Thursday, 24 July 2008
Apart from wet sentiments, I cannot see to what the above statement refers. It is plainly not the case that we can claim freedom from something or to do something only if we do not deny the same to others; for it is not merely that, insofar as we have the power to deny it to others, we have the freedom to do so: we may claim even more freedom from their power by doing so. Against the strange belief that freedom for others ensures freedom for us, or freedom for us ensures freedom for others, one might consider that the freedom of some men means the restraint of others, and vice versa. The trouble with talk of freedom is that it has become a habit to assume only good connotations for the word and only good effects for the reality, whereupon one speaks in its favour without any clue as to what it might mean in effect, apart from that it will bring approval from one’s fellows. Perhaps no other word but “truth” is more apt to lead to a confusion of what it is with what one wishes it were, nor indeed is more concealing of a man’s true interests.
 Martin Bell, “Freedom v tyranny”, Comment is Free (The Guardian’s weblog), 4th July 2008.
Wednesday, 23 July 2008
Tuesday, 22 July 2008
The fundamental positions in the mind-body debate have been marked out for a long time, and the quality of the present-day debate is embarrassingly lower than it was in the seventeenth century.[...]Everything that matters can be put far more simply and more clearly than it is being put in the present debate, with its atrocious muddling of metaphysical issues with epistemological and semantic issues and its for the most part witheringly unhelpful, rococo, scholastic, multiply duplicative and multiply inconsistent terminologies. 
What makes the hard problem hard is precisely the mysterious difficulty of explaining feelings functionally. 
If we acknowledge that a physical theory of mind must account for the subjective character of experience, we must admit that no presently available conception gives us a clue how this could be done. The problem is unique. If mental processes are indeed physical processes, then there is something it is like, intrinsically, to undergo certain physical processes. What it is for such a thing to be the case remains a mystery. 
[A] functional explanation of pain might go something like this: Pain is a signal that tissue has been injured. It is useful to an organism’s survival and reproduction for the organism to minimize tissue injury, to learn to avoid what has caused injury in the past, to avoid contact between an injured body part and other objects while the part is still damaged, and so forth. The sensorimotor and neural machinery for accomplishing all this, including the computational mechanism that would do the learning, the remembering, the selective attending and so forth, could all be described, tested, confirmed and fully understood. The only part that would remain unexplained is why pain feels like something: the functional explanation accounts for the functional facts, but the feeling is left out. And so it goes: every time you try to give a functional explanation of feeling, the feeling itself turns out to be functionally superfluous. 
It would be gratuitous to postulate the existence of that which has no physical-functional role to play in our scientific picture of the world......Feeling (mentality, subjectivity, or suchlike) has no physical-functional role to play in our scientific picture of the world......Therefore, it would be gratuitous to postulate its existence.
.....You might think I am exaggerating something here: that no one has ever denied his own consciousness. I must say that I doubt that anyone has ever actually believed in such a denial. There is to me a suspicion that those of a man’s highest theoretical or metaphysical assertions which ascend far above his everyday experience of the world rarely if ever descend to actual belief.  Yet the thought has been expressed many times, not in the madhouse, but in the mainstreams of psychology and philosophy: from the Vienna Circle, through to J.B. Watson, B.F. Skinner, and Gilbert Ryle, down to Richard Rorty and Daniel Dennett. As Professor Rorty hopefully expressed it:
[S]ensations may be to the future progress of psycho-physiology as demons are to modern science. Just as we now want to deny that there are demons, future science may want to deny that there are sensations. 
There seems to be phenomenology. . . . But it does not follow from this undeniable, universally attested fact that there really is phenomenology. 
.....One could object that what Professor Dennett and all other eliminativists really mean to say is that feeling is something the nature of which is reducible to non-feeling in the same way that life is reducible to non-life.  If that were really all they meant to say, then they would be mere reductivists about feeling and not eliminativists, and they would spend their days in search of the secret of emergence by which chalk might be transmuted into cheese. There is one good reason, however, why they are not mere reductive physicalists, and it is the same intuitive reason why dualists, neutral monists, idealists, panpsychists, and sundry others are not reductive physicalists either: to say that feeling is something the nature of which is reducible to non-feeling is to say that it does not exist; for feeling is something the nature of which it feels to be, or it is nothing at all. In the case of the eliminativists, however, the intuition tends to pass unspoken, but if spoken — to be denied.
.....Having encountered our philosopher, the alien sets about determining all the physical facts about him. There can be no inter-subjective communication of any information between the two: the encounter is not a meeting of minds; for at least one of them doesn’t have one. So here then we come to the crux of the problem: from knowledge of all and only the physical facts, does the alien know not just of the existence of feeling, but also what it feels like to feel like the philosopher?
.....It seems at this point that we reach rock-bottom intuitions, and so it is at this point that each side accuses the other of begging the question against it. Intuitively it seems to me that a being without feeling cannot know what it feels like to feel like a being with feeling, even given that the former knows all the physical facts about the latter. But here the physicalist will rightly say that I am begging the question against him, and there is little reason to suppose he will be satisfied with my intuition even if he himself shares it. So it just won’t do merely to say that this is how it seems to me, though it might in the end be all that I have left to say. Still, I think I can say something more.
.....If there is something it feels like to be Daniel Dennett, then there is something known by him that he knows only by acquaintance: how anything feels to him. He has direct knowledge that his feelings exist, and of how they feel, even if he knows nothing of — or is utterly deluded about — their causes. This direct mode of knowledge-acquisition of feelings is itself part of what it feels like to be him. Therefore for the alien to know what it feels like to feel like the philosopher, the alien must know by acquaintance what the philosopher knows by acquaintance, that is, it must know the feelings directly, such that it feels them in the same way, since that is itself part of what it feels like to be the philosopher.
.....In all this there are assumptions, some implicit, to which objections can be raised. I leave it to you to determine them. (Of course, since this is a reductio ad absurdum, there are assumptions to which you are meant to object.) There is, however, one assumption that I think might conceivably not hold: there is something it is like to be Daniel Dennett. That there is nothing it is like to be Daniel Dennett would at least have the merit of explaining the nature of some of his arguments. Naturally the objection to this assumption applies only to the use of him or any other third person as an example. It does not apply to me: I know that I have feelings. And, dear reader, if I am to know by commonsense, I am sure it does not apply to you either.
[I]t seems to me, rightly, that the longer the world stands, the more fabrications will be made. 
 Galen Strawson, “Panpsychism?”, in Consciousness and its Place in Nature, ed., A. Freedman (Exeter: Imprint Academic, 2006), p.200.
 Stevan Harnad, “No Easy Way Out”, The Sciences, 41:2, 2001. (As for connotations, the word “feeling” suffers because it connotes to many people soft-headedness, laymanship, and some idea of its being somehow more unscientific than other words.)
 Thomas Nagel, “What is it like to be a bat?”, The Philosophical Review LXXXIII, 4, October 1974.
 Here I take “materialism and “physicalism” as synonyms; but the change from materialism to physicalism does represent some significant shift in conceptions.
 Stevan Harnad, op.cit; original emphasis.
 Bertrand Russell, The Analysis of Mind (Oxford: Routledge, 1992), Preface.
 Here I concentrate on feeling, but I can think of no satisfactory account of meaning, intentionality, and purpose either.
 Cf. “At [the denial of the existence of experience] we should stop and wonder. I think we should feel very sober, and a little afraid, at the power of human credulity, the capacity of human minds to be gripped by theory, by faith. For this particular denial is the strangest thing that has ever happened in the whole history of human thought, not just the whole history of philosophy.” Galen Strawson, “Realistic Monism: Does Physicalism Entail Panpsychism?, in Consciousness and its Place in Nature, ed., A. Freedman (Exeter: Imprint Academic, 2006), p.5.
 John R. Searle, The Mystery of Consciousness (London: Granta Books, 1998), p.112, in reference to Daniel Dennett.
 It would be gratuitous for an entity without feeling to postulate its existence, for, without feeling, there is no ground for a belief in it; but for an entity with feeling, the denial of its existence is absurd.
 Everyone, for instance, when he stubs his toe, is a dualist with no questions asked, for he cannot help but separate the world into two distinct entities.
 Richard Rorty, “Mind-Body Identity, Privacy and Categories”, Review of Metaphysics, XIX, 1, September 1965, reprinted in Materialism and the Mind-Body Problem (2nd Edition), ed., D.M. Rosenthal, (Indianapolis and Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Co., 2000), p.179. (Cf. Behaviourism, which ignores mental states “in the same sense that chemistry ignores alchemy, astronomy horoscopy, and psychology telepathy and psychic manifestations.” J.B. Watson, “Is Thinking merely the Action of Language Mechanisms?” British Journal of Psychology, 11, 1920, quoted by William Lyons, Matters of the Mind (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2001), p.42.)
 I am not the only one who finds it difficult to fathom what Richard Rorty meant to say by anything he said — and perhaps I am not alone in suspecting that this is precisely what he meant to achieve by everything he said.
 Daniel Dennett, Consciousness Explained (London: Penguin Books, 1993), p.387, original emphasis. (More of the same: “When you say ‘This is my quale [feeling]’, what you are singling out, or referring to, whether you realize it or not, is your idiosyncratic complex of dispositions. You seem [it feels like to you] to be referring to a private, ineffable something-or-other in your mind's eye, . . . but this is just how it seems [feels like] to you, not how it is.” ibid., p.389; original emphasis.)
 Professor Dennett doesn’t quite put it that way: he continues to use the word “consciousness” as if he hadn’t denied it. For a sense of the frustration at Professor Dennett’s evasions, equivocations, and blusterings, see Professor Harnad’s amusing commentary on Dennett’s forthcoming paper, “The Fantasy of First-Person Science”. (Stevan Harnad, “The Mind/Body Problem is the Feeling/Function Problem”, at the University of Southampton website.)
 Dennett, op. cit., p.366. (In defining “phenomenology”, Dennett says (ibid., p.45) “we can follow recent practice and adopt the term . . . as the generic term for the various items in conscious experience that have to be explained.” I.e., feelings.)
 Professor Dennett does indeed use just such an analogy, but only in the hope that, in lieu of explanation, he might persuade us that feeling poses no explanatory problem. The analogy with life is a poor one, however. Life in terms of a physical-functional process is quite easily reducible to non-life in the same terms. The same cannot be said for feeling.
 I recall that Colin McGinn mentions something of the kind in his mockery of panpsychism.
 Technical details are sketchy at this point, though we may presume our alien has never heard of Heisenberg.
 My own view is that the alien would learn nothing of Professor Dennett’s feelings. File Report to Central Administration: Carbon-based life-form. Functionally primitive. Edible.
 [“. . . wie mich dünkt, mit Recht, daß je länger die Welt stünde desto mehr Erfindungen würden gemacht werden.”] G.C. Lichtenberg, Sudelbücher, (Frankfurt am Main und Leipzig: Insel Verlag, 1984), J 1250 from Sudelbuch J, (1789-1793), p.441.
 E.g., “One way is to change the subject, swap an easy problem for the hard one (but keep calling it the hard one anyway), and then solve that easy problem instead. The second way is simply to provide an easy solution, but interpret it as if it had solved the hard problem.” Stevan Harnad, “No Easy Way Out”, ibid.
 “Whether we are studying a material object, a magnetic field, a geometric figure, or a duration of time, our scientific imagination is summed up in measures; neither the apparatus of measurement nor the mode of using it suggests that there is anything essentially different in these problems. The measures themselves afford no ground for a classification by categories. We feel it necessary to concede some background to the measures—an external world; but the attributes of this world, except in so far as they are reflected in the measures, are outside scientific scrutiny.” Sir Arthur Eddington, The Nature of the Physical World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1928), p.xiii.
 Erwin Schrödinger, Mind and Matter, in What is Life? With Mind and Matter, and Autobiographical Sketches (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1967), p.119.
 Arthur Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation, Vol.II, tr. E.F.J. Payne (New York: Dover Publications, 1966), p.13. (“Materialismus ist die Philosophie des bei seiner Rechnung sich selbst vergessenden Subjekts.”; Die Welt als Wille und Vortstellung, Bd.II., in Sämmtliche Werke, ed., E. Grisebach (Leipzig: Reclam, 1891.), p.21.)
Wednesday, 2 July 2008
In what we may call the pre-scientific view (and the word is not necessarily pejorative) a person’s behaviour is at least to some extent his own achievement. He is free to deliberate, decide, and act, possibly in original ways, and he is given credit for his successes and blamed for his failures. In the scientific view (and the word is not necessarily honorific) a person’s behaviour is determined by a genetic endowment traceable to the evolutionary history of the species and by the environmental circumstances to which as an individual he has been exposed. Neither view can be proved, but it is in the nature of scientific inquiry that the evidence should shift in favour of the second. As we learn more about the effects of the environment, we have less reason to attribute any part of human behaviour to an autonomous controlling agent. And the second view shows a marked advantage when we begin to do something about behaviour. Autonomous man is not easily changed; in fact, to the extent that he is autonomous, he is by definition not changeable at all. But the environment can be changed, and we are learning how to change it. The measures we use are those of physical and biological technology, but we use them in special ways to affect behaviour. 
[I]t should be possible to design a world in which behaviour likely to be punished seldom or never occurs. We try to design such a world for those who cannot solve the problem of punishment for themselves, such as babies, retardates, or psychotics, and if it could be done for everyone, much time and energy would be saved. 
Ubiquitous interfaces, which comprise a particular class of interactive systems, have the capability to unobtrusively surround the user at any given moment and place. This enables a persuasive intervention just at the right time. 
Persistence means that the system confronts the user with the persuasive message at several occasions whenever an opportune moment arises. If I allow myself a little imagination, I can see a world in which my desk-chair notices a trend in weight-gain, and thereupon, every time I sit upon it, it reminds me of the dangers of heart-disease and diabetes, and of the link thereto of pie- and cake-consumption. Thus, in imagining the future, I am confronted with the possibility of being nagged by my furniture.
The misuse of a technology of behaviour is a serious matter, but we can guard against it best by looking not at putative controllers but at the contingencies under which they control. It is not the benevolence of a controller but the contingencies under which he controls which must be examined. 
It is possible . . . that we are witnessing the evolution of a true ‘forth estate’, composed of scientists, scholars, teachers, and the media. If it can remain free of governments, religions, and economic enterprises, it may provide current surrogates for the remoter consequences of our behaviour. It could be the quis that will control the controllers.
 B.F. Skinner, Beyond Freedom and Dignity (London: Penguin Books, 1988), p.20.
 Ibid., pp.68-9.
 Wolfgang Hofkirchner, Manfred Tscheligi, Robert Bichler, Wolfgang Reitberger, “Ambient Persuasion for the Good Society”, International Review of Information Ethics, Vol.8, December 2007, p.43.
Friday, 27 June 2008
 James Kerian, “Yellow Science”, The Wall Street Journal, 25th June 2008.
Friday, 6 June 2008
G.W. Leibniz, Monadology (1714), §.17, in Philosophical Writings, tr. M Morris and G.H.R. Parkinson (London: J.M. Dent and Sons, 1973), p.181, original emphasis.
Erwin Schrödinger, Mind and Matter, in What is Life? With Mind and Matter, and Autobiographical Sketches (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1967), p.124.
England does not deserve pride. It has gone to the dogs, and that may be an insult to dogs. If England is to restore its sense of pride, it needs to start with its sense of shame. And the first thing it should be ashamed of is the pathetic excuse for a government that afflicts it at present, and will afflict it for the indefinite future until something drastic is done. 
 Mencius Moldbug, “OL8: A Reset is not a Revolution”, Unqualified Reservations (weblog), 5th June 2008.
Thursday, 29 May 2008
 [“Die Gesprächigkeit der Frauen ist tausendmal belächelt, bewitzelt, auch wol verspottet worden: darf sie nicht auch einmal vertheidigt werden? Man muß sie mit Grund vertheidigen können, denn sie ist eine Gabe der Natur, und kann mithin nicht zwecklos seyn”.] Adele, “Die Gespächigkeit der Frauen”, Journal für Deutsche Frauen, 1.Jg., 2.Bd., 8.H; 1805, p.97, digitalised by Universitätsbibliothek Bielefeld.
rusticus expectat dum defluat amnis; at ille labitur et labetur in omne volubilis ævum.....[the bumpkin waits for the river to drain away; but it flows on and will flow on for ever]
“Extract of a Letter [published in Fog’s Journal, no. 387, 3rd April 1736] which Fog says, he found in George’s Coffee-House, Temple Bar, from Tommy Osborne to her Mother Madam Frances Osborne, in answer to her Remarks on a Pamphlet intitled, The Fatal Consequences of Ministerial Influence, &c”, extracted in Gentleman's Magazine, Vol.VI, April 1736, p.186, online at Internet Library of Early Journals. (Latin quotation from Horace Epistles, I., ll.42-3)
Friday, 16 May 2008
Hardly any teachers of a faith defend their dogmas because they are convinced of their truth, but rather because they have maintained their truth......[Die wenigsten Glaubenslehrer vertheidigen ihre Dogmen, weil sie von ihrer Wahrheit überzeugt sind, sondern, weil sie ihre Wahrheit behauptet haben.] 
Most teachers of a faith defend their propositions, not because they are convinced of their truth, but rather because they have once maintained their truth......[Die meisten Glaubens-Lehrer verteidigen ihre Sätze, nicht weil sie von der Wahrheit derselben überzeugt sind, sondern weil sie die Wahrheit derselben einmal behauptet haben.] 
Thursday, 15 May 2008
In response to the Australian media’s deranged and often racist anti-Chinese propaganda, a few of us organised a ‘Be Kind to Mao Month’, where we promoted the ‘good’ aspects of the red guards’ rebellion against what we saw as the privileged, arrogant and authoritarian communist elite in Beijing. 
.....It would have been much more interesting today if some old lady had written in another newspaper a favourable reminiscence of how in nineteen thirty-three she ran a charity tombola- and lemonade-stall in support of the Deutsche Studentenschaft as it set about its task of clearing university libraries of politically undesirable books and of burning them. It would have been interesting for a comparison of reactions, for indicating biases, and in particular for showing what little part conscionable morality, as opposed to political moralism, has to play in decrying Nazi barbarism; for the destructiveness of that student body, instigated at a time when Nazism had hardly got started, was tiny as compared to that of the red guards, instigated at a time when the victims of communism were already in the tens of millions, and yet can anyone seriously doubt that the reminiscences of our old Nazi would provoke far more outrage than the reminiscences of our old commie? Now, of course, old Nazis don’t get to write for the newspapers, except perhaps by apologising at length, whereas old commies do, no apologies required — not that I think tomorrow’s newspapers should be full of old commies apologising; expedient liberal contrition is rarely interesting. No, it is more interesting to observe that, with regard to barbarism, it matters more about which tribe you are in than about the degree of it. And, as I say, communism enjoys a charmed life.
 Peter Tatchell, “The Black Panthers and me”, Comment is Free (The Guardian’s weblog), 14th May 2008.
 Even he cannot use the word “good” in this regard without enclosing it in quotation marks, which leads me to wonder.