Archive for September, 2007

Just the Phacts, Ma’am.

Monday, September 24th, 2007


Originally uploaded by Pete Mandik

Eric Schwitzgebel and I have been having an interesting (to us, at least) exchange in the comments on his recent post “Three Reasons to Mistrust Reports about Ongoing Conscious Experience“. At issue in our exchange are questions concerning introspective reliability concerning phenomenological facts or “phacts” as I called them. Eric is somewhat famous now for his many interesting arguments against introspective reliability. I tend to side with people who think that there are important senses in which introspective judgments can’t be wrong.

An interesting case, and one that Eric raises, concerns people’s judgments about the nature of their visual field. More specifically, people tend to vary over times and across subjects in their judgments concerning how much of the visual field is clear. The determinate colors and shapes of peripherally presented objects cannot be seen clearly. But people vary in their opinions about whether this is so.

Key question: do people vary in their accuracy of judgments of the phacts of the matter? That is, do some but not all of them get the phacts right?

The answer to the key question depends, of course, on what the phacts are. And one possibility that needs to be dealt with is that the variation in judgments is matched by a corresponding variation in phacts. On an extreme version of this possibility, everyone is right, they’re just right about different phacts.

One way to characterize resistance to this possibility is as interposing a third realm between a first realm constituted by objective facts concerning stimuli and sensory receptors and a second realm constituted by various conceptualized reactions to stimuli. Supplying a third realm gives something for items in the second realm to be mistaken about yet, unlike items in the first realm, look like candidates for genuine phenomenology. A lot of what Eric claims people to be mistaken about look to me to not be mistakes about phenomenology, but instead mistakes about what’s going on in the first realm (or mistakes about relations between the first and second realms).

Worries about a third realm can be put by saying that we really have no idea what sorts of denizens would populate it. In the case of the visual field, third-realm denizens would include peripheral objects that are colored and shaped but have no determinate color and no determinate shape. Do we really understand the suggestion that there can be such objects? And aside from questions about what objects would be, there are the various questions that arise about where they would be. No one’s ever found anything like that in anyone’s brains, and the items that populate our external environments certainly don’t fit the description.

It’s not enough to motivate the postulation of the third realm to say that we already know what it is, that it’s whatever makes it the case that there’s something it’s like to be conscious. Nor is it enough to counter skeptical resistance by characterizing that resistance as requiring reductive definitions. Reductive definitions are beside the point at this stage in the game, we just want something informative to “what are you talking about?” kinds of questions. No one has a reductive definition of a duvet, but could probably say something more informative about duvets beyond “if ya gotta ask, ya ain’t ever gonna know” kinds of responses.

The most pressing challenge for friends of the third realm is to say something informative about it such that it would be something separate from the second realm. This is because the second realm seems to be best suited for handling the sorts of weird indeterminacies that arise for phacts – indeterminacies like being indeterminately colored or having an indeterminate number of speckles.

See also:
[How do you know that you know what you are talking about when you talk about qualia?]
[Transcending Zombies]

Wanted: Philosophy Examples for Sentence Logic

Thursday, September 20th, 2007

I’d appreciate any suggestions of cool philosophical arguments or puzzles that exemplify (or lend themselves to the exemplification of) key concepts of the sentential calculus.

I find it’s much easier to come up with this sort of thing for the predicate calculus. For example, discussions of Anselm’s ontological argument for the existence of God or Descartes’s argument for substance dualism (or the Heideggarian suggestion that nothing noths) are fun to discuss with students who can handle symbolizations with quantifiers and predicates. But I’m sniffing around for fun things of philosophical applicability to do with students who are just learning to toss around the dots, vels, tildes, and horseshoes.

Thanks in advance!

Neurofiction Links

Wednesday, September 19th, 2007

Some Neurofiction @ My Mind on Books [link]

Four Fictional Odysseys Through Life with a Disordered Brain [link]

Hippocampe [link]

Fine-Grained and Strong Supervenience

Tuesday, September 18th, 2007

Call “Fine-Grained Supervenience” or FGS the following:

(FGS): If, at a given time, a single entity instantiates two distinct mental properties, it must do so in virtue of instantiating two distinct physical properties.

Note how different this is from formulations such as this formulation of “strong” supervenience discussed by Wilson (2005, p. 433), wherein it is “formulated as holding between families of properties A and B, elements of which are co-instantiated in individuals in a domain D:

FGS is not entailed by formulations such as strong supervenience. Instead, strong supervenience is compatible with the falsity of FGS. We might state this compatibility in the following way. Whereas strong supervenience is compatible with multiple realizability insofar as there might be a physical property, b*, other than b that suffices for a, strong supervenience is compatible with the falsity of FGS insofar as there might be some mental property, a*, other than a that b suffices for.

Wilson, J. 2005. Supervenience-based Formulations of Physicalism. Nous, 39:3, 426-459.

See also:
Mandik, P. In progress. The Subjective Brain, Chapter 1: The Metaphysics of the Neuron. [link]

Monsters of Logic

Monday, September 17th, 2007
Monsters of Logic

Monsters of Logic,
originally uploaded by Pete Mandik.

It’s that time of the semester again: time to tell logic students the bad news that material conditionals are false only when they have true antecedents and false consequents.

I’m always looking for new ways to take the sting out of the false antecedent cases. Poking around the internet yielded some nice resources.

I especially liked this survey of methods of teaching material conditionals: A Comparison of Techniques for Introducing Material Implication

See also:
Conditional Statements and Material Implication
Material Implication Revisited

Neuro-introspection and Multiple Realization

Friday, September 14th, 2007

In Chapter 2 of The Subjective Brain, I defend the Neuro-introspection thesis whereby brain states are introspectible as such. An objection I owe to Dan Cavedon-Taylor concerns whether the alleged multiple-realizability of the mental by the neural (MR) would be inconsistent with Neuro-introspection. The way Dan puts it is available here and I reproduce my response below.

Regarding MR, due to arguments set forth in ch. 1, I don’t take it particularly seriously. But considering my introspection thesis in isolation from ch. 1, I can grant, for the sake of discussion, relatively strong versions of MR. Since I think perception and introspection are analogous in many significant ways, it is useful to consider the MR issue by constructing an analogy to perception. Suppose there is some object type that is not only multiply realizable but multiply realized. Suppose further that the object type bottle is one such example. So there are lots of distinct physical realizers of bottles, e.g. glass ones and aluminum ones. But this supposed fact (the multiple realizability of bottles) is not all by itself a problem for standard accounts of object perception. There’s not an obvious problem of how one can perceive not only that a bottle is present but that a glass bottle is present, is there?

Perhaps you think my example concerning glass vs. aluminum is a poor one since glass and aluminum are readily perceptually distinguishable. Suppose then that we switch examples to perceptually undetectable realization differences, e.g. two kinds of glass that can only be distinguished with special instruments. Now we have an example in which some properties of bottles are imperceptible. But this doesn’t raise any special problems for a theory that claims that bottles are perceptible. It’s pretty obvious that even though perceptible objects must have perceptible properties, they may nonetheless have imperceptible properties as well. I offer, then, that an analogous thing is true of introspection: neural states have neural properties that are introspectible, but perhaps they also have some neural properties that are introspectively undetectable. How does that show the failure of neuro-introspection?

Links: [The Subjective Brain draft chapters] [discussion page for Chapter 2]

Marching Art

Friday, September 14th, 2007

I’ve my Art Parade photos up on flickr from last weekend’s Deitch Art Parade in SoHo. See also Rachelle Mandik’s Art Parade pix.

What’s WIPS?

Tuesday, September 11th, 2007

PMS WIPS = Philosophy and/of Mind (and/or) Science Works In Progress Sessions

PMS WIPS is an online forum for the discussion of works in progress in the philosophy of mind, cognitive science, and related areas.

Submissions for PMS WIPS will be reviewed by co-editors Brian Keeley (Pitzer College), Pete Mandik (William Paterson University), and Dan Weiskopf (University of South Florida). Accepted contributions and discussion forums will be hosted on Pete Mandik’s blog, Brain Hammer. Accepted contributions will remain on the blog for only six months (but may be removed earlier at the contributor’s request) to ease any worries contributors might have regarding prior publication of works to be sent later to the journals.

We aim to post accepted contributions roughly twice a month. Past contributors have included Paula Droege, Anthony Jack, Joshua Knobe, Uriah Kriegel, Nicholas Maxwell, Gualtiero Piccinini, Jesse Prinz, Philip Robbins, Andreas Roepstorff, Eric Schwitzgebel, Nick Treanor, and Tad Zawidzki.

Papers online and still open for comment are:

Please email contributions (with accompanying abstracts) to Pete Mandik (petemandik @ Feel free to contact any of the co-editors with questions. We look forward to hearing from you.

Brian Keeley (brian_keeley @
Dan Weiskopf (weiskopf @
Pete Mandik (petemandik @

(remove spaces from above e-mail addresses)

PMS WIPS 013 - Chase Wrenn - The Unreality of Realization

Tuesday, September 11th, 2007

“The Unreality of Realization” by Chase Wrenn, Alabama University

ABSTRACT: This paper argues against the realization principle, which states that lower-level properties bear the realization relation to higher-level properties. It begins with a review of some principles of naturalistic metaphysics. Then it criticizes popular reasons for embracing the realization principle, and finally it argues against the principle directly. The most popular reasons for embracing the principle depend on the dubious assumption that special science theories cannot be true unless special science predicates designate properties. The realization principle itself turns out to be false because the realization relation fails the naturalistic test for reality; the realization relation makes no causal difference to the world.

[Link to full text of article]
[Link to further info on PMS WIPS]