Archive for May, 2007

The Man, Knowing Everything, Smarter than You

Thursday, May 31st, 2007

An earlier version of the Wikipedia entry for Robert Stalnaker states “Stalnaker is widely known for being The Man, for knowing everything, and being smarter than you” (link).

His Locke Lectures, Our Knowledge of the Internal World, are being made available as mp3’s here: link.

The Man
Photo by Dave Chalmers of Bob Stalnaker diagonalizing in Barcelona.

Introducing PhiLOLsophers

Sunday, May 27th, 2007



in ur understanding, in reality, in ur base


hand waving

Intentionality and Formalizability

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2007


Originally uploaded by elsewhereness.

Following philosophers like Tim Crane and Uriah Kriegel, let’s call the Problem of Intentionality the problem of motivating the rejection of one of the three propositions in the following inconsistent triad:

1. We think about non-existents
2. One can bear relations only to existents
3. Thinking about is a relation

Part of my interest in the Problem of Intentionality is that a big chunk of the Unicorn Argument involves an acceptance of 1 & 2 and a rejection of 3.

I’ve gotten grief from philosophers like Chase Wrenn and Eric Steinhart about whether the Unicorn can be stated in a formal calculus. Such grief can equally be directed at the Problem of Intentionality. We can motivate such grief by formulating what I’ll call the Steinhart Principle:

Steinhart Principle: A set of propositions exhibits logical properties (e.g., validity, inconsistency) only if there is at least one calculus in which the propositions are jointly formalizable.

I have a worry about the applicability of the Steinhart Principle to either the Unicorn or Intentionality that I would like to raise in terms of what I’ll call the Mandik Principle:

Mandik Principle: The adoption of a formalism is philosophically fruitful only if doing so doesn’t beg (pro or con) the question at hand.

Consider, then, the following challenge: State the Problem of Intentionality in a way that simultaneously respects both the Steinhart Principle and the Mandik Principle.

Can this challenge be met? I haven’t made up my mind one way or another, but here are some reasons for doubting that the challenge can be met.

Consider that meeting this challenge would involve formulating the three propositions in a way that doesn’t require one to assign a particular truth-value to any of them. Now consider proposition #1. It is very difficult to see how to proceed with its formalization without also taking a stand on the truth of 1, 2, or 3. For example…

Suppose that we formulate 1 as
($x)($y)(Px & ~Ey & Txy)
where “($x)” is the existential quantifier, “Px” is “x is a person”, “Ex” is “x exists”, and “Txy” is “x thinks about y”.

Lots of problems arise aside from the fact that one may be squeamish about an existence predicate. In particular, formulating 1 in terms of the two-place “Txy” presumes the truth of proposition 3.

On the other hand, we might try to formulate 1 as
($x)($y)[Px & Tx & ~($z)(Uz)]
where “Ux” is “x is a unicorn” and “Tx” is a predicate we construct by presuming a language of thought and an apparatus of thought-quotation giving us “x is thinking ‘($z)(Uz)’”.

On this formulation lots of problems arise aside from the fact that we are quantifying into the opaque context of thought quotation. In particular, it looks like such a formulation in terms of a one-place thinks predicate presumes the falsity of 3.

Let’s suppose for the sake of conversation that there is no formalization of the Problem of Intentionality that satisfies the Mandik Principle. What, then, is the most appropriate response to the Problem of Intentionality? Rejecting it as a non-problem seems itself to beg genuine philosophical questions.

More Brain

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2007

Another chapter of The Subjective Brain is up.

Link: Ch 1. The Metaphysics of the Neuron

The Subjective Brain

Friday, May 18th, 2007

I’ll be putting draft chapters of my book, The Subjective Brain, up on my website at a rate of roughly one per week. Up already is the zeroth chapter, Consciousness and the Invisible Brain.

Comments are, of course, welcome.

Cyber Brain by Mandik

Third-Manning the Representation Relation

Monday, May 14th, 2007


Originally uploaded by Pete Mandik.

I’ve been thinking about Chase Wrenn’s third-man argument against realization (here) and my own against non-reductive physicalism (here) and the less-than-fully-baked idea occurred to me to run a third-man against the so-called representation relation.

My recollection without looking anything up is that old-school third-man arguments go something like this:
Step 1. Start with some uncontested fact like that Chase is tenured.
Step 2: Conjoin it with a Dumb Principle like, nothing can be true of Chase (like being tenured) without there being some additional entity (like the property of being tenured) and some relation borne to that entity (like the instantiating-a-property relation).
Step 3. Generate an infinite regress by reusing the Dumb Principle to postulate, next, a third entity (like the property of bearing the partaking in the instantiating-a-property relation) and so on.
Step 4. Block the regress by rejecting the Dumb Principle

Adapting this to the present case, namely, to deride the representation relation, yields:
Step 1: Start with some uncontested fact like that Chase thinks that Buffy the Vampire Slayer is blonde.
Step 2: Conjoin it with a Dumb Principle like nothing can be thought about by Chase (like that Buffy the Vampire Slayer is blond) without there being some additional entity (like the non-actual possible state of affairs of Buffy the Vampire Slayer being blond) and some relation borne to that entity (like the representation relation).
Step 3. Generate an infinite regress by reusing the Dumb Principle to blah blah blah…
Step 4. Block the regress by rejecting the Dumb Principle

Insect Lab

Monday, May 14th, 2007

Thanks, Brian Keeley, for turning me on to Mike Libby’s Insect Lab. From the site:

Insect Lab is an artist operated studio that customizes real insects with antique watch parts and electronic components. Offering a variety of specimens that come in many shapes, sizes and colors; each specimen is individually designed and hand- assembled, each is one of a kind and unique.

Insect lab

I Call Dibs: Ocean’s 28

Sunday, May 13th, 2007

Danny Ocean (George Clooney) circles up the boys one more time to steal the world’s largest diamond…from zombies.

Stochastic Resonance in Vision

Saturday, May 12th, 2007

Stochastic resonance described in Mind Hacks:

…adding noise to a signal raises the maximum possible combined signal level. Counterintuitively, this means that adding the right amount of noise to a weak signal can raise it above the threshold for detection and make it easier to detect and not less so.

Link to demo: [Link]

without noise
with less noise

with noise
with more noise

Sight without Light

Sunday, May 6th, 2007


Originally uploaded by Pete Mandik.

Eric Schwitzgebel’s got a cool question: ” With Your Eyes Closed, Can You See Your Hand in Front of Your Face?

At one point, Eric describes something apparently oft discussed amongst spelunkers:

But on the other hand, most people, deep in a cave where there isn’t a single photon to pierce the darkness, will report being able to see their hands moving in front of their faces. That this isn’t a matter of picking up on visual stimulus is made clearer by our inability in such situations to detect another person’s hand waved before our faces. It seems that our knowledge of the movement of our hand is somehow affecting our visual experience, or at least our judgments about our visual experience, without actually causing any visual input.

Such a phenomenon is a pretty extreme case of what I call “Underdetermined Perception” of the “Active Perception” variety in my paper “Action-Oriented Representation“.

The perception of illusory contours is just one kind of underdetermined perception. The focus of this chapter is another kind of underdetermined perception: what I shall call “active perception”. Active perception occurs in cases in which the percept, while underdetermined by sensation, is determined by a combination of sensation and action.

An …example of …active perception is reported by Lenay et al. (1997) and Hanneton et al. (1999). Subjects use a tactile based device to identify simple 2-dimensional forms such as broken lines and curves. The subjects wear a single tactile stimulator on a fingertip. The stimulator is driven by a magnetic pen used in conjunction with a graphic tablet. A virtual image in black and white pixels is displayed on a screen that only the experimenter is allowed to see. The subject scans the pen across the tablet and thus controls a cursor that moves across the virtual image. A stimulus is delivered to the fingertip only when the cursor is on pixels that make up the figure and not on background pixels. Subjects with control over the pen are able to identify the images. Subjects that merely passively receive the tactile information cannot.

Hanneton S., Gapenne O., Genouel C., Lenay C., Marque C. (1999). “Dynamics of shape recognition through a minimal visuo-tactile sensory substitution interface.” Third Int. Conf. On Cognitive and Neural Systems. pp. 26-29.

Lenay C., Cannu S., Villon P. (1997). “Technology and perception : the contribution of sensory substitution systems.” In Second International Conference on Cognitive Technology, Aizu, Japan , Los Alamitos: IEEE, pp. 44-53.