The Truth Behind the Myth of Correlationism
A wrong turn lies hidden in the human cultural code, an error that has scuttled our every attempt to understand consciousness and cognition. So much philosophical activity reeks of dead ends: we try and we try, and yet we find ourselves mired in the same ancient patterns of disputation. The majority of thinkers believe the problem is local, that they need only tinker with the tools they’ve inherited. They soldier on, arguing that this or that innovative modification will overcome our confusion. Some, however, believe the problem lies deeper. I’m one of those thinkers, as is Meillassoux. I think the solution lies in speculation bound to the hip of modern science, in something I call ‘heuristic neglect.’ For me, the wrong turn lies in the application of intentional cognition to solve the theoretical problem of intentional cognition. Meillassoux thinks it lies in what he calls ‘correlationism.’
Since I’ve been accused of ‘correlationism’ on a couple of occasions now, I thought it worthwhile tackling the issue in more detail. This will not be an institutional critique a la Golumbia’s, who manages to identify endless problems with Meillassoux’s presentation, while somehow entirely missing his skeptical point: once cognition becomes artifactual, it becomes very… very difficult to understand. Cognitive science is itself fractured about Meillassoux’s issue.
What follows will be a constructive critique, an attempt to explain the actual problem underwriting what Meillassoux calls ‘correlationism,’ and why his attempt to escape that problem simply collapses into more interminable philosophy. The problem that artifactuality poses to the understanding of cognition is very real, and it also happens to fall into the wheelhouse of Heuristic Neglect Theory (HNT). For those souls growing disenchanted with Speculative Realism, but unwilling to fall back into the traditional bosom, I hope to show that HNT not only offers the radical break with tradition that Meillassoux promises, it remains inextricably bound to the details of this, the most remarkable age.
What is correlationism? The experts explain:
Correlation affirms the indissoluble primacy of the relation between thought and its correlate over the metaphysical hypostatization or representational reification of either term of the relation. Correlationism is subtle: it never denies that our thoughts or utterances aim at or intend mind-independent or language-independent realities; it merely stipulates that this apparently independent dimension remains internally related to thought and language. Thus contemporary correlationism dismisses the problematic of scepticism, and or epistemology more generally, as an antiquated Cartesian hang-up: there is supposedly no problem about how we are able to adequately represent reality; since we are ‘always already’ outside ourselves and immersed in or engaging with the world (and indeed, this particular platitude is constantly touted as the great Heideggerean-Wittgensteinian insight). Note that correlationism need not privilege “thinking” or “consciousness” as the key relation—it can just as easily replace it with “being-in-the-world,” “perception,” “sensibility,” “intuition,” “affect,” or even “flesh.” Ray Brassier, Nihil Unbound, 51
By ‘correlation’ we mean the idea according to which we only ever have access to the correlation between thinking and being, and never to either term considered apart from the other. We will henceforth call correlationism any current of thought which maintains the unsurpassable character of the correlation so defined. Consequently, it becomes possible to say that every philosophy which disavows naive realism has become a variant of correlationism. Quentin Meillassoux, After Finitude, 5
Correlationism rests on an argument as simple as it is powerful, and which can be formulated in the following way: No X without givenness of X, and no theory about X without a positing of X. If you speak about something, you speak about something that is given to you, and posited by you. Consequently, the sentence: ‘X is’, means: ‘X is the correlate of thinking’ in a Cartesian sense. That is: X is the correlate of an affection, or a perception, or a conception, or of any subjective act. To be is to be a correlate, a term of a correlation . . . That is why it is impossible to conceive an absolute X, i.e., an X which would be essentially separate from a subject. We can’t know what the reality of the object in itself is because we can’t distinguish between properties which are supposed to belong to the object and properties belonging to the subjective access to the object. Quentin Meillassoux,”Time without Becoming“
The claim of correlationism is the corollary of the slogan that ‘nothing is given’ to understanding: everything is mediated. Once knowing becomes an activity, then the objects insofar as they are known become artifacts in some manner: reception cannot be definitively sorted from projection and as a result no knowledge can be said to be absolute. We find ourselves trapped in the ‘correlationist circle,’ trapped in artifactual galleries, never able to explain the human-independent reality we damn well know exists. Since all cognition is mediated, all cognition is conditional somehow, even our attempts (or perhaps, especially our attempts) to account for those conditions. Any theory unable to decisively explain objectivity is a theory that cannot explain cognition. Ergo, correlationism names a failed (cognitivist) philosophical endeavour.
It’s a testament to the power of labels in philosophy, I think, because as Meillassoux himself acknowledges there’s nothing really novel about the above sketch. Explaining the ‘cognitive difference’ was my dissertation project back in the 90’s, after all, and as smitten as I was with my bullshit solution back then, I didn’t think the problem itself was anything but ancient. Given this whole website is dedicated to exploring and explaining consciousness and cognition, you could say it remains my project to this very day! One of the things I find so frustrating about the ‘critique of correlationism’ is that the real problem—the ongoing crisis—is the problem of meaning. If correlationism fails because correlationism cannot explain cognition, then the problem of correlationism is an expression of a larger problem, the problem of cognition—or in other words, the problem of intentionality.
Why is the problem of meaning an ongoing crisis? In the past six fiscal years, from 2012 to 2017, the National Institute of Health will have spent more than 113 billion dollars funding research bent on solving some corner of the human soul.  And this is just one public institution in one nation involving health related research. If you include the cognitive sciences more generally—research into everything from consumer behaviour to AI—you could say that solving the human soul commands more resources than any other domain in history. The reason all this money is being poured into the sciences rather than philosophy departments is that the former possesses real world consequences: diseases cured, soap sold, politicians elected. As someone who tries to keep up with developments in Continental philosophy, I already find the disconnect stupendous, how whole populations of thinkers continue discoursing as if nothing significant has changed, bitching about traditional cutlery in the shadow of the cognitive scientific tsunami.
Part of the popularity of the critique of correlationism derives from anxieties regarding the growing overlap of the sciences of the human and the humanities. All thinkers self-consciously engaged in the critique of correlationism reference scientific knowledge as a means of discrediting correlationist thought, but as far as I can tell, the project has done very little to bring the science, what we’re actually learning about consciousness and cognition, to the fore of philosophical debates. Even worse, the notion of mental and/or neural mediation is actually central to cognitive science. What some neuroscientists term ‘internal models,’ which monolopolize our access to ourselves and the world, is nothing if not a theoretical correlation of environments and cognition, trapping us in models of models. The very science that Meillassoux thinks argues against correlationism in one context, explicitly turns on it in another. The mediation of knowledge is the domain of cognitive science—full stop. A naturalistic understanding of cognition is a biological understanding is an artifactual understanding: this is why the upshot of cognitive science is so often skeptical, prone to further diminish our traditional (if not instinctive) hankering for unconditioned knowledge—to reveal it as an ancestral conceit…
A kind of arche-fossil.
If an artifactual approach to cognition is doomed to misconstrue cognition, then cognitive science is a doomed enterprise. Despite the vast sums of knowledge accrued, the wondrous and fearsome social instrumentalities gained, knowledge itself will remain inexplicable. What we find lurking in the bones of Meillassoux’s critique, in other words, is precisely the same commitment to intentional exceptionality we find in all traditional philosophy, the belief that the subject matter of traditional philosophical disputation lies beyond the pale of scientific explanation… that despite the cognitive scientific tsunami, traditional intentional speculation lies secure in its ontological bunkers.
Only more philosophy, Meillassoux thinks, can overcome the ‘scandal of philosophy.’ But how is mere opinion supposed to provide bona fide knowledge of knowledge? Speculation on mathematics does nothing to ameliorate this absurdity: even though paradigmatic of objectivity, mathematics remains as inscrutable as knowledge itself. Perhaps there is some sense to be found in the notion of interrogating/theorizing objects in a bid to understand objectivity (cognition), but given what we now know regarding our cognitive shortcomings in low-information domains, we can be assured that ‘object-oriented’ approaches will bog down in disputation.
I just don’t know how to make the ‘critique of correlationism’ workable, short ignoring the very science it takes as its motivation, or just as bad, subordinating empirical discoveries to some school of ‘fundamental ontological’ speculation. If you’re willing to take such a leap of theoretical faith, you can be assured that no one in the vicinity of cognitive science will take it with you—and that you will make no difference in the mad revolution presently crashing upon us.
We know that knowledge is somehow an artifact of neural function—full stop. Meillassoux is quite right to say this renders the objectivity of knowledge very difficult to understand. But why think the problem lies in presuming the artifactual nature of cognition?—especially now that science has begun reverse-engineering that nature in earnest! What if our presumption of artifactuality weren’t so much the problem, as the characterization? What if the problem isn’t that cognitive science is artifactual so much as how it is?
After all, we’ve learned a tremendous amount about this how in the past decades: the idea of dismissing all this detail on the basis of a priori guesswork seems more than a little suspect. The track record would suggest extreme caution. As the boggling scale of the cognitive scientific project should make clear, everything turns on the biological details of cognition. We now know, for instance, that the brain employs legions of special purpose devices to navigate its environments. We know that cognition is thoroughly heuristic, that it turns on cues, bits of available information statistically correlated to systems requiring solution.
Most all systems in our environment shed information enabling the prediction of subsequent behaviours absent the mechanical particulars of that information. The human brain is exquisitely tuned to identify and exploit the correlation of information available and subsequent behaviours. The artifactuality of biology is an evolutionary one, and as such geared to the thrifty solution of high impact problems. To say that cognition (animal or human) is heuristic is to say it’s organized according to the kinds of problems our ancestors needed to solve, and not according to those belonging to academics. Human cognition consists of artifactualities, subsystems dedicated to certain kinds of problem ecologies. Moreover, it consists of artifactualities selected to answer questions quite different from those posed by philosophers.
These two facts drastically alter the landscape of the apparent problem posed by ‘correlationism.’ We have ample theoretical and empirical reasons to believe that mechanistic cognition and intentional cognition comprise two quite different cognitive regimes, the one dedicated to explanation via high-dimensional (physical) sourcing, the other dedicated to explanation absent that sourcing. As an intentional phenomena, objectivity clearly belongs to the latter. Mechanistic cognition, meanwhile, is artifactual. What if it’s the case that ‘objectivity’ is the turn of a screw in a cognitive system selected to solve in the absence of artifactual information? Since intentional cognition turns on specific cues to leverage solutions, and since those cues appear sufficient (to be the only game in town where that behaviour is concerned), the high-dimensional sourcing of that same behavior generates a philosophical crash space—and a storied one at that! What seems sourceless and self-evident becomes patently impossible.
Short magic, cognitive systems possess the environmental relationships they do thanks to super-complicated histories of natural and neural selection—evolution and learning. Let’s call this their orientation, understood as the nonintentional (‘zombie’) correlate of ‘perspective.’ The human brain is possibly the most complex thing we know of in the universe (a fact which should render any theory of the human neglecting that complexity suspect). Our cognitive systems, in other words, possess physically intractable orientations. How intractable? Enough that billions of dollars in research has merely scratched the surface.
Any capacity to cognize this relationship will perforce be radically heuristic, which is to say, provide a means to solve some critical range of problems—a problem ecology—absent natural historical information. The orientation heuristically cognized, of course, is the full-dimensional relationship we actually possess, only hacked in ways that generate solutions (repetitions of behaviour) while neglecting the physical details of that relationship.
Most significantly, orientation neglects the dimension of mediation: thought and perception (whatever they amount to) are thoroughly blind to their immediate sources. This cognitive blindness to the activity of cognition, or medial neglect, amounts to a gross insensitivity to our physical continuity with our environments, the fact that we break no thermodynamic laws. Our orientation, in other words, is characterized by a profound, structural insensitivity to its own constitution—its biological artifactuality, among other things. This auto-insensitivity, not surprisingly, includes insensitivity to the fact of this insensitivity, and thus the default presumption of sufficiency. Specialized sensitivities are required to flag insufficiencies, after all, and like all biological devices, they do not come for free. Not only are we blind to our position within the superordinate systems comprising nature, we’re blind to our blindness, and so, unable to distinguish table-scraps from a banquet, we are duped into affirming inexplicable spontanieties.
‘Truth’ belongs to our machinery for communicating (among other things) the sufficiency of iterable orientations within superordinate systems given medial neglect. You could say it’s a way to advertise clockwork positioning (functional sufficiency) absent any inkling of the clock. ‘Objectivity,’ the term denoting the supposed general property of being true apart from individual perspectives, is a deliberative contrivance derived from practical applications of ‘truth’—the product of ‘philosophical reflection.’ The problem with objectivity as a phenomenon (as opposed to ‘objectivity’ as a component of some larger cognitive articulation) is that the sufficiency of iterable orientations within superordinate systems is always a contingent affair. Whether ‘truth’ occasions sufficiency is always an open question, since the system provides, at best, a rough and ready way to communicate and/or troubleshoot orientation. Unpredictable events regularly make liars of us all. The notion of facts ‘being true’ absent the mediation of human cognition, ‘objectivity,’ also provides a rough and ready way to communicate and/or troubleshoot orientation in certain circumstances. We regularly predict felicitous orientations without the least sensitivity to their artifactual nature, absent any inkling how their pins lie in intractable high-dimensional coincidences between buzzing brains. This insensitivity generates the illusion of absolute orientation, a position outside natural regularities—a ‘view from nowhere.’ We are a worm in the gut of nature convinced we possess disembodied eyes. And so long as the consequences of our orientations remain felicitous, our conceit need not be tested. Our orientations might as well ‘stand nowhere’ absent cognition of their limits.
Thus can ‘truth’ and ‘objectivity’ be naturalized and their peculiarities explained.
The primary cognitive moral here is that lacking information has positive cognitive consequences, especially when it comes to deliberative metacognition, our attempts to understand our nature via philosophical reflection alone. Correlationism evidences this in a number of ways.
As soon as the problem of cognition is characterized as the problem of thought and being, it becomes insoluble. Intentional cognition is heuristic: it neglects the nature of the systems involved, exploiting cues correlated to the systems requiring solution instead. The application of intentional cognition to theoretical explanation, therefore, amounts to the attempt to solve natures using a system adapted to neglect natures. A great deal of traditional philosophy is dedicated to the theoretical understanding of cognition via intentional idioms—via applications of intentional cognition. Thus the morass of disputation. We presume that specialized problem-solving systems possess general application. Lacking the capacity to cognize our inability to cognize the theoretical nature of cognition, we presume sufficiency. Orientation, the relation between neural systems and their proximal and distal environments—between two systems of objects—becomes perspective, the relation between subjects (or systems of subjects) and systems of objects (environments). If one conflates the manifest artifactual nature of orientation for the artifactual nature of perspective (subjectivity), then objectivity itself becomes a subjective artifact, and therefore nothing objective at all. Since orientation characterizes our every attempt to solve for cognition, conflating it with perspective renders perspective inescapable, and objectivity all but inexplicable. Thus the crash space of traditional epistemology.
Now I know from hard experience that the typical response to the picture sketched above is to simply insist on the conflation of orientation and perspective, to assert that my position, despite its explanatory power, simply amounts to more of the same, another perspectival Klein Bottle distinctive only for its egregious ‘scientism.’ Only my intrinsically intentional perspective, I am told, allows me to claim that such perspectives are metacognitive artifacts, a consequence of medial neglect. But asserting perspective before orientation on the basis of metacognitive intuitions alone not only begs the question, it also beggars explanation, delivering the project of cognizing cognition to never-ending disputation—an inability to even formulate explananda, let alone explain anything. This is why I like asking intentionalists how many centuries of theoretical standstill we should expect before that oft advertised and never delivered breakthrough finally arrives. The sin Meillassoux attributes to correlationism, the inability to explain cognition, is really just the sin belonging to intentional philosophy as a whole. Thanks to medial neglect, metcognition, blind to both its sources and its source blindness, insists we stand outside nature. Tackling this intuition with intentional idioms leaves our every attempt to rationalize our connection underdetermined, a matter of interminable controversy. The Scandal dwells on eternal.
I think orientation precedes perspective—and obviously so, having watched loved ones dismantled by brain disease. I think understanding the role of neglect in orientation explains the peculiarities of perspective, provides a parsimonious way to understand the apparent first-person in terms of the neglect structure belonging to the third. There’s no problem with escaping the dream tank and touching the world simply because there’s no ontological distinction between ourselves and the cosmos. We constitute a small region of a far greater territory, the proximal attuned to the distal. Understanding the heuristic nature of ‘truth’ and ‘objectivity,’ I restrict their application to adaptive problem-ecologies, and simply ask those who would turn them into something ontologically exceptional why they would trust low-dimensional intuitions over empirical data, especially when those intuitions pretty much guarantee perpetual theoretical underdetermination. Far better trust to our childhood presumptions of truth and reality, in the practical applications of these idioms, than in any one of the numberless theoretical misapplications ‘discovering’ this trust fundamentally (as opposed to situationally) ‘naïve.’
The cognitive difference, what separates the consequences of our claims, has never been about ‘subjectivity’ versus ‘objectivity,’ but rather intersystematicity, the integration of ever-more sensitive orientations possessing ever more effectiveness into the superordinate systems encompassing us all. Physically speaking, we’ve long known that this has to be the case. Short actual difference making differences, be they photons striking our retinas or compression waves striking our eardrums or so on, no difference is made. Even Meillassoux acknowledges the necessity of physical contact. What we’ve lacked is a way of seeing how our apparently immediate intentional intuitions, be they phenomenological, ontological, or normative, fit into this high-dimensional—physical—picture.
Heuristic Neglect Theory not only provides this way, it also explains why it has proven so elusive over the centuries. HNT explains the wrong turn mentioned above. The question of orientation immediately cues the systems our ancestors developed to circumvent medial neglect. Solving for our behaviourally salient environmental relationships, in other words, automatically formats the problem in intentional terms. The automaticity of the application of intentional cognition renders it apparently ‘self-evident.’
The reason the critique of correlationism and speculative realism suffer all the problems of underdetermination their proponents attribute to correlationism is that they take this very same wrong turn. How is Meillassoux’s ‘hyper-chaos,’ yet another adventure in a priori speculation, anything more than another pebble tossed upon the heap of traditional disputation? Novelty alone recommends them. Otherwise they leave us every bit as mystified, every bit as unable to accommodate the torrent of relevant scientific findings, and therefore every bit as irrelevant to the breathtaking revolutions even now sweeping us and our traditions out to sea. Like the traditions they claim to supersede, they peddle cognitive abjection, discursive immobility, in the guise of fundamental insight.
Theoretical speculation is cheap, which is why it’s so frightfully easy to make any philosophical account look bad. All you need do is start worrying definitions, then let the conceptual games begin. This is why the warrant of any account is always a global affair, why the power of Evolutionary Theory, for example, doesn’t so much lie in the immunity of its formulations to philosophical critique, but in how much it explains on nature’s dime alone. The warrant of Heuristic Neglect Theory likewise turns on the combination of parsimony and explanatory power.
Anyone arguing that HNT necessarily presupposes some X, be it ontological or normative, is simply begging the question. Doesn’t HNT presuppose the reality of intentional objectivity? Not at all. HNT certainly presupposes applications of intentional cognition, which, given medial neglect, philosophers pose as functional or ontological realities. On HNT, a theory can be true even though, high-dimensionally speaking, there is no such thing as truth. Truth talk possesses efficacy in certain practical problem-ecologies, but because it participates in solving something otherwise neglected, namely the superordinate systematicity of orientations, it remains beyond the pale of intentional resolution.
Even though sophisticated critics of eliminativism acknowledge the incoherence of the tu quoque, I realize this remains a hard twist for many (if not most) to absorb, let alone accept. But this is exactly as it should be, both insofar as something has to explain why isolating the wrong turn has proven so stupendously difficult, and because this is precisely the kind of trap we should expect, given the heuristic and fractionate nature of human cognition. ‘Knowledge’ provides a handle on the intersection of vast, high-dimensional histories, a way to manage orientations without understanding the least thing about them. To know knowledge, we will come to realize, is to know there is no such thing, simply because ‘knowing’ is a resolutely practical affair, almost certainly inscrutable to intentional cognition. When you’re in the intentional mode, this statement simply sounds preposterous—I know it once struck me as such! It’s only when you appreciate how far your intuitions have strayed from those of your childhood, back when your only applications of intentional cognition were practical, that you can see the possibility of a more continuous, intersystematic way to orient ourselves to the cosmos. There was a time before you wandered into the ancient funhouse of heuristic misapplication, when you could not distinguish between your perspective and your orientation. HNT provides a theoretical way to recover that time and take a radically different path.
As a bona fide theory of cognition, HNT provides a way to understand our spectacular inability to understand ourselves. HNT can explain ‘aporia.’ The metacognitive resources recruited for the purposes of philosophical reflection possess alarm bells—sensitivities to their own limits—relevant only to their ancestral applications. The kinds of cognitive apories (crash spaces) characterizing traditional philosophy are precisely those we might expect, given the sudden ability to exercise specialized metacognitive resources out of school, to apply, among other things, the problem-solving power of intentional cognition to the question of intentional cognition.
As a bona fide theory of cognition, HNT bears as much on artificial cognition as on biological cognition, and as such, can be used to understand and navigate the already radical and accelerating transformation of our cognitive ecologies. HNT scales, from the subpersonal to the social, and this means that HNT is relevant to the technological madness of the now.
As a bona fide empirical theory, HNT, unlike any traditional theory of intentionality, will be sorted. Either science will find that metacognition actually neglects information in the ways I propose, or it won’t. Either science will find this neglect possesses the consequences I theorize, or it won’t. Nothing exceptional and contentious is required. With our growing understanding of the brain and consciousness comes a growing understanding of information access and processing capacity—and the neglect structures that fall out of them. The human brain abounds in bottlenecks, none of which are more dramatic than consciousness itself.
Cognition is biomechanical. The ‘correlation of thought and being,’ on my account, is the correlation of being and being. The ontology of HNT is resolutely flat. Once we understand that we only glimpse as much of our orientations as our ancestors required for reproduction, and nothing more, we can see that ‘thought,’ whatever it amounts to, is material through and through.
The evidence of this lies strewn throughout the cognitive wreckage of speculation, the alien crash site of philosophy.
 This includes, in addition to the neurosciences proper, research into Basic Behavioral and Social Science (8.597 billion), Behavioral and Social Science (22.515 billion), Brain Disorders (23.702 billion), Mental Health (13.699 billion), and Neurodegenerative (10.183 billion). https://report.nih.gov/categorical_spending.aspx 21/01/2017
Heuristic Neglect Theory (HNT) is to intentionality what BBT is to phenomenology?
“something has to explain why isolating the wrong turn has proven so stupendously difficult, and because this is precisely the kind of trap we should expect, given the heuristic and fractionate nature of human cognition”
Yup. Keep hammering this, because it’s the greatest strength of your framework. In a way, it’s also a cautionary footnote- evolutionary theory (and cognitive heuristic theory) are also both “knowledge” which means they, too, are ultimately cartoons.
Pop culture foot: speaking of cartoons, “Sausage Party” is juvenile, boorish, and deeply cynical about the nature of knowledge… it’s actually pure Schopenhauer in disguise as stoner humor.
“Heuristic Neglect Theory (HNT) is to intentionality what BBT is to phenomenology?”
That’s a fair way to distinguish them: I prefer thinking of it as the difference between metacognition (BBT) versus cognition more generally (HNT) to avoid content illusions.
“Yup. Keep hammering this…”
If I ever to write a popular science monograph, this would be the upshot, no worries…
I loved Sausage Party, though I see it as more Turgenev than Schopenhauer!
I almost took a Russian lit class in college. The first day, the instructor said One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich was one her favorites, and I immediately dropped the course.
I don’t know if Russian is just hard to translate to English, or if there’s some idiosyncrasy to the language that doesn’t work with my brain, but whether it’s Solzhenitsyn, Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy or whatever… I can’t get into it. Nabokov is an exception, but I think that’s because he wrote all his later works directly in English.
That’s really just a long-winded way for me to say “never heard of him”. Wikipedia isn’t being helpful with regards to his philosophical leanings either.
I’m off topic, but from the trailer sausage party seemed a symptom of modern malaise…making up ‘surprise’ mistreated souls to feel bad about…and so shoot those feelings into a kleenex and toss it in the bin, having had a laugh.
I haven’t seen Sausage Party but I did get some good laughs out of This is the End.
Just shameful b’ys…
Damn, didn’t know it’d show the whole comic, I just wanted to post a link. Sorry, folks! On the other hand it seems on topic!
Callan- my reading of Sausage Party is that it is an allegory criticizing belief systems that place excessive emphasis on afterlife rewards as justification for questionable behavior in this life. It is also an epistemic criticism of anyone who is too sure of their beliefs, period- at the end of the film, the characters have an epiphany and realize that they are cartoons in a movie, that their whole concept of reality is a very limited sliver of the whole.
Throughout the movie though, one thing kept echoing in my head:
“The world is a granary Proyas… and we, are the bread.”
the characters have an epiphany and realize that they are cartoons in a movie
Well ‘they’ don’t, because they are cartoons. That’s the sort of thing I’m describing – when the theory of mind difficulty gives opportunity for ‘there is no moral to the story’ to slip under the radar. Deadpool comics go there on occasion as well. For example, does it show the cartoon characters watching cartoons and relating to them as real and having real significance? Or does it avoid criticising that epistemic value in its audience?
In part I’m being a bitch because I haven’t seen it, just a trailer. But that’s because it set off a whole bunch of warning flags for me.
I always saw you as a kind of keeper
A mother to a child
But your boys have grown soft
And your girls have gone wild
Is there no greater sin in our day and age than having been born a man?
Woman are scary.
White Elephant in the room….
I’m not sure what your theme is?
I think I know now why the Dalai Lama may come back as a woman.
Judgement systems don’t really have a judgement system for themselves, do they? They just rely on theory advancing one funeral at a time.
Or a wedding and one funeral at a time…..
To me, that was really good communication
This made me laugh too 🙂
Is bliss an illusion?
Thanks for this Steve–I’ve started FBBB, an intend to write up a couple of posts on this very topic.
“To say that there is more to reality than physics can account for is not a piece of mysticism: it is an acknowledgement that we are nowhere near a theory of everything, and that science will have to expand to accommodate facts of a kind fundamentally different from those that physics is designed to explain.”
If physics is ‘designed’ to explain facts about the physical universe does Nagel mean to imply that there are facts of a kind fundamentally different than facts about the physical universe? If so does he mean to imply that there is something other than the physical universe for those facts to be about? If so, then what is this something other and how is it not mystical?
To put it another way, if there is a
“yawning “explanatory gap” between physiological processes and subjective, mental states” then physiological processes are not sufficient to explain mental states, some additional something must be needed. What kind of thing might this additional thing be? If it’s not a physical kind of thing what kind of thing is it? Besides physical kinds of things what other kinds of things exist? If they are non-physical yet non-mystical what are they like?
If, when our knowledge of human brain structure and dynamics is complete, or at least more nearly so than it is now, we still perceive an explanatory gap, that would be the time to resort to supernatural posits. I don’t see any reason to do so yet, when neuroscience is just about where Galileo found astronomy.
I wonder if perhaps the people who make these supernatural posits don’t understand that they are supernatural.
Seems like those are the questions. Hard to trace what the answers will even look like at this point. It truly boggles the mind.
They’re called the forces of nature.
The author of that Sci Am piece starts by revealing himself still be beholden to Cartesian reasoning:
“Descartes said consciousness is the one undeniable fact of our existence, and I find it hard to disagree.”
That means he is confirming himself to be a *dualist* of some kind- and although non-supernatural formulations of semi-dualism (such as emergentism or various flavors of monadism) do exist, in my view they have some pretty serious flaws.
So, it’s unlikely that he is unaware that he is positing something supernatural. I’ve encountered this position over and over again from scientists and philosophers- the idea that there are “some things” (namely: the soul and the precise nature of private phenomenal experience) outside the purview of science.
What I like about Scott’s position is that he starts of by saying: look we’re all theoretical imbeciles. Really. We *all* suck- dualist, monist, blahblahblah these are just words for incredibly complicated things we don’t understand. But we have this THING, science, which has a rather unbelievable track record, and furthermore it seems to radically undermine human conceit at every opportunity.
So, put your money on the table. Do you wager that there is this magical phenomena which will withstand all scientific scrutiny forever more… or do you shove all-in with the big bad wolf that seems to win every time?
I don’t really have a dog in this fight.
I think you go in with the big bad wolf, which isn’t so bad if you don’t have a system that drives you to work hard and so play hard as well (playing hard with all of science’s little toys)
Then again writing a novel involves working hard and so panders to the thing that aught be critiqued? Ironic.
Can this sort of instrumentalism:
define the Hard Problem as meaningless? Is it more than a rhetorical trick?
I remember picking up a copy of the Mind Body Problem for a couple bucks at a Salvation Army in Toronto about a decade and a half ago. Much enjoyed!
FYI Bakker fans: Scott will be doing an AMA at https://www.reddit.com/r/Fantasy/ on April 3rd!
Another great link! This is basically my argument against Dennett waged from the intentionalist side. It simply doesn’t possess the explanatory power required to understand what it is we actually experience. Of course, for me, it lacks this explanatory power–it is self-consciously homuncular after all–because it amounts to yet another attempt to use intentional cognition to theoretically solve for intentional cognition. For Pigluicci it means that Dennett is simply missing the point. My account uses the way medial neglect confounds metacognition to explain the apparent structure of intentional phenomena. Pigluicci offers the interminable controversies of normativism.
I have to say I’m enjoying Dennett’s book immensely. He’s still a master.
looking forward to what you make of it all, yeah Dan’s a good thinker and has always been a generous correspondent, unlike most folks he’s really in it for the ideas/work.
Thank you for this Void. I checked out Ray’s presentation (my daughter’s French is already better than my own), and once again couldn’t help but wonder why he’s given himself over so thoroughly to Sellars.
Ray seems to be saddling himself with an insoluable problem. On the one hand I think he wants to say non conceptual representings in themselves (whatever the hell the nervous system is doing) just does it’s thing, but on the other hand he wants to say the conceptual representeds conditioned by such representings themselves can’t be accounted for in terms of the former. Or as he says “you have to be a methodological dualist in order to be a monist”. It just seems like foot stamping to claim that a priori that this itself couldn’t be accounted for naturalistically.
A ‘monism’ that keeps two ontological books (though they always try to disguise this my clinging to this or that formalism)! It’s the bind all normativists find themselves in, really. They don’t want to give up on the illusion that only intentional cognition can solve for intentional cognition.
Ray’s a smart, skeptically minded guy, though, and I can’t help but think that he senses the problem at some level. He just can’t see his way around normative exclusivity.
Surfacing with the Mayan twins
My First Neuropuncture-
teach your kids the way of the logos, starting today! Just don’t blame us if they start emulating divine assassins or pushing their slower siblings off the parapet.
Now that is some fucked up shit! Golden link, Jorge. Thank you!
mathematics vs metaphors
sam harris is a twit but krakaeur is an interesting thinker
“However, if experience is constituted, generated, or at least fully modulated by brain activity, an increase in the richness of experience must be accompanied by an increase in the metabolism associated with the neural correlates of experience.”
I think it’s a mistake to uncritically accept the self-reports of the subjects that their hallucinations are a richer experience than real life. I think most of us underestimate the ‘bandwidth’ and ‘processing power’ required by our sensory interaction with reality because interaction with the real world is what we normally do. Similarly, most of us overestimate the bandwidth and processing power required by dreams and hallucinations because of their novelty. If I don’t have an objective, reproducible way to directly measure the richness of experience then I’d go with metabolic data over subject reports and assume that real life is a richer experience than hallucination.
Someone should do an experiment in reducing the brains resources during hallucination or dreams – and find out if the intensity actually increases the more retarded the brain gets. Actually come to think of it, auto erotic asphyxiation tends to prove this already.
Fascinating piece, though I find it troubling that the more modest and therefore the most likely thesis: that reports of ‘expansion’ indicate metacognitive incapacity, an inability to cognize limits. If this is the case, then Harris is right, just in a way more complicated than he realizes.
I don’t know the science well enough to even begin tentatively assinging odds in the neuroscience belief lotery. That’s why I like having a horse in all the races, even those on the Fringe.
they also neglect the cases where the surprisal’s connotation is inflected in the other direction… https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1410102
Exactly. The lesson being that ‘feelings’ of transcendence/constraint are themselves artifacts.
Artifacts feel sooo good 🐸
Fantastic piece. Had me chasing down leads into the wee hours of the morning…