Wednesday, February 15, 2006

I love Eartha Kitt and eMusic

And now for some philosophy:

I have been thinking lately about supervenience. Before I go too far into it, allow me to give you some background and for those of you who are just here for the knitting or because you are my friend, feel free to tune out for the rest of this entry, it is just philosophy.

Terence Horgan in his paper “From Supervenience to Superdupervenience” provides what is actually, unbelievably, the most simplistic and easy to comprehend explanation of supervenience.

“Supervenience is a determination relation between properties or characteristics of objects. The basic idea is this: properties of type A are supervenient on properties of type B if and only if two objects cannot differ with respect to their A-properties without also differing in their B-properties.”

Now that’s about as clear as mud, but not at all bad for a philosopher of the mind. I have been spending the last few weeks attempting to understand what the meaning of supervenience is, how to apply it in a real life example, and most importantly if there is a categorical error in its usage in philosophy of mind.

A “break in the case” came this past weekend when we had the opportunity to host the most amazing house guests, one of whom researches music, among other things (all of which amazing). That got me to thinking about music (and Plato, but that’s another story). Could one say that music supervenes on the physical properties of the instrument (including sound waves &c.)? Or perhaps it supervenes on the activity of the instruments and player? Either way I will say that music supervenes on the instrument for short. Thinking about the instrument, we can say it is an acoustic guitar which (I think) is made of wood, strings, glue &c. Therefore one could say that this particular guitar supervenes on the pile of wood, strings, glue &c when wood, strings, glue &c. are combined in a specific way in a specific context.

This progression of supervenience can keep going down to the atomic level which is explainable by physics (I assume). Each level of supervenience has its own explanatory ‘powers’ whose meaning is lost as you move up and down the chain. Therefore each level of supervenience is irreducible to a ‘lower’ level (or to put it another way, the more complex the supervenience – the further away it is from a purely physical explanation – the less reducible to a lower level it is). For example, if one were to attempt to explain a really great Eartha Kitt song by way of the sound waves that the song supervenes on, one looses the added ‘meaning’ of explaining the song qua song. To put it Aristotle: the song qua song has different ‘meaning’ then the song qua sound waves. End Aristotle.

Yet, each level of supervenience is explaining the same thing (with different categories and different size categories (see Aristotle Cat. if this actually interests you)), so perhaps each level of supervenience (working from an idea my house guest put forth) is logically isomorphic (yes, I know I am assuming the universe is a) explainable and b) logically structured) but irreducible to each other – but we all know where that leads: neutral monism.

I had best brush up on my Kant, Spinoza, Leibnitz and Parmenides; unless of course I could find another way out.

Or, of course, I could learn how to put foot notes on my blogger entry so I don't have to continiously interupt the flow if ideas with brackets.

Whichever, it's all good... or is it all neutral?


Jen said...

bleh...philosophy! Actually...not really bleh, it just goes right over my head so I have to automatically tune it out. Not because it sucks just because I really, really...really...don't get it.

But kudos to you! You get it. You're majoring in it. You crazy besom, yeah besom. That's a fun word. Gill taught it to me.

Anyway, love ya! Talk to you tonight!

JustApril said...

It just goes to show that if you think about anything long enough and hard enough breaking it down to it's particles, it ceases to make sense and exist on that level.

Guitars are made of wood, usually, and different wood makes for different tones which is resonance which is energy. Matter is also energy, so are thoughts and feelings. So in the case of music, those energies come together in a harmonious way, which means it's organized. Which means it DOES make sense. Furthermore it moves and evokes emotions, thoughts and feelings(energy again) on the listener which is cause and effect which means it can't be neutral or nothing would have happened.

Reasoning E'Bert said...

I miss you too Jenshine.

April, that's very interesting. It's a great way to approach the problem and one that is seldom used. I'm curious, when you say, "Matter is also energy" (and this will probably seem rather silly, but please answer if you will) do you mean that they are identical?

The majority of philosophers of mind who use supervenience work from the ontology (they assume the basic stuff that the universe is made of...)that physical particals make the foundation of the universe and all activities can (or very shortly will) be explained by Physics. They work on the assumption (and not without reason) that energy supervens on the material particals.

For example, one attom by itself is neither gass, nor liquid nor a solid. It is just an attom. Only when attoms interact does energy arrise (from this point of view). Therefor from this ontology matter and energy are the same but irreducable to eachother. They are simply two ways of explaining the same event, only many philosophers of mind are trained to assume that physics is the most important.

JustApril said...

Not that matter and energy are identical, per se - but matter started as energy and converts back to energy at the atomic/nuclear level - which is what nuclear fission is. A great deal of energy is contained in a small amount of matter - so matter is made of energy so it IS energy at is basic level -- that's all =)