Archive for November, 2007


Thursday, November 29th, 2007

Thanks, Eric Steinhart, for emailing me the following. Hail Satan!

TI: God, the Demon, and the Status of Theodicies.
SO: American-Philosophical-Quarterly. Ap 90; 27(2): 163-167.
JN: American-Philosophical-Quarterly;
IS: 0003-0481
AB: Consider an omnipotent, omniscient, all-evil creator of the universe and an argument against its existence based on the presence of good in the world. “Demonists” can respond to such arguments with “demonodicies,” arguments that the demon’s existence is compatible with the good in the world. Given that there is a demonodicy isomorphic to every theodicy, the theist, in addition to establishing the possibility and consistency of God’s existence with the amount of evil in the world, must further establish the existence of a good supernatural being rather than an evil one. No current version of theism gives such an argument.

Points of Power

Wednesday, November 28th, 2007

I haven’t entirely uploaded my mind to PowerPoint since my necktop’s USB port has a glitch, namely, total existence failure. In the meantime I offer the following tidbits to current students and others whose brains burn with the question: where can we get the slides that go along with lectures on chapters 7 & 9 of The Subjective Brain? Right here, dudes and ladies, right here.

Reductive and Representational Explanation in Synthetic Neuroethology [link to download]

The Neurophilosophy of Subjectivity [link to download]

The Shadow Problem as a Metaphilosophical Test Case

Wednesday, November 14th, 2007

The shadow problem is a cute little puzzle about the metaphysics of shadows.

Consider four objects, L, A, B, and C arranged like this


where L is a lamp providing the only light, A and B are opaque objects, and no light is falling on C.

Consider also some non-controversial propositions concerning shadows, their casters, and shaded objects.

1. An object can cast a shadow only if it is opaque and light is falling on it.
2. Shadows cannot be cast through opaque objects
3. An object is in the shade only if some other object is casting a shadow upon it.

Here’s the problem: Is C in the shade? If it is, then by principle 3 either A or B must be casting a shadow on it. However, principle 1 rules out B as the shadow caster, since no light falls on B and principle 2 rules out A, since A’s shadow can’t be cast through B. We are led to the absurd conclusion, then, that C is not in the shade.

Further reflection may lead us to reject one or more of the three principles. Or increase their number to four or more. (Personally, I’m a shade and shadow eliminativist.)

While the shadow problem is fun to regard as a first-order philosophical problem, I like how it reflects on various higher-order problems, like: what are philosophical subject matters and methods? Or: when, if at all, do philosophers ever arrive at solutions to problems?

One thing I especially like these days about the shadow problem is how it illustrates to students what a philosophical problem is. It’s pretty clear, I think, that this isn’t going to be solved by simply opening the dictionary, or asking the scientists in the department of shadow studies.

Some other meta-philosophical issues I’ve been thinking about in connection with the shadow problem are:

What, if anything, is added by describing anything here as intuitive or as deliverances of intuition?

Would the methods of experimental philosophy do a damn bit of good here? Suppose that there were survey results demonstrating a small yet statistically significant difference in people’s willingness to abandon one of the propositions? Would that thereby make one solution to the problem better than another?

(My presentation of the shadow problem is adapted from the way Peter Suber formulates it [link]. (For other formulations and a brief history of the problem, see pp39-40 of Roy Sorensen’s 1999 J. Phil article “Seeing Intersecting Eclipses”.))

Presentations Presented Presently

Tuesday, November 13th, 2007

Numbers of people (more than one) have asked for the following, perhaps because they are students in a class soon to be examined on the topics contained within. Others may be interested as well. Below are PowerPoint slides for talks closely associated with Chapter 5 & 6 of The Subjective Brain.

Transcending Zombies [link to download]

Phenomenal Consciousness and the Allocentric-Egocentric Interface [link to download]

Antipodean Verificationism

Friday, November 9th, 2007

Jennifer Matey gave a very nice talk at William Paterson University last week, “Visual Constancies and the Representational Nature of Visual Experiences”. Much of talk concerned issues contested between direct and representational realists about perception (with some side-notes about disjunctivists). An interesting methodological/metaphilosophical issue came up in the ensuing discussion (interesting to me, perhaps, because I was the one who brought it up). It goes something like this.

From a certain point of view it’s quite hard to see exactly what’s contested between the direct and the representational realist and it’s likewise hard to tell how to adjudicate the dispute. To get in the right frame of mind, imagine trying to explain the debate to a Rortyean Antipodean: a person who speaks a language a lot like English, though it’s shot through with a lot more neuroscientific vocabulary than most English speakers know and is utterly devoid of words like “perception”, “experience”, “awareness”, “consciousness”, and “qualia”. Imagine further that the Antipodean has come across a direct realist (DR) and a representationalist (R) in the process of examining a brain in a vat (Vatty) and its non-envatted neural doppleganger (Normy). Both R and DR agree that Vatty and Normy are in the same neural state when Normy is facing a tree with open eyes in a well-lighted environment. Both R and DR agree that that Normy but not Vatty is having a veridical experience of a tree. But what is it that they are disagreeingabout? And more to the point of this post, what could they say to the Antipodean to convince him to pick a side on this issue?

The Antipodean can see quite clearly that there are relational properties involving trees that Normy’s brain but not Vatty’s instantiates. And the Antipodean can see quite clearly that there are non-relational neural properties that Normy’s and Vatty’s brains have in common. What the Antipodean doesn’t get, is what else there might be to say here. Are DR and R fighting over which parts of the universe to draw a line around and apply the label “physical substrate of visual awareness” to? If so, why bother?

When I get in the Antipodean’s frame of mind I’m tempted to assert the following general methodological principle: if you can’t explain what you’re talking about to an Antipodean, then maybe you’re not talking about anything.