Re: Are First Person prime?

From: David Nyman <>
Date: Mon, 07 Aug 2006 16:42:37 -0000

Bruno Marchal wrote:

> All right. (I hope you realize that you are very ambitious, but then
> that is how we learn).

Yes, learning is my aim here.

> My terminological problem here is that "experience" and "knowledge"
> are usually put in the "epistemology" instead of ontology. Of course I
> know that you (and George, perhaps Stephen and Lee) would like to make
> primitive the first person notion(s) ... or the first persons
> themselves ?
> To be sure I have some problem to interpret this.

I'll try to nail this here. I take 'ontology' to refer to issues of
existence or being, where 'epistemology' refers to knowledge, or 'what
and how we know'. When I say that our 'ontology' is manifest, I'm
claiming (perhaps a little more cautiously than Descartes): 'I am
that which experiences here'. I take these to be an ontological
continuum or set of equivalences, not properties: I ->experience ->
here. For reasons of economy, I see no need to postulate any other
ontological status. The challenge now is to see if the appearances can
be preserved from this point of departure, proceeding to
epistemological issues of what and how 'I know', which I discuss below.

Firstly, though I must find a way to move beyond the 'individual I'
established by this basic move, which is in a sense illusory, unless
we are prepared to settle for solipsism. If we wish to believe in the
reality of something larger than what we can see from our perspective,
our position must be localised and delimited from within a larger
context (what I've termed the 'global first person' or FP1g) by the
structure and availability of information. Some form of primary
differentiation of the basic ontology seems necessary, of which more to

Insofar as some primary differentiation process in my schema ultimately
powers the emergence of the many persons and their many worlds, this is
very consistent IMO with MWI, where the superposition of the totality
of information is discriminated into multiple perspectives by
limitations of access from any locale. It has always seemed to me
that there can be no 'preferred basis' for the assembly of 'personal
histories' other than the 'localising effect' of structured
information. BTW, is it the function of the 'dovetailer' within your
comp hypothesis to establish the localisation basis used in assembling
such 'points-of-view' into 'coherent personal histories'?

> That looks like a description of emergence of 1-person from 3-persons,
> unless you define "context" and 'differentiation" exclusively from your
> primary 1-person notion.

Yes, I do define these exclusively in this way. This is perhaps a key
point. My sense is that the context and the differentiation are both
primitive (irreducible). That is why I say that I'm agnostic as to the
details of the differentiation at this logical level. I take the
'context' to be primitive - a primary 'FP1' field, for the reasons
given above. Further, however we decide to schematise the
differentiation of this field, at root we have to accept that *somehow*
parts are separable from the whole - which so far as I can see is
semantically paradoxical (without introjection from 'outside', what
could penetrate a 'seamless' whole?) - but in a sense this is a test of
true primitivity. Consequently, in my schema, we have a primitive
field (context) with primitive differentiation (content). These
together constitute the global first person FP1g.

My point about third person is that this is simply terminological.
Since everything is uniquely constituted in terms of some aspect of the
FP1g context+content, this also applies to the totality of our
representations of the world, what I've termed the shared knowledge
base (SKB). Within the SKB, such representations are what we refer to
as third person - the world at arm's length as it were - but this is
merely an epithet since the ontological status of the SKB in itself
must be FP1. The very term 'third person' is literally an FP1 'object'
within the SKB that refers to a logical category we wish to apply to
certain aspects of the SKB and its presumed referents in 'externality'.
But, notwithstanding these internal categorisations, both the SKB and
its distant referents remain alike - and uniquely - constituents of the
FP1 context+content. Consequently we 'share' the information content
of the SKB by instantiating it and distributing 'downloads' for others
to 'run'.

> We can talk in a third person manner about first person notions. But
> some care is needed for not falling in "Chalmers delusion" who forces
> him to accept some universal first person telepathy, so as to be able
> to be at two places at once from a first person point of view. With
> comp this is just impossible.

I find 'Chalmers delusion' just that - deluded. I've said above (and
in my 'PC' analogy) that questions of knowledge and identity can only
be resolved by a person from what is available locally at their
point-of-view (however this is 'assembled'). This means both whatever
capability they have, and whatever information is available. IMO, to
make intelligible the notion of being in two places at once, one would
need to posit some non-local (as you say telepathic) transmission of
information on the presumed basis of these two points-of-view being the
'same' person. To me, this is mysticism. IMO, what constitutes
'sameness' vis--vis persons is the history of points-of-view (which
from the individual first person point-of-view is a function of
memory). At the point of any 'splitting' or duplication of persons,
there is a split in histories, after which they are no longer the
'same'. This is I suppose somewhat analogous to splitting in MWI,
which sometimes causes similar confusion.

> Here I prefer to simplify and to treat sentences like "I experience p"
> by "I know p". And keeping added nuances only when it is obligatory.

If you mean that 'I know in virtue that I experience', we could agree,
although this use of 'know' can be confusing. As I've said above, my
primary 'ontological' evidence is that 'I experience'. This gives me
my purchase on reality, and with this purchase - this 'grasp' - I gain
access to information, in the form of what I've termed the SKB. Within
the SKB, I can claim 'I know p' (with the above sense), and crucially
IMO this establishes the claim that the proposition 'I know p' is
itself directly a graspable 'FP1 object'. However, the consequence 'p
is true' does not yet follow, since this must be a function of the
correspondence of p (per Tarski) with 'facts' located elsewhere in the
SKB (and, under presumption, in the co-varying distant parts of FP1g to
which it refers). So IMO the truth-value of p, if p is a proposition,
is demonstrated in terms of the 'third person' relations of the SKB,
standing in place of its 'external' FP1g referents.

> This is because experience is 'incorrigible', and
> > consequently is not open to falsification.
> So at least we agree on the main axiom of standard "knowledge theory".
> This is capture by a formula like "Kp -> p": meaning If I know p then
> p is true. We can know only true proposition. It is conform with the
> traditional use of the verb "to know". Nobody says "John knew that (5 +
> 4)^2 = 5^2 + 4^2, until he realized his error. We say instead "John
> believed (5 + 4)^2 = 5^2 + 4^2, until he realized his error.

OK, in that case I can't agree that 'I experience' is equivalent to 'I
know' in this sense. John in your example 'experiences' both when he
'knows' or when he merely 'believes'. Further, he always 'believes'
whether it can be demonstrated that he 'knows' or not. The ascription
of knowledge is here dependent on the truth-value of the proposition in
which he believes, which may at any given point be provisional. In any
case, my use of the term 'I experience' as the primary 'purchase' on
reality seems logically prior to 'I know', from the above example. 'I
know' in the above sense is dependent on the truth-relations within the
SKB and its referents, which 'I experience' is not.

> > 'Knowing' is then an
> > emergent aspect of the 'third' person - experience read as information.
> > A key point is that this applies equally to the 'self' as it does to
> > others, since both are in the same position vis--vis the 'shareable
> > knowledge base' (SKB) that IMO is the basis of 'consensual reality'.
> > My point here is that the relation of both 'self' and 'others' to
> > 'knowledge' consists of indicating and manipulating parts of the SKB.
> > 'Experience' is the 'means whereby' we grasp this communicable base,
> > and is consequently itself not communicable.
> I'm not sure what you mean. As far as I understand it, it seems to
> contradict what you say above.

It isn't IMO contradictory, since the sense of 'I know' here, as
discussed above, is 'I know in virtue of the truth-values and other
relations within the SKB'. But my (ontologically and epistemologically
prior) *purchase* on this 'knowledge' is my FP1 *experience*, the
medium and means whereby I am able to 'grasp' what is available to be
known. Since knowledge in this sense is mediated by the SKB, it puts
'self' and 'other' on the same footing vis--vis the 'third person
world' represented by the SKB. This IMO is crucial to understanding
third person discourse and the way it refers to FP1 reality. The
reason all our discourse is 'third person' (including our own internal
discourse) is that it is forced to take place entirely in terms of the
SKB. This makes it all too easy to forget (as the fish ignores the
water) that the SKB itself, together with the linked 'nodes' to which
it 'refers', when 'instantiated-as-unique-existent-entities' as opposed
to when 'read-as-narrative' - are all alike elements of the global FP1
domain. Were it not so, neither we nor they would be present to
'grasp' or be grasped.

> I will describe the comp theory and it will be nice to see if it will
> fit with your notion of persons.

Bring it on!


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Received on Mon Aug 07 2006 - 12:44:39 PDT

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