Thursday, August 16, 2012

Naked Brains Strutting the Catwalk

We are told that there is a problem of induction. Commonly it is held that David Hume is the one who articulated this devastating critique of empiricism most succinctly, but I gather the experts better like Pyrrho and Carneades and possibly other ancient Greeks. Basically, we cannot draw conclusions to causality by associating a sequence of events. Just because we have seen the passage of time end each night with day, we cannot conclude that time causes the end of night. We merely associate them. There might be an exception in the future. At best, the objection says, we can only regard this induction as provisional.

I rather tend to agree that Hume was aiming his fire more at philosophy. His famous comment about consigning works that were not about quantity (mathematics, in other words) or about matters of fact (what we would think of now as the sciences) powerfully suggests this to me, as to others. The ideal, abstract ego is only aware of a sequence of sense impressions. In popular but unphilosophical thought, from real organs providing real data about the real world. But philosophy only concerns itself with logically valid a priori arguments and an ideal abstract ego, the naked brain, has only subjective experiences. The technical term now I think is "qualia." We cannot establish by any logical a priori argument that qualia give us any reliable information about the real world. Indeed we cannot establish that any person's qualia are in any way similar to another person's qualia.

With a wonderful economy of effort, such notions lead us into error in not one, but two directions. Who says there has been no progress in philosophy? First, the tacit assumption of individualism rules out the data from the collective enterprise of science, beginning with the most basic observations. Every person who has fed an infant a bitter substance has seen the same faces that we ourselves might make upon tasting the same substance.

We could do formal experiments along the same lines with controls and such, but professional scientists have better things to do than waste time. For one thing, we know from such phenomena as Daltonism or phantom limb pain or synesthesia, as well as the homely optical illusions or less homely hallucinations that the senses do not provide a direct, complete or inarguably correct knowledge of the world. Nonetheless, the bulk of our daily experience only makes sense if other people do in some way sense the same things more or less as we do.

Much of the time it appears to be the same kind of sensation, qualia, as well. One may like bitter coffee and another like sweet tea, but they can reliably taste test for the other. Naturally, people generally agree with themselves as to the qualia. It is interesting to note that this is not perfect, as nothing ever seems to be. Still,  a true explanation should address the usual case as well as the falsifying exceptions. The insistence that qualia have mystical properties does not do this. Insofar as qualia, if such a nebulous concept can be held to be a coherent idea, are truly unknowable, insofar their relevance is questionable. The imperfections of the senses, both errors and limitations, are why measurement and comparison of different points of view (both geographically and temporally) are essential components of the collective verification process, science, broadly considered.

There is however the oft overlooked difficulty the supposed problem of induction presents for the naked brain. The naked brain is that peculiar entity that has no connections to the real world, whose sense organs, including even kinesthesia and balance, are stripped away. We might think the naked brain an unhappy organ, bereft of all contact with the outside world. We might think that this wrinkly mass might fail to learn to talk, like the stories of feral children. But the philosophers' naked brain, is by a literally convoluted logic, a beauty. It struts the catwalk invisibly adorned like a fairy tale emperor by the introverted Platonic forms called qualis. Throughout philosophy classes across the land, gorgeous cloud castles of logical apriori arguments spray out like glowing pixie dust.

I myself am homely: The beautiful minds of the philosophers never look back at me from my mirror. And if I look inward for my beautiful naked brain, all I see are sensuous memories and learned abstractions. I think that there is such a thing as a solid object because I associate a sequence of sensations with what I induce to be something real. When I cannot legitimately induce the existence of an outward reality by the mere association of sensations (however imperfect and need of scientific reconstruction,) or even by the shifty qualia, then my naked brain disappears with my fatuously naive empiricism. Personally, like John Locke, I can't think of a single observation of my brain, as opposed to the outside world. It must be indecently clothed. There arealso  a pititful handful of abstractions, but honestly I can't say any of them are decently philosophical intuitions. All my abstract ideas came from pages and pixels, conversations and culture. These posts sketching out a rough and ready scientific weltanschauung may like citations but that's because they aren't scholarly papers.

We can immediately conclude that  a philosopher of science, who claims to find a problem in induction, is a figment of the imagination. If they truly believed that, they should be concerned with justifying the illusion of consciousness, not attacking scientific thinkers (great, professional and amateur.) If they don't, they are imposing their figment upon the gullible. I say this because I am going to arrogantly declare that those who are gifted with superior intuition of qualia and the naked brain are citing a personal authority I cannot find any confirmatory evidence for. I can't falsify the argument, which many seem to imagine is all they need. But a reason to disbelieve is not a reason to believe. They have no reason for us to believe there is a genuine problem of induction.

The rest of you may admire the beauties strutting the catwalk, preening for the admiration of the viewers.

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