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    • CommentTimeOct 21st 2011
    Since it was brought up, some Daniel Dennett (Content and Consciousness) quotes I conveniently have tucked away in the same text file as the Hume:
    “... A particular pathway through the brain might just happen -- entirely fortuitously -- to link an afferent (input) event or stimulus to an efferent (output) event leading to appropriate behavious, and if such fortuitous linkages could in some way be generated, recognized and preserved by the brain, the organism could acquire a capactiy for generally appropriate behaviour....
    “Given a brain with an initial plasticity or capacity for producing different functional structures as a result of input, the key to utility in the brain must be the further capacity to sort out these functional structures, keeping and using those that are useful to the survival and comfort of the organism, and eliminating or refraining from using the harmful ones.”
    "The quest for a plausible and consistent analysis of consciousness develops into the hunting down of that elusive quarry, the little man in the brain, who is driven first from his role as introspector only to reappear as perceiver, reasoner, intender, and knower.... Expelling him from our thinking about mind requires, I hope to show, more radical alterations in our views of mental phenomena than are usually envisaged. It is one thing to exorcise the ghost in the machine, but he can reapper in more concrete form, as, for example, a stimulus-checking mechanism or -- as we have seen -- as a brain-writing reader, and in these guises he is equally subversive."
    "You enter the brain through the eye, march up the optic nerve, round and round the cortex, looking behind every neuron, and then, before you know it, you emerge into daylight on the spike of a motor nerve impulse, scratching your head and wondering where the self is."

    It's really too bad we take all the fun out of it with "Neurology > Philosophy."
    • CommentAuthorVerissimus
    • CommentTimeOct 21st 2011
    Time as we commonly perceive it is pretty much just part of our "stories", the things we build our identities with, from the building blocks we find in our memory. We can't go from being a baby to being in the now without there being time in between.

    Still, I am pretty sure I don't remember anything from when I was a baby. For more than 99 % of all the time that I've lived by now, I have no memory, no story. Can I still claim that time as being part of me? I have no memory of being a baby. So was that baby me? Or was that another person? Was I that baby anymore than I am any random person I see on the street? It's a bit like the "Ship of Theseus" paradox. Am I still the same person or am I so changed that all that was somebody else?
    • CommentTimeOct 22nd 2011
    Alright guys! I took a couple days to take in your various points of view and do some thinking for myself. Commence response!

    @256 - I'll put Dennet on "the list"! Reccomendations are a great resource for me. Consciousness being a phenomena of colliding atoms is kind of what I'm getting at--and that we can't put more physical, natural value on it than anything else. The curiosity of self-perpetuating consciousness is on of the things I want to examine. Good help on that! The self being instantaneous collapse of the narratives that frame our momentary existence is definitely something I've considered.

    @Jason - I have been considering myself a nihilist for a while now, and I don't see that as a conceit or a bad thing, but I do take the existential principle to be a fairly solid basis for action and thought. So i agree! But I think that the question itself means many things to many points of view, and they are not necessarily answered by the existential or nihilist position, but maybe an array of leveraged positions and thoughts? The implication of freedom is nice as well.

    @Verus, Solario, re: Decartes - Like Jason said, Cogito Ergo Sum is a subjective proof and should be taken as such. It's also the basis for the Emprical, Existential and Phenomonological positions, as far as I can surmise. Considering many arguments, axioms and forms need themselves to prove themselves (I'm looking at you, Symbolic Logic), but, as others have said, Decartes' thinking was that thought is self-evident, and that something must be causing it. The empirical goes on to determine that sense data is not enough to prove anything individually, because sense data is unreliable, and in some cases concludes that the objective exists between individual consciousness, and external confirmation is how to determine objectivity, but then (I think it's Berkeley who was a strong proponent of this) the objective confirmation can be erroneous sense data, so we can't "know" anything by the empirical perspective. Existentialism built on this, and phenomonology further...

    My conclusion on the matter is, as far as action goes, one must be an actor in the world (the act of thought being the original action), and while the objective world is unknown, it is an actor's responsibility to act upon the information they have (which is what everyone does despite what they think about the objective/subjective nature of the world), and assume that there is an objective world that they are influencing through action. Influence being any consequence to action, just to be clear.

    Ethics emerges out of the assumption, too: we can understand that others suffer, and so our course of action would be to reduce the suffering of those around us. And ethical action has a few components: empathy, intuition, intent and calculation. Using those tools one can behave in such a way that would be objectively, rationally sound and ethical. I guess. I haven't gotten to the bottom of the rabbit hole on that one. :P

    Oddbill - Awesome! Thanks, man, that totally rocked!

    Re: the subject of the man's work: INSANELY fascinating, but I posit that there are two facets to time, two controlling clocks: the internal and external (Yeah three colons in one sentence). The internal is part of the brain's memory synthesis. It needs an order and tempo for actions to take place, and these are not perfect, so it is a simple matter of confusing the processes that govern the creation of memory. Externally, though, there must be dimensionality for time. Based on chemistry and the like, there is a assumed amount of time an atom can perform a given action, thus making a (possibly irregular) external tempo to the objective world. The relationship between the two makes us objects in time, and our evaluation of the whole thing is a major component of the self and consciousness, as we define ourselves as histories and potentialities. Am I making sense? If I am, I hope it's not just overponderous bunk.

    @Finagle - Man, you say you don't want to engage with the philosophy but you're damned good at it if I may say so. I hope you remain active in this thread. :D

    @Allana - You've been a great input! Thanks for taking the time with this stuff. Though the "Neurology > Philosophy" thing troubles me a bit. A lot of our sources are going to be scientific in nature, but philosophy itself, at least from my vantage point, informs and contextualizes the sciences. Neurology can tell us how the gears work, but philosophy deals with the more dense task of attempting to answer the why, and in the meantime attempting to give the culture a modicum of radical thought to latch onto. This conversation would get nowhere without the science, which is kind of why I started it here to begin with, but the science puts something down and says "take it or leave it," and the philosopher picks it up and shows you what to do with it.

    Maybe that's just from me, attempting to dive into the academia of the whole thing head first with little regard for whether or not it will actually make my life better or worse.

    Thanks guys, for your posts so far! This is a long response for me, but I really want to have something to work with whenever I respond. I really want to see you guys talking this stuff out. I'm big on external thought and input, and I really don't want to clutter up with constant little posts about everyone's thoughts. I really appreciate you all coming here and including yourselves in any capacity.

    Also, optional "Homework" is to go watch Dark Star, the John Carpenter movie I mentioned in my opening post. It's relevant and amazing and you'll all like the shit out of it.
  1.  (10295.24)
    I'm not a Hume fan, but I do own that book and I will look at it closer. Mostly I disagree with the whole inertly compelled to the Good thing. I more closely agree with the Nichomachean ethics rather than the later theories that seem to just emphasize one small thing Aristotle was talking about. But I digress.

    I want more on this...

    The above has been fascinating, but really removed from my ethical / political philosophy specialization. Just on the topic, I've read a bit of Dan Dennett and pretty much agree with everything he says on the consciousness subject...

    Will deffo seek out Dark Star as well.
  2.  (10295.25)
    I've been pondering this all week, Buddha-like, seeking insight in the furthest reaches of my mind. An insight that just wouldn't come, until, earlier today, I sat, close to despair under a tree as the autumn sun dipped beneath the horizon and a falling leaf was caught in those final rays. And then I saw, and I knew, and insight came, and it said:

    cheap iphone 4 is on sale.
    • CommentAuthorSolario
    • CommentTimeOct 22nd 2011
    The problem with ethics is that it's built on assumptions that you can't verify: that other people exist and are similar to yourself; that you ought to do the right or good thing (depending on whether you're a consequentialist, a deontologist, a virtue ethicist and so forth); and that there is such a thing as the good or the right or that we can make them etc.
    The only thing we really have to depend on in these matters is our intuitions, our empathy and our cultural context. It's practical to rely on these things, but it's not necessarily logical. And that's why my ethics classes are freaking me out a little bit - if the foundation is shaky, then all the formel logic and argumentation that rests on it is questionable.

    In regards to the non-existence of objective reality: Yeah, it was Berkeley - he's the immaterialism dude. "To be is to be perceived." So if something stops being perceived it stops existing. Which means that if a tree falls in the forest and there's no one there to see it, then it couldn't have fallen, because it didn't exist.

    Apropos of everything here - has anyone read Action Philosophers by Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey? They're great.
    • CommentAuthorMercer Finn
    • CommentTimeOct 24th 2011 edited
    our intuitions, our empathy and our cultural context

    I think the way we use / create these things is worthy of study. How and why we have acquired such dispositions as community-minded animals is also worthy of investigation. Both these projects can can be pursued "logically", no? These foundations are about as firm as any other science...

    ETA: this approach isn't really part of the consequentialist, deontological or virtue ethics traditions, but rather tries to ground the assumptions about the human character that lie behind such systems on an empirical basis. I think it's the only way forward, and one of the most interesting subjects for modern philosophy and social science to address. But I'm REALLY derailing this thread now...
    • CommentTimeOct 24th 2011 edited
    @Mercer My read of Aristotle is that we are, as humans, given special abilities to seek the Good, to discover self-evident virtue, and the intellect, upbringing (enculturation), empathy or (to variate slightly) intuition, and many of the things that make us human are the things that allow us to evaluate ethics.

    So you flash forward a bit to Hume (and others) and you find that many (Kant as well) attempt to establish that virtue will be discovered by use of some very particular piece of what Aristotle had attempted to establish were the tools toward the virtuous life.

    Hume said that we, as a group, will self-direct toward the Good. Or, maybe more accurately, that what we direct ourselves toward is the Good. I say "Fuck that noise," results and intentions are everything. Where we get is not as important as what we get and how we get there.

    Re: your second post:

    That's what I'm trying to get at! I feel like I have a pretty well developed ethics that I want to be as strongly grounded as can possibly be, which means I need to contemplate how we exist, and the mechanics of self-understanding, self-positioning in existence. I don't want to be comfortable in assumptions, I want an argument. Even if it's inaccurate or outright wrong, I want a deliberation. So here we are. :D


    I will agree that those assumptions are up for debate, but not that they are unverifiable. We have yet to verify them, maybe, but that doesn't equal unverifiability. Also, if you have a choice of assumptions to make, the responsible choice is clearly the ethical one. You can't know that there is an outside world, but you can assume there's one because that is what your sense data reveals to you. It may be inaccurate, but it's all you have, so work with it. Edited for clarity: As opposed to the alternative, which would be to assume there isn't one, which gets you exactly nowhere.

    I'm super down for Action Philosophers!
    • CommentAuthorSolario
    • CommentTimeOct 25th 2011
    @Mercer Finn,
    It's a metaethical discussion basically. It's not what we should do, but what the premisses for us doing anything is. Problem is that if we want our ethics to be purely logical and normative, then we need to find an argument for ethics, rightness and goodness in ways that aren't based in, at best, coincidental and, at worst, arbitrary. If we come into contact with a culture that has intelligence, but not empathy, intuition or communities, then it's difficult argue against on a purely logical basis, why they ought to act as we do.


    It's true that the respondsible choice is clearly the ethical one, but that presupposes that we ought to be responsible.

    I'm 100% with you guys on the fact that the common sense and pragmatic approach, for me at least, is just to assume the existence of an outside world and that goodness, happiness, freedom and righteousness are desirable - I've just reached a point, where I'm struggling with rationalizing it in a meaningful manner.

    And I think I can trace a lot of my motivation for the choice of major (philosophy) back to Action Philosophers. It also really helped me out with Kant's epistemology. So thanks again, Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey!

    And can I just say that I think virtue ethics is kinda terrible? Basing your entire value system on ethos and the actions of others is even more problematic and arbitrary than picking thresholds for definitions of actions like deontologists or picking end consequences for consequentialists.
    • CommentAuthorVerissimus
    • CommentTimeOct 25th 2011 edited
    Ethics relies on concepts of good and bad which I think are evolutionary concepts. Good has evolved from "what aids in our survival", bad from "what works against our survival". Now from survival we have gone to "the good of the human race", or life on Earth. From a perspective of total detachment one could argue that the good of the human race or even life on earth is not necessarily "better" than a lifeless planet, or even non-existence. So in order for ethics to make any sense one has to start from the assumption that "being" or existing is superior to non-being.
  3.  (10295.31) has to start from the assumption that "being" or existing is superior to non-being.

    Speaking of which, that question is on the table in the current scene of my comic Captain Miracle.
  4.  (10295.32)

    I don't think I agree with your reading of Aristotle. For example, intuition doesn't play a large role in his ethics. Neither does he believe that all humans are given special abilities to seek the good. To my mind, Aristotle keeps a lot of Plato's emphases (about the primacy of human reason, education, an aristocratic polity). If you're interested, I've posted some of my notes on the Nicomachean Ethics over here.

    I should come out and say that I LOVE Hume, and pretty much think he's on the right lines meta-ethically, even if some of the technicalities of his system now seem a bit crazy (to be fair, he was writing in the 18th century -- we know a lot more about human nature now). I have to admit that I don't quite understand your misgivings about him: for Hume ethics was ALL about 'how we get there'. There are no transcendent 'oughts'. A scientific approach to moral philosophy seeks to understand the emotional processes by which 'oughts' are generated in different societies.

    What you say about societies w/o the capacity for empathy is true, but this is hypothetical, right? Human beings have evolved to live in groups, have certain instincts, empathy, because all of these things help us survive. And ethics is a human phenomenon: we can only empirically study what's in front of us. That's about as 'logical' as ethics can get, no?

    Basing your entire value system on ethos and the actions of others is even more problematic and arbitrary

    Hume argues that we do this all the time, that it's a natural disposition humans have. I think a lot of that makes sense. It's arbitrary from a transcendental point of view, maybe. But if you ground ethics on the real-world experience of how humans behave, then its quite a logical point to make.

    Just generally, my sense is that what is so difficult to accept about this stance is that it inevitably leads to some kind of relativism. Criticizing alternative belief structures becomes difficult when you don't have deontological laws or utilitarian calculuses. Then again, the understanding that your ethical beliefs are grounded in illogical, emotional assumptions might also teach humility, and perhaps tolerance as well. You might say (and some have) that this awareness can have a moralizing effect!

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