Category Archives: metaphysics

Truth is… and other short thoughts

Truth is whatever you are willing to wager your sanity on.  This works because sanity is relative to people, so if you are willing to wager your sanity on something, so should other people.

Deontology has a problem because no one can definitively tell you what it is to follow a rule.  So deontologists can’t fault others for appealing to unexplained concepts without undermining their own argument.

Whereas the meanings of particular words may be conventional and subject to historical accident, there are distinctions that the words create that are not conventional.  If logical operators are conventional, but must exist is every possible world (you must define the world using such operators), then conventional loses its meaning: it ceases to be a convention and is instead a necessity of the universe.

The concept of structure in ‘structural realism’ is ontological, causing problems for ontic structural realists.  By calling the theory structural, structural realists are attempting to exploit the concepts associated with ‘structure’ from areas other than philosophy of science.  This means that the term is not being used ontically because the concept of structure is taken to have real properties.  So at every turn ontic structural realists are appealing to an ontological concept.

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oh and information aesthetics is back from break! woohoo!

Posted in ethics, language, logic, metaphysics, ontology, philosophy, science.

Demise, the Fallen and Annihilation

In Being and Time Heidegger makes a distinction between death and demise: death is the ending of Da-sein, or Being, and demise is physical perishing. I think this is a good distinction and since I break up ontology into 3 sorts of things – commitments, objects & descriptions – I will have three ways to die:

  1. Fallen: the perishing of all commitments of a living person.
  2. Demise: the perishing of physical attributes of a living person (traditional death).
  3. Annihilation: the perishing of all descriptions that a person has made.

Now Heidegger’s use of death was meant to be a fundamental orientation that Da-sein ‘has’ towards its own end (Those are his quotes around has, not mine- see p. 247 of B&T, p. 229 of Stambaugh) and demise was as above. Hence death and demise are somewhat separate because demise is the physical end and death is the way we are oriented to the end of being.

My view is that demise is one kind, a subset, of overall metaphysical death. I am less concerned here with the existential questions about death (though these are important) and more concerned with the ontological relationship between demise and other sorts of perishing. What follows is the insight separating overall metaphysical death from the three particular ways of perishing.

I’m using fallen in a (only somewhat) technical sense to mean the loss of all commitments. If you lose all capability to have commitments, then you have fallen, almost as in ‘fallen off the map.’ “Gone” is similar- you may not be physically dead, but if you are gone (e.g. to some foreign place never to return) you are dead to those with whom you had made commitments. Comatose, but without physical symptoms, is another example. You’re body may still live and for all anyone knows your mind may be as sharp as ever, but you are incapable of keeping commitments and are therefore ‘dead to the world’.

Demise is death as is traditionally defined: when you have met your demise your body is destroyed. Of course there may be some afterlife in which you may keep your commitments (think Ghost, the movie) or your descriptions of the world may continue (Plato will live forever through his writings – I wonder if someone, somewhere is discussing Plato at every instant of every day), but you’re physically dead as a doorknob after your demise.

Annihilation is the destruction of a person’s descriptions of the world. Describing things is perhaps the most basic of human accomplishments – we reward babies (and philosophers) handsomely for accurate descriptions – and if this is taken away from a person, then that person will not have even achieved the simplest of human accomplishments. Annihilating someone is making the world forget that he or she is a person: it is to become nameless. Perhaps the way to think of it is as in Kafka‘s Metamorphosis: Gregor is changed into a vermin/bug that has a working body and (for a while) can fulfill some commitments, but eventually is unable to communicate how his/its world has changed. At this point any future that Gregor had has been annihilated: the thing he became could continue living, but its life would bear no resemblance to what was formerly Gregor. If all evidence of Gregor’s history was erased, even if the thing he turned into still lived, then Gregor would be completely annihilated.

So to completely metaphysically die, you need to be dead (traditional), gone and forgotten.

Posted in Heidegger, metaphysics, ontology, philosophy. Tagged with , , , .

Computers, Intelligence and the Embodied Mind

This interview with Hubert Dreyfus (just the parts about computers: part 1, part 2. via Continental Philosophy) briefly outlines one of the major criticisms leveled against artificial intelligence: computers will never be intelligent because our intelligence is based upon our physical interactions in and with the world. Very briefly, our intelligence is fundamentally tied to our bodies because it is only through our bodies do we have any interaction with the world. If we separate our intelligence from the body, as in the case with computers, then whatever it is that the computer has, it is not intelligence because intelligence only refers to how to bodily interact with the world.

As Dreyfus says this problem is attributed to a Merleau-Ponty extension of Heidegger and the only proposed solution is to embody computers by providing them with a full representation of world and body. I don’t think there is generally much faith in this solution; I certainly don’t have much faith in it.

However, this bodily criticism is a straw man. Computers have ‘bodies,’ they are definitely physical things in the world. But what of the physical interactions required for intelligence? Computers interact with the world: computers are affected by heat, moisture, dirt, vibration, etcetera. The only differences are the actual interactions that computers have as compared to humans: we experience humidity one way and they experience it differently. So yes, computers will have different interactions and hence they will never have the same intelligence that we have, but that does not imply that computers cannot have an embodied intelligence. It only means that computer embodied intelligence will be significantly different than our own intelligence. Therefore the above argument against computer intelligence only applies to those people who are trying to replicate perfect human intelligence and does nothing against people trying to create intelligence in computers.

For example, light-skinned and dark-skinned people have very slightly different physiologies. Now I see the above argument as saying that someone of different skin color cannot have the same sort of intelligence that you have because their interactions with the world are inherently different. Sure, everyone experiences things slightly differently due to having different bodies, but to claim that this creates incompatible intelligences is obviously wrong: No one on the face of the earth would be able to communicate with each other due to everyone being physically unique.  Computers may be physically different to a greater extent, but this does not impact intelligence.

The criticism of computer intelligence based upon the need for a body is no more than subtle techno-racism.

Posted in metaphysics, mind, philosophy, science, technology. Tagged with , , , , .

Intentionality is Dead

After Buddha was dead, his shadow was still shown for centuries in a cave–a tremendous, gruesome shadow. God is dead: but given the way of men there may still be caves for thousands of years in which his shadow will be shown.–And we–we still have to vanquish his shadow, too.
~F. N.

If want to study the mind, we believed that we needed to understand intentionality:

Intentionality is the power of minds to be about, to represent, or to stand for, things, properties and states of affairs. —SEP

However intentionality is nowhere to be found. Intentionality is supposed to give us everything, it is the power of the mind, but in giving us everything, it itself is nothing.

These are the cases:

  1. Intentionality is the mark of all mental states.
  2. Intentionality is the mark of some mental states.

If intentionality exists in every mental activities, it’s then on par with ‘It’s raining or it’s not raining,’ and just as vacuous: any and every mental activity would be intentional implying that ‘mental activity’ = ‘intentional activity’. It is a distinction without a difference.

On the other hand allow for some mental things being intentional and other mental things not being intentional, i.e. the intentional is a subset of some greater mental activity. Then we’ve conceded that we aren’t asking about what we are or how we do what we do, but labeling a subset. I’m all for getting things labeled correctly, but we’ve thrown out the baby with the bathwater.

Intentionality is dead. Whatever use we have gotten out of it in the past we should be thankful for but it is time to move on.

Long live Commitment

I stated in my metaphysics that conscious things make commitments. We are committed to doing certain things at certain times and other things at other time because of other commitments we have made. If we are committed to remembering someone’s birthday, then we take steps to ensure that we know what time of year that person was born. If these steps include some power of the mind ‘to be about, to represent, or to stand for, things, properties and states of affairs,’ so be it, but all these things are secondary to the commitment initially made.

Some may call foul at this point: The objection to intentionality above applies to commitment and hence I am not practicing what I preach. If everything is a commitment then commitment is just as vacuous a concept as intentionality was accused of being.

Yes commitment is fundamental and hence may appear vacuous to some, but commitment comes with an internal structure that intentionality lacks. Intentionality is a power of the mind. Powers lack any internal structure: they act without having a more fundamental thing causing them to act, else that thing would be the power.

Say I am committed to my friends’ happiness and because of this commitment I send them cards on holidays. Commitments allow for structured derivative commitments, e.g. being committed to my friends’ happiness means I am committed to sending out letters and a commitment to sending out letters means a commitment to remembering and recording addresses. This food chain of commitments that is created, where the smaller commitments become part of bigger commitments which are part of even bigger commitments (with all sorts of interrelations between chains), gives us plenty of relations to investigate. Therefore it is true that analyzing a single commitment alone will get you no nowhere (e.g. analyzing a commitment to recording addresses) but analyzing groups of commitments will be far from vacuous.

Understanding ourselves and how we do what we do requires us to have a perspective on commitment, which I’ve discussed in briefly in my metaphysics. As meager an analysis as I am currently able to provide, it is still more than I felt we had before. Commitments determine our perspectives on certain situations and our perspectives likewise determine our commitments. Through analysis of our commitments and our perspective on things, we can understand how and why we do what we do. I don’t mean this to be a merely theoretical point but a practical one as well: we try to accomplish different things for specific reasons and when asked, we are able to give those reasons. Sometimes we have to preface our explanations with a description of how we perceived the situation to justify actions that seem unreasonable in hindsight, but this is all part of how we actually do and explain things.

Posted in metaphysics, mind, philosophy. Tagged with , , , , .

Are Paradoxes Meaningless?

Aaron Cotnoir has suggested that people think that paradoxes are meaningless.  I think they are lucky that they hadn’t suggested that to me unless they wanted to see me freak out.

It was my good fortune to have my first real exposure to the work of Frege, Russell and Wittgenstein be from Thomas Ricketts.  I can’t remember verbatim what he said, but this is close:

No one knows how long it took Frege to understand what Russell had written in his letter (Russell’s Paradox), be it a few seconds, a minute, ten minutes or a few hours.  But we do know that at that moment his entire universe collapsed.

Only out of gross ignorance of history can anyone believe that paradoxes are meaningless.  Frege’s project up until Russell came along and spoiled everything was, at least in part, to give a firm foundation for mathematics based solely upon logic.  With just a few laws coupled with his newfound quantification he was able to provide a seemingly consistent theory and then also provide sophisticated philosophy of language to bolster his views.

There was probably a moment when Frege allowed himself to dare to think he’d solved one of the greatest mysteries of the universe.  Not only had he legitimately and demonstrably changed mathematics forever, but the ramifications of his theory were obviously far-reaching into philosophy and science.  Then Russell sent him that letter that struck at the very axioms of his theory.  It was a jugular shot and I can’t see Frege feeling other than like all the blood had been drained from his body.  Everything he had worked for was put in jeopardy.

So if anyone believes that paradoxes are meaningless, I suggest to go read some history.  Paradoxes can destroy. Any theory that comes along and says paradoxes are meaningless, is garbage.

Posted in logic, metaphysics, mind, philosophy. Tagged with , , , , , , , .

On The Scientific View of the World

Many people have a “scientific” view of the world. This means that the world operates according to the laws of science, i.e., there are no mysterious forces that cannot be explained by some combination of physics, biology, psychology, economics etc. It is a mistaken view.

The scientific view of the world can be summarized by this formulation:

S) The world is governed by science if and only if, given a specified way things are at a specific time, the way things go thereafter is fixed as a matter of natural law.

If you believe the scientific view then, insofar as it is about the world, the scientific view itself must be a scientific fact.

There two cases:

  1. The scientific view was discovered.
  2. The scientific view was derived from some previously proven scientific statement(s).

Considering the first case we must ask if we have discovered the scientific view. Unfortunately no one has yet found a theory of everything and therefore it hasn’t been discovered.

This leaves discovering the scientific view by taking our individual scientific theories and generalizing them to include everything. The argument is that we have many theories that predict many things and if we only had enough, everything would be determined.

However, our individual scientific theories merely predict what will happen. No individual theory makes the claim that it governs nature, only the statement of the scientific view above makes that claim. For instance take gravity: it says that matter is attracted to itself with a certain amount of force. Nothing about the theory of gravity limits nature to following the theory of gravity. It is likewise for every other theory: each makes a specific prediction but is agnostic on how to interpret this prediction. Science cannot tell us that it is fundamentally controlled by laws.

What is left, the correct interpretation of science, is that science is a method for making continually better predictions about what will happen. As soon as the jump is made to believing that nature is controlled by our predictions, then science has been left behind and the murky philosophical world has been entered. This is not to say that there are mysterious forces that cannot be explained by some combination of physics, biology, psychology, economics etc. (though there are and always will be) but that this belief is not scientific.

Posted in metaphysics, philosophy, science. Tagged with , , .

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and a Gift of an Ontological Razor from Me to You!

There is no preferential ontological perspective.  I hope your new year is awesome.

Posted in metaphysics, ontology, philosophy, Relativity. Tagged with .