February 27, 2005

Enlightening as a Rock

I thoroughly enjoyed Winston’s talk, “Every Body is a Zombie”, this past Friday. As I understood him, Winston was trying to push against functionalism, using some argument from Putnam about functionalism entailing rocks are conscious. The basic idea had something to do with the "fact" (I put quotes because I find it an incredible claim but am in no position to challenge it) that for every possible function, there is some interpretation under which the random (or ordered) movement of molecules within a liquid or the brownian motion of stuff in a rock, or maybe the subatomic particles (I don't really know) will generate that functional state. Or something like that (I am not sure the proper way to describe it). So if consciousness is just a matter of computing functions, then the universe is replete with consciousness. There are minds (under some interpretations) inside the rocks and just about everything else.

I want to look more at this view because I don't buy it as a serious challenge to functionalism. But that strikes me as a straightforward scientific claim that I could investigate. Here are some challenges to the view that came up in the discussion. First, it isn't clear that the level of complexity for the functions that would characterize our consciousness (if there be such functions) is going to be present everywhere as is hypothesized. Second, there is this phrase 'under some interpretation' which might be smuggling in the result. The interpretation would likely have to be many, many orders of magnitude more complex than the actual system that is being interpreted, in order to get it to the function we want. Now, here it seems to me that the "consciousness" is being smuggled in through the interpretation. Now, I don't know how strong of an objection this is, but my intuition is that we have to tell some story about what it means to give an interpretation, where interpretations come from, who is doing the interpreting. I suspect these are incredibly serious question with big implications.

And that is why I am writing about this. I think this might be an important piece of the puzzle of my own view. I think there is a noumenal world out there that is a mind-independent material sort of thing (where ‘material’ is a more inclusive word so that it incorporates things like energy and fields and maybe some other stuff having to do with physics), but the noumena is nothing like the mind-independent world of "common sense". There is also this phenomenal world that is mind dependent and that is the world we "inhabit". Everything in the phenomenal world supervenes upon the noumena and that is why it seems so objective and mind independent. The noumenal world acts as some sort of external constraint that infuses our phenomenal worlds with a certain amount of objectivity. But the phenomenal worlds are really nothing like the noumena. The noumenal has nothing like time, movement, change, causation, etc. It is an Nth dimensional static object. All of that stuff is supplied by our consciousness, something about the way we order our experience of the noumena (can anyone say Kant?).

But of course, this is a crazy metaphysics and there are all kinds of problems. I want to claim that the phenomenal world is real, but I haven't a clue exactly what I mean by 'real'. In a sense, I want phenomena to have metaphysical substance but I don't want to be any kind of crazy dualist. My allegiance is solidly to naturalism. (I am afraid I might have to bring about some sort of phenomenal revolution to naturalism in order to make my crazy metaphysics work, because I won't give up the flag.) Anyway, I am left with all kinds of problems relating to the metaphysics of phenomena.

But there are other problems relating to explaining how phenomena arise out of the noumena. I have thought a lot about this question but haven't come up with anything I can articulate (though my head is teaming with a blooming buzzing confusion with just the right tenor to make me think there is a solution in there somewhere--if only I can find it). A couple of weeks ago I was talking to Richard and he sort of pressed me on this issue of how phenomena are "part" of my Nth Dimensonal static universe that isn't itself differentiated into parts.

But (boy I like starting paragraphs with that word) I am now wondering if Winston hasn't pointed me in the direction of a solution. Let's imagine for a minute that rocks are conscious. That is not to say that rocks are living, thinking things with their own thoughts and desires. It isn't like the rock is an organism or self aware. What is going on is that somewhere down in the substructure of the rock there is some configuration of molecules or particles or something that constitutes a mind. What is going on in that mind is dependent upon that configuration (or more likely, upon the interpretation I suspect). But the rock is full of consciousness. And who is to say what that consciousness is experiencing? Now let's take the example a step further. Take a suitably large body of water, Lake Titicaca for instance, and consider a single moment of time. You have this mass of water molecules, but no motion or movement. We are frozen in time. I am assuming the argument for conscious rocks can be applied here as well. There must be some interpretation under which the molecules form Jim (Winston's one-dimensional-mind-example-guy). If the body is big enough, then there may also be some interpretation under which we can find our own mind-functions in there (though I am sure for my mind we would need a much larger body of water :). And this might be just the picture I need for my ND static universe.

So we have this object, the universe, that has a particular shape. And within that shape there are patterns, and some of those patterns, under a particular interpretation are the functions of our minds. And that is what consciousness is. So now I just have to figure out the metaphysics of interpretation. I am sure that will be a piece of cake.

Also, I found this cool website with Conway's Life stuff: http://www.radicaleye.com/lifepage

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February 23, 2005

Parthood and Indeterminacy

Normally I'd post this comment to the Phil. Mind. message board, but the graduate students are swamping that thing out of existence, and what I have to say is veering away from Phil. Mind., so I thought I'd post it here.

When discussing the indeterminacy of the word 'gavagai', Quine gives 'rabbit fusion' (that is, the set of all rabbits), 'rabbit', and 'undetached rabbit part' as possible referents of the word. It strikes me is that all these concepts are united in parthood. A rabbit is part of the set of all rabbits; an undetached rabbit part is obviously a part of the rabbit.

In our Phil. Mind. class, Professor Dennett suggested that natural kinds nestle into hierarchies, and it's indeterminate which of those natural kinds a folk term like 'water' refers to. Does 'water' refer to certain isotopes of H2O, all isotopes, or a higher-level natural kind that includes D2O (heavy water)? We might have different intuitions, but it seems we need to lay down a stipulation. Just appealing to a 'natural kind' as Putnam does doesn't help, because there are many. Another example: if a marsh tribe has a word for a smelly gas that erupts from the bog outside their village, that word might mean methane, gaseous hydrocarbon, or simply gas. Note that parthood seems to be in play in these examples too! Methane is a part of the set of gaseous hydrocarbons; gaseous hydrocarbons are a part of the set of gases.

Here's my question: what's the relation between Quinean indeterminacy and parthood?

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A fun wee game

Do you all like to play games that stretch your minds? I thought you did! Here is a link to such a game. It is on the blog of a known Phil. Mind. guy. Whose blog? I dare not write his name here - and you will know why if you go to his site and then come back here and look at the clipped prose of my post.

I wrote A New Quiz, but it is not that good. Oh well, I tried.

Why does no one write posts for this here Tufts site? It is a shame. Come on, all of you! Show some love!