Monday, December 27, 2010
Monday, December 20, 2010
Monday, December 13, 2010
Monday, December 06, 2010
Monday, November 29, 2010
Monday, November 22, 2010
Monday, November 15, 2010
Monday, November 08, 2010
Monday, November 01, 2010
Friday, October 15, 2010
Monday, October 11, 2010
Monday, October 04, 2010
These are only minimum criteria. If they haven’t been fulfilled in some way, we cannot say that the agent has a responsibility for an action in my sense. And just this “in some way” makes the concept so difficult to catch. For who determines in which way? For example, was running into the car an action of mine? (See my blog last week) Cycling near Breukelen was, for I had the intention to cycle there, it’s true. However, when I saw the car I tried to avoid it. Nevertheless, the collision was a consequence of my action cycling there, and it can be defended that this makes that I am responsible for the accident: It was my choice to become a road-user and I need to know then that I run risks to make mistakes and to cause an accident. In this sense I am responsible for the accident caused by my mistake and it is this which gives me an obligation to pay for the damaged caused by me. But does it give me a moral obligation? As for me I have the feeling it does, for the car driver couldn’t help that I run into his car. However, the Dutch legislator does not agree. According to him every car driver needs to know that a car can cause serious injuries and heavy damage to a pedestrian or cyclist that can exceed by far the apparent severity of the accident. A car is a dangerous instrument. Therefore, by becoming a road-user, a car driver is responsible for the consequences of a collision with a pedestrian or cyclist, even if s/he did not cause it, and s/he has a moral (and legal) obligation to pay at least a part of the damage caused. That’s what the Dutch legislator thinks.
The upshot is that the concept of responsibility can be given many interpretations and can be fleshed out in many ways. Just when we have determined the minimum criteria of what being responsible is, the discussion really starts.
Monday, September 27, 2010
(photo taken with pinhole camera)
When I called my insurance company, the lady on the line made me doubt whether even this was correct. She told me that according to Dutch law cyclists and pedestrians are protected “traffic participants” and that in case of a collision with a car they are not be liable for the damage. She advised me to recover my damage from (the insurance company of) the chauffeur and it was even not yet sure whether my insurance company needed to pay the damage of the car. The reason is that in a collision between a car and a pedestrian or cyclist the chances to get damage are very unequal. But if this is so, it might imply that my person and my brain interpreter and/or my zombie are responsible for the accident but nor for the damage of the accident.
Monday, September 20, 2010
We have to consider several possibilities here. The first one is the case that my chauffeur example is a good analogy for: It is I – my brain interpreter – who determines the main lines of what I am doing and it is my zombie who executes them. This sounds quite Cartesian (like all the cases here), but I think that further insight will show that actually I and my zombie are deeply integrated. Anyhow, I think this case is a variant of the assumption that man has a free will and as such is responsible for what s/he is doing.
A second possibility seems more interesting: That it is not I – my brain interpreter – who determines the main lines of my actions, but that my zombie does. My I is really a brain interpreter and it is my zombie who takes the decisions, which are then explained by my brain interpreter, who puts them into words. But does this mean that I (now in the sense of me as a person) am not responsible for what I am doing? However, it can still be so that my actions and the decisions that ground them are my actions and decisions, albeit that my actions are based on my rational unconscious decisions. My brain interpreter is then like the government speaker who tells the press afterwards what the government has decided, informed about what has been decided by the prime minister, because the government speaker herself wasn’t present at the cabinet meeting. But then the cabinet decisions as such are still rational decisions, although the speaker learned about them only afterwards. So, it can be with my zombie, too: my zombie takes his decisions hidden for the brain interpreter but they are based on relevant facts, experiences, feelings and what more it needs for a rational weighing. Basically, this situation is not really different from the first situation described here: I am still a person with a free will.
But what if my zombie is merely a kind of automaton? A kind of machine or computer that processes input and output according to certain rules programmed by nature and past experiences, without any kind of deliberate rational weighing (whatever that might mean)? And that I, in the sense of my brain interpreter, do not more than giving a kind of description of the output? And that I as a person am not more than a sort of executer of these decisions when acting? Then I am really a zombie although a zombie with the appearance of a conscious being.
That I am in fact not more than a zombie in disguise is quite well possible, of course. But does this make any difference with the free will situation? Should we say then: well, because I am actually a zombie who behaves automatically, I cannot help what I do, and it is the same for my fellow men? We are all automatons and we do not know what we do? Should we have to conclude then that we have to skip the idea of responsibility for what we are doing from our vocabulary? Or are we still responsible in some sense? Maybe it is irrational, but I guess that nobody would accept our not being responsible in some sense.
Monday, September 13, 2010
Let’s say a manager has a car with chauffeur and orders the chauffeur to drive to 3 Mind Square where he has a meeting. The chauffeur carries out the order and brings the manager to the right address. Who then causes the ride being made: The manager or the chauffeur? For isn’t it so that the chauffeur starts the engine, steers the car, chooses the route, etc.? But in the end it is the manager who decides and determines what is to be done: Going to 3 Mind Square. Isn’t it the same with the zombie within me and my brain interpreter (=I) ? My zombie does a lot which I have no knowledge of and takes many decisions for me and starts to execute them before I know them. Might it not be so that my “mindbrain” functions like a manager with a car with chauffeur? That I am the manager and that the zombie within me is my chauffeur (and that my body is the car)? Then we can explain, for instance, why most I do is not conscious for me (the chauffeur drives the car, while the manager is reading his papers and takes no notice of what the chauffeur does) and why I can explain only afterwards why certain decisions have been taken (why I went through the Brain Street and not though the Zombie Street: because the chauffeur preferred this route, although I did not know that beforehand ), albeit I (the manager) who determines the main lines and plans for the future (going to 3 Mind Square).
Monday, September 06, 2010
The idea that there is both a zombie and an I in me, as I suggested in my last blog, sounds rather weird. However, this is a bit the picture one gets from the insights of neuroscience. On the one hand we have our brain, the “grey matter” in our head (actually it is not grey), which functions like a computer. It gathers and processes the information it receives from the world outside. And if necessary it takes the decisions. All this happens unconsciously. Let me call this part my zombie. On the other hand we have our conscious me, what is often called our brain interpreter. It is the “thing” in me that thinks that I am who I am and that consciously deliberates what I must do. At least, that’s what it seems to me that the brain interpreter does, for according to present insights the decisions are in fact taken by my zombie and not by my brain interpreter. The brain interpreter, so the idea is, comes into action only after a decision has been taken. It only words the decision and gives a motivation for it. However, because my zombie works unconsciously, we think that it is my brain interpreter, or “I”, who takes the decision and who gives the motivation for the decision, although actually it is my zombie who weighs the reasons for the decision and who decides, on the ground of past experiences, its education, its genetic constitution etc. We can see it a bit like this: Let’s say, every week a government has a closed meeting where it discusses the relevant issues and where it takes decisions. After the meeting, the government speaker tells the press what the ministers talked about, what they have decided and what the motivations for the decisions were. Then one can compare the cabinet in session with my zombie and the speaker with my brain interpreter. But it need not be so, of course, that the speaker tells the press what really took place in the meeting and what the real decisions and the real grounds for these decisions were. It is the same with my brain interpreter. I (my brain interpreter) can say that I want to do A for certain reasons, but when the moment is there my zombie makes that I do B (and then, afterwards, it is quite likely that my brain interpreter succeeds to put forward “good reasons” why I did B).
All this sounds quite Cartesian. It is as if I have a homunculus, a little man in my head, that accompanies my decisions and my actions. The difference is, of course, that the Cartesian homunculus is the one who takes the decisions and guides the zombie and then my body, while my brain interpreter follows the decisions taken by my zombie and what my body does because of these decisions. It is as if my consciousness is a mere epiphenomenon that plays no part in what I actually do.
I am not going to undermine this conception. I am not in the position to do that. Moreover, I think it is not unfounded. But in certain respects it is problematical. It looks, as said, as if our consciousness is a kind of epiphenomenon that has no real function in what we do, so why should we have it? Of course, it is possible that our consciousness has really no function, but it is quite exceptional in nature that organisms develop epiphenomenal entities. A second point is that when my zombie processes unconsciously the information it gets and when it decides unconsciously, this does not need to imply that it takes these decisions behind my back in some way as if another person has taken them; i.e. that these decisions are not mine. Even when the decisions are taken unconsciously by my zombie (and there are good reasons to think they are), it is quite well possible that they are “my” rational decisions, albeit that they are my rational unconscious decisions. They could be the same and be rational, just as when they wouldn’t be interpreted afterwards by my brain interpreter, but instead would be conscious at the moment of decision itself. Then my zombie is actually me minus consciousness.
This is just one possibility. And besides that, Victor Lamme, whose book inspired most of what I have written here (see my blog last week), doesn’t say in the end that we have a dualist structure. “Brain and mind are identical”, so Lamme (De vrije wil bestaat niet, 2010, p. 280). What all this shows is how difficult it is to solve Chalmers’s “hard problem”. For even if we know how the brain functions with all its psychological consequences (Chalmers’s “soft problem”), there is a good chance that we still do not know what consciousness and its relation with the brain are.
Monday, August 30, 2010
In my blog last week I attacked the argumentations by Nagel and Chalmers that there must be something subjective or conscious in us. I argued that we can at least know what it is like to be a zombie, since we often behave like a zombie and we know that we do. Of course, my reasoning was not serious. What is serious, however, is that we often do behave like a zombie. And this raises substantial questions about who and what we are and why we do what we do. Is it an exception that I sometimes behave like a zombie, for example when I am riding my bike? Maybe we think so, because we can come back to ourselves, by way of speaking, and become conscious of and reflect on that we were behaving like a zombie for a while. But this may be mere illusion.
On July 20, 2009, I published here a blog about free will and a cup of coffee. There I mentioned that Lawrence Williams and John A. Bargh had shown that holding a warm cup of coffee makes you have more positive attitudes towards a stranger than when you hold a cup of ice coffee. We think that the stranger is “really” sympathetic, while actually it is the temperature of our hands that makes us think so. Our consciousness of the fact (if it is a fact) that the stranger is sympathetic is apparently merely an epiphenomenon and has no influence on our feelings towards the stranger, at least not in this case. It is as if we first feel a person sympathetic because of an objective cause (the warm cup of coffee) and that only then we think that we feel that the person is sympathetic, namely because of this objectively caused feeling. It is as if our consciousness, our thinking, does not count.
This idea is supported by a case that I just read in a book about the free will by Victor Lamme. Here he describes the case of a woman who was blind because of a brain damage and who could grasp objects on a table just as a person with normal visibility does and not as someone does who is blind because of eye damages. When a person with normal visibility takes an object like a cup or an object with an irregular form like a piece of art, s/he grasps it immediately in the right way, unhesitatingly. A person with eye damage or a person with a blindfold must first feel what the shape of the object is before s/he can get a good grip on it. It was as if the woman concerned could see the object, although she was blind. This and other research brough Goodale to the conclusion that we have two systems in our brain that guide our actions. In addition to the system that makes us consciously do what we do there is one that determines our actions unconsciously. (cf Victor Lamme, De vrije wil bestaat niet, 2010, ch. 2). Or does the former system merely accompany our actions like an epiphenomenon? For what should the function of consciousness be for us if we can act also without being conscious of it? It looks as if there is something in us that is like a zombie. The question remains then, of course: who writes this blog? Do I write it or does my zombie write it?
Monday, August 23, 2010
(Background music: David Chalmers sings “The Zombie Blues”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jyS4VFh3xOU )
In a famous article, “What is it like to be a bat?”, Thomas Nagel argues that it is impossible to “catch” the inner experiences of a bat, a human being, a Martian or whatever being with an inner subjective life in the objective description of an outsider. What it is like to be or to experience for a bat, for a human being, for a Martian or for any other being with inner experiences is inherently different from how an outsider, for instance an investigator, observes these same inner experiences. Inner experiences as they are for the holder and as they are for an outsider looking at them are fundamentally of a different type. Therefore we have to distinguish between the perspective of the first person and the perspective of the third person when describing them (see http://organizations.utep.edu/Portals/1475/nagel_bat.pdf ).
Some twenty years later, David Chalmers argued in a similar way that we must make a distinction between the mental and the physical and that a physical reduction of our inner experiences is not possible. In his reasoning he used the so-called Zombie argument. A philosophical zombie is not the terrifying figure we know from films and the like but, in the words of Chalmers, “someone or something physically identical to me (or to any other conscious being), but lacking conscious experiences altogether” (The conscious mind, 1996, 94). However, if we try to describe a zombie, we must conclude that “There is nothing it is like to be a zombie” (id., 95). Arguing from here, Chalmers concludes that consciousness does exist, which makes that reducing conscious inner experiences to physical experiences is not possible. I know that my summary is too oversimplified, and maybe Chalmers will protest, but what I want to discuss is: Is there really nothing it is like to be a zombie?
Once upon a day I made a bike tour on my race bike, as I do so often. I had a strong wind against me and my legs were wheeling round like mad to fight the natural counter forces. The evening sun was dazzling me and I couldn’t see anything. My head had become empty and I felt like in trance. Suddenly I came back to myself and at once I knew it: So it is to feel like a zombie. Zombies do exist! And there is something it is like to be a zombie, for I experienced being a zombie! And we can experience how it is like to be a different creature! How sad for Chalmers and Nagel that such a simple bike ride can topple their theories. The upshot is: Take a bike and philosophize!
Monday, August 16, 2010
As said, von Wright (1916-2003) was a philosopher in the tradition of the analytical philosophy and. He studied first in Helsinki under the guidance of Eino Kaila, which brought him into touch with logical positivism, which was then in its heyday. Next, von Wright studied at several other universities in Europe including in Cambridge. In 1939, he met there Wittgenstein, but the first contact was disappointing for von Wright, because Wittgenstein was quite annoyed that a young man unknown to him dared to join his lectures while they had already started. Soon they became good friends, though. Later, after the death of Wittgenstein, von Wright became his successor in Cambridge and he edited Wittgenstein’s later works for publication.
Another important contribution by von Wright to philosophy is his development of deontic logic, the logic of ought. Although deontic logic was already known to the Greek, in fact von Wright can be seen as the founder of this branch of logic, because he proposed the first plausible system of deontic logic.
His third main contribution concerns my own field of interest: action theory. In my blog last week I mentioned already von Wright’s book Understanding and Explanation. This book has been influential in the discussion whether the relation between the premises and the conclusion of a practical syllogism for the explanation of actions is logical or causal. There has been a long and heavy debate on this question, which did not lead to a real solution. In my view, the best analysis of the issue, if not the solution of the problem, has come from von Wright, who showed that it is impossible to establish independently of each other which intention an actor had and the action that the same actor did on account of this intention. And this makes that it is impossible to verify the premises and the conclusion of a practical syllogism independently. However, this does not imply that one cannot explain an action, when one is able to establish separately what the intention of an action is and what the actor allegedly did on account of this intention. For me, von Wright’s approach is still the fundamental solution of the explanation-understanding controversy.
Be that as it is, the discussion gradually faded away, but the importance of von Wright’s book may still be judged from the fact that it has been reprinted in 2004, 33 years after its first publication.
It is true, von Wright is not a very well-known philosopher outside academic circles (and outside Finland), but its influence has not been unimportant as I have tried to show.
Monday, August 09, 2010
Monday, August 02, 2010
Friday, July 16, 2010
Monday, July 12, 2010
I am walking with wife in a little town and she says: “Look, storks!” Then I ask her (inspired by Wittgenstein): “Do you see the storks or do your eyes see the storks?” Does it make any difference then whether she points to her eyes or to her chest? In case she points to her eyes does that mean that her eyes see the storks but that she does not see them? And in case she points to her chest, does it mean that my wife herself sees the storks but that her eyes don’t see them? And if we think that our personality is made up of our psychological characteristics like our memory and other mental characteristics, as the adherents of the psychological continuity of personal identity do, is it so then that my wife as a person can see the storks with her eyes closed, in case it is so that she as a person sees the storks? Or are our eyes like a pair of binocles that we need when the storks are so far away that we cannot observe them with the naked eye? How weird to suggest that I am not an integrated whole.
Monday, July 05, 2010
However, we can change a frame as well. Then we fit it to the facts instead of the facts to the frame. Happily we do not have to do that often, for it can bring much uncertainty leading to much turmoil in our mind if not in society. It is a kind of revolution, a minor one or a big one, but a revolution it is. It was not without reason that Thomas Kuhn, who described the changes of frames in science, called his book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.
But is it really so that old frames are changed, if there is something basically wrong with them? If Kuhn is to be believed, often it does not happen that way, at least not in science. And I see no reason why what he describes is limited to science. According to Kuhn, it is not so that people change their own frames. New frames and new interpretations are developed, it is true, but they are developed by a new generation of thinkers. Only rarely they are proposed by those few “old thinkers” who have flexible, creative minds. New frames lead always to much opposition, in science as well in society, but gradually the opposition decreases. No, not because of what one might think: that the new ones are better and that those who opposed a new one first, are convinced of its value. That happens, too, but the most important reason that fundamentally new ideas become dominant is simply that the old ones die out, not only in science, as Kuhn pointed out, but in society in general. It is as with the old soldiers in the famous song: Old ideas never die, they just fade away.
Monday, June 28, 2010
Nevertheless, a fundamental sceptical interpretation of what we perceive may be useful. Actually it is that what scientists often do when they practise science. One of the problems in science is that a theory might seem to be a good one and still we do not know whether it is true. For how should we know that the theory is true? We only know that it works in the sense that when we apply it, it gives good results. Take a sunset, for instance. For thousands of years people thought that the sun really went down at the end of the day and they lived with it. The idea behind it was that the earth is the centre of the universe and everything in heaven moved around the earth. Okay, a few heavenly objects moved a bit strange and not in circles like the other ones, but who cared? Some people cared, like Galileo and Copernicus, and it was discovered that this problem could only be solved by changing the frame of reference, and putting the earth on a far less important place in universe. Everybody knows this story, but it still teaches us something important: our stable convictions and frames of reference are often not as stable as we might think. It shows also that false thoughts can be stimulating, for the original explanation of the sunset and the central place of the earth was false, but just the fact that it led to some strange phenomena (the apparently strange movements of the planets in the sky) stimulated the development of better ideas. Seen in this way, it need not be bad that sentences are divorced from the context, for Wittgenstein’s anti-sceptical interpretation of the quotation would stop us, where the context ends, but taken as it is its seemingly false sceptical interpretation can be a first step to topple what everybody “knows”. At least so it seems.
Monday, June 21, 2010
Most creativity does not start from nothing, with a flash and there it is. No, creativity is hard working. You cannot be creative without knowing what you are talking about, so you need thorough background knowledge. Therefore, I spend much time on reading on themes that I find interesting and that are important for what I want to write about. Themes that broaden my mind. From this background I choose my subjects for a blog or for an article or maybe even for a book. But then, I am not yet ready: I need a plan of work. I do not want to say that I have always a well developed plan when I am writing. Far from that. A vague plan is often enough for me to make a start and to come to a good end. Once I have begun writing, my mind produces lots of associations and when I pick them up, it leads me gradually to the development of what I have in my mind and want to express.
Writing in this way is not enough for creative writing, though. For until now it is simply a matter of practice and it does not bring something new. I do not want to say that the result will be unimportant. What is routine knowledge for me may be new for other people and help them a lot. But if I want to bring something really new and want to be really creative, I need something more: everything that I have gathered in my mind for my blog, article, book has to be mixed. That is where the turmoil starts. Unexpected and unlikely associations must be made, associations with themes, events and facts that do not belong to my main theme must be brought in. Thoughts that look foolish at first sight must be considered and developed in their consequences, old thoughts must be reconsidered, and so on, and so on. It is impossible to describe what happens, for much of it is an unconscious process. But one thing is clear: it is turmoil in my mind. And then it suddenly happens. It can be a matter of minutes, a matter of days, or sometimes a matter of years, but then, if everything goes well, all at once new creative thoughts sprout from my mind. It makes me happy and elated: something really new has been born. I am the first to admit that the result may also turn out to be false, and may have to be thrown away later. It may be an idea about which another person would say: “it involves too much turmoil in your … mind”. But is that bad? I don’t think so. For every thought can be the starting point for a new thought. Even a wrong thought, a false thought often is. It is the way creativity works and brings something positive. And in the end that couldn’t have happened without much turmoil in my mind and in the minds of other persons.
Monday, June 14, 2010
In the blog I mentioned several examples of actions: writing a book, making a garden, shopping, making a bike ride, chasing away a burglar, visiting a friend. Let us look at two of them: writing a book and making a bike ride. Writing a book is a long and complicated action. It can last many years, but in the end there is a result: a book, which you can buy in a shop, for instance. If you find writing a book a too complex example of an action, let’s say that I write a letter to a friend. It takes me half an hour to write it and then it is ready for posting. An action like making a bike ride does not have such a material result. I love cycling and several times a week I make a ride just for pleasure. However, when I am home again, I cannot say: Look, here is my bike ride. I have just finished it. Do you want to have it? Nobody would understand it, for making a bike ride does not lead to a result that you have at the end of it as a ready-made product independent of the action itself. No, the aim of making a bike ride is just the doing itself. Such an action was called “praxis” by Aristotle (from prattein, to act, to practise) and he distinguished it from actions like writing a book or a letter, which he called “poiesis” (from poiein, to make).
In view of the distinction between praxis and poiesis, maybe it is possible to say that one dies a bit when the result of a case of poiesis is destroyed, while praxis is an instance of living. Although this may be a starting point for answering my question, I think that it is not as simple as that. In the first place, we produce many things during the years. Letters, memorandums as an office worker, objects as a production worker or in spare time, meals in the kitchen, and so on. Can we say that I die a bit each time such a result of our productive actions is destroyed? I think that not everything we produce is so important that we can go that far. But secondly, not all actions can be clearly classified as a case of poiesis or praxis. Take making a garden. I have changed the wilderness behind my house into a garden. Must I say now that I have produced a garden? But at which moment was my garden finished? When I have put the last plant in it? And how about garden maintenance? A garden is not something stable but must be kept. Moreover, making a garden as such, the action of gardening, is for many people also a case of praxis. These are only a few of the points that need to be cleared, when one wants to distinguish poiesis and praxis. Nevertheless, I think that the distinction is useful and that it may help a bit to understand better what fundamentally belongs to us.