March 6, 2005

The Bishop and Me

So I think there is a mind independent noumenal world out there, but we are each isolated in our own private phenomenal worlds. I believe that the noumenal world is an Nth Dimensional static object with nothing like time, change or motion. It is one thing and not differentiated into individual things like tables and chairs. We, and everything that exist subsist within the noumena--we are part of it, and everything in our phenomenal worlds supervene upon the noumena. Our subjective experiences--the phenomena--are grounded in this external reality and it is that objectivity that makes it possible for us to communicate. Though our individual phenomenal worlds are isolated, the phenomenal worlds of the individuals within a community are sufficiently similar that we are able to communicate with one another. The process of assimilating our native culture is the process by which our phenomenal worlds are shaped and so people within a community share experiences (in the sense that they have very similar experiences).

But if we are forever locked away from the noumena, why think that it even exits? My answer is precisely the description above. We need some external, mind independent reality to ground our shared experience and for the development of things like language. Because the noumena is external and independent it can explain the extreme similarity between your phenomenal world and mine. The fact that we are isolated from the noumena explains why our phenomenal worlds differ. We each literally live in separate worlds, but the closer we are in culture, personality, and past experience, the more similar our phenomenal worlds are. We have each encountered people who see things pretty much the same as we do, as well as people whose thoughts and perceptions are so foreign that we think they must be from another planet. Though the noumena provides a grounding and some stability, it is so different from that which we perceive and conceptualize that it does very little in the way of providing interpretation and the noumena can be experienced in an extraordinarily diverse variety of ways.

I see science as a sort of search algorithm trying to get closer and closer to the noumena by trying to find the most general and objective characterization of our phenomena. Though I think it is impossible in principle that we ever access the noumena, we can use scientific inquiry to try to strip away the rich and varying textures we project upon it until we find the most fundamental features of our phenomenal worlds, features shared by all perceptual minds. And this is as close to the noumena as we can get.

There is a third world in my picture and that is what I would like to call the interface world (I get the term from Stephen White's "interface diagram" in the Humean argument for skepticism). The interface world is the one of common sense realism. I would like to say that of the noumenal, phenomenal, and interface worlds, only the interface world is not real. The noumenal world is the external objective reality of the noumena and it is real in what I think is the most common understanding of that term (though it is inaccessible). The phenomenal world is also real, though I have yet to figure out what I mean by that. It exist within the noumena and supervenes upon it. It depends on the noumena for its existence in an asymmetric relationship as the noumena does not depend on phenomena for its existence.

By contrast, the interface world has things like tables and chairs, and they are all mind independent objects. It is the world that most people believe in. It is the world of planets that go on circling the sun long after all minds that perceive their existence and motion have passed through the sands of time. It is the product of us projecting our phenomenal ordering of the noumena outside of our minds. It takes its independence from the noumena but retains all of the phenomenal character we infuse it with. But as the noumena is not in itself differentiated into objects and has no time or motion, it cannot be this interface world. And as the phenomenal world thoroughly depends upon our cognitive operations for its existence, it is not the interface. And so the interface world is error. It does not exist. It is the utter and complete fallacy of common sense.

Now, what is this noumena, and what justifies my believing in it? Aaron Hoitink was pressing me on this issue after my talk on Friday. My answer to these question is above, but he pointed out that the god hypothesis is just as compatible with all the facts I appeal to in my abductive arguments. Doesn't it bother me that my answer is no better than the god answer? Do I have any reason to prefer my answer to George Berkeley's idealism? Couldn't this all just be thoughts in the mind of god?

I have given this a great deal of thought and decided that it doesn't matter in the least. Since we are locked away from the noumena, there is very little we can say of its nature. But the principle I would like to try to invoke is that we should say of it as little of the noumena as is necessary such that it can fulfill the grounding role I want it to play in my metaphysics. And this has some interesting consequences, I should think.

I have always thought of the noumena as material, but different from the way we ordinarily conceive of matter, for we think in terms of particles and their motions in time. But in the timeless character of the noumena these particles are but frayed strings in the fabric of the universe, woven together in a variety of complex patterns which we project our concepts onto in the process of object generation. What do we mean by 'material'? The more I think on it, the emptier the concept becomes. One name I am certain I have not heard mentioned in the two years I have been at Tufts is Baruch Spinoza. When I studied him as an undergraduate I was very moved by his many great insights. He denied that there were two substances--mind and matter; thinking and extended. There is but one substance--god--and everything is unified together. All that exits is god and what we call mind and what we call matter are just aspects of god conceived through two distinct attributes. God has an infinite number of attributes through which it could be conceived, but mind and matter are the two accessible to us.

Now Spinoza is deep and my recollection and understanding is shallow, but the more I think on these matters, the more I see it as parallel to my own metaphysics. Is the picture I have attributed Spinoza substantially different from my own view?

Berkeley's idealism eliminated the material substance leaving us only with thinking substance--phenomena. All that exists are thoughts in the mind of god. But god's mind is external to and independent of us. Is this characterization substantially different from my own characterization of the noumenal/phenomenal world distinction? Our minds are within the mind of god--within the noumena. The mind of god is external and independent, as is my noumena. What difference is there between the Bishop's idealism and my own metaphysics? I ask again, what do we even mean by 'material' and what does that add to our metaphysical picture?

So does it bother me that my argument for my metaphysics is completely compatible with it all being god? No, for I do not see two hypotheses. I see two sets of completely compatible and translatable labels for the same thing. The Bishop may be know for saying "to be is to be perceived" but if you take this to mean the world disappears when you close your eyes, you are mistaken, for the all seeing perceptive eye of god is ever present. Kinda takes the bite out, doesn't it? My noumena and Bishop Berkeley's "mind of god" seem pretty damn similar to me.

So perhaps you might find this bothersome because you find god bothersome. This is certainly understandable because god has been a pain in all our asses of late. But let us be cautious with what we mean by god. Remember that the noumena is in principle inaccessible. Calling the noumena god does not make it any more accessible, nor does it change it in the slightest as best as I can tell. Remember my tack on Ockham's Razor when it comes to the noumena. Let us not attribute anything more to it than is necessary for the explanations in which we employ it. What do you find troublesome about god? Is it that He is omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent, etc, etc. Is it that He loves you and watches over you? Is it that He has a mind like ours? Is it that He favors the Israelites and smites thine enemy? I will just say that each of these characterizations adds to the concept of god, more than is necessary for the explanation. And to substantiate such attributions, one must give independent arguments. Following my principle one must find elements of the phenomenal world that need or suggest these attributes in the noumena to justify making the attribution.

And that is why I am not worried. I would like to thank Aaron for pressing me on my metaphysics, for the challenge and the thinking have forced me to greatly advance my development and understanding of the view I wish to advocate.

Labels: , ,


Blogger Ignacio said...

As a fairly convinced Kantian, I am sympathetic with your ambitious post, overall (check out David Chalmers' "The Matrix as Metaphysics" too).

The main exception I would take with what you say are your decisions about what to call "real." The "interface world" is about as real as it gets. You cannot talk about your phenomenal experiences or the noumena without grounding them in your encounters with the interface world. For the same reason, I would abandon any reification of the "noumena." The noumena can be something like a regulative ideal that grounds scientific practice, but it is an ideal we project, given the character of our experiences and our interactions with the interface world. Whereof we cannot speak. . .

3/09/2005 01:38:00 PM  
Blogger Ignacio said...

One more notable German's thoughts on this:

"The Being of entities ‘is’ not itself an entity. If we are to understand the problem of Being, our first philosophical step consists in not “telling a story”—that is, in not defining entities as entities by tracing them back in their origin to some other entities, as if Being had the character of some possible entity. Hence Being, as that which is asked about, must be exhibited in a way of its own, essentially different from the way in which entities are discovered. Accordingly, what is to be found out by asking—the meaning of Being—also demands that it be conceived in a way of its own, essentially contrasting with the concepts in which entities acquire their determinate signification.”

--Heidegger, Being and Time, p. 27 of Robinson translation

3/11/2005 08:11:00 AM  
Blogger Tucker said...

I don't get it. Why is the interface world real? All of your expereinces are in the phenomenal world. The interface world is just something we posit. It is the world of common sense. It has mind independent things like tables and chairs. The reification of noumena is to provide grounding for phenomena. The noumena is not what we talk about in scientific practice. If any of my three worlds is anything like what we talk about in scientific practice it is the interface world and that is the world I want to deny. I think we are not speaking the same language here.

As for the Heidegger that quote would make no less sense to me if it were in its original German. ???

3/22/2005 03:12:00 PM  
Blogger Ignacio said...

. Quote:

"I think we are not speaking the same language here."

Looks like it.

The point of designating the 'interface world' as the ‘real world’ is that the interface world seems to be indispensable to science and phenomenology. I tend to like arguments that infer reality from indispensability. Andrew, I know, does not. Maybe you don't either, so I'll stick to arguing for the indispensability of the interface world, at least for our understanding what the structure of the phenomenal and noumenal worlds could be like (that is, for understanding what they could be like in such a way that they could make any practical difference to us).

To me, the "phenomenal world" implies something like the interior monologue of subjective experiences that we have as conscious beings, usually as those experiences are causally triggered by the interaction of (i) events in the interface world and (ii) our internal, largely unconscious, cognitive maps of the world.

If there were no consciousness, then there would be no phenomenal world (arguably, there would be no such world either if there were no self-consciousness, but I don't have a good argument for that yet).

The structure of the subjective associations that we have--our stream of consciousness--is highly idiosyncratic. For example, I can't watch Professor Dennett lecture without imagining Ali G interviewing him on the subject of "What is the Mind?"( Now, there is really no way science is going to be able to study such phenomenal experiences, simply because whatever is responsible for my weird associations in this case is not going to be captured by general psychological laws that apply to a robust sample of subjects (other than maybe at a very coarse-grained level of description: “The effect of Professor’s Dennett self-assurance and charm on his students is to produce the belief in them that it would be funny if he were satirized”).

The point about the indispensability of the interface world, however, is that you wouldn't even be able to understand what I was saying about Professor Dennett and Ali G (or even understand your own phenomenal experiences, for that matter) unless you possessed concepts such as 'Dennett', 'Al G', and 'interview,' all of which are rooted in the objective nature and causal structure of the interface world (or abstracted from causal regularities in the interactions of objects /events / and agents in the interface world).

As for your concept of the noumena, I just have two inter-related questions: if you conceive of science as dealing with the 'mind-independent' objects of the interface world and you consider that world to be unreal, then (a) “are you saying that science is not giving us an account of reality?” and (b) “isn't your noumena stuck doing no real theoretical work other than artificially tidying up gaps in your epistemology?”

If you treated the interface world as real, as I would like to, then you could say that the noumena is the ideal object whose nature science has set out to discover (this is what I thought the start of your original post was getting at). For example, if our experience of 'Time's Arrow' seems to be the product of the structure of human consciousness rather than of the objective nature of the world itself, then the 'noumena' can become a name for whatever it is we study when we study the world without any notion of temporal asymmetry (see the awesome Stanford Encyclopedia. Entry--

As for Heidegger, hey, I’m not going to claim I understand the man. But what I got from that passage is that when you try to define the meaning of ‘is’ (e.g., by positing a definite object or set of objects to which ‘is’ refers), then you are reproducing a long history of philosophical mistakes (to be honest, I would not know what those mistakes are supposed be, but I would guess that, whatever they are, they would be responsible for the lack of progress in the history of speculative metaphysics). The philosophical mistake, Heidegger seems to be saying, is that of treating the whole of reality like it were one of the things that we are familiar with from our ordinary experience (e.g., ofour experience of the behavior of the objects of the interface world that science studies and that grounds the nature of our phenomenal experiences). It is a similar argument to those run by Kant when he talks about the antinomies. Heidegger thinks that this approach to the question of Being --i.e., the approach where we treat Being as an object of theoretical, speculative inquiry-- is a philosophical confusion or, at best, a bad question for philosophy to be asking. He thinks that when we inquire into the nature of Being we are not really asking about the nature of any thing. Now, he does goes on in Being and Time to give an account of what we should be doing as metaphysicians that I am not at all qualified to comment on.

3/22/2005 06:12:00 PM  
Blogger Tucker said...

Way to be Ignacio. I am glad to know there are other people out there with nothing better to do than write long posts on philosophic puzzles that in my humble opinion matter none at all. I am supposed to be grading ethics papers right now so I am going to try to restrain myself in responding. That doesn't always work but we will see how it goes.

First, “If there were no consciousness, then there would be no phenomenal world (arguably, there would be no such world either if there were no self-consciousness, but I don't have a good argument for that yet).” Why on earth would self-consciousness be necessary? I am a brain in a vat which goes a long way to convincing me that I am locked a way in my own little private phenomenal world. But dogs, cows, pelicans, platypi and any other animal, make them as dumb and clueless as you like, are all brains in vats as well. They have experiences. They have phenomena. They live in phenomenal worlds.

I suppose that positing the interface world would perform the role in grounding our shared experiences (and thus our language) in the way I am claiming the noumena does, so maybe I can’t best you on that count. But here is the problem. If the interface world is real then tables and chairs go on existing even after the armageddon. If there are no minds to perceive them, tables and chairs keep on keeping on. This is of course just common sense. As I said in the original post, the interface world is the world of common sense realism. It just happens to be false. Here is what I am claiming. Ordinary material objects like tables and chairs depend on us (or beings like us) for their *independent* existence. I know it sounds crazy but it all goes back to my Nth Dimensional Static Universe notion. There is really only one thing out there that is real and independent and that is the noumenal world. But it is not itself differentiated into things like tables and chairs. Tables and chairs come from the way our minds chop the noumena up into little useful bits. Tables and chairs only exist in the phenomenal world. We think that they are mind independent because there is so much stability in the phenomena. But that stability derives from the way the phenomena supervene upon the noumena. And so we posit the interface world which has mind independent tables and chairs. But that is just a mistake.

Now as for scientific indispensability, even subatomic particles depend for their existence on us conceptualizing the noumena in a particular way. There aren’t really little independent electrons bouncing around. All that there is is the NthDimensional Universe with its very complex shape and we perceive it by chopping it up into little bits. Some of those bits we call electrons. And so they too exist only in the phenomenal world. BUT they supervene upon the noumena, and the noumena is stable and so they certainly appear to be themselves stable and mind independent. The cool thing about science is that it takes us farther and farther away from our everyday experience and is (hopefully) so rigorous that it manages a perhaps less variant supervenience on the noumena. And so learning about electrons actually does, in some hard to articulate sense, get us closer to the noumena. And that is what I think science is doing. I really don’t have a good way of articulating it, but the basic idea is that everything in our phenomenal world, in one way or another, supervenes upon the noumena. And so by doing science in a certain way we can get closer to the noumena and thus find things that seem more and more objective and mind independent. But we are still always filtering the noumena through our minds, chopping it up into little bits, imposing time, motion, causation, etc. And thus we are still, and I think always will be, examining the phenomena. But that isn’t so terrible. When you get down to particle physics perhaps you are very, very close—as close as we can get—to noumena. But you still aren’t there.

My main point is that thinking that the objects of science are mind independent fails to appreciate Kant’s point (which I take to be true) that we are forever locked from the noumena. The things science finds still must be conceived by us and thus are infected by us. They are not really mind independent things. And though scientists don’t care, and probably very few of them would even consider this, it is no threat to what they are doing, and there is no reason that every single one of them couldn’t accept this metaphysics and keep right on with what they were doing before.

Science may posit the interface world, but it doesn’t need it. It is not, as you say, indispensable.

3/24/2005 08:07:00 AM  
Blogger AJPJ said...

Ignacio says:

"I tend to like arguments that infer reality from indispensability. Andrew, I know, does not."

Which makes it sound like I have something against indespensability arguments simpliciter (so to speak) but this is not quite true. I am only concerned by such arguments when they are combined with robust scientific realism (viz. Putnam, Boyd). That is to say: I think that they are incompatible.

Why? Because the realist needs a way of distinguishing heuristic devices from real commitments and there is no reason to suppose that our heuristics are indespensible.

As for Tucker's post I have the following question(s):

Is the tripartite division of the universe (along with other details, viz. staticity, infintitely dimensional) something that we get from physics?

Certainly not in its entirety.

Is such a theory something we might arrive at through conceptual analysis?

Certainly not in its entirety.

The question I will not answer is this: What are we doing by offering it?

3/25/2005 10:22:00 PM  
Blogger AJPJ said...

My previous post should read:

"there is no reason to suppose our heuristics are dispensable."

3/26/2005 10:30:00 AM  
Blogger AJPJ said...

My previous post should read:

"there is no reason to suppose our heuristics are dispensable."

3/26/2005 05:55:00 PM  
Blogger Tucker said...

Andrew asks, “From physics? Certainly not in its entirety. From Philosophy? Certainly not in its entirety.”

Aye there’s the rub!

This is precisely my overall philosophic agenda. You can’t just do science because there is always that pesky underdetermination problem (plus who has time to wait around for the scientists to figure everything out?). But you also can’t get that far doing just a priori arm chair crap. It is the synthesis of science and philosophy where we can get somewhere. (Where, I am not sure, but at least we will have interesting things to say along the way.)

I do not claim infinitely many dimensions. I claim N dimensions, where N is some number. N because I don’t know how many there are. I am fairly convinced there are at least 4 (being a good four-dimensionalist and all); I think there is good reason for thinking there are 5; last I heard string theory needed 11. So who knows how many dimensions there are. Doesn’t matter so I say N Dimensional. Why static? Well, I don’t believe in time and without time there is no motion or change and without dynamics you have statics. Thus NDSU.

Now science (and a priori metaphysics) has proven N dimensional right? N could be any number between 0 and infinity, but there is good reason to think there is a cosmos and if it exists I am pretty sure it has to have a number of dimensions between 0 and infinity. Thus the N part is proven. Now I suspect there might be a problem that I am allowing for numbers between 0 and 4 while am quite convinced that there are at least 4, but I don’t know what those problems are yet.

Now as for the Static part of NDSU I am extremely excited to be reading a book right now called A World Without Time. It is by a philosopher at Brandeis (Paul Yourgau) on Gödel and Einstein. Evidently Gödel’s contribution to relativity theory was to prove that time doesn’t exist. The book jacket says that the author claims that philosophy’s ignoring Gödel’s proof is “one of the intellectual scandals of the past century.” (This is of course the reason I bought the book.) Now I am only on the third chapter and am stuck grading ethics papers so I have no idea if Gödel’s proof will help my theory, but until I figure that out I will remain hopeful that it does. So depending on what exactly is meant by Gödel’s proof, perhaps science has also proven the static part.

So Andrew (can I start calling you Pheonix?), though I arrived at my NDSU long before I knew enough science or philosophy to justify it, it seems to me that it is very possible that the NDSU follows from the physics alone (where we construe physics broadly enough to incorporate the a priori mathematics of relativity theory). But of course, I don’t want it to be all physics. I should hope that my theory rests squarely on the shoulders of both philosophy and science. Hurray for synthesis!!!

3/26/2005 08:07:00 PM  
Blogger Tucker said...

Andrew, it occurs to me that I sort of missed your question. As for the tripartite division of the world—I don't know what all I need to get that. I would hope that it follows from the combined power of philosophy and science but for the moment it is just the all singing all dancing crap of the world that is bouncing around in my head. Plus I should point out that I am not proposing a tripartite division of the world (though I wish I were because I like typing ‘tripartite’). I deny the interface world. It is useful to talk about because it is the common sense, but it doesn’t exist any more than Sherlock Holms and perhaps even a little less. But instead I advocate a bifurcation of reality (another good word but not quite as fun as ‘tripartite’) into the noumenal and phenomenal. It has been pointed out to me that I don’t mean them quite as Kant did, but I will have to read Kant to figure that out I suppose. One of these days I will have to do that.

3/26/2005 08:15:00 PM  
Blogger Tucker said...

Uggh, why did you have to write so many questions that I get so caught up answering one that I forget to answer the others.

As for what we are doing by offering it, well I don't know about we, but as for me, I am offering it as a theory of the way the world is. Why do that? I don't know. Isn't that what we philosophers are supposed to be doing?

Why think it's right? Well, I am still working on that one. I've already typed a lot of words. Anyone feeling persuaded yet?

3/26/2005 08:19:00 PM  
Blogger Ignacio said...

There is a lot to chew on here, so I'll take this in steps.

Tucker said,

"Why on earth would self-consciousness be necessary?"

The reason is that "living in a phenomenal world" in your sense implies something stronger than just having experiences.

The very idea that it is a 'world' implies that it has particulars that have structure and relate to each other in regular ways that we can think about and evaluate.

These regularities are, furthermore, something that the thinkng self tries to integrate and make sense of by way of making phenomenal judgments (i.e., 'it appears to me that I see a batch of red tomatoes, but it is really just another still life by Cezanne').

Dogs may have experiences, and there is probably something it's like to be a dog, but dogs, I am pretty sure, do not have the ability to make judgments that distinguish between appearance and reality.

There could be no phenomenal world that they are 'trapped inside of' other than in a metaphorical sense, because they do not even have the capacity to imagine that there is a world, let alone two worlds, one of which defines the world of well-ordered appearances
and one of which defines the reality that is the cause of those appearances-to-a-subject.

The reason that brain-in-a-vat scenarios are meaningful to us is because we have the concept of a distinction between the world of subjective appearance and the world of objective reality that is its cause, as well as the ability to imagine a counterfactual scenario in which the world of subjective appearances remains the same while the objective world changes.

I believe, for the reasons just stated, that talk of 'phenomenal worlds' only makes sense when talking about a being with self-consciousness.

3/27/2005 05:25:00 PM  
Blogger AJPJ said...


Certainly I think you are offering a theory. I don't doubt it. The point I was making, however, was just the old Humean dictum that told us which books to throw into fires.

However, I am not convinced that you are doing physics. Nor do I see what you are doing as loosely conceptual (perhaps as a functionalist might understand this). If the project was less constructive I might be able to see it as a way of *dispelling* pressing difficulties. But your theory is what it is, and I cannot.

So as it stands, it looks like you are offering a concrete physical(?) theory about organization that is based on roughly conceptual concerns. What I don't see is how the move from one to the other is motivated.

Now, in some domains I think that this makes quite a bit of sense. So, for instance, I see Ruth Millikan as walking this line. However what she ultimately aims to understand is mental causation and language behavior by offering a theory at a certain level of abstraction. Hence her objects are scientific objects but the solution is far more general than this (this as just the naturalist strategy).

But these are concerns that do not fall directly into any other domain, certainly not into anything nicely demarcated apart from philosophy. Your theory does not appear to fill this sort of intellectual "slot."

But perhaps it could. This might even happen as you increase the detail (although some distinctions are just going to look unmotivated from a naturalist perspective: viz. the *metaphysical* distinction between the two worlds).

In any case, I don't want to prejudge the case here but it looks like you are going to have trouble explaining yourself (or at least your vocabulary, for it occurs to me that perhaps this one of the sticking points for me) from a broadly naturalist perspective.


4/01/2005 04:41:00 PM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

Create a Link

<< Home