was not conventional, nor was she a ihuggeri. Her biographer, Francine Du Plessix Gray, writes: iHer drab, unisex costuming was ... shaped by her visceral instinct for equality and by her increasingly radical politics.i While a university student, Weil cofounded an association, the Social Education Group, who offered evening classes in math, physics, sociology, and political economy, to prepare railroad workers to take exams for higher paying positions.

Definitely on the left politically, Weilis political sympathies were with Revolutionary Syndicalism at that time. She is described as militantly critiquing capitalism, but hating the bureaucracy of the Communist Party. She is seen: icategorically refusing any form of nihilism, remaining a rationalist and retaining her faith in the ability of the human mind to obtain objective knowledge.i Weil began work as a trade unionist in the late 1920is, continued her work in workingmenis adult education, and wrote for militant Left publications.

In 1932, Weil traveled to Germany. Weil was fluent in German. Biographer Gray writes: iShe wanted to analyze the power base of the fast rising Nazi Party; she wished to understand why the German working class ... was so deplorably drawn to Hitler.i After returning from Germany: iShe focused on the fact that modern political systems could not be categorized as Marxism had preached, into capitalist and workers states, but were tending to fall into totally other political typologies- into the kind of totalitarianisms that had arisen in Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia.i

I could go on with much more about Weilis politics, about her experience in the Spanish Civil War, about her Left political activity against Vichy France, about her work for the French Resistance in London. She is certainly too complicated for Hubertusi simplifications. Her personal relations were much more complicated than Huburtusi claim.

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Pete
25 Jul 2011

Yes. Very odd to think of Weil as non-political. Perhaps non-partisan in terms of existing parties, but highly aware and active politically. I see her as an accomplished mystic, and Levinas as not quite getting the point.

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Rachel Browne
25 Jul 2011

Charles, you note that you don't see why Hubertus would think Weil would want to hug everyone. I've just fallen about laughing. It's so Hubertus on women! She seems a depressive who cut herself from people close and identified with the world at large. Hardly normal. All philosophers have a stance, and thanks, Hubertus, for drawing out the difference between Levinas and Weil.

Their personal thinking seems to be at one with their philosophy. Weil was not interpersonal but linked herself to people's suffering when she didn't know them. Levinas was interpersonal and identified with where he belonged, which was Israel, although he didn't actually live there. He was just Jewish.

Laughing again Hubertus! You think both might be "irreal and misleading"!! Of course they are, but we are doing continental philosophy here. Perhaps we should look at Albert Camus to study outsiders, to delve into this continental thing and the psychology.

On a more serious note, Mike gave me a Bryson book "Mother Language" for my birthday and it is funny but also very serious - to me, anyway. Mike is already reading it. It is about language. I just read that the French don't have words that distinguish mind and brain. And Descartes was French! Has he led us astray or WHAT? Well, OK, he probably wrote in Latin, but had French concepts - talking of the spatial and extended and the non-spatial. Argument now is that the mind IS spatial and environmentally so. Spatial but not physical.

Just an aside.

Contemplation on the misleading.

Good news! Leona is going to come on to the conference! She can be fierce and questioning and is all ready for debate.

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Hubertus Fremerey
25 Jul 2011

#428a Simone Weil unpolitical ?

Charles and Pete, while I am still working on my "final verdict" on Weil, I knew everything you wrote on Weil re. political involvements in France, in Germany, in Spain. I stick with my thesis that she was "unpolitical", but once more I have to number, since being political means many different things. Of course every madcap is "political" - the Baader-Meinhof gang, the Una-Bomber, Timothy McVeigh, even Breivik from Oslo. I wouldn't put Weil in the same box. She was much more reasonable and worth listening too. As a pupil of "Alain", her French professor, she was of course politically aware. But neither she nor Alain came from the Law Department. Weil barely understood the machinery of a state, of government and economy and the law. If you are looking for truly political people in the sense I am using here look for the "Founding Fathers" and the authors of the "Federalist-Papers" !

I know that I am going on your nerves with my "numbering", but you see how confused all debates become without ! I am urging for clarity - and clarity comes from carefully differentiating things ! It is not just black and white, it is many different shades of grey and colours, but distinct shades of gray and colours and not handwaving.

In exactly this vein I said before, that St.Augustine and Luther were not "practically thinking" people, but that a very precise problem was on their minds : the relation of civitas terrena (under the sword of the emperor) and civitas dei (under the spiritual sword of the pope), or, more simply "how to be a good Christian in a world that is dominated by fear, greed, delusions and the devil ?" This is a perfectly meaningful and difficult problem, but to see and to tackle it one has to be precise.

In the same sense when I wrote that Weil is "unpolitical" I meant it in a very precise sense. You never would make a person of her cast a prime minister or president of the US, nor even a judge on the Supreme Court. The interesting question is : Why not ? This question is "left as an exercise for the reader".

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Hubertus Fremerey
25 Jul 2011

#428b Weil hugging all mankind ?

Rachel, you wrote that // Hubertus would think Weil would want to hug everyone. I've just fallen about laughing. It's so Hubertus on women! // While I don't object the least to you having fun, I would add a minor : I NEVER EVER would have said that "Lady Thatcher would want to hug everyone." Nor Hillary Clinton or Condoleeza Rice, nor even Queen Victoria ! Thus it was not "on women" but on Simone Weil personally. I would call Clinton and Rice (or Merkel and several others) "political" in exactly the sense I wouldn't call Weil. What Weil tried to get at was "sym-pathy" with all humans in a verbal sense, suffer with them to know and understand their suffering. This is why she went to the work bench and the trenches and the hard work of fishermen etc.. This form of solidarity was her form of "being interpersonal" n feel like your neighbour feels and fight with him/her for a better world. This is why she even envied Jesus on the Cross : Jesus bested her at the aim to suffer like the most abject and wretched of the Earth suffered anywhere. This was not just hugging, it was identifying.

Weil somehow felt that she was "a spoilt brat" and did not deserve the middle-class comfort of her parents. It was like Brecht saying that "how can we eat our meal in peace while so many people around the world go hungry". It was to a degree "bourgeois self-hate" n very common among a certain sort of middle- and upper-class lefties, and well known to novelists and movie's directors. Simone de Beauvoir in her memoirs mentions the one and only short moment when she spoke with her schoolmate Simone Weil ("les deux Simones" attended the same class of professor "Alain"). When de Beauvoir told Weil that the political problems of the Working Class were more important than the daily ones, Weil snapped "you apparently never have known hunger !" and went off.

I only note all that in passing. It would not do justice to Weil (nor to de Beauvoir). Her com-passionate (sym-pathetic) attitude contained a deep symbolic truth that was recognized by communists and catholics alike. This explains why three popes admired her. She rightly stressed the fact that as a hungry and exhausted working man or woman you can't spare much energy to think or be a human. You become a machine or part of a machine or a beast in a way no well situated and comfortable bourgeois with his books and Bach and Beethoven could imagine. Once more the bad conscience of the well to do.

Weil was well aware of spiritual hunger too - which is another topic for another debate. The main objection of all critics of the Gray bio of Weil is, that Gray is too down to earth to understand the spiritual drives of Simone Weil. She only seems to see the neurosis, not the spiritual despair.

Thus this was Simone Weil's way of being "inter-personal". She explicitely said that there is nothing as difficult as being really attentive to the other, to his sufferings but to his being there as well. We don't listen, we don't care, we just are passers by or looking on, but not really taking-part and sharing. That was her message. And because of this she became a Christian "in the waiting". She felt that this has been the message of Christ and that the Jews never got it. This explains part of her alienation to her own Jewishness. There is mutual respect and acceptance of the other in Levinas, but not the attitude of "brotherly love" as in the Gospel of Christ or in the deeds of St.Francis. And in my opinion this difference is the core of the difference between Weil and Levinas. This is why the popes could admire Weil but not Levinas.

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Pete
26 Jul 2011

Hubertus - Nice post. I think it is a mistake, however, to use words alike 'political' in some restricted meaning with a number attached to it. Better to assume that people will interpret words as they usually do and just be careful with language. Numbering terms is a little like Russell's idea for symbolic logic, which is, well, pretty useless.

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Charles
26 Jul 2011

I donit know if Hubertus has came to what he called his ifinal verdicti on Simone Weil. But by the length of his recent postings about her, he seems well on his way. Since Weil was so involved in study of and teaching about the ancient Greek philosophers, I find it interesting to compare Hubertusi critique of Weil to the trial of Socrates.

Socrates was found guilty by a populist majority for alleged public misdeeds, misleading youth and atheism. Similarly, Hubertus seems to have found Simone Weil guilty by his use of standard liberal psychological opinion and Weilis involvement in political activity outside the dominant ideologies of her time. A major problem in both cases is that little attention was paid to the actual philosophical ideas of the accused.

Hubertus didnit address the specific topic of philosophy under discussion, Simone Weilis essay: iThe Iliad, Poem of Mighti. I doubt if Hubertus has even read the essay. Instead Hubertus distracted with charges that Weil was iunpoliticali. When I pointed to Weilis actual political life as described in a recent biography, Hubertus takes us further on his agenda (what ever that is), with his unique definition of what is accepted as being political and he uses reviews of the biography to make questionable statements about Weilis mental health. If Hubertus has actually read Francine Du Plessix Grayis biography of Simone Weil, he would be aware of Grayis very nuanced conclusions about Simone Weil and also Grayis excellent bibliography on Weil.

If the psychological state (as measured today) of a philosopher was our primary consideration here, I think that we might have very few philosophers to consider. What would we say about one of Hubertusi favorite Continental philosophers, Nietzsche, if our primary evaluation of Nietzsche was his love life and later mental and physical health?

Socratesi actual ideas about religion were misstated by his accusers. I think that Hubertus is far from being informed about Simone Weilis religious ideas in her later life. Spirituality wasnit the topic of her subject essay here though. When dealing with the complex ideas of Simone Weil, I think that you have to be very careful in defining what subjects of her that are being addressed. I would rather do a separate discussion of Weilis philosophy of religion (and mystical experience) than do a simplification now.

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Rachel Browne
26 Jul 2011

Hubertus, you wrote "There is mutual respect and acceptance of the other in Levinas, but not the attitude of "brotherly love" as in the Gospel of Christ or in the deeds of St.Francis. And in my opinion this difference is the core of the difference between Weil and Levinas. This is why the popes could admire Weil but not Levinas."

Well, I know nothing of religion but do think the golden rule or "do unto others as you would have others do unto you" is a biblical notion. This is not about brotherly love as it is a rational ethical guide adopted by Kant.

If the golden rule isn't biblical, where is it from?

Charles and everyone, in real life, if I may speak of this, all sorts of behaviour and not just might or force make other people into things or objects, though perhaps not corpses.

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Pete
27 Jul 2011

Agree about the importance of Weil's religious views. The rest of her views would make no sense without an understanding of this, since it the framework within which her politics and ethics can be seen as systematic and not merely contingent or piecemeal.

Btw Jan Brouwer used to have a very good essay up on his site discussing Levinas' failure to quite get to grips with mysticism. Unfortunately I can't find it anymore. It may be about somewhere. For anyone interested in Weil's view and others like her Jan Brouwer's site is a great resource. (http://www.mysticism.nl/)

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Hubertus Fremerey
27 Jul 2011

#428c three shorties

@Rachel : The Golden Rule is "as old as the universe" but (universal) "brotherly love" is definitely not ! The idea of a unity of all humankind was brought up by the Stoics in the wake of Socrates and was very probably a precondition in early Christianity. Greek philosophy was not unknown in Jerusalem in the times of Jesus. The distance between Socrates and Jesus was some 400 years, about the distance between Hobbes (1588-1679) and our time.

@Pete : Don't "over-mysticise" Weil ! The jury on Weil is still out here, but she was very clear thinking and precise. Her engagement with the "working poor" had nothing to do with Christianity which made effect on her only during the last 5 years of her life. Her "mystical experience" is of 1938 !

@Charles : I would like to see a concise "defense" on why do you think that Weil is of relevance today. What is it that you found important in her writings and personality ? At least on first sight she comes across as "the girl who wanted to be a boy" and trying to be a hero and to overcompensate feelings of weakness. In this she is surprisingly similar to Nietzsche. Both were "desperately pushing egos" fighting for "the good". Remember Nietzsche hugging a horse while breaking to tears ! The novel "When Nietzsche wept" by Yalom is excellent ! But of course I won't "psychologize" either Nietzsche nor Weil. It's only for better understanding. Both are disgusting at times for their egocentrism and vanity. This is why I called Weil "unpolitical". She was an admirer of Trotsky, who rejected her as too self centered. She came across like and ardent follower of Marcuse in the 1960s.

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Charles
27 Jul 2011

Hubertus, Simone Weil was not an admirer of Trotsky. Her biographer, Francine Du Plessix Gray, informs about a face-to-face meeting in Paris in 1933 between Weil and Trotsky. Their discussion soon turned into a "violent quarrel." Trotsky's wife is reported to have said 20 minutes into the exchange: "This child is holding her own with Trotsky!" "Simone reproached Trotsky in particular for his conduct toward the Kronstadt sailors ... whom he ordered mercilessly shot down in1921. Trotsky is reported to have shouted: "Weil, you are a complete reactionary" ..."Why do you have doubts about everything?' Was one of Trotsky's closing remarks to Simone."

Gray reports that by 1934, Simone Weil's "hatred of the Soviet regime had become an obsession - Stalinist Russia, at that time, had few critics more severe. She often compared Stalin's dictatorship to the Reign of Terror imposed on France after the 1789 Revolution, and attributed both Terrors to the national traumas inevitably bred by war."

Hubertus, I do not see similarities between Simone Weil and Nietzsche. In her essay "Analysis Of Oppression" (1934), Weil described all power as being unstable. She wrote: "The enlightened goodwill of men acting in an individual capacity is the only possible principle of social progress ..."

I found no references to Nietzsche in Simone Weil's "Lectures on Philosophy". These are lecture notes made by a student of Weil, Anne Reynaud-Guerithault, in the school year 1933-34. The lectures were an introduction to philosophy.

I cannot imagine Simone Weil ever agreeing with Nietzsche that "God is dead."

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Charles
27 Jul 2011

Readers of Simone Weil today seem to classify her as either idealistic and emotionally unbalanced or as her maturing into a profound mystic. I would tend toward the mystic side. My primary interest in Weil is in the continued influence of ancient Greek philosophy on her evolving philosophy. As a young teacher of philosophy (school year 1933-34), she began with the God of Plato = the God of Descartes.

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Hubertus Fremerey
28 Jul 2011

#429 assessing Simone Weil

Charles, thank you for valuable corrective hints. I have a lot of primary and secondary stuff of/on Weil here. Of course Trotsky was the leader of the Red Army and must have found Weil naive. Likewise de Gaulle didn't think much of her idea to be parachutet into France in 1943. But compared to Nietzsche Weil was VERY political. My comparison referred to the idiosyncratic style of both, not to philosophical content. They both were monomaniacs, no team workers. True politicians (Rodham-Clinton, Rice, Merkel) have to be team workers. This is why I compared Weil to a follower of Marcuse. Marcuse in a sense was "very political" too, comparable to Weil, but not to JFK of even Dr.M-L King. This is why I suggested "numbering the different modes of 'being political'" Those styles are almost incompatible.

I still want to know what you personally found most important in Weil. Why did this "Weil renaissance" of the last 20 years happen ? What is it that brought Weil back into the limelight ? What explanation do you suggest ?

There has always been a more technical and a more "romantical" style in social and political analysis. Marcuse and "counterculture" have been "romantic", so after some 40 years of a more technical style of evaluation (Kissinger and Stratfor) the romantics may be back ? What do you think ?

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Pete
28 Jul 2011

Hubertus - I really don't understand where you're coming from. It is almost certainly impossible to 'over-mysticise" Weil. Nor is it any good saying, against her mysticism, that she was 'very clear thinking and precise.' This is generally true of the mystics I read, who value clarity and precision more highly than most of us. Are you confusing the two meanings of 'mystical'? It can mean muddled, of course, but this is not a philosophical use of the term. As it happens I find the literature of mysticism a good deal more rigorous than the literature of physics. Perhaps because its writers are more aware of their responsibilities.

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Hubertus Fremerey
28 Jul 2011

#429a what to call mysticism ?

Pete, your's is a strange argument. So we once more have to "number" several concepts of mysticism. We have to tell it apart from gnosticism and pseudoreligious thinking first, and from hermeticism and neo-platonism and much more. We have to be precise on this. Perhaps you begin with listing some persons who in your opinion should be called "mystics" and why you think so. I won't call C.G.Jung a mystic. I do not know about Wilber and Sheldrake. I would call Pierre Teilhard de Chardin rather a jerk than a mystic.

I clearly differentiate between being precise and being speculative. In a sense all good astrologers and alchymists and kabbalists are "precise", but this does not get their opinions out of the corner of pseudoreligions. To be precise and to be true to the requirements of good science are very different qualities. Even Simone Weil very probably didn't meet God ! She has had some experiences and thought to interpret them as meeting God. That's a big difference. Clarity per se doesn't prove truth, and hitting on the truth can go with a complete lack of understanding. Physicists know what they are speaking about. They may err - and surely they often do - but they can point to theories and evidence and data, and those can be criticized and falsified. When physicists speak of strange effects predicted in QM or in General Relativity they don't claim to understand. Nobody understands "string theory" of 11 dimensions or anything like that, but the very notion of "understanding" is meaningless here. You need not "understand" QM or GR to come to meaningful results that are provably true.

We have to come to some agreement on what to call mysticism then. What do you think it is ?

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Hubertus Fremerey
28 Jul 2011

#429b on Weil's concept of truth

This is taken from the forword to the first edition (1952) of "Gravity and Grace" by Gustave Thibon :

// Apart from the Gospel which was her daily spiritual food, she had a deep veneration for the great Hindu and Taoistic writings, for Homer, the Greek tragedies and above all for Plato, whom she interpreted in a fundamentally Christian manner. On the other hand she hated Aristotle, whom she regarded as the first to prepare a grave for the mystical tradition. Saint John of the Cross in the religious order, and Shakespeare, certain English mystical poets and Racine in the literary one, also left their mark on her mind. Among her contemporaries I can only think of Paul ValEry, and of Koestler in the Spanish Testament, of which she spoke to me with unmixed praise. Both her preferences and her dislikes were abrupt and final. She firmly believed that creation of real genius required a high level of spirituality and that it was impossible to attain to perfect expression without having passed through severe inner purgation. This insistence upon inner purity and authenticity made her pitiless for all the authors in whom she thought she could detect the slightest affectation, the slightest hint of insincerity or self-importanceoCorneille, Hugo or Nietzsche for instance. For her the only thing that counted was a style stripped bare of all adornment, the perfect expression of the naked truth of the soul. eThe effort of expressioni, she wrote to me, ehas a bearing not only on the form but on the thought and on the whole inner being. So long as bare simplicity of expression is not attained, the thought has not touched or even come near to true greatnessO. //

This took place in the autumn of 1941 on the farm of Thibon near Marseille, three years after her spiritual "calling" in the abbey of Solesmes. Whether she does justice to Nietzsche I doubt. Nietzsche was as honest as she was, but he could not afford the comfort of believing in God. His assumption that God was dead was not put on but honest. As a convert she may have felt a need to protect herself and to reject atheism. Thibon himself, to whom Weil was sent by father Perrin, was a pious person and thus sided with Weil.

Weil reminds me on St.Jean Marie Vianney (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Vianney), the model of the "country priest" of Bernanos' novel "Diary of a Country Priest".

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Pete
29 Jul 2011

H - Hmm. Teilhard de Chardin is a jerk is he? And Jung not a mystic? Interesting point of view. There are various ways of defining mysticism, none of which are likely to chamge your opinion that it is nonsense. Here's one of them. A comprehensive definition would require an essay. I'm not sure that I understand how you decide it is nonsense when you don't know how to define it.

"Mysticism is a term which has come into common use from about the year 1900 onwards. It has since then become terribly overworked. The term itself is derived from a Greek word, mustes, which means a person who has been admitted to secret knowledge of the realities of life and death. It is only that those who have once attained to such a state should desire to prolong it or to reproduce it at intervals. It has been suggested that all mystics, whether Christian, Moslem, Hindu or Buddhist, are agreed on a few fundamentals: (1) that all division and separateness is unreal, and that the universe is a single indivisible unity; (2) that evil is illusory, and that the illusion arises through regarding a part of the universe as self-subsistent; (3) that time is unreal, and that reality is eternal, not in the sense of being everlasting, but in the sense of being out of time."

A. C. Bouquet Comparative Religion(288) Penguin, London (1962)

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Pete
29 Jul 2011

Happened to also have these, which add some more detail.

This overcoming of the usual barriers between the individual and the Absolute is the great mystic achievement. In mystic states we both become one with the Absolute and we become aware of our oneness. This is the everlasting and triumphant mystical tradition, hardly altered by differences of clime or creed. In Hinduism, in Neoplatonism, in Sufism, in Christian mysticism, in Whitmanism, we find the same recurring note, so that there is about mystical utterances an eternal unanimity which ought to make a critic stop and think, and which brings it about that the mystical classics have, as has been said, neither birthday nor native land. Perpetually telling of the unity of man with God, their speech antedates languages, and they do not grow old.

William James The Varieties of Religious Experience Longmans, Green and Co. (1902)

When an ordinary person reads about the kingdom of God and Heaven, he reads these names, but he does not know where Heaven is, and he feels that there is a God, but there is no evidence for it. Therefore, a large number of intellectual people who really are seeking the truth are turning away from the outer religion because they cannot find its explanation. Consequently, they become materialistic. To the mystic, the explanation of the whole of religion is the investigation of the self. The more one explores oneself, the more one will understand all religions in the fullest light and all will become clear. "Mysticism" is only a light thrown upon oneis own religion, like a light brought into a room where everything one wants is to be found, and where the only thing that was needed was light.

The Message through Inayat Khan. Adapted from talks given in the early 1900's. http://www.spiritual-learning.com/mysticism-1.html

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Hubertus Fremerey
29 Jul 2011

#430 approaching Simone Weil

A first try on "Gravity and Grace".

The book "Gravity and Grace" is a collection not even of essays but more often of notes put down by Weil in her notebooks up to about a year before her death. She handed the whole convolute to her host Gustave Thibon near Marseille when they parted in the summer of 1942. They never met again. Later on, other notebooks were found and meanwhile edited and published in French.

The first bloc of notes n only 4 of over 180 pages n went under the title "Gravity and Grace", and this was taken by Thibon as a title for the whole collection, which comprises the following 38 "chapters" :

#-01 Gravity and Grace #-02 Void and Compensation #-03 To Accept the Void #-04 Detachment #-05 Imagination Which Fills the Void #-06 Renunciation of Time #-07 To Desire Without an Object #-08 The Self #-09 Decreation #-10 Self-Effacement #-11 Necessity and Obedience #-12 Illusions #-13 Idolatry #-14 Love #-15 Evil #-16 Affliction #-17 Violence #-18 The Cross #-19 Balance and Lever #-20 The Impossible #-21 Contradiction #-22 The Distance Between the Necessary and the Good Chance #-23 He Whom We Must Love is Absent #-24 Atheism as a Purification #-25 Attention and Will #-26 Training #-27 Intelligence and Grace #-28 Readings #-29 The Ring of Gyges #-30 Meaning of the Universe #-31 Metaxu #-32 Beauty #-33 Algebra #-34 The Social Imprint #-35 Israel #-36 The Great Beast #-37 Social Harmony #-38 The Mysticism of Work

While the writing of Weil is very clear and precise, it is incompatible with analytic philosophy, because she uses symbolic hints, not well defined "scientific" or even everyday concepts. Her concept of gravity has nothing to do with physical gravity but is a symbolism for "being attached to" or "drawn to" what we love. Much of what we are attached to is not good, since it may be violence or cruelty or envy or greed or vanity or whatever of this sort. "Grace" is that which can get us out of this attachment to the wrong things. Thus we have the strange situation that this description of reality is very clear and precise and at the same time completely alien to the understanding of analytical philosophers. The description of realiy by Weil is a poetic description, but as in any great poetry it is clear and precise and real. I just cite the first pages from "Gravity and Grace" for an example. Then you decide for yourself whether Russell or Carnap or Quine could have made anything of it. I don't think so. I think that they would have called it nonsense. But it makes sense a lot. Here the text :

GRAVITY AND GRACE

All the natural movements of the soul are controlled by laws analogous to those of physical gravity. Grace is the only exception.

We must always expect things to happen in conformity with the laws of gravity unless there is supernatural intervention.

Two forces rule the universe: light and gravity.

Gravity. Generally what we expect of others depends on the effect of gravity upon ourselves, what we receive from them depends on the effect of gravity upon them. Sometimes (by chance) the two coincide, often they do not.

What is the reason that as soon as one human being shows he needs another (no matter whether his need be slight or great) the latter draws back from him? Gravity.

Lear, a tragedy of gravity. Everything we call base is a phenomenon due to gravity. Moreover the word baseness is an indication of this fact.

The object of an action and the level of the energy by which it is carried out are distinct from each other. A certain thing must be done. But where is the energy to be drawn for its accomplishment? A virtuous action can lower a man if there is not enough energy available on the same level.

What is base and what is superficial are on the same level. eHis love is violent but basei: a possible sentence. eHis love is deep but basei: an impossible one.

If it be true that the same suffering is much harder to bear for a high motive than for a base one (the people who stood, motionless, from one to eight oiclock in the morning for the sake of having an egg, would have found it very difficult to do so in order to save a human life), a base form of virtue is perhaps in some respects better able to stand the test of difficulties, temptations and misfortunes than a noble one. Napoleonis soldiers. Hence the use of cruelty in order to sustain or raise the morale of soldiers. Something not to be forgotten in connexion with moral weakness.

This is a particular example of the law which generally puts force on the side of baseness. Gravity is, as it were, a symbol of it.

Queueing for food. The same action is easier if the motive is base than if it is noble. Base motives have in them more energy than noble ones. Problem: in what way can the energy belonging to the base motives be transferred to the noble ones?

(End of citation)

Here we see it all together : The symbolism, the clarity, the precision, and the relation to the real forces of life as in psychology and daily practice. This is no play with words, nor solving "crossword puzzles". Weil doesn't speak of language, but of real problems. For in her experience gravity and grace, while symbolic concepts both, are reminding us of realities, not of mere concepts. Weil is not analyzing our language, but she is analyzing our situation. She really means it. She is speaking of realities, not of "brain states". Thus it is pointless to "analyze" her text in the same way as it is pointless to "analyze" a poem or any great work of art. Reality is hitting the beholder and challenging him. We cannot and should not "analyze this challenge away."

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Hubertus Fremerey
29 Jul 2011

#430a on mysticism

Pete, I will answer you objections later, there is something to explain.

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Rachel Browne
29 Jul 2011

So Charles thinks Weil was a mystic, and then Hubertus wants to number types of mysticism, and yet seems to think the mystical and spiritual are the same thing. This is very odd. Yes, Hubertus, Weil is totally incompatible with analytical philosophy.

What is the point of numbering types of mysticism before you have distinguished it from spirituality, Hubertus?

If Pete is right - which I assume he is -and mysticism is to become one with the absolute, I'd suggest Weil was spiritual rather than a mystic because she didn't seem to become one with the absolute as to identify with causes.

Of course, to be honest, I think she sounds like a nut-case.

I shall keep a look in, but I'm afraid, Charles, I can't engage with this.

Leona might join the conference but Selena has fled.

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Rachel Browne
29 Jul 2011

Aha! I have a book "War and the Iliad" which has essays by both Weil and Rachel Bespaloff. I looked to check if Weil was spiritual or mystical. The final essay, by Hermann Broch, accuses Weil of "abstractism" by writing in reference to myth. So she was probably neither.

She doesn't seem to be spiritual, mystical or even literary. The introduction to the book claims - shows and argues - that Weil misread Homer and the writer thinks she did this to intensify scenes of horror and she was actually more influenced by Goya's "Disasters"

I don't like to wildly claim that Weil was a nut case, but it seems pretty obvious. She probably "abstracted" in real life. She identified with starving people she didn't know, rather than with any one close, which isn't a sign of normality. She identified too far afield for it to be psychologically normal.

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Charles
29 Jul 2011

I think that it is important to maintain a holistic view of Simone Weil. There is Simone Weil the mystic. (I think that the definitions that Pete provided are excellent.) But there is also Simone Weil the philosopher. Weil the philosopher was writing philosophical essays, especially about attention, society, and oppression, almost to the end of her life. Hugh Price in his introduction to his translation of Weil's "Lectures on Philosophy" (Cambridge University Press, Reprinted 1997), compared Weil to Wittgenstein re "primary language ... phenomenological in character" as compared to a secondary ordinary language. I have not read Wittgenstein, perhaps someone else could add to this.

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Charles
29 Jul 2011

Rachel give us a break. If anything is unbalanced, it is your last statement about Weil. Face the music, Simone Weil was probably a genius and deserves better from those of us with lesser minds (including my own).

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Charles
29 Jul 2011

I borrow from "The Cambridge Dictionary Of Philosophy" (Second edition, 1999).

"Often regarded as mystical and syncretistic, (Simone) Weil's philosophy owes much to an original reading of Plato (e.g., in 'Intimations of Christianity Among the Ancient Greeks') as well as to Marx, Alain, and Christianity. Recent studies, however, have also seen her as significantly contributing to social, moral, and religious philosophy. Her concern with problems of action and persons is not dissimilar to Wittgenstein's."

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Pete
29 Jul 2011

Inevitably, one has to understand a certain amouint about mysticism before one is in a position to decide who is and is not a mystic. The long post from Hubertus was interesting but seems to have no bearing on this question.

As to whether she was 'analytical' I couldn't less and am not even sure what it would mean. I'm more interested in whether she was right. As far as I'm concerned being 'analytical' means using ones brain, and being 'continental' means living on the continent.

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Racje
29 Jul 2011

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Rachel Browne
29 Jul 2011

This is pathetic. Define a genius, Charles. Apply it to Weil. Does anyone else think she's a genius? Could we have a list, with credentials, of those who think she is a genius? If you can't get a list you could come up with a definition and argument to back it up and show us how Weil fits the definition and how the argument buttresses her, given that she is not a recognised genius?

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Rachel Browne
29 Jul 2011

Oh I'm sorry, Charles. That was a spurt of analytical philosophy anger. You just have to say why you think she is a genius.

There is a difference between our evaluations and what is generally held to be true.

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Charles
29 Jul 2011

Re Simone Weil go to and go to tab "What others wrote about her.

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Charles
29 Jul 2011

Re Simone Weil http://simoneweil.net/home.htm and go to "What others wrote about her."

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Rachel Browne
29 Jul 2011

http://simoneweil.net/home.htm

Did I find ten people here?

Might have overlooked something.

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Hubertus Fremerey
29 Jul 2011

#431 some clarifications again @Pete

Pete, you wrote // There are various ways of defining mysticism, none of which are likely to chamge your opinion that it is nonsense. // This is a typical misunderstanding : I never ever said anywhere, that mysticism is nonsense. I only said that we have to come to terms what we are speaking about. You then offered two first definitions (or rather "circumscriptions") of what you think it could be (29 Jul 2011 Happened to also have these, ... ). The second of it (by William James) was at least meaningful, while debatable. The first was by any philosophical standard pure nonsense. "This overcoming of the usual barriers between the individual and the Absolute is the great mystic achievement. In mystic states we both become one with the Absolute and we become aware of our oneness." This is what Carnap and Russell raged against and what has me raging too. What is "the Absolute" ? Is it a feeling ? It is something real ? In the excerpt from "Gravity and Grace" there is no concept as void as "the Absolute" ! The concepts of Gravity and Grace, as introduced by Weil, are completely clear and understandable even for a non-mystic. They refer to everyday experiences. Weil doesn't need "the Absolute". Weil stays in touch with her experiences. When she speaks (in another set of notes, #-02 up to #-10) of the longing for a God which is absent and of the void and emptiness which has to be filled with longing and hope, this too is completely understandable from everyday experience. Thus if (!!) you call Weil a mystic because she is speaking in this way, she is a very clear mystic and I can follow her. Do you tell me that Jung was trying "to unite with the Absolute" ? I don't think so, but perhaps you could prove me wrong. But if not, why do you think he was a mystic ? When I called Teilhard de Chardin "a jerk" is was with a view at his "alpha-omega" concept of metahistory. This is pure and void speculation, "hot air" philosophy instead of clear thinking. Weil (as far as I know and understand her) was too much down to earth to be given to such vanities.

Weil is always speaking of "real" things : Of human longing and suffering and mutual understanding. On this I compared her to Nietzsche : They both are fighting all "cloudiness" and "grand verbosity". They both tried to get down to reality. While both were clearly neurotic in a sense, they at the same time were absolutely sincere. Thus they both HATED mysticism of the grandiose and pretentious sort. Well, you are right : To clarify the exact meanings of the many sorts of mysticism would need a booklength study. But this was what I expected. Once more : I never said that mysticism is nonsense, I only asked for precision. I am a physicist and want to know what I am speaking about. As I wrote (#429a) : // Nobody understands "string theory" of 11 dimensions or anything like that, but the very notion of "understanding" is meaningless here. You need not "understand" QM or GR to come to meaningful results that are provably true. // But this is a comfort of physicist : Nature is following strict rules and formulas. "Human reality" is something very different from "physical reality". The proper science of "human reality" is "existential hermeneutics" n the field that engaged Heidegger. Only when we approach things from this side n which includes the studies of Zen-Buddhism and maybe modern Daoism n this can be studied in a philosophically precise way. But Heidegger (and the Kyoto school) would not speak of "uniting with the Absolute". They would be very precise about what they are saying. They are not cloudy in any way. This is difficult stuff. Only then, if done in this way, it is not at all nonsense but as precise as the best analytical philosophy could be. But "existential hermeneutics" is "analyzing the human situation" and not the language.

This is a hint at why Weil could be "not analytic but very precise" at the same time. No, this "analytic vs continental" opposition is not void ! I am not speaking about labels here, I am trying to understand WHY the philosophical style of Great Britain is so very much different from that of the continent. There is not a single important English philosopher of the same stature and the same approach as Spinoza, Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Heidegger and their followers. Why not ? That was my question. By dismissing the problem as irrelevant you are evading it. It is REAL. There is a deep mutual misunderstanding and I want to know its causes.

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Hubertus Fremerey
29 Jul 2011

#432 some more clarifications @Charles and Pete

Sorry folks, there is so much clarification needed !

What is a tree ? The answer depends on whom you ask ! Ask the owl or the caterpillar, the squirrel or the cat, ask the forester or the tourist or the painter of landscapes or the woodcutter or the botanist : They all will tell you something different. Thus the question is meaningless without qualifications. So when I called man "a bunch of molecules" I was not arguing "reductionist" but I was pointing at one among many valid descriptions of man. There is no such thing as "man". There are many models of man depending on what we are asking. When you describe a human as an animal with bodily systems and functions this description of the doctor and physiologue is not "wrong". But as a Christian theologian you would describe the human as a creation of God speaking with his creator. This too is not "wrong". In a third model you would describe the human as an animal, a thinking ape, trying to come to terms with a difficult environment. Or you could describe the human as "a being that has culture" n religion, science, literature, history, festivals, the arts etc. n and thus is very different from all animals. And in this sense humans doing philosophy are similar to humans doing science or theology : In all cases they try "to make sense of the world we live in and of the meaning of our life and deeds." Depending on what philosophy you follow your acting and justifying and your fears and hopes will be different. But all this is a matter of reality, of real life and its real dangers and options. It is not solving "crossword puzzles" n or only to a small part. Thus philosophy is not always a detached analyzing of arguments n and cannot be. Philosophy is most often "partisan" to some degree n and has to be, since it is meant to be used for arguments in a real life. This is exactly what Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Heidegger and Marcuse (and many others before and after) tried to tell us. We are "defendants in the case of our life" and try to find the best arguments to defend our case. This is a view that I defend against all "formalism".

Generally people are seldom interested in "the truth". Did you ever watch the movie "Rashomon" ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rashomon_(film) ) ? There the same event is told from four different persons, and every person is telling the event a bit differently so as to make the story better fit the speaker's interests. Philosophy is to a large degree presenting "the reality" to an audience as in a trial. Sometimes you try to justify peace, sometimes you try to justify war n but what does it mean to justify "truth" ? In science this is a problem very different from real life. In real life the question is "Whose truth ? Why ?" Storytelling is always "creating reality" not "depicting reality". There is no such thing as "the" reality. That was my point.

This constant struggling over "the right view of reality" is where the forces of life enter our debates. And this is the core of German "lebens-philosophie" of Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Heidegger ea, a concept for which there is no translation in the English language. Which is a very important hint at the "Anglosaxon n continental"-divide. As Heidegger put it "to be human is to be concerned" n which is much more than to be aware. Simone Weil again and again speaks of "attention". Attention is an active state of mind, a directedness, not a mere "sampling and processing" of sensual data. Ours is an attentive, a searching mind, an inner drive to understand, a longing for truth and salvation, a striving for the light. Weil was very much aware of this.

A related problem is that of "authenticity" and "commitment". In his well known history of "A Hundred Years of (mostly English) Philosophy", in ch. 19 on "Existentialism and Phenomenology", John Passmore refers to Kierkegaard as saying (not verbally but the gist of it) : "To be a true Christian, you first must become one, since by birth you could as well be a Muslim or a Hindu or an agnostic or whatever, thus if you are only a Christian by birth you are only a member of some club but not a Christian by commitment, not somebody true to one's convictions." This is what Heidegger called "authenticity" : To be committed to your convictions n if you have any. Well, we could call this a problem of psychology and not of philosophy, but as far as philosophers are or should be committed to their convictions those cannot be kept apart from the contents of those convictions. This would be like saying "Yes, I am committed to my marriage, but not to my wife or husband". This sort of (intended or unintended) absurd misuse of language was what the Oxford "ordinary language" philosophers fighted, as do I.

And a note on conversion and mysticism : There was nothing of it in my case, as Charles suggested. What I meant was quite simple. Nobody has ever seen the electron. It cannot be seen. We dont see the forces of nature, nor do we see the laws of nature. What we see is always some effect that is caused "by the electron", "by the forces of nature", "by the laws of nature". But the invisible cause is more important than the visible effect, the invisible essence is more important than the visible appearance. That was my point. Has absolutely nothing to do with mysticism but with clarity. Carnap would be content.

As I said it is a problem of all such debates that we cannot explain everything every time.

On Simone Weil and Levinas I will be back. Fascinating topic !

Charles, you cited Weil as saying i... this Greek idea which subsists, under the name of Kharma, in Oriental countries impregnated by Buddhism; but the Occident has lost it and has not even in any one of its languages a word to express it; the ideas of limit, of measure, of equilibrium, which should determine the conduct of life, have no more than a servile usage in its technique. We are only geometricians in regard to matter; the Greeks were first of all geometricians in the apprenticeship of virtue.i

Sorry, I don't buy it. And Weil was around 30, so don't take everything she wrote without a pinch of salt. The Greek idea of Kosmos was very much alike the Buddhist or Daoist idea of an underlying order of things, invisible but effective. The idea of measure and equilibrium was contained in it. Therefore not only Aristotle urged "nothing too much !" (maeden agan !). It was n together with justice n a guiding principle of all ethical theories in classical Antiquity. The change in attitude to immoderatenes in the West is modern and began to show from the Renaissance and its model of the "great man", the uomo universale, so admired by Nietzsche. There even was a "cult of the hero and the genius" around 1800, clearly visible in Byron and Carlyle and others for some time. This was another phase in the process of modernization : "The genius is not copying nature (by mimesis), he is producing nature, he is a demi-god like Prometheus!" (as in the poem of Goethe). But this was essentially modern and not classical. And of course it was Nietzschean : Where God is dead, man has to step in his place.

Of course this change in attitude has been the concern of the churches ever since around 1750 the latest ! The Churches didn't like it n and neither did Simone Weil. But this doesn't mean that Weil was "right".

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Pete
30 Jul 2011

I have no time for this sort of silly discussion. Might as well be down the pub. I've never heard such arrogant idiocy as Rachel's comments on Weil, and it obvious that Hubertus' lecture series on mysticism is not informed by understanding.

I particularly liked this ...

" But the invisible cause is more important than the visible effect, the invisible essence is more important than the visible appearance. That was my point. Has absolutely nothing to do with mysticism but with clarity."

Astonishing stuff.

It seems that some people here think that mysticism is nonsense and do not consider it worth trying to understand. Fair enough. I felt the same for most of my life. Let's change the subject to something that does interest people rather than continue to treat this one with such disrespect.

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Hubertus Fremerey
30 Jul 2011

#433 What is mysticism as compared to analytical philosophy ?

Pete, by this you turn a philosophical debate into a religious one. Please explain in your terms what you call mysticism.

My text was very clear. I did NEVER say that mysticism is nonsense. Charles has writte on July 23, that // Hubertus must have had some kind of conversion experience. Now he says that he's opposed to reductionist philosophy. He says that there is a "hidden reality which will always be unknown to us." But a year ago at another forum, Hubertus was telling me his views on human "apishness" and it was all "meaningless" anyway. This "hidden reality" stuff to me seems to be some sort of spiritualism. I do not understand how Hubertus can say that he is a materialist and then say that there is a hidden reality? //

To which I answered and clarified that electrons, laws of nature and forces of nature are "hidden reality" and that this is a clear and simple fact and has nothing to do with mysticism, so his assumed conversion did not take place and was not needed. Once more : I didn't say that mysticism is nonsense, I only said that my argument has nothing to do with mysticism, which is not the same.

Where is your answer to my question whether Jung (or Weil, or Heidegger) ever wanted "to be one with the Absolute" ? I sm always ready to learn, but I want to see clear arguments. You are evading all problems instead of coping and treating them. The value of analytical philosophy is that it insists on clear thinking instead of cloudy thinking and feeling.

I know this feeling of "being one with the Absolute" from personal experience. I once had a time when I saw God in every leaf of grass. Thus I read and understood Ramakrishna and Aurobindo and Behmen and St.John of the Cross and many others. And I understand GuEnon and Coomaraswami and other "traditionalists". I am not ignorant. But once more : We have to come to terms about what we are debating here.

We started weeks ago from "consciousness" and brain-research and I opposed it by the argument that the brain is only an instrument and we should be interested in "reality" - whatever it may be. What is is, that the instrument is showing and telling us ? That was my question.

I am asking for some good answers relevant to the better future of mankind, and I am ready to learn from all those mystics just cited. In this context I find Weil quite promising, because she is clear and down to earth. She is a genius in the way Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and Heidegger were, since she introduces some really important arguments, relevant to human conduct and self understanding. This is what I want to see. But "being one with the Absolute" or getting "from Alpha to Omega" is "hot air philosophy" that gets us nowhere and does not solve any problem.

The Buddha and Jesus have been very much down to earth and very practical. The same is true of Simone Weil.

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Hubertus Fremerey
30 Jul 2011

#433 a What do we call "reality" ?

Perhaps we could try to clarify our concept of "reality" ? This is a topic where analyticals and continentals and mystics and sceptics and materialists and spritiualists etc. could say something. I would like to see all sides of it - or at least as many as possible. It includes experiences and data and words and concepts and theories and includes all thinkers from Quine to Ramakrishna and Heidegger. But arguing has to be careful and circumspect.

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Hubertus Fremerey
30 Jul 2011

#433b the importance of a non-existent problem

Dear all, it is ironical that this conference is in danger of breaking down from exactly that conflict of analytical and continental thinking that you all call annoying and "non-existent". There are two factions of philosophers who call each other ignorant and "not doing philosophy at all" and engaged in "silly discussions". But "there is not conflict, since the other side is simply not worth listening to." Oh well !

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Rachel Browne
30 Jul 2011

Hubertus, you wrote: "This is a hint at why Weil could be "not analytic but very precise" at the same time. No, this "analytic vs continental" opposition is not void ! I am not speaking about labels here, I am trying to understand WHY the philosophical style of Great Britain is so very much different from that of the continent. There is not a single important English philosopher of the same stature and the same approach as Spinoza, Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Heidegger and their followers. Why not ? That was my question. By dismissing the problem as irrelevant you are evading it. It is REAL. There is a deep mutual misunderstanding and I want to know its causes."

Well as you say the English don't have a concept of liebens

There has been this divide since the first conference, but here we still are!

From a continental view, can you explain why I can read Heidegger and Sartre and Nietzsche, but not Hegel or Kierkegaard. Are these different schools? Is this that I can latch on the literariness of the former? Kierkegaard seem literary to the point of total obscurity though. i

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Rachel Browne
30 Jul 2011

i think liebenphilosophy is philosophy of life. we just don't have that concept in the uk. this is why you have great german schemes, while we analyse.

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Pete
30 Jul 2011

Okay. I was feeling irritable. I'll try to be more clear about my objections. I'll pick up on one or two comments.

Please note that my outburst was not against any particular view, but against the practice of forming them casually and stating them as if they were any more than a casual opinion. I know Weil quite well, but certainly not well enough to state some of things that have been stated about her here by people who know her even less well than I do. That shouldn't happen on a philosophy forum. I would guess that Charles is the Weil expert here, and maybe we should be asking him questions, not trying to convince him he's wrong.

Hubertus asks an interesting question. "What is mysticism as compared to analytical philosophy?" He then goes on to express his views about both at great length. I cannot quite grasp how this is possible. I respect the extent of your reading, H, but I feel that there is something you have missed. Do you think this is possible? This is why I insist that you think mystioism is nonsense even though you think you don't, for if it were otherwise I'd expect you to know the answer to this one.

The question contains a partial category-error. If by 'analytical' philosophy we mean the use of our time and intellects to solve philosophical problems, then the former contains the latter. If it means specifically the analysis of langauge and concepts then the answer is the same. It is not as widely known as it should be that the perennial philosophy has a secure logical foundation and is not only derived from first-person reports. The charge that it lacks precision or rigour is absurd and easily disposed of. It is the claim that analysis is useful but not enough.

This disagreement has little to do with analytical vs continental philosophy. I'm suggesting that we do philosophy more carefully, not that we all divide up into teams and argue about what to call ourselves. We are either for philosophy or against it. That's the two factions.

I was going to write more but duty calls. I should add, however, in case I've caused any trouble, that it's the way we're thinking and communicating here that bothers me, not the view that anybody holds.

PS. I find Rachel's question about English philosophers interesting. I'm wondering if the answer is that we do not honour our philosophers in the same way, with Francis Bradley, or perhaps Whitehead in mind, but that they are there if we look. But there does seem to be a curious difference in temperament.

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Rachel Browne
31 Jul 2011

Sorry Pete. I don't mind you thinking I'm an arrogant idiot. I was irritated too. I don't like continental philosophy, especially as written by female writers or Kierkaard. Everyone has some sort of prejudice, surely? I was just going along because Charles wanted to talk about Weil. I'll keep out of Weil discussion. Hubertus has come to the conclusion that you are perennialiast and is going to post something on the conference on this, though he could have put it on here in the first place.

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Hubertus Fremerey
31 Jul 2011

#434 on Perennialism

Pete, you seem to be an adherent to "Perennialism". If I am wrong on this, please clarify ! This "modern religion" is not unknown to me or to Charles : On an older version (starting in 2002) of this conference a nice Greek, Jean Nakos, commended GuEnon. So I had a look and have some material from that time. Part of this together with some new material I will put below for convenience and referencing.

As I just wrote to Charles, who thought that I am prejudiced : // Charles, I didn't say anything against Perennialism so far. I am always open to learn, and I do not shun Perennialism, but I want to see good arguments : Why should I take those people seriously ? They are telling me that I am n together with most of all people in the modern world n on the wrong track. This is a strong claim, and it is quite natural that I want to see strong arguments backing it. For the moment I take Perennialism as one more cultural criticism of the modern world besides the other well known religious criticisms, and besides Nietzsche, Heidegger, Marcuse and Weil, who all in different ways criticized modernity. When I say that I want to learn a bit, I am serious. But of course my own personal opinion on modernity is in fact very different.

When I started the work on my book some 50 years back, my intention was "to understand my time and the world I live in." To dismiss it as "errant in the wilderness" or "ridden by all devils" or something like that was out of the question. This would be a very comfortable attitude well known from all religions. I take this world I live in seriously because I respect human striving. But the curious thing is that those who call this modern world "rotten to the bones" or "dark and in need of light" do so because of respect for the striving human mind also. This is worth a philosophical debate.

I have in my book a chapter on "criticism of modernity" and so I am really interested in knowing all possible objections. But of course after listening to all objections in the end I will make up my mind and come to my own conclusions. Hubertus //

----------------------------------------------------------------------

Some links and material below :

http://www.religioperennis.org/ and

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perennial_philosophy

Short bios of the leading figures in Perennialism - living and dead :

http://www.religioperennis.org/Contributors.html

Two introductory essays are :

http://religioperennis.org/articles.html#acoomaraswamy

http://religioperennis.org/documents/Oldmeadow/Critiques.pdf

From the latter I cite :

// Modernism: this term we may loosely define as the prevalent assumptions, values and attitudes of a world-view fashioned by the most pervasive intellectual and moral influences of recent European history, an outlook in conformity with the Zeitgeist of the times. One might classify the constituents of modernism under any number of different schema. Lord Northbourne typifies modernism as "anti-traditional, progressive, humanist, rationalist, materialist, experimental, individualist, egalitarian, free- thinking and intensely sentimental". S.H.Nasr gathers these tendencies together under four general marks of modern thought : anthropomorphism (and by extension, secularism); evolutionist progressivism; the absence of any sense of the sacred; an unrelieved ignorance of metaphysical principles.

O

For the traditionalists modernism is nothing less than a spiritual disease which continues to spread like a plague across the globe, decimating traditional cultures wherever they are still to be found. Although its historical origins are European, modernism is now tied to no specific area or civilisation. Its symptoms can be detected in a wide assortment of interrelated "mind sets" and "-isms", sometimes involved in cooperative co-existence, sometimes engaged in apparent antagonisms but always united by the same underlying principles. Scientism, rationalism, relativism, materialism, positivism, empiricism, psychologism, individualism, humanism, existentialism: these are some of the prime follies of modernist thought. The pedigree of this family of ideas can be traced back through a series of intellectual and cultural upheavals in European history and to certain vulnerabilities in Christian civilisation which left it exposed to the subversions of a profane science.8 The Renaissance, the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment were all incubators of ideas and values which first ravaged Christendom and then spread throughout the world like so many bacilli. Behind the somewhat bizarre array of ideologies which have proliferated in the last few centuries the traditionalists discern a growing and persistent ignorance concerning ultimate realities and an indifference, if not always an overt hostility, to the eternal verities conveyed by tradition. / End cit. Oldmeadow /

This is from Frithjof Schuon

(http://www.religioperennis.org/documents/Schuon/religioperennis.pdf )

// If it were necessary or useful to prove the Absolute, the objective and transpersonal character of the human Intellect would be a sufficient testimony, for this Intellect is the indisputable sign of a purely spiritual first Cause, a Unity infinitely central but containing all things, an Essence at once immanent and transcendent. It has been said more than once that total Truth is inscribed in an eternal script in the very substance of our spirit; / End cit. Schuon /

-------------------------

To which add these :

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Traditionalist_School

and

http://www.religioscope.com/info/doc/esotrad/legenhausen.htm =

Why I am not a Traiditionalist, by Hajj Muhammad Legenhausen n 2002.

Which is about my view (Hubertus)

From the opener of this text I cite : // In an interview in 1989, the Yale historian of Christianity Jaroslav Pelikan said: iTradition is the living faith of the dead; traditionalism is the dead faith of the living. Tradition lives in conversation with the past, while remembering where we are and when we are and that it is we who have to decide. Traditionalism supposes that nothing should ever be done for the first time, so all that is needed to solve any problem is to arrive at the supposedly unanimous testimony of this homogenized tradition.i [U.S. News & World Report, June 26, 1989] //

By the way : If you call these Perennialists "mystics", then very probably Jung should be called a mystic too. But does is add to our understanding ? I think all these labels - esoterics, gnostics, hermeticists, spiritualists, theosophists ea included - seem rather more confusing. One has so much to explain. Look up "gnosticism" and "esoterics" in Wiki. "Traditionalists" is well defined.

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Pete
1 Aug 2011

Rachel - I did not say that you were an arrogant idiot. I would bever say such a thing. I was commenting on what you said about Weil, which I think you'd agree was not well thought through. I suppose I was trying to shake things up a bit and get serious. Hubertus - I've no time now but will reply to your question later so I can do it justice.

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Rachel Browne
1 Aug 2011

Not to worry, Pete.

Well I didn't do Weil justice because I didn't like her and thought her writing false. How can you spend time reading something that you think is glaringly false? Sorry Charles, it's just my prejudice against continental philosophy and women.

Hubertus, you are already allying perennialism with religion and I don't think this is right. The criticism of modernity is from a point of view of otherness, of contemplation on the non-physical and pensiveness and this presents valid criticism of modernity. It is against the internet, Twitter, mobile phones and constant texting. Well, I have written this to you and you didn't reply. Society is losing soul. Surely THIS is what is serious. Science was set up to help up us but at the low level (technology rather than neurology which helps people with brain damage) it is taking over. It's a dumbing down.

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Hubertus Fremerey
1 Aug 2011

#434a What to call religion

Rachel, there are many different notions of "religion", so we had just to start numbering again. But as I wrote at the end of my posting // I think all these labels - esoterics, gnostics, hermeticists, spiritualists, theosophists ea included - seem rather more confusing. One has so much to explain. Look up "gnosticism" and "esoterics" in Wiki. "Traditionalists" is well defined. // Thus look up "religion" and you will find much stuff and be confused all the more.

The general idea of "perennialism" is : All religions - including Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam etc. - are varieties of some very old "original wisdom". Thus "the Absolute" that showed up in the postings of Pete is not essentially different from either the Christian God or the Islamic Allah or the Hinduist Brahma or the Buddhis "Dharma" or the Greek "Kosmos" or whatever of this sort. Thus perennialism is a modern form of Pansophy or Theosophy (which look up under Wiki).

We humans have an inborn ability for creating grammatical language. This enables us to learn and to understand any language in the world (up to several thousands, many of them dead). There are several English linguists who are fluent in Chinese, Hindi, Balinese, some African and American Native languages, Hungaric, Keltic, etc.. In a similar way there may be some "religious genes" that enable us to understand any religion in the world.

But you cannot write poems or novels in a "general" language. You always need a "specific" language to be a Homer or a Dante or a Goethe or a Balzac or a Shakespeare etc.. In the same way to be a believer in the "original wisdom" is less impressive than to be a believer in Hinbduism or Buddhism or Christianity of Islam etc.. In fact all forms of "Pansophy" and "Theosophy" and Gnosticism etc. are to be seen as reactions to scepticism, when the old "accepted" religion has become dubious but agnosticism looks barren and boring. Where religion dies, not "reason" but "pseudo- and quasi-religion" begins to flourish.

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Pete
2 Aug 2011

Rachel - I think you might like this. "Man finds himself in a perilous positionOA far greater danger threatens [than the outbreak of a third world war]: the approaching tide of technological revolution in the atomic age could so captivate, bewitch, dazzle and beguile man that calculative thinking may someday come to be accepted and practiced as the only way of thinking. What great danger then might move upon us? Then there might go hand in hand with the greatest ingenuity in calculative planning and inventing, indifference towards emeditativei thinking, total thoughtlessness. And then? Then man would have denied and thrown away his own special nature n that he is a meditative being. Therefore the issue is keeping meditative thinking alive." Martin Heidegger Speech commemorating German composer Conradin Kreutzer in 1955 (from Hare Brain, Tortoise Mind n Guy Claxton p207)

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Pete
2 Aug 2011

Hubertus - You ask regarding Buddhists etc, why you should take these people seriously. I have no idea how to answer this briefly, but here's a few off the cuff thoughts. Maybe you can pick on one or two and we can focus on them.

There would be many answers. Heidegger's words from the post below might be one. Mine would be simpler. The metaphysical scheme of the wisdom traditions works. It solves all philosophical problems. All others do not, and this is well researched and documented. This is a sufficient reason for not dmismissing it out of hand. Also, it has never been falsified or refuted, and this is promising, not a reason to ignore it. Then, you have the coincidence of the same doctrine arising all over the world at all historical periods. You say it is ancient, but it is also modern, that's why it's called perennial. One would not expect the truth to keep changing, and were the dopctrine to keop changing it would be a sign of falsity.

In the end the question is why you should take any philosophical position seriously, for there is no evidence to suggest that there is anything wrong with position of Buddha and Lao-tsu, and if we don't take it seriously then we have no justification for taking any other position seriously. If we do not take it seriously we are not taking philosophy seriously, but making arbitrary decsions.

It is really all quite simple in metaphysics. Metaphysics does not produce a positive result because all positive metaphysical positions are absurd. This is a simple and demonstrable fact. Mysticism states that this is a fact because the universe is a unity. As we have no other explanation I don't think we can fail to take their claim seriously, at least until it is falsified.

You say "all forms of "Pansophy" and "Theosophy" and Gnosticism etc. are to be seen as reactions to scepticism, when the old "accepted" religion has become dubious but agnosticism looks barren and boring. Where religion dies, not "reason" but "pseudo- and quasi-religion" begins to flourish."

This is a misunderstanding or speculation and it should not be stated as if it is a fact. If you believe this then I'm not surprised you have such a low opinion. Mysticism comes before religion, or is the roots of religion, and is not an outcome of it. I've never even once before come across the idea that it's the other way around. This is what is meant by saying that mysticism throws a light on religion, as that earlier quote did, that it reveals religion's source and thus its meaning. The suggestion you make here is very odd.

Perhaps you could explain why you think mysticism is inimicable with reason. Is there any evidence to support this view?

In what way could mysticism be a reaction to scepticism? Do you mean it was invented as a reaction? Or that people practice it as a reaction? For the mystic nothing would really exist, so it could be thought of as the vindication of scepticism. Mysticism, after all, gives an explanation for why scepticism is unfalsifiable in the first place. If you mean it is a reaction to the inability of metaphysics to solve problems like scepticism, then I suppose there is some truth in saying it is a such a reaction this, since it was my initial motivation for investigating it.

If you could voice a specific objection it might be easier to discuss the issues. Your initial question asks me to evangelicize, and I expect neither of us wants me to do this.

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Rachel Browne
2 Aug 2011

Good gracious, Pete! I don't like the Heidegger quote at all! It's terrifying. I do have time for later Heidegger, and now he seems to be a prophet! Hubertus, this is why we should take ANY religion seriously. Not the doctrine, but the attitude. And literature and poetry as well. It's our saving grace. Of course, I'm not religious, but think that the meditative is essential to soulfulness, which my brother has written about. I'm more attached to nature and literature than religion. I wonder if genes give rise to expressions in different ways?

Europe and America and the Far East don't seem to change their thinking much. I have hope in Australia, which is extremely open minded. This is where my brother lives and he has changed from being a theologian to a philosopher, making up new courses. He didn't even have to change institute! The Catholic institute he is at just allowed him to introduce new thought.

There is stuff going on in Hong Kong too. There is an open-mindedness, where theology departments are opening up to new ways of thinking and teaching. My brother mainly teaches poetry as philosophy in this Catholic institute and gets invited to the Hong Kong conferences. Although he teaches in a Catholic institute, he has written a book on the soul and poetry where he argues that we don't "have" a soul, but we can be soulful. The Catholic institute is accepting this sort of teaching!

It's probably Heidegerrian dread of what might otherwise happen.

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Hubertus Fremerey
2 Aug 2011

#434b Religion, mysticism, perennialism and all that

Dear Rachel and Pete, there is so much in your postings that I need some time to think it over for a good answer. The citation of Heidegger shows in part why he is admired by many. He's got at something. And : Please remember that I started from studying theology and read much of Christian and Eastern wisdom ! Thus my answer will be very careful and may need one or two days to be prepared.

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Pete
3 Aug 2011

Yes, that paragraph is a bit bleak. A bit true as well, as it's turning out. Never mind, the industrial revolotion will be over soon.

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Hubertus Fremerey
4 Aug 2011

#435 What is Perennialism all about ?

Pete, that "the industrial revolution will be over soon" is a vague statement. What do you mean ? We are in the post-industrial revolution by now. We are perhaps about creating true life and true mind in the lab. At least we cannot exclude that possibility. Look up Moravec and Kurzweil and Venter and their likes on the internet. A new Kondratjeff is building up where the internet and the electronic media are all pervading and transforming the very nature of what we call "industry". We will see artificial ears (I have such a thing implanted) and artificial eyes and artificial hearts and electronically stimulated brains. There are all those projects of transhumanism under construction now. See http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=transhumanism&x=0&y=0 ! What is Perennialism telling me on these developments ? They are real !

We cannot and will not go back to "the ways of the Indian" or to that of Australian Aborigines. Some persons can do that on their own risk of course, but it will not be the way of modern and transmodern man globally. Or do you think otherwise ?

You and Rachel and Charles and Mike quite understandably are defending "nature as we know it" n enjoying the landscape and the plants and animals and taking the dogs out and observing birds and beetles etc.. I know it and I love it too. But would it be "wrong" to have artificial animals and plants around ? By what argument ? Would it be wrong to have artificial humans around ? By what argument ?

We started this conference some weeks ago (on May 9, 2011) with debating first "guilt", then "evolution" and then "consciousness". On May 11 I wrote :

// Dear Mike and Geoffrey, I am again fascinated by this strange and all pervading obsession with "assessing reality". We are used to speak of "homo sapiens" but we should speak of "homo creativus" - the creative mind. This modern world is our human invention, not Gods creation. Inventiveness is our human pride. We are builders, engineers and artists of worlds, not scientists only. The task of the artist and engineer is not to copy nature but to create his own work from forms and colours. Instead of asking "what's the case ?" we should ask "what should be the case ?" We should see our future not as a challenge to the scientific mind only, but as well to the artistic mind. Science cannot tell us what building to build or what music to invent or what novel to write. Only the creative mind can. //

On May 18 (p.7) Ochieng wrote as a response to another of my postings :

@Hubertus Fremerey 17 May 2011: http://www.mercatornet.com/articles/view/have_we_evolved_to_argue/

I have gone through this site and it has generated a small idea. I think philosophers lost their position when they got into the same comfort zone they had created for others, and began to "Zero Philosophize" inside there: that is, to debate issues that are already "in the book" without ever attempting to cross over the boundaries. What the sciences have achieved today was facilitated by earlier philosophical thought by philosophers who did not allow themselves to be limited by any earlier positions.

Today's philosophers have been trying to discover new lands inside their own compounds. This has rendered them irrelevant to those who are in the compound. To be relevant again, the philosopher must be brave enough to chart untravelled land. Get out and get lost!

We have one of the best platforms for debate, but the whole debate seems to revolve around a few participants, and some contributions that do not seem to conform to "accepted literature" is either shut down in the next posting or ignored altogether! That is why the philosopher will remain comfortable, but irrelevant to the rest of the world. The philosopher today is in dire need of being accepted, but to remain relevant as a philosopher, one must be brave enough to become iconoclaste in society.

The best thinking is triggered by taking some time to think about the meaningless and meaninglessness, the impossible and impossibility, the stupid and stupidity. Koans have helped in Zen Buddhism to gain deep understanding and enlightenment. Think of bladeless knives without handles, think of the sound of one hand clapping. Say something about it before dismissing it as useless or uselessness without much thought!

I have noted that whenever the discussion is about to gain the depth that is actually a prerequisite to entering new frontiers in thinking, somebody fills the posting with websites to support their preffered ideas and positions. This is how the debate loses its philosophical value and the philosopher remains irrelevant. The authors of those very websites are looking upon the philosopher to open new frontiers for them to write about, and then the debate leads them back to their own writings! What a waste of time and opportunity!

The debate is sometimes discursive and its depth wanting. It goes like gliding at sea on top of a wave, letting the wave pass and waiting for the next wave to come. This does not lead to the depth where koans can be generated, where new patterns of thought can be opened up for discussion. The debate needs to go into deep sea diving, under the wave until the debate gets to a point where "no one has ever reached" and sees something under the wave that no one has ever seen! Let the debate not rush back to websites, that is where the debate is coming from. That is home!You will not discover any new lands at home!

Finally, the debate reveals a great deal of anthropocentric ideas, supported and reinforced by solipsist positions. //

I don't object to being playful and bringing up new ideas or being "Perennialist" or debating Simone Weil and Levinas etc.. But my question is always : Where does it get us ? Are we doing "l'art pour l'art" here ?

I have asked Charles why he thinks that Simone Weil should engage us. No answer. But I was really interested ! I would have liked to see some stimulating idea from Ochieng. No answer. Now I hear of Perennialism and once more would like to know what I could learn from that side. This is serious !

Perhaps look at it this way : Most people here seem to agree that religions are important. But George W Bush and Tony Blair are Christian true believers and the Ajatollah Chomeini and his followers are Islamic true believers. Now ask Rachel or Mike whom of those three they find convincing ? So the natural next question would be : What's the true nature of religion if it comes to no agreeable conclusions ? Here philosophy n and very much analytical philosophy at that ! n steps in and tries to think from the concept of "methodically applied reason". If Perennialism is offering something better than that, I would listen.

Suppose you are sitting on a bioethics commission and deciding on life and death of an early baby or a person in coma or a person suffering from cancer in a very bad state : Will any religion or will Perennialism tell you something that "reason" cannot tell you ? I would like to know! Where are the suggestions from Ochieng ?

In this situation I found Simone Weil quite promising, since she is near to the realities of daily life. But she too is naive in many places. She suggests to dissolve all big corporations and big landed properties and set up shop for small farmers and small sweatshops to get people personally involved in their daily work again and get them out of "alienation". This idea of dissolving all big corporations and possessions is very old and has been re-enlivened by Marcuse and his followers during the 1960s. But does anybody here think in his right mind that this sort of "decapitalizing modern industrial society" would get us at a more humane society ? I would rather call it "romanticism". It is the world of William Morris again as proposed 120 years ago ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/News_from_Nowhere ). But well, you may convince me otherwise. So get out your arguments ! We could debate that, but if treated seriously it would be a really difficult topic ! It would be "a clash of cultures".

I am not trying to dominate this debate, I am only asking for seriousness. When I read that religions are important or that Perennialism is a good idea I want to see the arguments that support such claims. Like Socrates I want to check the validity of such claims. Can they be defended ? And like Socrates I am not "ironic" in the sense of being frivolous. I am ironic to make unsound claims visible as such.

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Pete
5 Aug 2011

Well, I was trying to do as you ask, or make a start, but you completely ignored my post. What is 'perennialism' by the way. Never heard of it.

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Hubertus Fremerey
5 Aug 2011

#436 on Perennialism = philosophia perennis

Pete, I don't understand. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perennial_philosophy. I have used this word before and linked to it before.

I have read your posting carefully. But I have answered indirectly : You wrote : // The metaphysical scheme of the wisdom traditions works. It solves all philosophical problems. All others do not, and this is well researched and documented. This is a sufficient reason for not dmismissing it out of hand. Also, it has never been falsified or refuted, and this is promising, not a reason to ignore it. Then, you have the coincidence of the same doctrine arising all over the world at all historical periods. You say it is ancient, but it is also modern, that's why it's called perennial. One would not expect the truth to keep changing, and were the dopctrine to keop changing it would be a sign of falsity. //

Against this my question was : What do those wisdom traditions tell me about entering Afghanistan or Iraq by war ? What would you (or the leaders of the movement - who are they ?) have told GWB or Blair ? If the metaphysical scheme of the wisdom traditions solves all philosophical problems, what does it tell the doctor on keeping an early child or a person like Terry Schiavo alive ? ( See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terri_Schiavo_case )

Since neither Traditionalism nor Christian nor Islamic nor Jewish nor Buddhist etc. ethics could provide a convincing answer, my questions was : What is the nature and value of all such "creeds". Do they only give "good vibrations" and "elevated thoughts and feelings", or do they provide helpful and deep insights that otherwise would have missed us ? If so, then what do they provide in your opinion ? Why do you think that somebody convinced of the teachings of Traditionalism would come to better conclusions than somebody following Christian or Islamic or Buddhist etc. teachings - or modern "enlightened secular reason" ?

As I wrote to Charles before, we are on a philosophical conference here and we have to justify our claims as good we may. Otherwise we will end at the well known "If only you could see things from my point of view and looking through my spectacles, you would know that I am right !" - argument. But this argument I have heard from Christians, Marxists, Nazis and others alike, thus it is almost totally worthless.

After this experience I distrust all grand schemes. "The devil is in the details". The concept of "wisdom" is a hollow one. What does wisdom come to ? Should we go back to the ideal state of William Morris ? Should we go forth to the ideal state of Ray Kurzweil with artificial humans roaming the world after "singularity" ? What does Traditionalism tell me if it solves all philosophical problems ? That was my question.

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Rachel Browne
5 Aug 2011

My husband has just suggested the conference should be re-named as a dialogue.

I shouldn't think there IS a moral imperative on how we "should" go forward, Hubertus. Why don't you back up your own arguments? Why can't we go back? Is there some impossibility about it? It is the platform of the Green Party.

It is obvious that we wouldn't want robots roaming around. Would they be able to have sex? No-one of sound mind would want to fall in love with a robot or have sex with one. Are you trying to promote perversion?

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Hubertus Fremerey
5 Aug 2011

#436a a note added on Traditionalism

@Pete : In Wiki one is led from "Traditionalism" by disambiguation to "Traditionalist School" ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Traditionalist_School ) from where I cite : // The term Traditionalist School has been introduced by Mark Sedgwick and few other people to denote a school of thought, also known as Integral Traditionalism (in the sense of Integral spirituality) or Perennialism (in the sense of perennial philosophy, or philosophia perennis) to denote an esoteric movement developed by authors such as French thinker RenE GuEnon, German-Swiss philosopher Frithjof Schuon, the Ceylonese-British scholar Ananda Coomaraswamy, or, with some controversy, Julius Evola,[1] Titus Burckhardt, Martin Lings, Jean-Louis Michon, Marco Pallis, Huston Smith, and Seyyed Hossein Nasr. //

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Hubertus Fremerey
5 Aug 2011

#437 What future do we want to have ?

@Rachel : I will take a time out. Yes, I am aggressive and stressing and pushing and I regret it. But assume you had Simone Weil or (God forbid!) Nietzsche or Kierkegaard or Heidegger or Wittgenstein on this conference. You can be assured that every one of them would be more pushing and punching than I am ! They all are dead and tame now, while I am not (yet).

And on robots : Since they would be artificial, they of course need no sex to improve. They would improve like any car or computer or other machine by improving design and construction.

But my question was a very different one - and a very philosophical one : Would it be WRONG to have androids around ?

To understand the question see it thus : Is it wrong to have dogs and cats and cattle around ? No. But those are thought to be inferiour to humans. While some people have sex with dogs and goats and horses this is not seen as an important problem.

But things look differently when we speak of artificial beings that are not inferiour to us but maybe superiour androids. These may be either robots, i.e. engineered from scratch, or genetically engineered trans-humans. Scientists this time are working on both possibilities. The question whether they would or could have sex with humans is irrelevant. They won't need it. They are a-sexual beings. But this would not prevent them from being of superiour intelligence. Thus we are back at "consciousness" and whether it can be "constructed". So far nobody could prove or disprove this possibility.

The funny thing is : This is a philosphical conference, so you all should be ready to put and answer "daring" questions. Ochieng even chided me for (assumed) lack of daring. But now when I put these questions of the possibility of androids everybody runs off or keeps silent ! Where are you ? Where is Ochieng ? What does Mike say ? What Charles, what Pete ?

As long as "consciousness" was a purely theoretical problem you were eager to debate it, but the moment I am suggesting that it may have real consequences and should concern us as philosophers you are all running away.

Once more : My questions was : "Would it be wrong to have superiour thinking beings of our own making around ?" This is a perfectly sensible philosophical question. I would be glad to see a stormy debate here. Instead I hear only an awkward and nervous silence. Come out of the hiding !

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Hubertus Fremerey
5 Aug 2011

#437a A note added on a misunderstanding

@Rachel : I never ever spoke of 'how we "should" go forward' ! I only said that some things may be "around the corner" so we should think about it. What do you do if next week the first truly thinking robot is announced ? Well, I don't think that it will come around that fast, but maybe in 50 years or so. We cannot exclude that. When nuclear fission was found to be possible in 1938 by German Nobel laureate Hahn, it took only another 7 years to have the first atomic bomb "working" over Hiroshima. When the first truly thinking robot will leave the lab like the Frankenstein Monster, we will not be asked how we like it. And as the monster of Dr.Frankenstein it may be a nice monster asking for love and respect, pointing to the works of Simone Weil and Levinas ! I am just an open minded person thinking of all possibilities here. Why else should I be interested in taking part in a philosophers conference ?

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Rachel Browne
5 Aug 2011

I have notified Geoffrey that this conference is fucked up. Does anyone want to make a move?

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Pete
6 Aug 2011

Yes, that's a good summary. Blunt as usual, Rachel, but it needed saying. I'd make a move if I could figure out a good one. But I don't know how to deal with this except to bow out. Let's at least change the subject to something I don't care about.

Hubertus - You asked me why you should take mysticism seriously. I gave you one or two sound reasons which you've chosen to ignore rather than consider. That's fine, but you can't expect me to explain how it would deal with wars in Afganistan and Iraq and other stuff you mention when you don't want to engage with the basics. I'd prefer the term mysticism to perennialism, btw, but each to his own.

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Geoffrey Klempner
6 Aug 2011

Om Mani Padme Hum

Om Mani Padme Hum

Om Mani Padme Hum

Om Mani Padme Hum

Om Mani Padme Hum

Om Mani Padme Hum...

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Hubertus Fremerey
6 Aug 2011

#438 on basics and applications

Sorry Pete, I never chose to ignore you arguments. I always read and took them seriously. But I was asking for consequences. In this sense I am a pragmatist : I want to see in what way some "basic" is changing practical decisions. This was why I asked whether mysticism is just "good vibrations" or whether it is something more. This was why I asked what the value of religion could be if GWB and Blair and the Ajatollah Chomeini all claim to have superiour insight and are acting on spiritual and mystical revelations. This is why I said that Einstein never needed mysticism to get at his theories of relativity but ony intelligence and good math.

I never ever ridiculed any claim here. I have always been honest and serious. But like Socrates I am always challenging grand claims and want to see the evidence and arguments supporting those claims. It is me who never gets an answer to his many serious philosophical questions here.

We were debating Simone Weil and I wanted to know from you and from Charles how Simone Weil affected your thinking : Where do you side with her and where do you oppose her - and by what arguments ? But I got no answers !

With a view of Traditionalism and Guenon and Schuon I asked whether we should go back to the "way of the Indian" or to that of Australian Aborigines or at least to that of William Morris in "News from Nowehere" or to the dreams of the Marcusean Revolt of the 1960s. Once more no answers !

I asked what would Guenon and Schuon have to say on the possibility of having superiour androids roam the world. I did not recommend this possibility as Rachel apparently assumed, but I only asked : What would you have to say in case such a situation would be here next time. I added that this possiblity is not to be dismissed out of hand since many scientists are working hard on it.

All this was stuff for many intensive and interesting philosophical disputes here ! Why do you all evade them ?

In my opinion this is a "fine weather" or "nice as pie" conference, where all difficult problems are carefully evaded. This is why I said that Simone Weil, Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Wittgenstein would all be more pushing and punching than me. They all would ask for consequences.

Traditionalists as Guenon and Schuon explicitely and consistently condemned modernity. Thus it was quite natural - and absolutely serious - when I asked you to explain your position. Why can't you defend your stand if you think that Traditionalism is a good philosophy ? I am really interested !

To be sure : I can and would always defend my position on modernity with solid arguments and I would be always open to criticism and eager to learn. But I am almost sure now that nobody here wants to listen. Thus I refrained from this.

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Rachel Browne
6 Aug 2011

We could look at the differences between spirituality, mysticism and perennialism. Charles might know and Mike might be interested. He is interested in religion, though no more mystical than I am. It is obvious that we can't clarify any differences, so it might be something to work on. And Geoffrey, who chants, might have some idea.

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Geoffrey Klempner
6 Aug 2011

I am unspiritual and unmystical and unperennial -- but I am capable of being moved, to tears, by the spirituality mysticism and perennialism of others. I like the Blues, Tibetan chants and Songs of Praise. I hate arguments, squabbling teenagers and the especially the News.

I am puzzled. There are philosophical questions -- which do not have answers. That blows me away. Leaves me numb.

Hubertus I admire as a modern-day Socrates. Or better. Because Socrates got up everybody's nose. He was inquisitorial, exasperatingly persistent, disingenuous, insufferable. Hubertus, you are too gentle for that.

We are adults. We have free will. We can say what we want. The sky will not fall in. Be honest. Only remember (Hubertus!) that truth is not the only thing on the agenda, and that's where 'dialogue' comes in. Or maybe a different kind of 'truth'. Personal truth. Being conscious.

This is a test. There will be no more conferences if this fails. Fuck-up to your heart's content.

Come to think of it, let's all say 'fuck'. Or better still, chant.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Tibetan-Incantations-Various-Artists/dp/B00000JB12

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Hubertus Fremerey
6 Aug 2011

#440 on chanting philosophers

Geoffrey, I am not chanting but laughing. I think people underestimate what it takes to be good at philosophizing. I don't object the least to a dozen or two dozen or more different opinions. I would enjoy it.

I do not know the numbers but I think that almost 90% of all students starting philosophy would run off after the first weeks if not forced to stay. Most people I know of don't like philosophy at all, and many of those that do underestimate its requirements grossly. There are only a few that like the challenge. Rachel is right : I like to challenge people, but it has to be added in all fairness that I like to be challenged too. I never evaded a good fight. Well, chanting and laughing - we will see.

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Geoffrey Klempner
6 Aug 2011

"Your laughter is good. It relieves tension and the fear of death."

(T-800, aka 'The Terminator')

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Pete
7 Aug 2011

Oh Hell. I suppose there's nothing for it but to persevere.

I don't buy all this stuff about philosophical questions having no answers. I'd say it's usually a case of entrenched philosophical opinions getting in the way of common sense. I am a heretic though, and don't think philosophy is as difficult as it's made out to be.

I liked Rachel's suggestion for a topic. In the end we'd be discussing the meaning of three words which may be defined so as to mean the same thing, but it could be a useful discussion anyway.

Hubertus - Sorry mate, but I find your posts unmangeable. You ask lots of questions and if one them is answered you just move on and replace it with another two or three. This just doesn't work. Well, it works as a smokescreen, but not as a disussion. If you want to ask me a question I'll answer it, but not if you ask ten at once. I expect other people have the same problem. If you want to deal with a lot of questions at once I'll have to refer you elsewhere to something I've written.

As for how mysticism,(perennialism, gnosticism, nondualism, Buddhism, Taoism, Sufism etc) would answer your questions you'll need to start with my earlier post, which makes some very bold and contentious claims about metaphysics that you swallowed without a murmer, almost as if you didn't read it. The answer to all your questions is buried somewhere in that post. Or we could start somewhere else if you want. The point is simply that no answer can be given to any of these questions about mysticism that would not require starting in metaphysics. You can't just skip over the principles and hope to understand the details.

It's also no good telling me you take my view seriously and then challenging me to convince you to take it seriously. You do not take it seriously, and this is why you haven't delved far enough into it to grasp what it's all about. This has to be the reason because it's not rocket science and you are clearly a thoughtful person. Happily, acquiring a general understanding of the philosophy is not the same challenge as transcending life and death.

I'd be happy to talk about something else entirely. Trouble is, all roads lead to and from metaphysics, so we'll always end up returning to the same place. For example, I wouldn't know how to address the earlier questions about the purpose and nature of guilt without starting in metaphysics.

On Rachel's disussion topic - I'd say that mysticism and perennialsim are bound to be the same thing, but that 'spirituality' may mean something quite different. The [i]advaita[/i] (ie mystical) philosopher Ramesh Balsekar writes 'spiritual seekers are like lost children in a forest of their own imagining'. But I think the word can also be used to mean the same thing, as when Hegel calls his Ultimate Idea or original phenomenon a 'spiritual unity'. Generally I avoid the word spirituality as being too vague to be useful in philosophy.

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Rachel Browne
7 Aug 2011

Pete, you are right about haggling with words.

I asked my brother and he wrote: You would just have a pointless argument over words and the meaning of words if these words have no resonance as even with you they don't as you are not religious why bother? Mysticism is the experience of the dimension of height in being. Spirituality in the exploration of space and presence in inwardness. Perennialism is the name of a theological philosophy that is associated with St. Thomas Aquinas who was not a mystic or a spiritual writer, but an abstract systemazing Aristotelian, but the Catholic church has endorsed his philosophy as officially their own since the 13th century.

Height? Space?

I think we all have this attitude of resignation at the moment. Ha! We have to stick with it.

These things might resonate with you, Charles and Hubertus, in which case there might be meaningful dialogue. Personally I doubt it if you are going to be talking of inward height and space. Metaphorical talk. Aren't metaphors supposed to be false by definition?

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Mike Ward
7 Aug 2011

Hi everyone.

Geoffrey made a point I would like to take further as it is something that we ought first to consider before considering any philosophical issues. The statement was iThere are philosophical questions -- which do not have answers.i Do you agree?

A similar point was recently made by Dawkins that there are just some silly questions that do not deserve answers simply because they can be grammatically constructed, see this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LSZ_fsG5uMg

So I pose my question (silly or not) what would we each consider as silly questions and do they all start with WHY? Maybe then we can kick some of these pointless arguments into touch as amounting to nothing more than personal prejudice.

Here's my first silly question - Why Life?

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Charles
7 Aug 2011

I think that the human mind is embodied. Reason and conceptualization are through the body. Metaphors naturally result from the linking of our subjective experiences and judgements to our sensorimotor experience. I think that mystical experiences, at any level, tend to be full bodied (mind and body together).

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Charles
8 Aug 2011

Mike and I apparently sent our last at about the same time. I think that answering- why life? - would tend to be doctrinaire. The question is beyond our bodily experience.

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Hubertus Fremerey
8 Aug 2011

#440a going on

@Pete, glad to know that you don't give up. Yes, I may be confusing, but I am not confused. I am just playfully handling 7 balls in the air where most others have trouble with two of them. But I will try to get down to "one question at the time".

@Rachel : You wrote "Aren't metaphors supposed to be false by definition?" No, they quite often are the only way to make an important truth visible. Charles, when he speaks of "thinking in the flesh", is pointing to George Lakoff. The most famous book of Lakoff is "Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things" n the title of which is apparently metaphorical. And it was Lakoff who has written (with Johnson, in 1980) the book "Metaphors we live by" (see http://theliterarylink.com/metaphors.html and http://www.amazon.com/Metaphors-We-Live-George-Lakoff/dp/0226468011/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1312778770&sr=1-1 ).

I think that this "metaphorical way of our thinking" is what was on the mind of Charles when he reminds us of "thinking in the flesh".

We humans are both at the same time : "Problem solving animals" and "problem solving robots". Much of our problem solving is emotional, involving lots of complicated feelings of love and hate and fear and hope and whatever. But much is logical too, as f.i., solving differential equations or doing complicated calculations in Quantum Mechanics and Relativity Theories etc.. The thesis of Lakoff is : We cannot n at least not in thinking humans n keep both forms of thinking neatly apart. But even Lakoff would not deny that solving chess-problems or difficult calculations in every engineering field can be done by computers without any "emotions". Thus there is no contradiction : The imaginative thinking of Einstein may have been impossible without "Einstein being in the flesh", while his calculations n once the theory was formulated n could be done by "mindless" computers.

Einstein surely was no mystic. He simply didn't need to be. He did "thought experiments" and then came to the necessary conclusions. Metaphysics was never on his mind. He just said "let us assume that X n and then let us look what follows if X is true !" By this n and by nothing else n he arrived at his Theories of Relativity. At no time mysticism or spiritualism was needed. But of course "thinking" is not the same as "calculating". Because of this no computer could have started the whole chain of thoughts. This is the thesis of Lakoff (and Charles) and they may be right.

It is true that Einstein said "The greatest wonder of nature is that we can understand it !" But this comment alone does not make him a mystic. For his work and results it was totally irrelevant. He took it for granted. But he too was surprised by the outcome n as everybody else. Like every physicist since Newton Einstein was surprised to learn that God (or any super-natural being) is NOT needed to understand nature. It seems to be "just mathematical formulas".

@Mike : "Why life ?" n what exactly do you mean ? Do you ask "Why is there life at all ? What is its nature ? What does it take to create artificial life starting from simple molecules in the lab ?" This would be a purely scientific question, and no philosophy is needed. Or do you ask : "What is 'the meaning' of life ? What does it mean to be a living and thinking being ? What is expected of us humans ?" Then you are in the center of German "lebensphilosophie" with Nietzsche and Heidegger. Once more a clarification : German "leben" is English "life". But "lebens-philosophie" is NOT "philosophy of the biological nature of life" but is "philosophy of the metaphysical nature of life", i.e., of the "meaning" of life. Thus "lebensphilosophie" (as in Nietzsche and Heidegger) is NOT philosophy of biology.

Well : Living beings are defending their life. They are hungry and striving. In this sense we think because we are defending our lives, because we are hungry and striving too. In this sense thinking is instrumental. This is what Schopenhauer said.

Heidegger would have said n in the line of Lakoff : As living beings of liberty we are never only "calculating" beings but "thinking" beings. To think means to be care-ful, to be caring ones own fate and situation and the fate and situation of the world around. To think means to be aware of a world and a freedom and to experience life as a challenge. All this is impossible for dead beings, and is impossible for unthinking living beings too. Only thinking living beings like us can be "care-ful" and "mind-ful" in this way.

@Charles : Why do you think that // answering n why life? n would tend to be doctrinaire. (and that) The question is beyond our bodily experience. // Please explain !

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Hubertus Fremerey
8 Aug 2011

#441 on the use of metaphysics

Pete, to be specific on our problems with mutual understanding I give an example : You wrote // O all roads lead to and from metaphysics, so we'll always end up returning to the same place. For example, I wouldn't know how to address the earlier questions about the purpose and nature of guilt without starting in metaphysics. //

Well yes, in principle you are right. My problem is : What do I buy me for such a vague notion ? For me there are two different problems here : Firstly, metaphysics most often is taken for granted. When you write an essay on sports or on dancing or on juggling, you always take "gravity" for granted. It would be true to state that without gravity there would be no jumping nor dancing nor juggling. But who cares save perhaps on the Moon ? In the same way of course even Einstein needed metaphysics. He assumed that he and the world were there and that studying mathematical models of reality would be meaningful. But all this he took for granted. He never needed mentioning it in his theoretical papers. He did not even think of it. His work was not addressed at philosophical audiences. So why introduce metaphysics at all if it is not needed ? As with gravity I am fully aware of its importance even if I do not mention it.

And secondly, as in the case of "guilt" : Even dogs can have (and show) "a bad conscience". Rachel and Charles would tell you ! But does it mean that dogs need