• Marchesk
    3k
    Yes, this is the opposite starting position from a recent similar thread.

    Quite a few philosophically minded folk would love to do away with the subjective/objective distinction. It does cause quite a few headaches (which may or may not be objective, see following debate).

    The idealist side would vote for everything being subjective, or intersubjective. But there is the realist/materialist side that might vote the opposite.

    So can everything be considered objective? That would include perceptions (see direct realism), thoughts (brain scans?), dreams (coming to seem to remember?), bodily feels (empirically measurable?), qualia (incoherent?), beliefs/desires (eliminable?), perspectives (God's eye view?), etc. Can we really do away with the subject/object distinction?
  • Terrapin Station
    13.8k
    I'm a realist (in the general sense, though I'm an antirealist on some specific issues, such as ethics) and a physicalist (or "materialist" if you like) and I'm also a naive realist on philosophy of perception, but I don't think we can coherently get rid of the subjective/objective distinction, and of course it's a distinction that I frequently employ.

    If I were an eliminative materialist I suppose I might argue for this, but I'm not an eliminative materialist. I rather believe that eliminative materialism is completely ridiculous. All the stuff you mention--perception, thoughts, etc., is subjective. It's mental phenomena, and that's all that "subjective" refers to.
  • Harry Hindu
    2.5k
    The way you know is to define these terms (subjective and objective) clearly. What is subjective without the objective? Isn't the subjective a limited and/or skewed view of the objective? If this is the case, then subjective is dependent upon the objective, or is a constituent of the objective.

    If this isn't the case, then there is no subjective view and the idealist/solipsist "view" is really an objective reality.
  • Marchesk
    3k
    They way you know is to define these terms (subjective and objective) clearly. What is subjective without the objective?Harry Hindu

    What are dreams without waking? What is inner dialog without dialog others can partake in? What is consciousness without lack of consciousness? What is mind without mind-independent?

    You mean like that? I suppose you can turn that around. What is mind-independent without mind (something idealists love to ask realists)?
  • Wayfarer
    8.8k
    Quite a few philosophically minded folk would love to do away with the subjective/objective distinction. It does cause quite a few headaches (which may or may not be objective, see following debate).

    The idealist side would vote for everything being subjective, or intersubjective. But there is the realist/materialist side that might vote the opposite.

    So can everything be considered objective? That would include perceptions (see direct realism), thoughts (brain scans?), dreams (coming to seem to remember?), bodily feels (empirically measurable?), qualia (incoherent?), beliefs/desires (eliminable?), perspectives (God's eye view?), etc. Can we really do away with the subject/object distinction?
    — Marchesky

    Historically, the debate about objectivity only entered philosophy post Kant. The ancients and medievals rarely discussed it. As to why that is, I think it's for meta-philosophical reasons: that before the advent of modern philosophy, humans didn't conceive of themselves in the same way; they instinctively felt a part of the world, due to their sense of relatedness to Divine. The sense of separation and 'otherness' that characterises the modern self-understanding was part of the loss of that sense, and the passage to modernity (cf Max Weber's 'disenchantment of the world'.)

    (The relationship of forms of consciousness to historical periods is one of the major themes of Owen Barfield's books.)

    But classical materialism certainly believed that there must be an ultimate explanans, some material entity in terms of which everything else could be explained. That's what materialism means, after all. But then along came the discovery of matter-energy equivalence, which queered the pitch somewhat; now materialism was obliged to included 'fields' as well, which hardly seem material.

    But, as is well-known, if generally not very well-understood, quantum mechanics has undermined the notion of an ultimate material point-particle. That was one of the consequences of the discovery of the Uncertainty Principle and the wave equation, which threw doubt on the existence of an ultimate point-particle. It was the implications of this that caused Einstein to muse as to 'whether the moon still exists when we're not looking at it'.

    My considered position is that 'objective' and 'subjective' are poles within experience. They are, in Buddhist terms, 'co-arising'; but then, you also find in Schopenhauer 'no object without subject'.

    The difficulty people have with that is, 'do you mean, if I go to sleep, the world disappears?' But that, I think, is the 'imagined non-existence' of the world. Quite advanced philosophers have fallen into that trap; G E Moore was said to have asked, are idealists saying the train wheels disappear when all the passengers are on board?

    I don't think idealism does say that. What I think a Kantian idealism says, is that whatever we say about existence, and indeed our experience of the world, is inextricably connected with the way the mind synthesises sensation, perception and judgement so as to "create" it's world. (The later development of the concept of 'Umwelt' or 'Lebenswelt' by Husserl is relevant to understanding that.) It is within that conceptual and perceptual matrix that we make judgements, see, remember, reflect, predict, and so on. So it has an unavoidably subjective element; the illusion of materialism is that you can see the world, as if there were nobody in it, as if the subject has been bracketed out altogether (cf Nagel's 'view from nowhere'). But that conception is still a human conception, albeit one in which the quantifiable elements are fixed according to theory, and so which is inter-subjective, not merely or simply subjective.

    Within that understanding, there are degrees of objectivity, but objectivity is never absolute.
  • Marchesk
    3k
    don't think idealism does say that. What I think a Kantian idealism says,Wayfarer

    You mean a particular form of Idealism. If you had gone with subjective idealism instead, then there is no world independent of mind.

    So it has an unavoidably subjective element; the illusion of materialism is that you can see the world, as if there were nobody in it, as if the subject has been bracketed out altogether (cf Nagel's 'view from nowhere'). But that conception is still a human conception, albeit one in which the quantifiable elements are fixed according to theory, and so which is inter-subjective, not merely or simply subjective.Wayfarer

    Which would mean that materialism is false, and there is no truly objective viewpoint human beings can access, although there may be a noumenal reality.
  • Andrew M
    752
    Quite a few philosophically minded folk would love to do away with the subjective/objective distinction.Marchesk

    In ordinary usage, the terms "objective" and "subjective" refer to judgements that we think do or don't meet normative epistemological standards. That is, is the person considering the evidence or merely expressing their opinion on the matter?

    For example, compare "historians try to be objective and impartial" with "his views are highly subjective".

    The problems arise, I think, when either that ordinary distinction is disputed (e.g., radical skepticism, subjectivism), or when it is applied to something other than judgements (e.g., dualistic phenomena, worlds, viewpoints).
  • Marchesk
    3k
    The problems arise, I think, when either that ordinary distinction is disputed (e.g., radical skepticism, subjectivism), or when it is applied to something other than judgements (e.g., dualistic phenomena, worlds, viewpoints).Andrew M

    Even under the ordinary distinction, we note the difference between dream experience and waking, but you do point out an interesting problem, which is that people can vary a great deal in their interpretation of things. I recall a thread (on the former site) where everyone agreed on the material being debated, but disagreed on what the philosopher had been arguing. It was to the point that one poster mentioned it as a vindication of idealism. And the material wasn't some dense postmodern text, it was Dennett, who is pretty clear on what he means.
  • Wayfarer
    8.8k
    Which would mean that materialism is false, and there is no truly objective viewpoint human beings can access, although there may be a noumenal reality.

    There are many things about which objectivity is a pragmatic certainty. I'd say it's 100% objectively certain that the polio vaccine works and 100% certain that homeopathy doesn't (or at any rate, that no objective evidence can be advanced for it.)

    Historians, judges and journalists are expected to be objective. 'Conflict of interest' measures exist so as to ensure that politicians and business people act impartially. You would never allow a person to judge a talent contest in which their child was a competitor, and so on. So pragmatically, objectivity is indispensable.

    But the issue is not nearly so clear-cut when it comes to questions of meaning. The interpretation of the meaning of quantum physics is one, the meaning of evolution is another.

    I think the underlying issue is this: that scientific method presumes to be dealing with a value-free and observer-independent domain, which it asserts to be objectively real. However I think that attitude is based on the presumption that there is an 'ultimate object' which serves as the foundation for the supposed 'scientific worldview'. According to philosophical materialism, that was the role of the atom, the so-called 'indivisible particle'. It is precisely that, that has been undermined by quantum mechanics. I think the implications of that are still being worked through; many people seem to assume that science has reached a kind of philosophical bedrock, when really the opposite is the case. This is an aspect of the so-called 'fact-value dichotomy' that bedevils much modern ethical theory.

    This is associated with the post-modernist attitude of 'perspectivism', which says there is no ultimate objectivity, that facts are embedded in narratives, and the narratives always contain at least some assumptions. I think that's true, but I really wouldn't like to go as far as many of the academic post-modernists as it just ends up in a kind of pomo soup.
  • Harry Hindu
    2.5k
    The way you know is to define these terms (subjective and objective) clearly. What is subjective without the objective? Isn't the subjective a limited and/or skewed view of the objective? If this is the case, then subjective is dependent upon the objective, or is a constituent of the objective.

    If this isn't the case, then there is no subjective view and the idealist/solipsist "view" is really an objective reality.
    Harry Hindu

    What are dreams without waking? What is inner dialog without dialog others can partake in? What is consciousness without lack of consciousness? What is mind without mind-independent?

    You mean like that? I suppose you can turn that around. What is mind-independent without mind (something idealists love to ask realists)?
    Marchesk
    Again, we are simply talking about the correct and consistent use of terms.

    Dreams without waking would be reality, not dreams. Inner dialog without dialog others can partake in is just gibberish (if you can even call it that), not dialog. Consciousness without a lack of it (I take this to mean what is consciousness without an external, non-conscious, reality, which is the same as asking what is the subjective without the objective?) is reality, not consciousness. Mind without that which isn't mind (which I take to mean the same thing as the previous sentence) is reality, not a mind.

    What is the subjective without the objective? It is the objective and there is no subjective. Once you claim that some thing can exist without it's dependent, it is no longer the same thing. You are redefining it as the thing it is dependent on (reality or the objective), not as the dependent thing (mind or the subjective).
  • Marchesk
    3k
    nce you claim that some thing can exist without it's dependent, it is no longer the same thing.Harry Hindu

    Which is the dependent, mind or matter? Which can be reduced or explained in terms of the other?
  • Terrapin Station
    13.8k
    But then along came the discovery of matter-energy equivalenceWayfarer

    That and a couple other comments you make imply that you believe that folks must accept received view interpretations of the sciences, but that's not the case.
  • Wayfarer
    8.8k
    It was simply that prior to the discovery of matter-energy convertibility, materialism comprised the simple formula 'all that exists is matter and the void'. This allowed a binary calculation as to what existed - something either existed (1) or did not (0). The advent of relativity and quantum physics demolished all of that. I was debating a committed materialist on another forum, who said that materialism isn't committed to any particular conception of matter. My response to that was, in effect this means that you can describe matter in any way that suits your argument. See Hempel's Dilemma.
  • Terrapin Station
    13.8k


    In my ontology, there's mattter in the "traditional sense"--chunks of "stuff," basically, and then there are structures of matter--that is the relations that the chunks of stuff are in with respect to the other chunks of stuff, and the structures are dynamic--they're in motion, so that the relations are always changing, and thus there are processes.

    Relativity and quantum physics don't affect this in any way. Insofar as any interpretation of the sciences would disagree with my ontology, it's my view that the interpretation in question is wrong. At that, I interpret the sciences instrumentally (as do many scientists). Where the sciences tend to get into "trouble" is when they take instrumentally effective theories, and particular interpretations of the same (that is, interpretative statements that are additional to what are typically mathematical conventions), to be ontological commitments.
  • Harry Hindu
    2.5k
    Which is the dependent, mind or matter? Which can be reduced or explained in terms of the other?Marchesk
    Both are categories, and categories are created by the mind. I'm a monist, so I believe that there is only one primary substance and because we already have meanings for "matter" and "mind", then I say we use a different term for the primary substance - say "information". So, mind and matter are both dependent upon information.
  • Wayfarer
    8.8k
    There's a lot of reference to 'information' as if it constitutes a new category or 'substance'. But the problem is, information doesn't have a single definition - it doesn't mean the same thing in all contexts. There is discussion of 'information' in the context of biological sciences, where it is said to be what is transmitted by DNA. Then there's information in the information-sciences sense, from Shannon's theories etc. Then there is the colloquial usages of the term 'information', which generally presumes 'someone to be informed' or 'some process which is an output of information'. So whether they all mean the same thing, is still a big question in my opinion. (I got this book out of the library a couple of years back, didn't find it helpful - Information and the Nature of Reality: From Physics to Metaphysics by Paul Davies et al. http://a.co/iqT80r7)
  • Terrapin Station
    13.8k


    So I'm taking it that you were linking to Harry Hindu's post? What definition of "information" are you using so that you think that the idea of "information" as an ontic simple, or at least an ontic foundation, makes the slightest bit of sense?
  • Wayfarer
    8.8k
    What I said is that information doesn't have a single definition, but that there is a lot of discussion about whether 'information' is foundational, in the same sense that matter and energy were thought to have been.

    That idea goes back to Norbert Weiner, who said:

    The mechanical brain does not secrete thought "as the liver does bile," as the earlier materialists claimed, nor does it put it out in the form of energy, as the muscle puts out its activity. Information is information, not matter or energy. No materialism which does not admit this can survive at the present day.

    Computing Machines and the Nervous System p. 132.
  • Terrapin Station
    13.8k


    There are many different definitions of "information," yes. That's the case with many terms. There are many different conventional definitions of many different terms. Some terms have a wider variety of common definitions, especially when they're as ultimately vague as "information" is. To make claims about information, though, we need to have some idea what the heck we're referring to--and that's what I was asking. Simply noting that there are a bunch of different definitions doesn't cut it.

    The mechanical brain does not secrete thought "as the liver does bile," as the earlier materialists claimed, nor does it put it out in the form of energy, as the muscle puts out its activity.

    No one is saying anything like "thoughts are secretions of the brain," and no one is saying anything like "thoughts are energy output of the brain."

    "Information is information," in context, is just nonsense. I mean, of course, yeah, x = x, no matter what we're talking about, but we might as well simply be using "x" in this situation, because what are we talking about?
  • Wayfarer
    8.8k
    The quotation was taken from one of the books that did attempt to provide an account of the nature of information in a general sense. Wiener is saying that you can't provide an account of information in purely physicalist terms; you can't reduce information to matter-energy, you have to account for it in its own terms; information is information, it is not something that can be described in terms of matter and energy. (I haven't read the book, Wiener's books are very technical, but I have read abstracts and descriptions.)


    No one is saying anything like "thoughts are secretions of the brain," and no one is saying anything like "thoughts are energy output of the brain." — Terrapin Station

    It seems very close to your often-repeated assertion of the identity of experiences and brain-states.
  • Terrapin Station
    13.8k
    Wiener is saying that you can't provide an account of information in purely physicalist terms;Wayfarer

    Well that would certainly be wrong. We'd have to examine his argument for this to specify where he's going off the rails, though.

    It seems very close to your often-repeated assertion of the identity of experiences and brain-states.Wayfarer

    Identity is different than saying that something is a secretion or output of something else.
  • Harry Hindu
    2.5k
    It from bit?Marchesk
    Actually, the dichotomy between matter and mind isn't the dichotomy I was trying to emphasize. By definition, matter can exist without mind. The same cannot be said about subjectivity. As subjectivity is defined as being a limited and/or skewed view of all there is (the objective, or reality), then subjectivity is dependent upon the existence of an a priori objective reality.

    If subjectivity isn't defined as a limited and/or skewed view of the objective, then subjectivity becomes all there is (the objective), and there is no subjectivity.
  • The Great Whatever
    2.2k
    You don't, but there's an epistemological asymmetry in that whatever you take the 'subjective world' to be, denying it is more difficult than denying whatever you oppose to it. That's independent of whatever metaphysical characterization you ultimately give to it (and as you note, you probably have no knowledge of this anyway).
  • Real Gone Cat
    86
    No one is saying anything like "thoughts are secretions of the brain," and no one is saying anything like "thoughts are energy output of the brain."Terrapin Station

    It seems very close to your often-repeated assertion of the identity of experiences and brain-states.Wayfarer

    Identity is different than saying that something is a secretion or output of something else.Terrapin Station

    I think it is important at this point to say something about identity.

    Definition : A and B are said to be identical if : whenever it is the case that A, it is the case that B, and whenever it is the case that B, it is the case that A.

    This is the notion of identity at work when we say, "Bachelors are unmarried men". [Note : As has been pointed out, identity cannot be as trivial as "x = x", which is true of everything.]

    I was briefly pursuing the following idea on another thread before the ugly real world interceded and pulled me away : It is not brain states (i.e., particular arrangements of neurons) and consciousness that are identical. Rather it is brain activity and consciousness that are identical. Or more properly, it is a particular subset of brain activity and consciousness which are identical (since there is some brain activity not associated with thought).

    "Bosh!", you say. But are either consciousness or the corresponding set-of-brain-activity ever encountered without the other? If not, then by the definition of identity given above, they are identical. It would seem that the only objection to this argument would be to disagree with the given definition of identity, or to show the existence of brain activity without consciousness, or to show the existence of consciousness without brain activity.
  • Terrapin Station
    13.8k
    As has been pointed out, identity cannot be as trivial as "x = x", which is true of everything.Real Gone Cat

    x=x IS certainly an identity, but yeah, it's also trivial in both the formal and colloquial sense; it's true of everything (although sometimes people equivocate, of course).

    I was briefly pursuing the following idea on another thread before the ugly real world interceded and pulled me away : It is not brain states (i.e., particular arrangements of neurons) and consciousness that are identical. Rather it is brain activity and consciousness that are identical. Or more properly, it is a particular subset of brain activity and consciousness which are identical (since there is some brain activity not associated with thought).Real Gone Cat

    I don't agree with the above in this way: states ARE activity, they are dynamic, they are processes. No static things exist.

    I agree that mentality is just a subset of brain states/processes though. I point that out frequently.

    or to show the existence of consciousness without brain activity.Real Gone Cat

    The folks on the opposite side of me in the debate seem to believe that consciousness is, at best, only correlated with brain states in some ways. They say a lot of things such as "consciousness has no location," things that apparently make sense to them, but that I can't make any sense out of. Most of them seem to believe that consciousness could obtain without brain activity, although how they'd show that to anyone who doesn't believe it is another question. Really, it seems to me that most of them are motivated by their religious beliefs. Their philosophical views are what they are always with the purpose of supporting their religious beliefs.
  • Real Gone Cat
    86
    [brain] states ARE activity, they are dynamic, they are processes. No static things exist.Terrapin Station

    The reason I emphasize activity over state is that I think "brain state" is usually interpreted to be a snapshot of the brain at a given moment. I do not think your definition of brain-states-as-process is shared by most - and can lead to confusion. When the state of any process is talked about, isn't the implication one of what the process is like at a given moment?

    Similarly, I think that to many folks, a static thing is implied when talking about "the brain". (I could be wrong.)

    [Just as an aside, I do accept the notion of static things. An irrelevant point to this discussion, however.]
  • Terrapin Station
    13.8k
    The reason I emphasize activity over state is that I think "brain state" is usually interpreted to be a snapshot of the brain at a given moment. I do not think your definition of brain-states-as-process is shared by most - and can lead to confusion. When the state of any process is talked about, isn't the implication one of what the process is like at a given moment?

    Similarly, I think that to many folks, a static thing is implied when talking about "the brain". (I could be wrong.)
    Real Gone Cat

    That could be that most folks think of it that way, but "at a given moment" in that sense is just an abstraction, and I think it's important to correct what I see as a misconception re seeing the brain as a static thing.
  • Wayfarer
    8.8k
    But are either consciousness or the corresponding set-of-brain-activity ever encountered without the other? If not, then by the definition of identity given above, they are identical. It would seem that the only objection to this argument would be to disagree with the given definition of identity, or to show the existence of brain activity without consciousness, or to show the existence of consciousness without brain activity. — Real Gone Cat

    Thanks for your very clear analysis, and glad to make your acquaintance.

    My objections to philosophical materialism are many and various, so I will try and keep this as brief as possible.

    First, what does speaking of 'brain states' or 'brain activities' actually bring to the table? What's it saying? I posted an excerpt into another thread about this discussion, which was an excerpt from the National Institute of Mental Health press release from 2009, about brain research, and about the number of agencies and scientists involved in the undertaking (here). The complexities and the amount of information are enormous. But there is still widespread acknowledgement that the central mystery of how neural matter gives rise to conscious experience (i.e. the 'hard problem of consciousness' and the 'neural binding problem') is still nowhere near being understood, and may not be understandable in principle, even despite this vast research effort.

    So I question whether the term 'brain states' or 'brain activities' really mean anything. The mere fact that when one is having a conscious experience, that the brain is active, is hardly signficant. It is understanding what that means which is necessary to assert any relationship of identity.

    And how do we make that assertion? When we say 'bachelors are unmarried men', how is it meaningful to say that this is a 'brain state'? Very simple logical relationships, such as the law of identity, or the law of the excluded middle, are required to make any statements at all about the identity of this brain-state and that experience. But where in 'brain activities' are you going to find those logical connections? One thing for sure, is that without the ability to make rational inferences, to say 'this data means that', and so on, you can't even begin to examine the brain at all. But that is the very faculty you're purporting to explain! You can't put logic aside, and see where in the mass of neural data these are being represented; what you will be looking at, is a massive amount of data, and then trying to make correlations between data and meaning. And I say there is a problem of recursion there which it doesn't require a degree in neuroscience to see.

    In respect of the separability of consciousness and the physical brain, two sources of data about those phenomena are accounts of near death experiences (e.g. research of Pim Von Lommel) and of children with memories of previous lives (e.g. research of Ian Stephenson). I know that mention of these sources on a philosophy forum generates a lot of heat so I'm not pressing anyone to believe them, simply pointing out that if such accounts are authentic, then consciousness and brain physiology are separable.

    Overall the idea that consciousness is something produced by the brain, is analogous to the notion that television dramas are produced by the electrical circuitry in the television. So it's a kind of category error to assert that identity, motivated by the desire to deflate in unfathomable nature of first-person experience.
  • Terrapin Station
    13.8k
    First, what does speaking of 'brain states' or 'brain activities' actually bring to the table? What's it saying? . . . So I question whether the term 'brain states' or 'brain activities' really mean anything.Wayfarer

    You must be saying something other than that you don't know what terms like "brain states" and "brain activities" refer to or what they're saying, because it would be ridiculous to not have any idea what those terms refer to, especially when you mention things such as "an excerpt from the National Institute of Mental Health press release from 2009, about brain research." How in the world would you know that "brain research" refers to, for example, if you can't tackle "brain states" and "brain activities"?

    So you must be saying, but not making explicit, that you're reading "brain states" and "brain activities" to (at least) be (implicit) claims about the relation of those things to mind, and it's those (implicit) claims that you're questioning, so that you're NOT saying that you don't know what those terms refer to in general.

    Aside from that, it appears that you're attempting to associate the NIMH press release that you're referring to and a survey of opinions about "the hard problem," but I'd bet dollars to donuts that the NIMH press release didn't actually present a survey about "the hard problem."

    Not to mention that you're suggesting an argumentum ad populum (with the population in question being research neuroscientists).

    And how do we make that assertion? When we say 'bachelors are unmarried men', how is it meaningful to say that this is a 'brain state'? Very simple logical relationships, such as the law of identity, or the law of the excluded middle, are required to make any statements at all about the identity of this brain-state and that experience. But where in 'brain activities' are you going to find those logical connections? One thing for sure, is that without the ability to make rational inferences, to say 'this data means that', and so on, you can't even begin to examine the brain at all. But that is the very faculty you're purporting to explain! You can't put logic aside, and see where in the mass of neural data these are being represented; what you will be looking at, is a massive amount of data, and then trying to make correlations between data and meaning.Wayfarer

    What in the world are you attempting to say in that paragraph? Is that some garbled version of the old "it can't be so because we don't have a mechanical blueprint of it yet" objection?
  • Wayfarer
    8.8k
    You must be saying something other than that you don't know what terms like "brain states" and "brain activities" refer to. — Terrapin Station

    What I'm saying is that those terms are meaningless, it's 'neuro-babble' which appears to connote something scientific but in reality says nothing. I know what the research is about, what I'm saying is that you can't draw any philosophical conclusions from it.

    The paragraph you have quoted from me contains an argument, which you have showen no indication of having understood.
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