PHILOSOPHY PATHWAYS ISSN 2043-0728
Issue number 82 18th April 2004
I. 'Does Matter Exist Objectively?' by Ochieng Ombok
II. 'Day Out' by Kay Critchett
III. 'Further Thoughts on Rationality' by Tom Albertsson and Hubertus Fremerey
In this issue, Hubertus Fremerey and Tom Albertsson continue their discussion of Rationality.
We also have two pieces of work by Pathways students:
Ochieng Ombok from Kenya is nearing completion of his Pathways Metaphysics program. Here is his thought-provoking essay on idealism and the nature of matter.
Kay Critchett has just started The Possible World Machine. She was asked to "Explore the use of possible worlds in philosophy, illustrating your argument with an example of a problem that involves the notion of possible worlds." Her short science fiction story raises an original and disturbing ethical question about time travel.
Two weeks ago, I posted a new application form on the Pathways web site, for students who cannot offord to pay for their Pathways program, or cannot afford the full amount.
Applicants are asked to provide information about their financial circumstances, and also write a 400 word mini-essay on one of the following four topics:
1. Do Flowers Feel?
2. The Matrix
3. Why be Moral?
4. "This Sentence is False"
We are especially keen to attract students from countries which have a poor exchange rate with the British Pound, for example Africa, South America and the Indian sub-continent. There are a limited number of places available, so if you think you might qualify, apply now!
I. 'DOES MATTER EXIST OBJECTIVELY?' by Ochieng Ombok
Let us posit an object, say, a cube. If we have to give its description to the best of our ability how would we go about it? Let me try to describe it. What is before me is a red cube. I move closer to it for a better examination and touch it with my hand. Then I add certain descriptions. I feel that the cube is hard and warm. I realize that it's producing some kind of smell that makes me want to taste it with my tongue. As I move my head closer, I happen to hear some kind of a humming sound emanating from the cube, and on tasting, I realize that the cube is salty. So, in totality, I have observed with my senses that the cube is red, hard, warm, humming, smelly and salty. Do we have a good explanation of what I have observed?
Let us get help from Van Inwagen. Suggesting an account for physical objects in his Material Beings, he says:
"A thing is a material object if it occupies space and
endures through time and can move about in space and has a
surface and has a mass and is made of certain stuff or
This seems to be the common sense position of what we already have about the cube. But now, let us examine whether what we already know about the cube is enough for us to make a claim that the cube exists, or that we have actually perceived the cube. To us, something exists. Something which has a geometrical form of six squares enclosed to form a closed body, and besides this, it appears red, feels hard and warm, hums, smells and tastes salty.
Let us bring in an unfortunate man (or woman) whose destiny is to lose one sense after another. First, he loses his sense of hearing. So, the very same cube appears red to sight, hard and warm to touch, smells and tastes salty. Secondly, he, unfortunately, loses his sense of feeling. So the cube appears red, smells and tastes salty. Next, he loses his sense of taste. So the same cube appears red and smells. Next, he loses his sense of smell, and the redness of the cube is the only sense perception that he is capable of. Finally, our very unfortunate man loses his sense of sight, and to him, the cube ceases to exist altogether, for he has lost all of the senses he requires for this kind of perception. Or does the cube, to him, exist unperceived? Can we claim that something does not exist simply because we do not have a sense or senses to perceive it.? If, say, some other beings existed who had an entirely different set of five senses from those which we have, is it not true that they would perceive objects that we do not perceive at all, and they would not be able to perceive those that we do perceive? If so, then it would mean that the objects that they perceive do not exist in our world and those objects that we perceive do not exist in their world. So, is there a third reference in whose world all these objects exist?
Let us assume that the cube in question exists without being perceived, then we would realize that what we perceive through our senses are not representative of the objects out there, for if we eliminated all our sense perceptions, the objects continued to exist independently of our perception of them. We would also realize that our senses just made us believe that the qualities they passed over to our consciousness were the same as the qualities of the objects we perceive.
And what would it mean on the other hand, if we assumed that the cube ceased to exist as we eliminated the senses? If this were so, then with the elimination of each sense perception of the cube, a part of the cube represented in our minds through that sense would disappear, and hence the cube would finally cease to exist. In this case, we arrive at the next questions. If the cube ceases to exist when the senses are eliminated, can we really be sure that it actually existed while it was being perceived? So, is the existence of the cube independent or dependent on our senses?
Let us seek help from Bishop Berkeley. Berkeley's immaterialism is his denial that matter exists. To him, the cube does not exist at all. The cube is in fact an abstract idea whose relation to its sense qualities of redness, hardness, warmness, smell and taste is unknown. These qualities are just the ideas that effectively hide the true essence of the cube from our consciousness. So, if it is by these qualities that we know and identify the objects, then what do we remain with after we have stripped the object of all its qualities?
In his paper "Whither Physical Objects?", W.V. Quine says in part;
"...let us understand a physical object... simply as the
aggregate material content of any portion of space-time,
however ragged and discontinuous."
This definition solves one problem and creates another. It solves the problem of having to define an object by the information gathered through the senses, but introduces the need to have a better definition or explanation of the terms portion of space-time. At least at this point, we have two separated sides of the investigation. We have the proceeds from our senses on one side and the portion of space-time on the other. Bishop Berkeley argues that the relation between these two sides is unknown, and that there can be no source of the idea of external existence. Therefore, to him, physical objects only exist within the mind.
So, where does this leave us? We have our portion of space-time on one hand and sensory perception on the other. And on the third side of the coin, we have Berkeley claiming that all that exists is the mind, that stuff onto which all that is perceived through the senses falls and interprets. Therefore, to Berkeley, all that exists are the ideas created by the mind itself and those that are impressed on the mind through the senses. But Berkeley denies the existence of that which impresses itself to the senses.
At this point, I would like to introduce an example of a surveillance system. The network consists of cameras connected to a computer, and in the microprocessor, and the memory of the computer, all that is found is 0's and 1's (Zeroes and Ones). The computer's consciousness (I don't know exactly what I mean by that) is able to automatically interpret these zeroes and ones to come up with an impression that makes sense to its mental world, (neither do I know this) but the computer cannot explain how it does this interpretation.
When, in our investigations, we take the necessary electrical measurements at all points along the cables leading from the cameras to the computers, we get voltages, albeit of different values. When, however, we go out to see what the camera is recording, we see people of different sizes, wearing clothes of different colours, trees with different flowers, unaccompanied pets, trams, birds of a feather flocking together, vegetating policemen dozing on their feet and speeding vehicles of different makes and colours, including GK's Ford Escort [Program F, Unit 7] whose colour GK has never told us, escorting GK to GKW (i.e. God Knows Where).
I would like to compare this to the sense of sight in a human being. We look at various forms and colours and also perceive motion. But all that we get through our optic nerves are sensations made of the same quality, albeit in different expressions. When these sensations reach our minds, they are interpreted in a way that is not clear to us, so that we can say that we have seen a red cube, a vegetating policeman, a round obese woman or GK's colourless Ford Escort-ing GK to GKW.
Though we know that the microprocessor of the computer gets information in terms of ones and zeroes, it is not clear to us in what terms our own brains (or minds) get all the information. I would also like to compare the voltage through the cables leading from the cameras with the computer to the nerves leading from the eyes to the brain.
After these comparisons, I would like the computer to take Bishop Berkeley's position. Let the computer say:
All that exists is the microprocessor.
What the camera records does not exist.
All that exists is what is in the microprocessor.
All that exists is zeroes and ones.
Let us go back to Berkeley and see what this leads to. What is the equivalent of zeroes and ones in our minds? What stuff is arranged inside our minds in order for our mental interpreters to interpret for us to understand? What stuff is this in our minds that is an equivalent of the zeroes and ones in QWERTY Keyboard ASCII convention and consisting of all permutations and combinations possible in our world and any other world that we can imagine? Rene Descartes and John Locke believe that physical objects are only mediately perceived by means of the immediate perception of the ideas they produce in us. But still, we remain with the question of the interpreter and what is to be interpreted.
We have dealt with the line from the camera to the microprocessor, or from the eye to the brain(or mind). Now let us go to the line from the object to the eye, or camera. From the object, both the eye and the camera perceive the reflected light. But the reflected light does not emanate from the object. It emanates from somewhere else and a part of it is reflected by the object. This reflected part is what we observe with our eyes.
So the reflected light is what we see.
But the reflected light is not the object.
Therefore, what we see is not the object.
So, what is the object?
Now that we have established above that what we see is not related to the object, then what is the object? In trying to answer this question, let us go back to Quine's portion of space-time. W.V. Quine forwards this theory in trying to answer this question. What he has actually done is to replace the term Thing-in-itself with another term. If the Thing-in itself and portion of space-time means the same thing, then what would be the shortcomings of taking Quine's theory as leading to a solution to this impasse?
The obvious question would be that of the essence of space-time or Thing-in-itself. Is it composed of Leibnizian Monads, or quarks, or superstrings, or waveforms? The question still remains unanswered.
(c) Ochieng Ombok 2004
II. 'Day Out' by Kay Critchett
When I was an undergraduate studying philosophy in the 1950s, I used to wonder how anyone became a creative philosopher on the kind of instruction we received. This was almost entirely focussed on learning the arguments of the set texts and replicating them from memory, including precise definitions of the terms. It was a largely sterile slog.
I suppose a great many of us are drawn to the subject by feelings of awe, wonder and ordinary puzzlement at the reality we find ourselves in, and expect philosophy to reflect these feelings and develop them for us. Being terrified of mis-representing a text or muddling definitions creates an atmosphere that is the opposite of what was expected, and leads to feelings of disillusionment, of having been cheated.
Possible worlds provides a much more interesting stimulus for beginners, as the ideas involved are presented in a way that is easy to grasp, with a minimum of the technical vocabulary that makes so much philosophy difficult to read. The fictional form of the narrative, with setting, characters and conversation is not only entertaining in itself, but also easy to remember. As a consequence, the philosophical point being made is easy to remember, too. All of this helps when it comes to thinking the topic over later.
So, as a teaching tool, possible worlds helps the student "see" the matter under discussion and grasp its importance. After that, with the right teaching structure she can be encouraged to discuss her ideas and develop skills in argument. The teacher is of central importance in helping the student learn to think in a philosophical way, using her own ideas as a starting point.
The other great usefulness of possible worlds is that through them the writer can give a shape to ideas for which she does not have the formal background or vocabulary -- perhaps, even, neither of these exist -- and having given them expression, can offer them to someone else for comment and questioning.
This is not to say that major works of philosophy should never be studied in depth, rigorously, merely that it is an advanced form of study and other ways are more effective in giving students basic skills or opening our new topics.
Possible worlds is useful, economic and entertaining as a teaching method, and, having the multi-level qualities of literature, is accessible to a wide range of readers.
They were all asking him, "What are you going to do for your fortieth?", expecting very little by way of response, as everyone knew Richard was too quiet and set in his ways to do anything very remarkable.
"Going to do?" he would reply. "Nothing much, as usual, I expect."
This was a direct lie, as he knew exactly what he was going to do. On 15 June 2503 he was going to take a time-trip. Only for a day. Everyone else took time-trips regularly, of course. And came home and told him of all the wonders they had seen and how he should go too. He had never tried it, but for some time now he had wanted to, for a very particular reason. On his fortieth birthday he would take the plunge.
Richard was an amateur painter, with a special affection for Sarah Pugh, the great Swalian artist of the twenty-first century. Her first public exhibition had been, with other students, in a gallery in the small town of Bearcliffe during June 2003. Very little of this early work remained, and even less was undamaged, but a time-trip would allow him to see it all, as it originally looked. He hadn't told anyone, because he couldn't face the comments everyone would make about his catching up with the twenty-sixth century.
So, on the appointed day he presented himself at the travel agents and duly swallowed his time capsule. Reality spun, he seemed to fall down a dark spiral, there was a soft thud and he came to himself standing behind a large tree in a private garden. This was wrong. He should be sitting on a bench at a bus stop. He hastily removed himself from the garden before he could be challenged and found the bench on the opposite side of the road, just as the clock on a large building nearby chimed -- to his delight. He had heard about these clocks, but they had all gone by his own time.
This building must be the library they had told him about during his briefing, now opening its doors at half past nine. His exhibition didn't open until ten, so he crossed the road to make his first visit of the day and marvel over ancient first editions in pristine order, paperbacks (heard of but never seen before) -- and newspapers! Those delightful daily chronicles, all with today's date at the top. He decided to try and buy one to take home. The great thing would be to buy a painting and take that home, but that would have to wait until he made a longer trip. In the present a day only came once, and time moved on. As a time-tripper you could visit the same day as often as you liked, so if he returned next year or in ten years' time, he could still visit this day and find the paintings still in the gallery.
It was a beautiful summer morning and the streets were busy with traffic -- really funny old-fashioned cars -- and people moving about without restriction, just as he had been told. He hurried now, down the street, past a hotel (another landmark) and there it was -- the small gallery set back from the road. Once inside he was lost in the amazing exhibition set out before him.
He went round three times, totally absorbed, overwhelmed. In the end they told him the gallery was closing for the afternoon, ("Shortage of staff, sir. We're very sorry.") and he was out in the street again, his head full of colour. Time for a pub lunch -- a strange experience -- and a visit to the newsagent where he bought a newspaper and, not able to resist, something from the display of chocolate bars.
Then it happened, right in front of him, as he waited to cross the road, considering with idle pleasure how to spend the rest of his time here in Bearcliffe. A car coming round the corner much too fast collided with a young cyclist who was thrown into the air and fell at his feet in a growing pool of her own blood. She couldn't have been more than twelve.
He helped as best he could, which wasn't much and in the end moved out of the way of those who could do more. Clearly he would have to return to his time before the police wanted to question him. His day was ruined anyway. And every other prospect of future time travel. How could you bear the weight of it? How could you make people relive such horror? And what about the rest of the world on this day? Had he called that into existence too?
He had travelled through time to a place, as one does if one travels across the surface of the globe, but where was the past? He'd never though about it. Was the past constantly re-running? He was forty. Some time traveller from the future could visit his past and make him relive some dreadful period of his life, like when he was being bullied at school. That would mean the future was real somewhere. But that was absurd. Wasn't it?
He sat on the bench, clutching his newspaper, a Mars Bar going sticky in his pocket, until he saw a policemen coming round the corner, when he vanished.
(c) Kay Critchett 2004
III. 'FURTHER THOUGHTS ON RATIONALITY' BY TOM ALBERTSSON AND HUBERTUS FREMEREY
Thank you for taking the time to read my essay, and for providing some very interesting historical insights. It is a bit unfortunate, however, that you seem to read opinions, positions and stances into my essay that I simply do not hold! You may be surprised to learn that I am a very strong defender of rationality, and so is Wilber. You say:
"I like this and I like the Tango, but as Kant had it we should first try to learn the upright walking of free persons."
Hubertus, I agree entirely!
About 70 per cent of humanity is at ethnocentric (pre-rational) stages of development or below. Our greatest imperative is therefore to help our fellows to build a strong, healthy, integrated rational-egoic mindset and worldview (including of course the appropriate infrastructure and techno-economic base to support a rational, worldcentric culture). The rational mind is the first developmental stage that will understand such basics as universal human rights. Ethnocentric doesn't get it (unless it suits its less-than-inclusive objectives), and tribal consciousness certainly doesn't get it! Nor does the "noble savage" so mistakenly idolised in many Neo-Romantic and New Age circles. As you perfectly correctly infer, true spiritual development lies beyond the rational mind, which we must therefore develop first. It is an absolutely crucial developmental stage that cannot be skipped. What is blatantly partial, however, is to claim a full stop for human evolution at the rational mind stage, as I'm sure you agree.
Thanks again for your response.
Yes, of course I agree. And I feel relief from your assertions concerning rationality. Most people simply have FEAR. If you have contact to "simple" people (in Iceland, in Holland ??) you will know that those are full of the most absurd fears on nearly anything that is not "as mother and father said it should be". Most people in this sense simply are still "living in hordes". The worker has absurd ideas of what a manager does all the day, and the manager has likewise absurd ideas of what the life of the worker is like etc. etc. People are not even able to speak to each other -- they prefer to speak OVER each other with their friends and peers and only to stabilize their mutual pre-conceptions. When people are telling me how absurd and pre-rational those Iraqis and other muslims are, I remind them about those many Germans -- many of them teachers, priests and professors -- who followed Hitler with bright eyes even 100 years after the death of Goethe.
Seen in this light, you may be lucky: The modern industrial and postindustrial western state is an oasis of peace and "due process of law" now if you look at the history of Europe since 1990 or even since 1945. This is a climate needed for people to even TRY to become spiritual.
I think we are living in a transition now: After millennia of "quasi-static" pre-modernity we are now in a probably very short and hefty time of transition to post-modernity, and then we may enter (perhaps even in less than about 200 years) into a new "quasi-static" era again where all forms of spirituality combine to create a new sort of mankind. I have not read Wilber, but I think he has a similar idea.
One final remark: As you may have noticed, I sent a copy of my mail to Geoffrey and Daoud Khashaba. Geoffrey wrote that he will publish my mail to you in the next Pathways. He generally likes "debates". If you want to object or to add some more own opinions, then please contact Geoffrey on this.
All the best from Hubertus