Saturday, July 24, 2010

A Somewhat Angsty Phenomenological Take on Reality

What is real? "Real" is that which imposes metaphysical order on all of our capacities (faculties) without our consent; and it is that which, furthermore, has the power to end our consciousness permanently.

I admit, it's not a terribly clear characterization.

Perhaps a simpler way to say it is, "From the personal perspective, the bare minimum of identifiably objective reality consists of that which is not amenable to change through our actions."

Still a problematic assertion. After all, I can never control another being's thoughts the way I can control my own--do we say that those thoughts are part of objective reality? Are their personal sensations a part as well?

I would say not, although the fact of their having those sensations is obviously an objective fact. It is the representational content of their sensations that may not map perfectly onto reality, e.g. when they are dreaming, imagining, or hallucinating. (That is to say, their experiences at a given moment may not be veridical.)

More confusingly, it might seem that we can change many things that we normally think of as objective. E.g., it is an objective fact that the brick wall over there is red (which we may translate to language that makes less use of second-order properties: "the wall over there reflects a majority of light with such and such a wavelength", for example). But, I can change that fact through my personal actions, by painting it green. So was it never an objective fact that the wall was red, after all?

Not exactly. I'm trying to get at something a little more fundamental. While it is true that you can change an object's color by painting it, you nevertheless cannot violate the laws of physics nor logic in doing so. With that in mind, what I'm saying seems to be this: the fundamental "building blocks" of reality, from a personal perspective, are impossibilities, which is to say, invariants.


This is still a very problematic description.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

More About People Misjudging Themselves

The Philosopher's Eye reports:

Chances are, you will be a less reliable indicator of your own behavior than a brain scan will...

... [A] research team, led by Matthew Lieberman, a psychology professor at UCLA, had subjects watch a public service announcement about the benefits of sunscreen while in an fMRI machine. The researchers looked for an increase in activity of the medial prefrontal cortex, a part of the brain associated with values, preferences, and self-reflection. Then, the researchers asked the subjects how likely they were to use more sunscreen during the upcoming week. After one week, the subjects were asked how often they ended up using sunscreen.

What the researchers found was that the subjects who showed an increase in medial prefrontal cortex activity were 75% more likely to use sunscreen, whereas the subjects who self-reported the intention to use more sunscreen were only about 50% more likely to do so. Thus, the researchers had better information about how the subjects would behave during the upcoming weeks than the subjects themselves.
Here is a link to the original research (also found in the Philosopher's Eye page, of course.)

Monday, May 24, 2010

Thinking vs Acting

I still don't understand exactly the "internal" difference between doing and just..... thinking about doing. Imagining it.

If I now intend to make a physical action, such as wiggle one of my toes, there's something happening in my mind that precedes that action--an anticipatory "planning" or intention stage. (If I remember correctly, studies by Benjamin Libet suggest that we don't even become conscious of our brain's decision to initiate an action until some 200-500ms after our brain starts setting it in motion.) But I can think about wiggling a toe without actually doing it--in fact, that's what I'm doing now as I make these observations, and what you the reader will likely be doing as these words call forth involuntary recollections in your mind. I can imagine wiggling a toe, even. Since most of us are such visual creatures, this will probably be first and foremost a mentally created image of my own toe wiggling (somehow); as I add detail to the imagining, I can recall the other sensations that accompany such a feat: the quale of my toe shifting position, the accompanying movement of my skin, the small shifts in texture or whatever that my skin will register if my movement causes it to encounter new surfaces/objects, etc.

I can even try to mentally re-create (simulate) the very willing, or whatever it is, that causes genuine movement. I can do this at a somewhat intuitive level, I think, but I feel I have a very poor grasp on what is actually happening.

Now, the curious thing about my imaginings here, is that imagining itself is another type of action; so, while I'm tinkering with how my mind translates thought into action, I am meanwhile doing just that in order to "experiment" at all. (Proper scientists will be horrified to here such phenomenological investigation referred to as "experimentation", but hey, I'm not talking about proper scientific experiments in this context.)

It seems that there is always some kind of buffer or gap that I cannot quite cross here.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Probably makes me laugh more than it ought to have

A parenthetical comment in a recent blog post from Ben Burgis:

Some friends of mine have this very nerdy running joke about starting a bar called "The Two Dogmas Of Alcoholism." We'd serve a shot called "The Analytic" and a shot called "The Synthetic" and both of them would be Jose Cuervo. When patrons had one of each and then asked what the difference was, the bar-tenders would all be trained to respond with, "ex-actly!"
I'd be a fan.