Sunday, March 19, 2006

Philosophy of Mind, Huxley, Dennett, Foss or something supervienent?

My Philosophy of Mind professor, in his infinite wisdom, choose not to assign any preferred topics for the essay, thus making it extremely hard to know what to write about.

There is the subject of Qualia which disturbs me greatly. Qualia (see Nagel’s What it is Like to be a Bat) is the ‘what it is like’ to be something. To put it in knitting terms, it is not the experience of mastering a rather difficult lace pattern, but the experience of the experience of mastering a difficult lace pattern. So, if a non knitter came up to you and said, “what was it like knitting that?” you would attempt to give an account of the experience. Yet, many experiences do not lend them selves to being described with language (rational train of thought is dependent on language, see Huxley and Dennett, if you actually care, leave a comment, I can give you a more specific source. This is opposed to what Huxley describes as a train of feeling, which is how animals process their experiences and experience consciousness.) Now, if I were to work from the theory that experiences (which animals, and humans, and human animals, &c. all have) is reliant on a train of feeling but to give an account of your qualia or more specifically a description of “what it is like” to experience an event, is reliant on a train of thought (language), then, there is a huge gulf between your train of feeling (experience) and your train of thought (ability to describe the experience to yourself and others). This inability to account for what it is like leads one to believe that there is a something (*a what-cha – which is short for what-cha-ma-call-it) indescribable above and beyond your experience. Your conscious qualia. --- the paper I would write would touch on how we are trained culturally to be accountable for our actions and our experiences, though it would make no direct claims about the nature of reality in general (no ontology or metaphysics today folks, sorry) nor what the mind actually is (material, dualist, phenominalistic, &c.), rather it would simply take a Dennett or Foss stance about the nature of Qualia being greatly misunderstood. If I had space, I would take a run at Chalmers Hard Problem, but perhaps I should save that for a later date.

One of my favourite 19th century personalities is Thomas H. Huxley (the inventor of the science of Biology, agnosticism, &c.). He is also accredited with inventing the view of epiphenomenalism, or the idea that physical states of the brain give rise to experience. This is often taken as a dualistic philosophy of mind, in that consciousness is made of some different kind of stuff than brains, but is not able to interact with the physical realm. It is a one way kind of relationship, where the brain affects the mind and the mind just sits there and takes it. My paper on this would take a look at what is epiphenomenalism, why people say it doesn’t’ work, and what would this theory need to be successful (it is not so popular these days). The great thing about writing this essay is that I can talk about dissecting frogs, every girls dream.

The last essay idea I have involves supervenience. This is a topic that has caused me a great deal of frustration in my efforts of trying to come to grips with it. (Don’t believe I’m frustrated? Here are some former entries: one, two and three). I am beginning to suspect that it doesn’t make sense, but then I think about knitting (obsessive much?) and wonder if aggregate theory would work and it simply relies on different levels of meaning.

If you made it through this entry, you are a real trouper. You deserve a gold star. Are there any thoughts on which is the better essay?

7 comments:

Leanne said...

i like the first one...i didn't understand it but it looked as though you understood what you were saying.

Reasoning E'Bert said...

That's exactly the problem, no one seems to understand it. They just say that people just 'know' what it is because it is intuitively obvious.

And these people call themselves Philosophers...it looks like a bunch of hand waving to me.

Reasoning E'Bert said...

Oh, another problem, my proff has written extensively on the first essay choice, so I don't think I could write a paper without citing him. It scares me...

Leanne said...

yeah, but if you said something nice about him, and you were able to explain the ideas clearly, he might take it as a complement :-)
i have no clue, philosophy has never been a strong point of mine. i wish you luck for whatever you choose.

Jen said...

I'm at work right now, slagging off. It's terrible, I know. Anyway, I've made an even better plan than the two month one I told you about last night.

I think it's the supplements that I'm taking, they're already making me happy. Weird. But, I'm feeling strangely optimistic, so that's good, right? I imagine it won't last long. Stupid stress.

Anyway, love you. Talk with you soon.

AC. said...

Hi. Very interesting blog... I am dwelling on these issues myself.

I propose an essay on the supervenience topic. I find the notion of supervenience very fascinating and I would like to write something about it myself some day.
Good luck!

unenlightened said...

Hi, um, qualia. I don't know what knitting is like, you'd have to liken it to something I have experienced... Maybe it's like playing silly computer games except you get a sweater at the end of it instead of a stiff neck. Do we have to ask someone who does both? There's a Wittgenstein quote along the lines of 'If a lion? could talk, we wouldn't understand what it was saying.' Meaning we need to have some common, shared experience to liken things to. What's it like to take LSD? It's like religion made real, like dying and going to heaven (or hell)it's not like anything in the normal world, it's far more real... it's not like anything, even the last time... Talking is always thought and word, far too limited to capture life, let's dance. Knitting is like philosophy, sooner or later you always come to the end of the thread all the best, Bob.