Archive for the ‘Externalism’ Category

The Varieties of Externalism

Friday, April 24th, 2009

externalism, the view of the mental states of an individual that they (the mental states) may have, as their physical SUPERVENIENCE bases, something of greater spatiotemporal extent than the individual himself or herself. Alternately, any view that holds that either mental states themselves or the factors determinative of a state’s CONTENT, extend beyond the physical boundaries (skull and skin) of the individual who possesses the mental states. This latter construal of externalism allows us to sort externalistic theories into two sorts: VEHICLE externalism and content externalism (see CONTENT/VEHICLE DISTINCTION). Another way of sorting externalistic theories, a way that cuts across the content-externalism vs. vehicle-externalism division, sorts externalistic theories in terms of whether they apply to QUALIA (see CONSCIOUSNESS, PHENOMENAL) or instead to only non-phenomenal aspects of the mind, e.g., allegedly non-phenomenal intentional states such as beliefs (see BELIEF). The four kinds of externalism generated by these two cross-classifying distinctions (content-vehicle, intentional-phenomenal) may be usefully labeled as follows: (1) intentional content externalism, (2) intentional vehicle externalism, (3) phenomenal content externalism, and (4) phenomenal vehicle externalism.

Intentional content externalism is probably the most discussed in the literature. One version of it may be described as follows. Individuals that have the same intrinsic physical properties may nonetheless diverge in the content of the thoughts they express when they say ‘this is water’ if the substance called ‘water’ in their respective environments is chemically distinct (H2O in the one and XYZ in the other). Content viewed as the intentional content externalist views it is oft described as “WIDE CONTENT”. (See SWAMPMAN; TWINEARTH; XYZ.)

One version of intentional vehicle externalism has been defended by Andy Clark and David CHALMERS under the heading of the “extended mind hypothesis” (see EXTENDED MIND).

Contemporary defenders of phenomenal content externalism, such as Michael Tye and Fred DRETSKE, identify qualia with the contents of certain kinds of MENTAL REPRESENTATION and then are led to externalistic conclusions via an embrace of an externalistic theory of content such as a version of the CAUSAL THEORY OF CONTENT or TELEOSEMANTICS. Such phenomenal content externalists also embrace FIRST-ORDER REPRESENTATIONALISM about CONSCIOUSNESS as well as the thesis of that experience is transparent (see TRANSPARENCY (OF EXPERIENCE)).

Phenomenal vehicle externalism is perhaps the least popular of the four kinds of externalism so far. But it does have advocates, notably Alva Noë and Susan Hurley. Advocates of this approach frequently emphasize the role of EMBODIMENT in structuring our PHENOMENOLOGY.

Mind Spill in Aisle Nine

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2009

I’m going to side with Fodor a bit in the following remarks about Andy Clark’s response to Fodor’s LRB review of Supersizing the Mind.
There’s a worry of Fodor’s, or kind of like a worry of Fodor’s, that seems to me insufficiently addressed by Clark. To put it in a very cute and short way, the worry is that too much attention is given by the externalists to the “where” in “where is my mind?” and insufficient attention is given to the “my” in “where my mind?”.
To spell this out a bit more, let’s start with the role of functionalism/multiple realizaility in the externalists’ arguments.
Clark runs a quick little version of that old functionalist gem, the silicon chip replacement thought experiment. Clark writes:

Diva can now divide just as before, only some small part of the work is distributed across the brain and the silicon circuit: a genuinely mental process (division) is supported by a hybrid bio-technological system. That alone, if you accept it, establishes the key principle of Supersizing the Mind. It is that non-biological resources, if hooked appropriately into processes running in the human brain, can form parts of larger circuits that count as genuinely cognitive in their own right.

What Clark is here calling the key principle looks like functionalist multiple realizability to me. From there, Clark builds up to iPhone etc. playing the same functional roles that brain circuits do. That’s one way to start getting a mind to supervene on more than a brain. But there’s a much older way to do it, a way that predates 1990’s-style mind extension.
Consider the functionalists’ “Systems Reply” to Searle’s Chinese Room: The Chinese-understanding mind supervenes on a larger system of which Searle is a proper part and of which other parts include the remaining contents of the room. But on that story, presumably, Searle’s monolingual English-understanding mind just supervenes on Searle’s brain.  A mind has leaked out into the room, it just happens not to be Searle’s.
Here I think worries can be raised about violations of physicalist supervenience, especially a version I call “fine-grained supervenience,” which I won’t spell out much here but have explored in my paper, “Supervenience and Neuroscience”: [link]. The Chinese understanding mind has parts which have supervenience bases overlapping with supervenience bases of Searle’s mind. Things get even weirder when we add the extended mind thesis and let Searle’s mind leak out into the whole room. Now the room-system as a whole serves as a supervenience base for two distinct minds. That looks to violate a principle of “no mental differences without physical differences”. It also raises very worrying questions of how to tell who’s mind is who’s. Arguably, all we have to go on, being neither Searle nor the Chinese AI, is the physical stuff, right?
So part of what I take to be worrying Fodor, or should count among his worries, is the question of how to count minds if they start leaking out all over the place.
Fodor writes:

 [T]ry this vignette: Inga asks Otto where the museum is; Otto consults his notebook and tells her. The notebook is thus part of an ‘external circuit’ that is part of Otto’s mind; and Otto’s mind (including the notebook) is part of an external circuit that is part of Inga’s mind. Now ‘part of’ is transitive: if A is part of B, and B is part of C, then A is part of C. So it looks as though the notebook that’s part of Otto’s mind is also part of Inga’s. So it looks as though if Otto loses his notebook, Inga loses part of her mind. Could that be literally true? Somehow, I don’t think it sounds right.

I don’t think it sounds right either. Can a principled reason against it be given? I think something along the following lines needs to be sorted out. Part of what matters about mental states is who’s mental states they are states of. Internalist brain-lubbers have a straightforward way of sorting that out: one per customer. I’m not sure how the externalists propose to cope with this concern.

Sellars’ Jonesing a Clark-Chalmers’ Otto

Friday, July 27th, 2007

Tosca, cannoli and coffee

Originally uploaded by renmeleon

Through the miracle of thought experiment, Sellars’ mythical Jones and Clark and Chalmers’s notebook-toting Otto had a baby combining essential features of both daddies. Unfortunately, she got named “Jotto” but let’s go with “Jo” for short.

Jo, all grown up now, carries and utilizes a notebook similar to her daddy Otto’s. If Clark and Chalmers’s remarks about Otto and his notebook are correct, then the story of Otto illustrates an implementation of vehicle externalism for thoughts while being consistent with the falsity of (1) content externalism for thoughts (a la Putnam and Burge), (2) content externalism for experiences (a la Dretske and Tye), and (3) vehicle externalism for experiences (a la Noe and Hurley). Jo, like Otto, likewise implements vehicle externalism about thoughts. But because of contributions from her other daddy, Jones, she will also implement vehicle externalism for experiences. Further, she will do so in ways independent of appeal to the enactive approach heralded by, e.g. Noe and Hurley.

Jones does to Jo what he did to his buddy Dick in “Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind”:

“And it now turns …that Dick can be trained to give reasonably reliable self-descriptions, using the language of the theory, without having to observe his overt behavior. Jones brings this about, roughly by applauding utterances by Dick of “I am thinking that p” when the behavioral evidence strongly supports the theoretical statement “Dick is thinking that p”; and by frowning on utterances of “I am thinking that p”, when the evidence does not support this theoretical statement. Our ancestors begin to speak of the privileged access each of us has to his own thoughts. What began as a language with a purely theoretical use has gained a reporting role.” (XV, 59)

Unlike Dick, however, Jo will sometimes automatically say “I am thinking that p” after having read it in her notebook. If this doesn’t seem like the sort of privilege we’d expect of mental states, we need only alter the thought experiment to have Jo write in a code only she understands. Thus do Jo’s thought vehicles achieve an at least Sellarsian privacy.

Let’s turn now to see how Jo’s experience vehicles might bleed out of her head and into her notebook. Modeling sensory impressions in a Sellarsian manner, we need notebook states that (1) can be causal products of perceptible objects such as red and triangular objects, (2) achieve a kind of privacy analogous to those achieved for thoughts, and (3) “stand to one another in a system of ways of resembling and differing which is structurally similar to the ways in which the colors and shapes of visible objects resemble and differ” (XVI, 61).

(We likely need much else besides and thus would 1, 2, and 3 be unlikely to jointly suffice for conscious notebook-states.)

Now, if the impressions of red triangles recorded in the notebook are the sorts of things that others would recognize as drawings of red triangular objects, then the privacy condition has not been satisfied. However, given the way that Sellars specifies the notion of similarity utilized in the third condition, the similarity relations between marks in the notebook and perceptible objects need not be apparent to people other than Jo, and thus would they effect a kind of privacy. (An interesting question is whether the similarities in question even need to be apparent to Jo, but I need not take a stand on that issue here.)

I’ll stop this initial sketch for now. The main question that remains to be addressed concerning whether Jo’s notebook states can be partially constitutive of states of phenomenal experiences is the following.

Why not?

Space, Time, and Twinearthability

Friday, June 8th, 2007

kant kan

Originally uploaded by Pete Mandik

This is one of those requests for references and reflections post. I’d be grateful for thoughts and recommendations concerning the following questions: Which spatial properties are Twinearthable and which are not? Which temporal properties are Twinearthable and which are not?

Regarding “Twinearthability,� I’m following the usage of John Hawthorne’s “Direct Reference and Dancing Qualia.� The way Hawthorne puts it, a concept like “water� is twinearthable because we can easily imagine an epistemic counterpart that is epistemically just like us but locks onto a different property by “water� than we do (XYZ instead of H2O). A concept is not Twinearthable when beings epistemically just like us would lock onto the same properties that we do. Non-twinearthable properties are so fully present to the mind that epistemic possibility is a guide to metaphysical possibility.

Properties broadly describable as spatial may differ with respect to their Twinearthability. I consider as relevant the following reflections by Roy Sorensen

The volume of a two inch cube is eight times
the volume of a one inch cube. But the surface of the two inch cube
is only four times as large as the surface of the one inch cube. The
ratio of surface to volume further decreases when the cube achieves
a size of three inches. Now all six sides must be dedicated to
maintaining the organism. Thus the geometry of the cubical
organism imposes a limit on its growth. Since the volume of the
organism is cubed while surface area is squared, the animal must
eventually exhaust its ability to feed. The ratio of an organism’s
surface area to its volume is an internal relation. Hence, the size of
an organism is an intrinsic property.
Size is also an intrinsic property of environments. Doubling
everything would not create a duplicate environment. Although the
increase would not be detectable by linear measurements (for our
rulers would have expanded), the increase would make a difference
to planetary orbits and other phenomena governed by geometrical
Any purely spatial property of an organism is an extrinsic
property. Identical twins can be duplicates even though they stand a
meter apart. Nor is their duplicate status threatened by rotation. If
one spins clockwise while the other spins counter-clockwise, they
remain duplicates. If one twin sleeps with his head to the east while
the other sleeps with his head to the west, they still wake up as
twins. Given this indifference to space, we see that the twins are
duplicates even if they are mirror images of each other.
(From Mirror Imagery and Biological Selection, Biology and Philosophy 17/3 (June 2002) 409-422)

I wonder if temporal properties are similarly split with regards to Twinearthability. I wrestled with this a bit in the puzzle raised in “The Slow Switching Slowdown Showdown� wherein I wondered out loud about how long slow switching would take on a demonically slowed Twinearth. I wonder now about which properties broadly describable as temporal would be Twinearthable and which would not.

Further pointers on space as well as time are welcome.

The Slow Switching Slowdown Showdown

Saturday, November 4th, 2006

Why the Sea is Boiling Hot
Originally uploaded by Pete Mandik.

Slow switching is something that has always kind of bothered me and below I pose a problem for fans of slow switching. Slow switching is this thing that happens in a bunch of thought experiments in the philosophy of mind. For example:

By “water” you mean water. But one day you go to Twin Earth, where the stuff that seems just like water and is called “water” isn’t water at all. It is twater. By the way, you were transported to Twin Earth unawares, so your initial attempts to think and utter truths about that twater stuff are doomed to fail since you are really thinking about water. However, through the miracle of SLOW SWITCHING, after a while (days? weeks? years? Nobody knows) your attempts to think and utter truths about that twater stuff now succeed. By “water” you now mean twater and all of this was achieved without any differences except those involved in the mere passage of time. Thus, slow switching happens without you noticing: it makes no subjective impact on you or anyone else.

But here’s a little puzzle that I’d like to pose for people who think this slow switching stuff is supported by intuition. Consider two Twin Earth scenarios like the one above wherein scenario A is just like the one above and scenario B differs with respect to the following demonic intervention. In scenario B, after each second of subjective time experienced on Twin Earth B, the demon freezes all activity on Twin Earth B for 99 objective seconds. The net result is that processes that subjectively take the same amount of time on A and B, take a hundred times longer objectively to complete on B.

Here’s the puzzle. Suppose that slow switching takes a year on Twinearth A. On Twinearth A, objective and subjective years are equal. However, on Twin Earth B, a subjective year takes a hundred objective years to get through. How long will slow switching take on Twin Earth B? My bet is that people that have the slow switching intuition will want to say that it takes 100 objective years. This would show, though, that the slow switching intuition requires a subjective supervenience base. But this seems in tension with the part of the intuition that says that slow switching can take place without anyone noticing, that it is the objective facts upon which slow switching supervenes (facts about e.g. H2O and XYZ).

The tension at the heart of the slow switching intuition is that slow switching both does and doesn’t supervene on objective facts.