“There’s . . . that strange phenomenon where every generation thinks that the next one’s standards are fatally declining.” 
He who talks of this strange phenomenon needn’t have given much thought to its existence; he requires only short-sightedness and pig-ignorance in the service of progressive whiggery to believe in it, helped by the democratic habit of reaffirming an opinion heard a thousand times. He cannot be accused of having surveyed the prevailing opinions of men in all generations throughout history; even if he could, he would not be bothered to extend his thoughts so far, and besides, he would be bothered thereby to find his claim falsified. Rather he observes in recent generations the opinion expressed that standards are declining, and he perhaps knows of a few examples of such an opinion uttered in the ancient world, wherefrom he comes to the conclusion that it has been the prevailing opinion in every generation of man, and that he should therefore pay it no heed.
.....It simply does not occur to him that standards of many kinds are declining; and that these standards have been declining for a long time, and that the process has been noticed. If he is himself an enthusiastic part of the decline, he will not see his own presence and that of his fellows as a decline, but rather as a progress; after all, it is his generation and its low standards with which he identifies that are triumphing. Effectively he banishes from thought any consideration of the possibility of decline, and vows not to sit in judgement upon the next generation, which he will allow to decline further.
.....Yet, in dreaming up his strange phenomenon, he was almost right: in periods of change there have been men of historical consciousness who have had the capacity to express regret for what has already passed, which is in part a recognition of the transitoriness of the world, and who have feared also the loss of whatever they themselves have inherited, urgently seeking to secure its preservation in the next generation. Modernism is the predominance of another kind of man, who is more like a machine-part in a process: a man who says good riddance to all past things, and who tolerates every kind of degradation for the future too. He is the most shallow and complacent creature ever to walk on two legs, and I include pigeons.
.....All those German pessimists were right: the dullness of progressive optimism would one day be such that so few people would be able to recognize their own degraded state, but rather would even congratulate themselves for it.
 “Labourpartysuicide”, commenting on Mark Lawson, “That golden age? It never happened, except in the minds of pessimists”, Comment is Free (The Guardian’s weblog), 1st August 2008.
Monday, 4 August 2008
“There’s . . . that strange phenomenon where every generation thinks that the next one’s standards are fatally declining.” 
Friday, 1 August 2008
Monday, 28 July 2008
If we are to tackle obesity properly, the whole of society must become involved in the solution. 
If I ever find out where it lives, I shall have it bound and gagged and transported to the remotest corner of the earth, perhaps even have it buried under twelve feet of concrete — a fittingly absurd end to so dangerous and misconceived a creature.
 Tagline of Neville Rigby’s “Weight of the Nation”, Comment is Free (The Guardian’s weblog), 27th July 2008.
Friday, 25 July 2008
“Present folly seeks the unity of nations and not the creation of a single man from the entire species, so be it; but in acquiring general capabilities, will not a whole set of private sentiments perish? Farewell the tenderness of the fireside; farewell delight in family; among all the beings white, yellow or black, claimed as your compatriots, you will be unable to throw yourself on a brother’s breast. Was there nothing in that life of other days, nothing in that narrow space you gazed at from your ivy-framed window? Beyond your horizon you suspected unknown countries of which the bird of passage, the only voyager you saw in autumn, barely told you. It was happiness to think that the hills enclosing you would not vanish before your eyes; that they would surround your loves and friendships; that the sighing of night around your sanctuary would be the only sound to accompany your sleep; that the solitude of your soul would never be troubled, that you would always find your thoughts there, waiting for you, to take up again their familiar conversation. You knew where you were born; you knew where your grave would be; penetrating the forests you could say:
‘Fair trees that once saw my beginning,
Soon you will witness my end.’
Man has no need to travel to become greater; he bears immensity within. The accents escaping from your breast are immeasurable and find an echo in thousands of other souls: those who lack the melody within themselves will demand it of the universe in vain. Sit on the trunk of a fallen tree in the depths of the woods; if in profound forgetfulness of yourself, in immobility, in silence, you fail to find the infinite, it is useless to wander the shores of the Ganges seeking it.”
François de Chateaubriand, Mémoires d’Outre-tombe, tr. A.S. Kline, Bk.XLII:14:1, published online by A.S. Kline.
Thursday, 24 July 2008
[“Ich erlebe bei unseren Eliten leider nur allzu oft, daß sie schlicht kein Interesse mehr an der Bewahrung Deutschlands zu haben scheinen. Dagegen gewinnt man den Eindruck, daß es ihnen gar nicht schnell genug gehen kann, unser Volk in einer multikulturellen und multiethnischen Gesellschaft und unseren Staat in überstaatlichen Strukturen aufzulösen.”]
Ferdinand Fürst von Bismarck, interview with Moritz Schwarz, “Deutschland driftet nach Links”, Junge Freiheit, 2nd 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.