Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Wrong Turns.

  1. Jan 25, 2005 #1
    I want to take a look at the history of philosophy. I would say it's a look at the history of "philosophy of mind", but it covers more than that.

    I want to look at the points throughout history where a shift was made, to the using of terms and concepts that had never been used before. I want to do this because I want to see if any of them were wrong turns, that have changed philosophy for the worse. If it's true that some of these "turns" were bad ones, I don't want it to appear as though the philosopher(s) did something wrong, or as if it shouldn't have happened. After all, how can we learn from a mistake we never make? How, in turn, can we call something a mistake, if it is what arose necessarily from the questions being asked at the time?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 25, 2005 #2
    First turn.

    The first "turn" I'm going to consider, is going to be the most recent in my consideration. All subsequent turns will be further and further in the past, relative to the previous.

    The first "turn" I want to consider is that made by Immanuel Kant.

    Would we have questions of p-consciousness and a-consciousness, if it weren't for the distinction he made between what is perceived by the senses and what is reflected in our (biased) minds? Would philosophers be trying to come up with a theory of knowledge that is absolute, if it hadn't been for this new distinction, that Kant made, which allowed for the idea that a clearer mirror would produce a more accurate representation of the physical Universe?

    His turn, however, was the logical one, since he was preceded by Hume, and wished to refine Hume's concept. So, the next turn I want to consider is that of Hume...
  4. Jan 25, 2005 #3
    Ideas versus Impressions.

    There were a lot of new concepts introduced by David Hume, but the two most important (to this discussion) will be "ideas" and "impressions".

    According to Hume, "impressions" appeared to come from without and were impressed on the mind, whereas "ideas" are reflections thereof within the mind. Since we can never experience anything outside of our own experience, Hume's philosophy ended in Solipsism. After all, if the only things we ever experienced were our impressions and the ideas that were based on them, how could we be sure of the existence of anything outside the mind? IOW, impressions and ideas are both mental phenomena, and are thus not proof, or even indications, of anything that isn't a mental phenomenon.

    But, Hume would never have been able to speak intelligently of such terms, had it not been for Locke. We wouldn't have known what the heck he was talking about. So, my next "turn" to consider is that of Locke....
  5. Jan 25, 2005 #4
    Meaning, tablets, and inward-facing eyes...

    Locke introduced to philosophy the concept of an inner representation of external phenomenon. Perhaps "introduced" isn't the right word (maybe "refined the already existent concept" is better).

    In any case, without Locke's belief that "meaning" was something extra, not intrinsic to any objective phenomenon, Hume's concept of "impressions" and "ideas" would have made no sense.

    Locke basically showed the philosophical world that, since meaning was not something intrinsic to bits of ink on parchment, or sounds travelling through the air, they must instead have something to do with the mind's perception of them. A sound entered the ear, and was, at some point inscribed on the "tablet" of the mind, which was then read by the mind's eye. NOTE: This is not how he actually worded things, and (as with every other philosophy that I have and will discuss(ed)) it is but a fraction of the contribution made by the philosopher. However, this is my way of referring to the "wrong turn" the evolved from his insight.

    I will continue this tomorrow, as I have to leave now....
  6. Jan 25, 2005 #5
    Last few turns: Descartes to Plato

    Well, inspite of the fact that I've been paraphrasing gortequely, I will have to make the rest of my posts even more paraphrased, as I may have to get off-line at any moment. Let's see if I can make my point by then.

    The very concept of mind and body (as separate entities, or as ontologically distinct), on which Locke's own philosophy was based, goes back to the great Descartes himself. Descartes, in his "First Philosophy" gives us the reason for this distinction (a distinction which was (IMSO) the first in a series of "wrong turns"), by describing how he arrived at that which is indubitable. At the end of his dubito, the only things left are those describable as aspects of the cogito.

    This need for incorrigibility, in turn, can be followed back to Plato and Aristotle. Before them, the Pyrroneans (probably spelled wrong) and Sophists (and pretty much everybody else, for that matter) were content to deal with "relative truth" and the winning of the argument at hand, instead of dissolving every possible future argument. After Aristotle, however, the concept of an absolute truth, and the role of philosophy as finding those absolute truths, became deeply ingrained, and is the first (from a historical PoV, now) of the "wrong turns", that I want to put into question.
  7. Jan 25, 2005 #6
    Discussion or correction of any of the above paraphrasings is welcome, but the main point of the thread is incorrigibility, the way it lead philosophy into where it currently finds itself, and whether that very first step (made by Plato and Aristotle) should ever have been made. If so, should the steps that followed have been made? If so, why all the philosophical problems?

    If, instead, we were to avoid taking any of those turns for granted, we may arrive at something very much like Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations.

    Wittgenstein's earlier work, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, was an excellent work, but it was along the same path that leads off from Kant's "turn". But, in the Philosophical Investigations, Wittgenstein takes none of those "turns" for granted, and goes back to the essential concept of winning in debate.

    He gets rid of the concept of ultimate truth, and instead talks about relativity. He gets rid of mind-body distinction/dualities, because they are reflections (indeed, exist only for the purpose of) the need to find incorrigible truth.
  8. Jan 25, 2005 #7
    Thank you for your posts, mapper. Perhaps you should start a separate thread on the wrong turns that you wish to discuss. This thread is more about the history of philosophical thought, and the mistakes (IMO) that philosophers have been making, due to their desire for ultimate truth.
  9. Jan 26, 2005 #8
    Yeah my posts were deleted. Wasnt really on your topic so sorry about that.
  10. Jan 26, 2005 #9
    Now that I've got a little more time.

    Let me explain more clearly what the point of the thread is. Basically, I want to understand why (if there even is a good reason) we made the turns described above. Why did we start searching for a vantage point for absolute truths? Why did we think that we could do so by introspection? Why did we begin separating primary and secondary ideas, and ideas and impressions, and concepts and intuitions, thus making the concept of "mind" that much more complex and intractable?

    This path has only lead us to philosophical problem on top of philosophical problem, and shouldn't that at least hint at the possibility that we've been going about it the wrong way?

    Why doesn't mainstream philosophy take seriously the potential for Wittgensteinian thought to remove such problems?
  11. Jan 27, 2005 #10
    I agree that philosophy (the western kind) has taken some wrong turns, imo often due to its close links with Christian theology and the wrong turns taken by the Church. But I don't see this quite the way you do. To me all those philosophers you mention were arriving at the same conclusion because it's the only conclusion to arrive at, not because they were building on each others work (although of course they were doing that as well).

    It is simply a fact that certain knowledge is identical with its object (Aristotle), that the knowledge gained via our senses is not certain (Kant), and that the knowledge gained by our reason is not certain (Kant? Hume? Goedel anyway).

    On the Wittgenstein thing I don't agree with the interpretation of the Tractatus that led to logical positivism, and get the impression that not too many people do these days. It's very difficult to show that metaphysical questions are not real questions (if that's what you meant).

    On the whole though I agree with what you say. There is something amiss with western philosophy. It should have moved on by now instead of being stuck where Plato and Aristotle left it.
  12. Jan 28, 2005 #11
    Thanks for the response, Canute.

    I hadn't considered Christianity's role in influencing modern philosophy...but it's something to ponder.

    As to Wittgenstein, basically, whenever I refer to his philosophy I'm usually referring to his post-Tractatus stuff (the reasoning you'd find in the Philosophical Investigations). Combined with the historical approach of Heidegger and Dewey (among others), Rorty has formulated a philosophy completely independent of the post-Descartes notions of Duality. I'm just wondering if he may not be on the right track. Have you ever read any of Rorty's philosophy?
  13. Jan 28, 2005 #12
    From "Questions on Ontology"

    This is from my thread, "Questions on Ontology". I think it's worth pasting here, as it is slightly more on-topic here, and may fuel some debate (if I'm lucky)...

  14. Jan 28, 2005 #13


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Gold Member
    Dearly Missed

    And when someone comes to another group's game, as a Briton viewing baseball or an American viewing cricket, it seems ridiculous. Why do they have those funny pieces, and those stupid rules that don't allow an honest alien to express himself clearly?
  15. Jan 29, 2005 #14
    Thus, Rorty's illustration of the Antipodeans. Do you know it?

    The basic concept is that humans finally encounter another (seemingly) intelligent race. They go to visit their world, and they see grand examples of culture and intelligence. However, when they ask the people questions that involve the concepts of "raw feels" or "qualia", they are not only left without response, the Antipodeans can't even begin to make sense of what these things are, or why they should be so important. The evolution of the Antipodean race/culture has been different from our own only in that they had early exposure to the concepts of neurophysiology and such. With this knowledge, they have always expressed (for example) what happens when one is smacked across the face in terms of "stimulated C-fibers".

    Now, the closest thing the philosophers of Earth can make to "progress" with these poor creatures is to get them to admit (quite freely, actually) that it is possible to believe that your C-fibers have been stimulated (because of the concomitant T-fiber stimulation, which can be stimulated without the corresponding C-fiber's also being stimulated) and be wrong.

    But when it comes to "raw feels" and "incorrigibility about mental states" or "qualia", the Antipodeans are at a complete loss, because they don't even have words for such things...they don't mean anything to them.

    And, for all of you who think that we know such things because they are "obvious" to us, or because they are "primary" in our "experience": the ancient Greek philosophers (pre-Plato) didn't have words for any of that stuff either. They got along with their philosophy (some of it quite deeply concerned with what can and cannot be known, what can and cannot be doubted, and how we know anything at all...viz, Pyrronean skepticism) just fine, without ever invoking any of these terms or anything like them.
  16. Jan 30, 2005 #15
    If Rorty had flown on just a few more parsecs he'd have discovered the planet of the AntiAntipodeans. These people believe that mind is fundamental and have never bothered doing neuroscience. When you speak to them of qualia, of how things appear and of states of being, they seem just like us. However when you speak of c-fibres in the brain they look back blankly.

    Hmm. Not sure that works, but it could probably be made to work.

    Why not just say that the reason we have words for raw experiences is that we have raw experiences, and that they are clearly something different to c-fibres firing. Even if brain does cause mind this is true. After all, we have a word for 'cake', not just words for flour, butter, eggs and fruit.

    The idea that sentient beings could have intelligence and a well-developed and shared language but have no word for sentience seems unlikely to me. The clincher is that we (and the Antipodeans) know when we have been hit across the face. If we could only know this by studying our c-fibres then we'd have to go to the doctor to find out whether someone had hit us or not. When we got there he'd ask why we thought we'd been hit, and wouldn't have the words to explain why, for we'd have no word for pain.

    The only reason that a neuroscientist is interested in c-fibres is that they are useful in explaining the state of being in which one feels as if one has been hit across the face, and other such states. If we did not have such feelings then we'd be like Rorty's Antipodeans, uninterested in c-fibres and unable to make first person reports. Also, when we talk about c-fibres we are talking about our inner perceptions and conceptions of them, for this is all we know about c-fibres. If we can't talk about mental states then we can't talk about how c-fibres appear to be to us.

    Surely they are zombies then, not just linguistically challenged?

    Erm, are you sure? What's all that stuff Animaximander and Parmeneides go on about then, 'Being', appearance and reality and so forth.

    But they did invoke these terms. They said that 'knowing' is inextricably tied up with 'Being'.

    To go back to theology and philosophy - What Christian theology did was to objectify God, against the advice of all Christian mystics and against the (reported) advice of Jesus. This allowed the development of the institution, and of a priestly class standing as gatekeepers between Man and God. It seems to me that this led to the objectification of everything and thus to analytical theology, analytical philosophy, and the scientific method. Could it be that science has flourished best in Christian countries for this reason?
    Last edited: Jan 30, 2005
  17. Jan 31, 2005 #16
    I was thinking about what you said about language. It seems to me that we give names to things for which we have concepts. Wouldn't it be better then to say that our problems are caused by misconceptions of what things really are, rather than the misnaming of things or the misuse of language?

    Hmm, or is it the misnaming of things which causes us to misconceptualise them? I suppose it works both ways.
  18. Jan 31, 2005 #17
    Nope. Sorry, but it doesn't change the situation in the slightest. Indeed, the anti-antipodeans would be just like us (or, at least, where we currently find ourselves), and so wouldn't be any help in ascertaining how consciousness could exist completely independent of anything like "raw feels", if such things even exist (which is what it called into question by this case, since they were invoked to help explain consciousness).

    We don't necessarily have "words for raw experiences", as you put it. The very phrasing of that is indicative of your still being stuck in a post-Cartesian framework. We have terms like "raw feels" or "qualia", but that doesn't mean that they refer to anything physically identifiable. They could, quite simply, be useless words in every language-game other than post-Kantian philosophy (as I think I've already shown them to be), and the only purpose they've served there is to further complicate matters and create philosophical "problems".

    What is this "mind" you keep talking about? I never said that the brain "caused" anything.

    I didn't say that they had no word for "sentience". Sentience is self-consciousness and awareness. They clearly are capable of such processes, otherwise they would not have been able to say that it was "I" who had "my" C-fibers stimulated.

    You missed the point. They have privileged access to what's going on inside them (it doesn't matter how, it's part of the story). We, OTOH, claim to have some privileged access, and yet the words we are using don't describe anything that's going on inside us (as your "doctor" could quickly tell you).

    That's only true of our neuroscientist is a post-Kantian philosopher on the side. Real neuroscientists are interested in c-fibers for the same reason molecular-biologists are interested in mitochondria: it's their field.

    But they are interested in their c-fibers. They're just not interested in discussing terms that have no meaning to them (of which "c-fiber" is not one, but of which "qualia" and "raw feel" are indeed).

    The antipodeans do indeed make first-person reports. Why should it be otherwise? How can one refer to "my" c-fiber, or the fact that it the stimulation of concomittant t-fibers is strongly indicative thereof, and still not be making a first-person report?

    C-fibers appear to us exactly as they always have. A stimulated C-fiber is one phenomenon that is different from other phenomena. We (Antipodeans) can tell the difference, and speak intelligently about it, but we cannot speak intelligently about "mental states" since this concept is completely foreign to us.

    "Zombies" is also a foreign word to us. Could you perhaps define it in terms we might understand?

    Yes, there were distinctions between how something appeared (or something about which you could be fairly confident) and how something actually was. This requires the concepts of skepticism and criticalness, but not the concept of a "veil of mind" which conceals the true nature of things from a central mind. I have studied the ancient Greek language for a while now. I can assure you to a high degree of certainty that there is no term for such things (I'm as sure of that as I can be, but not absolutely so; this does not indicate anything wrong with my "mental apparatus", merely that I may not have all the facts).

    And it is. What has that to do with mind-body duality?

    Possibly. However, all throughout the Holy Scriptures, God Himself commands that no physical representations be made of Him. This was not because He Himself was not physical (or, at least, He never said that this was why), it was because He was not like anything that we could possibly find here on Earth. Thus, to make a representation of Him that was like something that He had created (since, according to Scripture, He created all things) was an insult.
  19. Jan 31, 2005 #18
    Of course it seems that way to you. No offense, but this is purely Lockean thinking. Wittgenstein himself fell into the same trap, when he wrote his Tractatus. However, he didn't fall prey to the same bias in his Philosophical Investigations, which is why, when I refer to Wittgenstein's philosophy, I almost invariably mean the latter.

    What I'm saying is that this is a very tempting belief, but not a necessary one. To even refer to "concepts" as something distinct that can be assigned to words (or that can have words assigned to them) is to speak Locke-ish. It's a fine language-game, but I think it's out-lived its usefulness.

    Canute, examine what you are saying. Can you not see the inability to think/speak without some reference to the indubitable (that which is "actual", relative to those things which are not). If so, can it not be that this concept of finding a "solid grounding" is the first in a series of "wrong turns" which will lead you right back to where mainstream philosophy is right now? Right back to the "problems"?

    If, instead, we were to abandon the concept of an "absolute/indubitable grounding", we'd never have to worry about "hard problems of consciousness", "representations", "behaviorism", "materialism", "idealism", etc.
  20. Feb 2, 2005 #19
    Wouldn't it be simpler to say that we have a word for pain because pain is a raw experience, and we have terms like 'raw feel' and 'qualia' because we have raw feel and qualia? Just as we have words for c-fibres because we have c-fibres. Raw experiences exist, as you say, so what does it matter whether raw experiences are physically identifiable? They still need a name so that we can talk about them.

    Are you saying that you don't know what I mean by the word 'mind'?

    So, they know that they have sentience, but have no words for the experiences by which they know they are sentient. This seems a very unlikely scenario to me. Are you denying the existence of conscious experience?

    When I tell my doctor I'm in pain he knows what I mean. Of course my doctor cannot observe this pain, we all know that pain is not a physical thing. Are you suggesting that 'pain' is a word with no referant?

    Last edited: Feb 2, 2005
  21. Feb 2, 2005 #20
    I never said that "raw experiences" exist. I said that our terms (such as "raw experiences" or "qualia") exist. These terms don't need to refer to anything real in order to exist as terms.

    No, it's not simpler to say that we have a word for pain because it is a "raw experience". We could just as simply say that we have a word for "pain" because we didn't start off with more specific/physiologically-oriented ways of referring to stimulated c-fibers (or whatever fibers are stimulated when something potentially harmful occurs on your sensitive tissues). It's a "short-cut" word; nothing more.

    No, but...for the purpose of the discussion, what do you mean by that word?

    The experiences? You mean like getting one's c-fibers stimulated and recognizing that it was their own c-fibers that were stimulated rather than someone else's? They do indeed have words for these things.

    Another bit of philosophical jargon: "conscious experience". "Experience" in every other field (besides philosophy of mind) has to do with how long you've been doing something, or how adept you've become at it (whatever the activity may be). "Consciousness" in every field besides PoM is a reference to whether you are "awake", and capable of interacting normally with your environment. I'm positive that these are not what you mean by "conscious experience", since it would then be the same as saying "adeptness, due to prior attempts, at being awake".

    So, please define "conscious experience" in, at least, basic terms.

    I'm suggesting that it's a short-cut way of referring to some stimulus that is (at least potentially) harmful. Being "in pain" is being stimulated in that manner. But when you refer to "pain" as though "a pain" were a quantum entity (which makes no sense to me whatsoever), then you create the possibility of detecting such an entity within you, and the doctor will never find it. Therefore, the word "pain" cannot have reference to a quantum entity, as there is no such entity.

    That's exactly what the philosophers that met them said. To that, of course, the Antipodeans said, "fine, we don't see why 'sentience' is so important to you anyway, if we've gotten on just as well as you have without it". You see, our telling them that they don't have "sentience", by virtue of not having "raw feels" hasn't changed anything. Their culture is still every bit as advanced and complex as ours. Their literature is still every bit as beautiful or poignant. Their art is still every bit as captivating. If "raw feels" exist, and if you have determined that they don't have them, so what?

    It is first-person since it refers to the state of one's own c-fibers.

    We don't, that's very true (which is why I think it very odd that we (philosophers) think of ourselves as having anything like priveleged access to our inner workings), but the Antipodeans do. And, if we had had that access throughout our history, it is very likely (IMHO) that words such as "qualia" wouldn't have ever even been invented.

    No, no, no, you missed the point. The Antipodeans, as a part of my thought-experiment, have always been able to see what's going on inside of them. I don't care how, this is just the case for the purpose of the thought-experiment.

    But what is "sentience" to you? A philosopher once tried to explain it to an Antipodean. The conversation went something like this:

    P. "Sentience" refers to having knowledge of oneself from a first-person perspective, and the ability to have intelligence, creativity, etc.

    A. But I (note his use of the word "I") do know about myself; better than you do about yourself, I might add, since you cannot behold your inner workings. And it would affect my i-fibers greatly if you were to imply that I'm not intelligent or creative. I have mastered complex maths, and have painted pictures that have won me great acclaim.

    P. But you don't have "raw sensations" or "feels", by your own confession.

    A. I confessed only that I didn't know what those terms meant, nor could I find any room for them in any good explanation of my inner workings (of which I am infinitely more knowledgeable than any human). If I have them, then they must be quite useless, since I've never observed them, and I have complete access to what goes on inside me.

    Do you mean "cage" allegory?

    Whereas I've been brushing up on my Greek language skills, I have not recently looked into Plato. Could you perhaps provide some quotes (in context is best) that have to do with Ideas and Forms in Platonic philosophy?

    I do remember that Plato helped pioneer the dichotomy (ontological or otherwise) between universals and particulars. He (like Pythagoras, now that I come to think of it) believed that all forms were a manifestation of a much more universal idea. Is that what you are referring to?

    Only insomuch as they also knew the difference between the gods and the physical; or between the spirit that can live on after the death of the body, and that body itself.

    What I'm saying is that they had no concept of a mirror of nature, from which certainty could be gathered. They had skepticism, but not with reference to the indubitable mind and the veil that covers the "actual objective realm" from our "mind's eye". Their skepticism was simply to do with "what can be known with any degree of certainty?", "what is certainty?", "how is it attained?", "does it have practical use?".

    They also did not have words for concepts like "qualia" or "phenomenology". They had "nous" which was their term for "knowledge" or "mind", and "logos" which meant "reasoning" or "logic". The philosophy of Heraclitus (at least, I think it was Heraclitus...like I've said, it's been a while) even went so far as to make "nous" something like a Universal force, which could decide between "becomings" (since he didn't think there were any "beings").

    But they never had a word that defined "mind" a priori as something distinct from the brain's processes of reasoning and data-input.

    That's what I was trying to say: The God of the Bible is indeed insulted by attempted representations of Him that are, instead, representations of things He created.

    "Experiences"...this is the beginning of your problems, in two ways. First, it suggests a use of the word "experience" completely different from its usual use (in every occupation other than PoM). Secondly, it refers to "experience" in terms of a plenum of quantum "experions" (or however you want to refer to your quantum "experiences"). It gives each "experience" an individual nature, and makes them into entities, whereas every other use of "experience" has it as a continual accumulation of facility.

    No, I'm not saying that "mental/conscious experience" can be reduced to words, I'm saying that "mental/conscious experience" are words (which is obvious), and that they are no more than that, until somebody finally proves otherwise. I, personally, don't know what to make of them. They are not very "good" words, because I can't use them...I guess I'm an Antipodean...or a zombie, or whatever.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook