Re: Are First Person prime?

From: David Nyman <>
Date: Tue, 08 Aug 2006 22:18:01 -0000

1Z wrote:

> (PS could you write *less* next time ? I find tha the more you write,
> the less
> I understand!)

I sympathise!

However, I'm not sure how much further we're destined to get with this
particular dialogue. Each time we have another go I think I see where
we're going past each other, and I attempt to re-cast what I'm saying
to address this - hence the prolixity, which frustrates me probably as
much as it does you!

On this occasion, I'll say simply this: whilst of course not
unconscious of other treatments of these issues, particularly those
addressing the physical or computational issues, there's always seemed
to me to be something philosophically fishy about how the 'first
person' is supposed to just 'turn up' in a situation which is
fundamentally something else - a world fundamentally composed of
impersonal 'things'. I'm convinced this puzzles and confuses others
too, leading to IMO pseudo-problems like 'intelligent zombies', and
pseudo-solutions like dualism. So it occurred to me: supposing one
were to think of the world not as a collection of 'things' (or as I
think physics teaches us a 'field' differentiated into apparently
individual 'things') but as a 'big person' (or a big personal field,
differentiated into apparently individual persons).

I'm sorry if this sounds like Teletubbies, but I'm not going to deploy
my jargon this time! We're here because the 'big person' is here and
we're a part of him (her/ us?). Now this 'big person' would have to be
conscious in parts, and unconscious in other parts, but it then ocurred
to me that this is *exactly* analogous to our own situation: we are
indeed conscious in parts and at times, and unconscious in other parts
and at other times. The distinction seems to arise from local strucure
and function.

Everything else really follows from this, and personally I've found
that thinking in this way dissolves the sort of conceptual confusions
that I've mentioned - same structure, same function, same first
personhood (no zombies, no dualism). The rest of course, is the
infamous 'easy problem', on which I have no particular purchase.

Now that I've put it in this I hope disarmingly naive way, you may wish
to request clarification on any point, or you may feel that you simply
disagree, or aren't interested. As ever, I'd be pleased to hear from


> David Nyman wrote:
> > 1Z wrote:
> >
> > > I don't even know what you mean by "first person".
> > >
> >
> > Peter
> >
> > It's a bit late in the day perhaps to tell me you 'don't even know what
> > I mean by first person'!
> Haven't I been saying that all along.
> > However, I'll have another go. I'm concerned
> > to distinguish two basic meanings, which failing to specify IMO causes
> > a lot of confusion:
> >
> > 1) First person 1 (FP1) - the point-of-view that is directly claimed by
> > an individual (FP1i) such as David or Peter, or what is generally meant
> > when the word 'I' is directly uttered by such a person.
> A sense of "1st person" that cannot possibly be more fundamental
> than a person. And persons are not fundamental....
> > 2) First person 2 (FP2) - representations of an FP1 point-of-view as
> > modelled within members of the FP1 community. The usage of 'David' or
> > 'Peter' in point 1) exemplifies one type of such representation, whose
> > presumed referent is an FP1i person.
> Or whose presumed referent is just a person.
> > My speculation is that both of the above arise through specific sorts
> > of differentiation of an axiomatically FP1 context (FP1g).
> FP1 depend on a particular kind of structure, a
> person, with a particular kind of mental apparatus
> allowing it to have such a thing as a "point of view".
> How could FP1-ness be more fundamental than those structures and
> apparatuses ?
> > My reason
> > for this speculation is to simplify the ontological assumptions. If
> > our existential context
> What is an "existential context" ?
> > is FP1 then any zone within it is also FP1 and
> > consequently, when structured into FP1i persons, yields the direct
> > experience with which we all claim familiarity. I have been at pains
> > to point out that the nature and content of experience are a function
> > of such structure, and we shouldn't think in terms of 'conscious rocks'
> > or whatever. Having established such an FP1 context, we can then go on
> > to show that FP2 and third person (TP) are simply other zones, not
> > themselves organised for self-experience/ self-reporting, that are
> > categorised in specific ways for specific purposes. They are not novel
> > ontological states.
> If 3rdP "zones" are 3rdP because of the way they
> are organised, the 1stP zones are 1stP becasueof the way
> they are organised. The fundamental situation, absent
> variation in organsation, is surely 0-personal.
> > > You seem to think that the boundraries of the self are given by
> > > secondary,
> > > non-fundamental structures and properties, likewise qualia.
> >
> > This is a good point. However, it prompts me to deny that the
> > structures you refer to are 'secondary'.
> How can structures fail to be secondary ? Surely whatever
> they are constructed out is primary ?
> > In claiming the FP1 context
> > to be 'primitive', I'm saying that it is irreducible.
> An irreducible structure or an irreducible non-structure ?
> How can you have an irreducible structure ? How can you hav
> e a person without a structure ?
> > We have to begin
> > somewhere.
> Indeed. But why not begin with something simpler than
> a person ?
> > Likewise, in relying on 'differentiation' of this context
> > (and here I'm designedly agnostic about whether this 'differentiation'
> > resolves into comp, strings, or whatever)
> A much graver question is whether you can have personhod without
> differentiation,
> and first-personhood without personhood.
> > I'm also claiming the
> > independent irreducibility of primitive differentiation.
> > I've
> > discussed this in one of my replies to Bruno in this thread. Clearly
> > the undifferentiated FP1g context can yield no experience since thus
> > conceived it can have no 'content', either 'perceiver' or
> > 'what-is-perceived'.
> > So it must be differentiated.
> Assuming that it is 1st-personal. Dropping that
> assumption allows you to state the more intuitive conlusion
> that differentiation a plurality are not fundamental. (That is,
> it allows you to explain the complex in terms of the simple,
> rather than the complex)
> > Now it seems to me that such a basic
> > notion of differentiation (prior to any schematisation into
> > fundamental-object-of-the-month) is primitive and irreducible, not to
> > say semantically paradoxical (since an undifferentiated whole that is
> > the sum of everything cannot in logic rely on symmetry-breaking from
> > any source whatsoever).
> Err. Hmm. Whatever. I still think that if you are not
> reducing the complex to the simple, you are not really
> *explaining*.
> > Such apparent paradoxicality is a good test of
> > 'primitiveness'. Both primitives are required,
> Huh ? What's the other one ?
> > because without the
> > 'whole', the mutual transmutability of all phenomena is
> > incomprehensible, and without the 'part', no phenomena can arise at
> > all. Consequently the differentiation process, and the structures to
> > which it gives rise, are as fundamental as the context itself.
> You've lost me.
> > As to 'qualia', I'd like to put it as follows. In my account of things,
> > our existence within the FP1g context is what gives us our purchase on
> > the (rest of the) world, what enables us to 'grasp it'.
> Not the causal interactions explained in detail by science ?
> > Whatever we
> > perceive, we do so in terms of our existence in this form. Such direct
> > access, what we sometimes call 'experience', is by this token both
> > incorrigible, and literally indescribable. To take one of the
> > favourite examples, the 'experience of red', this is something which we
> > know by 'direct grasp', and as such it takes its place within our
> > 'shareable knowledge base', or SKB. But we cannot 'describe' (i.e.
> > reduce) this direct experience, even to ourselves. What we can do is
> > to refer to it ostensively - to 'point' to it - and to relate it to
> > other elements within the SKB.
> That merely states the qualia issue. The problem I have is that
> since qualia are not (AFAICS) explained by your fundamental
> 1st person thingy, it is difficult to see what useful work it is doing.
> > This puts us on precisely the same footing as the other members of the
> > FP1i community with whom we can share the SKB. So IMO 'qualia' are an
> > attribute of the FP2-type modelling of the SKB. You know what I mean
> > by the term because we can both 'point' to parts of the SKB that in our
> > view possess this attribute. But the 'redness-of-red' is the medium,
> > the 'means whereby', we grasp some element of the world directly, and
> > is in itself not transmissible - it's not part of the SKB information
> > content, it's the *medium* of the SKB (and everything else).
> Does that claim follow from 1st-personness , or is it a second
> claim ?
> > In this
> > direct FP1 aspect 'red' is a fundamental structure based on a primitive
> > context with a primitive process of differentiation.
> > > Why shoukdn't FP1i be the most primitive 1st-person,
> > > arising from 0-personality ?
> >
> > It depends what you want 0-personality to mean.
> Neither 1st nor third person. If no structure capable
> of 1st-person experience has a risen (e.g the universe 13
> billion years ago) then
> > Of course I don't
> > claim that FP1g has 'personality' in the FP1i sense of a single
> > individual point-of-view.
> That's one of the things that makes it so hard to understand.
> > What I'm claiming is that both have the same
> > ontological status, and since when we come to the 'individuation' of
> > the context - i.e. ourselves (amongst others) - we know incorrigibly
> > that this ontology is first-personal, this status must per simplicitas
> > be first personal.
> We know that we are persons. How fundamental
> that may be , is a matter of investigation.
> > You may wish to distinguish 0-personal from third
> > personal, in which case we might be able to agree on a more mutually
> > satisfactory terminology (I'd be more than happy to abandon my terms
> > for more transparent ones).
> 3rd-personal: known to a person.
> 0-personal: neither knowing nor known.
> > In my view the conceptual problems in trying to rationalise first
> > personal with third personal is that IMO 'third person' is an attribute
> > applicable only in a metaphorical or classificational sense to
> > 'objects' within the SKB.
> Hence the need for a separate defintion of 0-personal.
> > The SKB is the 'third personal world', but
> > because ordinary language and inter-personal discourse forces us to
> > communicate exclusively in terms of the SKB, this puts us into a
> > schizoid state between the 'world-out-there' (i.e. our ostensive
> > references to the SKB, the FP2 or descriptive world) and the
> > 'world-in-here' (i.e. our 'experience' or 'direct grasp' of the SKB,
> > the FP1 or instantiated world).
> > When I posit the FP1-only ontology,
> > I'm saying that all of this can be modelled as the 'world-in-here',
> > though of course not in a naive solipsistic sense - i.e. not the
> > world-in-FP1i, but the world-in-FP1g.
> I still don't see what the non-naive sense is.
> > > All of that is structural and therefore seconfary to any prime
> > > substance.
> >
> > I think that would be a telling point but for my arguments above.
> Which argument ? I find what you say very difficutl to follow.
> > > You could have done the same starting from a 0-personal position.
> >
> > I hope you can now see why I believe that I could not, unless it turns
> > out that you mean by 0-personal what I mean by FP1g.
> I can't. You seem to be assuming that the 1st-personal
> is fundamnetal or nothing. I don't see where you get
> tht dichotomy from.
> > To test this,
> > could you elaborate on how in your view the 'directly manifest' first
> > personal point-of-view (not, mark you, FP2 descriptive analogs thereof,
> > such as the reference in this sentence) arises from the 0-personal.
> It is only directly manifest inasmuch as it how the brain
> seems to itself. That does not make it ontologically fundamental.
> What is epistemologically basic -- subjective expereince -- is
> ontologically very complex and very far from basic. A lot
> of philosophy goes into the weeds when it confuses epistemic
> prioirty with ontological priority.
> > If
> > the 0-personal entails that under appropriate structural delimitation,
> > such 'pinched-off' zones display FP1i first person-hood - such as that
> > in which I presume you are modelling these words *right now* - then it
> > may turn out that we are merely confusing terms rather than concepts.
> The 0-personal does not exclude the 1st personal. The 1stP and 3rdP
> emerge from it.
> > David
> (PS could you write *less* next time ? I find tha the more you write,
> the less
> I understand!)

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Received on Tue Aug 08 2006 - 18:20:24 PDT

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