Saturday, 8 January 2011

The Primacy of Experience

Below you'll find my latest would-be contribution to the philosophical community. A paper on the mind-body problem - the final exam in my first 3 years of philosophy studies at Copenhagen University - written with what it is in mind, and from a point of view that takes itself for what it is, a point of view.

UPDATE (Jan. 11th 2011): I flunked it - so it's gotta be good...
UPDATE (Jun. 17th 2011): Of course, my mistake was thinking, that bridging philosophical traditions was acceptable in a project of this scope. I was wrong. But maybe crucially, now that I didn't conform to the formal project requirements, what I had to do to get it approved, was successfully show the main claim - that what we call the 'word' is not that which we call the 'thing'. Now, for something to be shown, someone has to see it; they couldn't see it. Maybe quoting Wittgenstein would have helped me out: "Don't think, look!" Because this fundamental distinction is not something that can just be proven with language, it has to be seen. Beyond this, I've noticed some cognitive short-circuits on my part, like when I account for the classical conception of knowledge on page 10. I've written "classical conception of truth" - it should have said "knowledge" of course.

‘The Hard Problem of Consciousness’ is a multifaceted problem. Among the questions it poses we find one that seems to dwarf all the others: how does experience arise from non-experiencing entities? This question is based on two metaphysical assumptions (1) that matter is completely void of any experiential properties and that (2) it is somehow more fundamental than experience. A theory that claims to solve the hard problem is satisfactory only if it can account for these assumptions.

Through a phenomenological exploration of consciousness and its relationship to matter, and a critical examination of the foundations of the traditional conceptions of mind and matter, this project is intended to show that (1) ‘qualia’ is an ontologically valid term, (2) that what it denotes is a fundamental aspect of the universe, and (3) that any remotely satisfactory theory of consciousness will have to acknowledge qualia as such fundamental.

If you're interested in a more analytical exploration of the terrain of the mind-body problematic, I highly recommend Unsnarling the World-Knot by David Ray Griffin. A must read for anyone who likes to think that this mystery we call the universe is basically composed of insentient chunks of matter.

Friday, 21 May 2010

On Change and Time

A discussion I had yesterday has me writing this now. It's about change and time. A common assumption is that time is a prerequisite for change, that it takes time for change to occur. To show that it is not so is not an easy task. And surely the words on this screen cannot prove it, it has to be seen. Therefore my intention with this article is to indicate to you that which can be seen regarding time and change.

For this purpose it is first of all imperative that one distinction is made absolutely clear. And that is that the description is not itself what it seeks to describe. The description describes something which is not itself that description - but something else. The description can be seen as 'the indicator', and then that which it indicates can be named 'the indicated'. These things are evidently not the same thing.

Further, perception is primary. This is to be understood in two senses. First, that nothing is "outside" perception. Anything to which we might ascribe existence has to be perceived. Regarding the north pole - which most of us would say exist - it would be more accurate when describing what actually is, to say that the thought of the north pole exists. But from my point of view at the moment there is no north pole besides the one that is a thought and now a word on this screen. Whether or not things exist outside our perception of them is in this particular context beside the point. What can be said without much doubt is that if it is perceived it most definitely exists. (What we might call 'illusions' such as the afterimage of a bright light, I'll consider in a moment.) So you might in other words say that perception takes primacy when it comes to what exists.
Which leads me to the second sense in which perception is primary; that which is perceived is indubitable. Or rather, it is doubtable as such, but it's just useless to doubt. The classic example would be 'the matrix' or 'brain-in-a-vat' analogies. What I perceive might just be an illusion, but it is a real illusion non the less, an illusion that has a very real effect on me. [More on this see The Observer and The Observed under 'The indubitable nature of perception'.] This of course also covers cases in which one perceives an afterimage - yes, it's just an afterimage but never the less - it is a real afterimage that is really perceived.

Finally I want to clarify my use of the term 'evident'. By 'evident' I don't mean evident as in easy to see, just that it is see-able. Something evident is simply something which can be seen, that's not the same as easily seen. And for something to become evident is has to be seen and it is thus something indubitable (when seen).

So, let's look at it. What is time? I'd like to define time in a practical sense. As point of departure, we can say that time is the measurement of change. It seems reasonable to define time as such, in this practical sense. Two hours ago I was out buying the ingredients for the dinner that I'm planning for later. I recall the memory of me buying it and I imagine what I'm going to conjure up with it later. When I say that I remember what I did two hours ago, that which I did exists only as my memory of it and maybe as the footprints I might have left behind. The same goes for my imagination of the soon to come dinner. It doesn't really exist out there in the future. It exists in my imagination of it, and implicit in my imagination of it is its "time-stamp", its location in time; I say "it's in a few hours". But neither memory nor imagination has it's existence anywhere else than in my mind, in my current thinking, which evidently takes place now. That is one way to indicate that change takes place now, not tomorrow, not yesterday but now.

Change is something we perceive. Change it seems is a constant - as paradoxical as that may be. I'm not talking about the change that a specific object or a collection of objects can undergo. I'm talking about the change that perception undergoes constantly. Perception is changing all the time. I think one could even argue that perception is change, but that would be for another post. So, it isn't the objects that undergo change I'm interested in here, but change itself. Now one could ask, where does time exist? Do we perceive time? Well... The answer to these questions seem to be, that time is nowhere to be seen. It is not perceived in the same way as change is perceived. When doing the thing one likes to do the most, it happens that one forgets time completely. When asked how long it took, in many cases it is not something that can be recalled. But that there was change during "that time" is evident. Time really doesn't seem to exist in the same sense as perception exists. Do you really perceive time? Where is it exactly you see or feel time? And no, not even on your watch does time exist. What we see is change. It becomes clearer by the sentence that time is a label. It is as any other word a description. What does it describe? Units of measurement of change. There is not 'time' on the watch. There is change, which we then describe as seconds, minutes, hours, days etc. etc.. Everything that exists, exists now, and in this now everything is ever changing. What we perceive is change, and then we call it time - to measure the changes.

We have a feeling of past experiences yes, but only because we have learned the concept of time - learned to think of our perception of memory in temporal terms - and thus experiences which exist in our minds as memory or imagination, are then identified with being (the words) 'in the past' or 'in the future'. So in regard to the future, it is obvious that if there was a past which was followed by the present, then this present will become past and be followed by another present, the future... Or this is what we think.

The fact that we contain these experiences in our minds as memory, is part of the leaning process, the evolution. Our memory is a mechanism that works to prevent us from committing the same mistake twice, or at least we try not to. Without it evolution would be impossible. (I am here talking about memory in its broadest sense, not only the mental storage of experiences but also genetic memory and the like.) The problem when considering memory is that it has this implicit connotation of time, namely the past. Now this is the true illusion. What is perceived when recalling some memory is not of some past experience, but simply of experiences stored or contained within the within the being. It is the footprint that perception leaves behind if you will. The future is a reflection of this footprint after it has undergone the manifold manipulation of the imagination. But both are in the mind as thoughts - now.

There is only the ever changing, incomprehensible, eternal now.

[Edit: How about this simplification: how is 'now' defined? Well, we'd have to define it in the light of 'past' and 'future'. The words 'past' and 'future' both have a different quality of perception than 'now'. Because 'now' indicates actuality - which is something that I am submerged in - the actual situation or my actual surroundings or actual world. In contradistinction with the words 'past' and 'future' which only function is to designate two categories in which certain thoughts are ascribed.]