Wednesday, 21 August 2019

The Quantum World = Maths






Word Count: 488

It's often said that the mathematics of quantum mechanics “doesn't say anything about the 'real world'”. That's odd really because if the maths is extraordinarily successful when it comes to predictions, applications, engineering, technology and whatnot, then (almost by definition) surely it must be about the real world. Well, perhaps not about the real world simply because that term is a vague. Though surely the maths is about something that's not itself maths. Is it the real world? I don't really know. What work is the word “real” actually doing here? Is it an implication that we must mirror the world? How does that work? And even if the maths perfectly describes phenomena in terms of their magnitudes, values, strengths, etc., it still doesn't mirror the world. If maths mirrored the world, then it would look - and even be - the same as the world. Thus maths can't mirror the world.

One thing is certainly the case. Without the maths, we'd have almost (or literally) nothing to say about the quantum world – real or otherwise. When it comes to the quantum world, the usual means of ownership (as it were) aren't available to us. That is, we can't observe, feel, smell or (often) even imagine the quantum world. Thus the maths is all we've got. This is excellently expressed in the following passage from John Horgan:

[M]athematics helps physicists definite what is otherwise undefinable. A quark is a purely mathematical construct. It has no meaning apart from its mathematical definition. The properties of quarks – charm, colour, strangeness – are mathematical properties that have no analogue in the macroscopic world we inhabit.”

So if maths is all we've got, then it's not really a surprise that many physicists (i.e., the more philosophical ones) say that quantum mechanics doesn't really “say anything about the real world”. Or, at the very least, everything's that's said about the quantum world is said by the maths. Thus, all the imagery, picture painting, analogies, etc. aren't really about the quantum world – they're simply the crutches we use in order to get a grip of that world.

So when it's said that Richard Feynman, for example, could only do “quantum theory” (i.e., the maths), then that's not a surprise. That's because the maths is all we've got. And when we stray beyond the maths into “interpretation”, then we (perhaps by definition) can't help but get things wrong. Or at least this is one sceptical scenario we must consider.

So, again, it's not a surprise that even Feynman didn't “know what the maths means”. That may be because the phrase “what the maths means” is almost meaningless. At the very least, there's a hint that we can't go beyond the maths. Yet it's still the case that so many philosophers, and somewhat less physicists, believe that the maths is only second-best to something far deeper.

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Wednesday, 14 August 2019

David Chalmers on Physical Entailment

Word Count: 860


David Chalmers writes:

The facts about experience cannot be an automatic consequence of any physical account, as it is conceptually coherent that any given process could exist without experience. Experience may arise from the physical, but it is not entailed by the physical.”

One can be rhetorical now and state the following:

Who cares if it is “conceptual coherent that any given process could exist without experience”?

Surely what matters is that whenever we have the sort of physical processes which give rise to experience, then they always do give rise to experience. Still, there may not be a necessary connection between anything physical and experience; and experience may not be a necessary consequence of anything physical. (Of course all this depends on how we interpret these modal terms and what work they're doing.)

More particularly, what work is Chalmers' notion of any x (or P) being “conceptually coherent” doing here? For one, it can be said that Chalmers is a philosopher, not a physicist or a neuroscientist. Thus Chalmers is interested in what is conceptually coherent and what isn't. Though even if Chalmers is thinking purely philosophically (or in terms of “logical possibility”), what philosophical mileage is he getting out of the conceptually coherent logical possibility that no physical process entails experience? What can we extract, philosophically, from that?

Well, we can extract the logical possibility that nothing physical necessarily gives rise to experience. So are we going around in circles here?

Not necessarily.

The bottom line is that Chalmers believes that experience is over and above the physical. To put that another way (as Chalmers does), “experience is not entailed by the physical”. This raises a question:

What is it for something physical to entail experience?

Or more broadly:

What is it for something physical to entail anything?

Isn't entailment a non-ontological notion?

In linguistics, for example, we have the following definition of entailment:

"Linguistic entailments occur when one may draw necessary conclusions from a particular use of a word, phrase or sentence. Entailment phrases are relations between propositions, and are always worded as, 'if A then B,' meaning that if A is true, then B must also be true. Another way of phrasing this is, 'if A is true, then B must necessarily be true.'..."

It's also the case that both semantic and pragmatic entailment are themselves essentially linguistic. However, it's logical entailment that primarily interests Chalmers. Yet here again we have the following definition:

Logical consequence (also entailment) is a fundamental concept in logic, which describes the relationship between statements that hold true when one statement logically follows from one or more statements. A valid logical argument is one in which the conclusion is entailed by the premises, because the conclusion is the consequence of the premises.”

So why is Chalmers applying entailment to the physical? The only way around this (as far as I can see) is to say that statements (say, premises) about the physical may entail further statements (conclusions) about the physical. However, will that even work? In order to make that work, the statements which do the entailing would need to be taken as true; and the statemental entailments would need to be taken as the necessary consequences of true statements about the physical.

Having said all that, even if the entailing statements were true, how could they entail other statements if both are about the physical? The entailment itself (that is, the relation between entailing statements and entailed statements) would need to be known to be true a priori. However, since they're about the physical, then how can the entailment be known to be true a priori?

What about a posteriori entailment? Take this example:

Here is a sample of water.

That statement entails the following:

Here is a sample of H2O molecules.

But isn't this because there's a “hidden premise” or indentity statement in that entailment? Namely:

water = H2

So is Chalmers demanding an identity between any physical x and any experience y in order to have his physical entailment? That is, x can only entail y if x and y are one and the same thing. If x and y aren't one and the same thing, then there can be no entailment.

Could there be physical entailment without such identity? Is it the case that any x can entail any y without x and y being one and the same thing? That is, if x is the case, then (necessarily) y must also be the case. Perhaps in the case of the physical and experience, there is no necessity. (As argued by Kripke, etc.) But do we need necessity here? That is, every time there is a physical x (as in brains, etc. being in a certain states), then there will be experience. Is it necessary that there is experience given any physical x? Well, yes and no. If we have a given physical x, then there is always experience. Having said that, even if physical x always comes with experience, it may still not be necessary that this physical x comes along with experience. This leads me to ask, again: What work is the modal word “necessary” doing here?



Tuesday, 13 August 2019

Neuropsychologist Nicholas Humphrey vs. Philosopher Daniel Dennett


Word Count: 670

It can be argued that the exact antithesis of Daniel Dennett's position (on consciousness) is put forward by the neuropsychologist Nicholas Humphrey. This is graphically shown in Humphrey's phrase “the experience of raw being”. That is, a level of consciousness that's worlds away from Dennett's propositional or functional consciousness. In addition, it's a “lower-level” of consciousness that's “unreflected on”. In more detail:

“[P]rimitive sensations of light, cold, smell, taste, touch, pain; a the is-ness, the present tense of sensory experience, which doesn't require any further analysis or introspective awareness to be there for us but is just as ? Of existence.”

If such a state, what would Dennett have to hold onto? Where's the third-person heterophenomenology in all of this? Where are the judgments or the “verbal reports”?

It doesn't help that Humphrey uses terms like “the is-ness” and the like. The problem, then, is that Humphrey's account may be seen like a position on some kind of "spiritual" or Zen-like states. However, I believe that Humphrey hasn't all this in mind at all. These aren't Zen-like or spiritual states of consciousness he's referring to. They're states that most of us experience at certain points each and every day. And neither are these “raw” states the end result of mental preparations and will power; as spiritual states often are. I would argue that they are the givens of everyday experience or consciousness.

In any case, Dennett would surely reject these conscious states. He'd be an eliminativist and a verificationist about them. They are, after all, private (if in a very rudimentary sense). Still, these raw states don't necessarily fall foul of the strictures of behaviourists, Wittgenstein, Quine, functionalists and the rest. That's because nothing much is being claimed for them. They aren't the “source of meaning” (which Wittgenstein and Quine rejected). They don't constitute a "private language" of any kind. And neither do they constitute first-person “infallible knowledge”. They're simply basic experiences. Therefore, almost by definition, they're outside of science and Dennett's own philosophical heterophenomenology and verificationism.

Basically, one can admit that they serve no purpose... as such. Nonetheless, they do serve a purpose for Humphrey himself in that they show him

that is what's it's like to be me, or what it's like to be a dog, or what it's like to be a baby”.

So we don't need to build a philosophical edifice on top of Humphrey's “raw being” or “is-ness”; as Descartes, the phenomenologists and others did. We simply need to accept that these states are part of consciousness. And they're essentially above and beyond all that's functional, cognitive, judgmental, propositional and the like.

Earlier the lack of purpose for these basic conscious states was mentioned. And that's why Dennett said that following to Humphrey:

Look, I hear what you're saying, but I simply don't have any reference point for it. Your raw sensations, if they exist, leave nothing behind. They might as well never have occurred.”

So as was said earlier:

i) If the conscious states Humphrey refers to have no “reference point”, then they serve no purpose.
ii) If they “leave nothing behind”, then they serve no purpose.
iii) And if they “might as well never have occurred”, then they serve no purpose.

In other words, to Dennett, all this basically means (surely) that even if these consciousness states serve no purpose, then they don't/mustn't exist. That really does seem to be Dennett's position. And it is pure verificationism and indeed eliminativism at one and the same time.

This conclusion, therefore, is completely at one with Humphrey when he responds to Dennett by saying that

[f]or Dan, the basic constituents of consciousness are ideas, judgements, propositions, and so on”.


For Dan, if there's nothing left after the sensation has passed – nothing in the way of a text, which says something like, 'Memo to self: have just had a sensation' – then it didn't happen.”

Dennett's position is extreme. (At least it is to me.) What's more, I can't help believing that it's obviously false.




Monday, 12 August 2019

John Searle on Brain-Consciousness Causation


Word Count: 972

Daniel Dennett once said that John Searle believes that the brain somehow “secretes” consciousness. I suspect that Searle would argue that consciousness can't be secreted out of anything, let alone out of the brain. That's because Searle sees consciousness as a higher-level attribute of the brain – yes, of the brain. Thus the secretion of something which is already part of that something doesn't really make sense.

The same, however, can't initially be said of the word “cause”. If we stress (as Searle does) that consciousness is a higher-level feature of the brain, then how can the brain cause consciousness? The question just asked about secretion from the brain can equally be asked about the brain causing something which is already supposed to be a “feature” of it. But, according to Searle, this is because we have a misconception about causation; at least when it comes to the case of the brain causing consciousness.

One of the most important and interesting points which Searle makes (in his discussion of consciousness) is that causation needn't be seen in the following terms:

cause followed (in time) by effect

Here we have two events: a cause-event/state followed by an effect-event/state. That is, usually the cause-event occurs at time t and the effect-event occurs at t1. This, rightly, implies a kind of dualism for the simple reason that the brain's cause-event occurs before the consciousness effect-event. Thus the two (consciousness and brain processes) must be separated (in that one causes the other). However, what if we can have causal processes (as with brain and consciousness) which don't entail a cause-event/state followed by an effect-event/state? That is, in which the processes of consciousness occur at the very same time as brain processes (but which are, nonetheless, not identical).

Searle gives an example of a table and its impression on a rug.

We can say here that this isn't a question of the table-pressure-event/state causing the indented-rug-event/state. The weight of the table and the indented rug occur at one and the same time. This is still a casual process; though it's not a case of cause-event/state followed by an effect-event/state. It's a causal process of weight and indentation occurring at one and the same time. Or, as Searle puts it, the gravitational force of the table shouldn't be taken as an event which occurs before the indentation of the rug (which is under it). That is, “gravity is not an event” at all – it's a force or law of nature which is always there. Thus it can't be seen as an event at all.

Searle's next example is about tables and their solidity.

We can say that the nature or density of the table’s molecules doesn't cause the “solidity of the table”. We don't have a cause-event/state (i.e., the molecules and their behaviour) followed by an effect-event/state (i.e, the solidity of the table). Whenever there are specific kinds of molecules of this specific density and structure, then we also will have a solid table. Such molecules don't come first and then cause the solidity of the table. That would mean that there was a point in which we had the very same table (made up of the same molecules); but in which the table was not solid (say, it was fluid or floppy). No. As soon as we have that configuration and that set of molecules, we also have the table’s solidity. The one doesn't come before the other. However, it's still the causal processes of the molecules which are responsible for the solidity of the table. We still have causation and causal processes. We just don’t have cause-event/state followed by an effect-event/state.

One can see where this line of argument is going.

We can now say that we shouldn't see the brain’s processes/states as cause-events/states which bring about the processes/states of consciousness (seen as effect-events/states). Instead we have brain processes/states and consciousness at one and the same time. The brain’s processes/states don't come before the processes/states of consciousness (or consciousness itself). They come together. Searle writes:

Lower-level processes in the brain cause my present state of consciousness, but that state is not a separate entity from my brain; rather it is just a feature of my brain at the present time… [not] that brain processes cause consciousness but that consciousness is itself a feature of the brain…”

We can still say that the “lower-level processes in the brain cause my present state of consciousness”. And we can still use the word “cause”. However, we don’t have the following:

a cause-event/state (a brain process/state) which comes before an effect-event/state (consciousness or a mental state)

Consciousness (or a conscious state) “is not a separate entity from my brain”. It is, instead, “a feature of my brain”. So this isn't unlike Donald Davidson’s “conceptual-pluralism” squared with his “substance monism” in that the brain and consciousness are seen as the same thing (if with different features or properties). We can also apply different concepts to consciousness (or mind) which we wouldn't apply to the brain. However, consciousness it still just a “feature of the brain”. It's not something different. It's not another substance. Thus this argument works against Cartesian substance dualism; though it's not a case of reductive physicalism either. Instead Searle denies the duality of brain and consciousness (or matter and mind).

Because Searle’s position on causation is so peculiar, it's wise to finish with seeing what another philosopher thinks of it. The philosopher Nick Fotion also says that Searle’s theory

shows that the biological mechanisms on the lower level of the diagram have their causal effects on the upper level not over a period of time. The emergent changes on the upper level are simultaneous with respect to what happens (vertically) below. Such is not the case when the mind affects the body on any level”.



Tuesday, 6 August 2019

Philosophical Shorts (2)


The Function of Experience

It's always odd when philosophers ask about “the function of experience” (or consciousness). After all, isn't it blatantly obvious what the many functions of experience/consciousness are? Don't we experience experience functioning ever day of our lives? Indeed every (waking) minute of our lives?

Though, the argument goes, we could be wrong about all this.

(The functions the philosopher David Chalmers always refers to are “perceptual discrimination, categorization, internal access, verbal report”.)

Questions about the function of experience/consciousness occur, primarily because many cognitive and behavioural functions do - and could - occur “in the dark” - that is, without experience/consciousness.

However, the following argument seems invalid:

i) Many cognitive and behavioural functions occur without experience/consciousness and they could occur without experience/consciousness.
ii) Therefore experience/consciousness has no function

But why not the following (not an argument)? -

i) Many cognitive and behavioural functions occur without experience/consciousness and they could occur without experience/consciousness.
ii) However, experience/consciousness still has a function.

Experience could (or does) add extra functions into the pot. So the argument above is not that unlike the following:

i) It is a fact that people drink water without using cups and they could drink water without using cups. (They drink water straight from the tap, from old boots, out of streams, etc.)
ii) Therefore cups have no function.

There are two other important reasons to question the function of experience/consciousness:

1) Experience/consciousness is epiphenomenal.
2) Although we believe that our experiences have a function; they don't. (A position advanced, I believe, by Daniel Dennett - though perhaps not as explicitly as this.)

The Why of the Big Bang

If one explains the Big Bang in terms of processes, forces, fields, particles, events, etc, then this is explaining how it came about. Yet someone may ask why it came about. What does portentous ‘why?’ mean in this context? 

If there is such a why to the Big Bang, then that may mean that it came about for some reason (or purpose). This may also mean that if the questioner doesn't allow the reason (or purpose) to be contained within such processes and interactions, then the reason (or purpose) for the Big Bang must be outside the event itself. In order for something to exist outside the Big Bang, it must exist outside of time and space. It must also be non-material.

Must it be God? But who created God? And if God can be a self-creator, then why not the universe too?

(The possibility of a multiverse, an infinite universe, etc., of course, complicates this issue.)

An Infinite Universe?

There's a paradox inherent in the idea of an infinite universe. An infinite future is possible; though perhaps not an infinite past. The argument against an infinite past has nothing to do with the belief that the universe must have been created at some time. It has to do with the implication which is inherent in the possibility of an infinite past itself. That is, if the past were infinite, then everything that could or might have happened would have happened. This conclusion quite clearly doesn't make sense as far as our own universe is concerned; though it is made possible if there are other universes. (Or, I should say, other universes within a greater universe – i.e., the multiverse.)

There is another possible scenario. That everything has happened within our universe, but all was destroyed by a previous contraction of the universe and we're now living in the very early stages of just one more expansion of a universe (ours) which that has expanded and contracted many times before!

There is an obvious problem here too. Literally everything couldn't have happened. There are two things left out here. One, technological developments in previous expansions of our universe – ones which might have stopped the universe from contracting. Two, and less feasibly, the destruction of the entire universe and multiverse.