Monday, 4 September 2017

Toomas Karmo: Part M: Perception, Action, and "Subjectivity"

Quality assessment:

On the 5-point scale current in Estonia, and surely in nearby nations, and familiar to observers of the academic arrangements of the late, unlamented, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (applying the easy and lax standards Kmo deploys in his grubby imaginary "Aleksandr Stepanovitsh Popovi nimeline sangarliku raadio instituut" (the "Alexandr Stepanovitch Popov Institute of Heroic Radio") and his  grubby imaginary "Nikolai Ivanovitsh Lobatshevski nimeline sotsalitsliku matemaatika instituut" (the "Nicolai Ivanovich Lobachevsky Institute of Socialist Mathematics") - where, on the lax and easy grading philosophy of the twin Institutes, 1/5 is "epic fail", 2/5 is "failure not so disastrous as to be epic", 3/5 is "mediocre pass", 4/5 is "good", and 5/5 is "excellent"): 4/5. Justification: There was enough time to write out the  necessary points to reasonable length.

Revision history:

All times in these blog "revision histories" are stated in UTC (Universal Coordinated Time/ Temps Universel Coordoné,  a precisification of the old GMT, or "Greenwich Mean Time"), in the ISO-prescribed YYYYMMDDThhmmZ timestamping format. UTC currently leads Toronto civil time by 4 hours and currently lags Tallinn civil time by 3 hours.

  • 20170905T0237Z/version 2.0.0: Kmo finished converting his point-form outline into coherent full-sentences prose. He reserved the right to make tiny, nonsubstantive, purely cosmetic, tweaks over the coming 48 hours, as here-undocumented versions 2.0.1, 2.0.2, 2.0.3, ... . 
  • 20170905T0001Z/version 1.0.0: Kmo had time to upload a moderately polished point-form outline. He hoped to finish converting this into full-sentences prose by 20170905T0401Z.

[CAUTION: A bug in the blogger server-side software has in some past months shown a propensity to insert inappropriate whitespace at some points in some of my posted essays. If a screen seems to end in empty space, keep scrolling down. The end of the posting is not reached until the usual blogger "Posted by Toomas (Tom) Karmo at" appears. - The blogger software has also shown a propensity, at any rate when coupled with my erstwhile, out-of-date, Web-authoring uploading browser, to generate HTML that gets formatted in different ways on different downloading browsers. Some downloading browsers have sometimes perhaps not correctly read in the entirety of the "Cascading Style Sheets" (CSS) which on all ordinary Web servers control the browser placement of margins, sidebars, and the like. If you suspect CSS problems in your particular browser, be patient: it is probable that while some content has been shoved into some odd place (for instance, down to the bottom of your browser, where it ought to appear in the right-hand margin), all the server content has been pushed down into your browser in some place or other. - Finally, there may be blogger vagaries, outside my control, in font sizing or interlinear spacing or right-margin justification. - Anyone inclined to help with trouble-shooting, or to offer other kinds of technical advice, is welcome to write me via]

To begin with, we recall the tightness of the parallels between perception and action. However novel the idea of V-ing-in-W-ing may perhaps seem in its application to perception, the idea is at any rate familiar, within at any rate Departments of Philosophy, in its application to action. The familiarity is due to several respected 1950s-through-1980s Anglo-Saxon philosophical authorities, from whose ranks I at the moment think (mindful, for once, of "Igominy and Humiligation") that I dimly recall two - something like (say I, for once circumspectly) "Elizabeth Honeycombe" and "Arthur C. Dango". I illustrate the "perhaps Honeycombe-Dango" idea by recapitulating an old example, in the process making, for reasons of (slight) authorial convenience a few (inconsequential) changes in its details:
  • You are startling a crow in jumping from veranda to lawn. 
  • You are jumping from veranda to lawn in flexing leg muscles. 
  • You are flexing leg muscles in firing various spinal neurons.
  • You are firing spinal neurons in firing motor-cortex neurons. 
I also reiterate another point from past weeks, namely that just as you could report, in a neurophysiology lab in which electrodes are stimulating your cortex, "Now I am starting to green," so you could be asked in a different kind of neurophysiology lab, in which electrodes are reading out from your cortex, and in which your body is left free to gesticulate and walk and jump, "Please fire some different motor-cortex neurons for our anatomy team now - now those neurons which you use for jumping." (You do this, of course, by performing a jump, right there in the lab - not merely by pretending to yourself that you are jumping.) 


How does action relate to "greening", "hurting", and the like? That hurting is outside our immediate control is a medical contingency lacking philosophical significance. We could have nervous systems that do bring our hurting under our unmediated control, in the sense in which our gesticulating, walking, and jumping already are. In that case, "I am hurting" would be less like "I am falling" than "I am jumping." (This would be helpful in Opus Dei, replacing the need for the awkward, perhaps even expensive, Opus Dei cilice - - as an instrument of private bodily penance. "I ought," says my imagined Opus Dei penitent, "to reprimand myself, and yet only moderately, for complicity with Hollywood in viewing Borat last Sunday. So let me now do some hurting, while I recite just Psalm 51. And let me confine my small act of mortification to just the left half of my face, and to one toe.")

We could likewise, with a different neuro-anatomy, ring at will - that is, to be sure, to "ring" in the sense in which tinnitus sufferers are said to ring, rather than in the sense in which bells are said to ring. Similarly, we could with a different neuro-anatomy "sick" and thirst and "green" at will. The situation would differ in degree, and not in kind, from what we already encounter when we are hurting (in the active sense) in doing something a little elaborate. (That something might, for instance, be what real-world penitents do in pressing cilice barbs into contrite flesh . - I do have to confess here to myself having viewed Borat last Sunday, and to having approached outright helplessness in my consequent laughter, and to lack today any deep remorse (let alone contrition) over my various Sunday actions, and to have no cilice in my present toolkit.)

Likewise, the situation would differ in degree, not in kind, from what we already encounter in greening, in the active sense, through ("in") doing something a little elaborate:

I would like to green. How can I, given the limitations of my Homo sapiens anatomy, pull off that particular performance? The sole tactic available to me is elaborate. In Homo sapiens, the performance proves not as easy as singing a Middle C, not as easy as moving a foot. But I can pull it off in a cumbersome way. I do it by directing my corneas away from my book page, raising them toward a sunlit lawn. This redirecting of my corneas I achieve in contracting some neck muscles, and that I achieve in firing motor neurons outside the motor cortex, and that I achieve in firing neurons within the motor cortex. For an animal with a different anatomy, the performance might prove easier, bypassing the motor cortex, and requiring no redirecting of corneas, and perhaps being describable in starkly simple autobiographical terms, along the following lines: "I green, in the active sense, in firing neurons in that special glory of my species, absent from Homo sapiens, namely my Voluntary-Colour cortex."


Next, we ask how action relates to the Kaila-Strawson "sound universe", as developed in "Part I" and "Part J", on 2017-07-24/2017-04-25 and 2017-07-31/2017-08-01. Here is a biographical fragment for a Kaila-Strawson subject who has not only a perceptual life (I copy this verbatim from "Part J") but also a life of agency (this part I now add):

In the minutes leading up to 4:00 pm today, you have been "greening", and have been seeing a chain of ordinary physical things, among them a sunlit lawn, in greening. In your right hand has been a glass with some ice-chilled drink. This glass, at a temperature only a little above 0oC, is one of a chain of ordinary physical things - among them are also events in your nerves, starting with nerves in some correspondingly cold finger flesh, and continuing with neurons within the right arm, the spinal cord, and ultimately the skull - which you have been feeling in "being-chilled". Now, at 4:00 p.m., comes the Great Change.

Suddenly you see nothing at all. You do not experience even an expanse of neutral black, as when you clap a hand over closed eyelids. Your visual life becomes suddenly a Nothing, even as the visual life "behind your head" is in your present circumstances a Nothing. (It is not that the human visual field is bounded by an expanse of neutral white or neutral black. No: outside the limited visual field, with its angular width of maybe just 170 or 190 degrees, nothing at all appears.)

Gone also is the "right-handed being-chilled". Now you have no awareness of cold, or for that matter of warmth, or for that matter of wetness, dryness, or pressure. You likewise have now no feeling of falling, rising, or spinning. Further, you now cease to have sensation-within-the-human-body, such as nausea, or thirst, or the pins-and-needles prickling in some injudiciously immobilized foot.

What you do have is auditory experience, and this you have in astonishing abundance. In your altered state, you note an ensemble of sounds - ringings, buzzings, whistlings, ululations, rumblings, in a variety of pitches and timbres - at times in either soloes or choral plainsong, at other times in harmonies and dissonances, and often with many a diminuendo or crescendo.

Up to 4:00 pm today, you considered various things - prominent among them a pair of Homo sapiens feet and a pair of Homo sapiens hands - to be "under your control". Now, in place of hands and feet, you notice a pair of treble notes in a violin timbre, sounding rather pleasantly at F-above-Middle-C and C-above-Middle-C. You notice also a pair of baritone notes in a rather rough viola timbre - accompanied by a rather insistent, polished, basso profundo,  the latter perhaps mildly reminiscent of the  "romanssi" interpreter Boris Timofeyevich Shtokolov (1930-2005). 

You discovered many years ago - perhaps a mere day or mere week after the date recorded on your birth certificate - that you were able to exercise agency over a certain pair of Homo sapiens hands and a certain pair of Homo sapiens feet, and to some extent also over the Homo sapiens torso to which these four appendages were attached. As you acquired the use of language, you began to call the appendages "my hands" and "my feet", and to refer the torso to which they were attached as  "my torso".

"What," you now ask, "might be analogous to the situation I found myself in so many years ago, and with which I so soon learned to cope?"

To your gratification, you find that you seem to possess fine control over the F-above-Middle-C - making it louder and softer "just like that" - just as before 4:00 p.m. you seemed able, "just like that", to make your right hand approach or recede from the small bit of cartilage you have come to call your nose.  You find also that you seem to enjoy some degree of control, although less fine, over the C-above-Middle-C.  Further, it now seems to you that you enjoy a still different, still less finegrained, control over the two viola notes - with their timbre, pitch, and volume amenable to modification, in ways that are sometimes pleasantly predictable, at other times disconcertingly unpredictable. You admit to yourself that getting the two viola tones to behave just as you desire will require a diligence akin to the diligence you exercised years ago - in fact in the months immediately following the month entered on your birth certificate - as you mastered your legs in crawling and walking.

And there seems also some modest degree of control available to you on the basso profundo.

So you think to yourself: "Well, the high F and the high C are respectively like my right hand  - I manipulate it readily - and my left hand - for with my left, I am clumsy.  Further,  the two viola notes are like my two legs, and the basso profundo is like my torso. So I have now been somehow metamorphosed."

A moment later, a fresh, still happier, thought suggests itself: "Perhaps there is no physical metamorphosis here at all.  Perhaps I am continuing to move Homo sapiens arms, legs and torso, while continuing to sit by a sunlit lawn.  It could be that these physical things have endured the Great Change, and have only changed their appearance - so that all the agency (to take one example, a hand-wave agency) I used to have I still have."

Further investigations will perhaps confirm that happier thought, and perhaps will instead lead more in the direction of Kafka (with, perhaps, the eventual postulation of metamorphosis not even into a baryonic-matter Kafka Cockroach, but, vexingly enough, into Something Exotic and Non-Baryonic).


With blogging time exhausted for this evening, I shall leave a piece of homework. Readers will be helped most at this point not by my respecting my Igominy and Humiligation Precept, with its prohibition on the detailed citing of literature, but by my once again flouting it. So, shamelessly pleading in my defence the best interests of a segment within my readership, I cite some material appearing on the Web a few months ago, and since removed. In his now-discontinued "Archdruid Report" blog, back on 2017-03-08, American analyst John Michael Greer commented sympathetically on Schopenhauer:

Let's review the basic elements of Schopenhauer's thinking. First, the only things we can experience are our own representations. There's probably a real world out there—certainly that hypothesis explains the consistency of our representations with one another, and with those reported by (representations of) other people, with less handwaving than any other theory—but all the data we get from the world out there amounts to a thin trickle of sensory data, which we then assemble into representations of things using a set of prefab templates provided partly by our species' evolutionary history and partly by habits we picked up in early childhood. How much those representations have to do with what's actually out there is a really good question that's probably insoluble in principle.

Second, if we pay attention to our experience, we encounter one thing that isn't a representation—the will. You don't experience the will /.../

Although there is more in Mr Greer (and I presume, without having attempted the reading, in Schopenhauer), it is for tonight's homework-assignment purposes expedient to cut things off here. I choose to treat most of Mr Greer's passage as helpful, stage-setting, context for his portentous final pronouncement, "You don't experience the will."

In past weeks, I have been rejecting, and indeed have at points even been ridiculing, the Schopenhauer-Kant, Descartes-Locke-Berkeley-Hume, Bertie-1912 idea of "sense data" or "representations" (the "Vorstellungen"). But Schopenhauer's celebrated book did get entitled Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung - "The World as Will and Representation". Here, then, is my homework question: having ridiculed those old Teutonic Vorstellungen, should we, or should we not, now also reject this old Teutonic "Wille"? In other words, is it inaccurate, or is it accurate, for Schopenhauer and his expositor Mr Greer to write, "You don't experience the will?"

[This is the end of the present, "Part M", blog posting.]

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