Re: Dreaming On

From: David Nyman <>
Date: Mon, 10 Aug 2009 04:50:38 +0100

2009/8/6 1Z <>:

> You're doing it again. You are assuming that because the mental
> is epistemically certain, it is ipso facto ontologically basic. But
> that
> doesn't follow at all. I have evidence that the physical is basic --
> the whole
> of science. You have no evidence that the mental is basic because the
> mental
> does not reveal its own ontological nature. All you have is the
> **epistemic*** claim
> that the mental definitely exists, in some sense.

The unique feature of consciousness is not - as you claim - its
'epistemic' certainty, but its status as what is *ontologically
certain*. To regard consciousness itself (or in Bruno's terms the
ontological first person) as merely the object of 'knowledge' is to
commit the fallacy of taking 'observation' in a naively literal sense:
i.e. to require there to be an 'observer'. But this, self-evidently,
can only lead to infinite regress. Consequently, consciousness does
not consist in the 'observation' of epistemic entities, but in their
instantiation. Consciousness is, as it were, the 'ontology of
epistemology'. When you say that the physical is basic, you are
yourself mistaking the epistemological for the ontological. As to
your evidence consisting in 'the whole of science', since the nature
and significance of this evidence is precisely what is in question, it
is inadequate merely to make such appeals to authority. It would be
more helpful if you would address these arguments in their own terms,
rather than begging various questions by appeal to 'pre-established
fact', or tilting at straw men of your own making.

>> > But you haven't said what the problem is in the emergence of the
>> > mental
>> > from the physical
>> On the contrary, I've said it repeatedly.
> Please say it again.

The problem is this: in the face of one indubitable ontology - that
exemplified in consciousness - you try get physically-basic ontology
for free. In other words, you simply assume that if we take ourselves
to 'be' - what? - say, neural activity in 'computational' - or some
yet-to-be-established - guise, then - pouf! - the ontological first
person is conjured from mere description. But there is no sense in
which one can simply 'be' an epistemic 'object' - a theoretical
construction. *This* is the explanatory gap, and you are trying to
jump it by this customary, well-worn sleight-of-intuition. But it is
precisely this bit of magic that is in question. And in my view the
right place to start questioning is the direction of inference, as
I've - repeatedly - said.

> You still haven't said what the objection is to saying that
> the mental emerges from the physical.

I'm saying that all that can 'emerge' from one class of description is
another class of description. If that exhausts your idea of the
'mental' I say you are an eliminativist. But you say you're not.
What then?

> Assuming (without justification) that anything can arbitrarily be said
> to have
> any function. That is an argument you have made elsewhere, it is not
> a particularly good argument, and it is not germane to this discussion

This is a straw man of your own construction. My argument does not
consist in the claim that 'anything can arbitrarily be said to have
any function'. What I'm criticising, quite specifically, is the claim
that the self-evidently existent category of the ontological first
person is equivalent to a particular class of arrangements of
ontologically-basic-in-their-own-right physical entities. This, I
take it, can be construed only as a particularly odd form of dualism,
or eliminativism. The 'arbitrariness' is inherent in the burden of
the term 'functionalism', which is intrinsically neutral as to the
details of physical implementation. This is its great strength in its
legitimate sphere of application, and its fatal weakness in the
present context.

>>But then one must
>> abjure functional-computational justifications for the 'mental':
>> again, fair enough (it's probably closer to my own prejudice). But
>> unless you're an eliminativist about the mental, you can't have it
>> both ways.
> Of course you can! There are plenty accounts of the mental that
> are neither functionalist nor elimintativist. Sheesh.

Yes of course there are other accounts, but my argument at this point
is specifically against functionalist accounts based on an assumed
physical ontology. So I repeat: the burden of my claim is that if you
want to be ontological about the physical, you must give up
functionalist arguments for mind; otherwise you are an implicit
dualist, or else an eliminativist, even though you may be unaware of
it (as indeed an eliminativist would have to be!) You may of course
disagree, but saying 'of course you can' is not an argument. Beyond
that, I'm not arguing here against other accounts of the mental,
though you don't indicate what you have in mind (as it were)

>> But I think we can save them quite handily. First, calling something
>> 'idealism' just pumps the intuition that there have to be sort of
>> bright images everywhere independent of 'minds'. The problem here is
>> that we're stuck with folk vocabulary that drags in extraneous notions
>> left, right and centre causing an implosion of the imagination. We
>> need to fix this, and I have a couple of suggestions. The first was
>> in my reply to Rex, where I suggest, in answer to your implicit
>> question above, that the universe has to take things just as
>> personally as it needs to exist.
> Why, for heaven's sake? That seems completely arbitrary.

Perhaps you could try a little harder to go beyond the vocabulary (I'm
sorry if this seems impolite, I don't intend it to be). As I've said,
virtually every term we use has been used by someone else to mean
something different. The use of the term 'personal' in this context,
as I've tried to explain, is to carry the sense that what 'exists' is
always, as it were, incipiently personal or 'owned'. This is, I
believe, not crude idealism, but in fact the crucial prerequisite for
any intuition as to how the 'ownership' of consciousness could be
conceived to emerge from something in some sense more fundamental, but
nonetheless categorically congruent.

>> This leads to the second suggestion: what we call 'mind' is the
>> evolved capacity for representation, memory and intention directed
>> towards an environment, resulting from selected-for elaborations of
>> primitive but critically-similar potentials. Of course, this is the
>> standard direction of any explanatory thrust, but with the critical
>> stipulation that we must be able to preserve the appearances from soup
>> to nuts: this is, as you point out, the nub. Again, I don't insist on
>> any particular vocabulary, only the necessary sense. As Popper
>> remarks, debate about words is futile - just clarify your terms until
>> the problem emerges precisely, or goes away.
> Repeating that we need to save the appearances does nothing to save
> them


>> Of the above factors, the one that bears, I think, most on the
>> 'appearance of mindlessness', is memory (a point made by Russell in
>> his neutral monist guise). Essentially, we're 'conscious' of what we
>> can remember - this is inherent in the sense of re-presentation. So
>> it may not in fact meet the case to hold that we're 'unaware' of what
>> we don't remember so well, but rather that 'primitive' awareness is
>> swamped in our memory by repeated re-presentation of dominant
>> higher-order themes.
> You cannot derive an "is true" from a "might be true".

No, of course not. But your mind seemed to be boggled by the idea
that the fundamental 'personalisation' of the universe must
necessarily manifest with a very different appearance to that which is
in evidence. I'm merely trying to apply a little massage to the
intuition that this doesn't have to be so.

> You have no need to struggle to come up with a panpsychist
> theory,

I don't have a 'panpsychist' theory. Rather, I've made some general
arguments relating to the various senses of the term 'to exist' with
which I hope to give a shove to intuitions that have perhaps become
too stuck in one groove

> since you have no valid objection to physicalism.
> Your argument so far has been based on two dubious premises --
> that eliminativism and functonalism are the only physicalist options,
> and that functionalism is arbitrary and in-the-eye-of-beholder.

Again, calling them 'dubious' is not an argument (as you correctly
pointed out when I lazily resorted to 'specious'). AFAICS you have
not independently argued for their dubiousness, but instead have
gestured towards 'well-established' positions. Furthermore, I haven't
at all claimed that they are the *only* physicalist options, I've
simply attacked these specific positions where they are resorted to.
If you are prepared to confront what has actually been said,
specifically and point for point, we may make progress, but otherwise
I fear we shan''t get much further.


>> > On 30 July, 23:55, David Nyman <> wrote:
>> >> 2009/7/30 1Z <>:
>> >> > Cart before the horse:
>> >> > Why should anyone believe in an ontological gap that isn't backed by
>> >> > an explanatory gap?
>> >> Why indeed?
>> > Weren't you arguing for one?
>> >> > The mere existence of the mental implies nothing whatsoever
>> >> > about any dualism any more than the simultaneous existence
>> >> > of cabbages and kings.
>> >> Well, I don't disagree with that, although I'm not quite sure what you
>> >> intend by the dismissive 'mere'. Our disagreements haven't usually
>> >> been about the necessity of dualism, which I think we both abjure, but
>> >> rather whether mind is an abstraction from from matter or vice versa.
>> >> I'm not sure we'll ever agree on that.
>> >> > Dualism requires an ontological divide--not
>> >> > a mere difference of kind--and an ontological divide requires
>> >> > explanatory irreducibility.
>> >> Couldn't agree more. However, my starting point is that the existence
>> >> of the mental (not to struggle over terminology) is indubitable, which
>> >> makes the direction of abstraction mandatory if we want to save
>> >> monism.
>> > That doesn't follow at all. The epistemic fact that we are more sure
>> > of A than B doesn't imply any metaphysical fact that B is reducible to
>> > A rather
>> > than vice versa. The epistemic arrow and the metaphysical arrow are
>> > two different arrows. Since we are macroscopic, we are constructed to
>> > have
>> > better access to high-level phenomena such as chairs and rocks than
>> > the
>> > fundamental particles that comprise them.
>> >> Unless one denies reality to the mental (i.e. eliminativism)
>> >> I'm saying that further insistence on a material ontology in the usual
>> >> sense is an implicit commitment to dualism.
>> > THat doesn't follow either. For dualism you need materalism AND the
>> > mental AND an unbridgeable gap. You keep leaving the gap out.
>> >>Specious relationship
>> >> terms such as 'functional equivalence', 'identical to', 'inside of'
>> >> and the like just mask this, IMO, and under examination can be seen to
>> >> imply two-ness, not one-ness.
>> > Those positions have thei critics, but calling them
>> > 'specious' is not criticism
>> >> Further, in addition to its obvious (at
>> >> least to me) merit of 'saving the appearances',
>> > Idealism does not save appearances. It cannot explain
>> > how there was a mindless universe for millions of years before
>> > life evolved, for instance. Idealists usually have to flatly deny that
>> > particular
>> > appearance.
>> >> this narrative seems
>> >> to serve the rest of the story at least as handily as the
>> >> 'externalised reality' version. But I don't imagine we'll ever agree
>> >> on this either.
>> >> BTW, perhaps I should clarify what I mean by 'the usual sense' of
>> >> materialism, because it may be that this is part of any confusion.
>> >> This sense is, I take it, the doctrine that reality is 'nothing but'
>> >> the material. Stating it this way of course commits you, under
>> >> monism, to a purely abstract conception of the mental.
>> > I am not sure what you mean by abstract. Since the mental
>> > is uncontroversially not a fundamental item in physics. it has to be
>> > higher-level
>> > or emergent in some way, like shoes and ships and sealing-wax.
>> > But you haven't said what the problem is in the emergence of the
>> > mental
>> > from the physical
>> >>The
>> ...
>> read more
> >

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Received on Mon Aug 10 2009 - 04:50:38 PDT

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