draft


I wish to draw out the waves in wheat fields idea somewhat more.  To me it is obvious at first glance what is meant.  But thinking the analogy through demands being explicit about a number of tricky issues, including the borders of the P-world (not a simple spatiotemporal bubble!) and the way in which the chair I meet in immediate experience is *both* collectively constituted, thus everyone’s chair, and entirely mine and mine alone.

This might be most fruitfully done within the book, when the P-world concept is first mooted, or shortly thereafter.

How to tell my story?  My febrile brain is seeing too much.  Perhaps I need a collaborator.  I am drafting a P-world/R-world sketch on Google Docs, and the opening is turgid, and becoming worse.  The reason is that I have too much to say at the start: I want to say I will do metaphysics, but I don’t want that to put anyone off.  I will not pick my way among the bones of philosophers, as Dave Vernon so aptly illustrated to me recently.  I want this to be in my language.  And I want it to be of relevance, so that conclusions follow.  Metaphysics without conclusions is (are?) sterile.

I do not have a clear audience in my head.  Sometimes I am writing a core article (which I think that sketch should remain) and sometimes a book.  Sometime I write for scientists, and sometimes for the disenchanted.  I am in a rush to get on to the importance of pop culture, the right way to approach negotiations, and sex sex sex.  I need to meter it a little.  I have promised the sketch as a central point.  It should bear reading by philosophers with daggers sheathed, and by lay people with no teeth or very many.

What people do when they get together, is compare theories. See if their categories match. Thus they refine their own categories, entrenching some, perhaps loosening others. people alone develop strange categories because they lack this exposure. their environment is statistically impoverished, so weeds grow among the plants. for the plants are the useful concepts, that better our collective lot. and the weeds are just random growth, without the pruning of social interaction.

Interestingly, with cyberspace, people can test their theories from a population with very different characteristics. The pruning of social interaction used to be spatially restricted. A growth pattern, like lichen. Now its suddenly distributed. Categories are being exchanged in unheard of ways. many of course find it confusing. this suggests a very strong destabilizing (or perhaps radically stabilizing) force. a phase transition? critical fluctuations before what? stasis? chaos? oscillation?

Let us start by assuming that physicists are doing a pretty good job of describing the fundamental nature of matter/energy in time/space. Their equations are entirely removed from the world of personal experience. The equations describe what I will choose to call the Rworld. In a sense, it is reality. It is what absolutely is. It is probably continuous in nature, but we are not entirely sure. The question of particulate vs continuous has plagued us for years, and it will raise its head here again. Its best description is as a set of equations, and it will remain forever unknowable. In contrast to the Rworld is the Pworld. This is the world we experience. It contains identifiable macroscopic objects. We can extend our senses somewhat with microscopes and telescopes, but to all intents and purposes, we live in a human-sized world, populated with the kind of thing that it makes sense for humans to see. Ants and trees will serve as examples. If we were ant sized, we would not see the world as populated with buildings and streets. At our scale, those would not be sensible categories. The categories we have evolved to see are those which by happenstance proved useful to an evolving population in a specific environmental situation. We sample the ambient energy to allow us to move in the world, but we are blind, literally and figuratively, to the patterned energy which we did not evolve sensitivities to. This is the perceptual world. Its categories have no ontological validity in the Rworld. They are probably not rigorously definable in the Rworld, for atoms fly off any body, and aggregate anew. The macroscopic objects of the Pworld have discrete identities. These may be two trees, but I can tell them apart, and there is no sense in which one can stand in for the other without a transformation of identity. The players in the Rworld are different in that each can substitute for another of the same molecular structure. Two electrons may differ in state, but not in identity. Alter the state of one (change its location and momentum) and it becomes formally identical to the other. This is a curious state of affairs. The constituents of the Rworld are unlike anything in the Pworld in a very deep way.

The Pworld is entirely contingent. Had evolution taken a different stochastic path, all would be different in detail. The objects, the categorical distinctions we draw in the world around us, the things we can name, are themselves a function of our evolutionary past. Run evolution differently, and you create a different set of needs in a different environment, and the categories which make sense to that parallel organism would differ from our own. The Pworld is thus a function of the Rworld. It arose because of the exact state and state derivative which describes the Rworld in exact detail. But we can unpack this relationship a little further. We, the macroscopic beings we call humans, are more obviously a function of the Rworld, and the form of the Pworld, as I have argued, is dictated or defined by the contingent beings we are. Thus we have P=f(human) and human = f(R), giving the satisfying claim: P=f(f(R)). We are the intermediaries in the chain. The things in our world (Pworld) relate to the things in Rworld by virtue of the kind of being we happen to be.

Now consider the things we have words for, that we talk about when we talk about things. These are akin to theories. They represent our way of understanding the world. The understanding I mean is not of propositional form, but an understanding expressed by interacting with the world, or swimming in it. Many of these theories are well-founded, and have stood the test of time. Tables are tables, ants are ants and trees are trees. But wait a sec,

…is a paper Nuala sent on (here). To the change blindness people, vision is inherently purposeful. This isn’t an optional attribute. Vision must be purposive. To Hockney, talking bout his photos, it is the temporal element that distinguishes his photo collages (and paintings) from static photographs. But they seem to be talking about the same thing from two different standpoints. Purpose and temporality. Hockney is clearly talking about purpose, and his point would be clearer (and apply more readily to his pictures too). The vision scientists are also clearly talking about time:

the changed object attribute needs to be task relevant at exactly the right times

Our experiments
suggest a highly purposive and task specific nature of human vision, where information extracted from the fixation point is
used for certain computations only “just in time” when needed to solve the current goal.

I feel my pain, you feel yours. I have EP for my pain, you for yours. It does not follow that I know everything about what my brain is doing, of course. Indeed, I believe the case for EP is grossly overstated. We are lousy at giving causal accounts for our own behaviour. Look inside and tell me what you are feeling right now. Apart from sensations, there is little immediate experience of the kind of things we would describe if asked ‘how are you feeling?’. Where my thought are verbalized, I am a listener, and my experience of the words is very like that of hearing others speak. The murky goings on that are not verbal are not immediately available to me, certainly not that I could describe or report on. (that may be circular. If I could report something, it would be verbal… nah, I can report pain, and I experience pain directly and non-verbally).

I once sketched an argument (overly academic) about the idea that TOM in apes, if accepted, suggests that we might have gone from that starting point, and used it to develop a theory of self. I was cautious about the whole TOM thing, preferring rather to focus on the utility of prediction for social animals. I hypothesized that prediction from unseen causes, as with behaviour within a rigid social hierarchy, would be facilitated by the development of a ‘model’ of the other, with causal attribution to things like ‘jealousy’, ‘stubbornness’ and the like. This in turn could be turned inwards, to generate a causal account of ones own behaviour. We are notoriously bad at providing causal accounts of our own behaviour, and such accounts are manifestly untrustworthy (I don’t know why I did it; I just did). This would suggest that much of what we claim epistemological privilege for is, in fact, hypothetical, inferred, and of a kind with the causal accounts we provide for the behaviour of others.

I was tickled to see Ramachandran making a very similar argument in edge.org.

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