Lawrence Trevanion

Canberra, Australia

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Lawrence Trevanion
Posted 9 months ago
Nancy Kanwisher: A neural portrait of the human mind
Thanks Syed. When we explain something we do so in terms of something else. For example, to say that a stone is a stone because it is a stone, is meaningless and says nothing at all. "The Mind has to do with the Mind" is similarly unhelpful. In regard to your second comment, the way people have thought about the world has changed enormously so it seems clear that there are better ways of thinking rather than right ways of thinking.
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Lawrence Trevanion
Posted 9 months ago
Steven Pinker and Rebecca Newberger Goldstein: The long reach of reason
Choosing 'reason' as the subject of a set piece as if the word was well understood sets a very poor example. It is very old fashioned. What is reason? It is a process in language that detects inconsistencies in understood meanings. Viewed in this way, reason operates to make our language about morals more general. It can be called a moral force but not a source of moral impulses. The more general philosophical issue is not about reason and emotion but about the relationship between language and action. And because we understand that people are evolved objects and language is a real mechanism, we are able to approach this issue in the evolution of language. Communication in biology, even just through sound, has an immensely deep biological history. The divergence of music and language is interesting. We should be prepared to discover extraordinary complexity. It is also clear that humans have evolved in response to language such that it seems likely that language is millions of years old and not tens or hundreds of thousands. Pinker's comment "we're led by our bodies and our emotions and use our puny powers of reason merely to rationalize our gut feelings after the fact" has faulty perspective. The use of metaphor and abstraction doesn't help: - 'led' is a metaphor, emotion is conceived of a thing, and a 'we' is posited that is distinct from the body. The correct perspective is to say that we use language as best we can when we have something to talk about. A subject who is asked to give an account of why they acted on unknown instructions is not just making things up - they are doing their best with the information available to them, which is what we do all the time. A gut feeling presents a similar language problem. The frivolity of this piece aside, it looks as if the great and much admired linguist doesn't understand language very well. He will do very much better once he understands the relationship between experience and the real.
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Lawrence Trevanion
Posted 9 months ago
Nancy Kanwisher: A neural portrait of the human mind
My view is that there is no such thing as mind (or consciousness) - that it is an old and ineffective abstraction used to understand our own perception. In this interesting talk it is notable that 'mind' is used once as idiom and in all the other instances 'the mind' or 'the human mind' can be replaced by 'human perception' without much awkwardness or loss of meaning. The advantage of using this kind of language is that it can be extended to all species without having to engage in the nonsensical question as to whether there is a mind or not. "A neural map of the human brain" is a fairly literal title. Using 'portrait' and 'mind' gives a vaguer more 'arty' flavour. Making the suggested substitution we get "A neural portrait of human perception", which, although it is a little off, is no worse than the original.
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Lawrence Trevanion
Posted 10 months ago
Jim Holt: Why does the universe exist?
This talk is worthless for two main reasons. It shows no understanding of the nature of explanation and it lacks an appreciation of how confused the meaning of the word 'exist' is. We explain A in terms of B where B is not A. If we say that there is nothing that is not A (or part of A) then we exclude any possibility of explaining A. Under these conditions, any explanation of A is circular or self referential. Needless to say, A understood as everything is not well defined and we are no position to say anything about it either logically or practically. The core meaning of the word 'exist' consists of how it is taught/learned. It has to do with a child perceiving objects (seeing, touching) and knowing they persist even when they don't perceive them; it has to do with the child knowing that we can imagine things that DON'T exist. It is not clear what information is being sought when we ask why a particular thing exists - "Why does that mountain exist?". We attempt to make sense of such questions through context. The question "Why does everything exist?" cannot have context at all and, of course, any answer would have to be in terms of something non-existent. So "Why does the universe exist?" is NOT "the deepest and most far-reaching question man can pose". It is a nebulous question featuring a poorly identified term 'the universe' (just consider how much its meaning has changed in the last millennium), a chaotic adjective, and no context with which to make sense of any of it.
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Lawrence Trevanion
Posted 10 months ago
David Chalmers: How do you explain consciousness?
Thanks, as always, for your courtesy and consideration. Knobe says "one of those people is going to have a very special property - that person is going to be you". I think this means we can generalise this idea of properties to say a thing has the property of being itself. Perhaps this is what happens to "people who had spent years and years thinking about Aristotle, logic, the problem of free will" (and Locke). Knobe says "Experimental philosophers AREN'T trying to ask the question, "Do human beings really have a true self and, if so, what is it?" Rather, the question has been, "Do people THINK of themselves and other people in terms of a true self and, if so, how do they decide which part of the self counts as this true self?" (my emphasis). He says also "So we have the idea of essence ... the true self is this kind of by product of our general way of thinking about things as having essences." Does naive and ancestral language suggest an 'essence instinct'? I doubt it - call it an 'identity instinct' perhaps and then see what we can make of it. Studying particular thinking can be little more than cultural hubris. My own view is that we think badly about experience and need to change it and so, whereas it might be interesting to study people who think they have consciousness and what they think it is, this is unlikely to be a study into anything fundamental. Knobe refers to "this problem in our field, which is that people adopt a certain view and then they stick to that view despite increasing amounts of evidence that that view is false." It seems doubtful that even he is much committed to the idea of a true self. Who knows, his future self may even be emabarrassed by it.
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Lawrence Trevanion
Posted 11 months ago
David Chalmers: How do you explain consciousness?
I don't recommend your link. A discussion about the true self cannot be worthwhile - I would have thought this was obvious. I think undue importance is given to introspection - the idea that we can learn more and more about ourselves by attending to our feelings. It is far more significant to suggest that people are evolved objects with evolved language than to pay attention to what these objects report and think about their feelings - language being communication between objects and significant on the scale in which they perceive the world. The best solution to these problems is to think of ourselves as an object that perceives (and that has necessarily limited knowledge of objects for that reason). Experience is "what it is like" for an object to perceive. We say of objects that they exist and we say of experience, not that it exists, but "I perceive ....". This states the relationship between personal experience and the real world. Until we do this we remain stuck in quaint old fashioned philosophical muddles. This kind of self is not identified as the sum of its experience. It does not have perfect identity. (It is not possible to establish any perfect identity.) It changes and it sleeps.
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Lawrence Trevanion
Posted 11 months ago
David Chalmers: How do you explain consciousness?
Any serious understanding must be compatible with the idea that language has evolved (most obviously as sound signals); and it must be compatible with the mechanics of teaching and learning language. Those who think they can compile concepts into ultimate certainties need to explain how a child can learn such certainties. Equally importantly, those who think we can state an incomprehensible problem in language need to explain how a child could learn of such incomprehension. Plainly, for all its self evidence, there is a great deal of confusion concerning consciousness. Surely it is a plain case of bad ideas, bad concepts.
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Lawrence Trevanion
Posted 11 months ago
David Chalmers: How do you explain consciousness?
It is admirable, if frustrating, to try to inject references to well grounded expertise across the expanse of these comments. But lists of curiosities that show that all experience is related to mechanism don't actually address the central issue. If we accept that all experience is related to mechanism then discoveries that elaborate the point will be interesting, possibly even fundamental to people enquiring into the mechanisms of perception. But in principle there is no difference between putting a piece of paper in front of the eyes to block vision (a physical act) to cutting the optic nerve to block vision. To the extent that we can distinguish perception we can speculate on mechanisms that might disrupt the features of that perception. We are not surprised that someone can see and not hear. We can accept there can be perception disorders of many kinds, memory disorders, emotional disorders etc. We can even speculate that someone could feel a limb where they have never had a limb - such an instance might suggest that brain development and limb development can proceed independently in the embryo, which seems unlikely. People who don't accept that all experience is related to mechanism exclude themselves from understanding and contributing to human knowledge. It would be like committing to alchemy rather than chemistry. The central issue is the relationship between the mechanism of perception and someone actually perceiving something and on this issue people such as Damasio and Dennett are plainly lacking in expertise. Do I need to quote Pinker on the point? It is worth repeating the definition I gave in the comment that so incensed you: - consciousness is normal fully functioning human perception. The funny thing is, I can imagine Damasio being quite struck by the idea: - it is, after all, a definition of consciousness that could make sense to a realist, and it brazenly puts the experience/mechanism problem aside.
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Lawrence Trevanion
Posted 11 months ago
David Chalmers: How do you explain consciousness?
With the above 5 points in mind we can say that it is the 'X' in "I perceive X" that is perceived, this is how the perceiving object reports it, and it is conceptually disordered to use the word 'perceive' again when enquiring into the mechanism of perception. I see a pencil. It makes no sense to say I see the light reflected off the pencil. The mechanism of me seeing a pencil involves the eye responding to light reflected off the pencil. It is now evident that an individual person is an enormously complex biological mesh set in a vast complex biological mesh. The language a person uses arises from signals that have been learned and taught across many generations. It is clear that this signalling has had a profound evolutionary effect. Right now we are in the middle of a language explosion and it has never been clearer that any particular usage is not innately authoritative. Language, however, is necessarily conventional and so it is an interesting question as to how quickly language/meaning can change - learned words transformed and then taught so that they remain understood. (A person who thinks they can use shared language to construe fundamental truths derived from self-knowledge alone, is delusional about language, knowledge and themselves.) It seems to me that most of the comments here use authoritative language and hence the traditional conflicts and confusions that arise from it. I think it is important to have a sense that the meanings of words can change and that profound conceptual change is possible. I think it is important to analyse meanings in terms of how they are learned and taught. I think it is important to maintain good conceptual discipline, in particular, the avoidance of self-inclusion, self-reference and circularity. I have not had much interest in defining a bad idea but the definition that consciousness refers to normal fully functioning human perception is worth repeating. Apologies for the ramble!
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Lawrence Trevanion
Posted 11 months ago
David Chalmers: How do you explain consciousness?
I think the best way to deal with the conceptual mess we've inherited is as follows. 1/ We start with our own personal experience without committing to any particular interpretation of it. The idea here is that personal experience is fundamental such that if, for example, we decide there is a real world then we will do so on the basis of personal experience. 2a/ We interpret personal experience as perception. Many ideas can be attached to this idea but at its most basic it means that experience is expressed as "I perceive X". 2b/ Inter-related with 2a is our instinctive understanding that we perceive a real world. We understand that perception is fallible and that not everything we perceive is directly related to objects eg. emotion, delusion etc. We say the real world exists and by this we mean that it persists regardless of whether we perceive it or not. 3/ It is evident that people are objects that perceive and the process of perception is is a real mechanism i.e. 'I' stands for the object that perceives in "I perceive X". 4/ A perceiver can be a reporter about what it perceives. The evolution of communication is diverse and complicated but in essence, language is a form of communication using shared conventional items of the real. Individuals are the source of changing language but change is effective only once it becomes conventional. Books have complicated this process enormously. 5/ To the extent that we can enquire into the real world we can enquire into ourselves and into perception as a mechanism. To think of 1/ as an existence (consciousness) in this enquiry is conceptually disordered and without basis. We cannot perceive the mechanisms of our perception because this would require further mechanism, and what would be the point? Similarly, we do not perceive the mechanism of our own language. Quite simply, an individual cannot be universally knowledgeable - only knowledgeable on the scale on which they perceive and communicate.